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ing and romantic sympathy. Hic plurimus ignis semper. And so glowing and bright is the flame of love which burns perennially on her altar, that the coldest bystander must needs undergo a partial thaw, and become persuaded that he too is an adept in the mysteries of the belle passion, and plume himself on his entire capacity to say with the Virgilian shepherd, Nunc scio quid sit amor.
To pass, in review, even by way of hurried allusion, the complete set of Mrs. Marsh's works of fiction, is a notion too trying for either our modesty or memory. Could she count them up herself, without a few dozen breaks and stoppages ? Let her meditate that query, before she taxes us with heedless neglect. Meanwhile, out of the serried phalanx before our mind's eye, we select one or two for more particular observation. And first, the tale which is not uncommonly pronounced her chefd'æuvre, “ Emilia Wyndham.”
The heroine is one whose early ambition it is to be heroic. Her youthful thoughts turn, as her mother interprets them, on deeds of high courage, of strenuous effort, of vanquished difficulty, of victory achieved -" of dragons and monsters of the wilderness--of Una and her lionof Clarinda and her lance-or rather of Joan of Arc and a country saved.” Her aspiration is to suffer, to die, for those she loves — for their sakes she finds a charm in privations, pain, danger. “Let me be like that charming Lady Harriet Acland, in the American war. Let me go with my husband to the battle, and nurse him in his tent, and follow him in a boat, and under the fire of ten thousand muskets, to the log-hut in the woods, among the wildest Indians.” And poor (yet why poor?) Emilia's wish is granted, although she knows not what she asks. Scope for heroism is amply provided in her after lot, but not in such guise as had been the subject of her craving. And the doctrine of this book is
-as expounded in its opening, and developed in its every chapter—that to those who consider rightly, heroism is a far nobler thing now, when it is no longer a sound to mark the glowing excitement, the lofty enthusiasm, which fights and struggles in the brilliant mid-day, gilded by the sun, all warm and genial; but the slow, silent, death-struggle of the soul in solitude, darkness, and obscurity, against the heavy, wearying, everyday evils of every-day actual life ; sacrifices of the hourly and the small, but the sum of which is existence*_not offered in the fervour of the moment, but given, as it were, by inches; the heroic devotion to others, and those others not even worthy; far from grateful, too often resentful : combining patience, perseverance, endurance, gentleness, and disinterestedness ; such, as defined by Emilia's mother, is the heroism of our day. And such is the predestined test of Emilia's claim to be a heroine. And heroically she proves her “great right to be so. One circumstance, indeed, therė is in the disposition of the story, which materially abates from the approbation its general character is calculated to elicit ; and that is, the question as to how far Emilia was justified in marrying the man she did not, could not love, and ignoring the existence, and the all but declared attachment of the man she did. It is a case for the casuists to decide. Could it be right? asks the novelist herself : was this sacri
* The world is wide, these things are small,
They may be nothing but they are all.-R. M. MILNES.
fice one that any embarrassment, any exigency, could render excusable ? The woman's heart said, No! It told Enilia that the claims of the heart were the strongest, the most indefeasible of claims: that no duty could be stringent enough to justify the disregard of them. Yet she was hemmed in on every side. “It is easy to talk of earning one's bread the difficulty is, how, desolate and unfriended as she was, to begin. Every one with whom she was connected would have concurred to obstruct that path-every person and circumstance around her to impel her into the other." Her lover, “ and he not even a declared lover, was far away ; but had he been within reach, could she have called upon him for assistance ? Impossible, under the circumstances of vague uncertainty with respect to his intentions in which it had pleased him to let her remain.” Mrs. Marsh has been roundly rebuked for allowing Emilia to accept the unloved suitor, whose wealth is to save her father and herself from abject ruin. And it is apparently assumed by the censors who thus abuse the story, that the author converts this particular feature of it into doctrine, and applauds, and proposes for universal imitation, the decision to which her distracted heroine was finally impelled. Whereas, in fact, she does nothing of the kind. She explicitly avows herself consciously unable to determine whether Emilia was, under the stated pressure of events, right or wrong ;, emphatically adding, “ But this I know, that a delicate sense of right, after all, revolts from such a sacrifice; because a secret consciousness seems to exclaim, that in this one relation of social life sentiment is all in all, and that no duty can be stringent enough to oblige us to that great blasphemy against nature, the conjugal relation without prevailing love; at least, without a heart disengaged, and at ease.” Emilia would perhaps have been a “perfect woman,” had she chosen the other path ; but “ perfect woman" is so distancing a contemplation to man compassed with infirmity, and implies so much of the procul este profani bearing, that we are, on the whole, thankful to take her with all her imperfections on her head, for better for worse,' till a yet severer casuistry us do part: and so we plight her our troth.
All this metaphorically, of course : for here is her actual husband-a sharp-witted barrister, and horribly jealous withal-so that it is not likely we should be seriously figurative. Mr. Danby is capitally set forth, and constitutes a real “character”-slightly inconsistent and improbable, perchance-but so all real “characters” are. He is no exaggerated fugleman of a company of those chamber practitioners who become, by virtue of their profession, singular in their habits, suspicious in their tempers, and acute rather than broad in intellect. Yet he has deep feelings, quite unknown to himself, lying congealed within his breast. The “foundation” of all he does and thinks is so invariably just and right, that we long to see his rectitude tempered with pity, his plain-speaking with gentleness; his austerity with mercy. The portraits of his mother and her soundhearted serving-woman (the good Genius of the tale) are also cleverly done; and there are painfully truthful strokes about that. of old Mr Wyndham, alike in his selfish prosperity and in his imbecile dotage. Johnny Wilcox, too, is excellent-a very broth of a boy. Colonel Lenox is so disagreeable and egotistic, that we are thankful he did not become lord and master of Emilia. Lisa is too vulgar in her feather
brained vivacity for our liking, and though quite good enough, is not much too good for the gallant colonel.
But Mrs. Marsh's power is still more distinctly marked in the striking novel of “Ravenscliffe.” The character of Randal Langford, conceived and executed with evident study, leaves an impression of almost unmitigated pain. We inspect a fierce, violent nature ; passionate yet hard, fiery but cold ; which contrasts have been aggravated, not softened, by the education of an iron
father, and a rigid, reserved, impassive mother --such education as a Dominican inquisitor might have given in the bosom of a Protestant church. From childhood, his passions, extraordinary in their force, have been all driven in-his tenderer feelings chilled, every softer imagination blighted. A stanch sense of duty he has; but the strong cord which binds him to it is made up in part only of principle, partly, also, of doggedness and pride. That tall
, gaunt young man, harsh and stern of visage, ungraceful in gait, overbearing in mien, dogmatical in tone—the very being to be implicated in social broils—has been brought up in puritan seclusion, and saturated with contemptuous abhorrence of certain social excrescences, especially duelling And he it is whom we have to see horsewhipped, at high noon, in the public walk of his college grounds, before a crowd of collegiate and promiscuous gazers; but the only means in the world's eye for wiping out the stain, he has been taught to despise as cowardly and degrading ; he has loudly and constantly enforced that doctrine himself; his enforcement of it has been so public, so repeated, so tranchant, so unmodified, that it seems impossible for him to recede with honour. Such is the “ fix” in which Randal is placed ; such the horns of the dilemma by which he is tossed and gored. It argues the adventurous daring of Mrs. Marsh to conjure up difficulties of so perplexing an order ; and although the effect is necessarily disagreeable, and the conduct of the struggle open to objection from different quarters, she, at least, “rides on the whirlwind, and directs the storm” like one not unused to such terrible voyaging. Randal's mother, Mrs., or “Madam” Langford, is ably delineated, like some scowling family portrait which offends the eye, while attracting it on the score of artistic truth—a cold, stiff, rigid woman, of undeviating moral rectitude, strong puritan piety, and severe sense of duty, of haughty as well as frigid temper; always supposing blame, whoever the person charged, where blame could be supposed, and visiting mistakes, faults, or crimes, with the same unsparing rigour. Where blame is futile, she takes refuge in what is justly called “that worst alternative in such cases—an awful, portentous, a barren, dreary silence, far worse in its effects upon family harmony than the most passionate and stormy explanations.” How characteristic of the Ravenscliffe circle, that when a letter comes from the university, announcing Randal's expulsion, the father should hand it in silence to his wife, and then, without note or comment, to his son--that the three should read it (each and all morbidly sensitive to the family honour), and not one word be uttered, not the slightest symptom of feeling or sympathy betrayed. If Randal is, as we believe, an improbability, not so his parents
. They and he are all finely individualised; but in his case the individuality is a mistake : he would not have practically realised so many theoretical contraries ; no such positive result could have been worked out of such negative terms.
Hence he commands not that sympathy which might seem his due, considering the force expended by our authoress on the description of his wedding, and the means which brought it about ; even her intensity fails to harrow one up to the proper degree, when she analyses his agonies of wounded pride and tenderness ; of jealousy, rage, suspicion, all at arms within ; such burning indignation, such withering distrust of all; he, the strong man, caught, foiled, betrayed, cheated by them all. In depicting Eleanor Wharncliffe, again, Mrs. Marsh set herself a difficult and delicate task. The story of Angela had given her an opportunity, as she somewhere remarks, to delineate a character tender, gentle, and softly susceptible, but with the addition of sublime spiritual strength: Eleanor, on the other hand, is to charm us by equal maidenly graces, but to lack that substratum without which the character in time of trial falls away.
Eleanor is another Lucy Ashton ; the delight of beholders, but the tossed and driven sport of circumstances—one who feels that yield she must to an irresistible force, suffering the current of events to sweep her unresistingly where it will”—like the drowning wretch (to use the novelist's own similitude) who, having baffled with the waves, clinging desperately for life to the last plank, exhausted with his agonising efforts, at length subunits to his fate, and closing his eyes, suffers the waters to overwhelm him. Bitterly she learns what that meaneth: to be weak is to be miserable. One courageous stroke would save her, when it comes to the worst; but she wants the energy for that one act. 66 She had been cowed when a child. Dire misfortune! She had lost the faculty of opposition even in the most just acts of self-defence. She had been so accustomed to be passive, that passive was all she could be in the greatest emergency." In sacrificing herself, her betrothed, and yet another and dearer, to parental intrigue, she has only to expect such peace as worldliness cannot give but can take away:
of helpless despair, the peace of those who suffer without resistance—such peace poor
Irish victim of starvation and fever experiences when he gives the matter up, and lies down under a hedge to die.” But when she is irrevocably Randal's
, she does not, “wasting in despair, die because” her sun of hope and joy is eclipsed, is gone down while it is yet day; but, in consonance with the moral principles of the writer, so often and characteristically enforced, she eschews “madness in white satin and Brussels lace,” and, to the terrific disappointment of well-bred sentimentalists and well-seasoned novel-readers, she determines on devoting herself to perform a wife's duties—and lo! to the feverish trance of passion succeeds the sober glow of a sincere and dutiful attachment. The author foresees that many
will think Eleanor a marvellous common-place or even unworthy creature, thus to accept her appointed portion, and that many will blame her, and justly, for letting that portion be forced upon her by the unreasonable violence of others. But Mrs. Marsh's sympathy attends this effort to realise a dutiful attachment; “for, let people say what they will, the dutifulness of an attachment is no ill ingredient in aid of its dura. bility and strength.” Compare this point of view, reader, with that which would have been adopted by a French romance-factor-a Paul de Kock or an Eugène Sue, and between the two doctrines choose ye! But with all the English sobriety and moral sense of Mrs. Marsh, she is careful and able to avoid a frequently inseparable dulness: not those practised French
men themselves would have drawn a picture more intense in its colouring than that of Eleanor on the dark and stormy bridal-morn, when she lay gasping on the bed, as her maid brought in the lace veil, and the orangeflowers, and the
Βυσσινoν λαμπρον και καθαρον, , and, with a crushing presentiment of woe and killing anguish, watched what was going on, as the wretched Mary Stuart might have watched the preparations for her toilet on the morning of her execution.” When a sorrow-poisoned arrow of this sharp, merciless sort is to speed its way to the soul, few there are who can bend Mrs. Marsh's bow. Her dramatic
of narrative is largely illustrated in “Ravenscliffe.” For instance : in the conversational intrigues of Lady Wharncliffe with Randal and his bride—the panic at Lisburne Castle on the flight of Marcus, and the éclaircissement of Mr. Sullivan—the scene between Eleanor and Marcus in the wood-and, above all, that chef-d'quvre of tragical description, justly compared to a parallel passage in the “ Bride of Lammermoor,” the wedding morning at Lidcote Hall. The catastrophe beneath the raven's oak
Antè sinistra cavâ monuisset ab ilice cornixis over-fraught with pain ; one cannot forgive Marcus the bearishness of his embraces--he is as rough at a salute as at a horse-whipping, and in both cases occasions illimitable disaster. After this, the narrative flags sadly. In energy, interest, style, characterisation, there is a decline--and one almost wishes it were a galloping decline-for, with the exception of the very last stage of all, the book suffers a slow and steady atrophy, and dies by inches. The second Mrs. Langford and her son, Priest, are in every sense de trop ; and the story is closed with a wish on the reader's part, that Mrs. Marsh had in this case, as in others, been a Dissenter from the Established Churchdom of three vols. post 8vo., and sided with the Nonconformists, who have faith in two.
Dispersed here and there throughout the tale we come across tid-bits of the picturesque-etched off in flowing but not careless style. Such is the description of the castle of Ravenscliffe, gloomily towering on a scaur, high over a rocky-bedded impetuous stream, and the vast ruinous old tree, of ante-Norman date, called the raven’s oak, with its hoary, rugged, moss-grown trunk, its huge coronet of branches, and its outspread arms swaying majestically to the rising and falling wind-a sublime reliet of ages gone by. Such, too, the sketch of the stately castle of Lisbure, on the west coast of Ireland—that coast scooped out and hollowed by the waves of the Atlantic-encompassed by cloud-peaked mountains and precipitous cliffs, with grand torso-like islands to break the view of the wild sea, as it dashes its rushing waters against the cold grey crags.
Or take the flight of Randal from Cambridge, on that dark November morning, when the sun was covered with low, heavy clouds--not dark thunder clouds, great and imposing, but elevating to look upon-but low, dusky, uncharacterised clouds, telling of mizzling rain-rain of that regular, voiceless, baptising, determined sort, which is more than sufficient to deaden any spirits and any courage--and follow the dishonoured fugitive along the mountain-path, running dimly discernible between coarse tufts of grass and sweet gale, and scanty knots of heath and gorse, winding among