23 FEBRUARY 1850, Page 17

THE MARRIAGE - CONTRACT. * Ti scene of this fiction is niostlylaid in

France ; and French manners with French Characters form the principal matter. The marriage-contract doesnot,- however, point: the moral of alliances of convenience or family arrangement. It is, • on the contrary, of it,peculiar.kint17-the combination of an unequalengaggment, en- tired into at parental request to secure a home and protector for a danghter, with the purpose of the intended husband partly pecuni- ary, grounded on the knowledge of a secret deed. Both incidents are familiar:enough to the reader of English fiction.. In the story before us they possess novelty frein the application of these ele- ments to French society. The form is autobiographical. In. kind it belongs to the meta- physical school ; where•.attraction is less sought for by incident than by analysis of motives or character, or by a description of the feelings to which incide,nt gives, rise. Towards the close of the book there is a suicide, and a false' accusation of Murder against Diana St. Banyan., the heroine ; but, though it serves to bring about the denouement, it is not so interesting as the earlier parts. This may arise, from the complications of a previous family his- tory, that have to be explained at a time when the story is really ended; or from the obvious unlikelihood that the accused can be in any danger from the accusation, cleverly as it is contrived': but we incline to ascribe the deficiency to the romantic not being Miss Raikes's forte. She is more at home in tracing the mental autobiography of a young girl suddenly reduced from splendour to • The Marriage-Contract. By Harriet Baikes. In two volumes. Published by Bentley. narrow means ; at first incapable of realizing the actualities of poverty, and consenting to contract herself to a middle-aged friend of the family, rather to satisfy her mother than to provide for herself. When the scene changes on her mother's death, and Diana is domesticated under the roof of her aunt the Marechale Clecy, the gradual knowledge of the world which dawns upon her, through the worldly schemes and character of her aunt., is yet better done. The struggles between her love for Juste Montfer- rand and her resolute aaddhherence to her eontract, with the difficul- ties into which secrecy or mystery brings her, are perhaps as well :written, but are hanlly so attractive, because, as we have said, deep interest is not the forte of the writer. Closely connected with the leading story is that of Valerie Clecy. She is attached to a young Frenchman, Ancelot de Revel, but she is led into a ma- nage de convenience with the Duke de San Maglori ; and the epi- sode is as interesting as the main tale. In some hands this and one or two other incidents would have induced a chain of circum- stances not so attractive to English as to foreign tastes; but any- thing offensive is scrupulously avoided. The path of necessity is there, but it is not followed.

As a specimen, we may take the scene which exhibits the sign- ing of the- contract, and gives a glimpse of the position of Mr. Lismore in e family of the St. Sauveurs.

" My cousin Val4rie came to pass the day with us that had been fixed for the drawing up of the settlements andsigning of the marriage-contract. When we were talking of it before we were called to attend this ceremony, I said I wished that it was over, as I thought the fatigue was injurious to my mother : to which her manner of replying struck me as constrained, and her look as scrutinizing, though not direct. Perhaps this induced me to pay more than usual attention to my mother's countenance when our presence was called for. •

" Be it as it may, the routine of business was the most urgent object of ow attendance ; and she herself having explained with great seriousness the nature of one of the documents she was examining, after signing her own name to the contract put the pen into say hand. The other signatures were affixed in due order-' the lawyers put up the deeds; and when they had withdrawn, Lismore, after a few words addressed to her in a low voice, fol- lowed them, and left us together. " I had watched my mother through all these preieedings. Her face was bent upon the table while she signed her name ; and when the deed had been passed over to Lismore to do the same, I was struck with something in her look that I had never seen before. It followed every movement of his pen as if by some unconscious fascination; it followed ham out of the door ; and when be bad disappeared, when the assistants of the contract were gone with hill' i, and we were left alone, I saw her eyes close, and over her coun- tenance fall the shade of such unutterable agony as I had never witnessed on a human face till then. A thought, a light, a conviction, the first ideal sense of passions to which my experience was a stranger, broke upon me. I was afraid to ask what was the matter. An indefinable kind of confusion weighed my eyelids to the ground, and struck back the words in my throat. Suddenly I put my arm round her neck, who was lost to my presence, and said in her ear, Mother, I cannot marry this man.' She was startled from herself, and catching me by the arms:held me back from her, while she looked up, and exclaimed in a terrified subdued tone,

" 'Diana, what is this ? Why do you say such strange, childish words ? Haw can you choose the moment after so serious an act for such a trifling contradiction ?'

"'Because,' said I, bending my head on to herlap, I neverlmew tillnow, 1 hate him! and with this, I gave way to the tempest of my emotion in a fit of tears.

"How could I have remained blind so long to my mother's secret ! How had it never occurred to me that, under the circumstances of confidence, in which this friend had been so low,.' trusted—through the cares-and amuse- meats in which he had participated, with their conformity of tastes, and the :agreeability of manner and conversation by which he was supposed to be distinginahed—some feelings of more than ordinary partiality might not na- turally have arisen. I was at an age, indeed, that judges by broad rales : brought up by my mother with pure and uncompromising principles, and re- Vg her as the source and head of all that bore the shape of virtue, my onw perceptions could not definitely have separated sensibility from a de- fect of rectitude and had hitherto implicitly believed in the supremacy of law over the affections. The wisdom of the last few minutes had broken up this false security ; and when I said and repeated that I hated Lismore, it was bat a trifling exaggeration of the truth. "He appeared to me heartless and futile : he had admired my mother in her prosperity, had won upon her regard when she was in a position to re- flect lustre upon his position, and to give an interest to his life without any exaction on her part. And now that all the brightness of her existence was at an end, her home destroyed, her society dispersed, her beauty faded, her fashion over, he had made a compromise with his fidelity by transferring this devotion to me."