and degree, and throughout every station in society. “It is twice accursed,” says our author, “once in giving, once in receiving." “ In as far as the public good is concerned, fair competition is more advantageous to the arts and artists, than any private patronage can be. If the productions have real merit, they will make their own way. If they have not, they ought not to make their way.” And the same argument she applies to literary merit; and to the merit, generally speaking, of persons as well as things. She also considers the trade of a patron as one of the most thankless, as it is the least useful, of all trades. This, it must be confessed, is bold and magnanimous doctrine, and strikes at once at so many interests and vanities, as to require all Miss Edgeworth's influence and authority to save it from general reprobation. What a host of prejudices must be overthrown upon this plan! What a swarm of lilllenesses devested of their paltry disguises !--ministers-Mecænas's-mistresses-patrons at court-in the church and in the drawing-room--all cashiered and depreciated! and the shade of their protection denounced as fatal to the forced and feeble plants which are destined to seek there, either for support or for shelter. Then the whole tribe of expectant courtiers, impatient authors, querulous artists, and trading politicians, are in danger of being roused from the pleasing dreams of patronage, and are invited to depend for success upon the fair competition of those emancipated talents by which alone they can deserve it!

The story places Mr. and Mr. Percy, with their eldest son Godfrey, and their daughters Caroline and Rosamond, at the family mansion on the coast of Hampshire. A shipwreck happens, which introduces a crew of Dutchmen, with a M. de Tourville, a diplomatic agent at a German court, to the generous hospitality of the Percys. After a day or two the Frenchman leaves them, in great distress at having lostap a cket of importance, in the general confusion. The Dutch crew, having repaired the vessel, set sail, but not until the carelesness of their carpenter had set fire to the old mansion. The library is destroyed; and this loss is the more severe, because, in examining the papers that had escaped, Mr. Percy misses a deed upon which the tenure of Percy Hall depends. Rosamond exultingly brings to her father a copy, which she mistakes for the original, but, unluckily, in the presence of an attorney, whom Mr. Percy's love of strict justice bad made his enemy, and who immediately discovers that it wants the seal and signature. In the mean time, Commissioner Falconer, a relation of Mr. Percy, is introduced, and announces the arrival of Lord Oldborough in the neighbourhood—a great man-a cabinet minister-and, moreover, an old friend of Mr. Percy's, from whom the commissioner covets an introduction to the peer, for a reason which he conceals from his friend, viz. that he had found the diplomatist's lost packet, and means to make the most of that good

fortune, with the minister. The interview is accomplished ;-the bargain is made ;-the packet is delivered ;-a plot in the cabinet is discovered. The commissioner's son, Cunningham, is made private secretary to Lord Oldborough, and the father becomes his chief agent in the business and politics of the county.

Thus are introduced upon the stage the leading characters of this drama. The Percy family—in all the members of which are discovered the sound morality, good sense, and independent spirit, which are meant to be contrasted by the meanness, folly, and love of patronage abounding in the commissioner and all his genealogy; and, lastly, the putron himself, whose haughty and commanding qualities, got up after the best patterns in the profession, are relieved by the calm and temperate spirit of the one group, and the eringing falseness of the other. For some time the tale is employed in developing the characters of which we shall afterwards speak. The Falconers proceed in the road of promotion. The Percys continue in retirement. In Alfred Percy, a lawyer, and Erasmus, a physician, the same steady and independent spirit is exhibited which distinguishes the father. All the Falconers are advanced--Mrs. Falconer and her daughters are the very pink of fashion--Mr. Secretary Cunningham gets promotion--John, a dunce, has advancement in the army; and Buckhurst, a buck parson, having consented to take orders to save himself from a gaol, the commissioner': joy is complete.

At this crisis of good fortune in the one family, the other endures a reverse. Rosamond's unlucky disclosure sets the attorney on the alert. The estate is disputed by Sir R. Percy. The deed is not forthcoming. The Percys are unsuccessful; and are obliged to retire to a small property they still possessed in the hills. Here they continue their steady purpose of independence. The father refuses office which Lord Oldborough proffers to him. The sons follow their professions with honour, and without

patronage. The daughters refuse several offers of marriage, till, at last, a German, Count Altenberg, makes an impression on Caroline's heart ; but, at the moment when it may be expected his proposals will be made and accepted, imperious duties recall him to his own country !

Another crisis in their history occurs. Count Altenberg returns-proposes to Caroline is married! At the instant of his departure for Germany with his bride, Mr. Percy is arrested, at the suit of Sir Robert, for immense arrears. The bridegroom's word is pledged to his prince, and he departs. The Percy family accompany their father to the king's bench. In this unhappy condition, the last and most trying proofs of their spirit and conduct occur. Godfrey is taken a prisoner of war; and Rosamond's marriage with her lover, Mr. Temple, is prevented by poverty on both sides.

The Falconers, in the mean time, begin to totter. The eldest daughter, indeed, is married to Sir R. Percy; but Georgiana, notwithstanding all the mother's manœuvres, is still a spinsterCunningham Falconer is disgraced-Buckhurst, the dean, rendered miserable by a mercenary marriage-Jobn, the colonel, dishonoured in his profession-and, last of all, upon the decline of Lord Oldborough's popularity and power, Mrs. Falconer, who had been unluckily tempted to forge letters in his name, and commissions with his signature, is discovered and ignominiously exposed. The commissioner goes to Alfred Percy to consult him about the sale of his estate ; and this leads to the denouement. In the box of his papers the long lost deed is discovered !--Another trial takes place, and the Percys are restored! The novel ends with Lord Oldborough's unexpected discovery of a son in Mr. Henry, a person of little importance to the story in any other respect.

These are the outlines of the story; and out of these materials, neither very original, perhaps, nor very artificially connected, Miss Edgeworth has contrived to produce so many well imagined scenes, so many striking contrasts, and a moral so constantly good, and so pointed in its application, that Patronage, if not amongst the best of her productions, is, at least, not unworthy of her name and genius. Of the characters we shall now say a few words. The keeping in the whole family of Percy is perfect, Caroline and Rosamond, though merely sketches, are beautifully diversified. The keen but repressed feeling and subdued tenderness of the former are well contrasted by the quick and energetic qualities of the latter; and Rosamond's unenvious adıniration of, and entire devotion to, her sister, forms a most pleasing and affecting picture.

Erasmus Percy, the physician, having saved the leg of a poor Irishman, in spite of the prognostics of a fashionable doctor, loses his election as physician to a hospital, by the interest of the said doctor. We cannot resist giving the following scene, in which Miss Edgeworth's inimitable talent for portraying her poor countrymen is displayed.

“ O'Brien, we hope the reader recollects, was the poor Irishmau, whose leg the surgeon had condemned to be cut off, but which was saved by Erasmus. A considerable time afterwards, one morning, when Erasmus was just getting up, he heard a loud knock at bis door, and in ove and the same instant, pushing past his servant into his bedchamber, and to the foot of his bed, rushed O'Brien, breathless, and with a face perspiring joy— I axe your honour's pardon, master, but it's what you are wanting down street in all haste-Here's an elegant case for ye, doctor dear!—That painter-jantleman down in the square there beyond that is not expected. Not expected !-said Erasmus.

Ay, not expected; so put on ye with the speed of light-Where's his waistcoat ? continued he, turning to Dr. Percy's astonished servant — and coat ?--the top coat-and the wig-has he one ?-Well! boots or shoes give bim any way.'- But I don't clearly understand .... Pray did this gentleman send for me?'—said Dr. Percy. • Send for your honour! Troth, he never thought of it-No nor couldn't-how could be ? and he in the way he was and is—But God bless ye! and never miod shaving, or another might get it asore we'd be back. Though there was none in it but myself when I left itbut still keep ou buttoving for the life.' Erasmus dressed as quickly as he could, not understanding, however, above one word in ten that had been said to him. His servant, who did not comprehend even one word, endeavoured in vain to obtain an explanation ; but O'Brien, paying no regard to his solemn face of curiosity, put him aside with his hand, and continuing to address Dr. Percy, followed him about the room. "Master ! you miod my mintioning to you last time I seen your honour, that my leg was weak by times, vo fault though to the doctor that cured it, so I could not be after carrying the weighty loads I used up and down the ladders at every call, so I quit sarving the masons, and sought for lighter work, and found an employ that shuted me with a jantleman-painter, grinding of his colours, and that was what I was at this morning, so I was, and standing as close to him as I am this mioute to your honour, thinking of nothing at all just now, please your honour, forenent him—asy griuding, whin he took some sort or kind of a fit. *A fit! Why did you not tell me that sooner ??—“Sure I tould you he was not expicted-that is, if you don't know in England, not expicted to live-and-sure I tould your honour so from the first,' said O'Brien. • But, then the jaotleman was as well as I am this minute, that minute afore--and the nixt fell his length on the floor entirely. Well! I set him up again, and for want of better filled out a thimble-full say, of the spirits of wine, as they call it, which he got by good luck for the varnish, and made him take it down, and he come to, and I axed him how was he after it? Better, says he–That's well, says I; and who will I send for to ye, Sir? says I-But afore he could make answer, I bethought me of your own honour, and for fear he would say another, I never troubled him, putting the question to him again, but just set the spirits nigh-hand bim, and away with me here; I come off without letting on a word to nobody, good or bad, in dread your honour would miss the job.' 'Job!'-said Dr. Percy's servant* do you think my master wants a job??—0! Lord love ye, and just give his hat. Would you have us be standing on ceremony now in a case of life and death ?' Dr. Percy was, as far as he understood it, of the Irishman's way of thinking. He followed as fast as he could to the painter's found that he had a slight paralytic stroke ;—from which he recovered. We need not detail the particulars. Nature and Dr. Percy brought him through. He was satisfied with his physician; for Erasmus would not take any fee, because he went unsent for by the patient. The painter, after his recovery, was one day complimenting Dr. Percy on the inestimable service he had done the arts in restoring him to his pencil, in proof of which the artist showed many masterpieces, that wanted only the finishing touch; in particular, a huge longlimbed, fantastic, allegorical piece of his own design, which he assured Dr. Percy was the finest example of the beau idéal ancient or modero,

[ocr errors]

that human genius had ever produced upon canvass. • And what do you tbiok, doctor,' said the painter, tell me what you can thiuk of a connoisseur, a patron, Sir, who could stop my hand, and force me from that immortal work to a portrait, a portrait !--Barbarian! he fit to encourage genius !--he set up to be a Mecænas! mere vanity !-gives pensions to four sigupost daubers not fit to grind my colours ! koows no more of the art than that fellow,' pointiog to the Irishman, who was at that instant grinding the colours-asy, as he described himself and lets me languish here in obscurity ! continued the enraged painter Dow I'll never put another stroke to his Dutch beauly's portrait if I starve-if I rot for it in a gaol--he a Mecænas ! The changes upon this abuse were rung repeatedly by this irritated genius, his voice and palsied hand trembling with rage while he spoke, till he was interrupted by a carriage stopping at the door. Here's the patron !--cried the Irishman, with an arcb look -- Ay, it's the patron, sure enough! Dr. Percy was going away, but O'Brien got between him and the door, menacing bis coat with his pallet-koife, covered with oil-Erasmus stopped. I ase your pardon, but don't go,' whispered he, · I wouldn't for the best coat oor waistcoat ever I seen you went this minute, dear!'-Mr. Gresham was announced--a gentleman of a most respectable, benevolent, prepossessing appearance, whom Erasmus had some recollection of having seen before. Mr. Gresham recognised him instantly. Mr. Gresham was the merchant wbom Erasmus had met at Sir Amyas Courtney's the morning when he went to solicit Sir Amyas's vote at the hospital election. After having spoken a few words to the painter about the portrait, Mr. Gresham turned to Doctor Percy, and said, 'I am afraid, Sir, that you lost your election at the hospital by your sincerity about a shell. Before Erasmus could answer in less time than he could have thought it possible to take off a stocking, a great bare leg-O'Brien's leg, came between Mr. Gresham and Dr. Percy. "There's what lost him the election ! saving that leg lost him the election–50 it did, God forever bless him! and reward him for it!' Then with eloquence, emphasis, and action which came from the heart, and went to the heart, the poor fellow told how his leg had been saved, and spoke of what Dr. Percy bad done for him, in terms wbich Erasmus would have been ashamed to hear, but that he really was so much affected with O'Brien’s gratitude, and thought it did so much honour to human nature, that he could not stop him. Mr. Gresham was touched also; and upon observing this, Erasmus's friend, with his odd mixture of comedy and pathos, ended with this exhortation. • And God bless you, Sir, you're a great man, and have many to my knowledge under a compliment to you ; and if you've any friends that are lying, or sick, if you'd recommend them to send for him in preference to any other of the doctors, it would be a charity to themselves and to me-for I will never have peace else thinking how I have been a hinderance to him-And a charity it would be to themselves, for what does the sick want but to be cured ? and there's the man will do that for them, as two witDesses here present can prove—that jantleman, if he wonld spake, and myself." i1. 20-28.

« ForrigeFortsett »