Page images
PDF
EPUB

sent itself in the person of Voltaire, who has written both comedies and tales, to which the light graces of his style, aided by the popularity of his name, have given some currency. But his comedies are, in general, very flimsy performances, unworthy of the genius that produced Zaire; and his tales are not so much pictures of life and manners, as satirical exposures and misrepresentations of what the author conceived in many cases wickedly and foolishly conceived) to be prevalent errors in morals, philosophy, and politics.

We have thus attempted to delineate the difference between the class of compositions to which the present work belongs, and those which Miss Edgeworth produced formerly; because many may be surprized that a writer, whose novels are read with mingled amusement and instruction, should have given to the world dramas of no higher merit than the three contained in the volume now before us. The first and the last are appropriated chiefly to the delineation of Irish characters. The Two Guardians, which is the second in order, is intended to exhibit a picture of the fashionable society of London. We shall, therefore, begin with it; because it refers to originals with which many of our readers have an acquaintance sufficient to enable them to estimate the merits of the imitation.

Mr. St. Albans, a young West Indian of large fortune and ardent character, is a ward of Lord Courtington and Mr. Onslow. Which of the two shall be acting guardian is left to the determination of his mother, Mrs. St. Albans. Lady Courtington is eager that the preference may be given to her husband, principally with a view to ensnare St. Albans into marriage with her daughter Juliana, an unfeeling beauty, rich in all the graces and accomplishments of fashion, as well as in all the follies and minor vices of female dissipation. The first act opens with a soliloquy of one of Lady Courtington's footmen, who afterwards enters into conversation with Blagrave the coachman. We are next transported to the drawing-room, where we are entertained with some reflections from Juliana, followed by a dialogue between her and her brother, illustrative of the education, character, and designs of both. To this succeeds a scene between St. Albans and his black servant Quaco, which exhibits to us the affectionate simplicity of the negro, and the warm, unsuspecting generosity of his master. The second act opens with a dance in Lady Courtington's drawing-room. Juliana is, of course, St. Albans's partner, and, aided by her mother, plays off her artifices against him with apparent success.

The footman enters with solicitations from Mrs. Beauchamp, the widowed mother of a starving family, for the payment of money due to her on account of lessons in music. The purchase of some artificial flowers does not permit Juliana to send her more than one pound: but in the next scene, Quaco, moved by her sorrows,

C3

drops

drops privately into her basket a purse of gold which he had received from his master. Mr. Onslow is now introduced to us, and, in consequence of assurances from Lady Courtington of the absence of his ward's mother, is preparing to depart, when Mrs. St. Albans, who has been informed of his visit by Quaco, makes her appearance. To counteract Onslow's influence, Lady Courtington affects to be thrown into hysterics: but no decision is adopted except that the choice of a guardian shall be left to the determination of the young man himself. At the commencement of the third act, after some conversation between the coachman and the footman, St. Albans and young Courtington ride out together, the former mounted on a blemished and unsound horse, which his friend wishes to sell to him. Next we are entertained by a conversation between Juliana and her mother, which is interrupted by intelligence that St. Albans has met with a dangerous accident in consequence of his horse having fallen. The last scene is in Mrs. Beauchamp's house, whither St. Albans has been carried, and where it is ascertained that he has received no serious injury. Juliana and her mother arrive; amid their inquiries and congratulations Mrs. Beauchamp enters, and, under a persuasion that the purse which she has just found in her basket, must have been put there by order of Juliana, returns her ardent thanks to ber supposed benefactress.' The young lady, without disclaiming the good deed, seems to shrivk from the warm acknowledgments of gratitude. But the sight of the purse discovers to St. Albans that Quaco must have been the giver : and this detection proving the worthlessness of the daughter, as the misfortune of the horse showed the roguery of the son, he suppresses the rising passion which the arts of Juliana had kindled, and chuses Onslow for his guardian.

From this sketch of the fable, it is sufficiently obvious that the plot is meagre in the extreme. The first act contains not a single incident which tends to further the tinal issue, except that St. Albans gives Quaco a purse of gold. The second act drops this purse into Mrs. Beauchamp's basket : the only other use which any part of the act serves, is to exhibit the characters of the personages of the drama. The third act is somewhat more bustling; for in it St. Albans meets with his fall, and detects the heartlessness of Juliana. The plot, therefore, is deficient in what should constitute its most essential quality, abundance of incident; and this deficiency, of itself fatal to the interest of the piece, is aggravated by the loose and unartificial connection of the scenes.

We subjoin the opening of the drama.

Pop. ( Reuds) " Wants a situation as footman,-young man undeniable good character.”-“ Wants a situation as own man.”—“ Own man and butler-character bear the strictest scrutiny-honesty and sobriety."—Some low fellow.—“ No objection to look after a horse, or to go behind a carriage, no objection to town or country.” (Rising, throws the paper from him.)—" No objection!"—Now this is the way mnasters and mistresses is spoilt and set up by these pitiful, famishing, out of place rascals, that makes no objection to nothing.Well, thank my stars and myself, I'm none of your wants-a-sitiation scrubs.

sobriety."

Enter Blagrave. Bla. How are you, Mr. Popkin?--Do you know where is Mr. Beauchamp, or Mr. St. Albans ?

Pop. Not I.-I reckoned they was in the stable with you.

Bla. No, they ha'n't been wi' me yet, and I must see inaster, about bis horse Cacafogo,

Pop. Harkee, Blag.!-a word with you. (Holding out his hand.) Touch there, Blag.-Shake hands upon it,--draw together, Coachy, and we two will have it all our own way, above and below stairs.

Bla. They say these St. Albans's is rolling in gold.

Pop. Aye, quite a West Indian nabob, that the mother has brought over to us here for edication,

Bla. And we'll teach him a thing or two. If he puts up his horses with us, there will be fine doings, I warrant.

Pop. And there'll be a brave match for Miss Juliana in due course; and meantime he and our Mr. Beauchamp will be cutting a fine dash about town, for this minor's to have a swinging allowance--may play away as he pleases, if my lord's acting guardian. -This guardianship will be a pretty penny, I warrant, in my lord's pocket, who, between you and I, wants a ready penny as bad as any one man in the house of Lords, or Commons either.

Bla. Then that's a bold word, Pop, but I believe you're not much out:—the turf for that.-When's my lord to be up from Newmarket ?

Pop. I can't say—they expect him to-day; and for sartin, I know my lady's on thorns till he comes, for fear this young heir should slip through their fingers.'—pp. 141.-144.

Here we have little of the character of genuine comedy. Such conversation may, doubtless, be expected from coachmen and footmen, but does not deserve to be recorded by the pen of Miss Edgeworth. Nothing,' says Johnson, can please long and please many, but just delineations of general nature.' Grammatical inaccuracies paint neither character nor passion : they are proofs merely of ignorance and want of education. They give no pleasure to the reader, and therefore a writer of taste should reject them; they are a work of no difficulty, and therefore a writer of talents should despise them.

We are not aware that this drama contains any passages more smart or more elegant than the following.

. Jul. My mamma sighs, and says, in her moralizing tone, “ Beauty is such a dangerous thing for young girls,"—that it ought to be kept only for old women, I suppose. Then while she is dressing me-no, while

she

66

6

she is dressing herself, she is so sentimental about it,—“ My dear Juliana, (mimicking a sentimental tone,) one must be at the trouble of dressing, because one must sacrifice to appearances in this world; but I value only the graces of the mind." Yes, mamma,- (as if spoken aside,) that's the reason you are rouging yourself.-(In the mother's tone.) Beauty after all is such a transient flower.”—“ So I see, mamma"-(she starts.) Mercy!--here's mamma coming!-I must be found practising.---(Begins to play a serious lesson.)

Enter Beauchamp.
Beau. Practising, Ju !-Practising for ever!-What a bore !

Jul. La! brother, you frightened me so !-I thought it was mamma, and after all ’tis only you.

Beau. Only me! That's a good one!-Cool! faith. But come here now, Ju; if you've any taste, admire me, just as I stand !—from top to toe !-all the go! - Hey? Jul. No

this thing about your neck is horrid—I'll make it right. Beau. Hands off!-- not for your life. Jul. As you please ; but I assure you, you are all wrong. Beau. All rightJul. At Eton, may be, but not in Lon'on, I can tell you.

Beau. You can tell me!-and how should you know, when you are not out yet?'

Jul. You have no notion what I have been going through all this time here at home in this course of education--a master for 'every hour, and sometimes two in one hour.

Beau. Faith, that's too bad !—to set 'em riding double on your hours !—But why didn't ye kick, or take a sulk, or grow rusty, as Blagrave says?

Jul. No use in kicking.–Sulky I was, as ever I could be, but then somehow they coaxed and flattered me out of it.

Beuu. Aye, flattery!--not a woman or a girl that ever was born can stand flattery, so they had you there, Ju!– Hey ?--and the bear that has danced, is in chains for ever.

Jul. That is the misery! Oh, if it had not been for Popkin, who taught me to slip out of my chains, I must have died of the confinement.

Beau. Famous wife you'll make, Ju !--Capital hand you'll be at bamboozling a husband, when you've had such practice.

Jul. La! now don't you say that, Beauchamp-don't you say that, or you'll make the young men afraid of me.

Beau. Well, I won't tell St. Albans.'—pp. 147-152.

These extracts can claim no merit of a very high kind; but they are, at least, lively. It must likewise be admitted that two of the subjects which furnish a great part of the dialogue of this drama, we mean the fashionable mode of educating girls, and the schemes of mothers to promote the marriage of their daughters, seem peculiarly susceptible of being wrought into a form proper for the stage. They would supply very ridiculous situations, as well as most instructive lessons, and unfortunately for private happiness and public morals, the perversion of character to which they refer abounds so much in real life, that the dramatic writer would find no lack of originals from which his imagination might derive proper materials.

structive duced

We shall pass more cursorily over the two remaining dramas. They are occupied chiefly with delineations of peculiarities of Irish country life, that do not add much to those amusing pictures which Miss Edgeworth has drawn in some of her earlier works. In • Love and Law,' she introduces to us an Irish grazier, Macbride by name, with his son Philip, and his daughter Honor. In his neighbourhood lives Catty Rooney, now in a situation not more exalted than Macbride, but proud of her descent from Irish kings, and furious in animosity against the grazier on account of a quarrel concerning a small extent of bog. In spite of these direful feuds, Randal Rooney, Catty's son, loves and is loved by Honor; but their mutual passion is opposed by their respective relations. In the vicinity lives Gerald O'Blaney, a distiller, in embarrassed circumstances, with an outward show of wealth, who wishing, partly from avarice, partly from passion, to marry Honor, employs his servant Pat Coxe to inflame the resentment of the Roonies against the Macbrides. A falsehood, propagated by Coxe, gives rise to a battle between the two parties at a neighbouring fair. The Roonies are routed, and appear before Justice Carver to invoke from the law that vengeance which violence had failed to obtain. The examination before the magistrate is painted in very lively colours. The result of it is, that the complaint of the Roonies is dismissed, and that the lies of Pat Coxe are detected. Catty is then convinced that she has been in the wrong: and, by what startled us as rather too sudden a transformation of character, renounces her feud, together with her claim to the long contested piece of bog. The union of Randal and Honor is the consequence. The characters are sufficiently diversified, and drawn with considerable force. Carver is perhaps loaded with a superfluous quantity of stupidity. *I protest,' says he on one occasion, where he means to express his deep sympathy with the feelings of those around him, • I protest that it almost makes me blow my nose.' It would be absurd to criticise minutely the dialogue of a piece, in which Mrs. Carver is the only person who speaks English: for we cannot give that epithet to the jargon uttered by her husband : yet the language of some of the personages is occasionally unnatural. • By all the pride of man and vanity of woman' is a very pretty antithetical Oath for the uneducated son of an Irish grazier ! O'Blaney is represented as a man of ingenuity, but bis ingenuity is all exerted in puns and metaphors. He tells us that it is a troublesome occupation to take the inventory of your stock, when you are re

« PreviousContinue »