Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

*

their husbands have had anything to do with sentiments like the following, we leave the curious reader to judge: “L'union de l'homme à la femme devrait etre passagere dans les desseins de la Providence : tout s'oppose a leur association, et la changement est une necessité de leur nature.

Il y a un refuge contre les hommesc'est le suicide : il y a un refuge contre Dieuc'est le neant.', These sentiments are sufficiently odious. But if Madame Dudevant makes use of such occasionally, she tries to make amends for them under other circumstances. This Balzac never does. In his essays, as well as in his novels, he is always the same libeller of woman, the same enemy of the marriage institution. In one of the former he gravely says, referring to his novels : "I have shown that it is almost impossible for a married woman to preserve her virtue in France-qu'il est presque impossible à une femme marriée de rester vertueuse en l'rance.” The brief passage or two we have quoted from Madaine Dudevant's Lelia are equally subversive of the chief bond of human society and happiness. But never, in her calm, serious moments, does she utter any such sentiinents; but, on the contrary, as an extract or two froin her Lettres à Narcie will serve to show as examples :

[ocr errors]

“It is strange that the most fanatical partizans for marrriage should severally make use of the argument the littest to render marriage odious, Reciprocally the horrible error of promiscuous intercourse is professed by men who defend the equality of women, so that two incontestible truths, the equality of the sexes and the sanctity of their union, are compromised by their own champions. The clumsy aphorisms of masculine superiority have only become so bitter because the pretensions of women to independence have been so excessive. Women are unfit for those employments which the laws have hitherto denied them.

Man's organization assigns a part to him ; woman's assigns another part to her; one not less noble, not less beautiful, and which I cannot conceive she should complain of, unless her intelligence be depraved.

Women complain of being brutally enslaved, badly brought up, badly educated, badly treated, and badly defended. All this is unfortunately true. These complaints are just, and do not doubt, but that before long a thousand voices will be uplifted to remedy the evils. But what confidence can be inspired by women who, in advancing to claim for themselves that share of dignity which marriage denies them. and, above all, that portion of sacred authority over their children, which the law refuses them, denied, not domestic peace, not the liberty of maternal affection, but to spealc in the forum, to wear the helmet and sword, to participate in the condemnation of prisoners."

Madame Dudevant is as superior to Balzac in her style as she is in the general tone of her sentiments. It is not, indeed, diffi

cult to surpass him in this respect. Dialogue is the only form in which he is even tolerable, because in this he adopts the language of conversation. But when he attempts to describe, lie is rarely otherwise ihan nechanical and illiiert. With him, dress is overything I woman is locautiful or otherwise, according to the skill of her milliner, or the richness and variety of her toilet. In one of his descriptions of natural scelery, he compares nature not to a beautiful woman, but to il vonin dresseel for the ball (comme une femme parce qui va al bali. In nine cases out of ten, it is the milliner, and not mallr', dat gets the credit from Balzac, when a woman nakes an agreeable impressio1; and when it is otherwise, the complime-1: pil is often uivocal. Thus, fror erample, in his Luis !-11:3 1.: 1:11:2, he makes landenesse exclaim, on seeing Vardarne de Vorts:'lit. " -Inssitot jo sentis une culeste odeur de myrrhes et d'allos, H :1:qui brilla dans mon cLUT." In describing Beatris, sanding on a rock, lie scarcely omits a single article on her ]Hrn: "Le visage adouci par le rèilet d'un chupa de puille de ris, sit lucl etaieni jetes de coquelicots et noué par un rubun couleur proponu ('n robe likursselini á teurs avançant son petit piet fluet chaussé d'une gue!re arle, s'appuyant sur sa fréle ombrelle, on montrant sa belle main bie: gante." Nothing contrasts more strongly with this than the exquisite style of Aladame Dudevant. In 10 other writer are all the finer characteristics of the French language so felicitously combined. She is in turn witty, humorous, opigramatic, pathetic and playful. Her scenic descriptions are the most graphic, poetical and graceful to be found in any language. The misfortune is, that where she is most wonderfully poetical, she is also most immoral. This is the case in her Lélia, in which she describes lake and mountain scenery with the picturesque vividness of the painter. We have no room for extracts, save a sentence or two, which can be detached from the context like a verse from a poem, such, for instance, as " Entendez-rous le sun plaintif de l'eau qui se brise et secarte? Entendezrous ces freles gouttes qui tombent une à une en mourant derière nous, comme les petiles notes grêles (d'un refrain qui s'clogine? Combien de fois à l'entree de la nuit, au lever de la lune, on aux premieres clartés du jour-combien de fois, dans le silence de nuit et dans cet autre silence de midi, si accablant, si inquiet, si dicorant, nai-je pas sen tis mon cirur se précipiler ucrs un but inconnu, eers un bonheur sans form et sans nom, qui est au ciel, qui est dans l'air, qui est partout comme un aimant invisible comme l'amour !"

But it will be asked, if Balzac does not possess charms of some kind, why has he been so much read? We have already icdicated one source of his popularity—the chief source—that is, the minuteness with which lie describes scenes and situations which most other writers shrink froin alluding to. But he is also a great delineator of character. IIerein lies his forte. IIe understands the secret motives of men and women, in all their actions, better than any other writer—not excepting George Sand. But he wants the passion of the latter. The heroes and heroines of Madame Dudevant err through love, jealousy or revenge ; but with Balzac, even the habitual seducer of inarried women, is actuated more by the love of gain, than any feeling of tenderness for liis victim. In short, the lessons taught by Balzac, are the worst ever put into the inarket for a price ; since, if they were acted upon, there would be no such thing as female virtue, or conjugal fidelity—no religion, and very little, if any, honesty. Are the American people ready to accept such teachings ?—to admit into their family libraries, and into the hands of their wives and daughters, books so infamously licentious, as to have been deemed worthy, even in Paris, of being burned by the common hangman? It will not do to say that what is false, as applied to women in general, is truc of French women. Such would be a gross libel on the latter, among whom are to be found as noble specimens of womanhood, as faithful wives and exemplary mothers, as any other women in the world. No other women have shown such heroic devotion to their husbands in their misfortunes. In what other country, ancient or modern, do we find the superior, in this respect, of Madame Lavalette ; and she is but one of scores who, in similar circumstances, were willing to submit their own necks to the guillotine in order to save those of their husbands. But were it even true that Balzac's countrywomen are as false and base as he describes them, would it be well to teach the virtuous those arts by which such baseness is carried into practical effect to the detriment and disgrace of society? If, only for decency's sake, no lady should read such books, no matter how strongly recommended by “enterprising” publishers; she should assume a “virtue, if she have it not;" or as Moliere puts a similar sentiment into tlic month of Philante

.. Mais quand on est du monde, il faut bien que l'on rende

Quelques dehors civils que l'usage demande."

Art. IX.-XOTICES AND CRITICISMS.

BELLES LETTRES.

Harrington ; . Story of True Love. By the author of " That Cheer,"? - The

Ghost," A Christmas Story," " A Tale of Lynn,“ &c. 12mo.. pp. 558.

Boston : Thayer & Eldridge. 1.500. In no single volume that we have had time to examine, within the last year or two), have we found so many “isms," as there are in this. That, however, which predominates above all the rest, is fanaticism. This is to be found in all sorts of combinations; but it has a greater affinity for abolitionism than for any of its crazy sister:. According to our author, the world has never yet been able to appreciate the Veyro race. The ('auc:sians are, indeed, excellent people when they happen to live in the right latitude and longitude; and the nearer the North Pole the better they are. But if they happen to live south of a certain line, they degenerate in it similar ratio. They are seldom, it ever, actuated by generous emotions; they have little talent and no genius. But just in proportion as they are thus stupid and insensible to the more ennobling impulses of humanity, their Negro servants become ingenious, patriotic, religious, wise and good. In short, in " cruel bondage," as the latter are, their intellectual faculties are almost in as highly developed a state as those of their brethren of the fatherland, who enjoy all the benefits of African civilization, and who, no matter what certain aihnologists may pretend to the contrary; are most probably the deser'ndants of those Egyptians who built the pyramids !

This is really no eraggeration of the manner in which our author constructs his abolition syllogisms. Such absurilities never served any cause ; but it is equally true that they can do no harm. Although evidently meant serious, they are too much in the burlesque style to awaken much resentment even among the most jealous and sensitive defenders of the " peculiar institution." But still more bombastic, is possible, is the praise bespattered on the Abolitionists, male and female', as with a trowel. llad it been the author's design to have them laughed at, he could hardly have succeeded better; such is the extravagant adulation he has bestowed upon them.

But let us be just to him at the same time, and admit that if he is too often rather suggestive of a lunatic asylum, there is method in bis madness. If he says absurd things, it is not because he has not read, studied and observed. Of this he often gives agreeable and instructive evidence. Just as we are going to throw away his book, half in disgust, he glances off into some brilliant sketch or cpisode ; passes from the Elizabethian to the Alexandrian age, from Bacon to Aristotle, and froin Aristotle to Macaulay. This done, one is ready to overlook most, if not all, of his extravagances; and all the more willingly, because he is an extremest on ono ism, as well as another. Whether he talks of liberty, political or social, marriage, or Woman's Rights, the author

be very

ship of Hamlet, or the great reform which is to inaugurate the millenniu he is equally outré bombastic and whimsical. Yet, here and there we find a dialogue, a description, a portraiture, or a piece of lively, rapid narrative, with which we cannot help being pleased ; nay, sometimes we have to confess that we are under the influence of a genuine fascination.

With the politics of - IIarrington” we have nothing to do; and as little with its ethics, which are rather of the “ fast" kind—as much out of joint as the story, and as much unlike what we really want to render us good and happy, as the Negro is unlike the Caucasian. But it is only fair to admit, that without saying a word of either, we could find many passages in the book before us which, if they emanated from an author of established reputation, would receive no slight admiration. Having found so much fault, it would be hardly just to conclude, even so hurried a glance as this, without giving, at least an extract or two. This we will do, merely premising that we must be guided in our selection much more by our space than by the merits of what we transcribe.

The following sketch of Muriel is no indifferent specimen of the lively, hit-or-miss style of portraiture :

16. Muriel has a passion for liberal culture, and fencing is part of her programme.”

«Isn't she glorious ? cried Wentworth, with enthusiasm. A woman ?-a young goddess, rather ! By Jovel tlie best swimmer of all the girls last summer at Gloucester. The best skater last winter on Jamaica pond. Climbed the mountains in October with the best of us. Runs like Atalanta. Dances like Terpsichore. Sings like a seraph. Talks in a voice like Israfel's. Studies almost as hard as you do, Ilarrington. And now sho sences like an angel. I declare she's a perfect Crichtona. And yet how womanly, withall Not a touch of tho masculino about lier. Gay, free, strong, swoct-oh, fairy prince, there's none like you—none !!

" Harrington listened to this ardent celebration of the charms of her Wentworth called the fairy prince, in perfect silence, and with a secret astonishment in his pale, controlled countenance. Ho believed Wentworth loved Muriel, but for the life of him he could not reconcile this lavishi panogyrio with that belief. For love is reticent, and we let expressive silence muse the sweetheart's praise. How, then, could Wenthworth thus blazon his beloved ? Harrington was puzzled.

“There's a curious element of surprise in Muriel, too. resumed Wentworth, with a musing air. She is so gentle, so reposeful and graceful, that when she flashes out in these courageous physical accomplishments I always feel a little astonished. Don't you, Harrington ??

"Oh, no,' returned Harrington. She has a rich, versatile, inclusivo nature. You know that this union of feminine gentleness and manly spirit is not so uncommon. There was the Countess Emily Plater, for example, the heroine of the Polish Revolution ; yet with all her bravery, she was peculiarly tender and gentle. There, again, was the Maid of Saragossa, who fought for her country over the body of her lover ; but Byron, who saw her oftcn at Madrid, says she was remarkable for hor soft, feminine beauty. Muriel is a wonian of the same style, I suppose. Come, Richard, let's go.'

“ They saluted the old Frenchmiin. who stoo:1 with the Hungarian at the pistol-bench, and left the room."-pp. 115, 116.

Chapter the third, on Quarte and Tierce, in which Monsieur Bagasse acts the part of a fencing master-doing and saying some amusing things—is somewhat suggestive of Monsieur Jourdan's maitre d'armes, in the third scene of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, though the former is neither so natural, nor so laughable as the latter ; especially that part in which Molière makes the fencing master, dancing master, and musician enter into an argument as to the relative merits and value of their respective arts. The gravity with which the fencing master of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme informs the music master that

« VorigeDoorgaan »