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The plan, doubtless, is suggested by the course usually taken in marriage settlements, and would naturally be one of the first things to occur to lawyers more familiar with such arrangements than with the short and simple annals of the poor. I will not here discuss the policy of the ordinary marriage settlement for the rich. I do not admire it, but it is not necessary for the argument to take so wide a range. It is sufficient to say, that for one rich person affected by the measure there will be a thousand poor; that it is, in fact, a measure for the poorer classes of society; that it will leave the power of settlement by private contract unaffected for those who choose it; that the poorer classes do not choose it; and that to force it on them would be a great hardship.
How are such settlements to work? In what custody is the fund to be placed ? Is the settlement to embrace earnings ? And if not earnings, then savings from earnings ? Are the children to have a right of calling their mother to account to show what she has laid hy, or what she has received by gift from others, or by succession ? Whom will you get to act as trustees ?
All these questions must be answered before the proposal can float. The only answer I have heard to any of them is a suggestion by some gentleman that municipal corporations might act as trustees— a suggestion which can do little more than provoke a smile. Yet without machinery the plan must break down.
Supposing, however, it could be carried into effect—every little gift, legacy, or windfall, would have somehow to be put into settlement, unless we place a limit of value below which nothing should be settled. Such a limit would hardly be placed above say £200, even that would exclude the vast majority of cases. But who has watched the course of settlements of even much larger sums, say £2,000, without observing the enormous proportion which the expense bears to the sum settled, and the continual efforts that are made now to get a little more interest, and now to encroach on the capital ? Those efforts represent the uneasiness of the parties affected by the settlements. The sum falling under such an Act as this would in few cases exceed £300 or £400. And sums of that or of much larger amount are far more beneficially applied when left free to be used for the exigencies of the family, than when tied up, and made available only by way of income. Rich people may afford to put by a sum of money, and say that there it shall lie for a term of years. The poor cannot; the possession of a little capital often makes to them the whole difference between getting a start in life and losing it, between moderate success and total failure; they have no margin, and no friends to fall back on for the critical occasions when money is necessary
Besides and beyond the crippling effect of tying up money comes the demoralising effect of expectations. They are peculiarly noxious to the poor and ignorant, who always exaggerate them, often relax their exertions on account of them, and not seldom discount them. When 'Eutrapelus wished to ruin a man he gave him fine clothes. If I wished to throw sore temptation in the way of a humble family, I would put a couple of hundred pounds in strict settlement for them.
But if settlements are such good things why not extend them to men?
When women ask that marriage may not operate as a forfeiture of their property, they are to be told that it must be kept for their children. It is difficult to see why the same principle should not be applied to men when they marry. If the arrangement is based on the good of the children, it must be the same to them from whichever parent the money comes. If based on the good of the wife, is it not rather wiser to let her be the judge, whether it is for her good or not? The argument must come ultimately to this—that women when they marry are such poor weak creatures that they cannot be trusted to deal with their own money; they cannot judge whether to keep it or spend it; whether to bestow it on their husbands or themselves, or their children, or elsewhere; therefore, the law shall step in, assume in every case that a woman ought to settle money on herself and her children, and make that arrangement for her.
To this I answer— First, the weakness is assumed without proof, or without better proof than some coarse dictum of Lord Thurlow's. Women know how to hold their own where they are accustomed to act. Give them legal rights, and wait to see whether or no they will use them. Secondly, that the circumstances and needs of people vary infinitely, and to apply one Procrustean rule of law to all will produce, first misery, and then revolt against the law. Thirdly, that the proposed legal assumption of what it is right for a woman to do with a small sum of money is so unwise that the weakest woman commanded by the most tyrannical husband could not do worse with it. Fourthly, that it is somewhat hard measure for those who come complaining of their unprotected state to be told that they are quite right, but that they want a great deal more protection than they ask for, and shall for the future bé protected not only against their husbands, but against themselves.
I will only now add that for myself I would sooner see no measure at all carried than one establishing a system of settlements; and I believe the gentlemen who have given years of labour to the ripening of opinion for the reception of Mr. Russell Gurney's Bill are of the same opinion.
We are often told at the present day that our grandfathers and grandmothers in their youth had a less uniform and monotonous existence than their degenerate posterity; that life was more full of both character and incident than it is at present; that idiosyncracies of all kinds, personal, professional, or provincial, were more strongly marked ; and that among our progenitors, consequently, though much less laborious than ourselves, we find no complaints of that insipidity and sameness which are, rightly or wrongly, imputed to contemporary society. No doubt the life of England eighty years ago was rougher than it is now; and in some respects, therefore, more exciting. Doubtless, also, to us looking back upon it, mellowed and moss-grown with the lapse of time, it seems more picturesque than the present. And so far it may be a more proper period than our own in which to lay the scene of a romance. But it may be doubted, after all, whether the real actors in the life of that generation were as conscious of their own advantages as the complaint against our own times assumes them to have been. All that part of life which was rougher and more stirring than our own, lay outside of their ordinary daily experience; and it was all external and outdoor life. Posting, coaching, or riding were, let us grant, more interesting modes of travelling than our own, though any one of them could be tedious enough under circumstances of no rare occurrence; but they did not affect the ordinary routine of domestic life. The very same circumstances which lent all its charms to the “rcad,” kept down the number of those who were able to enjoy them. People then remained at home to an extent that would now be unendurable. So that, on the whole, we cannot avoid a shrewd suspicion that life in those days, if less insipid than in these for the higher aristocracy, was more dull for the rest of the community; that long stretches of unbroken monotony, days of worsted work and nights of satin stitch, were more common, and that if a young lady of 1870 were to find herself transferred to a country personage of 1790, she would consider herself to be buried alive.
This conjecture, which is à priori not improbable, is strengthened by the perusal of Miss Austen's novels; and it is part of her genius that, without ever travelling out of the same dull circles of society, she has been able to construct for us tales of such enduring interest. It is still further strengthened by the contents of her biography, which presents us with a life not only entirely devoid of all the exciting incidents that might happen at the present day, but passed in
a contracted sphere, with limited opportunities of observation, among common-place people, who knew little variety even in their amusements. The very narrowness of her range enabled her to concentrate her intellectual vision upon the few types of character which she did meet, with an intensity for which no more extensive experience could have compensated, had it lessened this peculiar power. These are the differential qualities of Miss Austen's novels—a series of characters which, for the knowledge of human nature and the delicacy of finish displayed in them, have been compared perhaps rashly to Shakspeare's, unfolded through a series of events which are almost as uninteresting as the Citizen's Journal in the Spectator. This is a wonderful triumph of art. Yet it is equally clear that excellence of this kind is no passport to extensive popularity. On the whole, Jane Austen has probably been as much admired as in the nature of things it was possible she should be. Lord Macaulay and Archbishop Whately have done for her reputation all that the most influential criticism can accomplish. And all we can expect is, that the recent biography will stimulate attention to her writings among those who admire them already, without communicating it to the general mass of novel readers.
Miss Austen was the daughter of a country clergyman, who was rector of Steventon in Hampshire from 1764 to 1801. Her mother was a Miss Leigh, likewise the daughter of a clergyman, and a connection of the Leighs of Stoneleigh. On the father's side, too, the family is said to have been gentle, though in the beginning of the seventeenth century its representatives were Kentish clothiers. At all events, it had good and opulent connections, and through these Mr. Austen obtained his preferment. His daughter Jane was born at Steventon on the 16th of December, 1775; and here she lived till the year 1800, when Mr. Austen, finding himself too infirm for duty, resigned his living to his son. The family retired to Bath, but only for a short time. After her father's death, they lived a little while at Southampton, but finally settled down again in the country at Chancton, a Hampshire village about a mile from the town of Alton. “While Jane was at Bath and Southampton,” says her biographer, “she was a sojourner in a strange land ; ” here “she found a real home among her own people.” But it is evident that, during her stay at Bath, she was watching the life of the place with a curious and observing eye, which enabled her afterwards to reproduce it with so much effect in “ Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey." Still her main sources of inspiration lay round Steventon and Chancton, among the beneficed clergy and the county families, which constituted the society of the neighbourhood. At Steventon her aunt's family lived quite in the style of the clerical squire. The living was a family living. The patron owned the whole parish; and as he never resided there, his place in the eyes of the village was filled by the rector. Mrs. Austen had her carriage and pair. The sons shot over the manor. Dinner-parties were exchanged with the best society in the neighbourhood. And though, as Mr. Leigh points out, carriages did not then imply so high a scale of honour as they do now, still it is clear that, on the whole, the Austens were in a thoroughly good county position; and that the Bertrams, the Tilneys, and the Dashwoods, with which she was to charm the world, were the result of her personal experience. That sombre and opulent and respectable society, rich and dark like a twelfth cake, is no longer exactly what it was. But it still exists in a tolerable state of preservation, sufficient to enable any reader who was mixed in it to reproduce for himself, without any great stretch of the imaginative faculty, the drawing-room at Mansfield Park.
It was during her residence at Chancton, that is, between the years 1809 and 1817, that all her novels were published. But she had written three of them—namely, “Pride and Prejudice," “ Northanger Abbey,” and “Sense and Sensibility,” before leaving Steventon—that is, before she was five-and-twenty. The first of these, offered to a London publisher, was declined by return of post. The second was sold to a bookseller at Bath for ten pounds, who, like poor Goldsmith with the “ Vicar of Wakefield,” kept it by him some years without venturing to publish it, and ultimately, on receipt of his purchase-money, returned it to the lady's brother, who had the pleasure of informing him that the rejected work was by the authoress of “Pride and Prejudice.” The chronological order of her works was as follows: “Sense and Sensibility,” published in 1811, “ Pride and Prejudice” in 1813, “ Mansfield Park” in 1814, and “Emma” in 1816. “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey," but lately recovered from the undiscerning bibliopole, appeared after her death. This event took place in 1817, at Winchester, where she had gone for medical advice ; but her nephew does not tell us to what kind of disease we are to attribute her premature decay. She had not yet completed her forty-second year when the grave closed over her; a singular exception to her three celebrated contemporaries, Miss Burney, Miss Edgeworth, and Miss Mitford, who all attained extreme longevity.
In person Miss Austen must have been at least pretty; she was brown-haired, blue-eyed, and slightly above the average height. She may be said with literal truth to have passed through life “in maiden meditation, fancy free,” though she was probably not permitted to escape the importunity of lovers. We can imagine her sometimes to have undergone much what Emma Woodhouse experienced from the attentions of Mr. Elton, when that reverend gentleman had taken just enough wine to embolden without confusing him. But whatever her acquaintance with the tender passion, it is clear that she was the