Page images

without an instructor: but ihe most common case is. to be capable of learning, and yet to require teaching; and a far greater part of the misery which exists in society arises from ignorance, than either from vice or from incapacity.

Miss Edgeworth is the great modern mistress in this school of true philosophy; and has eclipsed, \ve think, the fame of all her predecessors. By her many excellent tracts nn éducation, she has conferred a benefit on th>! whole mass of the population: and discharged, with exemplary patience as well us extraordinary judgment, a task which superficial spirits may perhaps mistake for an humble and easy one. By her Popular Tales, she has rendered an invaluable service to the middling and lower orders of the people ; and by her Novels, and by the volumes before us, has made a great and meritorious effort to promote the happiness and respectability of the higher classes. On a former occasion we believe we hinted to her, that these would probably be the least successful of all her labours; and that it was doubtful whether she con fil be justified for bestowing so much of her lime on the case of a few persons, who scarcely deserved to be cure«, and were scarcely capable of being corrected. The foolish aiul unhappy part of the fashionable world, for Ihe most part, "is not fit to bear itielf convinced.1' It is too vain, too busy, ami too dissipated to listen to. or remember any thing that is said to it. Every thing serious ii repels, by "its dear wit and gay rhetoric:" ami against every thing poignant, it »eeks shelter in the impenetrable armour of its conjunct audacity.

"Laugh'd at, it laughs again ;—and, stricken hard, Turns to the stroke its adamantine scales. '1'hnt (car no discipline of human hands."

A book, on the other hand, anil especially a witty ami popular book, is sldl a thing of consequence, to such of the middling classes of society as are in the habit of reading. They dispute about it. and think of it; and as they occasionally make themselves ridiculous by copying the manners it displays, so they are apt to be impressed with the great lessons it may be calculated to leach ; and, on the whole, receive it into considerable authority among the regulators of their lives and opinions.— But a fashionable person has scarcely any leisore to read : and none to think of what he has been reading. It would be a derogation from his dignity to speak of a book in any t'rms but those of frivolous derision; and a strange desertion of his own superiority, to allow himself to receive, from its perusal, any impressions which could at all affect his conduct or opinions.

Bnt though, for these reasons, we continue think that Miss Edgeworlh's fashionable patients will do less credit to her prescriptions than Ihe more numerous classes to whom they might have been directed, we admit that her plan of treatment ii in the highest degree judicious, and her conception of the disordt-r most luminous and precise. «и

There are two great sources of unhappinese to those whom fortune and nature seem to have placed above the reach of ordinary miseries. The one is ennui—that stagnation of life and feeling which results from the absence of all motives to exertion; and by which the justice of providence has so fully compensated the partiality of fortune, that it may be fairly doubted whether, upon the whole, the race of beggars is not happier than the race of lords; and whether those vulgar wants that are sometimes so importunate, are not. in this world, the chief ministers of enjoyment. This is a plague that infects all indolent persons who can live on in the rank in which they were bom, without the necessity of working: but, in a free country, it rarely occurs in any great degree of virulence, except among those who are already at the summit of human felicity. Below this, there is room for ambition, anil envy, and emulation, and all ihe feverish movements of aspiring vanity and unresting selfishness, which act as prophylactics against this more dark and deadly distemper. It is the canker which conoiles the full-blown flower of human felicity—the pestilence which smites at the bright hour of noon.

The other curse of the happy, has a range more wide and indiscriminate. It, too, tortures only the comparatively rich and fortunate; but is most active among the least distinguished; and abates in malignity as we ascend to the lofty regions of pure cunui. This is the desire of being fashionable ;—the restless and insatiable passion to pass for creatures a little more distinguished than we really are—with the mortification of frequent failure, and the humiliating consciousness of being perpetually exposed toit. Among those who are secure of "meat, clothes, and fire," and are thus above the chief physical evils of existence, we do believe that this is a more prolific source of unhappiness, than guilt, disease, or wounded affection; and that more positive misery is created, and more true enjoyment excluded, by the eternal fretting and straining of this pitiful ambition, than by all the ravages of passion, the desolations of war, or the accidents of mortality. This may appear a strong statement; but we make it deliberately, and are deeply convinced of its truth. The wretchedness which it produces may not be so intense; but it is of much longer duration, and spreads over a far wider circle. It is quite dreadful, indeed, to think what a sweep this pest has taken among the comforts of our prosperous population. To be thought fashionable—that is, to be thought more opulent and tasteful, and on a footing of intimacy with a greater number of distinguished persons than they really are. is the great and laborious pursuit of iour familiea out of five, the members of which are ex empted from the necessity of daily industry. In this pursuit, their time, spirits, and tálente are wasted; their tempers, soured; their affections palsied; and their natural manners and dispositions altogether sophisticated and lost.

These are the giant curses of fashionable life, and Miss Edgeworth has accordingly dedicated her two best tales to the delineation of their symptoms. The history of !! Lord Glenthorn" is a fine picture of ennui—that of l; Almería" an instructive representation of the miseries of aspirations after fashion. We do not know whether it was a part of the fair writer's design to represent these maladies as absolutely incurable, without a change of condition; but the fact is, that in spite of the best dispositions and capacities, and the most powerful inducements to action, the hero of tnnui makes no advances towards amendment, till he is deprived of his title and estate! and the victim of fashion is left, at the end of the tale, pursuing her weary career, with fading hopes and wasted spirits, but with increased anxiety and perseverance. The moral use of these narratives, therefore, must consist in warning us against the first approaches of evils which can never afterwards be resisted.

These are the great twin scourges of the prosperous: But there are other maladies, of no slight malignity, to which they are peculiarly liable. One of these, arising mainly from want of more worthy occupation, is that perpetual use of stratagem and contrivance— that little, artful diplomacy of private life, by which the simplest and most natural transactions are rendered complicated and difficult, and the common business of existence made to depend on the success of plots and counterplots. By the incessant practice of this petty policy, a habit of duplicity and anxiety is infallibly generated, which is equally fatal to integrity and enjoyment. We gradually come to look on others with the distrust which we are conscious of deserving; and are insensibly formed to sentiments of the most unamiable selfishness and suspicion. It is needless to say, that all these elaborate artifices are worse than useless to the person who employs them: and that the ingenious plotter is almost always baffled and exposed by th? downrieht honesty of some undesigning competitor. Miss Edgeworth, in her tale of " Manoeuvring." has given a very complete and most entertaining representation of " the by-paths and indirect crook'd ways," by which these artful and inefficient people generally make their way to disappointment. In the tale, entitled '• Madame de Fleury," she has given some useful examples of the ways in which the rich may most effectually do good to th'! poor—an operation which, we really believe, fails more frequently from want of skill than of inclination: And. in ''The Dun," she has drawn a touching and most impressive picture of the wretchedness which the poor so frequently suffer, from the unfeeling thoughtlessness which withholds from them the scanty earnings of their labour.

Of these tales, :I Ennui " is the best and the most entertaining—though th» leading character is somewhat caricatured, and the denouement is brought about by a discovery which shocks by its needless improbability. Lord Glenthorn is bred up, by a false and indulgent guardian, as the heir to an immense English and Irish estate; and, long before he >e of age, exhausts almost all the resources by

which life can be made tolerable to those чЛл have nothing to wish for. Bom on the тегу pinnacle of human fortune, '•' he hid noting to do but to sit still and enjoy the barrennea of the prospect." He tries travelling, gaming, gluttony, hunting, pugilism, and coach-dri?. ing; but is so pressed down with the ¡02! í life, as to be repeatedly on the eve of suicide. He passes over to Ireland, where he recera a temporary relief, from the rebellion—v¿ from falling in love with a lady of high character and accomplishments; but the effect oí these stimulants is speedily expended, ча he is in danger of falling into a co:inr-°i lethargy, when it is fortunately discortred that he has been changed at nurse ! and tto, instead of being a peer of boundless кт:::.-. he is the son of a cottager who lives on peatoes. With great magnanimity, he т.огл gives up the fortune to the rightful orer, who has been bred a blacksmith, and ala to the study of the law. At the commencement of this arduous career, he forrnnalflj falls in love, for the second time, with the lady entitled, after the death of the blacksmith, to succeed to his former estate. Parrty and love now supply him with irresistible motives for exertion. He rises in his profusion; marries the lady of his heart; mi a due time returns, an altered man; to ihr '.<*• session of his former affluence.

Such is the naked outline of a story, more rich in character, incident, and reflects.. :'-'• any English narrative which we can no» a. to remembrance :—as rapid and ппош и the best tales of Voltaire, and as full of p"• tical good sense and moral pathetic as an'nf the other tales of Miss Edgeworth Th-' !"•characters are inimitable ;—not the oarer* ricatures of modern playwrights—biü No~ with a spirit, a delicacy, and a preci-w".; which we do not know if there be any prallei among national delineations. As thesef tales of fashionable life, we shall present * readers, in the first place, with some trails^ an Irish lady of rank. Lady Gérai'', ne-'-enchantress whose powerful roa^f "•r': raised the hero of ennui from hit leaden s'No bera is represented with such exquisite Ьте> ness and completeness of effect, thai 'J> reader can scarcely help ¡marrming that Ьг has formerly been acquainted with the oró nal. Every one, at least we conceire, me* have known somebody, the recollectw whom must convince him that the follow description is as true nature as it is crediub* to art:—

"A« Lady Géraldine entered, I g»wonei»*.>tr

lary glance of curiosity. I «aw a lall, fineif-»Ц« woman, with the commanding air of > pewi rank : she moved well; not wiih fetniaine TM yet wiih ease, promptitude, and deewon. P finn eyps, and a fine complexion, yet no Pti "'' of fraiure. The only thine that strurk m» " p pxtraordinnrv, was her indifference when I «"' • troduced to her. Every had «i'i""f «'^ desirous that I should see her Myfhip. aher ladyship should see me; and I *;*' "•> "' prised bv her unconcerned air. Th» W0*" and fixed my attention. She lurried fmm •"' '" began to converse with others. Ht w» *" agreeable, though rather loud: to« did » »I«»» wi'n the Irisl. accent; hut, when I listened mai -i-Hi«ly, I delected certain Hibernian inflexions — nulhing of Ihe vulgar Irish idiom, but something 4mt was more interrogativo, more exclamatory, ana perhaps more rhetorical, than the common language of English ladies, accompanied with infinitely more animation of countenance and demonstrative gesture. This appeared to me peculiar and unusual, but not affected. She was uncommonly eloquent ; and yet, without action, her words were not sufficiently npui to express her ideas. Her manner appeared loreign, yet it was not quite French. If I had been obliged to decide, I should, however, have pronounced it rather more French than English. Го determine which it was, or whether I had ever í»*n any thing similar, I stood considering her lady•шр with more attention than I had ever bestowed on any other woman. The words itrikmg— -fatcifating bewitching, occurred to me as I looked at her and heard her speak. I resolved to turn my f yes sway, and shut my ears; for I was positively determined not to like her; I dreaded so much the idetof a second Hymen. I retreated to the farthest window, and looked out very soberly upon a dirty îiîb-pond.

"If she had treated me with tolerable civility at first, I never should have thought about her. Highborn and high-bred, she seemed to consider more »hat she should think of others, than what others •bought of her. Frank, candid, and affable, yet '•pimonated, insolent, and an egotist: her candour »ixl affability appeared the effect of a naturally good temper; her insolence and egotiem only (hat of a «potled child. She seemed to talk of herself purely to oblige others, as the most interesting possible topic of conversation; for such it had always been to her fond mother, who idolized her ladyship as an only daughter, and the representative of an ancient noose. Confident of her talents, conscious of her charma, and secure of her station, Lady Géraldine рте free scope to her high spirits, her fancy, and hfrturn for ridicule. She looked, spoke, and acted, •ike a person privileged to think, say, and do, what she pleased. Her raillery, like the raillery of princes, Wm without fear of retort. She was not ill-natured,

•t careless to whom she gave offence, provided ««produced amusement; and in this she seldom ailed ; for, in her conversation, there was much of [he manees of Irish wit. and the oddity of Irish '"imour. The singularity that struck me most '•«ut her ladyship was her indifference lo flattery. one certainly preferred frolic. Miss Bland was her •¡'-mile companion; Miss Tracey her butt. It waa one of Lady Geraldine's delights, to humour Miss Irecey's rage for imitating the fashions of fine 'Now yOU

Ptople. 'Now yOU ehal| see Mjss Tracey appear 'I the ball to-morrow, in every thing that I have •worn to her is fashionable. Nor have I cheated иг in a single article : but the tout ensemble I leave "her better judgment; and you shall see her, I Jrost. a perfect monster, formed of every creature's ''•'t: Lady Kilrush's feathers, Mrs. Moore's wig, яп. О Connor's gown, Mrs. Leighton's sleeves,

«1 »H the necklaces of all the Mies Ormsbys. ~:'f has no taste, no judgment; none at all, poor [ ..... *! but ehe can imitate as well as those Chinese ¡'"'•tere. who. in their drawings, give you the flower "• "tic plant stuck on the stalk of another, and gar

"tied with the leaves of a third.' "— i. 130—139.

.This favourite character is afterwards exhibited in a great variety of dramatic contrasts. h0' example :—

bird Craiglethorpe was, as Miss Tracey had Bribed him, very stiff, cold, and high. His man. f.swere jn the extreme of English reserve; and "«1-bted show of contempt for the Irish was suf<w" ')rov"cal'on and justification of Ladv Geral"* ridicule. He was much in awe of his fair TM witty cousin: and she could easily put him out

[ocr errors]

Géraldine exclaimed, 'That cousin Craialeihorpe of mine is scarcely an agreeable man: The awkwardness of mauvaise-/tont might be pitied and pardoned, even in a nobleman,' continued her ladyship, 'if it really proceeded from humility; but here, when I know it is connected with secret and inordinate arrogance, 'tis past all endurance. As the Frenchman said of the Englishman, for whom even his politeness could not find another compliment, "II faut avouer que ce Monsieur a un grand talent pour le silence ;"—he holds his tongue till people actually believe that he has something to say—a mistake they could never fall into if he would but speak.—It is not timidity; it is alt pride. I would pardon his dulness, and even his ignorance ; for one, as you say, might be the fault of his nature, and the other of his education : but his self-sufficiency is hie own fault; and that I will not, and cannot pardon. Somebody says, that nature may make a fool, but a coxcomb is always of his own making. Now, my cousin—(as he is my cousin, I may say what I please of him,)—my cousin Craigleihorpe is a solemn coxcomb, who thinks, because his vanity ig not talkative and sociable, that it's not vanity. What a mistake !' "—i. 14ß—148.

These other traits of her character are given, on different occasions, by Lord Glenthorn :—

"At first I had thought her merely superficial, and intent solely upon Her own amusement; but I soon found that she had ataste for literature beyond what could have been expected in one who lived so dissipated a life; a depth of reflection that seemed inconsistent with the rapidity with which she thought; and, above all, a degree of generous indignation against meanness and vice, which seemed incompatible with the selfish character of a fine lady; and which appeared quite incomprehensible to the imitating (ribe of her fashionable companions."

i. 174.

"Lady Géraldine was superior to manoeuvring little arts, and petty stratagems, to attract attention. She would not stoop, even to conquer. From gentlemen she seemed to expect attention as her right, as the right of her sex; not to beg, or accept of it as a favour: if it were not paid, she deemed the gentleman degraded, not herself. Far from being mortified by any preference shown to other ladies, her countenance betrayed only a sarcastic sort of pity for the bad taste of the men, or an absolute indifference and look of haughty absence. I saw that she beheld with disdain the paltry competitions of the young ladies her companions: as her companions, indeed, she hardly seemed to consider them; she tolerated their foibles, forgave their envy, and never exerted nny superiority, except to show her contempt of vice and meanness."—i. 198, 199.

This may suffice as a specimen of the high life of the piece; which is more original and characteristic than that of Belinda—and altogether as lively and natural. For the low life, we do not know if we could extract a more felicitous specimen than the following description of the equipage in which Lord Glenthorn's English and French servant were compelled to follow their master in Ireland.

"From the inn yard came a hnckney chaise, in a most deplorably crazy state; the body mounted up to a prodigious height, on unbending springs, nodding forwards, one door swinging open, three blinds up, because they could not be let down, the perch tied in two places, the iron of the wheels half off, half loose, wooden pegs for linch-pins, and ropes for harness. The horses were worthy of the harness; wretched little dog-tired creatures, that looked as if they had been driven to the last gasp, and as if they had never been rubbed down in their lives; their bones starling through their skin ; one lame, the other blind; one with a raw back, the other with a galled breast ; one with hie neck poking down over hi« collar, and the other with his head dragged forward by a bit of a broken bridle, held at arms' length by a man dressed like a mad beggar, in half a hat, and half a wig, botli awry in opposite directions ; a long tattered coat, lied round his waist by a hay-rope ; the jagged rents in the skirts of this coat showing his bare legs, marbled of many colours; while something like stockings hung loose about his ankles. The noises he made, by way of threatening or encouraging his steeds. I pretend not to describe. In an indignant voice I called to the landlord—' I hope these are not the horses—I hope this is not the chaise, intended for my servants.' The innkeeper, and the pauper who was preparing to officiate as postilion, both in the same instant exclaimed—' Sorrow better chaise in the county!' 'Sorrow." said I—what do you mean by sorrow?' 'That there's no better, piase your honour, can be seen. We have two more to be sure—but one has no top, and the other no bottom. Any way, there's no better can be seen than this name.' 'And these horses!' cried I—' why this horse is so lame he can hardly stand.' 'Oh, piase your honour, tho' he can't stand, he'll so last enough. He has a great deal of the rogue in him. piase your honour. He's always that way at first setting out.' 'And that wretched animal with the gallea breast!' 'He's all the better for it, when once he warms ; it's he that will go with the speed of light, piase your honour. Sure, is not he Knockecrogliery ? ana didn't I give fifteen guineas for him, barring the luckpenny, at the fair of Knockecroghery. and he rising four year old at the same time?' "Then seizing his whip and reins in one hand. be clawed up his stockings with the other : so with one easy step he got into his place, and seated himself, coachman-like, upon a well-worn bar of wood, that served as a coach-box. 'Throw me the loan of a trusty, Bartly, for a cushion,' said he. A frieze coat was thrown up over the horse's heads. Paddy caught it. 'Where are you, Hosey !' cried he to a lad in charge of the leaders, 'eure I'm only rowling a wisp of straw on my leg,' replied Hosey. 'Throw me up,' added this paragon of postilions, turning to one of the crowd of idle bydanders. 'Arrah, push me up, can't ye Г—A man took hold of his knee, and threw him upon the horse. He was in his seat in a trice. Then clinging by the mane of his horse, he scrambled for the bridle which was under the other horse's feet, reached it. and, well satisfied with himself, looked round at Paddy, who looked back to the chaisedoor at my angry servants, 'secure in the last event of things.' In vain the Englishman, in monotonous anger, and the Frenchman in every note of the gamut, abused Paddy. Necessity and wit were on Paddy's side. He parried all that was said against his chaise, his horses, himself, and his country, with invincible comic dexterity; till at last, both his adversaries, dumb-founded, clambered into the vehicle, where they were instantly shut up in straw and darkness. Paddy, in a triumphant tone, called to my postilions, bidding them 'get on. and not be Mopping the way any longer.' "—i. 64, 65.

By and by the wheel horse stopped short, and began to kick furiously.

"' Never fear,' reiterated Paddy. 'I'll engage I'll be up wid him. Now for it, Knockecroghery! Oh the rosne, he thinks he has me al a nonpluih; but I'll show him the differ.'

"After this brag of war. Paddy whipped, Knockecroghery kicked, and Pnddy, seemingly unconscious ot danger, sal within rearh nf the kicking horse, twitching up first one of his legs, then the other, and shifting as the animal aimed his hoof?, escaping every time as it wero by miracle. Wiih a mixture of temerity and presence of mind, which made us alternately look upon him as a madman •nd a hero, he gloned in the danger, secure of sue' , and of the avmpathy of the spectators.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

It is impossible, however, for us to any thing that could give our readere tren i vague idea of the interest, both serNo з::'. comic, that is produced by this origin»! chu acier, without quoting more of the story thi we can now make room for. We cannot leave it, however, without making our >f knowledgments to Miss Edgeworlh l"t :.b handsome way in which she has !!>•»:••• • •'••• country, and for the judgment as wefl liberality she has shown in the chanu-!-." Mr. Macleod, the proud, sagacious, tr:- 1 and reserved agent of her hero. There ifinite merit anil powers of observation етет ж her short sketch of his exterior.

"He was a hard-featured, strong built, prrpenmni! .r nmn, \\ ith a remarkable quit; mess of deportment: he spoke with delibérale distinctness, in an accent slightly Scolch; und, in speaking, he made ¡,«'<>! no uL'giidilation, but hrld hiincclf surprisingly «till. No part uf him but his eyes, moved; and thry had an expression of slow, but determined О j sense. He was eparing ut his words; but the lew that he used said much, and wc'iil directly ! » the point."—i. 82.

But we must now lake an abrupt and reluctant leave of Miss Kdgeworlh. Tliinking as we Jo, that her writings are, beyond all соль par ¡sor i. the most useful of any thai have come before us since the commencement of our critical career, it would be a point ol conscience with us lo give them all lite notoriety that they can derive from our recommendation, even ¡I' their execution were in some measure liable to objection. In our opinion, however, they are as entertaining as lliey are instructive; and the genius, anil wit. and imagination they display, are at least as remarkable as the justness of the sentiments (hey so powerfully in

culcate. To some readers they may seem to want the fairy colouring of high fancy and romantic tenderness; and it is very true that they are not poetical love tales, any more than they are anecdotes of scandal. We have great respect for the admirers of Rousseau and Petrarca; and we have no doubt that Miss Kdgeworlh has great respect for them ;—but the world, both high and low, which she ig labouring to mend, have no sympathy with this respect. They laugh at these things, and do not understand them; and therefore, the | solid sense which she presses perhaps rather too closely upon them, though it admits of relief from wit and direct puthos, really could not be combined with the more luxuriant ornaments of an ardent and tender imagination. We say this merely to obviate the only objection which we think can be made to the exécution of these stories: and to justify our decided opinion, that they are actually as perfect as it was possible to make them with safety to the great object of the author.

[ocr errors]

Tnewritings of Miss Edgeworth exhibit so singular an union of sober sense and inexhaustible invention—so minute a knowledge of all that distinguishes manners, or touches on happiness in every condition of human fortune—and so just an estimate both of the real sources of enjoyment, and of the illusions by which they are obstructed, that it cannot be thought wonderful that we should separate herfrom the ordinary manufacturers of novels, and gpeak of her Tales as works of more sewue importance than much of the true history Ы solemn philosophy that come daily under our inspection. The great business of life, and the object of all aits and acquisitions, is nmloobteilly to be happy; and though our wccees in this grand endeavour depends, in some degree, upon external circumstances, over which we have no control; and still more on temppr and dispositions, which can only be controlled by gradual and systematic exertion, a very great deal depends also upon creeds ami opinions, which may be effectually and even suddenly rectified, by a few hints from authority that cannot be questioned, or a few illustrations so fair and striking, as neither to No misapplied nor neglected. We are all, no donbt. formed, in a great degree, by the circumstances in which we are placed, and the beings by whom we are surrounded ; but still we have all theories of happiness—notions of ambition, and opinions as to the summum bowim of our own—more or less developed, and Wore or less original, according to our situation and character—but influencing our conduct and feelings at every moment of our li'M, and leading us on to disappointment,

[ocr errors]

i and away from real gratification, as powerfully 'as mere ignorance or passion. It is to the correction of those erroneous theories that Miss Kdgeworth has applied herself in that series of moral fictions, the last portion of | which has recently come to our hands; and ! in which, we think, she has combined more solid instruction with more universal entertainment, and given more practical lessons of wisdom, with less tediousness and less pretension, than any other writer with whom we are acquainted.

When we reviewed the first part of these Talcs which are devoted to the delineation of fashionable life, we ventured lo express a doubt, whether the author was justifiable for expending so large a quantity of her moral medicines on so small a body of patients— and upon patients loo whom she had every reason to fear would turn out incurable. Upon reflection, however, we are now inclined to recall this sentiment. The vices and illusions of fashionable life are, for the most part, merely the vices and illusions of human nature —presented sometimes in their most conspicuous, and almost always in only their most seductive form ;—and even where they are not merely fostered and embellished, but actually generated only in that exalted region, it is very well known that they "drop upon the place beneath." and are speedily propagated and diffused into the world below. To expose them, therefore, in this their original and proudest sphere, is not only to purify the stream at its source, but to counteract their l pernicious influence precisely where it in I most formidable and extensive. To point out

« PreviousContinue »