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expense, while it might perhaps provide for a few meritorious individuals, would, it is to be feared, give rise to much jobbing and jealousy; and would neither accelerate the progress of science, nor lessen the number of its martyrs.
We must now take leave of this publication. Considering the eminent station its author has long occupied among European philosophers, and the number and importance of his contributions to some of the highest and most difficult branches of physical enquiry, it cannot add to his reputation. It was probably undertaken as a relaxation from more severe labour, and regarded by him as of no great importance. We confess, however, that we look upon it in a different light. Next to labours which tend to enlarge the existing boundaries of knowledge, the most useful service, perhaps, which can now be rendered to science, is the faithful exposition of the discoveries and claims of its great benefactors; for, after all, the hope of receiving the approbation and applause of future ages is the best and most honourable incentive to scientific enterprise. It is also of no small importance to the student, that the methods of the original discoveries should be reviewed from time to time by those who, starting from a higher vantage-ground, have succeeded, like the present author, in going far beyond them in the same paths of enquiry; for it is thus that the connexion between the different states of a science, and the continuity of the chain of discovery, are best preserved and made evident. For these reasons, we look upon the work, moderate as it is in extent, as calculated to do good service to the cause to which its author has so successfully consecrated his life and his labours.
ART. VII.-Ellen Middleton. A Tale. By Lady GEORGIANA FULLERTON. 3 vols. 8vo. London: 1844.
THIS Tale has excited great interest among an influential class of readers in the metropolis, and its reputation is, we are told, spreading widely. The writer is just the kind of writer who may do harm by her influence or example, and to whom criticism may do good. It struck us, therefore, that the very limited space we had left, on the appearance of her Tale, could not be employed better than in pointing out her merits and demerits as a novelist-her fine spirit of observation and analysis, with the veins of thought and feeling, that ought to be worked assiduously-and her fondness for overstrained sentiment, and melodramatic situation, that must be suppressed.
The plot is soon told. Ellen Middleton has been bred up by a high-principled, cold-mannered uncle, and an indulgent, imaginative aunt. They are people of fortune, residing at a country house situate on the bank of a river. When the story opens, Ellen is between fifteen and sixteen. Their only child, Julia, a cross, unamiable girl, is eight. Edward Middleton, a nephew of the uncle, and Henry Lovell, a younger brother of the auntyoung men of two or three and twenty-are staying with them. Julia takes every opportunity of quarrelling with her cousin ; and at length Ellen overhears her aunt discussing the propriety of separating them, by sending her (Ellen) to school. Hurrying to a veranda overlooking the river, she gives vent to a paroxysm of grief and mortification.
No voice could then have been welcome to me, (for the voice I loved best, the voice that had ever spoken peace and joy to my heart, I had just heard utter words that had destroyed at one blow the fabric of bliss. which my heart had so long framed for itself;) no voice, I say, could have been welcome to me; but when I heard the sharp and querulous tones of Julia, God in mercy forgive me for what I felt. She was again standing at the head of the stone steps that I have described as forming one of the extremities of the veranda; and, as she placed her foot on one of the moss-covered slippery steps, she called out," I'm going down -I'll have my own way now." I seized her hand, and drawing her back, exclaimed-" Don't, Julia ;" on which she said-" You had better not tease me; you are to be sent away if you tease me." I felt as if a viper had stung me, the blood rushed to my head, and I struck her; -she reeled under the blow, her foot slipped, and she fell headlong down the stone steps. A voice near me said" She has killed her!" There was a plunge in the water below; her white frock rose to the surface—sank-rose again-and sank to rise no more. Two men rushed
wildly down the bank, and one of them turned and looked up as he passed. I heard a piercing scream-a mother's cry of despair. Nobody said again-She has killed her." I did not die; I did not go mad; for I had not an instant's delusion-I never doubted the reality of what had happened; but those words-" She has killed her!"-" She has killed her!"—were written as with a fiery pencil on my brain, and day and night they rang in my ears. Who had spoken them? The secret of
my fate was in those words.'
The secret of her fate was in these words, and the chief interest of the story is in that secret; which she keeps until she herself and every body connected with her have been made irretrievably wretched. In the first paroxysm of remorse and terror, she could not speak, and afterwards she would not; but goes on receiving the caresses of her relations, and enjoying the advantages of her new position (for Julia's death makes her an heiress) with unfaltering resolution; though racked by the fear of discovery, and haunted by the phantoms of remorse. Both Edward and Henry are in love with her. Edward is high-minded, truehearted, and good; she returns his affection, and eventually marries him. Henry is unprincipled and selfish, and she knows it; but he possesses extraordinary powers of fascination; he holds the key of her destiny, having been an eyewitness of Julia's death; and by the aid of influence thus acquired, induces her to suppress the truth, tolerate his attentions, and keep up a confidential communication with him, until her husband, to whom she is all along devotedly attached, casts her off, under the belief that Henry is her favoured lover. He does not learn the real state of the facts until they are narrated by her (dying of a broken heart) on her deathbed; Henry having died of a brain fever a few days before, and most of the other prominent characters being similarly disposed of about the same time.
This story, apparently so simple, is kept up through the three volumes principally by Ellen's struggles to avoid discovery, and Henry's expedients to retain her in his toils.
Now, our objection to the plot is twofold-the inadequacy of the alleged motives, and the improbability of the facts. We assert confidently, that Ellen neither could nor would have kept the secret. In the first place, she could not. There are such things as Coroner's inquests-though ladies of quality are not bound to know of them-and others besides the housekeeper would have asked, 'Where were you when the poor thing fell?' Two persons are eyewitnesses of the deed; a third hears it from one of them; dark hints are scattered; dire threats thrown out; all sorts of rumours are abroad; she herself pursues a line of conduct that must necessarily excite suspicion; and tears, faintings, changes of voice, changes of colour, and whisperings with Henry,
would assuredly have precipitated the crisis before the end of the first volume.
This, however, is a comparatively immaterial objection: few novelists or dramatists could get on if they were tied down to strict matter-of-fact probability. In some of the most admired fictions, we are compelled to take for granted that no one sees or hears what no one could help seeing or hearing; and we readily grant their writers what Archimedes, asked in vain-a place beyond our living actual everyday world to stand on, and suffer them to move it, or turn it topsy-turvy, if they can. In short, they may do any thing short of reversing the laws of gravitation, provided they do not neglect the higher principles of art; and our main ground of difference with Lady Georgiana Fullerton is, not that the secret would have been discovered in Ellen's despite, but that she herself would infallibly have revealed it.
Persons conversant with the history of crime are aware, that the most hardened criminals scarcely ever keep their own counsel, even when there is no hope of sympathy, and communication may be death murder will out' is no mere vulgar error; nor is there probably one of our readers who, in minor cases of transgression, has not felt an irresistible impulse to tell and know the worst, merely to get rid of the torture of uncertainty, though under no immediate apprehension of being found out. But let us set aside the fact, that Ellen knew of one witness at the least; and let us say nothing of the line of conduct a cunning calculating girl would consequently have pursued. We take her on her own showing to have been possessed of understanding, imagination, and sensibility; to have been capable of high enthusiasm, warm gratitude, and passionate love. How would such a being have acted? Why, rushed wildly through the house shrieking out that she had killed her cousin; or started from the first stupor, to give way to an agony of self-accusation; or dragged herself to her aunt's feet, imploring, not asking, forgiveness; or flown from her to the stern uncle, and received his sentence of banishment as a boon-any thing, or every thing but remain enduring the caresses of Mrs Middleton, the insulting attentions of Henry, and the daily, hourly indications of the coming crisis. It is said that the most stringent of all tortures is the falling of water, drop by drop, upon the head-the brain maddens, and the tongue speaks. Much of the same kind is the mental torture Ellen is made to undergo for months, by the surpassing ingenuity of the contrivances for turning incident after incident, and conversation after conversation, into a sting. She loves, too-loves passionately, devotedly; her whole soul is wrapped up in Edward; and, in the fine scene where she risks her life to save his, she pours it all out
in an irrepressible burst. With one reserve, however, the black secret is kept back, and with an intensity of selfishness (though perhaps the author never viewed it in that light) she keeps it still, when not only her own reputation, and the life of Alice, but her husband's happiness, might be secured by a frank and full confession. Sir Walter Scott managed these things better. Finella is proof against every other trial; but the moment the talismanic influence of love is brought to bear upon her, she betrays herself.*
Judging simply from internal evidence, it is impossible to doubt the purity of the author's mind and the goodness of her intentions; but the tendency or moral is often, at the best, doubtful. We do not much mind her reversing the good old maxim already mentioned, of murder will out; but it is surely hardly allowable to paint Ellen endowed with so many estimable qualities, without permitting them to bear fruit. Falsehood, habitual dissimulation, and selfishness, are not the natural products of a religious turn of mind, a frank disposition, genius, enthusiasm, and sensibility. Ellen's mode of thinking, compared with her mode of acting, constantly tempts us to exclaim (saving the lady's presence) with Sir Peter Teazle, Oh, d-n your sentiments!' or reminds us of Charles Lamb's character of Coleridge: He was a good man, an excellent man; but, somehow or other, 'whenever any thing presented itself in the shape of a duty, he 'could not perform it.'
Again, Ellen is too clever a creature to be imposed on by Henry Lovell, (who is commonplace enough in the first volume,) and she is too much in love with another to be fascinated by him. Such an interest might easily have found place in an unoccu pied heart or mind; but she had paramount objects, and in her peculiar position, "that most insidious of poisons, the constant homage of a blind and passionate admiration," would have had no charms for her. As a woman of spirit, too, she would have been more likely to contract aversion for a man who persevered in compelling her to listen to him by a threat. But we hazard
this opinion with diffidence; a woman must be the best judge how far a woman might be led by the demon of coquetry; and as to threats, we remember reading a French novel, alleged in the preface to be founded upon fact, in which the gentleman (a practised duellist) tells the lady that she had better accept him at once, as he is resolved to shoot every other pretender to her hand. He shoots four of her adorers, and she marries him.
* See the concluding chapter of Peveril of the Peak.