Sidor som bilder
[ocr errors]

the blank verse may sometimes be found deficient in that full majestic harmony which has been attained by the great masters of the art. But there is a delicacy of sentiment, and a sweetness and tenderness of expression, which are calculated to affect every one who can taste and feel them. The author possesses the great excellence of writing from the heart, and of showing that she does

There is no affectation, no injudicious ornament, no labour; the defect which has been alluded to arises from the absence of it, and is abundantly recompensed by the natural flow of thought and simplicity which are every where to be observed. These are still more conspicuous in her prose writings. You seem to have the portrait of her own mind; the free and unembarrassed thoughts of one, who, having been well-trained by education and accustomed to sober reflection, is in retirement calmly contemplating all that passes in the world around her, and recording her observations for the benefit of a friend, or for her own improvement. The sex of the author, perhaps, gives her some advantages. You have none of the sternness, and none of the haughtiness of philosophy, no affectation of laboured thought or profound erudition ; none of the severity which those may be expected to exhibit who have seen much of the grosser vices, or are driven from active life and from the indulgence of the stronger passions. A well-educated female has seen only the better part of the world; she is

conversant with foibles rather than vices, and her natural gentleness will lead her to treat tenderly what she cannot but condemn. Yet, her observations will not, therefore, want interest. The quickness of apprehension will more than make amends for the absence of more extensive knowledge. She acquires by intuition what others learn by dull and painful experience. There will be a life, a spirit, a naïveté in her remarks, which will possess also in an eminent degree the fascinating charm of ease, simplicity, nature. “Some persons pique themselves upon saying all that they think, and are continually professing to do so; and in proof of this, will give pain without the least remorse. But is this the language of the heart? Alas! if it be so, let them set about reforming it, and make it fit to be seen, before they thus expose it to public view. Yet, perhaps, there may be as much affectation in this conduct as in the contrary extreme.”—“The polish of elegant manners is, indeed, truly pleasing, and necessary in order to make the worthiest character completely amiable ; but it should be a polish, not a varnish; the ornament of a good heart, not the disguise of a bad one.” Such remarks, which abound in these essays, show an accuracy of discrimination and insight into human character, which justify the observation of Mr. Melmoth, in a paper inserted in the introduction to the volume, that “the most striking feature in the dissertations of this intelligent moralist is the won

derful discernment she discovers in penetrating those secret disguises by which the human heart too often endeavours to impose upon its owner; and the wonder increases when we are told that during the last ten years of her short life, she was excluded from mixing at large in the world, by a long and lingering disease.”

There is much more, however, which deserves to be noticed. The

easy, unaffected introduction of devotional sentiments, and not merely the introduction of them, but the referring of all duty to the will of God as its foundation, and all happiness to the desire of pleasing Him, gives a warmth and elevation to sentiments in themselves correct, which seem almost to impart to them a new character, and to breathe a heavenly spirit over the forms of moral precepts. “Religion, by exalting our hopes and efforts to the highest object, furnishes a new motive for action, which may extend its influence over every moment of our lives; it teaches us to exalt the most trifling actions into exertions of virtue; and to find, in the employments of every hour, the means of improvement in those heavenly dispositions which are necessary to our happiness both here and hereafter.” -Essay on the Pleasures of Religion.

There is yet another distinguishing feature in these Essays ; it is the delicate unobtrusive manner in which the situation and feelings of the author are continually brought before us, and the art by

"which we are taught to apply to our own heart and conduct the precepts that are delivered. This circumstance appears to great advantage in writings composed during the hours of sickness, and scarcely known to exist till after her death. A continual reference to her own state may be discovered in the subjects selected, and in the manner of treating them; and it is very edifying and delightful to trace, even where they least appear, the thoughts which rise in her mind, the duties she prescribed to herself, and the consolations she experienced. But, perhaps, a more useful lesson is that which brings home every maxim to our own breasts, or gives rules whereby to judge ourselves. An example may be afforded by a passage in which her nice discrimination discovers itself. It is in pointing out the character of true candour. The case is widely different between the faults of others and our own.

Their error might proceed from ignorance, prejudice, misapprehension, which he who condemns it can never plead in his own excuse, if he should be guilty of the like. They may have been hurried on to act without reflection, but he who observes and censures their conduct, cannot pretend that this is the case with him. They may not have been aware of the consequences which would attend their actions; but he who sees them, and condemns the cause of them, may surely be upon his guard.”

The same thought occurs in some private meditations which

remain in manuscript. “Never to require absolute perfection of any body but myself; other people may not see the faults I have discovered in them, and, consequently, cannot correct them; but whatever imperfections I have discovered in myself, I am immediately obliged to amend.”

Mention having been accidentally made of Miss Bowdler's manuscripts, of which very few are unpublished, the reader may be pleased to see the following extract, part of an unfinished essay on Pride.

“ The subject of that pride which consists in an immoderate degree of self-esteem is not so much excellence as superiority; for no one is proud of qualities in which he believes the rest of the world are equal to him; it is, therefore, gratified either by exalting himself or depreciating others, consequently it leads to ill-nature, unjust suspicion, and contempt of the rest of the world; it alienates affection, and inspires a wish to discover faults, that it may triumph in the comparison.

“ It has been supposed that Pride disposes men to think highly of human nature, and that all encomiums upon it tend to increase their pride by flattering it: in the same manner as an encomium on any particular nation or family does, in regard to those who belong to it: but it should be observed that pride rests on a comparison of ourselves with others. When nations are compared with other nations, or families with other families, every person's pride is gratified by the preference given to their own; but after the highest panegyric on any one, let it only be added that the same may be said of every other, the compliment will vanish at once, and pride will be no longer flattered by it. Even those who

« FöregåendeFortsätt »