British Fiction, 18001829

COSTELLO, Mrs. Soldier's Orphan, The (1809)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 3rd ser. 18 (Sept 1809): 62–67.

This is an artless and well told tale; the moral is excellent; though there may not appear much novelty in the story to the generality of novel-readers. The work itself may very safely be put into the hands of any young lady, who will do well to imitate the virtues of Louisa Fitzormond the heroine. The characters are naturally drawn, and well grouped. The fortitude, the delicacy, and the patience, which Louisa displays under very severe trials, do great credit to the authoress; who, in her delineations of female character, has evinced much knowledge of life and a great love of virtue.

Mrs. Costello’s remarks on parental authority, calumny, &c. &c. are very just; and the plain good sense which is diffused through the story is much more useful, and deserves more attention from young people than the garnish of French, or of German sensibility.

Louisa Fitzormond’s father is represented as an amiable and accomplished young officer, who is, in a great measure, dependent on a rich uncle of the name of Courland. Mr. Courland’s nearest neighbour is the Earl of Belhaven, a proud peer, who offends Mr. Courland by his contumelious behaviour, so that a cordial hatred between the two families is the consequence. Fitzormond, when on a visit to his uncle, accidentally meets with Lord Belhaven’s daughter; a reciprocal attachment is the result; and they marry against the inclination of the Earl and of Mr. Courland. The latter disinherits his nephew, and the earl turns his back on his daughter.

Fitzormond, after a time is ordered to join his regiment in the East Indies;—on their way to the coast they are overtaken by a storm; the carriage is overturned, and the lady Louisa Fitzormond, who is too much alarmed and hurt to proceed, is carried to the house of a Mr. Howard, a benevolent clergyman, who lives with a maiden sister, where the lady dies in giving birth to the heroine of our tale.

Fitzormond departs in a state little short of distraction, [62/63] leaving his infant to the care of Mr. Howard and his sister Mrs. Martha Howard. Letters pass between Fitzormond and Mr. Howard, and proper remittances are received for some years; but, through the treachery of a friend of Fitzormond, with whom he entrusts some valuables to be conveyed to Mr. Howard, he hears in return that the child is dead, and Mr. Howard removed no one knows where. Fitzormond, broken-hearted at the loss of a wife whom he so tenderly loved, and an infant whose welfare endeared him to existence, continues many years in India; where he suffers captivity, and a number of hardships, incident to a military life. At length he returns, and is made happy in meeting his daughter, whom he rescues from the tyranny of a Mr. Melford, a nephew of Mr. Howard. Mr. Melford, taking advantage of the ill-heath of Louisa, who is thrown into a fever by the affliction which she suffers on the death of Mr. Howard, secretes a will which Mr. H. had made in Louisa’s favor; and, on her refusing to marry his natural son, who passes as his nephew, shuts her up in a mad-house. Louisa finds an opportunity of informing a friend of her melancholy situation, which coming to the knowledge of her enemy, the slighted Mr. Melford, he has her conveyed from this wretched abode to a place of greater security. By the overturn of the carriage, Louisa, and the person who is appointed to see her conveyed, are thrown out, the attendant is killed, and Louisa is taken under the protection of a gentleman who proves to be her father, whose carriage had occasioned the accident. The elder Melford dies, and confesses his injustice to Louisa to his wife, who restores the will of Mr. Howard to Louisa. The history of this Mrs. and Mr. Melford is extremely well told, and what may be called the underplot is skilfully managed. We had intended to have inserted the episode of Miss Conway as a specimen of our fair authoress’s talents, but as the whole would occupy too much space, we can give only the concluding part, where the melancholy and lovely victim of seduction is released by death from her sufferings. Miss Conway having imparted her melancholy tale to Louisa Fitzormond, who soothes her mind in her dying moments, tells her that Lord Belmour was the author of her ruin; and shortly after expires in giving birth to a little girl.

Lord Belmour had been lately married to one of the daughters of Sir Walter Stanley; and had been an inmate in the same house with Louisa at his father-in-law’s at Bath. His attentions to Louisa were so marked as to excite the jealousy of Lady Belmour. [63/64]

Louisa, being unwell, is left at Bath whilst the rest of the family pay a visit a few miles distant.

When she received the intelligence of Miss Conway’s death,

‘she wrapped herself in a pelisse and close bonnet, and set out for Mrs. Mason’s accompanied by a female servant. She had proceeded but a few steps, when her attention was arrested by the loud voice of a person pronouncing her name: she hastily turned, and to her surprize recognized in the speaker, Lord Belmour, who gaily advancing, began to congratulate her on her recovery.

‘ “I was so very anxious to know how you were,” continued his lordship, “that I could not resist the temptation I felt to steal a march upon them all, and ride over this morning to make personal enquiries respecting your health.” ’

He was proceeding to rally Louisa on her being abroad almost disguised, when she interrupted him with a serious and dignified countenance:

‘ “Circumstances, in which you, my lord, are deeply concerned, have called me abroad; and, but that providence seems to have directed you here at a time when I stand in need of advice and assistance I should, instead of thanking you for your apparent polite attention, regret that you should have given yourself so much trouble: but if your lordship will accompany me, the motive for my being out will be explained.”

‘Lord Belmour, much surprized by the solemnity of her manner, and the perturbation of her looks, walked silently by her side till they arrived at Mrs. Mason’s house.

‘Leaving Lord Belmour, whom Louisa requested to wait a few minutes, she ascended to the chamber of the deceased with Mrs. Mason, where lay the mortal remains of the beautiful Miss Conway. Serene and lovely in death, no trace of sorrow was on that countenance, so lately marked with its deepest lines; she appeared to have indeed, by the sweet placidity of her features,

“Wept her stains away.”

‘As Louisa bent over the cold inanimate corse, and bedewed its pale face with her tears, she could not help reflecting on the goodness and mercy of God, who had thought proper to call her away from a life so truly wretched as her’s must have been: endowed by him with so much sensibility, the remembrance of her past errors would have embittered her future life; but she now humbly trusted her penitence had been accepted, and that her sufferings in this life had atoned for her faults.

‘She also hoped it would serve as a useful lesson to Lord Belmour; for that reason she had brought him with her: the sight of so lovely a woman falling in early youth a victim to his licentiousness, could not fail, she thought, of impressing his mind with contrition and hor-[64/65]ror against so dangerous a pursuit as that of seduction. It would also, she hoped, operate in favor of the infant, who was brought into the world unconnected with any living soul that any one knew of, except herself.

‘As soon, therefore, as she could compose her agitated spirits, she requested Lord Belmour would attend her in the chamber of death.

‘Lord Belmour, wondering what all this solemnity and symptoms of grief meant, and secretly wishing himself out of the house, followed the faltering steps of his conductress, who, approaching the bed, with a trembling hand removed the covering from the face of the dead, and pointing to it, in a voice tremulous from various emotions, cried, “Lord Belmour, there lies your victim!”

‘Aghast with terror, his Lordship, (after gazing in breathless suspense for a few moments, as if to ascertain the identity of the object presented to his view,) struck his forehead with his clenched hands, and staggering fell extended on the bed, pale, and apparently as lifeless as the being he lamented.

‘Louisa, terrified at the effect the sudden shock had on him, repented not having prepared him for the sight he was to encounter; she applied herself to restore him and happily succeeded; but his grief became then violent and bitter; he reproached himself with having murdered the only woman who had ever loved him, and franticly declared he could never survive the remembrance of his cruelty.

‘ “That heavenly look!” (exclaimed he, as he gazed on the pale victim of his duplicity), “will haunt me for ever, and plunge my soul into eternal perdition! Wretch that I am, to have forsaken so much sweetness, so much innocence, and confiding goodness! Hate, abhor, Miss Fitzormond, a man so unworthy of your care, who meant to have destroyed you, as he has done this dear unfortunate girl. I am indeed a villain, unfit to live.”

‘Grief and terror totally incapacitated Louisa from offering to afford him any consolation: she could only weep. The sight of her tears flowing for him, and the lovely creature he had destroyed, quite subdued him; he wept in agony, and falling at her feet, besought her to forgive him the evil he had intended to attempt against herself.

‘As soon as her tears had ceased to flow, Louisa assured him of forgiveness as to any intended injury to herself; and as his grief appeared truly sincere, she said, if it would afford him any consolation, she would not withhold it on account of his conduct to Miss Conway.

‘ “Your lordship,” continued she, “has many and great duties to fulfil; in the just discharge of them, your sincere repentance will be evinced. You have yet to learn that you are a father, and that the immediate cause of the loss you so deeply deplore, was occasioned by the birth of your infant. This, my Lord, is a sacred [65/66] duty, which, if you discharge faithfully, may be some expiation for the ruin you brought on its mother.”

‘Affected beyond expression, Lord Belmour could only intreat Louisa to see that every attention was paid to the infant; and once more casting an agonized look on the pale face, lovely even in death, that lay before him, he rushed out of the house, reached his stables, mounted his horse, and quitted Bath immediately. But his utmost speed could not divest his mind from the shock he had received: mechanically he turned the head of the animal the road he had come a few hours before, and not till he arrived at the house of his friend, did he reflect that he was in a very unfit state to appear before his lady and her family.

‘Endeavouring therefore to assume as much composure as possible, he entered, and was immediately assailed with enquiries relative to his morning’s expedition, which had been conducted with great secrecy.

‘Lady Belmour was very indignant that he should have left her the whole day without having informed her of his intended absence, and expressed her disapprobation in terms ill suited to sooth his irritated mind. He therefore replied haughtily, that he would not be accountable to any one for his actions, as he was perfectly capable of regulating them. But thinking some apology necessary to Mr. Wilmot, the gentleman at whose house he was staying, he said, addressing himself to him, that some business had unexpectedly called him away, and detained him much longer than he had intended, which, he trusted would plead his excuse for having kept them waiting dinner for him, it being then two hours later than their usual time.

‘Mr. Wilmot very readily admitted his apology, and nothing more was said on the subject till after dinner, when Lady Stanley observed his Lordship had ate nothing, and she feared he had fatigued himself too much with riding, as he appeared very unwell.

‘Lord Belmour replied that might be the case, but it would go off and making an exertion to overcome the shock his feelings had sustained, he, with the assistance of his friend’s exhilarating champaign, so far succeeded as to prevent any further remarks being made.

‘Louisa, on being left by his lordship, gave such directions as she thought proper for the interment of Miss Conway, and also for the care of her infant; Mrs. Mason having agreed to procure a nurse for it; and with a promise of coming the next day to see it, and a charge to keep the affair as quiet as possible, she took her leave; deeply impressed with the melancholy fate of so young and lovely a woman, and also with the forlorn and destitute situation of the infant, though the contrition of Lord Belmour was, she hoped, a propitious symptom in its favour.

‘The next day brought the whole family to Bath, and Lord Belmour took an early opportunity of entreating Louisa not to mention [66/67] her having seen him the day before, or any of the events relating to Miss Conway and himself.

‘Louisa willingly promised not to mention it to any part of the family. This she did, as much from a fear of giving pain to them, from a knowledge of his Lordship having acted so unworthily, as to oblige him, and conceal the disgrace of the departed Miss Conway, who had always appeared solicitous that the knowledge of her fault should be confined to the bosom of her to whom she herself had imparted it.

‘With the assistance of Lady Stanley’s maid, who was acquainted with many of the circumstances relative to the deceased, Louisa was enabled to arrange every thing for the proper accommodation of the child.

‘Lord Belmour had himself seen that every respect was paid to the remains of its mother, and had discharged the necessary expense attending her interment: he also liberally rewarded Mrs. Mason for the trouble she had had, and for the kindness she had shewn to her friendless inmate, when she could not have been stimulated by the hopes of reward.’

Mrs. Costello has dispersed some small pieces of poetry through her three volumes. We extract one of these:

‘When with my heart’s first friend I lov’d to stray,
His look, his voice, which now is heard no more,
Remembrance treasur’d, as her proudest store,
And said, bless’d hours, when ye are roll’d away,
“These images of bliss my heart shall keep;”
And then with mingling joy I turn’d to weep,
And thought the mem’ry of each happy hour
In after days might as delightful prove,
As when, in pure affection’s humble bower
Young friendship seemed to ripen into love:
Ah! days for ever gone! How I but woo
The shade of those endearments, and recal
The hill, the mead, the tree, the water-fall,
Where once we stray’d. Back on the lovely view
Alas! I turn my lingering eyes in vain,
Whose sad remembrance but augments my pain.
Yet not unpleasing is the pensive hour,
When, far remov’d from fashion’s idle train,
I feel her poor allurements, ah! how vain!
And find that virtue only has the pow’r,
In sunshine, or beneath cold fortune’s shower,
The self-approving conscience to sustain.’

Notes: Format: 3 vols; no price. Publisher: Longman.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 60 (Sept 1809): 96–97.

Some novels have no character at all, ‘and this is one of them.’ [96/97] It is neither remarkably dull nor particularly lively; neither perfectly uninteresting nor peculiarly pleasing; in short, neither commendable nor reprehensible. It would indeed be almost as difficult to bear away the palm of superior insipidity from the crowd of rivals who seem constantly contending for it, as to win that of pre-eminent excellence from the few who have endeavoured to attain it. Of a work of such negative merit as ‘The Soldier’s Orphan,’ the highest recommendation is that it will do no harm: though it may not improve, it cannot mislead; and the balance is carried so even, that it atones in morality for what it wants in interest.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 15s. Boards. Publisher: Longman & Co.

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