« AnteriorContinuar »
hit," said I. The doctor laughed, and suggested that Clara should make a collection of magical passages from our modern novelists, and insert them into his sermons, for he believed a battery of half-a-dozen of them would knock a ten-pound note out of a flint-stone. "But will they dovetail?" replied Clara. "If you join them, my darling, they will," quoth he. "I give you warning," she replied, "that, in the household phrase, they will be the plums in the pudding-and if they be picked out, as you may be sure they will pick them out, don't you think the suet will be the less palatable? and, to be serious now, surely the novelists of our day are doing some good. They are working a field which you divines perhaps can't work-I suppose you can't, for I see you don't-and therefore it is well that they should; and yet it is not clear to me that you might not illustrate doctrines by a little narrative, now and then-and so excite more real love, more tenderness and charity, and move, if you please, through fears, but through better, less selfish feelings, first. I would not say it of you, good doctor, but I have both read and heard sermons, the tendency of which was unbounded selfishness. It has been well said that large classes of religionists have religion enough to make them hate, and not to make them love. Now, my favourite writers do aid you, and work upon the human heart, and soften it, and make it ashamed of its selfishness. They humanise, sow the seeds of gentleness, which may peradventure come up in even unpromising soils; but there is in this wide world many a soil fit for the seed, which only waits the sowing. I wish they would more conspicuously make Christian principles the motives of action; but I will not deny that they are making some preparation for their reception." "I do not know," said the doctor; "I doubt if such intermeddling would not be dangerous. I fear fiction on that ground, and some religious novels (for the attempt has been made) I look upon as warnings not to trespass on that ground; nor am I quite sure of that tampering with the human heart, by sending it to bed every night half intoxicated
with the sentimental dram. you call making it soft may be making it weak-may be forcing out from it in tears what it ought to spend in action. Let us keep up the true wholesome vigour of the heart and understanding. Sir Walter Scott was the true man for that work. There is bone and sinew in his human creatures, and pretty handsome flesh and blood too. I don't like your too much anatomising of human character, and stripping it bare, as some of our taletellers do, to the lower ribs; for that is not nature which is but its possible detail. Nature beautifully covers every anatomy. Let the novelist be the historian, but the pleasant historian, of mankind as they are. What mankind should be, is out of the world of their art; because out of, so far as it is above, unassisted nature. No, my dear Clara, the divine must not be the novelist, nor advertise new nostrums to cure the heart. He must apply the old medicinal virtues intrusted to his keeping, and direct to the One Physician." Our evening was passed in discourse of this kind, interchanging playfulness and seriousness, and both doing their office; and I did not that night enter upon the consultation I intended. The following day, at our breakfast-table, I told my story, - my proposed visit to Meanwell, and its object. The doctor was much tickled with the idea of my becoming a member of the Peace Society, and declared my mission, in his opinion, would be very like theirs, and do a world of mischief, quoted the "malé-sarta amicitia," and wondered at my yielding to my friend Meanwell's amiable nonsense. He loved a paradox now and then, especially when he could hit by it what he termed the conceit of amiability; and so, at the instant, he volubly broke forth on the benefits of quarrelling. He thought society could scarcely be kept whole, sweet, and pleasant without it. "Without positive quarrel," said he, "there must be hypocrisy. The very word society meant a collection of agreements, a separation from disagreements. To be continually rubbing against those whom you dislike, and who dislike you, is to live under the veriest tyranny of false philanthropy. O the
'happy family' system, where each one longs to fly at his neighbour, and, not daring to follow his instincts, sulks in sleepy sadness! The natural belligerents are better apart; don't try to mix oil and vinegar." "Orthodoxy and heterodoxy," said I, "then, in your professional view, must go to the Union Register Office if they would be wedded; you will not join their hands." "No, indeed," he replied; "and if I did, who in the world could join their hearts? Now, I will tell you what an old college friend of mine did, and I often thought how wise he was. He was the most peace-loving man I ever knew; he was one literally, as he protested, to 'love peace and ensue it.' He came into the unexpected inheritance of a small estate, with a comfortable house
even friendly terms. Then, said I, you must have a great number of very disagreeable acquaintances! The doctor would have gone on in this strain at great length, as was his wont, nor would his loving spouse have interrupted him on any account, for she greatly enjoyed these refreshing, revivifying splenetics; but the thread that he was drawing out of his temporary philosophy was suddenly snapt by a new arrival. Who should this be but his clever son Alfred, who had just taken his degree of B.A. at Oxford, and returned home, and brought his friend Ralph Rhymer with him.
In the evening my subject was renewed, and the question discussed, how we should proceed to insure success? How occupy the thoughts of all to prevent any possible reference to disputes, and to give them no time to be visibly offensive with each other? Alfred asked if the old gentleman had a billiard-table in the house? "A billiard-table!" replied his mother; "I believe he has; but by all means get the key of the billiard-room, or cover the table with funereal black. Don't you know the atrabilious Major Grimlaw and his frightened little wife belong to some sect who call themselves 'Professors of Piety.' The major would, at the sight, first groan, and then mount a chair and denounce vengeance on all game-players." "Then ofcourse," said Alfred's Oxonian friend, "cards won't do." "Cards, indeed! you know whose play things they are thought to be; and as to the knave of Spades, he is-they look upon his presence as awful. The yellow on his coat is in their eyes veritable brimstone."
upon it, in Devonshire. He quitted college to take possession, but before doing so made inquiry into the characters of his neighbours that were to be. He learnt that there was one domineering, disagreeable gentleman, who bullied the farmers, and made himself important in the parish. In his way to his property he spent a day or two with me, and said, as I was parting with him, that he had made up his mind to take the very first opportunity of quarrelling with that man; in fact, so to quarrel, as to cut him most decidedly; then, you know,' he added, we shall have no intercourse, and I shall live comfortably. The alternative presents such a series of petty disputes, affronts, and hypocrisies, as would make my country life not endurable.' Well, he did it, and so did it as to give his wouldhave-been antagonistic acquaintance the opinion that he was a most fero-"Well, then," said I, "what of tablecious man, with whom it was best not turning?-that must keep them either to meddle. They lived peaceably, quiet, or twirling about in wonderment because they were not on speaking all the evening?" "Worse and worse," terms. He was in reality as wise as said Mrs Allright; "that is forbidden he was amiable. My good friend, us under the ban of the Church." "Of don't go; if you do, the best you can the Church!" vociferated the doctorhope to achieve is, to make your poor "the Church-I wish the Church simple friend happily deluded, and all would turn the tables on the crazy the others ten times worse enemies ones who talk and publish such nonthan they were before. A neighbour sense. The silly fellows believe of mine was boasting the other day the table's legs are spirits, and charithat he had lived much in the world, tably ask them which of their neighand was thankful that he had never bours, lately deceased, are undergoing known a man with whom he would eternal punishments? I do wish the not be willing to be on speaking, and fools were suppressed. I verily believe
they would be disappointed, if the spirits in the legs told them any good news of those inquired after." Oh the inconsistency of the foolish ones! They are rampant against the idols of the East and the West as "wood and stone," and yet believe that a drunken carpenter can make a god, or something like one in knowledge.
"Well," said I, "who come next of this awkward squad of reconcilables or irreconcilables?" "Why," replied Mrs Allright, "you will have the widow, a withered, wizened, simpering creature, whose body has been daily shrinking these twenty years, as if frightened from the shadow of a slender mind, of which it could discern nor shape nor colour. She never had an opinion in her life, but has lived upon inanities made up of patches of other people's opinions; for she is a great questioner. From sheer insignificance, she rather embroils the differences of the general cousinship. For as none think her important enough for caution, she picks up defamatory scraps of conversation, and, without the least intention of doing harm, lets them escape very malapropos. She has a great booby son about nineteen, who unites his father's ungainly bulk with the mother's smallness; so that he is a contrast of contradictory parts in his misshapen person-a great goose, and has somehow contracted a distorted, ludicrous liveliness. He never meets you with How-do-ye-do, but there must be a pun attached to it; and he looks as if he would thrust his rat eyes into your face with it." "He seems to have a collection of these puns (and where or how he gets even them is a puzzle), stowed away in his joulter jaws, which he instantly shoots out upon you," added the doctor, "as I have seen a baboon do, pelting the company with his cheek-preserved quids, after he had learnt the tobacco accomplishment." "What mother," continued the doctor's wife, "is not fond of her son? The poor woman will tell you twenty times in a week, that she has had seven, but that this is the only one that came to perfection. She will be sure to bring this goose of a son-and he may do you service; for if you find any one touching dangerous ground,
you have only to interpose him, and he will grin the offender out of his or her senses." "Go on, go on, my dear Clara, show your talents for portraitpainting;" (then turning to me), "won't you have a rare collection? Now, Clara, fill the stage; let us have all the dramatis persona." "To enact my farce of Conciliation," said I. “Well, then," continued Mrs Allright, "we have but one or two more. There will be the still good-looking, rather boldfaced cousin, who married the man who never goes out;-they say, by the by, he is a sensible man and a shrewd lawyer. Over- wifed, perhaps, he doesn't like being trotted out before company. Mrs Bramble will be sure to come alone. You will see her enter the room with semi-bounce; she will give the door a push if it isn't wide open. As soon as seated, she will stare with her extraordinary eyes, round as bullets, and as prepared for doing damage; and as they circumnavigate the company, upon discovery, she will mete out with practised nicety and variety her supercilious recognitions. She is really a kindhearted woman, but has a positive genius for mischief-she cannot resist its instincts, and her other natural gifts favour it. I shouldn't call her proud-no, hers is not pride, but a kind of indignant conceit, defiant, and very self-intruding. She will go a great way to do a kindness, but ten to one she will pack up a little insult with it. Her tact for mischief always sets her upon putting leading questions, which, though very impertinent, and put with a peculiar audacity, are hard to swerve from without attracting a worse observation as to a shying horse. They are like sharpshooters in a wood-take aim, and hit unawares. She lives upon excitement; she inhales it, and exhales it; her voice is toned by it, if the high pitch be a tone. She plays off her argumentative from the falsetto hollow whisper to the high-wind of the organ sesquialtero she is most imaginative in her quarrels, and has always one or two great epics of the kind on hand, which she builds up very ingeniously with plot and counter-plot; and if any of her acquaintance cannot be brought into the principal piece, she will contrive to embroil them in episodes; and when she
has brought all within the magic circle of uncomfortableness, she will sit the only happy one, like Madame Tussaud in the middle of her chamber of horrors, glorying in the completeness of her work. With her, mischief is a business, a profession, never lacking' materials, for she can make anything, out of nothing. Perfect mistress of all the elements of discord, she will gather them everywhere, and throw them into her cauldron of confusion, stir them well, and pertinaciously offer the broth to all bystanders - and those who won't taste it have a chance of being bespattered with it. Now, you will easily believe that she has had more than a little to do with these family entanglements, and see that your great difficulty will be to manage her. Your next chance will be in paying her decided and deferential attention, use as much flattery as your conscience will allow, and engage her in some pretended plot, which, if you are not scrupulous, you must manufacture out of nothing but your own wits, and persuade her that circumspection, caution, and her silence, above all things, are necessary to bring it to a successful end." "Capital, my dear Clara. You must positively write a new play with an old title, Plot and no Plot."" "Or a new, Not so bad as we seem," replied the wife, "and make one Doctor Allright the principal character. There is now but one more," she continued, addressing me: "I always like to end with the bestSophy Single, a great favourite here-" "And wherever she is known," cried the doctor. "She is always agreeable, ready to give and receive pleasure; sensible-very; ever ready, with a good-natured sharpness, to defend herself, other people, or opinions, and has an easy way of turning off a subject, and avoiding offence. She won't let any one quarrel with anybody if she can help it. She appears ever just what she is, and loves truth above all things. She is rather straitened in circumstances, and, they say, has declined receiving any addition to her income from her nearest relative, Meanwell; but I am sure she doesn't scruple to make demands upon his purse for other people, for she is untiring in doing kindnesses, but always with judgment. She is the only
daughter of a lieutenant, who died when she was quite young. She belongs to the contemned class of Old Maids, a class I love and respect generally, and in which I have known some of the best creatures in the world. She will be a great acquisition; I know she will be there, for she intimated to me that some such scheme was on foot. You could not have a better ally. She will keep her cousin Bramble in order, if any one can; for that lady has a little fear of her plain truth-speaking ways, as I will show you. I was one in a party in the spring of last year, where Mrs Bramble and Sophy were present. The cousins had not often met before. Mrs Bramble was in one of her fine airs— comparing other people's ways with her own, and swaggering a little before the old maid, and taking great importance to herself as a wife and a mother; all which was quite lost upon Sophy Single. But genius was paramount, and the nettle of mischief must be offered to the touch: to effect which, she adroitly turned the talk upon attachments, courtships, fortunate and unfortunate, till she came to offers of marriage; and, looking hard at Sophy, said, she never knew a woman, unless she was uncommonly ugly, or uncommonly disagreeable, who had not had offers of marriage. Good-natured Sophy saw the mortification intended for her, but only in a ridiculous light. She then took it up, looking very pleasantly full in her cousin Bramble's face. I know, cousin, very well what you mean; but, in point of fact, you are decidedly wrong: for example, although I am plain enough, and may be commonly ugly, I am not so uncommonly-and if disagreeable now and then, never uncommonly disagreeable; and yet I declare as a truth, I never had an offer in my life;' and here, after a momentary pause, she changed her voice into the pitiable slow pathetic, that not a word should be lost, and added, Besides, now think, my judicious coz, how it may all be for the best; for how do I know but that I might have followed the many evil examples of wives, and sworn to "love, cherish, and obey," and, far from doing any one of them, have not even made my husband my companion?
And how shocking to have heard all about "the meek and quiet spirit," and how we should all behave ourselves, “even as Sarah obeyed Abraham," and then, after all, not to have a notion of meekness or obedience.' Then, with a changed tone of marked gaiety, turning to us who had gathered near her, she said, 'But if my cousin Bramble is writing any pretty little novel, and wishes to establish a maxim or a theory against fact, she is heartily welcome to my name as example, and to fasten any fiction upon it that will best suit her purpose.' It was quite beautiful to see the pleasant way in which she caused the subject to glide away, and another to succeed it, leaving no room for offence to be taken. Mrs Bramble will be quieter if placed near Sophy; so you look to that. And now you know your company. How will you contrive amusements to please all, or at least to keep all safe within your magic circle-Reconciliation?"
"Amusements! Let them amuse themselves according to their instincts, like the Happy Family' let loose to do their pleasure. At any rate, they will amuse the company," said the doctor, "or treat them as children, as they are, and put 'em to play Blind man's buff,' or 'Hunt the slipper,' or at guessing, or I love my love with an A,' and go through the alphabet, or cross questions and crooked answers, or"" Hold, hold!" said the wife, (6 you make me laugh at the ridiculousness of your jesting suggestions. Consider what your cross questions and crooked answers would lead to, where clever Mrs Bramble would have the making or putting them together. And your love my love with an A or B, and so on,'-there would be the stupid frightened major's wife, dreadfully at a loss; and Mrs. B. would be sure to suggest, in a loud whispertake now the letter M-'I love my love with an M because he is mine; I hate him because he is morose; I took him to the sign of the Mumps, and treated him to miseries.' Now, dear doctor, do be serious; think of something practicable-what say you to acting charades?" "The stupidest of things," replied the doctor; "I never could abide them. Don't let us encourage such mockery of the stage,
as to let the legitimate farce dwindle down to putting dressed-up twolegged riddles, and to have these inane innocencies banish the good wholesome real stage-play. No, no! let the legitimate player strut his hour, and get his pay and live." The Oxonian friend begged to say that he thought Dr Allright had made a very good suggestion unawares. He had called acting charades "dressed-up two-legged riddles ;" now he thought that real riddles would be the very thing. "Not bad," muttered the doctor. "Capital idea," said Alfred Allright, "and Rhymer is the very man to make them." Mrs Allright smiled at the suggestion, thought awhile, and decided in favour of riddles. "There must be a moderator," said I; "he must allow no one to speak above a minute. That all may be set a-thinking, nothing can be better. Meanwell shall offer prizes. He has closets full of plate which he never uses or sees a few cups, tea-pots, and coffee-pots will be no loss to him
yes, he will be glad to get rid of them; they who find out the greater number shall have first choice, and so on. It will be a kind of lottery, in which wits will stand for money; every one will have an object. Silver and china, and some little jewellery, may be the lottery capital, and it is hard if we cannot contrive that every one may have something. True, most in the end will be disappointed; but no matter, the meeting will then be over, and our friend Meanwell at least pleased. Sophy, we know well, though the blanks fall to her, and let us charitably hope one or two more, will be in good humour. It is fixed Ralph Rhymer shall draw up a prospectus, to be read at the opening; and let us be a committee of riddlers, and let us see what we can do we have no bad time before us, if we are industrious."
Rhymer assented-and we separated, each one to spin the brain-threads of his wits into a to-be-admired perplexity and complexity, leaving one master-thread to be the sure guide through all the labyrinths of ingenious thought.
The next morning the Oxonian appeared with his Exordium, which was read in conclave immediately after