British Fiction, 18001829

SCOTT, Sir Walter. St Ronan’s Well (1824)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, n.s. 29 (Feb 1824): 76–77.

We know not whether the eighth wonder of the world—the great poet, prophet, and conjuror of the north—has written himself out, or whether he has been only suffering his genius to take a nap, that she may come forth refreshed for a more daring and astonishing flight than any that we have heretofore witnessed. Time will show. This much, however, is certain: one or two more such precious performances, as St. Ronan’s Well, by the ‘author of Waverley’ would go nigh to lay the said ‘author of Waverley’ on the shelf, and to open the way to fame and profit for young and enterprizing candidates. Once upon a time there was a poet, who wrote and wrote till the public were tired of reading his [76/77] poems; then he turned novelist, and manufactured many a goodly tome, till his patrons began to betray symptoms of squeamishness; next he tried the drama, but the experiment did not succeed; then he gave his jaded Pegasus a spur, and to it he went again in the field of romance; and then—what then?—Why, as we have said before, time will show.

We cannot stop to analyse the waters of St. Ronan’s Well, for they are not worth it; but we will briefly introduce to the notice of our readers Mistress Meg—not Merrilies, but—Dods, the fair priestess of the spring:—

‘She had hair of a brindled colour, betwixt black and grey, which was apt to escape in elf-locks from under her mutch, when she was thrown into violent agitation—long skinny hands, terminated by stout talons, grey eyes, thin lips, a robust person, a broad though flat chest, capital wind, and a voice that would match a choir of fish-women. She was accustomed to say of herself in her more gentle mood, that her bark was worse than her bite; but what teeth could have matched a tongue, which, when in full career, is vouched to have been heard from the kirk to the castle of Saint Ronan’s.’

The scene of this novel lies in the vicinity of the decayed little village of St. Ronan’s, now supplanted by a rising town, which originated in the discovery of a medicinal spring, on the southern borders of Scotland. Francis Tyrrel, the unacknowledged son of the Earl of Etherington, by a private marriage with the orphan Marie Martigny, is enamoured of Clara, sister of the last Mowbray, of St. Ronan’s. Valentine, son of the Earl of Etherington by his second marriage, succeeds to the title and estates. From vicious motives, Valentine persuades Tyrrel to a clandestine marriage with Clara; but, finding cogent reasons for changing his views, he endeavours to personate and to supersede him, but is detected and nearly killed. Clara, persecuted by her brother, who has been ruined by Valentine, becomes desperate, and dies in a state bordering upon insanity. Tyrrel’s legitimacy is discovered; Valentine is killed by Mowbray; and Tyrrel, tired of the world, flees from society, no one knows wither. Thus the reader rises, not only with a painfully oppressed heart from the perusal of a repulsively tragic tale, but with a sensation of disgust, and almost self-hatred, at the villanies of human nature.

The materials, it must strike every one, are of the most common-place description. The style is careless, vulgar, and ungrammatical; and the only redeeming qualities of the work are to be found in its very lively and spirited sketches of character. Besides the redoubtable Mistress Meg Dods, the hostess of the ancient inn at St. Ronan’s, we have Sir Bingo Binks, a sporting baronet. Touchwood, an eccentric old gentleman in want of an heir; Lady Penelope Penfeather, a blue; Winterblossom, a cognoscente; a lawyer; a quack doctor; the master of a skipper, and his wife; a fighting Highland officer; a sentimental clergyman, &c.

It is intimated that, from the same ever-flowing spring, we are immediately to be treated with ‘The Siege of Ptolemais, as a specimen of his General History of the Crusades, a work by the Rev. J. Cargill, Minister of St. Ronan;’ and also with another novel, in April.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 103 (Jan 1824): 61–75.

As our readers may doubtless remember, the shield of the learned Martinus Scriblerus, when its coat of venerable rust was indiscreetly removed by his hand-maid, was discovered to be nothing more than a barber’s basin. Now, although we are far from contending that the two cases are analogous in every point, yet we cannot but think that the ‘Author of Waverley,’ in rubbing off that fine ærugo with which his former works were encrusted, and attempting to give his productions a modern polish, has incalculably diminished their value. Previously to the appearance of the volumes before us, we had heard, among other table-talk, that the scene of the new novel was to be laid in the Orkney islands; and we anticipated high gratification in following the great luminary of the north through scenes, and amid characters, suited to his peculiar and splendid genius. The disappointment which we experienced was grievous, when we discovered that ‘the author of Waverley and Quentin Durward’ had descended into the annalist of a Spa! That the master of chivalry and romance should have consented to become the chronicler of a supposed modern watering-place, and of common love-scenes, drinking bouts, and tea-sipping parties, affected us somewhat in the same manner as a picture of the Black Prince might be supposed to do, if he were arrayed in a morning-coat manufactured by Stultz, and in a pair of Hoby’s neatest jockey-boots. What sympathies can the writer, whose imagination has embodied the characters of Flora M’Ivor, of Rebecca, of Minna Troil, and of Jeannie Deans, have in common with the rattles, the prudes, and the precieuses of a Spa; and how can the pen which has narrated the exploits of Cœur de Lion, of the valiant Templar, and of Montrose, condescend to detail the gallantries of mincing petit-maitres, and the adventures of dissolute gamesters? Yet such is the case. ‘The author of Waverley’ has come down from the lofty and honourable eminence to which his genius had raised him, and has mingled with the crowd of nameless novelists who edify the public with ‘Six Weeks at Long’s’ and ‘A Fortnight at Brighton.’ He has forsaken his knights and warriors for horse-racers and bullies, his Covenanters for card-playing curates, and his high-minded heroines for blue-stocking ladies. Tired of ‘mounting barbed steeds,’ he is determined to try how nimbly he can ‘caper in a lady’s chamber.’

The attempt was rash, and the result is natural. The production before us must be regarded as a failure, when we [61/62] remember the former efforts of its author; and we cannot refrain from comparing it with other novels of the same class, of which we possess so many excellent specimens. In the representation of every-day life, and of domestic scenes, the Scotch writer has to contend with numerous and powerful adversaries; and in the fidelity and accurate truth of these delineations, we do not hesitate to say that he must yield to Madame D’Arblay, to Miss Edgeworth, and to Miss Austin [sic]. He does not, nor can it be expected that he should, possess the nice and discriminating tact which distinguishes the writings of those ladies; and the sketches of all his characters at ‘the Well’ are drawn rather in the broad style of a caricaturist, than with the accuracy of a portrait-painter. It was a fatal error when ‘the child of the Mist’ deserted his wild vallies, and seated himself in the public room at ‘the Fox hotel.’

Independently of such an unfortunate choice of subject, we have other and heavy objections to this work. The plot is worse, if possible, than that of any of the former novels by the same author. The idea of it appears to have been suggested by Otway’s well known tragedy of The Orphan; for, as in the drama, two brothers are candidates for the affections of the heroine, and the one clandestinely personates the other. On this foundation, the novelist has endeavored to build a story which, in our apprehension, is very deficient in coherence and probability. We are willing, in reading the wild fictions of the ‘Arabian Nights,’ to surrender our logical powers and to subdue the revolts of our reasoning faculties; so as to entertain no more doubt that the prince was borne through the air in a chariot drawn by hippogriffs, than that Sir Charles Grandison was hebdomadally dragged to church in the family-carriage by six black long-tailed horses. Yet, when we are called to listen to a tale, the scene of which is no farther removed than the border of Scotland, and the time no more distant than the present century, we must be excused if we demur a little on the question of probabilities. We cannot patiently stand by, and witness a number of good people remorselessly rendered miserable by a despotic novelist, who assigns no cause adequate to the production of so much wretchedness. A writer of fiction is bound so to combine the circumstances of his narrative, that his hero and heroine shall not be involved in perplexity without some sufficient causa causans, so as at once to satisfy the reader that he is not cheated out of his commiseration and sympathy; and, though this neglect to assign a probable cause for the griefs and distresses of their personages be an error common both to [62/63] novelists and dramatists, it is not the less open to reprehension. In the present tale, we are unable, after a patient consideration of the subject, to discover a single valid reason for the misery which the hero and heroine endure. Lord Etherington, personating his half-brother Francis Tyrrel, is married to the heroine Clara Mowbray, but the deception is discovered immediately after the marriage-ceremony has passed. Now the supposed author of ‘Waverley’ is too good a lawyer not to be aware that such a marriage is clearly invalid; and if any of our readers should entertain a doubt on that subject, we beg to refer them to the decision of ‘a late learned Chief Justice:’ who, in a case in which a man had been married under an assumed name, for which reason the validity of the marriage had been questioned, made use of the following words; ‘If this name had been assumed for the purpose of fraud, in order to enable the party to contract marriage, and to conceal himself from the party to whom he was about to be married, that would have been a fraud on the marriage-act; and the rights of marriage and the court would not have given effect to any such corrupt purpose.’ What, then, we ask, was there to prevent the hero and heroine from marrying and being happy as soon as they pleased? What but that truculent disposition common to all novelists, who delight in the miseries of the beings whom they have created.

Even supposing the marriage of Clara to have been valid, the plot of the novel is still exceedingly imperfect. If valid, it was clearly a work of supererogation in his Lordship to trouble the lady with his subsequent addresses as a lover, when he was intitled to exercise over her the authority of a husband; if, on the contrary, it was invalid, it was no impediment, as we have shewn, to the union of Tyrrel and Clara. Thus, quâcunque viâ datâ, the plot is bad, and the writer is placed between the horns of a dilemma.— We have, however, heard it suggested, and we admit that some passages favor the supposition, that there were other causes from which the heroine’s griefs arose; and that certain ‘love-passages’ had occurred in the history of her youthful attachment to Tyrrel, the remembrance of which preying on her heart had partially affected her intellects. These suspicions are founded chiefly on the heroine’s own confession to her brother, which certainly appears to be an admission of her guilt. Yet, granting that fact, which still appears exceedingly problematical, it ought only to have operated as an additional reason for the marriage of Tyrrel with his early love. In every view of the case, therefore, the plot is improbable and unsatisfactory. [63/64]

We must now make a few observations on the characters who figure at St. Ronan’s Well, and in whom we have discovered little novelty. The warmest admirers (among whom we desire to be classed) of ‘the author of Waverley’ have long ceased to expect any thing heroic in his heroes or his heroines. Francis Tyrrel, like many of his predecessors, is a very respectable personage, and walks through his part with a dignity befitting his station, but is miserably ‘left in the lurch’ at the end. Of the heroine we see and hear not much; and the interest excited for her is the result merely of the painful circumstances in which she is placed. Her character is slight, undefined, and, in the language of an artist, sketchy. Indeed, in most of the Waverley novels, the author bestows the greatest pains on some of the inferior personages. So in the present tale, the character of Mr. Peregrine Scroggie Touchwood is the most labored and most successful effort in the whole work. He is an amusing compound of the traveller, the gourmand, the meddler, and the philanthropist, and is certainly a new imagination of the author’s brain. The remaining characters, with little exception, are modifications of the same elements which are scattered through the former novels. Captain Hector M‘Turk (who, by the way, changes his name in the course of the work, possessing in the earlier part of it the appellation of Mungo,) is a species of Captain Dalgetty, with the monomachic qualities of Sir Lucius O’Trigger superadded. In the Rev. Josiah Cargill, the minister of St. Ronan’s, we clearly discover our much-respected friend Dominie Sampson, (and something of our still older friend Parson Adams,) although, for some reasons of conveniency probably known to the author, he appears at present under an alias. Mrs. Margaret Dods, the landlady of the Cleickum inn, has some new points about her, and is on the whole a well drawn and amusing character: yet still she makes us recollect old Meg Merrilies. Mowbray, who is intended to be a Scotch sportsman and buck, has few distinguishing national characteristics, and would adorn with equal grace any county in England, Ireland, or Wales. Of the rest of the characters we have little to say:—they are the usual furniture of a Spa; —Lady Penelope Penfeather, an affected precieuse; Lady Binks, a sullen beauty; her husband Sir Bingo, a booby baronet; Mr. Winterblossom, a grey-headed beau; and Mr. Chatterley, a polite young divine. We must not, however, omit Lord Etherington, the anti-hero of the novel, who is a sort of Lovelace in his worst phasis. He is a polite and accomplished villain, who commits all kinds of enormities with a grace and nonchalance peculiarly his own, until he is shot [64/65] through the heart (if he had one) by Mowbray. Captain Jekyl is his Belford; and his Lordship’s letters to him, which are somewhat unskilfully made the vehicles for detailing a great part of the plot, very much resemble those of Lovelace to his friend.

It now remains for us to present our readers with a few extracts. The following is the first interview between Mr. Touchwood and the minister of St. Ronan’s, at the Manse:

‘Amid a heap of books and other literary lumber, which had accumulated around him, sat, in his well-worn leathern elbow chair, the learned minister of St. Ronan’s; a thin, spare man, beyond the middle age, of a dark complexion, but with eyes which, though now obscured and vacant, had been once bright, soft, and expressive, and whose features seemed interesting, the rather that, notwithstanding the carelessness of his dress, he was in the habit of performing his ablutions with eastern precision; for he had forgot neatness but not cleanliness. His hair might have appeared much more disorderly, had it not been thinned by time, and disposed chiefly around the sides of his countenance and the back part of his head; black stockings, ungartered, marked his professional dress, and his feet were thrust into the old slip-shod shoes, which served him instead of slippers. The rest of his garments, so far as visible, consisted in a plaid nightgown wrapt in long folds round his stooping and emaciated length of body, and reaching down to the slippers aforesaid. He was so intently engaged in studying the book before him, a folio of no ordinary bulk, that he totally disregarded the noise which Mr. Touchwood made in entering the room, as well as the coughs and hems with which he thought proper to announce his presence.

‘No notice being taken of these inarticulate signals, Mr. Touchwood, however great an enemy he was to ceremony, saw the necessity of introducing his business, as an apology for his intrusion.

‘ “Hem! Sir—Ha, hem!—you see before you a person in some distress for want of society, who has taken the liberty to call on you as a good pastor, who may be, in Christian charity, willing to afford him a little of your company, since he is tired of his own.”

‘Of this speech Mr. Cargill only understood the words “distress” and “charity,” sounds with which he was well acquainted, and which never failed to produce some effect on him. He looked at his visitor with lack-lustre eye, and, without correcting the first opinion which he had formed, although the stranger’s plump and sturdy frame, as well as his nicely-brushed coat, glancing cane, and, above all, his upright and self-satisfied manner, resembled in no respect the dress, form, or bearing of a mendicant, he quietly thrust a shilling into his hand, and relapsed into the studious contemplation which the entrance of Mr. Touchwood had interrupted. [65/66]

‘ “Upon my word, my good Sir,” said his visitor, surprised at a degree of absence of mind which he could hardly have conceived possible, “you have entirely mistaken my object.”

‘ “I am sorry my mite is insufficient, my friend,” said the clergyman, without again raising his eyes, “it is all I have at present to bestow.”

‘ “If you will have the kindness to look up for a moment, my good Sir,” said the traveller, “you may possibly perceive that you labour under a considerable mistake.”

‘Mr. Cargill raised his head, recalled his attention, and, seeing that he had a well-dressed, respectable looking person before him, he exclaimed in much confusion, “Ha!—yes —on my word, I was so immersed in my book—I believe —I think I have the pleasure to see my worthy friend, Mr. Lavender?”

‘ “No such thing, Mr, Cargill,” replied Mr. Touchwood. “I will save you the trouble of trying to recollect me—you never saw me before,—But do not let me disturb your studies—I am in no hurry, and my business can wait your leisure.”

‘ “I am much obliged,” said Mr. Cargill; “have the goodness to take a chair, if you can find one—I have a train of thought to recover—a slight calculation to finish—and then I am at your command.”

‘ “The visitor found among the broken furniture, not without difficulty, a seat strong enough to support his weight, and sat down, resting upon his cane, and looking attentively at his host, who very soon became totally insensible of his presence. A long pause of total silence ensued, only disturbed by the rustling leaves of the folio from which Mr. Cargill seemed to be making extracts, and now and then by a little exclamation of surprise and impatience, when he dipped his pen, as happened once or twice, into his snuff-box, instead of the ink-standish which stood beside it. At length, just as Mr. Touchwood began to think the scene as tedious as it was singular, the abstracted student raised his head, and spoke, as if in soliloquy, “From Acon, Accor, or St. John D’Acre, to Jerusalem, how far?”

‘ “Twenty-three miles north-north-west,” answered his visitor, without hesitation.

‘Mr. Cargill expressed no more surprise than if he had found the distance on the map, and, indeed, was not probably aware of the medium through which his question had been solved; and it was the tenor of the answer alone which he attended to in his reply.— “Twenty-three miles—Ingulphus,” laying his hand on the volume, “and Jeffrey Winesauf do not agree in this.”

‘ “They may both be d—d, then, for blockheads,” answered the traveller.

‘ “You might have contradicted their authority without using such an expression,” said the divine gravely.

“I cry you mercy, Doctor,” said Mr. Touchwood; “but would you compare these parchment fellows with me, that have made my legs my compasses over great part of the inhabited world?” [66/67]

‘ “You have been in Palestine, then?” said Mr. Cargill, drawing himself upright in his chair, and speaking with eagerness an with interest.

‘ “You may swear that, Doctor, and at Acre too. Why, I was there the month after Boney had found it too hard a nut to crack,—I dined with Sir Sydney’s chum, old Djezzar Pacha, and an excellent dinner we had, but for a dessert of noses and ears brought on after the last remove, which spoiled my digestion. Old Djezzar thought it so good a joke, that you hardly saw a man in Acre whose face was not as flat as the palm of my hand.—Gad, I respect my olfactory organ, and set off the next morning as fast as the most cursed hard-trotting dromedary that ever fell to poor pilgrim’s lot could contrive to tramp.”

‘ “If you have really been in the Holy Land, Sir,” said Mr. Cargill, whom the reckless gaiety of Mr. Touchwood’s manner rendered somewhat suspicious of a trick, “you will be able materially to enlighten me on the subject of the Crusades.”

‘ “They happened before my time, Doctor,” replied the traveller.

‘ “You are to understand that my curiosity refers to the geography of the countries where these events took place,” answered Mr. Cargill.

‘ “O! as to that matter, you are lighted on your feet,” said Mr. Touchwood; “for the time present I can fit. Turk, Arab, Copt, and Druse, I know every one of them, and can make you as well acquainted with them as myself. Without stirring a step beyond your threshold, you shall know Syria as well as I do. ––But one good turn deserves another —in that case, you must have the goodness to dine with me.”

‘ “I go seldom abroad, Sir,” said the minister with a good deal of hesitation, for his habits of solitude and seclusion could not be entirely overcome, even by the expectation raised by the traveller’s discourse; “yet I cannot deny myself the pleasure of waiting on a gentleman possessed of so much experience.”

‘ “Well, then,” said Mr. Touchwood, “three be the hour— I never dine later, and always to a minute—and the place, the Cleikum inn, up the way; where Mrs. Dods is at this moment busy in making ready such a dinner as your learning has seldom seen, Doctor, for I brought the receipts from the four different quarters of the globe.” ’

We shall next exhibit Mr. Touchwood in a different rencontre; viz. with Captain Jekyl, who has begun his functions as Lord Etherington’s friend, in endeavoring to over-reach Tyrrel, and whom Mr. Touchwood smokes and is resolved to circumvent. He overtakes the Captain on his return from Tyrrel’s lodgings.

‘ “A beautiful morning, Sir, for such a foggy d—d climate as this!” said a voice close by Jekyl’s ear, which made him at once start out of his contemplation. He turned half round, and beside him stood our honest friend Touchwood, his throat muffled in his [67/68] large Indian handkerchief, huge gouty shoes thrust upon his feet, his bob-wig well powdered, and his gold-headed cane in his hand carried upright as a serjeant’s halbert. One glance of contemptuous survey entitled Jekyl, according to his modish ideas, to rank the old gentleman as a regular-built Quiz, and to treat him as gentlemen of his Majesty’s Guards think themselves entitled to use every unfashionable variety of the human species. A slight inclination of a bow, and a very cold “You have the advantage of me, Sir,” dropped as it were unconsciously from his tongue, were meant to repress the old gentleman’s advances, and moderate his ambition to be “hail fellow well met” with his betters. But Mr. Touchwood was callous to the intended rebuke; he had lived too much at large upon the world, and was far too confident of his own merits to take a repulse easily, or to permit his modesty to interfere with any purpose which he had formed.

‘ “Advantage of you, Sir?” he replied; “I have lived too long in the world not to keep all the advantages I have, and get all I can—and I reckon it one that I have overtaken you, and shall have the pleasure of your company to the Well.”

‘ “I should but interrupt your worthier meditations, Sir,” said the other; “besides, I am a modest young man, and think myself fit for no better company than my own—moreover, I walk slow— very slow.—Good morning to you, Mr. A— A— I believe my treacherous memory has let slip your name, Sir.”

‘ “My name!—Why, your memory must have been like Pat Murtough’s greyhound, that let the hare go before he caught it. You never heard my name in your life. Touchwood is my name. What d’ye think of it, now you know it?”

‘ “I am really no connoisseur in surnames,” answered Jekyl; “and it is quite the same to me whether you call yourself Touchwood or Touchstone. Don’t let me keep you from walking on, Sir. You will find breakfast far advanced at the Well, Sir, and your walk has probably given you an appetite.”

‘ “Which will serve me to luncheon-time, I promise you,” said Touchwood; “I always drink my coffee so soon as my feet are in my pabouches—it’s the way all over the East. Never trust my breakfast to their scalding milk and water at the Well, I assure you; and for walking slow, I have had a touch of the gout.”

‘ “Have you?” said Jekyl; “I am sorry for that; because, if you have no mind to breakfast, I have—and so, Mr. Touchstone, good morrow to you.”

‘But, although the young soldier went off at double quick time, his pertinacious attendant kept close by his side, displaying an activity which seemed inconsistent with his make and his years, and talking away the whole time, so as to shew that his lungs were not in the least degree incommoded by the unusual rapidity of motion.

‘ “Nay, young gentleman, if you are for a good smart walk, I am for you, and the gout may be d—d. You are a lucky fellow, to have youth on your side; but yet, so far as between the Aultoun and the Well, I think I could walk you for your sum, barring run-[68/69]ing—all heel and toe—equal weight, and I would match Barclay himself for a mile.”

‘ “Upon my word, you are a gay old gentleman!” said Jekyl, relaxing his pace; “and if we must be fellow-travellers, though I can see no great occasion for it, I must even shorten sail for you.”

‘So saying, and as if another means of deliverance had occurred to him, he slackened his pace, took out an ivory case of segars, and, lighting one with his briquet, said, while he walked on, and bestowed as much of its fragrance as he could upon the face of his intrusive companion, “Vergeben sie mein herr—ich bin erzogen in kaiserlicher dienst—muss rauchen em kleine wenig.”

‘ “Rauchen sie immer fort,” said Touchwood, producing a huge meerschaum, which, suspended by a chain from his neck, lurked in the bosom of his coat, “habe auch mein pfeichen—Sehen sie den lieben topf;” and he began to return the smoke, if not the fire, of his companion, in full volumes, and with interest.

‘ “The devil take the twaddle,” said Jekyl to himself, “he is too old and too fat to be treated after the manner of Professor Jackson; and, on my life, I cannot tell what to make of him.—He is a residenter too—I must tip him the cold shoulder, or he will be pestering me eternally.”

‘Accordingly, he walked on, sucking his segar, and apparently in as abstracted a mood as Mr. Cargill himself, without paying the least attention to Touchwood, who, nevertheless, continued talking, as if he had been addressing the most attentive listener in Scotland, whether it were the favourite nephew of a cross, old, rich bachelor, or the aid-de-camp of some old, rusty, firelock of a General, who tells stories of the American war.

‘ “And so, Sir, I can put up with any companion at a pinch, for I have travelled in all sort of ways, from a caravan down to a carrier’s cart; but the best society is the best every where; and I am happy I have fallen in with a gentleman who suits me so well as you.—That grave, steady attention reminds me of Elfi Bey—you might talk to him in English, or any thing he understood least of—you might have read Aristotle to Elfi, and not a muscle would he stir—give him his pipe, and he would sit on his cushion as if he took in every word of what you said.”

‘Captain Jekyl threw away the remnant of his segar, with a little movement of pettishness, and began to whistle an opera-air.

‘ “There again, now—That is just so like the Marquis, another dear friend of mine, that whistles all the time you talk to him.—He says he learned it in the reign of terror, when a man was glad to whistle to show his throat was whole.—And, talking of great folks, what do you think of this affair between Lord Etherington and his brother, or cousin, as some folks call him?”

‘Jekyl absolutely started at the question; a degree of emotion, which, had it been witnessed by any of his fashionable friends, would for ever have ruined his pretensions to rank in their first order.

‘ “What affair?” he asked, so soon as he could command a certain degree of composure. [69/70]

‘ “Why, you know the news surely? Francis Tyrrel, whom all the company voted a coward the other day, turns out as brave a fellow as any of us; for, instead of having run away to avoid having his own throat cut by Sir Bingo Binks, he was at the very moment engaged in a gallant attempt to murder his elder brother, or his more lawful brother, or his cousin, or some such near relation.”

‘ “I believe you are misinformed, Sir,” said Jekyl dryly, and then resumed, as deftly as he could, his proper character of a pococurante.

‘ “I am told,” continued Touchwood, “one Jekyl acted as a second to them both on the occasion —a proper fellow, Sir,—one of those fine gentlemen whom we pay for polishing the pavement in Bond Street, and looking at a thick shoe and a pair of worsted stockings, as if the wearer were none of their paymasters. However, I believe the Commander-in-chief is like to discard him when he hears what has happened.”

‘ “Sir!” said Jekyl, fiercely —then, recollecting the folly of being angry with an original of his companion’s description, he proceeded more coolly, “You are misinformed—Captain Jekyl knew nothing of any such matter as you refer to—you talk of a person you know nothing of—Captain Jekyl is—” (Here he stopped a little, scandalized, perhaps, at the very idea of vindicating himself to such a personage from such a charge.)

‘ “Ay, ay,” said the traveller, filling up the chasm in his own way, “he is not worth our talking of, certainly—but I believe he knew as much of the matter as either you or I do, for all that.”

‘ “Sir, this is either a very great mistake, or wilful impertinence. However absurd or intrusive you may be, I cannot allow you, either in ignorance or incivility, to use the name of Captain Jekyl with disrespect.—I am Captain Jekyl, Sir.”

‘ “Very like, very like,” said Touchwood, with the most provoking indifference; “I guessed as much before.”

‘ “Then, Sir, you may guess what is likely to follow, when a gentleman hears himself unwarrantably and unjustly slandered,” replied Captain Jekyl, surprized and provoked that his annunciation of name and rank seemed to be treated so lightly. “I advise you, Sir, not to proceed too far upon the immunity of your age and insignificance.”

‘ “I never presume farther than I have good reason to think necessary, Captain Jekyl,” answered Touchwood, with great composure. “I am too old, as you say, for any such idiotical business as a duel, which no nation I know of practises but our silly fools of Europe—and then, as for your switch, which you are grasping with so much dignity, that is totally out of the question. Look you, young gentleman; four-fifths of my life have been spent among men who do not set a man’s life at the value of a button on his collar—every man learns, in such cases, to protect himself as he can; and whoever strikes me must stand to the consequences. I have always a brace of bull-dogs about me, which put age and youth on a level.” [70/71]

‘So saying, he exhibited a very handsome, highly-finished, and richly mounted pair of pistols.

‘ “Catch me without my tools,” said he, significantly buttoning his coat over the arms, which were concealed in his side-pocket, ingeniously contrived for that purpose. “I see you do not know what to make of me,” he continued, in a familiar and confidential tone; “but, to tell you the truth, everybody that has meddled in this St. Ronan’s business is a little off the hooks—something of a tête exaltée, in plain words, a little crazy, or so; and I do not affect to be much wiser than other people.”

‘ “Sir,” said Jekyl, “your manners and discourse are so unprecedented, that I must ask your meaning plainly and decidedly—Do you mean to insult me, or no?”

‘ “No insult at all, young gentleman —all fair meaning, and above board—I only wished to let you know what the world may say, that is all.”

‘ “Sir,” said Jekyl, hastily, “the world may tell what lies it pleases; but I was not present at the rencontre between Etherington and Mr. Tyrrel—I was some hundred miles off.”

‘ “There now,” said Touchwood, “there was a rencontre between them—the very thing I wanted to know.”

‘ “Sir,” said Jekyl, aware too late that, in his haste to vindicate himself, he had committed his friend, “I desire you will found nothing on an expression hastily used to vindicate myself from a false aspersion—I only meant to say, if there was an affair such as you talk of, I knew nothing of it.”

‘ “Never mind—never mind—I shall make no bad use of what I have learned,” said Touchwood; “were you to eat your words with the best fish-sauce, (and that is Burgess’s,) I have got all the information from them I wanted.” ’

The interviews between Mowbray and his sister display much simplicity and pathos. In the following scene, Mowbray, impelled by the necessities of a gambler, seeks Clara for the purpose of borrowing the little fortune of which she is mistress:

‘When Mowbray had left his dangerous adviser, in order to steer the course which his agent had indicated, without offering to recommend it, he went to the little parlour which his sister was wont to term her own, and in which she spent great part of her time. It was fitted up with a sort of fanciful neatness; and in its perfect arrangement and good order, formed a strong contrast to the other apartments of the old and neglected mansion-house. A number of little articles lay on the work-table, indicating the elegant, and, at the same time, the unsettled turn of the inhabitant’s mind. There were unfinished drawings, blotted music, needle-work of various kinds, and many other little female tasks, all undertaken with zeal, and so far prosecuted with art and elegance, but all flung aside before any of them was completed.

‘Clara herself sat upon a little low couch by the window, reading, or at least turning over the leaves of a book, in which [71/72] she seemed to read. But instantly starting up when she saw her brother, she ran towards him with the most cordial cheerfulness.

‘ “Welcome, welcome, my dear John; this is very kind of you to come to visit your recluse sister. I have been trying to nail my eyes and my understanding to a stupid book here, because they say too much thought is not quite good for me. But, either the man’s dulness, or my want of the power of attending, makes my eyes pass over the page, just as one seems to read in a dream, without being able to comprehend one word of the matter. You shall talk to me, and that will do better. What can I give you to shew that you are welcome? I am afraid tea is all I have to offer, and that you set too little store by.”

‘ “I shall be glad of a cup at present,” said Mowbray, “for I wish to speak with you.”

‘ “Then Jessy shall make it ready instantly,” said Miss Mowbray, ringing, and giving orders to her waiting-maid —“but you must not be ungrateful, John, and plague me with any of the ceremonial for your fête—‘sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’ I will attend and play my part as prettily as you can desire; but to think of it beforehand would make both my head and heart ache; and so I beg you will spare me on the subject.”

‘ “Why, you wild kitten,” said Mowbray, “you turn every day more shy of human communication —we shall have you take the woods, one day, and become as savage as the Princess Caraboo. But I will plague you about nothing if I can help it. If matters go not smooth on the great day, they must e’en blame the dull thick head that had no fair lady to help him in his need. But, Clara, I had something more material to say to you—something indeed of the last importance.”

‘ “What is it?” said Clara, in a tone of voice approaching to a scream—“In the name of God, what is it? You know not how you terrify me.”

‘ “Nay, you start at a shadow, Clara, answered her brother. “It is no such uncommon matter, neither —good faith, it is the most common distress in the world, so far as I know the world—I am sorely pinched for money.”

‘ “Is that all?” replied Clara, in a tone which seemed to her brother as much to under-rate the difficulty, when it was explained, as her fears had exaggerated it before she heard its nature.

‘ “Is that all? Indeed it is all, and comprehends a great deal of vexation. I shall be hard run unless I can get a certain sum of money— and I must e’en ask you if you can help me?”

‘ “Help you? Yes, with all my heart —but you know my purse is a light one—more than half of my last dividend is in it, however, and I am sure, John, I will be happy if it can serve you—especially as that will at least shew that your wants are but small ones.”

‘ “Alas, Clara, if you would help me, you must draw the neck of the goose which lays the golden egg—you must lend me the whole stock.” [72/73]

‘ “And why not, John, if it will do you a kindness? Are you not my natural guardian? Are you not a kind one? And is not my little fortune entirely at your disposal? You will, I am sure, do all for the best.”

‘ “I fear I may not,” said Mowbray, starting from her, and more distressed by her sudden and unsuspicious compliance, than he would have been by difficulties, or remonstrance. In the latter case, he would have stifled the pangs of conscience amid the manœuvres which he must have resorted to for obtaining her acquiescence. As matters stood, there was all the difference that there is between slaughtering a tame and unresisting animal, and pursuing wild game, until the animation of the sportsman’s exertions overcomes the internal sense of his own cruelty. The same idea occurred to Mowbray himself.

‘ “By G—,” he said, “this is like shooting the bird sitting.—Clara,” he added, “I fear this money will scarce be employed as you would wish.”

‘ “Employ it as you yourself please, my dearest brother, and I will believe it is all for the best.”

‘ “Nay, I am doing for the best,” he replied; “at least, I am doing what must be done, for I see no other way through it—so all you have to do is to copy this paper, and bid adieu to Bank-dividends—for a little while at least. I trust soon to double this little matter for you, if Fortune will but stand my friend.”

‘ “Do not trust to Fortune, John,” said Clara, smiling, though with an expression of deep melancholy. “Alas! she has never been a friend to our family—not at least for many a day.”

‘ “She favours the bold, say my old grammatical exercises,” answered her brother, “and I must trust her, were she as changeable as a weathercock.—And yet—if she should jilt me!—What will you do—what will you say, Clara, if I am unable, contrary to my hope, trust, and expectation, to repay you this money within a short time?”

‘ “Do?” answered Clara; “I must do without it, you know; and for saying, I will not say a word.”

‘ “True,” replied Mowbray, “but your little expenses—your charities—your halt and blind—your round of paupers?”

‘ “Well, I can manage all that too. Look you here, John, how many half-worked trifles there are. The needle or the pencil is the resource of all distressed heroines, you know; and I promise you, though I have been a little idle and unsettled of late, yet, when I do set about it, no Emmeline or Ethelinde of them all ever sent such loads of trumpery to market as I shall, or made such wealth as I will do. I dare say Lady Penelope, and all the gentry at the Well, will purchase, and will raffle, and do all sorts of things to encourage the pensive performer. I will send them such lots of landscapes with sap-green trees, and mazareen-blue rivers, and portraits that will terrify the originals themselves —and handkerchiefs and turbans, with needlework scallopped exactly [73/74] like the walks on the Belvidere—why, I shall become a little fortune in the first season.”

‘ “No, Clara,” said John, gravely, for a virtuous resolution had gained the upper hand in his bosom, while his sister ran on in this manner,—“we will do something better than all this. If this kind help of yours does not fetch me through, I am determined I will cut the whole concern. It is but standing a laugh or two, and hearing a gay fellow say, Damme, Jack, are ye turned clod-hopper at last?—that is the worst. Dogs, horses, and all, shall go to the hammer; we will keep nothing but your pony, and I will trust to a pair of excellent legs. There is enough left of the old acres to keep us in the way you like best, and that I will learn to like. I will work in the garden, and work in the forest, mark my own trees, and cut them myself, keep my own accounts, and send Saunders Micklewham to the devil.”

‘ “That last is the best resolution of all, John,” said Clara; “and if such a day should come round, I would be the happiest of living creatures—I would not have a grief left in the world—if I had, you should never see or hear of it— it should lie here,” she said, pressing her hand on her bosom, “buried as deep as a funereal urn in a cold sepulchre. Oh! could we not begin such a life to-morrow? If it is absolutely necessary that this trifle of money should be got rid of first, throw it into the river, and think you have lost it amongst gamblers and horsejockies.”

‘Clara’s eyes, which she fondly fixed on her brother’s face, glowed through the tears which her enthusiasm called into them, while she thus addressed him. Mowbray, on his part, kept his looks fixed on the ground, with a flush on his cheek, that expressed at once false pride and real shame.

‘At length he looked up:—“My dear girl,” he said, “how foolishly you talk, and how foolishly I, that have twenty things to do, stand here listening to you! All will go smooth on my plan—if it should not, we have yours in reserve, and I swear to you I will adopt it. The trifle which this letter of yours enables me to command, may have luck in it, and we must not throw up the cards while we have a chance of the game.—Were I to cut from this moment, these few hundreds would make us little better or little worse—so you see we have two strings to our bow. Luck is sometimes against me, that is true—but upon true principle, and playing on the square, I can manage the best of them, or my name is not Mowbray. Adieu, my dearest Clara.” So saying, he kissed her cheek with a more than usual degree of affection.’

We must not neglect to give the author’s curious character of the Scotch, which could scarcely be supposed to proceed from the pen of a compatriot.

‘ “Know, then, he is that most incongruous of all monsters—a Scotch buck—how far from being buck of the season you may easily judge. Every point of national character is opposed [74/75] to the pretensions of this luckless race, when they attempt to take on them a personage which is assumed with so much facility by their brethren of the Isle of Saints. They are a shrewd people, indeed, but so destitute of ease, grace, and pliability of manners, and insinuation of address, that they eternally seem to suffer actual misery in their attempts to look gay and careless. Then their pride heads them back at one turn, their poverty at another, their pedantry at a third, their mauvaise honte at a fourth; and with so many obstacles to make them bolt off the course, it is positively impossible they should win the plate. No, Harry, it is the grave folks that have to fear a Caledonian invasion—they will make no conquests in the world of fashion. Excellent bankers they may be, for they are eternally calculating how to add interest to principal;—good soldiers; for they are, if not such heroes as they would he thought, as brave, I suppose, as their neighbours, and much more amenable to discipline;—lawyers they are born; indeed every country gentleman is bred one, and their patient and crafty disposition enables them, in other lines, to submit to hardships which others could not bear, and avail themselves of advantages which others would let pass under their noses unavailingly. But assuredly Heaven did not form the Caledonian for the gay world; and his efforts at ease, grace, and gaiety, resemble only the clumsy gambols of the ass in the fable.” ’

This writer seems to have discarded his former custom of interspersing pieces of beautiful poetry in his tales: but he does not appear inclined to leave off writing the tales altogether, for another is promised at the end of this, to be called ‘An Account of the Siege of Ptolemais, being a Specimen of the Author’s General History of the Crusades; by the Rev. Josiah Cargill.’

Notes: Format: 3 vols Post 8vo; price 1l. 11s. 6d. Boards. Publisher: Constable & Co (Edinburgh) and Hurst & Co (London).

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