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latest of his subsequent publications, not with a view of amending our opinion, but because his novels are the best and most amusing representatives of a larger class of fiction. They are always the same, and always different; the frame work is invariable, but the characters are almost infinite in variety, while, however, the shades of distinction are exceedingly minute, and most nicely softened off. We read every succeeding novel with an assurance of the exact kind of pleasure we are to expect, and a perfect certainty as to its amount. The author seems to say" I will introduce you into a pleasant little view of life; pass through the portal of my little page, and you shall immediately be introduced into a small circle of society, in which you shall exist for a time invisibly, but which shall not be less real for being the creation of my own brain.” There are few works in the perusal of which the reader so wholly forgets his own identity and that of the author as in the works of Paul de Koch.
Madame Sophie Gay is a writer of a very different class. Her characters are romantic; her incidents border on improbability; her story is overstrained; but the whole fabric is animated by true passion. She is deeply acquainted with the nature of feminine feelings under every variety of circumstance, and she has observed man too with the discriminating eye of a woman of great sensitiveness.
The nature of the passion of love, as modified by every accident of artificial society, is thoroughly known to her. She is familiar with every phase of female character, as it appears in French high life. She understands well all the motives of intrigue, and all the ambages of selfishness and ambition ; with all this, her sympathies fall in altogether with the pure, the noble, and the disinterested. She dwells with peculiar delight on the sad joy of self-sacrifice; her soul seems purified and exalted, and her genius stimulated, by the grand spectacle of silent suffering, of the noble revenge of charity, of the deep pangs of never-dying remorse agitating a noble spirit for one false step. This is what is called romantic, but the ability of the writer produces her effect without adopting the style of exaltation or even enthusiasm. Her story is told in the tone of refined society; and, in the course of it, exhibits traits of all species of characters as they existed under the all-compelling sway of the emperor.
The “ Marriage under the Empire” is a union par ordre, such as is frequently found described in the Memoirs of Napoleon's generals ; more than one is described in those of the Duke of Rovigo, with all their curious details. The motto of this book indicates the principles on which Napoleon acted : “Mon système de fusion le demandait.” This system of fusion was the
creation of a species of hybrid aristocracy; partly military, partly ancienne noblesse, partly of wealth. Where these three elements could be combined in the union of two persons, a match was ordained; sometimes only two were to be met with, military glory in that case was joined to millionary fame, and an aristocratic tige of the new and imperial regime was thus understood to be put forth. This was Napoleon's idea of supporting the throne. It may well be supposed that these marriages par ordre were disagreeable to both parties, and domestic felicity
was little likely to be the result of such capricious junctions. This was not a matter of concern to the emperor; at the same time that he commanded a strict morality, and willed that his court should be moral, at the same time he pursued a system which, in its nature, was provocative of extreme laxity of conduct. His military conquests, however, armed him with power to effect moral ones, and the court of Napoleon was chaste.
The marriage supposed in the novel is that of a distinguished young aide-de-camp, the representative of an ancient family, named Adhémar de Lorency, and the daughter of a wealthy army-contractor, or some such thing, M. Brenneval. The young lady, whose name is Ermance, is at the celebrated pension of Mad. Campan at Ecouen, which was established under the patronage of the emperor, and served him as a sort of pépinière, or seed-bed for young heiresses, as well as the daughters of deserving officers, whom, on the other hand, he selected as the partners of the millionaires of his realm--all in pursuance of his grand system of fusion. When the idea of the union in question occurs to the imperial mind, all it considers necessary to be done on the occasion, is to summon the general to whose staff Captain de Lorency is attached, and to communicate his wishes that the business should be transacted without loss of time. The order was given as much as a matter of course as if it had been for a military movement, but not received as such; the general was mightily perplexed, as he well knew his aide-de-camp was a person who did not admit the emperor's right over his heart as well as his life. The affair is however brought about by the intervention of courtiers, who are ready to undertake any thing for the sake of cultivating an imperial smile, so pregnant with solid advantages. A convenient duchess fetches Ermance from the “ pension,” and an equally convenient general prepares Adhémar to undergo the ceremony. Now such are the character, persons and dispositions of these two young folks, “thus matched and not paired,” that the "mariage de convenance"might easily have been converted into a mariage d'amour;" but the sense of restraint on each side, when joined also to the rupture of some tender reminiscences of others,
on the part of both the lady and the gentleman, prepare the parties for repugnance. The qualities of both are, however, such as to make disgust impossible, esteem nearly necessary, but subject to all the palpitations and anxieties of coldness and distrust. It may be conceived that in such a union every movement is liable to misinterpretation. Friends are never wanting to inflame and flatter each party. So circumstanced, the conduct of the gentleman in this instance furnishes abundant food for jealousy; while paying mental homage to the virtues of his wife, he is passionately devoted to the very duchess who had unconsciously brought about his marriage. Intrigue brings together all necessary evidence, circumstances place the school-girl's ancient flame within the influence of the wife, and during a paroxysm of disappointment, tenderness, and vengeance, the foundation is laid for much misery. A distant, a careless, nay, a flagrantly unfaithful husband is betrayed. The object of the lady's early but transient attachment, bent upon the sacrifice of her honour, is assisted in his scheme by a neglected and disappointed mistress; he is enabled to produce an impassioned note, declaratory of the husband's continued devotion to another, dated on the very morning of his marriage. The infidelity is but of a moment, but it is followed by years of bitter remorse, increased by the knowledge that under the apparent coldness of her husband there has been growing up in his mind a strong and powerful feeling of attachment, based upon the sure foundation of esteem for her good qualities, as well as admiration for her personal charms and accomplished manners. Adhémar de Lorency, now a colonel in the imperial army, has in the mean time been following the glorious career of the imperial arms. It is the epoch of Wagram; peace follows, and the husband is expected to return. Remorse becomes a passion, and there is no sacrifice which the unhappy woman is not willing to make. She has no mother, her father is a worldly person, and in the absence of all other confidents, she avows her fault to an elderly relative, the president Monvilliers, a fine specimen of the union of purity of sentiment tempered by charity. He imposes upon her the hardest and most painful task to a delicate mind-concealment, hypocrisy—the child is to pass for the husband's, and she is bound to meet him as if she deserved his embraces. The reasoning by which the president is induced to prescribe this course is certainly not English. It is a thorny path for the sinner, while such is the absurdity of the code of honour, avował would have heaped disgrace and misery on the injured husband. The part is a hard one to play for a young female of extreme sensitiveness and who, in spite of this one wild fault, for such is it represented, is a person of habitual purity of mind, On
the return of Colonel de Lorency, he finds his wife an enigma; his own love and respect for her have grown apace; her attachment to him is become also devoted, yet she receives his attentious with regret, and holds off from marks of tenderness with an apparent horror. His self-love is wounded, his imagination is perplexed : he tortures himself into fancying secret causes of her disgust, and fixes upon every possible cause of jealousy. Her conduct is before the world a model of propriety, she is the ornament of the court-a retired, elegant pensive woman-the pattern of her sex. The jealousy of the husband is held to be unreasonable abroad, for no one sees the secret cause of disunion at home. tion of the erring wife is one series of bitter experience: apprehension, remorse, disappointed affection, happiness blighted, with all the means of enjoyment appearing before her, jealousy, for she has to submit without repining to the open intidelity of a man who wrongs her out of his very passion for her. The severest moralist will allow that the punishment of her crime is severe. But this is not all of it. The child dies—the creature who, in spite of the sinfulness of his birth, has been her sole hope and consolation. He dies in the night of fever; his mother, worn out with sorrow and watching, is sitting by his side alone, and attempting to resist the idea of the little creature's death. Her husband she imagines is with the army, and she is at the chateau of her relation, the president, near to which the battle of Montereau has lately taken place. In this battle Colonel de Lorency has been severely wounded, is brought silently into the house, and his presence kept a secret from his half-frantic wife, in order that grief for his state may not be added to sorrow for her afflicted child. Feeling better
, or being restless and anxious, he resolves upon visiting the sick chamber : pale, exhausted, suffering, he stalks into the apartment, just as the unhappy mother has convinced herself that the soul of the poor child has taken wing. It must be remem-bered that this is the child of guilt, that her nerves are shattered by grief, anxiety and fatigue--the unexpected vision of the husband at that hour and on that spot at so fatal a moment affect her faculties. She imagines that he comes in the shape of an accuser: that he comes to deprive her of the remains of the now lifeless evidence of her guilt, and she bursts into wild exclamations, wbich disclose to the unhappy man the long concealed crime. In the end she sinks into insensibility, the house is alarmed, and
are taken to revive her. Determined however not to survive the disclosure of her shame, and having now wo child to live for, she resolves upon suicide. She is taken froin one of the ponds in the gardens, apparently dead.
The task of the novelist now becomes one of extreme deli. cacy. If the heroine is thus permitted to die, the sentence seems ruthless. The offence is one of the deepest die ; but is it inexpiable? This is the question the authoress had to answer: she has given it a feminine solution. The unfortunate Ermance is restored to life; and in consideration of her long suffering-of her ardent attachment and inviolable respect for her husband, shown in a thousand ways-and, moreover, inasmuch as her heart had at least never strayed after she became enamoured of the man who had been forced upon her in the first instance, without the slightest regard to her feelings--she is pardoned. The justice of this pardon would be wholly denied in England; and a work which proceeds on the principle of such offences being, under any circumstances, expiable, will scarcely find favour in England. The authoress is well aware of the delicacy of her position, and has left no means of palliation unexhausted. Such excessive anxiety will, perhaps, be considered prudery in France.
The popular notions on the subject are probably more exactly represented in the other work before us, “ Madeleine, " wherein the heroine is guilty of the same offence, and with the poor excuse of difference of age and dissimilarity of sentiment between the parties; this having been too, as marriages too frequently are in France, a marriage of convenience. Madame de Noirmont, in “ Madeleine," suffers indeed from remorse, apprehension, and loss of self-respect; but she only ceases to be guilty by the infidelity of her lover; and when he falls in love, and marries before her face, she is represented as somewhat repiningly resuming the ancient matrimonial path. All this is endeavoured to be represented as venial; the husband is made repulsive; and the wife, if we could shut our eyes to her iniquity, would be one of the most elegant and interesting creations of romance. The tendency of such a work is in the highest degree reprehensible. It is, however, absolutely common in French romance; and in spite of the very high estimation in which, on many accounts, we are inclined to hold the women of France, we cannot help thinking that Paul de Koch is in this, as well as in other parts, a very exact painter of the national
In other respects, “Madeleine" is not only amusing, but moral. The trials of Madeleine, who risks fame and name, and stands even obloquy with quiet satisfaction, rather than betray ber benefactors, are well described, and the whole character conceived in a high tone, not, we say, unusual in Paul de Koch, when other virtues than those of chastity are concerned. The