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AMERICAN QUARTERLY REVIEW.
ART. I.-France in 1829–30. By Lady MORGAN. Author of
“ France in 1816,” “ Italy," &c. &c. &c. 2 vols. J. & J. Harper: New-York.
It was that solemn hour of the night, when, in the words of the poet, “creation sleeps ;”—a silence as of the dead reigned amid the streets and alleys of the great city of Dublin, interrupted, ever and anon, only by the solitary voice of the watchman, announcing the time, and the prospects of fair or foul weather for the ensuing day. Even the noise of carriages returning from revels and festive scenes of various kinds, was no longer heard
“The diligence of trades and noiseful gain,
All was the night's :" All! save the inhabitants of one mansion, situated in Kildare street, who were still invading nature's rest. Why were they alone up and stirring? Why were they debarred from taking their needful repose, and obliged to employ the time which should have been devoted to it, in active occupation? The reason is easily understood. Early in the morning, the master and mistress were to set off on a trip to Paris, and there was no small quantity of “packing up" yet to be done. Trunks innumerable lay scattered about a romantically furnished bed-chamber; some were partly filled with different articles of female habiliment; others seemed to be appropriated to literary purposes, and books without number, and of all descriptions, were lying around them-here was a pile of novels, amongst which, the titles of “The Novice of St. Dominick," "Ida of Athens," “ The Wild Irish Girl," &c. &c. could be discerned—there was a heap of “ Travels,” composed of “ Italy,” “France in 1816,” VOL. IX.-NO. 17.
and others :-a couple of volumes, entitled “Life and Times of Salvator Rosa," were reposing in graceful dignity on the open lid of a portmanteau. Several maids were exerting all their activity to get every thing properly arranged ; all was bustle and preparation.
Adjoining the chamber was a boudoir, furnished likewise in the most romantic manner, in which sat a lady of even a more romantic appearance than that of either of the apartments. How shall we describe her? She certainly (we must tell the truth, and shame you know whom) did not seem to be of that delightful age, in which a due regard to veracity would allow us to apply to her the line of the poet, “Le printemps dans sa fleur sur son visage est peint.” Her cheeks, to be sure, were deeply tinged with a roseate hue, but it was not that with which nature loves to paint the face of spring; the colour proved too palpably, that it had been placed there by the exercise of those "curious arts” with which the sex are enabled to revive dim charms, “and triumph in the bloom of fifty-five.” Her dress was romantic in the extreme. Of the unity of time, at all events, it was in direct violation, for its “gay rainbow colours," and modish arrangement, were out of all keeping with her matronly age. One would easily have inferred from it that she was fully impressed with the conviction, that the years which had glided over her head, were not of the old-fashioned kind that contain twelve months, or at least, that shc did not consider the lapse of time as at all calculated to impair the attractions of her physiognomy, however prejudicial its effect might be upon the faces of the rest of the female part of the creation. In her countenance there was such an expression of blended affectation and self-complacency, that it was impossible to look upon it without feeling an inclination to smile. She was sitting near a prettily ornamented writing-desk, surmounted by a mirror (in which, by the way, she always found her greatest admirer), with her head reclining on her open hand, her elbow resting on a volume which bore on its back the appropriate title of “The Book of the Boudoir," and her eyes directed, we need hardly say where,—for who does not love to be admired ? Her reflections were suddenly disturbed by a knock at the door, which she answered by an “ Entrez !” “Ah, Sir Charles, c'est vous,” she lisped, as the door opened, and a person in male attire entered, "eh bien, is every thing prêt for our voyage.?” “Yes, my dear”—we presume, from this appellation, that the gentleman was her caro sposo, as she might say,_" or at least every thing will be ready shortly; but let me essay again to dissuade you from this foolish expedition"_"de grâce, Sir Charles, ayez pilié de moi ; do not pester me with your bétises; I am determined to faire une autre visite to my cher Paris, so that all you may say will be tout
à fait inutile.” “Well,” sighed the caro sposo, "just as you please,” and he returned to direct the "packing up, while she began to revel in the anticipations of triumphs, both personal and intellectual, which she intended to gain in the fashionable and literary capital of the world. Alas! "oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises."
Who is this lady ? Had she lived in the days of Juvenal, it might have been supposed that he had her in his eye, when he drew, in his sixth satire, the picture of the “greatest of all plagues' —had her existence been cast in the time of the prince of French comic writers, she would undoubtedly have been presumed to be the prototype of the heroine in one of his most exquisite comedies; we need hardly say, therefore, that she is, in the words of Boileau, "une précieuse,
“ Reste de ces esprits jadis si renommés
Que d'un coup de son art Molière a diffamés.” Pity, then, kind reader, pity the lot of the unfortunate gentleman whom we have just introduced to your acquaintance. A further account of this dame may prove not unacceptable.
Her father was an honest actor, accustomed to afford great delight to those deities who inhabit the one shilling galleries of English and Irish theatres, and to receive, himself, vast gratification from worshipping at the shrine of Bacchus. The daughter having given early indications of quickness and pertness, came to be considered quite a genius by her family and friends, whose natural partiality soon induced her to entertain the same opinion. Determined, accordingly, not to hide her light under a bushel, she made her appearance before the world as an authoress, from which it may very reasonably be inferred that she had not yet attained the years of discretion. Her début, of course, was as a wanderer in the realms of imagination, alias, a novel-writer, and in this capacity she continued to make the public stare for a series of years. We say stare, for we can find no more appropriate word for expressing the feelings which her fictions are calculated to excite. With plots of almost incomprehensible absurdity, they combine a style more inflated than any balloon in which Madame Blanchard ever sailed through the regions of air-a language, or rather jargon, composed of the pickings of nearly every idiom that ever did live, or is at present in existence, and sentiments which would be often of a highly mischievous tendency, if they were not rendered ridiculous by the manner in which they are expressed. The singularity of these productions excited a good deal of sensation, and, if we believe her own words, she was placed by them “in a definite rank among authors, and in no undistinguished circle of society.” In some of the principal journals, however, the lady was severely taken to task, at the same time
that she was counselled to obtain for herself a partner in weal and wo, by which she might be brought down from her foolish vagaries, to the sober realities of domestic duty. Wonderful to relate, she followed the advice of those whom her vanity must have taught her to consider as her bitterest foes, namely critics, -and as
« Nought but a genius can a genius fit,
A wit herself, Amelia weds a wit.” This wit was a regular knight of the pestle and mortar-a physician, whose pills and draughts had acquired for him the enviable right of placing that dignified appellation, Sir, before his Christian name, by which our authoress became entitled to be addressed as “ Your Ladyship,” as much as if she had married an Earl or a Marquis. Oh ! how delighted the ci-devant plain “ Miss” must have been at hearing the servants say to her, “ Yes, my lady,”—“No, my lady.”—The year in which the ceremony was performed that gave her a lord and master, we cannot precisely ascertain ; but as the happy pair favoured the capital of France with their presence in 1816, it may not be unreasonable to suppose, that they went there to spend the honey
Miraculous as are the changes which matrimony sometimes operates, it was powerless in its influence upon her Ladyship's propensities, and, consequently, not very long after returning to her "maison bijou,” in Dublin, she put forth a quarto ! with the magnificent title of “ France." There are phenomena in the physical world, in the moral world, in the intellectual world, but this book was a phenomenon that beat them all. It was absolutely wonderful how so much ignorance, nonsense, vanity, and folly, could be compressed within the compass even of a quarto. All the sense that could be discerned in it, was contained in four or five essays, upon Love, Law and Physic, and Politics, contributed by Sir the husband. Being anxious that “France” should have a companion, she subsequently made an expedition to the land of the Dilettanti, in company with the dear man who had made her, “she trusts, a respectable, and she is sure, a happy mistress of a family,” and forthwith “ Italy” appeared to sustain her well-earned reputation for qualities, which she has the singular felicity of possessing without exciting envy. But her “never ending, still beginning” pen, was not satisfied with two volumes as the fruits of her Italian campaigning, especially as there happened to be a goodly quantity of memoranda in the “diary” which had not yet been turned to any use. Some subject, therefore, was to be hit upon for another publication, in which they could be inserted, when beat out into a sizeable shape; and what could be better adapted for that purpose that the biography of a great Italian artist? The life of poor Salvator Rosa was,
quence, attempted. Just think of making one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived, a peg to hang notes upon! The next offspring of her Ladyship's brain, was, we believe, another novel, which was as like its predecessors as possible. In the period that elapsed between this birth, and the moment in which we have had the honour of introducing her to our readers, her literary family was increased by another child, with the delightful name of “ The Book of the Boudoir.'
We hope we have not been understood as meaning to insinuate, that because her Ladyship is the mother of a couple of dozen of volumes, she is on that account a précieuse ridicule. This was far, very far from our intention. None can take more pleasure than ourselves in rendering all homage to genuine female talent, employed for useful and honourable purposes, or be more willing to acknowledge the peculiar excellence by which its productions are frequently marked. Were it our pleasant duty at present to notice the works of an Edgeworth, a Hemans, a Mitford, a Sedgwick, or of any others of that fair and brilliant assemblage, who reflect so great a lustre upon the literature of this age, we should use language as eulogistic as their warmest admirers could desire. But we have to do now with a person very different description from those bright ornaments of their sex—with one in whose mind, whatever flowers Nature may originally have planted, have been almost completely choked by the rank weeds of ignorance, presumption, frivolity, and vanity beyond measurement—who, in a list of works as long, to use one of her own delicate illustrations, as “Leporello's catalogue of Don Juan's mistresses,” has given little or no aid to the cause of virtue generally, or evinced the slightest anxiety to improve and benefit her sex, but has devoted all her faculties to the erection of an altar on which she might worship herself, and only herself—who has even afforded cause, by the frequently extreme levity of her expressions, for the charge of lending countenance to licentiousness and impiety-whose writings, in fine, are calculated to inflict serious injury upon the tastes, the understandings, and the hearts of her youthful female readers, by accustoming them to a vicious and ridiculous style, by filling their minds with false and perverted sentiments and wrong impressions upon some of the most important matters, and by setting before them the example of a woman who boasts of being a member of no undistinguished circle of society, and yet constantly violates those laws of delicacy and refinement, the full obseryance of which is indispensable for every female who aspires to the name and character of a lady.
Pale Aurora began now to appear, “ Tiphoni croceum linquens cubile,” in vulgar parlance, day began to break. Behold our couple setting forth on their Parisian expedition. Some