European Magazine, vol. 81, 1822, pp.345-53.
Madeline, a Tale, By Mrs. Opie. 2 vols. 12 mo. London 1822.
THIS simple and elegant tale is in the highest degree interesting, and inferior to none of its justly celebrated authoress. The touches of true feeling, apparent in every page, show the most intimate acquaintance with the best emotions of the heart. The style is natural and extremely well adapted to the subject, flowing with a graceful yet familiar turn of expression, and abounding in sweetness and naiveté.
A proper controul over the best affections of the heart; a due attention to parental and filial duties; the superiority of cultivated mind and accomplished manners over riches or birth; the misery arising from groundless jealousy; confidence in, and gratitude towards the great Creator; are all enforced in language, that flows directly to the heart, and rivals in simplicity and pathos the unsophisticated style of Mackensie. Since the “Man of Feeling” first appeared, never has the reader’s heart been more powerfully and at the same time more gently affected. The
simple and pathetic stile, in which this tale is written, flows always pure and lucid. The emotions of the heart are described in every page, and the descriptions are perfect transcripts of nature. Madeline is a tale of tenderness, revealing the secrets of innocence, and its artless and unostentatious pathos swells the throbbing heart of the reader, and fills the eye with irresistible tears. It is the high praise of this gifted authoress, that all her tales are founded on facts; her portraits are therefore drawings from nature, and display the faithfulness and power of the original pictures of real life – these are far more interesting to the lovers of nature than all the wanderings of the imaginations, and all the flights of fancy: vain meteors of disturbed intellect! Truth alone is permanent, and so universally useful, that the genuine history of any one earthly being, however obscure his lot, however apparently worthless, would be legacy to mankind incalculable value – Hence arises the deep interest we take in the journal of Madeline, who pathetically says,
“It contains nothing but the history of a weak woman’s heart. But is not that heart a world to is possessor? Does not some writer say, ‘That little world the human heart?’ and after all, is there, can there be any history more interesting than a history of affections? Could the coldest hearted person be offered the secret details of the life, the affections, the fruits, the sorrows, the cares, the hopes, the sentiments, of even an indifferent person of his acquaintance, would he not read it in preference to a history of either Roman or Grecian worthies?”*
A faithful picture of the human heart, that beats only in domestic life, without extraordinary circumstances to call it forth, and to agitate it with violent transitions, is no easy task; and to make it both faithful and interesting requires no common talent. – Minor intellects exert themselves in the works filled with a train of numerous and rapid incident; superior powers only can dwell on isolated being, and delineate it with all the minuteness and fidelity of nature. Such is the powerful pencil that pourtrays the mind of Madeline.
Hearts accustomed to sorrow, and not steeled by misfortune to insensibility, will best appreciate the pathos, the simplicity, and the tenderness of this tale – the anxious parent, the affectionate child, the tender-hearted sister, the votary of an honourable and delicate affection, will all recognize themselves in the portraitures of Ronald and his ever kind hearted wife, Madeline, Falconer, and Margaret.
Showers of tears will be unconsciously shed, over these little volumes, by those sympathizing hearts; who have deeply felt, and well remember, the delightful hopes and fears of a virtuous attachment – the breast must be as hard as adamant, that is not deeply penetrated by the simple effusions of the excellent heart of Madeline!
It is very difficult to make selections from a tale like this, which possesses neither prominent features of unusual life, nor new and striking situations. It is like a delicious landscape, more remarkable for simplicity, beauty, and the truth of nature, than for bold and jutting precipices, tumbling cataracts, or ruined castles.
Circumstances induced Mr. and Mrs. Irwin to take into their family, and educated as a gentlewoman, the daughter of a Scotch cottager, or little farmer, Madeline Munro. Mrs. Irwin survived her husband, and intended to leave Madeline, her adopted daughter, a fortune suitable to her education, but was prevented by sudden death; a will could not be found, therefore, had not Mr. Irwin left Madeline a small remembrance, she would have returned to her father’s cottage as poor as when she left it. After she had been home a month, she commenced her journal; wherein she described every event of her innocent and retired life, and made it the faithful depositary of all the secrets of her affectionate heart, and all the reflections arising in her highly cultivated and well regulated mind – The regrets felt by Madeline deprived by one frown of fortune, of all the luxuries and enjoyments of the polished society of which she was so lately the grace and ornament, and the noble manner in which she stifled them, are beautifully and naturally expressed. Days and weeks passed over Madeline in this retirement, and scarcely any thing disturbed the monotony of her existence, save the anxious solicitudes of her parents to make her as
*Vol. i. p. 263
happy as her fallen fortunes would admit; she one the other hand repaid their parental cares with dutiful affection – at length an event occurred, which was to checquer all her future life with alternations of painful anxieties and pleasing hopes.
“My sisters Margaret and Bessie bounded into my room this morning crying, ‘The laird is come, that is, he is coming; and we may see him pass, perhaps; for though there are two roads, that past our windows is the best and shortest.’ ‘Well, dears,’ said I, ‘and what then? is he a fine sight, that you are so desirous of seeing him?’ ‘Oh! but he is the laird you know; and he lives in the great house.’ * * * * * This gentleman, however, Mr. Falconer, of Glancarron, is heir to a high title * * * * * I have seen the laird. I wonder what impression he would have made on me, had I seen him in former scenes; but here, where I associated with such a different set of men, he seemed to me almost like a descended god! No wonder the dear girls were so anxious to see him. But I dare say I over-rate him. I dare say he would not have pleased me so much under other circumstances. It was fortunate that I did not finish my new curtain for my bed-room sooner – the slit in the old one gave me such an excellent opportunity of looking at him without impropriety. It was fortunate also that my father cut the hedge so low, for it enabled me to see the horse’s head as well as himself; and both together were very picturesque. I wonder who it was that he stopt so long opposite my window to converse with. How handsome he looked, when he took off his hat to turn back the hair that fell over his brow; while the breeze lifted his dark and glossy curls from his ample forehead! I think his eyes are black. His complexion is sallow; still he does not look unhealthy. I dare say he does not smile often; but when he smiled just now I thought I never saw so sweet an expression. I wonder whether he will come back this way. If he does I shall venture to look at him again; for then his back will be to me; were it not so I dare not; for he certainly observed at last that some one was looking at him; and he darted such a piercing look at the window, that I felt myself blush, as if he had been able to distinguish me; and I was so glad I was alone.”
Love at first sight, was perhaps never so well painted before, in the timid curiosity of an artless girl unconsciously imbibing a passion, that is to control her future destiny. The first interview, she had with Falconer, was on a Sunday after Kirk service, and as usual she minuted in her journal all the particulars of the interesting scene
“All is not still around me; the very leaves are still, for not a breeze whispers through them to disturb the universal calm of nature; nor is a cloud floating, even in slow and solemn majesty, across the face of the moon. Yet I am restless; the calm of nature reaches not to me; and as I stand at the open window and gaze upon the moon, the beatings of my heart alone disturb the silence around me.”
After severely upbraiding herself for several wrong feelings, which she experienced during the day, she continues
“But these feelings were all respectable, to those which followed when the service was over, and I was obliged to follow my family up the aisle. Mr. Falconer and his friend remained in their pew, much to my discomfiture, as if waiting till we should have passed them; and, restrained by an unusual consciousness of awkwardness, I hung back, and did not immediately follow the others: but as little Charles held my hand, I luckily had some one to whom I could direct my attention as I passed Mr. Falconer. Still I could not but see that he held the door of his power half closed for my accommodation, and that he half bowed with a respectful and courteous air as I went by, which obliged me to make a sort of obeisance in return.
“Now comes my delinquency. I was sure that from my mourning garb and general appearance he did not suppose I was one of the family, and that he imagined me a lady of their acquaintance: and so loth, so very loth was I that he should be undeceived, that I walked slowly along, and wished to avoid taking my father’s arm as usual. Margaret came running back to meet me, and, seeing Mr. Falconer and his friend just behind us, she made them an easy unembarrassed curtsey. Why could I not be thus unembarrassed?
“I now saw that my father was waiting for me in the road, and, making a great effort, I walked rapidly forward and took his arm. That arm instantly pressed mine closely to his side, and, as he raised his eyes, I felt that they expressed so much affection, and I believe pride in me, his unworthy child, that my heart reproached me bitterly for feeling even a momentary shame at belonging to him; and, while tears rushed into my eyes, I no longer
regretted that Mr. Falconer now knew me to be the only daughter of Donald Munro. That he knew it I was very certain; for Margaret looked back, and saw him whispering with his old steward, while his eyes were turned towards me: and it was evident that he was asking who I was. She also added, ‘And when the old man answered him, he looked so blank, so I do not know how, Madeline, but not pleased.’ I think I knew how he looked, and wherefore; and I felt pleased in one way at least; but perhaps this was only my own vanity and conceit: for why should Mr. Falconer be sorry to find I was only a cotter’s daughter? Soon after Margaret had given me this information, Bessie, who had taken the arm she left, looked back, and said in a voice of delight, ‘Mr. Falconer is coming! He is just behind us;’ and then, as if to express her joy, she kept knocking her elbow against me till I was terrified lest Mr. Falconer should see it, and put a wrong construction on the action. My annoyance was soon ended, for I heard a deep and mellow toned voice say, ‘How are you, Mrs. Munro? Munro, recollect, I am not yet known to this your English daughter.’ Why could he not call me Miss Munro? But I am not Miss Munro; Margaret is the eldest daughter, and that he knows probably. My father’s English daughter blushed like a girl who had never stirred from her home: while my mother, in her pretty manner, said, as she took on herself the office of introducing us to each other, ‘My English daughter has still a Scotch heart, Glencarron, and loves her native hills and her own kindred, though so long a southron.’ ‘I am sure her own kindred must love her,’ he courteously replied – ‘and be proud of her too,’ said Margaret affectionately. ‘Undoubtedly,’ was of course his answer.”
From this day a mutual passion existed, and every little incident and opportunity encreased their affection; still no open declaration was made by Falconer, restrained by peculiar and to Madeline unknown circumstances. – This reserve on his part embittered the life of Madeline, and filled the affectionate hearts of her parents with the most anxious fears and apprehensions – at last he discovered the secret which he never could conceal, although he never could avow it – her artless pen traces the feelings of her agitated heart with masterly truth.
“My trembling hand can hardly hold my pen, yet I must, to vent the feelings of my agitated heart. It was fortunate that I was not deterred by the coldness of the evening from walking in my little flower-garden as usual. If I had not done so, the joyful yet uneasy anticipation of this moment would not have been mine. I wonder that I had so much self-command as not to scream, before I knew who it was, when he leaped the hedge and stood before me: but I suspect that my heart told me it was he before the moon disclosed him to my view. But let me say with pride and satisfaction, my sense of propriety did not sleep for one moment, and that I desired him to withdraw, and not expect that I would stay to converse with him at such an improper hour. ‘I own it is an improper hour; but you must hear what I have to say now, since I never see you alone: fear nothing, dearest Miss Munro, my esteem, my respect are –’ Here most unexpectedly (for I thought he was in bed) my father’s voice angrily calling me, and desiring me not to expose myself to cold, broke off our conference; but not till I had promised, if we could not meet at our house in the course of the day, to grant him a meeting where we then were, as the happiness of his life depended on it, and he had something of the most important nature to him to disclose.
“He had scarcely disappeared when my father was by my side, and was going to reprove me severely for still lingering in the air after he had gotten up on purpose to desire me to come in; when seeing by the moonlight that I was in tears, he snatched me to his heart, and said in broken accents, ‘Madeline, my dear, dear child! I see how it is with you; and Glencarron shall enter my doors no more. I will tell him the reports of the neighbourhood, and unless he replies, ‘I wish to marry your daughter,’ hither he shall not come again.’ I comforted myself with the idea that he would not call to-morrow morning, preferring to meet me in the evening in the garden, and that that conference was unnecessary. Yes; to-morrow evening my misery or happiness will be decided. How shall I support myself through the day to-morrow?
“He has not been past. I could not eat my breakfast, nor can I do any thing but walk up and down the room or the garden. I tried to force down my dinner, but it choked me. My father and mother and poor Meggie are quite alarmed. But pass a few hours more, and perhaps I shall be quite well, and we the happiest family in the world. Yet why did he request so urgently this clandestine meeting? That looks ill. And why did I grant it? — True,
he never yet has seen me alone but for a few minutes. Still, had he desired a private conference, I should not have denied it.
What can this mean? Dobbs returned with my father! Is he so soon come back: Well, I must go and speak to him, though less able than usual to bear his conversation. Into what an agitation has he thrown me! But no; it cannot be. How could I for a moment believe him? Mr. Falconer gone away! Met by him thirty miles off, on the road to England. Impossible! He must have mistaken another for him. Yet how could any one who had once seen him do that? And he describes him, too, as starting back when he saw him, and shrinking into the corner of the carriage. That was so likely to happen, that I know not what to think. However, if he be gone, I shall certainly receive some explanation from him. Still, I shall be very wretched till nine o’clock comes. I hope I got out of the room without any one’s observing my indisposition. Had he seen me change colour, my father would have called my mother and sent her to me. –If he should really be gone! If my consent to meet him should have lowered me in his estimation! Yet how do I know it was of love he came to talk? Yet surely he would not have watched for an opportunity of conversing alone with me at such an hour, and have jumped a hedge to talk to me only of his ‘respect and esteem.’
“The clock strikes eight: –my father calls us together. I shall not sup; but retire after the prayers to my own room. O my dear friend, how my heart beats! But it wants ten minutes of the appointed hour. However, I can write no more. I feel as if life and eath depended on the issue of this meeting. – I hear a rustling in the hedge.
“Madeline, on hearing the noise in the hedge, repaired instantly to the garden; but no one was there, and her heart died within her; nor was she at all reassured when she heard a low voice from the road calling her by name. –She immediately parted the boughs that hid the opening, and recognized the steward of Mr. Falconer – a grey-headed old man, whom she had known from her childhood. ‘Is it you, Macinnon?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What brings you hither?’ ‘The laird sent me.’ ‘Is he ill?’ ‘No; not in body: but he is gone.’ ‘Gone?’ ‘Yes, to England.’ ‘And – and no message? no –’ ‘Yes, dear young lady; he composed; he has sent this. He desired me to watch for you there, (oh, how sad and pale he looked!) and to deliver this into your own hand; I have done so; and now good night; –God bless you!’ Madeline held the packet with a trembling hand, almost unconsciously bade the old man good night, and tottered into her own apartment; for what might not that packet contain! But she dared not open it till she was sure all the family were gone to bed; for, as she had been so unwell all day, she was certain they would forego their usual custom of never intruding on her when she had retired, and come to see how she was. Nor was she mistaken; her mother and Margaret both came in, and the latter entreated to be allowed to stay with her all night; but she would not suffer it; and she was left alone. Then with foreboding trepidation she opened the fateful packet. It contained nothing but an old Scotch song, which Madeline wished to have, and an unsealed note, in which, traced in an almost illegible hand, were these words —
‘God forever bless thee!
‘EVAN FREDERIC FALCONER.’
“A mist came over the eyes of Madeline when this destruction to all her high-raised expectations met her view, and she endeavoured to reach the bed, as she felt her sense going; but she could not, and fell upon the floor. The noise was instantly heard by the watchful ear of Margaret, whom affectionate apprehensions had determined not to go to rest till she was sure Madeline was in bed and asleep. She therefore ran into the room, and found her where she lay insensible on the ground; the fatal writing by her side. Margaret, though terrified and distressed, did not lose her presence of mind. She laid the beloved sufferer on the bed; then, wisely conjecturing that the contents of the packet which her sister had evidently just opened, and in secret, had had this pernicious effect on her, she concealed the note, the song, and their inclosure, and then called her mother. Madeline had herself locked up her journal as usual, and put the key in her pocket, before she went to her appointment; and Margaret had the comfort of knowing, that whatever was the poor Madeline’s secret, it was entirely safe.
“It was very long ere she recovered to life and consciousness, and beheld her mother and sistersweeping over her, (for even Bessie forgot her jealousy in her alarm,) while her father, setern in his sorrow, was gazing on her with looks of apprehensive agony. The sight of his countenance, in which anger seemed mingled with distress, recalled her instantly to anxiety concerning the fatal note, and she trembled lest it should betray Mr. Falconer to his resentment. She knew she could not bear to hear him blamed, and held up to detestation as the cause of her suffering; and eagerly raising herself, she looked, fearfully around. ‘Fear nothing,’ said Margaret in her ear, ‘all is safe.’
Margaret then declared her intention of watching all night, and the sisters were left alone.
“The sympathizing girl immediately told Madeline where what she missed was deposited; she desired the note to be brought to her. ‘Did you read it?’ said she. ‘No.’ ‘Then read it now.’ Margaret did read it, and wondered at the effect which it had on her sister. ‘Is this all?’ ‘Yes; and therefore am I thus.’ She then confided all that had passed to Margaret in strict secrecy, and told her that she read in this sudden departure, and unsatisfactory adieu, the downfall of all her hopes. ‘I see no such thing, but quite the contrary, foolish child,’ cried Margaret; and Madeline, catching eagerly at the least word of hope, gave way to an hysterical flood of tears. ‘But why, why do you think so, Meggie?’ sobbed out the agitated girl. ‘Because he evidently was summoned quite suddenly to England; because he had neither the time nor the heart to write to you at such a moment; and Macinnon told you he was pale and sorrowful: and because he writes — ‘God bless thee?’ – ‘What then?’ ‘So superiors always write to inferiors in our country.’ ‘Fye, Madeline; this is indeed self-tormenting. He never seemed to consider you as his inferior, and ‘thee’ used instead of ‘you’ at such a moment, is the language of love.’ ‘Are you sure of it, Meggie?’ – ‘Quite sure. And no doubt he will write fully when he gets to England.’
“It is so very difficult to make the heart of sanguine nineteen despair, that the gentle soothings and encouraging representations of Margaret were not lost on her grateful sister. ‘I really believe I shall be able to sleep soon,’ said Madeline; ‘therefore you may venture to leave me.’ ‘Leave thee!’ cried Margaret, throwing her arm round her, ‘Leave thee to the sorrows of the heart! Do I not know what it is to be separated from the being one loves best? and I am sure now thou dost love Glencarron, Madeline. No, no, I will stay, and comfort thee and weep with thee, my sister!’ and Margaret’s tears flowed as fast as her words. Madeline was comforted; and when the anxious mother came down in the night to inquire concerning her sick child, she found the sisters quietly sleeping in each other’s arms.”
Induced by peculiar circumstances, Falconer left Glencarron thus suddenly and joined the army abroad – he was wounded and sent to England: during his absence Madeline could not bear up against the anxieties of her heart, and a violent cold, caught during her return from Edinburgh, whither she had gone for a short visit, terminated in a fever; one of those slow, dangerous, wearing fevers, which seem to prey equally on the mind and on the body. Falconer, hearing of the dangerous illness of Madeline, could no longer delay his return to Glencarron: repeated interviews ensued, and a private marriage, according to the laws of Scotland having been the consequence, he departed for England, whither his sister’s illness imperiously called him – a secret correspondence by letter continued till his return, when frequent meetings were indulged in by the happy pair; whose felicity was clouded only by the mysterious secrecy, which enveloped it in order to satisfy the prudential scruples of Falconer: who feared to offend his sister Lady Benlomen, who was in a very precarious state of health, and to whom he considered he owed more than filial duty. Falconer again left Glencarron in order to obey the summons of his invalid sister; from whom he was called to attend a College friend, at the point of death, in an obscure village in Northumberland.
“On leaving this place, and being anxious to get to Scotalnd as soon as possible, he rashly disregarded bad roads and a dark night, and had met with a dangerous overturn, which had caused the scarcely healed wound to bleed afresh, and had brought on considerable fever by very severe bruises. A letter informed Madeline that he was thought in great danger; and conjured her to hasten to him immediately, that he might see her once more before he died! ‘Come then, my beloved, hasten to my arms! Come, though it must still be in secrecy and concealment. My servant are all newlyhired ones, that you might not be known: but death settles every difficulty, and removes all obstacles. And though shalt return to Scotland as my wife, or rather my widow, Madeline, and as the future mistress of Glencarron.’
“Madeline saw and felt no part of the letter, but that which urged her to fly to the dying Glencarron, and she returned to the house only to get ready to accompany the Macinnons, who, without saying whither they were going, or why, order a chaise to the door of the outer lodge, whither Macinnon was to conduct the trembling Madeline. It was well for her that she had not time to think, or ‘good night’ to wish. Annie and Charles were in bed, Margaret walking with William; her packages were soon made: but oh! the
pangs with which she wrote a farewell to her parents, who were to return the next day. She simply told them, that however appearances were against her she was not unworthy of being their child; that she left them at what she thought the call of duty; and should return to them, she trusted, excused and justified, till then she conjured them to remember her in their prayers! This note was scarcely legible, and blotted with tears. How she got out, of the garden and over the paling she knew not; Macinnon and to lift her into the chaise; but her anxiety and restlessness of mind supported and kept her up till she reached Northumberland; but she no sooner heard that Glencarron was out of danger and no sooner was permitted to see him, than her sense and her strength forsook her, and it was hours before life and consciousness returned. The alarm which her illness occasioned Mr. Falconer brought on him a severe relapse; and Madeline was scarcely recovered from the effects of terror and fatigue, when she had to experience a renewal of her fears for the life of the man she adored, and to share with her more experienced companion, the new and anxious task of administering to the wants of sickness and of suffering. But Mr. Falconer’s strength of constitution struggled through every obstacle unto complete recovery, and at the end of a fortnight Mrs. Maccinnon was able to return to Glencarron; thither her husband had returned as soon as Madeline recovered from her fainting fit. But Madeline remained with her husband.”
The day of the departure of Madeline, was a severe trial in many respects to her distressed family, whose feelings are vividly portrayed.
“It was soon rumoured about that Madeline was gone off, and her school came to inquire if it was true that Miss Madeline had deserted them; the poor also, whose wants she administered to in various ways, came clamouring to the door, to inquire if they had indeed lost their benefactress. But the family were far more affected when, with an eye of wildness, and a cheek pale as death itself, Maclean rushed into the house, and with clasped hands, and quivering lips, to which utterance was denied, looked the enquiry which he was unable to speak. ‘Yes, Lewis, yes, she is gone; she has deserted us!’ said Munro, at length, “But she is his wife!’ ‘To be sure; who doubts it? I would excommunicate any one who dared to doubt it in my presence!’ exclaimed Maclean, his face crimsoned with emotion! ‘Thank you! thank you!’ faltered out Munro, while the mother caught his hand to her lips, and Margaret burst into tears. ‘I fear, Lewis,’ said Munro, ‘there are few persons so candid in their judgment as thou art.’ ‘Oh! but every one loved her! and her fame was spotless! That ever a man who pretends to love her, could bear to cast a stain on that fair fame! – that is what I can’t conceive!’ ‘Aye, Lewis, hadst thou been the chosen of her heart!’ ‘I should have been so proud of her and of her love! I –’ here his tears choked him, and drawing Annie towards him, he leaned his head against her shoulder. Annie did not like to resist this unconscious familiarity, but it distressed her, as she considered herself no longer a child; but her father, gently releasing her from Maclean, said, ‘My dear Lewis, you forgot that Annie is a young woman now!’ And as Macklean observed her blushing cheek and eye of shame, — of shame which he had inflicted, — he felt, in spite of his affliction, that he could never forget her age again.
“The mother now asked Maclean what was said in the village, and Maclean was forced to own that the laird had been seen coming at day-break from Madeline’s garden! – proof positive to the family and poor Maclean that the laird was her husband, — though not even they could blame the rest of the world for being less sure of the fact.
“It was at this moment of trial that Ronald, having obtained a short leave of absence from the army, arrived at the cottage. He had expected that his father’s lip would quiver with emotion when he first beheld him, and that his mother and sisters would mingle tears with their welcomes and embraces; but he did not expect that their tears would flow in abundance, and as if in agony; nor that a hue like death would spread over his father’s cheek, when, unexpectedly, he, smiling, stood before them; and he was disappointed indeed, as his eye glanced over the family group, not to behold Madeline among them. ‘Where was she? Why not there?’ And the heart of the soldier was appalled, — the heart of the son and the brother sickened, as he went from one weeping relative to the other, and felt his hand grasped convulsively in that of his speechless father! At last he heard the tale they had to tell, and he felt the laurels he had so lately gathered wither on his brow; for the mildew of disgrace had gathered on the fame of his sister; that sister too of whom his heart had so gratefully, so fondly yearned! Besides, was she indeed free from the stain of actual guilt? He knew her not, therefore he
could not set his experience of her principles against her apparent conduct, and he soon fled from that beloved circle which he had so longed to behold, to vent in solitude his anguish and his forebodings, and to deplore, while he humbly bowed to it, that cruel dispensation which had converted into the most agonizing moment of his life that moment, which he had fondly expected would have proved the happiest.”
Madeline and her husband enjoyed the greatest happiness in their retirement; and after having spent a few months in France, Madeline blessed her husband with an heir to the house of Glencarron. Time at last corroded their happiness, and unfounded jealousy, perhaps inseparable from tru affection, aided by the gloom occasioned by her mysterious situation, worked so powerfully on the feeble frame and susceptible mind of Madeline, as to induce her to take the most injudicious and dangerous resolution of deserting the protection of her husband; who had caused her great uneasiness by unnecessary absences, which she too hastily attributed to an entirely estranged heart.
“He has not been here at all to-day! How very, very cruel! Day-break – still he has not been here! Well then, when next he comes he shall seek for me in vain. That song of the poor Hindoo, which you and he are so fond of, has been haunting me all day!
‘Tis thy will, and I must leave thee.
Oh! then, best belov’d, farewell.”
“Litte did I ever think this song would be as applicable to my feelings! Yes, I will dissolve the union myself before he expects me to do so. I will return him the writing, that sufficient and only proof now of our marriage (for the two witnesses are dead and I have been looking over his letters, and he does not call me his wife in any one of them); and I will inclose that and the ring in a piece of paper, and leave it on the table.
Wednesday morning, 6 o’clock.
I have done so, and only written in the corner – ‘Thou art free!
‘Thy poor Hindu!’
Now to pack up a small box with changes of clothes for myself and child. A London coach passes this door at seven. In London I can be concealed till I have resolved what to do.”
Madeline hired a lodging, and engaged a servant to attend on her child, while she endeavoured to encrease her very limited annuity left by Mr. Irwin, by making drawings for sale – The enquiries of Falconer, however, were at last successful, and he met his wife to part no more. Their reconciliation was easily effected, and Madeline bitterly repented her unjust suspicions; they were now married according to the English Law, and Falconer soon after acknowledged her for his wife. Lady Benlomen was reconciled to the match; and letters from Madeline’s father and mother encreased her happiness. The death of Lord Dalmany, to whose title and estates Falconer was heir, obliged him, with his wife and sister, to set off for Evan Castle in Scotland, and they stopped at Glencarron in the way.
Tuesday night, February, 1816.
“We arrived here only last night, having laid by on the Sunday. My husband, to please his sister, ordered a traveling coach down fro London, belonging to the late Lord Dalmany, and her carriage followed, with the servants. The child went with us. What state we traveled in! Yet I can truly say that I felt no conscious elation of spirit at my elevation. One though, one apprehension, that my rank would in future separate me more than ever from the beloved inhabitants of the cottage by the barn-side, annihilated all remembrance of my grandeur. I believe Lord Dalmany saw what was passing in my heart; for he said, not reproachfully but tenderly, ‘Here is a creature to make a Countess of; she seems more depressed and lowly-minded than ever, since the coronet fell on her brow. Is it not so, my own Madeline!; I could not speak; but the names of my parents and my sisters were on my lips.
“Contrary to my expectations, Lord Dalmany chose to drive through the village, and past the cottage! It was nearly dark; but I saw the well-remembered faces watching at the door. My husband instantly pulled the string, and jumping out put me himself into their out-stretched arms! I know not how I got into the house; but there I was. ‘We shall see you all to-morrow,’ cried Dalmany: ‘come early; quite early: we must part now.’ I tore myself away: tore my sleeping babe from the arms of his admiring grandfather, and we drove off. I found by the tone of Lady Benlomen’s voice that she was deeply affected; but she did not speak; she only sat in silence the remainder of the way.
“The poor Macinnons! Dalmany, as well as myself, was quite overpowered when he alighted and missed the affectionate greetings of those dear and faithful servants. To-day he is full of plans for a little monument to their memory. How I love him for this! Love him for this! When do I ever cease to love him for one moment? The beloved cottages came while we were at breakfast, and I begged they might be shown into my dressing-room. ‘I will shew them thither myself,’ said Dalmany. How kind! Is your father altered, my love?’ asked Lady Benlomen: ‘I remember him in his blue bonnet, and he was then the finest looking creature that I ever saw!’ I was choked with pleasant emotion, and could not at first answer her. My husband now returned, and I hastened to my dressing-room.
“Meetings under such circumstances, and overflowings of hearts like these, cannot be described. We all dined together, and Lady Benlomen was very, very kind. * * * * * * * she paid my beloved guests great attention – How surprised and how pleased they were! Hark! I hear their dear voices again! They are come to take leave of me! * * * * * * Just setting off! They are gone, and the little energy I felt seems vanished with them. When shall we meet again? and under what circumstances?”
Madeline, however, had frequent opportunities of being with her family, and the end of the journal leaves her in the full enjoyment of every earthly bliss. We will conclude this review of one of the most faithful pictures of the human heart ever written, with two other quotations from the journal of the tender, faithful, and accomplished Madeline.
“Now that my marriage is avowed, I can bear to advert to the misery which the long concealment of it occasioned me; but this I could not do even to you before, as the secrecy and the disgrace attending our situation preyed incessantly on my quiet and my health, and have, I fear, fatally undermined my constitution. O my dear kind friend! when you read this sentence, I know that you will not be inclined to blame your poor pupil severely, but will only too deeply feel that the fault brought its punishment along with it.
“Thus then is my cup made full to the brim with blessings; but pray for me, my dear friend, that I may never forget the schooling which my heart received from the consequences of its weakness; and may I always consider that schooling as the greatest of all the mercies for which I have daily to lift up my soul in gratitude to heaven.
General Weekly Register, vol. 5, 5 May 1822, pp. 177-81.
(First three pages omitted as unrelated to Opie’s work)
…Mrs. Opie has nothing to do, as a novelist, with either the praise or censure of Bacon. He could not as we said before, have referred to the simple fiction of the domestic novel of our day, because such a thing had never come under his observation.
The lady whose last work we are about to consider, holds no inconsiderable place among those authors, whose efforts have been directed to please, and instruct, rather than to excite powerfully, to surprise of to dazzle us. Some of her former tales have acquired a well-merited popularity. We consider “Madeline” inferior to the others in plot and effect. Indeed, it scarcely pretends to any plot. It is, we are told, a “true story.” This fact, or the assumption of it, may, in the author’s mind, counterbalance the deficiency to which we allude, but it will not, nor ever can be considered by the general reader. No author, (and especially an experienced author) ought to hope that it should. Before we venture any further, however, we shall give an outline of the tale.
Madeline Munro, the second daughter of an honest blunt farmer, was taken from his cottage by the “bourn side,” at an early age, by a lady of the name of Irwin; adopted as her child, and educated in her house, under the auspices of a Mrs. St. Leger, a very high-minded and accomplished woman. Mrs. Irwin had always induced Madeline to believe that she provide for her handsomely. When Madeline had gained her nineteenth year, however, her patroness died intestate; and our heroine was thus left portionless, and, but for a small remembrance from Mr. Irwin, whose death occurred before that of his lady, would have been pennyless. After this misfortune Madeline returns to her family and cottage by the bourn side; endeavours, with very little success, to reconcile herself to her change of habits and society: yet lives happily notwithstanding, surrounded by domestic affection, and engrossed with her harp, her journal, and the instruction of her younger brothers and sisters. A Mr. Dobbs, a cockney, just retired from the counter to live on his estate, makes love to her. She hates and rejects him, much against the will of her father. But there is a laird in question; she can see the chimneys of Glencarron (his seat) from her apartment. He is not at home at first: but he comes home of course- sees Madeline- is seen by her- loves and is loved. The father observes their mutual passion, and discountenances it. The laird (Glencarron, alias Mr. Falconer,) has a proud elder sister, whom old Munro conceives must be averse to the family degradation of an unequal marriage on the part of her brother: over whom she exercises, or is supposed to exercise, a very commanding influence. The lovers, however, love on, but never tell each other. On one occasion the laird asks an interview, apparently for the purpose of doing so; but he breaks his own appointment, and only sends a line to Madeline saying- “God for ever bless thee!” then sets off post haste to his sister who is ill, and thence to the field of Leipsie, as a volunteer, where he is badly wounded. After some time he returns to his castle –again sees Madeline, who has recovered from a fever incurred on his account, and marries her privately or rather betroths himself to her after the manner of the Scots’ law or usage. In a few days he leaves her –in a few weeks comes back again –and again goes away. But on this occasion Madeline’s fate draws nearer to a point –she receives a letter from Glencarron, written in Northumberland, calling on her to fly and receive his last breath, as he has been ill and believes himself dying. She does so. He recovers. They live together for many months in different places; she becomes a mother, and subsequently a jealous wife. She thinks her husband’s manner alters towards her; besides, public report and her own observations give him in marriage to a fascinating young lady, Jane L-. Acting upon this conceit, Madeline (not very sensibly,) encloses to Glencarron the written proofs of their marriage, and elopes to London. Her husband follows and discovers her –convinces her of the unjustness of her fear –re-marries her according to the rights of the established church: soon after acknowledges her as his wife: and writes word of his engagement to his haughty sister, Lady Benlomon, to whom upon many former occasions he wished to break the subject but was deterred by her known pride and debilitated state of healthy. Lady Benlomon sends the following answer:
“Mr. Falconer, for I will not call you brother, you have used me shamefully, and I cannot forgive you; but I must speak not write my injuries. I am setting off for N- this moment; so prepare to face your ill-treated and exasperated sister.”
We are anxious to give the description of this interview in the heroine’s own words, as, indeed, we could not do it justice by a mere abstract.
“I felt my courage fail, as I was thus still more assured of what sort of scene awaited me; but I resolved to remember I was innocent woman, and that I was Mr. Falconer’s, her brother’s wife. Sometimes, indeed, I fancied that she did not mean to see me at all; but Mr. F said unless she chose to see me, he would not see her; and that he would not go down to hand her from her carriage. Never did I see him look so determined and so haughty; and his pride kept up mind. Still when a carriage drove rapidly up to the door, and I heard Mr. Falconer, seeing the liveries, exclaim, “It is my sister!” I felt myself turn pale, and was forced to give myself courage by remembering I was a wife and mother: -the mother of his heir, and that I held and important and distinguished place, therefore, in society. Then taking the arm of my husband, I waited quietly, though tremblingly, the appearance of this formidable woman. An eager, rapid step was now heard on the stairs, and we both read in it the impatience of passion. Indignant contempt gave me, instantly, firmness and self-possession. The servant now threw open the door, and we turned towards it prepared to meet the storm. Judge then of my feeling when I beheld a benevolent and beaming countenance, with eyes filling with tears, arms stretched out to receive me, and heard a sweet but faltering voice, exclaim, – “My sister, my dear sister!”
This is a very agreeable surprise, as far as it goes, and we have been prepared with considerable dexterity and ease for its full operation upon us. The book should have stopped here, and so we suppose it would, had it not been “a true story.” But it goes on the afflict us most unnecessarily with the apprehension of Madeline’s death. She recovers, however, from a serious illness: -her father, mother, brothers and sisters, see her at her own castle; and all is unclouded happiness at last. From our summing up of the plot, our readers will now perceive with us, its deficiency in the interest and variety of incident generally expected from novels of is cast. Madeline is, however, consistent with its own plan. It professes to be rather a tale of the heart than of a rapid succession of action and events; and with this view, very properly comes forward in the shape of a journal kept by the heroine, and commencing after her return to her father’s cottage. It evinces throughout a close and delicate observation of nature, and many touching scenes, and elegant and judicious sentiments, are occasionally to be met with in it. The style is unaffected, pretensionless, and pleasing; except that, now and then, it exhibits such gross rhetorical inaccuracies, as no writer of the present day should be allowed to indulge –in a book at least. There is too much coquetry of the heroine with her own heart, particular in the beginning of the first volume: a species of childish insincerity even with herself; and a still more ridiculous effort to impose her womanish affection on us, as the natural flutter of maiden artlessness and simplicity. But the book is written by a lady, and in deference to the prejudices of education, we shall take leave of this topic. Our most serious objection to Madeline is, strange to say, its deficiency in any obvious moral. Nay, the heroine acts throughout, a weak and blameable part. She marries without the consent of her father; clandestinely, and otherwise in an improper way, when the only requisite to her father’s approbation was the occurrence of circumstances to warrant the hero in acknowledging her as his wife. These she could not wait for, and she justly suffered for her indecision and disobedience. Education and refinement seem to have unnerved the mind of Madeline rather than to have elevated it. It ought to have elevated her above the petty vanities and whining regrets which followed her into her humble retirement. Say that all this is natural; we reply, it would be better to hold up the influence and moral effects of education in another point of view. To be sure the journal is called the history of a “weak woman’s” heart; but we do not want a history of the weakness of our nature, if those weaknesses are always indulged and supposed to influence the character and actions. We rather require an instance of their being successfully controuled; at all events, rationally combatted. Indeed, the authoress herself foresaw that our objection would apply to the moral tendency of her “true story,” and she has endeavoured to get rid of it in a note, thus: – “Throughout her journal, Madeline has blamed herself so justly, and commented so satisfactorily on her own conduct, that I have no occasion to animadvert on it myself.” But we think we have: for after all, these books have their influence on society, and young minds will more readily become fascinated with the actions that with the philosophy of a heroine: while they almost invariably measure the propriety of her conduct by the eventual result of those actions. Now Madeline is at last as happy and as honoured as if she had never acted wrong or foolishly. We cannot understand the good likely to flow from such an arbitrary distribution of rewards and punishments. It is truly disagreeable to be obliged to criticise so severely a very favourite author, and one whose previous exertions in the cause of morality have been so successful; but perhaps the ingenious and amiable writer will, on reflection, acquit us of the charge of unnecessary severity.
The minor characters are, generally speaking, well supported, and we cannot conclude this paper without introducing one of these to the reader’s notice, in a passage from the tale itself, which we consider as one of the happiest specimens of Mrs. Opie’s style of writing. The personage of whom we speak is Ronald Munro, Madeline’s third brother, who had been promoted to a lieutenancy by her purse and interest, and who now returns on leave of absence to visit his family after his sister had gone to Northumberland to her husband.
“It was at this moment of trial to this affectionate family, that Ronald, having obtained a short leave of absence, arrived at the cottage. He had expected that his father’s lip would quiver with emotion, when he first beheld him, and that his mother and sisters would mingle tears with their welcomes and embraces; but he did not expect that their tears would flow in abundance, as if in agony, and that a hue like death would spread over his father’s check, when unexpectedly he smiling stood before them; and he was disappointed indeed, as his eye glanced over the family group, not to behold Madeline among them. “Where was she? Why not there?” –and the heart of the soldier was appalled, -the heart of the son and the brother sickened, as he went from one weeping relative to the other, and felt his hand grasped convulsively in that of his speechless father. At last he heard the tale they had to tell, and he felt the laurels he had so lately gathered wither on his brow: for the mildew of disgrace had gathered on the fame of his sister: that sister too of whom he had been so proud, and towards whom his heart had so grateful, so fondly yearned!”
The quoting of this passage has put us in such good humour with the tale, that we must again express our regret at having been obliged to find any serious fault with it.
New Monthly Magazine, vol. 6, 1822, pp.221-22.
Novels, Romances, Tales &c.
Madelain. By Mrs. Opie. 2 vols.
This story turns on a subject which requires the utmost nicety of treatment, to invest it with that interest, which, under skilful management, it is capable of inspiring. We mean the history of a young lady’s love-affairs, related by herself. In this professed delineation of the very arcane of the female heart, Mrs. Opie has not exhibited the pathos which graced her early works, before she thought herself called on to write for fashionable readers; and the delicacy which the theme demands she never possessed in any very great degree; it is therefore not surprising that it does not appear in
the present instance. The heroine of the story is a Scotch girl, who has been brought up away from her parents, of the humble rank of cottars, by a lady, who, after giving her a refined education, and introducing her into polite society, dies, and leaves her only a small legacy; she then returns to her native roof, among the Highlands. So far the story, which is conveyed in the form of a journal, is interestingly told: but the young lady gets a lover of the name of Dobbs, who is introduced with more coarseness than is necessary, and whose unfortunate name is sufficient anticipation of the fate of his suit. In opposition to this unfortunate swain is introduced Mr. Falconer the laird, who of course immediately inspires and is overcome by the tender passion, and, in far less time than propriety or prudence would warrant, the heroine submits to a private marriage according to the simple forms of betrothment before witnesses, which is enough in the land of cakes to make the ceremony binding. And this is one of the great faults of the work. The laird’s motives for keeping his marriage a secret are not sufficiently powerful to actuate any man in his senses; and his conduct afterwards is not much more rational. The ground of the attachment on both sides is likewise at first merely that of personal attraction, — at all times a dangerous and paltry view of a subject so important as that of a connexion for life. The character of the heroine’s father is finely and consistently drawn: there are strokes of nature in the story, connected with the simplicity of manners belonging to the rank of the actors in it, which render it pleasing; and though as a whole it is not equal to Mrs. Opie’s early productions, it is greatly superior to those which she has lately laid before the public.