Analytical Review (1797)

Analytical Review, 25 (1797): 174-78.

 

Memoirs of Emma Courtney. By Mary Hays. 2 Vols. 12mo. 404 pages. Price 6s. in boards. Robinsons. 1796.

 

[174]    It is with pleasure that we divert our attention from the loose lascivious scenery, which imparts so dangerous a fascination to the pages of many a modern novel, and devote it to the chaste and simple beauties which the pencil of miss Hays has sketched. The character of Emma Courtney, an insulated unprotected orphan at nineteen, exhibits, in the progress of an imperious passion, an example, that sensibility, if it be the parent of our most refined enjoyments, may also give birth to the keenest anguish and the deepest distress. The dangerous consequences, which may result from the early unrestrained indulgence of this too exquisite feeling, are displayed with additional effect from the strong philosophic mind of her who bends under its influence; with an understanding highly cultivated, with powers for deep reflection, and a soul accustomed to contemplate the fine characters which existed “in those glorious times of Greece and Rome, when wisdom, virtue, and liberty, formed the only triumvirate,”* Emma Courtney struggles with an ill-fated passion and submits. Unable to stem the torrent of her emotions, or rising superior to the prejudices of the world, and fearless that the ingenuous avowal of an ardent but a chaste affection can discredit her heart, or alienate the esteem of the man she loves, on the morning of Augustus Harley’s departure from his mother’s house, where Emma then resided – ‘I awaited him in the library with a beating heart and put into his hands a paper: read it not, said I in a low and almost inarticulate tone of voice, till arrived at the end of your journey.’ After a long tedious lapse of time, in which a cold mysterious reserve and marks of deep and strong emotion had chequered the behavior of Augustus, and swelled the heart of Emma, “almost to bursting,” they meet again, at Mrs. Harley’s house, to perform the funeral rites of that amiable woman. We will indulge our readers with the interesting scene which accidentally followed: 

 

[174-77; this passage is taken from vol. 2 of the novel, beginning on p. 133]

 

[177]

            The tale which these volumes contain is extremely simple, and is enriched with several affecting scenes; we cannot however give an unqualifiedapprobation of the characters as entirely natural. We scarcely believe the possibility of an attachment existing unabated for so many years as that of Emma Courtney for Augustus Harley, chilled with [178] such indifference and almost aversion on his part, as her’s was. If it were natural, with such strong emotions, at first to avow the passion, it was certainly much otherwise to tease him with her neglected love; and, after the appeal to his passions had proved ineffectual, to attack his principles, and argue, on the ground of utility, that it was incumbent on him to return the attachment. Nor do we see any reason why Augustus should keep secret his marriage from her, who could claim his confidence, though she could not wring from him an avowal of his love. We were hurt at Emma’s marriage with Montague; gratitude is hardly a principle sufficiently powerful to sanction it; and, however necessary it might be for the catastrophe which succeeds, is by no means natural; neither indeed are we informed of any motive which Montague could have for the murder of his bastard babe. Notwithstanding these objections, which after all may be of questionable validity, we are much pleased with the performance.

            The authoress has made it the vehicle of much good sense and much liberal principle. In this novel – if we may be allowed the allusion – like the library in Mr. Harley’s cottage, “nothing seems costly, yet neatness, order, and taste, appear through the whole apartment, bespeaking the elegant and cultivated mind of the owner.”  L.M.S.

 

* See Chesterfield’s preface to Hammond’s elegies.