Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 24 of 84)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 24 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

out indicating jealousy of her husband. Morrice is all
skipping, officious impertinence, Mr. Gosport all sar-
casm, Lady Honoria all lively prattle. Miss LaroUes all
silly prattle. If ever Madame D'Arblay aimed at
more, we do not think that she succeeded well.

We are, therefore, forced to refuse to Madame
D'Arblay a place in the highest rank of art ; but we
cannot deny that, in the rank to which she belonged,
she had few equals, and scarcely any superior. The
variety of humours which is to be found in her novels
is immense ; and though the talk of each person sepa-
rately is monotonous, the general effect is not monoto-
ny, but a very lively and agreeable diversity. Her
plots are rudely constructed and improbable, if wo
consider them in themselves. But they are admirably
framed for the purpose of exhibiting striking groups
of eccentric characters, each governed by his own pe-
culiar whim, each talking his own peculiar jargon, and
each bringing out by opposition the oddities of all the
rest. We will give one example out of many which
occur to us. All probability is violated in order \o
bring Mr. Delvile, Mr. Briggs, Mr. Hobson, and Mr.
Albany into a room together. But when we have
them there, we soon forget probability in the exqui-
sitely ludicrous effect which is produced by the conflict
of four old fools, each raging with a monomania of
his own, each talking a dialect of his own, and each




inflaming all the others anew every time he opens his

Madame D'Arbky was most successful in comedy,
and indeed in comedy which bordered on farce. But
we are inclined to infer from some passages, both in
Cecilia and Camilla, that si^ might have attained equal
distinction in the pathetic* We have formed this judg-
ment, less from those ambitious scenes of distress which
lie near the catastrophe of each of those novels, than
from some exquisite strokes of natiu*al tenderness which
take us here and there by surprise. We would men-
tion as examples, Mrs. Hill's account of her little boy's
death in Cecilia, and the parting of Sir Hugh Tyrold
and Camilla, when the honest baronet thinks himself

It is melancholy to think that the whole fame of
Madame D'Arblay rests on what she did during the
earlier half of her life, and that every thing which she
published during the forty-three years which preceded
her death, lowei^ her reputation. Yet we have no
reason to think that at the time when her faculties
ought to have been in their maturity, they were smitten
with any bliglit. In the Wanderer, we catch now and
then a gleam of her genius. Even in the Memoirs of
her father, there is no trace of dotage. They are y^ry
bad ; but they are so, as it seems to us, not from a de-
cay of power, but from a total perversion of power.

The truth is, that Madame D'Arblay's style under-
went a gradual and most pernicious change, a change
which, in d^ree at least, we believe to be unexampled
in literary history, and of which it may be useful to
trace the progress*

When she "wrote her letters to Mr. Crisp, her early
journals, and her first novel, her style was not indeed




brilliant or energetic ; bat it was easy, clear, and free
from all offensive faults. When she wrote Cecilia she
aimed higher. She had then lived much in a circle of
which Johnson was the centre ; and she was herself
one of his most submissive worshippers. It seems
never to have crossed her mind that the style even of
1 1 is best writings was by no means fiiultless, and that
even had it been faultless, it might not be wise in her
to imitate it. Phraseolc^ which is proper in a disqui-
sition on the Unities, or in a preface to a Dictionary,
may be quite out of place in a tale of fashionable life.
Old gentlemen do not criticize the reigning modes, nor
do young gentlemen make love, with the balanced epi-
thets and sonorous cadences which, on occasions of
great dignity, a skilful writer may use with happy effect.

In an evil hour the author of Evelina took the Ram-
bler for her model. This would not have been wise
even if she could have imitated her pattern as well as
Hawkesworth did. But such imitation was beyond her
power. She had her own style. It was a tolerably
good one ; and might, without any violent change,
have been improved into a very good one. She deter-
mined to throw It away, and to adopt a style in which
she could attain excellence only by achieving an almost
miraculous victory over nature and over habit. She
could cease to be Fanny Bumey ; it was not so easy to
become Samuel Johnson.

In Cecilia the change of manner began to appeal*.
But in Cecilia the imitation of Johnson, though not
always in the best taste, is sometimes eminently
hapj)y ; and the passages which are so verbose as to
be positively offensive, are few. There were people
who whispered that Johnson liad assisted his young
friend, and that the novel owed all its finest passages




to liis hand. This was merely the fabricatioh of
envy. Miss Bumey's real excellences were as much
beyond the reach of Johnson, as his real excellences
were beyond her reach. He could no more have
written the Masquerade scene, or the Vauxhall scene,
than she could have written the Life of Cowley or the
Review of Soame Jenyns. But we have not die
smallest doubt that he revised Cecilia, and that be
retouched the style of many passages. We know that
he was in the habit of giving assistance of this kind
most freely. Goldsmith, Hawkesworth, Boswell, Lord
Haiies, Mrs. Williams, were among those who obtained
his help. Nay, he even corrected the poetry of Mr.
Crabbe, whom, we believe, he had never seen. When
Miss Bumey thought of writing a comedy, he prom-
ised to give her liis best counsel, though he owned
that he was not particularly well qualified to advise on
matters relating to the stage. We therefore think it in
the highest degree improbable that his little Fanny,
when Uving in habits of the most affectionate inter-
course with him, would have brought out an important
work without consulting him ; and, when we look into
Cecilia, we see such traces of his hand in the grave
and elevated passages as it is impossible to mistake.
Before we conclude this article, we will give two or
three examples.

When next Madame D'Arblay appeared before the
world as a writer, she was in a very different situation.
She would not content herself with the simple English
in which Evelina had been written. She had no
longer tho friend who, we are confident, had polished
and strengthened the style of Cecilia. She had to
wHte in Johnson's manner without Johnson^s aid.
The consequence was, that in Camilla every passage

VOL. V. 14




which she meant to be fine is detestable ; and that the
book has been saved from condemnation only by tlie
admirable spirit and force of those scenes in which she
was content to be fanuliar.

Bat there was to be a still deeper descent. After
the publication of Camilla, Madame D'Ai'blay resided
ten years at Paris, During those years there was
scarcely any intercourse between Prance and England.
It was with difficulty that a diort letter could occa-
sionally be transmitted. All Madame D'Arblay's
companions were French. She must have written,
spoken, thought, in French. Ovid expressed his fear
that a shorter exile might have affected the purity of
his Latin. During a shorter exile, Gibbon unlearned
his native English. Madame D'Arblay had carried a
bad style to France- She brought back a style which
we are really at a loss to describe. It is a sort of
broken Johnsonese, a barbarous patois^ bearing the
same relation to the language of Rasselas, which the
gibberish of the Negroes of Jamaica bears to tlie
English of the House ci Lords. Sometimes it reminds
us of the finest, that is to say, the vilest parts, of Mr.
Gait's novels ; sometimes of the perorations of Exeter
Hall ; sometimes of tlie leading articles of the Morning
Post. But it most resembles the puffi of Mr. Rowland
and Dr. Goss. It matters not what ideas are clothed
in such a style* The genius of Shakspeare and Bacon
united would not save a work so written from general

It is only by means of specimens that we can enable
our readers to judge how ^ridely Madame D*Arblay's
three styles diftered from each other.

The following passage was written before she became
intimate with Johnson. It is from Evelina.




** His son seems weaker in his understanding, and more gay in
kh temfKsr; but his gaiety b that of a foolish overgrown schoolboy,
whose mirth consists in noise and disturbance. He disdains his
father for his close attention to business and love of money,
though he seems himself to have no talents, spirit, or generosity to
make him superior to either. EBs chief deKght appears to be in
tormenting and ridiculing his sisters, who tn return most cordially
despise him. Miss Branghton, the eldest daughter, is by no means
ugly; but looks proud, ill-tempered, and conceited. She hates
the city, though without knowing why ; for it is easy to discover
she has lived nowhere else. Miss Polly Branghton is rather pretty,
rery foolish, very ignorant, very giddy, and, I believe, very

This is not a fine style, but simply perspicuous and
agreeable. We now come to Cecilia, written during
Miss Bumey's intimacy with Johnson ; and we leave
it to our readers to judge whether the following passage
was not at least corrected by his hand.

" It is rather an imaginary than an actual evil, and though a
deep wound to pi-ide, no offence to morality. Thus have 1 laid
c^n to you my whole heart, confessed my perplexities, acknowl-
edge*! my vainglory, and exposed with e(]ual sincerity the sources
of my doubts and the motives of my decision. But now, indeed,
how to proceed I know not The difficulties which are yet to
encounter I fear to enumerate, and the petition I have to urge I
have scarce courage to mention. My family, mistaking ambitioii
for honour, and rank for dignity, have long planned a splendid
connection for me, to which, though my invariable repugnance has
stopped any advances, their wishes and their views immoveably
adhere. I am but too certain they will now listen to no other. I
dread, therefore, to make a trial where I despair of success. I
know not how to risk a prayer with those who may silence me by
a command."

Take now a specimen of Madame D'Arblay's later
style. This is the way in which she tells us that her
father, on his jom*ney back from the Continent, caught
the rheumatism.




** He was assaulted, during his precipitated return, by the rudest
ftcreeneas of wintry elejnental strife; through which, with bad
accommodations and innumerable accidents, he became a prey to
the merciless pangs of the acutcst spasmodic rheumatism, which
barely suffered him to reach his home, ere, long and piteoa^y, it
confined him, a tortured prisoner, to his bed. Such was the check
that aUnost instantly curbed, though it could not subdue, the rising
pleasure of his hopes of entering upon a new species of existence
— that of an approved man of letters; for it was on the bed of
sickness, exchanging the light wines of France, Italy, and Ger-
manyf for the black and loathsome potions of the Apothecaries*
Hall, writhed by darting stitches, and burning with fiery fever,
that he felt the full force of that sublunary equipoise that seemed
evermore to hang suspended over the attainment of long-sought
and uncommon felicity, just as it is ripening to burst forth with
enjoyment ! "

Here is a second passafi;e from Evelina.

"Mrs. Selwyn is very kind and attentive to me. She is ex-
tremely clever. Her understanding, indeed, may be called mas-
culine ; but unfortunately her manners deserve the same epithet ;
for, in studying to acquire the knowledge of the other sex. she has
lost all the softness of her own. In regard to myself, however, as
I have neither courage nor inclination to argue with her, I have
never been personally hurt at her want of gentleness, a virtue
which nevertheless seems so essential a part of the female charac-
ter, that I find myself more awkward and less at ease with a
woman who wants it than I do with a man."

This is a good style of its kind ; and the following
passage from Cecilia is also in a good style, though not
ill a faultless one. We say with confidence either Sam
Jolinson or the Devil.

" Even the imperious Mr. Delvile was more supportable hero
than in London. Secure in his own castle, he looked round him
with a pride of power and possession which sot>ened while it
swelled him. His superiority was undisputed : his will was without
control. He was not, as in the great capital of the kingdom,
surrounded by competitors. No rivalry disturbed his peace ; no
equality mortified his greatness. All he saw were either vassals of




ms power, or guests l>endiiig to his pleasure. He abated, tbereibro,
considerably the stem gloom of bis haughtiness, and soothed his
proud mind by the courtesy of condescension."

We vnU stake our reputation for critical sagacity on
tliis, that no such paragraph as that which we have
last quoted can be found in any of Madame D'Arblay's
works except Cecilia. Compare with it the following
sanple of her later style.

*' If beneficence be judged by the happiness which it difiusee,
whose claim, by that proof, shall stand higher than that of Mrs.
Montagu, from the munificence with which she celebrated her
annual festival lor those hapless artificers who perform the most
abject oflSces of any authorized calling, in being the active guar-
dians of our blazing hearths ? Not to vain glory, then, but to
kindness of heart, should be adjudged the publicity of that superb
charity which made its jetty objects, for one bright morning, cease
to consider themselves as degraded outcasts from all society." '

We add one or two diorter samples. Sheridan re-
fused to permit his lovely wife to sing in public, and
was warmly praised on this account by Johnson.

'* The last of men," says Madame D'Arblay, " was
Doctor Johnson to have abetted squandering the deli-
cacy of integrity by nullifying the labours of talents."

The Club, Johnson's Club, did itself no honour by
rejecting on political grounds two distinguished men,
one a Tory, the other a Whig. Madame D'Arblay
tells the story thus : " A similar ebullition of political
rancour with that which so difficultly had be€n con-
quered for Mr. Canning foamed over the ballot box tc
the exclusion of Mr. Rogers."

An offence punishable with imprisonment is, in this
langui^, an offence "which produces incarceration."
To be starved to death is " to sink from inanition into
oonentity." Sir Isaac Newton is " the developer of
the skies in their embodied movements ; " and Mrs.




Thrale, when a party of clever people sat silent, is
said to have been ** provoked by the dulness of a taci-
turnity that, in the midst of such renowned interlocu-
tors, produced as narcotic a torpor as could have been
caused by a dearth the most barren of all human facul-
ties." In truth, it is impossible to look at any page of
Madame D'Arblay's later works without finding flow-
ei-s of rhetoric like these. Nothing in the language ^f
those jargonists at whom Mr. Gosport laughed, noth-
ing in the language of Sir Sedley Clarendel, approaches
this new Euphuism.

It is from no unfriendly feeling to Madame D'Ar-
blay's memory that we have expressed ourselves so
strongly on the subject of her style. On the contrary,
we conceive that we have really rendered a service to
her reputation. That her later works were complete
failures, is a fsuct too not<»ious to be dissembled : and
some persons, we believe, have consequently taken u])
a notion that she was from the first an overrated writer,
and that she had not the powers which were necessary
to maintain her on the eminence on which good luck
and fiishion had placed her. We believe, on the con-
trary, that her early popularity was no more than the
just reward of distinguished merit, and would never
have nndergone an eclipse, if she had only been content
to go on writing in her mother tongue. If she failed
when she quitted her own province, and attempted to
occupy one in which she had neither part nor lot, this
i^proach is common to her with a crowd of distinguished
men. Newton failed when he turned from the courses
of the stars, and the ebb and flow of the ocean, to apoc-
alyptic seals and vials. Bentley failed when he turned
from Homer and Aristophanes, to edite the Paradise
Lost. Inigo failed when he attempted to rival the




Gothic churches of the fourteenth century. Wilkie
&Ued when he took it into his head that the Blind Fid-
dler and the Rent Day were unworthy of his powers,
and challenged competition widi Lawrence as a portrait
painter. Such failures should be noted for the instruc-
tion of posterity ; but they detract little from the per^
nianent reputation of those who have really done great

Yet one word more. It is not only on acco^mt of
the intrinsic merit pf Madame d'Arblay's early works
that she is entitled to honourable mention. Her ap-
pearance is an important epoch in our literary history.
Evelina was the first tale written by a woman, and
purporting to be a picture of life and manners, that
lived or deserved to live. The Female Quixote is no
exception. That work has undoubtedly great merit,
when considered as a wild satirical harlequinade; but,
if we consider it as a picture of life and nuinncrs, we
must pronounce it more absurd than any of the ro-
mances which it was designed to ridicule.

Indeed, most of the popular novels which preceded
Evelina were such as no lady would Imve written;
and many of them were such as no lady could with-
out confusion own tliat she had read. The very name
of novel was held in horror among religious people. In
decent families, which did not profess extraordinary
sanctity, there was a strong feeling against all such
works. Sir Anthony Absolute, two or three years
before Evelina appeared, spoke the sense of the great
body of sober fathers and husbands, when he pro-
nounced the circulating library an evergreen tree of
diabolical knowledge. This feeling, on the part of tlie
grave and reflecting, increased the evil from which it
bad sprung. The novelist liavin<; little character to




lose, and having few readers among serious people, took
without scruple Uberties which in our generation seem
almost incredible.

Miss Bumey did for the English novel what Jeremy
Collier did for the English drama ; and she did it in a
•better way. She first showed that a tale might be
written in which both the fashionable and the vulgar
life of London might be exhibited with great force, and
with broad comic humour, and which yet should not
contain a single line inconsistent with rigid morality, oi
even with virgin delicacy. She took away the reproach
which lay on a most useful and delightful species of
composition. She vindicated the right of her sex to an
equal share in a feir and noble province of letters.
Several accompUshed women have followed in her track.
At present, the novels which we owe to English ladies
form no small part of the literary glory of our country.
No class of works is more honourably distinguished by
fine observation, by grace, by delicate wit, by pure
moral feeling. Several among the successors of Mad*
ame D' Arblay have equalled her ; two, we think, have
surpassed her. But the fauct that she has been surpassed
gives her an additional daim to our respect and grati-
tude ; for, in truth, we owe to her not only Evelina,
Cecilia, and Camilla, but also Mansfield Park and the




{EJuibtirsh Beview, July, 1848.)

SoMB reviewers are of opinion that a lady who dares
to publish a book renounces by that act the franchises
appertaining to her sex, and can claim no exemption
from the utmost rigour of critical procedure. From
tliat opinion we dissent. We admit, indeed, that in a
country which boasts of many female writers, eminently
qualified by their talents and acquirements to influence
the public mind, it would be of most pernicious conse-
quence that inaccurate history or unsound philosophy
should be suifered to pass uncensured, merely because
the oiFender chanced to be a lady. But we conceive
that, on such occasions, a critic would do well to imitate
the courteous Knight who found himself compelled by
duty to keep the lists against Bradamante. He, we
are told, defended successfrilly the cause of which he
was the champion ; but before the fight began, ex-
changed Balisarda for a less deadly sword, of which he
careftiUy blimted the point and edge.^

Nor are the immunities of sex the only immunities
which Miss Aikin may rightfully plead. Several of
her works, and especially the very pleasing Memoirs
of the Reign of James/ the First, have fully entitled

^ The Id/e of Jo$qfh Addimrn, By Lucy AiKUi. 2 vols. 8vo. London :
» Oiiando Furioso, xlv. 68.




h r to the privileges enjoyed by good writers. One of
those privileges we hold to be this, that such writers,
wiien, either from the unlucky choice of a subject, or
from the indolence too often produced by success, they
happen to fail, shall not be subjected to the severe
disci pUne which it is sometimes necessary to tnf^'rt
ujwn dunces and impostors, but shall merely bo re-
minded by a gentle touch, like tliat with which tho
Laputan flapper roused his dreaming lord, that it is
nigh time to wake.

Our readers will probably infer from what we have
said that Miss Aikin's book has disappointed us. The
truth is, that she is not well acquainted with her sub-
ject. No person who is not familiar with the political
and literary history of England during the reigns of
William the Third, of Anne, and of George the First,
can possibly Avrite a good life of Addison. Now, we
mean no reproach to Miss Aikin, and many will thuik
that we pay her a compliment, when we say that her
studies have taken a different direction. She is better
acquainted with Shakspeare aud Raleigh, than \\ith
Congreve and Prior ; and is far more at home among
the ruffs and peaked beards of Theobald's than among
the Steenkirks and flowing periwigs which surrounded
Queen Anne's tea table at Hampton. She seems to
have written about the Elizabethan age, because she
had read much about it ; she seems, on the other hand,
to have read a little about the age of Addison, because
she had determined to write about it. The conse-
quence is that she has had to describe men and things
without having either a correct or a vivid idea of them,
and that she has often fallen into errors of a very serious
kind. The reputation which Miss Aikin has justly
earned stands so high, and the charm of Addison's let-




ters is so great, that a second edition of this woik may
probably be requii-ed. If so, we hope that every para-
graph will be revised, and that every date and fact about
which there can be the smallest doubt will be carefully

To Addison himself we are bound by a sentiment as
much like affection as any sentiment can be, which is
inspired by one who has been sleeping a hundred aiid
twenty years in Westminster Abbey. We trust, how-
ever, that this feeling will not betray us into that abject
idolatry which we have often had occasion to repre-
hend in others, and which seldom &ils to make both
the idolater and the idol ridiculous. A man of genius
and virtue is but a man. All his powers cannot be
equally developed ; nor can we expect from him perfect
self-knowledge. We need not, therefore, hesitate to
admit that Addison has left us some compositions which
do not rise above mediocrity, some heroic poems hardly
equal to Pamdl's, some criticism as superficial as Dr.
Blair's, and a tragedy not very much better than Dr.
Johnson's. It is praise enough to say of a writer that,
in a high department of literature, in which many em-
inent writers have distinguished themselves, he has had
no equal ; and this may with strict justice be said of

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 24 of 84)