Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 1, December 1835, 2:41-43


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[page 41:]

Critical Notices,

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THE HEROINE.

The Heroine: or Adventures of Cherubina. By Eaton Stannard Barrett, Esq. New Edition. Richmond: Published by P. D. Bernard.

Cherubina! Who has not heard of Cherubina? Who has not heard of that most spiritual, that most ill-treated, that most accomplished of women — of that most consummate, most sublimated, most fantastic, most unappreciated, and most inappreciable of heroines? Exquisite and delicate creation of a mind overflowing with fun, frolic, farce, wit, humor, song, sentiment, and sense, what mortal is there so dead to every thing graceful and glorious as not to have devoured thy adventures? Who is there so unfortunate as not to have taken thee by the hand? — who so lost as not to have cultivated thy acquaintance? — who so stupid, as not to have enjoyed thy companionship? — who so much of a log, as not to have laughed until he has wept for very laughter in the perusal of thine incomparable, inimitable, and inestimable eccentricities? But we are becoming pathetic to no purpose, and supererogatively oratorical. Every body has read Cherubina. There is no one so superlatively unhappy as not to have done this thing. But if such there be — if by any possibility such person should exist, we have only a few words to say to him. Go, silly man, and purchase forthwith “The Heroine: or Adventures of Cherubina.”

The Heroine was first published many years ago, (we believe shortly after the appearance of Childe Harold;) but although it has run through editions innumerable, and has been universally read and admired by all possessing talent or taste, it has never, in our opinion, attracted half that notice on the part of the critical press, which is undoubtedly its due. There are few books written with more tact, spirit, näïveté [[naïveté]], or grace, few which take hold more irresistibly upon the attention of the reader, and none more fairly entitled to rank among the classics of English literature than the Heroine of Eaton Stannard Barrett. When we say all this of a book possessing not even the remotest claim to originality, either in conception or execution, it may reasonably be supposed, that we have discovered in its matter, or manner, some rare qualities, inducing us to hazard an assertion of so bold a nature. This is actually the case. Never was any thing so charmingly written: the mere style is positively inimitable. Imagination, too, of the most etherial kind, sparkles and blazes, now sportively like the Will O’ the Wisp, now dazzlingly like the Aurora Borealis, over every page — over every sentence in the book. It is absolutely radiant with fancy, and that of a nature the most captivating, although, at the same time, the most airy, the most capricious, and the most intangible. Yet the Heroine must be considered a mere burlesque; and, being a copy from Don Quixotte, is to that immortal work of Cervantes what The School for Scandal is to The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Plot is briefly as follows.

Gregory Wilkinson, an English farmer worth 50,000 pounds, has a pretty daughter called Cherry, whose head is somewhat disordered from romance reading. Her governess is but little more rational than herself, [column 2:] and is one day turned out of the house for allowing certain undue liberties on the part of the butler. In revenge she commences a correspondence with Miss Cherry, in which she persuades that young lady that Wilkinson is not her real father — that she is a child of mystery, &c. — in short that she is actually and bon& fide a heroine. In the meantime, Miss Cherry, in rummaging among her father’s papers, comes across an antique parchment-a lease of lives-on which the following words are alone legible.

This Indenture

For and in consideration of

Doth grant, bargain, release

Possession, and to his heirs and assigns

Lands of Sylvan Lodge, in the

Trees, stones, quarries, &c.

Reasonable amends and satisfaction

This demise

Molestation of him the said Gregory Wilkinson.

The natural life of

Cherry Wilkinson only daughter of

De Willoughby eldest son of Thomas

Lady Gwyn of Gwyn Castle.

This “excruciating MS.” brings matters to a crisis — for Miss Cherry has no difficulty in filling up the blanks.

“It is a written covenant,” says this interesting young lady in a letter to her Governess, “between this Gregory Wilkinson, and the miscreant (whom my being an heiress had prevented from enjoying the title and estate that would devolve to him at my death) stipulating to give Wilklinson “Sylvan Lodge,” together with “trees, stones, &c.” as “reasonable amends and satisfaction” for being the instrument of my “demise,” and declaring that there shall be “no molestation of him the said Gregory Wilkinson” for taking away the “natural life of Cherry Wilkinson, only daughter of” somebody “De Willoughby eldest son of Thomas.” Then follows “Lady Gwyn of Gwyn Castle.” So that it is evident I am a De Willoughby, and related to Lady Gwyn! What perfectly confirms me in the latter supposition, is an old portrait which I found soon after, among Wilkinson’s papers, representing a young and beautiful female superbly dressed; and underneath, in large letters, the name of “Nell Gwyn.”

Fired with this idea, Miss Cherry gets up a scene, rushes with hair dishevelled into the presence of the good man Wilkinson, and accuses him to his teeth of plotting against her life, and of sundry other mal-practices and misdemeanors. The worthy old gentleman is astonished, as well he may be; but is somewhat consoled upon receiving a letter from his nephew, Robert Stuart, announcing his intention of paying the family a visit immediately. Wilkinson is in hopes that a lover may change the current of his daughter’s ideas; but in that he is mistaken. Stuart has the misfortune of being merely a rich man, a handsome man, an honest man, and a fashionable man — he is no hero. This is not to be borne: and Miss Cherry, having assumed the name of the Lady Cherubina De Willoughby, makes a precipitate retreat from the house, and commences a journey on foot to London. Her adventures here properly begin, and are laughable in the extreme. But we must not be too minute. They are modelled very much after those of Don Quixotte, and are related in a series of letters from the young lady herself to her governess. The principal characters who figure in the Memoirs are Betterton, an old debauché who endeavors to entangle the Lady Cherubina in his toils — [page 42:] Jerry Sullivan, an Irish simpleton, who is ready to lose his life at any moment for her ladyship, whose story he implicitly believes, without exactly comprehending it — Higginson, a grown baby, and a mad poet — Lady Gwyn, whom Cherubina believes to be her mortal enemy, and the usurper of her rights, and who encourages the delusion for the purpose of entertaining her guests — Mary and William, two peasants betrothed, but whom Cherry sets by the ears for the sake of an interesting episode — Abraham Grundy, a tenth rate performer at Covent Garden, who having been mistaken by Cherry for an earl, supports the character a merveille with the hope of eventually marrying her, and thus securing 10,000 pounds, a sum which it appears the lady possesses in her own right. He calls himself the Lord Altamont Mortimer Montmorenci. Stuart, her cousin, whom we have mentioned before, finally rescues her from the toils of Betterton and Grundy, and restores her to reason, and to her friends. Of course he is rewarded with her hand.

We repeat that Cherubina is a book which should be upon the shelves of every well-appointed library. No one can read it without entertaining a high opinion of the varied and brilliant talents of its author. No one can read it without laughter. Its wit, especially, and its humor, are indisputable — not frittered and refined away into that insipid compound which we occasionally meet with, half giggle and half sentiment — but racy, dashing, and palpable. Some of the songs with which the work is interspersed have attained a most extensive popularity, while many persons, to whom they are as familiar as household things, are not aware of the very existence of the Heroine. All our readers must remember the following.

Dear Sensibility, O la!

I heard a little lamb cry ba!

Says I, so you have lost mamma!

Ah!

 

The little lamb as I said so,

Frisking about the fields did go,

And frisking trod upon my toe.

Oh!

And this also.

TO DOROTHY PULVERTAFT.

If Black-sea, White-sea, Red-sea ran

One tide of ink to Ispahan;

If all the geese in Lincoln fens

Produced spontaneous well-made pens;

If Holland old or Holland new,

One wondrous sheet of paper grew;

Could I, by stenographic power,

Write twenty libraries an hour;

And should I sing but half the grace

Of half a freckle on thy face;

Each syllable I wrote should reach

From Inverness to Bognor’s beach;

Each hair-stroke be a river Rhine,

Each verse an equinoctial line.

We have already exceeded our limits, but cannot refrain from extracting Chapter XXV. It will convey some idea of the character of the Heroine. She is now at the mansion of Lady Gwyn, who, for the purpose of amusing her friends, has dressed up her nephew to represent the supposed mother of the Lady Cherubina.

CHAPTER XXV.

This morning I awoke almost well, and towards evening was able to appear below. Lady Gwyn had invited several of her friends; so that I passed a delightful afternoon; the charm, admiration, and astonishment of all. When I retired to rest, I found this note on my toilette. [column 2:]

To the Lady Cherubina.

Your mother lives! and is confined in a subterranean vault of the villa. At midnight two men will tap at your door, and conduct you to her. Be silent, courageous, and circumspect.

What a flood of new feelings gushed upon my soul, as I laid down the billet, and lifted my filial eyes to Heaven! Mother — endearing name! I pictured that unfortunate lady stretched on a mattress of straw, her eyes sunken in their sockets, yet retaining a portion of their youthful fire; her frame emaciated, her voice feeble, her hand damp and chill. Fondly did I depict our meeting — our embrace; she gently pushing me from her, and baring my forehead, to gaze on the lineaments of my countenance. All, all is convincing; and she calls me the softened image of my noble father!

Two tedious hours I waited in extreme anxiety. At length the clock struck twelve; my heart beat responsive, and immediately the promised signal was made. I unbolted the door, and beheld two men masked I and cloaked. They blindfolded me, and each taking an arm, led me along. Not a word passed. We traversed apartments, ascended, descended stairs; now went this way, now that; obliquely, circularly, angularly; till I began to imagine we were all the time in one spot.

At length my conductors stopped.

‘Unlock the postern gate,’ whispered one, ‘while I light a torch.’

‘We are betrayed!’ said the other, ‘for this is the wrong key.’

‘Then thou beest the traitor,’ cried the first.

‘Thou liest, dost lie, and art lying!’ cried the second.

‘Take that!’ exclaimed the first. A groan followed, and the wretch tumbled to the ground.

‘You have killed him!’ cried I, sickening with horror.

‘I have only hamstrung him, my Lady,’ said the fellow. ‘He will be lame while ever he lives; but by St. Cripplegate, that won’t be long; for our captain has given him four ducats to murder himself in a month.’

He then burst open the gate; a sudden current of wind met us, and we hurried forward with incredible speed, while moans and smothered shrieks were heard at either side.

‘Gracious goodness, where are we?’ cried I.

‘In the cavern of death!’ said my conductor; ‘but never fear, Signora mia illustrissima, for the bravo Abellino is your povero devotissimo.’

On a sudden innumerable footsteps sounded behind us. We ran swifter.

‘Fire!’ cried a ferocious accent, almost at my ear; and there came a discharge of arms.

I stopped, unable to move, breathe, or speak.

‘I am wounded all over, right and left, fore and aft, long ways and cross ways, Death and the Devil!’ cried the bravo.

‘Am I bleeding?’ said I, feeling myself with my hands.

‘No, blessed St. Fidget be praised!” answered he; ‘and now all is safe, for the banditti have turned into the wrong passage.’

He then stopped, and unlocked a door.

‘Enter,’ said he, ‘and behold your mother!’

He led me forward, tore the bandage from my eyes, and retiring, locked the door after him.

Agitated by the terrors of my dangerous expedition, I felt additional horror in finding myself within a dismal cell, lighted with a lantern; where, at a small table, sat a woman suffering under a corpulency unparalleled in the memoirs of human monsters. Her dress was a patchwork of blankets and satins, and her gray tresses were like horses’ tails. Hundreds of frogs leaped about the floor; a piece of mouldy bread, and a mug of water, lay on the table; some straw, strewn with dead snakes and sculls, occupied one corner, and the distant end of the cell was concealed behind a black curtain.

I stood at the door, doubtful, and afraid to advance; while the prodigious prisoner sat examining me all over.

At last I summoned courage to say, ‘I fear, madam, I am an intruder here. I have certainly been shown into the wrong room.’

‘It is, it is my own, my only daughter, my Cherubina!’ cried she, with a tremendous voice.’ Come to my maternal arms, thou living picture of the departed Theodore!’

‘Why, ma’am,’ said I, ‘I would with great pleasure, but I am afraid — Oh, madam, indeed, indeed, I am quite sure you cannot be my mother!’

‘Why not, thou unnatural girl?’ cried she.

‘Because, madam,’ answered I, ‘my mother was of a thin habit, as her portrait proves. [page 43:]

‘And so I was once,’ said she.’ This deplorable plumpness is owing to want of exercise. But I thank the Gods 1 am as pale as ever.’

‘Heavens! no,’ cried I.’ Your face, pardon me, is a rich scarlet.’

‘And is this our tender meeting?’ cried she. ‘To disown me, to throw my fat in my teeth, to violate the lilies of my skin with a dash of scarlet? Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle! Tell me, girl, will you embrace me, or will you not?’

‘Indeed, madam,’ answered I, ‘I will presently.’

‘Presently!’

‘Yes, depend upon it I will. Only let me get over the first shock., ‘Shock!’

Dreading her violence, and feeling myself bound to do the du ties of a daughter, I kneeled at her feet, and said:

‘Ever respected, ever venerable author of my being, I beg thy maternal blessing!’

My mother raised me from the ground, and hugged me to her heart, with such cruel vigor, that, almost crushed, I cried out stoutly, and struggled for release.

‘And now,’ said she, relaxing her grasp, ‘let me tell you of my sufferings. Ten long years I have eaten nothing but bread. Oh, ye favorite pullets, oh, ye inimitable tit-bits, shall I never, never taste you more? It was but last night, that maddened by hunger, methought I beheld the Genius of Dinner in my dreams. His mantle was laced with silver eels, and his locks were drop ping with soups. He had a crown of golden fishes upon his head, and pheasants’ wings at his shoulders. A flight of little tartlets fluttered about him, and the sky rained down comfits. As I gazed on him, he vanished in a sigh, that was impregnated with the fumes of brandy. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle.’

I stood shuddering, and hating her more and more every moment.

‘Pretty companion of my confinement!’ cried she, apostrophizing an enormous toad which she pulled out of her bosom’ dear, spotted fondling, thou, next to my Cherubina, art worthy of my love. Embrace each other, my friends.’ And she put the hideous pet into my hand. I screamed and dropped it.

‘Oh!’ cried I, in a passion of despair, ‘what madness possessed me to undertake this execrable enterprise!’ and I began beating with my hand against the door.

‘Do you want to leave your poor mother?’ said she in a whimpering tone.

‘Oh! I am so frightened!’ cried I.

‘You will spend the night here, however,’ said she; ‘and your whole life too; for the ruffian who brought you hither was employed by Lady Gwyn to entrap you.’

When I heard this terrible sentence, my blood ran cold, and I began crying bitterly.

‘Come, my love!’ said my mother,’ and let me clasp thee to my heart once more!’

‘For goodness sake!’ cried I, ‘spare me!’

‘What!’ exclaimed she, ‘do you spurn my proffered embrace again?’

‘Dear, no, madam,’ answered I. ‘But — but indeed now, you squeeze one so!’

My mother made a huge stride towards me; then stood groaning and rolling her eyes.

‘Help!’ cried I, half frantic, ‘help! help!’

I was stopped by a suppressed titter of infernal laughter, as if from many demons; and on looking towards the black curtain, whence the sound came, I saw it agitated; while about twenty terrific faces appeared peeping through slits in it, and making grins of a most diabolical nature. I hid my face with my hands.

‘ ’Tis the banditti!’ cried my mother.

As she spoke, the door opened, a bandage was flung over my eyes, and I was borne away half senseless, in some one’s arms; till at length, I found myself alone in my own chamber. Such was the detestable adventure of to-night. Oh, that I should live to meet this mother of mine! How different from the mothers that other heroines rummage out in northern turrets and ruined chapels! I am out of all patience. Liberate her I must, of course, and make a suitable provision for her too, when I get my property; but positively, never will I sleep under the same roof with — (ye powers of filial love forgive me!) such a living mountain of human horror. Adieu.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (December 1835)