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MARY RUSSELL MITFORD.
THERE are few names which fall with a plea. | by imitation that genius has almost always in santer sound upon the ears of those who adopt the first instance manifested itself. She withauthors as friends, in recognition of the moral drew herself from composition - read much, purity and geniality of feeling as much as of the though without any decided aim or object, and original talent displayed in their works, than would never (she thinks) have attempted author. the name of MARY RUSSELL MITFORD. Happy ship again, had not those vicissitudes of fortune, thoughts and fresh images rise up when it is which try the metal of the sufferer no less searchspoken; and yet we are a trifle too apt to think | ingly than the sincerity of his friends, compelled of it only as connected with all that is lovely in her to come forth from her retreat, and honour. the rural scenery, and characteristic in the rural ably to exercise the talents with which she had society of Southern England, and to forget that been so largely gifted. It would be raising the it also appertains to a dramatist of no common veil too high to dwell upon the sequel; upon power, who has wrought in a period, when if the rich reward of love, and respect, and considethe theatres be deserted, and the popular acted ration, which have repaid so zealous and unselfish drama have degenerated into melo-drama, bur. a devotion of time and talent as Miss Mitford's letta, and farce-the plays published exhibit far life has shown. We have but to speak of the more signs of strength and promise, than were good which has come out of evil, in the shape of shown by those produced in the palmy days of her writings; and we do this briefly and rapidly, Garrick, or the yet more glorious after-summer of because of the limited space within which we are the Kembles.
restricted. It was at Christmas time, in the year 1789, Miss Mitford's principal efforts have been a that Miss Mitford was born, her birth-place being series of tragedies. “The Two Foscari,"_" Juthe little town of Alresford, Hampshire. She is lian,"_"Rienzi," _“Charles the First,”-have descended on the father's side from an ancient been all represented, and all well received the family in Northumberland, not remotely con. third with signal success. Besides these may be nected with nobility; and there is a quaint rhyme mentioned two other tragedies, still in manu. current in the north country, which promises the script, “ Inez de Castro" and “ Otto of Wittelsname a long duration :
bach," Miss Mitford's last, finest work. In all * Midford was Midford when Morpeth was nane,
these plays there is strong vigorous writing, Midford shall be Midford when Morpeth is gane; masculine in the free unshackled use of language, So long as the sun sets or the moon runs her round, but wholly womanly in its purity from coarseA Midford in Midford shall always be found."
ness or license, and in the intermixture of those Her mother was the only daughter of Dr. Rus- incidental touches of softest feeling and finest obsell, of Ashe, in Hampshire; this lady was a sin- servation, which are peculiar to the gentler sex. gularly good classical scholar, and it would have A rich air of the south breathes over “ Rienzi ;” been strange if under such auspices, the educa- and in the “Charles," though the character of tion of her daughter had not been liberally plan- | Cromwell will be felt to vibrate, it is, on the whole, ned and carefully completed. How delightfully conceived with a just and acute discernment of Miss Mitford has chronicled her school pleasures its real and false greatness—of the thousand conand school feelings, during the years between the tradictions which, in reality, make the son of the ages of ten and fifteen, passed by her at a London Huntingdon brewer a character too difficult, and boarding school of high repute, no one who has mighty, for any one beneath a Shakspeare to exread." Our Village" can have forgotten. By her hibit. As also in Joanna Baillie's fine tragedies, own showing she was as shy as she was clever, the poetry of these plays is singularly fresh and after a somewhat original fashion- a keen lover unconventional; equally clear of Elizabethan of poetry and plays. And shortly after she left quaintness and of modern Della-cruscanism, school, she showed the next evidence of talent, which, as some hold, indicate an exhausted and the possession of a creative as well as appreciative artificial state of society, in which the dramapower, by publishing a volume of miscellaneous the hearty, bold, natural drama - has no existpoems, which were favourably received; for in ence. At all events, it is now too much the fashthose days poetry was read. These, and other ion that every thing which is written for the stage juvenile effusions, now all but forgotten, were, shall be forgotten so soon as the actors employed at the time of their appearing, successful; but in it have a fretted their hour." Were it othertheir young writer was herself dissatisfied with wise, we should not have need to dwell, even thus them; conscious, perhaps, that they were little briefly, upon the distinctive merits of Miss Mitmore than imitations, and forgetting that it was ford's tragedies.
In leaving them, however, we cannot but point | somewhat outgrew that of the works of loftier orattention to the happy choice of their subjects, and der, proceeding from the same pen—that young in doing this, may venture a remark or two which writers, English and American, began to imitate will lead us on to the works by which Miss Mit so artless and charming a manner of narration; ford is most widely known-her sketches of coun and that an obscure Berkshire hamlet, by the try life and scenery. Among the characteristics | magic of talent and kindly feeling, was converted which eminently distinguish female authorship, into a place of resort and interest for not a few of it has often struck us, that there is none more the finest spirits of the age. certain and striking than an instinctive quickness It should, perhaps, be owned in speaking of of discovery and happiness in working out avail. these village sketches, that their writer enamels able subjects and fresh veins of fancy. At least, too brightly - not the hedge-rows and the meaif we travel through the domains of lighter litera dow-streams, the orchards and the cottage garture during the last fifty years, we shall find dens, for who could exceed nature ? - but the enough to prove our assertion. We shall find the figures which people the scene; that her country supernatural romance growing into eminence boys and village girls are too refined, too constantly under the hands of Anna Radcliffe--the national turned “to favour and to prettiness.” But this tale introduced to the public by Miss Edgeworth flattery only shows to us the health and benevoand Lady Morgan-the historical novel by Miss lence of mind belonging to the writer ; nor would Lee and the Miss Porters—the story of domestic it be just to count it as a fault, unless we also life, with commonplace persons for its actors, were to denounce Crabbe as an unfaithful painter brought to its last perfection by Miss Austen. of English life and scenery, because, with a tenWe shall find “ Kenilworth” anticipated by the dency diametrically opposite, he lingers like a “Recess" (a tale strangely forgotten,) and “ Wer. lover in the workhouse and the hovel, and dwells ner," owing not only its origin, but its very dia rather upon decay, and meanness, and misery, logue to “ Kruitzner-and the stories of “ Fos than the prosperity and charity and comfort with cari” and “Rienzi," ere they fell into the hands which their gloom is so largely chequered. He of Byron and Bulwer, fixed upon with a happy may be called the Caravaggio, Miss Milford the boldness by the authoress under notice. But the Claude, of village life in England; and the truth claims of Miss Mitford to swell the list of inven. lies between them. Both, however, are remark. tors, rest upon yet firmer grounds; they rest upon able for the purity and selectness of their lanthose exquisite sketches by which-their scenery / guage; both paint with words, in a manner as all, and their characters half real-she has cre faithful as it is significant. Crabbe should be re. ated a school of writing, homely but not vulgar, served for those bright moments when the too familiar but not breeding contempt, (in this point buoyant spirits require a chastener, a memento of alone not resembling the highly finished pictures the “ days of darkness ;" Miss Mitford resorted to of the Dutch school,) wherein the small events in hours of depression and misgiving, when any and the simple characters of rural life, are made book bearing an olive-branch to tell us that there interesting by the truth and sprightliness with is fair weather abroad, is a blessed visitant. which they are represented.
After publishing five volumes of these charm. Every one now knows “Our Village," and every ing sketches, a wider field for the same descripone knows that the nooks and corners, the haunts tive powers was found in a small market-town, and copses so delightfully described in its pages, its peculiarities and its inhabitants,—and “ Bel. will be found in the immediate neighbourhood of ford Regis" was written. But the family likeness Reading, and more especially around “ Three between this work and “ Our Village" is so strong Mile Cross," a cluster of cottages on the Basing as to spare us the necessity of dwelling upon its stoke road, in one of which our authoress has features. And now our record may be closed, as now resided for many years. But so little was it is not permitted to us to dwell upon the private the peculiar and original excellence of her descrip pleasures and cares of an uneventful life, spent tions understood, in the first instance, that, after for the most part in a "labourer's cottage, with a having gone the round of rejection through the duchess's flower-garden." We should mention, more important periodicals, they at last saw the however, the recent addition of Miss Mitford's light in no worthier publication than the Lady's name to the pension-list, as one among many Magazine. But the series of rural pictures grew, gratifying proofs, that literature is increasingly and the venture of collecting them into a separate becoming an object of care and protection to volume was tried. The public began to relish the statesmen, and that in this much-stigmatized style so fresh yet so finished, to enjoy the delicate world, talent and self-sacrifice do not always pass humour and the simple pathos of the tales; and on their way unsympathized with or unrecogthe end was, that the popularity of these sketches | nized.