Mrs. Inchbald - PA Criticism Archive

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TO readers of taste it would be superfluous to point out the beauties of Mrs Inchbald's novels. The Simple Story has obtained the decided approbation of the best judges. There is an originality both in the characters and the situations which is not often found in similar productions. To call it a simple story is perhaps a misnomer, since the first and second parts are in fact two distinct stories, connected indeed by the character of Dorriforth, which they successively serve to illustrate.

Dorriforth is introduced as a Romish priest of a lofty mind, generous, and endued with strong sensibilities, but having in his disposition much of sternness and inflexibility. His being in priest's orders presents an apparently insurmountable obstacle to his marriage; but it is got over, without violating probability, by his becoming heir to a title and estate, and on that account receiving a dispensation from his vows. Though slow to entertain thoughts of love, as soon as he perceives the partiality of his ward, it enters his breast like a torrent when the flood-gates are opened. The perplexities in which he is involved by Miss Milner's gay unthinking conduct bring them to the very brink of separating for ever; and very few scenes in any novel have a finer effect than the intended parting of the lovers,

vol. xxviii. a


and their sudden, immediate, unexpected marriage.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the feelings of Miss Milner, when she sees the corded trunks standing in the passage; or again, when after their reconciliation she sees the carriage, which was to take away her lover, drive empty from the door. The character of the ward of Dorriforth is so drawn as to excite an interest such as we seldom feel for more faultless characters. Young, sprightly, full of sensibility, gay and thoughtless, we feel such a tenderness for her as we should for a child who is playing on the brink of a precipice. The break between the first and second parts of the story has a singularly fine effect. We pass over in a moment a large space of years, and find every thing changed: scenes of love and conjugal happiness are vanished; and for the young, gay, thoughtless, youthful beauty, we see a broken-hearted penitent on her death-bed.

This sudden shifting of the scene has an effect which no continued narrative could produce; an effect which even the scenes of real life could not produce; for the curtain of futurity is lifted up only by degrees, and we must wait the slow succession of months and years to bring about events which are here presented close together. The death-bed letter of Lady Milner is very solemn, and cannot be perused without tears.

Dorriforth in these latter volumes is become, from the contemplation of his injuries, morose, unrelenting, and tyrannical. How far it was possible for a man to resist the strong impulse of nature, and deny himself the sight of his


child residing in the same house with him, the reader will determine; but the situation is new and striking.

It is a particular beauty in Mrs. Inchbald's compositions, that they are thrown so much into the dramatic form. There is little of mere narrative, and in what there is of it, the style is careless; but all the interesting parts are carried on in dialogue:—we see and hear the persons themselves; we are but little led to think of the author, and it is only when we have done feeling that we being to admire.

The only other novel which Mrs. Mrs. Inchbald has given to the public is Nature and Art. It is of a slighter texture than the former, and put together without much attention to probability; the author's object being less to give a regular story, than to suggest reflections on the political and moral state of society. For this purpose two youths are introduced, one of whom is educated in all the ideas and usages of civilized life; the other (the child of Nature) without any knowledge of or regard to them. This is the frame which has been used by Mr. Day and others for the same purpose, and naturally tends to introduce remarks more lively than solid, and strictures more epigrammatic than logical, on the differences between rich and poor, the regard paid to rank, and such topics, on which it is easy to dilate with an appearance of reason and humanity; while it requires a much profounder philosophy to suggest any alteration in the social system, which would not be rather Utopian than beneficial.


There is a beautiful stroke in this part of the work, where Henry, who, according to Rousseau's plan, had not been taught to pray till he was of an age to know what he was doing, kneels down for the first time with great emotion; and on being asked if he was not afraid to speak to God, says, "To be sure I trembled very much when I first knelt, but when I came to the words 'Our Father who art in heaven,' they gave me courage, for I know how kind a father is."

But by far the finest passage in this novel is the meeting between Hannah and her seducer, when he is seated as judge upon the bench, and, without recollecting the former object of his affection, pronounces sentence of death upon her. The shriek she gives, and her exclamation, "Oh, not from you!" electrifies the reader, and cannot but stir the coldest feelings.

Judgement and observation may sketch characters, and often put together a good story; but strokes of pathos, such as the one just mentioned, or the dying-scene in Mrs. Opie's Father and Daughter, can only be attained by those whom nature has endowed with her choicest gifts.

One cannot help wishing the author had been a little more liberal of happiness to poor Henry, who sits down contented with poverty and his half-withered Rebecca.

There is another wish the public has often formed, namely, that these two productions were not the only novels of such a writer as Mrs. Inchbald.


[1] The British Novelists; with an Essay; and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 50 Vols. (London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington; W. Otridge and Son; A. Strahan; T. Payne; G. Robinson; W. Lowndes; Wilkie and Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; J. Walker; Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe; R. Lea; J. Nunn; Lackington and Co.; Clarke and Son; C. Law; Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; Cadell and Davies; E. Jeffery; J.K. Newman; Crosby and Co.; J. Carpenter; S. Bagster; T. Booth; J. Murray; J. and J. Richardson; Black, Parry, and Kingsbury; J. Harding; R. Phillips; J. Mawman; J. Booker; J. Asperne; R. Baldwin; Mathews and Leigh; J. Faulder; Johnson and Co.; W. Creech, Edinburgh; and Wilson and Son, York, 1810), 28:i-iv. Mary A. Waters edited this edition for The Criticism Archive. BACK

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