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They condemned him, not more than he despised them. After three years' residence he left Manchester, with a determination never more to reside in a manufacturing town, and set out for York, taking with him a wife and three little children, who left a place with regret where they had experienced much personal kindness, and where Agnes had seen that, with common prudence, it was very possible not only to live in comfort, but to secure an ample independence.
A very short time served to convince Mrs. Lewis, that if the evils of narrow-minded tradesmen were severely felt in their late residence, the narrow purses of gentry, living for the most part on stated incomes, were likely to be more severely felt at the present ; but she had some consolation from the cheapness of the place, and from perceiving the kind consideration with which her husband was treated by people of real superiority. Mr. Lewis, for his part, was delighted : he found himself amongst kindred souls, and felt as if he was now, for the first time, brought into that world which he was formed to enjoy and to embellish; every where courted, invited, and admired, his presence seemed necessary to enliven every party, and to give zest to every enjoyment ; for, as he was known to be a man of family, as well as a man of genius, every house in York was open to receive him ; and literary acquaintance, lively friends, and admiring amateurs, surrounded him on every side, while agreeable invitations poured in from every quarter.
But in this round of engagements all employment was suspended, and for a time even painting was forgotten ; unfortunately, the interesting antiquities, the fine cathedral, and many local advantages of York, awoke admiration, which affected him rather as a Poet than a Painter, and every solitary ramble and unengaged hour were given to the composition of poetry. By degrees this passion gained still more ground, and, with the true spirit of a poet, he withdrew from all company,
pursuit, and, wrapt in the sublime contemplation of the past, became completely absorbed in this single subject; so that at the time when the city was filling with company, who might have been really beneficial to him, and to whom it was the intention of his new friends to introduce him, he was so distracted with the thoughts of being torn from his beloved employment, that he hastily fled from the city, took refuge in a distant farm-house, and determined to live in the closest retirement till he had accomplished his task, which was writing an Epic Poem, entitled “ Constantine the Great."
During the time when he had been visiting in York, though admired and caressed by all, his wife and infants had lived in a solitary lodging, where, with melancholy forebodings, she had endeavoured to keep up her spirits in the hope of better times, and by every method of the most self-denying economy, to delay the approach of want. As, however, it was impossible to avoid running in debt for mere necessaries, her anxiety became more distressing; and her creditors were so urgent for payment, when her husband thus incautiously forsook her, leaving her a message to follow him, without reflecting on the necessity of settling their affairs, that she was obliged to compromise in the best manner she was able, by disposing of all the little furniture they had brought with them, and the greatest part of her husband's books. This circumstance was quickly spread; their credit was universally blasted; and, when the poem was finished, and the author presented it, under the idea of a liberal subscription being entered upon for it, which would doubtless have been the case three months before, he found from the bookseller that he was universally regarded in York as an idle, dissipated man, who ran into debt he had no means of discharging, and exposed his wife and innocent children to bear the brunt of misfortune and the sufferings of poverty.
Stung more with the severity of this sentence than the truth it contained, since he conceived that the very people who pronounced it were those who, on his arrival, had made him idle and dissipated, and now, when by incessant application he had redeemed his character, abandoned him without mercy, he hastily repaired to his unhappy wife, declaring that he would instantly fly to the metropolis, where alone he could publish his poem, and where genius never failed to meet with patrons whose wealth and liberality ensured the success due to superior talent.
This scheme was found impracticable : the utmost limits of their power only enabled them to proceed 10 Leeds, where they were obliged to take a poor lodging ; which, in the course of a week, was exchanged for one still poorer, and where the infant, poor Agnes, now nursed at her breast (affected by the suppressed but bitter woes of its unhappy mother), soon breathed its last the victim of sorrow and imprudence.
Over the corpse of his youngest darling, the father shed
many a heartfelt tear; but the mother's sacrifice, though lamented, was more easily resigned. As soon as she was somewhat recovered from the shock, she earnestly looked around for some employment which should enable her to assist in providing for her family; and, having lodged in the house of a glover during her residence in York, and being always of an observant turn, and remarkably quick with her needle, she determined on making gloves for sale ; and had provided herself with the means of carrying this purpose into effect, when her husband, on perceiving her intention, reprobated it in the severest manner, as a means of injuring him in his profession, and precluding him from appearing in the light of a gentleman.
“ But our children want bread, my dear Lewis !” This appeal overwhelmed the wretched man with so
an agony, that Agnes resolved to comply, apparently at least, with his wishes. She soothed his sorrows, praised his poem, predicted its success, and finally persuaded him to resume his habits of sketching, and preparing a few pictures, though she almost dreaded their finishing, knowing that the expense of providing frames was utterly out of her power. During the hours he was in the house, she applied herself to household concerns, and to instructing her two little boys; but the moment he went out, she flew to the business she had adopted ; and, by dint of incessant labour, and that quickness which practice supplies, she was enabled to find food, though very coarse food, for herself and children, ever making an excuse to their father, on his return, for having dined without him, and providing something more palatable for him, which she was under the necessity of procuring from the sale of her clothes, or entreating the butcher to trust her. Lewis returned to the study of Nature with increasing avidity ; became again a painter ; and so long as no one troubled him with claims for money he could not produce, was perfectly easy how his boys were fed or clothed ; their smiles were delightful to him, and every display of talent they evinced transported him : but of their real comforts, or their future destination, he either thought not at all, or when, by.