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generosity than in those of men: hence, “commend us,” says Mr. Gilfillan, “ to female critics. The principle nil admirari is none of theirs; and whether it be that a sneer disfigures their beautiful lips, it is seldom seen upon them.” The sneer may nevertheless be translated into print, and sometimes is, by those whose lips are innocent of aught but smiles (and kisses)—for in a book, even a beauty may sneer away, if so disposed, without peril to her facial muscles, whatever the peril to her heart; but Mrs. Jameson is incompetent in the art, though her generosity is anything but indiscriminate, anything but common and open to all comers. For, as a veteran authority remarks of another lady-scribe, “ on croit sentir” (and the croyance is not mere credulity) “un esprit ferme et presque viril, qui aborde les sujets élevés avec une subtilité raisonneuse, et qui en comprend tous les divers aspects.” Whatever else she may be-crotchety, as some allege,-speculative, daring, determined, paradoxical, or what not,—she is not insipid, nor given to platitudinary prosing.
Mrs. Jameson's productions have been too many to allow, in this place, of separate comment-and too good to be curtly discussed in a hurried summary. Some must, therefore, be pretermitted, and the rest inadequately, but respectfully, “ touched upon”—and would that our ordeal by touch could command, as this lady can, the ornavit as an invariable sequent to the tetigit! Greeting with a passing mention her “ Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad,” “Diary of an Ennuyée," and “ Celebrated Female Sovereigns,” we come to a full stop, plus a note of admiration, at that ever delightful book, “ Characteristics of Women." The success which hailed this choice performance, was, it seems, to the author, “ so entirely unlooked for, as to be a matter of surprise as well as of pleasure and gratitude.” It was undertaken without a thought of fame or money; it was written out of the fulness of her own heart and soul, and already she felt amply repaid, ere ever a page was in type, by the new and various views of human nature its composition opened to her, and the beautiful and soothing images it placed before her, and the conscious exercise and improvement of her own faculties. The purpose of these volumes is, to illustrate the various modifications of which the female character is susceptible, with their causes and results-not indeed formally expounding the writer's conviction, that the modern social condition of her sex is false and injurious, but implying certain positions of this nature by examples, and leaving the reader to deduce the moral and to draw the inference. The characters best fitted to her purpose she finds among those whom History ignores-women being illustrious in History, not from what they have been in themselves, but generally in proportion to the mischief they have done or caused, or else presented under seemingly irreconcilable aspects*—it is to Shakspeare she turns
The The Duchesse de Longueville being instanced, as one whom History represents, in her relation to the Fronde, as a fury of discord, a woman without modesty or pity, "bold, intriguing, profligate, vain, ambitious, factious;" and, on the other hand, in her protection of Arnauld,--an angel of benevolence, and a worshipper of goodness. History, it is contended, provides nothing to connect the two extremes in our fancy. Whereas, if Shakspeare had drawn the duchesse's character, he would have shown us the same individual woman in both situations -since the same being, with the same faculties, and passions, and powers, it surely was.
for characters that combine history and real life, for complete individuals, whose hearts and souls are laid open before us--while, in History, certain isolated facts and actions are recorded, without any relation to causes or motives, or connecting feelings; and pictures exhibited, from which the considerate mind is averted in disgust, and the feeling heart has no relief but in positive and justifiable incredulity. The prevalent idea, that Shakspeare's women are inferior to his men, Mrs. Jameson assents to at once, if inferiority in power be meant; for she holds that in Shakspeare the male and female characters bear precisely the same relation to each other that they do in nature and in society* --but, taking the strong and essential distinction of sex into consideration, she maintains, and goes very far to prove, that Shakspeare's women are equal to his men in truth, in variety, and in power. The classification adopted, in treating of this splendid portrait-gallery, is almost of course arbitrary and open to exception; but the skill displayed in critical interpretation, poetical sympathy, psychological analysis, and studious comprehensiveness, is most excellent. To every diligent student of Shakspeare, the aid of Mrs. Jameson's commentaries is invaluable; to the collector of criticisms on his peerless dramas, her “ Characteristics” must no more be overlooked than the contributions of Coleridge and Hazlitt, of Lamb, George Moir,t De Quincey, I Hartley Coleridge, Wilson, Knight, Hallam, Fletcher, Campbell, Goethe, A. W. Schlegel, Tieck, Ulrici, and others. She divides her characters into classes, under the heads of Intellect and Wit
-Fancy and Passion-Sentiment and Affection. The historical characters are considered apart, as requiring a different mode of illustration, and their dramatic delineation is illustrated by all the historic testimony the industrious author could collect.
The four “representative women” of Intellect-Portia, Isabella, Beatrice, and Rosalind—are delicately discriminated. Portia is intellect kindled into romance by a poetical imagination; Isabel, intellect elevated by religious principle; Beatrice, intellect animated by spirit; Rosalind, intellect softened by sensibility. The wit of the first is compared to attar of roses; of the second (who, however, seems a little out of place in this category), to incense wafted to heaven; of the third, to salvolatile; of the fourth, to cotton dipped in aromatic vinegar. To Portia, Mrs. Jameson assigns the first rank among the four, as more eminently embodying all the noblest and most loveable qualities that ever met together in woman (albeit we must own to some share in Hazlitt's confession that the Lady of Belmont was " no great favourite of his”comparatively, that is, when Imogen, Cordelia, Miranda, and others are remembered). Besides lavish endowments of womanly dignity, sweetness, and tenderness, Portia is here individualised by high mental powers,
* Thus: Juliet is the most impassioned of Shakspeare's “heroines;" but what are her passions compared to those which shake the soul of Othello?—“even as the dewdrop on the myrtle-leaf to the vexed sea." Constance, frantic for the loss of her son, is to Lear, maddened by the ingratitude of his daughters, as the west wind bowing the aspen tops to the tropic hurricane.
† “Shakspeare in Germany," &c.
I “On the Knocking at the Door in Macbeth,” Life of Shakspeare in Encyclopædia Britannica, &c.
$ “Shakspeare a Tory and a Gentleman,” “ The Character of Hamlet,” &c. || In his reviews of Mrs. Jameson, Dies Boreales, &c.
enthusiasm of temperament, decision of purpose, and buoyancy of spirit. There is seen a commanding grace, a high-bred, airy elegance, a spirit of magnificence in all she does and says: she is full of penetrative wisdom, and genuine tenderness, and lively wit ; her unruffled life has left this wisdom without a touch of the sombre or the sad—this tenderness, without peril to faith, hope, and joy—this wit, without a particle of malevolence or causticity. Her strength of intellect "takes a natural tinge from the flush and bloom of her young and prosperous existence, and from her fervent imagination.”* If Portia is like the orange-tree, hung at once with golden fruit and luxuriant flowers, which has expanded into bloom and fragrance beneath favouring skies, and has been nursed into beauty by the sunshine and the dews of heaven,— Isabella is like a stately and graceful cedar, towering on some alpine cliff, unbowed and unscathed amid the storm. Isabella combines natural grace and grandeur with the habits and sentiments of a recluse-of austerity of life with gentleness of manner-of inflexible moral principle with humility and even bashfulness of deportment; her fine powers of reasoning are allied to a natural uprightness and purity, which no sophistry can warp and no allurement betray. A strong under-current of passion and enthusiasm flows beneath this calm and saintly self-possession—the impressiveness of her character is indeed created by the observed capacity for high feeling and generous indignation, veiled beneath the sweet austere composure of the religieuse. Beatrice, again, is treated as wilful, not wayward ; volatile, but not unfeeling; exuberant not only in wit and gaiety, but in heart, and soul, and energy of spirit-a faithful portrait of the fine lady of Shakspeare's time, but as unlike the head-tossing, fan-flirting, fine ladies of modern comedy as Sir Philip Sydney was unlike one of our modern dandies. Rosalind;—superior to Beatrice as a woman, though inferior in dramatic force ; a portrait of infinitely more delicacy and variety, but of less strength and depth; a being playful, pastoral, and picturesque-breathing of “ youth and youth's sweet prime”-fresh as the morning, sweet as the dew-awakened blossoms, and light as the breeze that plays among them ; her volubility, like the bird's song, the outpouring of a heart filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet and affectionate impulses; her mixture of playfulness, sensibility, and naïveté, like a delicious strain of music.
Of the characters of Passion and Imagination, comes Juliet first. Love, in its poetical aspect, is the union of passion and imagination; and Juliet is Love itself. It is her very being; the soul within her soul, the pulse within her heart, the life-blood along her veins. In her it is exhibited under every variety of aspect, and every gradation of feeling it could possibly assume in a delicate female heart. In Helena, there is superadded to fervent, enthusiastic, self-forgetting love, a strength of character which in Juliet is awanting. Helena's love is cherished in secret, but not self-consuming in silent languishment; it is patient and hopeful, strong in its own intensity, and sustained by its own fond faith. Her position in the play is shocking and degrading, and yet the beauty of the character is made to triumph over all, by its internal resources, and its genuine truth and sweetness. Perdita is the union of the pastoral and romantic with the classical and poetical, as if a dryad of the woods had turned shepherdess—a creature signalised by perfect beauty and airy elegance of demeanour, by natural loftiness of spirit and upright simplicity, or conscientiousness, which disdains all crooked and indirect means. Viola is, perhaps, a degree less elevated and ideal than Perdita, but with a touch of sentiment more profound and heart-stirring. Ophelia ! so sanctified in our thoughts by the last and worst of human woes, that we scarcely dare to consider her too deeply:-her love, a secret which we have stolen from her, and which ought to die upon our hearts as upon her own;—a being far too soft, too good, too fair, to be cast among the briars of this working-day world, and fall and bleed upon the thorns of life ;-a character before which eloquence is mute—though Mrs. Jameson's eloquence finds for her sweet similitudes in a strain of sad dulcet music floating by us on the wings of night and silence, rather felt than heard, and in the exhalation of the violet dying even upon the sense it charms, and in the snow-flake dissolved in air before it has caught a stain of earth, and in the light surf severed from the billow, which a breath disperses. So young, that she is unaware of the nature of her own feelings, which are prematurely developed in their full force before she has strength to bear them; for love and grief together rend and shatter the frail texture of her existence, like the burning fluid poured into a crystal vase. And Miranda—so perfectly unsophisticated, so delicately refined, that she is all but ethereal ; yet who, beside Ariel, that creature of elemental light and air, appears a palpable reality, a woman “ breathing thoughtful breath,” a woman, walking the earth in her mortal loveliness, with a heart as frail-strung, as passion-touched, as ever fluttered in a female bosom.
* Mrs. Jameson's “moral,” in the instance of Portia, is, that such a woman, placed in this age, would find society armed against her; and instead of being, like Portia, a gracious, happy, beloved, and loving creature, would be a victim, immolated in fire to that multitudinous Moloch termed Opinion.
† Mrs. Jameson warmly protests against likening Shakspeare's Juliet to Rousseau's Julie—that impetticoated paradox--that strange combination of youth and innocence, philosophy and pedantry, sophistical prudery and detestable grossièreté. She does well to be angry at the comparison, common as it is.
Hermione leads on the characters of the Affections,—queenly instance of the proverb, “Still waters run deep”—her deportment, her every word breathing a majestic sweetness, a grand and gracious simplicity, an easy, unforced, yet dignified self-possession-one whose passions are not vehement, but in whose settled mind the sources of pain or pleasure, love or resentment, are like the springs that feed the mountain lakes, impenetrable, unfathomable, and inexhaustible. Her sweet child Perdita, again -in whom conscientiousness and firmness mingle with picturesque delicacy; and Desdemona, not weak, with all her timid flexibility and soft acquiescence;—and Imogen, model unsurpassable of conjugal tenderness, marred by nothing jealous or fantastic in its devotion ;-and lastly, Cordelia,-characterised by absence of all display, by sobriety of speech veiling the most profound affections, by quiet steadiness of purpose, and shrinking from all display of emotion.
It will enhance the value of Mrs. Jameson's Shaksperean criticisms, to think of what might be expected from other and a distinguished” authoresses, were they to undertake the theme. As a Scottish reviewer has suggested in the instance of the popular Mrs. Ellis (in whom, however, we confess ourselves all but entirely unread)—“ what could she have said of Juliet? how would she have contrived to twist Beatrice into a pattern Miss ? Perdita ! would she have sent her to a boarding-school? or insisted on finishing, according to the Hannah More pattern, the divine Miranda ? Imagine her criticism on Lady Macbeth, or on Ophelia's dying speech and confession, or her revelation of the Family Secrets' of the Merry Wives of Windsor!”-But even this ironical query jars on the ear, in a paper devoted to so stanch a protester against the faintest show of scorn or satire as Mrs. Jameson.
Apropos of her work on Canada, Dr. Channing said, “I do not know a writer whose works breathe more of the spontaneous—the free. Beauty and truth seem to come to her unsought.”* Of the “Diary of an Ennuyée,” and “ Loves of the Poets,” the Ettrick Shepherd (Ambrose's improved edition) is made to say, “ Oh! sir, yon were maist beautifu' specimens o' eloquant and impassionat prase composition as ever drapped like hinny frae woman's lips. We maun hae Mrs. Jameson amang uswe maun indeed.”+ Her very numerous productions in the service and illustration of Art, we must dismiss with a passing salutation - her “ Handbook” and “ Companion” to Private Galleries, her esthetic “Essays,” “ Early Italian Painters," “ Spanish School of Painters," “ Washington Allston,” &c., &c. In her ®“ Beauties of the Court of Charles II.” she has, says Christopher North, “nought extenuated nor set down aught in malice," when speaking of the frail and vicious; and her own clear spirit kindles over the record of their lives, who, in the polluted air of that court, spite of all trials and temptations, preserved without flaw or stain the jewel of their souls, their virtue. “ Social Life in Germany" comprises able translations of the acted dramas of the Princess Amelia of Saxony-rendered with spirit and grace, and commented on with unfailing tact and intelligence.
The “Sacred and Legendary Art” series, including " Legends of the Monastic Orders," is a worthy contribution to so important a theme by one who, if she has not much sympathy with modern imitations of mediæval art, can still less sympathise with that “narrow puritanical jealousy which holds the monuments of a real and earnest faith in contempt.” In this field is finely displayed her remarkable critical prowessher faculty of genial, pictorial exposition_her enthusiasm, which yet discriminates when at summer-heat-her judicial temperateness, which so happily avoids whatever is captious. Of the subjects composing this interesting series, we select, for such hasty notice as may be available here, the section devoted to “ Legends of the Madonna."
One of Hawthorne's pensive people is made to say, “I have always envied the Catholics their faith in that sweet, sacred Virgin Mother, who stands between them and the Deity, intercepting somewhat of his awful splendour, but permitting his love to stream upon the worshipper more intelligibly to human comprehension through the medium of a woman's tenderness.” This is the sentiment of a much-meditating man, who declares he had never found it possible to suffer a bearded priest so near his heart and conscience as to do him any spiritual good, but who recog
* Memoirs of W. E. Channing.
Noctes Amb., No. 47 (1829). Ibid. No. 59 (1831).