10 AUGUST 1850, Page 17


NOVELS founded upon the lives of literary men are not in their nature well adapted for success. If they adhere closely to the facts, there seems no necessity for writing then; if they deviate widely from the truth, they offend the preconceptions of the reader; neither is it easy to fill up the vacuums of the bioFaphy with characteristic sketches of real contemporaries, exhibiting the man- ners and ideas as well as the costumes of the age. Even if all is well done, the effect is disproportioned to the labour and ability; the writer who can achieve this 'species of novel had better have attempted something else.

The French romance by M. Leon de Wailly, founded upon the most questionable incident in Swift's life, and bearing the title of Stella and Vanessa, is in one point of view no exception to the rule. It is not merely that it ascribes new motives to'Swift and puts forth new views of the matter, but it introduces new actors and alters known facts to support the author's theory. On the other hand, it is what Swift's age would have called a "vastly" clever production. M. Leon de Wailly is an accomplished Eng- lish scholar, known for his translations both of Burns and Shah spore. The studies necessary to form the translator have made him acquainted with English literature both in its facts and its spirit. His ,Stella and Vanessa is remarkable as a picture of Eng- lish manners by a Frenchman, in which there is nothing at all fo- reign. It is not that the author avoids reproducing the Conti- nental notion of the English man or woman ; there is nothing French about the fiction, either in manners or opinions; tho h the finish of the workmanship, the delicacy of the irony, and cleverness with which incidents are contrived to work out the au- thor's views, is French enough. At the same time, it is hardly English, at least English flesh and blood. It is a demonstration rather than a picture ; the abstract idea of Swift and contempo- rary wormers, distinct, clear, and conclusive upon the author's premises but somewhat wanting in warmth, colour, and life.

M. Leon de Wailly's view of the story is highly favourable to Swift; and he carries it out by putting all the difficulties upon circumstances and the women. Mrs. Dingley, the friend or com- panion of Esther johnson—Stella, fans the girlish regard of Esther into a flame, with a view of securing a better home for herself. Mrs. Vanhomrigh forces herself upon Swift, in order to have his reputation reflected upon her, and to make use of his political interest to advance her son in the army. Swift, after the avowal of Mimi Vanhomrigh—Vanessa, acknowledges his passion, but resigns her in order that he may not seem a fortune-hunter or mar her future prospects. He has withdrawn to Ireland to avoid her, when the ruin of her affairs consequent on Mrs. Vanhomrigh's death sends him to London to rescue her from poverty, and thus entangles him again. He at last marries Stella to save her life, at the sacri- fice of his happiness. By this act he causes Vanessa's death ; which so unsettles him that he loses his reason, and wanders away, no one knows whither, returning in time to find Stella dying from anxiety. A clever exposition, did not facts and dates contradict the theory. Swift, Stella, and Vanessa, are of course the most prominent persons ; but Mrs. Dingley, and Dr. Tisdal the curate at Laracor, are very conspicuous in the business of the piece, and performi parts rather the opposite of the "dens ex machine "—complicating instead of extricating matters. Mrs. Dingley is a capital specimen of the selfish comfort-loving not over-brilliant and not over-po- lished Englishwoman of a certain age, who having given over all hopes of matrimony for herself, is earnest for the marriage of the young friend she intends to live with, and not over scrupulous in her means. Dr. Tisdal is a still more finished portrait. He is founded on the model of those simple-minded and simple-mannered Anglican divines of the seventeenth century, who under a primitive guise possessed virtue and it -Power of self-sacrifice which might rival those of any martyr. A, Tisdal is in love with Esther Johnson, and is somewhat Muir* lpikf-pff by Swift,, to whom he applies in

• Stella and 'Vanessa; a Romance from the French. By Lady Duff Gordon. In two volumes. Published by Bentley.

the first instance. Mrs. Dingley, his next confidante, founds all her hopes on the manner of Swift's repulse, and, preferring a pro- bable bishop for her friend to a poor parson, plays Tisdal false. i

When Swift s entangled with Vanessa, he wishes Tisdal to suc- ceed; but when the lover finds, on making his proposal, that Stella is devotedly attached to Swift, he sacrifices his own hopes to for- ward hers, and in doing so, complicates and precipitates affairs instead of advancing them.

Although this fiction was originally printed as s. feuilleton, and has never been reprinted in France, such would not seem to be the most advantageous form. Minute and highly-finished painting, artful contrivance of incidents to influence action by operating upon character, and a delicate development of character itself, dis- tinguish the novel, more than breadth and strength of passion—if, indeed, M. de -Wailly is altogether equal to passion. Hence it seems to us, that continuous reading is the most advantageous reading. The following scene—and the book almost consists of such—is best understood, as part of a concatenation, but it will suffice to exhibit the writer's manner. Tisdal, at Stella's desire, has been much in Vanessa's company, and discovers that her wit and knowledge are more likely to attract a man like Swift, in whom the intellect predominated over the heart, than the simple charms of Stella; and he proposes a course of study, which arouses and excites her friend.

"What was Dingley's surprise on learning that, while she was asleep, Stella and Doctor Tisdal had concerted a whole scheme of education.

"'My dear, what could put such a thing in your head ? '

" We want to surprise Presto, [Swift,] Beck: pray don't say a word to him,' replied Stella, blushing. "'Surprise Presto, forsooth!' thought Dingley. What a pretence ! That rogue of a Doctor has supplanted our dear Presto; the two hypocrites have hit upon these lessons as an excuse for being always together.' "Dingley felt quite relieved. Ever since Stella had chosen another con- fidant, she had been reduced to mere conjectures, and could not understand what was passing around her. To have lost the thread of her own intrigue, was really too cruel.

"And then that Tisdal was such a strange fellow ! Even since they had been settled in Dublin, she had encouraged his attentions, with the view of either stirring up Presto to propose, or at worst of putting up with him for want of a better husband for Stalls; and now, at the very moment that she had resolved to let him have her, and that Stella seemed much of the same mind, he too had let those Yafaliomrighs get hold of him ; and Stella, in- stead of taking offence, had been the first to send him to their home ! It was net that she was in a huff, or she would not have received him so well when he did still deign to visit them. Perhaps they had given each other up by mutual consent. Very well, so let them. Dingley was quite content they

should do as they pleased, and had i fallen asleep again n her arm-chair, when she was awakened by this queer project of education. So, so. She was resolved that she would soon come to the bottom of it. So they wanted ta throw dust in her eyes, did they ? Very well, vet7 well. "Tisdal came regularly every morning and evening to give his lessons ; and Dingley as regularly favoured them with her presence, moved as much by curiosity as by a sense of propriety. She was, however, amazed by the dis- simulation of both master and scholar, who worked morning anti evening with untiring industry. They must indeed be anxious to deceive her ! For the idea that Stella could be industrious, or take pleasure in all this pedantry, was too absurd.

" Oh ! they want to tire me out, do they? we'll see. If I have to listen to their prozing for a vrhole year, I'll force them to own the truth at last,. Pm determined.'

"Dingley was resolved not to be beaten. She did not trust either to her curiosity or her vexation to keep her awake. She „privately drank every day several cups of strong coffee without milk, and unflinchingly performed her part of Argus.

"But weeks and months passed away without cooling the exemplary ar- dour of our two hypocrites. Dingley was wearied beyond endurance. Two- or three cups of coffee were no longer enough for her ; she was forced to drink as many as eight, and one evening she dropped asleep in spite of all. She bitterly regretted her weakness, when she reflected what a store of fresh courage and dissimulation the lovers might have been able to lay in during her unlucky nap. Dingley would have been unable to console herself for such a slip, but that it suggested to her an excellent thought. She anis re- solved to fall asleep again, but it should be voluntarily and only in appear- ance.

"In-order the better to prepare her stratagem, she pretended to yawn, and to struggle the whole day against the sleep she was to indulge during the evening. When her eyes were shut the lesson went on just as usual : no doubt they were waiting till she should be fast asleep. Accordingly, ere long, Stella lowered her voice, and asked Tisdal in the most affectionate tone,

• How do you find yourself?'

" To which he answered, with deep emotion, Thank you, [shall get bet- ter, I hope ; let us say no more about it.' "Dingley pricked up her ears. At last the cat would be let out of the bag. No such thing : no further disclosures were made, and the pedantry recom- menced with Inconceivable ardour, and lasted without interruption until the hour of departure.

"Anti yet Dbagley had done nothing to alarm them. She had not even blinked. Perhaps, however, she might have started on seeing them fall into the trap. Next day she would control herself more completely. So she did ; but with no better amylase. As on the former evening, Stella askedthe Doc- tor how he was : he made the same answer in the same grateful tone, and resumed his teaching. "How ill you look!' cried Dingley, when he returned the next day; what is the matter with you-?'

"With With me ! Nothing,' replied he,. with an air of amazement. " I don't see that the Doctor looks ill,' said Stella. "Not ill ! Then what could be the meaning of the mysterious dialogue which took place every eveiilng?—unleas, indeed, he had been suddenly cured of his dieeise the night before. But no; the usual conversation was repeated that very evening. Dingley did not content herself with the evidence of her ears alone; she pee slyly at them • and what should she see, but Esther giving her hand to al, which she never did before witness, and Tiedel squeezing it most tenderly!

"Dingley was strongly tempted to jump up, and ask them what was the meaning of all this' but she Was restrained by the thought that she should get no explanation from such thorough hypocrites. It would be better to persevere in her pretence of sleeping. By dint of perseverance, however, she only found out that she was taking a great deal of trouble to very small purpose. Did anybody ever see the like ? A pair of lovers who were content to ask after each other's health and to press each other's hands once a day, and who,

when they were alone together, talked about nothing but polities, literature, history, and philosophy. She was a fool to waste her time in listening to Diem. Hereupon, Mrs. Dingley took to her arm-chair and her slumbers in tight earnest."

The romance has been translated by Lady Duff Gordon in a man- ner which makes it read like an original, and perhaps imparts to it some of its English appearance. There are phrases, and indeed an English idiom throughout, that could scarcely have been expressed in French or have had very accurate counterparts in that language.