Page images
PDF
EPUB

would naturally have occasioned a great influx of the precious metals, with this influx, checked only by a paper currency attended with rather aggravated effects of the same kind, we are inclined to attribute, more than to all other circumstances combined, that rapid advance of prices which has taken place in this country during the last twenty years, and has occasioned so much discussion. And though, owing to the peculiar advantages we have enjoyed, this cause has not as yet affected our commerce ; yet we think, that, proceeding in the same course, it inust do so ultimately; and that, for a similar season, foreign commerce cannot be expected permanently to bring into any country such a rapid accession of wealth as of late years has flowed from it iitto Great Britain, though there is no natural necessity that the check to it, when it comes, should either be very violent or very sudden.

Our second objection to foreign commerce is, that it is from its nature greatly exposed to external violence; to such checks, in short, as that under which we are apprehensive of suffering at present. And if a nation has habitually conducted itself upon the true principles of acquiring wealth, and has purchased all its .commodities where they may be had the cheapest, it may have become dependent upon other countries for some of the most necessary and important articles of its consumption. Under these circumstances, a sudden check to foreign commerce from violent causes, can hardly fail of being attended with the most distressing consequences; and its liability to checks of this kind, forms with us a sufficient reason against pushing it to an excessive extent, and habitually importing articles of the first necessity which might be raised at home.

Our third objection to foreign commerce is, that, as we entirely agree with Hume and Dr Smith, in thinking that nations may be great and powerful without much foreign trade, * and that the internal commerce of a country is of infinitely greater consequence than its external ; we hate to hear our exports and imports talked of as if they were exclusively the barometer of our public prosperity. In particular, we have a great dislike, when any plans are proposed which have for their object to elevate the character of the poor, to give them greater independence, and to endeavour generally to improve their conditions, to hear it immediately obFf4

jected,

* There can be no doubt of the truth of Bishop Berkeley's opinion, that a nation with a large and fertile territory might grow richer every year, although surrounded with a wall of brass a thousand cubits high ; but it would neither grow rich so falt, nor to su:h a degree, as if it had the advan:age of foreign commerce.

jected, that they may tend to raise the price of labour; that Great Britain will be undersold in foreign markets; and that her vent for woollens, cottons, and hardware will be contracted. We certainly are most ready to acknowledge, that the sale of those articles abroad tends to enrich Great Britain ; but we think at the same time, that there are other objects worthy of the attention of Great Britain besides mere riches. When the question is between wine and hardware, we have no hesitation in rejecting the hardware; but if the question were, between wine and an improvement in the condition of the poor, we are confident that we should as little hesitate in rejecting the wine; and in this feeling, we hope that Great Britain and her senators will always sympathize with us.

In these objections to foreign commerce, we trust that Mr Spence will see nothing inconsistent with the remarks which we have ventured to make on his pamphlet; as we evidently object to the great extension of this species of trade ;- not because we agree with him in thinking that it is not productive of wealth, but because we think that its great extension is naturally attended with a bad consequence, similar to the excessive accumulation of the precious metals; because we think, that security and independence, with moderate wealth, are preferable to greater riches subject to frequent reverses; and because we think, that the happiness of the lower cla:ses of people ought not to be put in competition with the sale of a few more woollens and cottons.

It is unnecessary to say any thing of the style of this pamphlet. Our readers will see, from the extracts given, that it possesses no very commendable qualities; but it is good enough for the purpose, if the substance which it conveyed were of value.

ART. XII. Elisabeth, ou les Exilés de Sibérie. Par M

A Paris. Réimprimé à Londres. 1806.

[ocr errors][merged small]

W e are not, in general, particularly fond of novels founded on

my fact; but we must make an exception in favour of any thing fo well executed as that which is before us. The daughter of a wretched exile in Siberia had the courage and filial piety to undertake and to perform a journey to Petersburgh, for the purpose of soliciting her father's liberty. This achievement, worthy of immortality, is the groundwork of Madame Cottin's tale, and we give her no mean praise in saying that she has done full justice to its merits. In one only respect is the unfaithful to her model. She has diminished, in her ideal picture, the dangers which the

• true

true heroine actually surmounted, from the fear, as she informs us, of incurring the charge of extravagance. This, therefore, must add one to the many instances, in which the miracles of truth have foared above the level of fiction, and in which iinaginary must yield to real virtue.

The character of Elisabeth, as here drawn, is in its general form and feature such, as might, we think, have been expected from the hand of a laciy-artist. It is so natural that women should love to make their heroines a little heroic! that they should delight to place female excellence in attitudes noble no less than charming ! that, resigning to us the empire of personal, and perhaps of intellectual power, they should still maintain an equal claim to the moral sublime,-to that higher sort of greatness which, like angels, seems to be of no fex!

To those women who have any real elevation of thought, nothing can be more disgusting than the character of a Thaleftris. They hate, as much as we do, the vigorous females who appear to conftitute the link between the sexes; and will not condescend to write the history of a virago, who is the exact duplicate of her stupid lovers, fights and drubs every one of them whose offers displease her, and bestows her hand only on him who is found to have a stronger and harder one of his own. Their heroine is in a different style. Perhaps ihe is not particularly distinguished even for that chastened loftiness which may conhlt with virgin delicacy, the loftiness of a Portia or a Corinne, of le dime Romaine or la Sibylle triomphante ; perhaps she is not even an Elisabeth, innocently, and, as it were unconscioully magnanimous ; but is represented as all gentleness and diffidence. Still we shall find her insensibly led through scenes which show her to poiluss fortitude and disinterestedness and other virtues of the first order; we shall be seduced into respect, where we were desired only to love ; with the weakness that folicits protection, we shall find blended, not only all the sweetness that attracts, but much also of the dignity thai ennobles it.

We are aware of the numerous exceptions to this rule; but, that it is not therefore imaginary, may appear from a reference to the Delphines and Corinnes of France; and to the Cecilias, the Elienas, and the Belindas of England. In the same manner, the delintations of female excellence by the other fex, often present us with a figure of imperial majesty ; but we cannot help thinking that, when they draw after their own notions and conceptions rather than from books, they are more likely to give us an Ophelia or a Desdemona.

Madame Cotrin has, in one respect, been particularly happy. Her heroine has been educated in such solitude and inacquaintance with the world, that her childlike fimplicity, and engaging innocence of demeanour, seem perfectly in character, though they are the accompaniments of a heart uncommonly great and noble. There is nothing in her features hard or haughiy; nothing that feems to exclaim with one of the heroines of Corneille,

Je me fais des vertus dignes d'une Romaine. But, indeed, the mind that conceived this character, can best do it justice; and the reader fall therefore be indulged with a trait or two of the representation.

• A deux ou trois verftes de Saimka, au milieu d'une forêt maré. cageuse, et remplic de fraques d'eau, sur le bord d'un lac circulaire, profond et bordó de peupliers noirs et blancs, habitoit une famille d'esilés, Elle étoit composée de trois personnes, d'un homme de quarante-cinq ans, de sa femme et de sa fille, belle, et dans toute la fleur de la jeuneile.

• Renfermée dans ce désert, cette famille r'avoit de communication avec personne ; le père alloit tont seul à la chasse, jamais il ne venoit à Saimka, jamais on n'y avoit vu ni sa femme ni sa fille ; hors une pauvre paysanne tartare qui les fervoit, nul être au monde ne pouvoit entrer dans leur cabane. On ne connoisloit ni leur patrie, ni leur naissance, ni la cause de leur châtiment ; le gouverneur de Tobolsk en avoit seul le fe. cret, et ne l'avoit pas même confié au lieutenant de fa jurisdiction établi à Saimka. En mettant ces exilés sous sa surveillance, il lui avoit seulement recommandé de leur fournir un logement commode, un petit jardin, de la nourriture et des vêtements, mais d'empêcher qu'ils eussent aucune communication au dehors, et surtout d'intercepter firerement toutes les lettres qu'ils lafarderoient de faire passer à la cour de Ruffie.' p. 5, 6. • After a very striking sketch of Siberian scenery, the writer proceeds

1 A l'est de cette grande plaine, une petite chapelle de bois avoit été élevée par des chrétiens ; on remarquoit que de ce côté les tombeaux avoient été respectés, et que devant cette croix qui rappelle toutes les vertus, l'homme n'avoit point osé profaner la cendre des morts. C'est dans ces landes ou steppes, nom qu'elles portent en Sibérie, que, durant le long et rude hier de ce climat, Pierre Springer palloit toutes les ma. tinées à la chasse : il tuoit des élans qui fe nourrissent des jeunes feuilles du tremble et des peupliers. Il attrapoit quelquefois des martres zibelines, assez rares dans ce canton, et plus souvent des hermines qui y sont en grand nombre : du prix de leur fourrure, il faifoit venir de Tobolk, des meubles commodes et agréables pour sa femmes et des livres pour la fille. Les longues soirées étoient employées à l'infruction de la jeune Elisabeth ; souvent assise entre ses parents, elle leur lisoit tout haut des paílages d'histoire? Springer arrêtoit son attention sur tous les traits qui pouvoient élever son amie, et sa mère; Phédora, sur tous ceux qui pouvoient l'attendrir. L'un lui montroit toute la beauté de la gloire et de l'héroïsme, l'autre tout le charme des sentiments pieux et de la bonté modefte : son père lui disoit ce que la vertu a de grand et de fublime ; sa mère, ce qu'elle a de consolant et d'aimable ; le premier lui apprenoit comment il la faut révérer, celle-ci comment il la faut chérir. De ce con, cours de foins, il résulta un caractère courageux, sensible, qui, réunissant l'extraordinaire énergie de Springer à l'angélique douceur de Phédora, fut tout à la fois noble et fier comme tout ce qui vient de l'honpeur, et tendre et dévoué comme tout ce qui vient de l'amour.' p. 9, 10,

• Elevée dans ces bois fauvages depuis l'âge de quatre ans, la jeune Elisabeth ne connoisfoit point d'a' re patrie : elle trouvoit dans celle-ci de ces beautés que la nature offre encore même dans les lieux qu'elle a le plus maltraités, et de ces plaifirs simples que les cæurs innocents goû. tent partout. Elle s'amusoit à grimper sur les rochers qui bordoient le lac, pour y prendre des cufs d'éperviers et de vautours blancs qui y font leurs nids pendant l'été. Souvent elle attrapoit des ramiers au filet et en remplissoit une volière ; d'autres fois elle péchoit des corralins qui vont par bancs et dont les écailles pourprées, collées les unes contre les autres, paroisfoient à travers les eaux du lac comme des couches de feu recouvertes d'un argent liquide. Jamais durant son, heureuse enfance, il ne lui vint dans la pensée qu'il pouvoit y avoir un fort plus fortuné que le fien. Sa santé le fortifioit par le grand air, sa taille se développoit par l'exercice, et sur son visage ou reposoit la paix de l'innocence, on voyoit chaque jour naître un agrément de plus. Ainsi, loin du monde et des hommes, croissoit en beauté cette jeune vierge pour les yeux seuls de ses parents, pour l'unique charme de leur cæur, semblable à la Aeur du désert qui ne s'épanouit qu'en présence du soleil, et ne se pare pas moins de vives couleurs, quoiqu'elle ne puisse être vue que par l'altre à qui elle doit la vie.' p. 15, 16.

Such were the virtues formed in the depth of Siberian drearia ness, as some of the sweetest flowers of spring seem to have been nursed in the bosom of winter. We may add, that with the character of the heroine, that of the composition itself corresponds; energetic, enthusiastic;-but nothing can exceed the feminine delicacy that every where shades and refines it. What, indeed, but a dress of the most vestal white would beome the saintly figure of Elisabeth ? Our fair author is not one who loves to excite attention by a display of the ignoble or the unholy passions. Unfor· tunately, these must, in a measure, enter every picture of life and manners ; but it is only when they must enter, that Madame Cottin admits them. They are shown by her, but not so prominently as to mingle with those gentler and more agreeable visions that fill the sight. They come, as flying clouds, to throw a shadow over the current; not as a miry infusion to sully its clearness. From the beginning of the narrative to its close, the thoughts, the expressions, the descriptions, all are limpid purity.

To this delicacy of principle, which is virtue, the author of Elisabeth adds delicacy of hand, which is taste. Her writing has a great deal of that quality, which, when ascribed to the

countenance,

« PreviousContinue »