Imagens das páginas

The person with whom Mordaunt is in love, is the niece of an old Indian General, who objects to the match, in consequence of the lawsuit—while a cousin of Mordaunt, who is inclined to assist him, also protests against the marriage, on the score of the “ new blood” of the lady's family. The general and his sister are represented as people considerably more intolerable than is easily consistent with possibility: and their exceeding brutality, conjoined with the endeavour to force upon Isabel an odious match, drives her to the extremity of running away with Mordaunt. We confess we are both too delicate and too indelicate to approve of the ideas which the author puts into her head, upon her elopement. She knows that their marriage will go near to ruin her lover, by depriving him of the countenance and assistance, and ultimately the succession, of his rich relation. She therefore forms an idea of but really, it is too nice a matter for us to substitute our words for the author's :

She was a person of acute, and even poignant sensibilities, and these the imperfect nature of her education had but little served to guide or to correct; but as her habits were pure and good, the impulses which spring from habit were also sinless and exalted, and if they erred, “ they leant to virtue's side," and partook rather of a romantic and excessive generosity than of the weakness of womanhood or the selfishness of passion. All the misery and debasement of her equivocal and dependant situation had not been able to drive her into compliance with Mordaunt's passionate and urgent prayers ; and her heart was proof even to the eloquence of love when that eloquence pointed towards the worldly injury and depreciation of her lover ; but this new persecution was utterly unforeseen in its nature, and intolerable from its cause. To marry another--to be torn for ever from one in whom her whole heart was wrapped—to be forced not only to forego his love, but to feel that the very thought of him was a crime; all this, backed by the vehement and galling insults of her relations, and the sullen and unmoved mean ness of her intended bridegroom, who answered her candour and confession with a sort of stubborn indifference and an unaltered address, made a load of evil, which could neither be borne with resignation, nor contemplated with patience; yet, even amidst all the bitterness of her soul, and the incoherent desperation in which her letter to Mordaunt had been penned, she felt a sort of confused resolution that he should not be the sacrifice.

In extreme youth, and still preserving more than childish innocence, she did not exactly perceive the nature of her trust in Mordaunt; nor the consequences of any other tie with him than the sacred one of marriage ; but she had read and heard of women, in their noble and fond devotedness, sacrificing all for love, and she had internally resolved that she would swell their number, rather than cost him a single loss or deprivation. To sacrifice for Algernon Mordaunt—what happpiness, what pride in the thought! and that thought reconciled her to the letter she wrote, and the prayer which it contained. Poor girl! little did she conceive that in the eyes of the world that sacrifice, that self-devotion, would have been the greatest crime she could commit.

Now, this we cannot but be old-fashioned enough to consider very false sentiment. We do not-as we doubt not, the author will give us credit for-look upon it merely with the straight-forward worldly judg., ment which, in this case, would be a very unjust one. We can conceive such ideas to exist in a young person's mind quite compatibly with purity. But we cannot but regard the reasoning as wholly falseand, we think, the author ought to have shewn this, instead of ending in a tone carrying forgiveness almost into approbation. Were there no


other point save one-the fate of the children that alone ought to shew the iniquity of the measure. We think such matters had better not be touched upon at all—but when they are, an author should not leave them in this equivocal state.

Mordaunt, of course, will not listen to such an arrangement. They are married, and go to reside at Mordaunt-hall, a place on the antiquity and the patrician character of all the appointments of which the author loves to dwell. Indeed, his reverence for mere antiquity of descent, which peeps forth very frequently, manifestly has a stronger hold upon his mind than we should have thought quite in consonance with some other of its qualities. There is another bent also—which we cannot but lament and condemn most strongly-of a nature peculiarly, we should have thought, discrepant from the metaphysical tastes which are so much brought forward, with which we are presented immediately upon Mordaunt taking his bride home. We allude to a belief in omens and prognostics : it is not only brought forward in the passage we are about to notice, where the circumstance described might almost be taken as the hallucination of a romantic mind, but it is seriously repeated by the author himself in a subsequent part of the book, with other circumstances which he uses every privilege of authorship to impress upon the reader's mind as facts :

We said the autumn and winter were gone; and it was in one of those latter days in March, when, like a hoyden girl subsiding into dawning womanhood, the rude weather mellows into a softer and tenderer month, that, by the side of a stream, overshadowed by many a brake and tree, from which the young blossoms sent “ a message from the spring,” sate two persons.

“ I know not, dearest Algernon," said one, who was a female, “ if this is not almost the sweetest month in the year, because it is the month of Hope."

* Ay, Isabel ; and they did it wrong who called it harsh, and dedicated it to Mars. I exult even in the fresh winds which hardier frames than mine shrink from, and I love feeling their wild breath fan my cheek as I ride against it."

And so do T," said Isabel, softly;" for the same winds which come to my cheek must have kissed yours.'

“ I remember,” said Algernon, musingly, “ that on this very day three years ago, I was travelling through Germany, alone and on horseback, and I stood not far from is, on the banks of the Danube; the waters of the river were disturbed and fierce, and the winds came loud and angry against my face, dashing the spray of the waves upon me, and filling my spirits with a buoyant and glad delight; and at that time I had been indulging old dreams of poetry, and had laid my philosophy aside ; and, in the inspiration of the moment, I lifted up my hand towards the quarter from whence the winds came, and questioned them audibly of their birth-place, and their bourne; and as the enthusiasm increased, I compared them to our human life, which a moment is, and then is not; and, proceeding from folly to folly, I asked them, as if they were the weird interpreters of heaven, for a type and sign of my future lot.” “ And what said they?" inquired Isabel, smiling, yet smiling timidly.

They answered not,” replied Mordaunt ; " but a voice within me seemed to say–. Look above !' and I raised my eyes, but I did not see thee, loveso the Book of Fate lied."

Nay, Algernon, what did you see ?" asked Isabel, more earnestly than the question deserved.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ I saw a thin cloud, alone amidst many dense and dark ones scattered around; and as I gazed, it seemed to take the likeness of a funeral procession-coffin, bearers, priest, all—as clear in the cloud as I have seen them on the earth, and I shuddered as I saw ; but the winds blew the vapour onwards, and it mingled with the broader masses of cloud ; and then, Isabel, the sun shone forth for a moment, and I mistook, love, when I said you were not there, for that sun was you ; but suddenly the winds ceased, and the rain came on fast and heavy: so my romance cooled, and my fever slaked— I thought on the inn at Ens, and the blessings of a wood fire, which s lighted in a moment, and I spurred on my horse accordingly."

We conclude the anniversary of this omen is doomed to be unfortu" nate ; inasmuch as, before they reach home, a letter arrives announcing the unfavourable termination of the law-suit—which, in fact, is ruin.

There is, then, a gap of four years in the course of the story, and for above half a volume we are carried among the gay mazes of fashionable life with Clarence Linden. Of a sudden, we have Mordaunt and his wife again placed before us-in abject want. Mordaunt bears another name, and it is some time before his identity with Glendower is officially announced to the reader. But as it is quite clear that they are one and the same, this very transparent mystery seems to us idle.

He is represented as earning a very scanty livelihood by writings which,“ then obscure and unknown, were destined, years afterwards, to excite the vague admiration of the crowd, and the deeper homage of the wise." The attachment existing between his wife and himself is depicted as most tender and extreme; and, where they first are introduced to the reader after the lacune we have mentioned, she comes and endeavours to take him from his work, prolonged into extreme lateness, in a manner undoubtedly very touchingly given. But, then, the scene is prolonged greatly too much, and deteriorates into that fatal over-writing—that allowing a heap of gorgeous words to assume the place of ideas—which throws so great a blemish over several parts of this book. For instance, we will not speak in caricature, which, in this case, would be most easy-but is the following natural, for a husband, although in a mood of reflection, to say to his wife, beautiful and affectionate though she be? We will give him in our extract all the advantages of circumstance and situation thrown around him by the author :

And they walked to the window and looked forth. All was hushed and still in the narrow street; the cold grey clouds were hurrying fast along the sky, and the stars, weak and waning in their light, gleamed forth at rare intervals upon the mute city like the expiring watch-lamps of the dead.

They leaned out, and spoke not; but when they looked above upon the melancholy heavens, they drew nearer to each other, as if it were their natural instinct to do so, whenever the world without seemed discouraging and sad.

At length the student broke the silence; but his thoughts, which were wandering and disjointed, were breathed less to her than vaguely and unconsciously to himself. “Morn breaks—another and another !-day upon day! -while we drag on our load like the blind beast which knows not when the burthen shall be cast off, and the hour of rest be come.”

The woman pressed his hand to her bosom, but made no rejoinder-she knew his mood-and the student continued.

And so life frets itself away! Four years have passed over our seclusion four years! a great segment in the little circle of our mortality; and of those years what day has pleasure won from labour, or what night has sleep snatched wholly from the lamp? Weaker than the miser, the insatiable and restless mind traverses from east to west, and from the nooks, and corners, and crevices of earth collects, fragment by fragment, grain by grain, atom by atom, the riches which it gathers to its coffers—for what?-to starve amidst the plenty! The fantasies of the imagination bring a ready and substantial return : not so the treasures of thought. Better that I had renounced the soul's labour for that of its hardier frame-better that I had 'sweated in the eye of Phæbus,' than eat my heart with crosses and with cares,'--seeking truth and wanting bread—adding to the indigence of poverty its humiliation; -wroth with the arrogance of those who weigh in the shallow scales of their meagre knowledge the product of lavish thought, and of the hard hours for which health, and sleep, and spirit have been exchanged ;-sharing the lot of those who would enchant the old serpent of evil, which refuses the voice of the charmer !—struggling against the prejudice and bigoted delusion of the bandaged and fettered herd to whom, in our fond hopes and aspirations, we trusted to give light and freedom;-seeing the slavish judgments we would have redeemed from error, clashing their chains at us in ire; made criminal by our very benevolence;—the martyrs whose zeal is rewarded with persecution, whose prophecies are crowned with contempt!-Better, oh, better that I had not listened to the vanity of a heated brain-better that I had made my home with the lark and the wild bee, among the fields and the quiet hills, where life, if obscurer, is less debased, and hope, if less eagerly indulged, is less bitterly disappointed. The frame, it is true, might have been bowed to a harsher labour, but the heart would at least have had its rest from anxiety, and the mind its relaxation from thought."

Now, do people, however exalted in mind, or rich in learning, ever talk thus ? The last part of this tirade really has scarcely any meaning at all. What sort of expressions are “ the bandaged and fettered herd,” and “slavish judgments clashing their chains at us in ire”? Who ever expressed the sentiment that it would have been better to live in the country by the words“ better if I had made my home with the lark and the wild bee"? Really, here is food for a maligner—but we are not such: we are but sorry when we see fine powers turned to fantastic purposes like these—and we sigh for that sound, clear, fresh, firm writing, which no one better than this author must know is the true test of genius, rather than all such gorgeous emptiness that the power of words could put together.

Mordaunt's poverty increases, and he is exposed to bitter temptation. The machinery of this is, we think, singularly unskilful. The character of Mr. Crawford, the tempter, may, perhaps, odious as it is, not be incompatible with nature—but the villainous project in which he wishes to involve Mordaunt, so as to save himself, seems to us to be totally, we will not say impossible to execute, but impossible to conceive. And so, we imagine, it seems to the author, too; for he has taken refuge in silence, and never defines the plan itself, however minutely he may go into its consequences. It is first introduced to the reader in the following terms :-“In an extensive scheme of fraud, which for many years this man had carried on, and which for secrecy and boldness was almost unequalled, it had of late become necessary for his safety to have a partner, or rather tool.” And the reader knows no more of this scheme to the end of the book. Its grandeur, and complexity, and extent, and duration, are constantly spoken of-but its actual nature is never revealed-or, we should guess, invented. We confess

[ocr errors]

we can form no idea of the nature of a scheme, the entrance of a second man into which is to save the neck of the first.

But, grant that Crauford has in his possession a plan of this kind, the manner in which he urges his temptation is undoubtedly most forcibly painted. Mordaunt has, by the death of the bookseller from whom he has derived his very scanty supplies, fallen into a state of positive want of the necessaries of life, and he sees his wife, and his beloved child also, fading by degrees before his eyes. The picture of this terrible state is drawn with both great force and delicacy—but the sufferings arising from absolute lack of food are such as we cannot but contemplate with almost unmingled pain. There is, however, something very beautiful in the total absence of every thing like irritation, or hastiness, or peevishness, which poverty of this degree might well call forth, occasionally, even in such hearts as these :—but no ;

The peevishness, the querulous and stinging irritations of want, came not to her affectionate and kindly heart; nor could all those biting and bitter evils of fate, which turn the love that is born of luxury into rancour and gall, scathe the beautiful and holy passion which had knit into one those two unearthly natures. They rather clung the closer to each other, as all things in heaven and earth spake in tempest or in gloom around them, and coined their sorrows into endearment, and their looks into smiles, and strove each, from the depth of despair, to pluck hope and comfort for the other.

This, it is true, was more striking and constant in her than in Glendower; for in love, man, be he ever so generous, is always outdone. Yet even when, in moments of extreme passion and conflict, the strife broke from his breast into words, never once was his discontent vented upon her, or his reproaches lavished on any but fortune or himself, or his murmurs mingled with a single breath wounding to her tenderness, or detracting from his love.

Poverty is on them in its most awful power. His wife-a wife like this and beloved as is here represented, is decaying from absolute want. He is tempted-tempted with offers of instant and most extensive relief-but its condition is guilt:

It was, indeed, a mighty and perilous trial to Glendower, when rushing from the presence of his wife and child-when fainting under accumulated evils--when almost delirious with sickening and heated thought, to hear at each prompting of the wrung and excited nature, each heave of the black fountain that in no mortal breast is utterly exhausted, one smooth, soft, persuasive voice for ever whispering, " Relief!"'-relief, certain, utter, instantaneous !-the voice of one pledged never to relax an effort or spare a pang, by a danger to himself, a danger of shame and death-the voice of one who never spake but in friendship and compassion, profound in craft, and a very sage in the disguises with which language invests deeds.

But VIRTUE has resources buried in itself, which we know not, till the invading hour calls them from their retreats. Surrounded by hosts without, and when nature, itself turned traitor, is its most deadly enemy within, it assumes a new and a super-human power, which is greater than nature itself. Whatever be its creed—whatever be its sect-from whatever segment of the globe its orisons arise, Virtue is God's empire, and from his throne of thrones He will defend it.

It is most unpleasant, in the midst of such a passage as this, to be drawn from the subject itself to consider, and we fear we must add condemn, the composition. But, reading eagerly onward, in a mood as far removed as is possible from that of the critic, we cannot but

« AnteriorContinuar »