« 上一頁繼續 »
Miss Landon had the necessity forced on her, at a very early age, of pursuing literature for a livelihood (and for the support too, for many years, of an aged mother)—a necessity, for a woman, which it is impossible to exaggerate the miseries of. No amount of emolument acquired, or fame achieved by a young literary woman, ever compensated for the penalties of the struggle of female talent, modest worth, and feminine gifts and graces of intellect, of the strife in the arena of "the trade,” in the press, in the public gaze, in literary circles, in cliques of critics, and coteries of patronizing people of fashion.
The popularity of Miss Landon suffered no abatement by the frequency of her appearance before the public. It appeared rather to augment than to decline in the latest years of her literary career in London. And this is the more surprising, as no extensive poem approaching to an epic character, nor any detached pieces of hers of any sort, in verse, of considerable length, have appeared. Still, she had the power of seizing hold of the public esteem ; an affectionate interest was felt in her; her very name inspired kindly feelings and expectations of meeting amiable sentiments associated with beautiful imagery in her productions.
The chief characteristics of the poetry of L. E. L. consist in imaginative power, tenderness, and geniality of feeling, and harmony of versification.
The principal productions of Miss Landon before her departure for England, besides her poetical contributions to the leading periodicals of the day under the signature of L. E. L., were the following:
A volume of poetry, the first published by Miss Landon, appeared in 1820, entitled “The Fate of Adelaide, a Swiss romantic tale ;" and "The Improvisatrice, and other poems," was published in 1824 ; “ The Troubadour,” to which were added poetical and historical sketches, in 1825 ; "The Golden Violet, and other poems,” in 1826 ; “The Venetian Bracelet,” “The Lost Pleiad,” &c., in 1829; her first novel, “ Romance and Reality,” in 1830; “Francesca Carrara," in three vols., followed in 1834; “The Vow of the Peacock, and other poems," in 1835.
A volume of sketches, entitled “Traits and Trials of Early Life,” in 1836; “ Ethel Churchill," a novel in three vols., in 1837; “Duty and Inclination,” a novel in three vols., in 1838.
After her death in 1842, a novel appeared with her name, entitled "Lady Anne Granard,” but the very early part only of the work was written by her.
A few months before her most ill-assorted union with Captain Maclean, I was in her company at the house of Colonel Stanhope, in London. She was there“ the admired of all admirers,” the great object of attraction, surrounded by many of the most eminent literary men and artists of the day.
Few persons, with so few pretensions to beauty as she had at that period, could inspire the same warm interest, and make one feel there was such a power of fascination about her that was irresistible, in spite of plainness of looks and diminutiveness of form. Her features, when not lit up by conversation, had a pensive cast of expression in them. They were not sombre, but there were dark illuminations in them, like the effects, rich and beautiful, of the lights transmitted through stainedglass windows-tints of thought, that showed
“ 'Twixt light and shade the transitory strife.” Mr. J. S. Heraud must have had some such impressions of her appearance when the following most appropriate and beautiful lines were written, which appeared in “The English Bijou Almanac" for 1838:
Sappho of a polished age,
Loves and graces sweetly sing,
Like moonlight on a fairy's wing.
Breathings gentle as the May's,
Once sported in thy happy days.
Melancholy is thy mood;
For cheerfulness befits the good.
“Yet, if thou be sad, 'tis well ;
If we weep, 'tis not in vain!
Allure us into love with pain." Sad, indeed, had been the plaintive strain, and melancholy had been the mood of poor L. E. L. at the period when those lines were written, and even for some years previous to that time.
Her unknown tormentors had been already too successful for real cheerfulness and gayety ever more to come back to her bosom. They had prevented her union with one of the most eminent of living sculptors.
Proposals of marriage, too, had been made to her by one whom she could have loved, who was worthy of her—a man of exalted intellect and honor, as well as of a kindly nature ; who was capable of appreciating her genius and warm-hearted kindness of disposition ; but the terrors of the persecution she had been long subject to, and feelings of extreme sensitiveness on a subject that she imagined might possibly admit of the shadow of a doubt in the mind of one by whom she was held dear, as to her entire frankness in dealing with that matter at any future time, led her to break off the proposed marriage, though one in every respect most desired and desirable.
In the mean time, her annoyances continued; the difficulties of her literary position augmented; her health and spirits had begun to suffer from the arduous mental occupation she had long been engaged in; and at this juncture, about October, 1836, a gentleman from the west coast of Africa-styled the Governor of Cape Coast Castle, Captain Maclean--was frequently met by her in London society, and the result of that acquaintance was an offer of marriage, which was accepted by her in an evil hour, and in a frame of mind that rendered any resolution, however desperate, in regard to change of scene and country, a course rather to be adopted than considered.
When the time came for fulfilling his engagement, in the summer of 1837, Captain Maclean manifested no anxiety or impatience for its accomplishment. He had proceeded to the Gold
Coast, remained there for some time, but he returned at length; his business habits and peculiar turn of mind admitted of no waste of time or words in nonsensical dalliance; preparations for the wedding were made with all convenient dispatch.
The marriage of Mr. Maclean with the ill-fated L. E. L. took place on the 7th of June, 1838, and on the 15th of October following she was laid in her dismal grave in the court-yard of Cape Coast Castle.
Every one is aware that this gifted creature died by poison; that she had been in the habit of taking prussic acid for the relief of spasms; that she had taken an undue quantity of that drug on the morning of her decease, but whether intentionally or accidentally there was no evidence given on the coroner's inquest to enable an English public to determine.
In February, 1841, I visited Cape Coast Castle, the grave of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, or, if that name must be uttered which she had the misfortune to bear for a few miserable months, Mrs. Maclean. I sojourned for some weeks at the castle in the discharge of the duties of my office of “Commissioner of Inquiry on the Western Coast of Africa.” Mr. Maclean was then President of the Council of Government of Cape Coast Castle, the senior magistrate of the settlement.
The wretched town of Cape Coast, to the eastward of the fort, contains some 4000 inhabitants, natives of the country, a few European traders, and a tolerable proportion of half-cast people, among whom many specimens of the genus “Betsy Austin,” neither Crab nor Creole, but true “ Barbadian born,” are to be found.
Cape Coast Castle is a large, ill-constructed, dismal-looking fort, with a few rooms, of a barrack-looking fashion, for the residence of the chief magistrate, now Governor of the Gold Coast.
Mr. Maclean, in early life, having joined the Royal African Corps after the peace, and attained the rank of lieutenant at the termination of the Ashantee war, when it was determined to retain the Gold Coast settlements, was appointed President of the Council of Government of those dependencies, and for some years displayed a great deal of activity-on some occasions, a
little too much energy; on one occasion, at Accra, in particularin dealing with the native tribes of the Gold Coast. The salary of his office was £500 a year, an amount utterly inadequate to the expenditure which his position necessitated, for he virtually exercised the functions of governor, and was expected to entertain the naval officers of the cruisers on that coast, the merchants of the place, and the travelers who came there. The expenditure for his yacht alone must have amounted to a third part, at the very least, of his official income.
Mr. Maclean was a good mathematician; all his tastes were for the cultivation of the exact sciences. His favorite pursuits were geometrical and algebraic calculations, barometrical and thermometrical observations.
He was in the habit of speaking contemptuously of light literature, and yet he had occasional fits of novel reading; he affected scorn, and even loathing, for poetry and poets, but I think he did not feel as much contempt for the former as he expressed
He had become, by long privation of the humanizing influence of the society of educated women previously to his marriage, selfish, coarse-minded, cynical—a colonial sybarite, with an impaired liver, a bad digestion, and all the unpleasing peculiarities of a valetudinarian.
Yet he could be a very agreeable man in male convivial society, and periodical bouts of revelry, not of hours, but even of days' continuance, were by no means uncongenial to him in his days of single blessedness.
But with them passed away all enjoyments, except with theodolites, quadrants, sextants, barometers, and thermometers.
Mrs. Maclean's husband had unfortunately no sympathy with her poetic tastes and literary pursuits. He did not conceal from her his con
mpt for verse-making. On one occasion in particular, he expressed his opinion on the loss of time, and the supposed neglect of household duties they occasioned, in a manner which gave her very great pain, and of which she complained to the only person at Cape Coast Castle whom she thought entitled to her confidence.