Изображения страниц

to a great variety of scenes and reflections. The character of Margaret is finished with great care ; and we must pause to quote a passage:

• Perhaps Ulrich alone knew what a deep knowledge of things she possessed; for in society she seldom gave vent to her thoughts, and spoke with few words. “ I am not in the same key with society," she once said to Ulrich ; " consequently what I say is too high or too low for the general symphony. I am obliged to perform solos, or duets with you." This neither amazed nor distressed her; she neither sought to catch the tone or gain the opinion of others. She had the indifference of genuine superiority, namely, the most complete indifference regarding the approbation of the mass. Certain persons sometimes acquire an extraordinary reputation in the world for wit, talent, or genius. In general, this proves nothing more than that they are of the precise height which places them on a level with the crowd ; both what they are, and what they produce, exactly corresponds with its demands. Were this more, or did they produce more, they would instantly lose this happy equipoise, be out of proportion to the measuring rod applied to them, and only be able to compel the recognition of their superiority by overwhelming proofs. The artist, the author, may give such proofs ; but daily life, and the social circle, do not always afford fine minds an opportunity for development.'

After some months of dangerous intimacy, they separate. • Remain far from me,' are Margaret's parting words, 'till I call ' you, and this call will first reach you from my grave.' Ulrich writes her an imprudent letter, which falls into her husband's hands. He casts her off, and she retires to live in a small cottage in Switzerland with her child. Ulrich, ignorant of the consequences of his imprudence, resolves to travel for some years, and, as a preliminary measure, requires his wife to agree to a divorce. It is at length agreed between them, that things shall remain unaltered for the present; but that in case he comes back within three years and renews the demand, she shall consent.

After rambling for more than a year in Russia, he arrives in Stockholm, where a returned letter, addressed by him to Margaret at her husband's house, reaches him. This makes him desperate, and he devotes himself during several months to an opera-singer, in the hope of driving Margaret from his thoughts. Whilst at Stockholm he pays a visit to the celebrated authoress, the Countess Ilda Schönholm, and it is difficult to believe that no living person is intended.

• Ulrich had beard a great deal about her, both. praise and blame ; bad read all her books, and formed an image of her in his own mind, which by no means agreed with the original. He possessed taste and penetration enough not to regard a woman who had written a hook as a caricature on body and soul; but unwillingly he had made the imposing de Staëlwith her talent, her passion, her vanity, her goodness, her fancy, her enthu. siasm_his type of an authoress; and turned Ilda into a German de Staël. He found not a trace of it. Composed and simple, firm without haughtiness, negligent without affectation, indifferent regarding the impression which she made, she did not give herself the smallest trouble to attract attention. Whether she disdained the littleness of the means used to produce an effect, or found the end too petty, or had the intimate conviction of a superiority which repels the many and attracts a few—but attracts them irresistibly, as the loadstone the steel,-suffice it to say, not a word, not a syllable, not the most distant indication, betrayed her talent and her customary occupations.'

The causes of the differences between authors and their works are explained, in a very striking Essay, in Sir Edward Bulwer's • Student.' The secret of Madame Hahn-Hahn's anxiety to dissipate some supposed delusion on this subject, is the prejudice still prevalent amongst the highest classes in Germany against female authorship.

Ilda wears a gown of black velvet, with plain wristbands and collar; and here we may take occasion to observe, that Madame Hahn-Hahn seldom fails to give a minute description of the dresses of her favourites; rightly thinking it as difficult to convey an impression of the person without the dress, as Martin, in Scriblerus, found it to form an abstract notion of a lord-mayor, without his gown, chain, and appendages. She also attaches considerable importance to the feet, and has propounded a new theory regarding them, which may serve as a pendant or counterpoise to Lord Byron's regarding hands, which (his own being small and well-shaped) he declares to be the only mark of birth which aristocracy can generate. Madame Hahn-Hahn says, somewhat affectedly :

• There is much more physiognomy in the feet than in the hands. The bands are so ill treated, so practised in coquetry, so ruined by artistical skill—the piano turns the fingers into little knobs—that a hand seldom preserves its original character from the levelling effect of daily use ; and when it does, it is not what is commonly called a handsome band. That must be plump, round, smooth, white as marble, and marked with blue veins. I have an antipathy to such a one: the thought of touching it chills me; it has something of the smoothness of the snake, the coldness of the fish, and at times I fancy, if geese bad no wings, they would bave just such bands. The foot has remained in its primitive state. The princess may destroy it by too much care, and the peasant girl by neglect ; still it must support the body; it is in keeping with it as the base with the pillar; and its tread, its bearing, correspond with the character of the person. If I had a taste for solid pursuits, I would set up my system agaiust craniology.' 2. We need hardly add, that Ilda Gräfin Schönholm is described as having well-formed, tapering, thoroughbred feet.

Just as Ulrich is getting tired of his opera-singer, he receives a letter, signed Melusina, informing him that Margaret, thrown off and abandoned on bis account, is living near Vevay. It now appears that they are sisters. Melusina eloped at sixteen, with a man who subsequently abandoned her at Paris ; where she became acquainted with an elderly diplomatist, who, during his life, protected her as a parent, and left her a good fortune at his death. This was the Ambassador with whom Ulrich had seen her at Berlin. Ulrich leaves Stockholm, procures Unica's consent to a divorce, and travels post-haste to Vevay, where he finds Melusina dying, and Margaret watching over her. Melusina joins their hands and dies.

When Voltaire wished to depreciate Rousseau, he made a short abstract of the plot of La Nouvelle Heloïse, and headed it De ce qui se trouve dans le livre de Jean Jacques. He could not have hit on a more effective method of conveying an injurious impression of a work of manners or feeling; particularly when, as in the work before us, the bare incidents require a good deal of shading, to prevent harsh inferences from being founded on them.

Let it be remembered then, that, since both law and custom legitimate a marriage with the sister of a deceased wife in Germany, there is no more harm in Ulrich's becoming attached to the two sisters successively than to any other two women. Nei. ther must the comparative carelessness with which the marriage tie is dissolved, be charged altogether to the account of the individual; for it is principally attributable to the facility with which divorces are obtained. In Prussia, there are fifteen distinct grounds of divorce a vinculo matrimoni enumerated in the Code, any one of which is sufficient;--the infidelity of either party, incompatibility of temper, and mutual consent, being of the number. Until very recently, the tribunals of first instance were empowered to decide the cases, so that this sort of justice was brought home to every man's door. We are informed that more than five hundred divorces take place annually in Berlin alone, principally among the lower classes ; for the practice, by means of its frequency, has gone out of fashion among the higher. A speedy alteration of the law is contemplated ; and its injurious effects have already been much diminished by limiting the jurisdiction to the courts of appeal.

Prussia is indebted to Frederick II. for the existing laxity of its laws in this respect. The other Protestant states retain, nominally, most of the pristine strictness; but whether from the influence of example, or other local causes, they are practically as loose as their neighbour. When a couple are anxious to be free, it is simply necessary for one of them to be detected in an equivocal situation, (it need not be one of positive guilt,) and their wishes may be gratified. What is there wanted is a more careful enquiry into cases of collusion, which, when known and recognised as such, are not even attended with much danger to reputation.

Opinions may vary as to the degree of strictness with which the marriage vow should be maintained; but it is impossible not to see that the vow must lose its sacredness, if it is liable to be set aside on the first growth of a new inclination—the first feeling of satiety—the first discovery of a difference in taste or temper-or (for it all comes to this) the first suggestion of caprice. Indeed, we are quite sure that not one couple in a hundred ever lived together, for a series of years, without intervals of struggle—without hours, days, weeks, when it required all their firmness, all their good sense, all their consciousness of the true nature of their position, to induce them to bear and forbear, till the habit of mutual concession became a pleasure, and the basis of a fixed affection had been laid. It stands to reason that the public opinion of Germany must be in a loose state regarding marriage, and we must not blame the novelist for representing types of her country and her time.

It is satisfactory to be able to say, that Madame Hahn-Hahn is not one of those writers who exhaust themselves in two or three efforts; who hoard up a limited stock of thought and observation, pour it all into their first books, and remain dry and unproductive during the remainder of their days. We are by no means sure that her last book, Cecil, is not her best, both in conception and execution, though parts of it are spun out to tediousness. Moreover, it opens new ground, being an attempt to trace the influence of worldliness—that sort of worldliness which honourable and enlightened parents would think it right to encourage in a son-on a man of talent and sensibility, who has his fortune to make. The effect is judiciously heightened by contrast. The most prominent female character is a woman who consults only her own sense of duty, and uniformly does what she thinks right, without reference to opinion or the slightest regard to consequences. We cannot afford room for a detailed examination; and with regard to the rest of the novels named in our list, we can only say that they are all distinguished, more or less, by the same qualities as Faustine and Ulrich ; and that it is necessary to read all, in order thoroughly to enjoy any one; since (like Balzac's Scènes de la Vie Privée) all the stories are connected, and form something like a succession of Tableaux. Thus, the Countess Schönholm who holds such long conversations with Ulrich at Stockholm, and his correspondent Ohlen, are leading personages in Aus der Gesellschaft and Der Rechte; and the fate of Sigismund Forster, in the story of that name, materially influences the fortunes of Cecil. It is obvious that these occasional renewals of intimacy with old acquaintance may be maile extremely agreeable; and in the cases before us, the contrivance has been skilfully and not too frequently employed.

It was part of our design at starting, to endeavour to deduce some general rules regarding German morals and manners from these books; but had we space at present, it would be neither fair nor logical to found any general conclusion or comparison on so slender a basis, as the writings of a single author. Her countrymen and countrywomen, however, would certainly have no reason to complain; for both conclusion and comparison would be favourable to them. The tone of the best society, in most of their great towns, would appear to be remarkable for ease, good taste, readiness to amuse and be amused, and the marked discouragement, if not total absence, of offensive pretension, or exclusiveness. There is the usual allowance of trifling and gossiping; examples of prejudice, ignorance, and vanity are not wanting, and much of the conversation is made up of conventional commonplaces: yet it is impossible to help feeling that social intercourse stands on a sound rational basis, and has obtained a high degree of refinement and agreeableness. This is probably nearly the same all the world over among the best of the higher classes, who are now every where found coalescing with all that is really worth cultivating among the rest. Still, curious points of difference, affecting manners or morals, might be selected.

For example, an English woman of station seldom leaves her house unattended, or without a chaperon, and would be seriously compromised were she to travel with a man not nearly related to her. In Germany, a woman may undertake a journey, of any length or duration, with a male friend of any age, without compromising herself; that is, if their vocations really call them the same way, and the journey be not undertaken as a blind. The Germans, in short, do not take for granted that opportunity will necessarily create inclination; or that friends will be converted into lovers, by sitting together in a britska during the daytime and occupying apartments in the same hotel at night. In one Novel, we find a countess travelling with a handsome young artist; in another, an aged President gives his wife full permission to travel with a young member of his court; and we find, on enquiry, that such occurrences would excite no more comment in actual life than in Madame Hahn-Hahn's pages. In England,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »