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With these deductions and especially with the light which the life of so eminently sincere a person throws upon her works, we feel that we can defend the morality of Miss Brontë's writings. The grand lesson taught by them is the simple yet sublime one, that we are to do right, always, under all circumstances and without hesitation or compromise, not because we are to be rewarded, or praised or made happy for it, but because God has commanded it. We are to expect trouble, difficulty, sorrow, bereavement; we are to look for temptation; it may be that our lot will be lowly and obscure; we may be misunderstood and misrepresented, but clear before us ever is to shine the loadstar of duty, and it is to be followed wherever it may lead.
It may be said, that the character of some of her heroes is very defective, and that they are yet held up as models. To this it may be replied, that they are not so held up, and that every aberration from what they know to be right is severely punished in the loss of self-respect and the absence of satisfying happiness. We quote a passage from a letter of Miss Brontë in relation to Thackeray's Lecture on Fielding :
I was present at the Fielding lecture: the hour spent in listening to it was a painful hour. That Thackeray was wrong in his way of treating Fielding's character and vices, my conscience told me. After reading that lecture, I trebly felt that he was wrong-dangerously wrong. Had Thackeray a son, grown, or growing up, and brilliant but reckless ---would he have spoken in that light way of courses that lead to disgrace and the grave? He speaks of it all as if he theorised; as if he had never been called on, in the course of his life, to witness the actual consequences of such failings; as if he had never stood by and seen the issue, the final result of it all. I believe, if only once the prospect of a promising life blasted on the outset by wild ways had passed close under his eye, he never could have spoken with such levity of what led to its piteous destruction. Had I a brother yet living, I should tremble to let him read Thackeray's lecture on Fielding. I should hide it away from him. If, in spite of precaution, it should fall into his hands, I should earnestly pray him not to be misled by the voice of the charmer, let him charm never so wisely. Not that for a moment I would have had Thackeray to abuse Fielding, or even Pharisaically to condemn his life; but I do most deeply grieve that it never entered into his heart sadly and nearly to feel the peril of
such a career, that he might have dedicated some of his great strength to . a potent warning against its adoption by any young man. I believe temp
tation often assails the finest manly naturos; as the pecking sparrow or destructive wasp attacks the sweetest and mellowest fruit, eschewing what is sour and crude. The true lover of his race ought to devote his vigor to guard and protect: he should sweep away every lure with a kind of rage at its treachery. You will think this far too serious, I dare say; but the subject is serious, and one cannot help feeling upon it earnestly.
As in almost all English works, we miss the decided evangelic element. But we must believe that it is to a great extent a difference of manner. The character, for instance, of Margaret Hall, and especially of Miss Ainley, the plain old maid who would be a butt of ridicule to many, is held up as, morally speaking, far nearer to angelic than that of any of the brilliant personages of the books. Such a character is the pure outgrowth of Christianity, and Charlotte Brontë imitated it in her own life. Nothing can be more admirable than her attachment and kindness towards the servants of the household, nursing them in sickness, and caring for them in calamity, and for years she never wrote a letter in which there is not an allusion to her father's health.
An objection was made to Jane Eyre, on the ground that there are allusions to subjects upon which a lady ought not to touch, in short, that it is an “indelicate” book. To which this plain reply is to be made, that vice is never made seductive, and that the temptation is stated only in connection with the sorrow, the loneliness, the destitution and the heroic courage which overcomes it. She was once conversing on this subject and said, “I trust God will take from me whatever power of invention or expression I may have, before He lets me become blind to the sense of what is fitting or unfitting to be said !” Mrs. Gaskell makes the following feeling remarks on the subject :
I do not deny for myself the existence of coarseness here and there in her works, otherwise so entirely noble. I only ask those who read them to consider her life,—which has been openly laid bare before them, and to say how it could be otherwise. She saw few men; and among those few were one or two with whom she had been acquainted since early girlhood, who had shown her much friendliness and kindness,-through whose family she had received many pleasures,-for whose intellect she had a great respect,--but who talked before her, if not to her, with as little reticence as Rochester talked to Jane Eyre. Take this in connection with her poor brother's sad life, and the out-spoken people among whom she lived, -remember her strong feeling of the duty of representing life as it really is, not as it ought to be,-and then do her justice for all that she was, and all that she would have been (had God spared her,) rather than censure her because circumstances forced her to touch pitch, as it were, and by it her hand was for a moment defiled. It was but skin deep. Every change in her life was purifying her; it hardly could raise her. Again I cry, “If she had but lived !”
Whence comes the fascination of these books as works of art?
It is easy to reply that it lies in the genius of the authoress, and the answer would be true. But the question requires a somewhat more discriminating solution.
Charlotte Brontë determined to follow the naked truth, and follow it wherever it might lead. She recognized the beautiful, the rich, the comfortable in life; she could admire what men called great. But she would conjure up no mere romance; she would create no ideal world. As far then as genius can go from genius, are her books separated from novels like those of Scott. He placed his readers in an atmosphere of romance poured around the living world, so that in reading him, we give ourselves up to a delicious amusement, almost an intoxication of the imagination ; but scarcely ever, with rare exceptions, like that of Jeannie Deans—is there any instruction. Nothing can be more unreal than Scott; it is not only unlike the times where the scene is laid, but it is unlike all times. Such men and women never did live, and never could live in this fallen and ruined world. It is perfectly well known that his Richard is not the real Cour de Lion; that his Elizabeth is an idealization; that Claverhouse is as much like the real man as a Greek temple is like the hut out of which theory says it sprang; that Montrose is not Montrose, and that James Fitz James is something of a demigod, fashioned out of certain romantic facts in the history of that monarch. The genius of the mighty minstrel acted like the moon in his favorite ballad, that
Silvered the walls of Cumpor Hall
And many an oak that grew thereby. A bare rock in Scotland is transfigured into a glory; the barren hills “on which you could see a stout fly walking," appear to our fancy beautiful as Lebanon; and the little Tweed lordly as the mile-wide Susquehanna. But it is all another sphere than this; fashioned, indeed, of its materials, but to other ends and with another beauty than this. Of all books, they are the most worldly; they strive to reverse the decree of the Eternal, that this world of sin shall be a world of sorrow; a broken, desolate place, where there is room for toil and suffering, and heroism, and benevolence, and martyrdom, but only by momentary flashes, of enjoyment. Scott, by his enchantments, strove to create an imaginary heaven. Alas! the effort was in his life, too. The worldliness, there, is most oppressive, and the failure —as though of design in Him against whose decree he set himself—most signal.
But it is all otherwise with Charlotte Brontë. She will put nothing intentionally in any book that is not in God's world, just as He made it; and just here, whatever our lot may be, we are to bear it. Out of the common earth she made flowers to grow; in the real stone cottages of Haworth, she became worthy of an angel's crown by ministering as the angels did to Lazarus; on the wide purple moors she gathered a sense of liberty from the free winds and the open sky, for God permits this actual boon; and from the gorgeous dyes of the sunset drank in the glorious beauty that He hath fashioned there. No Cross, no Crown, is written in every book; and the Cross is the rough wood of reality, and not a romantic one which men would bear if, by possibility, life were the melo-drama of fancy.
A dear friend of early life to whom, with a feeble pencil, she wrote her last words, says: “She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer, notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves and better fortunes. All her life was but labor and pain ; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure.”
As she lived, she wrote. The wisest of men gives this epitome of life: “ This sore travail hath God given to the sons of men to be exercised withal.” This sore travail is imaged in Charlotte Brontë's books. And where there breaks in brightness or beauty or enjoyment, they come as they come in real life, very glorious and magnificent, sometimes, as gleams from another, a higher, and a better existence, but not as the warp and woof of this. Human life intensified; what there is of joy and sorrow; of trial and victory; of recreation and torture; of humour and sadness; of the profane and the sacred ; in a word, of life and death on earth—the essence of this, in that wonderful way that genius alone can accomplish, is what we find in the Works of Charlotte Brontë.
The Positive Philosophy. By AUGUSTE COMTE. Freely translated
and condensed by HARRIET MARTINEAU. New York: Calvin Blanchard. 8vo., pp. 838. The Method of the Divine Government, physical and moral. By
James McCosa, LL. D. New York : Carter and Brothers. Pearson on Infidelity. Carter and Brothers. The Positivist Calendar. An exposition of the Positive Religion of
Comte, by one of his Followers. New York. Methodist Quarterly Review for 1852, 1853. Articles on Comte. Edinburgh Review for July, 1838. Article on Comte by Sir David
Brewster. The biographical History of Philosophy, from its origin in Greece down to the present Day. By GEORGE HENRY LEWES. New York: Appletons, 1857.
The appearance of a new island, thrust up by volcanic forces from the ocean depths, is carefully observed and recorded. Although composed of barren rock, destitute and incapable of life, and perhaps soon again subsiding, science notes the phenomenon as furnishing new material to sustain her theories, or confirm her deductions. Not less significant in the social system is the appearance of any work of profound thought, even though it should prove false in its principles or barren in its generalizations. Certainly no one acquainted with the facts, but will regard the system of Positive Philosophy, by Comte, as an important item to be noted in the history of social and religious progress.
The name of this author is widely known, but few have investigated his system, or understood where its strength or its weakness lies. And yet apart from its bearings, the profound sagacity, the scientific method and rigid logic which it displays, entitle it to notice. Sir David Brewster, in his very imperfect review of Comte's work, nevertheless speaks of “his simple yet powerful eloquence, of his enthusiastic admiration of intellectual superiority, of his accuracy as a historian, his honesty as a