The Independent...Devoted to the Consideration of Politics,
Of Social and Economic Tendencies, of History, Literature and the Arts.

Boston: 5 Dec 1867, p2.
[NOTE: Henry Ward Beecher was editor of The Independent at the time this review was published.
There is (to my knowledge) no explicit evidence he wrote this review, but it does appear consistent with his theology.]

Book Table

* Lucile. By Owen Meredith. With twenty-four illustrations by George Du Maurier. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

The extreme beauty of the engravings which embellish "Snow Boumd," perhaps, makes us less tolerant of the pictures, execrable in themselves, which mar the inviting edition of Lucile, just issued by the same firm. Lucile, one or the most precious poems of later times deserves better of her artist than he has done for her on these pages. Indeed, if these blots, coarse in execution, as they are melo-dramatic in expression are the best he can offer, it is rather alarming that he should clalm to be an artist at a11. Certainly It is very difficult for either imagination or heart to believe that all the delicate sentiment and profound experience embodied In this book was uttered or 1ived through by such looking drawing-room images, in stove-plpe hats, patent-leather boota, and conventional ball-dresses. Not that we doubt at all that Lucile de Nevers, Alfred Vargrave, and Eugne de Luvois wore sald artlcles like other gentle-folk; only, when they are down upon thelr knees, or In other attitudes of despair, we don't want them lo look as if they had dressed for the scene, and were aftald of spolling their clothes. The only consolation for these caricatures ia the flne steel portrait of Robert Lytton himself, on the front page. Here we behold a graceful genntleman, with emphatically defined features, a rarely fine face, its expression full of depth and purity, fit type ot the soul that could embody Luclle. If we remember correctly, certain English reviewers -- his countrymen -- rank Owen Meredith as a poet second to Swinburne.

We may be a crude people; but, living under a new disposition, we do not believe that a man is the more like a poet because he is Pagan. If he had written nothing else, Lucile is enough to place Owen Meredith among the foremost of the new generation of poets. The type of life which he portrays is conventional. He deals with a class whose easy fortune usually holds their life very near the surface of things. Material satisfaction forbids the possiblity of their natures going down into the depths of human experience. Yet, in spite of all these limitations -- the limitations of society, the limitations of a stilted rhyme, and of a meretricious meter -- Robert Lytton has done in poetry what scarcely one man in a century can do in unrestricting prose -- he portrayed sympathetically a woman of genius. He gives not a picture; he gives to us herself -- vital, magnetic, loving. We feel the subtlist forces of her being. No man who had not first come en rapport with the most exquisite nature in woman could thus revivify in words her lived experience -- which can be lived, but rarely told.

Thus, constantly penetrating the conventional forms, he touches the finest spring of thought, of feeling, of experience, with the touch of a master, with a pathos, a power which is genius. He gives us the woman of genius as she is -- differing from her sister-woman only in that she posseses a profounder capacity to love, to suffer, to live, and the power to reflect somewhat of that capacity in the forms of art, or the higher power to transmute it into self-immolation and sacrifice for others. In Lucile de Nevers, Robert Lytton has portrayed such a life to its last consecration. He has given us a woman of genius, whose nature in its contending elements hold the utmost capacity for loving and for suffering, for good and for evil, and follows this rare soul to its legitimate triumph over all earthly things. Such a soul seeks fuition only through love and through religion. If it fails to find fulfilment in the love human, though initially yearning it ascends naturally to the love divine.

To Lucile de Nevers was granted the power to unwind the complicated evil her human fate, and to smooth its tangled and many-shaded strands into the completeness of peace. The life that had missed its earhtly joy went out broadened and deepened into the life of others. Through infinite pity and infinite love for her own kind, her soul went back to the fathomless good whence it came.

And where do we find a lovelier picture of simple womanhood than Matilda! Where a clearer working out of the misson of woman in the regeneraton and redemption of man than in the contrasting lives yet blended work of Matilda and Lucile?

On account of the artificial fetters of the rhyme, it seems to us that the remarkable beauty and power of this book has never made upon the world half its due impression.

We quote at length two distinct pictures of Lucile: one before her life conquest had begun, the other after it been consummated. If by doing so we waken in any the need of this story of human life, we shall have done something for our generation:

"Lucile de Nevers (if her riddle I read)
Was a woman of genius: whose genius, indeed,
With her life was at war. Once, but once, in that life
The chance had been hers to escape from this strife
In herself; finding peace in the life of another
From the passionate wants she, in hers, failed to smother:
But the chance fell too soon, when the crude restless power
Which had been to her nature so fatal a dower,
Only wearied the man it yet haunted and thrall'd;
And that moment, once lost, had been never recalĀ­l'd,
Yet it left her heart sore: and, to shelter her heart
From approach, she then sought, in that delicate art
Of concealment, those thousand adroit strategies
Of feminine wit, which repel while they please,
A weapon, at once, and a shield to conceal
And defend all that women can earnestly feel.
Thus striving her instincts to hide and repress,
She felt frighten'd at times by her very success.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... Unknown
To herself, all her instincts, without hesitation,
Embraced the idea of self-immolation.
The strong spirit in her, had her life but been blended
With some man's whose heart had her own comprehended.
All its wealth at his feet would have lavishly thrown.
For him she had struggled and striven alone;
For him had aspired; in him had transfused
All the gladness and grace of her nature; and used
For him only the spells of its delicate power:
But standing apart, as she ever had done,
And her genius, which needed a vent, finding none
In the broad fields of action thrown wide to man's power,
She unconsciously made it her bulwark and tower,
And built in it her refuge." [Part I, Canto III, Verse II]

* * * * * *

"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'st
By the bird in its passage, springs upward again:
Through all symbols I search for her sweetness -- in vain!
Judge her love by her life. For our life is but love
Is act. Pure was hers: and the dear God above
Who knows what His creatures have need of for life,
And whose includes all loves, through much patient strife
Led her soul into peace."
[Part II, Canto VI, Verses XXXIX-XL, some lines omitted.]

Last revised: 24 November 2020