Изображения страниц
PDF

there is a greater proportion of pleasing and sels, wizards, and true lovers. He never ventured tender passages, with much less antiquarian de- to carry us into the cottage of the peasant, like tail, and, upon the whole, a larger variety of Crabbe or Cowper; nor into the bosom of domescharacters, more artfully and judiciously con- lic privacy, like Campbell; nor among creatures trasted. There is nothing so fine, perhaps, as the of the imagination, like Southey or Darwin. Such battle in Marmion, or so picturesque as some of personages, assuredly, are not in themselves so the scattered sketches in the Lay of the Last Min- interesting or striking as those to which our strel; but there is a richness and a spirit in the poet devoted himself; but they are far less famiLady of the Lake, which does not pervade either liar in poetry, and are therefore more likely to of these poems; a profusion of incident, and a engage the attention of those to whom poetry is shifting brilliancy of colouring, that reminds familiar. lu the management of the passions, us of the witchery of Ariosto, and a constant again, he pursued the same popular and compaelasticity and occasional energy, which seem to ratively easy course. He raised all the most fabelong more peculiarly to the author himself. miliar and poetical emotions, by the most obvious

At this period Mr Scott had ontstripped all his aggravations, and in the most compendious and poetical competitors in the race of popularity, judicious way. He dazzled the reader with the The mighty star of Byron had not yet risen; and splendour, and even warmed him with the tranwe doubt whether any British poet had ever had sient heat of various affections, but he nowhere so many of his books sold, or so many of his verses fairly kindled him into enthusiasm, or melted read and admired by such a multitude of persons him into lenderness. Writing for the world at in so short a time as Walter Scott. Confident large (unlike Byron), he wisely abstained from atin the force and originality of his own genius, he tempting to raise any passion to a height to which was not afraid to avail himself of diction and of worldly people could not be transported, and sentiment, wherever they appeared to be beauti- contented himself with giving his reader the ful and impressive, using ibem, however, at all chance of feeling as a brave, kind, and affectiontimes, with the skill and spirit of an inventor; ate gentleman should often feel in the ordinary and, quite certain that he could not be mistaken course of his existence, without trying to breathe for a plagiarist or imitator, he made free use of into him either that lofty enthusiasın which disthat great treasury of characters, images, and ex-dains the ordinary business and amusements of pressions, which had been accumulated by the life, or that quiet and deep sensibility, which anmost celebrated of his predecessors; at the same fits for all its pursuits. With regard to diction time that the rapidity of his transitions, the no- and imagery, too, it is quite obvious that he aimvelty of his combinations, and the spirit and va- ed not at writing in either a pure or very common riety of his own thoughts and inventions, show style. He seems to have been anxious only to plainly that he was a borrower from any thing strike, and to be easily and universally underbut poverty, and took only what he could have stood; and, for this purpose, to have called the given if he had been born in an earlier age. The most glittering and conspicuous expressions of the great secret of his popularity at the time, and the most popular authors, and to have interwoven leading characteristic of his poetry, consisted evi them in splendid confusion with his own nervous dently in this, that he made use of more com- diction and irregular versification. Iudifferent mon topics, images, and expressions, than any whether he coins or borrows, and drawing with original poet of later times; and, at the same equal freedom on his memory and his imaginatime, displayed more genius and originality than tion, he went boldly forward, in full reliance on any recent author who had hitherto worked in a never-failing abundance, and dazzled, with his the same materials. By the latter peculiarity, he richness and variety, even those who are most entitled himself to the admiration of every descrip- apt to be offended with his glare and irregulation of readers; by the former he came recom- rity. There is nothing in Scott's poetry of the mended in an especial manner to the inexperi- severe and majestic style of Milton-or of the enced, at the hazard of some little offence to the terse and fine composition of Pope-or of the more cultivated and fastidious.

elaborate elegance and melody of Campbell-or In the choice of his subjects, for example, he even of the flowing and redundant diction of did not attempt to interest merely by fine obser- Southey ; but there is a medley of bright images vations or pathetic sentiment, but took the assist- and glowing words, set carelessly and loosely toance of a story, and enlisted the reader's curio- gether-a diction tinged successively with the sity among his motives for attention. Then his careless richness of Shukspeare, the harshness and characters were all selected from the most com- antique simplicity of the old romances, the homea' a dramatis persone of poetry-kings, warriors, liness of vulgar ballads and anecdotes, and the knights, outlaws, nuns, iinstrels, secluded dam- sentimental glitter of the most modern poetry-

passing from the borders of the ludicrous to those buskin, and to the dubious and captious shouts

of the sublime-alternately minute and energetic of the pit and gallery. i -sometimes artificial, and frequently negligent, That HaliDon Hill is a native, heroic, and chi

bat always full of spirit and vivacity-abounding valrous drama-clear, brief, and moving in its in images that are striking, at first sight, to miods story-full of pictures, living and breathing, of every contexture --and never expressing a sen- and impressed with the stamp of romantic and timent which it can cost the most ordinary reader peculiar times, and expressed in language rich any exertion to comprehend.

and felicitous, must be felt by the most obtuse inAmong the peculiarities of Scott, as a poet, we tellect; yet we are not sure that its success would might notice his singular talent for description, be great on the stage, if for the stage it had ever and especially for that of scenes abounding in been designed. The beauties by which it charms Botion or action of any kind. In this depart and enchains attention in the closet - those bright ment, indeed, he may be considered almost with- and innumerable glimpses of past times – those out a rival, either among modern or ancient frequent allusions to ancient deeds and departed bards; and the character and process of his de- heroes-the action of speech rather than of body, scriptions are as extraordinary as their effect is would be lost in the vast London theatres, where astonishing. He places before the eyes of his a play is wanted, adapted to the eye rather than readers a more distinct and complete picture, to the head or heart. The time of action equals, perhaps, than any other artist ever presented by it is true, the wishes of the most limited critic; | mere words; and yet he does not enumerate all the place, too, the foot of Halidon, and its barren

the visible parts of the subject with any degree ascent, cannot be much more ample than the of minuteness, nor confine himself by any means space from the further side of the stage to the to what is visible. The singular merit of his de- upper regions of the gallery; and the heroes who lineations, on the contrary, consists in this, that, are called forth to triumph and to die are native with a few bold and abrupt strokes, he sketches flesh and blood, who yet live in their descenda post spirited outline, and then instantly kindles ants. It has all the claims which a dramatic I it by the sudden light and colour of some moral poem can well have on a British audience; yet . affection. There are none of his fine descriptions, we always hoped it would escape the clutches of accordingly, which do not derive a great part of those who cut up quantities for the theatres. ibeir clearness and picturesque effect, as well as The transfer which the poet has avowedly made their interest, from the quantity of character and of the incidents of the battle of Homildon to the moral expression which is thus blended with their Hill of Halidon, seems such a violation of authendetails, and which, so far from interrupting the tic history, as the remarkable similarity of those conception of the external object, very power two disastrous battles can never excuse. It is danfully stimulate the fancy of the reader to com-gerous to attempt this violent shifting of heroic plete it; and give a grace and a spirit to the deeds. The field of Bannockburn would never wbole representation, of which we do not know tell of any other victory than the one which has where to look for a similar example. Walter rendered it renowned: History lifts up her voice Scott has many other characteristic excellencies, against it; nor can the Hill of Homildon tell the but we must not detain our readers any longer story of the Hill of Halidon, nor that of any other with this imperfect sketch of his poetical cha- battle but its own. racter.

It will scarcely be expected that, in this rapid To the list of poetical works given above, we sketch, we should enter into a respective anakane bere to add two poems, at first published lysis of those works, so well known, and so unianonymously, but since acknowledged, viz. « The versally admired, by the appellation of the « Wa Bridal of Triermain," and a Harold the Dauntless;» verley Novels. The painful circumstances which ; and, in 1822, a dramatic sketch called «Halidon compelled their anthor to disclose himself are stil HL. In his preface to the latter, the poet says, fresh in the recollection and the sympathy of the that his dramatic sketch is in bo particular de-public: the motives, or no motives, which in

signed or calculated for the stage, and that any duced him so long and so pertinaciously to ab I attempt to produce it in action will be at the peril stain from avowing himself, it is not our provinci · of those who make the experiment. The truth to criticise, nor do we wish to make a boast o

13 that, like most of the higher poetical spirits of having always believed what could scarcely b the age, he has found out a far safer and surer ever doubted, viz. that the Great Unknown and i way to equitable judgments and fame, than trust- the author of Marmion were « one and indivi ing to the hazardous presentment of the charac-sible.» ters be draws, by the heroes of the sock and! The annexed is a list of the novels in question

[ocr errors]

produced by this great author in the space of Heaven knows how, many of these busy-bodies only twelve years.

have been beforehand with us, both in the genus

and the species of our invention. Waverley . . . . . . 1814

Although Sir Walter Scott is certainly in less Guy Mannering ..., 1815 danger from such detections than any other we The Antiquary . . . . . 1816 have ever met with, even in hin the traces of Tales of My Landlord,

imitation are obvious and abundant; and it is First Series . . . . . 1816. impossible, therefore, to give him the same creSecond Series . . . . 1818. dit for absolute originality as those earlier writers, Third Series . . . . .

who, having no successful author to imitate, were Rob Roy . . . . .

obliged to copy directly from nature. In naming Ivanhoe ....... 1820. him along with Shakspeare, we mean still less to The Monastery . . . . 1820. say, that he is to be put on a level with him, The Abbot. . . . . . 1820. as to the richness and sweetness of his fancy, or Kenilworth . . . . . . 1821. that living vein of pure and lofty poetry which The Pirate . . . . . . 782 2. flows with such abundance through every part The Fortunes of Nigel . . 1822. of his composition. On that level no other writer Quentin Durward . . .. 1823. bas ever stood, or will ever stand ; though we do Peveril of the Peak... 1823. think that there are fancy and poetry enough in St Ronan's Well . . . . 1824. the Waverley Novels, if not to justify the comRedgauntlet . . . . . 1824. parison we have ventured to suggest, at least to Tales of the Crusaders . . 1825. save it from being altogether ridiculous. The Woodstock . . . . . . 1826. variety stands out in the face of each of them,

and the facility is attested, as in the case of ShakIt may, then, be fearlessly asserted that, since speare himself, both by the inimitable freedom the time when Shakspeare wrote his thirty-eight and happy carelessness of the style in which they plays in the brief space of his early manhood, are executed, and by the matchless rapidity with there has been no such prodigy of literary ferti- which they have been lavished on the public. lity as the author of these novels. In a few brief We must now, however, for the sake of keepyears, he has founded a new school of invention, ing our chronology in order, be permitted to say and embellished and endowed it with volumes a word or two on the most popular of these of the most animated and original composition works. that have enriched British literature for a centu- The earlier novelists wrote at periods when sory-volumes thai have cast into the shade all ciety was not perfectly formed, and we find that contemporary prose, and, by their force of co- their picture of life was an embodying of their louring and depth of feeling, by their variety, own conceptions of the beau idéal. Heroes all vivacity, magical facility, and living presentment generosity, and ladies all chastity, exalted above of character, have rendered conceivable to this the vulgarities of society and nature, maintain, later age the miracles of the mighty dramatist. through eternal folios, their visionary virtues, Shakspeare is, undoubtedly, more purely origi- without the stain of any moral frailty, or the denal, but it must be remembered that, in his gradation of any human necessities. But this time, there was much less to borrow-and that high-flown style went out of fashion as the great he too has drawn freely and largely from the mass of mankird became more informed of each sources that were open to him, at least for his fable other's feelings and concerns, and as nearer oband graver sentiment; for his wit and humour, servation taught them that the real course of huas well as his poetry, are always his own. “In man life is a conflict of duty and desire, of virtue our times, all the higher walks of literature have and passion, of right and wrong: in the descripbeen so long and so often trodden, that it is tion of which it is difficult to say whether uniscarcely possible to keep out of the footsteps of form virtue, or unredeemed vice, would be in the some of our precursors; and the ancients, it is greater degree tedious and absurd. well known, have anticipated all our bright| The novelists next endeavoured to exhibit a thoughts, and not only visibly beset all the ob- general view of society. The characters in Gil vious approaches to glory, but swarm in such Blas and Tom Jones are not individuals so much ambushed multitudes behind, that when we think as specimens of the human race; and these dewe have gone fairly beyond their plagiarisms, lightful works have been, are, and ever will be, and honestly worked out an original excellence popular: because they present lively and accuof our own, up starts some deep-read antiquary, rate delineations of the workings of the human and makes out, much to his owa satisfaction, that, soul, and that every man who reads them is

obliged to confess to himself, that, in similar cir- Celtic clans on the one hand, -and the dark, cumstances with the personages of Le Sage and untractable, and domineering bigotry of the coFielding, he would probably have acted in the venanters on the other. Both forms of society way in which they are described to have done. bad indeed been prevalent in the other parts of i From this species the transition to a third was the country, but had there been so long superi natural. The first class was theory-it was im- seded by more peaceable habits, and milder mani proved into a genuine description, and that again ners, that their vestiges were almost effaced, and

led the way to a more particular classification their very memory nearly forgotten. a copying not of man in general, but of men of The feudal principalities had been extinguished a peculiar nation, profession, or temper, or to go in the South for near three hundred years, and a step further-of individuals.

the dominion of the puritans from the time of Thus Alexander and Cyrus could never have the Restoration. When the glens of the central eristed in human society – they are neither Highlands, therefore, were opened up to the gaze French, nor English, nor Italian, because it is of the English, it seemed as if they were carried only allegorically that they are men. Tom Jones back to the days of the Heptarchy: when they might have been a Frenchman, and Gil Blas an saw the array of the West Country whigs, they

Englishman, because the essence of their charac- might imagine themselves transported to the age | ters in human nature, and the personal situation of Cromwell. The effect, indeed, is almost as of the individual, are almost indifferent to the startling at the present moment; and one great success of the object which the author proposed to source of the interest which the novel of Wahimself; while, on the other hand, the charac- verley possesses is to be sought in the surprise ters of the most popular novels of later times are that is excited by discovering, that in our own Irish, or Scotch, or French, and not, in the ab- country, and almost in our own age, manners stract, men. - The general operations of nature and characters existed, and were conspicuous, are circumscribed to her effects on an individual which we had been accustomed to consider as bedaracter, and the modern novels of this class, longing to remote antiquity, or extravagant rocompared with the broad and noble style of the mance. carlier writers, may be considered as Dutch pic- The way in which they are here represented tures, delightful in their vivid and minute details must at once have satisfied every reader, by an of common life, wonderfully entertaining to internal tact and conviction, that the delineation the close observer of peculiarities, and highly had been made from actual experience and obsercreditable to the accuracy, observation, and hu-vation;-experienced observation employed permaar of the painter, but exciting none of those haps only on a few surviving relics and specimens more exalted feelings, and giving none of those of what was familiar a little earlier, but genelungher views of the human soul, which delight and ralized from instances sufficiently numerous and exalt the mind of the spectator of Raphael, Cor- complete, to warrant all that may have been addregio, or Murillo.

ed to the portrait. The object of WAVERLEY was evidently to pre- The great traits of clannish dependence, pride, wata faithfal and animated picture of the man- and fidelity, may still be detected in many diswers and state of society that prevailed in the tricts of the Highlands, though they do not now

thern part of the island in the earlier part of adbere to the chieftains when they mingle in geLast century ; and the author judiciously fixed up- neral society; and the existing contentions of on the era of the Rebellion in 1745, not only as burghers and antiburghers, and cameronians, eoricing his pages with the interest inseparably though shrunk into comparative insignificance, attached to the narration of such occurrences, but and left indeed without protection to the ridicule as affording a fair opportunity for bringing out of the profane, may still be referred to as com. all the contrasted principles and habits which plete verifications of all that is here stated about distinguisbed the different classes of persons who Gifted Gilfillan, or Ebenezer Cruickshanks. The slern divided the country, and formed among traits of Scottish national character in the lower themselves the basis of almost all that was pecu- ranks can still less be regarded as antiquated or liar in the national character. That unfortunate traditional; por is there any thing in the whole contention brought conspicuously to light, and compass of the work which gives us a stronger for the last time, the fading image of feudal chi- impression of the nice observation and graphical stry in the mountains, and vulgar fanaticism in talents of Sir Walter, than the extraordinary fi. the plains; and startled the more polished parts delity and felicity with which all the inferior of the land with the wild but brilliant picture of agents in the story are represented. No one who the elevated valour, incorruptible fidelity, patri- has not lived long among the lower orders archal brotherhood, and savage habits, of the of all descriptions, and made himself familiar

with their various tempers and dialects, can per- ly have ventured in a sketch that was purely ceive the full merit of those rapid and charac- ideal. The reader, too, who by these or still teristic sketches; but it requires only a general finer indications, speedily comes to perceive that knowledge of human nature, to feel that they he is engaged with scenes and characters that are must be faithful copies from known originals; copied from existing originals, naturally lends a and to be aware of the extraordinary facility and more eager attention to the story in which they flexibility of hand which has touched, for in- are unfolded, and regards with a keener interest stance, with such discriminating shades, the va- what he no longer considers as a bewildering serious gradations of the Celtic character, from the ries of dreams and exaggerations, but as an insavage imperturbability of Dugald Mahony, who structive exposition of human actions and enerstalks grimly about with his battle-axe on his gies, and of all the singular modifications which shoulder, without speaking a word to any body, our plastic nature receives from the circumstances to the lively unprincipled activity of Callum Beg, with which it is surrounded.

the coarse unreflecting hardihood and heroism of Although Gor MANNERING is a production far | Evau Maccombich, and the pride, gallantry, ele- below Waverley, it is still a work of considerable Igance, and ambition of Fergus himself. In the merit. Its inferiority to Waverley is, however, | lower class of the Lowland characters, again, the very decided, not only as to general effect, but in vulgarity of Mrs Flockhart and of Lieutenant every individual topic of interest. The story is Jinker is perfectly distinct and original, as well less probable, and is carried on with much maas the puritanism of Gilbillan and Cruickshanks, chinery and effort; the incidents are less natuthe depravity of Mrs Mucklewrath, and the slow ral; the characters are less distinctly painted, solemnity of Alexander Saunderson. The Baron and less worth painting ; in short, the whole tope of Bradwardine, aud Baillie Macwheebie, are ca- of the book is pitched in an inferior key. ricatures no doubt, after the fashion of the cari-! The gratuitous introduction of supernatural catures in the novels of Smollett, ---unique and agency in some parts of this novel is certainly to extraordinary ; but almost all the other person- be disapproved of. Even Shakspeare, who has ages in the bistory are fair representations of been called the mighty magician, was never classes that are still existing, or may be remem- guilty of this mistake. His magic was employed bered at least to have existed, by many whose re- in fairy-land, as in the Tempest; and his ghosts collections do not extend quite so far back as the and goblins in dark ages, as in Macbeth and year 1745.

Hamlet. When he introduces a witch in Henry The successful reception of Waverley was ow- VI., it is because, historically, his representation ing not only to the author's being a man of ge- was true; when he exhibits the perturbed dreams nius, but that he had also virtue enough to be of a murderer, in Richard III., it was because his true to nature throughout, and to content him- representation was morally probable; but he neself, even in the marvellous parts of his story, ver thought of making these fancies actual agents with copying from actual existences, rather than in an historical scene. There are no ghosts in froin the phantasms of his own imagination. The Henry Vill., and no witches in the Merry Wives charm which this communicates to all works that of Windsor (except the merry ladies); and when, deal in the representation of human actions and in one of his comedies, he chuses to wander out characters is more readily felt than understood, of nature, he modestly calls his drama a dream, and operates with unfailing efficacy even upon and mixes up fairies, witches, mythology, and those who have no acquaintance with the origi- common life, as a brilliant extravaganza, which nals from which the picture has been borrowed. affects no historical nor even possible truth, and It requires no ordinary talent, indeed, to chuse which pretends to represent neither actual nor such realities as may outshine the bright imagi- possible nature. Not so Guy Manpering: it nations of the inventive, and so to combine them brings down witchery and supernatural agency as to produce the most advantageous effect; but in to our own times, not to be laughed at by the when this is once accoinplished, the result is sure better informed, or credited by the vulgar; bat to be something more firm, impressive, and en- as an active, effective, and real part of his magaging, than can ever be produced by mere fic- chinery. It treats the supernatural agency not tion. There is a consistency in nature and truth, as a superstition, but as a truth; and the result is the want of which may always be detected in the brought about, not by the imaginations of men happiest combinations of fancy; and the con- deluded by a fiction, but by the actual operation sciousness of their support gives a confidence and of a miracle, contrary to the opinion and belief of assurance to the artist, which encourages him all the parties concerned. occasionally to risk a strength of colouring, and The ANTIQUARY is not free from this blame; a boldness of touch, upon which he would scarce- there are two or three marvellous dreams and

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »