British Fiction, 18001829

EDGEWORTH, Maria. Tales of Fashionable Life (1809)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 3rd ser. 18 (Oct 1809): 181–91.

The design and contents of these amusing volumes, cannot be better explained by us, than in the language of the author’s venerable father, whose preface we shall therefore transcribe:

‘My daughter asks me for a preface to the following volumes; from a pardonable weakness she calls upon me for parental protection; but, in fact, the public judges of every work, not from the sex, but from the merit of the author.

‘What we feel, and see, and hear, and read, affects our conduct from the moment when we cease to think. It has, therefore, been my daughter’s aim to promote, by all her writings, the progress of education, from the cradle to the grave.

‘Miss Edgeworth’s former works consist of tales for children—of stories for young men and women—and of tales suited to that great mass which does not move in the circles of fashion. The present volumes are intended to point out some of those errors to which the higher classes of society are exposed. All [181/182] the parts of this series of moral fictions, bear upon the faults and excellencies of different ages and classes; and they have all arisen from that view of society, which we have laid before the public in more didactic works of education. In the “Parent’s Assistant,” in “Moral” and in “Popular Tales,” it was my daughter’s aim to exemplify the principles contained in “Practical Education.” In these volumes, and in others which are to follow, she endeavours to disseminate, in a familiar form, some of the ideas that are unfolded in “Essays on Professional Education.”

‘The first of these stories is called Ennui—The causes, curses, and cure of this disease are exemplified, I hope, in such a manner, as not to make the remedy worse than the disease. Thiebauld, tells us, that a prize essay was read to the academy of Berlin, which put all the judges to sleep. Almeria—gives a view of the consequences, which usually follow the substitution of the gifts of fortune in the place of merit; and it shews the meanness of those, who imitate manners, and haunt company, above their station in society. Difference of rank is a continual excitement to laudable emulation; but those, who consider the being admitted into circles of fashion as the summit of human bliss and elevation, will here find how grievously such frivolous ambition may be disappointed and chastised.

Madam de Fleury—points out some of the means, which may be employed by the rich for the real advantage of the poor. This story shews, that sowing gold does not always produce a golden harvest; but that knowledge and virtue, when early implanted in the human breast, seldom fail to make ample returns of prudence and felicity. The Dun—is intended as a lesson against the common folly of believing, that a debtor is able, by a few cant phrases, to alter the nature of right and wrong; we had once intended to give these books the title of “Fashionable Tales,” alas! the Dun could never have found favour with fashionable readers.

Manœuvring—is a vice to which the little great have recourse, to shew their second-rate abilities. Intrigues of gallantry upon the continent frequently lead to political intrigue; amongst us, the attempts to introduce this improvement of our manners, have not yet been successful; but there are, however, some, who, in every thing they say or do, show a predilection for “left handed wisdom.” It is hoped, that the picture here represented of a manœuvrer, has not been made alluring. I may be permitted to add a word on the respect, with which Miss Edgeworth treats the public—their former indulgence has not made her careless or presuming. The dates subjoined to each of these stories shew, that they have not been hastily intruded upon the reader.’

The first of these tales, which occupies the whole of the first volume, is incomparably the best in the collection, dis-[182/183]playing all that insight into human nature, and all that vivacity of sentiment and expression which we have, on many former occasions, admired and praised in its fair author. Her hero, who relates the history of his own life and opinions, is represented as heir to an immense estate, accumulated during a long minority, which he has passed in all the idleness and folly too often allowed to young heirs of fortune and family, by the interest or carelessness of their guardians. The habits of his youth grow up with his advancing years. Soon after coming of age, he has exhausted, or thinks he has exhausted, all the enjoyments of life. To repair the injuries done to his property by extravagance, indolence, and want of arrangement, he ‘chuses a wife by the numeration table;’ this expedient, while it answers its immediate purpose, only serves to heighten his disease till it becomes insupportable, and he resolves to cut short the miseries of idleness by suicide. Some readers may think this feature a little caricatured, but those who do, know less of human nature than Miss Edgeworth, whose painting is, in this, only a copy of more than one original within the limits of our own observation. But, to proceed—an accident, which nearly deprives him of life, prevents him from executing his purpose, to deprive himself of it. The cause of this accident is his old Irish nurse, (a character of admirable truth and humour) who attends him with constant fidelity and watchfulness during a dangerous illness, the consequence of his adventure. On his recovery, he is informed that his lady has employed this interval of time in a different manner, and is about to elope with his toad-eater, Captain Crawley. Yielding to the impulses of his natural good disposition, he endeavours to reclaim her—but in vain. The fashionable catastrophe is completed, and followed by its usual consequence, a divorce. A little roused from his torpid lassitude by these transactions, Lord Glenthorn remembers a promise he had made during sickness, to his old nurse, and resolves on a visit to his estates in Ireland. In her account of this journey, the authoress of Castle-Rackrent finds herself, as may be expected, quite at home; for our own parts, we have hardly enjoyed any thing so much since we laughed with her at the extravagances of Sir Phelim and Sir Condy. For some time after his arrival at Glenthorn Castle, my lord’s Ennui is a great deal disturbed, in spite of himself, by the strange diversity of manners and characters which he meets with in his new residence, and which he describes with so much humour and spirit, that the reader is sensible he must have felt and enjoyed it. The Irish characters are, indeed, most admirably sketched, but not more so [183/184] than that of M’Leod, the steward, a cold, calculating, honest, sturdy Scotchman. His old enemy, nevertheless, invades him again, and he with difficulty persuades himself to change the scene, by mixing in a fashionable group of visitants at the house of the dowager Lady Ormsby, one of his nearest neighbours. Here he becomes acquainted with a certain Lady Geraldine, a most delightful character, full of good sense, of exquisite feeling, of whim and of humour. He begins, even, to suffer ignorantly from the inroads of a passion, which all the world will admit to be a terrible enemy to Ennui; but when he has almost worked himself up to an avowal of his new-born sentiments, he discovers an attachment between Lady Geraldine and a very deserving young man, whose prospects both of fortune and marriage are blasted by the honesty and independence of his spirit. To the happiness of these lovers, Lord Glenthorn has the generosity to sacrifice, not only his love, but his ennui; and he actually exerts himself so powerfully and successfully in the service of Mr. Devereux, as to obtain for him a situation which enables him to possess the object of his wishes. Another great advantage attendant on Lord Glenthorn’s visit at Ormsby Villa, is that, from the attentions both of Devereux and his mistress, who have penetration enough to discover and elicit the natural good sense which forms the basis of his character, he begins to think well of his own abilities, which is a great step towards the improvement of them.

The Ennui, which again begins to steal upon him after the marriage of Lady Geraldine, is shortly after diverted by circumstances which, whatever length of quotation they may lead us into, we cannot be so unjust as not to detail in Miss Edgeworth’s own words.

‘I remember to have heard, in some prologue to a tragedy, that the title of pity and of love, whilst it overwhelms, fertilizes the soul. That it may deposit the seeds of fertilization, I believe; but sometime [sic] must elapse before they germinate: on the first retiring of the tide, the prospect is barren and desolate. I was absolutely inert, and almost imbecile for a considerable time, after the extraordinary stimulus, by which I had been actuated, was withdrawn. I was in this state of apathy, when the rebellion broke out in Ireland; nor was I roused in the least by the first news of the disturbances; the intelligence, however, so much alarmed my English servants, that, with one accord, they left me; nothing could persuade them to remain longer in Ireland. The parting with my English gentleman affected my lethargic selfishness a little. His loss would have been grievous to such a helpless being as I was, had not his place been immediately supplied by that half-witted Irishman, Joe Kelly, who had ingra-[184/185]tiated himself with me by a mixture of drollery and simplicity, and by suffering himself to be continually my laughing stock, at the same time when, in imitation of Lady Geraldine, I thought it necessary to have a butt. I remember he first caught my notice by a strange answer to a very simple question. I asked, “What noise is that I hear?” “My lard,” said he, “it is only the singing in my ears; I have had it these six months.” This fellow, the son of a bricklayer, had originally been intended for a priest, and he went, as he told me, to the college of Maynooth, to study his humanities; but, unluckily, the charms of some Irish Heloise came between him and the altar. He lived in a cabin on love, till he was weary of his smoke-dried Heloise, and then thought it convanient to turn sarving-man, as he could play on the flute, and brush a coat remarkably well, which he larned at Maynooth, by brushing the coats of his superiors. Though he was willing to be laughed at, Joe Kelly could in his turn laugh; and he now ridiculed, without mercy, the pusillanimity of the English Renegadoes, as he called the servants who had just left my service. He assured me that, to his knowledge, there was no manner of danger, except a man prefarred being afraid of his own shadow, which some did, rather than have nothing to talk of or enter into resolutions about, with some of the spirited men in the chair.

‘Unwilling to be disturbed, I readily believed all that lulled me into security. I would not be at the trouble of reading the public papers, and when they were read to me, I did not credit any paragraph that militated against my own opinion. Nothing could awaken me. I remember, one day yawning on my sofa, repeating to Mr. M’Leod, who endeavoured to open my eyes to the situation of the country, “Pshaw, my dear sir; there is no danger, be assured;—none at all—not at all. For mercy’s sake, talk to me of something diverting, if you would keep me awake; time enough to think of these things, when they come nearer to us.”

‘Evils that were not immediately near me, had no power to affect my imagination. My tenantry had not yet been contaminated by the epidemic infection, which broke out soon after with such violence, as to threaten the total destruction of all civil order. I had lived in England—I was unacquainted with the causes and the progress of the disease, and I had no notion of my danger; all I knew was, that some houses had been robbed of arms, and that there was a set of desperate wretches called defenders; but I was annoyed only by the rout that was now made about them. Having been used to the regular course of justice, which prevailed in England, I was more shocked at the summary proceedings of my neighbours, than alarmed at the symptoms of insurrection. Whilst my mind was in this mood, I was provoked by the conduct of some of the violent party, which wounded my personal pride, and infringed upon my imagined consequence. My foster-brother’s forge was searched for pikes, his house ran-[185/186]sacked, bed and bellows, as possible hiding places, were cut open; by accident, or from private malice, he received a shot in his arm, and, though not the slightest cause of suspicion could be found against him, the party left him with a broken arm, and the consolation of not being sent to jail as a defender. Without making any allowance for the peculiar circumstances of my country, my indignation was excited in the extreme, by the injury done to my foster-brother; his sufferings, the tears of his mother, the taunts of Mr. now Captain Hardcastle, and the opposition made by his party, called forth all the faculties of my mind and body. The poor fellow, who was the subject of this contest, shewed the best disposition imaginable; he was excessively grateful to me for interesting myself to get him justice; but as soon as he found that parties ran high against me, he earnestly dissuaded me from persisting. “Let it drop an’t plase your honour; my lord, let it drop, and don’t be making of yourself inimies for the likes of me. Sure, what signifies my arm, and, before the next assizes, shan’t I be as well as ever, arm and all,” continued he, trying to appear to move the arm without pain. “And there’s the new bellows your honour has give me; it does my heart good to look at ‘em, and it won’t be long before I will be blowing them again as stout as ever; and so God bless your honour, my lord, and think no more about it—let it drop entirely, and don’t be bringing yourself into trouble.” “Ay, don’t be bringing yourself into trouble, dear,” added Elinor, who seem’d half-distracted between her feelings for her son, and her fears for me; “its a shame to think of the way they’ve treated Christy—but there’s no help now, and its best not to be making bad worse: and so, as Christy says, let the thing drop, jewel, and don’t be bringing yourself into trouble; you don’t know the nature of them people, dear—you are too innocent for them entirely, and myself does not know the mischief they might do yees.” “True for ye,” pursued Christy; “I would n’t for the best cow ever I see, that your honour ever larn’t a sentence about me or my arm; and it is not for such as we to be minding every little accident—so God lend you long life, and don’t be plaguing yourself to death; let it drop, and I’ll sleep well the night, which I did not do the week, for thinking of all the trouble you got, and would get, God presarve ye.” This generous fellow’s eloquence produced an effect directly contrary to what was intended; both my feelings and my pride were now warmly interested in his cause. I insisted upon his swearing examinations before Mr. M’Leod, who was a justice of the peace. Mr. M’Leod behaved with the utmost steadiness and impartiality; and in this trying moment, when “it was infamy to seem my friend,” he defended my conduct calmly, but resolutely, in private and in public, and gave his unequivocal testimony, in few but decided words, in favour of my injured tenant. I should have respected Mr. M’Leod more, if I had not attributed this conduct to his desire of being returned for one of my [186/187] boroughs at the approaching election. He endeavoured, with persevering goodness, to convince me of the reality of the danger of the country. My eyes were, with much difficulty, forced open so far as to perceive, that it was necessary to take an active part in public affairs to vindicate my loyalty, and to do away the prejudices that were entertained against me; nor did my incredulity, as to the magnitude of the peril, prevent me from making exertions essential to the defence of my own character, if not to that of the nation. How few act from purely patriotic and rational motives! At all events, I acted, and acted with energy; and certainly, at this period of my life, I felt no ennui. Party-spirit is an effectual cure for ennui; and, perhaps, it is for this reason, that so many are addicted to its intemperance. All my passions were roused, and my mind and body kept in continual activity. I was either galloping, or haranguing, or pacing, or hoping, or fighting, and so long as it was said that I could not sleep in my bed, I slept remarkably well, and never had so good an appetite as when I was in hourly danger of having nothing to eat. The rebels were up, and the rebels were down, and Lord Glenthorn’s spirited conduct in the chair, and indefatigable exertions in the field, were the theme of daily eulogium among my convivial companions, and immediate dependants. But, unfortunately, my sudden activity gained me no credit amongst the violent party of my neighbours, who persisted in their suspicions; and my reputation was now still more injured by the alternate charge of being a trimmer, or a traitor. Nay, I was further exposed to another danger, of which, from my ignorance of the country, I could not possibly be aware. The disaffected themselves, as I afterwards found, really believed that, as I had not begun by persecuting the poor, I must be a favourer of the rebels; and all that I did to bring the guilty to justice, they thought was only to give colour to the thing, till the proper moment should come for my declaring myself. Of this absurd and perverse mode of judging, I had not the slightest conception; and I only laughed when it was hinted to me. My treating the matter so lightly confirmed suspicion on both sides. At this time all objects were so magnified and distorted by the mist of prejudice, that no inexperienced eye could judge of their real proportions; neither party could believe the simple truth, that my hardiness to act arose from the habitual inertia of my mind and body.

‘Whilst prepossessions were thus strong, the time, the important time, in Ireland the most important season of the year, the assizes, arrived. My foster-brother’s cause, or as it was now generally called, Lord Glenthorn’s cause, came on to be tried. I spared no expense, I spared no exertions: I feed the ablest counsel; and, not content with leaving them to be instructed by my attorney, I explained the affair to them myself with indefatigable zeal. One of the lawyers, whom I had seen, or by whom I had been seen, in my former inert state of existence, at some water-[187/188]ing place in England, could not refrain from expressing his astonishment at my change of character: he could scarcely believe that I was the same Lord Glenthorn, of whose indolence and ennui he had formerly heard and seen so much. _ _ _ _ _ _ [sic] Alas! all my activity, all my energy on the present occasion, proved ineffectual. After a dreadful quantity of false swearing, the jury professed themselves satisfied; and, without retiring from the box, acquitted the persons who had assaulted my foster-brother. The mortification of this legal defeat was not all that I had to endure; the victorious party mobbed me, as I passed sometime afterwards through a neighbouring town, where Captain Hardcastle and his friends had been carousing. I was hooted, and pelted, and narrowly escaped with life. I, who but a few months ago, had imagined myself possessed of nearly despotic power; but opinions had changed, and, on opinion, almost all power is founded. No individual, unless he possesses uncommon eloquence, joined to personal intrepidity, can withstand the combination of numbers and the force of prejudice.

‘Such was the result of my first public exertions! yet I was now happier and better satisfied with myself than I had ever been before. I was not only conscious of having acted in a manly and generous manner; but the alarms of the rebels, and of the French, and of the loyalists; and the parading, and the galloping, and the quarrelling, and the continual agitation in which I was kept, whilst my character and life were at stake, relieved me effectually from the intolerable burden of ennui.’

Unfortunately for me,’ says Lord Glenthorn after this relation, ‘the rebellion in Ireland was soon quelled’ —Ennui resumes her empire. A second visit at Ormsby villa does any thing rather than dissipate it, as may be evident from the humorous account which he gives of a party formed for his entertainment to visit the lakes of Killarney.

‘I was assured, however, by Lady Ormsby, that I could not help being enchanted with the lake of Killarney. The party was arranged by this lady, who, having the preceding summer seen me captivated by Lady Geraldine, and pitying my disappointment, had formed the obliging design of restoring my spirits and marrying me to one of her near relations. She calculated that, as I had been charmed by Lady Geraldine’s vivacity, I must be enchanted with the fine spirits of Lady Jocunda Lawler. So far were the thoughts of marriage from my imagination, I was only sorry to find a young lady smuggled into our party, because I was afraid she would be troublesome: but I resolved to be quite passive upon all occasions where attentions to the fair sex are sometimes expected. My arm, or my hand, or my assistance in any manner, I was determined not to offer, the lounging indifference, which some fashionable young men affect towards ladies, I really felt; and besides nobody minds unmar-[188/189]ried ladies, this fashion was most convenient to my indolence. In my state of torpor I was not, however, long left in peace. Lady Jocunda was a high-bred romp, who made it a rule to say and do what she pleased. In a hundred different ways I was called upon to admire her charming spirits. I hated to be called upon to admire any thing. The rattling voice, loud laughter, flippant wit, and hoiden gaiety of Lady Jocunda, disgusted me beyond expression. A thousand times on the journey I wished myself quietly asleep in my own castle. Arrived at Killarney, such blowing of horns, such boating, such seeing of prospects, such prosing of guides, all telling us what to admire; then such exclamations, and such clambering, I was walked and talked till I was half dead. I wished the rocks, and the hanging woods, and the glens, and the water-falls, and the myrtles, and the upper and lower lakes, and the islands of Mucruss, and Mucruss abbey; and the purple mountain, and the eagle’s nest, and the grand Turk, and the lights and the shades, and the echoes, and above all, the Lady Jocunda, fairly at the devil. A nobleman in the neighbourhood had the politeness to invite us to see a stag-hunt upon the water. The account of this diversion, which I had met with in my guide to the lakes [1], promised well, I consented to stay another day: that day I really was revived by this spectacle, for it was new. The sublime and the beautiful had no charms for me: novelty is the only power that could waken me from my lethargy; perhaps there was in this spectacle something more than novelty. The Romans had recourse to shows of [189/190] wild beasts and gladiators to relieve their ennui. At all events, I was kept awake this whole morning, though I cannot say that I felt in such extasies as to be in any imminent danger of jumping out of the boat. Of our journey back to Killarney, I remember nothing but my being discomfited by Lady Jocunda’s practical jests and overpowering gaiety. When she addressed herself to me, my answers were as constrained and concise as possible; and as I was afterwards told, I seemed at the close of my reply to each interrogative of her Ladyship’s, to answer with Oden’s prophetess, “Now my weary lips I close, leave me, leave me, to repose:” This she never did till we parted, and at that moment I believe my satisfaction appeared so visible, that Lady Ormsby gave up all hopes of me. Arrived at my own castle, I threw myself on my bed, quite exhausted. I took three hours additional sleep every day for a week, to recruit my strength, and rest my nerves, after all that I had been made to suffer by this young lady’s prodigious animal spirits.’

The story now draws towards its denouement. Lord Glenthorn is advertised by an anonymous letter, of a design against his life, formed by a gang of united Irishmen; and, on enquiry, discovers that his valet, Joe Kelly, is one of the number. With admirable invention and presence of mind, and great personal courage, he contrives the means to take the traitors in their own snare. Among the rest (in consequence of a mistake, as is afterwards found) Owen, one of my Lord’s foster-brothers, and son to his nurse Elinor, is apprehended. The poor mother, in an agony of tears and lamentation, implores Lord Glenthorn to commit the criminal act of conniving his escape. He resists her entreaties with great difficulty, but positively.

‘ “It is impossible: my good Elinor, urge me no farther: ask any thing else, and it shall be granted, but this is impossible.” As I spoke, I endeavoured to raise her from the ground; but, with the sudden force of angry despair, she resisted. “No, you shall not raise me,” cried she. “Here let me lie, and break my heart with your cruelty!—’Tis a judgment upon me—it’s a judgment, and its fit I should feel it as I do. But you shall feel it too, in spite of your hard heart; yes, your heart is harder than the marble: you want the natural touch, you do: for your mother has knelt at your feet, and you have denied her prayer.” “My mother!” “And what was her prayer? To save the life of your brother.” ’

The truth is come out. Lord Glenthorn is the son of his nurse, who imposed on his reputed parents, by substituting him for the real infant committed to her care. The real infant was no other than the blacksmith Christy, mentioned [190/191] in one of the preceding extracts. This discovery rouses the truly noble nature of the suppositious lord: he makes restitution to the rightful heir, who, with true Irish gratitude and openness, would fain refuse, but can prevail upon his sense of justice no farther than to make him accept an annuity of 300l. out of his former estates. With this provision, he leaves Glenthorn castle, with a resolution to make his fortune by generous exertion. He repairs to London, enters of an inn at court, pursues his legal studies with unremitted earnestness, is called to the bar, returns to Ireland, and there very shortly distinguishes himself most honourably in his new profession. By great good luck, Miss Delamere, the next heir to the Glenthorn estates, should Christy die without issue, is niece to Lord Y——, the venerable friend and patron of our young lawyer. She is a lady possessed of every accomplishment which can render the marriage-state happy. Need we say more? She discovers equal accomplishments in the counsellor, and in process of time, the consent of her guardian, Lord Y. seals their union. Christy dies in a very few years, the victim of intemperance; and our hero again becomes the master of Glenthorn, without any of the ennui which had hitherto attached to the title.

The other tales, especially the three short ones contained in the second volume, we think of inferior merit to the first. However, ‘manœuvring,’ the subject of the third volume, possesses many admirable traits of character and manners. The length of quotation, in which we indulged ourselves, from our favourite story, prevents us from saying any more concerning the others, than, that it is impossible for Miss Edgeworth to write what it does not afford us high pleasure to read.

[1] ‘The stag is roused from the woods that skirt the Glenaa mountain, in which there are many of these animals that run wild; the bottoms and sides of the mountains are covered with woods, and the declivities are so long and steep, that no horse could either make his way to the bottom, or climb these impracticable hills, it is impossible to follow the hunt either by land or on horse-back. The spectator enjoys the diversion on the lake, where the cry of hounds, the harmony of the horn, resounding from the hills on every side, the universal shouts of joy along the valleys and mountains, which are often lined with foot people, who come in vast numbers to partake and assist at the diversion, re-echo from hill to hill, and give the highest glee and satisfaction, that the imagination can conceive possible to arise from the chase; and perhaps can no where be enjoyed with that spirit and sublime elevation of soul, that a thorough-bred sportsman feels at a stag-hunt at Killarney. There is, however, one imminent danger which awaits him, that in his raptures and extasies he may forget himself, and jump out of the boat: when hotly pursued and weary with the constant difficulty of making his way with his ramified antlers through the woods, the stag, terrified by the cry of his open-mouthed pursuers, almost at his heels, now looks towards the lake as his last resource—then pauses and looks upwards; but the hills are insurmountable, and the woods refuse to shelter him: the hounds roar with redoubled fury at the sight of their victim—he plunges into the lake. He escapes but for a few minutes from one merciless enemy to fall into the hands of another: the shouting boatmen surround their victim, throw cords round his majestic antlers—he is haltered and dragged to shore; while the big tears roll down his face, and his heaving sides and panting flanks speak his agonies; the keen-searching knife drinks his blood, and savages exult at his expiring groan.’

Notes: 2nd edn. Format: 3 vols 12mo (1809). Publisher: Johnson.

Critical Review, 4th ser. 2 (Aug 1812): 113–26.

After a longer interval of absence than was suited to the impatience of her friends and admirers, this most amusing and valuable writer has at last returned to them, bringing with her stores of entertainment for the summer months; and (if properly used), of instruction for the whole lives of themselves, their children, and grand-children. It may seem ungracious to receive her long-wished for visit with any thing but smiles of the most complacent and unbounded approbation. It is really so kind, so condescending of her to visit us at all. What then will be said of us, if we salute her, even on the threshold, with the voice and air, not of censure—no, that would be too abominable—but of qualified praise—of doubt—at least, of hesitation? Yet, so it is—the beauties of Miss Edgeworth’s style, the pure morality of her fables, her accurate delineation of character and manners, and her inimitably pleasing manner of conveying the soundest instruction, are the theme of every body’s discourse. The brightness of the sun has been celebrated by all the poets since the creation. We fancy, that we have discovered a few spots on his disk, and hasten to communicate our discovery, not from the love of cavilling, however that motive may by possibility be imputed to us—not merely from the love of novelty although it is certainly better (provided it can be done with justice), to say something new than to repeat what all the world has been saying for the last twenty years; [113/114] but principally at least, because we think, what we have to say, is in some degree important, with a view to that which constitutes the highest value of Miss Edgeworth’s writings, their moral tendency.

‘What! doubt the moral tendency of Miss Edgeworth’s tales?’ By no means. The only doubt we would express, is, whether the tendency of some of them might not have been more beneficial, had it been less moral, an explanation which, we see by the stare on the countenances of our readers, only increases the difficulty. Now we do not profess to have our favourite paradoxes ready to bring out upon every convenient occasion, nor are we very ambitious to be thought adepts in the art of (as some facetiously term it), ‘astonishing the natives.’ We really dislike paradox extremely, and take leave, therefore, to observe, that that which we are afraid of having mistaken for such, is really no paradox at all.

For a long time previous to, and during the early period of, that strange and unnatural disorder in the political and moral world, which is called the French revolution, we were deluged with sentiment, of the most absurd, and, at the same time, of the most pernicious sort. All the distinctions of vice and virtue, all the barriers of pure religion and sound philosophy, were threatened with being overturned by a flood of nonsense, which would have been merely ridiculous, had it not been extremely dangerous. By the blessing of Providence acting on the calm good sense which has always happily distinguished the great mass of the English people, the voice of ridicule at last prevailed (in this country at least), over the sickly brood of a debauched imagination, and sentiment was fain to confine the range of her operations to those parts of the continent which were best prepared to welcome her sovereignty. It is no new observation, however, (and, by the way, Miss Edgeworth is rather fond of hackneyed quotations),

‘Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt.’

False sentiment is a very bad thing—so bad, that (after the lamentable examples of its bad effects which have passed before our eyes), it is hardly safe to affirm, and yet we think it true, that no sentiment at all is still worse. Good sense is every thing; but good sense would never voluntarily banish sentiment altogether. That which it is fashionable to dignify with the appellation of good sense, is utterly at variance with many of the best feelings and passions of the human heart; and Miss Edgeworth, who [114/115] (we are well aware), is far from meaning to inculcate a cold and selfish philosophy, has, nevertheless in our opinion, complied a great deal too much, in many instances, with that which we will venture to call the prevailing doctrine of the present day.

The first tale in the present volumes, entitled Vivian, is (we conceive), more obnoxious to this censure than any of Miss Edgeworth’s former works though, perhaps, few are entirely exempt from it. The story certainly conveys a most useful and excellent moral, a moral of peculiar utility at such a time as this, when there is so little real originality of thought and character among us. The hero is a young man of large property, of a good and highly improved understanding, of excellent heart and intentions and with no other fault than that most common and most dangerous fault, a want of firmness and decision of mind, a too ready susceptibility of first impressions, and a too great facility of temper. It is a very beneficial lesson, though a very painful one, to point out the natural and almost imperceptible gradations by which this unhappy weakness of mind conducts its victim from one error to another till it ends in rendering him an object of detestation to himself and of contempt to others. The uprightness of his original disposition survives all his misconduct and folly, and attaches that sort of interest and compassion to his character, which must move the reader’s tears in spite of the forfeiture of his esteem. If we have any objection to the conduct of the story, as far as it concerns the hero himself, it is, that (perhaps, but we are not quite sure of it), his misfortunes are, in many instances, made to look too much like the unavoidable result of the circumstances in which he is placed rather than the immediate consequence of his own misdoing. But it is possibly sufficient, that those circumstances themselves may be somehow or other traced to an original error of conduct.

‘Nullumn umen habes, si sit Prudentia; sed te
Nos facimus Fortuna Deam, Cœloque locamus.’

But the absence of prudence, is one thing; its exclusive operation in the concerns of the heart, another; and we complain, that Miss Edgeworth has not sufficiently born in mind this distinction. The good gentleman and lady of her drama, who (as all good gentlemen and ladies ought to do, and, from time immemorial in the land of romance, have always done), are joined together in holy matrimony at the end of it, are so extremely good (or rather, so extremely prudent), so admirably philosophical, so frigidly [115/116] amorous, and so cautiously kind, that it really makes us quite sick to reflect upon them, and we sincerely think, that the holding up such heartless characters as models of imitation, is likely to do more mischief to the world even than the Eloisas, Malvinas, and Amelie Mansfield’s, whose moral tendencies have been so justly condemned. The first of these personages, so exceedingly wise, in their own generation, is a young female, who falls in love with Vivian at first, for a very unphilosophical reason—so much so, that the unwary reader is but ill prepared at the commencement of her story for the systematic prudence which distinguishes its progress—for no other reason, indeed, than because she cannot help it, and because there seems to be an insuperable barrier to the success of her passion. The insuperable barrier being surmounted, and all things in as fair a train for mutual happiness as any reasonable beings (with a moderate share of human frailty to temper their prudence), can expect, she begins to perceive, that there exists that weakness of character in her lover’s composition, which, as the excellence of his heart is untainted by it, it was scarcely the part of a lover to discern at all, and which (as is evident from the sequel of his eventful history), an union with a sensible, affectionate, and beloved wife, would in all probability, have entirely corrected. She sends him to make a parliamentary campaign in London in order to try his constancy by absence, which, if she had not already been solemnly engaged to him, might be all very proper; but, after such an engagement, we cannot help thinking, that the less trial the better. A man may well desire to be satisfied of the firmness of a house before he purchases it, but when it is once purchased, if he suspects the soundness of the timbers or strength of the masonry, he will hardly give a ball for the purpose of trying his floors, except in the hopes of their giving way, and affording him a pretext for dissolving his contract and recovering the purchase money. This then we must suppose to have been the young lady’s view in making the trial after acceptance. Poor Vivian’s constancy is unable to stand the shock of a very artful woman’s battery, aided by such a complication of treachery in other quarters, that many a stouter man than he might have been pitied and excused for falling a victim to it. He falls, however, most unwillingly, and his quick repentance and genuine remorse might, under more, unfavourable circumstances, have subdued the resolves of any but a merely prudent (that is, a merely selfish) woman. As it is, the heart of the very sen-[116/117]sible lady in question refuses to be moved; and to her refusal may fairly be traced all the subsequent calamities of Vivian’s life. Now, if either Portia, or Jane de Montfort, or any other exalted female character either of history or fable, who has yet claimed the love and admiration of the world, could have acted like Miss Edgeworth’s heroine, we are very, much mistaken in our judgment of those justly fascinating characters. The second personage of the drama to whom we have alluded, is a friend whose conduct is framed very much on the same prudent principles as those of the lady above mentioned. We cannot now afford room to trace the particulars of that conduct. After making no attempts whatever to heal the breach which he can only be said not intentionally to have widened, and after poor Vivian (in consequence of the double desertion both of friend and mistress), has been cast away, as it were, by accident, on a merely convenient marriage, these very wise persons begin to discover, that they are just fitted to suit each other, and the reader is left at the conclusion of the tale in the pleasing expectation, that, after due time past in lamenting the fatal catastrophe (of which we think that they might reasonably blame themselves as the authors), they will receive the reward of so much good and prudent conduct in so very suitable an union. Nor can Miss Edgeworth be accused of leaving her readers in a painful state of suspense by concluding her story without coming to the actual conclusion of the expected nuptials; since, should any thing occur to interrupt their consummation, they may rest perfectly satisfied, that minds so well regulated as those of the gentleman and lady in question, would suffer a very small, or a very temporary diminution of happiness in an event which inevitably would drive any old-fashioned lover either to madness or suicide. Miss Edgeworth ridicules the principle of the marriages de convenance, which were established by the ancien regime, very justly; and would substitute in the room of them another sort of marriage de convenance, to which we have at least equally strong objections. If love is to become a subject of calculation, it really appears to us a matter of little importance whether the calculation is to be made according to the number of acres in a rent roll, or of quarters in a coat of arms, or by a precise measurement of yards and inches in certain moral qualifications. Mr. Malthus himself might be alarmed at the consequences of such a system as that which the tale of ‘Vivian’ appears to recommend; and, in a moral sense, [117/118] we very much prefer the old doctrine which made love the business, not of the head, but of the heart, and rendered matrimony the means, not the end, the trial, not the result, of moral virtue and happiness.

The second tale, that of ‘Emilie de Coulanges,’ puts us again in the best of humours with the author, and deserves to be ranked among the happiest specimens which have yet been furnished us of her accurate perception and easy delineation of character. It is a commentary on the often repeated maxim which Miss Edgeworth thus expresses—‘Occasion for a great sacrifice of the heart occurs, perhaps, but once in a life, whilst small sacrifices of temper are requisite every day, and every hour of the day;’ and, on another, also, which is no less certain, though it has been less frequently enforced, and perhaps hardly enough understood, and which we proceed to give in the author’s own language, together with her application of it to the character of her imaginary personage.

‘Those who receive and those who confer great favours, are both in difficult situations; but the part of the benefactor is the most difficult to support with propriety. What a combination of rare qualities is essential for this purpose! Amongst others, sense, delicacy, and temper. Mrs. Somers possessed all but the last; and, unluckily, she was not sensible of the importance of this deficiency. Confident and proud, that, upon all the grand occasions where the human heart is put to the trial, she could display superior generosity, she disdained attention to the minutiæ of kindness.’

‘The moment she was irritated, she judged without common sense; never from general observation, but always from particular instances. It was in vain, that Emilie disclaimed the motives attributed to her; she was obliged to wait the return of her friend’s reason, and, in the mean time, to bear her reproaches, which she did with infinite patience. Unfortunately, this patience soon became the source of fresh evils. Because Emilie was so gentle, and so ready to acknowledge and to believe herself to be in the wrong, Mrs. Somers became convinced, that she herself was in the right in all her complaints; and she fancied, that she had great merit in passing over so many defects in one whom she had so much obliged, and who professed so much gratitude. Between the fits of her ill humour, she would, however, waken to the full sense of Emilie’s goodness, and would treat her with particular kindness, as if to make amends for the past. Then, if Emilie could not immediately resume that easy, gay familiarity of manner, which she used to have before experience had taught her the fear of offending, Mrs. Somers grew angry again, and decided, that Emilie had not sufficient elevation of soul to understand her character, or to forgive the little in-[118/119]firmities of the best of friends. When she was under the influence of this suspicion, every thing that Emilie said or looked, was confirmation strong. Mrs. Somers was apt, in conversation, to throw out general reflections, that were meant to apply to particular persons; or to speak with one meaning, obvious to all the company, and another, to be understood only by some individual whom she wished to reproach. This art, which she had often successfully practised upon Emilie, she for that reason suspected, that Emilie tried upon her. And then the utmost ingenuity was employed to torture words into strange meanings: she would misinterpret the plainest expressions, or attribute to them some double, mysterious signification.’

But Mrs. Somers was not only generous—she was also candid, and not more frequently gave pain by the irritability of her temper, and want of attention to the due regulation of it, than she made the most ample amends for her fault (after discovering it), which can be made by confession and apology.

‘No one tasted the joys of reconciliation more than Emilie; but, after reiterated experience, she was inclined to believe, that they cannot balance the evils of quarrelling. Mrs. Somers was one of those ladies, who “confess their faults, but never mend; and who expect, for this gratuitous candour, more applause than others would claim for the real merit of reformation.”

‘So far did Mrs. Somers carry her admiration of her own candour, that she was actually upon the point of quarrelling again with Emilie the next morning, because she did not seem sufficiently sensible of the magnanimity with which she had confessed herself to be ill-tempered. These few specimens are sufficient to give an idea of this lady’s power of tormenting; but, to form an adequate notion of their effect upon Emilie’s spirits, we must conceive the same sort of provocations to be repeated, every day, for several months. Petty torments, incessantly repeated, exhaust the most determined patience. It is said, that the continual falling of a single drop of water upon. the head, is the most violent torture that human cruelty has yet invented.’

The preceding extracts will render this admirably drawn character so intelligible to our readers, as to enable them to feel the exquisite truth and consistency of the following letter, which this tormentor of herself and others is made to write to a confidential friend, on occasion of one of her ridiculous quarrels with the gentle and prudent Emilie, and her mother, an emigrant countess.

‘For once, my dear friend, I am secure of your sympathizing in my indignation—my long suppressed, just, virtuous, indignation —yes, virtuous; for I do hold indignation to be a part of virtue: it is the natural, proper expression of a warm heart and a strong character against the cold-blooded vices of meanness [119/120] and ingratitude. Would that those, to whom I allude, could call it as a punishment! But no, this is not the sort of punishment they are formed to feel. Nothing but what comes home to their interests, their paltry interests! their pleasures, their selfish pleasures! their amusements, their frivolous amusements! can touch souls of this sort. To this half formed race of worldlings, who are scarce endued with a moral sense, the generous expression of indignation always appears something incomprehensible, ridiculous, or, in their language, outré! inoui! With such beings, therefore, I always am, as much as my nature will allow me to be, upon my guard; I keep within, what they call, the bounds of politeness, their dear politeness! What a system of simagrée it is, after all! And how can honest human nature bear to be penned up all its days by the Chinese paling of ceremony, or that French filigree work, politeness. English human nature cannot endure this as yet; and I am glad of it, heartily glad of it. Now to the point.

‘You guess, that I am going to speak of the Coulanges. Yes, my dear friend, you were quite right in advising me, when I first became acquainted with them, not to give way blindly to my enthusiasm; not to be too generous, or to expect too much gratitude. Gratitude! why should I ever expect to meet any? Where I have most deserved, most hoped for it, I have been always most disappointed. My life has been a life of sacrifices, thankless and fruitless sacrifices!’ &c &c.

‘Despairing, utterly despairing, of gratitude from my own family and natural friends, I endeavoured to form friendships with strangers,’ &c. &c.— ‘And by all I have done, all I have suffered, what have I gained? Not a single friend, except your self. You, on whom I have never conferred the slightest favour, you are, at this instant, the only friend upon earth by whom I am really beloved. To you, who know my whole history, I may speak of myself, as I have done, Heaven knows! not with vanity, but with deep humiliation and bitterness of heart. The experience of my whole life leaves me only the deplorable conviction, that it is impossible to do good, that it is vain to hope even for friendship, from those whom we oblige.

‘My last disappointment has been cruel, in proportion to the fond hopes I had formed. I cannot cure myself of this credulous folly. I did form high expectations of happiness from the society and gratitude of this Madame and Mademoiselle de Coulanges; but the mother turns out to be a mere frivolous French comtesse, ignorant, vain, and positive, as all ignorant people are; full of national prejudices, which she supports in the most absurd and petulant manner. Possessed with the insanity, common to all Parisians, of thinking, that Paris is the whole world, and, that nothing can be good taste, or good sense, or good manners, but what is à la mode de Paris; through all her boasted politeness, you see, even by her mode of praising that she has [120/121] a most illiberal contempt for, all who are not Parisians. She considers the rest of the world as barbarians. I could give you a thousand instances; but her conversation is really so frivolous, that it is not worth reciting,’ &c. &c. ‘I never yet saw so thoroughly selfish and unfeeling a human being.

‘The daughter has as far too much, as the mother has too little sensibility. Emilie plagues me to death with her fine feelings and her sentimentality, and all her French parade of affection, and superfluity of endearing expressions, which mean nothing, and disgust English ears: she is always fancying, that I am angry and displeased with her or her mother; and then I am to have tears, and explanations and apologies: she has not a mind large enough to understand my character, and, if I were to explain to eternity, she would be as much in the dark as ever. Yet, after all, there is something so ingenuous and affectionate about this girl, that I cannot help loving her, and that is what provokes me; for she does not, nor ever can, feel for me the affection that I have for her. My little hastiness of temper she has not strength of mind sufficient to bear. I see she is dreadfully afraid of me, and more constrained in my company than in that of any other person. Not a visitor comes, however insignificant, but Mademoiselle de Coulanges seems, more at her ease, and converses more with them than with me. She talks to me only of gratitude and such stuff. She is one of those feeble persons, who, wanting confidence in, themselves, are continually afraid that they shall not be grateful enough; and so they reproach and torment themselves, and refine and sentimentalize, till gratitude becomes burdensome (as it always does to weak minds), and the very idea of a benefactor odious. Mademoiselle de Coulanges was originally unwilling to accept any obligation from me: she knew her own character better than I did. I do not deny, that she has a heart, but she has no soul: I hope you understand and feel the difference. I rejoice, my dear Lady Littleton, that you are coming to town immediately. I am harassed to death between want of feeling and fine feeling. I really long to see you, and to talk over all these things. Nobody but you, my dear friend, ever understood me. Farewell!
‘Your’s affectionately, A. SOMERS.’

To this long letter, Lady L. returned the following short note:

‘I hope to see you the day after to-morrow, my dear friend; in the mean time, do not decide, irrevocably, that Mademoiselle de Coulanges has no soul.
‘Your’s affectionately, L. LITTLETON.’

Some time afterwards, this Lady Littleton, who is a woman of excellent sense, and of that enviable calmness and regulation of mind which has alone enabled her to maintain an uninterrupted intercourse with her capricious [121/122] friend, is made by her the referee of one of her silly causes of dissatisfaction with her poor protegée. We shall extract from her award only enough to complete the picture which is now set before our readers, and sum up the moral of the tale.

‘Perhaps, you would rather have a compliment to your generosity, than to your justice; but in this I shall not indulge you, because I think you already set too high a value upon generosity. It has been the misfortune of your life, my dear friend, to believe, that by making great sacrifices, and conferring great benefits, you could ensure to yourself, in return, affection and gratitude. You mistake both the nature of obligation, and the effect which it produces on the human mind. Obligations may command gratitude, but can never ensure love.’—‘Temper is doubly necessary to those who love, as you do, to confer favours: it is the duty of a benefactress to command her feelings, and to refrain absolutely from every species of direct or indirect reproach; else her kindness becomes only a source of misery; and, even from the benevolence of her disposition, she derives the means of giving pain. It is said, that the bee extracts the venom of her sting from her own honey.’

In the tale of ‘The Absentee,’ Miss Edgeworth takes us back to her own country, and to the people whom she so well understands, and has so often represented in the most lively, accurate, and affecting manner. We shall hardly be suspected of insensibility to the wrongs and distresses of Ireland, nor are we blind to the obvious and interesting truth, that amidst all her calamities, the most painful, if not the deepest wounds that she has sustained, have been those which are inflicted by the ingratitude and desertion of her own offspring. It is to this last evil, that the moral of Miss Edgeworth’s tale applies, and we sincerely hope, that it may produce a salutary effect on the minds of many of those great landed proprietors who are sacrificing their fortunes, their time, and all the respectability and usefulness of their persons and characters, by living in a state of voluntary banishment from their native homes, in positive, or (at least), comparative insignificance in this country. But, while the design and tendency of Miss Edgeworth’s fable cannot be sufficiently approved and enforced by all classes of readers, to whom the interests of Ireland, the real interests of the British empire, are dear and valuable, we think her obnoxious to the charge of over-colouring her picture and caricaturing her subject to an extent which may, we fear, essentially detract from the utility of her labours. Her imagination appears to us to be almost disordered in some points con-[122/123]nected with her favourite views and objects. For instance, it is quite grotesque to represent the Irish, especially those of family, fortune and character, as the objects of fashionable ridicule. The case, as far as we have had an opportunity of observing, is decidedly the reverse; we are even persuaded, that in the present state of public feeling with regard to Ireland, the circumstance of being Irish does, cæteris paribus, operate in favour of those who wish to become the objects of distinguished. civility and attention. Of this, we are sure, that in common life, the vulgar prejudices against the Irish character, are sinking very fast into merited disrepute; and, in proof of this assertion, we would only ask any person at all acquainted with the state of our theatres (no bad criterion of the taste of the town), whether the loud applauses which have, night after night, almost torn to pieces the frail boards of the Lyceum at the representation of that very dull comedy, ‘The Sons of Erin,’ would not be converted into most obstreperous and universal hisses, should any unhappy wight of a manager so far mistake his own interest as to think of bringing forward an Irish sharper or fortune-hunter? In this country, political toleration is much more slow in its progress than general liberality of sentiment, and the virtual repeal of restriction laws often precedes by a full century or two their legislative abrogation. Of the manners and characters of the Irish peasantry, we cannot venture to hold up our own conjectures in opposition to Miss Edgeworth’s experience; but we cannot help hinting, that it is a long while since Astræa abandoned the country, at least in all other parts of the civilized world; and we should not have believed (had not Miss Edgeworth assured us of it), that my Lord Colambre could, without the interposition of a miracle in his favour, have met in one day with so many honest, brave, disinterested, affectionate, kind, good, sensible, well-educated, refined, sentimental, moral, and religious poor people, as he has the good fortune to find on his progress through his father’s estate at Clonbrony.

But a truce with criticism. Let us now refresh our readers with a short specimen of Miss Edgeworth’s characteristic delineation of her beloved countrymen in the following extract of a letter, written on the occasion of the return of the absentee’s family.

‘Old Nick’s gone, and St. Dennis along with him, to the place he comes from—praise be to God! The ould lord has found him out in his tricks; and I helped him to that, through the [123/124] young lord that I driv, as I informed you in my last when he was a Welchman, which was the best turn ever I did, though I did not know it no more than Adam that time. So ould Nick’s turned out of the agency clean and clear, and the day after it was known, there was surprising great joy through the whole country; not surprising either, but just what you might, knowing him rasonably expect. He (that is, Old Nick and St. Dennis), would have been burnt that night—I mane in effigy, through the town of Clonbrony, but that the new man, Mr. Burke, come down that day too soon to stop it, and said, “it was not becoming to trample on the fallen,” or something that way, that put an end to it; and though it was a great disappointment to many, and to me in particular, I could not but like the jantleman the better for it any how. They say, he is a very good jantleman, and as unlike old Nick or the saint as can be; and takes no duty fowl, nor glove, nor sealing money; nor asks duty work, nor duty turf. Well, when I was disappointed of the effigy, I comforted myself by making a bonfire of old Nick’s big rick of duty turf, which, by great luck, was out in the road, away from all dwelling-house, or thatch, or yards, to take fire; so no danger in life or objection. And such another blaze! I wished you’d seen it—and all the men, women, and children in the town and country, far and near, gathered round it, shouting and dancing like mad! and it has light as day quite across the bog as far as Bartley Finnigan’s house. And I heard after, they seen it from all part of the three counties, and they thought it was St. John’s Eve in a mistake —or couldn’t make out what it was; but all took it in good part, for a good sign, and were in great joy. As for St. Dennis and ould Nick, an attorney had his foot upon ’em, with an habere, a latitat, and three executions hanging over ’em; and there’s the end of rogues! and a great example in the country. And—no more about it: for I can’t be wasting more ink upon them that don’t desarve it at my hands, when I want it, for them that do, you shall see. So some weeks past, and there was great cleaning at Clonbrony Castle, and in the town of Clonbrony; and the new agents’ smart and clever and be had the glaziers, and the painters, and the slaters up and down in the town wherever wanted; and you wouldn’t know it again. Think’s I, this is no bad sign! Now cock up your ears, Pat! for the great news is coming, and the good. The mostors’ come home—long life to him !—and family come home yesterday, all entirely! The ould lord and the young lord (ay, there’s the man, Paddy!) and my lady, and Miss Nugent, and I driv Miss Nugent’s maid, that maid that was, and another; so I had the luck to be in it along, wid ’em, and see all, from first to last. And feist, I must tell you, my young Lord Colambre remembered and noticed me the minute he lit at our inn, and condescended to beckon at me out of the yard, and axed me—“Friend, Larry,” [124/125] says he, “did you keep your promise?”—My oath again the whiskey, is it? says I. My lord, I surely did, said I, which was true, as all the country knows I never tasted a drop since. And I’m proud to see your honour, my lord, as good as your word too, and back again among us. So then there was a call for the horses; and no more at that time passed betwix’ my young lord and me, but that he pointed me out to the ould one, as I went off. I noticed and thanked him for it in my heart, though I did not know all the good was to come of it. Well, no more of myself, for the present.

‘Ogh, it’s I driv ’em well; and we all got to the great gate of the park before sun-set, and as fine an evening as ever you see; with the sun shining on the tops of the trees, as the ladies noticed the leaves changed, but not dropped, though so late in the season. I believe the leaves knew what they were about, and kept on, on purpose to welcome them; and the birds were singing, and I stopped whistling, that they might hear them. But sorrow bit could they hear when they got to the park-gate, for there was such a crowd, and such a shout, as you never see; and they had the horses off every carriage entirely, and drew ’em home, with blessings, through the park. And, God bless ’em, when they got out, they did’nt go and shut themselves up in the great drawing room, but went straight out to the tirrass, to satisfy the eyes and hearts that followed them. My lady laning on my young lord, and Miss Grace Nugent that was—the beautifullest angel that ever you set eyes on, with the finest complexion and sweetest of smiles, laning upon the ould lord’s arm, who had his hat off, bowing to all, and noticing the old tenants as he passed, by name. O, there was a great gladness and tears in the midst, for joy I could scarce keep from myself.

‘After a turn or two upon the tirrass, my Lord Colambre quit his mother’s arm for a minute, and he come to the edge of the slope, and looked down and through all the crowd for some one.

‘Is it the widow, O’Neill, my lord? says I, she’s yonder, with the spectacles on her nose, betwixt her son and daughter, as usual.

‘Then my lord beckoned, and they did not know which of the tree would stir; and then he gave tree beckons with his own finger, and they all tree came fast enough to the bottom of the slope fore next my lord; and he went down and helped the widow up (O, he’s the true jantleman), and brought ’em all tree upon the tirrass, to my lady and Miss Nugent, and I was up close after, that I might hear, which was’nt manners, but I couldn't help it. So what he said, I don’t well know, for I could not get near enough, after all. But I saw my lady smile very kind, and take the widow, O'Neill, by the hand, and then my Lord Colambre ’troduced Grace to Miss Nugent, and there was the word namesake, and something about a check curtains; but [125/126] whatever it was, they was all greatly pleased; then my Lord Colambre turned and looked for Brian, who had fell back, and took him with some commendation to my lord, his father. And my lord, the mostor, said, which I didn’t know till after, that they should have their house and farm at the ould rent; and at the surprise, the widow dropped down dead; and there was a cry as for ten berrings. “Be qu’ite,” says I, “she’s only kilt for joy;” and I went to lift her up, for her son had no more strength that minute than the child new-born; and Grace trembled like a leaf, as white as the sheet, but not long, for the mother came too, and was as well as ever when I brought some water, which Miss Nugent handed to her with her own hand.

‘That was always pretty and good, said the widow, laying her hand upon Miss Nugent, “and kind and good to me and mine.”

‘That minute, there was music from below. The blind harper, O’Neill, with his harp, that struck up Gracey Nugent.’

We would gladly transcribe the whole of this charming epistle, but have already very far exceeded the bounds we had prescribed to ourselves.

Notes: Format: 3 vols (vols IV, V, VI, 1812); no price. Publisher: Johnson.

Flowers of Literature (1808–09): lxxii.

Miss Edgworth’s [sic] Tales of Fashionable Life is a work of uncommon merit. To those who can be pleased with sterling sense, unaided by the glare of romantic bombast, the productions of this lady will never cease to charm. Excellent woman! in whom is united the accomplishment of an instructress with the tenderness of a matron! whose greatest object seems to be the improvment [sic] of her readers, and the happiness of society.

The present work is worthy of her name, and we express ourselves particularly gratified by her delightful little tale of Madame de Fleury, every sentence of which evinces a mind enlightened by wisdom, and a heart in love with goodness. Her little school is a little heaven, whose deity is Innocence. All its parts are within the limits of probability; and while they are irresistibly interesting, they branch from each other in an order the most natural. We could wish it were read by every parent, and by every one who has the superintendence of children: they would find it a beautiful system of practical education, and be led to consider the importance of early impressions.

From ‘Introduction: Novellists [sic]’.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 62 (May 1810): 96–97.

We are always predisposed in favour of Miss Edgeworth’s writings; and this prepossession cannot be deemed unjust, since it arises from the merit of her former productions. We will not, however, assert that these tales are equal to the best of those which have flowed from the pen of Voltaire, and superior to all Miss Edgeworth’s other performances, because we recollect that Lord Bacon has said, ‘too much magnifying of man or matter doth irritate contradiction, and procure envy and scorn:’ but we think that they are excellent in discrimination and description of character, original in their plan, amusing in their incidents, and impressive in their warnings. The author holds out with great precision the faults which should be avoided: but she fails in not suggesting higher motives for guarding against them than the applause of man, and more powerful assistances than the efforts of our own good sense. Such motives and such Mentors were inadequate to restrain the vagaries of human nature among the antients; and a moral writer, in a Christian age, should make religion the basis of reformation.

The style of these tales seems not to have been polished even with Miss Edgeworth’s usual care, since we believe that nothing but negligence could cause her to overlook such inaccuracies as the following. Vol. I. p. 37. ‘I beckoned to the groom and bid (bade) him go to the house-keeper.’ P. 71. ‘Here there was a dead stop.’ &c. &c.

The Tale entitled Ennui is the best of these compositions: the personages introduced are the most pleasing; and the traits of Irish character with which Miss E. presents us are not only interesting, but are in themselves often highly humourous [sic], and may be trusted for their truth and accuracy. The progress of Lord Glenthorn’s ennui is inimitably described; and though we hope that all such circumstances of leisure and such dispositions to indolence were never thus combined, the effect is exactly what may be conceived to result from such an aggregate.—Let us not be deemed too fastidious if we object to the character of Lady Geraldine. As a picture, it is original and attractive in a high degree: but any picture drawn by Miss Edgeworth will stand a chance of having many copyists in real life; and the fascinating Lady Geraldine sometimes betrays a disregard for truth; while her incessant exposure of the faults and foibles of all her friends is a prominent and dangerous feature in her character, which may be too easily imitated to be safely exhibited.— [96/97] The denouement of this tale is not equal to the beginning; although the fair writer proves the powers rather than the poverty of her genius, by making the trite old story of changing a child at nurse furnish so new and amusing subject for her pen.

The juvenile anecdotes in the tale of Madame de Fleury are extremely touching: but this story seems better calculated for insertion among the ‘Moral Tales,’ than in the present set. Almeria, and the Dun, offer striking admonitions; the one, against the folly of resigning friendship for fashion; the other, against the crime and cruelty of neglecting to pay our lawful debts.

In the story called Manœuvring, which the third volume contains, we found little to interest us. The most conspicuous individual is an unpleasing and we hope uncommon character, and the more amiable personages are left too much in the back-ground to excite considerable sympathy or attention; so that, on closing the work, we could not help re-echoing the concluding speech of Mr. Palmer, ‘Thank Heaven! we have done with Manœuvring.’

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. 3rd edn. Format: 3 vols 12 mo; price 18s. Boards. Publisher: Johnson & Co.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 71 (July 1813): 320–21.

These volumes have already obtained great popularity, for though Miss Edgeworth never allows her readers to lose sight of the lesson which she gives them, she employs so much wit in its illustration that they are always amused as well as admonished. If, indeed, Miss E. fails any where, we think that she fails chiefly in plot. Her descriptions and characters are full of nature, and insure sympathy: but the story, on which she grafts these admirable delineations, is often improbable, and seems to be an after-thought; so that we are inclined to appeal from it to Miss Edgeworth herself in her happier vein of writing: like the condemned Macedonian who referred his cause ‘to Philip when fasting.’

The latter part of the tale called ‘The Absentees’ [sic] may prove the truth of this remark, since the discoveries and events, which conclude Lord Colambre’s residence in England, are such as may be found more easily in ordinary novels than in real life; and it does not well accord with his character to abandon the proposed match with Miss Nugent, merely because he hears that a stigma attaches on her birth. Whenever the scene lies in Ireland, this tale is delightful; it excites great interest for the poorer Irish; and it represents their situation as so deplorable when their landlord is an absentee, that we hope they may obtain some relief from this exhibition of their sufferings.

The story of Vivian affords an excellent lesson to those yielding spirits who dare not be faithful to their own convictions; and that of Emilie de Coulanges contains a French female character inimitably sketched, and has also the merit of exposing a fault ‘to which the good and generous are liable.’

To correct those errors which are compatible with good intentions is a task more useful than that of displaying the effects or punishments [320/321] of vice; and it affords great scope for the acumen and observation which eminently distinguish Miss Edgeworth’s writings. We therefore hear with pleasure that another ‘Tale of Fashionable Life,’ on the subject of Patronage, may shortly be expected from her pen.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Described as Vols IV, V, and VI, 2nd edn. Format: 12mo; price 1l. 1s. Boards. Publisher: Johnson & Co.

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