Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Swiss Heiress, or the Bride of Destiny,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), 9:185-191


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[Southern Literary Messenger, October, 1836.]

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 [page 186:] 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 breached, 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 [page 187:] 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 [page 188:] 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, fore-knowledge, 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 début. 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 distingué 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 [page 189:] sentences, such as the following, for the short space of three hundred and ninety-six pages!

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We would proceed, but are positively out of patience with the gross stupidity of Mrs. Falkner, who cannot understand what the other ladies and gentlemen are talking about. Now we have no doubt whatever they are discoursing of “fate, foreknowledge, and free will.”

About chapter the fifteenth it appears that the Count Laniski is not the Count Laniski at all, but only Mr. Theodore Montelieu, and the son of that old rigmarole, Madam Montelieu, the housekeeper. It now appears, also, that even that Count Laniski whose appearance at Montargis Castle had such effect upon the nerves of our heroine, was not the Count Laniski at all, but only the same Mr. Theodore Montelieu[[,]] the same son of the same old rigmarole. The true Count, it seems, in his younger days, had as little partiality for the match ordained him by fate and the two fathers, as the very “Bride of Destiny” herself, and, being at college with Mr. Theodore Montelieu at the time appointed for his visit to Montargis Castle, had no scruple in allowing the latter gentleman to personate his Countship in the visit. By these means Mr. M. has an opportunity of seeing his mother, the old rigmarole, who is housekeeper, or something of that kind, at the Castle. The precious couple (that is to say the old rigmarole and her son) now get up a plot, by which it is determined that the son shall personate the Count to the end of the chapter, and so marry the heiress. It is with this end in view, that Mr. Theodore Montelieu is now playing Count at the residence of the Baron in Vermont. Mr. Frederick Mortimer, however, is sadly in his way, and torments the poor [page 190:] fellow grievously, by grinning at him, and sighing at him, and folding his arms at him, and looking at him asquint, and talking him to death about “fate and foreknowledge and free will.” At last Mr. Mortimer tells the gentleman flatly that he knows very well who he is, leaving it to be inferred that he also knows very well who he is not. Hereupon Mr. Theodore Montelieu calls Mr. Frederick Mortimer a liar, a big liar, or something to that effect, and challenges him to a fight, with a view of either blowing out his already small modicum of brains, or having the exceedingly few blown out, which he himself (Mr. Theodore Montelieu) possesses. Mr. Mortimer, however, being a hero, declines fighting, and contents himself, for the present, with looking mysterious.

It will now be seen that matters are coming to a crisis. Mr. Mortimer is obliged to go to Philadelphia; but, lest Mr. Montelieu should whisk off the heiress in his absence, he insists upon that gentleman bearing him company. Having reached, however, the city of brotherly love, the ingenious young man gives his keeper the slip, hurries back to Vermont, and gets everything ready for his wedding. Miss Montargis is very angry and talks about the inexplicable ring, fate, fore-knowledge and free will — but old Clermont, the Baron, and Mr. Montelieu, on the other hand, get in an absolute passion and talk about nothing less than the old Baron Rhcinswald and his “eternal curse.” The ceremony therefore proceeds, when just at the most proper moment, and all as it should be, in rushes — Mr. Frederick Mortimer! — It will be seen that he has come back from Philadelphia. He assures the company that the Count Laniski, (that is to say Mr. Theodore Montelieu,) is not the Count Laniski at all, [page 191:] but only Mr. Theodore Montelieu; and moreover, that he himself (Mr. Frederick Montimer) is not only Mr. Frederick Mortimer, but the bonâ fide Count Laniski into the bargain. And more than this, it is very clearly explained how Miss Laura Montargis is not by any means Miss Laura Montargis, but only the Baroness de Thionville, and how the Baroness de Thionville is the wife of the Baron de Thionville, and how, after all, the Baron de Thionville, is the Count Laniski, or else Mr. Frederick Mortimer, or else — that is to say — how Mr. Frederick Mortimer is n’t altogether the Count Laniski, but — but only the Baron de Thionville, or else the Baroness de Thionville — in short, how everybody concerned in the business is not precisely what he is, and is precisely what he is not. After this horrible development, if we recollect, all the dramatis personæ; faint outright, one after the other. The inquisitive reader may be assured, however, that the whole story ends judiciously, and just as it ought to do, and with a very excellent quotation from one of the very best of the “late writers.”

Humph! and this is the “Swiss Heiress,” to say nothing of the “Bride of Destiny.” However — it is a valuable “work” — and now, in the name of “fate, fore-knowledge and free will,” we solemnly consign it to the fire.





[S:1 - JAH09, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Swiss Heiress, or the Bride of Destiny)