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sarcasm, and displayed some taste for poetry; but still we were not lively; that is, we had none of those light and airy articles which a young lady might read while her hair was papering. To sum up all in one dismal syllable, it was insinuatcd that we were dull. To prove the futility of the charge, we resolved to extend the sphere of our inquiries, and to review not only the grave and weighty, but the flitting and evanescent productions of the times, for the purpose of giving full scope to our ingenuity, and evincing the vivacity of our talents, so wantonly called in question. The want of proper subjects for the exercise of our powers was the first dilemma. We had no friendly correspondent at the court of Paris, who, with a sentimental flourish on the peace which ought to subsist in the republick of letters, though war raged between the respective countries of the sages, might forward, through some kind neutral, the last new novel or the latest philosophical discovery of the institute, and only expect us, in requital, to give the wit, and learning, and science of the Great Nation, its reasonable and just precedence over those of our own country. What then was to be done : After some consideration, we sent to our publisher for an assortment of the newest and most fashionable novels, hoping to find, among the frivolous articles of domestick manufacture, something to supply the want of foreign importation. It is from a laborious inspection into the contents of this packet, or rather hamper, that we are now risen with the painful conviction that spirits and patience may be as completely exhausted in perusing trifles as in following algebraical calculations.— Before proceeding, however, to the novel, selected almost at random for the subject of a few remarks, we cannot but express our surprise at the present degradation of this class of compositions.
The elegant and fascinating pro
ductions which honoured the name
of novel, those which Richardson,
Mackenzie, and Burney gave to the publick, of which it was the object to exalt virtue and degrade vice; to which no fault could be objected unless that they unfitted here and there
a romantick mind for the common intercourse of life, while they refined, perhaps, a thousand whose faculties could better bear the fair ideal which they presented; these have entirely vanished from the
shelves of the circulating library. It may, indeed, be fairly alleged in defence of those who decline attempting this higher and more refined species of composition, that the soil was in some degree exhausted by over-cropping; that the multitude of base and tawdry imitations obscured the merit of the few which are tolerable, as the overwhelming blaze of blue, red, green, and yellow, at the exhibition, vitiates our taste for the few good paintings which show their modest hues upon its walls,
The publick was, indeed, weary of the protracted embarrassments of lords and ladies who spoke such language as was never spoken, and still more so of the see-saw correspondence between the sentimental lady Lucretia and the witty miss Caroline, who battledored it in the pathetick and the lively, like Morton and Reynolds on the stage. But let us be just to dead and to living merit. In some of the novels of the late Charlotte Smith, we found no ordinary portion of that fascinating power which leads us through every various scene of happiness or distress at the will of the author; which places the passions of the wise and grave for a time at the command of ideal personages; and, perhaps, has more attraction for the publick at large than any other species of literary composition, the drama not excepted. Nor do we owe less to Miss Edgeworth, whose true and vivid pictures of modern life contain the only sketches reminding us of the human beings, whom, secluded as we are, we have actually seen and conversed with in various parts of this great metropolis. When we had removed from the surface of our hamper a few thin volumes of simple and insipid sentiment; taken a moment’s breath; and exclaimed: “O Athenians, how hard we labour for your applause !” we lighted upon a class of books which excited sterner sensations. There existed formerly a species of novel of a tragi-comick nature, which, far from pretending to the extreme sentiment and delicacy of the works last mentioned, admitted, like the elder English comedy, a considerable dash of coarse and even indeliGate humour. Such were the compositions of Fielding; and such of Smollet, the literary Hogarth, whose figures, though they seldom attained grace or elegance, were marked with indelible truth and peculiarity of character. Instead of this kind of comick satire, in which, to borrow a few words of old Withers, abuses, when whipped, were perhaps stripped a little too bare, we have now the lowest denizens of Grub-street, narrating, under the flimsy veil of false names, and through the medium of a fictitious tale, all that malevolence can invent, and stupidity propagate, concerning private misfortunes and personal characters. We have our winters in London, Bath, and Brighton, of which it is the dirty object to drag forth the secret history of the day, and to give to scandal a court of written record. The talent which most of these things indicate is that of the lowest newspaper composition, and the acquaintance with the fashionable world precisely what might be gleaned from the footman or porter; while the portraits of Bow-street officers, swindlers, and bailiffs, are possibly drawn from a more intimate acquaintance. The shortness of our cruise has not yet permitted us to
fall in with any of these picaroons; but let them beware, as lieutenant Bowling says, how they come athwart our hawser; “we shall mind running them down no more than so many porpoises.”
“Plunging from depth to depth a vast profound,” we at length imagined ourselves arrived at the Limbus Patrum in good earnest. The imitators of Mrs. Radcliffe and Mr. Lewis were before us; personages, who, to all the faults and extravagancies of their originals, added that of dulness, with which they can seldom be charged. We strolled through a variety of castles, each of which was regularly called Il Castello; met with as many captains of condottieri; heard various ejaculations of Santa Maria and Diavolo; read by a decaying lamp, and in a tapestried chamber, dozens of legends as stupid as the main history; examined such suites of deserted apartments as might fit up a reasonable barrack, and saw as many glimmering lights as would make a respectable illumination. Amid these flat imitations of the castle of Udolpho, we lighted, unexpectedly, upon the work which is the subject of the present article, and, in defiance of the very bad taste in which it is composed, we found ourselves insensibly involved in the perusal, and at times impressed with no common degree of respect for the powers of the author. We have, at no time, more earnestly desired to extend our voice to a bewildered traveller, than towards this young man, whose taste is so inferiour to his powers of imagination and expression, that we never saw a more remarkable instance of genius degraded by the labour in which it is employed. It is the resentment and regret which we experience at witnessing the abuse of these qualities, as well as the wish to hazard a few remarks upon the romantick novel in general, which has induced us (though we are obliged to go back a little) to
offer our criticism on the “Fatal Revenge, or the House of Montorio.” It is scarcely possible to abridge the narrative, nor would the attempt be edifying or entertaining. A short abstract of the story is all for which we can afford room. It is introduced in the following striking manner.
“At the siege of Barcelona by the French, in the year 1697, two young offieers entered into the service at its most hot and critical period. Their appearance excited some surprise and perplexity. Their melancholy was Spanish; their accent Italian; their names and habits French. “They distinguished themselves in the service by a kind of careless and desperate courage, that appeared equally insensible of praise or of danger. They forced themselves into all the coups de main, the wild and perilous sallies, that abound in a spirited siege, and mark it with a greater variety and vivacity of character than a regular campaign. Here they were in their element. But among their brother officers, so cold, so distant, so repulsive, that even they who loved their courage, or were interested in their melancholy, stood aloof in awkward and hesitating sympathy. Still, though they would not accept the offices of the benevolence their appearance inspired, they were, involuntarily, always conciliating. Their figures and motions were so eminently noble and striking, their affection for each other so conspicuous, and their youthful melancholy so deep and hopeless, that every one inquired, and sought intelligence of them from an impulse stronger than curiosity. Nothing could be learnt; nothing was known, or even conjectured of them. “During the siege, an Italian officer, of middle age, arrived to assume the command of a post of distinction. His first meeting with these young men was remarkable. They stood speechless, and staring at each other for some time. In the mixture of emotions that passed over their countenances, no one predominant or decisive could be traced by the many and anxious witnesses that surrounded them. “As soon as they separated, the Italian officer was persecuted with inquiries about the strangers. He answered none of them; yet he admitted that he knew circumstances sufficiently extraordinary relating to the young men, who, he said, were natives of Italy. “A few days after, Barcelona was taken by the French forces. The assault was
terrible; the young officers were in the very rage of the fight; they coveted and courted danger; they stood amid showers of grape and ball; they rushed into the heart and crater of explosions; they literally “wrought in the fire.” The effects of their dreadful courage were foreseen by all; and cries of recall and expostulation sounded around them on every side, in Waln.
“On the French taking possession of the town, there was a general demand for the brothers. With difficulty the bodies were discovered, and brought, with melancholy pomp, into the commander’s presence. The Italian officer was there; every eye was turned on him.” Introd. pp. ixX111.
The history of these mysterious brethren is told by the officer who had recognised them, and runs briefly thus: Orazio, count of Montorio, for we begin our story with the explanation, which in the original concludes it, possessed of wealth, honours, and ancestry, is married to a beautiful woman, whom he loves doatingly, but of whose affections he is not possessed. A villanous brother instils into his mind jealousy of a cavalier to whom the countess had formerly been attached. Orazio causes the supposed paramour to be murdered in the presence of the lady, who also dies. He then flies from his country with the feelings. of desperation thus forcibly described:—
“My reason was not suspended: it was totally changed. I had become a kind of intellectual savage; a being that, with the malignity and depravation of inferiour natures, still retains the reason of a man, and retains it only for his curse Oh! that midnight darkness of the soul, in which it seeks for something whose loss has carried away every sense but one of utter and desolate privation; in which it traverses leagues in motion and worlds in thought, without consciousness of relief, yet with a dread of pausing. I had nothing to seek, nothing to recover. The whole world could not restore me an atom, could not show me again a glimpse of what I had been or lost; yet I rushed on as if the next step would reach shelter and peace.” vol. iii. p. 380.
In this maniack state, he reaches an uninhabited islet in the Grecian archipelago, where, from a conversation accidentally overheard between two assassins sent by his brother to murder him, the wretched Orazio learns the innocence of his victims, and the full extent of his misery. He contrives to murder the murderers, and the effect of the subsequent discovery upon his feelings, is described in a strain of language which we were alternately tempted to admire as sublime and to reprobate as bombastick. Orazio determines on revenge, and his plan is diabolically horrid. He rosolved to accomplish the murder of his treacherous brother, who, in consequence of his supposed death, had now assumed the honours of the family; and he farther determined that this act of vengeance should be perpetrated by the hands of that very brother’s own sons, two amiable youths, who had no cloud upon their character excepting an attachment to mysterious studies, and a strong propensity to superstition. We do not mean to trace this agent of vengeance through the various devices and stratagems by which he involved in his toils his unsuspecting nephews, assumed in their apprehension the character of an infernal agent, and decoyed them, first to meditate upon, and at length actually to perpetrate, the parricide which was the crown and summit of his wishes. The doctrine of fatalism, on which he principally relied for reconciling his victims to his purpose, is in various passages detailed with much gloomy and terrifickeloquence. The rest of his machinery is composed of banditti, caverns, dungeons, inquisitors, trapdoors, ruins, secret passages, soothsayers, and all the usual accoutrements from the property room of Mrs. Radcliffe. The horrour of the piece is completed by the murderer discovering that the youths whom he has taken such pains to involve in parricide are not the sons of his brother, but his own offspring by his unfortunate
wife. We do not dwell upon any of these particulars, because the ob
servations which we have to hazard
upon this neglected novel apply to a numerous class of the same kind, and because the incidents are such as are to be found in most of them.
In the first place, then, we disapprove of the mode introduced by Mrs. Radcliffe, and followed by Mr. Murphy and her other imitators, of winding up their story with a solution by which all the incidents appearing to partake of the mystick and marvellous are resolved by very simple and natural causes. This seems, to us, to savour of the precaution of Snug the joiner; or, rather, it is as if the machinist, when the pantomime was over, should turn his scenes “the seamy side without,” and expose the mechanical aids by which the delusions were accomplished. In one respect, indeed, it is worse management; because the understanding spectator might be, in some degree, gratified by the view of engines, which, however rude, were well adapted to produce the effects which he had witnessed. But the machinery of the castle of Montorio, when exhibited, is wholly inadequate to the gigantick operations ascribed to it. There is a total and absolute disproportion between the cause and the effect, which must disgust every reader much more than if he were left under the delusion of ascribing the whole to supernatural agency. This latter resource has, indeed, many disadvantages; some of which we shall briefly notice. But it is an admitted expedient; appeals to the belief of all ages but our own; and still produces, when well managed, some effect, even upon those who are most disposed to contemn its influence. We can, therefore, allow of supernatural agency to a certain extent and for an appropriate purpose, but we never can consent that the effect of such agency shall be finally attributed to natural causes
the purpose of imposing on the
Thane's credulity, it would have added little to the eredibility of the story, and entirely deprived it of the interest. In like manner, we fling back upon the Radcliffe school their flat and ridiculous explanations, and plainly tell them that they must either confine themselves to ordinary and natural events, or find adequate causes for those horrours and mysteries in which they love to involve us. Yet another word on this subject. We know not if a novel writer of the present day expects or desires his labours to be perused oftener than once; but as there may be here and there a maiden aunt in a family, for whose advantage it must be again read over by the young lady who has already devoured it in secret, we advise them to consider how much they suffer from their adherence to this unfortunate system. We will instance the incident of the black veil in the castle of Udolpho.— Attention is excited, and afterwards recalled, by a hundred indirect artifices, to the dreadful and unexplained mystery which the heroine had seen beneath it; and which, after all, proves to be neither more nor less than a waxen doll. This trick may, indeed, for once, answer the
writer's purpose; and has, we sup
pose, cost many an extra walk to the circulating library, and many a curse upon the malicious concurrent who always has the fourth volume in hand. But it is as impossible to reperuse the book without feeling the contempt awakened by so pitiful a contrivance as it is for a child to regain his original respect for king Solomon, after he has seen the monarch disrobed of all his glory, and deposited in the same box with
Punch and his wife. And, in fact, we feel inclined to abuse the author. in such a case as the watch do Harlequin, when they find out his trick of frightening them by mimicking the report of a pistol,
Faquin, maraud, pendard, impudent,temeraire, Vous osez nous faire peur !
In the second place, we are of opinion that the terrours of this class of novel writers are too accumulated and unremitting. The influence of fear, and here we extend our observations as well to those romances which actually ground it upon supernatural prodigy as to those which attempt a subsequent explanation, is, indeed, a faithful and legitimate key to unlock every source of fancy and of feeling. Mr. Murphy's introduction is expressed with the spirit and animation which, though often misdirected, pervade his whole work.
“I question whether there be a source. of emotion in the whole mental frame so powerful or universal as the fear arising from objects of invisible terrour. Perhaps there is no other that has been, at some period or other of life, the predominant and indelible sensation of every mind, of every class, and under every circumstance. Love, supposed to be the most general of passions, has certainly been felt in its purity by very few, and by some not at all, even in its most indefinite and simple State.
“The same might be said, a fortiori, of other passions. But who is there that has never feared Who' is there that has not." involuntarily remembered the gossip's tale in solitude or in darkness? Who is there that has not sometimes shivered under an influence he would scarce acknowledge to himself? I might trace this passion to a high and obvious source. *
“It is enough for my purpose to assert its existence and prevalency, which will scarcely be disputed by those who remember it. It is absurd to depreciate this passion, and deride its influence. It is not the weak and trivial impulse of the nursery, to be forgotten and scorned by manhood. It is the aspiration of a spirit; “it is the passion of immortals,” that dread and de sire of their final habitation.” Pref. p. 4 and 5.