REMEMBERING the sensation which "East Lynne" created on its first appearance, the "cabal" of which Mrs. Wood assured the public that her second novel, "The Channmgs," was the victim, and the quiet "good" tone of "Mrs. Halliburton's Troubles," which needed no cabal to secure that story its place in the third class, we turned to "Verner's Pride" with some interest, to see what rank this latest production of the authoress was entitled to take. We think it may rise into the second class, as a novel above the average, to be read certainly by leisurely people who read novels as part of the business of life, but not to be taken in hand by those who can spare time only for really good novels—except for the Peckaby episode, which contains some rude fun.
Brother Jarrum is a missionary from the New Jerusalem, and comes to preach to the poor women and men of Deerham about the glories of the City of the Saints:—'Stars and snakes! there's ease and plenty there ; the houses have shady verandahs, and sweet shrubs a-creeping round 'em; every maid's a lady, and has her own parlour and bedroom; grapes and peaches are to be had for the plucking; there's a ball-room and a theatre, and lots of dancing—such a thing as old legs isn't known among 'em. Then there's ducks and turkeys, and oysters and fowls and fish, and meats, and custards, and pies, and potatoes, and greens, and jellies, and coffee, and tea, and drinks, and SO many more things, that you'd be tired of hearing the names.' But—
"What's the drinks?" inquired Jim Clark, the supper items imparting to his inside a curious feeling of emptiness:
"There's no lack of drinks in the City of the Saints," returned Brother Jarrum. "Whisky's plentiful. Have you heard of mint julep? That is delicious. Mint is one of the few productions not common out there, and we are learning to make the julep with sage instead, You should see the plains of sage I It grows wild."
"And there's ducks, you say?" observed Susan Peckaby. "It's convenient to have sage in plenty where there's ducks," added she to the assembly in general.
"What a land it must be!"
"A land that's not to be ekalled! A land flowing with milk and honey!" rapturously echoed Brother Jarrum. "Ducks is in plenty, and sage grows as thick as nettles do here; you can't go out to the open country but you put your foot upon it. Nature's generally in accordance with herself. What should she give all them bushes of wild sage for, unless she gave ducks to match?"
Then, as to the women's prospects, says Brother Jarrum,—
"Women is not married with us for time, but for eternity—as I tried to beat into you last night. Once the wife of a saint, their entrance into paradise is safe and certain. We have not got an old maid among us—not a single old maid!"
"No old maids, and no widders," continued Brother Jarrum, wiping his forehead, which was becoming moist with the heat of argument. "We have respect to our women, we have, and like to make 'em comfortable."
"But if their husbands die off?" suggested a puzzled listener.
"The husband's successor marries his widders." explained Brother Jarrum. "Look at our late head and prophet, Mr. Joe Smith,—him that appeared in the vision to our present prophet, and pointed out the spot for the new temple. He died a martyr, Mr. Joe Smith did—a prey to wicked murderers. Were his widders left to grieve and die out after him? No. Mr. Brigham Young, he succeeded to his honours, and he married the widders."
This oration is made in Peckaby's shop, and after a time Brother Jarrum starts with a select party of intended saints from Deerham; but, to Mrs. Peckaby's horror, she is left behind. Unknown to her, Peckaby, who is a mocker, and has to be reminded "of the forty-two as was eat up by bears when they mocked at Elisha," has had a private interview with the brother.
"I tolled Brother Jarrum, the very day afore the start took place, that if he took off my wife, I’d foller him on and beat every bone to smash as he'd got in his body," interposed Peckaby, glancing at Lionel'with a knowing smile. "I did, sir. Her was out"—jerking his black thumb at his wife—" and I caught Brother Jarrum in his own room and shut the door on us both, and there I tolled him. He knew I meant it, too: and he didn't like the look of an iron bar I happened to have in hand: I saw that. Other wives' husbands might do as they liked; but I wasn't a going to have mine deluded off by them Latter Day Saints."
However, comfort comes for poor Mrs. Peckaby; the brother sends her a special messenger to say that a higher mission is reserved for her, and she is to be convoyed to America "special, on a quadruple, which was a white donkey."
There's difficulties in the way of a animal on four legs which can't swim doing it all, that I don't pertend to explain away, Sir, to start, and trust. I'm content, when the hour comes. Peckaby, he's awful sinful, Sir. only last evening, when I was saying the quadruple might have mirac'lous parts givoe to it, like Balam's had in the Bible, Peckaby he jeered, and said he'd to to see Baluam's, or any other quadruple, set off to swim to America—that he'd find the bottom afore he found the land. I wonder the kitchen ceiling don't drop down upon his head! For myself, sir, I'm rejoiced to trust, as I says; and as soon as the white donkey do come, I shall mount him without fear."
"Well, one pouring wet night "this blessed animal, the white quadruple," arrives, accompanied by two men. Mrs. Peckaby " flings on her purple gownd," puts on her best shawl and bonnet, mounts her bare-backed steed, and departs. "Rapt in a glowing vision of the honours and delights that would welcome her at her journey's end," she doesn't miss her conductors till her "quadruple" has lost his way in a wood. She dismounts to look for the path, and on her return the donkey is gone. She rubs her eyes and pinches her arms. Have Peckaby and Chuff, the blacksmith, played her a practical joke? Home she goes; storms at the door; but Peckaby declares that his wife's gone off to New Jerusalem, and, says Mrs. Green next door, "Ain't that your plum-coloured gownd? what's come to it?" What had come to it! Patches of dead white, looking not unlike paint, covered it about on all sides. Chuff, the blacksmith, gavo a great grin from his window: "Sure that there donkey never was painted down white," quoth he. As respects, however, the plot of the novel:—
"Venter's Pride" is a mansion and estate that Stephen Verner is charged to leave to his nephew Lionel Verner. Stephen has two step-sons, John and Frederick Massingbird, but his nephew, Lionel, is his pride and darling. He suspects John of having seduced and caused the suicide of a beautiful maidservant of the family, Rachel Frost; but John, to clear himself, shows Stephen Venter a glove of Lionel's that he had picked up on the brink of the pond that Rachel drowned herself in. The old man takes this as a proof of Lionel's guilt, disinherits him, and by his will gives "Venter's Pride" to John Massingbird, and on his death without issue to Frederick, with remainder to Lionel. The family doctor, West, knowing this, and believing that John has been killed in Australia, lets his pretty ambitious daughter, Sibylla, many Fred Massingbird, and jilt Lionel Verner, a chivalrous young fellow, who is deeply in love with her. But Stephen Verner, when on his death-bed, relents towards Lionel, and by a codicil leaves him his whole estate. This codicil Dr. West steals and hides, so that his daughter and her husband may still retain the property. But Fred. Massingbird dies in Australia, before knowing that he had come into it, and his widow Sibylla comes back to England, expecting to live with Mrs. Stephen Verner at Venter's Pride. However, she finds her old love, Lionel Verner, in possession, as next devisee after John and Frederick's death. He is, too, in love with a beautiful simple-natured ward of his mother's, Lucy Tempest; but in a moment of passion—alone with Sibylla, touched by the tale of her troubles, her passionate appeal to him for protection, and the memory of his early love, — he makes her an offer, which she at once accepts. They are married; but after sometime John Massingbird turns up alive, and“ Venter's Pride” is at once surrendered to him. Lionel's mother gives a home to him, and his wife, Sibylla, now struck with consumption, fretful, selfish, and full of mean suspicions, making his life almost too heavy to bear; but by her own wilful imprudonce shoe kills herself. An apprentice of Dr. West's—-who is Dickens' fat boy with a tendency to explosive compounds — blows up an old bureau and discovers the stolen codicil; John Massingbird immediately resigns Verner's Pride to Lionel, and he marries his true and tender love, Lucy Tempest.
"Need you go for good, Lucy?"
She raised her eyes to hint with a shy glance, and Lionel, with a half-uttered exclamation of emotion, caught her to his breast, and took his first long silent kiss of love from her lips. It was not like those snatched kisses of years ago.
“My darling! my darling! God alone knows what my love for you has been."
Lionel Verner is the hero of the book, and his character is very fairly worked out. Tho strain that his proud sensitivo nature suffers from Sibylla s jilting, his uncle's coldness, his first wife's frivolity and complaints, and the occasional breakings-through of his underlying love for Lucy Tempest, arc well represented. His uncouth and kind medical brother, James, too, and his proud correct mother, have each an individuality of their own; the slight sketches of Mother Duff and her son Dan are good. But the book would havo gained in interest by being in two volumes instead of three; and there are slips in the English which aro scarcely pardonable in a lady's writing: — "That is the reason why I am presumptive enough to suggest the idea to you," (vol. ii., p. 174); "Her fitful mood vexed him above common" (vol. iii., p. 7), aro one or two of the instances we havo noticed.
We would also suggest that a man from the diggings like Captain Cannonby, who would say in one sentence (vol. iii., p. 23), "Parties to the gold-fields don't carry a supply of coffins with them," would not be likely to break out in the next sentence into "He died at early dawn, just as the sun burst out to illumine the heavens;" also, that codicils are not now written on parchment and sealed with seals; and that estates do not lapse to those to whom they aroe bequeathed—or better, devised. If Mrs. Wood would produce her books at longer intervals, and not enter the lists for the champion's title of "The Author of Most of the New Novels," but condense and finish off her work better, sho might, we think, do herself more justice than her late works have done her.
Wood, Mrs. Henry. Verner’s Pride. 3 vols. London: Bradley & Evans, 1863.
F. “Verner’s Pride.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street.” (February 1863): 138-39. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 17 July 2016.
Last modified 17 July 2016