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April 24, 1809.
CONTENTS OF NO. V.
ELIZABETH; or the Exiles of Siberia, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson and Mrs. Hutchinsc Clarkson's History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Turnbull's Voyage Round the World, Theory of Dreams,
SPIRIT OF THE MAGAZINES.
Sketches of the Publick Services of the late Sir John Moore [1
Verses by William Congreve, the dramatick poet,
PHILOSOPHICAL AND ECONOMICAL INTELLIGENCE,
Recent American Publications,
FOR MAY, 1809.
FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
Elisabeth, ou les Exilés de Siberié. Par Mme. Cottin. A Paris. Réimprimé à Londres. Elizabeth; or the Exiles of Siberia: A tale founded on facts. From the French of
Madame Cottin. M. Carey, Philadelphia. 1808. 12mo. pp. 262. WE are not, in general, particularly fond of novels founded on fact ; but we must make an exception in favour of any thing so well executed as that which is now before us. The daughter of a wretched exile in Siberia had the courage and filial piety to undertake and to perform a journey to Petersburgh, for the purpose of soliciting her father's liberty. This achievement, worthy of immortality, is the groundwork of Madame Cottin's tale, and we give her no mean praise in saying that she has done full justice to its merits. In one only respect is she unfaithful to her model. She has diminished, in her ideal picture, the dangers which the true heroine actually surmounted, from the fear, as she informs us, of incurring the charge of extravagance. This, therefore, must add one to the many instances, in which the miracles of truth have soared above the level of fiction, and in which imaginary must yield to real virtue.
The character of Elizabeth, as here drawn, is in its general form and feature, such as might, we think, have been expected from the hand of a lady-artist. It is so natural that women should love to make their heroines a little heroick; that they should delight to place female excellence in attitudes noble no less than charming; that, resigning to us the empire of per. sonal, and perhaps of intellectual power, they should still maintain an equal claim to the moral sublime,-to that higher sort of greatness which, like angels, seems to be of no sex.
To those women who have any real elevation of thought, nothing can be more disgusting than the character of a Thalestris. They hate, as much as we do, the vigorous females who appear to constitute the link between the sexes; and will not condescend to write the history of a virago, who is the exact duplicate of her stupid lovers, fights and drubs every one of them whose offers displease her, and bestows her hand only on him who is found to have a stronger and harder one of his own. Their heroine is in a different style. Perhaps she is not particularly distinguished even for that chastened loftiness which may consist with virgin delicacy, the loftiness of a Portia or a Corinne, of la dame Romaine or la Sibylle triomphant; perhaps she is not even an Elizabeth, innocently, and, as it were unconsciously magnanimous; but is represented as all gentleness and diffidence. Sull we shall find her insensibly led through scenes which show her to possess fortitude and disinterestedness and other virtues of the first order; we shall be FOL. I.
seduced into respect, where we were desired only to love ; with the weak. Dess that solicits protection, we shall find blended, not only all the sweetness that attracts, but much also of the dignity that ennobles it.
We are aware of the numerous exceptions to this rule ; but, that it is not therefore imaginary, may appear from a reference to the Delphines and Corinnes of France; and to the Cecilias, the Ellenas, and the Belindas of England. In the same manner, the delineations of female excellence by the other sex, often present is with a figure of imperial majesty ; but we cannot help thinking that, when they draw after their own notions and conceptions rather than from books, they are more likely to give us an Ophelia or a Desdemona.
Madame Cottin has, in one respect, been particularly happy. Her he. roine has been educated in such solitude and inacquaintance with the world, that her childlike simplicity, and engaging innocence of demeanour, seem perfectly in character', though they are the accompaniments of a heart un. commonly great and noble. There is nothing in her features hard or haughty; nothing that seems to exclaim with one of the heroines of Cor. Deille :
Je me fuis des vertus dignes d'une Romaine. But, indeed, the mind that conceived this character can best do it jus. tice; and the reader shall therefore be indulged with a trait or two of the representation.
Two or three versts from Saimka, in the centre of a marshy forest, upon the border of a deep circular lake, surrounded with black poplars, was the residence of one of these banished families. It consisted of three persons A man about five and forty, his wife, and a young and beautiful daughter.
Secluded in the desert, this family held no communication with any one. The father went alone to the chace; but neither had he, his wife, or daughter, been ever seen at Saimka. Except one poor Tartar peasant, who waited on them, no human being had admission to their dwelling: The governour of Tobolskow only was informed of their birth, their country, and the cause of their banishment. The secret he had not even confided to the lieutenant of his jurisdiction, who was established at Saimka. In committing the exiles to his care, he had only given orders that they might be provided with a commodious lodging, a garden, food, and raiment, accompanied with a strict charge to hinder them from any communications whatever, and particularly to intercept any letter they might attempt to convey to the court of Russia. p. 14–15.
After a very striking sketch of Siberian scenery, the writer proceeds:
West of this great plain, a little wooden chapel had been crected by the Christians. On this side, the tombs had been respected; under the cross which adorned it, the honoured memorial of every virtue, men had not dared to profane the ashes of the dead. In these plains or steppes (the name they bear in Siberia) Peter Springer, during the long and severe winter of this northern climate, spent his days in hunting. He killed elks which feed on the leaves of the willow and poplar; sometimes caught martens, and more frequently ermines, which are very numerous in that spot. With the money he obtained for their fur, he procured from Tobolskow different articles which might contribute to the comfort of his wife, or the education of his daughter. The long winter evenings were dedicated to the instruction of the young Elizabeth. Seated between her parents, she read aloud some passage of history, while Springer called her attention to those parts which could elevate her mind, and Phedora, her mother, to all those which could render it tender and compassionate. One pointed out to her the beanties of heroism and glory; the other all the charms of piety and benevolence. Her father reminded her of the dignity and sublimity of virtue ; her mother of the support and consolation it affords. The first taught how highly to revere, the latter how carefully to cherish it. From these combined instructions Eliza. beth acquired a disposition equally heroick and gentle, uniting the courage and energy of Springer to the angelick mildness of Phedora. She was at once ardent and enterprising as the exalted ideas of honour she had imbibed could render her, docile and submissive as the votary of love. p. 18—20.
The young Elizabeth knew no other country than that desolate one, which, from the age of four years, she had inhabited. In that she discovered beauties which
nature bestows even upon those spots she has most neglected ; and innocence finds pleasure every where. She amused herself with climbing the rocks which bordered the lake, in search of the eggs of white vultures, who build their nests there during summer. Sometimes she caught wood-pigeons to fill a little aviary, and at others angled for the corrasines, which move in shoals, their purple shells, which lie against one another, appearing through the water like a sheet of fire covered with liquid silver. It never occurred to the happy days of her childhood that there could be a lot more blessed than her own. ller health was established by the keen air she breathed; and in her light figure were united agility and strength; while on her countenance, which was the emblem of innocence and peace, each day seemed to disclose to her fond parents some new charms. Thus, far removed from the busy world and from mankind, did this lovely maiden improve in beauty for the eyes only of her parents, to charm no heart but theirs ; like the flower of the desert which blooms before the sun, and arrays itself in not less brilliant colours, because it is destined to shine only in the presence of that luminary to which it owes its existence. p. 25–27.
Such were the virtues formed in the depth of Siberian dreariness, as some of the sweetest flowers of spring seem to have been nursed in the bosom of winter. We may add, that with the character of the heroine, that of the composition itself corresponds; energetick, enthusiastick ;-but nothing can exceed the feminine delicacy that every-where shades and refines it What, indeed, but a dress of the most vestal white would become the saintly figure of Elizabeth ? Our fair author is not one who loves to excite attention by a display of the ignoble or the unholy passions. Unfortunately, these must, in a measure, enter every picture of life and manners; but it is only when they must enter, that Madame Cottin admits them. They are shown by her, but not so prominently as to mingle with those gentler and more agreeable visions that fill the sight. They come, as flying clouds, to throw a shadow over the current ; not as a miry infusion to sully its clearness. From the beginning of the narrative to its close, the thoughts, the expressions, the descriptions, all are limpid purity.
To this delicacy of principle, which is virtue, the author of Elizabeth adds delicacy of hand, which is taste. Her writing bas a great deal of that quality, which, when ascribed to the countenance, is called expression. It implies not, exactly, strong sensations strongly signified; but nice and sensitive perceptions on every occasion, however common,—and looks that speakingly reflect them: a mind quickly seeing, and as quickly seen ; a clear but artless indication of emotions, natural but not vulgar. It is cer. tainly possible for writing to convey the idea of all this, though it may be the production of deep deliberation. No author, however, could so write, who was not well acquainted with human nature ; by which is to be understood, not what, by a very complimentary phrase, we call knowledge of the world; but only a vivid conception of the genuine feelings of the mind in ordinary situations. This exquisiteness of tact, this play of features, belong to the composition of Madame Cottin : perhaps they may fairly be considered as characteristick of the best authors of her sex. traiture of deep and tragick passion, men may possibly excel women ; but surely it is a fact, and no fancy, that women understand better, and pencil out more gracefully, those finer and more fugitive impressions which come under the description of sentiment. Even the countrymen of Rousseau are apt to recommend some of their fair writers as the best models of the sentimental style. They find in them more truth, nature, gentleness; less of exaggeration and mannerism ; sensibilities less morbid, and language re. fined without bordering on effeminacy.
It would be a very interesting inquiry, whether this power of susceptibility in the female mind, a power made up, as we have mentioned it to be, is original, or formed by circumstances? We certainly do believe it to be in
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