« ZurückWeiter »
indulgence of any morbid critical appetite whatever--and had rather mix undistinguished with the common file” of readers, and swell the note of triumph that welcomes each successive creation of the Waverly muse-than signalize ourselves, by annihilating a host of learned dullards or literary foplings.
The Novels of Scott, have become in fact, a literature of themselves, and we know not if his writings were expunged, what deeper injury could be inflicted on English literature, except sentence of oblivion were passed on Shakspeare himself. He must be classed as the first of Novelists--"facile primus," and this is no light praise, where Richardson, and Fielding, and Smollet are competitors. But with a depth of observation, and fidelity to nature, equal to their's, and with a flight of fancy, and power of eloquence, and fund of varied learning, infinitely beyond them, he has known how to avoid their peculiar defects: and can be charged neither with the repetitions and tedious prolixity of Richardson, nor with the prurient sensuality of Fielding, nor with the inwrought vulgarity and occasional feebleness of Smollet. The author of Tom Jones, indeed, (we know not, but that we are seduced into the opinion by the force of early association) we have ever deemed, par excellence, a man of genius; bis delineations of character, have exceeding force and truth; but his paintings like those of the Flemish school, are not merely true to nature, but to nature in her grossness. Decency would draw the veil over much that he reveals. There is a purity in the page of Scott, which renders it grateful to female delicacy—while the high and commanding powers which he summons to the task, would seem to address themselves more particularly to the lofty and vigorous intellect of our own sex.
We purpose not to give a regular analysis of the story of the work before us. Such a course may
in treating of obscurer books, but it is not of a tale like this that readers are content to receive their whole knowledge from a review! We shall presume then, that it will be read, admired, and classed where we think it deserves to stand, in the first rank of the second-rate productions of the author; and we shall content ourselves with selecting such passages as are illustrative of the peculiar powers of the writer, or as may serve for an introduction to such brief comments as we design to offer.
The work, particularly the first volume, is carefully and powerfully written. Some passages are highly and successfully elaborated; while in certain parts of the second volume, the author seems evidently to have composed in haste, and as if anxious tog conclude. The opening of the story is spirited and striking, and
will remind the observant reader of correspondent introductions of the dramatis personæ, in the “Black Dwarf” and “Legend of Montrose." You are immediately brought acquainted with some of the leading figures on the canvass, and that, under circumstances so peculiar, as at once to rivet your attention. Two travellers, habited like merchants, are seen groping their way in the face of an impending storm, amidst the most fearful precipices of the Alps; and the very first sentences they utter, assure us that their condition is above their appearance—that they are men, probably, of high rank-certainly, of high and noble sentiments, who have assumed a temporary disguise. The strong interest of mystery is thus awakened at the outset, nor does the veteran author suffer this interest to cool; for there is throughout the work, a constant masquerading of the principal characters-a perpetual surprise upon the reader. This device of authorship is, indeed, pushed too far-the entire commodity seems in danger of being used up, and such excess would, in less talented hands, tend infallibly to disgust. Thus we find, that Arthur and his father, and Anne of Geierstein, and even the Landamman, in his character of “Shepherd Count,” and the black Priest of St. Paul's, and the blue cavalier of Graffs-lust, and the sorrow-stricken Queen Margaret, and the impetuous Burgundy—are all shewn in masquerade, and join to the interest inherent in their characters, and the parts they respectively sustain-the further attraction of mystery.
Condemning the two frequent recurrence of this stratagem of authorship, we yet cannot withhold our approbation of the happy manner, in which he leads on these disguised personages to develope their true characters--selecting those occasions, when unobserved by others, or thrown off their guard by some sudden passion or emergency—their nature and proper feelings burst through the restraints that policy or necessity had imposed. Our travellers had now reached a spot—not unusual in Alpine scenerywhere a soft green valley, watered by a limpid, stream, was seen to repose in striking contrast with the bleak and savage craggs that hemmed it in.
" That stream, Arthur,' said the elder traveller, as with one consent they stopped to gaze on such a scene as I have described, ' resembles the lifo of a good and a happy man.'
“ And the brook, which hurries itself headlong down yon distant hill, marking its course by a streak of white foam,' answered Arthur,what does that resemble ?'
“That of a brave and unfortunate one,' replies the father.
". The torrent for me,' said Arthur; a headlong course which no human force can oppose, and then let it be as brief as it is glorious.'
" It is a young man's thought,' replied his father ; ' but I am aware that it is so rooted in thy heart, that nothing but the rude hand of adversity can pluck it up.'
" • As yet the root clings fast to my heart's strings,' said the young man; • and methinks adversity's hand hath had a fair grasp of it.'
“ •You speak, my son, of what you little understand,' said his father. Know, that till the middle of life be passed, men scarce distinguish true prosperity from adversity, or rather they court as the favours of fortune what they should more justly regard as the marks of her displeasure. Look at yonder mountain, which wears on its shaggy brow a diadem of clouds, now raised and now depressed, while the sun glances upon, but is unable to dispel it; & child might believe it to be a crown of glory-a man knows it to be the signal of tempest.'
“ Arthur followed the direction of his father's eye to the dark and shadowy eminence of Mount Pilatre."-Vol i. p. 19.
“ The Leviathian,” as our author terms it, "of that great congregation of mountains assembled about Lucerne,” so called from the popular belief that Pontius Pilate, whose perturbed spirit was still supposed to hover about the scene, here terminated his career of guilt.
6. How the accursed heathen scowls upon us !' said the younger of the merchants, while the cloud darkened and seemed to settle on the brow of Mount Pilatre. • Vade retro ;-be thou defied, sinner !'
“ A rising wind, rather heard than felt, seemed to groan forth in the tone of a dying lion, the acceptance of the suffering spirit to the rash challenge of the young Englishman. The mountain was seen to send down its rugged sides thick wreaths of heaving mist, which, rolling through the rugged chasms that seamed the grisly bill, resembled torrents of rushing lava pouring down from a volcano. "The ridgy precipices; which formed the sides of these huge ravines, showed their splintery and rugged edges over the vapour, as if dividing from each other the descending streams of mist which rolled around them. strong contrast to this gloomy and threatening scene, the more distant mountain range of Righi shone brilliant with all the hues of an autumnal sun.-Vol. i. p. 20.
If our original intention in selecting this passage, was to illustrate a peculiar excellence of our author, viz. the artful preparation of the reader, by casual hints and expressions, dropped as by accident, for the appearance of his personages in their true characters--yet we found it impossible to stop precisely at that point at which our purpose was attained—we could not break off in the midst of one of the most striking and brilliant passages which he has ever penned. The singular beauty of the image which the elder traveller seizes on to illustrate his moralthe VOL. IV.--NO. 8.
diadem of clouds that crowned the summit of Pilatre-the outward seeming sign of glory--the real index of storm and disaster--will scarcely escape the notice of the most careless and indifferent ; but it is for the initiated to admire and envy the felicitous use made by the author of this image, to prepare us for the tempest that is to burst on the travellers, and to exercise (in the incidents springing out of it) so important an influence on their future destiny. Nor can we pass without comment, the splendid description which closes the extract. (We notice, indeed, the careless repetition of the term rugged, but can scarcely pause to condemn it.) It is of eminent beauty-the gust of rising wind, heard, not felt-the groan of defiance sent forth, as it seemed, by the demon of the place, while the dark cloud rushed down the haunted mountain, as if to execute bis vengeance—is a conception which appears to us to belong to the highest heaven of poetic invention. But we return to our purpose, to show the dexterous manner in which he prepares us for the unmasking of his characters, by the sentiments that unconsciously escape them in those unguarded moments, when the masks that men wear, fall from their faces, and expose them in their true features and colours to the eye of the sagacious observer. Thus significant of character, is the expression of Arthur, in the passage we have quoted—"a torrent for me!" and such another foreshewing of character is there in the speech of the elder Philipson, when startled from his proprieties as a merchant, by the insolence and brutality of Ital Schreckenwald, he replies fiercely to the inquiry of the Landamman—"How wouldst thou have treated him, Sir Englishman?”. “I would have laid him on the earth, with his head shivered like an icicle." The courage and generosity of the high-toned cavalier are again shown forth in the scene of Arthur's duel with Donnerhugel, amidst the ruins of the old castle of Geierstein. Rudolf had repaired to the rendezvous where Arthur awaited him, armed with an immense two-handed Swiss sword, which was suspended from his left shoulder, while he carried another in his hand.
"Thou art punctual,' he called out to Arthur Philipson, in a voice which was distinctly heard above the roar of the waterfall, which it seemed to rival in sullen force. But I judged thou wouldst come without a two-handed sword. There is my kinsman Ernest's,' he said, throwing on the ground the weapons which he carried, with the hilt towards the young Englishman. Look, stranger, that thou disgrace it not, for my kinsman will never forgive me if thou dost. Or thou mayst have mine if thou likest it better."
“ The Englishman looked at the weapon, with some surprise, to the use of which he was totally unaccustomed.
“The challenger,' he said, 'in all countries where honour is known, accepts the arms of the challenged.'
“He who fights on a Swiss mountain, fights with a Swiss brand,' answered Rudolf. "Think you our hands are made to handle penknives ?'
« • Nor are ours made to wield scythes,' said Arthur; and muttered betwixt bis teeth, as he looked at the sword, which the Swiss continued to offer him— Usum non habeo, I have not proved the weapon.'
“Do you repent the bargain you have made ?' said the Swiss ; ' if so, cry craven, and return in safety. Speak plainly, instead of prattling Latin like a clerk or a shaven monk.' “No, proud man,' replied the Englishman, 'I ask thee no forbear
I thought but of a combat between a shepherd and a giant, in which God
gave the victory to him who had worse odds of weapons than falls to my lot to-day. I will fight as I stand ; my own good sword shall serve my need now, as it has done before.'
6. Content !- But blame not me who offered thee equality of weapons,' said the mountaineer. 'And now hear me. This is a fight for life or death-yon waterfall sounds the alarum for our conflict. Yes, old bellower,' he continued, looking back, “it is long since thou hast heard the noise of battle;—and look at it ere we begin, stranger, for if you fall, I will commit your body to its waters.'
". And if thou fall’st, proud Swiss,' answered Arthur, 'as well. I trust thy presumption leads to destruction, I will have thee buried in the church at Einsiedlen, where the priests shall sing masses for thy soulthy two-handed sword shall be displayed above thy grave, and a scroll shall tell the passenger, Here lies a Bear's cub of Berne, slain by Arthur the Englishman.'
“The stone is not in Switzerland, rocky as it is,' said Rudolf, scornfully, that shall bear that inscription. Prepare thyself for
· By such generous and gallant bearing—by such bursts of noble and chivalrous feeling on the part of these seeming merchants, is the reader prepared to find that they are not merely what their occupation implied, but men of high station, oppressed by unmerited misfortune, or travelling incognito on some bold and perilous enterprize. The sympathy of the reader is thus enlisted in behalf of the travellers, and his curiosity powerfully excited by the author ; and this is one of those hidden springs of interest, which the master spirit of the age, affectuum potens dominator, knows admirably how to touch!
Compelled by want of space, to select from the various beauties which obtrude themselves upon our notice, we proceed to extract, as one of the most striking passages, the scene of the earth-slide among the precipices of Geierstein. Our travellers were now shrouded in the gloom of those ominous mists, which, descending from Mount Pilatre, had encompassed them in dark