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was yet a true Catholic*, 'the Head and the Body. From the 'Head, there is no departure, but by doctrine disagreeable to 'Christ the head. From the Body, there is no departure by 'diversity of rites and opinions, but only by the defect of 'charity.'
Art. VI. Pictures of Private Life. By Sarah Stickney. 12mo. pp. 348. London, 1833.
A VOLUME of tales from the pen of a fair Quaker would, •^ some years ago, have been a curiosity; but the followers of Penn are no longer penned within the rigid rules which once divided them from the rich fields of literature. A Quaker poet is no longer a phenomenon. Instead of a rare meteor, we have seen an ' aurora borealis' illuminating this quarter of society. Nevertheless, fiction is so decidedly at variance with the sentiments of this truth-loving and literal people, that Sarah Stickney has felt it incumbent upon her, as a member of the religious Society of Friends, to prefix an Apology to these tales. 'I would not,' she says, 'willingly oppose the peculiarities of many whom I regard 'with gratitude, esteem, and admiration, without offering in my 'own vindication, some remarks upon the nature of fiction in 'general.'
Here apology is briefly, that fiction may be subservient to the purposes of moral instruction; a position which is certainly incontrovertible. Parables are fictions; the Pilgrim's Progress is a fiction; Robinson Crusoe, though founded on fact, is a romance. A production may be fictitious, which is not false. There is no falsehood in fiction, except when it misrepresents nature and fact. All this must be admitted; and it supplies a satisfactory answer to the conscientious objection against fiction, founded on the erroneous notion of its intrinsic unlawfulness as involving untruth. Still, the main objections against what are called moral tales, are not met by this apology. The question is not, whether fiction in the abstract is a legitimate vehicle of moral instruction, but whether such fictions are, or are not, of a beneficial tendency.
We have felt it right to say thus much; not that we think the present volume stands in need of an apology, but because the apology confounds, under the denomination of fiction, works of a very diverse character and tendency. Miss Stickney has professedly composed these tales for those who would reject instruction in a weightier form, whose 'pursuit is pleasure, their food 'excitement.'
Cassander, cited by Howe.
'And since,' she adds, ' books of fiction are a kind which thousands will continue to write and tens of thousands to read, I have endeavoured to do my little part towards blending with amusement some of those serious reflections which, in the often shifting scenes of a restless life, have occupied my own mind; not without earnest longings that I myself were among those who are already prepared to receive truth without fiction, light without clouds, good without alloy.'
The sentiment and feeling here expressed, will at once procure for the Author the esteem and commendation of the reader. Her purpose is excellent; and in reference and with limitation to that purpose, we are prepared to bestow very high commendation upon her performance. To the class of readers for whom they are specificallydesigned, these tales are well adapted to convey much salutary instruction, without injuring the love of the intellectual appetite, already accustomed to stimulants. All that we fear, and feel it needful to make the subject of caution, is, that such works as the present should be inconsiderately put into the hands of individuals for whom they are not indended, and to whom they are likely to do more harm than they can possibly do good; those whose simplicity of mind has not been vitiated by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and to whom the premature knowledge of evil, which the lessons of the moralist sometimes impart, is at once a surprise and an injury.
We need not guard ourselves against being supposed to entertain the notion, that the minds of young persons who have been the most carefully guarded against contamination, will be found guileless and pure. In the native innocence of the human heart we are no believers. But we do know that there is such a thing as purity of imagination,—that this may be long preserved,— that it is one of the most precious prerogatives of youth,—that when lost, it is never to be restored,—and that knowledge of the world is but a poor compensation for that loss. Further, we know that the evil knowledge imparted by the fictions of the moralist has, in many cases, been the first means of disturbing that purity of imagination, by suggesting thoughts which are met, indeed, by abhorrence, such as the writer might wish to awaken, but which survive the salutary emotion, and leave a stain behind. We are not speaking of works the direct tendency of which is doubtful as to the lessons they convey. Our remark is meant to apply to moral and religious tales of the highest character; to many of the admirable stories of Mrs. Sherwood, to Miss Taylor's Display, to many productions of similar merit and excellence. We do not condemn either the works or their writers. We think they have done much good; but we are convinced that they have also done some harm, owing to their being indiscriminately recommended.
It is a familiar saying, what is food to one, is poison to another. This is quite as true in respect to mental, as to bodily nourishment. The tendency of a work very much depends upon its adaptation to the reader. The same work that scarcely stirs a sluggish imagination, ministers dangerous excitement to an active one. Those who have been fed with 'the sincere milk of the 'word,' may be poisoned with the stimulants which to others are medicine. Miss Stickney's views on this subject are not, we are persuaded, very different from our own. She is ' willing to allow 'that fictitious writing is the most humble means of moral in'struction;' though 'earnest in maintaining its utility, especially 'on the ground that it finds its way to the dense multitude who 'close their eyes upon the introduction of purer light.' Upon this ground, we also freely admit its utility. We wish only that its restricted purpose should be borne in mind. Nothing can be more admirable than the motto which the Author has inscribed upon her title-page, and which, applied as a caveat to such works, expresses all that we would convey by these observations.
'Would you judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure, take this rule: Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of (rod, or takes off your relish of spiritual things;—in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your bmly over your mind .—that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.'
It may have been remarked, that, in the discharge of our critical vocation, we have sometimes bestowed a passing notice upon works of light reading, of a far more equivocal description; such as tales and novels, the writers of which scarcely aim at a higher purpose than amusement, yet which have obtained our testimony to their literary merits. But in these cases, we have felt that no one could be misled; the character of such productions, and the class of readers they were intended for, cannot be mistaken; and it would be out of place to insist upon such considerations as the apology of the present Writer has suggested. Of such publications, we speak simply as literature: of works like the present, we must judge as means of education and vehicles of moral instruction; entitled, indeed, to far higher commendation, but yet, with that warmer praise, it is the more necessary to blend the language of caution. In the former case, we simply tender our homage to talent, without always yielding our approval. In the latter case, where our praise involves recommendation, it seems necessary to qualify the opinions we give, less as crkics than as guardians.
The present volume contains four tales: The Hall and the Cottage. Ellen Eskdale. The Curate's Widow. Marriage as it may be. They are skilfully imagined, and beautifully written, displaying an acquaintance with the human heart and with society that must be the fruit of much self-knowledge, combined with extensive observation. We presume that the Authoress cannot be a very young person, for the knowledge is that of maturity. We shall give a few extracts, which will at once exhibit the skilful delineation of character and the admirable sentiment with which the volume abounds, and at the same time, without any further comment, illustrate some of our preceding observations.
'From this time she never spoke again of Frederick Langley, nor made the least allusion to any circumstances connected with him. She was qniet and peaceful, and resigned to die; —to die, but not to live.
'It appears an easy and a pleasant thing, to the soul that is weary of the toils of mortality, to lay down the burden of the flesh, and soar away into a higher realm of purer and more etherial existence; and thus, no sooner is the future shrouded in darkness, than to die becomes the choice of the sentimentalist, in preference to a patient endurance of the ills of life.
'Anna Clare had felt for a long time that she was gently and gradually passing away from the world, or rather that the world was losing its importance, and even its place in her visions of futurity; and, therefore, she concluded that death must be at hand: yet, had she fondly pictured to herself one scene before the last, and dwelt Upon it with a childish intensity of interest; a scene, in which her lover should return, and beholding her altered form so wasted by sickness and sorrow, should listen to her parting prayers, and let her last admonitions sink deep into his heart. For this she had made frequent and earnest supplications, and for this she had felt willing to die; and, perhaps, if the truth were fully known, she had appropriated to herself some little merit for the generosity of the sacrifice, and had been somewhat charmed by her own disinterestedness of feeling,—a disinterestedness that was sorelv put to the test, when she found that he, on whom she had bestowed so much concern, had chosen for himself another companion through the pilgrimage of life; and that, if its rough passages were to be smoothed for him by a female hand, that hand must not be hers. Night and day, this humbling truth, with all its heartless and dreary accompaniments, was present to the mind, until death became no longer her choice, for to her it seemed impossible to live.
'To go forth again into the wilderness, after having pined in the desert ;—to set sail again upon the stormy ocean, with frail bark, and doubtful pilot, with trembling compass, and shattered mast;—to meet again the brasses, and disappointments, and vexations of life; with hopes that have been blighted in the bud* and desires that have failed, and patienct that has ndt had its perfect work, requires more true fortitude, and resignation to the divine will, than to draw back from the brightest earthly prospects, and sink into an early grave: and yet so it was with the miserable invalid, that her disease made no progress, and she found herself, after the expiration of the winter months, not only alive, but evidently gaining strength; and painful duties, which in her weakness she had set aside as utterly impracticable, no\V came crowding upon her in terrible magnitude and hated reality. And then
VOL. Ix. N.s. 3 K
the indescribable gloom, and darkness of that little chamber, in which she first arose from her sick bed, and looked out again upon a world, which presented nothing to her perverted eye but an interminable waste of barrenness.
'How little do we know ourselves! Anna Clare had imagined, that in the calmness with which she had welcomed the approach of death, there was mingled no inconsiderable share of willing submission to the will of a gracious and overruling Providence; but where was that submission now; Alas! it had only been conditional; for no sooner was the decree gone forth, that she must live, and not die, than her heart was torn with repining, and her cup of wretchedness was full.
'There is nothing more selfish than melancholy; and lamentable it is to find, that the sentimental world have invested this absorbing malady with a kind of interest which makes it rather sought than shunned by vast multitudes of young ladies who, too indolent to exert themselves, hang their keads for weariness; grow sallow for want of exercise, and sigh for want of fresh air; who read novels for want of rational excitement; fall in love for want of something else to do; fancy themselves heroines because they are, in fact, nothing; and drawl out, to troops of confidential friends, long histories of imaginary troubles, because they know no real ones. The victims of this disease may be known by their perpetually babbling about pains and palpitations. Nerves occupy their attention when they wake, night-mare when they sleep, and self always. Their dearest friends may sicken and die, they are too languid to nurse them: a miserable population may be starving around, they are too delicate to feed them; afflictions, privations, and crosses, may be sent amongst the circle in which they exist —they " have a silent sorrow," so deep-seated and overwhelming, that they can neither pity nor relieve them; and they would rather give a lecture on their own distresses, than listen to the rejoicing of a multitude. If they escape the temptation of a sinful world, to which their minds are peculiarly open, from having had raised up in them a false appetite, a craving for unwholesome food, it is but to drag on a neglected, weary, and loathed existence, niul to arrive at the confines of the grave without having gathered one flower to sweeten it; and to look forward into eternity without having insured one rational ground of hope to glimmer in the gulf of darkness.
'Such is the history of the last stage of the existence of many a melancholy young lady; who, while she was young, might very beautifully have hung her harp upon the willows, and the world at first might have sighed over its silent chords, and pitied the mute minstrel: but neither a silent harp, nor a mute minstrel, will long engage the sympathy of the world. We must either play for its pastime, or labour in its service. Its stirring communities extend not their patronage to any quiescent member, and if we will sit down by the way side, while our more energetic companions pass on, the inevitable consequence will be, that we shall be left behind, if not actually trampled under their feet.'
• Anna rushed into the house, and finding Mary alone, threw her arms around her neck, and playfully kissing her forehead; "There,"