AUNT MARGARET'S TROUBLE.*
This "new writer" has a very fair chance of becoming an old writer, and a successful one too. There is delicacy of drawing and a mild gentle humour in this little story which give it the tone of true art. Dramatic power it has not. There is but little distinct- ness in any of the sketches of character, except Stock, the gardener, who is no doubt a copy from real life ; old Mr. Lee, who is dis- agreeable and vulgar in manner, and therefore easier to paint ; and Miss Wokenham, the schoolmistress, who is abrupt and eccentric, and therefore strongly outlined. The chief characters are all faint. You know whether they are good or bad, strong or weak, high-tempered or sweet-tempered, but they scarcely emerge out of the general mist of humanity into individual distinctness. Still all the moral atmosphere of the story is soft, mellow, and artistic, and has the touch of mild discriptive poetry about it, without being long-winded or wandering from the story into vague sentiment. The only objection we have to the art of the story is, that dwelling as it does on what we may call the poetry of Aunthood, and the renunciation of a good old lady's life, robbed in youth of her lover by the deceit and selfishness of a spoiled and more beautiful sister who had fallen in love with him herself, the old lady herself tells the story, which is all to her own credit, and rather chafes us with her own divine calm and self-forgetfulness. There is no doubt a great glory of self-sacrifice about any disinterested aunt's life who lives in her sister's children, and there is a doubly serene glory about it when the aunt in question has first forgiven so great an injury as 'Aunt Margaret' here forgave her sister Anna. Still, even when Anna, having first become a grandmother, is supposed to be dead, and Aunt Margaret the narrator is really great-Aunt Margaret, and thinking mildly of the last sleep for herself, there is some- thing a little vexatious about her treasuring up the story of her wrongs anl the sweet way in which she bore them for her great-niece Lucy, who is to be warned by them from all sorts of moral dangers. It would have been plea- santer if the transgressor, the grandmother herself, had written out this awful warning in the penitence of her own heart, for her little grandchild, and portrayed the sweetness of Aunt Margaret's virtues for the child to admire and imitate. But perhaps, however, it would have been less like human nature. Grandmamma would scarcely have liked little Lucy to study her own early reckless temper and selfish disposition ; and Aunt Margaret had clearly no objec- tion to set that useful moral lesson before her little niece. Perhaps the art of the story is truer as it is, but then there should, we think, be just a little indication that the author is aware that, though she is writing in the name of a very good, kind, forgiving, humble- minded, self-sacrificing Auntie, the old lady is still susceptible of a little human elation at the superior part she played to that of her sister in the great act of her life. She must have been thus elated to write this story at all, and yet there is no hint given in it of this conscious elateness of Aunt Margaret's moral nature. It is even a little unnatural, after the indications given of her sister's passion for her lover, that she should have been quite blind to it. We doubt if any girl of ordinary insight, having gone through the two scenes described in this book, could have been without suspicion of the true state of her sister's heart. We rather think she did feel uneasy, but thought it unseemly to confess it. On the whole, though we like the old lady very much, we should have liked her better if she had been candid enough to admit to herself, first, that she liked thinking of her own great act of renunciation after its first pain had passed away, and felt a little saintly as she did so ; and next, that she had been a little conscious of her sister's state of * Aunt Margaret's Trouble. By a New Writer. London: Chapman and Hall.
heart, but had thought it more prudent and proper to ignore the fact.
With these slight exceptions we have really a very great res- pect for Aunt Margaret, and find in her elderly recollections of the great trial of her life a literary talent, as well as indications of great piety and virtue ; nor are we disposed to think that the, worthy old lady would have been at all indifferent to the plea- sure of being credited with the former quality as well as the latter. Nothing can be better told, for instance, than the scene in which lively, abrupt Miss Wokenham, spinster and school- mistress, "forty off," as the horsey men say, confesses her engage-
ment to the French master who has attended to her pupils for many years back :—
"I was sitting with Aunt Gough, who was half asleep over a perfect Arachne's web of fine-drawing. 'Well, my mild-eyed Philosophy,' said Miss Wokenham, greeting me with a kiss, which I had to stoop down to receive. (Almost every one of her pupils she distinguished by a nick- name. Mine was Philosophy. Anna she always called Will-o'-the- Wisp.) Well, my mild-eyed Philosophy, how are you ? And how is dear Aunty ? I need not ask how you We, flashing and beaming brightly enough to lead a whole legion of unwary travellers astray, and mischievous enough to enjoy their flounderings in the bog; afterwards.' She had always a quick, lively manner, but she now spoke more rapidly than usual, and I, who knew her well, was certain she was fluttered and excited. She proved me to be right after a minute or two, when, seating herself on a broad low cushion just by Aunt Gough's knee, she clasped her hands tightly together, and said, abruptly, 'I'm not used to tell lies, and I find I can't even act one well. It's of no use my coming in with a swagger and pretending to be quite at my ease - for I'm not at my ease, and you know I'm not at my ease, and I know that you know that I am not at my ease. I've come on purpose to tell you something, Mrs. Gough, and, as the dear girls are here, they may as well stay and hoar it too, for they must know it sooner or later.' She stopped an instant, but, seeing my Aunt was about to speak, held up her hand to beg for silence, and went on with a plunge. am going to be married, and I know everything that. can be said about the absurdity of such a step at my time of life. But I've balanced the disadvantages of living and dying a solitary lonely woman, without a human being to comfort me in sickness or sorrow, against the disadvantages of being laughed at for an old fool who. threw away herself and her savings on the first frog-eating French- man who chose to hold up his finger to her, and Yve come to the con- clusion that I can endure ridicule in good company better than dreary old age by myself. So there's my great news, my dears, and you needn't put any restraint on the expression of your feelings.' I never heard any one observe that Aunt Gough was remarkable for tact, but. she certainly had a way of doing and saying the right thing at the right moment, which fell like soothing balm on the feelings of those around her. She was what it is now the fashion to call sympathetic,' in a greater degree than any one I have ever known. When little Miss Wokenham had finished her speech, and sat panting with her mouth twisted into a strained smile, and her bright black eyes brimming witlr tears, my Aunt took her small hand gently in her own, and, patting it soothingly, said in her soft slow way, and without a trace of surprise in her voice, 'And very good news it is, too, and a very sensible woman think you for bringing it. And who is to be the good man, my love ?' The little woman jumped up and put her arms round my Aunt's neck, giving way now to a gash of tears. 'That's the phrase,' she said, the very phrase, you dear, kind soul ! I have been puzzling how I should call him—not in my own thoughts, you know, but to other people; and I felt that my lover, or my betrothed, was out of the question. Even husband gave me a kind of shock. It's so late to begin, you know. But good man,' that is the very phrase ! Cosy and prosy, and yet kindly. And you don't think me a weak old idiot, do you ?' By-and-by the little woman calmed down, and received our congratulations with her usual sensible self-possession. Then, by de- grees, she told u.s the story of her wooing. It's M'sien' De Beauguet, the French master—Old Bogie, you know, girls. I shall be Mrs. Old. Bogie. Won't that be a good name for me ?"
And the picture of old Stock, the gardener, with his jealousy of the flowers of his rivals, is quite equally good. There is always a disagreeable name you can find for a rival's success if you only try, and Stock did try and succeed very fairly. This was his mode of characterizing the larger blossoms produced by rival gardeners :—
" going into the garden, Stock,' said to get a fresh posy for my Aunt' This was an indiscreet speech.—' Ali!' growled Stock, 'the missile she don't want no posies out of this here garden. Not now, she don't.—' 0 yes, she does, Stock. She thinks no flowers so sweet as her own.'—' No more there bain't. None. The missile is right there, Miss Margrit. I knows summut about flowers, or I ought to it, and I'll 'fy all England to grow sweeter flowers nor ouna. But it ain't sweetness now, nor yet completeness, as is the hobject wi' 801110. Ws to have 'em wallopin' big uns. That's the hobject. You grow your flowers wal- lopers, an' you'll do.'—`I don't think that, Stock.'—'Well, Miss Margrit, I ain't a goin' to try it, whether or no. I allus done ray dooty, and I alas means to. I say as them flowers as young Master Lee brings here is wallopers, and nothin' else but wallopers. And I say, as one o' the 'led, that I shan't find no wallopers where Im a goin' to. Me—and a few more—we shan't be called upon to keep company with wallopers."
Not only are there admirable little humorous touches of this kind in the tale, but the whole tone of sentiment is sweet and pleasant and very like what it professes to be, that of a good old Auntie—of some literary faculty—recalling the scenes and joys of her youth. The Lucy,' the didactic fiction of the book, for whom the story is supposed to be told, is rather an aggravating
figment to the reader. But we are not sure that she is really an un- natural hypothesis to explain the telling of such a tale. Kind old ladies have a notion in their heads that it really will do their nieces and great-nieces good to hear about their own early lives in the ab- stract, and their moral struggles in particular. Whether it does or not is another question. If the present reviewer had been Lucy,' he would have had a strong desire to cross-examine the other parties to the story, to ascertain if there was not another side to Aunt Margaret besides this transcendently saintly one. But of course Aunt Margaret would never even dream of Lney's en- tertaining such a doubt in the matter, so that our objection is not an objection to the art, but rather to the effect of the story on a mind probably not exactly like Lucy's, and at all events capable of more complete impartiality in criticizing her (in any case admirable) Great-Aunt.