« AnteriorContinuar »
their lives heroic, and in remembrance hallowed. Let them judge men severely, and aim at a simpler standard of living than is now thought needful to the gracious amenities of inter. course. Luxury is not their friend; the decadent is their worst enemy. An art, a literature, which degrades man does absolutely destroy woman; and an effeminate dilettantism, whether it falls on its knees in aesthetic rapture, or makes of religion a decorative industry, is merely the plague disguised. No man has ever sunk below fallen woman ; none had ever so much to lose. If the new generation seeks freedom, let it count the cost. Our finest ideals are in danger, and nothing but the true and sensitive conscience of the woman herself will save them. Yet, how splendid a task is here! The sovereign poets, who do not flatter, and have known the source of their own gifts, celebrate that inspiring Motherhood. We will not quote the ‘Second Faust”; in our view, Dante has reached a higher flight:—
‘Donna, se’ tanto grande, e tanto vali,
Will the New Woman lay to heart a lesson which is likewise a homage to her better self?
ART. II.-Songs, Poems, and Verses. By Helen, Lady Dufferin
HE distinguishing charm of the dainty volume in which Lord Dufferin has published his mother's verses is its naturalness. The prefatory Memoir strikes the keynote. It is not an exercise in the art of praise, nor a study in the portrayal of character. It is rather a debt of love. Lord Dufferin writes of his mother with a warmth of affection and with a just pride in her memory which impress the reader by their sincerity, and appeal to him more strongly than a colder, more restrained, and therefore less simple, introduction. He takes the public into his confidence with the genuine self-respect of true feeling, and he will find, we are convinced, that the confidence so given has not been misplaced.
The same charm of naturalness pervades the poems which are thus prefaced. Like the Memoir, they take the reader into the confidence of the writer. They are exact transcripts of the mind and moods of a tender-hearted, playful, witty, richlygifted woman, who found in verse the simplest mode of giving direct expression to her feelings. They are vivid pictures of the alternating lights and shades, the varying clouds and sunshine, that played upon the surface and revealed the depths of her nature. The impression is confirmed by the miscellaneous contents of the volume, and the apparently accidental character of their arrangement. Not only are thoughts grave and gay, humour and pathos, tears and laughter, sighs and smiles, as in real life, inextricably mingled, but very different degrees of merit are represented in the poems themselves. The volume is a collection of what Lady Dufferin wrote, rather than a selection of her best pieces. Her most successful efforts are placed side
by side with others in which she has comparatively failed.
occur to the majority of those who open the volume. To the present generation the verses will make their first appeal as the work of Lord Dufferin's mother. That this should be so would have brought joy to a woman who found in her son's growing reputation the chief happiness of her earthly being.
Our own writers on the subject of heredity have traced the descent of genius through the male line. A recent French writer, M. de Lescure, in his ‘Meres Illustres,’ has endeavoured to prove from an elaborate array of instances that there has never been a great man who had not a great mother. Greatmess is a relative term. Men may become eminent whose mothers were not gifted with superior powers of mind or even conspicuous virtues. In the face of such instances as Voltaire, Gibbon, Mirabeau, or Byron, it is impossible to say that there are not exceptions to M. de Lescure's proposition. On the other hand, the rule is so far confirmed by facts that an additional interest attaches to the character and abilities of a woman who has given birth to a distinguished son.
It was our own poet Gray who made the discovery of which, he says, many men seem ignorant, that ‘in one's whole life one can never have more than a single mother.' Happy those who make the same discovery before it is too late to profit by it ! That happiness belonged to Lord Dufferin, and, as he truly calls it, at the most critical period in a man's life.
“My mother, in spite of the gaiety of her temperament and her powers of enjoyment, or perhaps on that very account, was imbued by a deep religious spirit—a spirit of love, purity, self-sacrifice, and unfailing faith in God's mercy. In spite of her sensitive taste, keen sense of humour, involuntary appreciation of the ridiculous, and exquisite critical faculty, her natural impulse was to admire, and to see the good in everything, and to shut her eyes to whatever was base, vile, or cruel. The intensity of her love for Nature was another remarkable characteristic. I never knew any one who seemed to derive such exquisite enjoyment as she did from the splendours of earth and heaven, from flowers, from the sunshine, or the song of birds. A beautiful view produced in her the same ecstasy as did lovely music. But the chief and dominant characteristic of her nature was her power of loving. However little, as I am obliged to confess to my shame, I may have profited by these holy and blessed influences no one, I am sure, has ever passed from boyhood to manhood under more favourable and ennobling conditions.”
Lord Dufferin's mother belonged to the Sheridan family, whose history affords a most remarkable illustration of the transmission of hereditary qualities. For four generations, and the
the record may be carried back to a yet more remote point, as well as extended into collateral branches, Lady Dufferin's direct ancestors and ancestresses had been celebrated for literary talents, wit, and beauty. Dr. Thomas Sheridan was the bosom friend of Swift, and the gaiety and sweetness of his disposition dispersed the gloom of the Dean, as the harp of David, to use the simile of Pope, exorcised the evil spirit of Saul. His son, also Thomas Sheridan, was a talented man of letters, and the intimate friend of Garrick and of Johnson. He married Miss Chamberlaine, a lady who was not without a spark of literary genius. Her novels were widely read, and from her play of the ‘Discovery’ Garrick created one of his favourite parts. ‘When “The Rivals” was running at Covent Garden,’ says Lord Dufferin, on the authority of Moore, ‘Garrick renewed “The Discovery” at Drury Lane, so that two pieces by the mother and the son were being acted at the same moment at the two great London theatres.’ The son of Thomas Sheridan and Frances Chamberlaine was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who was the most brilliant talker and the greatest conversational wit of the circle in which he moved, and who, as Byron said, wrote the best comedy, the best farce, the best address, and delivered the best oration ever conceived or heard in this country. Miss Linley, who became his wife, was one of the most lovely and charming women of that day, the St. Cecilia of Reynolds, and the original of fascinating and graceful pictures by Romney and Gainsborough. Not only was she a consummate musical artist, but she possessed a pretty talent for writing verses. Their son, Thomas Sheridan, who inherited the ready wit of his father and the charm of his mother, himself married a clever and beautiful woman, Miss Callander, whose novels were once deservedly popular. The early death of her husband in 1817 left her a widow with six small children, a slender pension, and scanty means. By the kindness of the King she was given apartments in Hampton Court, and, being a woman of sound sense and firm character, and actuated by a high ideal of duty, was able to pay her husband's few debts and educate her children. But the struggle with poverty was long as well as real. Readers of Mrs. Norton's poetry will remember the lines in which she speaks of her mother at this period of her life:–
“Oft, since that hour, in sadness I retrace
Mrs. Sheridan's eldest son made a brilliant runaway match. The two others died young. Her three daughters were Lady Dufferin, Mrs. Norton, and the Duchess of Somerset, who, as Lady Seymour, was the Queen of Beauty at the Eglinton Tournament.
“There were,' writes Lord Lamington in the ‘Days of the Dandies,' “at this time three sisters, fairest among the fairest—Lady Seymour, Lady Dufferin, and Mrs. Norton—who afford the highest proofs of the transmission of hereditary qualities. Miss Linley was equally remarkable for the grace and charm of womanhood. The grandchildren possessed the united gifts which won all hearts. No one who has ever met Lady Dusserin could forget her rare combination of grace, beauty, and wit.'
Writing of Lady Dufferin in 1842, a year after her husband's death, Mary Somerville, in her ‘Personal Recollections, says:—
“There was much beauty at Rome at that time. No one who was there can have forgotten the beautiful, brilliant Sheridans. I recollect Lady Dufferin, at the Easter ceremonies at St. Peter's, in her widow's cap, with a large black crape veil over it, creating quite a sensation. With her exquisite features and oval face, anything more lovely could not be conceived; and the Roman people crowded round her in undisguised admiration of “La bella monaca inglese.” Her charm of manner and her brilliant conversation will never be forgotten by those who knew her.’
Similar testimony to the exceptional charms of the three sisters is borne by other writers whose recollections ran back to the first half of the present century, and Lord Dufferin's description of his mother is not more glowing than are many of the contemporary portraits of her which were drawn by persons who cannot be suspected of partiality.
“My mother, though her features were less regular than those of her sisters, was equally lovely and attractive. Her figure was divine, —the