Passages From My Autobiography
By D. Appleton & Co. 1859., . New York:
AGED sportiveness is not seductive, and we do not become slaves at the tap of a fan, when the hand that holds it is palsied and withered. We have in the volume before us the melancholy spectacle of an aged female of quality setting her cap at everybody.
When an old woman makes up her mind to be young, she invariably overdoes it. The gypsy horse-dealers, when they have a particularly ancient horse to dispose of, administer a nostrum to the animal, which has the effect of keeping him continually in motion, and bestowing on him a temporary vivacity which a colt would hardly exhibit. Lady Morgan is unnecessarily frisky. The gypsy’s horse, when the effect of the medicine has passed off, becomes more aged and infirm than ever. What a terrible reaction must have been the lot of this old lady, after all the capers she had cut in these passages from her autobiography !
A great, great, great, long time ago, as the story-tellers say, when novels were few and far between, and an Irish novel was a tiling almost unheard of, a smart, self-educated Irish girl, of, we believe, rather humble origin, discovered that she had a knack at writing, and, having published a eleverish novel, called “ The Wild Irish Girl,” was taken up by great people, exploited, made the fashion, and had Sir Charles Morgan, a physician of some standing, given her for a husband. She continued to write. Her work on France made some noise, on account of its having been prohibited by the French government; and her subsequent book on Italy, it not profound, was at least sprightly. Her Irish novels were, however, her best productions. There is considerable observation, and some feeling, displayed in them. Her knowledge of Irish society is very exact, and her pictures of it very slightly exaggerated. “ The O'Briens and O’Flahertys” and “Florence MacCarthy ” are, perhaps, the best of her works of fiction. At this period, Lady Morgan possessed a rather interesting appearance, great au dacity, and a certain reckless style of con versation, which was found to be piquant by the jaded gossips of the metropolis. She was taken up by London society,-which must always be taking up something, whether it be a chimney-sweep that composes music, or an elephant that dances the raise à deux temps; and she fluttered from party to party, a sort of Tom Moore in petticoats,-with this difference, that Moore left his meek little wife at home, while Lady Morgan trotted her husband out after her on all occasions. It is amusing to observe what pains the poor woman takes to persuade us that Sir Charles is a monstrous clever man. Betsy Trotwood never labored harder to convince tin; world of the merits of Mr. Dick, than Lady Morgan does to obtain a place for her husband as a learned philosopher who was in advance of his age, or, as she prettily expresses it in French, (she likes to parade her French, this excellent wife,) “il devançait son siècle.” This mania for inlaying her writing with French scraps rises with her Ladyship to a species of insanity. “ Est il possible that I am going to Italy ” she exclaims. How much more forcible is this than the vulgar “ Is it possible ? ” When the Duke of Sussex comes into a party, he does not excite anything so commonplace as a great sensation; no,-it is a "grand mouvement! ” Praise bestowed on her is an "é" She would not condescend to speak of such things as foldingdoors,- they are better as “grands battants.” A change of scene is a “ changement de décoration.” Mrs. Opie, whom she sees at a party, is not in full dress, but " en grand costume." The three Messrs. Lygon look very “ hautain.” And while driving with Lady Charleville, instead of having a charming conversation on the road, her Ladyship has it “chemin faisant." Allans, mi lady! you prefer that style of writing. Chacun à son gout! Mais we, nous autres, love mieux the plain old Saxon langue.
If Lady Morgan had called this volume “ Passages from my Card-Basket,” there would have been some harmony between the title and the contents. The three hundred and eighty-two pages are for the most part taken up with frivolous notes from great people, either inviting her Ladyship to parties or apologizing for not having called. These are interspersed with a number of philoprogenitive letters to Lady Clarke,-her Ladyship’s sister,- in which, being childless herself, she expends all her bottled-up maternity on her nephews and nieces. The little pieces of autobiography scattered here and there are painfully vivacious. The poor old lady smirks and capers and ogles, until one becomes sick of this sexagenarian agility. Paris beheld no more melancholy spectacle than that of poor old Madame Saqui dancing on the tight-rope for a living at the age of eighty-five, and displaying her withered limbs and long white hair to a curious public. We do not feel any particular degree of veneration for that Countess of Desmond “ who lived to the age of a hundred and ten, and died of a fall from a cherry-tree then,” as Mr. Thomas Moore sings. Well, Lady Morgan dances on any amount of literary tightropes, and climbs any number of intellectual cherry-trees. It is a sight more surprising than pleasant; and her Ladyship must not be astonished that the critics should not treat her with the respect due to her age, when she herself labors so hard to make them forget it,