June 23, 1860, page 2
LUCILE. By Owen Meredith. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.
The younger Bulwer -- for he is the author who is generally understood to have adopted the pseudonym of "Owen Meredith" -- has essayed in this volume, the difficult task of producing a novel as rhyme. Lucile is a new book, reissued in "blue and gold," like Tennyson's, Longfellow's, and Lowell's poems, and must occupy the same shelf with these latter, whenever it shall find its way to a library ; but its coat is better than its body. The author declares that the "novelty of the effort" inspired him with dread ; that he submits the work with "diffidence and hesitation ;" and that he labors under "discouragement and doubt" when he contemplates the possible verdict of the public. A confession like this, indicating the dubiety of an author, almost disarms criticism ; yet it behooves us to say that the book contains a great deal that is bad, much that is passable, and a little that is good. It is bad in one respect, at the outset. The straining after jingling rhymes is so repulsive in the first twenty pages is so repulsive that one is tempted to throw the book away. Blank verse would have been better than a set of forced rhymes that have no rhythm, and serious prose would be better than either. The story is one of disappointed love, jealousy, intrigue, war, self-sacrifice, passion, and remorse. Lucile, discarded by a fickle lover bids us farewell, after a serious of sharp personal experiences in the character of a Florence Nightingale, whose office it is, "through suffering to sooth and sickness to nurse." She leads a heroic life, and some of the finest passages in the narrative are those which portray her struggles. Witness the following -- the healthiest and most natural picture in the volume:
[Canto 6] XXXVIII
Whilst she spoke,
On the wide wasting evening there distantly broke,
The low roll of musketry. Straightway, anon,
From the dim Flag-staff Battery bellow'd a gun.
"Our chaseurs are at it!" he muttered.
Smiled, and passed up the twilight.
He faintly discerned,
Her form, now and then, on the flat lurid sky
Rise, and sink, and recede through the mists ; by and by
The vapors closed round, and he saw her no more.
Nor shall we. For her mission accomplish'd, is o'er.
The mission of genius on earth! To uplift,
Purify, and confirm by its own gracious gift,
The world, in despite of the world's dull endeavor
To degrade, and drag down, and oppose it forever.
The mission of genius: to watch, and to wait,
To renew, to redeem, and to regenerate.
The mission of woman on earth ! to give birth
To the mercy of Heaven descending on earth.
The mission of woman : permitted to bruise
The head of the serpent, and sweetly infuse,
Through the sorrow and sin of earth's register'd curse,
The blessing which mitigates all : born to nurse,
And to soothe, and to solace, to help and to heal
The sick world that leans on her. This was Lucile.
A power hid in pathos ; a fire veil'd in cloud ;
Yet still burning outward: a branch which, though bow'd
By the bird in its passage, spring upward again :
Thro' all symbols I search for her sweetness - in vain !
Judge her love by her life. For our life is but love
In act. Pure was hers ; and this dear God above,
Who knows what His creatures have need of for life,
And whose love includes all loves, thro' much patient strife,
Led her soul into peace. Love, tho' love may be given
In vain, is yet lovely. Her own native heaven
She saw dawn clear and clearer, as life's troubled dream
Wore away ; and love sigh'd into rest, like a steam
That breaks its heart over wild rocks toward the shore
Of the great sea which hushes it up evermore
With its little wild wailing. No stream from its source
Flows seaward, how lonely soever its course,
But what some land is gladden'd. No star ever rose
And set, without influence somewhere. Who knows
What earth needs from earth's lowest creatures ? No life
Can be pure in its purpose and strong in its strife
And all life not be purer and stronger thereby.
The spirits of just men made perfect on high,
The army of martyrs who stand by the Throne
And gaze into the face that makes glorious their own,
Know this, surely, at last. Honest love, honest sorrow,
Honest work for the day, honest hope for the morrow,
And these worth nothing more than the hand they make weary,
The heart they have sadden'd, the life they leave dreary ?
Hush ! the sevenfold heavens to the voice of the Spirit
Echo : He that overcometh shall all things inherit
Descriptions of scenery, -- oddly intermingled with absurd gossip and trashy letters, apostrophes to cigars and illustrations drawn from roué life -- occur here and there, bearing a wealth of imagery that almost atones for the imperfections elsewhere painfully apparent. It is evident that the author of Lucile is a man of culture who has the foible of being occasionally betrayed into vulgarity, and instantly thereafter becomes ashamed of himself; atoning for such lapses by producing something that is really good. The consequence is a juxtaposition of the fine and the coarse, the beautiful and the ridiculous. He avows that his task was difficult ; the fact is evident. It cannot be denied that he has an eye for the beauties of nature, and a faculty (when he pleases to exercise it) of investing common scenes with a poetic halo. Thus, there is a pleasant little conceit in the following:
Bright, breathless, and buoyant, and brimful of June,
Floated up from the hillside, sloped over the vale,
And posed herself loose in mid-heaven, with one pale,
Minute, scintillescent, and tremulous star
Swinging under her globe like a wizard-lit car." (page 239)
"Through the deep blue concave of the luminous air,
Large, loving, and languid the stars here and there,
Like the eyes of shy, passionate women, looked down
O'er the dim world whose sole tender light was their own." (page 227)
Side by side with passages like those we have quoted, which are undeniably fine, occur whole paragraphs like this:
I see, Sir, you are
a smoker. Allow me!
Pray take a cigar.
Many thanks!…Such cigars are a luxury here," etc., etc.
Lucile, having that which is good mingled with that which is bad, is therefore not perfect. Yet there are pleasant and hearty words in it, and it will be read.
Last revised: 13 August 2010