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portant information. Mr. Percival will accept our best thanks for the amusement he has afforded us. When we can praise with such justice, we are always happy to do it ; and regret that the rigid and independent honesty which we have made the very basis of our literary undertaking should so frequently compel us to speak of the authors who come before us, in a style so different from that in which we have vindicated the merits of Mr. Percival.
DELPHINE. (E. Review, 1803.)
Delphine. By Madame de Staël Holstein. London. Mawman. 6 vols. 12mo.
THIs dismal trash, which has nearly dislocated the jaws of every critic among us with gaping, has so alarmed Bonaparte, that he has seized the whole impression, sent Madame de Staël out of Paris, and, for aught we know, sleeps in a nightcap of steel, and dagger-proof blankets. To us it appears rather an attack upon the Ten Commandments, than the government of Bonaparte, and calculated not so much to enforce the rights of the Bourbons, as the benefits of adultery, murder, and a great number of other vices, which have been somehow or other strangely neglected in this country, and too much so (according to the apparent opinion of Madame de Staël) even in France. It happens, however, fortunately enough, that her book is as dull as it could have been if her intentions had been good; for wit, dexterity, and the pleasant energies of the mind, seldom rank themselves on the
side of virtue and social order; while vice is spiritual, |
eloquent, and alert, ever choice in expression, happy in allusion, and judicious in arrangement. The story is simply this. – Delphine, a rich young widow, presents her cousin Matilda de Vernon with a considerable estate, in order to enable her to marry Leonce Mondeville. To this action she is excited by the arts and the intrigues of Madame de Vernon, an hackneyed Parisian lady, who hopes, by this marriage, to be able to discharge her numerous and pressing debts. Leonce, who, like all other heroes of novels, has fine limbs, and fine qualities, comes to Paris— dislikes Matilda – falls in love with Delphine, Delphine with him; and they are upon the eve of jilting poor Matilda, when, from some false reports spread abroad respecting the
character of Delphine (which are aggravated by her own imprudences, and by the artifices of Madame de Vernon), Leonce, not in a fit of honesty, but of revenge, marries the lady whom he came to marry. Soon after, Madame de Vernon dies — discovers the artifices by which she had prevented the union of Leonce and Delphine—and then, after this catastrophe, which ought to have terminated the novel, come two long volumes of complaint and despair. Delphine becomes a nun — runs away from the nunnery with Leonce, who is taken by some French soldiers, upon the supposition that he has been serving in the French emigrant army against his country —is shot, and upon his dead body falls Delphine, as dead as he. Making every allowance for reading this book in a translation, and in a very bad translation, we cannot but deem it a heavy performance. The incidents are vulgar; the characters vulgar too, except those of Delphine and Madame de Vernon. Madame de Staël has not the artifice to hide what is coming. In travelling through a flat country, or a flat book, we see our road before us for half the io. we are going. There are no agreeable sinuosities, and no speculations whether
we are to ascend next, or descend; what new sight we
are to enjoy, or to which side we are to bend. Leonce
is robbed and half murdered; the apothecary of the place is certain he will not live; we were absolutely certain that he would live, and could predict to an hour the time of his recovery. In the same manner we could have prophesied every event of the book a whole volume before its occurrence. This novel is a perfect Alexandrian. The last two volumes are redundant, and drag their wounded length: it should certainly have terminated where the interest ceases, at the death of Madame de Vernon; but, instead of this, the scene-shifters come and pick up the dead bodies, wash the stage, sweep it, and do every thing which the timely fall of the curtain should have excluded from the sight, and left to the imagination of the audience. We humbly apprehend, that young gentle
men do not in general make their tutors the confidants of their passion ; at least we can find no rule of that kind laid down either by Miss Hamilton or Miss Edgeworth, in their treatises on education. The tutor of Leonce is Mr. Barton, a grave old gentleman, in a peruke and snuff-coloured clothes. Instead of writing to this solemn personage about second causes, the ten categories, and the eternal fitness of things, the young lover raves to him, for whole pages, about the white neck and auburn hair of his Delphine; and, shame to tell! the liquorish old pedagogue seems to think these amorous ebullitions the pleasantest sort of writing in wsum Delphini that he has yet met with. By altering one word, and making only one false quantity*, we shall change the rule of Horace to
Delphine and Leonce have eight very bad typhus fevers between them, besides ha'moptoe, hemorrhage, deliquium animi, singultus, hysteria, and farminei ululatus, or screams innumerable. Now, that there should be a reasonable allowance of sickness in every novel, we are willing to admit, and will cheerfully permit the heroine to be once given over, and at the point of death; but we cannot consent that the interest, which ought to be excited by the feelings of the mind should be transferred to the sufferings of the body, and a crisis of perspiration be substituted for a crisis of passion. Let us see difficulties overcome, if our approbation is required; we cannot grant it to such cheap and sterile artifices as these. The characters in this novel are all said to be drawn from real life; and the persons for whom they are intended are loudly whispered at Paris. Most of them we have forgotten ; but Delphine is said to be intended for the authoress, and Madame de Vernon (by a slight sexual metamorphosis) for Talleyrand, minister of the
* o a fault of all others which the English are least disposed to pardon. young man, who, on a public occasion, makes a false quantity at the outset of life, can seldom or never get over it.
French republic for foreign affairs. As this lady (once the friend of the authoress) may probably exercise a considerable influence over the destinies of this country, we shall endeavour to make our readers a little better acquainted with her; but we must first remind them that she was once a bishop, a higher dignity in the church than was ever attained by any of her sex since the days of Pope Joan ; and that though she swindles Delphine out of her estate with a considerable degree of address, her dexterity sometimes fails her, as in the memorable instance of the American commissioners. Madame de Staël gives the following description of this pastoral metropolitan female:–
‘Though she is at least forty, she still appears charming even among the young and beautiful of her own sex. The paleness of her complexion, the slight relaxation of her features, indicate the languor of indisposition, and not the decay of years; the easy negligence of her dress accords with this impression. Every one concludes, that when her health is recovered, and she dresses with more care, she must be completely beautiful : this change, however, never happens, but it is always expected; and that is sufficient to make the imagination still add something more to the natural effect of her charms.”—(Vol. i. p. 21.)
Nothing can be more execrable than the manner in which this book is translated. The bookseller has employed one of our countrymen for that purpose, who appears to have been very lately caught. The contrast between the passionate exclamations of Madame de Staël, and the barbarous vulgarities of poor Sawney, produces a mighty ludicrous effect. One of the heroes, a man of high fastidious temper, exclaims in a letter to Delphine, ‘I cannot endure this Paris; I have met with ever so many people whom my soul abhors.’ And the accomplished and enraptured Leonce terminates one of his letters thus: “Adieu! Adieu! my dearest Delphine. I will give you a call to-morrow.' We doubt if Grub Street ever imported from Caledonia a more abominable translator.
We admit the character of Madame de Vernon to be drawn with considerable skill. There are occasional traits