SKECTHES OF IRISH CHARACTER, BY MRS. S. C. HALL.
Mrs. HALL is an extremely pleasing and ingenious writer. She is a follower, but by no means an imitator, of Miss EDGEWORTH, in a field where, but for the appearance of the two little volumes whose modest title we have given above, we should have deemed it almost a hopeless task to look for an unnoticed flower. But genius can always discover some " hained nook," some. unrifled sweets, which have bloomed unseen and uncropped by the ordinary traveller. Mrs. HALL'S sketches have less of generalization than the tales of her prototype. Miss EDGEWORTH draws Irish character with the hand of a master, but she has contrived to give so much extrinsic beauty to her portraits, the accessories are so valuable, that those who are least acquainted with the individual likeness can yet admire the general fidelity and consistency of the picture. Mrs. HALL evidently draws from nature, but in the characters she exhibits, her memory has not unfrequently been more than the handmaiden—it has been the directress of her fancy. Her models are actual existences —they have or had a local habitation and a name—they are not so much men and women, as Irishmen and Irish- women of a particular district, viewed indeed through the medium of a kindly temper, which mellows the colouring, but does not alter the outline. Mrs. HALL is in consequence deficient in the highest virtue of her art—she wants ideality ; but there is a freshness, raciness in her Sketches, which is notwithstanding highly pleasing. The frame- work by which the tales, ten or twelve in number, that form the two volumes of Sketches, are connected together, is borrowed from Miss MITFORD, to whom they are dedicated in an extremely well-written preface. Miss MieFolto's plan was an ingenious one ; we have our doubts, however, whether Mrs. HALL might not have done better by tasking her powers in striking out a new than in contentedly following an old path. Mrs. HALL'S language, when she speaks in her own person, is flow- ing and pure; but that which she has given to her heroes and heroines is outrageously Irish, and we think might be advantageously altered. Many of our tale-writers have been seduced into the use of provincial- isms from observing the splendid success of Sir WALTER SCOTT, which has not been least marked in those novels where he has intro- duced Scotch phraseology and Scotch words with rather an unsparing hand. Had they considered the matter attentively, they would have discovered that the Scotch of the books is, in reality, a com- mon dialect which is spoken all over Scotland, and is used indif- ferently by high and low, by learned and unlearned, that it is the language of the childhood and youth of all, and of the manhood of the great majority without regard to station or rank. There are Scotch provincialisms, and Scotch vulgarisms, as well as Eng•lish ; but in these Sir WALTER deals not. There is another fact connected with Lowland Scotch—it is (at least nine-tenths of it) the pure old unadulterated Saxon of the Edwards and Harries of England. It is not a cor- rupt dialect of English, but springs fresh and sparkling from "the well undefiled" whence all the streneth and beauty of the English language are drawn. There are circumstances besides which give it dignity : it is seldom heard by English ears unless from men in the middle or higher ranks of life. Scotch labourers may travel south, but they seldom travel south to labour. Irish has not one of the advantages which we have here enumerated. It is essentially vulgar. No gentleman uses it. It is associated with the idea of no higher class of individuals than hodmen and orange- girls. We do not speak of words or phrases borrowed from the Milesian—these have their own attractions, but of the Irish-English of the great mass of the people, which differs from ordinary English only in the ear-astounding vulgarity of its pronunciation. Written Irish is infinitely worse than spoken. The brogue may be tolerated from a pair of pretty lips, and a well-tuned voice may convert into melody the cadences of Kerry, but a written brogue is neither more nor less than English ill-spelt. Perhaps we have dwelt on a petty defect more than it deserved ; but we have dwelt on it the longer that it is petty, and therefore easily mended. Mrs. HALL sins grievously in her Irish, and sins without temptation or excuse. Her sentences are crammed, not with her country's idioms, to which we are far from objecting, but with her country's pronunciation, which is abominable. We would strike out every h that follows a t, without JOHNSON'S authority, as soon as the work comes to a second edition.
Having disposed of this small blemish—it can hardly be called a fault, which the printer's devil can remedy—we shall finish with ex- pressing our very high opinion of Mrs. HALL, as a most pleasing and ingenious novelist, who has only to cultivate her talents in that de- partment of literature in order to hold a high station among the authors of her day. We shall give a couple of extracts from the tales. The first is " Peggy the Fisher," from the " Lilly of Bannow ;" and may serve as a fair, but not a partial specimen of Mrs. HALL'S powers of humorous description.
"Peggy was certainly the queen of main:covering ; and thought it no harm in life, to make an honest pinny out o' thim that could afford it ;* but she had strong affections, keen perception, and much fidelity ; tier ostensible trade was selling fish, but there was more in her basket than met the eye— French silks, rich laces, or some drops of smuggled brandy for choice cus- tomers; and when the farmers' wives could not pay her in cash, they paid her in kind—meal, feathers, chickens, and even sucking-pigs, which Peggy disposed of with perfect ease, so extensive were her connexions. Then she was the general match-maker, and match-breaker, of the entire country. Those who could write, confided to her their letters ; those who could not, made her the messenger of sweet or bitter words, as occasion required. And to do Peggy justice, she has even refused money, ay, solid silver and gold, rather than prate of love affairs; for she pitied (to use her own words), she pitied the young craturs in love; well remimbering how her own salt heart was broke niany's the day ago.' Peggy lived anywhere—everywhere. There were few married or single, who either had not needed, did not need, or might not require, Peggy the Fisher's assistance; and the best bit and sup in the house were readily placed before her.
" Och Peggy, honey,' exclaimed Mrs. Cassidy, is that y'erself ? Sure I'm glad to see ye, agra' and what'll ye take ?—a drop o' tay, or a trifle o' whisky to keep the could out o' y'er stomach, or may be a bit to ate; there's lashings o' white bread, and sweet milk, and the freshest eggs ever laid' " Thank ye kindly, Mrs. Cassidy, ma'm ; sure it's y'erself has full and plinty for a poor Ione woman like myself. I'll take the taste taste in life o' whisky—and may he ye'd take a drop o' this, ma'm dear, a little corjial I has, to keep off the water flash'—continued she, screwing up the corner of her left eye, and placing her basket on the table.
" Have ye got anything striking handsome under thim dirty sea-weeds, and dawny shrimpeens agra ?' inquired Mrs. Cassidy.
" May be I have so, my darlint, though it's little a poor lone cratur like me can afford to do these hard times; and the custom-officers, the bad villians, are grown so 'cute that there's no ho wid em now at all, at all. There's a thing fit for Saint Patrick's mother any how,'—displaying a green shawl with red roses on it—' there's a born beauty ! and such nataral flowers, the likes of it not to he met wid in a month o' Sundays—there's a beauty ! ' * " Mrs. Cassidy extracted from the depths of an almost unfathomable pocket, a long stocking, slit like a purse in the centre scam, and tied with a portion of red tape at either end. From amid sundry crown, half-crown, thirteen,' and sixpinny' pieces ; the exact sum was selected, paid, and the kerchief deposited in an ancient cupboard, that extended half the length of the kitchen, and frowned in all tire dignity of Jamaica mahogany, on the chairs, settle, and deal table.
" The boy and girl are out I'm thinking,' commenced Peggy, as she lit her cutty pipe, and placed herself comfortably in the chimney-corner, to enjoy the bit of gossip, or, as well-bred people call it, conversation, which the ladies, ay, and the lords of the creation, so dearly love.
" They're stept down to Connor's to have a bit of a jig; I'm right glad to get Lilly out, she's so quiet and gentle, and cares as little for a dance, and less by a dale, nor I do !'
" Och, ma'm dear, that's wonderful, and she so young and so parfect handsome,—and more thinks that same nor me !'
" ' Who thinks so, Peggy ?' inquired Mrs. Cassidy, anxiously. " What ! ye don't know, may be ?—Why thin I'll jist !mild my tongue.' " Ye'll do no such thing, Peggy; sure the colleen is as the sight o' my eye—as dear to my heart as my own child, which, I hope she'll be one o' these days, plase God ; and I tould ye as good as that before now, the time, d'ye mind, I bought her the green silk spencer. And why not? an't I rareing her up in all my own ways? and is'nt she o' my own blood, as a body may say ? And Ned, the wild boy, that has full and plinty to keep him at home, if he'd jist mind the land a bit, and give over his sailing talk, 'ud make a lit husband for her ; and thin I could make my sowl, and dye asy in yon little room betwixt my son and daughter. And I tell ye what, Peggy the Fisher, there's no use in any boy's casting an eye at my Lilly, for Ned's wife she shall be; and I Maureen Cassidy say it—that was never gainsaid in a thing she took in her head, by man or mortal' " Very well, my dear, very well, why P—ejaculated Peggy, as, gathering herself over the dying embers of the turf fire, with her elbows on her knees, she jogged slowly backward and forward, like the rocking motion of a cradle. They both remained silent for some time. But Mrs. Cassidy's curiosity, that unwearying feeling of woman's heart, neither slumbered nor slept ; and after waiting in vain for Peggy to recommence the conversation, she could contain no longer :—
" Who was talking about Lilly's beauty, Peggy ? '
" Oh I my dear, sure every body talks of it, and why not ?'
" Ay, but who in particular ? '
" Och, agra! no one to say particular, that is, very particular.' " I tell you what, my good woman,' said Mrs. Cassidy, rising from her seat, and fixing herself opposite the Fisher, if 1 find out that you've been hearing or saying any thing, or what is more, hiding any thing from me, re- garding my boy and girl, when I gets you at the other side o' the door (for I would'nt say an indacent thing in my own house), I'll jist civilly tell ye my mind, and ax ye to keep y'er distance, and not to be meddling and making wid what does'nt consarn ye.'
" Peggy knocked the ashes out of her pipe, crammed her middle finger into it to ascertain that all was safe; and putting it into her pocket, curtsied to Mrs. Cassidy, and spake—' As to good woman ! that's what I was niver called afore ; and as to not hearing ! would ye have me cork my ears whin I hard Ned and Harry Connor discoorsirv, about the girl, and 1 at the other side o' the hedge ? Och, och ! to think I should iver be so put upon—but good night, good night to ye, Mistress Cassidy—cork my ears, agra ! And now,' she continued, as she hastily stept over the threshold, I'm at the other side the door, so say y'er say. The following sketch is from a tale of a graver character. Nothing we have read of late, is better conceived and sustained than the cha- racter of old Frank. We must premise that his master had fallen into the hands of the rebels, and was in imminent danger of his life. His rescue is undertaken by his faithful and affectionate servant :— " Arrived at the encampment, he soon found out his friend Andy; and in a few moments they were in close conversation at a little distance from the mass of people, who were either sleeping, drinking, or singing in scattered groups over the mountain, canopied by the clear moon-lit sky. We must get him off, Frank; General Roche is in command—yet I don't know how !
Can you write ? Is it me,' replied Frank ; not I—can you ?" No ; an order from General Keough would do it, but he's for making a bonfire in the town to burn every mother's child of a heretic out of the way.' The baste I' exclaimed Frank; ' would there be any sin in jist signing his name to a little taste of an order to General Roche, to let him go free on particular business, to be returned whin called for ? If we had him safe in Bannow 'twould be asy enough to hide him away in an ould cave or castle, or cask, or ship him off like a sack of pratees to Wales. Where there's a will there's a way, but he's clane gone if he remains in Wexford' " Is Father Mike here ?' Andy bent his thumb back to intimate that he was in the camp. I thought so—God he wid ould times ! hell niver forget my mistress's attintion to him, and she an Englishwoman, let alone my master's. If ye see a man an' his hit of a wife go past in the morning on Grey Bess, bathershin, God be wid ye,' and Frank went off to seek the Priest. I-le was easily found, and soon understood what Frank wanted. My simple order would be of no use, Frank, for they think me faithless enough, because I cannot spill blood—blood of the innocent as well as the guilty. General Keough's would do it ;' the kind-hearted man paused. Every imprisoned Protestant will, I know, suffer before tomorrow night.' " My poor master, Sir, and mistress-1'11 tell ye what, if y'er Reverence will jist give me the scrapeen of an order, who'll know ye iver wrote it ? and sure it's I that 'ud write it in the crack of a whip, If I knew how. Oh, Sir, think of all the good they did the poor Catholics in the hard winter' " Father Mike hesitated no longer, drew from his pocket a little inkhorn, and wrote the order on Frank's head, the moon shining brightly on them at the time.
"Away went Frank and Grey Bess into Wexford ; and the day had dawned by the time he arrived at the Court-house. He unhesitatingly presented his order, and my grandfather was much delighted to find himself at liberty. " I wonder General Keough wrote,' said the man who let him out, for he'll be in Wexford himself in an hour' " This intelligence alarmed Frank much, and he hurried his master to a dwelling, the fidelity of whose inmates he could depend on : it belonged to his uncle Kit's third daughter, who was married to Mickey Hayes, the grocer, and at that time Commissary-General to the Rebel forces quartered in Wexford. There Frank equipped his master in a good frieze suit, a long coat, straw hat, mounted a bunch of laurel at one side and a green feather at the other, and presented him with a sturdy pike—he then arrayed his little person in his uncle Kit's daughter's red petticoat and hooded cloak.
" ' And now,' said he, y'er honour will remember that y'er name's Pat Kennesey, and that y'er going to the blessed Priest's house, and that Pm y'er wife—that'll ride on Grey Bess behind ye' "
The farewell to the old and faithful domestic is well given :- "Good old man ! I well remember him at the coach which was to convey me to the great metropolis, of nations.' He stood foremost of the troop of weeping domestics; his hat held reverentially in his withered hand, while the sleet of a January morning mingled with his grey hair ; tears rolled abundantly down his wrinkled ebeeks. We were seated, yet still he held the coach door open—' God bless you all—shut the door Frank,' said my dear grandfather, almost as much affected as his faithful servant. Frank still held it cast a farewell look on us, and then turning to a man who was close to him, exclaimed, You shut it, James ; I can't close the door that shuts me out for ever from—."Ihe horses went on, and I saw my kind story-teller no more.
" I have said that Frank loved his horses ; he also loved the old family carriage. And when we left the country, my grandfather presented it to him, thinking of course he would dispose of it. No such thing. Frank went to live with his daughter, my old nurse, at the village of Duncormuck. And there he erected a spacious shed, under cover of which he deposited his favourite chariot : the poor old man's delight was to wheel it in and out : until within a few days of his death, he attended to it with the most scru- pulous exactness, and invariably got into a passion whenever the propriety of selling it was hinted at. " Who knows,' he would say, but they may come home of a suddent ? and what a comfort it would be to them to find the ould carriage and ould Frank ready for service.' "
We hope Mrs. HALL will soon go back to Ireland, and bring over a fresh cargo of Lillies, and Peggies, and Franks, equally amiable and interesting with these that we have been considering.