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also related to Dr Halifax, Bishop of Gloucester, and to Dr Halifax, Physician to the King. Perhaps it may gratify curiosity to state farther, that she was descended from a near relative of the De Witts of Holland. In some family papers which I have seen, it is stated, that a De Witt, of the family of John and Cornelius, came to England, under the patronage of government, upon some design of draining the fens in Lincolnshire, bringing with him a daughter, Amelia, then an infant. The prosecution of the plan is supposed to have been interrupted by the rebellion, in the time of Charles the First ; but De Witt appears to have passed the remainder of his life in a mansion near Hull, and to have left many children, of whom Amelia was the mother of one of Mrs Radcliffe's ancestors.
“ This admirable writer, whom I remember from about the time of her twentieth year, was, in her youth, of a figure exquisitely proportioned ; while she resembled her father, and his brother and sister, in being low of stature. Her complexion was beautiful, as was her whole countenance, especially her eyes, eyebrows, and mouth. Of the faculties of her mind, let her works speak. Her tastes were such as might be expected from those works. To contemplate the glories of creation, but more particularly the grander features of their display, was one of her chief delights : to listen to fine music was another. She had also a gratification in listening to any good verbal sounds; and would desire to hear passages repeated from the Latin and Greek classics ; requiring, at intervals, the most literal translations that could be given, with all that was possible of their idiom, how muchsoever the version might be embarrassed by that aim at exactness. Though her fancy was prompt, and she was, as will readily be supposed, qualified in many respects for conversation, she had not the confidence and presence of mind, without which, a person conscious of being observed, can scarcely be at ease, except in long-tried society. Yet she had not been without some good examples of what must have been ready conversation, in more extensive circles. Besides that a great part of her youth had been passed in the residences of her superior relatives, she had the advantage of being much loved, when a child, by the late Mr Bentley;
to whom, on the establishment of the fabric known by the name of Wedgwood and Bentley's, was appropriated the superintendence of all that related to form and design. Mr Wedgwood was the intelligent man of commerce, and the able chemist; Mr Bentley the man of more general literature, and of taste in the arts. One of her mother's sisters was married to Mr Bentley; and, during the life of her aunt, who was accomplished according to the moderation,'—may I say, the wise moderation ?-of that day, the little niece was a favourite guest at Chelsea, and afterwards at Turnham Green, where Mr and Mrs Bentley resided. At their house she saw several persons of distinction for literature ; and others who, without having been so distinguished, were beneficial objects of attention for their minds and their manners. Of the former class the late Mrs Montague, and once, I think, Mrs Piozzi ; of the latter, Mrs Ord. The gentleman, called Athenian Stuart, was also a visitor there."
Thus respectably born and connected, Miss Ward, at the age of twenty-three, acquired the name which she has made so famous, by marrying William Radcliffe, Esq. graduated at Oxford, and a student of law. He renounced prosecution of his legal studies, and became afterwards proprietor and editor of the English Chronicle.
Thus connected in a manner which must have induced her to cherish her literary powers, Mrs Radcliffe first came before the public as a novelist in 1789, only two years after her marriage, and when she was twenty-four years old.
old. A Romance, entitled The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, which she then produced, gave but moderate intimation of the author's peculiar powers. The scene is laid in Scotland, during the dark ages, but without any attempt to trace either the peculiar manners or scenery of the country; and although, in reading the work with that express purpose, we can now trace some germs of that taste and talent for the wild, romantic, and mysterious, which the authoress afterwards employed with such effect, we cannot consider the work, on the whole, as by any means worthy of her pen. Being nevertheless very short, it has been retained in the present edi.. tion, and is thrown to the end of Mrs Radcliffe's better known and more
esteemed productions. It is always of consequence to the history of human genius to preserve its earlier efforts, that we may trace, if possible, how the oak at length germinates from the unmarked acorn.
Mrs Radcliffe's genius was more advantageously displayed in the Sicilian Romance, which appeared in 1790, and, as we ourselves well recollect, attracted in no ordinary degree the attention of the public. This work displays the exuberance and fertility of imagination, which was the author's principal characteristic. Adventures heaped on adventures, in quick and brilliant succession, with all the hair-breadth charms of escape or capture, hurry the reader along with them, and the imagery and scenery by which the action is relieved, are like those of a splendid oriental tale. Still this work had marked traces of the defects natural to an unpractised author. The scenes were inartificially connected, and the characters hastily sketched, without any attempt at individual distinctions; being cast in the usual mould of ardent lovers, tyrannical parents, with domestic ruffians, guards, and others, who had wept or stormed throngh the chapters of romance, without much alteration in their family habits or features, for a quarter of a century before Mrs Radcliffe's time. Nevertheless, the Sicilian Romance attracted much notice among the novel-readers of the day, as far excelling the ordinary meagreness of stale and uninteresting incident with which they were at that time regaled from the Leadenhall press. Indeed, the praise may be claimed for Mrs Radcliffe, of having been the first to introduce into her prose fictions a tone of fanciful description and impressive narrative, which had hitherto been exclusively applied to poetry. Fielding, Richardson, Smollet, even Walpole, though writing upon an imaginative subject, are decidedly prose authors. Mrs Radcliffe has a title to be considered as the first poetess of romantic fiction, that is, if actual rythm shall not be deemed essential to poetry.
The Romance of the Forest, which appeared in 1791, placed the author at once in that rank and pre-eminence in her own particular style of composition, in which her works have ever since maintained her. Her fancy, in this new effort, was more regulated, and subjected to
the fetters of a regular story. The persons, too, although perhaps there is nothing very original in the conception, were depicted with skill far superior to that which the author had hitherto displayed, and the work attracted the public attention in proportion. That of La Motte, indeed, is sketched with particular talent, and most part
of the interest of the piece depends upon the vacillations of a character, who, though upon the whole we may rather term him weak and vicious, than villainous, is, nevertheless, at every moment on the point of becoming an agent in atrocities which his heart disapproves of. He is the exact picture of “ the needy man who has known better days,” and who, spited at the world, from which he has been expelled with contempt, and condemned by circumstances to seek an asylum in a desolate castle full of mysteries and horrors, avenges himself, by playing the gloomy despot within his own family, and tyrannizing over those who were subjected to him only by their strong sense of duty. A more powerful agent appears on the scene--obtains the mastery over this dark but irresolute spirit, and, by alternate exertion of seduction and terror, compels him to be his agent in schemes against the virtue, and even the life of an orphan, whom he was bound in gratitude, as well as in honour and hospitality, to cherish and protect.
The heroine, too, wearing the usual costume of innocence, purity, and simplicity, as proper to heroines as white gowns are to the sex in general, has some pleasing touches of originality. Her grateful affection for the La Motte family-her reliance on their truth and honour, when the wife had become unkind, and the father treacherous towards her, is an interesting and individual trait in her character.
But although undoubtedly the talents of Mrs Radcliffe, in the important point of drawing and finishing the characters of her narrative, was greatly improved since her earlier attempts, and manifested sufficient power to raise her far above the common crowd of novelists, this was not the department of art on which her popularity rested. The public were chiefly aroused, or rather fascinated, by the wonderful conduct of a story, in which the author so successfully called out the feelings of mystery and of awe, while chapter after chapter, and incident after incident, maintained the thrilling attraction of awakened curiosity and suspended interest. Of these, every reader felt the force, from the sage in his study, to the group which assembles round the evening taper, to seek a solace from the toils of ordinary life by an excursion into the regions of imagination. The tale was the more striking, because varied and relieved by descriptions of the ruined mansion, and the forest with which it is surrounded, under so many different points, now pleasing and serene, now gloomy, now terrible-scenes which could only have been drawn by one to whom na ture had given the eye of a painter, with the spirit of a poet.
In 1793, Mrs Radcliffe had the advantage of visiting the scenery of the Rhine, and, although we are not positive of the fact, we are strongly inclined to suppose, that The Mysteries of Udolpho were written, or at least corrected, after the date of this journey ; for the mouldering castles of the robber chivalry of Germany, situated on the wild and romantic banks of that celebrated stream, seem to have given a bolder flight to her imagination, and a more glowing character to her colouring, than are exhibited in The Romance of the Forest. The scenery on the Lakes of Westmoreland, which Mrs Radcliffe visited about the same time, was also highly calculated to awaken her fancy, as nature has in these wild but beautiful regions realized the descriptions in which this authoress loved to indulge. Her remarks upon these countries were given to the public in 1794, in a very well written work, entitled, A Journey through Holland, &c.
Much was of course expected from Mrs Radcliffe’s next effort, and the booksellers felt themselves authorized in offering what was then considered as an unprecedented sum, L.500, for The Mysteries of Udolpho. It often happens, that a writer's previous reputation proves the greatest enemy which, in a second attempt upon public favour, he has to encounter. Exaggerated expectations are excited and circulated, and criticism, which had been seduced into former approbation by the pleasure of surprise, now stands awakened and alert to pounce