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In 1810, Mrs. Grant removed to Edinburgh, which continued to be her residence during the remainder of her life. In 1811, she published her “ Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, with Translations from the Gaelic." The book is full of enthusiasm for the character of the Highlanders, among whom she had so long resided; and this enthusiasm was evidently a principal motive to its composition. In her last letter to Miss Lowell, (not received till after that lady's death,) she speaks, in reference to this intended publication, of the great reluctance which she had always felt to undergo the ordeal of the press. “I shall submit to it once more,” she adds, “because I have some things to tell the public that few know so well as myself, because few have attended to them so much.” 6. The subject,” she writes in a letter to Miss C. M. Fanshawe, "affords much latitude for excursion, which you may believe I have not used sparingly.”
The book contains facts worth preservation, and narratives well told, which are entertaining and curious. But the general speculations concerning the character of the Highlanders are not of equal value. The liberty of excursion has been used freely, and the work is not well digested. The author says, in one of a series of letters annexed to it : “ The great desideratum with me, in thought, word, and deed, is method." Her talents, indeed, did not lie in writing for the public. For this she wanted literary training; she wanted the requisite habits of mind, and especially the power of regarding herself as an individual personally unknown, addressing readers personally unknown to herself. Her strong good sense, her correct taste, her warm and disinterested feelings, her imagination, and her power of describing clearly and truly scenes and characters, appear to advantage only when she is pouring out her mind to her private friends. The public was probably never more out of the view of one who was so much before it. Though, if she had thought at all on the subject, she 'must have known that the letters which form the collection just published might very probably appear after her death, they exhibit no iraces of such a thought having dwelt upon her mind. She says, in a very long unpublished letter now lying before us : “I see what I lated, is highly honorable to both parties; and perhaps Miss Lowell's name should no longer be considered by any of her friends as too sacred for the praise of a stranger.
have written is all marked with the vehemence of strong emotion, carrying me rapidly along and producing endless repetition and inaccuracy. If I had time I would write it over again ; but that is impossible ; therefore you must spell and guess, and be very indulgent.” That her literary education was irregular and defective may appear from what has been already mentioned. In a letter to Miss C. M. Fanshawe, (dated 1st April, 1809,) she says :
“I am delighted with the pleasantry of your observations upon my defective orthography, - which can be the less excused, as it is a thing to be learned merely by a common degree of observation. But do you know that ihe first unshackled letter of my very own diction that I wrote in my life was that which begins the series of my printed correspondence; – this I have beside me, written in the most childish and unformed hand imaginable. I was taught to write, when a girl, in America, by a soldier in my father's regiment, who began life in the character of a gentleman, but, being an incorrigible sot, retained nothing but a fine hand to distinguish him from his fellows when he was chosen my teacher ; – this tutor of mine visited the black hole so often, that I got copies, — perhaps twenty, - at long intervals; when he was removed into another regiment. I was thus deprived of all instruction of this and of almost every other kind; but then it was intended to send me to a convent in Canada, where officers' daughters got some sort of superficial education. This was deferred from year to year, and then dropped, because we thought of coming home, where I was to learn every thing; but, by that time, I was grown very tall, very awkward, and so sensitive that a look disconcerted me, and I went to no school except that where dancing was taught, which I very soon left from the same miserable conscious awkwardness." Memoir and Correspondence, Vol. 1. pp. 210, 211.
Her letters, in the posthumous collection of them, may not seem fully to justify the remarks which have been made. But these letters have been, as we doubt not, subjected to that revision, which it is the duty of an editor to apply to the posthumous works of a friend. They have been improved by omissions and condensation. We infer this not merely from the difference in the mode of writing observable between them and her former printed works, but likewise from a comparison of them with the series of unpublished letters lying before us, extending from 1809 to 1821 ; and more particularly from comparing one which is published (To a Friend in America, May 22, 1816) with a manuscript copy of it. While, therefore, Mrs. Grant's posthumous letters give, as there can be no question, a faithful view of her intellect and heart, they do not exactly represent her style of writing.
At Edinburgh, Mrs. Grant was early associated with that brilliant literary society which then cast its splendor over the city. “Mr. Henry Mackenzie,” she says, " is one of our nearest neighbours." " Walter Scott and the formidable Jeffrey have both called on me, not by any means as a scribbling female, but on account of links formed by mutual friends."
Her " Letters from the Mountains” had to overcome the disadvantage, that she introduced us to persons in whom we had before felt no interest, and with whom she often made us but very imperfectly acquainted. The last collection of her letters is full of descriptions, anecdotes, and passages, relating to individuals of whom every one has heard; and, in bringing them before us, she writes with great vivacity, and evident marks of truth. Her good sense and her right and kind feelings are everywhere apparent.
In a letter written very shortly after fixing her residence in Edinburgh, she says :
“ Conversation in this Northern Athens is easy, animated, and, indeed, full of spirit and intelligence. Yet, though the feast of reason abounds, there is not so much of the flow of soul. ..... There are syllogisms and epigrams, and now and then pointed and brilliant sentences, and observations and reflections both acute and profound, but neither the heart nor imagination are much concerned. In those enlightened circles, there is much intelligence, and a degree of metaphysical subtilty in argument and disquisition, but little playfulness and less heart. People are too well bred, too well informed, and too well amused by the passing scene, to seek those resources in their imaginations, or io be hurried by those feelings, which occupy and delight the simple children of nature. By simplicity I do not mean ignorance, but being unspotted by the world. At the same time, I am greatly amused by these parties, and find them incomparably superior to the dull unvaried gossip of a country town; for here there is no detraction, and little personality.” - Memoir and Correspondence, Vol. 1. pp. 256, 257.
The assertion may seem strange, but we cannot help doubting whether such highly intellectual society is well adapted to discipline the higher powers of intellect, to strengthen the noblest principles, or to call forth the more generous affections. When the ambition to excel in such society takes strong hold of the mind, every thing is referred to a worldly standard. The lover of display in conversation must accommodate himself to the comprehensions and tastes of his audience. The laugh at generous sentiment, or natural feeling, or disinterested endeavour, will often be better relished than sympathy with it. A sarcasm is more piquant than approbation. All those feelings that relate to the higher interests of man, all those virtues which the world considers as humble, though God does not, all the more difficult virtues, that have their origin in the hard sufferings of life, all those high efforts in the cause of humanity, which demand sacrifices from bim who would serve his fellow-men, or may cause him to exhort others to make sacrifices, are to be kept out of view, as affording no topics of entertainment. The mention of them with any earnest and heart-felt praise would be almost as strange as if it occurred in the correspondence of Horace Walpole. Truth is far more likely to be sacrificed to wit, or to be lost sight of in the ardor of debate, than to secure a victory by the gladiatorial skill of accomplished conversers. A side may be taken, and maintained with the subtilty and eloquence of an accomplished advocate; but a subject will hardly be discussed with the wisdom of a philosopher. That conversational intercourse is, we imagine, more agreeable to an unperverted taste, and more improving, in which there is greater repose ; in which more of the natural character appears, and thoughts and feelings flow forth unstudied and without effort; which rises to high or falls to humble subjects, as occasion varies; which takes a wider view of the realities of life, and keeps our sympathies alive to all that should interest them; and in which truth is sought_for in companionship, and not in a combat with others. In such society as she has described, it was scarcely to be expected that Mrs. Grant's worth, and especially her intellectual powers, should be estimated at their true value. It somewhat resembled “the broad unnatural light” into which Thalaba entered,
“ That made the rose's blush of beauty pale,
And dimmed the rich geranium's purple blaze" ; and the wild flowers, however beautiful, which alone Mrs. Grant had yet collected and bound together, were not likely to attract particular notice and praise.
Yet the excellence of her character, and her widely
spread celebrity, secured her respect and kindness. Jeffrey became her friend ; and, in 1811, published a review of her writings. She relates in one of her letters, that, before its publication, he put it into her hands, expressing an opinion that he could « depend on her magnanimity”; and saying, that, as a reviewer, he considered himself - as entering the temple of truth and bound to say what he thought.” The review is considerate, and was meant to be obliging ; but at the same time contains passages that would have given offence to one whose sell-love was very sensitive. It produced, however, no ill-will on the part of Mrs. Grant. She tells her correspondent, in the letter in which it is mentioned, that Mr. Jeffrey, being about to journey into the Highlands, came to ask her for letters to her Highland friends. The only little trait of sub-acid feeling in Mrs. Grant breaks out on the occasion of this journey, in one of those touches of wit which are common in her letters : “ He came back perfectly delighted. I expected that, from the mere habit of carping, he would have criticized the mountains unmercifully.”
There is not much to object to the fairness of Jeffrey's criticism, so far as it goes; but perhaps there is some ground to complain of omission. It may illustrate the remarks before made in reference to the literary society of Edinburgh, that the reviewer does not bring into view what seems to us the peculiar characteristic of the “ Letters from the Mountains," on which their essential value depends. Whatever may be their literary deficiencies, they are a true picture of life, as life is to all but the highest and lowest classes in such an artificial state of society as exists in England. They exhibit its joys, its sorrows, its changes, and its diversities of character, — the realities, and not the outward show, of man's being in this world, - with such a constant, unaffected expression of the correct feelings and principles of the writer, as may make them, especially to the young, a very interesting and instructive moral lesson. We do not know any other series of letters of a similar kind. After a quotation from one of her letters, the review concludes thus:
“ This, to be sure, is not exactly the style of Madame du Def. fand; and yet there are very many people who will like it quite as well. And even those who would be most scandalized at the comparison must confess, that it indicates a far loftier, a far purer, and a far happier character, than that of the witty lady with whose it may be contrasted." - Edinburgh Review, Vol. XVIII., p. 510.