British Fiction, 18001829

BUONAPARTE, Louis; KENDALL, Edward Augustus (trans.). Maria; or, the Hollanders (1815)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, new ser. 10 (Nov 1814): 234–35.

This work has already gone through two editions, the first of which was published very lately in Paris. It abounds in chaste and elegant language, as well as purity of sentiment and expression. The history is interesting; of which the following short sketch may give a proof.

Julian, the hero of the romance, is enamoured of his cousin Mary. This young lady has been brought up by a sister of Julian’s, named Hermacintha, one of the most virtuous, but at the same time the most pedantic of women. The lovers are about to be united, when Julian is obliged, on important business, to take a voyage to France. The scene is at the time when the French Republic declared war against Holland; and Julian, though a Hollander, finds himself subject to the law of requisition, is enlisted for a soldier, and sent to the Army of the Alps. On hearing this, Hermacintha and Mary set off for Paris, in order to obtain, at least, an officer’s commission for their kinsman. In his first engagement, Julian is taken prisoner, after having been wounded, and it is reported that he died in Polish Austria, from his wounds. The particulars of his death are sent to a friend, but they are not related by the author. The grief of Mary is inconsolable; however, other sorrows are yet in store for her. A decree is issued, which commands ‘all young ladies and widows to choose a husband in six days, either among the military, or amongst the people, under pain of being compelled to do so.’ This odious law is proclaimed under the windows of Mary’s dwelling; and she is, moreover, threatened ‘to be looked upon as an Englishwoman, and punished as such, if she opposes herself against this ordinance.’ But the Duke D’Ast, her relation and protector in France, has conceived for her a violent passion. He begs she will accept his hand, and thus preserve herself from being treated as an Englishwoman. The same decree obliges all the young nobility to enter the service; in consequence the Duke is an officer, and the decree is in his favour. The heroine consents to this marriage, not to save a life, which is become indifferent to her, but on the promise of the Duke to embark with her immediately to Guiana, to where Hermacintha is condemned to be banished. The marriage takes place; but in the moment that the new married [254/255] couple join Hermacintha, just as they are about to set sail, they hear the exclamation of ‘The Reign of Terror is at an end.’ They all come again on shore; but Mary is still, notwithstanding, the wife of the Duke, who soon shews himself unworthy such happiness.

Soon after his marriage, he publicly takes a mistress, while his wife and Hermacintha inhabit one of his estates in the country. It is during these events that Julian is again brought onto the scene. But how far the report of his death was erroneous, how, during two years, he never found an opportunity off writing to any of his friends, although he was a prisoner on parole, is not easily explained. However, it is sufficient to say, that he arrives. Still devoted to his Mary, he follows her to Holland, where she has returned with Hermacintha; and very soon afterwards they are informed of the death of the Duke, who has fallen in a duel; but on the night before the arrival of this news, Mary fearing that her reputation would be destroyed by remaining in the same place with Julian, has departed no one knows whither. Diligent search is made after her; in the meantime the dykes are broken up, and the two lovers are exposed to all the dangers of an inundation. This is their last misfortune, and the work concludes with their marriage.

The following extract on the character of the Dutch, may serve as a specimen of the language, and justness of remark in this romance:—

‘To have a just view of the worth of a nation, we must observe the people in extraordinary disasters and misfortunes:—such as the ravages caused by inundations, tempests, war, sickness, and conflagrations. You will then behold the Dutch, whom many regard as cold and phlegmatic calculators, meet with calm fortitude the stern approaches of death, dispensing with liberal hand their wealth, the fruits of their labour, their wisdom and economy, from several generations, to the poorest of their countrymen, without distinction of religion, estate, or fortune, and always being actuated in their benevolence, not for what is indispensably a duty, but in proportion to the wants of their fellow creatures. From this proceeds that apparent inconsequence in the eyes of strangers, who cannot conciliate the strict economy of a Dutch family, with that prodigious generosity which they display in adversity. It is because the Hollanders always entertain the idea that they ought only to use the gifts of fortune to gratify the wants of an easy mediocrity; and that the remainder should be carefully laid by as the produce of what was obtained by their ancestors “by the sweat of their brow.” That to the unfortunate who are in health, they ought only to give employment; but that they cannot do too much for the aged, the incurable, the orphan, and the sick, and in particular for those victims to public calamities, such as inundations, tempests, losses by trade, to all which calamities those are continually liable, who live, as it may be said, on a floating soil, which is only sustained by a dint of art, and which seems upheld by Providence to serve as a barrier to the Continent, from the southern ocean.’

The following extract is from another letter, marking the good faith of the Hollanders in their dealings.

‘I went to visit the bank with M. Vanwilhem; on my return I held forth, with much energy, on the honesty of the Dutch. M Vanwilhem was accosted by an agent, who asked his consent to buy up a great quantity of public stock. He consented. After that we visited the apartments; and as we descended, M. Vanwilhem was informed that very bad news had arrived, and that stocks had so considerably fallen, and were yet continuing to fall, that he would lose an immense sum if he paid the price before demanded of him. “I could not do otherwise,” said M. Vanwilhem; “it is a great misfortune.” And he paid in good letters of change what had so considerably fallen in value. One of my countrymen, dear Julian, was the other day at Mr. Vanwilhem’s; he took the liberty of hazarding some pleasantries on the avarice and love of money amongst the Dutch. My countryman has the reputation of a man of business; he dabbles in the stocks, and has made dupes of all who have trusted him. He has almost forgot to blush, but he was now put the proof; “Sir,” said M. Vanwilhem to him, “be assured, that if we are so very fond of money, we have good sense enough not to covet any other money than our own.” My countryman’s mouth was shut; I blushed for him, and we changed the conversation.’

We find nothing particularly striking in this romance; there is little doubt but that it owes much of its success to the name of its author; and that man certainly has infinite merit, who after having acted a conspicuous part on the theatre of life, can retire into his closet, and console himself with the pursuits of literature, and enjoy at the same time the esteem of his contemporaries.

Notes: No price or format given.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 77 (July 1815): 317–20.

One brother having occupied his retirement in the composition of an epic poem, it is not improbable that the amusement of another was the construction of a novel; and we shall not surprized if the most celebrated of the family, after having been removed from the agitations of war and empire, passes his hours of leisure in penning his own most interesting and eventful history. Though, therefore, doubt may sometimes attach itself to the authenticity of publications of this kind, we must own that we see no reason for questioning the truth of the title which assigns this book to Louis Bonaparte as its author, and the statement to this effect which is given in the preface. Coming from such a source, it seems to require peculiar notice; and the elevated situation which the author for a short time sustained in Holland, previously to his retirement into Bohemia and Poland, will no doubt strongly recommend it to the Dutch, if not to the rest of the inhabitants of Europe. It is said that the first edition of this work was printed at Gratz at 1812, (that is, two years after the author had descended from the throne of Holland,) under the title of [317/318] Marie, ou les Peines de l’Amour, and that in 1814, a reprint appeared at Paris.

‘In the interim, the author had made several alterations in his work, changing some of the minor incidents of the story, and consequently suppressing some of his pages, and adding others; and, in the month of June, 1814, he conveyed, by a written paper, dated at Lausanne, in Switzerland, and signed ‘L. DE ST. LEU,’ to a particular bookseller in Paris, authority to print, from the original manuscript, with its alterations, a second edition of his book, under the new title of Marie, ou les Hollandoises. From this edition, the following translation has been made.’

Respecting the author, the following short history is subjoined:

‘Considered, as the work necessarily must be, both in the reader’s imagination and in fact, with reference to the real occurrences of the author’s life, it will not be generally unacceptable to recall, in this place, the principal outlines of M. Louis Buonaparte’s career. The pages which follow will make it of some interest to know, that whatever may have been his degree of distinction, his public employments have been chiefly of a military description. He entered very young into the service, followed his brother Napoleon in all his first campaigns, and early attained to the rank of brigadier-general, and the colonelcy of a regiment of dragoons. In 1803, he was appointed president of the electoral college of the department of the Po. In 1804, he was made a counsellor of state, promoted to the rank of général-de-division, and dignified with the title of constable of the French Empire. In 1805, he assisted at his brother’s coronation at Turin, and was invested, at the same place, with the office of governor-general of Piedmont. His health obliged him to retire, in the same year, to the waters of St. Amand, in France, whence, returning to Paris, he held, for a short time, the appointment of governor of that city. About the end of November, he went to Holland, in the nominal commend of the Army of the North, and was there soon afterward made to assume the kingly government. He had married in 1802, Mademoiselle de Beauharnois, daughter of Madame de Beauharnois, the wife of Napoleon, and now, by creation of Louis XVIII., to her mother, Duchess of Saint-Leu. He has two sons by this marriage. His separation from his wife and his kingdom took place nearly at the same moment. His present residence is at Rome, and the Duchess’s at Paris. The reader will be led to recollect, in the course of the following pages, that the author’s first place of retreat from Holland was the baths of Toplitz.’

As a novel, this production has its merits and defects. The importance of virtue in promoting a happy intercourse between the sexes, and in establishing domestic felicity, is strongly inculcated throughout the story [1]: but the plot itself is very defective, and some [318/319] of the incidents are not of the most delicate character. They may suit a French, but not an English novel. The hero and heroine, Julius and Maria, form an early attachment, and devote themselves to each other: but they are speedily separated; Maria is obliged, during the reign of terror in France, to marry a nobleman whom she does not like; and Julius, being forced into the army, is made a prisoner, carried into Poland, and forms a criminal connection with a coquette. His death is reported to Maria, which seems to reconcile her to her forced marriage, and to augment her attentions to the child of which she has become the mother. On the peace, however, Julius, who had not actually perished, breaks away from the snares of his Polish mistress, and returns to his own country; the Duke, Maria’s husband, takes himself out of the way by suicide, for which no motive is assigned but his disgust of earthly pleasures and his desire to taste those of the next life; and Maria, in spite of all her unnatural vows and protestations, (from which her priest absolves her,) is united to Julius. All the usual incidents which constitute these imaginary histories are pressed into the service on this occasion; and to intrigues, duels, and attacks of banditti, we have the addition of the interesting scene of a Dutch inundation. French manners are well depicted; and the quondam King of Holland has done justice to his former subjects by representing their moral character as superior to those of the rest of the continent of Europe. The translator has very justly commented on the evil of the doctrine which permits the priesthood to absolve persons from their most solemn vows; and we think that the union of Julius with Maria should not have depended on so immoral an act.—Never, perhaps, was such an account of a suicide as that of the Duke d’Ast, Maria’s husband!

‘Yesterday, the Duke sent to me, begging me to go to him immediately. I found him seated in his library, very cheerful and agreeable.

‘ “I only waited for you.”

‘ “What to do?” said I.

‘We sat down. “Sir,” replied the Duke, “ I am the happiest of men, and yet I am tired. I want to see what they are doing above-stairs.—This world has no pleasure which I have not experienced, and with which I am not disgusted. You should imitate me. Are you not curious to make the journey with me? In a few seconds we could dive into that secret of the other life which is so carefully concealed from our eyes.”

‘I could not recover from my astonishment at this singular discourse. I thought his mind gone, and he saw into my idea.

‘ “I am quite cool, said he, “I have not lost my senses. Neither despair nor sorrow determines me to what I have resolved on.”

‘He took out the inclosed letter, stepped back a little, and killed himself with a pistol, with a laugh. When his servants came in at the noise, we tried all that could be done to save him, but it was too late. He had taken his measures decidedly, and there was still a smile upon his lips.’ [319/320]

The letter in which he justifies this rash act is till [sic] more singular; since he tells his wife that he should have taken the journey to the other world before, if religion had not detained him. He then adds:

‘Adieu, Madam:—my curiosity as to the other life is at its height, and even without that, I should be sufficiently induced to use no more delay, by my invincible disgust at this world, and the doubts, confusion, and disquietude which the secrets of the skies have created in me for some time past, to the most tormenting degree. By no means pity me. It is I who bestow my pity upon all whom I leave vegetating and dragging themselves along mechanically upon the earth.’

Of the task of the translator, we cannot speak in terms of praise, since his language is full of Gallicisms. Ex. gr. ‘He lifted his regards (meaning his eyes) to the skies:’ —‘She had been deformed by no stays, nor by too heavy toil:’—‘The saw-mills assembled round:’—‘To sneer at him in regard of his wife:’—‘At the last delay but one,’ (for stage):—‘How can I bear the smallest ligature,’ (for tye,) &c. &c.

[1] The following remark deserves the most incessant attention of the fair sex. ‘If women knew how much they lose by ceasing to be virtuous, even their coquetry would be frightened at the thought!’ Vol. iii. p. 65.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; no price. Publisher: Colburn.

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