ページの画像
PDF
ePub

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 him 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 .

1819. who, having no successful author to imitate, were Rob Roy

1818. 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

1822. flows with such abundance through every part The Fortunes of Nigel

1822.

of his composition. On that level no other writer Quentin Durward

1823. has 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 that 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 hecame 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 bave 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 own 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. had indeed been prevalent in the other parts of

From this species the transition to a third was the country, but had there been so long supernatural. The first class was theory-it was im- seded by inore peaceable habits, and milder manproved 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 mau 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 existed 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 becharacter, and the modern novels of this class, longing to remote antiquity, or extravagant rocompared with the broad and noble style of the mance. earlier 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 permour 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 genehigher 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, sent a faithful and animated picture of the man- and fidelity, may still be detected in disners and state of society that prevailed in the tricts of the Highlands, though they do not now northern part of the island in the earlier part of adhere 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, enriching 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 comall the contrasted principles and habits which plete verifications of all that is here stated about distinguished the different classes of persons who Gifted Gilfillan, or Ebenezer Cruickshanks. The then divided the country, and formed among traits of Scottish national character in the lower themselves the basis of almost all that was pecu- rauks can still less be regarded as antiquated or liar in the national character. That unfortunate traditional; nor 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 valry in the mountains, and vulgar fanaticism in talents of Sir Walter, than the extraordinary fithe 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 Evan Maccombich, and the pride, gallantry, ele- below Waverley, it is still a work of considerable gance, 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 Gilbllan 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 tone of Bradwardine, and 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 history are fair representations of been called the mighty magician, was never classes that are still existing, or may be remern- 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 from the phantasms of his own imagination. The Henry VIII., and no witches in the Merry Wives charm Shich 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 Mannering: it nations of the inventive, and so to combine them brings down witchery and supernatural agency as to produce the most advantageous effect; but into our own times, not to be laughed at by the when this is once accomplished, the result is sure better informned, or credited by the vulgar; but 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; á boldness of touch, upon which he would scarce- there are two or three marvellous dreams and

apparitions, upon which the author probably in- / of a Scotch cow-feeder might not be supposed to tended to ground some important parts of his de- say or to do—and scarcely any thing indeed that nouement; but his taste luckily took fright: the is not characteristic of her rank and habitual ocapparitions do not contribute to the catastrophe, cupations. She is never sentimental, nor refined, and they now appear in the work as marks ra- nor elegant; and though always acting in very ther of the author's own predilection to such difficult situations, with the greatest judgment agency, than as any assistance to himn in the way of and propriety, never seems to exert more than machinery

that downright and obvious good sense, which is The Heart of Mid-Lothian, is remarkable for so often found to rule the cor:duct of persons of containing fewer characters, and less variety of her condition. This is the great ornament and incident, than any of sir Walter's former produc- charm of the work. Dumbiedikes is, however, tions :--and it is accordingly, in some places, an admirable sketch in the grotesque way;-and comparatively languid. The Porteous mob is the Captain of Knockdunder is not only a very rather heavily described; and the whole part of spirited, but also a very accurate representation George Robertson, or Staunton, is extravagant or of a Celtic deputy. There is less description of unpleasing. The final catastrophe, too, is need scenery, and less sympathy in external nature in lessly improbable and startling; and both Saddle- this, than in any of the other tales. tree and Davie Deans, become at last rather te The Bride or LAMMERMOOR is more sketchy and dious and unreasonable; while we miss, through-romantic than the usual vein of the author--and out, the character of the generous and kind- loses, perhaps, in the exaggeration that is incihearted rustic, which in one form or another, dent to the style, some of the deep and heart-felt gives such spirit and interest to the former sto-interest that belongs to more familiar situations. ries. But with all these defects, the work has the humours of Caleb Balderstone are, to our both beauty and power enough to vindicate its taste, the least successful of this author's attempts title to a legitimate descent from its mighty fa- at pleasantry, -and belong rather to the school ther-and even to a place in « the valued file of French or Italian buffoonery, than to that of of his productions. The trial and condemnation Englisli humour;—and yet, to give scope to these of Effie Deans are pathetic and beautiful in the farcical exhibitions, the poverty of the master of very highest degree; and the scenes with the Ravenswood is exaggerated beyond all credibility, Duke of Argyle are equally full of spirit; and and to the injury even of his personal dignity. strangely compounded of perfect knowledge of Sir William Ashton is tedious; and Bucklaw and life, and strong and cleep feeling. But the great his captain, though excellently drawn, take up boast of the piece, and the great exploit of the rather too much room for subordinate agents. author, is the character and history of Jeanie There are splendid things, however, in this work Deans, from the time she first reproves her sister's also. The picture of old Ailie is exquisite-and flirtations at St Leonard's, till she settles in the beyond the reach of any other living writer. manse in Argyleshire. The singular talent with The hags that convene in the church-yard have which he has engrafted on the humble and some all the terror and sublimity, and more than the what coarse stock of a quiet and unassuming pea- nature of Macbeth's witches; and the courtship sant girl, the powerful affection, the strong sense, at the Mermaiden's well, as well as some of the and lofty purposes, which distinguish the heroine immediately preceding scenes, are full of dignity -or rather the art with which he has so tem- and beauty. The catastrophe of the bride, though pered and modified those great qualities, as to it may be founded on fact, is too horrible for make them appear noways unsuitable to the station fiction. But that of Ravenswood is magnificent or ordinary bearing of such a person, and so or- --and, taken along with the prediction which it dered and disposed the iucidents by which they are was doomed to fulfil, and the mourning and death called out, that they seem throughout adapted, of Balderstone, is one of the finest combinations and native, as it were, to her condition, is su- of superstition and sadness, which the gloomy geperior to any thing we can recollect in the his- nius of our fiction ever put together. tory of invention; and must appear to any one, The Legend of MONTROSE is also of the nature who attentively considers it, as a remarkable of a sketch or fragment, and is still more vigours triumph over the greatest of all difficulties, in the ous than its companion. There is too much, conduct of a fictitious narrative. Jeanie Deans, perhaps, of Dalgeity –or, rather, he engrosses too in the course of her adventurous undertaking, great a proportion of the work; for, in himself, excites our admiration and sympathy more pow-we think he is uniformly entertaining ; -and the erfully than most heroines, and is in the highest author has nowhere shown more affinity to that deyree both pathetic and sublime ;- and yet she matchless spirit, who could bring out his Falstaffs never says or does any thing that the daughter and his Pistols, in act after act, and play after

b

master.

play, and exercise them every time with scenes of and copious orations, we have plays, poems, and unbounded loquacity, without either exhausting familiar letters of the former period; while of the their humour, or varying a note from its charac- latter we have only some vague chronicles, suteristic tone, than in his ample and reiterated perstitious legends, and a few fragments of fospecimens of the eloquence of the redoubted Ritt- reign romance. We scarcely know indeed what

The general idea of the character is fa- language was then either spoken or written. Yet, miliar to our comic dramatists after the Restora- with all these belps, how cold and conjectural a tion-and may be said, in some measure, to be thing would a novel be, of which the scene was compounded of Captaiu Fluellen and Bobadil; laid in ancient Rome! The author might talk -but the ludicrous combination of the soldado with perfect propriety of the beauties of the Fowith the student of Mareschal College is entirely rum, and the arrangements of the circus--of the original; and the mixture of talent, selfishness, baths and the suppers, and the canvass for office, courage, coarseness, and conceit, was never so and the sacrifices, and musters, and assemblies. happily exemplified. Numerous as his speeches He might be quite correct as to the dress, furniare, there is not one that is not characteristic- ture, and utensils he had occasion to mention; and, to our taste, divertingly ludicrous. Annot and might even embody in his work various anecLyle, and the Children of the Mist, are in a very dotes and sayings preserved in contemporary audifferent manner, and are full of genius and thors. But when he came to represent the depoetry. The whole of the scenes at Argyle's tails of individual character and feeling, and to castle, and in the escape from it.--though delineate the daily conduct, and report the orditrespassing too far beyond the bounds of proba- nary conversation of his persons, he would find bility--are given with great spirit and effect; himself either frozen in among barren generaand the mixture of romantic incident and situa- lities, or engaged with modern Englishmen in the tion, with the tone of actual business, and the masquerade habits of antiquity. real transactions of a camp, give a life and inter In stating these difficulties, however, we really est to the warlike part of the story, which belong mean less to account for the defects, than to ento the fictions of no other hand.

hance the merits of the work we are treating of. From the Tales of My Landlord we must pass For though the author has not worked impossirapidly over to the beautiful romance of Ivanhoe, bilities, he has done wonders with his subject; the story of which is entirely English, and the and though we do sometimes miss those fresh time laid as far back as the reign of Richard I., and living pictures of the characters which we the Saxons and Normans of which age are less know, and the nature with which we are familiar, known to us than the Highlanders and camero- and that high and deep interest which the home nians of the present. This was the great diffi scenes of our own times and own people could culty the author had to contend with, and the alone generate or sustain, it is impossible to deny great disadvantage of the subject with which he that he has made marvellous good use of the had to deal. Nobody now alive can have a very scanty materials he had at his disposal, and eked clear conception of the actual way of life, and them out both by the greatest skill aud dexterity manière d'être of our ancestors in the year 1194. in their arrangement, and by all the resources Some of the more prominent outlines of their that original genius could render subservient to chivalry, their priesthood, and their villanage, such a design. For this purpose he has laid his may be known to antiquaries, or even to gene- scene in a period when the rivalry of the victoral readers; but all the filling up and details, rious Normans and the conquered Saxons had not which alone can give body and life to the picture, been finally composed; and when the courtly have been long since effaced by time. We have petulance and chivalrous and military pride of scarcely any notion, in short, of the private life the one race might yet be set in splendid oppoand conversation of any class of persons in that sition to the manly steadiness and honest but remote period; and, in fact, kvow less how the homely simplicity of the other; and has, at the men and women occupied and amused themselves same time, given an air both of dignity and reali—what they talked abont-how they looked—or ty to his story, by bringing in the personal prowwhat they actually thought or felt, at that time ess of Cæor de Lion himself, and other personages in England, than we know of what they did or of historical fame, to assist in its development. thought at Rome in the time of Augustus, or at Though reduced in a great measure to the vulgar Athens in the time of Pericles. The memorials staple of armed knights, and jolly friars and and relics of those earlier ages and remoter va- woodmen, imprisoned damsels, lawless barons, tions are greatly more abundant and more fami-collared serfs, and household fools, he has made liar to us, than those of our ancestors at the dis- such use of his great talents for description, and tance of seven centuries. Besides ample histories invested those traditional and theatrical persons

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« 前へ次へ »