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sported back to those happy days of primeval simplicity which float before our imaginations like golden visions. The fireplaces were of a truly patriarchal magnitude, where the whole family, old and young, master and servant, black and white, nay, even the ...' cat and dog, enjoyed a community of privilege, and had each a prescriptive right to a corner. Here the old burgher would sit in perfect silence, puffin his pipe, looking in the fire with half-shut eyes, an thinking of nothing for hours together; the goede vrouw on the opposite side would employ herself diligently in spinning her yarn or knitting stockings. The young folks would crowd around the hearth, listening with breathless attention to some old crone of a negro who was the oracle of the family, and who, perched like a raven in a corner of the chimney, would croak forth for a long winter afternoon a string of incredible stories about New England witches, grisly ghosts, horses without heads, and hairbreadth escapes, and bloody encounters among the Indians. | In those happy days a well-regulated family always | rose with the dawn, dined at eleven, and went to bed at sundown. Dinner was invariably a private meal, and the fat old burghers showed incontestable symptoms of disapprobation and uneasiness at being surprised by a visit from a neighbour on such occasions. But though our worthy ancestors were thus singularly averse to giving dinners, yet they kept up the social
bonds of intimacy by occasional banquetings, called
tea-parties. As this is the first introduction of those delectable orgies, which have since become so fashionable in this city, I am conscious my fair readers will be very curious to receive information on the subject. Sorry am I that there will be but little in my description calculated to excite their admiration. I can neither delight them with accounts of suffocating crowds, nor brilliant drawing-rooms, nor towering feathers, nor sparkling diamonds, nor immeasurable trains. I can detail no choice anecdotes of scandal, for in those primitive times the simple folk were either too stupid or too good-natured to pull each other's characters to pieces; nor can I furnish any whimsical anecdotes of brag ; how one lady cheated, or another bounced into a passion; for as yet there was no junto of dulcet old
dowagers who met to win each other's money and lose
their own tempers at a card-table. These fashionable parties were generally confined
to the higher classes, or noblesse—that is to say, such
as kept their own cows and drove their own wagons.
The company commonly assembled at three o'clock, and went away about six, unless it was in winter time, when the fashionable hours were a little earlier, that the ladies might get home before dark. I do not find that they ever treated their company to iced creams, jellies, or syllabubs, or regaled them with musty almonds, mouldy raisins, or sour oranges, as is often done in the present age of refinement. Our ancestors were fond of more sturdy substantial fare. The tea-table was crowned with a huge earthen dish well stored with slices of fat pork, fried brown, cut up into morsels, and swimming in gravy. The company being seated around the genial board, and each furnished with a fork, evinced their dexterity in launching at the fattest pieces of this mighty dish, in much the same manner as sailors harpoon porpoises at sea, or our Indians spear salmon in the lakes. Sometimes the table was ced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough fried in hog's fat, and called dough-nuts, or oly koeks; a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families. The tea was served out of a majestic delft tea-pot ornamented with paintings of fat little Dutch shep
herds and shepherdesses, tending pigs—with boats sailing in the air, and houses built in the clouds, and sundry other ingenious Dutch fantasies. The beaux distinguished themselves by their adroitness in replenishing this pot from a huge copper tea-kettle, which would have made the pigmy macaronies of these degenerate days sweat merely to look at it. To sweeten the beverage, a lump of sugar was laid beside each cup, and the company alternately nibbled and sipped with great decorum, until an improvement was introduced by a shrewd and economic old lady, which was, to suspend a large lump directly over the tea-table by a string from the ceiling, so that it could be swung from mouth to mouth—an ingenious expedient, which is still kept up by some families in Albany, but which prevails, without exception, in Com
munipaw, Bergen, Flat-Bush, and all our uncontaminated Dutch villages. At these primitive tea-parties the utmost propriety and dignity of deportment prevailed. No flirting nor coquetting—no gambling of old ladies, nor hoyden chattering and romping of young ones—no self-satisfied struttings of wealthy gentlemen with their brains in their pockets; nor amusing conceits and monkey divertisements of smart young gentlemen with no brains at all. On the contrary, the young ladies seated themselves demurely in their rush-bottomed chairs, and knit their own woollen stockings; nor ever opened their lips, excepting to say yah Mynheer or yah ya Vrouw to any question that was asked them; behaving in all things like decent well-educated damsels. As to the gentlemen, each of them tranquilly smoked his pipe, and seemed lost in contemplation of the blue and white tiles with which the fireplaces were decorated; wherein sundry sorts
of Scripture were piously portrayed: Tobit and his
The parties broke up without noise and without
occasioned no scandal at that time, nor should it at
casements, the bells tolled for church with a melancholy sound. I went to the windows in quest of
ment. The windows of my bed-room looked out among
I know of nothing more calculated to make a man and upper Benjamins.
corner was a stagnant pool of water surrounding an island of muck; there were several half-drowned fowls crowded together under a cart, among which was a miserable crest-fallen cock, drenched out of all life and spirit, his drooping tail matted, as it were, into a single feather, along which the water trickled from his back; near the cart was a half-dozing cow chewing the cud, and standing patiently to be rained on, with wreaths of vapour rising from her reeking hide; a wall-eyed horse, tired of the loneliness of the stable, was poking his spectral head out of a window, with the rain dripping on it from the eaves; an unhappy cur, chained to a dog-house hard by, uttered something every now and then between a bark and a yelp; a drab of a kitchen wench tramped backwards and forwards through the yard in pattens, looking as sulky as the weather itself; everything, in short, was comfortless and forlorn, excepting a crew of hard-drinking ducks, assembled like boon companions round a | puddle, and making a riotous noise over their liquor. I sauntered to the window, and stood gazing at the people picking their way to church, with petticoats hoisted mid-leg high, and dripping umbrellas. The bells ceased to toll, and the streets became silent. I then amused myself with watching the daughters of a tradesman opposite, who, being confined to the house for fear of wetting their Sunday finery, played off their charms at the front windows, to fascinate the chance tenants of the inn. They at length were summoned away by a vigilant vinegar-faced mother, and I had nothing further from without to amuse me. The day continued lowering and gloomy; the slovenly, ragged, spongy clouds drifted heavily along; there was no variety even in the rain; it was one dull, continued, monotonous patter, patter, patter, excepting that now and then I was enlivened by the idea of a brisk shower, from the rattling of the drops upon a passing umbrella. It was quite refreshing (if I may be allowed a hackneyed phrase of the day) when in the course of the morning a horn blew, and a stage-coach whirled through the street, with outside passengers stuck all over it, cowering under cotton umbrellas, and seethed together, and reeking with the steams of wet box-coats The sound brought out from their lurking-places a crew of vagabond boys and vagabond dogs, and the carroty-headed hostler, and that nondescript animal yelept Boots, and all the other vagabond race that infest the purlieus of an inn; but the bustle was transient; the coach again whirled on its way; and boy and dog, and hostler and Boots, all slunk back again to their holes; the street again became silent, and the rain continued to rain on. The evening gradually wore away. The travellers read the papers two or three times over. Some drew round the fire, and told long stories about their horses, about their adventures, their overturns, and breakings-down. They discussed the credits of different merchants and different inns, and the two wags told several choice anecdotes of pretty chambermaids and kind landladies. All this passed as they were quietly taking what they called their nightcaps; that is to say, strong glasses of brandy and water or sugar, or some other mixture of the kind; after which they one after another rang for Boots and the chambermaid, and walked off to bed in old shoes cut down into marvellously uncomfortable slippers. There was only one man left—a short-legged, long-bodied, plethoric fellow, with a very large, sandy head. He sat by himself with a glass of port wine negus and a spoon, sipping and stirring, and meditating and sipping, until nothing was left but the spoon. He gradually fell asleep bolt upright in his chair, with the empty glass standing before him; and the candle seemed to fall asleep too, for the wick grew long and
black, and cabbaged at the end, and dimmed the
little light that remained in the chamber. The gloom
that now prevailed was contagious. Around hung the shapeless and almost spectral box-coats of departed travellers, long since buried in deep sleep. ro,
heard the ticking of the clock, with the deep-drawn breathings of the sleeping toper, and the drippings of . rain—drop, drop, drop—from the eaves of the Ouse.
John Gibson i.ockhart. |
John GIBson LockHART, the biographer of his illustrious father-in-law, Sir Walter Scott, and editor of the Quarterly Review, is author of four novels— Valerius, a Roman Story, three volumes, 1821; Adam Blair, one volume, 1822; Reginald Dalton, three volumes, 1823; and Matthew Wald, one volume, 1824.
The first of Mr Lockhart's productions is the best. It is a tale of the times of Trajan, when that emperor, disregarding the example of his predecessor Nerva, persecuted the small Christian community which had found shelter in the bosom of the Eternal City, and were calmly pursuing their pure worship and peaceful lives. As the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church, the Christians were extending their numbers, though condemned to meet in caves and sepulchres, and forced to renounce the honours and ambition of the world. The hero of the tale visits Rome for the first time at this interesting period. He is the son of a Roman commander, who had settled in Britain, and is summoned to Rome after the death of his parents to take possession of an estate to which, as the heir of the Valerii, he had become entitled. His kinsman Licinius, an eminent lawyer, receives him with affection, and introduces him to his friends and acquaintances. We are thus presented with sketches of the domestic society of the Romans, with pictures of the Forum, the baths, temples, and other marvels of Rome, which are briefly, but distinctly and picturesquely delineated. At the villa of Capito, an Epicurean philosopher, Valerius meets with the two fair nieces of his host, Sempronia and Athanasia. The latter is the heroine of the tale—a pure intellectual creation, in which we see united the Roman grace and feminine sweetness of the patrician lady, with the high-souled fortitude and elevation of the Christian. Athanasia has embraced the new faith, and is in close communion with its professors. Her charms overcome Valerius, who soon obtains possession of her secret; and after various adventures, in which he succours the persecuted maiden, and aids in her wonderful escape, he is at length admitted by baptism into the fellowship of the Christians, and embarks with Athanasia for Britain. The materials of such a story are necessarily romantic and impressive. The taste, and splendour of ancient Rome present a fertile field for the imagination, and the transition from these to the sufferings, the devotion, and dangers of the early Christians, calls up a different and not less striking train of feelings and associations. In his serious and pathetic scenes the author is most successful. In the low humour of his attendants, the vulgar display of the rich widow, and the servile pedantry of the stoic tutor, there appear to us many sins against good taste. Some of the satirical touches and phrases are also at variance with the purity and elegance of the general strain of the story, and with the consummate art with which the author has wrought up his situations of a tragic and lofty nature, where we are borne along by a deep and steady feeling of refined pleasure, interest, and admiration. One of the most striking scenes in the novel is a
grand display at the Flavian amphitheatre, given by the emperor on the anniversary of the day on which he was adopted by Nerva. On this occasion a Christian prisoner is brought forward, either to renounce his faith in the face of the assembly, or to die in the arena. Eighty thousand persons were there met, ‘ from the lordly senators on their silken couches, along the parapet of the arena, up to the impenetrable mass of plebeian heads which skirted the horizon, above the topmost wall of the amphitheatre itself.” The scene concludes with the execution of the Christian. In another scene there is great classic grace, united with delicacy of feeling. It describes Athanasia in prison, and visited there by Valerius through the connivance of Silo, the jailer, who be. longs to the Christian party —
I had hurried along the darkening streets, and up the ascent of the Capitoline, scarce listening to the story of the Cretan. On reaching the summit, we found the courts about the temple of Jupiter already occupied by detachments of foot. I hastened to the Mammertine, and before the postern opened to admit us, the Praetorian squadron had drawn up at the great gate. Sabinus . me to him. “Caius,” said he, stooping on his horse, “would to Heaven I had been spared this duty! Cotilius comes forth this moment, and then we go back to the Palatine; and I fear—I fear we are to guard thither your Athanasia. If you wish to enter the prison, quicken your steps.”
We had scarcely entered the inner-courtere Sabinus also, and about a score of his Practorians, rode into it. Silo and Boto were standing together, and both had already hastened towards me; but the jailer, seeing the centurion, was constrained to part from me with one hurried word:—‘Pity me, for I also am most wretched. But you know the way; here, take this key, hasten to my dear lady, and tell her what commands have come.”
Alas! said I to myself, of what tidings am I doomed ever to be the messenger! but she was alone; and how could I shrink from any pain that might perhaps alleviate hers I took the key, glided along the corridors, and stood once more at the door of the chamber in which I had parted from Athanasia. No voice answered to my knock; I repeated it three times, and then, agitated with indistinct apprehension, hesitated no longer to open it. No lamp was burning within the chamber, but from without there entered a wavering glare of deep saffron-coloured light, which showed me Athanasia extended on her couch. Its ominous and troubled hue had no power to mar the image of her sleeping tranquillity. I hung over her for a moment, and was about to disturb that slumber—perhaps the last slumber of peace and innocence—when the chamber walls were visited with a yet deeper glare. ‘Caius,” she whispered, as I stepped from beside the couch, “why do you leave me? Stay, Valerius.' I looked back, but her eyelids were still closed; the same calm smile was upon her dreaming lips. The light streamed redder and more red. All in an instant became as quiet without as within. I approached the window, and saw Cotilius standing in the midst of the court, Sabinus and Silo near him; the horsemen drawn up on either side, and a soldier close behind resting upon an unsheathed sword. I saw the keen blue eye as fierce as ever. I saw that the blood was still fervid in his cheeks; for the complexion of this man was of the same bold and florid brightness, so uncommon in Italy, which you have seen represented in the pictures of Sylla; and even the blaze of the torches seemed to strive in vain to heighten its natural scarlet. The soldier had lifted his sword, and my eye was fixed, as by fascination, when suddenly a deep voice was * amidst the deadly silence—“Cotilius —look up, Sotilius !’
Aurelius, the Christian priest, standing at an open
placed, stretched forth his fettered hand as he
spake:—“Cotilius! I charge thee, look upon the hand from which the blessed water of baptism was cast upon thy head. I charge thee, look upon me, and say, ere yet the blow be given, upon what hope thy thoughts are fixed Is this sword bared against the rebel of Caesar, or a martyr of Jesus? I charge thee, speak; and for thy soul's sake speak truly.” A bitter motion of derision passed over his lips, and he nodded, as if impatiently, to the Praetorian. Instinctively I turned me from the spectacle, and my eye rested again upon the couch of Athanasia—but not upon the vision of her tranquillity. The clap with which the corpse fell upon the stones had perhaps reached the sleeping ear, and we know with what swiftness thoughts chase thoughts in the wilderness of dreams. So it was that she started at the very moment when the blow was given; and she whispered— for it was still but a deep whisper—“Spare me, Trajan, Caesar, Prince—have pity on my youth—strengthen, strengthen me, good Lord! Fie! fie we must not lie to save life. Felix—Walerius—come close to me Caius —Fie! let us remember we are Romans—'Tis the trumpet » The Praetorian trumpet sounded the march in the court below, and Athanasia, starting from her sleep, gazed wildly around the reddened chamber. The blast of the trumpet was indeed in her ear—and Walerius hung over her ; but after a moment the cloud of the broken dream passed away, and the maiden smiled as she extended her hand to me from the couch, and began to gather up the ringlets that floated all down upon her shoulder. She blushed and smiled mournfully, and asked me hastily whence I came, and for what purpose I had come ; but before I could answer, the glare that was yet in the chamber seemed anew to be perplexing her, and she gazed from me to the red walls, and from them to me again; and then once more the trumpet was blown, and Athanasis sprung from her couch. I know not in what terms I was essaying to tell her what was the truth; but I know, that ere I had said many words, she discovered Iny meaning. For a moment she looked deadly pale, in spite of all the glare of the torch beams; but she recovered herself, and said in a voice that sounded almost as if it came from a light heart—“But, Caius, I must not go to Caesar without having at least a garland on my head. Stay here, Valerius, and I shall be ready anon—quite ready.” It seemed to me as if she were less hasty than she had promised; yet many minutes elapsed not ere she returned. She plucked a blossom from her hair as she drew near to me, and said, ‘Take it: you must not refuse one token more; this also is a sacred gift. Caius, you must learn never to look upon it without kissing these red streaks—these blessed streaks of the Christian flower.” I took the flower from her hand and pressed it to my lips, and I remembered that the very first day 1 saw Athanasia she had plucked such a one when apart from all the rest in the gardens of Capito. I | told her what I remembered, and it seemed as if the little circumstance had called up all the image of peaceful days, for once more sorrowfulness gathered upon her countenance. If the tear was ready, however, it was not permitted to drop; and Athanasia returned again to her flower. “Do you think there are any of them in Britain r said she ; ‘or do you think that they would grow there? You must go to my dear uncle, and he will not deny you when you tell him that it is for my sake he is to give you some of his. They call it the passion-flower—'tis an emblem of an awful thing. Caius, these purple streaks are like trickling drops; and here, look ye, they are all round the flower. Is | 598
window not far distant from that at which I was |
than his two previous works.
it not very like a bloody crown upon a pale brow? I will take one of them in my hand, too, Caius; and methinks I shall not disgrace myself when I look upon it, even though Trajan should be frowning upon me.” I had not the heart to interrupt her; but heard silently all she said, and I thought she said the words quickly and eagerly, as if she feared to be interrupted. The old priest came into the chamber while she was yet speaking so, and said very composedly, “Come, my dear child, our friend has sent again for us, and the soldiers have been waiting already some space, who are to convey us to the Palatine. Come, children, we must part for a moment—perhaps it may be but for a moment—and Valerius may remain here till we return to him. Here, at least, dear Caius, you shall have the earliest tidings and the surest.” The good man took Athanasia by the hand, and she, smiling now at length more serenely than ever, said only, “Farewell then, Caius, for a little moment!’ And so, drawing her veil over her face, she passed away from before me, giving, I think, more support to the ancient Aurelius than in her turn she received from him. I began to follow them, but the priest waved his hand as if to forbid me. The door closed after them, and I was alone. “Adam Blair.’ or, as the title runs, Some Passages in the Life of Mr Adam Blair, Minister of the Gospel at Cross-Meikle, is a narrative of the fall of a Scottish minister from the purity and dignity of the pastoral character, and his restoration, after a season of deep penitence and contrition, to the duties of his sacred profession, in the same place which had formerly witnessed his worth and usefulness. The unpleasant nature of the story, and a certain tone of exaggeration and sentimentalism in parts of it, render the perusal of the work somewhat painful and disagreeable, and even of doubtful morality. But ‘Adam Blair' is powerfully written, with an accurate conception of Scottish feeling and character, and passages of description equal to any in the author's other works. The tender-hearted enthusiastic minister of Cross-Meikle is hurried on to his downfall “by fate and metaphysical aid, and never appears in the light of a guilty person; while his faithful elder, John Maxwell, and his kind friends at Semplehaugh, are just and honourable representatives of the good old Scotch rural classes. “Reginald Dalton’ is the most extended of Mr Lockhart's fictions, and gives us more of the ‘general form and pressure' of humankind and society The scene is laid in England, and we have a full account of college life in Oxford, where Reginald, the hero, is educated, and where he learns to imbibe port, if not prejudice. The dissipation and extravagance of the son almost ruin his father, an English clergyman; and some scenes of distress and suffering consequent on this misconduct are related with true and manly feeling. Reginald joins in the rows and quarrels of the gownsmen (which are described at considerable length, and with apparently complete knowledge of similar scenes), but he has virtue enough left to fall in love; and the scene where he declares his passion to the fair Helen Hesketh is one of the most interesting and beautiful in the book. A duel, an elopement, the subtlety and craft of lawyers, and the final succession of Reginald to the patrimony of his ancestors, supply the usual excitement for novel readers; but much of this machinery is clumsily managed, and the value of the book consists in its pictures of English modern manners, and in its clear and manly tone of thought and style. The following is a description of an ancient English mansion:— They halted to bait their horses at a little village
on the main coast of the Palatinate, and then pur
sued their course leisurely through a rich and level country, until the groves of Grypherwast received them amidst all the breathless splendour of a noble sunset. It would be difficult to express the emotions with which young Reginald regarded, for the first time, the ancient demesne of his race. The scene was one which a stranger, of years and experience very superior to his, might have been pardoned for contemplating with some enthusiasm; but to him the first glimpse of the venerable front, embosomed amidst its ‘old contemporary trees,
was the more than realisation of cherished dreams. Involuntarily he drew in his rein, and the whole party as involuntarily following the motion, they approached the gateway together at the slowest pace.
The gateway is almost in the heart of the village, for the hall of Grypherwast had been reared long before English gentlemen conceived it to be a point of dignity to have no humble roofs near their own. A beautiful stream runs hard by, and the hamlet is almost within the arms of the princely forest, whose ancient oaks, and beeches, and gigantic pine-trees darken and ennoble the aspect of the whole surrounding region. The peasantry, who watch the flocks and herds in those deep and grassy glades, the fishermen, who draw their subsistence from the clear waters of the river, and the woodmen, whose axes resound all day long among the inexhaustible thickets, are the sole inhabitants of the simple place. Over their cottages the hall of Grypherwast has predominated for many long centuries, a true old northern manorhouse, not devoid of a certain magnificence in its general aspect, though making slender pretensions to anything like elegance in its details. The central tower, square, massy, rude, and almost destitute of windows, recalls the knightly and troubled period of
the old Border wars; while the overshadowing roofs,
carved balconies, and multifarious chimneys scattered over the rest of the building, attest the successive influence of many more or less tasteful generations. Excepting in the original baronial tower, the upper parts of the house are all formed of oak, but this with such an air of strength and solidity as might well shame many modern structures raised of better materials. Nothing could be more perfectly in harmony with the whole character of the place than the autumnal brownness of the stately trees around. The same descending rays were tinging with rich lustre the outlines of their bare trunks, and the projecting edges of the old-fashioned bay-windows which they sheltered; and some rooks of very old family were cawing overhead almost in the midst of the hospitable smoke-wreaths. Within a couple of yards from the door of the house an eminently respectablelooking old man, in a powdered wig and very rich livery of blue and scarlet, was sitting on a garden chair with a pipe in his mouth, and a cool tankard within his reach upon the ground.
The tale of Matthew Wald is related in the first person, and the hero experiences a great variety of fortune. He is not of the amiable or romantic school, and seems to have been adopted (in the manner of Godwin) merely as a medium for portraying strong passions and situations in life. The story of Matthew's first love, and some of the episodical narratives of the work, are interesting and ably written. There is also much worldly shrewdness and observation evinced in the delineation of some of the scenes and characters; but on the whole, it is the poorest of Mr Lockhart's novels. The awkward improbable manner in which the events are brought about, and the carelessness and inelegance of the language in many places, are remarkable in a writer of critical
habits and high attainments as a scholar. Mr Lockhart, we suspect, like Sheridan, requires time and patient revision to bring out fully his conceptions, and nevertheless is often tempted or impelled to hurry to a close.
Mr Lockhart is a native of the city of Glasgow, son of the late Rev. John Lockhart, minister of the College Church. He was educated at the university of his native city, and, in consequence of his superiority in his classes, was selected as one of the two students whom Glasgow college sends annually to Oxford, in virtue of an endowment named ‘Snell's Foundation.” Having taken his degree, Mr Lockhart repaired to Edinburgh, and applied himself to the study of the law. He entered at the bar, but was quickly induced to devote himself chiefly to literature. Besides the works we have mentioned, Mr Lockhart was a regular contributor to Blackwood's Magazine, and imparted to that work a large portion of the spirit, originality, and determined political character which it has long, maintained. In 1820 he was married to Sophia, the eldest daughter of Sir Walter Scott, a lady who possessed much of the conversational talent, the unaffected good humour, and liveliness of her father. Mrs Lockhart died on the 17th of May 1837, in London, whither Mr Lockhart had gone in 1825 to reside as successor to Mr Gifford in the editorship of the Quarterly Review.
Professor WILson carried the peculiar features and characteristics of his poetry into his prose compositions. The same amiable gentleness, tenderness, love of nature, pictures of solitary life, humble affections, and pious hopes, expressed in an elaborate but rich structure of language, which fixed upon the author of the Isle of Palms the title of a Lake Poet, may be seen in all his tales. The first of these appeared in 1822, under the name of Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life; a Selection from the Papers of the late Arthur Austin. This volume consists of twentyfour short tales, three of which (The Elder's Funeral, The Snow-Storm, and The Forgers) had previously been published in Blackwood's Magazine. Most of them are tender and pathetic, and relate to Scottish rural and pastoral life. The innocence, simplicity, and strict piety of ancient manners are described as still lingering in our vales; but, with a fine spirit of homely truth and antique Scriptural phraseology, the author's scenes and characters are too Arcadian to be real. His second work, The Trials of Margaret Lyndsay (one volume, 1823), is more regular in construction and varied in incident. The heroine is a maiden in humble life, whose father imbibes the opinions of Paine, and is imprisoned on a charge of sedition, but afterwards released. He becomes irreligious and profane as well as disaffected, and elopes with the mistress of a brother reformer. The gradual ruin and deepening distress of this man's innocent family are related with much pathos. Margaret, the eldest daughter, endeavours to maintain the family by keeping a school; one of her brothers goes to sea, and Margaret forms an attachment to a sailor, the shipmate of her brother, who is afterwards drowned by the upsetting of a boat in the Firth of Forth. Sorrows and disasters continually accumulate on the amiable heroine. Her fortitude is put to a series of severe trials, and though it is impossible to resist the mournful interest of the story, we feel that the author has drawn too largely on the sympathies of his readers, and represented the path of virtuous duty in far too melancholy and oppressive a light.
The successive bereavements and afflictions of Margaret Lyndsay are little relieved by episode or dialogue: they proceed in unvaried measure, with no bright allurements of imagination to reconcile us to the scenes of suffering that are so forcibly depicted. In many parts of the tale we are reminded of the affecting pictures of Crabbe—so true to human nature, so heart-rending in their reality and their grief. Of this kind is the description of the removal of the Lyndsays from their rural dwelling to one of the close lanes of the city, which is as natural and as truly pathetic as any scene in modern fiction:—
The twenty-fourth day of November came at last— a dim, dull, dreary, and obscure day, fit for parting everlastingly from a place or person tenderly beloved. There was no sun, no wind, no sound, in the misty and unechoing air. A deadness lay over the wet || earth, and there was no visible heaven. Their goods || and chattels were few; but many little delays occurred, some accidental, and more in the unwilling- | ness of their hearts to take a final farewell. A neighbour had lent his cart for the flitting, and it was now standing loaded at the door ready to move away. The fire, which had been kindled in the morning with a few borrowed peats, was now out, the shutters closed, the |
door was locked, and the key put into the hand of the person sent to receive it. And now there was nothing more to be said or done, and the impatient horse started briskly away from Braehead. The blind girl and poor Marion were sitting in the cart—Margaret and her mother were on foot. Esther had two or three small flower-pots in her lap, for in her blindness she loved the sweet fragrance and the felt forms and imagined beauty of flowers; and the innocent carried away her tame pigeon in her bosom. Just as Margaret lingered on the threshold, the Robin Redbreast, that had been their boarder for several winters, hopped upon the stone seat at the side of the door, and turned up its merry eyes to her face. “There,’ said she, “is your last crumb from us, sweet Roby, but there is a God who takes care o' us a”.” The widow had by this time shut down the lid of her memory, and left all the hoard of her thoughts and feelings, joyful or despairing, buried in darkness. The assembled group of neighbours, mostly mothers, with their children in their arms, had given the “God bless you, Alice, God bless you, Margaret, and the lave,’ and began to disperse; each turning to her own cares and anxieties, in which, before night, the Lyndsays would either be forgotten, or thought on with that unpainful sympathy which is all the poor can afford or expect, but which, as in this case, often yields the fairest fruits of charity and love. A cold sleety rain accompanied the cart and the foot travellers all the way to the city. Short as the distance was, they met with several other flittings, some seemingly cheerful, and from good to better— others with wo-begone faces, going like themselves || down the path of poverty on a journey from which they were to rest at night in a bare and hungry house. - The cart stopped at the foot of a lane too narrow to admit the wheels, and also too steep for a laden horse. Two or three of their new neighbours—persons in the very humblest condition, coarsely and negligently dressed, but seemingly kind and decent people—came out from their houses at the stopping of the cart-wheels, and one of them said, ‘Ay, ay, here's the flitting, I’se warrant, frae Braehead. Is that you, Mrs Lyndsay? Hech, sers, but you've gotten a nasty cauld wet day for coming into Auld Reekie, as you kintra folks ca’ Embro. Haeye had ony tidings, say ye, o' your gudeman since he gaed aft wi' that limmer? Dool be wi' her and a sic like.' Alice replied