Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of Beverly Tucker’s George Balcombe,” Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. III, no. 1, January 1837, 3:49-58


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[page 49, column 2:]

GEORGE BALCOMBE.

George Balcombe. A Novel. New York: Harper and Brothers.

The scene of this novel is laid partly in Missouri, and partly in Virginia. The hero proper of the book that is to say, the object of the narration is a Mr. William [page 50:] Napier of Craiganet, in the Old Dominion — George Balcombe, although the most important of the dramatis personie, being merely what, in critical parlance, is termed the machinery.

The mother of our hero, then, was one of two daughters, the only children of Mr. Raby, a man of great wealth. This wealth, however, consisted principally of property entailed on the possessor’s male descendants, with remainder to a distant English relative. There proved to be no male issue — the wife dying in giving birth to her second daughter, the mother of our hero — and the widower refusing to marry again. Moreover, through scruples of conscience, he declined taking measures for docking the entail, and even when the revolution rendered it invalid, declared his children should not profit by such invalidation. “He accordingly executed a will devising the entailed property to the remainder-man; and this will, properly attested, he transmitted to him in England.” Thus matters stood until the two daughters married, and the birth, in 1799, of a grandson, our hero, excited an interest in the heart of the old gentleman. He claimed the child from its mother, and informed the father that a new will had been made, devising the whole property to be divided into two equal parts — one part for the grandson, the other to be again divided between the two daughters. This will, he added, was in the hands of a confidential friend. The name of the friend was not mentioned, and delicacy forbade inquiry.

It appears that Edward Montague, an orphan protégé of Mr. Raby’s, was the depositary of this instrument. Upon the death of the old gentleman he was applied to. At first he disclaimed any knowledge of the paper; being on oath, how ever, hie owned having once seen it, but denied that he knew what had become of it. In the meantime the devisee under the former testament brought it forward, and, none other appearing, established it. The elder Mr. Napier took no active measures to recover the lost will, and, having inherited nothing from Mr. Raby, all of whose non-entailed property was involved, died just before the ruin of his family became manifest. Upon our hero’s coming of are, therefore, he finds himself penniless. The action of the novel grows out of his search for the missing will.

In the opening of the narrative we are introduced to Napier in a prairie of Missouri. He is in pursuit of Montague, with the vague hope of extorting from him, either by force or guile, some information respecting the document in question. As this beginning evinces the hand of a master, we quote it. The abruptness here is not without object. The attention is attracted at once and rivetted with skill.

At length, issuing from the wood, I entered a prairie, more beautiful than any I had yet seen. The surface, gently undulating, presented innumerable swells, on which the eye might rest with pleasure. Many of these were capped with clumps and groves of trees, thus interrupting the dull uniformity which generally wearies the traveller in these vast expanses. I gazed around for a moment with delight; but soon found leisure to observe that my road had become alarmingly indistinct. It is easy indeed, to follow the faintest trace through a prairie. The beaten track, however narrow, wears a peculiar aspect, which makes it distinguishable even at a distance. But the name of Arlington, the place of my destination, denoted at least a village; while the tedious path which I was travelling seemed more like to terminate in the midst of the prairie than to lead to a public haunt of men. I feared I had missed my way, and looked eagerly ahead for some traveller who might set me right if astray. But I looked in vain. The prairie lay before me, a wide waste without one moving object. The sun had just gone down; and as my horse, enlivened by the shade and the freshness of evening seemed to recover his mettle, I determined to push on to such termination as my path twilight lead to. At this moment a shout from behind reached my car. I turned and saw a man on horseback standing between me and the sky, on the top of the east swell. Through a quarter of a mile off, his figure stood out in such distinct relief, that every limb was conspicuous and well defined on the bright back ground. He was stationary, standing erect in his stirrups, and twisted around, so that his back and his horse’s head were both towards me. After repeating a shout, which I found was a call to a dog, he put his horse in motion, and advanced at a brisk trot. I was now in no hurry, and he soon overtook me.

This rencontre is of essential advantage to our hero. The stranger proves to be George Balcombe, also a protege of old Mr. Raby’s. Mr. N. accompanies him home, and discovers that he is well versed in the family affairs of the Rabys and Napiers; that he is acquainted with the matter of the will; that, with Montague, he was a witness to the instrument; and that Montague reside in the neighborhood. Balcombe believes that M. was the depositary spoken of by old Mr. Raby. Circumstances, also, induce him to think that the paper is still in existence, and in the possession of M. The train of events which have led to this conclusion — a train laid by Balcombe himself — serves admirably to develop his character.

Montague, it seems, was always, even when an open reprobate, superstitious; and, though a great liar, would at no time have sworn to a literal lie. In the interval between the death of Mr. Raby and the establishment of the first will, he became gloomy and serious, and joined the church. Balcombe, who knew his character, could thus easily conceive how the villain might have deemed “ the form of religion and literal truth a sufficient salvo for wronging the dead and plundering the living by moral perjury.” It was probable, he thought, that some plan had been devised, by means of which Montague had spoken the literal truth when he swore in court that “ he knew not what had become of the will.” The document had been handed to him by Mr. Raby in the presence of Balcombe, and a letter received by the latter from the old gentleman, and written just before his decease, a letter full of affection for his grandson, was sufficient assurance that the testament had never been revoked. At the probate of the will found, Balcombe did not appear — being absent from the country and not hearing of the death of Mr. Raby. Upon Montague’s coming, however, to live near him in Missouri, and coming in evidently improved circumstances, with plenty of money, and only affecting to practise law, he immediately suspected the truth, and set on foot a system of observation. One day, having need of eastern funds, he applied to a merchant for the purpose of purchasing a bill on New York. The merchant furnished one drawn by Montague on a house there, for the desired amount, one thousand dollars, and, in the course of conversation, mentioned that M. drew regularly, at the same time every year, on the same house, for the same sum. Here then was an annuity, and the question was — unde derivatiur? [page 51:]

The bill was bought and sent to a correspondent in New York, with instructions to get English funds in payment. This was done, and a draft obtained upon a Liverpool house, accompanied by a letter of advice. The Liverpool correspondent was instructed in like manner to take a draft on Northumberland — this being the shire where resided the remainder-man. This latter draft was also obtained, with a letter of advice, duplicates being furnished in each instance. These several letters ran thus. To George Balcombe, Esq.

Dear Sir, — I wrote you, under date of March tenth, that the bill remitted by you for one thousand dollars, drawn by Edward Montague, on the house of Tompkins and Todd of this city, had been paid by a draft on Bell and Brothers, of Liverpool, England. This draft I remitted, according to your directions, to my friend, John Ferguson, of the house of Ferguson and Partridge, our correspondents there, with instructions to obtain if possible, from the same house, a draft on the country of Northumberland. In this he succeeded, by procuring a draft on Edward Raby, Esq. of that county, for a like amount.

Enclosed you have the seconds of the several bills, and duplicates of the letters of advice accompanying, the same. At my request, Mr. Ferguson waited on Mr. Raby in person. The money was promptly paid, but not without a good deal of grumbling. Nothing very intelligible was said; but Mr. Ferguson could distinguish in the mutterings of Mr. Raby, such words as “harpy,” “rapacious scoundrel,” &c.

Your obedient servant,

JAMES LANGSTON.

New York, June 1, 1820. ——

To Messrs. Bell and Brothers, Merchants, Liverpool.

Gentlemen, — A draft drawn by Edward Montague, Esq. for one thousand dollars, was this day presented, and paid by us in pursuance of your standing instructions. We have accordingly drawn on you in favor of Mr. James Langston of this city, for a corresponding amount. We remain, gentlemen,

Your obedient servants,

TOMPKINS & TODD.

New York, March 9, 1820. ——

To Edward Raby, Esq. of Raby Hall, Northumberland.

Sir, — The draft of Messrs. Tompkins and Todd, on account of Mr. Montague’s annuity, is to hand, and has been duly honored. We have this day drawn on you for the amount, in favor of Mr. John Ferguson, of this place. Hoping that it may be quite convenient for you to meet the draft, and begging a continuance of your favors, we remain, sir,

Your most obedient, humble servants,

BELL & BROTHERS.

Liverpool, April 10, 1820.

Here then Balcombe found his suspicions completely verified. Montague was in receipt of an annuity — an annuity grudgingly paid — and derived from the devisee under the primitive will. There could be little doubt that the money was granted as hush-money by the devisee, Montague still possessing the second testament, and holding it in terrorem. B. was about communicating with Mr. Napier upon this head, when accident threw them together in the prairie. Our hero now receives the benefit of Balcombe’s energy and sagacity in many varied attempts to get possession of the will. Keizer, an original vagabond, is also a most efficient diplomatist and ally. The adventures of the trio in pursuit of the missing document, eminently display, in the author of George Balcombe, that rarest of all qualities in American novelists, and that certainly most indispensable — invention. With permission, we will go through these adventures one by one — doing this with the less scruple, because we intend to do it so briefly as not to interfere with the main interest of the book itself, and because, with this object in view, we have purposely delayed our notice until the volumes had been some time is possession of the public.

In a conversation between Balcombe and Napier, occurring in the early part of the first volume, we learn some particulars in regard to Mary Scott, daughter of Mr. Raby’s overseer. Both Montague and Balcombe, we have already said, were proteges of the old gentleman, and resided atone period in his family. Both were enamored of Mary, who was “beautiful and intelligent — gay, sprightly and impassioned,” and imbued with the spirit of romance. She, however, loved only Montagne, and seeing the necessity of arming Balcombe against himself, frankly told him of her pre-engaged affections. The lover thus rejected, became the friend and confidant. At first, Montague would have been glad to have made Mary his wife; but as his circumstances improved, he discovered that Scott was even poorer than he had supposed, and his selfish heart grew chill at the supposition. A certain elderly maiden too, of wealth, was said to look kindly on him. His visits to Mary, therefore, grew less frequent. In one of them, Balcombe was witness to a circumstance which led him to suspect dishonorable intentions. Suspicion, unfortunately, was not all; it appears that the intentions were accomplished. Balcombe sought a private interview with the villain.

“Montague,” said I, “do you love Mary Scott?”

He hesitated, muttering something about the strangeness of the question.

“Understand him, sir,” said I, “I do not ask your confidence. I would not accept it. I demand to know the fact, for my own purposes, and to be used at my own discretion. Mark me. I do not ask whether you profess to love her. I know that you do. I have that from her own lips. I demand to know whether you do love her in very truth.”

“Oh!” said he, in the mildest tone, “if she has made you her confidant, I have no need to be secret. Therefore I acknowledge to you that I do love her with all my heart.”

“Why, then,” said I, “do you not marry her?”

He paused again.

“Speak on,” said I, “and speak out.”

“Why, really, Mr. Balcombe, I do not understand this peremptory tone.”

“You understand it well,” said I, “and you understand perfectly that I will have an answer. I want it for my own purpose, again, and to be used at my own discretion. Answer you shall. Truly or falsely, is your own concern. I hardly expect the truth, and do not care to have it. But I will know on what footing you place this thing.”

“Well!” said he, “you know I have a will of old Mr. Raby’s in my hands, in which I am handsomely provided for by a bequest of valuable lands. I am, therefore, careful not to offend him; and I have reason to believe this marriage would not be agreeable to him. Poor as I am, he would regard it as a duty I owe my ancestors, not to ally myself to his overseer.”

“And is this,” said I, “the reason you assign to her for your delay to claim her hand?”

“It is.”

“Then you have told her what is false.”

“How can you say that?” said he. “I wrote the will. You never read it.” [column 2:]

“That is true,” said I, “but I witnessed it.”

“What of that?”

“Why, this, sir. It is witnessed only by us two. What can you claim under it by your own testimony? Would you, the wary, the crafty, the selfish, rapacious Edward Montague, have been content to have a will of lands, under which you expect to claim, so witnessed? Shame upon you, sir. Would you palm such a bare-faced lie on me, as well as on that poor, confiding, generous, true-hearted girl? I will undeceive her instantly.”

I shall never forget the grim smile in which something like triumph seemed struggling to free itself from the mire of degradation into which 1 was trampling him.

“You will use your own pleasure about that,” said he. “I mean to marry her when circumstances will permit. Before that I cannot.”

“Marry her you never shall,” said I.

“Will you take her off my hands?” said he, with the same incomprehensible smile. I sprung at him, I know not why. But he darted through the door, and jerked it after him. I did not pursue him.

Balcombe now sought Mary, and found her in tears. Still unsuspecting the whole truth, he revealed to her the deception practised upon her by Montague, and concluded with an offer of his own hand. Made sensible now of the value of Balcombe’s affection, and alive to all the villainy of Montague, she divulges, in the first moment of her despair, the secret of her seduction Balcomb’e reluctantly abandons her, and departs to the west. Scott did not long survive the ruin of his daughter’s peace, and Mary, with her mother and little brother, was obliged to seek another home. Here, after the lapse of some time, Montague was seen to renew the visits which had been discontinued since the period of his interview with Balcombe. No one else visited the house — but from being steeped in poverty, the little family seemed rising above pecuniary trouble. This mystery is explained in a subsequent part of the first volume, when, shortly after the rencontre in the prairie, James, the brother of Mary, brings a letter from her to Balcombe in Missouri.

She writes that, after the departure of B. and the death of old Mr. Scott, Montague sought to renew his visits — that she refused to see him, and urged her mother to order him from the house — that Mrs. Scott was overcome, however, by his protestations, and pressed her to meet him — that, without undeceiving Mrs. S., she was unable to carry her opposition farther, and that finally, she consented. In a private interview he stated that Balcombe had misunderstood him, in supposing him to speak of lands, as the property bequeathed, and that no explanation had been offered before because he (Montague) had been forbidden the house by her father. He came now, he said, to offer reparation and marriage. She rejected the offer with scorn — and he left her, after taking measures for the comfort of Mrs. Scott, and the education of little James.

Old Mr. Raby now died, and Mary saw nothing of Montague for two months. She heard from him, indeed, and, though he did not express himself distinctly, she inferred from what he wrote that he had not been disappointed in the will. At length he called to see her, accompanying the English devisee, and requested again a private interview. She remarked a great attraction in his manner, for it was about this time that he joined the church. He professed deep contrition for his wrong to Mary — again offered marriage — offered every service in his power, and, being rejected in all offers, wound up by requesting a favor. He placed in her hand a packet as large as a dozen newspapers, and well secured with twine and seals. This he asked her to keep, and she promised to do so. He begged her to promise farther that no eye should see the contents of the packet. She did so. He mused awhile, and then added, “It is of great importance to me that that packet should never see the light.” “Then why not destroy it?” said Mary. “I don’t wish to destroy it,” said he, “it may be of some importance hereafter. Put it away.” She took it to her room and looked it up. On her return, he rose to take leave, but paused at the door, and said, hesitatingly, “Perhaps you had better destroy that packet.” She replied, “I will do so.” He paused again, and said, “No! — maybe better not.” “As you please,” she returned, “which shall I do?” “I really do not know,” he said, after a thoughtful pause. “Do as you will with it. If it is in your way, throw it into the fire. If not, keep it until I call for it.” He now departed, and Mary, doubting him much, determined to preserve the packet. It will be seen that the conduct of Montague in this matter was such as Balcombe had suspected, and that it enabled the conscientious rogue to swear, when summoned upon the probate, that he “could not tell what had become of the will.”

Mary did not see him again for some months, and he then endeavored to get possession of the packet — first by asking for it as a matter of course — and, upon being refused, by force. He was foiled, however, in his attempt — and left the country with precipitation, after stopping the pension of Mrs. Scott. It was probable that he thought no new provocation could make matters worse. Mary proceeds, in her letter, to inform Balcombe, that thirteen years of seclusion having rendered her totally ignorant of what was going on in the world, and having no one to advise with, she had no means of conjecturing the nature of the mysterious packet. It was obvious to her, however, that its possession or destruction was an object eagerly sought by Montague, and, she doubted not, for some villainous end. Although willing to bear her own lot without murmuring, she felt it her duty to alleviate, if possible, the want she had entailed upon her mother and brother. This, her knowledge of Montague’s earnest desire for the packet, would enable her to accomplish — and she felt no scruple in using such means. We give her plan in her own words.

I have just learned where he is by means of a gentleman, who, for some purpose of his own, has been endeavoring to find him out. About the same time I ascertained by mere chance, that you, my only friend, were in the same part of the country. The coincidence seemed to point out the course 1 should pursue. I would gladly have your counsel, and have determined to secure to myself all the benefits of it by doing nothing that you do not approve. I have accordingly directed

James to find you out, and hand you this letter. He carries one also to Montague, which contains a demand of a suitable provision for my poor mother, and of such aid as may enable James to resume his studies, and qualify himself for a profession. Is this exacting too much? Of that I constitute you sole judge. If you disapprove the measure altogether, send James back as he goes. If you approve it, then I must ask that your [page 53:] justice and honor may preside over what is done. Your knowledge of the past, and of Montague’s present condition, will make you the best judge of what it is suitable he should do. In making this demand, I do not propose to continue to hold the rod over him. It might seem too much like retaining the means of future and indefinite exaction. I have accordingly placed in James’ hands a second communication, the receipt of which will enable Montague to recover the packet. This last will be delivered when you direct it, and not before; and I have to ask that you will direct it when that which is right in your judgement that Montague should do, is done, or so promised as to secure performance . . . Do I then ask too much when I beg that you will yourself see Montague, and hand him the first letter, which James will give you; and that, when he shall have done what is right, you will direct James to deliver to him the parcel with which he is charged. You will perceive to him the parcel with which he is charged. You will perceive that it is not my wish that this poor boy shall understand any think of what is done, lest by possibility he might come to the knowledge of what would drive him to acts of desperate revenge.

Montague having called upon Colonel Robinson, Balcombe father-in-law, with the view of purchasing land, he is there encountered by our hero and Balcombe. In a conversation dexterously introduced and sustained by the latter, the rogue is led to betray himself so egregiously that no farther doubts of his guilt are entertained, or of the surety of the grounds upon which the two friends have to proceed. Keizer is engaged to prevent, by force, if necessary, his departure from the neighborhood — but this is not attempted, and Balcombe and James obtain another interview with him in the woods near a camp meeting. The letter from Mary is handed him by James. It states that she had put the packet out of the reach of his violence, and in the hands of a third person, who would deliver it only on presentation of a certain token, together with the name of the depositary of the packet, was contained in the parcel in James’ possession. Upon reading this letter Montague declares himself ready to do and submit to whatever might be required, upon the condition specified — the receipt of the parcel. Balcombe demands an advance of a thousand dollars, and ten bonds for three hundred each, payable to James Scott at the end of each of ten successive years, with good security to each bond. To this, Montague, having no alternatives, agrees — promising to deliver the money and bonds, and receive the parcel from the hands of James Scott, at the same spot, on the following Saturday evening. His real design, however, is somewhat different. Having decoyed Balcombe and James to the rendezvous, he purposes with the aid of some of his agents, to get possession of the parcel by force, before paying the money; and afterwards with a view of preventing discovery, to carry our friends across the Missouri, and leave them to perish in the wilderness. This design is easily anticipated by Balcombe, who converts it ingeniously to his own advantage. Had he possession of the token handed to James by Mary, it is clear that nothing further would be necessary in order to obtain the missing will. But James has been especially directed to deliver the parcel into no hands but those of Montague — and his scruples are not to be overcome. Neither can B. reconcile it with his conscience to pick James’ pockets while asleep. He determines, therefore, to let M. get possession of his object in the manner designed. This accomplished, he, Balcombe, will have acquired the right to retake it.

Keizer, the wily agent of Balcombe, is bound to that gentleman by many ties of gratitude. Of this Montague is unaware, and having frequently tampered with him in other cases wherein B. had no concern, does not hesitate to seek his assistance in the present scheme of villainy. This also B. has anticipated, and instructs Keizer not to refuse the rogue any service required — lest he might employ other agents.

 

In all this scheming, however, Balcombe is somewhat overreached. Montague discovers, by accident, the league between Keizer and B. — affects to have perfect confidence in the former and appoints as the spot of rendezvous where Balcombe is to be entrapped, a spot at some distance from the true scene of action. By these means Keizer is placed out of the way, and his interference in Balcombe’s favor prevented. It must be understood that (as expected) Montague, before his suspicions of Keizer were aroused, had engaged his services with those of a couple of his Indian friends, for the robbery and abduction of Scott and B., and Balcombe’s plan was to turn the villain’s false allies against himself. Coming, however, with James to the rendezvous, in full assurance that Keizer and the Indians were to be the agents employed against him, B. finds himself in the power of Montague and three unknown desperadoes. Montague, getting possession of the parcel, retires, while the rest of the party hurry off our two friends in the direction of the Missouri.

In the meantime, Keizer, with his Indians, having waited an undue time at the false rendezvous appointed him by Montague, comes at length to a suspicion of the true state of affairs, starts immediately in pursuit, and overtakes the enemy — in good season for a rescue. Two of the villains escape — the third, one Ramsay, is shot dead by an Indian and his body thrown by Keizer into the river.

The time having arrived for the return of Balcombe and Scott, Napier becomes uneasy, and disclosing the matter to Colonel Robinson, they proceed together to Montague’s residence — thinking there to meet with some clue for further proceedings. As they approach, the door opens, and in the darkness they can just see Montague enter. Watching him through a window they perceive him opening the identical parcel of which so much has been said. It contained a casket, and this again a broken ring and a scrap of paper. Napier taps familiarly at the door, and Montague opens it, after being seen to throw the casket hastily in a drawer. Napier approaches the drawer at once, and obtains possession of the treasure. The villain is entirely taken by surprise, and in his terror indicates the route of his agents, professing at the same time his innocence of all designs to commit murder. Taking him with them, the Colonel and Napier proceed to the river, and finding blood, with other similar traces, return home in despair, supposing Balcombe to have perished, when they are agreeably disappointed by his presence, with that of Scott and Keizer and the Indians — not forgetting Montague

The content of the casket are found to be a fragment of a gold ring, and a slip of paper with the words “Mammy Amy, the old housekeeper at Raby Hall.” Montague is dismissed with an injunction from Balcombe to be, forthcoming on the Monday ensuing — an injunction which it was supposed he would be unwilling, under the circumstances, to disobey. Here, however, Balcombe reckons without his host. Although Montague has not the broken ring, yet he has read the slip of paper, and may easily persuade Mammy Amy to deliver him the will. This idea now forces itself upon Balcombe — but too late — for the arch-rogue is already far on his way to Virginia. Lest Balcombe should pursue him, he has managed, by an ingeniously laid trail of circumstances, to bring about his arrest, with that of Scott and Keizer, on a charge of murdering Ramsay. This man it will be remembered, after being shot by one of the Indians, was thrown into the river by Keizer.

The accused party, however, after much difficulty, are admitted to bail, and Keizer starts for St. Louis in pursuit of the runaway — followed the next day by Napier. About half way between St. Charles and St. Louis, our hero encounters K. on his return, attended by a party of men, and with his feet tied together under the belly of his horse. Montague finding his steps dogged by K. in St. Louis, had obtained his arrest as a party to the murder. Napier enters into conversation with one of the company, who proves to be an attorney retained especially by Montague in support of the prosecution. The statement of N. puts this gentleman in possession of the true state of the case, and as Keizer had already been arrested and discharged on bail, he is set free, by means of a habeas corpus, at St. Charles. Montague, however, has effected his escape, and is fairly on his way to Virginia. Nothing is now left but to write to Mary Scott, and trust to the chance of the letter’s reaching her before his arrival.

In the meantime the trial comes on. This is the most interesting, portion of the book — and very different is it indeed from the caricature of judicial proceeding to be met with occasionally in the novels of the day. Fiction, thus admirably managed, has all the force and essential value of truth. And here we cannot bring ourselves to mar the vivid and most ingenious details by any attempt at a digest or paraphrase. Balcombe’s defence is beyond measure acute, and in every respect characteristic — the party are acquitted, however, mainly through the agency of Keizer, who, taking advantage of his bail, crosses the Missouri, and, travelling night and day in search of a material witness, arrives with him just in time for the decision.

Napier now departs for Virginia, accompanied by Balcombe and Keizer. At Cape Girardeau, the whole are arrested. This is done at Montague’s instance. The affidavit being shown, it proves to be a copy of that by means of which Keizer was arrested in a similar manner at St. Louis. Balcombe, however, having taken care to get a duly authenticated record of his acquittal, the villain’s efforts to delay the party are defeated, and they proceed. Just after leaving Wheeling, they are again subjected to danger through the machinations of their arch-enemy, who, on his way home, it appears, has bribed some ostlers, connected with the line of stages, to attack the one carrying our hero.

At length, reaching Craiganet in safety, Balcombe there finds a letter from Mary Scott, detailing events at home since the date of her former communication. The rapidity of Montague’s journey, it appears, defeated his own object. Suspicions were entertained of him on account of James’ non-appearance, and the silence of Balcombe. A few days after the former’s departure for Missouri, old Mrs. Scott died of a paralytic stroke; and, about the same time, Mammy Amy, the housekeeper, was taken ill at Raby Hall. Mary became her nurse, and also (at the request of Major Swann, the steward of the English Mr. Raby) assumed her duties as housekeeper. In this new vocation she continued, the old woman never recovering her activity. Matters were thus situated when Montague made his appearance at the Hall, and entering the old woman’s room, endeavored to obtain from her the packet. Mary suddenly presenting herself, however, the villain is betrayed by his confusion, and fails altogether in his design. He calls again the next day, and again the next, using every artifice to get the packet, and closing with an offer of marriage. Calling in Major Swann, as witness to this offer, Mary desires the hypocrite to repeat it in his presence. With this request, fairly caught, he complies — and having done so, is rejected with disdain. The advantage hereby derived to Mary is of much importance to herself. It entitles her to full credence in the history of her wrongs; and having given this history in full to her kind friends, the Major and his wife, she is received and cherished by them with more than parental affection. The next day Montague again appears, and with a bold face, demanding, in the name of the law, his property of Major Swann, and speaking of a search-warrant. To this the Major replies, that he himself, being a justice of the peace, will furnish him with the necessary authority, upon his calling in the morning. Montague takes the hint, and disappears. In the meantime, Mary receives the letter from Balcombe, and is put au fait in regard to the nature of the packet, and Montague’s anxiety respecting it. She, at first, thought to hand the letter and packet to Major Swann; but it occurred to her that, by so doing, she might place him in a delicate situation, between his duty to his employer, and his duty as a man. She resolved, therefore, to let things talk their course, but at the same time to use effectual measures to keep the packet from falling into Montague’s hands. We here quote a passage of much interest. Mary, it will be remembered, is writing to Balcombe.

Before I gave it to Mammy Amy, I had put it into a small toy trunk, which I locked, keeping the key myself. Near the hearth was a place where a hole had been burned in the floor, and here a short plank had been laid down. This was loose. I took it up, put down the trunk, and, with the broom handle, pushed it away to the wall. I had taken the precaution to tie a bit of tape to the handle, the end of which I left in reach, but too far under to be seen without stooping low, and putting the face to the hole. I did this while my nurse was out, so that I alone knew where it was. Having thus completed my arrangements, I patiently awaited the approach of the enemy. About noon Montague arrived. The constable was already there. Montague was a long time closeted with the Major, I supposed engaged in coining a suitable affidavit. At length they all came together to my room. The kind old gentleman apologized with the utmost courtesy and deference to my feelings, for what he was about to do, and handed me Montague’s affidavit. This testified, that six years ago he lad left at my mother’s [page 54:] a packet, which be described by external marks and seals; that he had reason to believe, and did believe, that I had got possession of it, and that it was secreted somewhere in the house. The search was now commenced, and every corner of the room w as ransacked. Montague took little part in it, but kept his eyes on me, and pointed out suspected places. I became at last impatient of his insolent gaze; I felt my spirit rise, and was conscious of that flash of the eye before which his always quails, even when he sees it in the face of a woman. I now kept my eye on him, and his avoided it, though he occasionally stole a furtive glance. At length, walking across the floor, he felt the loose plank move under his feet. He stooped and raised it. I felt my courage give way; and as he lifted himself up after his short and fruitless search, our eyes met, and I was conscious that mine had blenched. I felt that thick throbbing of the heart which always displays itself in the countenance, and again stole a look at him to see if, he had observed me. He had replaced the plank, and looked on the protracted search with less apparent interest than before. I saw, indeed, that he was weary of its continuance, and he soon expressed himself satisfied. They now left the room — Montague last of. There is no fastening to the door but a large bar, inconveniently heavy, and a slight latch. This caught as he closed the door after him and I was once more alone. I listened a moment, and heard the trampling of many feet, and the sound of many voices die away along the passage. My uneasiness now took its natural course. I ran to the hole and lifted the plank. At the moment the door opened, and Montague reappeared. The sagacity of the cunning wretch had taught him to expect what I would do under the influence of my alarmed and excited feelings. He had stopped at the door while the rest went on, and came in suddenly, as soon as he had allowed time for nature to do her work. He now sprang forward, while I, powerless with alarm, sank into a chair. He stooped down, and looked eagerly along the dark hole, and finally, groping, got hold of the end of the string. He drew it out, and I heard the little trunk come grating along over the laths below. I screamed, and sprang to him. He pushed me back, drew out the trunk, crushed it with his heel, and, seizing the packet, flung it into the fire.

It was a mild October day, and there was just so much fire as an old sworn needs to comfort her rheumatic limbs. I rushed to it to rescue the packet. He seized and held me back, and I struggled, still screaming. The Major, who had missed Montague, and was returning to look for him, alarmed at my cries, hurried back. As soon as I saw him, I exclaimed, “ In the fire — in the fire!” He understood me, and approached the hearth. Montague flung me across the room to my bed, on which I fell half insensible. But I saw Montague rudely seize the Major around the waist, and jerk him back, when, at the moment, Charles, my foster brother, entered. He darted at Montague, and, with one blow of his fist, felled him to the floor. The Major, disengaged, rescued the package from the fire, where its surface only was scorched, and turned to confront Montague, who slowly recovered his feet.

Here Montague’s over-eagerness has again thwarted him. The only result of throwing the packet in the fire is, that the seals and other external marks of identification, sworn to in the affidavit, are melted and burned off. The Major offers, however, to deliver it up upon M’s. identifying the contents. This, of course, the rogue declines, and the packet remains in the Major’s possession, who declares his intention of resigning it, unopened, to the first person who shall show a just claim to it. The scene ends by Montague’s being ordered to quit the premises. Shortly afterwards he attempts to fire the house, but fails, and in escaping, receives a shot through the shoulder.

But the difficulties touching the will are not yet altogether ended. The case is laid before an attorney. As there was no doubt of the result, if the papers could be secured, he determined to take such a course as would at once put them safely into the custody of the law. A bill is drafted, to which Mr. Edward Raby in England is made defendant, setting forth the whole transaction. Major Swann is also made defendant, charged with the possession of the will, and called on to produce it. As anticipated, he disclaims the possession of any such paper, and files the packet with his answer. It is necessary that the papers shall reach the court (at Fredericksburg) without having ever been in possession of Mr. Napier and they are accordingly given in charge of James. Mr. Napier, Balcombe, and Keiser accompany him. On the road, a short distance from Fredericksburg, the party are attacked by Montague, with some of his agents, and in the struggle which ensues, M. is killed by the hand of James, who, having accidentally discovered the secret of his sister’s wrong, has been long burning for revenge. In conclusion — through the instrumentatilty of Keizer, our friends are saved a world of legal trouble, and Mr. Napier’s claims to a large inheritance are finally established.

Thus is given — and given very scantily — only the general thread of the narrative — which is really crowded with incident. We have spoken of no love adventures of our hero — but it must not be supposed that he is therefore without them. They are omitted because altogether episodical — yet they form some of the most truly interesting portions of the book, and certainly the most original. In lieu of speaking farther on this head we copy a passage of rare beauty and full of a rich and meaning philosophy. Napier loves his cousin Ann, with whom his days of childhood and boyhood were spent in unreserved communion. He has reason to think himself beloved — but friends have their own plans to arrange, and a misunderstanding of each other’s true feeling, arises between the lovers. Ann thus allows herself to be plighted to another, thinking the heart of her cousin pre-occupied. Things thus situated, N. as the protector and friend of Ann, speaks to her of her contemplated marriage. The passage we cite occurs in a conversation between Balcombe and Napier. The latter is confided to B. the secret of his love.

“And what answer will you give?” I said.

She hesitated, changed color, trembled, and seemed to restrain her tears with great difficulty. I continued.

“Ann, dear Ann! if you knew how deep an interest I take in this question, you would not withhold the answer. Our lives from infancy have been spent together; each, as it were, a part of the other, ‘like twin cherries growing on one stalk,’ and shall we separate now?”

I saw her bite her lip, and her cheek flushed a little, while her countenance assumed an expression of slight indignation.

“Would you urge me then,” said she, “to accept the hand of Howard?”

“To accept Howard’s hand!” exclaimed I, “to place any man on earth between you and me! Oh, Ann, who can be dearer to you than I have been? And how can I endure that any other should ever occupy that place in your heart where I have lived so long; where all I know, all I can imagine of earthly bliss is centred?”

The fervor of my manner, I suppose, more than my words, made her at length perceive any meaning. She started, drew back, and gazed at me with a countenance in which amazement and grief contended for the mastery. The later presently prevailed, and exclaiming, “Oh William, this from you! “ the sluices of her heart seemed to open all at once; and with a look and air of utter desolation and self-abandonment, she threw her face on the arm of the sofa and dissolved in a flood of tears. I was inexpressibly shocked and amazed. I tried to soothe her, but in vain. She wept on, speechless from sobbing, until exhausted, she sank down on the sofa, and I saw by her white lip and glazing eye that she had fainted. I screamed for help, and she was carried to her room. I saw her no more that evening. The next morning my sister Jane handed me this note.

“What I would have said yesterday, William, could I have found utterance, I say now. My astonishment and grief at the ungenerous conduct of one I had deemed faultless; at receiving insult from my only protector, and wrong from one whose whole life had been one act of kindness, need not be expressed in words. But I owe it to myself and all concerned, to insist that the subject of yesterday’s conversation shall never be resumed. I will try to forget it, and deport myself towards you as if that conversation had never taken place. Help me, dear William, to forget that you have ever for a moment thought of being any thing but a brother to A.N.”

“There is surely some strange misunderstanding here,” said I. “Can I see her?”

“Not at this moment, certainly, for she keeps her bed to day. But 1 will know whether she thinks it right to afford you another interview, when she can sit up.

To afford me another interview! “ said I. “This is indeed strange. Doubtful whether it be right that I should have an interview with one with whom my whole life has been spent as with a sister!”’

“A sister, William! “ said Jane. “You forget that your strange words, yesterday, have put an end to that relation. But I will let her know of your wish”

She left me, and soon returned with this pencilled paper.

“To what purpose, William, offer explanation of what could not be misunderstood? To what purpose resume, a subject on which, after all that is passed, I cannot listen with propriety, nor you speak without offence? No William, that subject must never be named between us again. You are soon to go on a distant journey; and I tell you distinctly that nothing but a solemn promise not to renew it, shall induce me to leave my room till you are gone. Don’t force me to this, dear William. It would grieve me to have my earliest and dearest friend part from me without receiving a farewell, which may be the last.”

“Saw you ever any thing like that?” said I, as Balcombe sat gazing at the paper with a musing and abstracted countenance.’Dear William!’ ‘Her earliest and dearest friend!’ Are not those words there? Was ever any thing more affectionate, more tender? It had been just so all the time. And when she left her room (for of course I gave the promise) it was still the same. She was pale and sad, and I saw that she felt for me. In all things else her manner was the same as in the days of our most cordial intimacy. She had kept her room some days, and I was dreading the embarrassment of our first meeting. But she dispelled it all. She met me, indeed, with a slight tremor; I saw her lips quiver, but her eye was steady, and dwelt upon my face with an expression of holy and confiding affection. She walked directly up to me, put her arms about my neck, and kissed me as she had always done on like occasions. Her manner was graver and more tender; that was all the difference. She rested her cheek, too, a moment on my bosom, and murmured, ‘Thank you, dear William, thank you for your promise.’ “

“Was no one present?” said Balcombe.

“Oh yes! Jane accompanied her into the room; but that very evening she took my arm and said. ‘Come, let, me show you my confidence in your word. Come, take a walk with me.’ “

“And did you go alone?”’

“Yes; Jane moved as if to go with us, but Ann stopped her.”

“And what did you talk about?”

“Of old times; of the scenes and sports of infancy and early youth; of blended thoughts; of mingled feelings; of united hearts. She led the way herself. I could but listen to the soft tones of her voice, as she poured forth her feelings in language which showed how much her heart delighted in such recollections. ‘Dear, dear William,’ she said in conclusion, ‘my own and only brother, let it be always thus.’ You may believe that my heart responded to the wish. But is it not strange that while she was thus uttering words that condemned me to despari, I was supremely happy? It was no ordinary pleasure; it was a delirium of bliss. I felt as she seemed to feel at the moment, as if all my heart had ever coveted was mine. I responded to her sentiments in a like tone of chastened arid refined tenderness; our hearts overflowed in the contemplation and actual fruition of this new scheme of happiness; we revelled in all the luxury of perfect sympathy and unbounded confidence; we seemed to have found a source of enjoyment too delicate to pall, too abounding ever to fail; our spirits rose as we quaffed the nectared flow of thoughts, and sentiments, and feelings, all congenial; and we returned to the house with faces glowing with affection and happiness. Is it not strange? How can it be that this, the paramount desire of my heart by which I know that I love her, should be reciprocated by her without a corresponding sentiment?”

“If your metaphysics can find an answer to that question,” said Balcombe, “I will consent that you shall believe that she does not love you. As it is, I have no doubt that her union with any other man would be more fatal to her than to you. But I see nothing unaccountable in what you tell me. Love, disguise it as you will, is the food that satisfies the heart of love; and that her conduct was the fruit of one of those strong delusions, with which love alone can cheat us, I have no doubt. I know something, William, of the joys of mutual passion; but never have I experienced, nor can I conceive, a scene of more thrilling rapture than you have described. Such things cannot last, indeed; but then what can? Illusions are dispelled, but realities perish.”

The misunderstanding is finally rectified, through the agency of Balcombe, and the cousins are married. Besides this love affair, there are no passages of an episodical nature — unless we choose to speak of Balcombe’s account of a skirmish with Indians — a duel scene between Balcombe and Howard, Ann’s rejected lover — an anecdote relating to Colonel Boon, the backwoodsman — and a vividly drawn picture of a camp-meeting. This later we will be pardoned for giving entire.

In the bosom of a vast forest, a piece of ground nearly an acre in extent, and in form almost a square, was enclosed on three sides by a sort of shed, sloping outward, and boarded up on the outside. This was divided into something like stalls, separated from each other, and closed in front by counterpanes, blankets and sheets, disposed as curtains. Some of these were thrown up, and within we saw coarse tables, stools, and preparations for eating and sleeping, such as piles of straw, beds tied up in bundles with bed-clothes, knives and forks, plates, porringers and platters, loaves of bread, skimmed-milk cheeses, jirked meat, hams, tongues, and cold fowls. Children and dogs were nestling in the straw, and mothers sat on stools, nursing their infants. The whole centre of the area was occupied by hewn logs, placed in extended parallel lines, with the ends resting on other transverse logs, so as to form rows of rude benches. On these were seated a promiscuous multitude, of every age, sex, condition, and hue, crowded densely towards the front, and gradually thinning in the rear, where some seats were nearly vacant, or partially occupied by lounging youngsters, chatting, smoking, and giggling, and displaying, both in dress and manner, a disposition to ape the foppery and impertinence of fashion. Of this, indeed, they saw so little in these remote wilds, that the imitation was of course awkward, but none the less unequivocal.

At the open end of the area was the stand, as it is called. This was formed by raising a pen of logs to a convenient height, over which a platform of loose planks was laid, surmounted by a shelter to keep off the sun and rain. The platform was large enough for a dozen chairs, occupied by as many preachers. It was surrounded by a strong enclosure, about twenty yards square, over the whole of which a deep bed of straw was laid. This, as I understood, was intended to save the bones of those who might be unable to keep their feet, under the eloquence of the preacher, the workings of conscience, the conviction of sin, or the delirious raptures of new-born hope.

The preachers were, for the most part, men whose dress and air bespoke a low origin and narrow circumstances. Conspicuous among them was a stout old man, whose ray hair and compressed lips, ensconced between a long nose and hooked chin, would hardly have escaped observation under any circumstances. He alone was on his feet, and moved about the platform with noiseless step, speaking in whispers to one or another of the preachers. At length he took his seat, and the officiating minister rose. He was a tall, slender youth, whose stripling figure lost nothing of its appearance of immaturity by being dressed in clothes which he had obviously outgrown. The bony length of naked wrist and ankle set off to the best advantage his broad hands and splay feet, the heels of which were turned out, as lie moved forward to his place in front of the platform. His nearly beardless face was embrowned by the sun, his features were diminutive, and only distinguished by a fill round forehead, and a hazel eye, clear, black, and imaginative. He gave out a hymn, which was sung, and then offered up a prayer, which, though apparently meant to pass for extemporaneous, was obviously spoken from memory, and made up, for the most part, of certain forms of speech, taken from all the prayers and all the creeds that have ever been published, and arranged to suit the taste of the speaker, and the peculiar doctrines of his sect. Then came another hymn, and then the sermon. It was a doctrinal essay, a good deal after the manner of a trial sermon, in which not a little acuteness was displayed. But the voice vas untrained, the language ungrammatical, the style awkward, and the pronunciation barbarous. The thing went off heavily, but left on my mind a very favorable impression of the latent powers of the speaker. But he was not (to use the slang of the theatre) “a star.” He was heard with decorous, but drowsy attention, and took his seat without having excited a shout or a groan. I could not help suspecting that the poor young fellow, being put forward as a foil for some popular disclaimer, had had his discourse pruned of all exuberance of language or fancy, and reduced to a mere hortus siccus of theological doctrine. A closing prayer by an old minister, in which the effort of the “young brother” was complimented with a patronizing air, was followed by another hymn, and the temporary dispersion of the assembly.

Now came the turn of the old minister I first described. The audience had been wearied with a discourse not at all to their taste. They were now refreshed and eager for some stimulus to help digestion. At first I thought they would be disappointed; for he talked for a long time in a dull prosing way, about himself and the church; and was listened to with an air which led me to conclude that he had established a sort of understanding with his hearers, that whatever he might say must be worth hearing, and taken with thankfulness. At length, however, he seemed to warm by slow degrees. His voice became lender, his utterance more rapid, his gestures more earnest; and an occasional groan from the crowd bespoke their awaking sympathy. Presently he began to catch his breath, to rant and rave and foam at the mouth, and to give all the conventional tokens of enthusiasm and eloquence. The signals were duly answered by the groans, the sobs, the cries, the shouts, the yells of the multitude. Some sprang to their feet and clapped their hands; some grasped the hands of others with smiles and tears of sympathy and mutual gratulation some fell down and were hoisted over into the pen, where they lay tossing among the straw, and uttering the most appalling shrieks. The discourse was abruptly closed; and several of the preachers came down into the enclosure, and, kneeling among the prostrate penitents, poured forth prayer after prayer, and shouted hymn after hymn, in which the whole audience joined in one wild burst of discord broken down into harmony by the very clashing of jarring sounds. The sun went down on this tumultuous scene.

Of the dramatis personæ we will speak in brief. Elizabeth, the shrinking and matronly wife of Balcombe, rising suddenly into the heroine in the hour of her husband’s peril, (we have not mentioned her in our outline) as a painting, is admirable — as a portrait, appears to want individuality. She is an exquisite specimen of her class, but her class is somewhat hacknied. Of Jane, Napier’s sister, (neither have we yet alluded to her) it is sufficient now to say that she is true to herself. Upon attentively considering the character of Mary Scott, who holds the most prominent female part in the drama, it will be perceived that, although deeply interesting, it cannot be regarded as in any degree original, and that she owes her influence upon the mind of the reader mainly to the incidents with which she is enveloped. There are some most effective touches, however, in her delineation. Of Ann we have already spoken. She is our favorite, and we doubt not the favorite of the author. Her nature is barely sketched; but the sketch betrays in the artist a creative vigor of no ordinary kind. Upon the whole, no American novelist has succeeded, we think, in female character, even nearly so well as the writer of George Balcombe.

Napier himself is, as usual with most professed heroes, a mere non-entity. James is sufficiently natural. Major Swann, although only done in outline, gives a fine idea of a decayed Virginia gentleman. Charles, a negro, old Amy’s son, is drawn roughly, but to the life. Balcombe, frank, ardent, philosophical, chivalrous, sagacions — and, above all, glorying in the exercise of his sagacity — is a conception which might possibly have been entertained, but certainly could not have been executed, by a mind many degrees dissimilar from that of Balcombe himself, as depicted. Of Keizer, a character evidently much dwelt upon, and greatly labored out by the author, we have but one observation to make. It will strike every reader, not at first, but upon reflection, that George Balcombe, in John Keizer’s circumstances, would have been precisely John Keizer. We find the same traits modified throughout — yet the worldly difference forms a distinction sufficiently marked for the purposes of the novelist. Lastly, Montague, with his low cunning, his arch-hypocrisy, his malignancy, his quibbling superstition, his moral courage and physical pusillanimity, is a character to be met with every day, and to be recognized at a glance. Nothing was ever more minutely, more forcibly, or more thoroughly painted. He is not original of course; nor must we forget that were he so, he would, necessarily, be untrue, in some measure, to nature. But we mean to say that the merit here is solely that of observation and fidelity. Original characters, so called, can only be critically praised as such, either when presenting qualities known in real life, but never before depicted, (a combination nearly impossible) or when presenting qualities (moral, or physical, or both) which, although unknown, or even known to be hypothetical, are so skilfully adapted to the circumstances which surround them, that our sense of fitness is not offended, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why those things might not have been, which we are still satisfied are not. The latter species of originality appertains to the loftier regions of the Ideal.

Very few objections can be urged to the style of George Balcombe. The general manner is that of a scholar and gentleman in the best sense of both terms — bold, vigorous, and rich — abrupt rather than diffuse and not over scrupulous in the use of energetic vulgarisms. With the mere English, some occasional and trivial faults may be found. Perhaps it would have been better to avoid such pure technicalities as “anastomozing.” Of faulty construction, we might, without trouble, pick out a few instances. For example. “Returning, to dinner, a note was handed to the old gentleman, which he read and gave to Balcombe.” Here it is the note which returns to dinner. “Upon his return to dinner,” or something of that kind, would have rendered the sentence less equivocal. Again — “My situation is any thing but pleasant, and so impatient of it am I that I trust I do not break faith with my client when I hint to you that Mr. Balcombe will have more need of the aid of counsel than he is aware of.” The meaning here is, “I am so impatient of my situation that I even warn you of Balcombe’s great danger, and advise you to seek counsel for him. In so doing I trust I am not breaking faith with my client.” The original sentence implies, however, that the consequence of the speaker’s impatience was the speaker’s trusting that lie would not break faith — whereas the advice was the consequence. The trust cannot in any manner be embodied with the sentence, and must be placed in a separate one, as we have placed it.

For the occasional philosophy of Balcombe himself, we must not, of course, hold the author responsible. It might now and then be more exact. For example. “I am not sure that we do not purchase all our good qualities by the exercise of their opposites. How else does experience of danger make men brave? If they were not scared at first, then they were brave at first.

If they were scared, then the effect of fear upon the mind has been to engender courage.” As much, perhaps, as the effect of truth is to engender error, or of black paint to render a canvass white. All our good qualities purchased by the exercise of their opposites! Generalize this dogma, and we have, at once, Virtue derivable from vice. In the particular instance here urged — that courage is engendered by fear — the quibble lies in shifting the question from “danger’” to “fear,” and using the two ideas as identical. But “danger” is no more “fear,” than age is wisdom, than a turnip-seed is a turnip, or than any other cause is its own usual effect. In proportion, we grant, to the frequency of our “experience of danger,” is our callousness to its usual effect, which is fear. But when, following Mr. Balcombe to the finale of his argument, we say that the effect of the frequent “experience of fear,” upon the mind is to engender courage, we are merely uttering the silly paradox that we fear less in proportion as we fear more.

And again. “Value depends on demand and supply. So say the political economists, and I suppose they are right in all things but one. When truth and honor abound, they are most prized. They depreciate as they become rare.” Now truth and honor form no exceptions to the rule of economy, that value depends upon demand and supply. The simple meaning of this rule is, that when the demand for a commodity is great, and the supply small, the value of the commodity is heightened, and the converse. Apply this to truth and honor. Let them be in demand — in esteem — and let the supply be small — that is, let there be few men true and honest; then truth and honor, as cotton and tobacco, rise in value — and, vice-versa, they fall. Mr. Balcombe’s error is based upon the pre-supposition, (although this pre-supposition does not appear upon the face of his statement) that all who esteem truth and honor, are necessarily true and honest. To sustain the parallel, then, he should be prepared to admit the absurdity that the demanders of cotton and tobacco are necessarily stocked with cotton and tobacco. Let, however, the full extent of the question be seen. Truth and honor, it is asserted, are most prized when they most abound. They would be prized most of all then were no contrary qualities existing. But it is clear that were all men true and honest, then truth and honor, beyond their intrinsic, would hold no higher value, than would wine in a Paradise where all the rivers were Johannisberger, and all the duck-ponds Vin de Margaux.

We have thus spoken at length of George Balcombe, because we are induced to regard it, upon the whole, as the best American novel. There have, been few books of its peculiar kind, we think, written in any country, much its superior. Its interest is intense from beginning to end. Talent of a lofty order is evinced in every page of it. Its most distinguishing features are invention, vigor, almost audacity, of thought — great variety of what the German critics term intrigue, and exceeding ingenuity and finish in the adaptation of its component parts. Nothing is wanting to a complete whole, and nothing is out of place, or out of time. Without being chargeable in the least degree with imitation, the novel bears a strong family resemblance to the Caleb Williams of Godwin. Thinking thus highly of George Balcombe, we still do not wish to be understood as rating it with the more brilliant fictions of some of the living novelists of Great Britain.

In regard to the authorship of the book, some little conversation has occurred, and the matter is still considered a secret. But why so? — or rather, how so? The mind of the chief personage of the story, is the transcript of a mind familiar to us — an unintentional transcript, let us grant; but still one not to be mistaken. George Balcombe thinks, speaks, and acts, as no person, we are convinced, but Judge Beverly Tucker, ever precisely thought, spoke, or acted before.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1837] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Critical Notices (January 1837)