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Mrs. Margaret L. Woods
by [?]

For even the prose of Swift himself is inadequate to Swift. He was a great and glaring anomaly who never fell into perspective with his age while he lived, and can hardly be pulled into perspective now with the drawing materials which are left to us. Men of like abundant genius are rarely measurable in language used by their contemporaries; and this is perhaps the reason why they disquiet their contemporaries so confoundedly. Where in the books written by tye-bewigged gentlemen, or in the letters written by Swift himself, can you find words to explain that turbulent and potent man? He bursts the capacity of Addison’s phrase and Pope’s couplet. He was too big for a bishop’s chair, and now, if a novelist attempt to clothe him in the garments of his time, he splits them down the back.

It is in meeting this difficulty that Mrs. Woods seems to me to display the courage and intelligence of a true artist. She is bound to be praised by many for her erudition; but perhaps she will let me thank her for having trodden upon her erudition. In the first volume it threatened to overload and sink her. But no sooner does she begin to catch the wind of her subject than she tosses all this superfluous cargo overboard. From the point where passion creeps into the story this learning is carried lightly and seems to be worn unconsciously. Instead of cataloguing the age, she comprehends it.

To me the warmth and pathos she packs into her eighteenth-century conversation, without modernizing it thereby, is something amazing. For this alone the book would be notable; and it can be proved to come of divination, simply because nothing exists from which she could have copied it. More obvious, though not more wonderful, is her feminine gift of rendering a scene vivid for us by describing it, not as it is, but as it excites her own intelligence or feelings. Let me explain myself: for it is the sorry fate of a book so interesting and suggestive as Esther Vanhomrigh to divert the critic from praise of the writer to consider a dozen problems which the writer raises.

Women and “le don pittoresque.”

Well, then, M. Jules Lema�tre has said somewhere–and with considerable truth–that women when they write have not le don pittoresque. By this he means that they do not strive to depict a scene exactly as it strikes upon their senses, but as they perceive it after testing its effect upon their emotions and experience. Suppose now we have to describe a moonlit night in May. Mrs. Woods begins as a man might begin, thus–

“The few and twinkling lights disappeared from the roadside cottages. The full white moon was high in the cloudless deep of heaven, and the sounds of the warm summer night were all about their path; the splash of leaping fish, the sleepy chirrup of birds disturbed by some night-wandering creature; the song of the reed-warbler, the persistent churring of the night jar, and the occasional hoot of the owl, far off on some ancestral tree.”

Now all this, except, perhaps, the “ancestral” tree, is a direct picture, and with it some men might stop. But no woman could stop here, and Mrs. Woods does not. She goes on–

“It was such an exquisite May night, full of the mystery and beauty of moonlight and the scent of hawthorn, as makes the earth an Eden in which none but lovers should walk–happy lovers or young poets, whose large eyes, so blind in the daylight world of men, can see God walking in the Garden.” …

You see it is sensation no longer, but reflection and emotion.

Now I am only saying that women cannot avoid this. I am not condemning it. On the contrary, it is beautiful in Mrs. Woods’s hand, and sometimes luminously true. Take this, for instance, of the interior of a city church:–