Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

row the saturnine Johnson's appellation-should be foremost in availing themselves of resources calculated so agreeably to vary the course of an existence, which must on the whole be level ? Not only does a woman number among her travelling paraphernalia superior quickness of feeling, delicacy of taste, and readiness of hand to record every impression, but she also possesses intact, that love of adventure and enterprise which animates every human being. A man, from his schoolboy days upwards, is satisfying or exhausting this appetite by sharing in the pursuits and pleasures of active life; but one of the gentler sex is perforce denied its indulgence, unless she cast in her lot with the Lady Hester Stanhopes and Elizabeth Frys, or be impelled by special instincts to undertake the brilliant but unsatisfactory career of an artist. In intelligences of the lowest order this natural restlessness works itself off in the forms of watering-place dissipation. As we rise higher in the scale of poetical endowment, or originality of character, we shall find one of the sisterhood venturing alone across the Desert to India, another aspiring to scale Mont Blanc, a third in male attire gymnastically making her way downward from story to story of an Austrian mine, a fourth with sketch-book and unibrella, “camping out” by the great lakes of America*. The list of examples could be extended to the length of our article: let us, then, confine ourselves to those immediately before us.

So many months have elapsed since Miss Sedgwick's book surprised her English friends, that, though containing texts by the score for much meditation and improvement,” we should hardly have noticed it, did not its recent republication, in the cheapest possible form, argue an attempt to place iton the shelves of our standard popular literature. Against this measure we must protest gravely. What such a book is to teach the English reader, it were hard to discover; while it contains enough sectarianism, false reasoning and unguarded statement of facts, to make its pages unwholesome, without imparting to them

* Since this article was written the catalogue of female travellers has received a unique addition in the person of the lady whose 'Ride on Horseback to Florence through France and Switzerland' has just been published by Mr. Murray. Apart from the peculiarity of character imparted to her pleasant letters by the enterprising mode of locomotion adopted, they furnish by no means the worst guidebook that has been published even in these matter-of-fact and rummaging days. VOL, XIII. No. XXVI.

2 K

that poorest of redeeming attributes which sometimes accompanies morbid interest-namely, piquancy. We acquit Miss Sedgwick of any intentions save those most creditable to herself and her sex. Her name has long deservedly stood highest on the roll of American authoresses. Her novels, better executed in detail than conceived in the first idea, are full of a liberal philanthropy and a pure wisdom, too much disregarded by certain contemporary female writers of tales, who appear to have thought that Woman's strength is best shown in fearlessly grappling with monstrous incidents and foul passions. Her books for children are of a yet higher order, excellently combining practical good-sense which gives balance to the young mind, the fanciful imagination which enchants it, and the exhibition of those warm affections which are its life-blood. These books, moreover, have the fullest merit of nationality; they are honest, homespun, simple American manufacture, The labours of a life, then, must be accepted as earnest that the faults of judgement into which our authoress has fallen have been as involuntary as they are exceptional.

The first of these faults to be dealt with is, to quote Miss Sedgwick's own words, “her unscrupulous mention of the names of such distinguished English people as it was her good fortune to see.” We must add, that though she further declares her unscrupulosity to have confined itself “ strictly to public characters,” the text of her book contradicts the assertion of her preface. By the side of “ gallery portraits” of Mr. Rogers, Mrs. Joanna Baillie, Miss Mitford (including a speculation upon that lady's income, and the number of servants proportioned to it), Captain Hall, Sir Francis Chantrey, Mrs. Austin, and every author or authoress worth putting in print whom she encountered-by the side of concerts at Lansdowne House, and breakfasts at which she sat between Babbage and Macaulay; we find persons and interiors less known to fameand therefore totally beyond the province of the most liberally self-licensed American-drawn with such a minuteness as to render dashes and initials ridiculous, and exhibited to a large circle of their friends in colours flattering or gloomy as the case may be. “K.,” for instance, with “his ticket for six," is in perpetual favour with Miss Sedgwick; and, doubtless justly; many could say “ Amen” to her civilities, were it discreet. But what did the poor lady and gentleman commit who are placarded pp. 81, 82, 83, and 84 of Miss Sedgwick's first volume, to deserve being painted, as they are, on the converse of Queen Elizabeth's principle, all in shadow? By her own showing they hospitably provided an entertainment for her, which she was willing to accept. By her own showing, having blundered egregiously as to the hour named, she placed them in the most awkward predicament possible for persons so hospitable ; after which, refusing to avail herself of the extrication offered, and sore at the memory of her own unreadiness, she sits down and accuses her Amphitryon of “ a dim smile," and his lady of elaborate formality, because the former handed her in to the dinner she had expressed a wish to partake, and the latter recalled it from the shades below!" Were the ambiguity of the gentleman's greeting and the fuss of his lady's attention to a principal guest, incidents so precious to the American lady, that, for the sake of typifying therein English stiffness and "abstemiousness in courtesy," she must break the rule of her own preface? No case of indiscretion, in the pages of the Willises and the Trollopes, rises to our recollections so flagrant as this; and yet they are mere bookmanufacturers compared with Miss Sedgwick, who is a moralist of no mean reputation *.

More serious however, as regards the consequences of the offence, are the passages from her Italian letters which our authoress has allowed herself to publish. In her own land her family, it appears, has generously been foremost to shelter and welcome certain Italians who have taken refuge from Austrian prisons in America. The friends of these exiles met her with warm affection, and poured out their hearts to her with Italian impetuosity. She has not spared us an indignant exclamation against the government whose ordinances had remotely brought them together; and this at a moment when it is notorious that the friends of many of the refugees

* Having the honour to enjoy the friendship of the learned and amiable gentleman here alluded to, and having heard from other parties then and there present, what really took place on the occasion, we venture to tell Miss Sedgwick that “the dim smile" and the elaborate formality existed only in her own imagination. Further, that the only embarrassment that existed arose from the anxious desire of the guests to spare Miss Sedgwick the awkwardness of commencing a dinner which they had finished, and which had been originally detained beyond all reasonable space, for her sake.

are leaving no stone unturned to negotiate their return! To moralize on the glaring imprudence of such wholesale confidences to the public as these, would be surely superfluous. It is needless to point out how, in a world of vicissitude like ours, merely a few months of prolonged banishment on the part of one of her friends (no unnatural consequence of Miss Sedgwick's revelations) might place her in a position of repentance for the rest of her days. There are cases in which want of reserve may produce results as fatal as want of honesty; and this is among them.

The amount of personal detail warrantable in a published book of travels is a nice question for the casuists. The question has many sides. One reasoner will take the broad ground of decrying all such revelations as dishonourably indelicate; making the only exception in cases where permission to Boswellize has been expressly asked and freely granted. This ground we feel to be untenable. It is true that a Manzoni, shutting himself up in the seclusion of his meditative retreat, may be no fit subject for the smart self-complacent inquisitor, who, armed with a slender introduction, forces his way into the poet's solitude as remorselessly as one would open an oyster;—but a Göthe or a Coleridge, who gives audiences, and permits his treasured wisdom to flow forth, avowedly for the purpose of influencing those who have ears to hear; must be content, nay, expect to have his utterances published, and the “arras and the pictures” of his sanctuary described for the benefit of distant disciples. Those, again, who have confessed much to the public in their writings, have in some wise deprived themselves of the shelter of privacy; whence it follows that Miss Mitford, whose Our Village' is more or less an autobiography, is less justified in charging Miss Sedgwick with offence than the authoress of * Plays on the Passions. A nice sense of honour, a determination to say the least rather than the most in all caseslet the public crave for its favourite food ever so eagerly—an appreciation of those qualities and attributes which make the private life of a distinguished person public property, are surely checks, under the imposition of which confidence could not be violated, or pain inflicted. As for the Americans quoting our Halls and Trollopes, and the English retaliating by scolding at their Mr. “ Penciller " Willis, and then declaring they “ will better his instruction;"-or both looking for apologetical examples to the elder travellers (who wrote because they had travelled-men of weight and credit compared with the swarm of insignificant beings who now travel because they would write); all such pleas and rejoinders seem to us childish, hollow and immoral. Without attempting to sum up the question, two probable consequences to society from this fever for publishing contemporary gossip may be indicated —first, restraint, caution and reluctance in intercourse with strangers ; second, the concealment, and subsequently the extinction of all that a traveller cares to see-of those individual modes and utterances which distinguish the Kentucky gallant from the Yorkshire tyke, “the Loafer” of New York from the Bulls and Bears of our own Stock Exchange.

But we must not give further vent to the speculations naturally arising from these fruits of feminine travel before us, and especially suggested by Miss Sedgwick's book. Apart from its personalities, it contains little, as we have said, to instruct or gratify the English reader. She expresses constant surprise and lamentation at the sight of the beggary she witnesses in this land; but what man (or woman), who is capable of being touched, needs such jealous and spiteful reminders as her pages furnish, to make him entertain the momentous question of what the English rich ought to do for the English poor? She declares our Sovereign to be “ ordinary:-a person who would never be remarked in her own village church,”-is scandalized by the sight of a coachman driving in “a militia general's hat, feathers and all !!!” (vol. i. p. 41), and by the indecencies of the opera ballet. She feels “the Puritan struggling at her heart” on being present at our cathedral service. Strange contrasts all these to the charitable toleration which Catholic continental mendicants, royalties, public amusements, incenses and antiphonies awakened in her! In short, a perverse nationality, taking the form of affected compassion or narrow-minded rebuke, is everywhere to be discerned struggling with a simple, truthful nature,-an inevitable ignorance in all matters where art and taste are concerned, strangely mingled with the cordial sympathy which admires, and the discernment which appreciates, the beautiful. The American stands most prominently confessed in England. The woman

« PredošláPokračovať »