Sayfadaki görseller

It now became necessary to exert her faculties again as a means of support; and she translated a little novel of Abbé Prevost; and made.a selection of extraordinary stories from “Les Causes Celebres" of the French, which she entitled “The Romance of Real Life."

Soon after this she was once more left to herself by a second flight of her husband abroad; and she removed with her children to a small cottage in another part of Sussex, whence she published a new edition of her Sonnets, with many additions, which afforded her a temporary relief. In this retirement, stimulated by necessity, she ventured to try her powers of original composition in another line of literature, for here she wrote her novel of “ Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, 1788. All that part of the public, who, though they were disgusted with the usual contents of a circulating library, yet had fancy and feeling enough to judge for themselves in spite of prejudice, received this enchanting fiction with a new kind of delight. It displayed such a simple energy of• language, such an accurate and lively delineation of character, such a purity of sentiment, and such exquisite scenery of a picturesque and rich, yet most unaffected imagination, as gave it a hold upon all readers of true taste, of a new and most captivating kind. The simple charms of Emmeline; the description of the Old Castle in Wales; the marine scenery in the Isle of Wight; the character of Godolphin; and many other parts possessed a sort of charm, which had not hitherto been imparted to novels. How a mind oppressed with sorrows and injuries of the deepest dye, and loaded with hourly anxieties of the most pressing sort, could be endowed with 'strength and elasticity to combine and throw forth such visions with a pen dipped in all the glowing hues of a most playful and creative fancy, fills me with astonishment and admiration!


But whatever wonder may be excited by this first effort, it will yet be increased when we recollect that for several successive years, she still produced others with equal felicity, with an imagination still unexhausted, and a command of language, and variety of character, which have not yet received their due commendation. “Ethelinde" appeared in 1789; “Celestina” in 179'; “Desmond” in 1792; and “The Old Manor House” in 1793. To these succeeded « The Wandrings of Warwick ;” the “Banished Man;" “ Montalbert;" “ Marchmont," 1796; “ The Young Philosopher,” 1798; “ The Solitary Wanderer ;”

" making together, I believe, 38 volumes.

Besides these Mrs. Smith wrote several beautiful little volumés for young persons, entitled “ Rural Walks ;” “Rambles Farther;" “ Minor Morals;" and “ Conversations :" and a poem, in blank verse, called “The Emigrant," in addition to a secord volume of Sonnets.

During this long period of constant literary exertion, which alone seemed sufficient to have occupied all her time, Mrs. Smith had both family griefs and family business of the most perplexing and overwhelming nature to contend with. Her eldest son had been many years absent as a writer in Bengal; her second surviving son died of a rapid and virulent fever; her third son lost his leg at Dunkirk, as an Ensign in the 24th Regt. and her eldest daughter, “ the loveliest and most beloved of her children,” expired within twoyears after her marriage. The grandfather of her children


had left his property, which lay in the West Indies, in the hands of trustees and agents, and when to this complication was added the unfortunate state of her husband's affairs, she had difficulties to surmount, in the endeavour to obtain justice, and a series of delays, pretences, misapplications, extortions and insults to endure, which must have agitated a sagacious and indignant spirit almost beyond human patience.

The aid of an high-minded nobleman is said to have enabled her at last to bring tbese affairs, of which the embarrassments were thus purposely aggravated, to an accommodation with the various parties, who had claims on them. But I have no opportunity of ascer. taining whether these arrangements were ever completed before her death. The hour was arriving, when Grief was at last to subdue her long-tried victim. Her husband, who seems never to have conquered his habits ofi mprudence, died, as it is said, in legal confinement, in March 1806. On 28th Oct. following, at Telford, near Farnham in Surry, she died herself, and in the words of the newspapers, “much lamented by her family and a numerous and respectable acquaintance, after a lingering and painful illness, which she bore with the utmost patience, retaining her excellent faculties to the last."

I am totally unacquainted with the character of Mrs. Smith from any other source than her writings; but I consider those writings to furnish ample grounds for the delineation both of her intellectual and moral portrait. It appears to me scarce possible that in such a multitude of volumes, many of them written in haste, the same prominent features should materially vary from those of the author. When therefore I have heard dark hints of the harshness of her temper, or the freedom of 'her principles, I have been not only sceptical, but indignant; and have attributed these foul aspersions to that narrow envy and never-ceasing malice, which constantly attend on Genius, when it carries itself high, and will not bend to the follies and servilities of the world. I do not blame those imbecile and yielding spirits, which only smile or weep at the hand of the oppressor; and dare not lift an arm to defend themselves from insult or injustice; but I cannot admire them. I am not sufficiently an optimist to admit that upon all occasions all is for the best; to bear, without resistance, the insults of rank or wealth; the scorn of bloated prosperity, the robberies of legal extortion; or the taunts or frowns of unmerited unkindness.

dark neither

I know that when great talents and superior taste are under the inflictions of adverse fortune, they are considered by stupidity and hard-heartedness as the fair victims on which they may indulge their vengeance and hatred. Then they conceive that the lion is chained down, disarmed of his claws, and they may commence their cowardly and cruel sports upon him, with impunity! If he growls, or lifts a paw, or shakes himtelf beneath his fetters, he commits an unpardonable offence, and is destined to endless persecution and calumny.

It is probable that the quickness of Mrs. Smith's penetration, and the boldness of her temper impelled her sometimes to speak unwelcome truths to some of the persons concerned in her affairs, who were generally accustomed to secure themselves by the glare of their riches from too near an inspection. This might be imprudent in point of self-interest; but surely it

neither detracted from her virtue, nor from her claims to respect and admiration. ·

What are the traits which characterize every heroine delineated by her pen? An elevated simplicity, an unaffected purity of heart, of ardent and sublime affections, delighting in the scenery of Nature, and flying from the sophisticated and vicious commerce of the world; but capable, when necessity calls it forth, of displaying a vigorous sagacity and a lofty fortitude, which appals vice, and dignifies adversity! Can we doubt that the innocent and enchanting childhood of Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle, or the angelic affections of Celestina, were familiar to the heart of the author? They contain touches, which the warmest fancy, or the most ingenious head, could never supply.

Yet this is the writer, whose works have been deemed immoral! Immoral, by whom? By people who read with pleasure of fashionable intrigues; and wade with interest through all the base and stupid ordure of a circulating library! Who delight in the filthy amours of Tom Jones, and Peregrine Pickle! Who are enraptured with stories of ghosts, and robberies, and rapes, and murders!

There is indeed one novel of Mrs. Smith, on which this charge of immorality has been more particularly fixed. This is Desmond, which turns on the attachment of the hero to a married woman, But how is that attachment regulated ; and in what does it end? Does it seek any other gratification than to befriend and protect the beloved object under adversity, dereliction, and trials of the most aggravated nature? Does the lovely Geraldine indulge in any act, any thought or wish, that angels could disapprove? What then is the VOL. IV.



« ÖncekiDevam »