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ART. VII.- Delphine: a Novel. Translated from the French
of Madame de Stail Holstein. 3 Vols. 12no. 155. Boards. Robinsons. 1803.
THIS is one of the most fascinating novels we have lately met with; and we are sorry, on this very account, that it has been translated into our 01191 language-for we abomirate both its religion and its morals. The translation, however, hus vind hulle; and it now becomes us, as impartial reporters of general literature, circunstantially to investigate its merits.
The object of madame de Staël, consistently with the motto in her title-page, is to prove, that, while a man ought to be capable of braving the opinion of the world, a woman must submit to it.'— The opinions of the world, like purity of taste, are generally founded upon the excellence of that which produces them; and we see no reason, therefore, why man should resist what woman is compelled to admit: but, without logically discussing this doctrine, or offering any extract from the preface by which the volumes before us are introduced—and which, if the readers of novels on the continent resemble the majority of those of our own country, might well have been reserved for some other occasion-we will abruptly hasten to the narrative itself, premising only that it is communicated to us, after the example of Richardson and Rousseau, in the form of a series of letters from the different characters of which it consists.
Delphine d'Albemar, the interesting heroine of the piece, is introduced to us at the age of about twenty-one, having just lost her husband, a most worthy man, but not less than forty years older than herself, to whom she had been married at the age of sirteen, and who now, in consideration of the virtues of which she is possessed--and, indeed, at the solicitation of his own sister, an elderly but most amiable woman, who had retired from the world for the purpose of religious exercises--had bequeathed to her the whole of his ample fortunc. Delphine, at the moment we become acquainted with her, is in one of the most enviable situations towards which a young woman can possibly aspire. Her youth is in its full bloom, her beauty unrivaled, her understanding highly cul. tivated, her wit brilliant, her income affluent, her heart the kindest and most generous in the world, seeking for opportunities of doing all the good in her power, and equally beloved and adınired by all who know her. Her first act of generosity is to make a present of a considerable estate to Matilda de Vernon, a cousin of her late husband, to whom overtures of matrimony had been proposed from the mother of Leontius de Mondoville, a Spanish lady of high
rank and dignity, in favour of her son. Matilda is also beautiful in no small degree: bút, having been rigidly educated by her mother, madame de Vernon, in all the observances of the catholic religion, there is in her manner a perpetual reserve and inacquaintance with the world, which more qualifies her for a convent than for a court. Her heart is nevertheless good and gentle; and she is resolute in the performance of whatever she believes to be her duty. Madame de Vernon, notwithstanding the education she had thus assigned her daughter, is of a very different character herself. She is completely the woman of fashion, with manners the most fascinating, and a heart solely occupied with self-interest, regardless of the steps she pursues to accomplish whatever end she may meditate, and sure to acquire it by the seductive talents with which nature has endowed her. Finding that, without the property offered her by mademoiselle d’Albémar, she cannot put her daughter into a situation to meet the wishes of madame de Mondoville, she gratefully accepts it; and resolves, as Delphine may hereafter be of additional service to her, to gain the entire possession of her confidence and affections. The terms of the proposed marriage being agreed upon, Leontius de Mondoville parts from Spain, to behold, for the first time, his intended bride; and, at the moment he is introduced to her, he is introduced also to Delphine, who is cordially invited by her aunt, madame de Vernon, to be present on the occasion. Leontius is the counter-part of Delphine d'Albémar, in every quality of person and mind. The only difference between them proceeding from this source--that, while the latter never consults more than the dictates of her own conscience on the performance of any action which she thinks the comfort or convenience of others requires of her, the latter, from the high-spirited education he has received, is completely the instrument of honour, and is regulated by the dictates of the world, rather than by those of his own judgement, or even personal inclination.
It cannot be difficult to perceive that Leontius de Mondoville should, froin the first interview, be sensible of a far greater partiality for Delphine than for his intended bride, nor that this partiality should be mutual. Delphine, as the reader may well suppose, soon becomes sensible of the injustice of indulging such an inclination, and resolves to stifle the unwarrantable flame in its birth. But what are the resolutions of lovers? her heart is formed for the most ardent affection: each soon perceives that neither can survive, if they be not united to each other; and they swear an eternal attachment. This, as may naturally be supposed, is soon perceived also by madame de Vernon; and, determined not CRIT. Rev. Vol. 38. May, 1803.
to be frustrated in her scheme respecting her own daughter, she devises a variety of the basest stratagems, and takes every opportunity afforded by the confidence which Delphine reposes in her (who esteems it a duty to acknowledge to her her affection for Leontius), to ruin her in the opinion of her lover. She influences madame de Mondoville in her behalf, by encouraging, even in Spain, a misrepresentation of the character of Delphine; and having at length fully worked, moreover, upon the jealousy of Leontius, and convinced him of her attachment to another person, the heart of the young and impetuous Spaniard becomes rent with the ut. most agony; and, in a fit of despair, at the very moment he is expected by Delphine, he gives his hand to Matilda; who, perpetually engaged in the performance of her religious duties, knows nothing of her having been supplanted in the affections of the man she thus marries.
The die is now thrown; and the misery of Leontius aud Delphine commences from this precipitate action.—Leontius soon discovers, however, that he has been imposed upon by madame de Vernon ; but does not know that he has been imposed upon designedly-for he finds that the person he suspected to have been a gallant of Delphine's is only a lover of her friend, madame d'Ervins. The heart of Delphine is nearly broken: but she supports her situation with becoming dignity, though she never ceases to feel an inextinguishable affection for Leontius. The great part that now remains to be played by madame de Vernon is to prevent all explanation between the unfortunate pair ; since she dreads the violence of the temper of her son-in-law, whom she knows to be still secretly attached to Delphine, and since much of the ample fortune of the latter is still necessary to extricate her from very heavy and pressing debts she had long incurred by a series of ill luck in gaming. In both respects she succeeds. And hitherto we have nothing very strikingly exceptionable. But the blind confidence which Delphine still reposes in her aunt--even in spite of the warnings of her best friends, and her own ocular proofs of imprudence and deceit-impeaches her judgement, whatever compliment it may pay to her generosity. This, however, we will pardon: but why should a being of the noble nature and immaculate character of Delphine-since the creation of her mind and person depended upon the plastic hand of madame de Staël-be made to countenance, out of any species of friendship whatever, an illicit amour between madame d'Ervins and her gallant, M. Şerbellane, even allowing that M. d'Ervins had grossly misconducted himself towards his wife, and was of an age, in comparison with her own, which must set all love at defiance? --- Why should she be made to suffer an
assignation between them, at her own house, even though · M. Serbellane is on the point of quitting Paris, and separating himself-perhaps for ever—from the object of his affections?-and why, more especially, after the fatal duel between himself and M. d'Ervins, should she endeavour to overcome the scruples of her friend, and advise her to marry the murderer of her husband? That she had been unguar Jedly betrayed into a promise of procuring an interview in the former instance, and thought herself bound both by friendship and honour to fulfil it, though her judgement condemned the asylum she granted--and that, in the latter, she was afterwards happy to find her arguments had made little impression on the mind of madame d'Ervins, and approved of her retiring from the world and assuming the veil
we do not forget: but the more specious and plausible the conduct, the more dangerous the example.-We afterwards find her renewing a very intimate friendship with madame de Lebensey, who had taken an advantage afforded her by the laws of her country (Holland), and had divorced herself from one husband, that she might marry another. This divorce is justified, on the part of the lady, by the gross misconduct of her first husband, and the compulsory nature of her first marriage: madame de Lebensey is represented as a pattern of conjugal fidelity and propriety in her second connexion; and the delicacy of the mind of Delphine herself upon this subject is afterwards established, by her refusal to listen to hints thrown out by this same M. de Lebensey, still a man of unspotted honour, that, in consequence of the late law of divorce of the French republic, then in the very act of passing, theunion so ardently desired between herself and Leontius might yet be effected. There is a magnanimity in the conduct of Delphine in this instance, in which the domestic felicity of her cousin, madame de Mondoville, is intimately concerned,—as well as in a variety of others, in which she readily consents to sacrifice her own happiness to promote that of her friend—to which we are very ready to give unqualified applause; but the arguments in favour of divorce, though resisted by herself, are here again brought forward with too much prominence, and are certainly ill calculated for the waning morality of the present day.
Delphine, however, eventually becomes acquainted with the perfidy of madame de Vernon, whose health, as well as fortune, at length falls a sacrifice to the late hours with which she pursues her inclination for gaming; and here, too, the goodness of her heart, and the superior tone of her mind, interest us most feelingly in her favour. She knows the passion Leontius still entertains for her; and, while she freely pardons the dying madame de Vernon, and sincerely accepts her repentance, she cautiously conceals the information which madame de Vernon had thus confidentially communicated to her, because she knows that the happiness of madame de Mondoville is closely connected with such concealment. The dying scene of madame de Vernon is drawn with much spirit; and we shall select it, not only as a fair 'specimen of the work, but to 'show our readers what is the sort of religion ther are to expect in this seductive novel. Was it then impossible to show the absurdity of the rites prescribed by the Romish religion at this awful moment, without rejecting all revealed religion whatever, and reverting, for consolation, to that empty and undefinable thing, which, in modern times, is denominated the religion of nature-a religion which, even in its utmost purity of precepts and doctrines, the best and wisest of the heathen world have found woefully unsatisfactory and inefficient? · Madame de Lebensey to Louisa d'Albémar.
· Paris, December 2. • How cruel a scene, madam, am I commissioned to relate to you! madame d'Albemar is confined to her bed, in a burning fever, and I myself have scarcely sufficient strength to fulfill the duties which my friendship for you and for her imposes on me. You have condescended, she has told me, to remember me with kind concern; and it is perhaps to you that I am indebted for the good will of this most perfect of beings. How shall I ever be able to testify my gratitude for so great a service? What a soul, what a character has she! and the most distressing circumstances are for ever to deprive a woman like this of all hope of happiness!
• Madame de Vernon is no more. Yesterday, at eleven o'clock in the morning, she expired in the arms of Delphine. An unfortunate fatality rendered her last moments terrible. I will endeavour to give you a connected account of the events of the last twelve hours, of which I shall never lose the remembrance. Excuse my perturbation, should I be unable to subdue it.
"At twelve o'clock, the night before last, madame d'Albemar re· turned to madame de Vernon's apartment, and found her on a sofa, the oppression of her breast not having allowed her to remain in bed. The alarming paleness of her countenance would have excited doubts of ber being alive, if her eyes had not from time to time showed a degree of animation in looking at Delphine. Delphine sought, in the works of ancient and modern moralists, divines and philosophers, what was best calculated to support the drooping soul under the terrour of death. The chamber was dimly lighted : madame d'Albemar placed herself near a lamp, the shaded rays of which shed on her countenance an air of mystery. She grew animated as she read those pages to which souls of sensibility and daring geniuses have committed their generous thoughts. You know her enthusiasm for every thing grand and noble: this habitual feeling was heightened by the desire of making a pro'found impression on madame de Vernon's beart: her voice naturally so affecting, had something of solemn in it; she frequently raised to