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LADY MORGAN AND HER AGE
neighborhood. Hence the vividness, the fresh air of reality, that is one of the secrets of her power as a novelist ; her figures are not lay-figures or creations of vacuous fancy, but real men and women, represented not in accordance with any merely conventional canons of art, but as such characters presented themselves to her in real life.
Another female novelist, who never took the classical rank accorded to Miss Edgeworth and Miss Austen, but who was a very conspicuous and much-discussed personage in her day, also achieved her first successes before the publication of “Waverley.” This was Miss Sydney Owenson, afterward Lady Morgan. With the usual longevity of women of letters, to which Miss Austen was an exception, dying in 1817 at the comparatively early age of forty-two, Lady Morgan lived and continued to write till 1859, although she was an eminent author several years before Miss Austen emerged from the obscurity of Hampshire. Where she was born remained to the last a mystery, and her biographer, Mr. Hepworth Dixon, respected her wishes on the point, and either did not attempt to discover or, if he did discover any thing, kept the secret. Tolerably early in her career a great point was publicly made against her by one of her critics, Mr. J. Wilson Croker, because she pretended to be younger than she really was, and this was probably the reason why she never would tell, and was unwilling that the little fact should be known after her death. Lady Morgan's age, brought into prominence by the ungallant man of dates Croker, who did not like her politics,-Croker was the original of Rigby in Disraeli’s “ Coningsby,”—was a disputed point for nearly half a century. Writing to the Atheneum in 1859 (January 22) apropos of some allusion to her age, the lively old lady made the following rhyme :
Then talk not to me of my age;
I appeal from the phrase to the fact
I'm still young in fun, fancy, and tact.”
for a school-girl, so that Croker was for once out in his dates, though he pretended to have consulted a register. The lady, it is needless to say, paid the critic out; she made him sit for the portrait of one of her most odious, sycophantic, unscrupulous political adventurers, Con Crawley in “Florence MacCarthy." Croker must have had a thick skin if he felt none of the shafts that were levelled at him. Macaulay ridiculed him heartily in his essay on Boswell's Johnson, and Disraeli's Rigby is one of the most cutting of the satires of that master of the art. The beginning of Croker's dislike to Lady Morgan, whom he attacked with a virulent personality not uncommon at the time, but long since out of fashion, was her politics. She followed Miss Edgeworth in choosing her subjects from her native country of Ireland ; but she was herself a different type of Irishwoman from that cool, sensible, impartially humorous lady-enthusiastic, romantic, inordinately fond of excitement and social notoriety. She drew her ideal of her own character in “ The Wild Irish Girl” Glorvina. Two of her Irish novels,-“ Florence MacCarthy” (1818) and “The O'Briens and the O'Flahertys” (1827),-may still be read with interest.
REV. CHARLES MATURIN
The character of Florence MacCarthy is charming; Phyllis French, in a recent novel by Frank Lee Benedict, “The Price she Paid," is an evident copy of her. Lady Morgan may have seen the original from which she drew in the earlier part of her life, for she was the daughter of an Irish actor, and had seen a good deal of Bohemian life before she acquired distinction as an authoress and was taken up by the Abercorn family, and married almost by stratagem to the family physician, Sir Charles Morgan.
Another Irish novelist deserves a word of mention, if only for the singularity of his career, the Rev. Charles Maturin, curate of St. Peter's in Dublin. Maturin had
, the curious fortune to attract the attention of some of the greatest magnates of literature in his time, who were struck by the power of his writing and his conception of situation and character, and believed one after another that it was possible for him to cure himself of the wild rhapsodical extravagance by which his productions were disfigured. He followed up Lady Morgan's “Wild Irish
. Girl ” with a “ Wild Irish Boy,” and a romance of his, "The Family of Montoria, or, The Fatal Revenge,” fell into Scott's hands in 1810, and was reviewed by him in the Quarterly. Maturin professed himself entirely convinced by the criticisms of his friends, acknowledged that his previous works were failures, and undertook to keep himself within the bounds of probability in the novel of “ Women, or, Pour et Contre.” His heroine Zaira was a great artist of unhappy domestic life, a study of the same kind as Mme. de Staël's “ Corinne George Sand's “ Consuelo.” It is not an uncommon type in recent fiction ; Miss Bertha Thomas's “ ViolinPlayer” is a recent example. Maturin had also a tragedy, “Bertram," produced at Drury Lane in 1818, through the influence of Lord Byron, which had the honor of being critically dissected by Coleridge. But
he i ver overcame his tendency to absurd extravagance of expression and wild improbability, though we can understand why it was that the great critics of the time continued to hope that he would tone down.
Miss Edgeworth, Miss Austen, Miss Owenson, and the wild Irish boy Maturin were in full swing when
Waverley” appeared in 1814, and was followed at short intervals by a series of novels received with an excitement to which there is hardly a parallel in our literature-no parallel at all, if we except the novels of Dickens. It would be absurd to attempt any criticism on the Waverley Novels in a fragment of a lecture, and the chief facts about the reception of them and the life of the great novelist during their composition are doubtless familiar to you all. I have already sketched for you how he laid the foundation for his extraordinary rapidity of production once he began to write novels. It was not, strictly speaking, impromptu writing, as Carlyle tauntingly described it; not impromptu in the sense of being writing without any previous preparation; it was rapid in virtue of great previous enthusiasm and industry in the accumulation of materials. He could not in so short a space of time have painted the costumes and manners and characters of so many different periods, from the eleventh century to the eighteenth, in Scotland, in England, on the Continent, if his mind had not been full of them before he began to write, and that familiarity had been obtained by years of labor in regions dry as dust to all but the enthusiastic antiquary. Special students of the present day can point to a good many errors of detail in Scott's mediævalism, though chiefly on trifling points ; but we must compare his romances with other so-called historical romances before his time, if we are to do justice to the extraordinary range of his historical knowledge, quite apart from his genius in reviving the life of the past.
Miss Jane Porter's “Scottish Chiefs" was one Ovithe first historical novels produced in this century, and the lady was always proud of having set the example to Scott; but there is very little real local color in her account of the adventures of Wallace and Bruce—there is hardly an attempt made to keep to historical probability. You will find in the introductions which he wrote for his novels shortly before his death an account of the actual incidents that suggested the various plots; but he would have had to go back over his life to his boyhood, when he devoured every history he could lay his hands on, in order to trace the origin of the resources that enabled him to clothe with such richness of costume and incident the bare skeleton of story that served him as a starting-point. It would seem that it was almost an accident that he did not begin writing prose romances before his metrical tales, and he humorously observes in the introduction to “ Waverley” that if his readers were inclined to complain of his fertility in novel-writing, they had reason to congratulate themselves that he was comparatively advanced in life before he began. He did make two beginnings, one in 1800 and another in 1805, of which you will find an account in the introduction to “ Waverley”; but he threw them aside for one reason or another. It was the success of Miss Edgeworth’s Irish tales, he tells us, that finally determined him to try to do for the people and scenery of Scotland what she had done for Ireland.
You all know the great calamity of Scott's life, the heroic courage with which he faced it, and the amazing power with which he labored cheerfully to retrieve his misfortune. You know how he connected himself with the printing and publishing business of the Ballantynes and Constable ; how in 1826, after earning unexampled sums by his novels, he found himself involved in liabilities to the amount of £170,000 ; and how he set himself to clear off this enormous load, toiling from morning