ページの画像
PDF

We grant there is much truth in this proposition, taken generally. But the finest and deepest feelings are those which are most easily ex‘hausted. The chord which vibrates and sounds at a touch, remains in silent tension, under continued pressure. Besides, terrour, as Bob Acres says of its counterpart, courage, will come and go; and few people can afford timidity enough for the writer’s purpose, who is determined on “ horrifying” them through three thick volumes. The vivacity of the emotion also depends greatly upon surprise, and surprise cannot be repeatedly excited during the perusal of the same work. It is said, respecting the cruel punishment of breaking alive upon the wheel, that the sufferer's nerves are so much jarred by the first blow, that he feels comparatively little pain from those which follow. There is something of this in moral feeling; nor do we see a better remedy for it than to recommend the cessation of these experiments upon the publick, until their sensibility shall have recovered its original tone. The taste for the marvellous has been, indeed, compared to the habit of drinking ardent liquors. But it fortunately differs in having its limits. He upon whom one dram does not produce the effect, can attain the desired degree of inebriation by doubling the dose. But when we have ceased to start at one ghost, we are callous to the exhibition of a whole Pandemonium. In short, the sensation is genepally as transient as it is powerful, and commonly depends upon some slight circumstances which cannot be repeated. “The time has been, our senses would

have cooled To hear a night-shriek, and our fell of hair Would, at a dismal treatise, rouse and stir As life were in’t. We have supped full with horrours;

And direness, now familiar to our thoughts, Cannot once start us.”

Vol. Fv. - 2 o'

These appear to us the great disadvantages under which any author must at present struggle, who chooses supernatural terrour for his engine of moving the passions. We dare not call them insurmountable; for how shall we dare to limit the efforts of genius, or shut against its possessor any avenue to the human heart, or its passions? Mr. Murphy himself, for aught we know, may be destined to show us the prudence of this qualification. He possesses a strong and vigorous faney, with great command of language. He has, indeed, regulated his incidents upon those of others, and, therefore, added to the imperfections which we have pointed out, the want of originality, Butais feeling and conception of character are his own, and from these we judge of his powers. In truth we rose from his strange, chaotick novel romance, as from a confused and feverish dream, unrefreshed, and unamused, yet strongly impressed by many of the ideas which had been so vaguely and wildly presented to our imagination.

It remains to notice the pieces of poetry scattered through these volumes, many of which claim our attention: but we cannot stop to criticise them. There is a wild and desultory elegy, Vol. II. pp. 305—s 309, which, though not always strictly metrical, has passages of great pathos, as well as fancy. If the author of it be, indeed, as he describes himself, young and inexperienced, without literary friend, or counsellor, we earnestly exhort him to seek one on whose taste and judgment he can rely. He is now, like an untutored colt, wasting his best vigour in irregular efforts, without either grace or object; but there is much in these volumes which promises a career that may at some future time asto nish the publick.

FROM THE BRITISH CRITIC K.

The Refusal. A Novel. By the author of the Tale of the Times; Infidel Father, &c.

[ocr errors]

THE writings of Mrs. West are distinguished always, not only by their ingenuity and originality, but also by their powerful tendency to promote the best objects, morality and religion. In the present production, all these qualities are conspicuous, and, though we might recommend it strongly, and, perhaps, effectually, in a very few words, we are tempted to depart from that conciseness, with which we usually notice works of this class, for the sake of laying before our readers a few of those passages which are more Darticularly excellent. With the most indispensable quality of a novel, that of exciting curiosity and interest, The Refusal is successfully endowed. It is as attractive as the idle can wish, and as instructive as the moralist can demand. The latter quality, without the former, would be of small avail; it would be like a feast of physick, to which no one would sit down, however it might be recommended for salubrity. No such effect can be apprehended here. The principal characters are interesting, and in many respects original. The subordinate personages are amusing. An important secret is intimated in the beginning, concerning which the reader never ceases to feel an interest, till it is developed, which is near the end of the tale. In drawing her principal character, that of lord Avondel, Mrs. West has ventured upon an arduous task. She has undertaken, and we think with success, to represent an able and highminded statesman, of pure and disinterested patriotism, whose chief foible is that strong desire of general approbation, which is but too apt to insinuate itself into men who feel conscious of extraordinary powers.

The best parts of lord Avondel's

[ocr errors]

character, she seems to have sketched from an original, which we know, from her other writings, to have had her high admiration, the publick character of Mr. Pitt. The foibles which she has thrown in, were not to be found in that model; but they serve to render the character more dramatick, and to bring about the catastrophe. The gentle and amiable character of lady Avondel is highly interesting; and, though by her extreme diffidence and timidity, when placed in an elevated situation, she a little loses the esteem of the reader, as well as that of her husband, yet she recovers both in a natural and effectual manner, when driven, by circumstances, to act with an energy, of which she had no previous consciousness. The great lesson inculcated by the whole narrative, is the imperfectness of the highest human motives, and the perfect operation of those supplied by religion, in the most trying situations that can be imagined. Subordinate to that is the sacredness of the conjugal tie, and the danger, as well as immorality of yielding even to mental infidelity. With the management of the events in the latter part of the story, we are, in general, highly satisfied. Perhaps, in one instance, the character of lord A. is lowered rather more than is consistent with some of the qualities described as inherent in him; but it was necessary to give a strong instance of the danger of misplaced reliance: and from that cause, so much evil may be produced, even in the strongest minds, that it is difficult to pronounce what is improbable, or at least impossible for it to effect. Mrs. West has managed the catastrophe of her tale according to her own ideas of poetical justice, in

which we completely agree; nothing being, in our opinion, more pernicious than the common doctrine of novels, that virtue is always finally happy, and vice miserable in this world; a position which every view of real life contradicts, and which gives an importance to worldly prosperity or adversity, inconsistent with true religious principles. What Mrs. West advances on this subject is so well founded, and well expressed, that we shall do a publick service by giving additional circulation to her sentiments.

“Poetical justice is so little similar to real life, that I am apt to consider the constant attendance to the maxim, that * though vice triumphs for a time, virtue is always victorious at the last,” which the fashion of literature now requires, to be one cause of the prevailing sentiment, that temporal prosperity is the criterion of merit: an opinion which peculiarizes the present age, though it is equally contradicted by Scripture and history; I mean, if by merit we understand virtue. Nor have we

“Still, I willingly admit, nothing has go great a tendency in the common course of things, to exalt a nation as universal justice, benevolence, temperance, and piety. Whenever the practice of these virtues becomes general, publick prosperity and the success of good individuals will be combined by the same course of events, but while vices of a contrary description prevail, they who would preserve their innocence must arm their minds to expect disappointments and vexations, a conflict and not a crown. But if their hearts are right with God, these evils will be infinitely counterpoised by a calm serenity of mind, arising from a victory over irregular desires, a patient dependance on unerring wisdom, a happy consciousness of acting as they ought, and such a moderate estimation of this world as renders them, at once thankful for its blessings, and un

ensnared by its enjoyments. And the cer

tainty of that event which poisons all the pleasures of vice and luxury, administers ineffable consolation to those who consider the present state of things as probationary not retributive.

“It is not with a view to diminish the incentives to a life of virtue, but to place them on a steadfast basis, that I wish to discourage the habit of teaching youth, that there is an absolute connexion between goodness and success, while their future experience must show it to be uncertain and precarious. And even granting that the temporal rewards of virtue were less arbitrary, by instructing the opening mind to expect them, do we not inculcate that vice of selfishness which is so opposite to the Christian temper, and so subversive of publick spirit, on which the safety of our empire, humanly speaking, depends The rising generation will probably be called to the most strenuous exertions, the most severe sacrifices. Let them, therefore, be taught to look for happiness in the inward consciousness of acting as they ought. Prosperity may be the portion of true worth, or it may not, just as suits the grand designs of Provi. dence, or its own spiritual advantage; but the riches of a contented, well regulated mind are its certain portion.” Vol. 111. p. 400.

Some very excellent remarks on this subject appeared in a French journal, in 1807", signed CH. Va. in opposition to a M. Bonald, who had written on the morality of tragedy. A few of these, as the work is not much circulated in this sountry,

any reason to recur to past ages, as the

present furnishes many striking examples
in publick and private life, of the most
atrocious wickedness becoming remark-
able by an uninterrupted career of good
fortune.
“Why then does poetical justice re-
quire us always to visit those offences with
visible punishments, which the Almighty
oftener spares 2 To be instructive, fiction
must be a faithful imitation of real events,
chosen with skill, and adapted to moral
improvement. Surely, one reason for this
vapid repetition of a flattering deception,
is, that prosperity, “the god of this
world,” has taken such hold of our hearts,
that we can form no conception of happi-
ness, or even tranquillity, but as plants
growing under the shade of his temple.
We underrate “that peace of God which
asseth all understanding,” and we be-
É. * the worm which dieth not” is too
feeble an instrument of torture for unre-
pentant sin, unless poverty and affliction
envelop it in sackcloth and ashes. Even
moral writers often insist on the necessity
of decorating virtue with adventitious
splendours, in the face of those divine
precepts which teach us, that if we will
be faithful soldiers of our master we must
expect to be assailed by outward conflicts
of sorrow as well as temptation, though, if
we resist the one, and endure the other,
we shall have inward repose.

* “Esprit des Journaux, Juillet 1807, p. 185 et seqq.”

: we shall subjoin, in confirmation of Mrs. West's sentiments.

“Je pourrais étendre et développer ici ce que j’ai ly ancé plus haut surles dangers l'oncourt, en cherchant à porterlepeupie à la - rtu, par l'observation de la justice poétique. Lemoindre de ces dangers - est qu'il ne voie dans vos instructions que des fraudes pieuses, et qu'il vous prenne pour de bonnes gens, qui veulent lui montrerle mondeautrement qu'il n'est, comme soil devait s'en rapporter a vos fictions plutót qu'à la histoire, et à son experience. Le mal sera bien plus grand s'il vient ensuite a refléchir, et à se dire: on veut que je fasse le bien, et que.jévite le mal pour étre heureux; mais sile bonheur est mon but principal, c'est à ma sagesse d'en choisir les voies. Et que sera-ce, s'il observe avec nous que le poète devient alors une Providence bien plus juste que Dieu même, pour lés étres de sa création. Ce contraste entre la seene tragique (and it applies equally to other fictions) et celle du monde sera toil bien propre à lui inspirer cette soumission aux décrets €ternels, cette résignation aux ordres de Dieu, cette résignation silencieuse pourses impénétra: bles desseins, qui sont le devoir du vrai Chrétien, comme du véritable philosophe.” p.201.

Many other arguments are accumulated, to the same effect, which fully confirm the sentiments of Mrs. W. In consequence of these principles, the conclusion of this novel, if not so pleasing to some readers as it might have been made, is solemnly and materially instructive; and the situation in which the heroine is finally left, gives not only an additional interest, but a new elevation to her character. It is in the third volume that the moral is developed, and, therefore, that the most instructive parts of the novel occur. To this, therefore, we shall confine our extracts. So much just observation of human character appears in the following passage, that we shall with pleasure copy it.

“Though free from every taint of vanity, lady Selina rejoiced at perceiving she had regained her influence over his [lord Avondel's] mind, and she hoped in the calm intercourse of friendship, which

ow promised to gild their declining days, to communicate gradually (for her knowledge of the human heart discour. aged the expectation of sudden changes) to this idolater of honour, this manofun. *worving rectitude, this consummate hero, and accomplished gentleman, that pious humility, and meek resignation, which she had learned while languishing on the bed of pain, or suffering in silence the onental tortures of undeserved reproach, heart-wounding disappointment, and con. temptuous neglect. Without the means of solacing her griefs by the reflected plea*ores of beneficence, restrained from justifying her fame by her own high sense of duty to her guilty mother and dissipated sister, too independent in her character to solicit from others that pecuniary assistance which, from the circumstances of her birth, she believed she had justly lost, she prayed and suffered for three and twenty years, alternately accused as an abominable branch whom society had #. cast out, as an avaricious worlding, who refused to distribute the hoards her mother had accumulated, and as a caPricious, fretful being, whose only affliction was a wretched temper, fostered in moody solitude, till it became utterlyirreconcilable with the habits of the world. * No particular malevolence gave birth to these censures. Sorrow had not warped the natural gentleness of her temper; and though her limited circumstances restrained her bounty, her heart overflowed with goodwill for every living creature, and the few comforts which she enjoyed re5ulted from her endeavours to make others happy. Yet, thus it is that the world often treats a character of Selina's stamp, not from enmity, but garrulity. we have, geperally speaking, a strong dislike to being kept in the dark, and whenever there is something mysterious in the conduct of our o we are apt uncharitably to conclude, that it arises from a disgraceful cause. Hence the success of spe£ious characters; hence the general failure of timidity and unobtrusive worth. Lady Selina lived in what is called a sociable neighbourhood, among the rich and prosperous, with whose §§. hers did not accord, and to whose festivities she could contribute no additional zest, except that of stating that they visited a right honourable. Most of them had sailed down the stream of life so smoothly as never to have experienced personal affliction, and as they possessed the philosophical quality (so often called goodnature) of bearing the sorrows of their friends and connexions with easy indifference, nothing

but the severe visitings of bodily disease, or the failure of the bank, could have convinced them that “man is made to mourn.” People thus circumstanced, who never voluntarily visit the house of sorrow as a preparatory school for themselves, are firmly persuaded, that every body may, if they please, be happy, and they entertain the same antipathy to the countenance of melancholy, though illuminated by the seraphick smile of resignation, as Cesar did to the lean and wrinkled Cassius; for with them unhappy people labour under a threefold ban: they do not contribute to their pleasures; they are apt to ask favours; and they remind them that prosperity is of temporary duration. “In assigning these reasons for lady Selina’s being unpopular, I wish to serve many worthy people, who, to the anguish of untold grief, find the vexation of undeserved opprobrium unexpectedly superinduced; and I would caution those who to: themselves on their penetration, to e less active in supplying the hiatus which prudence or modesty leaves unfilRed. In so doing they often launch into the boundless sea of conjecture, and with no worse motive than a desire to show their own talents, shape the mist-envePoped character into a demon or a fury. And yet, perhaps, among the cares which haunt the sleepless couches of those possessed by that species of sorrow which is

- compelled to hide its festering wounds

(and how often does delicate sorrow take that shape) none is more tormenting than the consciousness, that though concealment is their duty, reproach uses it as a covert from whence she may shoot those barbed arrows, which most severely wound a susceptible, ingenuous mind.” P.

The following reflections on an event in the history, are also important. They are occasioned by the narrative of a guilty person, written under extreme despondency.

“A narrative penned in such circumstances, by a hand convulsed with pain, and trembling with the §. horrours of meditated suicide, obliterated in many

parts by tears which had flowed from eyes long since closed in death, and

breathing the proud yet deep remorse of

an afflicted, rather than a contrite spirit,

now removed to that world where adulafton cannot soothe, nor rank protect, must

surely have checked the career of the most abandoned libertine, and taught him to consider the ultimate end of criminal artifices and desires. Still more must he have , been awed into the subjugation of his passigns, by reflecting on the subsequent miseries entailed on virtuous and highly deserving lovers. Who shall set bounds to the overflowings of ungodliness, or predict ... where the evils occasioned by one wicked deed will terminate? If the innocent off. spring are not, as in this instance, the yictims, the influence of a bad example is incalculable. It misleads inexperience; it corrupts simplicity; folly flies to it as an excuse; and it hardens #; into depravity. How carefully should the powerful and the eminent consider their ways, especially at this period, when the sword of divine punishment is apparently suspend. ed over our menaced country! And how strictly does it behove every private individual to act the part of the real patriot, by guarding his conduct with such religious and moral vigilance as not to add to the burden of national sin, the only invincible enemy of England. Surely, it augurs ill respecting the state of publick virtue, to see so little of that grave abhorrence of vice in the abstract, which, without infringing the claims of candour and charity to particular, offenders, marks the pure morals of a high-minded people. We ma laugh at folly, we may ridicule slight deviations from rectitude; but, by what strange perversion of our faculties does the most direct breach of the holy laws of God, the most determined contempt of every solemn tie, abandoned profligacy, avowed prostitution, or shameless effrontery, excite mirth instead of chilling the reflecting mind with horrour * p. 311.

Many other passages of powerful impression in their places, we are precluded from extracting, by their intimate connexion with the story of the novel, which we purposely forbear to anticipate; and we conclude our sketch of the book by assuring. our readers that, to our feelings, what it contains for amusement is good, but what it intimates or expresses for instrution, is admirable. The tone of religious and moral feeling would soon be raised among us, if such works alone were produced in this class of composition.

« 前へ次へ »