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MRS. BROWNING’S AURORA LEIGH.

Aurora Leigh. By ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING. London :

Chapman and Hall.

THE “Rights of Women" question seenis to be becoming rather a serious affair on the other side of the Atlantic-serious at least in so far as it regards the domestic comfort of many unfortunate gentlemen, and the perverted lives of numbers of the opposite sex who have abandoned their proper vocation in order to pursue a course as pernicious to themselves as it is useless to others.

For a long time the ladies of the United States appeared not to progress

much more than those of England in their efforts to prove that the place in the order of creation, which has been assigned to women from the commencement of the world, was quite unworthy of the developed ideas of this enlightened age. But of late years, by dint of much perseverance in that art of talking, in which those aspiring females so greatly excel,—they have certainly succeeded in advancing much nearer the attainment of their object than we could have believed possible even among such a "go-a-head” people.

The American newspapers inform us that it is a matter of frequent occurrence for ladies to pass their examination as medical students, or to take their seat in a Professor's chair, and we have not even been spared the shock of seeing women dare to profane the office of chaplain or preacher, which, although it be but the unauthorized and unsanctified ministry of some dissenting community which they thus desecrate, is surely a step beyond what society will endure. All that concerns us in the matter however is, that a corresponding movement has taken place among the women of our own country in consequence of the success of their transatlantic sisters. Although they have not as yet been able to attain to any such public recognition as we have been mentioning, it is certain that there is a very large body among them, who are wasting their time and energies in endeavouring to reach a position which is not only denied them by the Divine law, but also by the law of their own nature, which renders them wholly unfit to oc

cupy it.

The book before us, which in its mechanism is simply a novel in blank verse, has been written by one of the ablest of these mistaken ladies for the express purpose of propagating and enforcing their views.

Mrs. Browning is a woman of undoubted talent, and her former works, which are doubtless well known to our readers, have proved her to be a poetess of no common order. The genius they display has rendered them deservedly popular, yet even these volumes

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were characterized by a forced attempt at masculine strength of language, which resulted simply in a very unbecoming licence. But in " Aurora Leigh,” which is designed to be the text book of the female emancipation society, this

licence has reached to a degree of coarseness and absolute impropriety, which no woman desirous of preserving that delicacy and modesty which are her best ornaments, would choose to read.

In fact, the most determined opponent to these unnatural feminine pretentions, could hardly have devised anything more calculated to expose their absurdity and impossibility, than this book which bas been written to support them.

We shall give a brief description of the poem in order that our readers may judge for themselves whether the results of the system are not painfully evident in the bold irreverence and determined indelicacy of this work; and surely such results ought to be sufficient to condemn the theory at once, even in the estimation of the most independent of female minds.

A holy reverential spirit and a retiring modesty are not only the highest qualities of women, and the special characteristics of her who was blessed above them all, but they are the very means by which their influence is designed to work for good on the mass of mankind.

How repeatedly, from the days of S. Monica to the present, have the boliest men testified to the fact that their first step in sanctity was by the guiding of a mother's hand; and who can say how much evil of the darkest kind is avoided by the purifying influence of female society ? That irreverence must be the result of such ideas as those of which we are speaking is sufficiently evident, inasmuch as they cannot be entertained by women, without an absolute defiance of that Divine authority, which has assigned to them their set position in the Church of Christ and clearly defined its nature and limits. Mrs. Browning's book will accomplish a better work than that for which it was written, if it shows the advocates of those principles, the real result to which they surely tend.

The history of Aurora Leigh is related in the form of an autobiography, into which the author tells us "all her highest convictions of life and art have entered," and it is briefly this :-Aurora is the daughter of an English father and an Italian mother. The latter dies while she is still an infant, and the father carries her off to the mountains where she lives with him until she is thirteen. Almost in the first page we have a specimen of the irreverence which in other parts of the book deepens into positive blasphemy. Aurora describes her father meeting her mother when

“She went to eat the bishop's wafer at the church,” and proceeds for some lines in a similar strain. There is much of

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real poetry in her description of their mountain life, although marred to a considerable degree by the unintelligible system of writing which is now unhappily so great a favourite with our poets, and which consists in stringing together a set of high sounding, and often newly coined words which have literally no meaning whatever. Aurora's early life of happiness is broken up by her father's death, and she is conveyed to England to be placed under the care of her maiden aunt, his sister. The description of this lady is so good that we subjoin it for the amusement of our readers. She is throughout represented as the very type of what the un. married English woman was, and what she was expected to be, till the reviving catholicity of the Church in this country, opened the way for the consecration of her life to some higher vocation.

“I think I see my father's sister stand

Upon the hall-step of her country-house
To give me welcome. She stood straight and calm,
Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight
As if for taming accidental thoughts
From possible pulses ; brown hair pricked with grey
By frigid use of life, (she was not old,
Although my father's elder by a year)
A nose drawn sharply, yet in delicate lines ;
A close mild mouth, a little soured about
The ends, through speaking unrequited loves,
Or peradventure niggardly half-truths;
Eyes of no colour,-once they might have smiled,
But never, never have forgot themselves
In smiling; cheeks, in which was yet a rose
Of perished summers, like a rose in a book,
Kept more for ruth than pleasure,—if past bloom,
Past fading also.

She had lived, we'll say,
A harmless life, she called a virtuous life,
A quiet life, which was not life at all,
(But that, she had not lived enough to know)
Between the vicar and the county squires,
The lord-lieutenant looking down sometimes
From the empyreal, to assure their souls
Against chance-vulgarisms, and, in the abyss,
The apothecary looked on once a year,
To prove their soundness of humility.
The poor-club exercised her Christian gifts
Of knitting stockings, stitching petticoats,
Because we are of one flesh after all
And need one flannel, (with a proper sense
Of difference in the quality)--and still
The book-club, guarded from your modern trick
Of shaking dangerous questions from the crease,
Preserved her intellectual. She had lived

A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage,
Accounting that to leap from perch to perch
Was act and joy enough for any

bird.
Dear heaven, how silly are the things that live
In thickets, and eat berries!"-Pp. 10–12.

To this unmeaning life with all its paltry interests, the opponents of sisterhoods would still confine our countrywomen, how deep soever may be their desire to devote themselves to God and His Church in some more excellent way.

Under the frigid tuition of this aunt, Aurora developes into an outwardly decorous, and inwardly most independent young lady, she gives a clever and bitterly sarcastic account of her education, and closes with the following description of the fancy works on which the great majority of our women are pleased to expend their lives.

“She owned
She liked a woman to be womanly,
And English women, she thanked God and sighed,
(Some people always sigh in thanking God)
Were models to the universe. And last
I learnt cross-stitch, because she did not like
To see me wear the night with empty hands,
A-doing nothing. So, my shepherdess
Was something after all, (the pastoral saints
Be praised for’t) leaning lovelorn with pink eyes
To match her shoes, when I mistook the silks ;
Her head uncrushed by that round weight of hat
So strangely similar to the tortoise-sheli
Which slew the tragic poet.

By the way,
The works of women are symbolical.
We sew, sew, prick our fingers, dull our sight,
Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir,
To put on when you're weary--or a stool
To stumble over and vex you . . .'curse that stool !!
Or else at best, a cushion, where you lean
And sleep, and dream of something we are not,
But would be for your sake. Alas, alas !
This hurts most, this . . . that, after all, we are paid
The worth of our work, perhaps.”—Pp. 16, 17.

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Now we most heartily agree with the strong-minded Aurora in considering drawing-room embroidery and slipper-making, as the most useless and frivolous occupation which could possibly be chosen as a pretext for wasting time, but we differ from her altogether, in the employments to be substituted in their stead, and for which she acquires a taste in the following manner. Obedience being wholly ignored by this “defender of woman's rights," as a

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principle either necessary or right, she employs herself secretly in reading a variety of books, unknown to her aunt; she reads, as she tells us, “some bad, some good—some bad and good at once," and out of this miscellaneous collection, she makes the discovery tbat poets are

“The only truth-tellers now left to God,” (not excepting His appointed messengers)

“ The only speakers of essential truth,

Opposed to relative, comparative,
And temporal truths, the only holders by
His sunskirts through conventional grey gloom,

The only teachers who instruct mankind."
and so on, in a strain which soon grows bold to irreverence.

Next she comes to the conclusion that she is herself a poetess, not without having had some doubt whether this is really the case, or whether she merely loves poetry,—doubts which she solves by such questions as these addressed to the poets in general —

“Do you play on me,
My pipers,--and if sooth you did not blow

Would no sound come ? or is the music mine? The answer being satisfactory, she at once takes up her office as one of the only teachers of mankind, and determines to instruct them by her verses, instead of devoting herself to the aforesaid cross-stitch and knitting-wholly overlooking that wide intermediate sphere of tender and devoted charity which is so essentially the woman's province, as well as the injunctions of an authority which once affirmed that “ a woman was not suffered to teach.”

Aurora next appears before us on her birthday of twenty, when she has so fully decided on her mission that she can look before and after as a woman and an artist," and she proceeds to crown herself in the course of her morning walk with a view to her prospective glory,--in which employment she is disturbed by her cousin Romney Leigh.

He is decidedly the best character in the book, and the effect produced by the contrast between him and Aurora is precisely contrary to that which the author intended. Mrs. Browning gives to both a special object in life, and causes him to fail, while his lady cousin triumphs successfully, with the view of proving not only the equality but the superiority of the female mind ;- but in spite of herself she defeats her object, for Romney is infinitely nobler in his failure, truer to his God and to his fellow creatures, than the arrogant and self-satisfied woman who is pitted against him. On this her birthday morning, however, each discloses to the other their views in life. Romney tells Aurora that the social

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