IN speaking of one of the most fascinating of Mrs. Gaskell's stories, I 
venture once more to deprecate what for want of a better phrase, I 
may call the impolicy of preferences.  Some years ago, I remember, 
when it fell to my lot to have to perform the agreeable task of 
opening a free library in one of the suburban districts of 
Manchester, I was, in the middle of the solemnity, somewhat 
suddenly, as it seemed to me, called upon to "take out the first 
book." This request imposed on me the necessity of choosing a 
favourite without further ado; and I flatter myself that I was not 
wholly unequal to the occasion when I at once named The Heart of 
Midlothian. Man is, however, so constituted that, no sooner were 
the words out of my mouth, than I began to think of this and that 
objection which might be urged against the claims of Sir Walter 
Scott's true and touching story to he considered his master - piece in 
prose fiction. And I went home congratulating myself on the fact 
that it is no part of the real functions of a critic to try to arrange the 
several works of an eminent writer, or even the names of eminent 
men of letters and science themselves in those tables or ladders of 
comparative merit in which Lord Byron and the late Professor Tait 
took so much private delight.
                Something of the same kind was said in the introductory 
remarks prefixed to an earlier volume of this edition, containing 
Cranford, which still remains the most widely popular among Mrs. 
Gaskell's books. But the case is not quite the same with Sylvia's 
Lovers, a story which sounds a deeper note.  Not only does its 
charm at once attract the reader, but it gradually takes hold of him 
with overpowering force, and in the end leaves on him that 
enduring impression which nature, or a work of art that has sprung 
directly from the inspiration of nature, can alone impart and 
perpetuate. How and in what happy hour this inspiration, to which 
she owed the conception of her story, and, above all, the conception 
of its heroine - a lovely creation before which all criticism melts 
away into pure delight - came to the authoress, who shall say? It 
would be almost equally interesting to know (though such a 
knowledge would be almost equally impossible to reach) how she 
proceeded to shape these first ideas, and to mould them into the 
form which they took in her story.  For in this story, which is one of 
the life of sailors, shopkeepers, and peasants (or of people whose 
task is only a little higher than theirs), not a page, and hardly so 
much as a turn of phrase, is to be found, which does not seem 
perfectly true to life; and yet the novel, as a whole and in all its 
details, is one of the most refined and exquisitely delicate 
productions in the vast repertory of modern English fiction. All that 
we actually know is, that with none of her works did Mrs. Gaskell 
take such infinite pains as with this tale of the unvarnished joys 
and sorrows of a few simple folk.  Not only did she bestow the most 
extraordinary trouble upon rendering its historical setting as 
correct as possible; but Sylvia's Lovers is believed to be the only 
one of her books of which she ever re - wrote any part - as she here 
did the scene where Sylvia sees Kinraid again after her marriage.  
In what measure Mrs. Gaskell had given her heart as well as her 
mind to this story is shown by an expression in a letter written by 
her about the time of its completion.  "It is," she says, "the saddest 
story I ever wrote."
        The late Canon Ainger, who was so excellent a critic partly 
because he never tired of really good books and, as a rule, left the 
mediocre as well as the bad ones to take care of themselves, used to 
declare that the first two volumes of Sylvia's Lovers were "the best 
thing Mrs. Gaskell had ever done."  The restriction which this praise 
implies cannot be ignored.  Like Scott's immortal story, to which I 
have made reference, Sylvia's Lovers suffers in its total effect from 
the weak ness - the comparative weakness - of much of the narrative 
that follows after the catastrophe of Philip's flight, with the 
exception - the more than redeeming exception - of the final scene of 
all.  It may without hesitation be assumed that the mistake of 
drawing out the story to so unnecessary a length was made in 
deference to an external demand.  But we must take both Mrs. 
Gaskell's story and Sir Walter Scott's as they stand, and in each case 
rejoice that the sure tact of the writer has allowed no discordant 
note to enter into the prolongation of a scheme in itself so perfectly 
        Sylvia's Lovers was first published, by Messrs. Smith and 
Elder, in February, 1863, with the beautiful Tennysonian motto that 
sounds the deepest depth of the story, and with the tender 
dedication to the "dear husband" of the authoress.  A second 
edition, with four illustrations by Du Maurier, followed in the same 
year. One of these illustrations - that of "Sylvia learning her lesson" - 
shows how completely this delightful artist had caught the charm of 
the figure which his pencil reproduced; he was fascinated by the 
story, and gave the name of Sylvia to a child that was born to him 
at the time when he was illustrating Mrs. Gaskell's book.* Before 
the year 1863 was out, Baron Tauchnitz had "impressed" the novel 
for a copyright edition in that series which has earned the gratitude 
of so many thousands of irresponsible wanderers. At home other 
editions followed; and in 1865 Messrs. Hachette brought out at 
Paris a French translation by M. E. D. Forgues under the title "Les 
Amoureux de Sylvia." The title of the original novel had, by the 
way, caused the writer some searching of heart, before she made 
the happy choice on which she ultimately determined. For who 
would miss from the superscription of this story the irresistible 
name of its irresistible little heroine.  "There's a deal," said Sylvia, 
when in the course of things there was a discussion how to call her 
baby - 

" - 'In having a pretty name. I ha' allays hated being called Sylvia. It 
were after father's mother, Sylvia Steele.'
"'I niver thought any name in a' the world so sweet and pretty as 
Sylvia,' said Philip, fondly."

Not one of "Sylvia's lovers," among whom all the readers of this 
story have come to reckon themselves, but will agree with her 
devoted husband.  And there are probably few among those 
readers who are not glad that Mrs. Gaskell, after rejecting the 
rather hackneyed title of Too Late, did not adhere to the notion of 
substituting that of The Specksioneer, which, as she explains to her 
correspondent, means a "harpooner in a whaling - ship" - Kinraid's 
first step on the ladder. This last would no doubt have been a 
capital title for a tale of adventure pure and simple; and no hero 
could have better suited the boys who read it than Charlie Kinraid - 
senza Sylvia.  "Philip's Idol" - a title of deep meaning, but a meaning 
only made clear in the last scene of the story ("Child, I ha' made 
thee my idol"), was another name for it also thought of in passing; 
and so - almost inevitably - was "Monkshaven."
        We all know "Monkshaven," the story's scene from which our 
thoughts and interest never stray far, though the vicissitudes 
through which some of the actors in the tale pass may carry us 
from the "grey and terrible icebergs" in the Greenland Seas to the 
"purple heat" of St. Jean d'Acre, which, as Mrs. Kinraid had duly in 
formed herself, is "in the Holy Land, where Jersualem is, you know."  
Monkshaven is, of course, Whitby, the busy "fisher town" which 
grew up at the foot of the great Abbey of St. Hilda, famous in the 
history of English Christianity, and learning, and poetry (as 
Caedman's Cross now stands on the height to testify). The abbey has 
been a ruin for centuries; but the ancient parish church of St. 
Mary's, which stands beside it, and whose interior, so nautical and 
so comfortable at the same time, has happily remained untouched 
by the restorer's ruthless hand, must still be much what it was in 
the day when good Dr. Wilson mumbled over his sermons there to 
his congregation in the pews or on the "heavy oaken benches, 
which, by. the united efforts of several men, might be brought 
within earshot of the pulpit." Little changed, too, is the churchyard, 
that "great plain of upright gravestones, recording the names of so 
many masters, mariners, ship - owners, seamen," and the long flights 
of stone steps leading up to church and churchyard from the town 
below, "severed into two parts by the bright, shining river," with its 
large, hospitable basin behind the bridge.  The town itself has, of 
course, altered, since, thanks to the extraordinary enterprise of 
more than one man of note, Whitby has become one of the 
favourite sea - bathing places in the kingdom; it has long since 
abandoned the whale - fishery - or the the whale - fishery, whose 
home seat seems to be ever moving further north, has deserted it; 
but you may still see the cattle on the cliffs rubbing their flanks 
against a stray couple of whale - ribs; and you may still set sail, as I 
have done with a trustier navigator than myself, from the staithes 
in a coble, though it is to carry you no further than past Robin 
Hood's Bay to Scarborough. And, for all I know, the farmsteads are 
still but slightly changed in the dales, and on the cliffs that overtop 
the "bottoms" running down to the sea - in one of which, at 
Haytersbank, in a green hollow, with pasture fields surrounding it, 
honest Daniel Robson, the sailor - farmer, lived and had his being, 
with the truest wife man ever had, and the prettiest lass of a 
daughter, and for his farm - servant Kester, taciturn, profound, and 
faithful to the end.
        Mrs. Gaskell, it appears, visited Whitby in 1859; but she had, 
of course, long been more or less familiar with the north - eastern 
English coast, between whose harbours there is a sort of continuity 
not unusual on a coast - line inhabited by a large and active fishing 
population. Her father, it will be remembered, was a native of 
Berwick on - Tweed; and a year or two before her marriage she had 
spent a winter "Newcassel way." Above all, she had, if the 
expression be permissible, plenty of naval blood in her veins; since 
her grandfather, Captain Stevenson, and two of her uncles, John and 
Joseph, were in the Royal Navy.
        She was thus, from her childhood upwards, keenly interested 
in the sayings and doings of naval men, and of mariners of all 
kinds; and this interest reflects itself in her writings.  No figure in 
Mary Barton is more lifelike than that of the sailor Will Wilson, the 
blind Margaret's lover; and no scenes are fresher and more faithful 
to life than those concerned with the chase of a merchantman by a 
cockboat in the mouth of the Mersey. Cranford has for its deus ex 
machina, if not a mariner, at least a traveller through many remote 
and unfriendly seas.  In My Lady Ludlow Captain James, a retired 
naval officer, puts an end to a difficult situation in sailor - fashion by 
ignoring its difficulty. Mrs. Gaskell was, as it were, instinctively 
drawn to sailors, their ways, and their character; and nothing could 
have been more natural than that she should have laid the scene of 
a story which came so closely home to her in the very midst of a 
seafaring population, and among all the associations of seafaring 
        It was, however, a particular epoch in the annals of the British 
navy, and a "peculiar institution" very much to the fore in that 
epoch, of which, in devising the plot of her new novel, she resolved 
to make use as the very pivot of its construction.  Whether or not 
the idea of founding the plot of a story upon the system of 
impressment in the British navy, and the doings of the press - gang 
when at the height of its activity along our coasts, had occurred to 
her before she first came across a striking example of that activity 
and its consequences in the local traditions of Whitby, it would of 
course be now useless to enquire.  Most certainly the existence of 
the system, the hardships which it inflicted, and the indignation 
which it aroused, could not but take hold of the imagination of one 
interested as she was in the history of our navy and of our sailors. 
The press - gang and its doings formed an organic part of that 
history during the generations of which the traditions had 
descended to her from her forbears; and, to one whom, like herself, 
all injustice, and any act of oppression revolted, the offences of this 
institution must have seemed offences that had long cried to 
Heaven.  But, again, it is only natural that in the days when Sylvia's 
Lovers, was first published, and still more so in our own, memories 
which in Mrs. Gaskell's youth had been by no means remote, should 
have ceased to come home very closely to Englishwomen.  Unless I 
mistake, such of the laws for regulating impressment, passed from 
the days of Philip and Mary (who lost Calais all the same) to those 
of George III., as still remained in our statute - book at the close of 
his reign are still unrepealed.  But there is no fear of their repose 
being disturbed; and if now and then a recurrence of such cruel 
practices should be noted within the. sphere of British 
administration - why, it is quite sure to be a long way off.
        The impressment system itself is described with perfect 
lucidity, and at the same time with perfect accuracy, in the 
introductory chapter of Sylvia's Lovers. In the clearness of its 
exposition that chapter once more recalls the old - fashioned manner 
of Sir Walter Scott, nowhere more simply and more effectively 
employed by him than in The Heart of Midlothian.  Modern 
novelists are at great pains to disguise a necessity which they 
cannot deny; and indeed they go a step further, and regret the 
necessity of the explanation which they find indispensable for 
introducing the chief characters of their stories.  The late W. T. 
Arnold had collected (for the purposes of the present edition) 
several passages from that most readable of modern English 
novelists Anthony Trollope, in which he dwells on the irksomeness 
of these inevitable initial explanations; and he clinched then with a 
quotation from the ingenious author of The Prisoner of Zenda:  
"When I read a story, I skip the explanations; yet, the moment I 
begin to write one, I find that I must have an explanation." But this 
by the way; though it is worth pointing out that in Sylvia's Lovers, 
after the general introduction, the action immediately begins with 
the singularly premonitory chapter, "Home from Greenland."  In 
any case, Mrs. Gaskell's exposition of the system of impressment, 
more especially as it affected our coast population, makes it 
superfluous to add more than one or two further words on the 
        The use of that system, to which constant resort had been 
made in the days of the American War, seems to have reached its 
height with the outbreak, in 1793, of our war against France.  
However much our ministers may, after war had once been 
declared, have, as Mrs. Gaskell says, fomented the anti - Gallican 
spirit of which the country was full, the responsibility for that 
declaration can certainly not be laid at their door.  But they had, 
none the less, to meet the demands of the crisis. Our ships had to be 
manned; but, however popular the war with France might be, so 
much could certainly not be asserted at that time of the service in 
the Royal Navy. It was supplied for the most part by youths and 
men who were pressed into the service - in the large majority of 
cases, against their will, and at times by the use of the utmost 
violence. Under the existing laws all eligible men of seafaring 
habits, between the ages of eighteen and fifty - five, were liable to 
impressment - with certain exceptions, the due observance of which 
there were many facilities for evading. Among these exceptions 
were, as is quite correctly stated in our story, harpooners in 
whaling ships as well as fishermen afloat, and a proportion of 
seamen in each comer.  Sailors in merchantmen were in no wise 
exempt, nor sailors in privateers; and indeed it is stated that our 
men - of - war were often engaged in chasing privateers with the 
same determination which they displayed in bearing down upon a 
French adversary.
        It is not without some difficulty that, at this distance of time, 
one can understand how two forces, though both very strong - the 
force of patriotism and the force of habit - could prevail against the 
unavoidable consequences of so evil a system.  With one of these 
results we have no special concern on the present occasion. That the 
impressed sailors should have frequently been out of spirits and 
out of heart to begin with, and should in many instances have 
remained so in a service with many hardships and uncertain 
advantages, is the reverse of surprising. The impressment system, 
and the way in which it was worked, cannot but have contributed 
to foster the discontent and ill - will which came to an outbreak in 
the most humiliating episode in the history of the war - the great 
mutiny at Spithead and the Nore in 1797; although the main 
grievances for which the mutineers demanded redress turned on 
questions of pay and provisions, distribution of prize money, and 
        But a further consequence, and one of which the 
remembrance long remained with the inhabitants of our seaports, 
was the effect of the system upon the whole of our seafaring folk 
within the reach of its operation.
        In one of the most pathetic of the stories of real life told by a 
poet whose sympathy with the poor and unfortunate we know to 
have specially attracted Mrs. Gaskell, she could hardly have failed 
to have read of the woes of the unhappy maiden whose sailor love 
had been torn from her only a day or two before that appointed for 
their marriage, through the brutal intervention of the press - gang.  
The tale of Ruth must have been written by Crabbe under the 
impression of scenes enacted in or near the little Suffolk seaport 
whose name he has rendered familiar to us all, during the course of 
the war which had not long been at an end, when - in  1819 - the 
Tales of the Hall, of which Ruth is one, were published.  I make no 
apology for reprinting a passage eminently characteristic of its 
author, but not more so in its prudent reservations than in the 
noble spirit of sympathy and of indignation which animates these 

        "Fix'd was the day; but, ere that day appear'd, 
A frightful rumour through the place was heard; 
War, who had slept awhile, awaked once more.
And gangs came pressing till they swept the shore.
Our youth was Seized and quickly Sent away;
Nor would the wretches for his marriage stay,
But bore him off, in barbarous triumph bore,
And left us all our miseries to deplore.
There were wives, maids, and mothers on the beach,
And some sad story appertain'd to each;
Most sad to Ruth - to neither could She go,
But sat apart, and suffer'd matchless wo!
On the vile ship they turn'd their earnest view,
Not one last [look] allow'd - not one adieu!
They saw the men on deck, but none distinctly knew.
And there she staid, regardless of each eye,
With but one hope, a fervent hope to die.
Nor cared she now for kindness - all beheld
Her, who invited none, and none repell'd;
For there are griefs, my child, that sufferers hide,
And there are griefs that men display with pride;
But there are other griefs that, so we feel,
We care not to display them nor conceal.
Such were our sorrows on that fatal day;
More than our lives the spoilers tore away;
Nor did we heed their insult - some distress
No form or manner can make more or less;
And this is of that kind - this misery of a press!
They say such things must be - perhaps they must - 
But, sure, they need not fright us and disgust;
They need not soulless crews of ruffians send
At once the ties of humble love to rend.
A single day had Thomas stay'd on shore,
He might have wedded, and we ask'd no more;
And that stern man, who forced the lad away,
Might have attended, and have graced the day;
His pride and honour might have been at rest;
It is no stain to make a couple blest
Blest I - no, alas! it was to ease the heart
Of one sore pang, and then to weep and part!
But this he would not. - English seamen fight
For England's gain and glory - it is right;
But will that public spirit be so strong,
Fill'd, as it must be, with their private wrong?
Forbid it, honour, one in all the fleet
Should hide in war or from the foe retreat!
But is it just, that he who so defends
His country's cause should bide him from her friends?
Sure, if they must upon our children seize,
They might prevent such injuries as these;
Might hours - nay, days - in many a case allow,
And soften all the griefs we suffer now!
Some laws, some orders might in part redress
The licensed insults of a British press,
That keeps the honest and the brave in awe,
Where might is right, and violence is law.
Be not alarm'd, my child; there '5 none regard
What you and I conceive so cruel - hard.
There is compassion, I believe; but still
One wants the power to help, and one the will;
And so from war to war the wrongs remain,
While Reason pleads, and Misery sighs, in vain." 

        Crabbe's tale supplies an account of what must have been an 
incident common enough in the violent processes inseparable from 
what was called at the time "a hot press."  The system was both 
widespread in its operation, and regularly organised - for the press - 
gangs, or, as they were more politely termed, the Impress Service, 
were distributed in districts placed under captains in the Royal 
Navy, and sub - districts under lieutenants. Such a sub - district was 
that of Whitby, where a "rendezvous" - the technical name for a 
house of call, and if necessary a place of protection, for the gang - 
was established in Haggersgate, no doubt at some inn or public - 
house, the original of the Mariner's Arms, so graphically described 
in our story.  In 1793, as an immediate consequence of what special 
provocation (if any) we are not informed, a most serious riot 
occurred at Whitby. The sailors in the town rose against the press - 
gang, and, having forced them to abscond, demolished their 
"rendezvous."  An old man who was seen encouraging the sailors, 
was subsequently tried, condemned, and executed at York as one of 
the ringleaders in the riot.
        Mrs. Gaskell, who had heard of these facts and in whose mind 
they were shaping themselves into the foundations of the plot of 
her projected story, took all possible pains to obtain such details as 
were procurable. A Whitby resident, Mr. John Corney (whose name 
she has perpetuated in her story) sent her some information with 
regard to the riot of the year 1793; though he was at the same time 
careful to quote to her the remark of the Rev. George Young, in his 
History of Whitby (Whitby 2 vols., 1817), apropos of the Whitby 
Volunteers, that the inhabitants of Whitby are not much given to 
riot, but are, in general, peaceable and loyal; and in seasons of 
danger have been ready to stand for the defence of their country.  
"I have," Mr. Corney wrote, "had some conversation with an old 
tradesman, now in his eighty - fourth year, who well remembers the 
circumstances. The name of the man who was executed was 
Atkinson; at the same time there was a woman transported for life 
for aiding the rioters, named Hannah Hobbs."
        It was no doubt by inquiring at the Admiralty that Mrs. 
Gaskell hereupon obtained a copy of the following letter, addressed 
by Lieutenant Atkinson, R.N. (the coincidence of name is curious), 
Keeper of the Whitby Rendezvous, to Philip Stephens, Esq., probably 
an official at the Admiralty.

"Please acquaint my Lords Commissionaires [sic] of the Admiralty 
that on Saturday the 23rd instant at half past seven@o'clock my 
rendezvous was attacked by a mob, in number as far as near as I 
could judge about a thousand (Men and Women). The women 
supplied the men with large stones and bricks; the windows of the 
house was instantly demolished, but the resistance of the Gang kept 
them out till nine, when with Capston bars they broke the door to 
pieces and rushed in, as many as the House and yard could contain; 
they turned the Gang out, and treated them in the most savage and 
cruel manner, some of them nearly murdered; the furniture of the 
House destroyed and carried off the landlord almost killed, and the 
actions of this banditti was of the most horrid nature. We received 
no military aid: that on [sic] Captains Shortland, Lieutenant Okes, 
and myself waiting on Lord Darlington was informed by his 
LordShip that he could not act without a magistrate; and am sorry 
to say the Magistrates have paid very little attention to the duty on 
which we are employed; but, to do justice to Major Yeoman, I must 
add that he has not been able from extreme illness to render us his 
services. On Sunday I collected the major part of my gang and 
brought them to the rendezvous in order to get their wounds drest, 
and taken care of in the best manner I could; at 9 o'clock at night 
another Mob assembled in order to pull down the house; they 
entered, drove the gang out, and repeated their cruelties; destroyed 
the few things which the well disposed neighbours had lent us. At 
this time Lord Darlington with about 200 of his men and Mr. 
Moorsome, a Magistrate, came to our assistance, and the rioters 
immediately dispersed, by which means the House was saved, but 
much damaged. The ringleaders are the protected men in the 
Greenland Ships, and the Carpenters.
I beg to mention for their Lordships' consideration, that Captain 
Shortland on Saturday afternoon the day of the riot, supplied me 
with twenty guineas for the use of the Service, eighteen of which I 
deposited in the bureau in my lodging - room, a sum too much to 
carry about me, which was taken away with my cloaths and papers: 
and as it will be very inconvenient for me to sustain the loss, I 
humbly hope upon this extraordinary occasion their lordships will 
be pleased to allow me the sum unavoidably lost. I have the honour 
to be Sir, your most obed humble servant,
"Rendezvous at Whitby February 26th 1793."

        Mrs. Gaskell also possessed herself of the following entries, 
which speak for themselves - 
Copied from Calendar of Felons and Malefactors to be tried at the
Assizes holden at York on the 18th day of March, 1793

"William Atkinson, Hannah Hobson, John Harrison late of the parish 
of Whitby in the North Riding committed Feb. 26th, 1793,charged 
on subpoena of a Felony in having with divers other persons then 
unknown, on Sat. 23d of the same month about nine o'clock at night 
riotously assembled themselves together against the peace of our 
Lord the King, and with force and arms, unlawfully begun to pull 
down ~d demolish the dwelling House of John Cooper of Whitby 
aforesaid Shoe Maker.

        "General Gaol Delivery.
        "William Atkinson, hanged 13th April, 1793.
        "Hannah Hobson, respited.
        "John Harrison, Not Guilty."

        Not content with having thus secured the historical 
foundations on which she proposed to construct the edifice of her 
story, Mrs. Gaskell took infinite pains to ensure the truthfulness of 
its historical as well as local colouring.  She was in constant 
correspondence with General Perronet Thompson (for many years 
Member for Hull, and author of the Anti - Corn Law Catechism) 
concerning the practices of the press - gang; and she frequented the 
British 'Museum on the same quest, besides consulting on the 
subject no less an authority than the redoubtable Sir Charles 
Napier, sometime in command of the Channel Fleet.  A letter 
addressed by General Thompson to his niece Isabel (afterwards 
Mrs. William Sidgwick, and one of Mrs. Gaskell's cherished and 
devoted friends), while the story was in progress, seems worth 
quoting, more especially as it incidentally shows how short is the 
interval which separates us from a date at which the revival of the 
press - gang was still thought within the range of possibility.
        From General Perronet Thompson to Miss Thompson.
"Elliot Vale, Blackheath.
"February 3rd [1860 or 1861]
        "I think that upon your data any attorney at York would find 
out the whole with ease, provided always that the thing be there.
        "I feel somewhat doubtful on this last point, first, because I 
think I should have heard of it before; and, secondly, because an 
affair took place at Hull, with quite a different result, but in which 
there is likeness enough for one to be taken for the other, At one 
period about your date (or probably, I should think later) and 
doubtless in the month of October, a whale - ship called the Blenheim 
came to port with stores of oil and what not; and the men, seeing 
the boats of a ship of war which in those days lay off the port 
(cognomen Nonsuch) lying in wait to impress them, landed with 
their whale knives (fearful weapons) in their hands, and declared 
their resolution not to be impressed. The collision took place, as I 
have been informed, near Dr. Alderson's door in Charlotte St., and a 
man of the press - gang was killed. The killer was tried at York, and 
acquitted; on the ground, as Hull at least understands, that it was a 
legitimate resistance. As having some connection with the history, 
you may be amused to know, that at some period about 1836 there 
was a talk of having recourse to impressment. And Seth (?) 
Buckingham (an old Sailor and Member for I forget where) and 
myself who was then a Member for Hull, went to the Secretary of 
the Admiralty and told him, we had had a verdict at York and 
should show fight; and I remember adding that it was most 
probable I should be applied to for advice touching the conduct of 
the battle. The people of Hull call it to this day 'The Battle of the 
Blenheim. '"
        The unwearied endeavours of the writer to ensure an 
accurate statement of the facts entering into the framework of her 
novel were rewarded by the unbroken effect which is produced by 
the whole of its course, from the return of the whaling - fleet and the 
first manoeuvres of the press - gang to its final outrage (so far as the 
story is concerned) in the capture of the specksioneer.  Oddly 
enough, the single detail as to which she made a slip in the first 
edition of her book, had no concern with naval matters, but rather 
with English legal procedure.  It was not of the slightest intrinsic 
importance, and was rectified in later editions; but the following 
passage from a letter written by her just after the appearance of 
the first edition is of interest, as showing the admiration 
entertained for Sylvia's Lovers by a very eminent lawyer~ who had 
at the same time, to use an expression of his friend Matthew 
Arnold, "a good deal of literature in his soul."

"There is only one thing" (in Sylvia's Lovers) "I should like to alter. 
Some on - Judge Coleridge - as far as I can make out, from arms, &c., 
and from Judge Crompton's testimony as to the hand - writing - sent 
me an anonymous letter 'from an old lawyer,' saying I had made a 
mistake in old Daniel's trial, in representing the counsel for the 
defence as making a speech for the prisoner. Whereas, at that time, 
they were not allowed to do so; only to watch the case and examine 

That, too, has been altered since; but, speech or no speech, there 
would have been short shrift for poor Daniel in those cruel days.
        There is another background to the story of Sylvia's Lovers 
besides that of historical fact - but on this no common pen can dwell.  
It is the landscape - the seascape, if you will - which gives to this 
story a setting as characteristic as it is beautiful.  From the moment 
when we first meet Sylvia and her companion, on their accustomed 
way, with their baskets of eggs on their arms, from their country 
homes to the turn in the road on the grassy cliff, whence they can 
see the red - peaked roofs and the closely - packed houses of 
Monkshaven - the sea is around her and us.  We first glance across it 
as a blue, sunny surface, on which float, apparently motionless, 
scores of white - sailed fishing - boats.  But, later, we are brought face 
to face with it in the hour of the highest tide, in the midst of the 
tempest and its dangers, the foaming waters coming up with a roar 
and a furious dash against the cliffs. And, at the last, it is present to 
us, lying dark in the silence of midnight, with "its ceaseless waves 
lapping against the shelving shore." The sea, in its infinite variety 
and in its unfathomable depth, is the fitting environment of this 
story of vain regrets and hopes that are vainer still, save those 
profoundly hidden in the soul, and awaiting fulfilment beyond the 
dim horizon - "behind the veil."
        And yet, with a framework so carefully constructed, and an 
outlook into distances so mysterious, the story of Sylvia's Lovers is 
but a story of the human passions which all of us have in common - 
love and jealousy - at work in the breasts of a small group of plain 
folk; and the lesson taught by it is that simple one which poor little 
Sylvia thinks it impossible to learn - the divine lesson of forgiveness.  
Plain folk: yet with how fine and how firm an artistic handling the 
figures are at the same time assimilated to their homely 
surroundings, and differentiated from each other!  How excellent 
are the early scenes in Haytersbank farm - the selfcentered 
loquacity of Daniel Robson, every tone in whose talk and every 
thought in whose mind are intelligible to the silent reasonableness 
of his wife; and the fresh loveliness of "Sylvie," and the stolid 
wisdom and worth of Kester.  Of the two rival lovers, the gallant 
specksioneer is not more successfully drawn than the careful and 
conscientious draper - the one endowed with all the victorious 
fascinations of manly strength and a light heart, the other 
introspective, distrustful of himself where other interests are 
concerned than those of the firm of Foster Brothers, and therefore 
loved only when he is really known, or when, as in Hester's case, 
love itself supplies the place of knowledge. The story, though full of 
adventure and action, evolves itself with perfect naturalness out of 
the inevitable relations between its chief personages, and reaches 
its height without a single break in the consecutiveness, the inner 
necessity so to speak, in the development of these relations.  
Sylvia's discovery of Philip's dissimulation of the truth as to 
Kinraid's disappearance, the declaration of the breach, seemingly 
never to be filled up again between man and wife, and the 
conscience - stricken flight of the husband, form the necessary 
climax of the story.
        It is not for us to say how in our opinion the end of the 
narrative - the solution which the authoress unmistakably had from 
the first in view - would have been most appropriately brought 
about.  It is easy enough, as I have already hinted, to recognise that 
Mrs. Gaskell, who in some of her stories had to contend (as Dickens 
himself had) against the obligation of compressing her work within 
definite, and definitely apportioned, limits, had in the present 
instance to make the best of the necessity of drawing out what 
may, in a technical as well as in a literal sense, be called the 
"return" in her argument. But, in any case, the freshness of her 
inventive powers stood her in good stead; nor, in truth, is it so 
much the adventures of poor Philip Hepburn that are likely to tire 
an attention excited to full pitch by the moving climax of this story, 
as Sylvia's weary home experiences.
       Our interest shifts unavoidably from her to him; and the fading 
of the incomparable charm that had surrounded her figure is too 
much insisted on. A touch would have been enough - such a touch as 
        "'A crust of bread and liberty' was more in accordance with 
Sylvia's nature than plenty of creature comforts and many 

Even the effect made on the reader by Hester's solemn, silent 
personality is in some measure undone when her love, too, at last 
finds words.  Kinraid's marriage is as pure a piece of prose as is 
Molly Brunton's - and, altogether, our interest slackens.  As for 
Philip, however, the narrative moves on without any faltering. In 
the incidents which lead to Kinraid's recognition of him in the face 
of the assailants of St. Jean d'Acre, there is nothing intrinsically 
improbable, if we remember the times to which they are assigned; 
and it was a happy thought to make use, for the purposes of the 
story, of so unique an exploit as that of the splendid defence, by 
which, in May, 1799, Sir Sidney Smith foiled Napoleon Bonapart's 
far - reaching Oriental projects and practically brought about his 
return to France.  Kinraid, for whose rapid promotion it is necessary 
to account, is skilfully also associated with Sidney Smith's. 
destruction of the French ships in Toulon harbour in December, 
1793, and with the future "hero of Acre's" subsequent 
imprisonment in the Temple at Paris.  Perhaps it was unnecessary, 
in the case of a narrative already sufficiently loaded with such 
coincidences, that the shattered marine should on his return to 
England meet at Portsmouth the fortunate captain whose life he 
had saved in Palestine, But the halt at St. Sepulchre (in which we 
easily recognise Henry de Blois' foundation of St. Cross near 
Winchester, that survives to this day) is greatly imagined; and the 
bedesman's voluntary abandonment of a place of rest, in which for 
his yearning heart there is no rest, is finely conceived.
                The scene of the last stage of the story is therefore, like 
that of the first, Monkshaven.  The reader who might detect some 
resemblance between the final situation and that of the close of 
Tennyson's Enoch Arden, will not fail to remember, that the 
publication of the poem was later by a year than that of Sylvia's 
Lovers.  I have already said, that, to my mind, the concluding scene 
of the story more than redeems whatever there is of lengthiness in 
the chapters that have led up to it. Nor should it be forgotten that 
without the intervening wanderings - like those in an Indian drama - 
there narrated, the haven could not have been reached, and the 
divine peace which passeth all understanding could not have 
descended upon who one had both suffered and striven. In the 
death - scene - one among many in Mrs. Gaskell's stories, but 
unequalled by any other of them all - her power of pathos touches 
its height.  This power, which subdues to its use an almost ballad - 
like refrain of the lapping waves, justifies the writer in one of the 
most beautiful unconscious plagiarisms in our literature.
"'Child,' said he once more, 'I ha' made thee my idol; and, if I could 
live my life o'er again, I would love my God more, and thee less; 
and then I shouldn't ha' sinned this sin against thee."

                But there is something above pathos in the 
consummation reached at the close.  "It's not in me to forgive," poor 
Sylvia had said in the clouded days of their brief wedded life; "I 
sometimes think it's not in me to forget."  Almost to the last Philip's 
lips murmur the prayer for forgiveness by the wife whom he had 
wronged, but, just before the power of speech is giving way at the 
coming of death, he asks on High for forgiveness on behalf of both 
her and himself - "as we forgive each other."  And so, from her arms, 
he is taken home.
                "An Italian Institution," a paper which appeared in All 
the Year Round, on Mach 21, 1863, is one of those lucid expositions 
of social phenomena in which Mrs. Gaskell was second to none of 
the contributors to the journals conducted by Dickens.  The 
Camorra, which in some of its milder aspects was familiar to many 
of us who visited Naples not very long after the Bourbon rule had 
come to an end, was, during that rule (if rule it could be called) one 
of the most glaring illustrations of its feebleness and immorality. As 
a historian of the present day expresses it, "the Camorristi and the 
brigand were protected by, and in turn protected, those whose duty 
it was to suppress them." Any one who wishes to read more about 
the. Camorra could not do better than turn to an admirably graphic 
series of sketches by the late Charles Grant (a very ucommon man), 
published in 1896 under the title Stories of Naples and the 
Camorra.  We may hope, as of the press - gang, that of this other 
"peculiar institution," too, the world has seen the last.

A. W. W.
August, 1906. 

(Provided by Souhei Yamada and Mitsuharu Matsuoka, Nagoya University, Japan, on 17 January 2002.)

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