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The greatest masters who ever made studies of the shrew in fiction or in history have never, after all, given us a strictly scientific definition of the creature. They let her exhibit herself in all her drollery or her hatefulness, but they act in somewhat lordly fashion by leaving us to frame our definition from the picturesque data which they supply. Mrs. Mackenzie, in “The Newcomes,” is repulsive to an awful degree, but the figure is as true as true can be, and most of us, no doubt, have seen the type in all its loathsomeness only too many times. Mrs. Mackenzie is a shrew of one sort, but we could not take her vile personality as the basis of a classification. Mrs. Raddle is one of that lower middle-class which Dickens knew so well, still she is not hateful or vile, or anything but droll. I know how maddening that kind of woman can be in real life to those immediately about her, but onlookers find her purely funny; they never think of poor Bob Sawyer’s cruel humiliation; they only laugh themselves helpless over the screeching little woman on the stairs, who humbles her wretched consort and routs the party with such consummate strategy. Mrs. Raddle and Mrs. Mackenzie are as far apart as two creatures may be; nevertheless they are veritable specimens of the British shrew, and it should be within the resources of civilisation to find a definition capable of fitting both of them. As for Queen Elizabeth–that splendid, false, able, cruel, and inexorable shrew–she requires the space of volumes to give even the shadow of her personality and powers. She has puzzled some of the wisest and most learned of men. She was truly royal, and wholly deceitful; self-controlled at times, and madly passionate at others; a lover of pure literature, and yet terribly free in her own writings; kind to her dependants, yet capable of aiming a violent blow at some courtier whom she had caressed a moment before the blow came; an icy virgin, and a confirmed and audacious flirt; a generous mistress, and an odious miser; a free giver to those near her, and a skinflint who let the sailors who saved her country lie rotting to death in the open streets of Ramsgate because she could not find in her heart to give them either medical attendance or shelter. Was there ever such another being known beneath the glimpses of the moon? Some might call her superhuman; I am more inclined to regard her as inhuman, for her blending of characteristics is not like anything ever seen before or since among the children of men. She was a shrew–a magnificent, enigmatic shrew, who was perhaps the more fitted to rule a kingdom which was in a state of transition in that she was lacking in all sense of pity, shame, or remorse. She was the apotheosis of the shrew, and no one of the tribe can ever be like unto her again. Carlyle’s Termagant of Spain is a shadowy figure that flits through all the note-books on Frederick, but we never get so near to her as we do to Elizabeth, and she remains to us as a vast shape that gibbers and threatens and gesticulates in the realms of the dead. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, must have been a terrible shrew, and I should think that Heber was not master in the house where Sisera died. The calm deliberation, the preliminary coaxing, the quick, cool determination, and the final shrill exultation which was reflected in Deborah’s song all speak of the shrew. Thackeray had a morbid delight in dwelling on the species, and we know that all of his portraits were taken from real life. If he really was intimate with all of the cruel figures that he draws, then I could pardon him for manifesting the most ferocious of cynicisms even if he had been a cynic–which he was not. The Campaigner, Mrs. Clapp, the landlady in “Vanity Fair,” Mrs. Baynes, and all the rest of the deplorable bevy rest like nightmares upon our memory. Dickens always made the shrew laughable, so that we can hardly spare pity for the poor Snagsbys and Raddles and Crupps, or any of her victims in that wonderful gallery; but Thackeray’s, Trollope’s, Charles Reade’s, Mrs. Oliphant’s, and even Miss Broughton’s shrews are always odious, and they all seem to start from the page alive.