Images de page

panies talent, and which gains so rapidly upon those who know not how to guard against its approaches. Indeed the aspect under which he appeared in private was by no means such as the stern cynicism and ferocious turbulence of his public conduct would have led one to expect; and those, u hose opinion of him has been formed exclusively upon his political character and his writings, will have some difficulty in believing that the curate of Brentford was one of the best bred gentlemen of the age. In this respect he was a sort of phænomenon. He was born in a low station : at no period did he appear to have possessed any remarkable advantages for the study of good breeding; on the contrary, the greater part of his life was spent in constant intercourse with coarse, vulgar, and uneducated men.

Yet his natural taste was so good, and he had profited so judiciously by whatever opportunities he enjoyed, that courts and high stations have seldom produced a better example of polite and elegant behaviour than was exbibited by the associate of Messrs. Hardy and Thelwall. Indeed his manner had almost every excellence that manner can display-grace, vivacity, frankness, dignity. Perhaps, indeed, in its outward forms and in that which is purely conventional, his courtesy wore the air of the • vieille cour,' and was rather more elaborate than is consistent with the practice of this lounging unceremonious age: but it was never forced or constrained, and it sat not ungracefully upon an old man).

It has been remarked of some very eminent men, that either from bashfulness, or pride, or indifference, or want of a ready command of their faculties, their conversation frequently disappointed the expectations which their character had raised. Mr. Tooke was not of that class. He never appeared to greater advantage than in conversation. He was naturally of a social and convivial turn. His animal spirits were strong, the promptitude of his understanding was equal to its vigour, and he was by no means too proud to receive with satisfaction the small but immediate reward of approbation and good will which is always cheerfully paid to the display of agreeable qualities in society. A long, attentive, and acute observation of the world, had furnished him with a vast store of information and remark, which he was always ready to communicate, but never desirous to obtrude upon his hearers. The events of his political life had brought him into personal intercourse with many of the most considerable men of his time, and he was minutely acquainted with the history of them all. It is true, indeed, as we have already had occasion to observe, that few of the number had the good fortune to be the objects of his regard or approbation; and as candour was not a virtue he much affected, it was therefore necessary to receive his account of their actions and cha


racter with all imaginable caution and allowance. But if he was not a faithful portrait painter, he was at least an admirable caricaturist; which, for the purposes of mere entertainment, did quite as well: and it must be owned that his representations, though harsh and unfavourable, always bore a striking and amusing resemblance to the originals. Viewed alone, they would have conveyed a very erroneous idea; but they were by no means without their use in correcting the impressions which had been made by more friendly, but equally unfaithful artists. He possessed an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes, which he introduced with great skill, and related with neatness, grace, rapidity and pleasantry. He had a quick sense of the ridiculous, and was a great master of the whole art of raillery, a dangerous talent, though the exercise of it in his hands was always tempered by politeness and good humour. No man, we believe, ever provoked him by hostile attack, without having reason to repent of his rashness. He was possessed of all the means that could make retort terrible;-ready poignant wit, perfect composure and self-command, boldness confirmed by the habit of victory in that species of combat, and a heartfelt bitterness, which when he was once emancipated, by the indiscretion of his adversary, from those restraints which good-breeding imposed, poured itself forth in a torrent of keen, unsparing, irresistible invective. But these severe chastisements were but rarely inflicted, never, we believe, except when provoked by some signal instance of folly or impertinence in his opponent.

His fault as a companion was that love of paradox which we have already mentioned, and a tendency to disputation which led him continually to argue for the mere sake of victory, and in evident contradiction to his own real opinion--a practice quite insufferable when adopted, as it often is, by persons of ordinary understanding, and who only flatter themselves that they possess the acuteness with which Mr. Tooke was really endowed, and to which we must own, that even his liveliness, native ingenuity, and felicity of illustration, could never wholly reconcile us.

He possessed a rich vein of humour, sometimes coarse, but always striking, comic, and original. His speeches afforded some good specimens of it to the public, and he indulged in it still more freely in private. Perhaps, indeed, it may be fairly objected 'to him, that his conversation was hardly ever quite serious; and that what with paradox, and what with irony, it was not easy to get at his true meaning. The truth seems to be, that he comforted himself for not having a larger share in the business of the world, by laughing at every body and every thing it contained. His sceptical disposition probably kept his mind unsettled upon many important facts as to which the generality of men entertain more fixed opi

nions, and he was therefore ready to espouse either side with equal zeal and equal insincerity, just as accident or caprice inclined him at the moment. There were other subjects on which he was accustomed to speak more positively, but on which we are apt to suspect that his esoteric doctrines were very different from those which he taught to aldermen, shoemakers, and other patriotic persons. On such occasions, he could not have been in earnest. lle must bave seen through the designs of those with whom he was actinghe must have loathed their vulgarity-- he must have despised their folly. We are aware how severe a censure upon his honesty this opinion implies, but we really thiuk that a fair estimate of the strength of his understanding can lead to no other conclusion.

He was endowed with every species of courage, active and passive, personal and political. Even his adversaries allowed him this merit. We recollect, that in the year 1794, at the time of the State Trials, when it was falsely reported, that upon being committed to the Tower his spirit had failed, and he had burst into tears, Wilkes expressed great surprize, and said, 'I knew he was

knave, but I never thought him a coward. It is only to be regretted that he found no beiter opportunities for the display of so valuable a quality, than in election riots, and trials for sedition and treason.

In spite of labour and dissipation his life was protracted to a period which indicated an originally sound and vigorous frame. For the last twenty years, however, he'was subject to several severe, distressing and incurable infirmities. These he bore with a patience and firmness which it was impossible not to admire: to the very last he never suffered himself to be beat down by them, nor ever for one moment indulged in complaint, or gave way to despondency. In the intervals of pain, nay, even when actually suffering under it, he preserved a self-command, which enabled him to converse, not only with spirit and vigour, but with all his accustomed cheerfulness and pleasantry, never making any demand apon the sympathy of his friends, or mentioning his own situation at all, except when occasionally, and by a very pardonable exercise of his sophistry, he amused himself in exalting its comforts, and explaining away its disadvantages-displaying in this respect a manly spirit and a practical philosophy which, if they had been brought to bear upon his moral, as well as upon his physical condition, if they had been employed with as much effect in reconciling him to his political exclusion as to his bodily sufferings, might have produced, not the very imperfect character we have been attempting to delineate, in which the unfavourable traits bear so large a proportion to those of a nobler and more benigo cast, but the venerable portrait of a truly wise and virtuous man.


[ocr errors]

Art. VIII. Tales of Fashionable Life. By Miss Edgeworth.

Vols. 4, 5, and 6. Johuson, 1812. WHEN the Tales of Fashionable Life’ first came under our

consideration, we endeavoured to convey to the reader, our general impression of Miss Edgeworth's literary character; and, though we were not enabled to speak with equal approbation of all her efforts, we did not hesitate to place her in the first rank of modern novelists, and to express our satisfaction at the promise then held out to us of a continuation of her amusing and instructive tales, In reference to the former volumes, we are inclined to pronounce these now offered to the public to have, perhaps, less striking passages, but certainly fewer faults, and to be, on the whole, superior in point of taste, interest, and above all, 'vraisemblance.'

We are well aware how difficult it is to keep a due medium between fatness and common-place on the one hand, and romance and improbabilities on the other; and we are ready to admit that in order to excite extraordinary interest, the novelist must be permitted the use of incidents less usual, and of characters less common than are met with in the streets and society of London; but we cannot reconcile ourselves to the violent and unnecessary vicissitudes of fortune and feeling which disfigure, in a greater or less degree, every tale of the first livraison of this work. We have already stated that we are no enemies to a slight sprinkling of the extraordinary, but we cannot reconcile ourselves to extreme improbabilities, and events barely within the verge of nature, which excite wonder instead of interest, and disgust rather than surprise. We are therefore glad to be able to say that in the present volumes we find much less reason for complaint on this point; and we are satisfied that a more genuine and sustained interest is preserved by this attention to probability, than could have been excited by those more amazing incidents and transactions with which Miss Edgeworth has sometimes endeavoured to captivate our attention.

As we profess great respect for Miss Edgeworth's abilities, and the sincerest wishes for the successful effect of her labours, we shall be excused for saying a few monitory words on the subject of this failing which we think is in sonie degree characteristical, and which, though less obvious in the first and third of the tales now before us, is yet not altogether unobservable, and is, we think, a considerable blemish on the story of Emilie de Coulanges.

That • le vrai n'est pas toujours vraisemblable, we do not deny; but we are prepared to insist that, while the vrai' is the bighest recommendation of the historian of real life, the 'vraisemblable' is the only legitimate province of the novelist who aims at improving the understanding or touching the heart.


Violent catastrophes and strange vicissitudes occur now and then in the history of mankind; but they are so rare, that, as lessons of conduct, they have little effect on the mind. Buffon says somewhere that when a chance becomes so remote as to be ten thousand to one, it ceases to create any interest; and though Doctor Johnson observed that if among ten thousand men, lots were to be drawn for the death of one, none of the ten thousand would be perfectly at ease; yet we are quite sure that (however it might be in a real crisis of life and death) the reader of a novel will be indifferent to events, the probability of which rests on no better foundation than that they have happened once in an age, or to one man out of ten thousand.

Of this character are, the disgusting duel on which the whole drama of · Belinda' turns ; the change at nurse of the heir of Glenthorn for the son of the blacksmith which constitutes the plot and produces the denouement of Ennui ;' the nauseous folly of the romantic friendship in Almeria;' the indelicate and unlikely incident which operates the conversion of Colonel Pembroke in the Dun;' and the threadbare improbability of Emilie de Coulanges' refusing to marry the son of her friend, because her heart was engaged to an interesting unknown, and the stale surprize of discovering this same interesting unknown to be the very son of her friend. All these (and we could still farther swell the list) appear to us defects of such magnitude and of such frequent recurrence in Miss Edgeworth's works, that we cannot refrain from animadverting upon them, though we hope that she will not excuse merely, but even take in good part, our observations upon the almost solitary fault of which we have to complain.

But, while the incidents of Miss Edgeworth's pieces are too often improbable, she is altogether exempt from a fault which, at first sight, one would expect to find allied to the former, and which we have to allege against almost the whole class of modern novel writers,—the want of truth and nature in the manners of the persous of the story. In this department (if we may use the expression) of composition, Miss Edgeworth is eminently successful. We do not know that she has, in the whole circle of literature, a rival except the inimitable authors of Gil Blas and Don Quixote; and the discrimination with which the individuality of her persons is preserved through all the varieties of rank, sex, and nation, gives to her story a combined charm of truth and novelty, creates an interest more acute than fiction (if fiction it can be called) ever excited, and strikes us (for the moment at least) blind to the incongruities of the scene on which these moving images, these living pictures are employed.

But to this power of masterly and minute delineation of character Miss Edgeworth adds another, which has rarely been combined

« PrécédentContinuer »