Project Canterbury

Charlotte Mary Yonge: An Appreciation

By Ethel Romanes

London: Mowbray, 1908.

Chapter II. The Early Books

ANOTHER influence came into Charlotte's life about 1843--that of Marianne Dyson, the sister of the Vicar of Dogmersfield. Mr. Keble used to call Mrs. and Miss Dyson the Vicar of Dogmersfield's two wives. Mr. Dyson was himself a remarkable man, full of cultivated tastes and great knowledge. He ought, Sir John Coleridge says in his Life of Keble, to have been an ecclesiastical historian. He was a very great and intimate friend of Mr. Keble. When he died, Miss Keble said to Miss Yonge that she had been thinking how little change he would need 'where he is gone.' And it was he who persuaded Keble to publish the Christian Year. Miss Dyson was a woman of considerable ability and enthusiasm, and became a great friend of Charlotte and of Mrs. Yonge. For it would seem that there was full sympathy between mother and daughter, and not a little joyous and harmless pride by the mother in her gifted child.

From 1840 to 1850, Miss Yonge tells us in her recollection of Mr. Keble,* the brightness and joyousness of the 'forward movement' had a good deal died down. Those years were in many ways most sad and trying. The great loss of 1845, and the suspicion and unkindness with which 'Puseyites,' as they began to be called, were treated, the growth of unbelief, the changes at Oxford--all these made the years sad. These times come to every generation which starts full of hope in some 'high emprise.' Those who work in the mission-field know it; those who give themselves to any new movement of Church life at home find it out--this sense of defeat and disappointment. We all in our turn have to learn the lesson Mr. Keble taught us in his poem for the llth Sunday after Trinity,' Is this a time to plant and build?'

'Of the defeated party,' Dean Church writes--he is speaking of the time after Mr. Ward's book, The Ideal of a Christian Church, had been condemned--' those who remained had much to think about, between grief at the breaking of old ties, and the loss of dear friends, and perplexities about their own position. The anxiety, the sorrow at differing and parting, seem now almost extravagant and unintelligible. There are those who sneer at the "distress "of that time. There had not been the same suffering, the same estrangement, when Churchmen turned Dissenters, like Bulteel and Baptist Noel. But the movement had raised the whole scale of feeling about religious matters so high, the questions were felt to be so momentous, the stake and the issue so precious, the "loss and gain" so immense, that to differ on such subjects was the differing on the greatest things which men could differ about. But in a time of distress, of which few analogous situations in our days can give the measure, the leaders stood firm. Dr. Pusey, Mr. Keble, Mr. Marriott accepted, with unshaken faith in the cause of the English Church, the terrible separation. They submitted to the blow--submitted to the reproach of having been associates of those who had betrayed hopes and done so much mischief; submitted to the charge of inconsistency, insincerity, cowardice; but they did not flinch. Their unshrinking attitude was a new point of departure for those who believed in the Catholic foundation of the English Church.

'Among those deeply affected by these changes, there were many who had been absolutely uninfluenced by the strong Roman current. They had recognized many good things in the Roman Church; they were fully alive to many shortcomings in the English Church; but the possibility of submission to the Roman claims had never been a question with them.'

Echoes of the storm of course reached Otterbourne, and Miss Yonge tells us herself how she remembered a long walk by the river with Mr. Keble, in which he went into the question of Rome with her, and ended the talk with--

'No doubt we could ask Roman Catholics many questions they could not answer, and they could ask us many which we could not answer; we can only each go on in our own way, holding to the truth that we know we have.' [Recollections of the Rev. John Keble.]

Mr. Keble was a loyal son of the Church of England; he felt that to leave her was absolutely wrong; but he grew to see how much she had lost, and how impossible it was to say that either Rome or England was wholly right or wholly wrong.

Charlotte was certainly established by him. She never seems to have felt any doubt after those first questionings, and one of her latest books is Why am I a Catholic, and not a Roman Catholic? Yet she was never blind to what was true. Many years after she wrote to a friend (Miss Cazenove), who had said some things in a letter as to the claims of the Church:

'April, 1865.


'If only you would not snap your fingers at Rome! I don't want to give her more than her due, but I do love and honour S. Gregory the Great too much to like what we owe to him and his noble spirit to be so treated.

'You know it is a fact that, though there were British clergy about, they did not choose to try to convert the Saxons, because they wished them to come to a bad end altogether, which was not exactly Christian.

'Bertha [Queen] had a Gallic chaplain, but I don't think he did much. The impulse was given by S. Gregory and Augustine. I know there is a great controversy about S. Patrick, and nobody seems to know certainly whether he came from. Gaul or the Lothians before he was stolen, or whether he was commissioned at Rome or not. People settle it just the way their inclinations lead them. I don't myself think he went to Pope Celestine, but there is no certainty.' [We must remember that this was written some forty years before Professor Bury's Life of S. Patrick.]

In the midst of these sadnesses Charlotte's rapidly developing powers must have been great joy to Mr. Keble. She had begun to scribble tales incessantly, and there seems to have been a good deal of opposition to the idea of her publishing. Her grandmother, especially, seems to have felt a horror at the idea of Charlotte's coming in any way before the public, which even for the early Victorian age was exaggerated.

The Kebles were consulted, and the first story, Abbey Church, was taken to Hursley for criticism. For many years, Miss Yonge says, everything she wrote was read by Mr. Keble in manuscript. He was a most delightful critic and an absolutely faultless reader of proofs. And there is no doubt that there is around all Miss Yonge's early books an atmosphere of refinement, an aroma of--shall we say Hursley? which does seem lacking in some, at least, of the later ones.

Abbey Church was the first published tale, and, crude as it may seem to modern critics, it is, in the present writer's opinion, very charming and particularly 'Miss Yonge-ish.'

The story is of the slightest: a party of cousins gathered at the Vicarage of a county town on the occasion of the consecration of a church, and the scrape some of them fall into by attending a lecture at a recently founded Mechanics' Institute.

But the cousins--two of them, at least--are so delightful, especially Elizabeth, who is just a little like her creator in her enthusiasm and youthful intolerance and cleverness. And it is all so funny--the horror of the good people at the Mechanics' Institute, and the description of the ignorant youth who gives a lecture for the purpose of exposing chivalry. How we have veered round now! How much Ruskin, William Morris, Burne-Jones, and many another, have done even for the British Philistine, to make him realize that 'on a renonce a faire dater de Luther le reveil de la raison '! [Ozauam.]

Elizabeth, the clever daughter, and her cousin Anne's talk must have been a transcript of the sort of thing which went on among the Yonge cousinhood.

'"What did you do all that time?' said Elizabeth. 'Have you read Hereward, and do you not delight in him?"

'"Yes," said Anne; "and I want to know if he is not the father of Cedric of Rotherwood."

'"He must have been his grandfather," said Elizabeth. "Cedric lived a hundred years after."

'"But Cedric remembered Torquilstone before the Normans came," said Anne.

"No, no, he could not, though he had been told what it had been before Front de Bceuf altered it," said Elizabeth. "

'"And old Ulrica was there when Front de Bceuf's father took it," said Anne.

'"I cannot tell how long a hag may live," said Elizabeth, "but she could not have been less than a hundred and thirty years old in the time of Richard Coeur de Lion."

'"Coeur de Lion came to the throne in 1189," said Anne. ... "But then, you know, Ulrica calls Cedric the son of the great Hereward."

'"Her wits were a little out of order," said Elizabeth. "Either she meant his grandson, or Sir Walter Scott made as great an anachronism as when he made that same Ulrica compare Rebecca's skin to paper."

'"If she had said parchment, it would not have been such a compliment. . . ."

'"I believe such stories as Ivanhoe were what taught me to like history. . . . They used to be the only history I knew, and almost the only geography. Do not you remember Aunt Anne's laughing at me for arguing that Bohemia was on the Baltic, because Perdita was left on its coast? And now I believe that Coeur de Lion feasted with Robin Hood and his merry men, although history tells me that he disliked and despised the English.

. . I believe that Queen Margaret of Anjou haunted the scenes of grandeur that once were hers, and that she lived to see the fall of Charles of Burgundy, and died when her last hope failed her, though I know that it was not so."

'"Then I do not quite see how such stories have taught you to like history," said Anne.

'"They teach us to realize and understand the people whom we find in history," said Elizabeth.

'"Oh yes," said Anne. "Who would care for Louis the Eleventh if it was not for Quentin Durward? And Shakespeare makes us feel as if we had been at the battle of Shrewsbury."

'"Yes," said Elizabeth, "and they have done even more for history. They have taught us to imagine other heroes whom they have not mentioned. Cannot you see the Black Prince--his slight, graceful figure; his fair, delicate face full of gentleness and kindness, fierce warrior as he is; his black steel helmet and tippet . . .; his clustering white plume; his surcoat with England's leopards and France's lilies? Cannot you imagine his courteous conference with Bertrand du Ghiesclin . . . and the noble, affectionate Captal de Bach, who died of grief for him? . . ."

'"Give Froissart some of the credit of your picture," said Anne.

'"Froissart is in some places like Sir Walter himself," said Elizabeth; "but now I will tell you of a person who lived in no days of romance, and has not had the advantage of a practical historian to light him up in our imagination. I mean the great Prince of Conde". Now, though he is very unlike Shakespeare's Coriolanus, yet there is enough resemblance between them to make the comparison very amusing. There was much of Coriolanus' indomitable pride and horror of mob popularity [in Conde]. . . . Not that the hardhearted Conde would have listened to his wife and mother ... or that his arrogance did not degenerate into wonderful meanness at last, such as Corio-lanus would have scorned; but the parallel was as amusing. ... I hate abridgments--the mere bare bones of history; I cannot bear dry facts, such as that Charles the Fifth beat Francis the First at Pavia, in a war for the Duchy of Milan, and nothing more told about them. I am always ready to say, as the Grand Seignior did about some great battle among the Christians, that I do not care whether the dog bites the hog, or the hog bites the dog."

'"What a kind interest in your fellow-creatures you display!" said Anne. "I think one reason why I like history is because I am searching out all the characters who come up to my notion of perfect. chivalry, or, rather, of Christian perfection. I am making a book of true knights." ' [Miss Yonge really did this, as we have seen in the little bit of autobiography.]

Perhaps all this sounds very bookish and pedantic, but how delicious it is! and, after all, some literary enthusiasm is almost more desirable than perpetual talk about games.

Elizabeth has something about her which makes one love this first of the long line of Miss Yonge's heroines very much, and we are sure she died young, and perhaps rather suddenly.

About this time the Mozleys were bringing out the Magazine for the Young, a delightful little twopenny production, and in it Miss Yonge wrote some of her most delicious little tales. 'Langley School' is the first of those village tales, of which, perhaps, 'Ben Sylvester's Word' is the gem.

All these tales are really valuable. They are accurate studies of a state of things fast passing away. The children are as cleverly sketched and are as living as are the best-known characters in the longer book. 'Langley School/ 'Friarswood Post Office,' 'Ben Sylvester's Word,' 'Leonard the Lion-Heart,' are all perfect little tales, and should not be forgotten. And in her later village chronicles the children, who appear as grown-up people, are themselves--we recognize our old friends. We will quote an admirable notice by Miss Christabel Coleridge:

'These tales of village life during the latter half of the nineteenth century have hardly ever been widely known, and are now, we fear, almost forgotten by the present generation. The earlier ones describe a world now passed away, but the later ones are still fairly up to date. They all depict village life under favourable, but not ideal, circumstances, and not through the rose-coloured spectacles which Miss Mitford put on when she wrote her delightful Our Village. They are, in fact, the successors of Mrs. Hannah More's JJlack Giles and Hester Wilmot, and they show what the Church has done to mend the evils to which those clever tracts first called attention. Some day the "Langley Tales "will be reprinted as classics, and the little girls of Langley School will appear in their pink frocks, white tippets, and cottage bonnets trimmed with green, dainty and picturesque in "Early Victorian" style. In 1950 or so they will be valuable evidence of what the Church of England did for education and civilization when she still had the village schools in her hand. Great as was the influence of The Daisy Chain and The Heir of Redclyffe on the girls of their day, I doubt if either did more to stir up the generation who "did parish work" on High Church lines during the latter half of the last century than Langley School.

'Langley was a small but prosperous village in a southern county. It was not exactly Otterbourne under another name, though some of its characteristics were naturally derived from it, but it was a less considerable place, the only landowner being, apparently, "Squire Manners," and only one, or at most two, farmers being mentioned. Nor were the little Langley girls portraits of Otterbourne school-children. They were created after their kind with unerring truth to life, and an individuality which survived through two or three generations. The original "Langley School" began as a series of sketches in the Magazine for the Young in 1847. These consolidated into a story; the school was the connecting link. Miss Edith and Miss Dora Manners taught the children and loved them with the whole enthusiasm of the new "Oxford Movement" in their hearts, though they never talked about their duty towards their neighbour--they only did it. The story ends with the marriage of Miss Edith, and with the presentation to her by the children of a patchwork quilt of their own making. The "young ladies" are on a considerable elevation, and are never exactly intimate with the children; but the whole subsequent relation of Sunday-school teacher and scholar, of Gr.F.S. associate and member, was there in germ, and whether or no the book made "young ladies "interesting to school-children, it made schoolchildren enchanting to young ladies. There is no Government inspector, but good, sound, and quite intelligent teaching had begun, and the Sunday lessons here and there given are models not excelled by the newest "catechism" in our day. The life described is simple, wholesome, and secure. The virtues inculcated are family affection and duty, absolute truth in word and deed, modesty, and great self-control of manners and conduct. The Langley children learnt "how to behave." Most of them were children of labourers and servants on the estate, and some of small freeholders, and there seems to have been no poverty to speak of.

'The characters of this simple story--all very simple, too--are as distinct as their prototypes in the flesh. None of us who were young in the fifties and sixties will ever forget good Amy Lee; Kate Grrey, who was cleverer, but not quite so good; Elizabeth Kingsley, who was very superior; Clfcmmy Fielding, who was far from being as good as she ought to be; Emily Morris, who told stories; and Jane Anstey, who drank her little sister's milk. We remember them as we remember the Kates and Amys of real life, whom we ourselves tried to bring up to the same standard. They were our models, whether our scholars endeavoured to imitate them or not. They certainly lived in a "dawn-golden" time, and in an "atmosphere" not only of cheerful sunshine and fresh country air, but of secure, uncontroversial respect for religion and virtue, undisturbed by Acts of Parliament; that "atmosphere" which few writers on educational subjects have ever breathed, and which they often misrepresent. The gradual growth of the religious motive, the slowr improvement in conduct, is true to life, and is what earnest, careful workers may look to produce. There is one jarring note to our ears. However glad we of this day may be to escape from the naughty little Publicans of juvenile fiction who give thanks that they are not good little Pharisees, we could hardly be content to leave the naughty girl who stole the patchwork, expelled from Sunday and week-day school, and apparently outcast for ever. It is good that she is not the centre of interest, but we should be sorry to leave her without hope.

'Langley was as real a place as Barchester, and after many years, in the early eighties, Miss Yonge returned to its inhabitants. The later "Langley Stories" describe the descendants of our old friends, and depict the village school and commonwealth as it existed, at any rate, up to the Education Act of 1902. The school is inspected, the teachers are certificated, and all modern advantages of education, dress, and habits are freely welcomed and enjoyed. The tales take in older characters, and a much wider air blows through them, but they are quite as accurate and life-like. The village school of the eighties and nineties is quite as vividly shown in The Third Standard and in Left Out as that of the forties in the original Langley School. Miss Dora lives unmarried in Langley, and is the parish "lady of all work." There is, however, more pathos and more humour in the later stories, and much more tenderness towards childish faults. "Frank's Debt" in Langley Lads and Lasses, a tale of a big farm boy, who gradually grows a conscience and repays his good aunt the money she lent him, is as good a piece of character-drawing as can be found in tales of working-class life. Of the two last Langley stories, Sewing and Sowing, though longer and more complete, is not quite so successful. The Hollises, the daughters of the unsatisfactory Clementina, who, though improved, is still herself, are very clever sketches. But Amy Lee the second, who allows the smart groom to flirt with her, is a little finespun. A pretty village maid had better grow up to endure a few compliments with equanimity, and would certainly have heard of her beauty before she left school. The last of all, Pickle and his Page-boy, is quite charming. Pickle is quite as real a Skye terrier as his page is a real boy, and their adventures are at once delightful, funny, and edifying, and if brought out in modern style, with good illustrations, would make an excellent prize-book.

' I do not think that the literary merit of these simple tales has ever been fully recognized--the skill with which local colouring is conveyed without long and elaborate descriptions, the excellent construction of the simple plots which always hang together, and, chiefly, the clear-cut characters described in them. The sound-hearted, sensible, but slow peasant, old and young, who wears a smock-frock in the earlier stories, and a good coat in the latter ones, as he acquires a little more education and knowledge of the world; the religious and refined village matron or elderly servant, the best outcome of the village school; the clever youth or bright girl who rises in life, and the stupid, idle ones who fall in it--all these are given "in their habit as they lived." The grades of village society, the relations of farmers and shopkeepers, labourers and head servants, are all given simply as facts, and ungrudgingly recognized.'

Tales of another kind were engrossing her. Scenes and Characters; or, Eighteen Months at Beechcroft, we think, must have been always a favourite of its author, for the fortunes of the Mohun family, who lived at Beechcroft, were always in her mind, and we meet Mohuns again and again in later years.

Scenes and Characters, however, does not seem to us quite so vivid and bright as the two stories which came out in the Churchman's Companion--Henrietta's Wish and The Two Guardians.

The first of these is an admirable illustration of the extraordinary change which has come over our attitude as to the relative duties of parents and children.

Henrietta and her brother Fred are the children of a Mr. Frederick Langton, who was killed by a fall from his horse when he was on a visit to his father's place in the country. His wife, who is represented as a charming and saintly person, takes up her abode at a seaside place, and brings up her two children there. 'Henrietta's wish,' a perfectly natural, not to gay laudable one, is to visit her grandparents and her father's home, and spend Christmas with the numerous cousins who are gathered there. And at last, when she and her brother are fifteen and fourteen, this wish is granted. They all pay a visit to the old home. But the most dire consequences arise.

Fred, who, greatly to his credit, is not an absolute muff, is fretted by continual restraint. He must not drive, must not skate with his cousins until his Uncle Geoffrey has vouched for the safety of the ice. At last he does drive with an impetuous and charming cousin, Beatrice, Uncle Geoffrey's daughter; the horse bolts, he is pitched on his head, and a bad illness ensues. From the overfatigue arising from his illness his mother dies. Fred was certainly wilful and disobedient, but that poor Henrietta should also be blamed for her 'wish 'does seem unjust.

Of course, nowadays the modern mother would be braced, and made to feel that to indulge her nerves was positively wrong, and that her children were rather to be pitied than blamed if they found her nerves tiresome. For the rest, the story is delicious. The different cousins, the delightful Uncle Geoffrey (said to be a picture of Mr. Yonge), the kind old grandfather, the fussy grandmother who thinks private theatricals shocking, the description of the village church and the newfangled Christmas decorations, are all vivid, and recall those early days when as yet no one thought that midday Communion was undesirable, or that it might be possible for the unconfirmed to be present at the Eucharist.

The Two Guardians has some charming descriptions of Devonshire and some life-like schoolboys. (Miss Yonge's boys are very real.) The heroine is a very fine character, and the book is a real advance. We have in this book the first expression of the author's attitude towards what was then known as 'rationalism' or 'Germanism,' what we call 'higher criticism.' And, by the way, those first attacks of criticism which became known to Churchmen and to English Christians were not made known to them by reasonable scholarly Christians. There was then no Westcott, no George Adam Smith, or any of those numerous scholars who have done so much to reassure us. People might be excused for panic when criticism came, not as the endeavour of true and courageous Christians to ascertain what was truth, but as an attack on Christian faith. We smile, perhaps, at the fears of those who came before us, but they were not unjustified. 'The Liberals are deficient in religion, and the religious are deficient in liberality,' said Archbishop Tait.

Miss Dyson had set up a school for girls of the lower middle class, and for these Charlotte wrote The Chosen People and Kings of England.

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