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    (Review / Patronage, by Maria Edgeworth)
  British Critic /JAS, 1814
  ns vol. 1 (1814): 159-73.
Art. V. Patronage. By Maria Edgeworth. In four volumes. Il. 8s. Johnson and Co. 1814.

Society is under no trifling obligations to the ingenuity of those persons who from time to time contribute by their exertions to the removal of that mauvaise honte; which is the national characteristic at a first introduction, or to the relief of that insufferable langour [sic], which is the inseparable attendant on a protracted tête-a-tête, where the private stock of the parties is thoroughly exhausted, and the public resources of the company are on the eve of a bankruptcy. Lord Byron has done much within these last three months to furnish the fashionable world with materials for discussion, and, if report says true, will probably continue his subscription to the stock of general conversation: but notwithstanding his Lordship's exertions, many a long and tedious interval still remains to be supplied; for, according to the highest computation, we cannot reckon the Bride of Abydos and the Corsair together at more than a quarter of an hour, the cancelled pages and their consequences at ten minutes, and the character of the author, and all his former works, at five minutes more, - there will still remain a space of perhaps two hours at a dinner party to be supplied. When the exhaustion of Lord Byron has displayed itself in that most fatal of all symptoms on the face of one's neighbour, a suppressed yawn, - then it is, that at the name of 'Patronage' the energies of the soul are revived, the features are rouzed into attention, and a fresh tide of discussion again floats the stranded vessel. We can hardly recollect a novel which has attracted the attention of the public in so strong a degree, and we cannot entertain a doubt, but that in the more remote parts of our island its circulation will be proportionately extended. Upon the appearance of so successful a candidate for general applause, it becomes the duty of those who claim any influence over the public mind to ascertain the grounds upon which its reputation is founded, and strictly to examine the probable consequences of its favourable reception on the taste or morals of the age. Where the return made to the public for its admiration and applause is the inculcation of false ideas, either with respect to the principles of morality, the laws of taste, or the delineation of character, it is the office of criticism to expose the errors, and detect the fallacy of such representations, and to counteract the mischievous tendency which may result from their universal reception.

The influence of a novel upon the generality of its readers has been much undervalued; it was once considered as a relaxation only for the minds of the studious, and a momentary resource for [160] empty volatility, or thoughtless indolence. But in the very relaxation of the mind from severer pursuits, it frequently happens that its avenues are guarded with less caution, and a facility of approach is allowed to various impressions and ideas, which in its more tenacious and active moments would not be permitted. To the dissipated and to the idle a novel is of itself a study; and though its tenure in the memory is but of small duration, some impression on the tabula rasa of such a mind will still remain, and the ideas which it affords will often be preserved, long after the pages of one trifling story have been forgotten in the follies of another. So much has this power been acknowledged of late, that it is now the fashion to interweave history, morality, and religion into the text of a novel, and to render what was intended only as a refuge for the indolent, a vehicle of instruction and a means of improvement. All these circumstances call for a strict examination of the principles of those works which have so powerful, though imperceptible, an influence on the public mind, lest popularity should be mistaken for truth, and what was written for the purpose of amusement or instruction should become the fruitful source of false notions and erroneous ideas.

To the morality of Miss Edgeworth, we can raise no objection. The most innocent and spotless mind would rise from the perusal of these volumes as pure as when it commenced its research. But if from the pages before us we should form our estimate of men and manners, we should find ourselves betrayed into very false conceptions of what passes beyond the sphere of our own immediate knowledge, and into very dangerous misapprehensions on subjects of no mean nor trivial importance. The truth of her colouring, and the fidelity of her portraiture in many of her scenes, render us the more easy victims of deception in others, where reality is lost in fiction, and nature is disguised by the grossest caricature.

The scene is laid throughout in the highest life, and seldom descends even to the inferior appendages of the fashionable world. The story is simple, and is intended rather to introduce and to support the characters, than to excite attention in the mind of the reader from its own peculiar interest. A vessel is driven on the coast of Hampshire, having on board a diplomatist from a foreign court. In his anxiety to escape from the wreck, he loses a packet of letters entrusted to his care. These letters are found by Commissioner Falconer, who decyphers their contents, and discovers that they contain some important documents respecting an intrigue in the cabinet of this country against the interests of Lord Oldborough, its Prime Minister. The Commissioner makes Lord O acquainted with its contents; and as a reward for this important service, both he and his whole family are taken under [161] his Lordship's patronage and protection. His eldest son is appointed Secretary to the Minister, and afterwards Envoy to a foreign court; his second son is made a Dean, and his third a Colonel in the army. In the course of the history, the first enters into a cabal against his patron, and the third is tried by a court martial for gross incompetency and neglect of duty. Mrs Falconer is induced to forge the Minister's hand and seal in promises of places and employments, to support her expences in fashionable life; after the detection of which Lord Oldborough resigns; the Commissioner is ruined, and his daughters having failed in all their matrimonial schemes, are returned on his hands. As a contrast to these, the family of the Percys are introduced. The father, though ejected, by the villainy of an attorney, from his paternal estate, refuses to enlist himself under the banners of Lord Oldborough, who is his private friend. His three sons, the one in the army, the second in the law, and the other in medicine, rise by merit alone to the highest eminence in their several professions: his two daughters are both married to men of rank and fortune; and the story concludes with the recovery of his paternal estate, through the exertions of his son. Lord Oldborough retires, like the Count Duke in Gil Blas, to solitude and seclusion; and without much reason why or wherefore, suddenly finds himself blessed with one of the inferior characters of the tale, as a son by a former marriage.

One of the most prominent personages in the history is Lord Oldborough, the Prime Minister of the country. His character is founded upon that of our immortal Minister, Mr Pitt. There is, however, in the copy a coldness and reserve which was never to be found in the great original. The opening scene is well imagined, and powerfully drawn.

Lord Oldborough, after walking up and down the room with the Commissioner in silence for some minutes, retired with him into his study, rang, and gave orders that they should not be interrupted on any account till supper. The servant informed his Lordship that such and such persons, whom he had appointed, were waiting - 'I cannot see them till to-morrow,' - naming the hour. - The servant laid on the table before his Lordship a huge parcel of letters. - Lord O with an air of repressed impatience, bid the man send his Secretary, Mr Drakelow, - looked over the letters, wrote with a pencil, and with great dispatch, at the back of each - met Mr Drakelow as he entered the room - put the unfolded letters altogether into his hands - 'The answers, on the back - to be made out in form - ready for signature at six to-morrow.'

'Yes, my Lord - May I ask...'

'Ask nothing, Sir, if you please - I am busy - you have your directions.' - Mr Drakelow bowed submissive, and made his exit [162] with great celerity. 'Now to our business, my dear Sir,' said his Lordship, seating himself at the table with Mr Falconer, who immediately produced M de Tourville's papers. - It is not necessary at this period in our story, to state precisely their contents; it is sufficient to say that they opened to Lord Oldborough a scene of diplomatic treachery abroad, and of ungrateful duplicity at home. From some of the intercepted letters he discovered that some of his colleagues, who appeared to be acting along with him with the utmost cordiality, were secretly combined against him, and were carrying on an underplot to deprive him at once of popularity, favour, place, and power. - The strength, firmness - hardness of mind which Lord Oldborough exhibited at the moment of this discovery, perfectly amazed Mr Falconer. His Lordship gave no sign of astonishment, uttered no indignant exclamation, nor betrayed any symptoms of alarm; but he listened with motionless attention, when Mr Falconer from time to time interrupted his reading, and put himself to great expence of face and lungs to express his abhorrence of 'such inconceivable treachery.' Lord Oldborough maintained an absolute silence, and waiting till the Commissioner had exhausted himself in invective - would point with his pencil to the line in the paper where he had left off, and calmly say ..... 'Have the goodness to go on. - Let us proceed, Sir, if you please.' The Commissioner went on till he came to the most important and interesting point, and there glancing his eye on his intended patron's profile, which was towards him, - he suddenly stopped. - Lord Oldborough, raising his head from the hand on which it leaned, turned his full front face on Mr Falconer. 'Let me hear the whole, if you please, Sir. - I wish always to see men and things as they are.' Mr Falconer still hesitating, and turning over the leaves - 'As my friend in this business, Mr Falconer,' continued his Lordship, 'you will comprehend that the essential point is to put me as soon as possible in possession of the facts. - Then I can decide and act - If it will not fatigue you too much, I wish to go through the papers before I sleep.'

'Fatigue! Oh, my Lord, I am not in the least ... cannot be fatigued. - But the fact is I cannot go on - for the next pages have not yet deciphered - the cipher changes here.' Lord Oldborough looked much disappointed, and provoked, but after a few minutes pause, calmly said, - 'What time will it take, Sir, to decipher the remainder?' The Commissioner protested he did not know, - could not form an idea, - he and his son had spent many hours of intense labour on the first papers, before he could make out the cipher, - now this was a new cipher probably more difficult, and whether he could make it out at all, or in what time, he was unable to say. Lord O replied, 'Let us understand one another at once, Commissioner Falconer, if you please. My maxim is, and the maxim of every man in public life is, or ought to [163] be, - serve me, and I will serve you. - I have no pretensions to Mr Falconer's friendship on any other grounds, I am sensible; nor on any other grounds can he have a claim to whatever power of patronage I possess. But I neither serve, nor will be served by halves. - My first object, is to make myself master, as soon as possible, of the contents of the papers in your hands; my next, to secure your inviolable secrecy on the whole transaction.'

'My only hesitation in speaking, my Lord, was -'

'Have no hesitation in speaking, I beseech you, Sir. -'

I beseech, in tone, was in effect, 'I command, you, Sir;' - And Mr Falconer, under the influence of an imperious and superior mind, came at once to that point, which he had not intended to come to for a month, or to approach, till after infinite caution and circumlocution.

'My object is, to push my son, Cunningham, in the diplomatic line, my Lord, - and I wish to make him one of your secretaries.'

The Commissioner stopped short, astonished that the truth, and the whole truth, had absolutely passed his lips, and in such plain words! - but they could not be recalled, - he gasped for breath, - and began an apologetical sentence, about 'poor Mr Drakelow, whom he should be sorry to injure, or displace. -'

'Never mind that now, time enough to think of Drakelow,' said Lord Oldborough, walking up and down the room, - then stopping short, - 'I must see your son, Sir.'

'I will bring him here to-morrow, if your Lordship pleases.'

We have given this scene at full length, as we consider that it displays considerable ability, and is the most successful attempt of our authoress in pourtraying the features of a high diplomatic character. In many other parts of the tale, she has fallen far short of her mark, and instead of a faithful portrait of nature, has presented us with the eccentricity of an overdrawn caricature. Fielding, in one of his prefatory chapters, has observed, that he was admitted behind the scenes of this great theatre of nature, and that no man ought to write any thing besides dictionaries and spelling-books, who has not this privilege. Our authoress has certainly enjoyed at times this enviable liberty, but it is only when the 'School for Scandal,' or the 'Irishman in London,' has been acted, that this license has been allowed her. Whenever the mazes of female intrigue are to be traced, we know of no one who more happily combines the power of following them in [164] all their intricacies, with the art of displaying their perplexities on the most luminous point of view. She is both the Dædalus who constructed the labyrinth, and the Ariadne who with her clue unravels its windings. Where the Irish character is to be delineated, her countrymen themselves will bear the strongest testimony to the fidelity and the strength of the portrait. But where Diplomacy is brought upon the stage, she has evidently been but a spectatress of the drama; she has not been admitted behind the curtain, to converse with these heroes of the tragi-comedy of life, and to view them unmasked in all their native colours. By her natural sagacity she has penetrated some few degrees beyond the view of the common eye; she has conceived with much acuteness the probable construction of the mighty machine of state, and she has displayed her representation of this fancied model, with her usual adroitness. The whole is varnished over with certain diplomatic phrases, and common-place state tricks, which give it the appearance of a picture drawn from nature. But when we proceed to examine it by the mirror of truth, we shall find that one half is the fiction of her own prolific mind, and the other half collected from the scraps of diplomatic anecdote, which have been supplied by some ape of his superiors, in the shape of a clerk in a public office. We know not whence Miss Edgeworth received her information on this part of her subject, but we are persuaded that it could not have been derived from a higher source than one of the gentlemen above mentioned.

Whoever, therefore, shall form his notions of a diplomatic intrigue form the pages before us, will have formed a very erroneous estimate of public life: and he who shall imagine that this novel has enlarged his conceptions and extended his views on the important subjects of government and state policy, will have impressed his mind with ideas of a very false and dangerous tendency. His knowledge will have rather been contracted than expanded by this partial admission into the secrets of office, in the same proportion as that person's ideas of the magnificence or a palace will be narrowed, who, from a comprehensive view of its external grandeur, shall be admitted within the door, to be confined in the servants' hall, or the inferior apartments. That some such intrigues as Miss Edgeworth has described must exist in the complicated machine of government, we may readily allow; but that all government is a mass of such corrupt and disgraceful cabal, we must as strenuously deny. In a free country, there must necessarily exist a more free and exalted principle of state policy; to suppose the contrary is a libel upon public virtue; but in perfect conformity with this notion, there may exist among those who choose to forfeit their liberty by prostituting themselves as the tools of corruption, a state of slavish depend-[165]ence and low cabal. We freely acknowledge the existence of this, as of any other moral evil, but we will as boldly assert, in contradiction to the conclusions which would generally be drawn by the readers of Miss Edgeworth's tale, that there is no situation in the extended range of public life, which necessarily precludes the enjoyment of that honourable independence, which is the birthright of an Englishman. A very ordinary acquaintance with the manners and persons of those engaged in political pursuits, will present a number of characters, from the cabinet minister to the lowest clerk, uninfluenced by the sordid motives of petty intrigue, and unimpeached no less in public than in private estimation and honour: who, although they may have owed their promotion, in the first instance, to that patronage which in these pages is held up to reprobation and contempt, have neither disgraced their patrons nor themselves. Lest, however, we should be considered as opposing assertion only to assertion, let us examine the other portraits of professional character. Very few of our readers can observe without a smile the palpable absurdities in which our authoress is involved, when she attempts to describe the process of legal investigation, or the practice of the courts. We fear also that she will be convicted of having passed the bounds of all probability in her views of the medical profession. We believe that no one of common sense would call in two physicians to a tumour on a child's nose; nor can we esteem the anatomical knowledge of our authoress at a very high rate, when she informs us that this tumour arose from a piece of green silk, so slightly lodged in the nostril as to be displaced by a pinch of cephalic snuff. Yet upon this incident is founded the reputation of her young physician, who, of course, is to rise by merit, and not by patronage. Now if such errors are to be discovered in her portraitures of two professions, which are not so far removed from the sphere of general society, but that the generality of readers can detect and expose them, can we reasonably believe that her views of a profession still farther beyond the comprehension of those engaged in common life are less caricatured, her conceptions less erroneous, or her notions less absurd? She may have collected with some accuracy the official cant of clerks and secretaries, but with the mighty mazes of politics, and the mysteries of government, she is thoroughly unacquainted.

To descend to a point of taste, can a greater absurdity be committed than the introduction of Lord Oldborough as the Prime Minister of this country, at a period which, according to various accidents of real existence mentioned in the tale, cannot be placed at more than five years since? Not to mention the palpable error of introducing a diplomatic character from a German Court, who mixes with the intrigues of the British Cabinet at [166] the very time when we were notoriously excluded from all intercourse with the continental powers. Besides, there is a certain degree of probability necessary to the existence of any fiction, even of a fairy tale; but here our authoress has tried her strength not only against a host of probabilities, but even against possibility itself. Our very senses inform us that Lord Oldborough neither was, nor could be, prime minister of this country four years ago; our memory, our gratitude, our affection, bear no invincible testimony to the existence of another and a greater pilot at the helm of the state. The name of Perceval is not so soon effaced from the hearts of Englishmen; the remembrance of such a man is too warm within our breasts to admit of the cold substitution of a fictitious personage in that high office. The whole assemblage indeed of non-existent characters and names raise an incredulous disgust in the mind of every sensible reader. The Duke of Greenwich, the Marquis of Twickenham, Mr Secretary Cope, as high officers of state, can create no ideas beyond those of ridicule and absurdity. Were the Battle of Vittoria dramatized, it would sufficiently shock our credulity to witness its representation in the presence of the Marquis of Wellington in the stage box, and to indulge ourselves in the comparison of the real and fictitious heroes of the field. But to see the command of the forces at Vittoria given to an Earl of Birmingham, or a Marquis of Turnham Green, before the face of the hero himself, would exceed the power of any ordinary patience to endure. Yet in this very situation stands the reader of these volumes; he must have forgotten his own existence, and that of the world around him, before he can give to the events there recorded the credit commonly due to a fairy tale, or a ghostly romance. We do most earnestly entreat Miss Edgeworth not to mispend [sic] those abilities, which she so eminently possesses, inculcating false notions of government and state policy, nor to expose her ignorance, in dressing out a clerk or secretary in the cast-off cant and fictitious trappings of a prime minister. When Le Sage discloses the secrets of a Cabinet, he wisely enveloped them in the dress of a foreign country; nor even under that protection did he venture to unfold those secret springs of action, with which it is impossible, even for the historian of a minister's private life, to be thoroughly acquainted. Gil Blas relates the events as they passed before him; he saw, what it is perfectly credible he should see; Miss Edgeworth, in the person of herself, not of the hero, penetrates into the very sources of intrigue; she sees what with common eyes she never could have seen; she knows what it is impossible she could ever have known.

But we have a still heavier charge to bring against our authoress, on a much more sacred and important subject. We [167] enter our serious protest against her misrepresentations of the highest characters of the church, of the means by which preferment is procured, and of the motives by which church patronage is regulated. That there is scarcely a religious sentiment throughout her four volumes, we are not surprized; we should indeed have been more gratified had some few turns in the conversations or incidents reminded us that the events recorded took place in a Christian country; though of religious novels we have, at best, but a very doubtful opinion. We cannot, however, suffer the most exalted stations in the church to be held up to open ridicule, without exposing the dangerous consequences of such a profanation to the cause of religion itself within these kingdoms. We are unable to divine what motive could have induced Miss Edgeworth to present the reader such a picture as the following.

At some high festival, Buckhurst Falconer was invited to dine with the Bishop. Now Bishop Clay was a rubicund, full blown, short-necked prelate, with the fear of an apoplexy continually before him, except when dinner was on the table - And at this time a dinner was on the table, rich with every dainty of the season that earth, air, and sea could provide. Grace being first said by the Chaplain, the Bishop sat down, 'richly to enjoy.' - But it happened in the first onset, that a morsel too large for his Lordship's capacious swallow stuck in his throat. - The Bishop grew crimson - purple - black in the face. - The Chaplain started up, and untied his neckcloth. - The guests crowded round, one offering water, another advising bread, another calling for a raw egg, another thumping his Lordship on the back. - Buckhurst Falconer ran for the bellows, and applying the muzzle directly to the prelate's ear, produced such a convulsion as expelled the pellet from the throat with a prodigious explosion, and sent it to a mighty distance. The Bishop, recovering his breath and vital functions, sat up, restored to life, and dinner - he eat [sic] again, and drank to Mr Buckhurst Falconer's good health, with thanks for this good service to the church, to which he prophesied the reverend young gentleman would, in good time, prove an honour. And that he might be in some measure the means of accomplishing his own prophecy, Bishop Clay did, before he slept, which was immediately after dinner, present Mr Buckhurst Falconer with a living worth 400l. a year; a living which had not fallen into the Bishop's hands above half a day, and which, as there were six worthy clergymen in waiting for it, would necessarily have been disposed of the next morning.

Of the delicacy of such a scene, we can only say, that it would hardly have been tolerated by the gallery at the Olympic Pavillion. The incident is disgusting, the language gross, and the circumstance, as usual, physically impossible. But when in the fictitious personage of a prelate of our Church, it is intended to [168] cast a slur upon the whole of that venerable body, it calls for more particular notice than the indelicacy of the scene would otherwise permit us to expend. We shall put one simple question to Miss Edgeworth, as the groundwork of our animadversions. Can she name one prelate, not only of those now living, but of those who have sat on the bench since the accession of his present Majesty, who either in character, manners, or even in personal appearance, could fairly be considered as the prototype of her fictitious Bishop Clay? Not even if she were as old as Hecuba herself, could she remember a prelate in whose life or conduct such an anecdote could find any just foundation. We can conscientiously say, and the whole nation will bear testimony to the truth of our assertion, that at no time since the days of the primitive church, has the hierarchy been graced by a succession of men more innocent in their lives, more unimpeachable in their conduct, or more systematically temperate in their enjoyment of the pleasures of this life. Whatever failings may have existed among them, (for as men they too are liable to the faults of humanity,) they are not such as Miss Edgeworth has either the power, or the will to expose. If then not a single character is to be found among them, answering in the remotest degree to her representation of Bishop Clay, we must conclude that the whole is a deliberate fabrication; and the calumny becomes the more gross and inexcusable, as it is intended, not to satirize the intemperance of an individual, but to hold up to public obloquy and contempt a body of men, whose high and holy station might, in decency at least, be supposed to protect them against the virulence of such an unprovoked attack. But the lives and manners of our prelates need no defenders but their own innocence; they stand open to public view, and can speak most powerfully for themselves; nor while they are their own best protectors, have they any reason to fear the misrepresentations of ignorance, or the venom of malignity.

With the private lives of those whose works are before us, we have not the most distant concern; of Miss Edgeworth we have not the slightest knowledge, beyond her literary efforts; we know not of what religion she is, nor whether she is of any at all; we are not allowed to guess from what church she draws her ideas of prelatical luxury and magnificence: we should only advise her, as she regards her own reputation, not to libel our English church by engrafting upon its highest stations, vices, which, even if in some instances they have disgraced obscure individuals, have never in the most distant degree characterized the general body. With respect to satires upon the Clergy, we certainly consider them as highly prejudicial to the cause of religion itself; inasmuch as there are few minds of sufficient strength to [169] discriminate between its administration and its ministers. Whatever failings are imputed to the latter, are, by the generality of mankind, associated with the former; and the interest of religion itself suffers by the vices attached to the character of its embassadors [sic]. If this consideration should operate upon the minds of the Clergy, so as to restrain them from those indulgencies which might offend the weaker brethren, and finally bring discredit on their sacred cause, it should also operate on those, who would expose the order to undeserved contempt; lest while they teach mankind to despise the ministers, they should incline them also to disregard the administration of religious worship. Whatever the faults of the Clergy may be, they should be touched with a delicate hand; the caustic applied should be that of the least acrimonious and irritating nature, not the lapis infernalis of malignant caricature. We can smile with good humour at the boisterous zeal of Thwackum, the timid remonstrances of Supple, or the eccentricities of Parson Adams: but these are etched by the hand of a master, and have furnished, in their day, hints not altogether useless to the body of the Clergy; many of whom have, we doubt not, from time to time corrected those little peculiarities in their conduct, which were so faithfully and so happily presented to their view by that great master of human nature, Fielding. But from the character of Bishop Clay neither amusement nor instruction can ever be derived; nor any other idea but that of disgust at its indelicacy, and indignation at its unnatural and unprovoked absurdity.

We turn with pleasure from these animadversions on the dangerous tendency of many conclusions which might result from this novel, to the more pleasing task of commendation and applause. In proportion to her failures in the representation of public intrigue, is her success in the portrait of private manoeuvering. An admirable character is drawn of Mrs Falconer, the Commissioner's lady, and is supported with much spirit throughout a popularity ball given by her husband to the friends of Lord Oldborough's interest in the country.

Mrs Falconer was fitted, both by art and nature, to adorn a ball-room, and conduct a ball. With that ease of manner which a perfect knowledge of the world and long practice alone can give, she floated round the circle, conscious that she was in her element. Her eye with one glance seemed to pervade the whole assembly; her ear divided itself among a multitude of voices; and her attention diffused itself over all with equal grace. Yet that attention, universal as it seemed, was nicely discriminating. Mistress of the art of pleasing, and perfectly acquainted with all the shades of politeness, she knew how to dispose them so as to conceal her boundaries, and even their gradation, from the most skilful observers. [170] They might, indeed, have formed, from Mrs Falconer's reception of each of her guests, an exact estimate of their rank, fashion, and consequence in the world; for by these standards she regulated her opinion and measured her regard. Every one present knew this to be her theory, and observed it to be her practice towards others; but each flattered themselves by turns, that they discovered in her manner a personal exception in their own favour. In the turn of her countenance, the tone of her voice, her smile, or her anxiety, in her distant respect, or her affectionate familiarity, some distinction was discerned peculiar to each individual.

The Miss Falconers stationary at one end of the room seemed to have adopted manners diametrically opposite to those of their mother; attraction being the principle of the mother; repulsion of the daughters. Encircled amongst a party of young female friends, Miss Falconers, with high bred airs, confined to their own coterie their exclusive attention.

A very natural scene occurs in the course of the ball, in which the temper of the daughter and the address of the mother appear in a very prominent point of view.

The Miss Falconers and their cotillon set were resting themselves, whilst this country dance was going on. Miss Georgiana was all the time endeavouring to engage Count Altenbergh in conversation. By all the modern arts of coquetry, so insipid to a man of the world, so contemptible to a man of sense, she tried to recall the attention of the Count. Politeness obliged him to seem to listen, and he endeavoured to keep up that sort of conversation which is suited to a ball room; but he relapsed continually into reverie, till at last provoked by his absence of mind, Miss Georgiana, unable to conceal her vexation, unjustly threw the blame upon her health. She complained of the 'head-ach [sic], of heat, of cold, of country dances! such barbarous things! - how could any one bear any thing but cotillons... Then the music! - The band was horrid - They played vastly too fast, shocking! There was no such thing as keeping time... did not Count Altenbergh think so?'

Count Altenbergh was at this moment beating time with his foot in exact cadence to Miss Caroline Percy's dancing - Miss Falconer saw this, but not till she had uttered her question - not till it had been observed by all her companions. Lady Frances Arlington half-smiled, and half a smile instantly appeared along a whole line of young ladies. - Miss Georgiana suddenly became sensible, that she was exposed to the ridicule and sarcastic pity of those, who but an hour before had flattered her in the grossest manner. - She had expected to produce a great effect at this ball, she saw another preferred. Her spirits sunk, and even her powers of affectation failed. The struggle between the fine lady and the woman ceased. Passion always conquers art at a coup de main. Whenever any strong emotion of the soul is excited, the natural character, temper, and manners, seldom fail to break through all [171] that is fictitious. Those who had seen Miss Georgiana Falconer only through the veil of affectation, were absolutely astonished at the change which appeared when it was thrown aside. By the Count the metamorphosis was unnoticed, for he was intent on another object; but by many of the spectators it was beheld with open surprize, or secret contempt - She exhibited at this moment the picture of a disappointed coquet - The spasm of jealousy had seized her heart, and unable to conceal or endure the pain in this convulsion of mind, she forgot all grace and decorum. Her mother from afar saw the danger at this crisis and came to her relief - The danger in Mrs Falconer's opinion was, that the young lady's want of temper should be seen by Count Altenbergh; she therefore carried him off to a distant part of the room to shew him as she said 'a bassoon player, who was the exact image of Hogarth's enraged musician.'

In her acquaintance with the secret springs of the female heart, Miss Edgeworth appears quite at home. Her peculiar excellence is displayed in the nicest discrimination between the various shades of character, and the accuracy and spirit with which she imparts to each its own peculiar tint. There are very few of those who move in the higher circles of life, who will not find a faithful delineation of their own distinguishing features, in some one of the various characters which are introduced into the tale before us. There are very few who may not derive many useful hints to guard and direct their own conduct in the various scenes of society, through which they are desired to pass. They will rise from the perusal of these pages with a contempt of the low arts of fashionable manœuvring; they will be taught to suspect themselves of the first appearances of coquetry and affectation; and they will discern the charms of that generous simplicity, which while it adds dignity and grace to the manners, warms and animates the best feelings of the heart.

We shall conclude our extracts with a very faithful and therefore a very ludicrous description of 'private theatricals' at Falconer Court.

Lest we should never get to the play, we forbear to relate all the various frettings, jealousies, clashing vanities, and petty quarrels, which occurred between the actresses and their friends, during the getting up of this piece and its rehearsals. We need mention only that the seeds of irreconcileable dislike were sown at this time between the Miss Falconers and their dear friends, the Lady Arlingtons. There was some difficulty made by Lady Anne about lending her diamond crescent for Zara's turban; Miss Georgiana could never forgive this. And Lady Frances on her part, was provoked, beyond measure by an order from the Duke her uncle, forbidding her to appear on the stage: she had some reason to suspect that this order came in consequence of a treacherous paragraph in [172] a letter of Georgiana's to Lady Trant, which went round, through Lady Jane Granville, to the Duke, who, otherwise, as Lady Frances observed, 'in the midst of his politics might never have heard a word of the matter.' Mrs Falconer had need of all her power over the muscles of her face, and all her address in these delicate and difficult circumstances. Her daughter Arabella too! was sullen, the young lady was subject to her brother John's fits of obstinacy. For some time she could not be brought to undertake the part of Selima, and no other was to be had, she did not see why she should condescend to play the confidante for Georgiana's Zara, why she was to be sacrificed to her sister; and Sir Robert Percy, her admirer, not even to be invited, because the other Percy's [sic] were to come.

* * * * * * * * * *

The audience were now happily full of themselves, arranging their seats, and doing civilities to those of their friends who were worthy of notice.

'Lady Trant! won't your Ladyship sit in the front row?'

'I'm vastly well, I thank you.'

'Lady Kew, I'm afraid you won't see over my head.'

'Oh! I assure you ... perfectly ... perfectly...'

'Colonel Spandrill, I'll trouble you ... my shawl...'

'Clay, lend me your opera glass. How did you leave all at Bath?'

'I'm so glad that General Petcalf's gout in his stomach did not carry him off, for young Petcalf could not have acted, you know, to night - Mrs Harcourt is trying to catch your eye, Lady Kew.'

All those who were new to the Theatre at Falconer-court, or who were not intimate with the family, were in great anxiety to inform themselves on one important point, before the prologue should begin. - Stretching to those who were, or had the reputation of being good authorities, they asked in whispers, 'Do you know if there is to be any clapping of hands? - Can you tell me whether it is allowable to say any thing?' - It seems that at some private theatres loud demonstrations of applause were forbidden. It was thought more genteel to approve and admire in silence, thus to draw the line between professional actors and actresses, and gentlemen and lady performers. Upon trial, however, in some instances it was found, that the difference was sufficiently obvious, without marking it by any invidious distinction ****. The overture was finished, the prologue, which was written by Mr Sebright, was received with merited applause. After a buz [sic] of requests and promises for copies, the curtain drew up, and the first appearance of Zara, in the delicate sentimental blue satin, was hailed with plaudits long and loud - plaudits which were reiterated at the end of her first speech ****. The play went on - Zara sustained the interest of the scene. She was but feebly supported by the sulky Selima. - The faults common to unpractised actors occurred. - One of Osman's arms never moved, and the other sawed the air perpetually, as if in pure despite [173] of Hamlet's prohibition. Then in crossing over, Osman was continually entangled in Zara's robe, or when standing still, she was forced to twitch her train thrice, before she could get it from beneath his leaden feet. When confident that he could repeat a speech fluently, he was apt to turn his back upon his mistress, or when he felt himself called upon to listen to his mistress, he would turn his back upon the audience. - But all these are defects permitted by the license of a private theatre, allowable by courtesy to gentlemen actors: and things went on as well as could be expected - Osman had not his part by heart, but Zara covered all deficiencies. And Osman did no worse than other Osmans had done before him.

We are sorry that our limits will not permit us to present our readers with the conclusion of this chapter, which shews the authoress to be thoroughly conversant in the uninteresting bustle, and ludicrous insipidity of a Private Theatre.

We cannot take leave of 'Patronage,' without expressing our just acknowledgments of the amusement it has generally afforded us, nor without contributing our share of applause to the vivacity, the humour, and the nature with which it abounds. If we shall be thought severe upon those parts, which we consider as calling for our animadversion, it is to be remembered, that it is not upon our ingenious and lively authoress that our censures rest so heavily, as upon that Father, who could give his paternal imprimatur, as the preface informs us, to such palpable and dangerous misrepresentations of public character and public principle. [complete]

Provided by Julie A. Shaffer, January 2000