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THE DISOWNED*. This is not exactly what, from the Introduction, we were led to believe. That made us expect a few episodes—whereas there are two stories as distinct as the sun and the moon; nay more so, for they have no sort of influence the one on the other. Now, notwithstanding the subtle arguments brought forward in the said Introduction in favour of characters which do not “ conduce to the catastrophe,” we must say that that is a perfectly different thing from having two thoroughly separate stories, with nothing to do with each other further than being bound in the same volumes, and printed alternately, one or two chapters of each at a time. Just as the reader is beginning to warm into the course of one narrative, and to form an acquaintance with its characters fast ripening into interest,—he turns over the leaf, and is forthwith plunged over head and ears into the stream of a totally different story, and hurried headlong into a circle composed of utter strangers. He gets, by degrees, interested in this narrative and these characters, when lo! he is suddenly carried back at once, among his old friends, just as the new were beginning to eclipse them. This alternation takes place a dozen times over. We confess it made us think of the sort of effect it would have to play Othello and Macbeth alternately act by act.
But notwithstanding this, and several other faults which we shall notice anon, we think the ‘Disowned' has considerable merit, and displays talent far more than in proportion to that merit. We mean that there are indications of powers, which can never long remain shadowed and alloyed by the blemishes visible in this work :there are, in our opinion, undeniable proofs of mind which must ultimately eradicate the great majority of those faults which, we think, the author himself will soon recognise to be such. The greatest and most pervading is the tendency to over-writing—which occasionally comes across you in specimens so startling, as absolutely to mar the whole effect of otherwise a fine passage of feeling or of power. It brings the author, in his own person, forward at once. You exclaim, “ Pooh! no one ever talked so !" or, if it be some contemplation of the author, it recalls most strongly the fact that he is writing a book for the public, and trying to startle and shine before them—while, at the same time, it destroys the possibility of the belief that the writer is carried away by his subject, and consequently has the words springing to clothe his thoughts as fast as they start into life. This blemish is the more to be regretted in the author before us, as he has great powers of language if he would not abuse them.
The beginning of the book is-an unlucky fault—undoubtedly inferior to the rest. The adventure among the gypsies is, to us, so fantastic as to be uninteresting—and the description of the hero's host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. Copperas, is an overdrawn and unnatural picture of vulgar life which we really wonder at an author of the culti
* The Disowned. By the Author of Pelham. In four vols. post 8vo. London Colburn, 1829.
vation of him before us having been guilty of. Most of his faults lie the other way—towards over-refinement and fastidiousness: therefore, it is really hard that we should be presented with a coarse and disagreeable caricature of the nature of that we allude to. Fortunately, there is not much of it. But Mr. Brown goes through the whole book-and he, in addition, to the unpleasant nature of the character altogether, is a contradiction. No one represented as so knowing could be so silly-no one so silly could have thriven so well in the world.
But we are forgetting : those of our readers whom the ‘Disowned' may not have reached-(and, without disparagement to its circulation or any implied compliment to ours, such a thing may happen even a month after publication, for a magazine has more regular transmission into the country than any book in the formidable shape of four volumes can have)—those of our readers, then, who may not have seen the ‘Disowned,' will complain that we are talking to them of things unknown, and will lay claim to their right as readers of a review of a new work, to have duly laid before them an abstract of the story, a compendium of the incidents-in short, a complete condensation of the whole book. Now, we must announce to them, that, in the present article, they will find no such thing. We object to any thing like a regular abridgment, for many reasons. In the first place, it is not fair to the author : it turns his story inside out; it pretends to give, in a few pages, that which he has thought required volumes [alas ! in this instance 4*] to represent. In a review of Mr. Maturin's • Woman,' in that northern work which was the mighty founder of the existing school of criticism, we recollect a passage which always tickled us exceedingly, on this very point. The reviewer compares the manner in which those of his craft set a novel before their readers, in contradistinction to that used by authors, to “the persecution which the petty jealousy of his great neighbours at Hagley exercised on poor Shenstone,” by leading his visitors “ to inconvenient points of view, and introducing them at the wrong end of a walk to detect a deception.” Of this cruelty, it seems, the bard of the Leasowes was wont bitterly to complain ; and the compassionate critic speculates upon the similarity of Mr. Maturin's feelings at his "placing the conclusion of his book at the beginning of the recital. But,” he adds with the same sensations of mercy which characterize the cook-maid's celebrated retort on the very subject from which he takes his illustration, “ • let the stricken deer go weep;' the cook would have more than enough to do, who thought it necessary to consult the eel at which extremity he would like the flaying to begin t." But we have more compassion. Authors, in this point at least, are more fortunate than eels; for while the march of improvement has, thanks to Mr. Ude's invention, promoted them from merely being flayed, to being broiled, alive, between the bars,—the same march has influenced us to spare novelists, on this point, altogether. But we have other reasons besides those which refer to the authors, which, perhaps, our maligners
See article on Sympathetic Numbers, in our Magazine for last month. Third Series, No. IX.
+ Ed. Rev., June, 1818
may say, have had a very preponderating share in influencing our decision.
For, in the second place, we abstain from the abridgment above alluded to for the sake of our readers. Those who have already read the work under infliction, don't want our abstract-think it an unpardonable bore—and, perhaps, skip the rest of the article in consequence --thereby depriving themselves of the benefit of those judicial dicta, by which their opinion should have been for ever regulated. Those who have not read the book, like it, perhaps, for the moment; but, when they do get the work, they are sure to anathematize our having spoiled their pleasure in the story, in terms not quite consistent with either their religious or polite duties.
We now come to our last, and (in this instance belying Shakspeare) of course least, motive: we do not attempt the afore-named task for the sake of ourselves. It is the most irksome, the most difficult, the most wearying, and the most unthanked of all a reviewer's operations. To get the pith of three volumes into three pages may, perhaps, considering how much pith there generally is in three volumes, be esteemed no very Herculean labour. But it is to be recollected, that a story is not the shorter for being bad-generally quite the reverse, as the feeders at “ great men's feasts” can safely testify. It will take as much labour to abstract a long string of twaddle as a long string of force or brilliancy. In either case the labour is abominable—for it is very annoying to be conscious that you are spoiling that which is excellentand still more so to feel that you are wasting your work upon trash.
For these reasons, therefore--and we think them all excellent-we shall give no précis of the story of the ‘Disowned.' Indeed our reasons apply here, as Vellum would say, with a four-fold” force-for there are four stories in the book-two big, and two little.
Of the two big ones, that which has given the title to the book is certainly the less important, the less wrought-out--and that on which the author has, manifestly, not staked the higher reputation of his work. It is, however, the longer and the lighter—and for these reasons probably was selected for the honour of giving name to the whole. In this instance, indeed, there is much similarity to the arrangement of * Pelham’-for, in that, the more important story is not that of the hero-indeed, the hero has, there, scarcely any story at all. But this resemblance extends only to the disposition of the materials, not to their character; for, while Sir Reginald Glanville's history is one whose interest arises from the representation of the warmest, the deepest, and the most ferocious passions, that of Algernon Mordaunt, although feeling mingles with it much, is manifestly chiefly employed in developing a mind devoted to the highest order of moral speculation.
Clarence Linden, the Disowned, is, on the other hand-not, certainly, frivolous like Pelham—but gay, buoyant, light-hearted, and ever looking-onward cheerfully. Even the “ which occurs to his love, though it affects him vehemently at the moment, does not long hang heavy on his mind. He reminded us, indeed, of the ordinary manufacture of the Waverley heroes—handsome, gay, gallant, and successful—but with no great force of character, or depth of mind. Considering that he is disowned, and at first, though never in distress, yet
relatively exceedingly poor,—his sudden prosperity, and the means by which it is acquired, are somewhat novelish. He rescues an old gentleman, a bachelor, from murder by burglars,—who forthwith adopts him—and makes an excuse, not much needed it seems by either party, of a relationship which is not explained to the reader till the end of the book, to provide for him entirely. He procures him an appointment as an attaché to an embassy, and declares his intention of leaving him his whole fortune. The character of this old gentleman, by name Talbot, is drawn, we think, with great tact and skill. His story, which he tells his adopted son, forms one of the episodes to which we have alluded. With an absolute episode, where you go through the subject at once and have done with it, we do not very much quarrel ; and this is certainly quite sufficiently connected with the main work. When the hero is adopted by Mr. Talbot, whose character, also, has been previously shewn as strongly marked, -it is, we think, quite fair to give us an account of what made him as he is. The worst of it is that, under the circumstances represented, it is a moral impossibility that Clarence Linden should ever have become acquainted with Mr. Talbot at all. They meet first at the table-d’hôte of the painfully vulgar house where Clarence lodges. Now it is quite out of the question that a man of the extreme, even excessive, refinement of the old gentleman, could ever have sat down at Mr. Copperas's table. The author sees the difficultyand attempts an excuse for it, on the score of the vanity, which he makes the grand foundation of Talbot's character : but it would be just as probable that, like the lady in the ballad, he should wish to dine with his" swine” in “ a silver trough,” for the sake of the grunts of approbation of that respected quadruped.
But there is another, and a graver, inconsistency in the character of Talbot. In the account of his life, his vanity drives him to an act of cruel and brutal unmanliness, with reference to the woman he loves, which is, as it seems to us, wholly incompatible with the excellent and actively amiable heart which he displays in every action throughout all that part the book where he is on the present scene. It is true he has profited by his faults, and the misfortunes arising out of them. But we think no man so kind and benevolent as Talbot is represented, could ever have behaved as he did to the woman of his love. We must give his account of this though we fear that, in so doing, we shall be exciting disgust against a man for whom we have a very great kindness of feeling-probably from the conviction that the person whom we are fond of must be a different one from the hero of the episode of a vain man. This opens with a description of the effects of his overweening desire of superiority, even in the most trifling, and almost the meanest things, at Eton,* at Oxford, and on his debût in the world.
* The instance of the fierce jealousy, and its awful consequences, which he conceives against one of his school-fellows for balancing a stick upon his chin, which he himself
cannot do, is so daringly singular and unnatural, that we are convinced the author founds the statement upon a fact. No one, we think, could present such an anecdote to his readers, unless he were provided, in return to their exclamation of
how unnatural !'—with the answer that may be, but it happened.' At all events, we think it either has taken place, or it never could. We do not fear our readers for, of course, they are all discriminating readers accusing us of a bull for this last expression,
When he enters this last, Mr. Talbot is aware that “though rich, highborn, and good looking, he possessed not one of these three qualities in that eminence which could alone satisfy his love of superiority, and desire of effect." " I knew," he says, “ this somewhat humiliating truth, for though vain, I was not conceited. Vanity, indeed, is the very antidote to conceit; for while the former makes us all nerve to the opinion of others, the latter is perfectly satisfied with its opinion of itself." He therefore determines to excel every one" in the grace and consummateness of manner”-in a word, to be the most successful man in society of his day. He succeeds, and is “ courted, followed, flattered, and sought by the most envied of fastidious circles in England, and even in Paris.” He is at this climax of success when
“the great era of his life, love. Among my acquaintance, was Lady Mary Walden, a widow of high birth, and noble, though not powerful connexions. She lived about twenty miles from London, in a beautiful retreat ; and though not rich, her jointure, rendered ample by economy, enabled her to indulge her love of society. Her house was always as full as its size would permit, and I was among the most welcome of its visiters. She had an only daughter-even now through the dim mists of years, that beautiful and fairy form rises still and shining before me, undimmed by sorrow, unfaded by time. Caroline Walden was the object of general admiration, and her mother, who attributed the avidity with which her invitations were accepted by all the wits and elegants of the day to the charms of her own conversation, little suspected the face and wit of her daughter to be the magnet of attraction. had no idea at that time of marriage, still less could I have entertained such a notion, unless the step had greatly exalted my rank and prospects.
The poor and powerless Caroline Walden was therefore the last person for whom I had what the jargon des mères terms 'serious intentions.' However I was struck with her exceeding loveliness, and amused by the vivacity of her manners: moreover, my vanity was excited by the hope of distancing all my competitors for the smiles of the young beauty. Accordingly, I laid myself out to please, and neglected none of those subtle and almost secret attentions, which, of all flatteries, are the most delicate and successful ; and I succeeded. Caroline loved me with all the earnestness and devotion which characterize the love of woman. It never occurred to her that I was only trifling with those affections which it seemed so ardently my intention to win. She knew that my fortune was large enough to dispense with the necessity of fortune with my wife, and in birth she would have equalled men of greater pretensions to myself; added to this, long adulation had made her sensible, though not vain, of her attractions, and she listened with a credulous ear to the insinuated flatteries I was so welì accustomed to instil.
Never shall I forget-no, though I double my present years—the shock, the wildness of despair with which she first detected the selfishness of my homage; with which she saw that I had only mocked her trusting simplicity; and that while she had been lavishing the richest treasures of her heart before the burning altars of Love, my idol had been Vanity, and my offerings deceit. She tore herself from the profanations of my grasp; she shrouded herself from my presence. All interviews with me were rejected; all my letters returned to me unopened ; and though, in the repentance of my heart, I entreated, I urged her to accept vows that were no longer insincere, her pride became her punishment, as well as my own. In a moment of bitter and desperate feeling, she accepted the offers of another, and made the marriage hond a fatal and irrevocable barrier to our reconciliation and union.
Oh! how I now cursed my infatuation! how passionately I recalled the past! how coldly I turned from the hollow and false world, to whose service