A CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF LIFE; OR FASHION AND FEELING
ANON, MONTHLY CENSOR (1822) VOL. 1 pp 821-25
Art. XXXV. Life; or Fashion and Feeling. A Novel. By Mary Anne Hedge, Author of ‘Affection's Gift’, ‘The Retreat’. &c. &c. Newman. 3 Vols. 16s 6d. 1822.
It is to be presumed that the author of the volumes before us, in giving her work the title which it bears, wishes to convey her intention of introducing a variety and succession of characters instead of confining the interest of her story, as is more commonly the case, to two or three select individuals. This has been the general result of her writing, and in those she has delineated, there is, alas! more of reality than fiction in the fashionable vices of which they largely participate. Many good lessons are interwoven with her relations, which the dissipated of either sex might beneficially take to themselves, and nothing occurs throughout to which the most scrupulous could object. It is impossible, however, to compose works of this nature without giving a pre-pondering interest to some few over the many characters brought before us, and in giving our readers a short sketch of the story, we shall pass over many who possess but subordinate claims to our attention, and confine ourselves to those whose superior attractions have a greater power to fix it.
Charles Wilmot, having contracted a very early marriage with a beautiful, but vain and artless girl, who had been tutored by her mother to spread all her charms for the entrapment of his affections, too late discovers how incapable she is of forming the rational and amiable companion his own domestic tastes and solid understanding rendered desirable in a wife. Self-willed, vain, and eager for display, she is never happy but in a blaze of company, and her husband, fond and obliging, makes but slight opposition to the indulgence of her wishes till the approach of their only child, a girl, to those years when the opening faculties require the most scrupulous superintendence, alarms him at the neglect with which she is treated by her mother, and he becomes apprehensive lest his daughter should grow up into the same weak and frivolous character which he so bitterly laments seeing before him in his wife. He uses every gentle means to excite Mrs Wilmot to sober reflection, but is always treated either with disdain or ridicule; he then exerts the firmness of his character in a decision to retire to a large and long-neglected paternal estate, and when here, spares no pains or expense to render it agreeable to the woman he still loves, but whom it is impossible to esteem. All his exertions are fruitless, and, weary of the spot where her husband is exerting every effort to please her, and her lovely little girl is daily improving under the care of her well principled and judicious father, she at length resolves to join a party of friends at Bath; and leaving behind every dear and domestic tie behind her, and against the tender and persuasive entreaties of her husband, there plunges gaily into the routine of fashionable life. We here anticipate an interval of some months in adding that a severe cold and fever, acquired by over-exertion and exposure to the damps of evening at masquerade, eventually occasion her to become an early victim to vanity and dissipation.
But it is an individual in the village where Mr Wilmot's estate is situated, a Mr St. Aubyn, the curate of the parish, on whom we have the most pleasure in dwelling, and whose history given by Mr Beresford, the rector of the parish, to Mr Wilmot, speaks most feelingly to our sympathies. St Aubyn, when quite a lad, had been placed with a clergyman in Westmoreland, who received a limited number of pupils, and there residing constantly with his excellent preceptor, had known no other father, nor was aware of any other connection than that which seemed to exist between him and a mysterious stranger who visited at the house, and who in his unguarded moments occasionally lavished on him the most tender and enthusiastic caresses. The young St. Aubyn, generous, spirited and high minded, was of a nature to feel curious as to the unimparted particulars of his birth, while the tenderness and feeling of his heart prompted in him the most ardent desire to meet with objects on whom he might lavish his fond and overflowing emotions. But neither his preceptor nor his friend gave any opening for inquiry, and he was entered at Oxford, where he was designed to study for orders, still ignorant of his birth, and still unsatisfied in affection. At Oxford, however, he met with something like an answering emotion of regard, in an amiable and excellent young man with whom he formed the strictest ties of friendship, which was but too soon and too fatally to terminate. At a water party on the Isis, this chosen and beloved companion of his soul was accidentally drowned, and the bereaved St. Aubyn, shocked at the sudden and unexpected blow, was attacked by a violent illness. There are many beautiful touches of feeling, throughout the relation of this part of the narrative, and we select the following for the gratification of our readers:
"The first moment of consciousness experienced by the bereaved and suffering St. Aubyn, was to him like awaking from a fearful and troubled dream, it was on the afternoon of a glorious summer day, a soft obscurity was shed over his apartment by the close drawn blinds; all was still except the hum of a few small flies, and a ticking of a watch on the table. The curtains of his bed were open, as were also the windows and door of the room. He lay upon his back. The first objects which stuck his dim sight, as he feebly unclosed his eyes, were a profile of the departed Archibald, and some sketches of Highland costume, which he had made a few days previous to the fatal catastrophe; a flute was slung under the profile, which had frequently been used likewise by him, and upon t now gleamed a strong ray of the sun, streaming through a small aperture of the blind, and clearly defining the form of the instrument.
"An indistinct remembrance that what he saw was associated with some dreadful calamity seemed to trouble the mind of the poor invalid, a thousand joining cords seemed touched, and a sickness passed over his heart, which exhausted nature sought to relieve by a deep drawn sigh. His eyes again closed, as if afraid to meet the objects which had aroused the troubled feeling, and he seemed again to be sinking into a heavy torpor, when his almost lifeless hand, as it lay extended on the bed, was tenderly pressed, and 'Julian, my dear Julian!' was pronounced, Julian, feebly returned the pressure, looked tenderly and earnestly at Mr Auriol, but was unable to embody in words the intense feelings of his heart. His hand trembled - his lips moved, but formed no sound; at length a few tears stole from his languid eyes, he continued to hold the hand of Mr Auriol, the tears chased themselves quicker down his pallid cheek, till at last he wept profusely.
"The exhausted mind of Julian by degrees resumed its calm, and was imperceptibly led to all hopes and consolations of a Christian, to behold the hand of a father in the affection under which he suffered, to silence every murmur, and to adore the wisdom he presumed not to trace. The sacred feelings of sorrow were softened and the benign and fortifying influence of religion shed over his soul that tender melancholy which is favourable to the noblest feelings of the heart of man." Vol II. p.63.
Soon after this, St. Aubyn has an interview with his unknown friend, whom he discovers to be his father, and who tells him that he is nobly and honourably born, but interdicts him from further enquiry. On the death of the stranger, which happens a short time after, he proves to be the Earl of Desmond, who being prevented by the suddenness of that event from making any provision for St. Aubyn, that young man is left without other hope of subsistence than £1000 given him a short time previously by his then unknown but munificent protector. No light is thrown upon the birth of St Aubyn, although his father has declared him to be honourably born; and the son by a second marriage quietly takes possession of the earldom and its appendages. St. Aubyn proceeds to take orders, and then undertaking a curacy in the South, he there meets with a lovely and amiable protestant emigrant, whom he marries, and with whom he resides for some years in a domestic felicity, uninterrupted but by the common casualties of life. At length, however, this even course of happiness is broken in upon by the severe illness of St. Aubyn, and unable to continue the active duties of his profession, he unwillingly relinquishes the exercise of it, and removes into the vicinity of London for the benefit of medical advice, with a hope of obtaining by his literary exertions that subsistence which a weakened health prevents his drawing from his professional pursuits. The medical attendant of St. Aubyn was equally a friend to the unfortunate, and we will here introduce him to our readers, with the interesting family group whom he is delicately anxious to assist.
"He had (St. Aubyn) aided by his intelligent Adela prepared a little MS. upon a subject of elegant literature, to be in readiness should any favourable opening be discovered to dispose of it. One day in the course of conversation, Dr Denbigh said, 'Mr St. Aubyn, from the knowledge you have upon subjects, of what I term elegant science, perhaps you may be able to inform me of some person perfectly aquatinted with botany, and also able to compose, in the French language, with force and elegance, for a friend, with myself, are jointly concerned in an elaborate and extensive work upon the subject, we are desirous of having 'made into French' as our old writers express it. It would be pleasant, and not altogether an unprofitable employment, as we have agreed to advance five hundred pounds to the person undertaking it, that undivided attention may be given to it, and also a proportionate sum for a series of drawings we wish to illustrate the work.'
"Julian was sitting in an easy chair by the fire, with the little Adela crowned by his side, where she had fallen asleep, hugging a half naked doll. Her mother was seated by a table at work with her sleeping baby in her lap. As Dr Denbigh proceeded, she raised her eyes and desisted from her work, which she still held in the same attitude, and when he paused, half opened her lips, and lifted her full eyes to Heaven, but she spoke not. She arose, pressed her infant to her bosom with one arm, advanced to her husbands chair, and adjusted his pillow with the unemployed hand, but still silent; she stood as if fixed to the spot, and, as if unconscious of the presence of Dr Denbigh, kissed the cold pale forehead of Julian; her whole action was singular, but Dr Denbigh marked and perfectly understood it. It informed him unequivocally, that Julian and herself were capable of the task proposed; but the sweet timidity, which is woman's charm, forbade the avowal of the ability. Julian also well understood the thankful expression of those eyes whose language he had so closely studied. 'Adela my love, reach me that port-feuille,' he said looking up affectionately as she stood by his side; Dr Denbigh is fond of flowers, and as he is engaged in a botanical work, perhaps the drawings may amuse him, we will endeavour to think of some one who is capable of engaging in the work he mentions. Here, lay my boy on my knee, I can bear him indeed' Adela smiled, did as he bid her, cautioning him to be careful, and bringing the port-feuille, trembled as she opened it for Dr Denbigh's inspection. Vol. II. p.184.
The work here alluded to was subsequently undertaken by St. Aubyn and his wife, and the emoluments arising from it were sufficient to allow of a journey to the South of France where this excellent man at length recovers his health. While here, an accidental connection is formed between himself, and a younger son of the Earl of Desmond, his supposed father; who dying, bequeaths him the guardianship of his infant son, but without being aware that he was entrusting him to the care of a relation.
The death of Adela, the wife of St. Aubyn, is an event which calls forth all the feeling tenderness of the man, and all the pious resignation of the Christian; the widowed father devotes himself to the education of Adela, his daughter and only remaining child, and becomes the curate of Mr Beresford, in the parish where Mr Wilmot's estate is situated, and to whom the young Adela is ultimately united.
The episode, as it may be almost called, of the St. Aubyn's is certainly the best written and most interesting part of the book, and we are dissatisfied in taking leave of them to find no elucidation given of the mysterious doubts thrown upon the birth of Julian. If it was really honourable as his father assured him, why was the offspring of the second marriage to supersede an elder brother in the earldom and estates of Desmond? We continued the history constantly anticipating an unravelling of the mystery, and disappointed at the general and uninteresting wind-up of the affairs of many of whom we do not in the slightest degree care whether they live or die, are happy or miserable, to find our favourite object of attraction left with the slur of illegitimacy depending over him, when the usual subterfuge of an old domestic of the Earl, with a marriage certificate carefully preserved in a snuff box, or some other common place expedient of the sort might have satisfied us upon this point, and have given us the opportunity we so much wished for of congratulating Julian, Earl of Desmond, on the restoration of his mother's memory to honourable estimation, and of himself to the hereditary honours of his father.
A CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF THE RETREAT; OR SKETCHES FROM NATURE
ANON, THE LITERARY CHRONICAL, (1820) VOL 2 pp 408-9
The Retreat; or Sketches from Nature. A Descriptive Tale. By the Author of ‘Affections Gift’, ‘Treasures of Thought’, ‘Letters on History’, &c. 2 vols. London 1820.
The fair author of the 'Retreat', whose former productions created a favourable opinion of her talents, differs very much from the ordinary class of novel writers. With these it seems an established rule, that the whole course of the action should be confined to a love affair, to which every other consideration should be sacrificed. The reverse is, however the case with the 'Retreat', which consists of a succession of sketches of natural scenery, and animated descriptions of the working passions. To introduce these with effect, a narrative was necessary, and the story of Madeline Hargrave, the subject of the present one, while it keeps up a continued interest in itself, receives an additional zest from the elegant and powerful description of the scenes of the principle circumstances. In incident it certainly does not abound; but it portrays some of the best feelings of human nature with great spirit. The following extract from the conclusion of the work will illustrate our remarks, and give a fair specimen of the style of the authoress,
"There are moments of exquisite feeling, in which the tongue is powerless to express the intense emotions of the soul. There are scenes so pure, so sacred, that none but an angel's touch can portray them. Such are those when a wife feels her heart throb with tumultuous agony upon the bosom of her dying husband, whose very existence seems to have been protracted but to receive the chaste and hallowed pressure. Such are those when a husband unfold the most inmost recesses of his perturbed soul, to the wife of his bosom, acknowledging his frailties, confessing his errors, imparting his grief’s. Such are those when a wife allows the humiliating and sad detail, only that she may forever throw over the one the mantle of love and oblivion, and pour the heavenly balm of sympathy and consolation upon the wounds inflicted by the other. Such are those, when, on the grief-blanched cheek, we feel the breath of that sigh which wafts to worlds unknown, a soul which has been identified with our own; when we receive the last lingering beam of those eyes which never met our own without the radiance of affection; when we feel, less and less firm, the grasp of that hand wont to tremble with emotion in ours till, at last, that grasp is loosened forever! when we watch with almost breathless agony, the last high pulsation of the heart which was the sole master cord to awaken all the harmonies of our own, And such are those, when we strew over the cold remains of the being who was the cheering solace of our life, the flowery emblems of our transient existence, and kiss for the last time, the marbled brow once impressed with energies of thought, or smoothed with the smile of love and benevolence! No, words cannot convey the anguish of such moments. Madeline experienced them all - she felt their desolating influence; when called to the deathbed of her husband, she hoped to meet with smiles of love and joy.
"Is there an earthly balm for such trials? - No, even the tender touch of friendship is too harsh to administer to it. It cannot be extracted from that sweet earthly flower. It must be drawn from those of heavenly growth, and the Being who transfixes the shaft can alone shield it with a balsam to antidote the venom. To Madeline it was granted. As the path of the suffering was appointed, she humbly believed it necessary and trod it firmly. Her physical powers might sink beneath the stroke, but her soul rose on the wings of hope, beyond the narrow bounds of frail existence. "Affliction might subdue the cheek, but not take in the mind", and after performing all the tender and sacred duties of a wife, under circumstances of bereavement, she returned to the 'Retreat' prepared to meet the dispensations of Him whose decrees are ever just, although inscrutable by moral sense. Was the source of this acquiescence the fanciful vision of a high wrought imagination? Could the aspiring hope that sustained her be a delusion? Let the sceptic offer us something more superior to support us in the trials of humanity, ere he tear from us the hopes of a Christian, ere he despoil us of the treasures of religious truth, let him inform us where we are to seek for consolation, let him point out to us a brighter and more ethereal ray to light our path, ere he remove from us the unfailing lamp which cheers us even in the dark hour of dissolution - which enables us to pierce beyond the precincts of the tomb, and to read on the tablet of eternal truth, though death severs for a moment the ties of affection, the hand of Omnipotence shall reunite them in one indissoluble bond, through the countless ages of eternity"
"It was this hope, this light, that supported the tender Madeline in the loss of a cherished infant, in the deprivation of a beloved husband, who in the flower of life, fell victim to wounded honour, and to that pride of heart which blinds man to himself, and unfits him for the hour of trial. Alas! the delusion is discovered when that hour of trial has found us wanting - and the withering blight has passed over our peace!"
"But even the blessed serenity produced by this hope in our own souls, may receive, does receive, augmented power, when we know there is a community of feeling. Let those who have contemplated the sufferer upon the bed of sickness and of death, who have steadily remarked the harmonising influence of the meek submission and sincere resignation, upon the features and in the sentiments of the object of their fond contemplation, let them say if they have not found a cordial drop infused into the bitter cup of sorrow they are decreed to taste, whether there is not an exhaulted and holy feeling excited, which like a beam of heavenly light, shed a radiance over the dark and gloomy moment of separation and expiring nature? - yes, a mutual trust in almighty care and immutable love unites us still with the passing spirit, by correcting the vain and wayward wishes which obstruct the aspirations of her own."
A CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF THE RETREAT; OR SKETCHES FROM NATURE
ANON, GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE, (1820) VOL 90 pp 436-7
The Retreat; or Sketches from Nature. A Descriptive Tale by the author of 'Affections Gift' &c.2 vols. Baldwin, Cradock & Joy.
Were we commissioned to look for Satan when 'walking about seeking whom he may devour', we should expect to find him embodied in the Seducer, for there he assumes the form of an angel of light; is all amiable, winning and attractive. But there are also female instruments of corruption, Matilda's in the Monk. To such characters, which may be allegorically denominated beauties with striking breaths, or as it is now more delicately phrased, smoky chimneys, does this instructive novel allude. A Female Iago, by inciting distrust and using misrepresentation, contrives to inveigle a gallant married solider into a net whose fatal threads are as destructive as the dreadful tunic of the dying Hercules. She occasions the death of his lovely, elegant and affectionate wife. The tale is enriched with scenery and historical characteristics of Spain. - We often meet with original ideas in novels, worthy the attention of the philosopher. It is here said, 'that feelings exquisitely alive to the opinion of the world, induce an alloy of selfishness, even in hearts naturally noble and disinterested' (Vol I, p.100)
We conclude our remarks with a definition of the work. This novel is simple in structure; not a game of blindman's bluff where various persons, after shoving and blundering are gradually unbandaged, and sit down sociably at the supper table; but the slow walk of a mourning widow to the parish church, the tidings of whose death are a few weeks afterwards announced by the passing bell. Is there a religion of feeling? It is the fidelity of the wife, sanctified through suffering, into divine immortality by the broken heart of the widow.
A CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF THE RETREAT; OR SKETCHES FROM NATURE
ANON, THE MONTHLY REVIEW, (1820) VOL 93 pp 103
The Retreat, or Sketches from Nature. A Descriptive Tale. By Mary Anne Hedge. Author of 'Letters on History', 'Affections Gift'. Baldwin & Co.
We cannot offer better advice to this fair writer, that she should confine herself in future to compilations for children, such as those which have already intitled her to applause; since her present attempt at a work of fiction is not calculated to amuse or instruct, the style being affected and the events strangely contradicting the title 'Sketches from Nature'. For instance, where in real life is the refined young lady who would compose a song like that of Madeline in vol. I, page 40, of which the burden is 'oh, tis the kiss of wedded love!' In vol. I, page 106, a French expression is thus misapplied - 'they noticed the unusual distrait of the colonel' and again in vol. II, page 122, 'he supposed that the colonels distrait arose'. In vol. II, page 23, we are told that he clasped her with convulsion ardour; and in page 40 one of the gentleman exclaims 'thou art my guardian angel, the ready soul can image you' & c.
A CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF THE RETREAT; OR SKETCHES FROM NATURE
ANON, NEW MONTHLY, (1820) VOL 14 pp 92
The Retreat; or Sketches from Nature. A Descriptive Tale. By the Author of ‘Affections Gift’, ‘Treasures of Thought’, ‘Letters on History’ &c. 2 vols.
This is a very amusing and instructive tale. It has the rare merit of exhibiting quick sensibilities, and high wrought passions, and of giving to them a living interest which fascinates us, and yet of leaving on the heart no impressions, except sympathy with the mildest and holiest virtue. Its characters are ably discriminated and well supported, its style is chaste and elegant and all its parts have a harmony and keeping not often found in modern fictions.