페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

the dreary hills, now up, now down, and ever and anon lost amid the boggy valleys, with their pools of black stagnant water, their tiny forests of bog myrtle, their tufts of coarse reeds, and the white cotton-grass waving its snowy head mournfully up and down in the chill whistling wind.

And now for a scamper across the rest of Mrs. Marsh's broad domains of romance. It was in 1834 that the “ Two Old Men” opened their budget, giving us, as their opening tales, “ The Deformed,” and “ The Admiral's Daughter.” The former was spoiled by an exaggerated finale, which was not the last or least of its author's misdoings in that line ; for she is only too ready to employ a coup de théâtre when it will give a lift, or unnatural bound, rather, to a halting narrative. The latter tale is painfully touching, and wrought out with a remarkable blending of natural passion and gradual art; joyous radiance beams so cheerily about Inez Thornhaugh-black, blank, blasting misery makes such a wretch of Inez Vivian--that the contrast presents one of the most moving and memorable sights in modern fiction. A second series of these tales comprised “A Country Vicarage,” in which a similar but far inferior contrast is drawn between the simplicity of maidenly life in pastoral innocence and the fierce distractions of feverish worldly existence and a French sketch, called "Love and Duty," which reads (as, indeed, many of Mrs. Marsh's stories do) like a translation from some lively but pensive Gallic raconteur. Neither of these stories of the “ Woods and Fields," as they were somewhat gratuitously entitled, showed an advance upon the earlier series, though both were told with freshness, and that intensity which is so generally characteristic of their narrator. And a disposition arose among some critical arbiters to consider her power as having culminated and exhausted itself in the tragedy of “ The Admiral's Daughter.” But the production of “Mount Sorel” – the notable first-fruits of a notable series in periodical literature-silenced the ominous notes from the “rooky wood" of criticism, and evidenced in palpable distinctness the sustained skill and arousing energy of the novelist. True, it was fuller than its “forbears" of stylish affectations, and grievously afflicted sedate people of methodical habit and classical taste by the disjecta membra it proffered as hale sentences, and the prodigality of its outlay in hyphens, asterisks, and marks of admiration. But then it charmed all by the portraits of Edmund Lovel, though he is not, technically, the hero, and Clarice de Vere, one of those sweet young creatures whom Mrs. Marsh is so apt to plunge into anguish “full fathom five,” on the score of filial duty in its conflict with personal attachment. Hardly less interest belongs to the elder actors in the drama-one or two of whom are realised with excellent effect. “The Previsions of Lady Evelyn" contains some of its author's very best and very worst writing; there are sections in it of surpassing merit-pictures whereon the memory lingers with a sense of fascination—while chapters intervene of dull, almost irrelevant and incoherent garrulity, seemingly penned in the heedless haste which produces languid reading in proportion to its own disorderly speed. There is more equable and condensed vigour in “Father Darcy”—a historical romance which “ does execution,” of the Kentish-fire sort, among the apostles of Jesuitism, and approves the romancer a shrewd polemic as well as an eager Protestant. In fact, she is ultra-Protestant ; and some of the descriptions, discussions, and scenes in

this novel would make far more stirring tracts for Exeter Hall missions, than the homilies and controversial appeals usually sanctioned by a Maymeeting committee. For instance, the Jesuit's exposition of the casuistry of mental reservation to Everard Digby, or Grace Vaux's “ assisting" at the martyr-procession to the stake, or the tuition of Robert Catesby's children in hatred of “that wicked queen” Elizabeth, and that “grufflooking fat man,” that "dreadful wicked heretic, Luther,” by their grim, gaunt granddam.

A less questionable success was that of “Norman's Bridge," a tale of a modern Midas and his gains and his heirs-expanded, as in the case of “ Ravenscliffe,” over too large a surface of time-but ingeniously ordered, admirably peopled, and strikingly, though perhaps too abruptly, wound up. And then came “ Angela," another able fiction, with an indifferent conclusion-a book one must like, for the sake of its “ bright particular star”—but which proportionably vexes its adınirers by its occasional defiance of probability in plot, and good taste in style. When an author creates a sterling character, it is natural he should love to introduce him anew in successive tales, although the experiment is not without its hazards : this experiment Mrs. Marsh prosperously essayed in “ Angela,” and on a more systematic scale in her next brace of novels, “ The Wilmingtons,” and Time, the Avenger.” Henry Wilmington's sacrifice of moral principle and self-respect to distorted notions of filial duty, which forms the point d'appui of the interest in the former tale, is only too characteristic of this writer's exegesis of the fifth commandment. Be her “private interpretation” right or wrong, she expounds it in parables hard to bear, and which excite remonstrances on the ground both of ethics and of art. In “ Time, the Avenger,” she indulges her whim of showing crabbed elderly manhood in love-a whim that lately threatened to be the rage with our Lady Novelists. Mr. Danby, in “Emilia Wyndham,” was not to be exclusively sui generis ; Mr. Craiglethorpe, sarcastic, severe, forbidding, is similarly 6 trotted out" to show his paces with a fair rider on his haughty back—much to the encouragement of time-stricken, musty, desponding bachelors ; for if thus

Mopso Nisa datur, quid non speremus amantes ?
Jungentur jam gryphes equis ; ævoque sequenti

Cum canibus timidi venient ad pocula damæ. It must be allowed, however, on the other hand, that few of her sisterhood surpass Mrs. Marsh in the delineation of a youthful lover of the beau idéal order as to age, presence, manners, head, and heart—almost fit to pair off with the bright damosels whom she never tires of creating, nor we of deifying among the penates of our bookshelves.

But the lofty sphere even of omnipotent criticism has its horizon, and finds space an obstinate entity, whatever the Kantian philosophy may discourse. So, of Mrs. Marsh's other novels, “Mordaunt Hall," “ Lettice Arnold,” &c., si que alia, the less that we now say the better. Not indeed as regards her or them, but as regards ourselves, reader—and you.

FRENCH ALMANACKS FOR 1853, AND PARISIAN LITERARY

AND POLITICAL CHIT-CHAT. The French almanacks for 1853 are utterly barren of political interest. Every channel being now closed to the conveyance of information bearing upon the state of the nation, or the hopes, fears, or aspirations of the people, it is not surprising that even these very modest vehicles of opinion should also be. tabooed upon the one dangerous theme. There is an Almanach de Napoléon, but what does it contain ? A Calendrier Napoléonien, a history of the Imperial Guard, an anecdote of Josephine, the tomb at the Invalides, a life of Marshal Soult, anecdotes of the Emperor, reprinted for the hundredth time, and a portrait of the emperorelect, Napoleon III., to which we may have occasion to return. We miss the prophecies that for two years past have declared in cabalistic numbers, or black letters, that Louis Napoleon was destined to be President de la Republique Française indivisible, democratique, nor are they replaced by any to the effect that the same prince is to be emperor of the said indivisible democratic nation, or the reverse. A significant and decorous silence is observed upon such a delicate subject. Possibly it might be thought a consultation of stars and seers, and numbers being alike unfavourable, it was deemed civil to say nothing. Had the results been favourable, the modern Magi would have spoken out with joyous acclamations. Being unfavourable, a kindly feeling precluded the publication of evil omens. This is giving the rédacteurs credit for a considerable amount of discrimination ; others may think that they were not allowed a choice—that Louis Napoleon very wisely preferred being his own prophet.

We miss also this year some of our quaint old friends, La Science du · Diable, the Almanach Facétieux, and others; but their place is more than filled by a first number of an Almanach de la Littérature du Théâtre et des Beaux Arts, which opens with a literary history of the past year by M. Jules Janin. The renowned critic and feuilletonist writes with his usual liveliness, nor is his spirit of old extinguished by the evil days that have come over his country, but still he occasionally growls like a lion in a pitfall.

" It is one of the qualities,” he says, “one of the virtues of France, that intellectual labour, whatever happens, never stops. In vain the tempest roars in the distance, in vain the sky covers itself with clouds, the hive is at its work, and the diligent bee travels across the briars on the path and the flowers of the garden gathering the honey of every day. It is a touching sight to see these chosen spirits, these select men, these noble hearts, often wounded to death, still obstinately persevering in spite of evil hours, the one at his poem, the other at his drama; the historian at his history, the romancer at his fiction, that nothing can interrupt; intelligent portrayers of the fears, the hopes, and the griefs of a nation rendered illustrious by their genius, they would think that they were committing a bad action if they were to tarry a moment in their bold course onwards amidst so many miseries.”

The critic pleads the impossibility of chronicling in a few pages the whole of the Parisian literature books and plays—for 1852. For still

better reasons may we content ourselves with noticing some of the best works and best plays of an unusually productive year. At the head of these stand the rival histories of the Restoration by De Lamartine and De Vaulabelle. The latter, Jules Janin tells us, is far from possessing the grace, the brilliancy, or the eloquence of the poet-politician; but M. de Vaulabelle distinguishes himself by other qualities: energy and strength, passion and anger, anger carried even to contempt. “It is not only a history,” he says, “ this work of M. de Vaulabelle's, it is also a vengeance, and this vengeance never slacks, even at the most difficult moments; the solitary lamp never goes out, and every year we see coming nearer and nearer the fatal shadow of a history reserved to a future no less illustrious than that penned by M. de Lamartine.” M. de Vaulabelle is, like M. de Barante, a statesman, who in his days of retirement has taken up the pen of an historian, and who can express the gratitude and astonishment of the public when the first volume of the “ History of the Convention" appeared!“ The writer," says Janin, “ held in his skilful hands a learned pen, the French language obeys him as a slave does his master, and he is himself moderation and wisdom personified.”

Gérard de Nerval is placed first among the writers of light literature. In his “ Voyage en Orient,” he is described as relating, in the style of one of the old initiated in the time of Plato, the Mystery of the Pyramids ! (See “ A Frenchman in Cairo,” New Monthly, vol. xc., p. 435.) In his work entitled the “Illuminés,” this same Gérard de Nerval writes with the pen of Cazotte the incredible history of Cagliostro, of the Abbé du Buquoit, and of Quintus Aucler. Another scarcely less curious work by the same author is entitled “ Lorely.” It is a tradition of Baccarach on the Rhine.

M. Mérimée has published a charming little volume, which contains four or five of his best stories. Well known for his wit and grace, for his exquisite care, and the delicious brevity with which he treats everything, making a word, a gesture, a nothing, intimate all that he wishes to his reader,— M. Mérimée is the master of a school, one of the best disciples of which is, without contradiction, M. Octave Feuillet, author of a pretty romance called “Bellah,” but the fame of which has been surpassed by that of the same writer's “ Proverbs,” which Janin tells us are “charming,” that they pass into the very heart of the Parisian world, that they speak its fine language, and reproduce faithfully its elegant manners.

And here the veteran critic turns aside to indict a stern and sharp castigation on what he calls the violent wits and turbulent writers of the day. “ Heroes of nocturnal studies, by dint of dipping their lips into the adulterated wine of the Barriers, by dint of following the chiffonnier, armed with his hook, in his vagabond progress, by dint of studying the exceptional manners of the guinguettes, taverns, low dancing-houses, and open-air concerts, they produce a description of works by the side of which other more chaste and elegant writings have no chance. Thus it is not easy to detect the charms in the stories of M. Mérimée, or in the proverbs of M. Feuillet, when just rising from a perusal of 'L'Histoire des Excentriques,' par M. Champfleury, author of the Chien Caillou,' or · L'Histoire du Quartier Latin,' par M. Murger, the historian of Bohemia, a district much in fashion at the present moment."

Eugène Sue is, for some similar reasons of nice, if not robust criticism, no great favourite with Janin. “ Notwithstanding his talent, his energy, and that admirable faculty of invention which has made our contemporaries pass so many hours of idleness, curiosity, and repose, we should have great difficulty,” says the critic, “in placing M. Eugène Sue in the rank of artistic writers! He writes somewhat as a bird sings, and so also is he as popular as a singing-bird, and when he speaks every one stops to listen to him. His fiction is varied, ardent, full of incidents, of surprises, and of catastrophes. This very year past, from the bottom of that exile, which it is to be hoped will not be eternal, M. Eugène Sue has published a romance called “Fernand Duplessis,' full at once of the amiable qualities and the amiable faults of its author."

A work, entitled “ The History of a Hundred and Thirty Women," by Léon Gozlan, is described by Janin as a most strange romance, and the most singular in the year for astounding adventures and incredible narratives, but the terrible romancer will one day, he prophecies, pay for his horrors and his blasphemies, and will bound and roar between four planks, between sky and earth, like a wounded tiger.

An unknown author, M. Félicien Mallefille, has commenced a great prose work in the style of an epic poem, called the “ Mémoires de Don Juan.” Janin speaks of it in the very highest terms. “It was,” he says, “a prodigious undertaking to force Don Juan, the wit, the lover, and the sceptic, to write his own memoirs, and to depict alike his greatness, his vanities, and his miseries. The day when this biography shall have reached a dénouement,” he adds, “ the language of the nineteenth century will reckon one more chef-d'oeuvre."

“ The King of Living Wits,” M. de Remusat, has published a beautiful memoir of Anselm of Canterbury, and M. Villemain published almost at the same moment an eulogy of Saint Ambrose. These works were suggested by the “ Ver Rongeur" and the writings of the Abbé Gaume, who declared that the university men disregarded the teachings of the fathers of the Church. Were these works tributes, then, to the memory of the saints they profess to eulogise, or mere time-serving compilations ? Janin himself seems to think that Saint Anselm, illustrated by “ ce bel esprit Voltarien-the honour and the grace of Parisian society.," as something rather incongruous; but he comforts himself with saying, that the Abbé Gaume should be ashamed at having calumniated Homer and Virgil, Demosthenes and Cicero, and the most ancient men of the university have revenged themselves in the best way they could. That is, in writing the lives of saints !

M. Mignet's beautiful work on Mary Stuart, in which the conduct of Elizabeth is so cleverly exculpated, we have long ago made known to our readers. Guizot has not been idle. During the last year alone he produced two remarkable works : “ Corneille and his Times,” and “ Shakspeare and his Times.” Janin speaks of the two great dramatic poets as of "stars of the same dimensions, lucida sidera."

Among slighter works, graceful sketches of a lighter and more delicate description, we have “Causeries du Lundi,” scenes in which M. Sainte Beuve extols French urbanity and French taste. Janin says of this work that there is nothing in ancient or modern literature to compare with it “ for its tone, its reserve, and its art of saying everything in the right place !"

« 이전계속 »