WIVES AND DAUGHTERS4
a. GASKELL'S last book is certainly, Cranford excepted, her best ; and absolutely her best if we are to consider a larger and more complex design, somewhat less perfectly worked out, higher than a little gem of exquisite workmanship, but depending exclu- sively for its art on the humour of a delicate memory, skilful at noting the little symptoms by which warm hearts betray the yoke of narrow interests, and at recalling all the quaint customs of country-town society. Wives and Daughters is not an exciting story ; it is a story the character of which is nearer to that of Miss Austen's tales than to Mary Barton or Ruth. But there is more depth of character, more value for intensity of feeling in it than in anything which Miss Austen ever wrote, though the execution is much less equal than that great novel- ist's.* The characters of both hero and heroine, for instance, are vague and unimpressive. The sketch of Mr. Gibson, the surgeon, is the nearest to Miss Austen's style of drawing, and his dry caustic humour and acute reserve remind one sometimes so closely of Mr. Bennet, in ' Pride and Prejudice, that it almost suggests some unconscious lingering of that happy picture in Mrs. Gaskell's memory. When the lovers of the two heroines in Pride and Prejudice have declared themselves, Mr. Bennet drily observes, " If there are any more young men waiting downstairs for Kitty or Mary, send them up, for I'm quite at leisure ;" and after Lydia has married the worthless rascal Wick- ham, her father remarks to his favourite daughter, Lizzie, "Wickham is perhaps my favourite, but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's." And in this story, when Mr. Gibson's step-daughter Cynthia breaks with Roger Hawley, after a previous breaking away from Mr. Preston, in order to marry Mr. Henderson, a rich barrister, Mr. Gibson says to Molly, " Think of us on Thursday. I declare I don't know which of her three lovers she mayn't summon at the very last moment to act the part of bridegroom. I'm determined to be surprised at nothing, and will give her away with a good grace to whoever comes." And of Mr. Henderson himself he observes, " I think him perfection. I don't wonder she preferred him to Roger Hawley. Such scents ! such gloves ! and then his hair and his cravat !" However, Mr. Gibson is not another Mr. Bennet, but a much less indolent and less selfish man, but he is cer- tainly the character in which Mrs. Gaskell's art touches most closely that of the most delicate artist of the last generation. There is just the same extent of delineation, the same limited degree of insight permitted into the character, in both cases. Miss Austen never went further. She painted with absolute per- fection the upper stratum of feeling, and no more. Mrs. Gaskell often goes deeper; but into the interior of Mr. Gibson's character she never pretends to see further than Miss Austen herself would have seen. Indeed he is the kind of man who does not see further himself, for he habitually pushes aside trains of thought or feeling • " Suoht den rabonden Pol in der Ersoheinuugeo Fluobt."--Reisitler. + Wives and Daughters. A Tele of Every-clay Life. By him. Gaston. S you& Loudon: Smith, Elder, and Co.
that are not immediately practical, and so scarcely knows what he himself thinks or feels on any subject, if no purpose is to be answered by distinctly realizing his own state of mind. Mr. Gibson is seen, like most of Miss Austen's stronger characters, * but a half-light ; for she seldom exhibits more of the natures of any but weak chatterers and fools. Miss Austen herself would scarcely have drawn Mrr. Gibson better than Mrs. Gaskell has done.
Another picture, which is drawn in an entirely different style, and seems to us one of the finest in modern fiction, is that of Squire If amley. The warmth and petulance of his feelings, the in- fluence of his contracted experience and narrow culture upon a mind of much energy and great pride, the mixture of aristocratic self- esteem and personal self-distrust, the childishness of his impet- uosity, whether of grief or anger, the vehemence of his prejudices and the simplicity of his affection, are all painted with a power and depth that even George Eliot could scarcely surpass. We know scarcely anything in modern fiction more pathetic than the picture of the old squire in the utter desolation which overtakes him after his wife's death, when his eldest son, partly estranged from him by a secret marriage, and partly by ill-health and self- occupation, is always jarring on the old squire's sore heart, while he in his turn is constantly guilty of involuntary passion, though he is secretly pining to regain his son's confidence and affection. The following scene, for instance, where Osborne defends himself against the charge of unpunctuality by thoughtlessly impugning his father's watch, is one of the most powerful and touching in any modern novel :- "' My watch is like myself,' said the squire, "girning," as the Scotch say—' plain, but steady-going. At any rate, it gives the law in my house. The King may go by the Horse Guards if he likes.'—'I be: your pardon, Sir,' said Osborne, really anxious to keep the peace ; went by my watch, which is certainly right by London time ; and I'd no idea you were waiting for me ; otherwise I could have dressed much quicker.'—' I should think so,' said the squire, looking sarcastically at his son's attire. When I was a young man I should have been ashamed to have spent as much time at my looking-glass as if I'd been a girl. I could make myself as smart as any one when I was going to dance, or to a party where I was likely to meet pretty girls; but I should have laughed myself to scorn if I'd stood fiddle-f addling at a glass, smirking at my own likeness, all for my own pleasure.'—Osborne reddened, and WAS on the point of letting fly some caustic remark on his father's dress at the present moment, but he contented himself with saying, in a low voice,—' My mothor always expected us all to dress for dinner. I got into the habit of doing it to please her, and I keep it up now.' Indeed, he had a certain kind of feeling of loyalty to her memory in keeping up all the little domestic habits and customs she had instituted or preferred. But the contrast which the squire thought was implied by Osberne's remark put him beside himself.= And I, too, try to attend to her wishes. I do, and in more important things. I did when she was alive, and I do so now.'—' I never said you did not,' said Osborne, astonished at his father's passionate words and manner.—`Yes, you did, Sir. You meant it. I could see by your looks. I saw you look at my morning coat. At any rate, I never neglected any wish of hers in her lifetime. If she'd wished me to go to school again and learn my A, B, C, I would. By — I would ; and I wouldn't have gone playing me, and lounging away my time, for fear of vexing and disappointing her. Yet some folks older than schoolboys —' The squire choked here ; but though the words would not come his passion did not diminish. not have you casting up your mother's wishes to me, Sir. You, who went near to break her heart at last !'—Osborne was strongly tempted to get up and leave the room. Perhaps it would have been better if he had ; it might then have brought about an explanation, and a reconciliation between father and son. But he thought he did well in sitting still and appear- ing to take no notice. This indifference to what he was saying appeared to annoy the squire still more, and he kept on grumbling and talking to himself till Osborne, unable to bear it any longer, said, very quietly, but very bitterly—' I am only a cause of irritation to you, and home is no longer home to me, but a place in which I am to be controlled in trifles, and scolded about trifles aa if I were a child. Put me in a way of making a living for myself—that much your eldest son has a right to ask of you— I will then leave this house, and you shall be no longer vexed by my dress, or my want of punctuality.'—' You make your request pretty much as another son did long ago, "Give me the portion that falleth to me." But I don't think what he did with his money is much encouragement for me to .' Then the thought of how little he could give his son his 'por- tion,' or any part of it, stopped the squire. Osborne took up the speech. 'I'm as ready as any man to earn my living ; only the preparation for any profession will cost money, and money I haven't got.'—' No more have I,' said the squire, shortly.= What is to be done, then ?' said Osborne, only half believing his father's words.—' Why you must learn to stop at home, and not take expensive journeys ; and you must redeem your tailor's bill. I don't ask you to help me in the management of the land—you're far too fine a gentleman for that ; but if you can't earn money, at least you needn't spend I've told you I'm willing enough to earn money,' cried Osborne, passionately, at last. 'But how am I to do it ? You really are very unreasonable, Sir.'—' Am I?' said the squire —cooling in manner, though not in temper, as Osborne grew warm. Bat I don't set up for being reasonable ; men who have to pay away money that they haven't got for their extravagant sons aren't likely to be reasonable. There's two things you've gone and done which put me beside myself, when I think of them; you've turned out next door to a dunce at college, when your poor mother thought so much of you— and when you might have pleased and gratified her so if you chose—
and, well! I won't say what the other thing Tell me, Sir,' said Osborne, almost breathless with the idea that his father had discovered his secret marriage ; but the father was thinking of the money-lenders,
who were calculating how soon Osborne would come into the estate. ' No !' said the squire. I know what I know ; and I'm not going to tell how I know it. Only, I'll just say this—your friends no more know a piece of good timber when they see it than you or I know how you could earn five pounds if it was to keep you from starving. Now, there's Roger—we none of us made an ado about him ; but he'll have his fellowship now, I'll warrant him, and be a bishop, or a chancellor, or something, before we've found out he's clever—we've been so much taken up thinking about you. I don't know what's come over me to speak of " we"—" we" in this way,' said he, suddenly dropping his voice,—a change of voice as sad as sad could be. I ought to say " I ;" it will be "I" for evermore in this world.' He got up and left the room in quick haste, knocking over his chair, and not stopping to pick it up. Osborne, who was sitting and shading his eyes with his hand, as he had been doing for some time, looked up at the noise, and then rose as quickly and hurried after his father, only in time to hear the study door locked on the inside the moment he reached it"
The mingling of pride of caste with the strong yearnings of the most homely instinct in the squire's heart gives the whole picture a unique effect of its own, and makes it at once broad in its naturalness and subtle in its individuality.
Yet perhaps the most delicate artistic achievement in the book is the sketch of Mr. Gibson's second wife, and her daughter Cynthia Kirkpatrick,—especially the fine touches of resemblance which, in spite of the widest difference and even a little unfilial repulsion on the daughter's part, betray their kinship. Perhaps the only unnatural thing in the book is Mr. Gibson's second marriage with such a widow as Mrs. Kirkpatrick for the reasons described ; but that, if not quite natural, is very likely as much so as many things which manage to happen every day, and the only fault is in the slight weakness and inconsistency which it seems
to fasten upon so firm and consistent a character as Mr. Gibson's. This pretty, selfish, shallow, feeble-minded, vain, worldly, and
amiable woman is exquisitely painted from the first scene in which she appears to the last. Her radical and yet unconscious insin- cerity of character, her incapacity for real affection, and strong wish to please others so far as is consistent with first pleasing herself, her soft purring talk when she is gratified, the delicate flavour of Mrs. Nicklebyish vanity and logic which is infused into her conversation without any caricature; the ambition to be reputed a good step-mother which makes her thwart her step-daughter in all her favourite tastes in order that Molly may seem to be treated exactly like her own daughter Cynthia, her inability to understand any feeling that is not purely worldly,—and generally the graceful vulgarity' of her mind, make a most original picture, as well as one of high pic- torial effect. There is a moderation in the sketch of Mrs. Gibson's selfishness, an entire abstinence from the temptation to pillory her, a consistency in infusing a certain feeble amiability of feeling through all her selfishness, a steadiness in delineat- ing her as, on the whole, not without agreeableness, which, when connected with so utterly contemptible a character, convey a sense of very great self-control as well as skill in the authoress. There is not a conversation in which Mrs. Gibson takes part that is not full of real wealth of humour and insight. All of them illustrate the fine shades of silliness, the finer shades of selfishness, which in delicate combination make up Mrs. Gibson's character. Take, for instance, in illustration of both, the way in which she habitually talks of her first husband. The following is in a con- versation with her step-daughter :-
"' don't think it is likely,' said Molly, stoutly. 'Roger is too sensible for anything of the kind.'—' That's just the fault I always found with him ; sensible and cold-hearted ! Now, that's a kind of character which may be very valuable, but which revolts me. Give me warmth of heart, even with a little of that extravagance of feeling which misleads the judgment, and conducts into romance. Poor Mr. Kirkpatrick ! That was just his character. I used to tell him that his love for me was quite romantic. I think I have told you about his walking five miles in the rain to get me a muffin once when I was ill ?'—' Yes !' said Molly. It was very kind of him.'—' So imprudent, too Just what one of your sensible, cold-hearted, common-place people would never have thought of doing. With his cough and I hope he didn't suffer for it ?' replied Molly, anxious at any cost to keep off the sub- ject of the Hamleys, upon which she and her step-mother always dis- agreed, and on which she found it difficult to keep her temper.'—' Yes, indeed, he did! I don't think he ever got over the cold he caught that day. I wish you had known him, Molly. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if you bad been my real daughter, and Cynthia dear papa's, and Mr. Kirkpatrick and your own dear mother had all lived. People talk a good deal about natural affinities. It would have been a question for a philosopher.' She began to think on the impossibilities she had suggested."
This and one or two other passages almost verge on Mrs. Nickleby, but Mrs. Gibson is a much finer and more delicate, though less humorous conception. She only slides into Mrs. Nicklebyism when, entirely at her ease, she rehearses her reminiscences to her daughters ; but generally she is quite too keen in intriguing for small gratifications for herself, and worshipping success and rank, to relax her feeble intellect so far as this. The shade of likeness between her and her daughter Cynthia is one of the finest achieve- ments of the book. Cynthia hates her mother's insincerities and worldliness, and is herself capable of genuine love and admiration, but she has inherited the superficial tone of her sentiment and her love of pleasing, and cannot bear too severe a demand on her heart. She likes fluttering, and yet is capable of sincere flut- tering, of genuine butterfly enjoyment of popularity, feeling a preference for those who do not ask too much love of her, who are content with a sentiment rather than an absorbing affection. There is the sort of fear of intensity of nature in her which the contempt for her mother's insincerity, and the con- sciousness of her own volatility of heart derived from her mother, must jointly cause. The fascination which is given to this sweetness of Cynthia's,—not in spite of, but almost by virtue of, its superficiality,—and the genuinely warm affection which she feels for those who while inspiring her with respect, do not exact too high a love from her, are exquisitely reconciled with her hereditary qualities of real volatility and desire to please. The pictures of mother and daughter are pendants of the highest artistic skill.
The Holling,ford society, amusing as it is, is rather too close a copy of the sketch in Cranford, and Lord Cumnor's circle, though outlined almost with Mr. Trollope's skill, is only an out- line. Still on the whole the book has wonderful variety, and, though not exciting reading, satisfies and rests the mind, besides containing some passages of profound pathos. The story ends like a vessel going down in full sail and in sight of port ; nor do the endeavours of her editor to weigh up the ship and bring it in, succeed in doing more than demonstrating how completely the life of the passengers was the birth of Mrs Gaskell's own vivid ima- gination. In spite of the deficiency of its closing chapters in consequence of the sudden death of its authoress, Wives and Daughters will take a permanent and a high place in the ranks of English fiction.