Page images

now speaking of qualities purely intellectual. With these she has, indeed, been abundantly gifted, but the possession of intellect alone is no guarantee against its abuse.

It may be, however, and we think it is so, that the existence of feelings and opinions so strong as hers may, to some extent, interfere with the confidence which we ought to have in any one who undertakes to instruct our children in the history of their own, and in that of other countries, True, that elementary history has, for the most part, been written hitherto with as much irreligion as falsehood. The spirit of Hume, and the influence of his great but untrue work, has been widely and fatally felt. Well might a distinguished man exclaim, that history must be re-written on Church principles!' But in historical tales and youthful histories, he has lately been taken more literally at his word than he would have himself approved. For history ought not to be written for any special purpose. The temptation, already to most minds strong enough to distort and misrepresent facts in favour of their own opinions, and to judge too hardly of the characters of those who are opposed to them, becomes absolutely irresistible if it presents itself clothed in a religious garment, and recommended by the most solemn sanction. Strong feeling and determined opinion are not the best qualifications for an historian, nor ought history to be made the vehicle for conveying views. The views may be right, and history may be consistent with them, but history must not be written for the purpose of enforcing them.

The historical works of Miss Yonge are, to some extent, obnoxious to this line of observation. Written by a person of very definite views, they bear, throughout, the impress of the author's opinions; she neither conceals nor disguises them, and the teacher who uses her volumes has, therefore, fair and ample warning; nor, as we said of her stories, do her sentiments ever appear in a shape that is offensive, or inconsistent with the most entire uprightness and sincerity. They appear scarcely at all in the ‘Landmarks of History,' a book of remarkable ability and value. For a luminous and interesting sketch of ancient history, accurate enough for use in schools, and lively enough to keep the dullest classes awake, we know of no book to be compared to it. It is by no means easy, as any one must know, to tell the requisite amount of facts in a small volume, and to avoid an amount of dryness which shall make the volume unreadable. Heeren and Keightly have tried and failed. Without attempting quite so much, Miss Yonge has at least perfectly succeeded. Her book is full of facts, accurately stated, and is so written as to be agreeable reading to any one who may take it up. Throughout it, moreover, the judgments are as fair as the narra

the skin interest ainclear and thes in the Lim

tive is lively. Her purity and moral elevation have preserved her from the snares of hero-worship, while the romance and imagination of her nature have left no noble action unnoticed, nor any lofty character uncomprehended, or without due honour.

Nor are we about to deny to the Kings of England,' the book most open to the remarks we made above, the praise to which it is justly entitled, of being, upon the whole, the best introduction to English history which has hitherto appeared. The most popular youthful history has been, of late years, that bearing the name of Mrs. Markham, and the ' Kings of England' is more original and independent, better in tone, and far more to be relied upon than those clever volumes. As in the ‘Landmarks of History,' the narrative is clear and the style vigorous; and as in that book, an interest almost personal is created and maintained by the skill with which the annals of a period are connected with the lives of the leading men, and history is treated as a series of remarkable characters no less than as a succession of events. This book, therefore, is also a good one; and we have spoken of Miss Yonge's historical deficiencies only because we feel she might have made it better, and because, in recommending it on the whole, we by no means desire to subscribe to all the political opinions or personal judgments expressed in the course of it. Great liberality should always be exercised in these matters, and it is to the credit both of the Committee of Council and of the Episcopal School Association in America, that they should have concurred in adopting a book, from the whole of which those bodies must occasionally differ, as widely as they do from each other. They have, however, set an example which, in our humble measure, we desire to follow.

It is not necessary to qualify, even so far as this, the terms of approbation in which we can speak of the whole series of her works of fiction. They differ, indeed, in merit and in ability. They are written with various objects, and are not all addressed to minds of the same age or class. Yet they have all a family likeness; are stamped with a common character, and marked with the same literary excellences and defects ; the defects graduallydisappearing, and becoming more and more faint and unimportant, as her judgment matures and her powers strengthen. The first in our series, Langley School,' was, we believe, published after Abbey Church,' but is the slightest in construction, and addresses the most youthful audience. It is a set of sketches of character from the girls and boys in a village school, each character affording some moral lesson of warning or encouragement. There is just so much connected story as may supply a kind of framework, as it were, to keep the book together. The grace and life of it are remarkable ; with all its simplicity it is never

eciate and admirare such ture of it, and

bald, and though there is really nothing which a young child could not understand and enjoy, the truth and nature of it, and occasionally the tenderness of feeling, are such as children of larger growth may appreciate and adınire. There is a sketch of a gentle yet high-spirited boy, one Philip, which, though little more than an outline, seems to be the first idea of the most perfect and beautiful character in the Heir of Redclyffe.'

We confess to having thought ‘Abbey Church'unsatisfactory when we first read it years ago; nor, on reperusing it for the purpose of this article, have we found reason to distrust our early impression. It is more than a child's book, and is very clever, the characters well imagined, and keenly discriminated; the dialogue generally vivacious, and the moral teaching at once sensible and elevating. Yet the result is not pleasing. There is an over-sharpness of observation, a want of repose in the conversations, and an occasional pedantry in the display of various learning (as, for instance, in making two young girls discuss early history, through some pages, when undressing for the night), which all reveal the unpractised author, wanting in ease and self-restraint, and wanting, consequently, in the power of commanding the attention of the reader and attracting his sympathies. Yet, if a comparative failure, it was a failure of great promise, and such as none but a writer of power would have been able to make.

Considerable improvement was manifest in Scenes and Characters,' her next publication. A greater variety of character, more humour, a better constructed and more elaborate plot were to be found, blended with all the talent and good feeling which, in spite of its many deficiencies, had separated the earlier and less successful production from the crowd of books written for young children, which the press has so long teemed with. This was a striking book; and no one could read the characters of · Honest Phyl' and 'Lilias Mohun' without feeling that the author had great capacity for such delineation; that she was far, indeed, above the region of commonplace, and had thoughts and an expression of her own. Perhaps, a little want of tenderness was to be felt, even with the undeniably high and religious tone which the book displayed. Too much prominence was given to acute remark and a good-tempered censoriousness,—the danger to which, as we have observed, stories of this kind are peculiarly opeis. Through great part of the volume the children are induced to believe that their father is about to contract a second and somewhat ill-assorted marriage; and though they are mistaken, and the misunderstanding gives rise to a good deal of amusement and clever complication, we are not sure that it was wise, in a youthful book, to represent children in such an

aboression oft, even witted Too med censorios kind are Laren ara erns to be book displaycod-tempestories o

attitude towards their parent; nor that some of the incidents can be altogether defended in point of taste. In this book, however, as in the former one, the very errors were such as none but a clever writer could have committed; and were more than atoned for by numerous charming passages of dialogue and reflection, such as none but a woman of genius could have conceived or expressed.

· Henrietta's Wish' was, we believe, the next of Miss Yonge's stories which appeared in a collected form. No doubt could remain, after the publication of this volume, of her power to assume and maintain a high place in the literature of this country. The story is slight and somewhat uninteresting, but the characters, the dialogue, the tenderness and beauty of many of the scenes are remarkable. A gentle, religious person, the mother of Henrietta and her brother, is over-persuaded by her children, especially her daughter, to give up a quiet secluded life, which is suited to her health, and go to live amongst the relations of her dead husband, where she is liable to be constantly excited, and to have a terrible disease increased, which is already preying upon her. Her son-fond of her, indeed, but impatient of her control, and wilful and high-spirited-gets thrown out of a gig, and has a concussion of the brain, which nearly costs him his life. Henrietta, also wilful and overbearing, adds to her discomfort, and brings on fresh accesses of her malady. She dies, leaving her son much the better for the discipline he has undergone; but Henrietta quite unchastened. With the gradual improvement of her character the book concludes. The mother and her children, her brother-in-law, uncle Geoffrey, and his wife and daughter, are a set of characters that would do honour to any novelist; so distinct and striking in themselves, and combined into so harmonious a picture. The thorough knowledge of country life and amusements which is displayed, the zest with which the play of youthful character is entered into, the reality and vigour of the conversations, are delightful. The manner, too, in which, without exaggeration or improbability, the mind of the reader is impressed with the great importance of keeping watch over our smallest actions, and the serious practical evils which follow from ungoverned tempers, makes the book as useful as it is uncommon. How sweet and tender is the following scene. It is just before the death of Henrietta's mother, when her brother Frederick is recovering from the danger which his wilfulness had brought on him.

"All Fred attempted was the making his long meditated request that he might visit his mother, and Uncle Geoffrey undertook to see whether it was possible. Numerous messages passed, and at length it was arranged ·

that on Sunday, just before afternoon service, when the house was quiet, his uncle should help him to her room, where his aunt would read to them both.

• Frederick made quite a preparation for what was to him a great undertaking. He sat counting the hours all the morning; and when at length the time arrived, his heart beat so violently, that it seemed to take away all the little strength he had. His uncle came in, but waited a few moments; then said, with some hesitation, “ Fred, you must be prepared to see her a good deal altered.”

"“ Yes,” said Fred, impatiently.

6" And take the greatest care not to agitate her. Can you be trusted ? I do not ask it for your own sake.”

6 66 Yes," said Fred, resolutely. 6- Then come."

And in process of time Fred was at her door. There he quitted his uncle's arm, and came forward alone to the large easy chair where she sat by the fire side. She started joyfully forward, and soon he was on one knee before her, her arms round his neck, her tears dropping on his face, and a quiet sense of excessive happiness felt by both. Then rising, le sank back into another great chair, which his sister had arranged for him close to hers, and too much out of breath to speak, he passively let Henrietta make him comfortable there; while holding his mother's hand he kept his eyes fixed upon her, and she, anxious only for him, patted his cushions, offered her own, and pushed her footstool towards him.

• A few words passed between Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Langford outside the door.

"" I still think it a great risk,” said she.

«« But I should not feel justified in preventing it,” was his answer, “ only do not leave them long alone.” Then opening the door, he called, “ Henrietta, there is the last bell.” And Henrietta, much against her will, was obliged to go with him to Church.

«« Good-bye, my dear,” said her mother. “Think of us prisoners in the right way at Church, and not in the wrong one."

Strangely came the sound of the Church bell to their ears through the window, half open to admit the breezy breath of spring; the cawing of the rooks and the song of the blackbird came with it; the sky was clear and blue, the buds were bursting into life.

"" How very lovely it is !" added she.

Fred made a brief reply, but without turning his head to the window. His eyes, his thoughts, his whole soul, were full of the contemplation of what was to him a thousand times more lovely,—that frail wasted form, namely, whose hand he held. The delicate pink colour which Henrietta had described was on her cheek, contrasting with the ivory whiteness of the rest of her face; the blue eyes shone with a sweet subdued brightness under their long black lashes; the lips smiled, though languidly, yet as sunnily as ever; the dark hair lay in wavy lines along the sides of her face, and but for the helplessness with which the figure rested in the chair, there was less outward token of suffering than he had often seen about her,more appearance almost of youth and beauty. But it was not an earthly beauty; there was something about it which filled him with a kind of indescribable undefined awe, together with dread of a sorrow towards which he shrank from looking. She thought bim fatigued with the exertion he had made, and allowed him to rest, while she contemplated with pleasure even the slight advances which he had already made in shaking off the traces of illness.

'The silence was not broken till Aunt Geoffrey came in, just as the last stroke of the Church-bell died away, bringing in her hand a fragrant spray of the budding sweet-briar.

« PreviousContinue »