Billeder på siden

woman, however, has the advantage of possessing the ear of any company: and a woman of forty, with such tact and experience, as she will naturally have gathered in a talking practice of such duration, can find little difficulty in mortifying a boy, or sometimes, perhaps, in tempting him to unfortunate sallies of irritation. Me it was clear that she viewed in the light of a humble friend, or what is known in fashionable life by the humiliating name of a 'toad-eater.' Lord W., full of generosity in what regarded his own pretensions, and who never had violated the perfect equality which reigned in our deportment to each other, colored with as much confusion as myself at her coarse insinuations. And, in reality, our ages scarcely allowed of that relation which she supposed to exist between us. Possibly, she did not suppose it: but it is essential to the wit, and the display of some people, that it should have a foundation in malice. A victim, and a sacrifice, are indispensable conditions in every exhibition. In such a case my natural sense of justice would generally have armed me a hundred-fold for retaliation; but at present, chiefly perhaps because I had no effectual ally, and could count upon no sympathy in my audience, I was mortified beyond the power of retort, and became a passive butt to the lady's stinging contumely, and the arrowy sleet of her gay rhetoric. The narrow bounds of our deck made it not easy to get beyond talking range; and thus it happened, that for two hours I stood the worst of this bright lady's feud. The tables turned. Two ladies. appeared slowly ascending from the cabin, both in deepest mourning, but else as different in aspect as summer and winter. The elder was the Countess of Errol, then mourning an affliction which had laid her life desolate, and admitted of no human consolation. Heavier grief, grief more self-occupied and deaf to all voice of sympa

thy, I have not happened to witness. She seemed scarcely aware of our presence, except it were by placing herself as far as was possible from the annoyance of our odious conversation. The circumstances of her loss are now forgotten; at that time they were known to a large circle in Bath and London; and I violate no confidence in reviewing them. Lord Errol had been privately intrusted by Mr. Pitt with an official secret; — viz., the outline and principal details of a foreign expedition; in which, according to Mr. Pitt's original purpose, his Lordship was to have had a high command. In a moment of intoxication the Earl confided this secret to some false friend, who published the communication and its author. Upon this, the unhappy nobleman, under too keen a sense of wounded honor, and perhaps with an exaggerated notion of the evils attached to his indiscretion, destroyed himself. Months had passed since that calamity, when we met his widow; but time appeared to have done nothing in mitigating her sorrow. The younger lady, on the other hand, who was Lady Errol's sister, Heavens! what a spirit of joy and festal pleasure radiated from her eyes, her step, her voice, her manner! She was Irish; and the very impersonation of innocent gaiety, such as we find oftener amongst Irish women than those of any other country. Mourning, I have said, she wore; from sisterly consideration, the deepest mourning; that sole expression there was about her of gloom or solemn feeling, –

But all things else about her drawn,

From May-time and the cheerful dawn.

Odious blue-stocking of Belfast and Dublin! how I hated you up to that moment! half an hour after how grateful I felt for the hostility which had procured me such an alliOne minute sufficed to put the quick-witted young


Irishwoman in possession of our little drama, and the seyeral parts we were playing. To look was to understand, to wish was to execute, with this ardent child of nature. Like Spenser's Bradamant, with martial scorn, she couched her lance on the side of the party suffering wrong. Her rank, as sister-in-law to the Constable of Scotland, gave her some advantage for winning a favorable audience; and throwing her ægis over me, she extended that benefit to myself. Road was now made per force for me also; my replies were no longer stifled in noise and laughter. Personalities were banished; literature was extensively discussed; and that is a subject which, offering little room to argument, offers the widest to eloquent display. I had immense reading; vast command of words, which somewhat diminished as ideas and doubts multiplied; and, speaking no longer to a deaf audience, but to a generous and indulgent protectress, I threw out, as from a cornucopia, my illustrative details and recollections; trivial enough perhaps, as I might now think, but the more intelligible to my present circle. It might seem too much the case of a tempestas in matula, if I were to spend any words upon the revolution which ensued; and even the word revolution is too pompous for the case. Suffice it, that I remained the lion of that company which had previously been most insultingly facetious at my expense; and the intellectual lady finally declared the air of the deck unpleasant.

Never, until this hour, had I thought of women as objects of a possible interest, or of a reverential love. I had known them either in their infirmities and their unamiable aspects, or else in those sterner relations which made them objects of ungenial and uncompanionable feelings. Now first it struck me that life might owe half its attractions and all its graces to female companionship.


Gazing, perhaps, with too earnest an admiration at this generous and spirited young daughter of Ireland, and in that way making her those acknowledgments for her goodness which I could not properly clothe in words, I was roused to a sense of my indecorum by seeing her suddenly blush. I believe that Miss Bl― interpreted my admiration rightly; for she was not offended; but, on the contrary, for the rest of the day, when not attending to her sister, conversed almost exclusively, and in a confidential way, with Lord W— and myself. The whole, in fact, of this conversation must have convinced her that I, mere boy as I was, (not quite fifteen,) could not have presumed to direct my admiration to her, a fine young woman of twenty, in any other character than that of a generous champion, and a very adroit mistress in the dazzling fence of colloquial skirmish. My admiration had, in reality, been altogether addressed to her moral qualities, her enthusiasm, her spirit, and her wit. Yet that blush, evanescent as it was, the mere possibility that I, so very a child, should have called up the most transitory sense of bashfulness or confusion upon any female cheek, first, and suddenly as with a flash of lightning, penetrating some utter darkness, illuminated to my own startled consciousness, never again to be obscured, the pure and powerful ideal of womanhood and womanly excellence. This was, in a proper sense, a revelation; it fixed a great era of change in my life; and this new-born idea, being agreeable to the uniform aspirations of my own nature that is, lofty and sublime it governed my life with great power, and with most salutary effects. Ever after, throughout the period of youth, I was jealous of my own demeanor, reserved, and awe-struck in the presence of women; reverencing often not so much them as my own ideal of woman latent in them, and seldom,

indeed, more than imperfectly developed. For I carried about with me the idea, to which rarely did I see an approximation, of

A perfect woman, nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, to command.

And from this day I was an altered creature, and never again was capable of the careless, irreflective mind of childhood.

Great, doubtless, is the power of each sex over the Vother; and greater in proportion to the original nobility of the nature. But I know not why the dominion of woman over man, so far as the contemplation of the reciprocal ideals is concerned, seems the more absolute. I know not why, also, because it contradicts what one might have supposed a priori, the female ideal, (by which much abused term I mean the philosophic maximum perfectionis) seems less earthly and gross, pointing to a possible alliance with some higher form of purity and sanctity. And yet, according to our scriptural mythus, she was the daughter of earth and heaven, whilst man drew his parentage directly from heaven. Whence the Miltonic address,

'Daughter of God and man, accomplished Eve.'

And agreeably to this conception we are told, by the same authentic oracle, that whilst man was 'formed for God only,' she, on the contrary, was formed for God in him.' He drew his irradiation directly from the Deity, she only by reflex communication with him. However these are curious refinements. But it is a truth of the largest value, that the dominion of woman is potent, exactly in that degree in which the nature of woman is exalted. That woman reigns despotically, never through her image as

« ForrigeFortsæt »