« AnteriorContinuar »
to withdraw the veil from his mystery with caution, and inch as it were by inch, and to protract as long as possible the trying crisis when any reader of common sagacity may foresee the inevitable conclusion;' a period, after which, neither interest of dialogue nor splendour of description, neither marriage dresses, nor settlement of estates, can protract the attention of the thoroughbred novel-reader. The critic has an interest the very reverse of this. It is his business to make all things brief and plain to the most ordinary comprehension. He is a matter-of-fact sort of person, who, studious only to be brief and intelligible, commences with the commencement, according to the instructions of the giant Moulineau, que tous ces recits qui commencent par le milieu ne font qu'embrouiller l'imagination.' It is very true, that, in thus exercising our privilege, the author has something to complain of. We turn his wit the seamy side without, explain all his machinery, and the principles on which it moves before he causes it to play; and, like the persecution which the petty jealousy of his great neighbours at Hagley exercised on poor Shenstone, it seems as if we perversely conducted our readers to inconvenient points of view, and introduced them at the wrong end of a walk to detect a deception. Of such injuries, according to Johnstone, the bard of the Leasowes was wont to complain heavily; and perhaps Mr Maturin may be equally offended with us for placing the conclusion of his book at the beginning of our recital. But let the stricken deer go weep; '-the cook would have more than enough to do, who thought it necessary to consult the eel at which extremity he would like the flaying to begin.
There was then once upon a time, in a remote province of Ireland, a certain man of wealth and wickedness, who combined the theory of infidelity with the practice of the most unbounded libertinism. By one of his mistresses, a female of a wild and enthusiastic character, who, though she had sacrificed her virtue, retained the most bigotted attachment to the Catholic religion, this person had a beautiful and gifted daughter. The unfortunate mother, sensible of the dangers which the child must incur under the paternal roof, was detected in an attempt to remove it elsewhere, and driven by violence from the house of her paramour; not, however, before she had poured upon him and his innocent offspring, a curse the most solemn, bitter and wild that ever passed the lips of an human being. The daughter was bred up in the midst of luxury, and sedulously instructed in all that could improve an excellent understanding, by teachers of every language, and masters of every art. At the early age of fifteen, her chief instructor was an artful and
accomplished Italian, who abused his trust, and seduced his pupil into a private marriage. A female child was the consequence of this union, and occasioned its being discovered. The father was inexorable, and drove the daughter from his presence; while the sordid husband, disappointed in his avaricious views, tore the child from the mother, returned it upon the hands of his relentless patron, carried off his wife to Italy; and turned to profit her brilliant talents of every kind, as an actress upon the public stage, where she became the most distinguished performer by whom it had ever been trod. The selfish husband, or rather tyrant, by whose instructions she had been taught to attain this eminence, died at length, when she had obtained the zenith of her reputation, and left Zaira under the assumed title of Madame Dalmatiani, mistress of her own destiny.
About this period her daughter had attained the age of fifteen years. The infidel grandfather had put her, while an infant, under the charge of an excellent woman, the wife of a wealthy banker. Both professed evangelical doctrines, or what is technically called Calvinistic Methodism. Eva was bred up in the same tenets, shared their religious, gloomy and sequestered life, and passed for the niece of Mr and Mrs Wentworth. The grandfather made large remittances, which reconciled the banker to this adoption; the heart of his more amiable wife was won by the beauty and engaging disposition of her youthful ward.
A danger, however, hovered over Eva, from the superstitious and frantic obstinacy of her grandmother, who, as Zaira was beyond her reach, had transferred to Eva the anxious and unhesitating zeal with which she laboured to make acquisition of the souls of her descendants for the benefit of the Catholic Church. Reduced by choice more than necessity to the situation of a wandering beggar, this woman retained, it seems, amid her insanity, the power of laying schemes of violence; and, amongst her rags, possessed the means of carrying them into execution. She contrived forcibly to carry off her granddaughter Eva, and to place her in a carriage, which was to transport her to an obscure hut in the vicinity of Dublin.
These events compose the underground or basement story of the narrative, to which the author introduces his company last of all, although we have thought proper to show its secret recesses, and the machinery which they contain, before examining the superstructure.
Without a metaphor the novel thus commences. De Courcy, a youth of large property, of talents and of virtue, fair and graceful in person, and cultivated in taste and understanding,
but of a disposition at once fickle and susceptible, appears as the hero of the tale. In his seventeenth year, he is about to enter himself a student in Christ-Church College. The breaking down of a carriage had rendered him a pedestrian; and as he made his approach to the capital of Ireland through the shades of a delightful summer night, the chaise passes him, in which ruffians, hired as we have seen by no desperate admirer as is usual on such occasions, but by her old frantic grandmother, are in the act of transporting Eva into the power of that person. To hear the ery of a female in distress, and to pursue the ravishers, although upon foot, was one and the same thing. An interesting and animated account of the chase is given, rendered more true by the knowledge of the localities exhibited by the author. De Courcy, losing and recovering the object of his pursuit as the carriage outstrips him in speed or is delayed by accident, follows them through the Phoenix park, and along the road to Chapel-Izod. Here, in a miserable cottage, he lights at last upon the object of his pursuit, in the keeping of the old hag by whose accomplices she had been carried off, and who, while they were absent about the necessary repairs of some damage sustained by the carriage, awaited their return to carry her to some place of greater security. She is thus forcibly described.
Charles, who knew not what to answer, advanced; a woman then started forward from a dark corner, and stood wildly before him, as if wishing to oppose him, she knew not how. She was a frightful and almost supernatural object; her figure was low, and she was evidently very old; but her muscular strength and activity were so great, that, combined with the fantastic wildness of her motions, it gave them the appearance of the gambols of a hideous fairy. She was in rags; yet their arrangement had something of a picturesque effect. Her short tattered petticoats, of all colours and of various lengths, depending in angular shreds, her red cloak hanging on her back, and displaying her bare bony arms, with hands whose veins were like ropes, and fingers like talons; her naked feet, with which, when she moved, she stamped, jumped, and beat the earth like an Indian squaw in a war dance; her face tattooed with the deepest indentings of time, want, wretchedness, and evil passions; her wrinkles, that looked like channels of streams long flowed away; the eager motion with which she shook back her long matted hair, that looked like strings of the grey bark of the ash tree, while eyes flashed through them whose light seemed the posthumous offspring of deceased humanity,-her whole appearance, gestures, voice and dress, made De Courcy's blood run cold within him. They gazed on each other for some time, as if trying to make out each other's purpose, from faces dimly seen, till the woman, whose features seemed kindling by the red light into a fiend-like glare, appeared to discover that he was not the
person whom she expected, and cried, in a voice at once shrill and hollow, like a spent blast, "What is it brought you here?"—and, before he could answer, rushing forward, stood with her back against a door, (which but for this motion he would not have observed), and waving her lean nervous arms, exclaimed fiercely-" Come no farther at your peril! I. 15-17.
The threats of this demoniacal personage were insufficient to deter De Courcy from forcing his way to the interior of the hut, where he beheld a beautiful, but almost inanimate form, lie stretched on a wretched pallet. Upon De Courcy's attempt to remove her, the frantic guardian again breaks into a transport of rage, which, however, does not prevent him from accomplishing his purpose amid the dire curses which she heaped upon him, and which are expressed in a tone of energy which marks the dialogue of this author.
Take her, take her from me if you will, but take my curse with you; it will be heavier on your heart than her weight is on your arm. I never cursed the grass but it withered, or the sky but it grew dark, or the living creatures but they pined and wasted away. Now you bear her like a corpse away in your arms; and I see you following her corpse to the churchyard, and the white ribbons tying her shroud; her maiden name on her tomb-stone; no child to cry for her, and you that sent her to her grave wishing it was dug for you.' I. p. 24.
Unappalled by these denunciations of future vengeance, De. Courcy conveyed Eva in his arms to a place of safety, and found the means of restoring her to her guardians the Wentworths. The seeds of a fever which had lurked in his constitution had been called into action by De Courcy's exertions upon this memorable night. On his recovery, a friend and fellow student, himself something of a Methodist, conducts him to a place of worship frequented by those who held that persuasion, when he finds himself unexpectedly seated close to that lovely vision which he had seen but briefly on the night when he released her, and which had nevertheless haunted, ever since, not merely the delirious dreams of his fever, but the more sober moments of his reconvalescence. He is invited to the house of her guardians, where the society and conversation is described with the pencil of a master. The various effect of the peculiar doctrines which they professed, is described as they affected Mrs Wentworth, a woman of strong sense, rigid rectitude, and a natural warmth of temper which religion had subdued; her husband a cold-hearted Pharisee, whose head was so full of theology that his heart had no room for Christian charity or human feeling; and Mr MacOwen a preacher of the sect, a sensual hypocrite, whose disgusting attributes are something too forcibly described. The conversation of such a society was limited to
evangelical subjects; or, whatever appeared to diverge from the only tolerated topic, was brought back to it by main force, according to the manner in which the preachers of the seventeenth century spiritualized all temporal incidents and occupations, or rather degraded doctrines of the highest and most reverend import, by the base comparisons and associations with which they dared to interweave them.
'One man talked incessantly of the "election of grace; his mind literally seemed not to have room for another idea; every sentence, if it did not begin, ended with the same phrase, and every subject only furnished matter for its introduction. Dr Thorpe's last sermon at Bethesda was spoken of in terms of high and merited panegyric. Very true," said he; said he; "but-a-a-Did you think there was enough of election in it?" A late work of the same author (his clever pamphlet on the Catholic petition) was mentioned.— "But does he say any thing of election in it?"-" There was no opportunity," said Mr Wentworth." Then he should have made one-Ah, I would give very little for a book that did not assert the election of grace!" Once seated in his election-saddle, he posted on with alarming speed, and ended with declaring, that Elisha Coles on God's Sovereignty, was worth all the divinity that ever was writ"I have a large collection of the works of godly writers, said he, turning to De Courcy, "but not one work that ever was, would I resign for that of Elisha Coles. "Won't you except the Bible?" said De Courcy, smiling." Oh, yes-the Bible-ay, to be sure, the Bible, said the discomfited champion of election; "but still, you know"-and he continued to mutter something about Elisha Coles on God's Sovereignty.
Another, who never stopped talking, appeared to De Courcy a complete evangelical time-keeper ;-the same ceaseless ticking sound; -the same vacillating motion of the head and body; and his whole conversation turning on the various lengths of the sermons he had heard, of which, it appeared, he was in the habit of listening to four every Sunday. "Mr Matthias preached exactly forty-eight minutes. I was at Mr Cooper's exhortation at Plunket-street in the evening, and it was precisely fifty-three minutes."-" And how many seconds?" said Mrs Wentworth, smiling,—for she felt the ridicule of this.
Close to De Courcy were two very young men, who were comparing the respective progress they had made in the conversion of some of their relations. They spoke on this subject with a familiarity that certainly made De Courcy start." My aunt is almost entirely converted, " said one. "She never goes to church now,
though she never missed early prayers at St Thomas's for forty years before. Now, with a strange sort of triumph, now, is your sister converted as much as that? "Yes-yes-she is," answered the other, eagerly;" for she burned her week's preparation yester day, and my mother's too along with it." I. 64-67.