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Charlotte Mary Yonge: An Appreciation

By Ethel Romanes

London: Mowbray, 1908.

Chapter III. The 'Monthly Packet'

IN 1851 a new venture appeared, and with it so much of Miss Yonge's work is identified that we must dwell on it.

This was the beginning of the Monthly Packet. Miss Coleridge tells us that the tone of the Churchman's Companion had become rather controversial, and it was felt that something deeper and less acrimonious might be useful.

The preface to the first number is so beautiful, and the words as to the Church so extraordinarily applicable to this very time, that we venture to reprint it:

'If the pretty old terms "maidens" and "damsels" had not gone out of fashion, I should address this letter by that name to the readers for whom this little book is in the first place intended--young girls, or maidens, or young ladies, whichever you like to be called, who are above the age of childhood, and who are either looking back on schooldays with regret, or else pursuing the most important part of education, namely, self-education.

'It has been said that everyone forms their own character between the ages of fifteen and five-and-twenty, and this magazine is meant to be in some degree a help to those who are thus forming it; not as a guide, since that is the part of deeper and graver books, but as a companion in times of recreation, which may help you to perceive how to bring your religious principles to bear upon your daily life, may show you the examples, both good and evil, of historical persons, and may tell you of the workings of God's providence both here and in other lands.

'With this view, it is proposed to give you a series of scenes from history, dwelling on the more interesting periods and characters. Suppose we call them Cameos, as they are to present scenes and heroes in relief, and may be strung together with the chain of your former lessons in history. A few tales which, though of course imaginary, may serve to show you the manners and ways of thinking of past times, will be introduced from time to time, with stories of our own days, accounts of foreign lands, biographies, translations, and extracts from books which are not likely to come in your way, or of which the whole may not be desirable reading for you, so as, it is hoped, to conduce to your amusement, and, at the same time, to the instruction of such as are anxious "to get wisdom and understanding." Above all, it is the especial desire and prayer of those who address you through the pages of this magazine, that what you find there may tend to make you more steadfast and dutiful daughters of our own beloved Catholic Church of England, and may go alongside in all respects with the teaching, both doctrinal and practical, of the Prayer Book. For we live in a time of more than ordinary trial, and our middle path seems to have grown narrower than ever. The walls of the glorious Temple in which we have been builded up seem to shake, though that is but seeming, since they are based on a Rock, and the foundations are the Apostles and Prophets, and not one of the smallest of the living stones need fall from its own station, even though larger, more important, and seemingly more precious ones may totter and rend themselves away. Small stones as we may be, yet we can, we may, we must keep our places in the fitly framed building, where it may indeed be vouchsafed to some even of us to be "as polished corners of the Temple." This is speaking more seriously than I meant at first to have done; but who can speak of the Church in these days and not be grave, even though we know that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her?

'Though this letter has been chiefly addressed to young girls, it is not intended that the pages of this magazine should be exclusively for them. It is purposed to make it such as may be pleasant reading for boys of the same age, especially schoolteachers; and it is hoped that it may be found r useful to younger readers, either of the drawing-£.' room, the servants' hall, or the lending library.'

The Packet began in a very quiet way, a humble little magazine, in 1851. The thirty little black volumes of those early years (1851 to 1865) are before the writer, and it may be a prejudice, but they do seem much less old-fashioned and behind the times than most of the other magazine literature of those years.

There are not a few men and women who were young people in the nourishing days of the Packet, the seventies and eighties, who could, if they would, say that Miss Yonge's hopes had been realized.

At first Miss Yonge was the chief contributor. She starts off with 'Cameos from English History,' and those 'Cameos' went on for forty-seven years--an extraordinary feat. They are, of course, not all equally good, but they give a wonderful amount of information, of picturesque detail, of anecdote. They have that photographic style, so to speak, in which Miss Yonge excelled. It is quite possible to find abundant fault. Miss Yonge's style was by no means irreproachable, and the very familiar terms on which she lived with the personages of the Middle Ages seems at times to make her forget the depths of her readers' ignorance; but a more charming set of books to which to refer and with which to lighten up the schoolroom reading of standard histories does not exist. We are anticipating, but who gives a more picturesque account of the Conqueror, of Henry V., of James I. of Scotland, and of various episodes in which English and Continental history were interwoven? That is one of the peculiar merits of Miss Yonge's 'Cameos.' The insular view of English history leads to most extraordinary ignorance at times, and it would be interesting to know how many ordinary people have any; idea of what is meant by the 'Duchy of Burgundy,' the 'Holy Roman Empire,' the 'Babylonish Captivity,' 'Canossa,' and so on.

Then in October she began the 'Conversations on the Catechism.'

Also Miss Yonge began to write the long series of stories so often connected with each other, so that there are links between the Castle-Builders, one of the earliest, and the very latest of her tales.

And it was in those early days that she wrote that gem of historical stories, The Little Duke, which is still as fresh and delightful and as much appreciated by the right-minded youthful reader as it doubtless was in those early days.

It was followed by The Lances of Lynwood and The Prince and the Page, which are delightful, but not equal to the Little Duke, which was never surpassed by Miss Yonge.

The Daisy Chain, The Trial, The Young Stepmother, made their appearance also in these little black volumes. And there were other writers also who did much good work. There was an excellent story which one can still read with pleasure, On the Banks of the Thorne. The author wrote one or two other pleasant little stories in the Churchman's Companion, and showed a considerable power of drawing character and of understanding of boys. A slightly tyrannical father is usually to be found in her dramatis personae--one of the tokens, by the way, of the change in our outlook. Fathers, whether for better worse, for the most part are not tyrannical nowadays.

The Packet was always full of edifying information from its earliest days, and these little volumes contained many excellent papers, and about them there is just that touch of refinement, that note of un-worldliness, that loftiness of ideal, that severity with self, which are noticeable in all the early leaders-men and women alike--of those first days of Church revival.

Bracing oneself to endure is the key-note of even the young. Perhaps the fruit of such teaching is to be found in many a Community of devoted Sisters, in many a holy and obscure life of unwearied good works.

And of course there were papers about Church work, and now and then a description of some ceremony in the Greek Church, recalling to us now the interest in, and the hopes for, the Greek Communion felt by some of the leaders.

As time went on, writers now well known to us all made their appearance in the Packet, among them Mrs. Alfred Scott-Gatty, the distinguished mother off an even more distinguished daughter. Mrs. Gatty did for children something of the work that Miss Yonge did for their elders, and certainly no child's magazine has ever taken the place of Aunt Judy.

In 1866 the Packet appeared in an enlarged shape, and the bound volumes are much larger than the first set. The Six Cushions came out in this series Miss Yonge had a great knack of describing national characteristics; the high-bred, rather stiff, and altogether delightful Scotch family are true portrait Dante readings began in 1869, and Miss Yonge's beautiful Musings on the 'Christian Year' and 'Lyra Innocentium.'

Miss Yonge began the Caged Lion in 1868.

It was just about then that a paper appeared in Packet which seemed clever and funny, and not likely to have its prophecies realized. Yet something of what it foretold has come to pass.

A very behind-the-age Rector (this was in 1867) goes to visit a college friend, and finds a church restored according to all the fervour of those early days, and he dreams at night that a descendant of his present host comes in and announces that the church is now restored and the whitewash is back, the organ done away with, the singing men in the gallery.

It sounded very ridiculous in 1867, but nowadays, when plainsong comes to the front, the organ is a good deal repressed, galleries for singers and instruments are not unknown, and the stained glass of the sixties makes us shudder.

Descriptions of Church work are more frequent, and mentions of Religious Communities occur.

Some excellent papers on English hymnology began in 1867; they are still interesting and full of sound criticism.

Miss Yonge, it may be noticed, was always abreast of modern movements. She never joined in the cry against women's colleges, and she had not much of that obscurantist spirit which has done so much harm to the cause of religion--at least, so far as education was concerned. Even in those very early days there appeared a paper on examinations for girls, and another on the advantages of trained nurses for the poor. These things are the common possession of all now; they were battlefields forty years ago.

Miss Yonge, also, was anything but exclusively literary in her tastes; she loved botany, natural history, science (when it did not touch on ultimate problems), and, as time went on, some excellent papers on various branches of science found their way into the Packet--some, if we mistake not, from the pen of the present Canon Wilson of Worcester.

For more directly religious teaching there was Miss Yonge's Womankind, which may be a little old-fashioned, but which will repay reading, and in some ways is quite unique. Dr. Littledale contributed a series of papers on Sisterhoods, which have never been republished, and which are full of common sense and information. It is much to be wished that heads of Communities would read and ponder his words about health and the sin of bad cooking in chapter vii.

Various sketches of the work done by nurses in the Franco-German War appeared in these years, and are extremely graphic and interesting.

And there is a description of the cholera at Plymouth in 1849 in the May number of 1871, which will bear reading at this distant date. Mr. Prynne's name is engraved on his people's hearts, and this story of his and of the little band of Sisters' heroism should never be forgotten. [It now appears in Mr. Prynne's Life.]

Magnum Bonum, another family chronicle, appeared in 1877, 1878,1879.

Miss Yonge added two more family chronicles--Two Sides of a Shield and Beechcroft at Rockstone.

Two more of Miss Yonge's historical stories came out between 1880 and 1890. Two Penniless Princesses leads us into the byways of history, and so does A Modern Quest of Ulysses.

This was the old Monthly Packet from 1851 to 1890. Perhaps to modern eyes it looks a little dull; perhaps Miss Yonge had ceased to interest a modern generation. With all its faults, it breathed a fragrance of bygone days. It was always loyal and high-toned, and seemed to have taken for its motto, 'Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.'

It did not profess to be written for any but members of the Anglican Branch of the Church; it did not aim at anything specially exciting. It had no aids in the shape of illustrations. But whatever its limits, or its shortcomings, the old Packet will always be loved by those who, month by month, welcomed it and made through it many dear and never-to-be-forgotten friends.

Miss Coleridge and Mr. Innes took over the editorship in 1890, and, if there was a change in the tone, it was not very perceptible; perhaps it was not quite so strongly Catholic in tone, perhaps there was not much of the devotional element: one could hardly say. It seemed all right, and we hoped the old Packet would prosper in its bright blue dress and its modern ways--when, lo! with no warning, it ceased to be.

It was a loss, and has never been replaced.

The office of editor gave Miss Yonge plenty of work even in early days. She writes to Miss Barnett:

'November (?1850).

' . . . You really must beg, borrow or steal something to help me. After this winter I shall get on better, but there are The Two Guardians and the Landmarks of History to finish before I can feel really at ease in giving my mind to this affair. I am rather afraid of spoiling the Landmarks by getting into a hurry. If you can send me something, I think we could meet the first of January, but I am sure I cannot single-handed. . . . I wish it had found a name; if there was any word to express "for Confirmation girls" it would be the thing. . . .'

We have said The Little Duke was begun in Vol. I. of the Monthly Packet. In that same volume began the Castle-Builders. This is, in our judgment, one of the very best bits of work Miss Yonge ever produced. The late Professor Palgrave, who certainly was no mean critic, was very fond of it. It is an exquisite little story, and has all that flavour of refinement, that ethos, which lingered long around the early Tractarians, and of which we have spoken. The motif of the story, if we may use such a word, is the evils of day-dreaming, of religious emotion which is not translated into action. There is no love-story at all, and the whole is an episode in the lives of three sisters.

They, Constance, Emmeline, and Kate Berners, are Indian children who have been sent home to be educated. Their mother has married again, and her husband, Sir Francis Willoughby, has also a son by his first marriage, Frank, who is about the same as Emmeline and Kate. Constance, almost directly after she left school, was seen and beloved by a young clergyman, Lord Herbert Somers, younger son of one Lord Liddersdale. They are married before the return of the Willoughbys, and very soon are obliged to go abroad, as Lord Herbert has a bad breakdown in health. The story opens on the eve of Emmeline's and Katherine's Confirmation. They are still at school. Sir Francis and Lady Willoughby return rather sooner than they were expected, and in the excitement of the arrival, and the sight of the two new brothers and a new sister, the Confirmation is pushed aside. Then home-life begins for them. They are taken to a seaside town, where Sir Francis has rented a temporary house, and all their fresh aspirations and longings and their mistakes are described.

Each person in the story is a good sketch of character: Sir Francis, kind-hearted, fussy, imperious, irascible if provoked; Lady Willoughby, gentle, selfish, absolutely worldly and mindless; Emmeline, dreamy, full of aspirations and high ideals, and as yet incapable of putting them into practice; Kate, more good-natured and merry than her sister, but greatly dependent on her.

The girls are eager about good works, and fall into the hands of some kind old ladies who are greatly prejudiced against the Vicar, who is starting such innovations as daily service and weekly Communion (it is the year 1849). There is an amusing difference between that year of grace and the present one. The only schools in the town apparently belonged to the new churches, and visitors to one of them were freely invited and encouraged to take classes, The new Vicar sternly discouraged all this.

But in these days we all know old ladies, kind and fussy, exact dittoes of the Miss Shaws of this book, very full of horror of what is now called Ritualism, and was then termed Puseyism. Emmie and Kate, indeed, get into trouble because they insist on the Church Catechism being said by their pupils.

On the scene arrives Sir Francis's son. Frank is a charming boy. Miss Yonge, as we have said, had a great gift for describing real boys, and surely one of her numerous cousins suggested the rosy, sweet-tempered, not particularly clever but saintly boy. We use the word quite advisedly. Frank appeared absolutely commonplace to the ordinary observer, and to his new connections, who at once accepted him as a brother, he was a complete puzzle. Gradually they found out that behind his unfailing courtesy and consideration, his thoughtfulness for the poor little governess, his unfailing good temper, was a deep religious principle.

Frank had been brought up by a brother of Sir Francis, at whose Vicarage the boy had spent his holidays. In Mr. Willoughby we are sure Miss Yonge drew a picture of some one of those holy men whom she knew so well. The present writer owns that Mr. Willoughby always made her think of Mr. Keble, in his simplicity, his learning, his gentleness, his old-fashioned courtesy, his love for his parish, of which he had been the parson for forty years. He is a delightful man, and he really cannot have been much more than fifty, although he is spoken of as if he were much older, for twenty years later he reappears in The Pillars of the House. Miss Yonge was just a little bit apt to get mixed in her chronology.

Emmie and Kate are by this time rather tired of good works, and have taken up higher learning and culture with great enthusiasm and some selfishness.

Frank had assimilated his uncle's teaching, and fully intended to take Orders. His father, however, suddenly announced his intention of putting him into the Guards, and it is with difficulty poor Frank brings himself to consent. Unfortunately, he has been taken away from school to prepare for the army, and his practices and devotional habits cannot be kept quite out of Sir Francis's sight. The poor man cannot endure the idea of a religious soldier, and from pettish exclamations proceeds to denunciations of the system in which Frank has been brought up. Finally, on the Feast of the Annunciation, things come to a crisis: Sir Francis tells the boy to go back to his uncle, as he wishes to have done with sermons and hypocrisy. In the afternoon the girls take Frank and their youngest brother for a walk on the sands; they are overtaken by the tide, and are rescued with much difficulty. Frank is drowned.

The account of this tragedy is most beautifully given, and the effect on all the survivors wonderfully brought out. The bitter grief of Sir Francis, which passes over him like a tornado, and leaves him apparently much the same; the bracing up of Kate to seek the path Frank had trod, and the opposite effect it produced on Emmeline, who, having shirked all her duties, only found that her illness and bitter grief made her feel more dissatisfied, unwilling to undergo the inconvenience of a new preparation for Confirmation, and hail with delight the prospect of a London season. And again, to Kate's great sorrow, they lose the opportunity of Confirmation. In London Emmie becomes extremely fascinated by the services at a new Roman Catholic chapel.

Then Herbert Somers breaks in upon us. Herbert has almost died abroad, and his wife, who is not unlike Alexandrine de la Ferronay in some respects, is all that Emineline and Kate aspired to be. Lord Herbert has accepted the living of Dearport, and it is arranged that his sisters-in-law should help Constance to settle in. These two, Herbert and Constance, are extraordinarily charming, merry, clever, and endued with that touch of romance which is the very flower of our religion. They make light of all sorts of disagreeables, and begin to do excellent work at once. Yet they are not the least impossible or unreal. Kate, who has been absolutely won over by Frank's death, is intensely happy; but Emmie, who is really still extremely unwell, can only feel disillusioned by everything. At last, rather suddenly, a talk with Herbert shows her that it is not her circumstances, but herself, which has been to blame. She has dreamed, not acted.

"I could not feel to care about religion; I grew tired of all the good books and thoughts and church-going. Herbert, don't think me wicked for it, but church-going has such a sameness--not always as you manage the service, but at that church in London it did not make one a bit devout.

Everything is weariness together, and I shall feel so all my life."

'"Stop, stop, Emmeline.' You have not let me ask you how it was that religion failed as you say."

'"Because I must be too bad for anything to do me any good, I suppose," said Emmeline despondently.

'"Hush, Emmeline! None of the chosen people of God have a right to speak in that way. But, tell me, what do you understand by religion?"

'"Oh, thinking, caring about holy things, stirring up one's spirit, feeling love to God--those kinds of things--liking holy things-----" hesitated Emmeline, somewhat puzzled.

'"There is the main-spring; but that is but half the matter. You had the beginning, but what came of it? How was it evidenced? You tried to feel; what did you try to do? "

'"I was not well; I could not do much," said Emmeline.

'"But what did you try to do? Did you try to be more attentive to the home duties in which you had fallen short?"

'"I did not think that was it."

'"Did you try to conquer your reluctance to letting Mr. Brent enter into conversation with you?"

'"Mamma did not wish it."

'"Did you try, when you were taken to London, to keep from following the foolish, undesirable ways of other people of your own age, which you yourself thought wrong at first sight?"

'"Do you mean the polka, Herbert?"

'"Or did you, in the new scene, allow yourself to relax in the devotional exercises you had taken up? Don't answer me, but yourself."

'"I can't think how you know everything, Herbert. But, you see, religion won't do for me."

'"I don't see any such thing. You have had a fit of excitement of feeling, which has passed off, but you are not thinking that you have been without religion all the years of your life."

'"Oh no; but that is not what one means. That is too shocking."

'"You are a Christian. Each right action or feeling, each act of faith or prayer, through your whole life, have not they been fruits of your baptismal grace?"

'"I suppose so; but there have been few enough of them."

'"And do you think that is caused by any defect in the grace then given you?"

'"Oh, no, no!"

'"But they have been passing, fleeting, unstable of late. You have had no rest in them, no comfort of mind, no true wisdom, nor strength; no firmness, no abiding sensation of love and fear of God."

'Emmeline gave a sort of groan, that showed that his words went home to her heart.

'"And you say it is the fault of religion? Emmeline, our religion holds out to us a means of receiving the strength of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, giving us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of God's holy fear."

'"Confirmation!" said Emmeline. "Oh, Herbert, would it do all that for me? I do believe it would be peace at last."

'"Emmeline, I am sure it would. It is not I that tell you so; it is the promise of God through His Church."

'"Yes; but it is on a condition! How am I ever to fulfil that condition? I may make the vow, and intend to keep it, and believe fully, but the feeling will go. I shall be unsteady again."

'"If you were to stand in your own strength, not in the all-sufficient grace, you would; but besides prayer, will there not then be open to you the especial means of strengthening and refreshing our souls?"

'"But how many there are no better for being confirmed!"

'"How can we tell? They may be better, or, if they fail, it may be that their hearts are not prepared. They wanted prayer, or they wanted faith, or they were not in earnest, or they fell away through some unresisted temptation, not from any defect in the Confirmation grace, which will yet restore many."

'"Then you think if we had been confirmed we should have avoided our faults?"

'"No, I say no such thing. I cannot tell how you would have kept your vow, but I know you would then have been obedient to that summons of the Church; the grace would have been given to you, and if you had used it rightly-----"

'"Ah, I do believe that it would have made a difference. I know I should have been afraid to stay away from the Holy Communion after your letter, and then I should have watched myself more, and perhaps been saved from these faults, though I never thought they were so bad before. I knew I was good for nothing, but I could not make out that I did anything very wrong. Oh, I am very glad we are to be confirmed now!"'

And Confirmation is at last bestowed on them, not without some self-sacrifice on their part.

Nothing can be more delightful than the account of the first settling in at Dearport, and all that Herbert, his curates, and Constance found to do.

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