Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ference to the dicta of criticism, by the tact of genius alone she has preserved congruity and harmony in her style, her personages, and her sentiments. Of Mrs. Radcliffe's domestic life little is known, but that it was spent in honourable privacy; and whilst her habits of retirement baffled curiosity, her strict propriety defied reproach. It appears surprising that she should so early have resigned the pen to which she was probably indebted for her happiest moments. To men of imagination, the world with all its rich varieties is open, to relieve or renovate the mind when absorbed and exhausted by literary pursuits; but to women of genius no such resources are offered; and if they have not a father or a brother to assist the progress of their studies, they must continue by solitary efforts to struggle into notice, and to spend their leisure in uncongenial society. Home is to them a citadel of vigilance, not a scene of pleasure or repose : to man it is as a garden, in which he refreshes his weary spirit and exercises his best affections; but to woman this seeming elysium is a school of discipline, which allows not even a momentary relaxation from laborious care.

It is not without emotion that I turn to Inchbald, who in the order of time should have preceded Radcliffe : an involuntary impulse assigns to her the last, not least honoured place. Born of humble parents, the early indications she gave of superior intelligence were neither prized nor understood; her rare endowments, instead of gratifying, seem to have alienated from her the affections of her domestic relatives, and she had not only to struggle with the disadvantages inevitable to a neglected education, but to endure the slights and persecutions inflicted by vulgar ignorance. But genius endureth all things for its own sake. Little as Elizabeth Singer owed to cultivation, she contrived to discover books which she devoured rather than read, and became passionately enamoured of dramatic poetry. As she approached maturity, her miseries increased; she found her home intolerable, and as a desperate resource, resolved to try her fortunes on the stage. She was scarcely sixteen when she took this resolution, for which it was not probable she should obtain the assistance or even the sanction of her parents. Of her aptitudes to the theatrical profession, report speaks not highly; her memory was prompt and retentive, her voice sweet and powerful, but she had a slow and somewhat defective articulation, was destitute of confidence, and overflowing with sensibility. But to whatever disabilities she might be liable, her majestic stature and beautifully expressive countenance insured her attention from the manager or the audience. She was engaged in a provincial company; but had no sooner entered on her new career, than she became sensible of the dangers to which it must expose her unfriended youth; and it was this painful conviction which induced her to accept the hand of Mr. Inchbald, already in the wane of life, with whom she steadily pursued the profession she had chosen, for which, however, she soon avowed unqualified abhorrence. The principles which had determined her choice, continued to influence her conduct; she lived without reproach, but on her husband's death, found herself with no other resource than her talent and energy supplied. By what gradations she became an authoress is not known: by an intercourse with the stage, so often the school of talent, she might in some degree surmount the disadvantages of a sordid education; she at least acquired that knowledge of the world and that discriminating taste which are essential to dramatic conposition. Nature lent the power, necessity gave the impulse, and after a long and painful probation she succeeded in establishing herself as a comic writer. At first her efforts were limited to the humble task of adapting French farces to an English theatre. It was the play of "Such Things are," that introduced her as an original dramatist. Although the success of this piece was brilliant, it is in real merit at an incalculable distance from " Every One has his Fault," a play the most perfect, perhaps, of the mixed kind that is to be found in our dramatic literature, in which the author evinced her versatility by enlisting among her dramatis personæ, a Siddons and a Munden, Lewis and Kemble,-a rare assemblage, that was crowned with a splendid triumph! But even this interesting play is scarcely as dramatic as her novel of " The Simple Story,” in which, without the aid of theatrical representation, the seenes pass in rapid succession before the reader's eye. Not for a moment is the identity of the respective personages to be mistaken: the lineaments of Sandford are indelibly imprinted on meinory; we seem to have known and to have talked or trifled with the charming Miss Milner; the interest with which we pronounce the name Dornforth, is the author's panegyric. In “Nature and Art,” there is more versatility of talent, and stronger intensity of feeling; the tale is desultory, the impressions it produces are almost too painful, yet where shall we find its like again? In the zenith of her popularity Mrs. Inch bald was unfortunately constrained to adapt German plays to the English stage. The task was not more unworthy of her talents than repugnant to her taste; but what will not be endured by those, who after a series of heart-sickening disappointments, are at length cheered with the prospect of success, and allured by the hope of realizing independence!' Mrs. Inchbald continued therefore to concentrate her powers in the vain effort, to extract -sense and humour from the pages of Kotzebue, and to satisfy the manager and conciliate the opposing claims of rival performers. Appalled by the difficulties incident to such undertakings, she complained that she never began a play without indescribable agonies of fear, nor ever completed it without feeling like a criminal already tried and condemned. Like all people of genius, she descried favourable auspices for the commencement of her work: when these were wanting, she knew it was but lost labour to pursue her progress; whatever she wrote without the presage of success, was consigned to the flames; but no sooner was she warm with her subject, than, abandoning herself to the impulse that took possession of her mind, she wrote with unremitted ardour till its action was suspended; sometimes persisting in her labours till long after midnight, she scarcely allowed herself to take the necessary refreshıment. Whatever impressions she had received from real events, she was eager to seize and to transmit in all their vivid freshness. It was after attending a trial at the Old Bailey, that she drew the inimitable scene of Hannah standing at the bar of justice, before the seducer who pronounces the fatal verdict. In the Simple Story, she is believed to have pourtrayed her own most sacred feelings; and if rumour may be credited, she had been taught by a real Dornforth to describe the anguish attendant on slighted love. Mrs. Inchbald often dwelt with pathos on the unremitted toils and difficulties imposed on a dramatic writer. She complained that her anxiety never ceased, and that even, after the great ordeal of public representation, she had to endure the cavils of criticism and repel the insinuations of malice. After frequent repetitions she saw another laurel added to her wreath, and for a short time was hailed in many a circle by friends and even rivals as the envied object of popular admiration; but the moment of triumph quickly passed, and she had to resume her efforts. In company Mrs. Inchbald was always seen to peculiar advantage: she forgot not to lend her charms the aid of dress, and when she had long resigned pretensions to yeuth, still drew the homage so universally yielded to beauty. Her person was tall and majestic, her dark hazel eyes wore an expression of archness, agreeably softened by a smile that played almost unconsciously on her eloquent lips. There was a gentle hesitation in her speech, which though it originated in defect, she had the grace to improve into a feminine perfection. Nor was her voice without its fascination; its full clear tones were exquisitely modulated, and from her lips the most trifling sentence became impressive. Her conversation was rich in anecdotes, which, whether old or new, were rendered piquant by her admirable talent of narration. In argument she was equally irresistible; even criticism from her was graceful ; and a witty barrister once said to her, “I know not wbat rare beings may be found above, but sure I am there is nothing like you on earth beneath.” But whatever animation she diffused in society, she had to return to her solitary lodging in Leicester-square to resume her toils, to renew her solicitudes, her involuntary regrets, her ever anticipated disappointments. To her relatives she was ever kind and considerate, although it was impossible that any sympathies or aptitudes for companionship could subsist between them. She was therefore left in the world and to the consciousness of her own loneliness ; and in spite of her temperamental gaiety, it was well known to her intimate friends that she had moments of intense melancholy, which commonly preceded her happiest seasons of literary composition. Born with keen sensibilities, it had been the business of her life to control their vehemence, but neither years nor vicissitudes had destroyed her capacities for tenderness, and opportunity only was wanting to revive their force. In the house where she resided, she became passionately attached to a child, for whom, as she herself observed, she originally meant to preserve perfect indifference --but who, said she could help noticing a poor helpless infant ?

The maid who cleaned my apartment was accustomed to lay him on the carpet. At first I regarded him as a troublesome intruder ; but when he cried I soothed him, and was pleased to find I had the power to still his murmurs : this happened again and again. By degrees I wished for the hour when he was to be brought to my room. I observed his growth, I watched his thoughts. Presently he began to articulate, and I was soon struck with the traits of feeling that escaped him.-I find his little passions already cause him to suffer much that he knows not how to express, and that pride sometimes teaches him to stile his complaints. I love him for all that he suffers and enjoys ; but above all I love him because he delights in me, and seeks me for my own sake even more than he relishes the sweet cakes with which I first offered to bribe his affections. It is long, very long since I have been loved or sought for myself."

The above is a trifling specimen of Mrs. Inchbald's familiar conversation, but she often contrived to introduce profound reflections in the disguise of sportive pleasantry. Her criticisms were in general per fectly just, and conveyed with true laconic brevity. It is the work of a VOL. XI. NO, XLVI.

Y

great mind, said she one day, speaking of Belinda, but not a great work ; the author is capable of doing better. Of another book she complained it was too learned, and that it sent her to her dictionary, thus obliquely condemning its pedantry. The last fifteen years of her life were spent in seclusion : she still lived near the metropolis, but without mingling in its pleasures, and not only renounced the world, but relinquished her pen, lest, as she observed, she should have the misfortune to Jutlive her reputation. She even suppressed the publication of an autobiographical work, including the memoirs of fifteen years of her life. If this manuscript should be recoverable, it will perhaps bear away the palm of autobiography, even from Göthe. What could be more attractive than the graceful pen of Inchbald describing herself in all her early trials and subsequent conflicts of passion and duty, of reason and imagination? In suppressing this work the author has probably sacrificed that which would have constituted her most popular production; but, till the fact be positively ascertained, let no unhallowed pen presume to mar her story. There could be but one biographer worthy of Inchbald. In dismissing the autographs I should perhaps be tempted to inquire what encouragements this country offers to female authorship; but, expecting ere long to see many of the lettered belles in Miranda's Boudoir, I reserve my remarks for the present

SONNET.-MAY.
All Nature breathes of joy, and hails the May;

The very flowers nod dances to the wind,
The fluttering birds about the bushes play,

And all is happy-even the boy confined
In village-school paints fancies ever gay,

Repeating o'er his play-games in his mind,
Building anew his huts of stone and clay,
That freedom left when school-hours call'd away,

By some barn-wall or low cot's sunny side,
Or

sports ’mid pasture molehills, where still play,

In his mind's eye the lambs, and in young pride
The wild foal galloping, nigh mad with joys,

And calf loud mooing in its colours pied,
Ignorant of care that human peace destroys.

P.

SONNET.-THE SHEPHERD BOY.
Pleased with his loneliness he often lies,

Telling glad stories to his dog--and e'en
His very shade, that well the loss supplies

Of living company; full oft he 'll lean
By, pebbled brooks, and dream with happy eyes

Upon the fairy pictures spread below,
Thinking the shadowy prospects real skies,

And happy heavens where the righteous go;
Oft may his haunts be track'd where he hath been,

Spending spare leisure which his toils bestow,
By nine-pegg d morris, nick'd upon the green,
Or flower-stuck gardens never meant to grow,

Or figures cut on trees his skill to show,
Where he a prisoner from a shower hath been.

P.

PENITENTIARIES FOR THE POLITÉ.

“ We pity or laugh at those fatuous extravagants, while yet ourselves have a considerable dose of what makes thein so."

GLANVILLE.

At a period when every charity instituted for the relief of our fellow creatures is sure of receiving the most munificent support, and when our capitalists eagerly embark their funds in every project, however wild and visionary, which promises to yield an adequate remuneration, it is really astonishing that an establishment combining a certainty of succour to a numerous and most suffering class of human beings, with a prospect of incalculable profit to the contributors, should never have suggested itself to any of our philanthropists. Such are the features of the new Institution which we are about to introduce to public notice ; and though we are sufficiently aware that our benevolent countrymen, acting upon the principle that virtue is its own reward, require no sordid stimulus to their humanity, it may not be amiss to state, from the most accurate calculations, that the charity we propose is sure of being "twice bless'd" even in a financial point of view, and of rewarding him that gives with as much certainty as it will relieve the party to whoin its soothing influence will be extended. As we wish it to rest upon its own merits, moral and pecuniary, we shall waste no more time in preliminary recommendations, but proceed at once to an outline of our plan, leaving its more perfect developement to a committee, for whose appointment a public meeting will shortly be called, and at which we earnestly solicit the attendance of all our readers, both male and female.

Every one who has been in the habit of attending to the proceedings in the Chancery Court upon applications for a commission “de Idiota inquirendo," must have been struck with the difficulty that exists in proving a man to be non compos mentis. In the case of a noble Peer, not long since brought before the public, many acts and habits were imputed to him as evidences of a non-sane mind, which are daily and hourly performed by many of his Majesty's liege subjects, without the smallest imputation upon their rationality. The law holds no man to be an idiot who has understanding enough to measure a yard of cloth, number twenty rightly, and tell the days of the week, &c.; but it is obvious that this limitation is a great deal too circumscribed, and that many who do not come within the letter of this enactment, are fairly included in its spirit. Hardly any two authorities agree as to the minimum of intellect which shall qualify a person for the

management of his own affairs, while some men have been accused of madness upon grounds at once ridiculous and contradictory. “Much learning hath made thee mad," cries Festus to Paul; the Emperor Anastasius ordered the gospels to be corrected and amended, "tanquam ab idiotis evangelistis composita;" and the general uncertainty upon this subject could not be better exemplified than hy the poor fellow in Bedlam, who, upon being asked the cause of his confinement, replied—“I said the world was mad, they said it was me, and they outnumbered me.” Surely such a grave question as this should never be decided by acclamation, or a show of hands. We may be legally wrong when we say of any half-crazy individual

« ZurückWeiter »