TO MRS CRAIGIE.
Studley Royal is truly a noble place. Besides a park of 1100 acres, adorned with timber of unequalled magnificence, there are 300 acres of pleasure ground, kept with a neatness of which I had no previous idea. The lawns are as smooth, and as equal in colour and texture, as green velvet; and though they, as well as the gravel-walks, are shaded by lofty trees, and embellished with an endless variety of flowering shrubs, not a fallen leaf--not a twig is suffered to derange their neatness.
The place is laid out in the old-fashioned style, with circular pieces of water, statues, temples, cascades flowing over flights of steps, and banks made by rule and plummet. Nevertheless, the place is not only beautiful, but magnificent; the ground is naturally swelling and varied; the artificial river is so large, that you forget it is the work of man; the temples, though a little out of place, are still beautiful; and the smooth shaven lawns show to great advantage the dark majesty of the woods, that tower over them sometimes to the height of 120 feet.
But, above all, Studley contains one charm which, so far as I know, is altogether matchless--the ruins of Fountain's Abbey. This noble pile--but how can I describe it to you? No words that I can use will give any idea of its beauty, or of the effect which it had upon me! Sometimes the very recollection of it fills my eyes with tears. I may convey to you some notion of the magnitude of the building, by telling you that it still covers two acres of ground, and that it once extended over ten; but to describe the effect of the whole is out of my power. Imagine the huge folding-doors thrown open, to usher you into a cathedral of prodigious extent. The roof is gone. The noble pillars, of more than Corinthian lightness, which once supported it, still spread here and there into broken arches, twisted with ivy; which clothes, but does not conceal their forms. Large trees, rising from the dismantled court, mingle their giant arms with the towers. The windows--but why should I attempt an impossibility? I protest I will never again try to give an idea of Fountain's Abbey! To crown all, I had scarcely heard the place mentioned, and had never read any account of it; so that it burst upon me at once in all its glory.
My companion, who is an Englishwoman, maintained a long dispute with me on the comparative merits of Studley and Dunkeld; she, of course, preferring the beauties of her own country, and I, as in duty bound, upholding the honour of mine. The woods of Dunkeld are almost equal in magnificence. The river is superior; as all the works of its mighty Maker are to those of man. The mountains of Dunkeld are incomparable; but I confess that Scotland has no Fountain's Abbey.
TO THE SAME.
According to the different styles which prevailed at the different times when York Minster was rearing, it exhibits every variety of Gothic architecture. The whole, notwithstanding its sublime extent, has an air of astonishing lightness and grace. * *
I could not help smiling at the insignificance to which the human form was reduced, as it stood compared with the gigantic features of this building. Stone saints, as large as Mr B., furnished Lilliputian ornaments for some of the screens.
We were so fortunate as to be there at the hour of evening prayer, and heard the evening-service chaunted. If I might with reverence say, that any earthly worship was suitable to its object, I should say, that the service at York was not unworthy of Him, in so far as man could make it so, except in one point. In this vast temple, echoing to music which might well be called heavenly, none but hirelings came to worship; excepting the paid singers, there were not six persons present. To this structure belong priests of all ranks--clerks, singing-men and singing boys. A superb establishment is kept up. Nothing is wanting to the service, except what the Lord of Hosts prefers to every temple--humble and devout hearts.
I staid there nearly two hours, and came away long before I was satisfied with gazing. As for poor Mr B., he is gone York-Minster-mad.
The next day's journey lay through a pretty smiling country; with much more appearance, and much less reality of richness than East Lothian. This apparent richness is caused by the innumerable hedge-rows. I verily think there is not a field of twenty acres in the whole "North Riding." I saw hundreds of the size of your garden, inclosed with double hedges. These are a great ornament to the country. Indeed, it is so flat, that it would be quite ugly without them. But the ground cannot be very productive, where the owners waste so much of it on fences. In the richest part of East Lothian, not a hedge is to be seen.
There is not much corn in this part of Yorkshire, and still less sown grass. It is a grazing country; meadow-grass seems the chief object of the farmer. By the bye, its verdure is infinitely finer than that of sown grass, and this is another cause of the smiling air of the fields.
On entering Durham every thing changes. The country becomes bare and hilly--a doleful strife between English dullness and Scotch sterility!-- Every coal country that ever I saw is dreary; as if it were intended that comfort should be cheap within doors, where there is nothing to invite one abroad.
As you approach the Border, the Scotch farming begins to prevail. Large fields of turnip and clover--few hedges--trees only planted in clumps, where little else will grow. The country on the English side is far from being pretty. Indeed, by whatever road you enter Scotland, it gains by comparison for the first stage. We crossed the Tweed by a beautiful bridge at Coldstream; and, to confess the truth, my heart leapt lightly as I drew in the breath of my native land. We Scotch folks shook hands very heartily, and declared that we had seen no such river in England; nor any vale like that in which its waters were glancing bright "to the sun." ---- turned a mournful eye towards her own country; but at Kelso, where first we alighted, even she confessed that no English town could boast a finer situation. It stands at the junction of the Tweed and the Teviot. Both are fine streams, and flow here through a lovely country, rising into sunny slopes, or shelving into woody dells, or sinking into rich meadows. The Eildon hills tower at a distance, and are highly ornamental to every scene of which they form a feature. * *
The road to Edinburgh lies through the Lammermuir range of hills. For miles, little but heath meets your eye. At last, without any warning, on reaching the ridge of Soutra, all the rich Lothians burst on your sight, spread like a map at your feet! Edinburgh towers with its rocks in the middle, and the majestic Forth widens slowly into a sea. I have often gazed on this prospect, yet still it strikes me as the most magnificent which I have seen. It is unrivalled in extent, richness, and variety; and though I think closer scenes are more interesting, this, I am persuaded, no one can look on without pleasure.
But no pleasure, which mere beauty can give, ever equalled that which I felt at this first distant glimpse of my home--my home, to which, where-ever I travel, I always return as to the arms of a friend! Have we not reason to bless the goodness which has so ordained that many a home, possessing no other charm, yet charms us, because it is our home. But mine has many, many comforts. If I could share them with you, and two or three other persons dear to me, it would want none to make it complete to me. This cannot be! But I trust we shall meet in a home, which will, indeed, be complete to us all; and who knows whether our propensity to love the place with which we are familiar, may not be one means of endearing to us that better home throughout eternal ages.
In September 1810, it became necessary that Self-Control should go to press, if it was to appear during the favourable part of the next season. A very considerable part of it at that time remained to be written; the imperfect idea which she had formed to herself of its construction made it doubtful how much. But she expressed no hesitation in allowing the printing to begin. The necessity of finishing her work within a certain time, served rather to animate than alarm her; and, whatever may be thought of the probability or of the skilfulness of the concluding part of the narrative, there can be no doubt of its eloquence. Indeed, throughout the whole, whatever was written most rapidly, was the best written. It was only when she was dissatisfied with what she was doing, or when she was uncertain of what was to follow, that she wrote with difficulty. It is only in such passages that there is interlineation or blotting in the manuscript.--The work was printed from the first copy.
Some striking indications of the state of her mind during its composition may be gathered from the following letters to Mrs Izett.
APRIL 10, 1810.
It is even so! You are sixty miles distant from Edinburgh, and I have lost what probably no time will restore to me; that "medicine of life," which it is promised that they shall find who have received a title to yet higher rewards. Since you left me I have a hundred times determined to write. I need not assure you that forgetfulness has had no share in my silence. Levity itself would not forget a friend (if levity could have a friend,) in one month--"one little month!" I am reminded of you by all my business and all my pleasures; for--which of my pleasures did not you heighten--and in what branch of duty did not you stimulate me? But all that is over! and I can only repent that I did not better use what might have been so eminently useful.
I thank you heartily for your account of your rambles at Kinnaird--would that I were the companion of them! In return, you shall learn my methodical routine. I write part of every forenoon, and walk for an hour or two before dinner. I lounge over the fire with a book, or I sew and chat, all the evening.
Your friend Laura proceeds with a slow but regular pace; a short step every day--no more! She has advanced sixty paces, alias pages, since you left her. She is at present very comfortably situate, if the foolish thing had the sense to think so; she is on a visit to Norwood, where she is to remain for a a few days; and a very snug old-fashioned place it is! Though it should never be laid open to the public at large, you shall see the interior of it one day or other.
Last Thursday I paid a visit to a very different habitation--our chateau at St Leonards; though nothing has as yet the least tinge of green, it did not look very ill. It is as gay as ten thousand purple crocusses, and twice as many yellow ones can make it. I shall soon grow impatient to take possession, and, if we can manage it, I believe we shall revert to our old plan of going there early; if not, I must just console myself with my friend Laura in Edinburgh. I wish I saw the end of her; but "wilds immeasurably spread seem lengthening as I go."
If ever I undertake another lady, I will manage her in a very different manner. Laura is so decently kerchiefed, like our grandmothers, that to dress her is a work of time and pains. Her younger sister, if she ever have one, shall wear loose, floating, easy robes, that will slip on in a minute. * *
As for ----'s new production, I believe I never shall have any personal acquaintance with it. It is an "Historical Romance"--a sort of composition to which I have a strong dislike. Fiction disguises the simplicity, and destroys the usefulness of the true history; and the recollection of the true history deprives me of all interest in the fiction. Besides, the foundation of ----'s tale is a history as well known as that of the deluge; and she professes to adhere closely to truth, only dramatizing a little. Now, this "dramatizing" is an undertaking too arduous for mortals. Shakespeare himself has, in some degree, failed in it; his historical plays are, indeed, the most amusing of histories; perhaps, as far as mere character is concerned, the most faithful. But he is sadly encumbered with the facts; and no part whatever of the interest of these plays arises from the plot; so, at least, it appears to me. Now ---- and all other Misses, must pardon me, if I think that ladies are more likely to make their works interesting by well imagined incident, than by masterly delineation of character. Ladies have, indeed, succeeded in delineating real life; a very few of them have done so; but it has been rather in pictures of manners than of character. But ---- has slender materials for a picture of manners; and let your theory of female genius forgive me for doubting her power of giving interest to a story, the catastrophe of which is not to be forgotten. * * *
We old folks make friends slowly--so slowly, that I believe life will be too short to furnish me with another such as you; therefore I value you accordingly. I hope we shall be near neighbours in another world; or, that if your place be, as it well may, a higher one than mine, you will not be forbidden to visit the meaner mansions of our Father's house. * *
I am going to visit the woman that is come to No. 6. I believe I shall hate her; yet they say she is a pleasant person enough. If she sits in the same place where you used to work, I think I shall beat her. They say narrow-minded people always hate their successors; I must be the most illiberal of all creatures, for I hate the successors of my friends. * * You see my paper is done--so, of course, is my letter.
TO THE SAME.
ST LEONARDS, AUG. 30, 1810.
If I have not answered your two letters, blame not me, who had all the will in the world to do so, nor Mr B., who has teazed me every day to write to you. Blame your dear friend and favourite, Montague de Courcy of Norwood, Esq., for he has been wholly and solely in fault. He has been making love so energetically, that I had not the heart to leave him in the middle of his flames; more especially, as he has been interrupted by a score of troublesome visitors breaking in upon his privacy. To say the truth, I have been far more compassionate towards him than she who ought to have been the most deeply interested. She has not only given him his conge, but has barbarously left him, in a cold October evening, standing under a tree in his own avenue. There he has stood since last night; there he must stand all to-day, for to-day I write to you; all to-morrow, for to-morrow I go to town; and all Thursday, for I do not return till then. The thirtieth chapter is closed, and I mean that six more should bring all things to their proper issue. If I write every day, and all day, that may be done in fifty days. But I find that in one way and another, half my time is abstracted from my business, as I now begin to consider this affair, at first begun for pastime! Besides, I must take more exercise, if I would not be sick; and must sew more, if I would not be ragged.
I admit not an iota of what you are so polite to Mr M., as to call his reasoning; I must be allowed to call it sophistry, since it was at best only a just conclusion upon wrong premises. Selfish we should indeed be, if we rejoiced in the prosperity of our friends merely because it promotes our own happiness. But the question remains, "Why does it promote our happiness, while we expect from it no personal advantage?" Why, but because we are not selfish? Why, but because an unvitiated mind has a faculty for enjoying pleasure, which acts antecedently to any interested consideration? This faculty you have, I believe, in full perfection; give it free exercise. It is the noblest of your faculties; that which assimilates you the most to Him, who, without needing any creature, being all-sufficient for his own blessedness, yet willeth the happiness of every thing that lives. They who ascribe all kindly feelings to selfishness, would blot out the last faint trace of the image in which man was made--would destroy the last wreck of the crown which has fallen from our head.
But as for the subject which led you to metaphysics, I believe it will be for your advantage to make it an exception from your general habits of sympathy; since I believe it is likely to lead you into more of pain than of pleasure. The "love," the "admiration," the "esteem," which you anticipate for your friend, she will never obtain unless in your imagination. My hopes of popular favour are low--very low indeed. Of a work like mine, the wise and the good will not be at the trouble to judge. Its faults are not such as will recommend it to the vulgar. It may become popular, for that is a mere lottery. If it do, be assured, my dear friend, its faults, of which it has many, will draw down the censure of those who are, or who think themselves entitled to decide for their neighbours. Now, will not one bitter sarcasm on it, much more on its author, give you more real vexation than the praise of nine-tenths of novel readers will give you pleasure? I judge by myself, for, while I have little pleasure in praise, I am on many subjects keenly alive to censure. Many a person less generally vain than I, has felt all the touchy vanity of authorship.
But I am positive that no part--no, not the smallest part--of my happiness can ever arise from the popularity of my book, further than as I think it may be useful. I would rather, as you well know, glide through the world unknown, than have (I will not call it enjoy) fame, however brilliant. To be pointed at--to be noticed and commented upon--to be suspected of literary airs--to be shunned, as literary women are, by the more unpretending of my own sex; and abhorred, as literary women are, by the more pretending of the other!--My dear, I would sooner exhibit as a rope-dancer--I would a great deal rather take up my abode by that lone loch on the hill, to which Mr I. carried my husband on the day when the mosquitoes were so victorious against him.
All these things considered, pray transfer your sympathy to some other circumstance of my lot. Rejoice with me that I have the finest pease and cauliflower in Scotland; and, moreover, the most beautiful apple tree that can be seen. * * *
You say you expect that I should tell you your faults. With all my heart! I will tell you two in a breath. In the first place, you are far too sanguine in expecting strange good fortune to befal your friends. You not only look for roses in the wilderness, but roses without thorns. Take my word for it, you may have, if you chuse, the thorns without the roses; but the converse will never do. The next fault--and a sad one it is--is, that you constantly refer to my letters, as if I should remember what I write. Now, I protest that I retain no more recollection of any letter I have written you since you went to Kinnaird, than I do of the ceremonies of my baptism. So, if you think it necessary to answer categorically, you must tell me my observation as well as your reply. * *
This letter-writing is but a poor affair after all. It carries on just such a conversation as we should do, if you were not to answer me till I had forgotten what I had said; turning your back to me too all the while you were speaking. A triste enough confab. you will allow! * * *
TO THE SAME.
OCT. 4, 1810.
I write to-day, not because I am in your debt, for you know you owe me a letter as long as yourself; but purely to tell you that you must not expect to hear from me for three months to come! Ay! stare if you please--but do not presume to challenge mine award--for, know, that I am one of the republic of letters. People are always great upon new dignities; and truly mine are new enough. This is the first day of them; this day the first page of fair print was presented to my eyes, and they are to be feasted with four sheets a-week, for three or four months to come. * *
You know, my dear friend, what is alone necessary to make the feeblest undertakings prosper. Join with me, in begging for all my undertakings that blessing, which in itself is the only true riches, and which bringeth no sorrow with it. If "two of us shall agree touching any thing which we shall ask," we have a promise that it shall be granted. Ask with me that our Master may make this little work of mine the mean instrument of His glory, by promoting virtue, if it be but in one heart. Ask for me, too, that the sins attending its execution may be pardoned; and that I may neither be elated by its success, nor fretted by its failure!
Its failure! the very thought makes my flesh creep! I cannot express to you what a fellow feeling I have now with the poor wretches, whose works fall dead from the press. Well--well--by the end of February, or beginning of March, my rank in the scale of literary being, will be determined by a sentence from which there is no appeal. A hundred things may happen ere then, which will make that sentence of as small avail to me, as the forms of the clouds that pass over me. * *
Acknowledge this as a full-grown, letter; and excuse the blank, for the sake of the new and disastrous situation of your very affectionate,
The book was dedicated to Miss Joanna Baillie; who acknowledged the anonymous compliment by a letter to the publishers. Mrs Brunton replied in her own name; and her answer to Miss Baillie's letter in return, contains a very open-hearted statement of her motives for engaging in the work, and of the manner in which it was written.
TO MISS JOANNA BAILLIE.
MY DEAR MADAM,
No circumstance connected with the publication of Self-Control, has given me half so much pleasure as your very obliging letter--so kind--so natural--so different from some of the pompous strictures, and bombastical praises which have been volunteered on the same occasion! I thank you most heartily and sincerely.
I should have done so much sooner, but that I wished to tell you how far I found it possible to make immediate use of your criticisms. The benefit which I may derive from them in another work, is an after consideration. At present, I am endeavouring to apply them to the second edition of Self-Control, which goes to press next week.
I am sorry and half-ashamed, however, to tell you, that, though my judgment acquiesces in most of your objections, I have found it impracticable to remove them. The faulty passages are so connected, either in truth or in my fancy, with the texture of my story, that I am, or, at least, sincerely think myself unable to alter them. Laura, I fear, must continue obstinate; or what would become of the second volume? Pray suffer me to defend another important hinge of my very ill jointed machine--our Scotch proficiency in painting. The Fourth Edinburgh Exhibition will open in a few days, for the conviction of all sceptics.
You have made your very censures flattering to me; for I cannot help being pleased when my judgment happens to accord with yours, even though it be somewhat against my book, I have always felt that Lady Pelham was a little tedious; I am not at all surprised that you feel it too. Many will feel it who would not have had the candour to express their sentiments to me; and few, indeed, would have given that opinion in terms so gentle--allow me to say, so friendly as your's. I have endeavoured to curtail her ladyship's chidings a little; and would have gone much further upon your suggestion, if I could have found any more passages that could be disjoined. I wish most sincerely it had been in my power to make every correction you suggest.
I have no intention of excusing the faults of my book to you, but, if you can have patience with so much egotism, I can account for them naturally enough. Till I began Self-Control, I had never in my life written any thing but a letter or a recipe, excepting a few hundreds of vile rhymes, from which I desisted by the time I had gained the wisdom of fifteen years; therefore I was so ignorant of the art on which I was entering, that I formed scarcely any plan for my tale. I merely intended to shew the power of the religious principle in bestowing self-command; and to bear testimony against a maxim as immoral as indelicate, that a reformed rake makes the best husband. For the rest, I was guided by the fancy of the hour, "Me laissant aller doucement, scion la bonne loi naturelle." The incidents were inserted as they happened to occur to my mind, and were joined in the best way I could to those that went before and after.
The thing was not meant at first to see the light; nor would it ever have done so, if I had not thought the time it came to cost me too much to be spent in mere unprofitable amusement. I cannot help laughing, when I recollect the glowing face and oppressed breathing with which I read the first chapters to my husband; making, in order to please him, a strong effort against my reluctance to the task. Indeed, the book was far advanced before even he saw it. Now, I can hear it censured by many with very little emotion, and praised by others with far less. Any thing like approbation from you has elevated me to a convenient height above common praise or censure.
Mr B. is delighted that you approve of the story of poor Jessie Wilson, which has always been his favourite part of the book; and I am no less gratified that you praise the American expedition, which is in equal favour with me. Both incidents have shared the fate of the book itself; being reprobated by some, and applauded by others of the literary authorities here. Upon the whole, however, my success has very far exceeded what I ventured to expect. Edinburgh is ready for the second edition long ago; but I have not heard whether we are equally fortunate in London. L. and R. are too busy to recollect a concern which is not quite so important to them as to me.
There is no exaggeration in the statement which this letter gives of her feelings after the book was actually published. The secret for a little time was well kept; and she had frequent opportunities of hearing her work commented upon. Censure seldom discomposed her; but she was sometimes apt to lose patience when indiscriminate praise was given.
It had not been published above a month when a second edition was called for. Many alterations were suggested to her by those to whom her connection with the book was acknowledged. She felt herself at liberty to avail herself of few of these. Her reasons were, partly apprehension of the trouble which the admission of any one change might have caused her in adapting to it other parts of the narrative; but, still more, some peculiar notions concerning the responsibility of an author; which she stated in the preface to the second edition, and which, though rather sneered at in one of the journals in which her work was reviewed, were very honestly her sentiments.
A curious and interesting exhibition of her own feelings in regard to the success of the book, and of her own opinion in regard to its defects, is made in the following letters to Mrs Izett.
This presentation of Emmeline. With Some Other Pieces., by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.