The Fountains

By Samuel Johnson

The text comes from Anna Williams, Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (London: T. Davies, 1766). It was transcribed by Catherine Dille from a copy in the Bodleian (shelfmark 13 ø 189), inscribed "The gift of Mrs Piozzi." The electronic edition was prepared by Jack Lynch.

The   F O U N T A I N S :
Felix qui potuit boni
Fontem visere lucidum.   BOETHIUS.

As FLORETTA was wandering in a meadow at the foot of Plinlimmon, she heard a little bird cry in such a note a she had never observed before, and looking round her, saw a lovely Goldfinch entangled by a lime-twig, and a Hawk hovering over him, as at the point of seizing him in his talons.

FLORETTA longed to rescue the little bird, but was afraid to encounter the Hawk, who looked fiercely upon her without any apparent dread of her approach, and as she advanced seemed to increase in bulk, and clapped his wings in token of defiance. FLORETTA stood deliberating a few moments, but seeing her mother at no great distance, took courage, and snatched the twig with the little bird upon it. When she had disengaged him she put him in her bosom, and the Hawk flew away.

FLORETTA shewing her bird to her mother, told her from what danger she had rescued him; her mother, after admiring his beauty, said, that he would be a very proper inhabitant of the little gilded cage, which had hung empty since the Starling died for want of water, and that he should be placed at the chamber window, for it would be wonderfully pleasant to hear him in the morning.

FLORETTA, with tears in her eyes, replied, that he had better have been devoured by the Hawk than die for want of water, and that she would not save him from a less evil to put him in danger of a greater: She therefore took him into her hand, cleaned his feathers from the bird-lime, looked upon him with great tenderness, and, having put his bill to her lips, dismissed him into the air.

HE flew in circles round her as she went home, and perching on a tree before the door, delighted them awhile with such sweetness of song, that her mother reproved her for not putting him in the cage. FLORETTA endeavoured to look grave, but silently approved her own act, and wished her mother more generosity. He mother guessed her thoughts, and told her, that when she was older she would be wiser.

FLORETTA however did not repent, but hoped to hear her little bird the next morning singing at liberty. She waked early and listened, but no Goldfinch could she hear. She rose, and walking again in the same meadow, went to view the bush where she had seen the lime-twig the day before.

WHEN she entered the thicket, and was near the place for which she was looking, from behind a blossoming hawthorn advanced a female form of very low stature, but of elegant proportion and majestick air, arrayed in all the colours of the meadow, and sparkling as she moved like a dew-drop in the sun.

FLORETTA was too much disordered to speak or fly, and stood motionless between fear and pleasure, when the little lady took her by the hand.

I am, said she, one of that order of beings which some call Fairies, and some Piskies: We have always been known to inhabit the crags and caverns of Plinlimmon. The maids and shepherds when they wander by moonlight have often heard our musick, and sometimes seen our dances.

I am the chief of the Fairies of this region, and am known among them by the name of Lady LILINET of the Blue Rock. As I lived always in my own mountain, I had very little knowledge of human manners, and thought better of mankind than other Fairies found them to deserve; I therefore often opposed the mischievous practices of my sisters without always enquiring whether they were just. I extinguished the light that was kindled to lead a traveller into a marsh, and found afterwards that he was hasting to corrupt a virgin: I dissipated a mist which assumed the form of a town, and was raised to decoy a monopolizer of corn from his way to the next market: I removed a thorn, artfully planted to prick the foot of a churl, that was going to hinder the Poor from following his reapers; and defeated so many schemes of obstruction and punishment, that I was cited before the Queen as one who favoured wickedness and opposed the execution of fairy justice.

HAVING never been accustomed to suffer control, and thinking myself disgraced by the necessity of defence, I so much irritated the Queen by my sullenness and petulance, that in her anger she transformed me into a Goldfinch. In this form, says she, I doom thee to remain till some human being shall shew thee kindness without any prospect of interest.

I flew out of her presence not much dejected; for I did not doubt but every reasonable being must love that which having never offended, could not be hated, and, having no power to hurt, could not be feared.

I therefore fluttered about the villages, and endeavoured to force myself into notice.

HAVING heard that nature was least corrupted among those who had no acquaintance with elegance and splendor, I employed myself for five years in hopping before the doors of cottages, and often sat singing on the thatched roof; my motions were seldom seen nor my notes heard, no kindness was ever excited, and all the reward of my officiousness was to be aimed at with a stone when I stood within a throw.

THE stones never hurt me, for I had still the power of a Fairy.

I then betook myself to spacious and magnificent habitations, and sung in bowers by the walks or on the banks of fountains.

IN these places where novelty was recommended by satiety, and curiosity excited by leisure, my form and my voice were soon distinguished, and I was known by the name of the pretty Goldfinch; the inhabitants would walk out to listen to my musick, and at last it was their practice to court my visits by scattering meat in my common haunts.

THIS was repeated till I went about pecking in full security, and expected to regain my original form, when I observed two of my most liberal benefactors silently advancing with a net behind me. I flew off, and fluttering beside them pricked the leg of each, and left them halting and groaning with the cramp.

I then went to another house, where for two springs and summers I entertained a splendid family with such melody as they had never heard in the woods before. The winter that followed the second summer was remarkably cold, and many little birds perished in the field. I laid myself in the way of one of the ladies as benumbed with cold and faint with hunger; she picked me up with great joy, telling her companions that she had found the Goldfinch that sung so finely all summer in the myrtle hedge, that she would lay him where he should die, for she could not bear to kill him, and would then pick his fine feathers very carefully, and stick them in her muff.

FINDING that her fondness and gratitude could give way to so slight an interest, I chilled her fingers that she could not hold me, then flew at her face, and with my beak gave her nose four pecks that left four black spots indelible behind them, and broke a match by which she would have obtained the finest equipage in the county.

AT length the Queen repented of her sentence, and being unable to revoke it, assisted me to try experiments upon man, to excite his tenderness, and attract his regard.

WE made many attempts in which we were always disappointed. At last she placed me in your way held by a lime-twig, and herself in the shape of a Hawk made the shew of devouring me. You, my dear, have rescued me from the seeming danger without desiring to detain me in captivity, or seeking any other recompence than the pleasure of benefiting a feeling creature.

THE Queen is so much pleased with your kindness, that I am come, by her permission, to reward you with a greater favour than ever Fairy bestowed before.

THE former gifts of Fairies, though bounties in design, have proved commonly mischiefs in the event. We have granted mortals to wish according to their own discretion, and their discretion being small, and their wishes irreversible, they have rashly petitioned for their own destruction. But you, my dearest FLORETTA, shall have, what none have ever before obtained from us, the power of indulging your wish, and the liberty of retracting it. Be bold and follow me.

FLORETTA was easily persuaded to accompany the Fairy, who led her through a labyrinth of craggs and shrubs, to a cavern covered by a thicket on the side of the mountain.

THIS cavern, said she, is the court of LILINET your friend; and in this place you shall find a certain remedy for all real evils. LILINET then went before her through a long subterraneous passage, where she saw many beautiful Fairies, who came to gaze at the stranger, but who, from reverence to their mistress, gave her no disturbance. She heard from remote corners of the gloomy cavern the roar of winds and the fall of waters, and more than once entreated to return; but LILINET assuring her that she was safe, persuaded her to proceed till they came to an arch, into which the light found its way through a fissure of the rock.

THERE LILINET seated herself and her guest upon a bench of agate, and pointing to two Fountains that bubbled before them, said, Now attend, my dear FLORETTA, and enjoy the gratitude of a Fairy. Observe the two Fountains that spring up in the middle of the vault, one into a bason of alabaster, and the other into a bason of dark flint. The one is called the Spring of Joy, the other of Sorrow; they rise from distant veins in the rock, and burst out in two places, but after a short course unite their streams, and run ever after in one mingled current.

BY drinking of these fountains, which, though shut up from all other human beings, shall be always accessible to you, it will be in your power to regulate your future life.

WHEN you are drinking the water of joy from the alabaster fountain, you may form your wish, and it shall be granted. As you raise your wish higher, the water will be sweeter and sweeter to the taste; but beware that you are not tempted by its increasing sweetness to repeat your draughts, for the ill effects of your wish can only be removed by drinking the spring of sorrow from the bason of flint, which will be bitter in the same proportion as the water of joy was sweet. Now, my FLORETTA, make the experiment, and give me the first proof of moderate desires. Take the golden cup that stands on the margin of the spring of joy, form your wish and drink.

FLORETTA wanted no time to deliberate on the subject of her wish; her first desire was the increase of her beauty. She had some disproportion of features. She took the cup and wished to be agreeable; the water was sweet, and she drank copiously; and in the fountain, which was clearer than crystal, she saw that her face was completely regular.

SHE then filled the cup again, and wished for a rosy bloom upon her cheeks: the water was sweeter than before, and the colour of her cheeks was heightened.

SHE next wished for a sparkling eye: The water grew yet more pleasant, and her glances were like the beams of the sun.

SHE could not yet stop; she drank again, desired to be made a perfect beauty, and a perfect beauty she became.

SHE now had whatever her heart could wish; and making an humble reverence to LILINET, requested to be restored to her own habitation. They went back, and the Fairies in the way wondered at the change of FLORETTA s form. She came home delighted to her mother, who, on seeing the improvement, was yet more delighted than herself.

HER mother from that time pushed her forward into publick view: FLORETTA was at all the resorts of idleness and assemblies of pleasure; she was fatigued with balls, she was cloyed with treats, she was exhausted by the necessity of returning compliments. This life delighted her awhile, but custom soon destroyed its pleasure. She found that the men who courted her to day resigned her on the morrow to other flatterers, and that the women attacked her reputation by whispers and calumnies, till without knowing how she had offended, she was shunned as infamous.

SHE knew that her reputation was destroyed by the envy of her beauty, and resolved to degrade herself from the dangerous pre-eminence. She went to the bush where she rescued the bird, and called for LADY LILINET. Immediately LILINET appeared, and discovered by FLORETTA s dejected lock that she had drank too much from the alabaster fountain.

FOLLOW me, she cried, my FLORETTA, and be wiser for the future.

THEY went to the fountains, and FLORETTA began to taste the waters of sorrow, which were so bitter that she withdrew more than once the cup from her mouth: At last she resolutely drank away the perfection of beauty, the sparkling eye and rosy bloom, and left herself only agreeable. CHECK FROM HERE

SHE lived for some time with great content; but content is seldom lasting. She had a desire in a short time again to taste the waters of joy: she called for the conduct of LILINET, and was led to the alabaster fountain, where she drank, and wished for a faithful Lover.

AFTER her return she was soon addressed by a young man, whom she thought worthy of her affection. He courted, and flattered, and promised; till at last she yielded up her heart. He then applied to her parents; and, finding her fortune less than he expected, contrived a quarrel and deserted her.

EXASPERATED by her disappointment, she went in quest of LILINET, and expostulated with her for the deceit which she had practised. LILINET asked her with a smile, for what she had been wishing; and being told, made her this reply. You are not, my dear, to wonder or complain: You may wish for yourself, but your wishes can have no effect upon another. You may become lovely by the efficacy of the fountain, but that you shall be loved is by no means a certain consequence; for you cannot confer upon another either discernment or fidelity: That happiness which you must derive from others, it is not in my power to regulate or bestow.

FLORETTA was for some time so dejected by this limitation of the fountain s power, that she thought it unworthy of another visit; but being on some occasion thwarted by her mother s authority, she went to LILINET, and drank at the alabaster fountain for a spirit to do her own way.

LILINET saw that she drank immoderately, and admonished her of her danger; but spirit and her own way gave such sweetness to the water, that she could not prevail upon herself to forbear, till LILINET in pure compassion snatched the cup out of her hand.

WHEN she came home every thought was contempt, and every action was rebellion: She had drunk into herself a spirit to resist, but could not give her mother a disposition to yield; the old lady asserted her right to govern; and, though she was often foiled by the impetuosity of her daughter, she supplied by pertinacy what she wanted in violence; so that the house was in continual tumult by the pranks of the daughter and opposition of the mother.

IN time, FLORETTA was convinced that spirit had only made her a capricious termagant, and that her own ways ended in errour, perplexity and disgrace; she perceived that the vehemence of mind, which to a man may sometimes procure awe and obedience, produce to a woman nothing but detestation; she therefore went back, and by a large draught from the flinty fountain, though the water was very bitter, replaced herself under her mother s care, and quitted her spirit, and her own way.

FLORETTA's fortune was moderate, and her desires were not larger, till her mother took her to spend a summer at one of the places which wealth and idleness frequent, under pretence of drinking the waters. She was now no longer a perfect beauty, and therefore conversation in her presence took its course as in other company, opinions were freely told, and observations made without reserve. Here FLORETTA first learned the importance of money. She saw a woman of mean air and empty talk draw the attention of the place, she always discovered upon enquiry that she had so many thousands to her fortune.

SHE soon perceived that where these golden goddesses appeared, neither birth, nor elegance, nor civility had any power of attraction, that every art of entertainment was devoted to them, and that the great and the wise courted their regard.

THE desire after wealth was raised yet higher by her mother, who was always telling her how much neglect she suffered for want of fortune, and what distinctions if she had but a fortune her good qualities would obtain. Her narrative of the day was always, that FLORETTA walked in the morning, but was not spoken to because she had a small fortune, and that FLORETTA danced at the ball better than any of them, but nobody minded her for want of a fortune.

THIS want, in which all other wants appeared to be included, FLORETTA was resolved to endure no longer, and came home flattering her imagination in secret with the riches which she was now about to obtain.

ON the day after her return she walked out alone to meet lady LILINET, and went with her to the fountain: Riches did not taste so sweet as either beauty or spirit, and therefore she was not immoderate in her draught.

WHEN they returned from the cavern, LILINET gave her wand to a Fairy that attended her, with an order to conduct FLORETTA to the Black Rock.

THE way was not long, and they soon came to the mouth of a mine in which there was a hidden treasure, guarded by an earthy Fairy deformed and shaggy, who opposed the entrance of FLORETTA till he recognized the wand of the Lady of the Mountain. Here FLORETTA saw vast heaps of gold and silver and gems, gathered and resposited in former ages, and entrusted to the guard of the Fairies of the earth. The little Fairy delivered the orders of her mistress, and the surly sentinel promised to obey them.

FLORETTA, wearied with her walk, and pleased with her success, went home to rest, and when she waked in the morning, first opened her eyes upon a cabinet of jewels, and looking into her drawers and boxes, found them filled with gold.

FLORETTA was now a fine as the finest. She was the first to adopt any expensive fashion, to subscribe to any pompous entertainment, to encourage any foreign artist, or engage in any frolick of which the cost was to make the pleasure.

SHE was on a sudden the favourite of every place. Report made her wealth thrice greater than it really was, and wherever she came, all was attention, reverence and obedience. The ladies who had formerly slighted her, or by whom she had been formerly caressed, gratified her pride by open flattery and private murmurs. She sometimes over-heard them railing at upstarts, and wondering whence some people came, or how their expences were supplied. This incited her to heighten the splendour of her dress, to increase the number of her retinue, and to make such propositions of costly schemes, that her rivals were forced to desist from contest.

BUT she now began to find that the tricks which can be played with money will seldom bear to be repeated, that admiration is a short-lived passion, and that the pleasure of expence is gone when wonder and envy are no more excited. She found that respect was an empty form, and that all those who crouded round her were drawn to her by vanity or interest.

IT was however pleasant to be able on any terms to elevate and to mortify, to raise hopes and fears; and she would still have continued to be rich, had not the ambition of her mother contrived to marry her to a Lord, whom she despised a ignorant, and abhorred as profligate. Her mother persisted in her importunity; and FLORETTA having now lost the spirit of resistance, had no other refuge than to divest herself of her fairy fortune.

SHE implored the assistance of LILINET, who praised her resolution. She drank chearfully from the flinty fountain, and found the waters not extremely bitter. When she returned she went to bed, and in the morning perceived that all her riches had been conveyed away she new not how, except a few ornamental jewels, which LILINET had ordered to be carried back as a reward for her dignity of mind.

SHE he was now almost weary of visiting the fountain, and solaced herself with such amusements as every day happened to produce: At last there arose in her imagination a strong desire to become a Wit.

THE pleasures with which this new character appeared to teem were so numerous and so great, that she was impatient to enjoy them; and rising before the sun, hastened to the place where she knew that her fairy patroness was always to be found. LILINET was willing to conduct her, but could now scarcely restrain her from leading the way but by telling her, that if she went first the Fairies of the cavern would refuse her passage.

THEY came in time to the fountain, and FLORETTA took the golden cup into her hand; she filled it and drank, and again she filled it, for wit was sweeter than riches, spirit, or beauty.

AS she returned she felt new successions of imagery rise in her mind, and whatever her memory offered to her imagination, assumed a new form, and connected itself with things to which it seemed before to have no relation. All the appearances about her were changed, but the novelties exhibited were commonly defects. She now saw that almost every thing was wrong, without often seeing how it could be better; and frequently imputed to the imperfection of art these failure which were caused by the limitation of nature.

WHEREVER she went, she breathed nothing but censure and reformation. If she visited her friends, she quarrelled with the situation of their houses, the disposition of their gardens, the direction of their walks, and the termination of their views. It was vain to hew her fine furniture, for she was always ready to tell how it might be finer, or to conduct her though spacious apartments, for her thoughts were full of nobler fabricks, of airy palaces and hesperian gardens. She admired nothing and praised but little.

HER conversation was generally thought uncivil. If she received flatteries, she seldom repaid them; for she set no value upon vulgar praise. She could not hear a long story without hurrying the speaker on to the conclusion; and obstructed the mirth of her companions, for she rarely took notice of a good jest, and never laughed except when she was delighted.

THIS behaviour made her unwelcome wherever she went; nor did her speculation upon human manners much contribute to forward her reception. She now saw the disproportions between language and sentiment, between passion and exclamation; she discovered the defects of every action, and the uncertainty of every conclusion; she knew the malignity of friendship, the avarice of liberality, the anxiety of content, and the cowardice of temerity.

TO see all this was pleasant, but the greatest of all pleasures was to shew it. To laugh was something, but it was much more to make others laugh. As every deformity of character made a strong impression upon her, she could not always forbear to transmit it to others; as she hated false appearances she thought it her duty to detect them, till, between wantonness and virtue, scarce any that she knew escaped without some wounds by the shafts of ridicule; not that her merriment was always the consequence of total contempt, for she often honoured virtue where she laughed at affectation.

FOR these practices, and who can wonder, the cry was raised against her from every quarter, and to hunt her down was generally determined. Every eye was watching for a fault, and every tongue was busy to supply its share of defamation. With the most unpolluted purity of mind, she was censured as too free of favours, because she was not afraid to talk with men: With generous sensibility of human excellence, she was thought cold or envious, because she would not scatter praise with undistinguishing profusion: With tenderness that agonized at real misery, she was charged with delight in the pain of others, when she would not condole with those whom she knew to counterfeit affliction. She derided false appearances of kindness and of pity, and was therefore avoided as an enemy to society. As she seldom commended or censured with some limitations and exceptions, the world condemned her as indifferent to the good and bad; and because she was often doubtful where others were confident, she was charged with laxity of principles, while her days were distracted and her rest broken by niceties of honour and scruples of morality.

REPORT had now made her so formidable that all flattered and all shunned her. If a Lover gave a ball to his mistress and her friends, it was stipulated that FLORETTA should not be invited. If she entered a publick room the ladies courtsied, and shrunk away, for there was no such thing as speaking, but FLORETTA would find something to criticise. If a girl was more spritely than her Aunt, she was threatened that in a little time she would be like FLORETTA . Visits were very diligently paid when FLORETTA was known not to be at home; and no mother trusted her daughter to herself without a caution, if she should meet FLORETTA to leave the company as soon as she could.

WITH all this FLORETTA made sport at first, but in time grew weary of general hostility. She would have been content with a few friends, but no friendship was durable; it was the fashion to desert her, and with the fashion what fidelity will contend? She could have easily amused herself in solitude, but that she thought it mean to quit the field to treachery and folly.

PERSECUTION at length tired her constancy, and she implored LILINET to rid her of her wit: LILINET complied and walked up the mountain, but was often forced to stop and wait for her follower. When they came to the flinty fountain, FLORETTA filled a small cup and slowly brought it to her lips, but the water was insupportably bitter. She just tasted it, and dashed it to the ground, diluted the bitterness at the fountain of alabaster, and resolved to keep her wit with all its consequences.

BEING now a wit for life, she surveyed the various conditions of mankind with such superiority of sentiment, that she found few distinctions to be envied or desired, and therefore did not very soon make another visit to the fountain. At length being alarmed by sickness, she resolved to drink length of life from the golden cup. She returned elated and secure, for though the longevity acquired was indeterminate, she considered death as far distant, and therefore suffered it not to intrude upon her pleasures.

BUT length of life included not perpetual health. She felt herself continually decaying, and saw the world fading about her. The delights of her early days would delight no longer, and however widely she extended her view, no new pleasure could be found; her friends, her enemies, her admirers, her rivals dropped one by one into the grave, and with those who succeeded them she had neither community of joys nor strife of competition.

BY this time she began to doubt whether old age were not dangerous to virtue; whether pain would not produce peevishness, and peevishness impair benevolence. She thought that the spectacle of life might be too long continued, and the vices which were often seen might raise less abhorrence; that resolution might be sapped by time, and let that virtue sink, which in its firmest state it had not without difficulty supported; and that it was vain to delay the hour which must come at last, and might come at a time of less preparation and greater imbecillity.

THESE thought led her to LILINET, whom she accompanied to the flinty fountain; where, after a short combat with herself, she drank the bitter water. They walked back to the favourite bush pensive and silent; And now, said she, accept my thanks for the last benefit that FLORETTA can receive. Lady LILINET dropped a tear, impressed upon her lips the final kiss, and resigned her, as she resigned herself, to the course of Nature.