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Look'd round the room -said something of its state,
“Peace! Susan, peace ! Pain ever follows Sin,'
his conduct!' - Yes, indeed, I know,-
the chicken for our meal.' “ Susan her task reluctantly began, And utter'd, as she went,- The poor old Man!" We are sorry to be forced to take our leave of Mr. Crabbe, but our room is exhausted; we trust, however, we part good friends, and request him to accept our sincere thanks for the pleasure and instruction his volume has afforded us. That he has some faults as a writer we have ventured to suggest, but we are happy to add on the subject of those faults, that they seem all to be within the scope of his vigorous judgment to correct. His taste has been betrayed by too strong a bias to simplicity. But with all his faults he has supported his character as a powerful deGreator of the passions, and a correct painter of moral scenes, as
scientifically acquainted with the operations of feeling, and the springs of natural tenderness. If his style is mean, it is pure and grammatical, and there are sufficient specimens in this work of vigorous language, and elevated sentiment, to shew that, when he touches the bottom,—and he touches it too often,-he does so rather from choice than from necessity.
Art. IV.—Tales of Fashionable Life. By Miss Edgeworth,
Author of Practical Education, Belinda, Castle Rackrent, Essay on Irish Bulls, &c. In 6 Vols. Vols. 4, 5, and 6. Third Edition. London. Johnson. 1912.
Miss Edgeworth had taken a deservedly high rank amongst the female ornaments of literature, before we began our career; and if we do not preface our remarks on this publication with a general eulogy on her distinguished talents, it is because we do not wish to tell our readers what they all know as well as ourselves. Her name would sufficiently justify our paying some attention to the present work, if it did not contain in itself what must necessarily procure for it a rapid and extensive circulation. But this it does in a peculiar degree; and we scarcely know any book in that class, which goes under the general denomination of light reading, that is likely to fall into so many hands. The grave, who are too busy, and the gay, who are too idle, to spare time for the perusal of a romance of four volumes, will venture upon a tale comprised in one. Many, who would revolt at the name of a novel, will deem a moral tale worthy of their attention. All who value genuine humour, a lively delineation of the scenes of real life, and a nice discrimination of those more delicate shades of character, which escape common-place writers and observers, will be well inclined to read tales written by one who has so often pleased and instructed us by the display of these talents. From this consideration these volumes assume an importance, which might not at the first view appear to belong to them. Compared with certain ponderous products of the press, they scarcely bear the proportion of a bullet to a battering-ram: but, in both cases, if in calculating the effects that are likely to be produced, we take only the weight of metal into account, our conclusions will be erroneous. The comparative degrees of velocity with which the different volumes will pass through the reading societies, or the list of subscribers to a circulating library, must not be forgotten in the estimate.
We will candidly ayow too, though we know at what hazard, another motive of attention to the works of Miss Edgeworth. We think the perusal of them, without a sufficient guard, attended with considerable danger. The sentimental novel excites in many of us a nausea, which carries off the poison mixed up with it, and prevents any baneful effects from the dose. But in this case we have no such antidote.
A compound rendered palatable by so much wit, and containing ingredients of such approved efficacy, will be sure to remain in the stomach; and if it be deficient in an article essential to its salutary operation and alterative efficacy, we are in duty bound to give it its true character, and confine it within its proper range. It may serve to abate in some degree the apparent violence of the disorder, to alleviate some of its external symptoms; but after all,
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Infects unseen. It may be said perhaps, that this is a work of entertainment, and not to be viewed in this serious light; but we suspect that Miss Edgeworth would decline the benefit of such an apology, and are inclined to give her credit for a conscientious regard to the application of her talents, which would not suffer her to send a work into the world for the mere purpose of enabling her readers to kill time. Each of the three tales contained in the volumes under our consideration has avowedly a moral design, and were we not to keep this design mainly in view in the course of our observations, we should degrade them in their scale of literary importance, and limit their author to an orbit of insignificance, in which she would be ill content to move.
These volumes form the continuation of a work, which has been some time before the public; but as they have no particular connection with those which have preceded them, though bearing the same name, and having certainly a strong family likeness, we shall confine our remarks to their individual merits.
The first tale, entitled Vivian, is intended “to expose one of the most common defects of mankind," infirmity of purpose; that weak, vacillating instability of character, which yields continually, in spite of better knowledge, to external impulses, and moves always in the direction given to it by the last impulse. There is nothing original perhaps in the conception of Vivian's character, but it is delineated with great skill, and with some of those strong and spirited touches, which betray the hand of a master. The circumstances in which he is placed are ingeniously adapted to the display of his character; and, for the most part, without that air of strained contrivance, to which
VOL. IV, NO. VII.
probability is often sacrificed. But we are obliged to qualify this praise, as some instances to the contrary may be found in this tale, and still more palpably in those which follow.
The following account, given by the hero of his early education, may serve as a key to his character.
My mother is a very clever woman, and most affectionate, and she certainly paid particular attention to my early education; but her attention was too particular, her care was too great. You know I was an only son—then I lost my father when I was an infant; and a woman, let her be ever so sensible, cannot well educate an only son, without some manly assistance; the fonder she is of the son the worse, even if her fondness is not foolish fondness it makes her over anxious-it makes her do too much. My mother took too much, a great deal too much care of me; she over-educated, overinstructed, over-dosed me with premature lessons of prudence; she was so afraid that I should ever do a foolish thing, or not say a wise one, that she prompted my every word, and guided my every action. So I grew up, seeing with her eyes, hearing with her ears,
and judging with her understanding, till, at length, it was found out, that I had not eyes, ears, or understanding of my own. When I was between twelve and thirteen, my mother began to think that I was not sufficiently manly for my age, and that there was something too yielding and undecided in my character_Yielding and undecided !-No wonder!-Had not I been from my cradle under the necessity of always yielding, and in the habit of never deciding for myself!-Seized with a panic, my mother, to make a man of me at once, sent me to Harrow school. There I was, with all convenient expedition, made ashamed of every thing good I had learned at home; and there I learned every thing bad, and nothing good, that could be learned at school. I was inferior in Latin and Greek; and this was a deficiency I could not make up without more labour than I had courage to undertake. I was superior in general literature, but this was of little value amongst my competitors, and, therefore, I despised it; and, overpowered by numbers and by ridicule, I was, of course, led into all sorts of folly by mere mauvaise honte. Had I been in the habit of exercising my own judgment, or had my resolution been strengthened by degrees; had I, in short, been prepared for a school; I might, perhaps, have acquired, by a public education, a manly, independent spirit. If I had even been wholly bred up in a public school, I might have been forced, as others were, by early and fair competition, to exercise my own powers; and by my own experience in that microcosm, as it has been called, I might have formed some rules of conduct, some manliness of character, and might have made, at least, a good schoolboy; but, half home-bred, and half school-bred, from want of proper preparation, one half of my education totally destroyed the other." (Vol. iv. p. 3.)
The word "manly" occurs in this quotation in rather an unwartaistable sense. We are well persuaded too that the picture, incidentally drawn, of Harrow-school, is not a little caricatured. With all the imperfections, that must attach to such an institution, on its head, we believe it to be one of the most cora rect of the great public schools: we know that it has a signal advantage with respect to moral and religious instruction, and that it has produced some of the most useful, as well as some of the brightest characters, that have recently adorned the walks of public life.
We will not follow Vivian through the various stages of his mental disease, the progress of which is marked by minute circumstances, of which no adequate idea could be given in an abstract. Gifted with talents of a superior order, and with many of the moral qualities essential to an estimable character, and placed in a situation calculated to draw them out to the best advantage, he forfeits, by his weakness and ductility, both public credit and private happiness. He is led both into errors and vices with his eyes open, merely from wanting the power to say “ No," Against his better judgment he “turns a comfortable house into an uninhabitable castle," is involved in the expences of a contested election, becomes the tool of a man of talents inferior to his own, and marries a woman for whom he has no affection. In defiance of his principles he is a political apostate, an adulterer, and a duellist; and with the same unresisting imbecility, is talked into one vice, trepanned into another, and driven into a third, till he closes his career in misery and accumulated ruin, the necessary result of his moral and intellectual cowardice.
The tale is not uninstructive; but after all we have only a statement of the evil, without the suggestion of any, at least of any adequate remedy. The effects of the errors it exhibits are placed in a vivid light,--their causes are but partially illustrated. We admire the skill with which the various-turns and windings of the pernicious habit, intended to be exposed, and its gradual increase from a puny stream to an overwhelming torrent, are graphically traced; but the main fountains of its supply are not sufficiently explored. Much of the blame is thrown on Lady Mary Vivian, the mother of the unfortunate hero, who is always thinking aloud, and thinking absurdly. But however unpopular the attack may be with numbers who have read the tale, we cannot help implicating Mr. Russell, the steady, liberal, conscientious, independent tutor, as an accessary. To do him full justice, we will introduce him to our readers in a light, which must conciliate their esteem and respect, before we discuss what we deem the deficiencies of his character.