Page images


Memoirs of the life of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter; with a new Edition of her Poems, some of which have never appeared before; to which are added some Miscellane ous Essays in Prose, together with her Notes on the Bible. By the Rev. Montague Pennington, A. M. Quarto. pp. 643-price 21. 28. London.

A CORPS of Reviewers, which did not comprise a representative of the state of celibacy, by the vulgar denominated an Old Bachelor, might justly be deemed incomplete; and yet we know not how it is, but so it is, that when this member of our corps enlarges on the comforts and happiness of a single life, the rest of the company are found to be wonderfully dull of hearing and understanding. But we must let him triumph on a subject like the present. However publick prejudice may attach to the character of an unmarried individual, that kind of insociability, and that degree of stiffness and formality, which, from being the effect, afterwards become the cause of celibacy, yet Mrs. Carter appears to have been constantly free from such indications of her condition, and to have been cheerful and facetious, easy and polite. She was learned, and could correspond with an archbishop, on a question of Greek criticism; but her learning was not obtruded, at every turn, to amaze common auditors. She was pious; but her piety did not consist in censuring those whom she suspected of differing from her in this excellent quality. She was loyal; yet could make allowances for the contrary lights in which publick events were be held by others. Mrs. Carter, in short, was a goodnatured woman, although not a matron; a sociable and conversible companion, although an Old Maid.

Her presence, says Mr. P. (speaking of her early days) never threw a damp over the juvenile amusements and gayeties of her young friends. She brought with her into company no ill-timed morality, or misplaced gravity; but danced, sung, played cards, and laughed, like any other young girl. He adds, in a note:-" However, it was only innocent gayety that she ever countenanced; and the strictness of her principles was soon well known. She went once to a puppet show at Deal, with some respectable friends, and Punch was uncommonly dull and serious, who was usually more jocose than delicate, "Why, Punch," says the showman, "what makes you so stupid?"-"I can't talk my own talk,” answered Punch, “the famous Miss Carter is here.”

No further testimony, we presume, is necessary to demonstrate the cor rectness of this lady's manners. The person who could control the facetia of Punch in a seaport town, must have had uncommon powers of presence, and must have acquired them honourably. Mrs. C. was even so cautious, as to be in every period of her life so averse to all kinds of deceit and falsehood, that it might well be said of her, as it was of the virtuous Theban: "Ut ne quidem joco mentiretur;" and yet the rumour at Deal, of her intention to put up for member of parliament, might have been countenanced, with more gravity than compunction, by criticks themselves.

The volume before us is not only a "Life" of Mrs. Carter, but a pleasing collection of her sentiments, &c. expressed at different periods, and on different occasions, to her intimate friends by letter. In this correspondence, she appears to advantage; and happily she met with communications in return, that are well worthy of the intercourse. The chief of these are from Miss Talbot, daughter of Edward, second son of Dr. W. Talbot, bishop of Durham, and next brother to Charles, the first Lord Talbot, Lord Chancellor. She was born after the decease of her father. Her life was respectable, but private: she died 1770. We find also let ters from Archbishop Secker, Bishop Hayter, Lord Lyttleton, Dr. Johnson, the celebrated Barratier, the unfortunate Savage, giving an account of his early life; and others, eminent for station, talents, and literature. These are generally honourable both to the writers and to the receiver.

[ocr errors]

We pass over Mrs. C's pedestrian rambles, at early dawn, when in health (for we learn that she was sadly afflicted by an often recurring headach. which she very imprudently fixed by mismanagement ;) neither shall we expatiate on her courage, when all the neighbourhood was alarmed by a report that the French had landed, in November 1744; nor on her contrivance to be awakened early in a morning, by a bell in her chamber, which the sexton was accustomed to ring for that purpose; nor on her fondness for flowers, or for her toneless spinnet; nor on the variety of her studies in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. We shall not even trace the progress of her translation of Epictetus. We frankly own, however, that we are gratified with her dutiful attention to her father, and with her diligence in making of shirts. Her father died in 1774.

A principal part of the volume, and among the most amusing of its contents, is the history of an excursion to Spa and Holland, which Mrs. Carter made in 1763, in company with Mrs. Montague, and Lord Bath. As we cannot now, thanks to the piety and politicks of Buonaparte, verify the account of what catholick establishments are, we must be contented with repeating those narrations that describe them as they were. Mrs. C's observations on some of the towns she passed in her journey, and of the manners of the people, we know to be correct; and therefore shall extract a few passages, which mark her opinion of them. Her sentiments on the foppery of the catholick churches, were (and we presume the taste for such puerilities is not extinct) unhappily, but too well founded in fact.

"Lisle is a very large and very fine city; but a fashion of strong iron cross-bars before the windows, gives the houses an uncomfortable look, and makes them resemble prisons. It is, like all the towns we have passed, paved like St. James's square. The glare, and foppery, and childishness of the ornaments of the churches are beyond what any thing but the testimony of my own eyes could have given me any idea of. The decorations of the altars are much more fit for the toilette of a fine lady, than for a place dedicated to the solemn service of religion. I am quite sick of looking at so much tinsel, and such a variety of colifichets. The only thing which has struck me with any thing like solemnity, was a sight of nuns this afternoon, singing vespers. We should have been glad to have staid longer here; but the apprehension from what our guide told us of an elevation of the Hostia, obliged us to return before the service was over. Mrs. Montague and I were at two other convents, and had some discourse with two nuns. We took notice to one that she appeared bien contente:* to which she made an answer, which had much more sense. than enthusiasm in it :-" Quand on a pris une vocation, on seroit bien folle de n'être pas contente."-We asked whether it was possible for us to see the inside of the convent, to which she answered very archly: "Pas sans y rester au moins,” at which the little rogue of a page who was with us was excessively entertained. We are to set out to morrow for Ghent."-P. 175.

"Brussels is the most disagreeable town which I have yet seen in our way. The houses are extremely high, and the streets narrow, which makes it dark and close; and I shall be heartily glad when we leave it. We took an airing to day in a place used for that purpose by the inhabitants. I believe we went about a mile in a straight road by the side of a dismal looking canal. We afterwards drove about the park, which is pretty enough, but very trifling compared to our St. James's and lyde Park. There is an English monastery here, which we visited out of compliment to our countrywomen. We sat about twenty minutes without the grate, and talked with three of the nuns. Both these, and those we saw at Ghent, desired us to call on them on our return. They told us one of their amusements was country dances, and that they had the newest from England. They have almost universally

[ocr errors]

* Quite contented.

† Having adopted a vocation, it would be very foolish not to be contented. Not without staying there, at any rate.

the same air of gayety, which would give one pleasure, if it did not seem to be as much a uniform as their habit. They have all an unhealthy, cadaverous kind of look, which is no wonder, from the want of air and exercise in such a confinement.

"At a convent in Lisle, is a kind of altar with an image of the Virgin and our Saviour, both with black faces; for which we could get no better reason than that our lady of Loretto was the same. They bid us get up upon a chair, and peep into a little hole of a closet behind the altar, to see the kitchen furniture of the Virgin. All I remember of the contents was a stove and a little brass kettle. I think nothing but the testimony of my own eyes could have perfectly convinced me of the miserable, trifling fopperies of popery. Most of the images are such mere dolls, that one would think the children would cry for them. Even the high altars are decora ted with such a profusion of silly gewgaw finery, as one would think better adapted to the amusements of girls and boys, than to inspire sentiments of devotion. I feel extremely uncomfortable with hearing bells ringing all day long, without being able to go to church; but I hope this heathenish kind of life will be over when Spa, and we shall have a kind of worship in which I can join." P. 179.

get to "Surely, with the superstition of popery, there is a strange mixture of profaneness. I was lately struck by an instance of this kind in the garden of the Capuchins at this place, where there is placed a crucifix, by way of fountain, spouting water from the wounds of the hands and feet. As little as I am inclined to image worship, I could not help being much shocked at seeing so sacred a representation applied to such a purpose.

"We have all manner of religious orders and habits here; friars, priests, nuns, and chanoinesses. The last are not bound by vows, nor forbid to marry; nor has their dress any other distinction than a very becoming ornament of a blue riband, and a garnet cross. The chanoinesses are all ladies of fashion, and must prove their nobility before they can be admitted into the chapter. Two of those who are at Spa are extremely agreeable. One is, I think, the greatest beauty here. The other, who is about eighteen, is rather pretty, and has all the innocence, and all the archness of a little, roguish child. She loves to learn little scraps of English, and some of the gentlemen have tried to make her say, Am I not very pretty? But she is too cunning for them, and will not say any thing that is not properly explained to her. I was lately in company with these two ladies, who were going to a ball; but were hurrying home first, to say their offices. I asked the little countess if it was very long. With a dolorous face she answered:* Oui, un bon trois quarts d'heure.--Et qu'est que c'est que votre office?-Ce sont des prières.-Et quelles prières?-Je ne sais pas, car c'est tout Latin.-Mais au moins on met le Francois au côté ?—Non, ce n'est que Latin-Ainsi vous ne savez pas ce que vous dites?—Non, pas un mot.-Est-ce qu'on appelle cela prier le bon Dieu, de lui adresser des paroles dont on ne sait pas le sens ? The elder chanoinesse looked rather ashamed, and the little countess stared: but at last they both agreed that they did it, † par devoir, et à l'intention de leur fondateur." P. 216.

It does not appear, although Mrs. C. was a British virgin herself, that she was partial to an army of virgins, however they might combine the dignity of martyrdom with that of a single state. Her censure of the greatest exportation of such treasure that ever took place from Britain, is severe; but perhaps she had no passion for martyrdom. From Cologne she writes:

"On Saturday we went to see the arsenal, which is not worth seeing, and the church of the eleven thousand virgins. There is a marble figure of St. Ursula, and at the foot the dove which pointed out the spot where her remains were found. The bones of these eleven thousand bien heureuses avanturières; who never existed but in a Romish calendar, are placed in gallerics all over the church. In one of the chapels are about four hundred skulls piled up in great order, and each half covered with

* Yes, a good three quarters of an hour.-And what are these offices of yours ?— They are prayers.-And what kind of prayers?-I don't know; for it is all Latin; and I don't understand Latin.-But at least the French is put in the margin.-No, there is nothing but Latin. Do you not know then, what you say?—No, not a word.And is this called praying to God, to address to him words, the meaning of which is unknown!

† From duty, and in conformity with the design of their founder.

a cap of gold and crimson embroidery. The heads of St. Ursula and some of her principal ladies are enclosed in silver busts, which open at the top, to show the relick, which is covered with pearls, &c. &c."

What a precious repository of instruction for Dr. Ġall, when satiated with investigating the organ of folly in the skulls of the beau monde at Paris!

Mrs. C's character of the late duke of Brunswick, whom she met with at Spa, is extremely favourable to that now departed hero. We agree with Mr P. in the tribute he has paid to his memory, and in the great importance to Europe of a general equally brave, loyal, and incorruptible. May Providence speedily raise up such-and more than such-a deliverer for Europe.

"The prince (I congratulate our princess) is one of the finest young men I ever saw, and appears to greater advantage the more one has an opportunity of knowing him. The general expression of his countenance is deep thinking, mixed with remarkable sweetness and good nature. His conversation is remarkably sensible, perfectly obliging, and polite. He reads and understands English, but does not yet talk it. However, he spoke a few words to me as I passed by him to night at the ball, and seemed pleased to attempt it." P. 204.

We incline to think that our countrymen are not sufficiently sensible of the moral advantages they derive from their insular situation. Notwithstanding the terms which some well wishers to morals adopt when lamenting the depravity which is but too notorious among us, yet we are of opinion that, comparatively, John Bull is not only an honest fellow, but a good fellow too. That he is far below the standard of rectitude, we frankly confess; but the continent does not every where produce his equal. Great criminals, fleeing from the continent, cannot so easily seek refuge in an island, as where they have only a barrier to pass. Of consequence, they do not import their atrocious dispositions so unrestrainedly among us; neither can great criminals assure themselves of a ready escape from our island. They are much more likely to be arrested by the hand of justice before they can effect their purpose. So far, then, as a strict execution of justice, and a non-importation of criminal disposition may be supposed to diminish guilt, the sea is a most favourable protection to our national virtue. Those who recollect the advantages taken on the continent, of committing crimes at the very edge of a territorial boundary, in order that the guilty murderer for instance, may escape in an instant beyond the power of his pursuers, will very well understand the practice on which we reason. Mrs. C. shall furnish a remark in point.

"The territory of Liege," says Mrs. C. " is a wretched, lawless, undisciplined country, and the more so from its situation, as it is surrounded by many little independent states, so that a criminal may, in a few hours, take refuge in some other dominion, and be quite safe from the pursuits of justice. The government is divided between the prince, senate and people. This looks, in description, like liberty; but in reality is mere licentiousness and anarchy, worse evils than the most absolute despotism. Mrs. Montague has, I think, given a very lively and exact description of this country, by calling it the Seven Dials of Europe."-P. 213.

Returning now to our own island, and safely landing our heroine among her friends, we shall transcribe the sentiments of this judicious writer, on persons and circumstances better known to the 'ritish publick. There is something honest in the frank avowal of that partiality to our native country, which is, in fact, a dictate of nature; a prejudice implanted for the wisest purposes in the human breast We pity the man who has seen the continent, and does not return to Britain with heartfelt gratulation.We know, indeed, that various places abroad have many recommendations; but our judgment must be determined, and it is determined, by what is

preferable on the whole. Mrs. C partook of the same failing, if it be one. It will be recollected, that her opinion of the French character was formed in 1763; consequently, it was long prior to those proofs of its correctness, which have been the scourge of humanity in later years.

"I do not at all agree to your project of sending me into Mercury or Venus. As long as one remains in this solar system, I have no idea of being better situated than upon Earth, which, with a true patriot prejudice, I am inclined to think as much preferable to any other planetary region, as England is to every other coun try in the terraqueous globe. You see I have not travelled away my English partiality. I am sure I can never be in any danger of losing it in Holland, which is beyond description disagreeable to my imagination.-You ask why I prefer the Ger. man character and manners to the French? Because I believe the character more honest, and I find the manners less bustling, and less affected, but equally polite : indeed, I always consider the French as the most pestilent corrupters of the human heart, and their writings, more so than any I ever read, tend to the subversion of all principles, and sap the foundation of all morality, and the stifling of all sentiment. You will not imagine me extravagant enough to apply all this to each individual; though I met with an English lady at Spa, who has resided in France, and she declared to me, that she never met with any one person while she was there, who had either principle or sentiment. To her great surprise, she once thought she had discovered a character possessed of both; but, upon further inquiry, the lady proved to be a Canadian."-P. 244.

* *

"Thinking, my dear Mrs. Vesey, must always tend to peace, when it is exercised under an awful sense of the presence of the Supreme Being, and with a due submission to those restraints which his wisdom and goodness have imposed on the human faculties. To check the rovings of unprofitable speculation, and fix our attention on the task assigned us here, all truths unnecessary for us to know are involved in uncertainty and darkness, and the search must end in disappointment and confusion, and too often in a subversion of all principles. In the investigation of points essential to our present state and condition, the powers of the understanding are invariably adequate to its subject. Does not the difference so strongly, so evidently marked, plainly discover what ought to form the object of our study? The most active genius will never be in danger of languishing for want of employment, while it is engaged in unravelling the sophistries of passion; detecting the fallacies of the heart; examining the motives of action; and determining the duties which result from every particular situation.-P, 245,

We perfectly agree with Mrs. C that

"No infidel will find any great comfort in the study of Epictetus, unless he is perverse enough to take comfort in finding himself obliged to practise the morality of the Gospel, without its encouragements and supports. From what causes in fidelity does arise, must be left to the Searcher of hearts; but perhaps one might venture to say, that it does NOT arise from an admiration of the sentiments of the wise, and good, and religious writers among the heathen philosophers; and it is with great consistency that Lord Bolingbroke has treated Plato and Paul with equal virulence, as I am told he has."-P. 128.

So far as I have read, I perfectly subscribe to your judgment of Mr. Hume's History, The order and civility of modern times is, indeed, an inestimable blessing, and however unwilling Mr. Hume might be to allow it, is certainly the effect of Christianity. Barbarity was the disgrace of heroism, not only amongst our rude and violent ancestors, but amongst those nations which are so often extolled as abounding with examples of the highest virtues. Modern compilers give us a fine picture of the manners of heathen antiquity; but their own historians are more honest; and from them one discovers as high instances of barbarity, even among the polished and enlightened Greeks, as could be practised by the most savage parties of scalping Indians. The battles of Marathon, Thermopyle, and Platea, were great actions, and performed in a noble cause, and these are extolled by all authors through all ages: while little mention is made of the horrours of the Peloponnesian war, and innumerable others, by which the heroes who so gallantly opposed the Persian tyranny, endeavoured to tyrannize over each other, and pursued their quarrels through such a series of rapine, treachery, and bloodshed, that the relation makes ne shudder.

« PreviousContinue »