This tribute of affection to one of our most distinguished Novelists, is not from the pen of the Author of the Biographical Sketches in the preceding volume. It was communicated to him in the most obliging manner by Mrs. Dorset, sister of the subject of the Memoir, and not more nearly allied to her in blood than in genius. The publication which it was intended to accompany, being discontinued, as mentioned in the preliminary advertisement, vol. III., the following paper was never before in print. But on collecting the Biographical Sketches in the present form, the author could not abandon the claim, so kindly permitted him, to add this to the number. He is himself responsible for the critical remarks which conclude the article.
MRS. CHARLOTTE SMITH was the eldest daughter of Nicholas Turner, Esq. of Stoke House, in Surrey, and of Bignor Park, in Sussex, by Anna Towers, his first wife. She was born in King Street, St. James's Square, on the 4th of May 1749. Before she had accomplished her fourth year, she was deprived of a mother as distinguished by her superior understanding as for her uncommon beauty. The charge of her education devolved on her aunt, who with unwearied zeal devoted the best years of her life to the duty she had undertaken. Accomplishments seemed to have been the objects of her ambition, and no time was lost in their attainment; for her little charge was attended by an eminent dancing-master, when such a mere infant, that she was taught her first steps on a dining-table. She never recollected the time when she could not read, and was in the habit of reading every book that fell in her way, even before she went to school, which was at six years old, when she was placed in a respectable establishment at Chichester.
Her father, desirous of cultivating her talent for drawing, engaged George Smith, a celebrated artist, and a native and inhabitant of that city, to instruct her in the rudiments of his art, and she was taken two or three times in a week to his house to receive lessons.
From Chichester she was removed in her eighth year to a school at Kensington, at that time in high repute, and where the daughters of the most distinguished families received their education. Of her progress at this time I am tempted to give the following account from the pen of a lady who was her schoolfellow:—
"In answer to your enquiry, whether Mrs. Smith was during our intimacy at school superior to other young persons of her age, my recollection enables me to tell you, that she excelled most of us in writing and drawing. She was reckoned by far the finest dancer, and was always brought forward for exhibition whenever company was assembled to see our performances; and she would have excelled all her competitors had her application borne any proportion to her talents; but she was always thought 'too great a genius to study.' She had a great taste for music, and a correct ear, but never applied to it with sufficient steadiness to ensure success. But however she might be inferior to others in some points, she was far above them in intellect, and the general improvement of the mind. She had read more than any one in the school, and was continually composing verses; she was considered romantic; and though I was not of that turn myself; I neither loved nor admired her the less for it. In my opinion, her ideas were always original, full of wit and imagination, and her conversation singularly pleasing; and so I have continued to think, since a greater intercourse with society, and a more perfect knowledge of the world, has better qualified me to estimate her character."
In this seminary it was the custom for the pupils to perform both French and English plays, and on these occasions the talents of Miss Turner were always put in requisition, as he was considered by far the best actress of the little troop; and her theatrical talents were much applauded both at school and at home, where she was frequently called on to exhibit her powers to whatever company happened to be assembled at her father's. I do not think this early, and certainly injudicious display, produced the unfavourable effect on her manners which might have been expected. It induced no boldness or undue confidence, for she was rather of a retiring than of an assuming disposition; yet it probably had an unfavourable influence on her character, and contributed to foster that romantic turn of mind which distinguished her even in childhood. It was at this school she first began to compose verses;-they were shown and praised among the friends of the family as proofs of early genius; but none of them have been preserved. I have an imperfect recollection that the subject of one of these early effusions was the death of General Wolfe, when she must have been in her tenth year — though she speaks in one of her works of earlier compositions.
At twelve years of age she quitted school, and her father, then residing part of the year in London, engaged masters to attend her at home; but very little advantage could have been derived from their instructions, for she was at that early age introduced into society, frequented all public places with her family, and her appearance and manners were so much beyond her years, that at fourteen her father received proposals for her from a gentleman of suitable station and fortune, which were rejected on account of her extreme youth. Happy would it have been if reasons of such weight had continued in force a few years longer!
With so many objects to engage her attention, and the late hours incident to a life of dissipation, her studies (if they could be so called) were not prosecuted with any degree of diligence or success. As if foreseeing how short would be the period of her youthful pleasures, she pursued them with the avidity natural to her lively character; and though her father was sometimes disposed to check her love of dissipation, he always suffered himself to be disarmed by a few sighs or tears. Her passion for books continued unabated, though her reading was indiscriminate, and chiefly confined to poetry and works of fiction. At this time she sent several of her compositions to the editors of the Lady's Magazine, unknown to her aunt.
It is evident that Mrs. Smith's education, though very expensive, was superficial, and not calculated to give her any peculiar advantages. Her father's unbounded indulgence, and that of an aunt who almost idolized her, was ill calculated to prepare her mind to contend with the calamities of her future life; she often regretted that her attention had not been directed to more useful reading, and the study of languages. If she had any advantage over other young persons, it must have been in the society of her father, who was himself not only an elegant poet and a scholar, but a map of infinite wit and imagination, and it was scarce possible to live with him without catching some sparks of that brilliant fire which enlivened his conversation, and rendered him one of the most delightful companions of his time; yet when the short period is considered between the time of her leaving school and her marriage and that his convivial talents made his company so generally courted, that he had little leisure to bestow on his family, she must rather have inherited than acquired the playful wit and peculiar vein of humour which distinguished her conversation.
In 1764, Mr. Turner decided on a second marriage, and his sister-in-law contemplated this event with the most painful apprehensions for the happiness of that being who was the object of her dearest affections, and who, having hitherto been indulged in every wish, and even every caprice, was ill prepared to submit to the control of a mother-in-law. Without reflecting that the evil she anticipated with such feelings of dread would probably exist only for a short period, (for it was unlikely a young lady who was so generally admired would remain long single,) she endeavoured, with a precipitation she had afterwards great reason to deplore, to establish her by an advantageous marriage, and her wishes were seconded by some officious and short-sighted relations, by whose means her introduction to Mr. Smith was contrived, after having properly prepared him, by their representations and excessive praises, to fall in love at first sight. The event justified their expectations — he did fall in love; care was taken to keep alive the flame by frequent parties of pleasure, and meetings at public places. He was just twenty-one, and she was not quite fifteen, when the acquaintance first took place, and it was no difficult task to talk her into an acquiescence with her aunt's views. Proposals were made, and accepted without much enquiry into the young man's disposition or character. He was the second son of Richard Smith, Esq. a West India merchant, and Director of the East India Company, who had realized a large fortune, and his younger son had been admitted a partner in his lucrative business. The choice of his son did not at first meet with his approbation — he would have been better pleased had he selected the daughter of some thrifty citizen, than that of a gay man of the world, whom he concluded (and justly enough) had not been brought up in those economical habits which he considered the most desirable qualifications in a wife; but the first interview with his future daughter-in-law overcame all his objections, and he ever after distinguished her with peculiar affection and partiality. This ill-assorted marriage took place on the 23d of February 1765; and after a residence of some months with Mr. Smith's sister, the widow of William Berney, Esq. Mrs. Smith found herself established in the house which had been prepared for her in one of the narrowest and most dirty lanes in the city. It was a large dull habitation, into which the cheering beams of the sun had never penetrated. It was impossible to enter it without experiencing a chilling sensation and depression of spirits, which induced a longing desire to escape from its gloom, which not all the taste and expense with which it had been fitted up could dispel.
The habits to which its young mistress was expected to conform, were little congenial to her feelings. The lower part of the house was appropriated to the business, and hither the elder Mr. Smith came every morning to superintend his commercial concerns, and usually took his chocolate in his daughter-in-law's dressing-room. He was a worthy, and even a good-natured man, but he had mixed very little in general society — his ideas were confined, and his manners and habits were not calculated to inspire affection, however he might be entitled to respect and gratitude. He had no taste for literature, and the elegant amusements of his daughter-in-law appeared to him as so many sources of expense, and as encroachments on time, which he thought should be exclusively dedicated to domestic occupations; he had a quiet petulant way of speaking, and a pair of keen black eyes, which, darting from under his bushy black eye-brows the most inquisitive glances, always appeared to be in search of something to find fault with; so that whenever the creaking of his"youthful shoes well saved" gave notice that one of his domiciliary visits was about to take place, it was the signal for hurrying away whatever was likely to be the subject of his displeasure, or the object of his curiosity. If any of her friends or acquaintance happened to call on her, he would examine them with a suspicious curiosity, which usually compelled them to shorten their visits, and took from them the desire of repeating them. His lady, who was at that time in very ill health, exacted the constant attendance of the family, and a more irksome task could hardly have been imposed on a young person. "I pass almost every day, says Mrs. Smith, in a letter to one of her early friends, "with the poor sick old lady, with whom, however, I am no great favourite; somebody has told her I have not been notably brought up, (which I am afraid is true enough,) and she asks me questions which, to say the truth, I am not very well able to answer. There are no women, she says, so well qualified for mistresses of families as the ladies of Barbadoes, whose knowledge of housewifery she is perpetually contrasting with my ignorance, and, very unfortunately, those subjects on which I am informed, give me little credit with her; on the contrary, are rather a disadvantage to me; yet I have not seen any of their paragons whom I am at all disposed to envy."
The stately formality of this lady, her tall meagre figure, languid air, and sallow complexion, with the monotonous drawl and pronunciation peculiar to the natives of the West Indies, rendered her one of the most wearisome persons that can be imagined, and I fear her economical lectures had very little attraction for a girl who had never been required to pay much attention to household cares, and were listened to with apathy and disgust. This lady did not live long enough to effect the reformation she was so anxious for; her death, however, produced no great relief from this bondage. Mrs. Smith's attendance on her father-in-law was more than ever required, and a heavier duty never fell to the lot of youth and beauty. The poor old man was afflicted with a complication of disorders. From long residence in the West Indies he was so sensible of cold that he shrunk from the slightest breeze — no air was permitted to refresh his apartment, in which he sat in the hottest days of summer wrapped in his red roquelaure, surrounded with all the apparatus of sickness; she was expected to accompany him in his airings, on the dusty turnpike roads, with just enough of the carriage windows let down to admit the smell of brick kilns, or the stagnant green ditches in the environs of Islington.
In the intervals of this recreation she had to assist at the lectures of an old governante, part of whose business it was to lull her master to sleep, by reading devotional books of the most gloomy tendency, with a broad Cumberland accent. Never did religion wear a garb so unalluring as in this house.
The comfort of her own family was not improved by the accession of four or five wild, ungovernable West Indian boys, (sons of the correspondents of the house,) who, during the Eton and Harrow vacations, were its inmates.
Though she could occasionally give way to the sportiveness of her fancy, and describe these scenes of ennui and discomfort in the most humorous manner, yet the aversion she entertained for every thing connected with this period of her life, and its contrast with her previous gay and cheerful habits, seems to have made the deepest impression, and to have reverted to her mind latterly in the most forcible manner; and her feelings are beautifully depicted in her unfinished Poem of Beechy Head. The lines are quoted by the elegant author of the Literaria Censura.
The following little Poem, in which melancholy and humour are not unpleasingly blended, appears, from the feebleness of the hand-writing, to have been composed a very short time before her death.
TO MY LYRE.
Such as thou art, my faithful Lyre,
For all the great and wise admire,
Believe me, I would not exchange thee,
Since e'en adversity could never
Thee from my anguish'd bosom sever,
Or time or sorrow e'er estrange thee.
Far from my native fields removed,
From all I valued, all I loved
By early sorrows soon beset,
Annoy'd and wearied past endurance,
With drawbacks, bottontry, ensurance,
With samples drawn, and tear and fret;
With Scrip, and Omnium, and Consols,
With City Feasts and Lord Mayors' Balls,
Scenes that to me no joy afforded;
For all the anxious Sons of Care,
From Bishopsgate to Temple Bar,
To my young eyes seem'd gross and sordid.
Proud city dames, with loud shrill clacks,
("The wealth of nations on their backs,")
Their clumsy daughters and their nieces,
Good sort of people and well meaners,
But they could not be my congeners,
For I was of a different species.
Long were thy gentle accents drown'd,
Till from Bow-bells detested sound
I bore thee far, my darling treasure;
And unrepining left for thee
Both Calepash and Callipee,
And sought green fields, pure air, and leisure.
Who that has heard thy silver tones—
Who that the Muse's influence owns,
Can at my fond attachment wonder,
That still my heart should own thy pow'r?
Thou who hast soothed each adverse hour,
So thou and I will never sunder.
In cheerless solitude, bereft
Of youth and health, thou still art left,
When hope and fortune have deceived me;
Thou, far unlike the summer friend,
Didst still my falt'ring steps attend,
And with thy plaintive voice relieved me.
And as the time ere long must come
When I lie silent in the tomb,
Thou wilt preserve these mournful pages;
For gentle minds will love my verse,
And Pity shall my strains rehearse,
And tell my name to distant ages.
The death of her first child, which took place when she was confined with her second, had nearly proved fatal to her, from the excess of her affliction. Change of air and scene were recommended, and a small house in the pleasant village of Southgate was engaged for her, and in a few months she regained her health. Hither she retired as much as was in her power, and here she enjoyed more liberty and tranquillity than had hitherto fallen to her lot. Her aunt had for some time ceased to reside with her, and was afterwards induced to become the wife of the elder Mr. Smith, which, of course, rendered her personal attendance on him unnecessary; and as her husband usually went to London every day, she became mistress of her own time, and was enabled to employ it in the cultivation of her mind. She possessed a considerable collection of books, and read indiscriminately, without having any friend to direct her studies or form her judgment.
The result of her mental improvement was not favourable to her happiness. She began to trace that indefinable restlessness and impatience, of which she had long been conscious without comprehending, to its source, to discriminate characters, to detect ignorance, to compare her own mind with those of the persons by whom she was surrounded.
The consciousness of her own superiority, the mortifying conviction that she was subjected to one so infinitely her inferior, presented itself every day more forcibly to her mind, and she justly considered herself "as a pearl that had been basely thrown away."
"No disadvantage," she observes in one of her letters, "could equal those I sustained; the more my mind expanded, the more I became sensible of personal slavery; the more I improved and cultivated my understanding, the further I was removed from those with whom I was condemned to pass my life; and the more clearly I saw by these newly-acquired lights the horror of the abyss into which I had unconsciously plunged."
Impressed with this fatal truth, nothing could be more meritorious than the line of conduct she pursued. Whatever were her opinions or her feelings, she confined them to her own bosom, and never to her most confidential friends suffered a complaint or a severe remark to escape her lips.
During her residence at Southgate, her family had been considerably increased, and a larger house was become necessary; and it was hoped that by removing nearer to London, Mr. Smith would be induced to pay a stricter attendance on his business than he had hitherto done; and with this view his father purchased for him a handsome residence at Tottenham, where it was hoped he would retrieve his lost time. But his habits were fixed, he had no turn for business, and never could be prevailed on to bestow more than a small portion of that time on it, which nevertheless hung so heavy on his hands, that he was obliged to have recourse to a variety of expedients to get rid of it. Hence fancies became occupations, and were followed up with boundless expense, till they were relinquished for some newer fancy equally frivolous and equally costly.
Mrs. Smith unfortunately disliked her situation at Tottenham, and the more so, from its having failed in the object proposed. She had little or no society, and her mind languished for want of congenial conversation, and her natural vivacity seemed extinguished by the monotony of her life.
Her father-in-law was in the habit of confiding to her all his anxieties, and frequently employed her pen in matters of business. On one occasion, she was called on to vindicate his character from some illiberal attack, and she acquitted herself of the task in a very able manner. This little tract was published, but not being of any general interest, has not been preserved. The elder Mr. Smith has frequently declared, that such was the readiness of her pen, that she could expedite more business in an hour from his dictation, than any one of his clerks could perform in a day; and he even offered her a considerable annual allowance, if she would reside in London and assist him in his business, which he foresaw would be lost to his family after his death. Obvious reasons prevented her acceptance of this proposal, which, singular as it was, affords a strong instance of the compass of her mind, which could adapt itself with equal facility to the charms of literature, and the dry details of commerce.
Mrs. Smith had been long endeavouring to obtain her consent to the removal of her family entirely into the country; and such was her influence over him, that she prevailed, in opposition to his better judgment, and in 1774 an estate in Hants, called Lys Farm, was purchased, and in a new and untried situation, she fondly imagined she should escape from existing evils; but she was soon awakened from her dream of happiness.
In removing her husband from his father's eye, she had taken off the only check which could restrain his conduct, and accordingly he plunged into expenses much more serious than any he had hitherto ventured upon. In other respects her situation was improved; and if she had not more actual happiness, she had occasional enjoyment; she had better and more frequent society; she was better appreciated, both on account of her talents and her personal attractions. Though she was at that time the mother of seven children, and had lost much of the lightness of her figure, she was in the meridian of her beauty—
In the sober charms and dignity
Of womanhood, mature, not verging yet
Upon decay, in gesture like a queen
Such inborn and habitual majesty
Ennobled all her steps.
It was natural that she should take pleasure in society, where she was sure to be well received, and that she should seek, in such dissipation as the neighbourhood afforded, a temporary relief from the unremitting vexations which embittered her domestic hours. In 1776 she lost her best friend in her husband's father, who, if not an agreeable person to live with, had many estimable qualities, and had the discernment to appreciate hers. From his death may be dated the long course of calamities which marked her subsequent life. Mr. Smith, whether from a conceit of his own knowledge of law, or from the mistaken economy of a narrow mind, that would risk thousands to save a few pounds, thought proper to make his own will. A most voluminous document! which, from its utter want of perspicuity, from its numerous incomprehensible and contradictory clauses, no two lawyers ever understood in the same sense. It was a tangled skein, which neither patience nor skill could unravel. He had appointed his widow, his son, and his son's wife, joint executors, intending to restrain his son's power, without excluding him; but the measure defeated itself. The widow, weak and infirm, was easily overruled by cajolery, or less gentle means; and the appointment of the wife was (as to immediate power) completely nugatory; so that the entire power over the property fell into the hands least fit to be intrusted with it. Endless disputes arose among the parties interested or rather their agents, for many of Mr. Smith's grandchildren were orphans and minors; and I believe, though Mrs. C. Smith considered herself and her children as the victims of these unhappy dissensions, the other branches of the family were more or less sufferers. Besides what was expended in law, and what was wasted by improvidence, the sum of £20,000 was lost to the family, by the old gentleman having suffered himself, with all his caution, to be overreached by his solicitor, who persuaded him to lend that sum to a distressed baronet on mortgage. But the security was bad; and I believe the family never received any compensation. Mrs. Smith had long foreseen the storm that was gathering round her, but had no power to avert it. A lucrative contract, which the interest of Mr. Robinson (then Secretary to the Treasury, and who had married a sister of Mr. B. Smith's) procured for him, warded off the blow for a time, and he went on with his accustomed thoughtlessness. About this time he took an active part in a contested election for the county of Southampton, between Sir Richard Worsley and —. As the brother-in-law of Mr. Robinson, his exertions were, of course, in favour of the Ministerial candidate. Mrs. Smith had not at that time caught the contagion which spread so widely a few years afterwards, and very willingly lent her pen in support of the cause; and among the many efforts which were made on both sides to unite wit with politics, hers were reckoned the most successful; but as she was not known to have been the author of them, her vanity could not have been much gratified.
In the spring of 1777 she lost her eldest son in his eleventh year. His delicate health from his birth had particularly endeared him to his mother, and she felt this affliction in proportion to her extreme affection for him. She had looked to him as a future friend and companion, and it was observed by some of her intimates, that a visible change in her character took place after this event. To divert her mind from this irremediable calamity, and from the contemplation of the many anxieties which oppressed her, she amused herself by composing her first Sonnets, which were never intended for publication. I believe it was the late Bryan Edwards, Esq. author of the History of the West Indies, and some Poems of great elegance, who, by his warm and gratifying praises, first gave her an opinion of their merit, to which she had not before considered them entitled, and she was encouraged to add to her little collection.
The peace of 1782 deprived Mr. Smith of his contract. The legatees became importunate for the settlement of their respective claims, and, wearied by incessant delay, at length took those strong measures which are detailed in the third volume of Public Characters. The estate in Hampshire was sold. Mrs. Smith never deserted her husband for a moment during the melancholy period of his misfortunes, and perhaps her conduct never was so deserving of admiration as at this time. When suffering from the calamities he had brought on himself; and in which he had inextricably involved her and her children, she exerted herself with as much zeal and energy as if his conduct had been unexceptionable — made herself mistress of his affairs — submitted to many humiliating applications, and encountered the most unfeeling repulses. Perhaps the severest of her tasks, as well as the most difficult, was that of employing her superior abilities in defending a conduct she could not have approved. To a mind so ingenuous as hers, there could not have been a more painful sacrifice of talents at the shrine of duty. The estates were at length placed in the hands of trustees, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith were at liberty to return to their house in Sussex, which they had taken when Lys Farm was sold.
The first edition of the Sonnets was published this year; the circumstances relating to them have already been amply detailed in the volume of the Public Characters already referred to: they were dedicated to Mr. Hayley, but I believe her personal introduction to him did not take place till some time afterwards. Mr. Smith found it expedient to retire to the Continent, and, as he was entirely ignorant of the French language, his wife accompanied him to Dieppe, and having made such arrangements for his comfort as the time admitted of, she returned in the same packet which had taken her over, with the hope of surmounting the fresh difficulties that had arisen; but this not being practicable, she soon rejoined him with all her family. Mr. Smith in the mean time had been induced, with his usual indiscretion, to engage a large chateau twelve Norman miles from Dieppe. The inconvenience of the situation, so far from a market — the dreariness of the house, extremely out of repair — the excessive scarcity of fuel, and the almost brutal manners of the peasantry in that insulated part of the country, rendered her situation most melancholy. Yet here she was condemned to pass the peculiarly severe winter of 1783; and here, without proper assistance or accommodation, she was confined with her youngest son; and, in spite of her forebodings that she should not survive the birth of her child, she recovered her health more speedily than on former occasions, when surrounded with every sort of indulgence and comfort.
A few days afterwards, she was astonished by the entrance of a procession of priests into her bedroom, who, in defiance of her entreaties and tears, forcibly carried off the infant to be baptized in the parish church, though the snow was deep on the ground and the cold intense. As not one of her children had ever been exposed to the external air at so early a period of their existence, she concluded her boy could never survive this cruel act of the authority of the Church: he was, however, soon restored to her, without having sustained the slightest ill consequence. It was during her seclusion in this forlorn residence, and when she had no power of selection, that, for the amusement of her self and some English friends, (exiles like herself,) she translated the novel called Manon L'Escaut, written about fifty years before by the Abbe Prevost; and soon after her return to England, which took place in the summer of 1785, (for she had been convinced of the fallacy of her plan of living cheaply in France,) this translation was published, and she was severely censured for her choice as immoral; but I believe it was the want of the power of selection which induced her to employ a mind qualified for worthier purposes on such a work. The author himself considers his work as strictly moral, and tells us in his preface, that "Les personnes de bon sens ne regarderont pas un ouvrage de cette nature comme un travail inutile. Outre le plaisir d'une lecture agreable on y trouvera peu d'evenemens qui ne puissent servir a l'instruction des moeurs; et c'est rendre, a mon avis, un service considerable au public que de l'instruire en l'amusant." The good Abbe, after much more in the same style, concludes his preface by assuring his readers, "Que l'ouvrage entier est un traite de morale reduit agreablement en exercice."
I have quoted thus far, in order to contrast the French with the English moralist, a friend having permitted me to avail myself of the following letter from the late celebrated Mr. Steevens, to whom Mrs. Smith had ordered a copy to be presented.
To Miss —.
"I had purchased Manon L'Escaut several days before Mrs. Smith's obliging present arrived; I have therefore returned it to Cadell, and beg you will inform your friend of this circumstance, lest the book should be charged to her account. I am equally obliged by her intention, though the negligence of her bookseller has defeated it. Manon seems to be very ably translated; but of this I can be no adequate judge, having never seen the French original.
"When Mrs. Smith can be prevailed on to employ her admirable talents on subjects more worthy of them than Werters and Manons, I will always be happy to do every thing in my power to promote the success of her pen; but I tell you fairly, that such heroes and such heroines shall never obtain the smallest recommendation from me.
The wise and good I pity in misfortune:
But when ingratitude and folly suffers,
'Tis weakness to be touch'd.
"Pray where lies the moral of pointing out, that the most exalted sentiments will not secure us from being guilty of the most profligate actions? Love is the only ingredient which keeps the character of the Chevalier sweet. He is a seducer, a hypocrite, an undutiful son, an ungrateful friend, a cheat, a gambler, a murderer, &c. &c.; and must all this be forgiven, because the source of it is a violent attachment to a beautiful wanton? She, too, only interests us, because at bottom she is supposed to have some real love for her paramour, though a casual indigence, a temporary deprivation of dissipation, seldom fails to cure her of too much amorous weakness for her pretended favourite.
"I am beyond measure provoked at books, which philtre the passions of young people till they admit the weakest apologies for licentiousness; and this story is so managed, that one cannot occasionally withhold one's pity from two characters, which, on serious reflection, ought every way to be condemned. But I would ask, How are the hero and heroine punished? She dies, not in consequence of her vices, but drops by a natural though sudden attack of illness, and at the age of twenty-two he is liberated from a female, from whom he has received as much delight as sorrow; and we are left to suppose his father's death, which his misconduct had hastened, has been the instrument of restoring him to affluence and happiness. He has been, in short, too much a dupe to preserve one's respect, and too much a profligate to claim one's pity; yet I must confess we are cheated now and then of the latter by partial situations, and yet the fraud is successful only for an instant. The tablet of Nature may exhibit such contradictory beings as our Chevalier, who admires the necessity of laws divine and human, and violates them all. Yet these are not the characters on which a conscientious moralist would expend his decorations. The shield may be lifted in defence of virtue, but this defensive armour, with such meretricious imagery, cannot fail to defeat every moral purpose.
"The most picturesque and interesting passage, in my opinion, is the first appearance of Manon in chains. Afterwards you grow tired of situations that bear a near resemblance to each other, and it was with difficulty I could get through the second volume.
"To dwell on the improbabilities of the story, would be a waste of criticism; and the hair-combing scene is so ridiculously French, that I wonder Mrs. Smith did not omit it. So much love and improbability cannot, however, fail to give it many admirers:
I am, dear madam, &c. &c.
I have before observed, that it was accident, rather than choice, which directed Mrs. Smith to this little work, which (exclusive of the severe though just criticism of Mr. Steevens) was the cause of great vexation; however, had she had the power of selecting from among the most celebrated of the French Novelists, and even from those more recently published — however admired and extolled, it may be questioned if she had not incurred the same censure; and those who insist on strict morality must seek it from a purer source.
Soon after the publication of Manon L'Escaut, Mrs. Smith received from her publisher at Chichester the following letter, which had appeared in the Public Advertiser.
Literary frauds should be made known as soon as discovered; please to acquaint the public that the novel called Manon L'Escaut, just published in two volumes octavo, has been twice before printed in English, once annexed to the Marquis de Bretagne, and once by itself, under the title of the Chevalier de Grieux — it was written by the Abbe Prevost about 40 or 50 years ago. I am, sir, your old correspondent,
The Publisher added, "I have seen Mr. Cadell, who was apprehensive that the reviewers would lay hold of this letter, and that such an assertion would be of ill consequence, not only in regard to the sale of the book, but to himself, as the public would consider him as endeavouring to impose on it, and his reputation might be injured. I take the liberty of repeating this to you, because, as I assured Mr. Cadell, the circumstance was as unknown to you as to himself. The sale is at present at a stand. I am, madam, &c."
Thus were Mrs. Smith's laudable exertions embittered by the attacks, either of wanton and unprovoked malice, or the artifice of a concealed enemy; and, in aggravation of her private misfortunes, she was taught to feel all the penalties and discouragement attached to the profession of an author. She was not without her suspicions of the quarter from whence this blow was aimed, though it would be difficult to discover the motive; and, the following letter will show which way her conjectures pointed.
TO MISS —.
"When I found, from your first communication of Mr. —'s critique, that he greatly disapproved this humble story, which I hardly imagined he would think it worth his while to read, I hoped that what he could not praise, he would at least forbear to blame; but it seems even if I had been under the circumstances which he says could alone justify, or rather palliate the dispensation of such literary poison, it is evident such a plea would not have softened the asperity of his criticism, or slacken his invincible zeal for public justice, in detecting what he terms a literary fraud: which seems to me a term rather harsh, for I really see no fraud in a person endeavouring to make a better translation of a work already translated. A fraud means a thing which the imposer hopes to make pass for what it is not. This, surely, could not be the case with the book in question. I never pretended it was otherwise than a translation; and whether it was the first or the second, I was as perfectly ignorant as I believe most of my readers were; and had I been as well-informed as Monsr. Scourge himself, I should have thought it very immaterial, for I am persuaded the former translations are very little known, and have probably been out of print for years. I will venture to say, they are not to be found in any catalogue of the circulating libraries; and perhaps are only known to those who would take the pains to seek after such trumpery; and I leave to your suggestion whether any one is so likely to take the trouble as your friend, or so likely to succeed if he did. Do not imagine, however, I mean to bounce and fly in the *** style, about this said letter; I only wish it had not happened, and that he had given the book a more gentle damnation, and at least have suffered it to have lived its day, which is all I expected. As it is, I shall withdraw the book rather than let Cadell suffer.
"I have the pleasure to add, that the last edition of the Sonnets is, as Jacques informs me, so nearly all sold, that it is high time to consider of another edition, which, however, I shall not do hastily, as I intend they shall appear in a very different form as to size and correctness, and I think I shall be able to add considerably to the bulk of the volume."
In comparing this instance of wanton malignity with traits of the same description, related by Miss Hawkins, in her "Anecdotes," of which Garrick was the object, and one mentioned by Mr. Hayley, in his Memoirs, there can be no doubt but this arrow came from the same quiver. Those gentlemen lived in habits of intimacy with the celebrated editor of Shakspeare; Mrs. Smith had no personal acquaintance with him, and could never have excited his spleen or his envy!
Mrs. Smith was at this time employed in translating some of the most remarkable trials, from Les Causes Celebres, which were published under the title of "The Romance of Real Life," which, from the great difficulty attending it, helped to complete her disgust, and determined her to rely in future on her own resources, and. to employ herself in original composition.
In the spring of 1786, her eldest son was appointed to a writership in Bengal, and though he went out with more than usual advantages, it was a severe trial to a most tender and anxious mother; but an affliction yet more poignant awaited her in the same year, when her second son was carried off, after only thirty-six hours' illness, by a fever of the most malignant nature, which, spreading through the family, reduced several of the children and servants to the brink of the grave; but by her personal exertions they were restored, and she escaped the infection.
They were at this time residing at Woolbeding House, near Midhurst, which they had engaged after their return from France in 1785; but Mrs. Smith was not destined to be stationary in any residence. An increasing incompatibility of temper, which had rendered her union a source of misery for twenty-three years, determined her on separating from her husband; and, after an ineffectual appeal to one of the members of the family to assist her in the adjustment of the terms, but with the entire approbation of her most dispassionate and judicious friends, she withdrew from Woolbeding House, accompanied by all her children, some of them of an age to judge for themselves, and who all decided on following the fortunes of their mother.
She settled in a small house in the environs of Chichester, and her husband soon afterwards finding himself involved in fresh difficulties,, again retired to the continent, after having made some ineffectual efforts to induce her to return to him. They sometimes met after this period, and constantly corresponded, Mrs. Smith never relaxing in her endeavours to afford him every assistance, and bring the family affairs to a final arrangement; but they never afterwards resided together. Though the decisive step she had taken in quitting her husband's house, was perhaps, under the then existing circumstances, unavoidable, yet I have been told, the manner was injudicious, and that she should have insisted on previous legal arrangements, and secured to herself the enjoyment of her own fortune. That she was liable to much unmerited censure, was a matter of course; but those who knew the "dessous des cartes," could only regret that the measure had not been adopted years before.
The summer of 1787 saw Mrs. Smith established in her cottage at Wylie, pursuing her literary occupations with much assiduity and delight, supplying to her children the duties of both parents. It was here that she began and completed, in the space of eight months, her first, and perhaps most pleasing, novel of Emmeline, and its success was very general. It was published in the spring of 1788, and the whole of the first edition, 1500, sold so rapidly, that a second was immediately called for; and the late Mr. Cadell found his profits so considerable, that he had the liberality, voluntarily, to augment the price he had agreed to give for it. The success of her volume of Sonnets was equally gratifying, and, exclusive of profit and reputation, procured her many valuable friends and estimable acquaintances, and some in the most exalted ranks of life; and it was not the least pleasing circumstance to a mother's heart, that her son in Bengal owed his promotion in the civil service to her talents.
The novel of Ethelinde was published in 1789; Celestina in 1791.
She had quitted her cottage near Chichester, and lived sometimes in or near London, but chiefly at Brighthelmstone, where she formed acquaintances with some of the most violent advocates of the French Revolution, and unfortunately caught the contagion, though in direct opposition to the principles she had formerly professed, and to those of her family.
It was during this paroxysm of political fever that she wrote the novel of Desmond; a work which has been greatly condemned, not only on account of its politics, but its immoral tendency. I leave its defence to an abler pen, and content myself with regretting its consequences. It lost her some friends, and furnished others with an excuse for withholding their interest in favour of her family, and brought a host of literary ladies in array against her, armed with all the malignity which envy could inspire!
She had been in habits of intimacy for the two or three last years with Mr. Hayley, (as well as with his lady,) then at the height of his poetical reputation, but this was a distinction not to be enjoyed with impunity. His praise was considered as an encroachment on the rights of other muses, (as he was accustomed to call his poetical female friends,) each of whom claimed the monopoly of his adulation. In the present day the prize would scarcely, be thought worth contending for. In 1792, Mrs. Smith made one of the party at Eastham, when Cowper visited that spot. In 1793, her third son, who was serving as an ensign in the 14th regiment of infantry, lost his leg at Dunkirk; and her own health began to sink under the pressure of so many afflictions, and continual harassing circumstances in which the family property was involved, in the arrangement of which her exertions were incessant. She removed to Bath, but received no benefit from the use of the waters. An imperfect gout had fixed itself on her hands, probably increased by the constant use of the pen, which nevertheless she continued to employ, though some of her fingers were become contracted. Her second daughter had been married to a gentleman of Normandy, who had emigrated at the beginning of the Revolution. She fell into a decline after her first confinement, and died at Clifton in the spring of 1794. It would be impossible to describe the affliction Mrs. Smith experienced on this occasion. Mothers only can comprehend it! From this time she became more than ever unsettled, moving from place to place in search of that tranquillity she was never destined to enjoy, yet continuing her literary occupation with astonishing application.
The dates of her different works are recorded in the Censura Literaria, with the omission of a History of England for the use of young persons, which, I believe, was incomplete, and finished by some other person; and a Natural History of Birds, which was published in 1807.
The delays in the settlement of the property, which was equally embarrassing to all parties, at length induced one of them to propose a compromise; and, by the assistance of a noble friend, an adjustment of the respective claims was effected, but not without considerable loss on all sides. Still she derived great satisfaction that her family would be relieved from the difficulties she had so long contended with, although she was personally but little benefitted by it. So many years of mental anxiety and exertion had completely undermined a constitution, which nature seemed to have formed to endure unimpaired to old age; and, convinced that her exhausted frame was sinking under increasing infirmity, she determined on removing into Surry, from a desire that her mortal remains might be laid with those of her mother, and many of her family, in Stoke Church, near Guildford. In 1803, she removed from Frans, near Tunbridge, to the village of Elsted, in the neighbourhood of Godalming. In the winter of 1804, I spent some time with her, when she was occupied in composing her charming little work for the use of young persons, entitled "Conversations" which she occasionally wrote in the common sitting-room of the family, with two or three lively grand-children playing about her, and conversing with great cheerfulness and pleasantry, though nearly confined to her sofa, in great bodily pain, and in a mortifying state of dependence on the services of others, but in the full possession of all her faculties; a blessing of which she was most justly sensible, and for which she frequently expressed her gratitude to the Almighty.
In the following year she removed to Tilford, near Farnham, where her long sufferings were finally closed, on the 28th of October 1806, in her 58th year. Mr. Smith's death took place the preceding March. She was buried at Stoke, in compliance with her wishes, where a neat monument, executed by Bacon, is erected to her memory, and that of two of her sons, Charles and George, both of whom perished in the West Indies, in the service of their country.
To this sketch of the life of this admirable and much-injured woman, I am induced to attempt a delineation of her character, which, I think, has been as much misunderstood by her admirers, as it has been misrepresented by her enemies. Those who have formed their ideas of her from her works, and even from what she says, in her moments of despondency, of herself, have naturally concluded that she was of a melancholy disposition; but nothing could be more erroneous. Cheerfulness and gaiety were the natural characteristics of her mind; and though circumstances of the most depressing nature at times weighed down her spirit to the earth, yet such was its buoyancy that it quickly returned to its level. Even in the darkest periods of her life, she possessed the power of abstracting herself from her cares; and, giving play to the sportiveness of her imagination, could make even the difficulties she was labouring tinder subjects of merriment, placing both persons and things in such ridiculous points of view, and throwing out such sallies of pleasantry, that it was impossible not to be delighted with her wit, even while deploring the circumstances that excited it. It was said, by the confessor of the celebrated Madame de Coulanges, that her sins were all epigrams: the observation might have been applied with equal propriety to Mrs. Smith, who frequently gave her troubles a truly epigrammatic turn; she particularly exulted in little pieces of humorous poetry, in which she introduces so much fancy and elegance, that one cannot but regret, that, though some of them still exist, they are unintelligible except to the very few survivors who may yet recollect, with a melancholy pleasure, the circumstances that gave rise to them. She was very successful in parodies, and did not spare even her own poetry. In the society of persons she liked, and with whom he was under no restraint, with those who understood, and could enjoy her peculiar vein of humour, nothing could be more spirited, more racy, than her conversation; every sentence had its point, the effect of which was increased by the uncommon rapidity with which she spoke, as if her ideas flowed too fast for utterance; but among strangers, and with persons with whom she could not, or fancied she could not, assimilate, she was cold, silent, and abstracted, disappointing those who had sought her society in the expectation of entertainment.
Notwithstanding her constant literary occupations, she never adopted the affectations, the inflated language, and exaggerated expressions, which literary ladies are often distinguished by, but always expressed herself with the utmost simplicity. She composed with greater facility than others could transcribe, and never would avail herself of an amanuensis, always asserting that it was more trouble to find them in comprehension than to execute the business herself; in fact, the quickness of her conception was such, that she made no allowance for the slower faculties of others, and her impetuosity seldom allowed her time to explain herself with the precision required by less ardent minds. This hastiness of temper was one of the greatest shades in her character, and one of her greatest misfortunes. As her feelings were acute, she expressed her resentments with an asperity, the imprudence of which she was not aware of till it was too late, though perhaps she had forgotten the offence, and forgiven the offender, in ten minutes; but those who smarted under the severity of her lash were not so easily appeased, and she certainly created many enemies, from acting too frequently from the impulse of the moment.
She was always the friend of the unfortunate, and spared neither her time, her talents, nor even her purse, in the cause of those she endeavoured to serve; and with a heart so warm, it may easily be believed she was frequently the dupe of her benevolence. The poor always found in her a kind protectress, and she never left any place of residence without bearing with her their prayers and regrets.
No woman had greater trials as a wife; very few could have acquitted themselves so well! But her conduct for twenty-three years speaks for itself. She was a most tender and anxious mother, and if she carried her indulgence to her children too far, it is an error too general to be very severely reprobated. To shield them as much as possible from the mortifying consequences of loss of fortune, was the object of her indefatigable exertions. Her reward was in their affection and gratitude, and in the approval of her own heart. If she derived a high degree of gratification in the homage paid to her talents, it was embittered by the envenomed shafts of envy and bigotry, and by the calumnies of anonymous defamers. By some she has been censured, because there is no religion in her works, though I believe there is not a line that implies the want of it in herself; and I am of opinion that Mrs. Smith would have considered it as a subject much too sacred to be needlessly and irreverently brought forward in a work of fiction adapted for the hours of relaxation, not for those of serious reflection. Nor was it then the fashion of the day, as it has become since. No one then took up a novel in the expectation of finding a sermon. "Religious Courtships" had not been revived, nor had Coelebs commenced his peregrinations in Search of a Wife. In introducing politics in one of her works, she incurred equal censure, and with greater reason; it was sinning against good taste in a female writer — perhaps there was a little personal spleen mixed up with her patriotism.
Mrs. Smith's reputation as an author, rests less on her prose works, (which were frequently hastily written, in sickness and in sorrow,) than on her poetry. Her Sonnets and other Poems have passed through eleven editions, and have been translated into French and Italian; and so highly were her talents estimated, that, on the death of Dr. Warton, she was requested to supply his epitaph, which she declined, though she could not but feel the value of such a compliment, from the members of a society so fertile in poets as Winchester College.
Mrs. Smith left no posthumous works whatever. The sweepings of her closet were, without exception, committed to the flames. The novel published about three years ago, with her name affixed to it, with an intention of imposing it on the public as her work, is a fraud which, it seems, the law affords no redress for. Those who have looked into it, assure me there is sufficient evidence in the work itself to defeat the intention, and that no person of common sense can be deceived by it: but a more public exposure of such an imposition is required, in justice to Mrs. Smith's memory.
In closing this melancholy retrospection of a life so peculiarly and so invariably marked by adversity, it is impossible not to experience the keenest regret, that a being with a mind so highly gifted, a heart so alive to every warm and generous feeling; with beauty to delight, and virtues to attach all hearts; so formed herself for happiness, and so eminently qualified to dispense it to others, should have been, from her early youth, the devoted victim of folly, vice, and injustice! Who but must contrast her miserable destiny with the brilliant station she would have held in the world under happier circumstances? But her guardian angel slept!
We have already observed, that our path through "this most pleasant land of faery" had been brought to an abrupt conclusion before the works of Mrs. Smith had been included in the collection to which these notices refer. This has deprived us of the opportunity of reconsidering, with some care, the productions of an authoress, from whom we ought to acknowledge having received more pleasure than from others whom we have had an opportunity of reviewing in greater detail. Something, however, is due to the public and though we write without having Mrs. Smith's works before us, and our recollections are of a distant date, yet they are too deeply impressed on our memory to be forgotten, and, though of a general character, we trust they will not be found vague or inaccurate.
We must, as a preliminary, take the liberty somewhat to differ from the obliging correspondent to whom we are so much indebted, where she considers Mrs. Smith's prose as much inferior to her poetry. We allow the great beauty of the sonnets, nor are we at all moved by the pedantic objection, that their structure in two elegiac quatrains, terminated by a couplet, differ from that of the legitimate sonnet invented by the Italians, and imitated by Milton, and other English authors, from their literature. The quality of the poetry appears to us of much more importance than the structure of the verse; and the more simple model of Mrs. Smith's sonnets is equally or better fitted for the theme, generally melancholy and sentimental, which she loves to exercise her genius upon, than would have been the complicated and involved form of the regular Italian sonnet. But, while we allow high praise to the sweet and sad effusions of Mrs. Smith's muse, we cannot admit that by these alone she could ever have risen to the height of eminence which we are disposed to claim for her as authoress of her prose narratives. The elegance, the polish, the taste, and the feeling of this highly-gifted lady, may no doubt be traced in Mrs. Charlotte Smith's poetry. But for her invention, that highest property of genius, her knowledge of the human bosom, her power of natural description, her wit, and her satire, the reader must seek in her prose narratives.
We remember well the impression made on the public by the appearance of Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, a tale of love and passion, happily conceived, and told in a most interesting manner. It contained a happy mixture of humour, and of bitter satire mingled with pathos, while the characters, both of sentiment and of manners, were sketched with a firmness of pencil, and liveliness of colouring, which belong to the highest branch of fictitious narrative. One fault, we well remember, struck us, and other young readers such as we then were. There is (or at least was, for it may have passed away since we experienced such sensations) a strain of chivalrous feeling in the mind of youth, which objects to all change and shadow of turning on the part of the hero and the heroine of the novel. As the favoured youth is expected to be
A knight of love, who never broke a vow;
so the lady, on her side, must be not only true of promise, but, under every temptation, faithful to her first affection. So much is this the case, that we have not known any instance in which the heroine is made to pass through the purgatory of a previous marriage ere the end of the work assigned her to her first well-beloved, which has not, for that reason, given sore offence to the reader. Now Emmeline (completely justified, we acknowledge, in reason, and still more in prudence) breaks off her engagement with the fiery, high-spirited, but noble and generous Delamere, to attach herself to a certain Mr. Godolphin, of whose merits we are indeed told much, but in whom we do not feel half so much interested as in poor Delamere; perhaps because we are acquainted with the faults as well as virtues of the last, and pity him for the misfortunes to which the authoress condemns him in partiality for her favourite.
It may be said by some, that this is a boarding-school objection. All we can answer is, that we felt it natural at the time when we read the book. It may be said, also, that passion, and sacrifices to passion, are a dangerous theme, when addressed to youth; yet we cannot help thinking that prudence, as it is in a distinguished manner the virtue, so it is in some sense the vice of the present time; and that there is little chance of Cupid, king of gods and men, recovering any very perilous share of his influence during an age in which selfishness is so predominant. It seems at least hard that the novelists of the present day should be amongst the first to uplift the heel against the poor little blind boy, who is naturally their tutelar deity; yet so generally has this been the case, as to recall the complaint of old D'Avenant;
The press is now Love's foe, Love's foe,
They have seized on his arrows, his quiver, his bow;
They have shorn off his pinions, and fetter'd his feet,
Because he made way for lovers to meet.
The Recluse of the Lake, though the love tale be less interesting, owing to a sort of fantastic romance attached to the hero Montgomery, is in other respects altogether fit to stand beside the Orphan of the Castle. The cold-hearted, yet coquettish woman of fashion, Lady Newenden, who becomes vicious out of mere ennui, is very well drawn, and so are the female horse-jockey and the brutal buck.
Mrs. Smith's powers of satire were great, but they seldom exhibit a playful or light character. Her experience had unfortunately led her to see life in its most melancholy features, so that follies, which form the jest of the fortunate, had to her been the source of disquiet and even distress. The characters we have just enumerated, with others to be found in her works, are so drawn as to be detested rather than laughed at; and at the sporting parson and some others less darkly shaded, we smile in scorn, but without sympathy. The perplexed circumstances in which her family affairs were placed, induced Mrs. Smith to judge with severity the trustees who had the management of these matters; and the introduction of one or two legal characters (men of business, as they are called,) into her popular novels, left them little to congratulate themselves on having had to do with a lady whose pen wore so sharp a point. Even Mr. Smith's foibles did not escape. In spite of "awful rule and right supremacy," we recognise him in the whimsical projector, who hoped to make a fortune by manuring his estate with old wigs. This satire may not have been uniformly well merited; for ladies who see sharply and feel keenly are desirous sometimes to arrive at their point, without passing through the forms which the law, rather than lawyers, throws in the way. A bitter excess of irritability will, however, be readily excused by those who have read, in the preceding Memoir, the agitating, provoking, and distressing circumstances, in which Mrs. Smith was involved during the greater part of her existence. Her literary life also had its own peculiar plagues, to the character of which she has borne sufficient testimony in one of her later novels. There is an admirable correspondence between a literary lady and some gentlemen of the trade, which illustrates the uncertainty and vexation to which the life of an author is subjected.
The chef-d'oeuvre of Mrs. Smith's work is, according to our recollection, the Old Manor-House, especially the first part of the story, where the scene lies about the ancient mansion and its vicinity. Old Mrs. Rayland is without a rival; a queen Elizabeth in private life, jealous of her immediate dignities and possessions, and still more jealous of the power of bequeathing them. Her letter to Mr. Somerive, in which she intimates rather than expresses her desire to keep young Orlando at the Hall, while she is so careful to avoid committing herself by any direct expression of her intentions with respect to him, is a master-piece of diplomacy, equal to what she of Tudor could have composed on a similar occasion. The love of the young people thrown together so naturally, its innocence and purity, and the sort of perils with which they are beset, cannot fail deeply to interest all those who are interested by this peculiar species of literature. The unexpected interview with Jonas the smuggler, furnishes an opportunity for varying the tale with a fine scene of natural terror, drawn with a masterly hand.
In the Old Manor-House there are also some excellent sketches of description; but such are indeed to be found in all Mrs. Smith's works; and it is remarkable that the sea-coast scenery of Dorset and Devon, with which she must have been familiar, is scarce painted with more accuracy of description, than the tower upon a rugged headland on the coast of Caithness, which she could only become acquainted with by report. So readily does the plastic power of genius weave into a wreath materials, whether collected by the artist or by other hands. It may be remarked, that Mrs. Smith not only preserves in her landscapes the truth and precision of a painter, but that they sometimes evince marks of her own favourite pursuits and studies. The plants and flowers are described by their Linnaean names, as well as by their vulgar epithets; and in speaking of the denizens of air, the term of natural history are often introduced. Something like this may be observed in Mr. Crabbe's poems; but neither in these nor in Mrs. Smith's novels does it strike the reader that there is pedantry in such details; an objection which certainly would occur, were such scientific ornaments to be used by a meaner hand.
The most deficient part of Mrs. Smith's novels, is unquestionably the plot, or narrative, which, in general, bears the appearance of having been hastily run up, as the phrase goes, without much attention to probability or accuracy of combination. This was not owing to any deficiency in invention; for when Charlotte Smith had leisure, and chose to employ it to the purpose, her story, as in the Orphan of the Castle, is conducted with unexceptionable ingenuity. But she was too often summoned to her literary labours by the inexorable voice of necessity, which obliged her to write for the daily supply of the press, without having previously adjusted, perhaps without having even rough-hewn the course of incidents which she intended to detail. Hence the hurry and want of connexion which may be observed in some of her stories; and hence, too, instances, in which we can see that the character of the tale has changed while it was yet in the author's imagination, and has in the end become different from what she herself had originally proposed. This is apt to arise either from the author having forgotten the thread of the story, or her having, in the progress of the narrative, found it more difficult to disentangle it skilfully than her first concoction of the tale had induced her to hope. This desertion of the story is, no doubt, an imperfection; for few of the merits which a novel usually boasts are to be preferred to an interesting and well-arranged story. But then this merit, however great, has never been considered as indispensable to fictitious narrative. On the contrary, in many of the best specimens of that class of composition — Gil Blas, for example, Peregrine Pickle, Roderick Random, and many others of the first eminence — no effort whatever is made to attain the praise belonging to a compact system of adventures, in which the volumes which succeed the first, like the months of summer maturing the flowers and fruit which have germinated in spring, slowly conduct the tale to the maturity at which it arrives upon its conclusion, as autumn gathers in the produce of the year. On the contrary, the adventures, however delightful in themselves, are but
Like orient pearls at random strung,
and are not connected together, otherwise than as having occurred to one individual, and in the course of one man's life. In fine, whatever may be the vote of the severer critics, we are afraid that many of the labourers in this walk of literature will conclude with Bayes, by asking, "What is the use of the plot but to bring in fine things?" And, truly, if the fine things really deserve the name, we think there is pedantry in censuring the works where they occur, merely because productions of genius are not also adorned with a regularity of conception, carrying skilfully forward the conclusion of the story, which we may safely pronounce one of the rarest attainments of art.
The characters of Mrs. Smith are conceived with truth and force, though we do not recollect any one which bears the stamp of actual novelty; and indeed, an effort at introducing such, unless the author is powerfully gifted with the inventive faculty, is more likely to produce monsters than models of composition. She is uniformly happy in supplying them with language fitted to their station in life; nor are there many dialogues to be found which are at once so entertaining, and approach so nearly to truth and reality. The evanescent tone of the highest fashionable society is not easily caught, nor perhaps is it desirable it should be, considering the care which is taken in these elevated regions to deprive conversation of every thing approaching to the emphasis of passion, or even of serious interest. But of every other species of dialogue, from the higher to the lower classes of her countrymen, Mrs. Smith's works exhibit happy specimens; and her portraits of foreigners, owing to her long residence abroad, are not less striking than those of Britons.
There is yet another attribute of Mrs. Smith's fictitious narratives, which may be a recommendation, or the contrary, as it affects readers of various temperaments, or the same reader in a different mood of mind. We allude to the general tone of melancholy which pervades her composition, and of which every one who has read the preceding Memoir can no longer be at a loss to assign the cause. The conclusions of her novels, it is true, are generally fortunate, and she has spared her readers who have probably enough arising out of their own concerns to make them anxious and unhappy, the uncomfortable feeling of having wasted their hour of leisure upon making themselves yet more sad and uncomfortable than before, by the unpleasant conclusion of a tale which they had taken up for amusement. The sky, though it uniformly lours upon us through Mrs. Smith's narrations, breaks forth on the conclusion, and cheers the scene when we are about to part from it. Still, however, we long for a few sunny glimpses to enliven the landscape in the course of the story, and with these we are rarely supplied; so that the general influence of melancholy can scarce be removed by the assurance, that our favourites are at length married and prosperous. The hasty and happy catastrophe seems so inconsistent with the uniform persecutions of Fortune, through the course of the story, that we cannot help doubting whether adversity had exhausted her vial, or whether she had not further misfortunes in store for them after the curtain was dropped by the Authoress. Those who have few sorrows of their own, as Coleridge beautifully expresses it, love the tales which call forth a sympathy for which their own feelings give little occasion; while others, exhausted by the actual distresses of life, relish better those narratives which steal them from a sense of sorrow. But every one, whether of sad or gay temperament, must regret that the tone of melancholy which pervades Mrs. Smith's compositions, was derived too surely from the circumstances and feelings of the amiable Authoress. We are indeed informed by Mrs. Dorset that the natural temper of her sister was lively and playful; but it must be considered, that the works on which she was obliged, often reluctantly, to labour, were seldom undertaken from free choice. Nothing saddens the heart so much as that sort of literary labour which depends on the imagination, when it is undertaken unwillingly, and from a sense of compulsion. The galley-slave may sing when he is unchained, but it would be uncommon equanimity which could induce him to do so when he is actually bound to his oar. If there is a mental drudgery which lowers the spirits and lacerates the nerves, like the toil of the slave, it is that which is exacted by literary composition when the heart is not in unison with the work upon which the head is employed. Add to the unhappy author's task, sickness, sorrow, or the pressure of unfavourable circumstances, and the labour of the bondsman becomes light in comparison.
Before closing a rough attempt to discharge the debt we owe, in acknowledgment of many pleasant hours derived from the perusal of Mrs. Smith's works, we cannot but remark the number of highly-talented women, who have, within our time of novel-reading, distinguished themselves advantageously in this department of literature. Besides the living excellence of Mrs. D'Arblay, and of Maria Edgeworth, of the Authoress of Marriage and the Inheritance, and of Mrs. Opie, the names arise on us of Miss Austin, the faithful chronicler of English manners, and English society of the middling, or what is called the genteel class: besides also Mrs. Radcliffe, Miss Reeves, and others, to whom we have endeavoured to do some justice in these sheets. We have to thank Mrs. Inchbald, the authoress of Frankenstein, Mrs. Bennet, too, and many other women of talents, for the amusement which their works have afforded; and we must add, that we think it would be impossible to match against these names the same number of masculine competitors, arising within the same space of time. The fact is worthy of notice: although, whether it arises from mere chance; whether the less marked and more evanescent shades of modern society are more happily painted by the finer pencil of a woman; or whether our modern delicacy, having excluded the bold and sometimes coarse delineations permitted to ancient novelists, has rendered competition more easy to female writers, because the forms must be veiled and clothed with drapery, — is a subject which would lead us far, and which, therefore, it is not our present purpose to enter into.