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THE RECORD OF A LIFE.
An autobiography, or a con- whether you
apfidential diary, affords an oppor- plaud, you cannot help acknowtunity for the display of many lodging the frankness of the attractive and engaging quali- record. Not one line is writties. It may be instructive, ten for mere effect;
not one amusing, and ingenious. It sentence but is stamped with may contain interesting facts the unmistakable hall-mark of not hitherto revealed to the the writer's mind and heart. world, or valuable judgments Mrs Oliphant had originally passed by the writer upon his designed her autobiography for contemporaries, or vivid de- a legacy to her sons; but after scriptions of choses vues. But their death she continued the there is one virtue without the work, avowedly with a view to presence of which all other ex- posthumous publication. cellences are as naught, and that virtue is candour. Any claims, to write all this with the
“How strange it is to me,” she exattempt to pose, any tendency effort of making light reading of it, to strike an attitude, is fatal. and putting in anecdotes that will do It is notorious how apt autobio- to quote in the papers and make the graphers are to be lacking in book sell! It is a sober narrative this one essential. In analys- wrote it for my Cecco (her younger
enough, heaven knows ! and when I ing his own character
son) to read, it was all very
different ; other fellow” (to wit himself), but now that I am doing it consciously as Laurence Lockhart used to for the public, with the aim (no evil say—a man, consciously or un- aim) of leaving a little more money,
I feel all this to be so vulgar, so comconsciously, sets down what he
mon, so unnecessary, as if I were desires to set down. In dis- making pennyworths of myself.” cussing the
the motives which prompted a particular action. It is difficult to believe that he colours his picture with tints the narrative could have been borrowed from subsequent ex more free from affectation and perience and reflection. Thus pretence, more open and more he never comes to close quarters intimate, if the original purwith his readers, who are quick pose of the writer had not been to detect the ring of insincerity. altered by the crushing blow Whatever merits or defects this which made her once happy remarkable volume 1 may pos- home “empty, cold, and silent," sess, no one can deny its absol- and left her waiting, longing, ute straightforwardness. You in earnest expectation, for “the feel instinctively that the writer one event to come, which will, is in good faith ; and, whether I hope and believe, do away you approve or disapprove, with all the suffering past, and
1 The Autobiography and Letters of Mrs M. O. W. Oliphant. Arranged and Edited by Mrs Harry Coghill. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London : 1899.
arry me lerk a happy woman OEphan:'s own story; and, so to my family. We will not read it cannot, we should call this book a human docu- imagine, appeal in rain to any ment; we will not say that it save the most stolid or the whes with the true cri du most superrabious of mankind unur. Such phraseology would Mrs Oliphant's was not a have moved Yrs Oliphant to life of incident or adventure. just indignation and disgust. Chance brought her acquainted She detested all cant, and none with a certain number of celebmore than that of introspec- rities, and made her intimate tion—the jargon of the “psy- with a very few; but she was chologues. But here is, no no lion-hunter, and she admits, question, that combination of with great good-humour and qualities which those slang enjoyment, the justice of the terms so inadequately express. complaint made by a Jewish He who seks an elaborate patroness of the fine arts, who exposition of changes of belief used to ask her to her parties, -a pompous recital of how a that “she never did herself any first reading of Hegel made 'ustice” in general society. Her the writer think this, and a father had a small place in the prolonged study of Mr Herbert Customs; his means permitted Spencer made her think that- him to live only in the quietest will, indeed, go empty away. way; and he nourished a strong Those who care for complacent and ever-growing dislike to the whimperings over the loss of a company of people outside his creed never seriously held, or who family circle. Hence, though by love the lucubrations of such no means bred in a “mental as brood, with a self-pitying, greenhouse” (for her mother self-satisfied melancholy, upon seems to have been a typical the ruins of a faith which has Scotswoman of the best school) yielded to the “pressure of the Margaret Wilson's sole amuseGerman historical movement” ment in youth was found in (Mesopotamic phrase !) – such books, newspapers, and magapersons may be directed to go zines; and hence, no doubt, the elsewhere. To them this must habit of writing, which she needs appear the eminently formed early in life, became to “prosaic little narrative” which her almost a second nature. Mrs Oliphant avows it to be. But “I always disliked paying over the more ordinary members visits," she says, “and felt of the human race, who have myself a fish out of water when little taste for reasoning high I was not in my own house." on such matters, it will cast During the last thirty years of an irresistible spell. Its power her life, when her position in and attraction are not to be the world of letters was gauged by mere extracts. It sured, she resided principally must be read as a whole- at Windsor, and this effectually the correspondence (so admir- precluded the possibility of ably selected and arranged by dining-out in London. LunchMrs Coghill) illustrating Mrs eons and afternoon parties in
town were, of course, practic- above all, of Miss Isabella Blackable, and these she sometimes wood, a constant correspondent attended, much against her and intimate friend of Mrs will. In spite, however, of her Oliphant's, and a
Oliphant's, and a woman of distaste for the commerce of singular ability. . The picture society, she had considerable of the Carlyles, “that much knowledge of the world, ac- maligned and much misunderquired, no doubt, partly from stood pair,” is charming. From natural shrewdness, and partly the Sage she received nothing from frequent travel. That she but “perfect courtesy and kindwas a keen judge of character ness. He praised her Life of the present volume alone makes Edward Irving' in very handabundantly plain.
some terms—terms so gratifysessed the faculty of making ing that, as she writes herself people talk, and with it (one to Mr John Blackwood, “for may conjecture) the more dan- the space of a night and a day gerous art of “pulling people's I was uplifted and lost my legs," as it is elegantly termed head.” “I was nowadays. True, she repudiates delighted with any man,” she with some warmth the impeach- continues; “I am ready hencement of having been “a student forth to stand up for all those of human nature," or of having peculiarities which other people acted as a spy upon her friends think defects, and to do battle in any way.
But, both in the for him whenever I hear him autobiography and in the assailed.” To his wife Mrs letters, there thumbnail Oliphant became strongly atsketches which disclose the tached, recognising in her somesame gifts of observation and thing of the strong sense and humour as characterise her ready wit which had distinbest novels. Such a sketch, guished her own mother. for example, is her account admirable as these interludes of Mrs Duncan Stewart's en are, and excellent as are the tertainments in Sloane Street, anecdotes (not "put in to quote or her description of the people in the papers”) with which whom she came across when in many of the letters are pursuit of information about livened, it is upon Mrs Oliphant's Edward Irving - people who own personality that the interwere eager to impart much, if est is chiefly concentrated, and not all, about themselves, but it is the development of her were quite oblivious of the ob- character that the reader ject of her inquiries. There are watches most attentively. also many charming vignettes Mrs Oliphant was born on of men and women of Mr the 10th of June 1828, and was Story, now Principal of Glas- married on the 4th of May gow University, of the Tullochs, 1852. On the morning of her of Montalembert, of John Ruf- marriage she received the prooffini, of Mr and Mrs Blackett, sheets of “Katie Stewart': an of Robert Macpherson and his outward and visible sign, as it wife, of Lord Tennyson, and, were, of the beginning of a con
nection with 'Maga
with 'Maga' which During their stay in Italy the lasted for more than five-and- family, which now included a forty years.
• Katie Stewart' son and daughter, were princi—that exquisite little work- pally dependent for subsistence was not, however, Mrs Oli- upon advances made by Mr phant's first effort in literature, John Blackwood on the faith Margaret Maitland' had been of articles to be written by published by Colburn in 1849, Mrs Oliphant for his Magazine. when the author was twenty- Probably Mr Blackett also one, and had been followed by made similar remittances. At other novels of decidedly in- her husband's death Mrs Oliferior merit. Lord Jeffrey's phant found herself in these letter of congratulation to the circumstances : “I had for all anonymous author of 'Margaret my fortune about £1000 of Maitland' will be read with debt, a small insurance of, I much interest. The veteran think, £200 on Frank's life, critic was acute enough to guess our furniture laid
in the sex of the writer. Mrs Oli- warehouse, and my own faculphant herself did not display ties, such as they were, to make the same sagacity when the our living and pay off our "Scenes of Clerical Life' and burdens by.” A posthumous ‘Adam Bede' took the reading child was born, and then, with public by storm. Lord Jeffrey's the assistance of Mr Blackpraise must have been intensely wood and Mr Blackett, Mrs gratifying to the beginner, Oliphant returned to this counwhose early associations and try, where, after staying for surroundings, by the bye, were some months with her brother at all Whig, if not Radical; but, Birkenhead, and afterwards at considering his lordship's letter Elie in Fife (the scene of John with a cool mind, we think that Rintoul '), she settled for the his eulogy was not one whit too winter in Fettes Row, Edinstrong, and that, in his fault- burgh. It was during her refinding, he was, if anything, sidence there that, when things hypercritical. It was well for seemed at their very worst, she Mrs Oliphant that her barque began the Carlingford serieswas thus safely and satisfac- the most satisfactory and the torily launched upon the sea most popular group of her of letters, for, after her mar novels. They “almost made riage, she was the main sup me one of the popularities of port of the household. Her literature,” is her wistful comhusband's business—that of an mentary upon them. She reartist and designer of painted tells the story of her interview windows — proved the reverse with Mr John Blackwood and of remunerative. Finally his “the Major,” which readers of health broke down, and after the 'Annals of a Publishing the removal of the household to House' are not likely to have Italy in the vain hope that Mr forgotten. Truly,
Truly, the tide Oliphant might there recover turned for her at the right health, he died at Rome in 1859. moment. She never made so
much out of her writings as the best of everything was good some of her contemporaries—as enough for her. She hated Anthony Trollope, for example, small economies. . To travel or Miss Muloch. “Yet I have expensively was “her way.' done very well,” she admits, She never would travel second“for a woman, and a friend- class. “I never liked secondless woman with no
class journeys nor discomforts make the best of me, and quite of that kind.” Rather than unable to do that for myself face a twelve hours' passage I never could fight for a higher across the Channel she drove price, or do anything but trust from St Malo to Boulogne. to the honour of those I had She had none of what she calls to deal with.” After a winter “the faculty of economics ” in in Fettes Row, she moved to her. She stayed at the very Ealing, which was her head- best and most expensive hotels; quarters until she went to she dressed in the richest of Windsor for the education of silks and satins ; she insisted her boys.
on producing champagne for Now let the reader mentally her guests at dinner. To most place himself or herself in the people in her circumstances a situation in which Mrs Oliphant “main - door” in Fettes Row stood after her husband's death, and the boys going to the always postulating, of course, a neighbouring Edinburgh Acadcertain faculty for writing, and emy would have represented a certain established position in the summit of ambition. Fettes the world of letters. What Row is uninviting enough in all course would he pursue? We conscience. But the Academy imagine that a prudent person, had revived classical learning in on arriving in England from the Scottish secondary schools ; abroad, would seek out some it had introduced athletics into low - rented house in
Scottish school-life; and it holds country-town where education its own to-day in the face of sewas cheap, or
vere competition. Yet the Acadaltogether rural district; would emy, which was good enough cut down expenses as far as for most Scottish parents fivepossible and live with the and - thirty years ago, strictest economy; would direct not good enough for Mrs Olihis or her efforts to paying off phant. It must be either Eton outstanding debts and there or Harrow, and Eton it turned after to laying something by, out to be. as the phrase runs, "for a rainy But that was not all. Shortly day.” Not so Mrs Oliphant. after her removal to Windsor Deliberately and with open in order that her boy Cyril eyes she adopted a policy which might go to Eton, her brother necessarily involved her being was ruined, and without always behindhand with the instant's hesitation she took world. Her avowals as to this upon herself the charge of his “plan of campaign” are astound- family. It meant the addition ingly outspoken. Nothing but to her household of four people.