« AnteriorContinuar »
at him, and that he cannot bear; but, between ourselves, this last cajolery about the Portuguese duties is enough to open the eyes of everybody—the people most interested cannot conceal their feelings; and while the English merchants at Lisbon send home a petition of remonstrance, the French merchants there give a ball and supper to celebrate the event.
Lord B. Yes, and now it seems as if Pedro began to suspect too much good nature and kind assistance on the part of France-
Lord G. Let them go on as they can; I have enough to do to keep my temper in the House of Lords.
Lord B. There you have the whip-hand of me--not but I have seen you once or twice rather peppery.
Lord G. Why, it is very disagreeable to go down to the House to be badgered; and that Duke of Wellington is always right in his facts. He comes at you with facts and dates, and a plausibility which baffles all fencing ; I do get angry at that. And that Bishop of Exeter, too-that man is my aversion.
Lord B. I cannot say I like him myself-he is a great deal too clever for his station; old Norwich is just the sort of man for a Bishop.
Lord G. Aye, aye, you of course have no great affection for Episcopacy.
Lord B. Haven't I?—haven't I more Church preferment in my own personal gift than the whole Bench of Bishops put together? Can a man be indifferent to a Church which gives him such opportunities of doing good ? I am sure I spoke episcopally enough upon the Glasgow petition.
Lord G. Yes, you astonished your northern friends there.
Lord B. I dare say I did, but I spoke as Lord Chancellor of England, not as Henry Brougham-and therein lies all the difference, Better do that than let the cat out of the bag as Johnny Russell has done.
Lord G. What, touching the infernal 147th clause ?
Lord B. Exactly—that was showing the cloven foot somewhat rather prematurely; it is something like Durham's going about and saying what he is to be when we get Palmerston out.
Lord G. If we could but get Peel in I would say that something might be done; but he has, unluckily for us, placed himself in so distinguished a position in the country that we have no chance of getting him; his support as an opponent is most humiliating.
Lord B. I admit it; but my maxim is, that the end always justifies the means, and
-but I am called, my dinner is just arřived in the carriage from Stanhope-street.
Lord G. And the wine ?
INHABITANTS OF A COUNTRY TOWN.
No. IV.-THE DISSENTING MINISTER.
BY MISS MITFORD.
No, Victor! we shall never meet again. I feel that conviction burnt in upon my very heart. We part now for the last time. You are returning to your own beautiful France, to your family, to your home-a captive released from his prison, an exile restored to his country, gay, fortunate, and happy-what leisure will you have to think of the poor Jane?”
You forget, Jane, that I am the soldier of a chief at war with all Europe, and that, in leaving England, I shall be sent instantly to fight fresh battles against some other nation. It is my only consolation that the conditions of my exchange forbid my being again opposed to your countrymen.
go, dearest, not to encounter the temptations of peace, but the hardships of war.”
“ The heroic hardships, the exciting dangers that you love so well! Be it so. Battle, victory, peril, or death, on the one hand ;- ;-on the other, the
graces and the blandishments, the talents and the beauty of your lovely countrywomen! What chance is there that I should be remembered either in the turmoil of a campaign, or the gaiety of a capital ? You will think of me (if indeed you should ever think of me at all) but as a part of the gloomiest scenes and the most cloudy days of your exist
As Belford contrasted with Paris, so shall I seem when placed in competition with some fair Parisian. No, Victor! we part, and I feel that we part for ever.”
“ Cruel and unjust! Shall you forget me?”
“No! To remember when hope is gone is the melancholy privilege of woman. Forget you! Oh that I could !"
“ Well then, Jane, my own Jane, put an end at once to these doubts, to these suspicions. Come with me to France, to my home. My mother is not rich ; -I am one of Napoleon's poorest Captains ;-but he has deigned to notice me;-my promotion, if life be spared to me, is assured; and in the meantime, we have enough for competence, for happiness. Come with me, my own Jane, you whose affection has been my only comfort during two years of captivity, come and share the joys of my release! Nothing can be easier than your flight. No one suspects our attachment. Your father sleeps
you would have me abandon him! me, his only child! Alas! Victor, if I were to desert him in his old age, could I ever sleep again? Go, I am rightly punished for a love which, prejudiced as he is against your nation, I knew that he would condemn. It is fit that a clandestine attachment should end in desolation and misery. Go, but, oh dearest! talk no more of my accompanying you; say no more that you will return to claim me at the peace. Both are alike impossible. Go and be happy with some younger, fairer woman! Go and forget the poor Jane !!! And so saying, she gently disengaged her hand, which was clasped in both his, and passed quickly from the little garden where they stood into the house, where, for fear of discovery, Victor dared not follow her.
This dialogue, which, by the way, was held not as I have given it, in English, but in rapid and passionate French, took place at the close of a November evening in the autumn of 1808, between a young officer of the Imperial Army, on parole in Belford, and Jane Lanham, the only daughter, the only surviving child of old John Lanham, a corn-chandler in the town.
Victor d’Auberval, the officer in question, was a young man of good education, considerable talent, and a lively and ardent character. He had been sent as a favour to Belford, together with four or five naval officers, with whom our jeune militaire had little in common besides his country and his misfortunes; and although incomparably better off than those of his compatriotes at Norman Cross and elsewhere, who solaced their leisure and relieved their necessities by cutting dominoes and other knick-knacks out of bone, and ornamenting baskets and boxes with flowers and landscapes composed of coloured straw, yet, being wholly unnoticed by the inhabitants of the town, and obliged, from the difficulty of obtaining remittances, to practise occasionally a very severe economy, he would certainly have become a victim to the English malady with a French name, styled ennui, had he not been preserved from that calamity by falling into the disease of all climates, called love.
Judging merely from outward circumstances, no one would seem less likely to captivate the handsome and brilliant Frenchman than Jane Lanham. Full four or five and twenty, and looking more, of a common height, common size, and, but for her beautiful dark eyes, common features, her person attired, as it always was, with perfect plainness and simplicity, had nothing to attract observation; and her station, as the daughter of a man in trade, himself a rigid dissenter, and living in frugal retirement, rendered their meeting at all any thing but probable. And she, grave, orderly, staid, demure, she that eschewed pink ribbons as if she had been a female Friend, and would have thought it some sin to wear a bow of any hue in her straw bonnet, who would ever have dreamt of Jane Lanham’s being smitten with a tri-coloured cockade ?
So the matter fell out.
John Lanham was, as we have said, a corn-chandler in Belford, and one who, in spite of his living in a small dark gloomy house, in a dark narrow lane leading from one great street to another, with no larger establishment than one maid of all work and a lad to take care of his horse and chaise, was yet reputed to possess considerable wealth. He was a dissenter of a sect rigid and respectable rather than numerous; and it was quoted in proof of his opulence, that, in rebuilding the chapel which he attended, he had himself contributed the magnificent sum of three thousand pounds. He had lost several children in their infancy, and his wife had died in bringing Jane into the world, so that the father, grave, stern, and severe to others, was yet bound by the tenderest of all ties, that of her entire helplessness and dependence, to his motherless girl, and spared nothing that, under his peculiar views of the world, could conduce to her happiness and well-being.
His chief adviser and assistant in the little girl's education was his old friend Mr. Fenton, the minister of the congregation to which he belonged -a man shrewd, upright, conscientious, and learned, but unfitted for his present post by two very important disqualifications : first, old bachelor who knew no more of the bringing up of children than of the training of race-horses; secondly, as having a complete and thorough contempt for the sex, whom he considered as so many animated dolls, or ornamented monkeys, frivolous and mischievous, and capable of nothing better than the fulfilment of the lowest household duties. “Teach her to read and to write," quoth Mr. Fenton,“ to keep accounts, to cut out a shirt, to mend stockings, to make a pudding, and to stay within doors, and you will have done your duty."
According to this scale Jane's education seemed likely to be conducted, when a short visit from her mother's sister, just as she had entered her thirteenth year, made a slight addition to her studies. Her aunt, a sensible and cultivated woman, assuming that the young person who was bringing up with ideas so limited was likely to inherit considerable property, would fain have converted Mr. Lanham to her own more enlarged and liberal views, have sent her to a good school, or have engaged an accomplished governess; but this attempt ended in a dispute that produced a total estrangement between the parties, and the only fruit of her remonstrances was the attendance of the good Abbé Villaret as a French master,—the study of French being, in the eyes both of Mr. Lanham and Mr. Fenton, a considerably less abomination than that of music, drawing, or dancing. “She'll make nothing of it,” thought Mr. Fenton ;“ I myself did not, though I was at the expense of a grammar and a dictionary, and worked at it an hour a day for a month. She'll make nothing of it, so she may as well try as not.” And the Abbé was sent for, and the lessons begun.
This was a new era in the life of Jane Lanham. L'Abbé Villaret soon discovered, through the veil of shyness, awkwardness, ignorance, and modesty, the great powers of his pupil. The difficulties of the language disappeared as by magic, and she whose English reading had been restricted to the commonest elementary books, with a few volumes of sectarian devotion, and · Watts’s Hymns' (for poetry she had never known, except the magnificent poetry of the Scriptures, and the homely but heart-stirring imaginations of the 'Pilgrim's Progress'), was now eagerly devouring the choicest and purest morceaux of French literature. Mr. Fenton having interdicted to the Abbé the use of any works likely to convert the young Protestant to the Catholic faith, and Mr. Lanham (who had never read one in his life) having added a caution against novels, Jane and her kind instructor were left in other respects free. Her father, who passed almost every day in the pursuit of his business in the neighbouring towns, and his pastor, who only visited him of an evening, having no suspicion of the many, many hours which she devoted to the new-born delight of poring over books; and the Abbé knew so well how to buy books cheaply, and Mr. Lanham gave him money for her use with so little inquiry as to its destination, that she soon accumulated a very respectable French library.
What a new world for the young recluse !—Racine, Corneille, Crébillon, the tragedies and histories of Voltaire, the picturesque revolutions of Vertôt, the enchanting letters of Madame de Sevigné, the Causes Célèbres (more interesting than any novels), the Mémoires de Sully (most striking and most naïf of histories), Télémaque, the Young Anacharsis, the purest comedies of Molière and Regnard, the ' Fables de la Fontaine, the poems of Delille and of Boileau, the Vert-Vert of Gresset, Le Père Brumoy's Théâtre des Grecs, Madame Dacier's
Homer;-these, and a hundred books like these, burst as a freshly acquired sense upon the shy yet ardent girl. It was like the recovery of sight to one become blind in infancy; and the kindness of the Abbé, who delighted in answering her inquiries and directing her taste, increased a thousand-fold the profit and the pleasure which she derived from her favourite authors.
Excepting her good old instructor, she had no confidant. Certain that they would feel no sympathy in her gratification, she never spoke of her books either to her father or Mr. Fenton; and they, satisfied with M. l'Abbé's calm report of her attention to his lessons, made no further inquiries. Her French studies were, she felt, for herself, and herself alone; and when his tragical death deprived her of the friend and tutor whom she had so entirely loved and respected, reading became more and more a solitary pleasure. Outwardly calm, silent, and retiring, an affectionate daughter, an excellent housewife, and an attentive hostess, she was Mr. Fenton's beau idéal of a young woman. Little did he suspect the glowing, enthusiastic, and concentrated character that lurked under that cold exterior—the fire that was hidden under that white and virgin snow. Purer than she really was he could not fancy her, but never would he have divined how much of tenderness and firmness was mingled with that youthful purity, or how completely he had himself, by a life of restraint and seclusion, prepared her mind to yield to an engrossing and lasting passion.
Amongst her beloved French books, those which she preferred were undoubtedly the tragedies, the only dramas which had ever fallen in her way, and which exercised over her imagination the full power of that most striking and delightful of any species of literature. We who know Shakspeare, — who have known him from our childhood, and are, as it were, “ to his manner born,"—feel at once that, compared with that greatest of poets, the “ belles tirades” of Racine and of Corneille are cold, and false, and wearisome; but to one who had no such standard by which to measure the tragic dramatists of France, the mysterious and thrilling horrors of the old Greek stories which their tragedies so frequently embodied,—the woes of Thebes, the fated line of Pelops, the passion of Phædra, and the desolation of Antigone,--were full of a strange and fearful power. Nor was the spell confined to the classical plays. The “Tragédies Chrétiennes," — Esther and Athalie, Polyeucte and Alzire,-excited at least equal interest; while the contest between love and “la force du sang," in the Cid and Zaïre, struck upon her with all the power of a predestined sympathy. She felt that she herself was born to such a trial; and the presentiment was, perhaps, as so often happens, in no small degree the cause of its own accomplishment.
The accident by which she became acquainted with Victor d’Auberval may be told in a very few words.
The nurse who had taken to her on the death of her mother, and who still retained for her the strong affection so often inspired by foster children, was the wife of a respectable publican in Queen-street, and being of excellent private character, and one of Mr. Fenton's congregation, was admitted to see Jane whenever she liked, in a somewhat equivocal capacity between a visiter and a dependant.
One evening she came in great haste to say that a Bristol coach,