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The Young Philosopher
    (Review / The Young Philosopher: a Novel, by Charlotte Smith)
  Analytical Review /JAS, 1798
  vol 28 p73-77
ART XV. The Young Philosopher: A Novel. By Charlotte Smith. 4 Vols. 12mo. 1236 pages. Price 16s. sewed. Cadell and Davies. 1798.

The present production is certainly not calculated to lessen the reputation which Mrs Smith has deservedly acquired in this species of composition. The story, in which two distinct narrations are connected, possesses considerable merit and interest; the characters are drawn with spirit, and well sustained; the incidents contrived and managed with ingenuity and effect; the whole is pervaded by a vein of good sense, liberal sentiment, and just observation; enlivened by a fertile and cultivated imagination; and composed in a style easy, agreeable, and appropriate. Curiosity is excited and attention kept alive throughout; in the perusal of four volumes, containing 1236 pages, we were sensible of no degree of languor or satiety. The title is not happily chosen; young Delmont, the hero of the tale, is too much the victim of his affections, and, in the case of his profligate brother, for whom he impoverishes himself, the slave of his prejudices, to merit the appellation of a philosopher: he is, perhaps, a more interesting character, an amiable man. The story of Glenmorris is conceived with great interest and spirit, but the form in which it is related is by no means colloquial; a manner difficult to preserve, and therefore injudiciously attempted in narration -conversation is not the forte of our author. We are concerned that Mrs S.'s experience should be of a nature to justify her repeated and severe attacks on a profession connected with learning, and, in it's [sic] higher departments, with liberal inquiry and the spirit and manners of a gentleman: general censures are too apt to degenerate into [74] illiberality; from the gall which, on this subject, has, on various occasions, mingled with our author's ink, her fate, we are obliged to conclude, has been peculiarly unfortunate. To detail the incidents of a work of this nature would be doing it injustice; as a specimen which cannot fail of interesting the reader, we subjoin an extract from Mrs Glenmorris's account of her persecutions, at the house of lady Kilbrodie, in the highlands of Scotland, during the absence and apprehended death of her husband.

Vol. II p. 105 - 'During the first days of my enforced abode among them, I sunk into such dejection, that I hoped and believed my wretchedness was nearly at an end; but my faithful Menie, the servant who was suffered to follow me, exerted herself to support my failing courage, and by degrees succeeded. Her principal arguments were founded on the preservation of my unborn infant; and on the hope that Glenmorris, though wounded and a prisoner, might yet survive, and hereafter return to bless me and his child. The natural love of life at my age, and the natural strength of my constitution, insensibly conquered even the additional discomforts of my present abode. I once more suffered Menie to lead me out; I saw once more the light of the sun shining on the distant mountains, for his beams were yet too remote to be felt or seen in the dark and inhospitable vale of Kilbrodie.

'But it was very soon visible that my recovery, my health, and the birth of my child, were circumstances which were not desired by my hostess. In proportion as I seemed to resist the bitterness of my destiny, and likely to emerge from the gloom that overwhelmed me, the countenance of the old gentlewoman became darker towards me. She perpetually annoyed me with her irksome presence, and talked to me of the judgments of heaven, which she said always pursued, and sooner or later overtook, undutiful children. She deplored the condition of her kinsman's soul, who doubtless, she said, had died in a state of reprobation; adding, that she had caused prayers to be put up for his poor sinful spirit in her chapel, and hoped I should repent me of the great wickedness of having left my affectionate parents to run off with him. I had listened to such cant before; and though it shocked me to hear Glenmorris thus named, I despised the folly of the old hypocrite as much as I detested her cruelty. But she soon opened other batteries upon me, which she thought must answer her inhuman purpose. As the time of my lying-in approached, she caused the superstitions of the country to be brought forward, to alarm me with ideas of danger and dread of death.

'Sometimes, portentous sounds were heard in the air; and at others the corpse candle1 was seen to go from my chamber to the burial ground of the abbey. The cry of an english [sic] bogie or sprite [75] was heard, intimating the death of a person of that nation - but that was rather a miscalculation on the part of those who directed this machinery, for I was not only not a native of England, having been born at Florence, but I had never been naturalized. This, however, the graunie did not know; though it helped me to repress such fears as might have arisen from the "cry of an english ghaist2!"

'The old highlander, who had the care of the boats by which the lady Kilbrodie supplied her house with fish, never went down to the sea but he returned with a tale of kelpies of the maist eldritch kind, which shreeked around him - and these stories were sometimes repeated in my presence as if by accident, and sometimes told to me with great appearance of concern by the old witchlike looking woman, who was, I found, engaged by the lady to attend me. This frightful creature boasted of possessing the gift of second sight, or at least a degree of prescience nearly approaching to it; and I soon was given to understand that she foresaw some great calamity was about to befal [sic] me.

'These presentiments of evil are often the causes that evil really arrives, especially in persons in my circumstances, even when surrounded with every convenience, and assured of every assistance. On me, however, the cruel impressions thus endeavoured to be made would have had little effect, had I not known that the persons who prophecied [sic], had the means of assuring the truth of their predictions. I now too clearly understood the reason of lady Kilbrodie's officious zeal, which I had at first but imperfectly comprehended. I remembered an history I had read of the cruel machinations used to deprive a countess de Guiche3 of her child; and I saw in lady Kilbrodie the same motive as influenced the perpetrators of that crime, with more easy means of effecting it.

'The horror which seized on my mind is not to be described. Sometimes I so yielded to the influence of this dread, as hardly to have any other consciousness of my existence than that which fear impressed - and I refused to quit my bed to see the light, or to take any nourishment but what Menie gave me, first tasting it herself; then, roused by the still active principle of self-preservation, I tried to assume some degree of apparent chearfulness [sic], and went out with Menie, meditating on the possibility of escaping. But, alas! whither could I go? From the castle of Glenmorris could I have taken shelter there, the same pretence, and the same usurped power, might again have compelled me. I had neither money to procure the means of removal, by any carriage which could be obtained in that remote country, or strength to seek on foot a place where such might be hired. I now thought of writing to my father, and imploring his pity and forgiveness; now of throwing myself on the mercy of lady Mary, and then of trying to interest my sister, and [76] her lord, in my deplorable state. But I doubted whether any letter of mine would ever reach my father, and even the mercy of my mother I thought of with terror. My sister might perhaps scorn and neglect me; and to her husband I was almost a stranger. And far from assisting me, they might fear my restoration to my father's favour as likely to be injurious to themselves. It was in vain I consulted with Menie. She was a scotch [sic] girl, who had never left the highlands, and was totally ignorant of any mode of life beyond them. All she could do was weep with me, and to promise that nothing should induce her or force her to leave men.

'Every observation I made, every word that fell from lady Kilbrodie, now served to confirm my apprehensions. To secure to her son the succession of Glenmorris, it was necessary my child should perish; for that reason only, had it appeared to lady Kilbrodie worth her while to take me from my own house; that we should die together, was probably a yet greater object, and that we might indeed do so was the next wish I formed, after those that perpetually tempted me to try to escape were evidently fruitless.

'To a young mind, to one yet uninformed by sad experience, of how much wickedness avarice may render a human being guilty, it is hard to believe that such atrocity could exist, as I now imputed to this old woman. But her whole conduct, as well as that observed by her people by her orders, the dark hints and mysterious phrases of old Meggy Macgregor, the howdie4 who was to attend me; the continual endeavours, that were evident, to impress my mind with ideas of impending danger; and the anger lady Kilbrodie expressed, if any mention was made of the possibility that Glenmorris might survive; the satisfaction which lightened in her eyes when she saw me sinking, and crushed beneath the weight of my miseries; all these, and many other circumstances, left not a doubt remaining, either of what her expectations were, or of her being equal to any detestable action that might render those expectations not ineffectual.

'No dreary description, drawn from imagination of tombs and caverns haunted by evil spirits, could equal the gloomy horrors of the place, where I was doomed to linger out the few and wretched days of my remaining existence. The long, narrow, and only partially glazed windows of my cell, looked upon the fragments and half fallen arches of the ruined convent. - Caverns yawned in many places beneath them; among which echoed only the howling of the hunting dogs, that were kept, (or rather half starved) by the lady Kilbrodie, to procure her game from the mountains and muirs, which they perhaps pursued more successfully, as the entrails of what was taken, was almost the only food they ever got, unless the sea, to which they frequently resorted, afforded them a repast of dead fish.

'Often has the little rest I could obtain, been broken by the cries and yells of these wretched animals -

"And loud and long the dog of midnight howl'd.5"

[77] 'On such occasions Meggy Macgregor, the howdie, never failed to assure me, that "quhan the collies gan scrachin and makin croon, dule wad befa."

'1. In certain places the death of people is supposed to be foretold by the cries and shrieks of Benshi, or the fairies' wife, uttered along the very path where the funeral is to pass; and what in Wales are called corpse candles, are often imagined to appear and foretel [sic] mortality.

'2. Dr Johnson relates, in his Journey to the Hebrides, that in his passage from one place to another, one of the highland boatmen declared he "heard the cry of an english ghost."'

'3. Related in Les Causes célébres.' [sic]

'4. Howdie, a midwife.'

'5. I suspect this to be a line of miss Seward's.'

[complete] Provided by Julie Shaffer, August 1999.