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Patronage. By Maria Edgeworth: Author of Tales of

Fashionable Life, Belinda, Leonora, &c. 4 vols. 8vo.

London, 1814.

[From the Edinburgh Review, for January, 1814.]

None of our regular readers, we are persuaded, will be sur-
prised at the eagerness with which we turn to every new produc-
tion of Miss Edgeworth’s pen. The taste and gallantry of the
age may have at last pretty generally sanctioned the ardent admi-
ration with which we greeted the first steps of this distinguished
lady in her literary career; but the calmer spirits of the south
can hardly yet comprehend the exhilarating effect which her re-
appearance uniformly produces upon the saturnine complexion of
their northern reviewers. Fortunately, a long course of good
works has justified our first sanguine augury of Miss Edgeworth's
success, and the honest eulogy we pronounced upon her efforts in
the cause of good sense and virtue; and it is no slight consolation
to us, while suffering under alternate reproaches for ill-timed seve-

VOL. IV. Nemo Series. 1

spur;

rity, and injudicious praise, to reflect, that no very mischievous effects have as yet resulted to the literature of the country from this imputed misbehaviour on our part. Powerful genius, we are persuaded, will not be repressed even by unjust castigation; nor will the most excessive praise that can be lavished by sincere admiration ever abate the efforts that are fitted to attain to excellence. Our alleged severity upon a youthful production has not prevented the noble author from becoming the first poet of his time, and the panegyrics upon more than one female writer, with which we have been upbraided, have not relaxed their meritorious exertions to add to the instruction and amusement of their age. In the

prosecution of our thankless duties, it is, indeed, delightful now and then to meet with authors who neither dread the lash nor the whose genius is of that vigorous and healthful constitution as to allow the fair and ordinary course of criticism to be administered, without fear that their ricketty bantlings may be crushed in the correction. No demands on the tenderness of the schoolmaster; -no puling appeal to sex or age ;-no depreciation of the rod! Praise may be awarded- severe truth may be told--and the reviewer be as guiltless of the blame which the author may afterwards incur—as he is uniformly held to be excluded from any share of the fame he may ultimately achieve.

Such a writer is Miss Edgeworth. In her case, we are not obliged to insinuate, to venture, to hint, but called upon openly to pronounce our opinion. The overweening politeness which might be thought due to her sex is forgotten in the contemplation of her manly understanding, and of a long series of writings, all directed to some great and paramount improvement of society ;to destroy malignant prejudices, and bring down arrogant pretensions—to reconcile humble merit to its lot of obscure felicity, and expose the misery that is engendered on the glittering summits of human fortune, by the pursuits of frivolous ambition or laborious amusement-to correct, in short, the vulgar estimate of life and happiness, by exposing those errors of opinion which are most apt to be generated by a narrow observation, and pointing out the importance of those minor virtues and vices that contribute most largely to our daily sufferings or enjoyments. Her earlier essays were addressed to the middling 'classes of society. In her later productions, she has aspired to be the instructress of the fashionable world; a pursuit in which we ventured to predict that her direct success, at least, would not be extremely encouraging. We do not know whether she begins to think so too; but it seems to us that she has endeavoured to unite both these objects in the work before us--a short analysis of which we shall present, without farther discussion, to our readers.

The work is intended, as its title indicates, as a picture of the miseries resulting from a dependence on patronage, in every form and degree, and throughout every station in society. “ It is twice accursed,” says our author, “once in giving, once in receiving." “ In as far as the public good is concerned, fair competition is more advantageous to the arts and artists, than any private patronage can be. If the productions have real merit, they will make their own way. If they have not, they ought not to make their way. And the same argument she applies to literary merit; and to the merit, generally speaking, of persons as well as things. She also considers the trade of a patron as one of the most thankless, as it is the least useful, of all trades. This, it must be confessed, is bold and magnanimous doctrine, and strikes at once at so many interests and vanities, as to require all Miss Edgeworth's influence and authority to save it from general reprobation. What a host of prejudices must be overthrown upon this plan! What a swarm of littlenesses devested of their paltry disguises !-ministers-Mecænas’s-mistresses-patrons at court-in the churchand in the drawing-room-all cashiered and depreciated! and the shade of their protection denounced as fatal to the forced and feeble plants which are destined to seek there, either for support or for shelter. Then the whole tribe of expectant courtiers, impatient authors, querulous artists, and trading politicians, are in danger of being roused from the pleasing dreams of patronage, and are invited to depend for success upon the fair competition of those emancipated talents by which alone they can deserve it!

The story places Mr. and Mr. Percy, with their eldest son Godfrey, and their daughters Caroline and Rosamond, at the family mansion on the coast of Hampshire. A shipwreck happens, which introduces a crew of Dutchmen, with a M. de Tourville, a diplomatic agent at a German court, to the generous hospitality of the Percys. After a day or two the Frenchman leaves them, in great distress at having lostap a cket of importance, in the general confusion. The Dutch crew, having repaired the vessel, set sail, but not until the carelesness of their carpenter had set fire to the old mansion. The library is destroyed; and this loss is the more severe, because, in examining the papers that had escaped, Mr. Percy misses a deed upon which the tenure of Percy Hall depends. Rosamond exultingly brings to her father a copy, which she mistakes for the original, but, unluckily, in the presence of an attorney, whom Mr. Percy's love of strict justice had made his enemy, and who immediately discovers that it wants the seal and signature. In the mean time, Commissioner Falconer, a relation of Mr. Percy, is introduced, and announces the arrival of Lord Oldborough in the neighbourhood-a great man--a cabinet minister-and, moreover, an old friend of Mr. Percy's, from whom the commissioner covets an introduction to the peer, for a reason which he conceals from his friend, viz. that he had found the diplomatist's lost packet, and means to make the most of that good

fortune, with the minister. The interview is accomplished ;-the
bargain is made ;-the packet is delivered ;-a plot in the cabinet
is discovered. The commissioner's son, Cunningham, is made
private secretary to Lord Oldborough, and the father becomes
his chief agent in the business and politics of the county.

Thus are introduced upon the stage the leading characters of
this drama. The Percy family-in all the members of which are
discovered the sound morality, good sense, and independent spi-
rit, which are meant to be contrasted by the meanness, folly, and
love of patronage abounding in the commissioner and all his gene-
alogy; and, lastly, the putron himself, whose haughty and com-
manding qualities, got up after the best patterns in the profession,
ale relieved by the calm and temperate spirit of the one group,
and the cringing falseness of the other. For some time the tale
is employed in developing the characters of which we shall after-
wards speak. The Falconers proceed in the road of promotion.
The Percys continue in retirement. In Alfred Percy, a lawyer,
and Erasmus, a physician, the same steady and independent spirit is
exhibited which distinguishes the father. All the Falconers are
advanced--Mrs. Falconer and her daughters are the very pink of
fashion-Mr. Secretary Cunningham gets promotion--John, a
dunce, has advancement in the army; and Buckhurst, a buck par-
son, having consented to take orders to save himself from a gaol,
the commissioner's joy is complete.

At this crisis of good fortune in the one family, the other en-
dures a reverse. Rosamond's unlucky disclosure sets the attor-
ney on the alert. The estate is disputed by Sir R. Percy. The
deed is not forthcoming. The Percys are unsuccessful; and are
obliged to retire to a small property they still possessed in the
bills. Here they continue their steady purpose of independence.
The father refuses office which Lord Oldborough proffers to him.
The sons follow their professions with honour, and without pa-
tronage. The daughters refuse several offers of marriage, till, at
last, a German, Count Altenberg, makes an impression on Caro-
line's heart; but, at the moment when it may be expected his
proposals will be made and accepted, imperious duties recall himlen
to his own country !
Another crisis in their history occurs.

Count Altenberg re-
turns-proposes to Caroline-is married! At the instant of his
departure for Germany with his bride, Mr. Percy is arrested, at
the suit of Sir Robert, for immense arrears. The bridegroom's
word is pledged to his prince, and he departs. The Percy family
accompany their father to the king's bench. In this unhappy con-
dition, the last and most trying proofs of their spirit and conduct oc-
eur. Godfrey is taken a prisoner of war; and Rosamond's marriage
with her lover, Mr. Temple, is prevented by poverty on both sides. What

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The eldest apartament

daughter, indeed, is married to Sir R. Percy; but Georgiana, notwithstanding all the mother's manoeuvres, is still a spinsterCunningham Falconer is disgraced—Buckhurst, the dean, rendered miserable by a mercenary marriage-John, the colonel, dishonoured in his profession-and, last of all, npon the decline of Lord Oldborough's popularity and power, Mrs. Falconer, who had been unluckily tempted to forge letters in his name, and commissions with his signature, is discovered and ignominiously exposed. The commissioner goes to Alfred Percy to consult him about the sale of his estate ; and this leads to the denouement. In the box of his papers the long lost deed is discovered !--Another trial takes place, and the Percys are restored! The novel ends with Lord Oldborough’s unexpected discovery of a son in Mr. Henry, a person of little importance to the story in any other respect.

These are the outlines of the story; and out of these materials, neither very original, perhaps, nor very artificially connected, Miss Edgeworth has contrived to produce so many well imagined scenes, so many striking contrasts, and a moral so constantly good, and so pointed in its application, that Patronage, if not amongst the best of her productions, is, at least, not unworthy of her name and genius. Of the characters we shall now say a few words. The keeping in the whole family of Percy is perfectCaroline and Rosamond, though merely sketches, are beautifully diversified. The keen but repressed feeling and subdued tenderness of the former are well contrasted by the quick and energetic qualities of the latter; and Rosamond's unenvious admiration of, and entire devotion to, her sister, forms a most pleasing and affecting picture.

Erasmus Percy, the physician, having saved the leg of a poor Irishman, in spite of the prognostics of a fashionable doctor, loses his election as physician to a hospital, by the interest of the said doctor. We cannot resist giving the following scene, in which Miss Edgeworth’s inimitable talent for portraying her poor countrymen is displayed.

“ O'Brien, we hope the reader recollects, was the poor Irishman, whose leg the surgeon had condemned to be cut off, but which was saved by Erasmus. A considerable time afterwards, one morning, when Erasmus was just getting up, he heard a loud knock at his door, and in oue and the same instant, pushing past his servant into his bedchamber, and to the foot of his bed, rushed O'Brien, breathless, and with a face perspiring joy- I are your honour's pardon, master, but it's what you are wanting down street in all haste-Here's an elegant case for ye, doctor dear !—That painter-jantleman down in the square there beyond that is not expected.' 'Not expected !--said Erasmus, * Ay, not expected; so put on ye with the speed of light-Where's his waisteoat" ? continued he, turning to Dr. Percy's astonished serr

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