The Swiss Heiress; or The Bride of Destiny — A Tale. Baltimore: Joseph Robinson.
The Swiss Heiress should be read by all who have nothing better to do. We are patient, and having gone through the whole book with the most dogged determination, are now enabled to pronounce it one of the most solemn of farces. Let us see if it be not possible to give some idea of the plot. It is the year 1780, and "the attention of the reader is directed, first, to a Castle whose proud battlements rise amidst the pines and firs of the Swiss mountains, while, at its base, roll the waters of Lake Geneva," and, second, to the sun which is setting somewhat more slowly than usual, because he is "unwilling to terminate the natal day of the young heiress of the Baron de Rheinswald, the wealthy proprietor of Montargis castle, and its beautiful environs." We are thus left to infer — putting the two sentences and circumstances in apposition — that the Montargis Castle where dwells the young heiress of the Baron de Rheinswald, is neither more nor less than the identical castle "with the proud battlements" et cetera, that "rises amid the pines and firs" and so forth, of the "Swiss Mountains and the Lake of Geneva" and all that. However this may be, the Baron de Rheinswald is a "Catholic of high repute" who "early in life marries a lady of great wealth, a member of his own church, actuated by ambition" — that is to say, there was either something or somebody "actuated by ambition," but we shall not say whether it was a lady or a church. The lady (or perhaps now the church) "lived but five years after the union, and at her death earnestly and solemnly implored that her only son might be devoted to the priesthood." The lady, or the church (let us reconcile the difficulty by calling the thing "Mother Church") being thus deceased, the bereaved Baron marries a second wife. She being a protestant however, the high contracting parties sign an instrument by which it is agreed "that the eldest child shall be educated by the mother's direction, a protestant, the second be subject to the father's will and a catholic, and thus alternately with all their children." This, it must be allowed is a contrivance well adapted for effect. Only think of the interesting little creatures all taking it "turn about!" What fights, too, they will have, when breeched, over their prayer-books and bread-and-butter! Our author pauses in horror at anticipated consequences, and takes this excellent opportunity of repeating what "a late writer" (a great friend of his by the bye) says in regard to "chemical combinations" and "opposite properties."
The first child is a son, and called William. The second is a daughter, Miss Laura, our heroine, the "Swiss Heiress," and the "Bride of Destiny." She is the "Swiss Heiress" in virtue of a certain "dispensation from the church of Rome, by which the estates of the Baron were to descend to his first catholic child by his second marriage" and she becomes the "Bride of Destiny" because the Baron has very properly selected for her a husband, without consulting her Heiress-ship about the matter. This intended husband is one Count Laniski, young, good-looking, noble, valiant, wise, accomplished, generous, amiable, and possessed of a thousand other good qualities — all of which, of course, are just a thousand better reasons why the Bride of Destiny, being a heroine, will have nothing to do with him. Accordingly, at eight years old, she grows melancholy and interesting, patronizes the gipsies, curses the Count Laniski, talks about "fate, fore-knowledge, and free-will," and throws aside her bread-and-butter for desperation and a guitar. In spite of all she can do, however, the narrative gets on very slowly, and we are upon the point of throwing the lady (banjo and all) into the street, when the Count himself makes his appearance at the Castle, and thereby frightens her to such a degree that, having delivered a soliloquy, she runs off with her "Brother William" to America."Brother William," however, is luckily killed at the siege of Yorktown, and the "Bride of Destiny" herself is recaptured by her family, the whole of whom, having nothing better to do, have set out in pursuit of her — to wit — her half brother Albert, (who is now Baron de Rheinswald, the old Baron being dead) Clermont a croaking old monk, and Madam de Montelieu a croaking old somebody else. These good people, it seems, are still determined that the "Swiss Heiress" shall be the "Bride of Destiny" — that is to say, the bride of the Count Laniski. To make matters doubly sure too on this head, the old Baron has sworn a round oath on his death-bed, leaving the "Swiss Heiress" his "eternal curse" in the event of her disobedience.
Having caught and properly secured the young lady, the new Baron de Rheinswald takes up his residence for a time "on the borders of Vermont and Canada." Some years elapse, and so forth. The "Bride of Destiny" is nearly one and twenty; and the Count Laniski makes his appearance with a view of urging his claim. The Heiress, we are forced to say, now behaves in a very unbecoming and unaccountable manner. She should have hung herself as the only rational course, and — heigho! — it would have saved us a world of trouble. But, not having forgotten her old bad habits, she persists in talking about "fate, foreknowledge, and free will," and it is not therefore to be wondered at that matters in general assume a truly distressing complexion. Just at this crisis, however, a Mr. Frederick Mortimer makes his interesting debut. Never certainly was a more accomplished young man! As becomes a gentleman with such an appellation as Frederick Mortimer, he is more beautiful than Apollo, more sentimental than De Lisle, more distingue than Pelham, and, positively, more mysterious than the "mysterious lady." He sympathizes with the woes of the "Bride of Destiny," looks unutterable threats at the Count Laniski, beats even the "Swiss Heiress" at discoursing of "free will," and the author of the "Swiss Heiress" at quoting paragraphs from a "late writer." The heart of the "Bride of Destiny" is touched — sensibly touched. But Love, in romance, must have impediments, and the Loves of the "Bride of Destiny" and Mr. Frederick Mortimer have two. The first is some inexpressible mystery connected with a certain gold ring, of which the Heiress is especially careful, and the second is that rascally old Baron Rheinswald's "eternal curse." Nothing farther therefore can be done in the premises, but as we have now only reached Chapter the Sixth, and there are to be seventeen chapters in all, it is necessary to do something — and what better can be done than to talk, until Chapter the Fifteenth, about "fate, foreknowledge, and free will?" Only imagine a string of delightful sentences, such as the following, for the short space of three hundred and ninety-six pages!
[S:0 - SLM, 1836]