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ART. XI.-Dacre: a Novel. Edited by the COUNTESS of MORLEY. 3 vols. 8vo. London: 1834.
IT T is so common nowadays to see novels, which would have excited a strong sensation some ten years ago,-works of great imagination and power,-pass quietly from the publisher's shop into an almost immediate oblivion, that it would be a hazardous speculation for any one to ensure beforehand the literary existence of any novel for a year after publication. The mean duration of life among modern novels may be estimated, we should think, at about three lunar months; the deaths increase in a prodigious ratio during the next three; and only one in a hundred, by the strength of its constitution, or some happy combination of circumstances, survives the twelvemonth. With these melancholy tables of mortality before us, there could be little satisfaction in speculating on the chances of life for or against the Tale which we are about to notice: we shall only say that, in our opinion, it deserves length of days as much as any we have lately met with; and that it appears to possess that harmony and proportion of parts, and that sound and healthy frame, which seem to promise them.
Dacre is not what is commonly called a fashionable novel.' The personages, no doubt, are taken chiefly from high life; because it is only within that sphere that the accident of supposed illegitimacy of birth, on which the interest of the Tale mainly hinges, can be supposed to exercise a sufficiently tyrannical influence over feelings and opinions, to form the nodus of the story. But with the exception of titled names, the work before us has nothing in common with that flimsy class with which for a time our literature was inundated; exhibiting a picture equally false and unfavourable of the higher classes of English society. Its charm lies in the skill and delicacy with which it traces those universal feelings which link all classes of society together; subjected, no doubt, to a more artificial system of control and concealment in the palace than in the cottage, but not the less influencing the conduct, and deciding the fate of their inmates for happiness or suffering. And perhaps the very contest between the necessities of society, and the force of these human and indestructible sympathies and affections, by awakening our curiosity and suspense as to the result of their conflict, may afford a more complex and fruitful source of interest to the novelist, than the simple exhibitions of passion unchecked by such control. Add to this,
that there is, in this work, a remarkable degree of truth and keeping, both in the incidents, the characters, and sentiments; that nothing is distorted or overdrawn; that the plot, without being too intricate or complex, is well constructed, and the interest well sustained to the last; that all the hopes, fears, and anxieties of love, are depicted with the skill and tenderness which only a woman's hand could impart to the picture; that the occasional sketches of natural scenery which are introduced, are graphic and picturesque; that the style is clear, unaffected, and terse; and the reader will easily believe that this is one of those novels, which, perused on a sofa on a summer's evening, make us think Gray's conception of paradise not so far from the truth.
The plot, as we have said, turns on the uncertainty which attends the birth of Dacre. He has youth, fortune, accomplishments: he loves and is beloved by Lady Emily Somers; but the doubt which hangs over the question of his mother's marriage is the drop of wormwood which embitters his cup of happiness. Brooding over the subject himself, he thinks every one looks upon it in the same light; he reads suspicion in the eyes of the father and mother of his mistress, coldness in hers; and an affected condescension on the part of the world, more annoying than neglect. Viewing every thing under this impression, he determines to meet coldness with indifference; he withdraws himself from the object of his attachment; shuts up his feelings within his own breast; and even disguises, under the appearance of attention to other women, the passion which is the master-spring of all his feelings, the fountain from the which his current runs.' His conduct is, in its turn, mistaken. Lady Emily, unconscious of the cause which had led to the reserve of Dacre, imputes his change of manner to waywardness of temper and fickleness of heart; she also retires within herself, and shrinks from his society; and, at the commencement of the tale, this mutual misconception seems apparently to have completely estranged two hearts which, in truth, beat only for each other. But the lovers are again thrown together amidst the society of a country-seat ;—old recollections, old feelings, are involuntarily revived; the sympathies of the heart make their way through all the crust of indifference with which they are covered; looks and words escape which convince both of their error; and at last the decisive avowal seems only suspended till Dacre ascertains that he had mistaken the feelings of the parents as much as those of the daughter. In this portion of the tale, which may be said to comprehend the first act, there are many scenes of great tenderness and interest; -such as that in which Dacre, wavering between hope and fear,
announces his intention of going to Italy: the humour, also, of a dialogue on village schools, under fashionable patronage, indicates the authoress's possession of considerable comic powers. Our space, however, is so limited, that we must reserve our extracts for the remainder of the tale, when matters come a little nearer to the crisis.
Dacre is in London. He has begun to hope, but has not ceased to fear; and the apparition of a certain Sir Edward Bradford more than once awakens his jealousy, and almost overturns his resolution of addressing Lady Emily. Leaving him for a moment to his anxieties, the reader will be amused, we think, in the meantime, with the following graphic and spirited sketch :—
Nothing is easier than for a man of fashion in London to remain incog. by the mere study of the sights and sounds of different hours. First comes the loud shrill call of "Sweep!"—and badly indeed must the idle man in London sleep, who hears that call. But when the loud sonorous cries of fish and vegetables resound with unbroken noise through the street-when at each door may be seen a dirty maid in paper curls, sweeping from the hall, or twirling a mop, or washing the steps-when the emissaries of the dealers in fish and fowl, the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the cheesemonger, and the milkman, maintain their undisturbed possession of the pavement as they whistle loudly along,-when, in short, London reveals in the streets the arcana of domestic economy, and seems turned, for the time, into the huge offices of its own vast self,-then, perhaps, may a man like Francis Dacre, engaged neither in the business or dissipation of the Metropolis, be expected to be almost ready for break
• Breakfast over-the newspaper half read, and lo! another change of scene and sound from without. The little milliner trips quickly along with her oil-skin covered basket-troops of children with fat nurses, and young nursery maids, flock along the pavement-the hand-organs grind the popular airs of the last season, whilst the clarionet and bagpipes screech and whine out those of the preceding century. The rumble and gingle of carts becomes frequent, whilst the rapid approach and departure of the quick driven chariot bespeaks the physician or the man of business on the move.
This, then, is the moment for the incognito to sally forth-now may he walk through the squares, and places, and streets, and parks, secure of meeting none of those to whom London owes its West-end reputation for wealth, luxury, beauty, elegance, and idleness. But let him not tarry till too near the hour of luncheon-for then will be seen in motion, figures of well-dressed men, with an air "as if it was somebody one knows," and then, perhaps, a cab, drawn by a gigantic horse, of violent action, making scarcely any way, with the child just fresh from an infant school standing behind-two examples in life of the parvum in multo and the multum in parvo-and the roll of carriages is more constant-and Mr Maitland is sure to be abroad-for he never lunches at home.
Our recluse has escaped from the danger of seeing his numerous friends and acquaintance-and now in vain he tries to read-in vain he tries to think.—All London is in motion; and the din and tumult of the Metropolis echoes through his head, and the sounds of carts and omnibuses, coaches, cabs, carriages, horses, and men, are all blended together in one overpowering noise-whilst the bands of musicians the trumpet of punch-the applause of the Fantoccini-the barking of coach-dogsthe musical monkies-the hurdy-gurdies of white mice the nasal twang of a Frenchwoman's voice-and the guttural grunt of the "Buy a broom" girls, lend their never-failing aid to disturb the man who would be quiet.
But patience! All will again be hushed. The post bell has driven you half mad for half an hour; but then, either in spring, or in summer, the worst of the bustle is over-troops of gay parties on horseback have turned homewards-ladies without number are to be seen dismounting at their doors. Exhibitions are all closed-and their human advertisers are seen marching in single file from their posts with the advertisements on their backs again. The noise of wheels subsides, and is heard only at intervals. Every body is now busied in preparation for dinner, or enjoying the fruits of the morning's activity, and all is more quiet than since the hour when poor little " Sweep" first gave note in the morning that occupation was resumed; till the rumble of the diners-out gives once more an occasional disturbance to the long-wished-for stillness.'
At last Dacre's resolution is taken, and nothing is waited for but the return of Lord Kendal, Lady Emily's father, who is on an annual visit to one of his estates. The reflections which conclude this portion of the narrative seem to us beautifully expressed.
He thought himself sure of the future; and thus, whilst he stationed himself evening after evening by her side, he forbid the intrusion of gloomy apprehensions to darken the sunshine of his present enjoyment. It is true that his happiness was based rather on hope than on certainty; but yet, whilst in her presence, it seemed so complete, that he scarcely dared wish for a change.
The nearer we approach the object we desire, the more must we dread lest, in attempting to place this fabric of bliss upon surer foundations, it should crumble away at our touch, like the fairy forests of the white hoar frost. Like the traveller on the mountains, we gaze with breathless delight on the prospect before us, but dare not give utterance to the feelings it inspires. A sound may release the fierce avalanche from its bondage, and the word that is spoken lay waste all which he views with such hope and rapture.'
But it is easier to be wise in theory than in practice; and Dacre, notwithstanding his resolution to wait for the return of Lord Kendal, is surprised into the rash act' somewhat prematurely, at an evening party at the Duke of Bolton's :
Most of the company had departed, when one of the remaining guests naming an English ballad, asked Lady Emily if she knew it, and
would sing it. It was the very song which Dacre had asked for in vain at Denham, and which she had then promised him to perform at some future period. She turned involuntarily towards him as the ballad was named their eyes met, and Emily bent her head over the music book to conceal her blushes; but Dacre saw her embarrassment, and in an audible tone he seconded the request that they might hear it.
Emily had now no fear of being overcome by the words of that song. They embodied no longer the feelings of her mind. They told of unrequited love, and blighted hopes; and she was conscious that miseries such as these had ceased to strike upon a sympathetic chord.
The song was over. It was supposed by the guests that Lady Emily must be tired; and on her quitting the pianoforte some departed, and others returned to the room in which the duke was sitting, to join in conversation with him. None were now left in the music room but the Molesworths, Lady Emily, Dacre, and the duchess. The room was large; and as Dacre approached Lady Emily, the duchess took the opportunity of showing the Molesworths some prints of such views of foreign countries as she had heard Captain Molesworth say that evening he had visited in the course of his many voyages. His attention was secured by the interrogatories of the duchess concerning the accuracy of the views at which they were looking; whilst Mary was wholly engrossed in studying every spot which Harry had seen, and listening to every word of description he gave.
Dacre saw they were occupied; and turning to Lady Emily, he offered to assist her in arranging her music. Then, approaching still nearer, he said in a low voice, "I was glad to hear that song to-night : it paints so well what I have too often felt!"
"I know it is a favourite of yours," she replied; and the music trembled in her hands as she spoke.
"Do you remember," continued Dacre," that you promised me at Denham I should hear it in London ?"
Emily tried to smile, as she remarked, that she had been true to her word.
"You have," replied Dacre; " and I also have been true to mine." He paused for a moment: Emily looked intently on the sheet of blank paper before her, and pressed her arms against the pianoforte to conceal the excessive trembling of her limbs. Dacre perceived her emotion, and pointing to the group at the other end of the room, he said with a smile,
"We are not in company now, Lady Emily." Then placing his hand upon hers, he said in a low and agitated voice, “ I told you that I should not go abroad till I had once more heard that song.' He stopped, drew a long breath, and then said, "Now that I have heard it, must I go?" He pressed her hand as she spoke-she did not withdraw it :"Speak, oh speak!" murmured he, in a scarcely audible voice. "Emily! say but a word, and I shall understand you." Her agitation almost stifled her words, but his quickened bearing caught the sounds she uttered; and as the blessed words, "Then stay," fell upon his ear, he felt the pressure of his hand returned.'