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Mary a visitor in a family at London. The vessel in which the Macneils had embarked is wrecked in the bay of Biscay, and all that unfortunate family perish in the waves. This disastrous intelligence is nearly a death-blow to poor Mary, the sole survivor, and to whom her mother and sisters had hitherto been all in all. The Genoese banker, finding that no vouchers of his being the depositary of Macneil's fortune had escaped from the wreck, refuses to give any account of it; and our interest in Mary's distress and desolation is unnecessarily interrupted by a minute detail of the steps by which Fleetwood in vain attempted to bring a banker to confess the receipt of a sum which could not otherwise be proved against him. It is even hinted, as a reason for which he pressed his marriage with the deserted orphan, that he at length became afraid that, since the question rested on a trial of character betwixt him and the Genoese, he might himself be suspected of having embezzled her fortune. This is one of the instances of coarseness and bad taste with which Mr Godwin sometimes degrades his characters. In Caleb Williams, a gentleman passionately addicted to the manners of ancient chivalry, becomes a midnight assassin, when an honourable revenge was in his power ; and in Fleetwood, a man of feeling, in soliciting an union pressed upon him by love, by honour, and by every feeling of humanity, is influenced by a motive of remote and despicable calculation, which we will venture to say never entered the kead of an honest man in similar circumstances.
Fleetwood and Mary are at length married; and from this marriage, as we have already noticed, commences any interest which we take in the history of the former. Indeed it can hardly be called a history, which has neither incident nor novelty of remark to recommend it, consisting entirely of idle and inflated declamations upon the most common occurrences of human life. The union of Mary and Fleetwood, considering the youth and variable spirits of the former, and the age and confirmed prejudices of the latter, promises a more interesting subject of speculation. Upon their arrival in Wales, the reader is soon made sensible that a man of feeling, upon Mr Godwin's system, is the most selfish animal in the universe. We appeal to our fair readers if this is not a just conclusion, from the following account of the matrimonial disputes of this ill-matched pair. Upon visiting the family mansion in Merionethshire, the lady gives the first cause of disgust, by rather hastily appropriating to her own purposes a closet which had been the favourite retirement of her husband. Without having the force of mind to tell Mary that this unlucky boudoir was consecrated to his own studies, Fleetwood nourishes a kind of secret malice against his wife for her unlucky selection of this retreat, hallowed as it had been to his own exclusive use. This is hardly over when a new offence is given. While our hero is reading to his young bride his favourite play, “A Wife for a Month” (in fact he did not retain his own for many more), Mary, either from natural levity, or because the ardent declamations of the amorous Valerio excited comparisons unfavourable to Fleetwood, chooses to desert the rehearsal in order to botanize with a young peasant on the cliffs of Cader Idris.
Now, there is nothing unnatural in this incident, and we believe domestic felicity is frequently interrupted by such differences of taste, and neglect of the feelings of each other ; but we doubt whether our readers will not think the tragic declamations of Fleetwood infinitely too high-toned for the nature of his misfortunes. It is not very pleasant to lose possession of a favourite closet, and it is teazing enough to be deserted while reciting a favourite author; but, surely, the sesquipedalia verba of Fleetwood attach to these grievances a degree of consequence in which none can sympathize, and which to most will be the subject of ridicule. Another cause of dispute, of a still more important as well as of a more common kind, arises betwixt Fleetwood and Mary. This concerns the share to be taken in the visits and public society of the country in which they lived. Mary's fondness for these amusements excites the displeasure, and at length the jealousy of her husband ; and he expresses both, with
very great indulgence to his own feelings, and very little to those of his lady. In these circumstances her health began to give way, under the perpetual irritation occasioned by the deportment of her moody partner; and her mind settled in mournful recollection upon the contemplation of the loss she had sustained by the shipwreck of her sisters and parents. We transcribe the following account of the progress,
of her malady as one of the few interesting passages in the book.
“ One further circumstance occurred in the progress of Mary's distemper. She would steal from her bed in the middle of the night, when no one perceived it, and make her escape out of the house. The first time this accident occurred I was exceedingly alarmed. I awoke, and found that the beloved of my soul was gone. I sought her in her closet, in the parlour, and in the library ; I then called up the servants. The night was dark and tempestuous; the wind blew a hollow blast; and the surges roared and stormed as they buffeted against the hurricane. A sort of sleet blew sharp in our faces when we opened the door of the house. I went myself in one direction, and despatched the servants in others, to call and search for their mistress. After two hours she was brought back by one of my people, who, having sought in vain at a distance, had discovered her, on his return, not far from the house. Her hair was dishevelled ; her countenance as white as death ; her limbs cold; she was languid and speechless. We got her as quickly as we could to bed.
“ This happened a second time. At length I extorted her secret from her she had been to the beach of the sea to seek the bodies of her parents. On the sea-shore she seemed to converse with their spirits. She owned, she had been tempted to plunge herself into the waves to meet them. She heard their voices speaking to her in the hollow wind, and saw their faces riding on the top of the waves by the light of the moon, as it peeped precariously through the storm. They called to her, and bid her come along, and chid her for her delay. The words at first sounded softly, so that it seemed difficult to hear them, but afterward changed to the most dolorous and piercing shrieks. In the last instance, a figure had approached her, and, seizing her garment, detained her just as she was going to launch herself into the element. The servants talked something of a gentleman, who had quitted Mary precisely as they came up to conduct her home.
“ She confessed, that whenever the equinoctial wind sounded in her ears, it gave a sudden turn to her blood and spirits. As she listened alone to the roaring of the ocean, her parents and her sisters immediately stood before her. More than once she had been awaked at midnight by the well-known sound; and, looking out of bed, she saw their bodies strewed on the floor, distended with the element that filled them, and their features distorted with death. This spectacle she could not endure,
She had crept silently out of bed, and, drawing a few clothes about her, had found her way into the air. She felt nothing of the storm; and, led on by an impulse she could not resist, had turned her steps towards the sea.
p. 79-82. This kind of partial derangement of the intellect is very strikingly described. It has not, however, the merit of novelty, as the same idea occurs in the licentious novel of Faublas, written by the famous Louvet. At the conclusion of that work the hero tells us, that still when the south wind whistled, or the thunder rolled, his disordered imagination presented to him the scene which had passed at the death of his mistress; he again heard the sound of the midnight bell, and the voice of the sentinel who pointed to the river, and coldly said, “ She is there.” We quote from memory, a work which, for many reasons, we would not choose to read again ; but we think that this is the import of the passage, and it considerably resembles that in Fleetwood, though the idea in the latter is more prolonged and brought out.
Mary is removed to Bath, where she recovers from her depression of spirits, to fall into the opposite extreme of giddy and unceasing hilarity. At this time Fleetwood is joined by two cousins, both under his patronage, and who come to reside in his family. They are half brothers. Kenrick is an open, candid, thoughtless, young soldier; Gifford a deep hypocritical villain. These two brothers, like the black and white genius in Voltaire's tale,