“I wonder, if she had happened to be married, how many husbands she would have talked to death. It is certain that none of her relatives are long-lived, after she comes to reside with them. Father, mother, uncle, sister, brother, two nephews, and one niece, all these have successively passed away, though a healthy race, and with no visible disorder—except—But we must not be uncharitable.”
Mary Ferrier, the Scotch novelist, was gifted with genial wit and a quick sense of the ludicrous. Walter Scott admired her greatly, and as a lively guest at Abbotsford she did much to relieve the sadness of his last days. He said of her:
“She is a gifted personage, having, besides her great talents,
conversation the least exigeante of any author, female at
least, whom I have ever seen, among the long list I have
encountered. Simple and full of humor, and exceedingly ready at
repartee; and all this without the least affectation of the
blue-stocking. The general strain of her writing relates to the
foibles and oddities of mankind, and no one has drawn them with
greater breadth of comic humor or effect. Her scenes often
resemble the style of our best old comedies, and she may boast,
like Foote, of adding many new and original characters to the
stock of our comic literature.”
Here is one of her admirably-drawn portraits:
THE SENSIBLE WOMAN.
“Miss Jacky, the senior of the trio, was what is reckoned a very sensible woman—which generally means a very disagreeable, obstinate, illiberal director of all men, women, and children—a sort of superintendent of all actions, time, and place, with unquestioned authority to arraign, judge, and condemn upon the statutes of her own supposed sense. Most country parishes have their sensible woman, who lays down the law on all affairs, spiritual and temporal. Miss Jacky stood unrivalled as the sensible woman of Glenfern. She had attained this eminence partly from having a little more understanding than her sisters, but principally from her dictatorial manner, and the pompous, decisive tone in which she delivered the most commonplace truths. At home her supremacy in all matters of sense was perfectly established; and thence the infection, like other superstitions, had spread over the whole neighborhood. As a sensible woman she regulated the family, which she took care to let everybody hear; she was a sort of postmistress-general, a detector of all abuses and impositions, and deemed it her prerogative to be consulted about all the useful and useless things which everybody else could have done as well. She was liberal of her advice to the poor, always enforcing upon them the iniquity of idleness, but doing nothing for them in the way of employment, strict economy being one of the many points in which she was particularly sensible. The consequence was that, while she was lecturing half the poor women in the parish for their idleness, the bread was kept out of their mouths by the incessant carding of wool, and knitting of stockings, and spinning, and reeling, and winding, and pirning, that went on among the ladies themselves. And, by the by, Miss Jacky is not the only sensible woman who thinks she is acting a meritorious part when she converts what ought to be the portion of the poor into the employment of the affluent.
“In short, Min Jacky was all over sense. A skilful physiognomist would at a single glance have detected the sensible woman in the erect head, the compressed lips, square elbows, and firm, judicious step. Even her very garments seemed to partake of the prevailing character of their mistress. Her ruff always looked more sensible than any other body’s; her shawl sat most sensibly on her shoulders; her walking-shoes were acknowledged to be very sensible, and she drew on her gloves with an air of sense, as if the one arm had been Seneca, the other Socrates. From what has been said it may easily be inferred that Miss Jacky was, in fact, anything but a sensible woman, as, indeed, no woman can be who bears such visible outward marks of what is in reality the most quiet and unostentatious of all good qualities.”
Frederika Bremer, the Swedish novelist, whose novels have been translated into English, German, French, and Dutch, had a style peculiarly her own. Her humor reminds me of a bed of mignonette, with its delicate yet permeating fragrance. One paragraph, like one spray of that shy flower, scarcely reveals the dainty flavor.
From the “Neighbors,” her best story, and one that still has a moderate sale, I take her description of Franziska’s first little lover-like quarrel with her adoring husband, the “Bear.” (Let us remember Miss Bremer with appreciation and gratitude, as one of the very few visitors we have entertained who have written kindly of our country and our “Homes.”)
THE FIRST QUARREL.
“Here I am again sitting with a pen in my hand, impelled by a desire for writing, yet with nothing particular to write about. Everything in the house and in the whole household arrangement is in order. Little patties are baking in the kitchen, the weather is oppressively hot, and every leaf and bird seem as if deprived of motion. The hens lie outside in the sand before the window, the cock stands solitarily on one leg, and looks upon his harem with the countenance of a sleepy sultan. Bear sits in his room writing letters. I hear him yawn; that infects me. Oh! oh! I must go and have a little quarrel with him on purpose to awaken us both.
“I want at this moment a quire of writing-paper on which to drop sugar-cakes. He is terribly miserly of his writing-paper, and on that very account I must have some now.
“Later.—All is done! A complete quarrel, and how completely lively we are after it! You, Maria, must hear all, that you may thus see how it goes on among married people.
“I went to my husband and said quite meekly, ‘My Angel Bear, you must be so very good as to give me a quire of your writing-paper to drop sugar-cakes upon.’
“He (_in consternation_). ‘A quire of writing-paper?’
“She. ‘Yes, my dear friend, of your very best writing-paper.’
“He. ‘Finest writing-paper? Are you mad?’
“She. ‘Certainly not; but I believe you are a little out of your senses.’
“He. ‘You covetous sea-cat, leave off raging among my papers! You shall not have my paper!’
“She. ‘Miserly beast! I shall and will have the paper.’
“He. ‘“I shall”! Listen a moment. Let’s see, now, how you will accomplish your will.’ And the rough Bear held both my small hands fast in his great paws.
“She. ‘You ugly Bear! You are worse than any of those that walk on four legs. Let me loose! Let me loose, else I shall bite you!’ And as he would not let me loose I bit him. Yes, Maria, I bit him really on the hand, at which he only laughed scornfully and said: ‘Yes, yes, my little wife, that is always the way of those who are forward without the power to do. Take the paper. Now, take it!’
“She. ‘Ah! Let me loose! let me loose!’
“He. ‘Ask me prettily.’
“She. ‘Dear Bear!’
“He. ‘Acknowledge your fault.’
“She. ‘I do.’
“He. ‘Pray for forgiveness.’
“She. ‘Ah, forgiveness!’
“He. ‘Promise amendment.’
“She. ‘Oh, yes, amendment!’