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it is difficult to make a child attractive, except in tragedy. Mamilius, Arthur, Edward the Fifth, and his brother affect us, but it is because we contrast their happy childish prattle with the dark fate that is soon to swallow them up. If they had been destined to a long and happy life, we should have been wearied by them. Again, the youth of a very remarkable man, of Rousseau, for instance, or of Southey, is instructive, both as it shows the dawn of an intellect that was to shine so brightly, and as it enables us to trace many of the moral excellences and defects of the adult to the training of the child. But this can be done only in an autobiography. Such a narrative loses its merit with its reality. Who can read the Emile ?
Now as little Osborne was intended for wealth and prosperity, he could not be made interesting by contrast, and Mr. Thackeray has prudently sketched him in rather indistinct
he should come of age to spend a fortune, but certainly not to earn one.
Such are the objects of Amelia's affections. As to her actions, few of them are really hers. She generally obeys, without preference and without reluctance, the impulse given to her by those immediately around her. In obedience to her parents she falls in love with George Osborne; by her father's orders she dismisses him ; at her mother's bidding she resumes him. The only act in which she exhibits free-will is the surrender of her son to his grandfather. The struggle which she goes through, the feelings which alternately impel and restrain her, are described with exquisite skill.
The evils and the dangers of such a surrender were scarcely capable of exaggeration. To give up a child of ten years old to the absolute management of a stranger is a frightful risk, even if that stranger were a Fenelon. To give it up to a coarse, uneducated, violent old man; to expose it to be crushed by his tyranny, and spoiled by his indulgence; to throw into its path the temptations of both wealth and poverty, those which rouse into insolence, and those which degrade into servility, these are chances from which a sensible mother would have recoiled. No hopes of wealth or grandeur; no fears, except that of absolute starvation, would have induced her to incur them.
But these are not the motives which influence Amelia. They do not even occur to her:- as far as the boy is concerned, she sees nothing in Mr. Osborne's offers but wealth, station, and education. Yet she rejects those offers with indignation.
She was never,' says our author, seen angry but twice or thrice in her life, and it was in one of these moods that Mr. Osborne's attorney had the good fortune to behold her. She rose up trembling and flushing, and tore the letter into a hundred fragments. “I take
become out from led to his waamin and up dominich present to
such a thing? Tell Mr. Osborne that it is a cowardly letter, Sir, — a cowardly letter ;-I will not answer it. I wish you good morning, Sir," -and she bowed me out of the room like a tragedy queen, said the lawyer who told the story.' (P. 413.)
The cause of all this anger is simply the selfish feeling that she cannot bear to lose the society of her son. Poverty, however, comes on her like an armed man; every resource fails, and she tries in vain to hide from herself the thought which will return to her, that she ought to part with the boy, that she is the only barrier between him and prosperity. She can't, she can't, — not now at least. Oh, it is too hard to think of and to bear.' (P. 442.)
At length she submits. The sentence is passed, — the child must go from her to others, — to forget her. Her heart, her ' treasure, —her hope, joy, love, worship, —she must give him
up.' (P. 443.) · The boy is given over to his grandfather; but some of the evils that were to be expected do not follow. Old Osborne has become somewhat mellowed by age and infirmity. Georgy suffers not from his severity, but from his fondness. Every stimulant is applied to his vanity, his imperiousness, and his selfindulgence. How he du damn and swear,' the servants say, delighted by his 'precocity. He grows up domineering, conceited, and selfish. But the feebleness of mind which prevented his mother's anticipating these results, prevents her perceiving them, She believes him to be perfect, or, what in her eyes is the same, to be his father over again.
The reader will have inferred, from the attention which we have paid to the character of Amelia, that we think it a creation of extraordinary skill. We do so. It appears to us to unite the two greatest merits that a fictitious character can possess,-/ originality and nature. And yet it is the source of one of the greatest blemishes of the work. Mr. Thackeray indulges in the bad practice of commenting on the conduct of his dramatis persona. He is perpetually pointing out to us the generosity of Dobbin, the brutality of the Osbornes, the vanity of Joseph Sedley, and so on, instead of leaving us to find out their qualities from their actions. And in the course of this running commentary he keeps repeating that Amelia was adorable; that she was the idol of all who approached her, and deserved to be
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so; in short, that she was the perfection of womanhood. Now we will not deny that she had qualities which would make her agreeable as a plaything, and useful as a slave; but playthings or slaves are not what men look for in wives. They want partners of their cares, counsellors in their perplexities, aids in their enterprises, and companions in their pursuits. To represent a pretty face, an affectionate disposition, and a weak intellect as together constituting the most attractive of women, is a libel on both sexes.
We must now take up Amelia's pendant, Becky: the character, among all that Mr. Thackeray has drawn, which has received the most applause.
When we said that she was the impersonation of intellect without virtue, we used the word virtue in perhaps too narrow a sense, as indicating the qualities which we love, the qualities which arise from the sympathy of their possessor with others, and therefore occasion them to sympathise with him. Now, of these qualities Becky is devoid. She has no affection, no pity, no disinterested benevolence. She is indeed perfectly selfish. She wants all the virtues which are to be exercised for the benefit of others. She has neither justice nor veracity. She treats mankind as mankind treats the brutes, as mere sources of utility or amusement, as instruments, or playthings, or prey. But many of the self-regarding virtues she possesses in a high degree. She has great industry, prudence, decision, courage, and self-reliance. These are the qualities which, when under the direction of a powerful intellect, unbiassed by sympathies, and unrestrained by scruples, have produced many of the masters of mankind. In a higher sphere Becky might have been a Semiramis or a Catherine. As might be expected in a person of her good sense and self-control, she is mistress of the smaller virtues, good temper and good nature; she always wishes to please, because it is only by pleasing that she can subjugate. She is not resentful or spiteful, because she despises those around her too much to waste anger on them, and because she knows that petty injuries are generally repaid with interest. Her estimate of herself is not far from the truth. She is visiting at a sober country-house, in which she formerly lived as a governess.
One day followed another, and the ladies of the house passed their life in those calm pursuits and amusements which satisfy country ladies. Rebecca sung Handel and Haydn to the family of evenings, and engaged in a large piece of worsted work, as if she had been born to the business, and as if this kind of life was to continue with her until she should sink to the grave in a polite old age, leaving regrets
and a great quantity of consols behind her, — as if there were not cares and duns, schemes, shifts, and poverty waiting outside the Park gates to pounce upon her when she issued into the world again.
"“ It isn't difficult to be a country gentleman's wife,” Rebecca thought; “I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand ayear. I could dawdle about in the nursery, and count the apricots on the wall. I could water plants in a green-house, and pick off dead leaves from the geraniums; I could ask old women about their rheumatisms, and order half-a-crown's worth of soup for the poor; I shouldn't miss it much out of five thousand a-year. I could go to church and keep awake in the great family pew: or go to sleep behind the curtains, and with my veil down, if I only had practice. I could pay everybody if I had but the money."'.
The old haunts, the old fields and woods, the copses, ponds, and gardens, the rooms of the old house where she had spent a couple of years seven years ago, were all carefully revisited by her. She had been young then, or comparatively so, for she forgot the time when she ever was young, but she remembered her thoughts and feelings seven years back, and contrasted them with those which she had at present, now that she had seen the world and lived with great people, and raised herself far beyond her original humble station.
"“I have passed beyond it because I have brains," Becky thought, “and almost all the rest of the world are fools. I could not go back and consort with those people now, whom I used to meet in my father's studio. Lords come up to my door with stars and garters, instead of poor artists with screws of tobacco in their pockets. I have a gentleman for my husband, and an Earl's daughter for my sister, in the very house where I was little better than a servant a few years ago. But am I much better to do now in the world than I was when I was the poor painter's daughter, and wheedled the grocer round the corner for sugar and tea ? Suppose I had married Francis, who was so fond of me, I couldn't have been much poorer than I am now. Heigho ! 'I wish I could exchange my position in society, and all my relations for a snug run in the three per cent. consols.” For so it was that Becky felt the Vanity of human affairs, and it was in those securities that she would have liked to cast anchor.' (Pp. 376, 377.)
The game which poor Becky plays is, from its outset, almost a hopeless one: it is, to rise in the world without money, or birth, or connexions, or friends. She begins it at seventeen ; the orphan, penniless daughter of a drunken, unsuccessful painter and a French opera girl. Received as a French teacher in Miss Pinkerton's school, bored by the pompous vanity of the mistress, the silly chat and scandal and quarrels of the girls, and the frigid, empty correctness of the governesses, she forms her habits of unsympathising self-existence. She fights her way to be a governess in Sir Pitt Crawley's family; and, by a mixture of wheedling, coaxing, flattering, and rallying (described with as much humour as it is conceived), hooks and plays with, and at length lands, her first spoil, Captain Rawdon Crawley. Her prize, however, resembles the gold paid by the magician in the Arabian Nights, which turned to leaves in the receiver's purse. Crawley's aunt, disgusted by his match, burns a will under which he was to have inherited 50,0001.; and Becky finds that all that she has gained is a good-natured husband, overwhelmed with debt, with no property but his commission in the Life Guards, and no knowledge except of whist, piquette, and billiards. With her usual good sense, she makes the most of her unpromising cards — goes with the regiment to Brussels - turns the general commanding the division into her slave provides victims for the admirable play of her husband—and makes him the happiest of mortals.
'She had mastered this rude coarse nature, and he loved and worshipped her with all his faculties of regard and admiration. In all his life he had never been so happy as, during the past few months, his wife had made him. She had known perpetually how to divert him, and he had found his house and her society a thousand times more pleasant than any place or company which he had ever frequented from his childhood until now. And he cursed his past follies and extravagances, and bemoaned his vast outlying debts, which must remain for ever as obstacles to prevent his wife's advance.
'Rebecca always knew how to conjure away these moods of melancholy. “Why, my stupid love," she would say, “we have not done with your aunt yet. If she fails us, isn't there what you call the Gazette ? or, stop, when your uncle Bute's life drops, I have another scheme. The living always belonged to the youngest brother, and why shouldn't you sell out and go into the Church?” The idea of this conversion set Rawdon into roars of laughter; you might have heard the explosion through the hotel at midnight. General Tufts heard it from his quarters in the first floor; and Rebecca acted the scene with great spirit, and preached Rawdon's first sermon, to the immense delight of the General at breakfast.' (Pp. 258, 259.)
The night before Quatre Bras comes. Three partings are described. The first is that between Amelia and George Osborne.
On arriving at his quarters from the ball, George found his regimental servant already making preparations for his departure ; the man had understood his signal to be still, and these arrangements were very quickly and silently made. Should he go in and wake Amelia, he thought, or leave a note for her brother to break the news of departure to her ? He went to look at her once again.
She had been awake when he first entered her room, but had kept her eyes closed, so that even her wakefulness should not seem to reproach him. But when he had returned, so soon after herself, too, this timid little heart had felt more at ease, and, turning towards him as he stept softly out of the room, she had fallen into a light sleep.