« ZurückWeiter »
of Exeter, where he soon after died. His first preferments he no doubt owed to the Queen, of whom he published a character, which has been attributed to Lord Hervey. His letters, though they address Mrs. Clayton as · Honoured' and sometimes . Most Honoured Madam,' and are not free from the odour of adulation which infects the general mass, are upon the whole the most respectable in the book. He sometimes tells Mrs. Clayton, when she happened to be out of town, the news of the day, and occasionally takes some critical notice of new publications, all in a tone of moderation and good sense. He had a parish in Hampshire, and had a share in bringing Stephen Duck the thresher-poet to the notice of Mrs. Clayton and the Queen; and he was the person chiefly employed in forwarding the Queen's charitable intentions towards this poor man. Duck's story is to be found in all the Biographies—and it is told, as it never will be told again, in Southey's charming Essay on the Uneducated Poets;'-—and Dr. Clarke's letters, though judicious in themselves, and in some passages not uninteresting, are too long to admit of their being transferred to our pages. We may, however, saythough it is no great praise—that these letters about poor Duck are the only dozen pages in the volumes which we should think worth preserving; they would find an appropriate place in the Gentleman's Magazine, when the rest of this farrago is consigned to thus et odores.
Such-at once so trivial and so dull-so swollen and so empty -are the "Memoirs of Viscountess Sundon.' We assure our readers that we opened the book with no prepossession against it. Quite the contrary. We were inclined to receive with thanks any additional illustration, however slight, of a period in which it happens that the details of our domestic history are singularly scanty-the interval, we may say, between Swift and Horace Walpole. Our readers will perhaps wonder that we should have taken any trouble at all about such a performance as this: but such publications tend, if unexposed, to propagate historical error, and we consider it as a part of our duty to discourage, as far as our influence may extend, a not creditable species of manufacture, now much in vogue, of which these volumes present a glaring specimen.
Art. IV.-Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry. Edited by
two of her Daughters. Vol. 1. Svo. London, 1847. WE
E do not disguise the increasing hesitation with which we
receive biographies founded on private notes and diaries that record, or seem to do so, the thoughts and struggles of the inmost heart. Any one of eminence, in the present day, who commits these things to paper, must do so under the full conviction that, like Castor and Pollux, as he himself sets, his journals will rise ; and that whatever he has written in his closet will be proclaimed on the house-tops. Such a prospect of enried or unenvied fame cannot but give a tinge to the sentiments and language ; cause the insertion of some incidents and reflections, and the suppression of others; bring forward art at the expense of nature; and, in short, prompt every one to wear his best for the eyes of posterity. The autobiography included in the present work must, however, be considered as in great measure exempt from this criticism. The larger proportion of it was written in early days, before journalizing had been reduced to a system, and secret cogitations forced into notoriety, like reluctant Speakers of old into the chair of the Commons. Yet, while the stamp of originality remains, we discern the traces of a revising hand—a hand guided by the experience and feelings of maturer years, which apparently has spared in candour much that it might otherwise have been wished to erase, and retouched the remainder, far less in vanity than in graceful timidity, so soon as Mrs. Fry had perceived beyond a doubt that, alive or dead, in true or false colours, she was destined to afford a repast to the public appetite. In truth, however, we should be loath to subject this publication to any ordinary criticism; it deals with common life, and yet soars above it; associates with man, and yet walks with God; never so elevated as when grovelling in the mire, it exhibits a career that cannot be surpassed—but which, we venture to add, ought not in all its parts to be generally followed.
That this admirable woman had a special vocation for the office she undertook is manifest in every step of her progress; her intellectual constitution was singularly adapted to the peculiar task; add to this the zeal which governed the whole, an enthusiasm regulated but never chilled by judgment; and we have a character armed at all points, ready to take up the gauntlet of every conceivable obstacle that could impede her in the accomplishment of her great design. Among subordinate, yet very real advantages, we cannot fail to count the succour she derived from her connexion with the Society of Friends. A little eccentricity of action was considered permissible, and even
natural, in the member of a body already recognised as eccentric in opinions, eccentric in dress, eccentric in language. Philanthropy, too, had been the distinguishing characteristic of this respectable brotherhood; a devious effort for the interest of mankind passed in one of them without censure-almost without observation. The Quaker-habit and Quaker-renown disarmed hostility, nay, propitiated favour; it secured the first introduction to magistrates, to nobles, to ministers, to emperors. When so much was effected, the rest was sure; her simple dignity of demeanour, her singularly musical voice, her easy unaffected language, the fit vehicle of her unfailing good sense, her earnest piety and unmistakeable disinterestedness, enchained the most reluctant; and to every Cabinet and Court of Europe where religion and humanity could be maintained or advanced, she obtained ready admission as a herald of peace and charity.
But, we must repeat, we take her as the exception, not as the rule. The high and holy duties assigned to women by the decrees of Providence are essentially of a secret and retiring nature; it is in the privacy of the closet that the soft, yet sterling, wisdom of the Christian mother stamps those impressions on the youthful heart, which, though often defaced, are seldom wholly obliterated. Whatever tends to withdraw her from these sacred offices, or even abate their full force and efficacy, is high treason against the hopes of a nation. We do not deny that valuable services may be safely, and indeed are safely, rendered by many intelligent and pious ladies who devote their hours of leisure or recreation to the Rarotongas and Tahitis of British Christendom-it is not to such that we would make allusion ; our thoughts are directed to that total absorption which, plunging women into the vortex of eccentric and self-imposed obligations, merges the private in the public duty, confounds what is principal with that which is secondary, and withdraws them from labours which they alone can accomplish, to those in which at least they may be equalled by others. We may question whether, even here in the instance before us, the indulgence of a special and manifest superiority was not sometimes purchased by the postponement, or delegation to substitutes, of those minute and unostentatious offices which constitute the order, the preciousness, nay, the life itself of domestic dis. cipline. Much, no doubt, was easy, and also permitted, to a lady whose notions and habits were founded on the practice of female ministration in matters ecclesiastical.
It is beside our purpose to examine the Scriptural legality or social expediency of such a system: we glance at it now, merely to show the very peculiar circumstances which fitted her, from her earliest years, for her public task.
Elizabeth Gurney was born of an ancient and honourable race in the county of Norfolk. Her own immediate family, having maintained the highest respectability for many generations, has latterly become conspicuous by all the gifts of talent, munificence, and piety. To the care and understanding of their admirable mother (and is it not always so ?) must be ascribed the development of their moral and intellectual capacities; the future character of Elizabeth owed not a little to that parent's thoughtfulness and providential discipline—the unwearied patience, the chastened sensibility, the habit of prayer, and expansive love to all God's works, that shone so eminently throughout her career. She piously acknowledges the filial debt in a short memoir (p. 7), which is well worthy of perusal, not only as illustrative of the disposition of the writer, but for the singularly sensible and appropriate remarks on the minute and considerate care required in the education of children. Much in it recalls the early history of William Cowper, and exhibits the almost inconceivable sufferings endured by youthful susceptibility and imagination, the sources of genius, but oftentimes the elements of sorrow. Here is the special province for the action of the discriminating mother; and, doubtless, had the infancy of that exquisite poet been longer blessed by the tender guidance of his own admirable parent, his spirit might have assumed in some measure the practical character of Elizabeth Fry, and preyed less fiercely and systematically on itself.
Every page of her early journal exhibits the traces of this first direction to her juvenile thoughts. The desire of personal usefulness, though for some time feeble and indistinct, runs like a vein through all her reflections and aspirations. She exhausts herself in conflicts, in hopes, and in fears ; proves her heart like Solomon's with mirth, and finds it vanity; braves sacrifices, conjures up doubts, and finally embraces the realities of Gospel truth as the only assurance for herself, and the exclusive instrument for the lasting welfare of mankind. Every reader will be struck by the precocity she exhibits of mental power, and ascribe the originality of her remarks less to her experience of others than to her study of herself. It was the clear perception of her own weakness that brought her to the one thing needful,' and which gives a catholic value to the whole, as a guide and prop to those who may hereafter tread the thorny path of moral and social benevolence. We are amused, we confess, by her struggles with Quakerism, and her ultimate surrender to a pedantic system, by which her inner being could never be ruled, Though a member of a sect, she in truth was no sectarian; but, underneath the ostentatious singularity of the mob-cap and light
grey manile, bore a humble heart—and a heart that could give honour to whom honour was due, whether he wore an ermine robe, sleeves of lawn, or the foulest rags. We are at a loss for her reasons; the Concern,' such is the term, is not alleged in her journal to have offered spiritual advantages unattainable elsewhere. She may have yielded to the persuasions of her many relatives, to the suggestions of convenience; but, whatever the motive, she embraces, with true self-devotion, the whole; adopts, without reserve, the Friends' ceremonial law; and finds various philosophical arguments to fortify the usage of Thou and Thee' (pp. 56, 61). •I considered,' she observes, there were certainly some advantages attending it; the first, that of weaning the heart from this world, by acting in some little things differently from it.'-Vain science all, and false philosophy! Our deep respect for many Quakers will not beguile us into a fulsome conceit of the elevating and purgative powers of Quakerism. They are men of like passions with ourselves; they may be seen in Mark Lane and on the Exchange, and pursue their wealth and enjoy it with similar zeal and relish. Nor are they fully weaned from the rougher and more stimulating diet of political ambition. With the vow of separation upon them, they have recently shaved their heads, and entered the world of parliamentary service : how far they or the public have gained by this invasion of the Nazarites is beyond our experience. One of them, however, must have imbibed the humanizing influence of Thou and Thee;' since the friend who knew him best not long ago declared, that if John Bright had not been born a Quaker, he would most assuredly have become a prize-fighter.'
The second period of Mrs. Fry's history may fairly be dated from her first adventure to survey those scenes of degradation and neglect, which she was afterwards so efficienıly to rebuke. Hitherto her Journal has presented much sameness both of event and observation; it was perhaps inevitable in so limited a sphere. We are, nevertheless, of opinion that a freer use of an editorial pruning-knife would have brought some advantage to the book, and comfort to the student. We pant amidst the ceasless rush of new publications—excitement and distraction are the order of the day, and if the memory of every one who has figured in the world is to be embalmed in three stout octavos, or two with numerous pages and close type, we must either, excluding all the past, surrender ourselves to the study of our deceased contemporaries; or take the other extreme, and, like Parson Adams, intermeddle with nothing since the days of Æschylus.'
The state of Newgate at this time would have been a shame to any fifth-rate duchy, the population of which could boast but