ページの画像
PDF

produced by this great author in the space of only twelve years.

Waverley . . 1814 Guy Mannering . . . . 1815 The Antiquary . . . . . 1816 Tales of My Landlord,

First Series . . . . . 1816.

Second Series . . . . 1818.

Third Series . . . . . 1819. Rob Roy . . . . 1818. Ivanhoe . . . . . . . 1820. The Monastery . * 182 o. The Abbot . . . 1820. Kenilworth . . . 182 i.e. The Pirate . . - - 1822. The Fortunes of Nigel . 1822. Quentin Durward . . 1823. Peveril of the Peak . . 1823. St Ronan's Well . . . . 1824. Redgauntlet . . 1824. Tales of the Crusaders . . 1825. Woodstock . . . . . . 1826.

It may, then, be fearlessly asserted that, since the time when Shakspeare wrote his thirty-eight plays in the brief space of his early manhood, there has been no such prodigy of literary fertility as the author of these novels. In a few brief years, he has founded a new school of invention, and embellished and endowed it with volumes of the most animated and original composition that have enriched British literature for a century—volumes that have cast into the shade all "contemporary prose, and, by their force of colouring and depth of feeling, by their variety, vivacity. magical facility, and living presentment of character, have rendered conceivable to this later age the miracles of the mighty dramatist. Shakspeare is, undoubtedly, more purely origimal, but it must be remembered that, in his time, there was much less to borrow—and that he too has drawn freely and largely from the sources that were open to him, at least for his fable and graver sentiment; for his wit and humour, as well as his poetry, are always his own. In our times, all the higher walks of literature have been so long and so often trodden, that it is scarcely possible to keep out of the footsteps of some of our precursors; and the ancients, it is well known, have anticipated all our bright thoughts, and not only visibly beset all the obvious approaches to glory, but swarm in such ambushed multitudes behind, that when we think we have gone fairly beyond their plagiarisms, and honestly worked out an original excellence of our own, up starts some deep-read antiquary, and makes out, much to his own satisfaction, that,

|think that there are fancy and poetry enough in

Heaven knows how, many of these busy-bodies have been beforehand with us, both in the genus and the species of our invention. Although Sir Walter Scott is certainly in less danger from such detections than any other we have ever met with, even in him the traces of imitation are obvious and abundant; and it is impossible, therefore, to give him the same credit for absolute originality as those earlier writers, who, having no successful author to imitate, were obliged to copy directly from nature. In naming him along with Shakspeare, we mean still less to say, that he is to be put on a level with him, as to the richness and sweetness of his fancy, or that living vein of pure and lofty poetry which flows with such abundance through every part of his composition. On that level no other writer has ever stood, or will ever stand; though we do

the waverley Novels, if not to justify the comparison we have ventured to suggest, at least to save it from being altogether ridiculous. The variety stands out in the face of each of them, and the facility is attested, as in the case of Shakspeare himself, both by the inimitable freedom and happy carelessness of the style in which they are executed, and by the matchless rapidity with which they have been lavished on the public. We must now, however, for the sake of keeping our chronology in order, be permitted to say a word or two on the most popular of these works. The earlier novelists wrote at periods when society was not perfectly formed, and we find that their picture of life was an embodying of their own conceptions of the beau idéal. Heroes all generosity, and ladies all chastity, exalted above the vulgarities of society and nature, maintain, through eternal folios, their visionary virtues, without the stain of any moral frailty, or the degradation of any human necessities. But this high-flown style went out of fashion as the great mass of mankind became more informed of each other's feelings and concerns, and as nearer observation taught them that the real course of human life is a conflict of duty and desire, of virtue and passion, of right and wrong: in the description of which it is difficult to say whether uniform virtue, or unredeemed vice, would be in the greater degree tedious and absurd. The novelists next endeavoured to exhibit a general view of society. The characters in Gil Blas and Tom Jones are not individuals so much as specimens of the human race; and these delightful works have been, are, and ever will be, popular; because they present lively and accurate delineations of the workings of the human soul, and that every man who reads them is

[ocr errors]

obliged to confess to himself, that, in similar circumstances with the personages of Le Sage and Fielding, he would probably have acted in the way in which they are described to have done. From this species the transition to a third was natural. The first class was theory—it was improved into a genuine description, and that again led the way to a more particular classification— a copying not of man in general, but of men of a peculiar nation, profession, or temper, or to go a step further—of individuals. Thus Alexander and Cyrus could never have existed in human society — they are neither French, nor English, nor Italian, because it is only allegorically that they are men. Tom Jones might have been a Frenchman, and Gil Blas an Englishman, because the essence of their characters in human nature, and the personal situation of the individual, are almost indifferent to the success of the object which the author proposed to himself; while, on the other hand, the characters of the most popular novels of later times are Irish, or Scotch, or French, and not, in the abstract, men.—The general operations of nature are circumscribed to her effects on an individual character, and the modern novels of this class, compared with the broad and noble style of the earlier writers, may be considered as Dutch pictures, delightful in their vivid and minute details of common life, wonderfully entertaining to the close observer of peculiarities, and highly creditable to the accuracy, observation, and humour of the painter, but exciting none of those more exalted feelings, and giving none of those higher views of the human soul, which delight and exalt the mind of the spectator of Raphael, Corregio, or Murillo. The object of Wavenley was evidently to present a faithful and animated picture of the manmers and state of society that prevailed in the northern part of the island in the earlier part of last century; and the author judiciously fixed upon the era of the Rebellion in 1745, not only as enriching his pages with the interest inseparably attached to the narration of such occurrences, but as affording a fair opportunity for bringing out all the contrasted principles and habits which distinguished the different classes of persons who then divided the country, and formed among themselves the basis of almost all that was peculiar in the national character. That unfortunate contention brought conspicuously to light, and for the last time, the fading image of feudal chivalry in the mountains, and vulgar fanaticism in the plains; and startled the more polished parts of the land with the wild but brilliant picture of the elevated valour, incorruptible fidelity, patriarchal brotherhood, and savage habits, of the

o clans on the one hand,-and the dark,

untractable, and domineering bigotry of the covenanters on the other. Both forms of society had indeed been prevalent in the other parts of the country, but had there been so long superseded by more peaceable habits, and milder manners, that their vestiges were almost effaced, and their very memory nearly forgotten. The feudal principalities had been extinguished in the South for near three hundred years, and the dominion of the puritans from the time of the Restoration. When the glens of the central Highlands, therefore, were opened up to the gaze of the English, it seemed as if they were carried back to the days of the Heptarchy: when they saw the array of the West Country whigs, they might imagine themselves transported to the age of Cromwell. The effect, indeed, is almost as startling at the present moment; and one great source of the interest which the novel of Waverley possesses is to be sought in the surprise that is excited by discovering, that in our own country, and almost in our own age, manners and characters existed, and were conspicuous, which we had been accustomed to consider as belonging to remote antiquity, or extravagant roIn ance. The way in which they are here represented must at once have satisfied every reader, by an internal tact and conviction, that the delineation had been made from actual experience and observation;–experienced observation employed perhaps only on a few surviving relics and specimens of what was familiar a little earlier, but generalized from instances sufficiently numerous and complete, to warrant all that may have been added to the portrait. The great traits of clannish dependence, pride, and fidelity, may still be detected in mony districts of the Highlands, though they do not now adhere to the chieftains when they mingle in general society; and the existing contentions of burghers and antiburghers, and cameronians, though shrunk into comparative insignificance, and left indeed without protection to the ridicule of the profane, may still be referred to as complete verifications of all that is here stated about Gifted Gilsillan, or Ebenezer Cruickshanks. The traits of Scottish national character in the lower ranks can still less be regarded as antiquated or traditional; nor is there any thing in the whole compass of the work which gives us a stronger impression of the nice observation and graphical talents of Sir Walter, than the extraordinary fidelity and felicity with which all the inferior agents in the story are represented. No one who has not lived long among the lower orders of all descriptions, and made himself familiar

with their various tempers and dialects, can perceive the full merit of those rapid and characteristic sketches; but it requires only a general knowledge of human nature, to feel that they must be faithful copies from known originals; and to be aware of the extraordinary facility and flexibility of hand which has touched, for instance, with such discriminating shades, the various gradations of the Celtic character, from the savage imperturbability of Dugald Mahony, who stalks grimly about with his battle-axe on his shoulder, without speaking a word to any body, to the lively unprincipled activity of Callum Beg, the coarse unreflecting hardihood and heroism of Evan Maccombich, and the pride, gallantry, elegance, and ambition of Fergus himself. In the lower class of the Lowland characters, again, the vulgarity of Mrs Flockhart and of Lieutenant Jinker is perfectly distinct and original, as well as the puritanism of Gilsillan and Cruickshanks, the depravity of Mrs Mucklewrath, and the slow solemnity of Alexander Saunderson. The Baron of Bradwardine, and Baillie Macwheeble, are caricatures no "doubt, after the fashion of the caricatures in the novels of Smollett, unique and extraordinary; but almost all the other personages in the history are fair representations of classes that are still existing, or may be remenbered at least to have existed, by many whose recollections do not extend quite so far back as the year 1745. The successful reception of Waverley was owing not only to the author's being a man of genius, but that he had also virtue enough to be true to nature throughout, and to content himself, even in the marvellous parts of his story, with copying from actual existences, rather than from the phantasms of his own imagination. The charmohich this communicates to all works that ..". the representation of human actions and characters is more readily felt than understood, and operates with unfailing efficacy even upon those who have no acquaintance with the origimals from which the picture has been borrowed. It requires no ordinary talent, indeed, to chuse such realities as may outshine the bright imaginations of the inventive, and so to combine them as to produce the most advantageous effect; but when this is once accomplished, the result is sure to be something more firm, impressive, and engaging, than can ever be produced by mere fiction. There is a consistency in nature and truth, the want of which may always be detected in the happiest combinations of fancy; and, the consciousness of their support gives a confidence and assurance to the artist, which encourages him. occasionally to risk a strength of colouring, and a boldness of touch, upon which he would scarce

ly have ventured in a sketch that was purely ideal. The reader, too, who by these or still finer indications, speedily comes to perceive that he is engaged with scenes and characters that are copied from existing originals, naturally lends a more eager attention to the story in which they are unfolded, and regards with a keener interest what he no longer considers as a bewildering series of dreams and exaggerations, but as an instructive exposition of human actions and enerties, and of all the singular modifications which our plastic nature receives from the circumstances with which it is surrounded. Although Guy MANNERING is a production far below Waverley, it is still a work of considerable merit. Its interiority to Waverley is, however, very decided, not only as to general effect, but in every individual topic of interest. The story is less probable, and is carried on with much machinery and effort; the incidents are less natural; the characters are less distinctly painted, and less worth painting; in short, the whole tone of the book is pitched in an inferior key. The gratuitous introduction of supernatural agency in some parts of this novel is certainly to be disapproved of. Even Shakspeare, who has been called the mighty magician, was never guilty of this mistake. His magic was employed in fairy-land, as in the Tempest; and his ghosts and goblins in dark ages, as in Macbeth and Hamlet. When he introduces a witch in Henry VI., it is because, historically, his representation was true; when he exhibits the perturbed dreams of a murderer, in Richard III., it was because his representation was morally probable; but he never thought of making these fancies actual agents in an historical scene. There are no ghosts in Henry VIII., and no witches in the Merry wives of Windsor (except the merry ladies); and when, in one of his comedies, he chuses to wander out of nature, he modestly calls his drama a dream, and mixes up fairies, witches, mythology, and common life, as a brilliant extravaganza, which affects no historical nor even possible truth, and which pretends to represent neither actual nor possible nature. Not so Guy Mannering: it brings down witchery and supernatural agency into our own times, not to be laughed at by the better informed, or credited by the vulgar; but as an active, effective, and real part of his machinery. It treats the supernatural agency not as a superstition, but as a truth; and the result is brought about, not by the imaginations of men deluded by a fiction, but by the actual operation of a miracle, contrary to the opinion and belief of all the parties concerned. The ANTiquarty is not free from this blame; there are two or three marvellous dreams and

apparitions, upon which the author probably intended to ground some important parts of his denouement; but his taste luckily took fright: the apparitions do not contribute to the catastrophe, and they now appear in the work as marks rather of the author's own predilection to such agency, than as any assistance to him in the way of machinery. The HEART of Mid-Lothi AN, is remarkable for containing fewer characters, and less variety of incident, than any of Sir Walter's former productions:–and it is accordingly, in some places, comparatively languid. The Porteous mob is rather heavily described; and the whole part of George Robertson, or Staunton, is extravagant or unpleasing. The final catastrophe, too, is needlessly improbable and startling; and both Saddletree and Davie Deans, become at last rather tedious and unreasonable; while we miss, throughout, the character of the generous and kindhearted rustic, which in one form or another, gives such spirit and interest to the former stories. But with all these defects, the work has both beauty and power enough to vindicate its title to a legitimate descent from its mighty father—and even to a place in - the valued file" of his productions. The trial and condemnation of Effie Deans are pathetic and beautiful in the very highest degree; and the scenes with the Duke of Argyle are equally full of spirit; and strangely compounded of perfect knowledge of life, and strong and deep feeling. But the great boast of the piece, and the great exploit of the author, is the character and history of Jeanie Deans, from the time she first reproves her sister's flirtations at St Leonard's, till she settles in the manse in Argyleshire. The singular talent with which he has engrafted on the humble and somewhat coarse stock of a quiet and unassuming peasant girl, the powerful affection, the strong sense, and lofty purposes, which distinguish the heroine —or rather the art with which he has so tempered and modified those great qualities, as to make them appear noways unsuitable to the station or ordinary bearing of such a person, and so ordered and disposed the incidents by which they are called out, that they seem throughout adapted, and native, as it were, to her condition, is superior to any thing we can recollect in the history of invention; and must appear to any one, who attentively considers it, as a remarkable triumph over the greatest of all disficulties, in the conduct of a fictitious narrative. Jeanie Deans, in the course of her adventurous undertaking, excites our admiration and sympathy more powerfully than most heroines, and is in the highest

desiree 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

of a Scotch cow-feeder might not be supposed to say or to do—and scarcely any thing indeed that is not characteristic of her rank and habitual occupations. She is never sentimental, nor refined, nor elegant; and though always acting in very difficult situations, with the greatest judgment and propriety, never seems to exert more than that downright and obvious good sense, which is so often found to rule the conduct of persons of her condition. This is the great ornament and charm of the work. Dumbiedikes is, however, an admirable sketch in the grotesque way;—and the Captain of Knockdunder is not only a very spirited, but also a very accurate representation of a Celtic deputy. There is less description of scenery, and less sympathy in external nature in this, than in any of the other tales. The Bride of LAMMERMoon is more sketchy and romantic than the usual vein of the author—and loses, perhaps, in the exaggeration that is incident to the style, some of the deep and heart-felt interest that belongs to more familiar situations. The humours of Caleb Balderstone are, to our taste, the least successful of this author's attempts at pleasantry, -and belong rather to the school of French or Italian buffoonery, than to that of English humour; –and yet, to give scope to these farcical exhibitions, the poverty of the master of Ravenswood is exaggerated beyond all credibility, and to the injury even of his personal dignity. Sir William Ashton is tedious; and Bucklaw and his captain, though excellently drawn, take up rather too much room for subordinate agents. There are splendid things, however, in this work also. The picture of old Ailie is exquisite—and beyond the reach of any other living writer. The hags that convene in the church-yard have all the terror and sublimity, and more than the nature of Macbeth's witches; and the courtship at the Mermaiden's well, as well as some of the immediately preceding scenes, are full of dignity and beauty. The catastrophe of the bride, though it may be founded on fact, is too horrible for fiction. But that of Ravenswood is magnificent —and, taken along with the prediction which it was doomed to fulfil, and the mourning and death of Balderstone, is one of the finest combinations of superstition and sadness, which the gloomy genius of our fiction ever put together. The LEGEND of Monthose is also of the nature of a sketch or fragment, and is still more vigourous than its companion. There is too much, perhaps, of Dalgetty—or, rather, he engrosses too great a proportion of the work; for, in himself, we think he is uniformly entertaining; –and the author has nowhere shown more affinity to that

unbounded loquacity, without either exhausting

their humour, or varying a mote from its characteristic tone, than in his ample and reiterated specimens of the eloquence of the redoubted Rittmaster. The general idea of the character is familiar to our comic dramatists after the Restoration—and may be said, in some measure, to be compounded of Captain Fluellen and Bobadil; —but the ludicrous combination of the soldado with the student of Mareschal College is entirely original; and the mixture of talent, selfishness, courage, coarseness, and conceit, was never so happily exemplified. Numerous as his speeches are, there is not one that is not characteristic– and, to our taste, divertingly ludicrous. Annot Lyle, and the Children of the Mist, are in a very different manner, and are full of genius and poetry. The whole of the scenes at Argyle's castle, and in the escape from it--though trespassing too far beyond the bounds of probability—are given with great spirit and effect; and the mixture of romantic incident and situation, with the tone of actual business, and the real transactions of a camp, give a life and interest to the warlike part of the story, which belong to the fictions of no other hand. From the Tales of My Landlord we must pass rapidly over to the beautiful romance of Ivashof, the story of which is entirely English, and the time laid as far back as the reign of Richard I., the Saxons and Normans of which age are less known to us than the Highlanders and cameronians of the present. This was the great difficulty the author had to contend with, and the great disadvantage of the subject with which he had to deal. Nobody now alive can have a very clear conception of the actual way of life, and manière d'être of our ancestors in the year 1194. Some of the more prominent outlines of their chivalry, their priesthood, and their villanage, may be known to antiquaries, or even to general readers; but all the filling up and details, which alone can give body and life to the picture, have been long since effaced by time. We have scarcely any notion, in short, of the private life and conversation of any class of persons in that remote period; and, in fact, know less how the men and women occupied and amused themselves —what they talked about—how they looked—or what they actually thought or felt, at that time in England, than we know of what they did or thought at Rome in the time of Augustus, or at Athens in the time of Pericles. The memorials and relics of those earlier ages and remoter uations are greatly more abundant and more familiar to us, than those of our ancestors at the dis

play, and exercise them every time with scenes of and copious orations, we have plays, poems, and

familiar letters of the former period; while of the latter we have only some vague chronicles, superstitious legends, and a few fragments of foreign romance. We scarcely know indeed what language was then either spoken or written. Yet, with all these helps, how cold and conjectural a thing would a novel be, of which the scene was laid in ancient Rome ! The author might talk with perfect propriety of the beauties of the Forum, and the arrangements of the circus—of the baths and the suppers, and the canvass for office, and the sacrifices, and musters, and assemblies. He might be quite correct as to the dress, furniture, and utensils he had occasion to mention; and might even embody in his work various anecdotes and sayings preserved in contemporary authors. But when he came to represent the details of individual character and feeling, and to delineate the daily conduct, and report the ordinary conversation of his persons, he would find himself either frozen in among barren generalities, or engaged with modern Englishmen in the masquerade habits of antiquity. In stating these difficulties, however, we really mean less to account for the defects, than to enhance the merits of the work we are treating of. For though the author has not worked impossibilities, he has done wonders with his subject; and though we do sometimes miss those fresh and living pictures of the characters which we know, and the nature with which we are familiar, and that high and deep interest which the home scenes of our own times and own people could alone generate or sustain, it is impossible to deny that he has made marvellous good use of the scanty materials he had at his disposal, and eked them out both by the greatest skill and dexterity in their arrangement, and by all the resources that original genius could render subservient to such a design. For this purpose he has laid his scene in a period when the rivalry of the victorious Normans and the conquered Saxons had not been finally composed; and when the courtly petulance and chivalrous and military pride of the one race might yet be set in splendid opposition to the manly steadiness and honest but homely simplicity of the other; and has, at the same time, given an air both of dignity and reality to his story, by bringing in the personal prowess of Coeur de Lion himself, and other personages of historical fame, to assist in its development. Though reduced in a great measure to the vulgar staple of armed knights, and jolly friars and woodmen, imprisoned dansels, lawless barons, collared serfs, and household fools, he has made such use of his great talents for description, and

tance of seven centuries. Besides ample histories invested those traditional and theatrical persons

« 前へ次へ »