20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 424 Volume 17, New Series, February 14, 1852
Produced by Malcolm Farmer, Richard J. Shiffer and the PG
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.



No. 424. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2 _d_.


It seems to be the destiny of France to work out all sorts of problems
in state and social policy. It may be said to volunteer experiments in
government for the benefit of mankind. All kinds of forms it tries,
one after the other: each, in turn, is supposed to be the right thing;
and when found to be wrong, an effort, fair or unfair, is made to try
something else. It would surely be the height of ingratitude not to
thank our versatile neighbour for this apparently endless series of

Unfortunately, the novel projects extemporised by the French are not
on all occasions easily laid aside. What they have laid hold on, they
cannot get rid of. We have a striking instance of this in the practice
of subdividing lands. Forms of state administration may be altered,
and after all not much harm done; it is only changing one variety of
power at the Tuileries for another. A very different thing is a
revolution in the method of holding landed property. Few things are
more dangerous than to meddle with laws of inheritance: if care be not
taken, the whole fabric of society may be overthrown. The unpleasant
predicament which the French have got into on this account is most
alarming--far more terrible than the wildest of their revolutions. How
they are to get out of it, no man can tell.

Latterly, the world has heard much of Socialism. This is the term
applied to certain new and untried schemes of social organisation, by
which, among other things, it is proposed to supersede the ordinary
rights of property and laws of inheritance--the latter, as is
observed, having, after due experience, failed to realise that
happiness of condition which was anticipated sixty years ago at their
institution. As it is always instructive to look back on the first
departure from rectitude, let us say a few words as to how the French
fell into their present unhappy position.

At the Revolution of 1789-93, it will be recollected that the laws of
primogeniture were overthrown, and it was ordained that in future
every man's property should be divided equally among his children at
his death: there can be no doubt that considerations of justice and
humanity were at the foundation of this new law of inheritance.
Hitherto, there had been a great disparity in the condition of high
and low: certain properties, descending from eldest son to eldest son,
had become enormously large, and were generally ill managed; while
prodigious numbers of people had no property at all, and were
dependents on feudal superiors. The country was undoubtedly in a bad
condition, and some modification of the law was desirable. Reckless of
consequences, the system as it stood was utterly swept away, and that
of equal partition took its place. About the same period, vast domains
belonging to the crown, the clergy, and the nobility, were
sequestrated and sold in small parcels; so that there sprang up almost
at once a proprietary of quite a new description. Had the law of equal
partition been extended only to cases in which there was no
testamentary provision, it could not have inflicted serious damage,
and would at all events have been consistent with reason and
expediency: but it went the length of depriving a parent of the right
to distribute his property in the manner he judged best, and handed
over every tittle of his earnings in equal shares to his children. One
child might be worthless, and another the reverse; no matter--all were
to be treated alike. No preference could be shewn, no posthumous
reward could be given for general good-conduct or filial respect. In
all this, there was something so revolting to common sense, that one
feels a degree of wonder that so acute a people as the French should
have failed to observe the error into which they were plunging.

For every law, however bad, there is always some justification or plea
of necessity. Besides tending to level the position of individuals,
the plan of equal distribution of property was said to be justifiable
on the ground that there are more than two parties concerned. Society,
it was alleged, comes in as a third, and says to the parent: 'You must
provide for this son, however worthless; you must not throw him
destitute on our hands; for that is to shift the responsibility from
yourself, who brought him into the world, to us, who have nothing to
do with him.' This plea, more plausible than sound, had its effect.
That an occasional wrong might not be inflicted, a great national
error, practically injurious, was committed.

A compulsory law of equal division of lands among the children of a
deceased proprietor, may be long in revealing its horrors in a country
where the redundant population sheds habitually off. In Switzerland,
for example, the evil of a subdivision of lands is marked but in a
moderate degree--though bad enough in the main--because a certain
proportion of each generation emigrates in quest of a livelihood--the
young men going off to be mercenary soldiers in Italy, waiters at
hotels, and so forth; and the young women to be governesses and
domestic servants. France, on the contrary, is the last nation in the
world to try the subdivision principle. Its people, with some trifling
exceptions, go nowhere, as if affecting to despise all the rest of the
world. Contented with moderate fortunes, inclined to make amusement
their occupation, unwilling or unable to learn foreign languages, or
to care for anything abroad, and having so intense a love of France,
that they will not emigrate, they necessarily settle down in a
gradually aggregating mass, and are driven to the very last shifts for
existence. Only two things have saved the nation from anarchy: the
remarkable circumstance of few families consisting of more than two,
or at most three children, any more being deemed a culpable
monstrosity; and the draughting of young men for the army. In other
words, the war-demon is an engine to keep the population in check; for
if it does not at once kill off men, it occupies them in military
affairs at the public expense. The prodigious number of civil posts
under government--said to be upwards of half a million--acts also as a
means for absorbing the overplus rural population.

Circumstances of the nature here pointed out have modified the evil
effects of the law of subdivision; but after making every allowance on
this and every other score that can be suggested, it is undeniable
that the partition of property has gone down and down, till at length,
in some situations, it can go no further. The morsels of land have
become so small, that they are not worth occupying, and will barely
realise the expense of legal transfer. In certain quarters, we are
informed, the individual properties are not larger than a single
furrow, or a patch the size of a cabbage-garden. A good number of
these landed estates--one authority says a million and a quarter--are
about five acres in extent, which is considered quite a respectable
property; but as, at the death of each proprietor, there is a further
partition, the probability would seem to be that, ultimately, the
surface of France will resemble the worst parts of Ireland, with a
population sunk to the lowest grade of humanity. Perhaps, however, the
evils inflicted on society through the agency of subdivision, are
mainly incidental. General injury goes on at a more rapid rate than
the actual partition of property. From the causes above mentioned, the
population in France is long in doubling itself; and the slower the
increase, the slower the subdivision. Already, however, the properties
are so small, that they do not admit of that profitable culture
enjoined by principles of improved husbandry and correct social
policy. In the proper cultivation of the soil, other parties besides
agriculturists are concerned; for whatever limits production, affects
the national wealth. The meagre husbandry of the small properties in
France is thus a serious loss to the country, and tends to general
impoverishment. But there is another and equally calamitous
consequence of excessive subdivision. The small proprietors in France
are for the greater part owners only in name: practically, they are
tenants. Desperate in their circumstances, they have borrowed money on
their wretched holdings; and so poor is the security, and so limited
is the capital at disposal on loan, that the interest paid on mortgage
runs from 8 to 10 per cent.--often is as high as 20 per cent. After
paying taxes, interest on loans, and other necessary expenses, such is
the exhaustion of resources, that thousands of these French peasant
proprietors may be said to live in a continual battle with famine.
According to official returns, there are in France upwards of 348,000
dwellings with no other aperture than the door; and nearly 2,000,000
with only one window. And to this the 'pattern nation' has brought
itself by its headlong haste to upset, not simply improve, a bad
institution. The living in these windowless and single-windowed abodes
is not living, in the proper sense of the word: it is existence
without comfort, without hope. The next step is to burrow in holes
like rabbits.

It will thus be observed, that the subdivision of real estate has
brought France pretty much back to the point where it started--a small
wealthy class, and a very numerous poor class. The computation is,
that in a population of 36,000,000, only 800,000 are in easy
circumstances. A considerable proportion of this moneyed class are
usurers, living in Paris and other large towns. They are the lenders
of cash on bonds, which squeeze out the very vitals of the nation--the
gay flutterers and loungers of the streets, theatres, and cafés,
drawing the means of luxurious indulgence from the myriads who toil
out their lives in the fields.

Obtaining a glimpse of these facts, we can no longer wonder at the
submission of the French peasantry to a thinning of their families by
military conscription; at the eager thirst for office which afflicts
the whole nation; or at the morbid desire to overturn society, and
strike out a better organisation. As matters grow worse, this passion
for wholesale change becomes more fervidly manifested. The
_jacqueries_ of the middle ages are renewed. Various districts of
country, in which poverty has reached its climax, break into universal
insurrection. It is a war levied by those who have nothing against
those who have something. To have coin in the pocket, is to be the
enemy. The cry is: Down with the rich; take all they have got, and
divide the plunder amongst us. Such are the avowed principles of the
Socialists. According to them, all property is theft, and taking by
violence is only recovering stolen goods! When a nation has come to
this deplorable pass, what, it may be asked, can cure it? The malady
is not political; it is social. Perhaps, under a right development of
industry, France has not too great a population; but, subject to the
present misdirection of its energies, the position of the country is
assuming a gravity of aspect which may well engage the most earnest
consideration. The least that could be recommended is an immediate
change in the law which so unscrupulously subdivides and ruins landed

The history of the Revolution of 1789-93, must have made a feeble
impression, if it has failed to print a deep and indelible conviction
on the mind, that the acts of that great and wicked drama would some
day be bitterly expiated. To expect anything else would be to impeach
the principles of everlasting justice. Bearing in remembrance the
horrid excesses of almost an entire nation, nothing that now occurs in
France affords us the least surprise. The anarchical revolts of 1851,
are only a sequence of crimes committed upwards of half a century ago.
Philosophically, the beginning and the end are one thing. Blind with
rage against all that was noble, holy, and simply respectable, the
innocent were dragged in crowds to the scaffold, and their property
confiscated and disposed of. See the consequence after a lapse of
sixty years, 'My sin hath found me out.' The ill-gotten wealth has
been the very instrument to punish and prostrate. A robbery followed
by divisions among the spoilers. Waste succeeded by clamorous
destitution. What a lesson!

It is needless to say, that Socialism, which proposes a universal
re-distribution of property, with some unintelligible organisation of
labour--all on an equality, no rich and no poor, no masters and no
servants, everybody sharing his dinner with his neighbour--is a fancy
as baseless as any crotchet which even the 'pattern nation' has ever
concocted. Yet, it is not the less likely to be carried into
execution, perhaps only the more likely from its practical absurdity.
Of course, the more educated and wealthy portion of the nation view
the doctrines of Socialism, as far as they can comprehend them, with
serious apprehension; but unhappily for France, these classes
uniformly submit to any folly or crime, which comes with the emphasis
of authority, valid or usurped. At present, they may be said to have
made a compromise, bartering civil liberty for bare safety--permission
to live! But how long this will last, and what form the tenure of
property is to assume, are questions not easy to answer. It would not
surprise us to see the nation, in its corporate capacity, assume the
position of universal lender of money on, or proprietor of,
embarrassed estates; in which case the 'ryot system' of India will,
strangely enough, have found domestication in Europe! Is this to be
the next experiment?

A curious and saddening problem is the future of this great country.
'France,' said Robespierre in one of his moments of studied
inspiration, 'has astonished all Europe with her prodigies of reason!'
We are now witnessing the development of several of these astonishing
prodigies; and the spectacle, to say the least of it, is instructive.


My picture was a failure. Partial friends had guaranteed its success;
but the Hanging Committee and the press are not composed of one's
partial friends. The Hanging Committee thrust me into the
darkest corner of the octagon-room, and the press ignored my
existence--excepting in one instance, when my critic dismissed me in a
quarter of a line as a 'presumptuous dauber.' I was stunned with the
blow, for I had counted so securely on the L.200 at which my grand
historical painting was dog-cheap--not to speak of the deathless fame
which it was to create for me--that I felt like a mere wreck when my
hopes were flung to the ground, and the untasted cup dashed from my
lips. I took to my bed, and was seriously ill. The doctor bled me till
I fainted, and then said, that he had saved me from a brain-fever.
That might be, but he very nearly threw me into a consumption, only
that I had a deep chest and a good digestion. Pneumonic expansion and
active chyle saved me from an early tomb, yet I was too unhappy to be

But why did my picture fail? Surely it possessed all the elements of
success! It was grandly historical in subject, original in treatment,
pure in colouring; what, then, was wanting? This old warrior's head,
of true Saxon type, had all the majesty of Michael Angelo; that young
figure, all the radiant grace of Correggio; no Rembrandt shewed more
severe dignity than yon burnt umber monk in the corner; and Titian
never excelled the loveliness of this cobalt virgin in the foreground.
Why did it not succeed? The subject, too--the 'Finding of the Body of
Harold by Torch-light'--was sacred to all English hearts; and being
conceived in an entirely new and original manner, it was redeemed from
the charge of triteness and wearisomeness. The composition was
pyramidal, the apex being a torch borne aloft for the 'high light,'
and the base shewing some very novel effects of herbage and armour.
But it failed. All my skill, all my hope, my ceaseless endeavour, my
burning visions, all--all had failed; and I was only a poor,
half-starved painter, in Great Howland Street, whose landlady was
daily abating in her respect, and the butcher daily abating in his
punctuality; whose garments were getting threadbare, and his dinners
hypothetical, and whose day-dreams of fame and fortune had faded into
the dull-gray of penury and disappointment. I was broken-hearted, ill,
hungry; so I accepted an invitation from a friend, a rich manufacturer
in Birmingham, to go down to his house for the Christmas holidays. He
had a pleasant place in the midst of some ironworks, the blazing
chimneys of which, he assured me, would afford me some exquisite
studies of 'light' effects.

By mistake, I went by the Express train, and so was thrown into the
society of a lady whose position would have rendered any acquaintance
with her impossible, excepting under such chance-conditions as the
present; and whose history, as I learned it afterwards, led me to
reflect much on the difference between the reality and the seeming of

She moved my envy. Yes--base, mean, low, unartistic, degrading as is
this passion, I felt it rise up like a snake in my breast when I saw
that feeble woman. She was splendidly dressed--wrapped in furs of the
most costly kind, trailing behind; her velvets and lace worth a
countess's dowry. She was attended by obsequious menials; surrounded
by luxuries; her compartment of the carriage was a perfect palace in
all the accessories which it was possible to collect in so small a
space; and it seemed as though 'Cleopatra's cup' would have been no
impracticable draught for her. She gave me more fully the impression
of luxury, than any person I had ever met with before; and I thought I
had reason when I envied her.

She was lifted into the carriage carefully; carefully swathed in her
splendid furs and lustrous velvets; and placed gently, like a wounded
bird, in her warm nest of down. But she moved languidly, and fretfully
thrust aside her servants' busy hands, indifferent to her comforts,
and annoyed by her very blessings. I looked into her face: it was a
strange face, which had once been beautiful; but ill-health, and care,
and grief, had marked it now with deep lines, and coloured it with
unnatural tints. Tears had washed out the roses from her cheeks, and
set large purple rings about her eyes; the mouth was hard and pinched,
but the eyelids swollen; while the crossed wrinkles on her brow told
the same tale of grief grown petulant, and of pain grown soured, as
the thin lip, quivering and querulous, and the nervous hand, never
still and never strong.

The train-bell rang, the whistle sounded, the lady's servitors stood
bareheaded and courtesying to the ground, and the rapid rush of the
iron giant bore off the high-born dame and the starveling painter in
strange companionship. Unquiet and unresting--now shifting her
place--now letting down the glass for the cold air to blow full upon
her withered face--then drawing it up, and chafing her hands and feet
by the warm-water apparatus concealed in her _chauffe-pied_,
while shivering as if in an ague-fit--sighing deeply--lost in
thought--wildly looking out and around for distraction--she soon made
me ask myself whether my envy of her was as true as deep sympathy and
pity would have been.

'But her wealth--her wealth!' I thought. 'True she may suffer, but how
gloriously she is solaced! She may weep, but the angels of social life
wipe off her tears with perfumed linen, gold embroidered; she may
grieve, but her grief makes her joys so much the more blissful. Ah!
she is to be envied after all!--envied, while I, a very beggar, might
well scorn my place now!'

Something of this might have been in my face, as I offered my sick
companion some small attention--I forget what--gathering up one of her
luxurious trifles, or arranging her cushions. She seemed almost to
read my thoughts as her eyes rested on my melancholy face; and saying
abruptly: 'I fear you are unhappy, young man?' she settled herself in
her place like a person prepared to listen to a pleasant tale.

'I am unfortunate, madam,' I answered.

'Unfortunate?' she said impatiently. 'What! with youth and health, can
you call yourself unfortunate? When the whole world lies untried
before you, and you still live in the golden atmosphere of hope, can
you pamper yourself with sentimental sorrows? Fie upon you!--fie upon
you! What are your sorrows compared with mine?'

'I am ignorant of yours, madam,' I said respectfully; 'but I know my
own; and, knowing them, I can speak of their weight and bitterness. By
your very position, you cannot undergo the same kind of distress as
that overwhelming me at this moment: you may have evils in your path
of life, but they cannot equal mine.'

'Can anything equal the evils of ruined health and a desolated
hearth?' she cried, still in the same impatient manner. 'Can the worst
griefs of wayward youth equal the bitterness of that cup which you
drink at such a time of life as forbids all hope of after-assuagement?
Can the first disappointment of a strong heart rank with the terrible
desolation of a wrecked old age? You think because you see about me
the evidences of wealth, that I must be happy. Young man, I tell you
truly, I would gladly give up every farthing of my princely fortune,
and be reduced to the extreme of want, to bring back from the grave
the dear ones lying there, or pour into my veins one drop of the
bounding blood of health and energy which used to make life a long
play-hour of delight. Once, no child in the fields, no bird in the
sky, was more blessed than I; and what am I now?--a sickly, lonely old
woman, whose nerves are shattered and whose heart is broken, without
hope or happiness on the earth! Even death has passed me by in
forgetfulness and scorn!'

Her voice betrayed the truth of her emotion. Still, with an accent of
bitterness and complaint, rather than of simple sorrow, it was the
voice of one fighting against her fate, more than of one suffering
acutely and in despair: it was petulant rather than melancholy; angry
rather than grieving; shewing that her trials had hardened, not
softened her heart.

'Listen to me,' she then said, laying her hand on my arm, 'and perhaps
my history may reconcile you to the childish depression, from what
cause soever it may be, under which you are labouring. You are young
and strong, and can bear any amount of pain as yet: wait until you
reach my age, and then you will know the true meaning of the word
despair! I am rich, as you may see,' she continued, pointing to her
surroundings--'in truth, so rich that I take no account either of my
income or my expenditure. I have never known life under any other
form; I have never known what it was to be denied the gratification of
one desire which wealth could purchase, or obliged to calculate the
cost of a single undertaking. I can scarcely realise the idea of
poverty. I see that all people do not live in the same style as
myself, but I cannot understand that it is from inability: it always
seems to me to be from their own disinclination. I tell you, I cannot
fully realise the idea of poverty; and you think this must make me
happy, perhaps?' she added sharply, looking full in my face.

'I should be happy, madam, if I were rich,' I replied. 'Suffering now
from the strain of poverty, it is no marvel if I place an undue value
on plenty.'

'Yet see what it does for me!' continued my companion. 'Does it give
me back my husband, my brave boys, my beautiful girl? Does it give
rest to this weary heart, or relief to this aching head? Does it
soothe my mind or heal my body? No! It but oppresses me, like a heavy
robe thrown round weakened limbs: it is even an additional misfortune,
for if I were poor, I should be obliged to think of other things
beside myself and my woes; sand the very mental exertion necessary to
sustain my position would lighten my miseries. I have seen my daughter
wasting year by year and day by day, under the warm sky of the
south--under the warm care of love! Neither climate nor affection
could save her: every effort was made--the best advice procured--the
latest panacea adopted; but to no effect. Her life was prolonged,
certainly; but this simply means, that she was three years in dying,
instead of three months. She was a gloriously lovely creature, like a
fair young saint for beauty and purity--quite an ideal thing, with her
golden hair and large blue eyes! She was my only girl--my youngest, my
darling, my best treasure! My first real sorrow--now fifteen years
ago--was when I saw her laid, on her twenty-first birthday, in the
English burial-ground at Madeira. It is on the gravestone, that she
died of consumption: would that it had been added--and her mother of
grief! From the day of her death, my happiness left me!'

Here the poor lady paused, and buried her face in her hands. The first
sorrow was evidently also the keenest; and I felt my own eyelids moist
as I watched this outpouring of the mother's anguish. After all, here
was grief beyond the power of wealth to assuage: here was sorrow
deeper than any mere worldly disappointment.

'I had two sons,' she went on to say after a short time--'only two.
They were fine young men, gifted and handsome. In fact, all my
children were allowed to be very models of beauty. One entered the
army, the other the navy. The eldest went with his regiment to the
Cape, where he married a woman of low family--an infamous creature of
no blood; though she was decently conducted for a low-born thing as
she was. She was well-spoken of by those who knew her; but what
_could_ she be with a butcher for a grandfather! However, my poor
infatuated son loved her to the last. She was very pretty, I have
heard--young, and timid; but being of such fearfully low origin, of
course she could not be recognised by my husband or myself! We forbade
my son all intercourse with us, unless he would separate himself from
her; but the poor boy was perfectly mad, and he preferred this
low-born wife to his father and mother. They had a little baby, who
was sent over to me when the wife died--for, thank God! she did die in
a few years' time. My son was restored to our love, and he received
our forgiveness; but we never saw him again. He took a fever of the
country, and was a corpse in a few hours. My second boy was in the
navy--a fine high-spirited fellow, who seemed to set all the accidents
of life at defiance. I could not believe in any harm coming to _him_.
He was so strong, so healthy, so beautiful, so bright: he might have
been immortal, for all the elements of decay that shewed themselves in
him. Yet this glorious young hero was drowned--wrecked off a
coral-reef, and flung like a weed on the waters. He lost his own life
in trying to save that of a common sailor--a piece of pure gold
bartered for the foulest clay! Two years after this, my husband died
of typhus fever, and I had a nervous attack, from which I have never
recovered. And now, what do you say to this history of mine? For
fifteen years, I have never been free from sorrow. No sooner did one
grow so familiar to me, that I ceased to tremble at its hideousness,
than another, still more terrible, came to overwhelm me in fresh
misery. For fifteen years, my heart has never known an hour's peace;
and to the end of my life, I shall be a desolate, miserable,
broken-hearted woman. Can you understand, now, the valuelessness of my
riches, and how desolate my splendid house must seem to me? They have
been given me for no useful purpose here or hereafter; they encumber
me, and do no good to others. Who is to have them when I die?
Hospitals and schools? I hate the medical profession, and I am against
the education of the poor. I think it the great evil of the day, and I
would not leave a penny of mine to such a radical wrong. What is to
become of my wealth?'--

'Your grandson,' I interrupted hastily: 'the child of the officer.'

The old woman's face gradually softened. 'Ah! he is a lovely boy,' she
said; 'but I don't love him--no, I don't,' she repeated vehemently.
'If I set my heart on him, he will die or turn out ill: take to the
low ways of his wretched mother, or die some horrible death. I steel
my heart against him, and shut him out from my calculations of the
future. He is a sweet boy: interesting, affectionate, lovely; but I
will not allow myself to love him, and I don't allow him to love me!
But you ought to see him. His hair is like my own daughter's--long,
glossy, golden hair; and his eyes are large and blue, and the lashes
curl on his cheek like heavy fringes. He is too pale and too thin: he
looks sadly delicate; but his wretched mother was a delicate little
creature, and he has doubtless inherited a world of disease and poor
blood from her. I wish he was here though, for you to see; but I keep
him at school, for when he is much with me, I feel myself beginning to
be interested in him; and I do not wish to love him--I do not wish to
remember him at all! With that delicate frame and nervous temperament,
he _must_ die; and why should I prepare fresh sorrow for myself, by
taking him into my heart, only to have him plucked out again by

All this was said with the most passionate vehemence of manner, as if
she were defending herself against some unjust charge. I said
something in the way of remonstrance. Gently and respectfully, but
firmly, I spoke of the necessity for each soul to spiritualise its
aspirations, and to raise itself from the trammels of earth; and in
speaking thus to her, I felt my own burden lighten off my heart, and I
acknowledged that I had been both foolish and sinful in allowing my
first disappointment to shadow all the sunlight of my existence. I am
not naturally of a desponding disposition, and nothing but a blow as
severe as the non-success of my 'Finding the Body of Harold by
Torch-light' could have affected me to the extent of mental
prostration as that under which I was now labouring. But this was very
hard to bear! My companion listened to me with a kind of blank
surprise, evidently unaccustomed to the honesty of truth; but she bore
my remarks patiently, and when I had ended, she even thanked me for my

'And now, tell me the cause of your melancholy face?' she asked, as we
were nearing Birmingham. 'Your story cannot be very long, and I shall
have just enough time to hear it.'

I smiled at her authoritative tone, and said quietly: 'I am an artist,
madam, and I had counted much on the success of my first historical
painting. It has failed, and I am both penniless and infamous. I am
the "presumptuous dauber" of the critics--despised by my
creditors--emphatically a failure throughout.'

'Pshaw!' cried the lady impatiently; 'and what is that for a grief? a
day's disappointment which a day's labour can repair! To me, your
troubles seem of no more worth than a child's tears when he has broken
his newest toy! Here is Birmingham, and I must bid you farewell.
Perhaps you will open the door for me? Good-morning: you have made my
journey pleasant, and relieved my ennui. I shall be happy to see you
in town, and to help you forward in your career.'

And with these words, said in a strange, indifferent, matter-of-fact
tone, as of one accustomed to all the polite offers of good society,
which mean nothing tangible, she was lifted from the carriage by a
train of servants, and borne off the platform.

I looked at the card which she placed in my hand, and read the address
of 'Mrs Arden, Belgrave Square.'

I found my friend waiting for me; and in a few moments was seated
before a blazing fire in a magnificent drawing-room, surrounded with
every comfort that hospitality could offer or luxury invent.

'Here, at least, is happiness,' I thought, as I saw the family
assemble in the drawing-room before dinner. 'Here are beauty, youth,
wealth, position--all that makes life valuable. What concealed
skeleton can there be in this house to frighten away one grace of
existence? None--none! They must be happy; and oh! what a contrast to
that poor lady I met with to-day; and what a painful contrast to

And all my former melancholy returned like a heavy cloud upon my brow;
and I felt that I stood like some sad ghost in a fairy-land of beauty,
so utterly out of place was my gloom in the midst of all this gaiety
and splendour.

One daughter attracted my attention more than the rest. She was the
eldest, a beautiful girl of about twenty-three, or she might have been
even a few years older. Her face was quite of the Spanish style--dark,
expressive, and tender; and her manners were the softest and most
bewitching I had ever seen. She was peculiarly attractive to an
artist, from the exceeding beauty of feature, as well as from the
depth of expression which distinguished her. I secretly sketched her
portrait on my thumb-nail, and in my own mind I determined to make her
the model for my next grand attempt at historical composition--'the
Return of Columbus.' She was to be the Spanish queen; and I thought of
myself as Ferdinand; for I was not unlike a Spaniard in appearance,
and I was almost as brown.

I remained with my friend a fortnight, studying the midnight effects
of the iron-foundries, and cultivating the acquaintance of Julia. In
these two congenial occupations the time passed like lightning, and I
woke as from a pleasant dream, to the knowledge of the fact, that my
visit was expected to be brought to a close. I had been asked, I
remembered, for a week, and I had doubled my furlough. I hinted at
breakfast, that I was afraid I must leave my kind friends to-morrow,
and a general regret was expressed, but no one asked me to stay
longer; so the die was unhappily cast.

Julia was melancholy. I could not but observe it; and I confess that
the observation caused me more pleasure than pain. Could it be sorrow
at my departure? We had been daily, almost hourly, companions for
fourteen days, and the surmise was not unreasonable. She had always
shewn me particular kindness, and she could not but have seen my
marked preference for her. My heart beat wildly as I gazed on her pale
cheek and drooping eyelid; for though she had been always still and
gentle, I had never seen--certainly I had never noticed--such evident
traces of sorrow, as I saw in her face to-day. Oh, if it were for me,
how I would bless each pang which pained that beautiful heart!--how I
would cherish the tears that fell, as if they had been priceless
diamonds from the mine!--how I would joy in her grief and live in her
despair! It might be that out of evil would come good, and from the
deep desolation of my unsold 'Body' might arise the heavenly
blessedness of such love as this! I was intoxicated with my hopes; and
was on the point of making a public idiot of myself, but happily some
slight remnant of common-sense was left me. However, impatient to
learn my fate, I drew Julia aside; and, placing myself at her feet,
while she was enthroned on a luxurious ottoman, I pretended that I
must conclude the series of lectures on art, and the best methods of
colouring, on which I had been employed with her ever since my visit.

'You seem unhappy to-day, Miss Reay,' I said abruptly, with my voice
trembling like a girl's.

She raised her large eyes languidly. 'Unhappy? no, I am never
unhappy,' she said quietly.

Her voice never sounded so silvery sweet, so pure and harmonious. It
fell like music on the air.

'I have, then, been too much blinded by excess of beauty to have been
able to see correctly,' I answered. 'To me you have appeared always
calm, but never sad; but to-day there is a palpable weight of sorrow
on you, which a child might read. It is in your voice, and on your
eyelids, and round your lips; it is on you like the moss on the young
rose--beautifying while veiling the dazzling glory within.'

'Ah! you speak far too poetically for me,' said Julia, smiling. 'If
you will come down to my level for a little while, and will talk to me
rationally, I will tell you my history. I will tell it you as a lesson
for yourself, which I think will do you good.'

The cold chill that went to my soul! Her history! It was no diary of
facts that I wanted to hear, but only a register of feelings--a
register of feelings in which I should find myself the only point
whereto the index was set. History! what events deserving that name
could have troubled the smooth waters of her life?

I was silent, for I was disturbed; but Julia did not notice either my
embarrassment or my silence, and began, in her low, soft voice, to
open one of the saddest chapters of life which I had ever heard.

'You do not know that I am going into a convent?' she said; then,
without waiting for an answer, she continued: 'This is the last month
of my worldly life. In four weeks, I shall have put on the white robe
of the novitiate, and in due course I trust to be dead for ever to
this earthly life.'

A heavy, thick, choking sensation in my throat, and a burning pain
within my eyeballs, warned me to keep silence. My voice would have
betrayed me.

'When I was seventeen,' continued Julia, 'I was engaged to my cousin.
We had been brought up together from childhood, and we loved each
other perfectly. You must not think, because I speak so calmly now,
that I have not suffered in the past. It is only by the grace of
resignation and of religion, that I have been brought to my present
condition of spiritual peace. I am now five-and-twenty--next week I
shall be six-and-twenty: that is just nine years since I was first
engaged to Laurence. He was not rich enough, and indeed he was far too
young, to marry, for he was only a year older than myself; and if he
had had the largest possible amount of income, we could certainly not
have married for three years. My father never cordially approved of
the engagement, though he did not oppose it. Laurence was taken
partner into a large concern here, and a heavy weight of business was
immediately laid on him. Youthful as he was, he was made the sole and
almost irresponsible agent in a house which counted its capital by
millions, and through which gold flowed like water. For some time, he
went on well--to a marvel well. He was punctual, vigilant, careful;
but the responsibility was too much for the poor boy: the praises he
received, the flattery and obsequiousness which, for the first time,
were lavished on the friendless youth, the wealth at his command, all
turned his head. For a long time, we heard vague rumours of irregular
conduct; but as he was always the same good, affectionate, respectful,
happy Laurence when with us, even my father, who is so strict, and
somewhat suspicious, turned a deaf ear to them. I was the earliest to
notice a slight change, first in his face, and then in his manners. At
last the rumours ceased to be vague, and became definite. Business
neglected; fatal habits visible even in the early day; the frightful
use of horrible words which once he would have trembled to use; the
nights passed at the gaming-table, and the days spent in the society
of the worst men on the turf--all these accusations were brought to my
father by credible witnesses; and, alas! they were too true to be
refuted. My father--Heaven and the holy saints bless his gray
head!--kept them from me as long as he could. He forgave him again and
again, and used every means that love and reason could employ to bring
him back into the way of right; but he could do nothing against the
force of such fatal habits as those to which my poor Laurence had now
become wedded. With every good intention, and with much strong love
for me burning sadly amid the wreck of his virtues, he yet would not
refrain: the Evil One had overcome him; he was his prey here and
hereafter. O no--not hereafter!' she added, raising her hands and eyes
to heaven, 'if prayer, if fasting, patient vigil, incessant striving,
may procure him pardon--not for ever his prey! Our engagement was
broken off; and this step, necessary as it was, completed his ruin.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 424 Volume 17, New Series, February 14, 1852