Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

his character. Eliza's vanity is gratified by his attachment, and without her own heart being much concerned, she accepts of him as a lover. Her regard for her betrothed gradually improves into attachment, and his elegant and well-ordered mind considerably influences and enlarges hers. But although his tranquil exercise of his parish duties leads her to assist in many acts of kindness to his pastoral charge, she nevertheless does nothing from a steady principle of action; and her charities are very often postponed to her pleasures. She has the misfortune to have a bosom friend in a Miss Brooke, the niece of a Lady Delville, resident in the neighbourhood. These persons usually spend the winter in London, boast of high acquaintance, and ape fashion in all possible ways; of course they make very merry with their beautiful friend's teaching of little village children to read, and her visiting their sick parents; and, it happens, are the means of several charitable intentions, on her part, being frustrated. The anticipation of the displeasure of Mortimer on such occasions is enough to hurt Eliza's pride ; and any actual allusions to her failures of duty lead to the display of much petulance and pettishness. Although, before her acquaintance with Mortimer, Miss Rivers had seen, and enthusiastically admired, the elegant Frederick Waldegrave, who arrived from London on a visit to Sir George Melmoth, a neighbouring sporting baronet, there is yet no change in her views. Waldegrave is altogther irresistible in person, manners, and address : but as cold-hearted, selfish, and calculating as a man of the fashionable world can be imagined to be. Except, however, being addicted to gaming, he is not described as being profligate or debauched. This person is, of course, captivated with the exquisite beauty of Miss Rivers ; and finds her rural simplicity, and, above all, her undisguised feelings of admiration for himself, in contrast to the artificialness and coldness of the London fair, an exceedingly piquant and pleasant sort of autumnal variety. Her engagement, too, renders it safe as he thinks, to amuse himself with his beautiful captive, with something analagous to that advantage which is the angler's over his prey, when, having hooked it, he gives it line, winds up, again allows it play, and enjoys its struggles; all the time safe, in his own person, from being drawn by it into the pool. Her feelings towards her gay new admirer do not increase Eliza's relish for the more sombre prospects of what her friend Miss Brooke calls a parson's wife ; and although she has not yet resolved on the base act of absolutely substituting the new lover for the old, a variation which her vanity never leaves her to doubt, is in her power,—she does not diguise from herself, and has not art enough to veil from her friend Miss Brooke, that the arrangment would be far from disagreeable to her. She is invited by Lady Delville and Miss Brooke to spend a winter with them in Lon

don ; which their much increased power in consequence of Miss Brooke's having succeeded to the immense West India wealth of her father, promises to make one of unusual gaiety and splendour. In London Waldegrare is of course a daily visiter at Lady Delville's; delighted with the unequivocal proofs in her manner, of his being the very idol of Eliza's soul. Mortimer is as contentedly forgotten by her as if he had not a feeling on the subject, or had never existed. Her London Lothario intimates to her an intention of going to the Continent, which the young lady receives with the most undisguised emotion, and first declares the state of her heart by the inartificial process of a flood of tears. This being a movement rather unexpectedly powerful, the wary angler is actually drawn in, and has one plunge before he has time to take a new position for farther resistance. He cannot escape declaring, too, and for some months is considered by his fashionable circle to be the affianced of Miss Rivers, as indisputably as was once his predecessor Mortimer; no one in that gay assemblage seeing any thing more in Miss Rivers' change sentiments and lovers, than a very expedient and praise-worthy measure—the which the lady intimates, in course of post, to the said Mortimer Durand, in a letter of five or six lines. He comes to London, and rather perplexes his false one by a visit when she is in the midst of preparations for a ball; and bidding her a final, and very inconveniently impassioned adieu, which does make her look grave for a day, returns to the country, falls into a decline, and dies; which last occurrence, but for Waldegrave's presence, and some unusually brilliant parties in prospect, would have been extremely shocking to Miss Eliza Rivers; who, as it is, in the excess of selfishness, asks what right Mortimer Durand had to cross the path of her happiness.

A retribution, in islentical kind, is in store for our unfeeling heroine. Waldegrave gets himself gradually extricated from the meshes in which he was so unwarily entangled ; and, influenced by his indisposition to matrimony-Miss Rivers' small fortunehis losses at play—the ridicule of his friends in St. James's Street -the inconvenience of “the poor girl's” passionate attachment -his threatened thraldom from her jealousy, pride, and petulance and the inelegance of her too much declared countryfied sensibilities--resolves to begin the process of shaking of by re-announcing a visit to the Continent. Reproaches, vollied with a spirit altogther too alarming to be endured by the tranquillity of the highest London fashion, it may easily be believed, do not change his resolution; and to the Continent he goes.

The anxieties and self-tormentings of the ungovernable Eliza, in her lover's absence, are well described. These are aggravated tenfold by receiving from him, during a month only one very short formal letter, in answer to a score of epistles, of almost raving

love and jealousy, written from Kensington, where she has taken up her abode for the summer and autumn, in the boarding-house of her former French governess, to be at hand. Her fears have no bounds, and frantic with jealousy, she resolves to set off for Paris: a resolution no sooner formed than begun to be executed, when our heroine has a glimpse of her faithless swain, in a hackney coach, driving along Oxford Street to the eastward. Her conduct, at such a crisis, is suitable to her temperament. She runs after the coach, but the coachman, in the noise and confusion, neither sees nor hears her. She is in an instant in another coach, her only direction being, “ to the city!” She has not proceeded a hundred yards, till a long line of coaches, chariots, waggons, and all possible means of transport, but at that moment of obstruction, induce her to leap out and run forward on foot; till a gleam of reason, and a great deal of fatigue and agitation, bring her up in a confectioner's shop, where she composes herself, and calling another coach, names the more definite destination of “ Kensington.” She is now, of

course, more wild than ever. Waldegrave is in London, and, too surely, avoids her. Regardless of every consideration but her raging passion, she confounds her skulking lover, who supposed himself quite incog. by pronouncing upon him in his apartments in the Albany Arcade. He must accompany the crazy and very troublesome Miss Rivers home to Kensington ; where, with a calmness which was only equalled by her own notification to Mortimer, he tells her, once for all, that the thing will not do, and that he means, for his part at least, to think no more about it; a remedy which he recommends, as very expedient, for her to adopt also ; and, taking his hat, and the anticipated opportunity of the most violent paroxysm he had yet witnessed, glides out of the house. The scene is admirably wrought by the author, and while we are not called upon to abate one iota of our disdain and reprobation of the conduct of the heartless Waldegrave, her own conduct to Mortimer precludes our sympathy with Eliza, and converts all her impassioned reproaches of her second lover, into so many condemnations of herself, for the treatment of her first.

In the midst of these agonies, her gentle virtuous guardian, Mr. Henley, who had come to town on other business, is announced to her; and both she and the reader are relieved by the judicious contrast. On learning her story, the good man at once urges her to return with him to Fairfield, assuring her, to her no small surprise, that, notwithstanding all that has happened, neither himself nor Louisa has lost any of their fond affection for her. She at first refuses; but, after Mr. Henley is gone, changes her mind, posts down after him with her usual impetuosity, and throws herself into a fever of some duration by the journey. On her recovery, it is soon but too obvious that she is to fulfil, in

every point, the same destiny with Mortimer; for she, too, is in a deep and incurable decline. The most beautiful and affecting part of the tale here begins. By the gently affectionate, and religious persuasives of the admirable Louisa, Eliza's mind is tranquillized, and a material change is gradually wrought in her character. We say gradually, for the novelist is most happy in the delineation of the lingering departure of the convert's more worldly feelings feelings, even for her betrayer, which lead her, like Eloise, “to murmur in her vows.” Her last trial is got over when Lady Delville, with singular want of tact, informs her, by letter, of Waldegrave's marriage to her rich friend Miss Brooke.

One beautiful incident is purposely kept to the last by the author; and by it the complete cure of Eliza is affected. She had often reproached herself for her clamorous and selfish grief, when made fully aware of the serenity and resignation of Mortimer's end, and the Christian forbearance with which he checked every word of reproach of her, as well as lamentation for himself: but, even yet, the image of the worthless Waldegrave would occasionally haunt her, till an inadvertent word dropped from Louisa, from which Eliza darted to the conclusion that a deep feeling of attachment to Mortimer had been heroically concealed in the gentle bosom of her friend, and that his love for herself, although fatal to that friend's whole fabric of worldly happiness had, with a refined and disinterested affection known to few, been encouraged by that excellent creature, because it tended to the happiness of two friends so dear to her. This well-managed contrast, of attachment subdued in silence,—of love “ne'er told," with unbridled, selfish, noisy passion, is quite admirable, and gives a moral power to the story we have detailed, altogether irresistible.

Eliza's frightful disease advances rapidly, and at last, in a manner, in describing which the author shows considerable power and feeling, she reclines her head on the faithful bosom of her admired friend, and dies.

It would be unjust not to give a few specimens of the descriptions, incidents, and delineations of character in this work. Many of the minor characters are necessarily very ordinary, and such as are to be met with in almost every novel ; and although we cannot say that any of the characters, even the heroine's, are perfectly original conceptions, several of them are exceedingly ably outlined as well as filled up, and all perform suitably the parts allotted to them.

There occurs, early in the narrative, a portrait, to the life, of what has been so well termed “a familiar puppy,” of a youth little more than just from school, whose self-conceit, ease, and impertinence, are altogether intolerable. This stripling addresses his seniors, and the large choice of his betters, by their sirnames

-hands off the first lady in the drawing-room to dinner-makes puns upon the company indiscriminately-volunteers his opinion, which is always first in order, sudden, and dogmatical-seats himself where he is sure to be an intrusion, and commits many other excesses, like to those of a similar newly ex-scholiated personage, in a company of which the inimitable Parson Adams was one, where the old corrective habit of the Doctor drew from him the exclamation, “ Oh! that I had thee on another lad's back!” and half raised him, with a pedagogue's impulse, to realize the threat on the spot, in the urgency of the occasion.

"Sir George walked off with her empty tea-cup, when young Bartley, who had been silent for about the space of three minutes and a half, now loitered up to her, and throwing himself into the chair which the baronet had just vacated, asked her, “ if she did not think Melmoth a pleasant' good humoured fellow? That happy faculty which, as we have observed, my Lord Bacon so commends, removed from Mr. William at all times any unpleasant apprehension of approaching too nearly to familiarity in his discourse; therefore, though he could see, as in fact it was impossible not to see, the haughty air with which Eliza asked him if it were Sir George Melmoth he was speaking of?' he read in it no transient disgust at the freedom of his manner, but very naturally attribuited it to her being provoked at his interrupting their tête-d. tête."

Miss Brooke, although a lady of fashion, with claims to origi. nality unquestioned in the country, by the four Miss Bartleys, and the three Miss Johnsons, and Miss Maria Sidney, and even by Miss Rivers herself,—Louisa and Mortimer alone starting a heretical doubt on this important head-is really, as it turns out, the mere copier of a greater original in town; that original herself being, alas ! but a copier from a yet higher copier, in the curiously graduated scale of fashion, where real originality, such as it is, “ is set at a dizzy height” indeed. This astonishing personage, Miss Brooke's immediate prototype, bursts upon the senses of the unpractised Eliza in the form of the brusque, bold, perfectly fashionable, and therefore truly vulgar Miss Ormond. This lady comes accompanied by the most unqualified dandy ever consigned by the grinning bystanders to the appropriate neuter gender.

“ Miss Ormond was accompanied by a dandy-like looking young man, whom she introduced as Mr. Newcome, if an introduction it could be called, that consisted in, .Well, Lady Delville, I have brought you the man I promised you for the opera, but you have got a better I see ;-ah! Waldegrave, how did you get here?”

“Whilst Mr. Waldegrave was explaining, Lady Delville was making as low a curtsey to this unknown opera-man as the spherical nature of her figure admitted of; which Miss Ormond observing, she exclaimed,

“ Oh don't use any ceremony with bim. It will be quite thrown away, I assure you : he is monstrous good-natured, but horrid silly ; and a finished dandy, and high fashion, and his name's Newcome, and that's all I have to say about him."

“ Far from evincing any pique or confusion at being styled horrid silly,' Mr. Newcome did nothing but smile and looked pleased as Miss Ormond proceeded in her rhodomontade. To be a dandy and high fashion, as it was the end, constituted also the solace and enjoyment of his existence,'

VOL. II.-NO. 3

« PoprzedniaDalej »