CLEVELAND — THE POACHER'S WIFE.
Barn these novels are so far didactic, that their writers appear to have some theoretical notions, and to have considered fiction rather as a means of exhibiting their views in action, than as an art by which Nature is represented as she is modified by social life, leaving her to point the moral the action contains, instead of contriving the action to squeeze out some "foregone conclusion." Hence the stories, like all such stories, fail as pictures of life, while they do not even attain the first pur- pose of the writer. He winds up his theory so tight that it cracks. He either brings together all the possible mischiefs of the evil he would warn against,—exhibiting extremes which are never met with in combination,— or be displays something so exaggerated that it only exists as a lusus natures'.
The object of the author of Cleveland, a Tale of the Catholic Church, would seem to resemble that of Michelet in his "Priests, Women, and Families." He wishes to exhibit the mischief that may be worked by the supernatural character the Romish Church ascribes to its priesthood, in sowing dissension in families, and tearing asunder the most sacred ties, when great abilities and great bigotry are brought to act upon weakness and indecision. Such a case is of itself; perhaps, an exception to a gene- ral rule, and applies almost as forcibly to some Protestant sects as to the Romish; but still the principle is large enough, and may work mischief or misery so great as to have been treated by some ages (and justly treated, if in jurisprudence we could limit our view to single cases) as a criminal offence. The fault of Cleveland consists in pushing the ex- ceptional beyond all bounds, and illustrating a principle by a case so very rare as to be useless as a warning. The author has considerable natural abilities, an elegant literature, some knowledge of the subject-matter both in its philosophy and its theology, and an acquaintance with human nature, though perhaps rather theoretical than practical. But the effect, from the causes indicated, is not in proportion to the qualities of the writer. Granting all that the author assumes, such a case as is narrated must be of very rare occurrence ; but if we look at human nature as it is, and as society modifies it, the tale is improbable.
The theme of Cleveland is the story of a Protestant clergyman marry- ing a Romanist lady, who has been converted from Popery by love, not conviction ; and who afterwards leaves her husband through religious re- morse and the influence of her former spiritual director ; her reason finally giving way in the struggle, and suicide terminating the tale. To render such a course of conduct feasible would require great art ; and the author is not deficient in metaphysical ability; but fails in pro- ducing a sufficient character, or one to enlist the sympathies. Helen Mortimer, the heroine, has not lived a Romanist after the straitest sect. Abandoned by her nearest relations of the Romish Church, she is brought up by a good sort of Protestant lady, who does not interfere with her faith, but Helen has little opportunity of having it inculcated. She is sixteen before she becomes acquainted with her relation Cleveland, the Romish priest ; and he exercises as much of an intellectual as a religious influence. His conversation opens her mind to art, music, and literature, Though all tinged with the hues of Romanism ; but his power is super- seded as soon as the Reverend Cecil Milner, the destined husband, appears. Considering that both Helen and Cecil were from the first aware of the insuperable barrier existing between them, their love at first sight and the subsequent violence of their passion are not natural. Helen's so- called conversion is not the result of examination, or persuasion, or any- thing but mere unhealthy excitement, well described, and natural in a weak and foolish girl, but little calculated to attract in a heroine. The Reverend Mr. Milner is, for a conscientious divine, as lax as may be ; for not a question does he ever ask of Helen relating to her belief; nor, in point of fact, is she ever received into the Protestant Church at all. These things, indeed, may be possible enough, but not in heroes and he- roines, with whose minutest throb of feeling we are called upon to sympa- thize. The true point of weakness, however, is in the subsequent conduct of Helen. Cleveland does not at first influence her; she terrifies herself with the thought of damnation for herself and her infant; a fear probable had she been brought up in stern Romanism from her youth, but not likely when her superstitious feelings were only of a few months' growth, and connubial and maternal love were opposing their influence. When she ad- dresses Cleveland, and by his persuasion quits her husband unless she be permitted openly to attend the Romish worship and educate her daughter in the same creed, the subsequent struggles between her ghostly fears and her love for her husband are painted with great skill and power, but with an excess of minuteness. It is an exhibition, and felt not to be worth the pains bestowed. "To what end ? for whose use is all this ?" rises to the mind. This is not "the Catholic in the family "—it is the fool. Had Helen married a Romanist, or a layman, none of this would have happened. The moral is, that a clergyman should not marry a woman of another persuasion without knowing the grounds on which she is "off with her old love"; and that no man should marry a woman whose unhealthy impulses are ever hurrying her into follies, provided he can find them out.
The execution of the work belongs to that school where the minute anatomy of the mind predominates over incident or manners ; the latter, when introduced, being made subordinate to the display of cha- racter. This style of composition, from being favourable to a meta- physical or theoretical view of human nature, and producing a considerable effect in proportion to the ability employed, as well as allowing the author to luxuriate in writing, was at one time very popular; but it has of late years been less in fashion,—its comparative facility, perhaps, causing the style to be overdone. Those readers who are unacquainted with this mode of composition may rate Cleveland above its actual merit, though that is considerable. The author has also a quiet humour, not always possessed by members of the school, in delineating the lighter traits of commonplace characters.
These delicate touches cannot be transplanted. We will take as a sample of the writer a scene of considerable power, when Helen's reason is beginning to yield. Cleveland's mother, Helen's nearest relation, has
carried her to the sea-side for change of air.
"One evening, she had wandered down to the shore: it was nearly half-past four on a November evening, but the weather was mild, soft, and grey; a Westerly breeze blew over the leaden-coloured sea; the twilight was closing; and there was all around her that unutterable melancholy which soothes from its own excess of mournfulness.
"She stood alone; and, according to her custom, took from her breast the pic- ture that was the only star of her dreary existence. Yet sometimes she felt dis- satisfied with its calm beauty. She would gaze through her tears till the face grew strange and cold; she looked forward to that hour of solitude as to an ap- pointed meeting; and sometimes her own heart played her false, and she found a dull gloom were she had anticipated the renewed raptures of memory and love. This dim autumn afternoon she took the miniature from its resting-place; and, touching the spring, it flew open. The suddenness of being even by such means brought into the visible presence of lineaments which were never absent from her soul, gave her, as it were, command over a spell which she religiously guarded from all human influence besides; even Cleveland being kept in ignorance that the picture existed. She looked
"'Upon the lips, the smile—the very smile; Remembered well the sunlight of her youth.'
The reality of his presence flashed with a dread joy through her head and heart: the barriers of time and space seemed to fall down before her wild anxiety. She clasped her brow with a sudden sense that madness was hovering above her brain; and at that instant she heard Cleveland's voice beside her. She turned round, not knowing what she did, and, being startled by his unexpected presence, shrieked in a tone that horrified him like the scream of the dying. He caught hold of her hands, and implored her in the name of Heaven to be quiet. She hung down her head and wept in silence: in her hand was the picture open. Cleveland led her towards the house.
"Not there! not there! Mr. Cleveland! Do not force me there—I cannot breathe there—here in the wind, in the open air—by the sea.' She turned round, and moved towards the shore. The tide was coming up. The great waves were rising and bursting at her feet with the rushing and mighty roar she loved to listen to.
"Cleveland followed her. He took her arm; he held her burning hands; and at last she sat down on a mass of stones. She laid her wretched head on her arms, which were crossed over her knees, and sat without seeming to notice that Cleve- land was near.
"He could not speak; his voice was choked; and what could he say? At last he roused her.
" 4 It is getting late—chill, very chill—and see, the next wave will reach you: the wind blows from the sea tonight.'
"She looked up: he took courage.
"'What has so alarmed you?'
"'Myself!' she said, grasping the hair from her damp brow. "'Calm yourself,' said Cleveland, softly. "She looked in his face: the mute answer was one of intolerable pain.
"'Look here,' she said, in a few minutes; you have never seen this before.
Look at what I lose—at what I have lost. Great Lord have mercy on thy crushed and sinful creature!' She put the miniature into his hand, and he closed it instantly. He did not return it immediately. Give it to me!' she cried, with Sadden fierceness. 'It is mine! Heaven itself shall not rob me of this!'
" ' Hush! ' said Cleveland; you must not excite yourself—it is wrong.' "She answered with a laugh.
"'My God!' cried Cleveland. There was a pause: the wind and the sea filled the interval with a dull and dismal murmur in his ear—to her, the nerves of whose brain were over-excited, both appeared to shriek in tones of unnatural loudness; and yet she would not move away.
"'You have been madly exciting yourself tonight,' said Cleveland, gently, but reproachfully. He wished to divert her sorrow even into anger, for anger always ended in penitent tears. You will repent it some day: no one has a right to over-tax his own sensibilities; they are not given for selfish indulgence. I shall not give you this back jest now.'
"She turned round in an instant with unlooked-for strength; she tore it vio- lently front his band, and flung it far into the sea.
"Is this conduct worthy of you?' said Cleveland. 'Come this instant with me!' He drew her forcibly along for some little distance: then she resolutely stopped.
" Mr. Cleveland, listen to me ! ' She was panting with repressed sobs of grief and unnatural rage. Lost or saved, I will go back to my home, my husband—if, indeed, he will yet receive me. I will, I will see him again!'
" You shall! you shall!' said Cleveland: be pacified; come to the house.' "Do not try to detain me; my heart and my reason will hold together no longer; I will give up all—life eternal—Heaven—for Cecil—for Cecil—you tyrant! ' "She was half mad by the time she pronounced the awful word: it fell on Cleveland's heart, and crushed all anger, all bitterness, with the overwhelming misery it aroused there."
It is a sad contrast to pass from the elegance, art, and power of Cleve- land, to the gross improbabilities and blackguardism (which is the best part, by the by) of 77w Poacher's Wife. Still, wide apart as are the authors and their books in literary character, they have this in common. Each professes to illustrate some principle by means of fiction, and each fails in the avowed object by rendering the story second to the moral theory. The evils of the Game-laws, as may be inferred from the title, are to be enforced in The Poacher's Wife; to which Mr. Charlton Carew adds a variety of other topics of the humanity and claptrap school, including at- tacks upon the aristocracy and country gentlemen. Bat the theories al- together break down. It is not so much poachers, as housebreakers, and similar ruffians, that are exhibited at large in the book : the only true poacher is not a poor labourer, but a small farmer, as genteeler for a hero than a mere chaw-bacon, though he is reduced to want by the necessity of the novelist. It is not poaching, however, that gets Lockstep into trouble, but a false charge of attempted murder and highway robbery, made against him by a gamekeeper, in love with his wife. The in- terest turns upon the imprisonment of Locksley, his escape by the agency of a mysterious man, his contest with Snipe the game-keeper at his own cottage, the subsequent death of Snipe, and the accusation of his murder commonly brought against Locksley, together with the ad- ventures of Mrs. Locksley when wandering about the country as an outcast. At the end of the two volumes, Mrs. Locksley turns out to have been from the beginning entitled to several thousand pounds by the death of her uncle ; but as the knowledge of this would have stopped the story, the messenger is killed on the road, and Snipe subsequently destroys a letter intrusted to hint to carry. So little real elements even of movement exist in the author's ideas of fiction, that the tale must have ended with Locks- ley's first imprisonment, but that there is a Mr. Vaughan, sub-editor of a provincial journal, who has lived beyond his income and is deeply embarrassed. To retrieve his affairs, he thinks of marrying Mrs. Locks- ley, first if he can get her husband transported, and then (finding his law is wrong) if he can get him out of the way; and this worthy is the machinery, not so much of the novel as of Mr. Charlton Carew. It is Vaughan who, in disguise, advises Locksley's escape ; it is Vaughan who shoots Snipe; and it is Vaughan who persecutes Locksley and his wife ; besides perpetrating or attempting several other atrocities. At last, when arrested for embezzling the funds of "the journal," and he can do no more, the sub-editor sits down to the more congenial task of writing his confessions, and then swallows poison. Such are Mr. Carew's notions of life.
As a work of art, The Poacher's Wife is ridiculous, and not much better as a common novel. The writer, however, shows a slaugish kind of ability and fluency. His sketches of the thieves and poachers who assemble at "The Pox in Cover" are not bad, though very coarse ; and his passing limning of the two cowardly labourers who assault and rob Mrs. Lockstep is, we fear, too just a picture of many of our "bold pea- santry." Some of his descriptions have a sort of reality and motion, but are too obviously an imitation of Ainsworth.