FIRST COUSINS. * IT is not very easy to discover the
drift of Mr. A. O. Saxon's "Own Story," beyond that he is endeavouring to impress some philosophy in the form of a fiction. The " word to the reader," dated from the "New World," a sort of episode about America, written after the manner of one of Dickens's- Transatlantic talhers,.and. exhorta- tions to the British nobility to head reform and, serve the state for nothing, would imply some purpose touching the Anglo-Saxon race in both hemispheres, since it is a faith of the author that that race is "to regenerate the world." The story, considered by itself, is a physiological lesson against the marriage of first cousins; with some hortatives, put into the mouths of the dramatis per- sonm, in favour of doing our duty in spite of our inclinations. The political philosophy of First Cousins may be passed as in- 'definite and obscure. The physiologico-matrimonial is more ela- borately and distinctly impressed, but is not very. artistically de-
veloped ; nor is the moral very' convincingly Pointed, however sound it may be. A. 0. Saxon is the sole representative of an an- cient and wealthy- Anglo-Saxon house ; his father, from observa- tion among his friends, has a horror of marriages between blood relations, and leaves a dying injunction against his son Arthur's
• First Cousins ; or My Own Story. By A. 0. Saxon. In two. volumes. Pub- lished by Bentley.
marriage with any daughter of his wife's sister; as a matter of course, the heroine, Imogen, is brought into the closest intercourse with Arthur; and, equally as a matter of course, he falls des- perately, in love with her. The story consists of a description of the origin and growth of this passion, of the indirect way in which Mrs. Saxon tries to oppose it, and of the manner in which she finally succeeds in her opposition. The error in the philosophy is threefold. The true moral of the book appears to be the ill effects of indirectness and secrecy. Mrs. Saxon—who is painted as a paragon—resorts to acts of equi- vocation, and even of deception, to break off the attachment of her son ; whereas, had she behaved with openness in the out- set, and candidlyput the case to him before he had seen Daeg,en, the idea of love might never have entered his head. The evil of consanguineous marriages is not illustrated by the action of the story, but shown at the conclusion by the result of an action performed long ago. After all, the evil is exaggerated, till the truth that there is in the theory of the writer fails of ef- fect. The instance is that of a clergyman, a friend of Arthur's fa- ther, who disregards the laws of consanguinity, marries a cousin, and has all his children misshapen, idiotic, sickly, and doomed to early death, save one, whose exhibition is the means of convincing Arthur when all reasoning and exhortation fails. Mr. Markham, the clergyman_thus afflicted, has received Arthur as a guest ; and his arguments failing, he carries him to a room in a quarter of the house where he has never been before.
"The room was wainscotted with oak to the ceiling •, and around the room, en brackets eight or nine feet from the floor, were large silver lamps—I counted six.
"But the sight that riveted my gaze was in the centre of the room : there, stretched out in a sort of easy chair or lounge, that admitted of a nearly horizontal position, lay a monster, such as I had never before dreamed could have existence. The creature was of the human shape, if shape can be al- lowed to what was a mass of flesh—of fat ! The head was enormously large at the base, and rested on the shoulders without any appearance of a neck, the huge double chin hanging down to the breast. The upper portion of the head, around the temples and forehead, was flat; and the nose, all except the dilated nostrils, seemed incorporated with the cheeks. The eyes were rather large and intensely black, but nearly covered by the large black eyebrows the creature was incessantly drawing together by a scowl. Indeed, the great mobility of the features was one of the most frightful peculiarities of the countenance : the creature appeared to have the power of keeping these in constant motion and change, now puffing out the cheeks like a glass-blower, now elevating the eyebrows, thrusting out a long tongue, snapping its large white teeth, and drawing the skin of the whole face into the strongest wrinkles ! But what gave the awful, unearthly touch to this picture, was the head—it was destitute of covering ; not a single particle of hair was on the bare scalp, and the long ears stood up like those on a Burmese idol !
"The dress worn by this monster was a dark flannel robe, made- like a friar's ; but the neck of this robe was tied by a black ribbon, and the sleeves only. reached to the elbows, showing a long, finely formed arm and hand, white as-an infant's, and of such evident strength, asavbll as size, that it would have been a beautiful model for the statue of a Hercules or a Samp- son.
"There was something so supernaturally ugly in the contortions of this creature, that it drew my gaze like a fascination. I scarcely noticed that Mrs. Markham was there, sitting on a low chair, close to the lounge, where also stood a table with several vases of choice flowers : I did not even observe that Mr. Markham had left me and taken his place close by his wife. I was enthralled by the strange being (human I supposed it must be) before me, and endeavoured to call to mind some resemblance to the wretched objects 1 had seen in my travels or had found described in books. • " Nothing I had seen resembled.this: those were usually disgusting with filth or disease or squalid poverty; this creature was scrupulously neat, and looked as if it had been tended by affection and was surrounded by all the comforts it would bear. I saw it was beloved : and yet who could love such deformity as the face exhibited ?- No trace of intelligence was discoverable ; and the bloated features, exaggerated by the unceasing distortions and the ghastly appearance of the naked skull, made me shudder as I gazed. I thought of Caliban, of Polyphemus, of Frankenstein's creation : none was like this; for this before me was human—was real—was a monster! " I was aroused from my torpid wonderment by the voice of the rector : `My poor Henry, how do you feel today ? ' said he to the monster. " It never noticed him, but went on putting out its tongue and smiting its clenched hands together. " Henry has not been well today, and is quite ill-humoured,' said Mrs. Markham.
" I looked from one speaker to the other, then at the creature they called by such a soft name—' Henry !' Who could he be ? " The rector turned to me, saying, Mr. Saxon, you wished for proof— something that would strike you with conviction; come nearer—nearer.' " I came forward and stood nearly in front of the lounge. " 'My dear Mary,' said the rector, taking the hand of his wife affection- ately, ' forgive me this additional sorrow I must give you; it could not be helped.' Then turning to me, he said in a calm clear tone, Mr. Saxon, this is our son, our only son, our only living child : we have had four; this is the moat promising—and—Mary and I—'
" At that moment Mrs. Markham breathed a deep sigh. The monsters eyes (I, had watched him all the while) flashed like lightning; he gave a yell, and sprang to his feet with the quickness of a parither. I leaped back- ward, and so did Mr. Markham ; but I soon perceived there was no danger : the monster was secured by a strong staple to the floor, through which cords, that drew a sort of strait-jacket, placed over his shoulders and around his arms, were fastened. In his recumbent position his robe hid these cords that were fastened behind; but the moment he reached the end of his tether, every effort he made rendered him more powerless: when he felt this con- finement and found he could not reach me, he set up such a yell of rage and fear combined as seemed to make the room tremble. I think it must have been like the warwhoop of the American savage. " As he stood up he was over six feet in height, and a fearful creature to look upon; his face livid with anger, his eyes flashing and glowing, his tongue thrust every moment through his gnashing teeth: but more appal- ing than these was the motion of his ears—yes, he moved his great elite rapidly, as does an elephant in its wrath.
" I could look no longer, but fled out of the room, followed soon by the rector ; to whom I heard Mrs. Markham say, ' Go, Robert, go! oh, go ! he will not hurt me.' The :t-ells of Henry continued. " Mr. Markham came out with such a look as Lear might have worn when he fbund Cordelia murdered."
That the marriage of cousins may result in an offspring like this, is possible, just as drowning may result from bathing, or choking from eating solids. But common experience revolts from such monstrous depiction; and thus the physiological truth, of the deterioration of race that arises from " breeding in," is overwhelmed by being made too much of.
The book is written in the autobiographical form, and aims at effect by minute delineation, rather than breadth of handling and dramatic scenes. • A considerable portion of the first volume refers to the early life of Arthur Saxon, at his ancestral seat; to the characters of his mother, his great aunt Alice, Imogen, and his tutor Dr. Ludlow ; and to the growth of his passion. The middle part of the book carries the hero to the university and the world ; but the chief task is painting his feelings and the covert means taken by his mother and friends to deaden his attach- ment. The last and largest section is passed with Mr. Markham, where the American episode of Mr. Blandford occurs, and the scene we have just quoted takes place, preparing for a brief his- ; tory of Markham.
I The writing is invariably good. The descriptions of landscape freely scattered through the volumes are the result of an observing relish of nature and a. skilful hand. Many disquisitions on reli- gious in opposition to philosophical morals are introduced in the form of disquisitional dialogue ; and if not to be implicitly received, are worth consideration, and are unhacknied if not original. In the inventive and dramatic powers necessary to the novelist, the writer does not excel. lie carries on his story by improbable means, and endeavours to produce forcible effect by melodramatic extremes.