Project Canterbury

Charlotte Mary Yonge: An Appreciation

By Ethel Romanes

London: Mowbray, 1908.

Chapter V. 'Conversations on the Catechism'--'Dynevor Terrace'--A Visit to Ireland

THERE were many months of anxiety for Charlotte and her mother after the irreparable loss; but in time the brother returned, in bad health indeed, but safe, from the Crimea, and, as he recovered, there was much happiness in their daily life. The large family of Moberlys at Winchester were an increasing joy to her. Indeed, they are said to have suggested the Mays, and, oddly enough, some of the events in the family at Stoneborough seem to have been unconscious prophecies of similar occurrences to the Moberlys--such as the winning of the Newdigate, and one or two other episodes.

And there was the great joy of meeting Bishop Selwyn at Winchester, and in a delightful letter to Miss Dyson, which is given in Miss Coleridge's Life, she describes the enthusiasm she felt and the joy it was to her to meet the hero Bishop. Her account of great old Warden Barter's speech reminds us of the description in The Daisy Chain of the S.P.G. meeting at Stoneborough, and of Norman May's speech.

In a footnote to Bishop Patteson's Life, Miss Yonge writes that the means for the Southern Cross, Bishop Selwyn's missionary ship, had been raised--

'partly thus. My mother had always been eagerly interested in the mission, and when, on the day of my father's funeral, something brought before her the request for the vessel, she said to Mrs. Keble how much she should like to see the sum raised by contributions from those who liked The Heir of Redclyffe, then in its first flush of success. Mrs. Keble, pleased to see that anything could interest her, warmly took up the idea, other friends joined, and by their great kindness a sum was raised sufficient to be at least worth presenting to the Bishop by the hands of a little three-year-old girl, just able to know that she had seen "man" and given him letter, though only able later to value his blessing.'

This was done in Warden Barter's garden on the afternoon of the day of the meeting.

As time went on, Miss Yonge seems to have enjoyed the county society around very much, and the next few years must have been happy ones in the full tide of work and of interests.

The Conversations on the Catechism were put together in 1858, and their author much wished Mr. Keble to write a preface for them. In a letter given in her Recollections he gently refuses, telling her that this 'is not an unknown little bird waiting to be jerked out of the nest,' and that it is undesirable to let people think or say (as they are too likely to do) that this is only Mr. Keble speaking with another voice, and that he had not seen as a critic the whole of it. Miss Yonge says:

'I never quite knew what he meant by his not having read the whole as a critic--either he forgot how much he had read, or he had kept himself from touching anything that did not strike him as a positive error in fact or doctrine. I incline to this latter opinion, from what he says of independent testimony. He certainly did not give advice as to the general plan or subjects; all he did was to read the proofs and mark what was wrong, or when I was in a difficulty help me out by lending books, or consulting them when the point turned upon Greek or Hebrew.' [Gleanings from Thirty Years' Intercourse with the Rev. John Keble, p. xxviii.]

He had given her one piece of advice which certainly would not be needed nowadays: 'It occurred to me whether, when the ladies quote Greek, they had not better say they have heard their fathers and brothers say things.'

These Conversations are extraordinarily good. One might wish to alter an expression here and there--for, naturally, in 1851-1858 people were still feeling their way--but what one really wishes is addition rather than omission. They are full of the most excellent teaching, and might be used by mothers still, especially if they could be re-edited and condensed. The three Maries--Audrey Mary, Helena Mary, and Mary--who gather round their godmother, are representatives of the three classes Miss Yonge knew so well--the county family, the country clergy, the respectable farmers. They are all very individual in their characters, and very attractive in their girlish ways.

Perhaps a quotation or two will show how very good the teaching is. Speaking of idolatry, she says, explaining 'Put my whole trust in Him,' that people, women especially, may be led away by the temper of idolatry.

'Miss O. Yes, that is one branch; the other I meant is the temper that enables women to be led captive. I did not so much, at that moment, mean over-love as over-trust. I mean, that we had often rather shape our views of right and wrong, and guide our actions, by the counsel of someone we look up to, than by the rule of God's law.

'Audrey. But I thought it was right not to be self-reliant, and that we ought to be guided.

'Miss O. So we ought, to a certain point, but our guides are but men. There is no safety in giving the whole keeping of our conscience to another. Our rule of right and wrong, and our doctrine, must be what Scripture and our own Church teach us, not merely what an individual or a few individuals may say. We must have an external standard.

'Audrey. And that must be the Bible and Prayer Book.

'Miss O. . . . Enthusiasm, when kept within bounds, is a feeling given, I do believe, to quicken love to God and our neighbour, and to become zeal for all that is excellent; but if unguarded it becomes an idolatry. This sort of which you spoke, which I think our Lord forbade in the words, "Call no man father on earth, for One is your Father," has been the means of leading many and many away from our Church on one side or the other, and often, as it seems, through their best feelings.

'Audrey. Their love of goodness, and honour to their pastor, and desire for guidance.

'Miss O. I was once struck with the words that desire for guidance becomes a snare where God has not vouchsafed it. To make God and His law the first, and ever to watch for His invisible hand working through the visible, to listen to His voice through the audible calls to good, to seek only His service, to call upon Him alone at every hour, to keep His Presence and His Mediation ever in our minds, is the only guard from creature-worship in any form, the only hope when in the hour of death and day of judgment all creatures shall fail us, and we shall be face to face with Him alone.'

Of course, part of Miss Yonge's advice about attendance at Holy Communion and on other points would not find favour with some of us now. But all her teaching as to the doctrine of the Sacraments is admirable. She constantly refers to the Fathers and the best Anglican divines.

Dynevor Terrace, which came out in 1857, has a delightful hero, Louis, and a provokingly good heroine. Here again is the situation of a child's obedience strained to the utmost point. Louis and Mary are really too submissive to the unworthy father of the latter, and, although it all comes right in the end, we cannot see that Mary took a right view of conflicting duties.

Much more natural people are Louis's fiery cousin Jem and his dreamy, beautiful wife, who is roused by poverty and trials, and becomes a real helpmate to her husband. Mrs. Frost, Jem's grandmother, is very delightful, but we cannot feel she is as living and original as Dr. May, with whom Miss Coleridge compares her.

It is a very delightful book to real lovers of Miss Yonge, not so much because of the story, but because Louis himself and his tomboy cousin Clara, and Jem and Mrs. Frost, are such charming people.

In a letter to Miss Barnett, Miss Yonge discusses the pet name of 'Debonnaire' as applied to Louis.

'The folk here,' she writes,' are quite on my side about "Debonnaire." In the first place, the King was so called as synonymous with Pious, according to Sismondi, and the proper original meaning of this word seems to have been "gracious," in which sense it is constantly applied to the best of the knights. Modern French has debased it, and given it of late the sense of weakness. ... In English it decidedly means graceful. . . . Johnson calls it elegant, civil, well-bred, and no doubt it was such in the chivalrous vocabulary. Now, this was just what I wanted; if it had no foolish sense it would be flattery. . . .'

Miss Yonge again brings out her favourite idea of a weak character gradually developing under the influences of right principles. Louis, however, was only boyish and unformed when we first meet him, and had just the qualities and gifts suited to provoke his father, than whom Miss Yonge never drew a more perfect picture of a perfectly upright, excellent, narrow-minded and prejudiced British nobleman.

Certainly there is one point which strikes a reader of these earlier novels of society of Miss Yonge. A great deal more was expected in the way of sense and powers of judgment from the young man and woman of, say, seventeen or eighteen in those early nineteenth-century days than seems to he demanded now. Our hoys and girls are decidedly younger than they used to be, and we are not sure that this is a change altogether for the worse. Certainly no modern father would be so hard on his son's excessively harmless vagaries as was Lord Ormesfield on Louis. There is a good deal of humour in both Louis and in his great-aunt, Mrs. Frost.

Miss Yonge went to Dublin in 1857 to be bridesmaid to her cousin, Miss Colborne, now Lady Montgomery Moore. She writes to Miss Barnett:

'ROYAL HOSPITAL, DUBLIN, 'September 28, 1857.

'The place we are in is a sight in itself--an old house of the Knight Hospitallers, which the great Ormond converted into an Irish Chelsea [Hospital], making the Commander of the Forces the Master. It is built round a quadrangle, with a cloister, a chapel, and great hall, all in Louis XIV. style . . . this house occupying one side, with the hall and chapel, the house of the Chaplain, and some of the staff, and the old pensioners. ... It is very military church-going . . . sitting in a hideous gallery looking down on them [the Lancers]. The pensioners are chiefly R.C., so that there is a very small show of them at church. ... It was a beautiful scene in the great oaken hall, with Lord Seaton's grand figure walking up and down . . . all that he ever was in activity, and alertness, and memory.

'The Church matters are wonderfully lax, as might be expected, the Irish Church hardly professing to believe in the Church. . . . Kneeling appears to be unknown. I have seen no provision for it except in the gallery here and in a beautiful church built by Mr. Sidney Herbert, to which we went yesterday afternoon.

'Lord Seaton was so kind as to give us ... a field-day in Phoenix Park. Only think of being regaled with four regiments of infantry, three of cavalry, and a proportion of artillery, and on a sunshiny day of Irish winds, with the beauteous park for the scene and the Wicklow Hills as background. . . . We had no visible enemy, but we suffered a repulse in spite of a brilliant charge of the Lancers and Scots Greys, but it was all to get us home to luncheon.'

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