The False Step and The Sisters divide between them three
vo- lumes. The first tale is a beautiful specimen of the modern novel : it is hardly possible to imagine any thing more severe in principle, or more flimsy in construction. It is in fact the history of the most innocent and involuntary divorcée in the world ; who entails the most exquisite misery on her progeny, by the effect which her fame has upon their reputation. The young lady principally concerned, the divorcée's daughter, is married, and is confessedly little short of an angel—the breath of slander never even approached her : the man who has wedded her in spite of his own prejudices adores her, and in her worships the very goddess of chastity and purity of mind, —for she is even more pure than the angels, through whose minds we have the au- thority of MILTON for saying, that evil thoughts may come and go—quickly to be sure—but into this lady's chaste imagination no impurity ever ventures: and yet this same husband deserts his wife, because she visits an unhappy friend, without knowing the nature of her unhappiness, and because of an epigram, said to have appeared in the Morning Post. 0 ye Gods ! this is too much even for the idea of aristocratical virtue and purity (they are all aristocrats, of course) entertained by simple maidens in the mountains of Wales, or on the fells of Westmoreland.
The Two Sisters is a better story, better made out, better con- ducted; indeed we see talent in it, which would lead us to pro- nounce the False Step as a very unlucky mistake on the part of the authoress,—for we conceive the writer to be a lady, by the ex- treme feminineity of her notions. A fine honest-hearted girl con- ceives a youthful affection for a youth going to the West Indies: the affection is mutual. He stays many years, but always talks of returning " to Constance Forester and England." He does -come home at last; but Constance has a younger sister, who answers far more nearly to his youthful recollections than her maidenly senior: he falls in love with the junior, and dire and deep is the tragedy—death is dealt out to one sister, madness to the other. This is certainly very like the world as it goes!
The new Number of the " Standard Novels" contains Mrs. .SHELLEY'S Frankenstein, and by way, of Supplement, SCHILLER'S Ghost-Seer. Everybody is familiar with Mrs. SHELLEY'S Monster; perhaps there is no modern invention which has taken a more thorough hold of the popular imagination. This edition is dis- tinguished, besides its cheapness, by certain emendations of style, but more particularly by a very pleasant little history of the origin of her romance. Mr. SHELLEY and his wife were the neighbours of Lord BYRON in the summer of 1816, in Switzerland, while he was writing his glorioms Third Canto of Childe Harold; the sum- mer was wet and. ungenial, and the parties were a good deal con-. fined within-doors, and seemed to have wanted occupation.
" We will each write a ghost story,' said Lord Byron ; and his propo- sition was acceded to There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole—what to see I forget—something very shocking and wrong of course ; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to dispatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets, also, annoy ed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task. " I busied myself to think of a story,— a story to rival those which had excited us to this task—one which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would beun- worthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Rave you thought of a story ? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative."
At length a conversation between SHELLEY and BYRON, on gal- vanism, reanimation, and the composition and manufacture of an. animal, suggested a dream to the lady listener, and the dream sug- gested the subject.
" Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw— with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,—I saw the pale student of un- hallowed arts kneeling beside the•thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the work- ing of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and. stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be ; fm-supremely fright.: ful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the_world. His success • would terrify the artist : he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade ; that this thing, which had received such im- perfect animation, would subside into dead matter ; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. lie sleeps ; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes ; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.
" I opened ming in terror, The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchatige the' ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. • 1 recurred to my ehost story—my tiresome, unlucky ghost story ! 0 ! if I could only con- trive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night !
" Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. ' I have found it ! What terrified me will terrify others ; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.' On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream."
This recurrence to these pleasant times must have been not a little painful to the authoress—the widow of such a friend and husband as SHELLEY. She alludes to these feelings in a conclud- ing sentence or two, which seems to us very touching.
"And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conver- sation, when I was not alone ; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself ; my readers have nothing to do with these associations."