« ZurückWeiter »
Of all these feminine novels of the last three or four seasons, there is but one (Carwell) that shows the power to grapple with deep passions, and develope a really lofty character. The rest fail wherever anything of so high a class is attempted; the best of them hazard no such attempts. They have, however, exhibited, in many instances, great cleverness in the management of humbler materials-skill, sometimes really exquisite skill, in the delineation of follies and foibles-lively specimens of narrative-light and graceful snatches of dialogue-admirably graphic pictures of the surface of society. Above all, several of these fair hands have depicted with success the ennui which paralyzes the palled sense of so many of fortune's spoiled children-the whims, caprices, extravagances, which so often mark the stages from listless weariness of heart and spirit, to the short-lived phrenzy of guilty passionthe harbinger in almost every case of a middle life devoted to reckless vice. Believing, therefore, as we do, that society in this country is about to undergo some great change, we cannot doubt that these books will be referred to, occasionally, for very unfair purposes, long after the daintiest of their authoresses have stooped to woollen. They will be quoted as furnishing evidence that we deserved our fate-that an aristocracy so lost in voluptuousness, and middle ranks so debased by envy and small ambitions, called aloud for the besom of revolution.
It ought, however, to be remembered, that they, one and all, deal with only a few sections of the upper society of Englandthat they are all town-made or villa-made; that the life which they represent is not the actual life of any class among us, excepting a single gaudy circle revolving round Almack's, and a wider and duller one, embracing within its range that thoroughly artificial maze of little parks, and places, and cottages with double coachhouses, which are indicated by green dots, as thick set as currants in a cake, on the pocket-chart of our outlying suburb-the chosen province of the fund-holders and the colonial Absentees. It is here that vanity and selfishness, nowhere else leading characteristics of English character and manners, thrive and bloom as in a hot-bed. In these paradise paddocks the great are not surrounded by their natural dependants and neighbours-and the pomp of their luxury is presented, alike apart from the stimulating utility of masses of wealth, and from the civilizing influence of a centre of elegance. Those of moderate fortunes, in place of being country gentlemen, each the natural pattern of some parish and guardian of some village, are apt to spend their whole lifetime in the interchange of formal dinners, and a foppish parodying of the manners of the isolated magnates, whose annual breakfast or ball is their social blue-ribbon.
Now that the novel has come to stand virtually, with regard to the painting of living manners, in the room at once of the Addisonian essay and the genteel comedy, how greatly is it to be regretted that the varied talents employed in this branch of popular literature should confine themselves to so narrow a field of the domain which has fallen to their lot; that, after all the hundreds of clever books of this class to which our time has given birth, it should still be impossible to single out one, in which English life is pourtrayed from a serene point of view, and with the boldness and gentleness of a mind equally above flattery and uncharitableness. Mrs. Sheridan could bring the passion-and the books now on our table show that either she or Mrs. Sullivan could bring the satire; a dozen inferior hands might be relied on for a smart filling up of petty details; but to what quarter shall we look for the construction of a really artist-like plot-a sufficiently comprehensive canvass-the influence and collisions of masculine intellects a candid and philosophical sympathy with man and woman, in strength and in weakness-and the ennobling ambition to make fairy fiction' the vehicle of wholesome lessons at once to the rich and to the poor?
As it is, we have before us a whole bundle of rods for the backs of that busy little world of snugness and pretension, which we have alluded to as cut by the Thames, from Hampton to somewhere about Blackheath, and extending an easy stage into Surrey on the one side, into Herts on the other. These fair writers sometimes talk about Yorkshire, Cumberland, even Cornwall; but it is obvious, that their sphere of observation, as far as English life is concerned, has been circumscribed by the twelve miles map. Every one who has lived in the real country, no matter where, must feel that they introduce him to a world quite unlike his own. Every one who has had his head-quarters in London, must recognise the fidelity with which they represent the tracasseries of The Environs. Two-thirds of these novels are, in short, occupied with the cravings of little people for the notice of the great-the civil contempt with which the objects of this adoration reward their worshippers-and, last not least, the miseries and mock miseries which haunt, through the course of life, those persons of essentially feeble character who, under the influence either of youthful passion, or of caprice, or pique, or vanity, are rash enough to forget the distinctions of caste in the formation of a matrimonial alliance. This last subject appears indeed to be a special favourite. Hardly has The Contrast been forgotten, before we have precisely the same theme taken up Milly and Lucy,' and in Aims and Ends.'
These authoresses are at great pains in rummaging Cowley,
and Beaumont and Fletcher, and Collins, and Thomson's Seasons, for sentimental mottos to their books and chapters; but the true key-note of their strain is at hand in Moore's Epitaph on a Tuft-hunter.'
'Lament, lament, Sir Isaac Heard!
Put mourning round thy page, Debrett!
Heaven grant him now some noble nook,
Than saved in vulgar company.'
The title-page first on our list, Recollections of a Chaperonedited by Lady Dacre,' conveyed to us the impression that one whose dramas, both tragic and comic, have been much and justly admired, had condescended to the fashion of the time, and tried her hand at the novel. Lady Dacre, however, it is now known, brought not the book, but only the ingenious writer of the book, into the world-her editorship has been confined to a preface ;but we are bound to say, that, even if the work had been written by her Ladyship, the greater part of it would have done no dishonour to her elegant reputation.
The collection consists of five pieces-' Warrenne,' which we think confused, feeble, and absurd; The Single Woman of a Certain Age'-and of nearly equal dulness; An Old Story often told,'-the flimsy story of a sentimental divorcée, who is exceedingly unhappy because no ladies visit her except a few near relations and political connexions; and two novels of greater length, which appear to us to merit a more formal notice :tales which of themselves would go far to raise the standard by which productions of this school have of late years been judged. The first of these is Milly and Lucy,'--the history of the lovely daughter of a retired East Indian, evidently settled somewhere between Barnet and The Hoo, who, from the besetting sin of moderu heroines, is induced to quit her natural sphere of life, and figure in St. James's Square, a villa at Richmond, an abbey in some midland county, and a castle on the Welsh coast, as the wife of a worn out roué, old enough to be her father-the Marquis of Montreville. This is Lord Mulgrave's story over again-but the original inequality of condition being less, the details require a more delicate style of handling. The sketch is in all respects filled up far better than his Lordship's; and the gentleness of the catastrophe shows a taste and feeling a world above the melodramatic horrors of the third volume of 'The Contrast.' The character of Milly, however,-a nurse meant to personify all the virtues in their homely garb, and relieve at every
turn the pomps and vanities of Lucy the Marchioness-is rather mawkish; and by expunging this Goody altogether the story would be improved.
The Marquis had been, as the handsome but half-ruined Lord Arthur Stanfield,' one of the most distinguished sinners in London; but on succeeding, when within sight of fifty, to the honours and fortune of his house, he has perceived the propriety of procuring a wife and an heir: and resolved, in consequence of his past experience of style, manner, vivacity, grace,' &c., to choose some young unsophisticated creature, as unlike as possible to all those with whom he had had any former connexion.'
' He was accidentally introduced to Lucy, and she appeared to him precisely the thing of which he was in search. She was decidedly very pretty, and lacked nothing but what a week's tuition would give, to have un air distingué. Her head was small-it was naturally well put on. Her figure was slender, her foot was not large; and, though her hands were a little red, they were well-shaped. Some almond-paste, the best shoe-maker, and Mademoiselle Hyacinthe would set all quite right. He thought he should not alter the style of her coiffure. The back of her head was so Grecian in its contour, she might venture upon her own simple twist and long ringlets. Having thus made up his mind, he proceeded to ingratiate himself with the family. There was a public ball at the concert-rooms, and thither he went. He never danced: he knew he was too old, and he never affected youth. But, when Lucy was dancing, she often found his large, intelligent, expressive eyes fixed on her from beneath the very dark eyebrows which shaded them, without giving them any look of harshness. She felt flattered, without being distressed.'vol. i. pp. 160, 161.
The coolness of the whole procedure on the part of the noble lord is admirable.
He handed Mrs. Heckfield to supper, and sat between her and Lucy, who found her partner quite dull and stupid, in comparison with this very agreeable new acquaintance. He did not talk much; he said nothing which she could afterwards remember as being either clever or amusing. But he had a manner of listening with a deferential air, his eyes fixed with attention on the speaker, while his countenance seemed to say, the remark made was new and luminous, something which had never struck him before, so that people believed themselves delighted with him, while, in truth, they were delighted with themselves.'
We forget what accident had induced Lord Montreville to sojourn for a little in this part of the country; but it may easily be foreseen that Mrs. Heckfield would, after this ball and supper, induce her husband to give a dinner at Rose-Hill Lodge.' The cabinet council in which the party is arranged for this great occasion is very well done :—
"Let us have the Thompsons, my dear," said the Colonel. "La!
Colonel Heckfield! Mrs. Thompson! so fat and vulgar, and Mr. Thompson, so silent, unless you talk of stocks or consols." "Well, then, Colonel Danby and his daughter." "They will do pretty well; but I was thinking of Mrs. Haughtville, who, you know, has always lived in the first circles." "What! that deaf old woman ?" "Why, my dear, it won't do to ask just commonplace country neighbours. We must get somebody Lord Montreville is likely to know." "Very true! And then my friend Danby, he knows everybody, and can talk thirteen to the dozen." "He knows everybody who has been in India, but I very much suspect he does not know anybody that Lord Montreville would think anybody," answered the lady, who never could endure her husband's jolly friend, who certainly did eat, drink, talk, and laugh, thirteen to the dozen, but who, she not unwisely thought, would be a very bad ingredient in this refined party; "Surely Sir James Ashgrove, the member for the county, would be a better person; we can give him a bed you know." "Very well-Ashgrove is a good fellow, and a sensible fellow, but he never gives you much of his conversation, unless you talk of the last division in parliament, and then he will tell you which way every member voted, and the reasons of his vote into the bargain." "But he is a man of good birth and good connexions, and quite a friend of the family besides; James's godfather and all.” "Then, if we ask our good parson and his two daughters, we shall have quite enough. I don't like a great let-off; it is much best to take matters quietly."
"Good heavens! Colonel Heckfield! you cannot be in earnest. What! that old proser, who makes a comma between every word, and a full stop nowhere! and those two Misses, one as old as the hills, and the other as giggling a girl as ever I saw. Besides, Lucy and she will get laughing and gossipping together, and Lucy never appears to advantage when Bell Stopford is with her." "Whom had we best have then, my love?" responded the Colonel. "Why, first of all, Mrs. Haughtville," answered Mrs. Heckfield, who had long ago prepared her list in her mind, "and Sir James Ashgrove, (as you wish,) and young Mr. Lyon, Lord Petersfield's nephew, and Sir Alan Byway, the great traveller, and Miss Pennefeather, who wrote those sweet novels; people of fashion like to meet a genius; and then, my dear, I thought of asking Lord and Lady Bodlington." "Mercy upon us, wife! why I don't know them by sight." "But I do, Colonel Heckfield, and a sweet woman she is. I was introduced to her at the ball the other night."-p. 163-166.
The dinner takes place accordingly, and very poorly does it go off, until the drawing-room is gratified with some music by the lionness, in her sketch of whose performance we fear Mrs. Sullivan makes very free with some of her own fair sister manufac
"If Miss Pennefeather would favour us!" humbly suggested Mrs. Heckfield: "one of your own unique compositions, my dear Miss Pennefeather. Miss Pennefeather composes words, and music,