Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Aht. II.—1. Kings of England, a History for young Children. London: Mozleys.

2. Landmarks of History. Ancient History, from the earliest Times to the Mahometan Conquest. London: Mozleys.

3. Langley School. London: Mozleys.

4. Abbeychurch; or, Self-control and Self-conceit. London: Mozleys.

5. Scenes and Characters; or, Eighteen Months at Beechcroft. London: Mozleys.

6. Kenneth; or the Rearguard of the Grand Army. Oxford: J. H. Parker.

7. Henrietta's Wish; or, Domineering. London: Masters.

8. The Two Guardians. London: Masters.

9. The Heir ofReddyffe. 2 Vols. London: J. "W. Parker & Son.

• A Whiter of the school of Miss Austen' is a much-abused phrase, applied now-a-days by critics who, it is charitable to suppose, have never read Miss Austen's works, to any female writer who composes dull stories without incident, full of level conversation, and concerned with characters of middle life. The simple difference between the great writer whose name is thus misused and those who are said to resemble her is, that she has genius and they have none. In this great quality, indeed, the writer now before us more nearly approaches Miss Austen than any other of her so-called school. But because she has genius, that is, because she is original, she belongs to no school but her own; she is entitled to a separate place and a distinct description; and whether we rank her high or low in the literary commonwealth, at least we shall set her by herself as an independent author, not unlikely to be imitated, but certainly free from the charge of being an imitator herself. It is indeed only in the sense of imitation that such things as schools can exist at all in literature. A great man will have a host of servile followers, who will catch his peculiarities, and, at humble distance, imitate his style; but this is hardly what is meant by persons belonging to his school. It is also true that every great genius leaves the impress of his mind upon the literature of his own period, and of succeeding times, and that minds apparently the most dissimilar are commonly or unconsciously subject to his influence. Wordsworth, for instance, wrought a change in English literature; Mr. Tennyson is full of him; and

No. Lxxxi.—N.S. D

even the third Canto of 'Childe Harold' owes not a little to the 'Excursion.' Yet we should never think of calling Mr. Tennyson, as it would be absurd to call Lord Byron, a poet of the school of Wordsworth. Except, therefore, so far as a writer distinctly imitates, or is unconsciously influenced by another, we doubt the existence of any literary relation which justifies the phrase of belonging to a school. It is a loose and inexact expression, which, having crept into modern criticism, saves the trouble of minute analysis by the use of a vague analogy, and, worthless for all critical purposes, may often seriously mislead the literary historian. Conceive some future Sismondi, reading English as a foreign language, and endeavouring to discover in the poetry of Wordsworth and Southey any one common quality, which might explain the fact of their contemporaries having been led to class them together in a school!

We shall not, therefore, assert the author before us to be a disciple of Miss Austen; though undoubtedly her books, and the books of many others also, would never have been written as they are but for the existence of' Persuasion' and ' Mansfield Park.' Miss Austen taught her countrywomen where to look for materials of fiction, and in what style of writing the finest qualities of female intellect, delicate observation, refined description, easy and graceful conversation, simple and pathetic tenderness, might find their widest scope and most legitimate development. The novel of character, as opposed to the novel of incident, is that of which Miss Austen may be considered the foundress, as perhaps her writings are the greatest example; and to the development of character, and the interest thereby created, Miss Yonge, the young lady now«under review, has devoted herself, from her earliest and most childish publications, to the beautiful and mature tale which stands last in the list at the head of this paper. This is hardly a fitting opportunity, nor, if it were, have we either time or space to go into the question as to superiority between these two great divisions. Perhaps, with Sir Soger de Coverley, we might arrive at the safe conclusion, that ' much is to be said on both sides.' At present, the tide is setting against incident and romance. We forget that it is possible that stories of character may foster an oversharpness of observation towards others, and a morbid selfintrospection, that may easily degenerate into weak sentimentalism. We perhaps somewhat too hastily discard books, which, without attempting to teach young readers to be men, fill their minds with graceful fancies, and allow them to become men, without thinking of themselves at all. Our author's books, however, have this great merit, that though constantly concerned with character, and often minute in its delineation, the moral intended to be inculcated is for the most part left to inference and reflection; the facts speak for themselves, and the lesson, if sometimes obvious, is never obtrusive.

In this and in some respects besides, she resembles, as much as in others she differs from, the great writer to whose school, as we have said, she does not belong. Like Miss Austen, her present power and genius could hardly have been gathered from her first essays. 'Margin Abbey' gave slight promise of 'Emma' or ' Persuasion.' The comparatively uninteresting and

Jet sharp-natured characters in ' Abbey Church' could hardly ave been expected to expand into the mingled strength and tenderness of ' The Heir of Redclyffe.' Miss Austen's career was brief, though brilliant; we trust that in this respect Miss Yonge's may be very different. She has gradually increased in power from her earliest publication; and beautiful as her last work is, there is no reason to believe it is the best that she can do. With gifts like hers, and a life before her, we may reasonably expect her to take her place in the foremost ranks of our female authors.

Her mode of producing effect, the means she employs to convey the idea of the characters she creates, are such as must improve in ease and power with exercise and time. She is in these, also, more like Miss Austen than any other of our distinguished female writers. She does not work by means of eloquent description and polished epigrams, like Lady Georgiana Fullerton; nor by grand and striking scenes, as Airs. Marsh and Miss Mulock. Even the authoress of' Mary Barton' and ' Ruth,' though she makes her incident subordinate to her characterisation, yet develops character chiefly by incident, and that sometimes of a startling and romantic kind. There is nothing of this sort in Miss Yonge's writings. She scarcely ever describes, and her incidents are always simple and ordinary. The effect she desires to produce is the result of a vast number of little delicate touches, now in conversation, now dropped by the way, in the most natural and apparently inartificial manner. They are felt in the aggregate rather than remembered in detail. Living and moving men and women, as all her characters are, singularly distinct aud varied, so that we should know any of them if we met them in the street, and should never for a moment mistake one of them for another, it would be difficult to say why we knew them, by what peculiar feature we identified them, or to what particular page of the author's books we traced our conception. In some respects she reminds us of Richardson, the great master in this kind. Tiresome as his novels are to read, the reiteration of his minute strokes is wonderfully effective in the end; and with all their defects', they leave a distinctness of impression, which we fail to receive from many a more highly gifted and more attractive writer. We should do Miss Yonge great injustice if we said simply that she wrote like Richardson. If she has not his power, neither has she his tediousness nor his vulgarity. But they agree so far as this,—that in neither does there appear to be any attempt to conceive a character upon principles of philosophy, and develop it according to any theory of metaphysics. Certainly in Miss Yonge there is no attempt at the philosophical novel. She has studied character closely, and she gives her imagination free and healthy play, and the result is a series of sketches, which are indeed philosophical, but only because they are natural; and which teach deep lessons, because they are pictures of that real life which has enough to teach to those who will observe and listen to it.

Although, however, her characters are thoroughly natural, and drawn just as they would present themselves in actual society, they are not all delineated with the same pleasure and satisfaction. There is an evident delight in the drawing of some of them, a belief in their reality, an enthusiasm for their goodness and beauty, which as clearly are not felt for other characters. In this she widely differs from Miss Austen; and if this heartiness and personal zest, revealed with perfect simplicity, add a certain moral charm to her writings, in the severe judgment of criticism they must be allowed to detract somewhat from her intellect and genius. It is not, as we think, that Miss Austen was herself without the enthusiasm which she can so abundantly kindle in her readers, but she was too great an artist, and exercised far too severe a self-control, to allow it to appear in her works. In the perfect mirror of her mind, each image was reflected with entire and equal accuracy, and was delineated by her language with the same unerring distinctness, the same absence of all apparent effort, the same easy and tranquil satisfaction. Narrative, description, conversation, succeed each other with the same impassive serenity, and produce their powerful effect almost as if they could not help it. Miss Austen's own character could as little be gathered from her novels, as (to compare her with the greatest) we can identify the man Shakspeare with the villany of Iago, the wit of Falstaff, the cruelty of King Richard, or the purity of Imogen. This will be always one great, though not the only test, of the presence of genius and imagination. And in this respect, it must be confessed, there is a wide difference between the writings of Miss Yonge, and those of the authors we have just mentioned. For it would be easy enough to collect from her tales the temper of her mind and the character of her belief, even if she had not distinctly recorded them in the two elementary historical works at the head of this article. Nor, inasmuch as genius is not the most precious thing on earth, nor artistic perfection the highest object, would we desire the absence of her opinions, or the expression of them in a less decided manner, however they may sometimes reveal the authoress in her characters, and occasionally differ widely from those which we entertain ourselves. Amiable, highminded, profoundly religious, as she shows herself to be, we can forgive prejudices which are never low or mean, and admire an enthusiasm which is always lofty, if sometimes uninformed. Her opinions are essentially of the past, and she carries the principle of loyalty to the farthest point (perhaps beyond it) at which it is consistent with independence and freedom. Church and State, as in the old time, mutually absorb each other in her creed; and the divinity of the sovereign, the religious duty of submission, the probable sin of any resistance to authority, the danger of an inquiring spirit, are amongst the prominent topics of her teaching, whether direct, as in her historical judgments, or indirect, as in the drawing of her imaginary characters. In her writing, indeed, there is no offensive air of assumed superiority; reverence and submission are not taught as virtues from which the teacher may herself be free; nor is the Bible treated, as it is sometimes said to be, as 'a useful book for the lower classes.' The entire sincerity, no less than the good taste of Miss Yonge, preserve her from such grave mistakes. But she is a thorough Tory. A radical in politics, or a dissenter in religion, would receive small mercy at her hands. So hearty and thoroughgoing is her sympathy with characters whom she admires, that her judicial faculty is, in some cases, suspended. It would be, for instance, evidently dangerous, in discussing with her the character of Charles L, to allude to Strafford, or to suggest a doubt as to the perfect honesty of the Naseby letters. In this, and other matters, she acts upon her own principles; believing what she has been told, she can see no reason why other people should not hear and believe it also. Generally she has been told what is true, and has lived in communion with authorities, which we, at least, are not disposed to question. Mr. Keble's religious poetry, for example, is ever present to her mind, and is perpetually quoted by all her good characters; and the class of books with which she is most familiar, and the thoughts of which we find occasionally reproduced in her own, are such as that admirable person, as we trust also our own readers, would thoroughly approve. From the writings of one thus educated, and of a mind thus naturally reverent and devout, it is impossible to rise without feelings of hearty liking for the author, and respect for her character and opinions. We are not

« PreviousContinue »