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to trace either the peculiar manners or scenery of the country: and although, in reading the work with that express purpose, we can now trace some germs of that taste and talent for the wild, romantic, and mysterious, which the authoress afterwards employed with such effect, we cannot consider the work, on the whole, as by any means worthy of her pen. It is always, however, of consequence to the history of human genius to preserve its earlier efforts, that we may trace, if possible, how the oak at length germinates from the unmarked coro.
Mrs. Radcliffe's genius was more advantageously displayed in the Sicilian Romance, which appeared in 1790, and as we ourselves well recollect, attracted in no ordinary degree the attention of the public. This work displays the exuberance and fertility of imagination, which was the author's principal characteristic. Adventures heaped on adventures, in quick and brilliant succession, with all the hair-breadth charms of escape or capture, hurry the reader along with them, and the imagery and scenery by which the action is relieved, are like those of a splendid oriental tale. Still this work had marked traces of the defects natural to an unpractised author. The scenes were inartificially connected, and the characters hastily sketched, without any attempt at individual distinctions; being cast in the usual mould of ardent lovers, tyrannical parents, with domestic ruffians, guards and others, who had wept or stormed through the chapters of romance without much alteration in their family habits or features, for a quarter of a century before Mrs. Radcliffe's time. Nevertheless, the Sicilian Romance attracted much notice among the novel readers of the day, as far excelling the ordinary meagerness of stale and uninteresting incident with which they were at that time regaled from the Leadenhall press. Indeed, the praise may be claimed for Mrs. Radcliffe, of having been the first to introduce into her prose fictions a tone of fanciful description and impressive narrative, which had hitherto been exclusively applied to poetry. Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, even Walpole, though writing upon an imaginative subject, are decidedly prose authors. Mrs. Radcliffe has a title to be considered as the first poetess of romantic fiction, that is, if actual rhythm shall not be deemed essential to poetry.
The Romance of the Forest, which appeared in 1791, placed the author at once in that rank and pre-eminence in her own particular style of composition, in which her works have ever since maintained her. Her fancy, in this new effort, was more regulated, and subjected to the fetters of a regular story. The persons, too, although perhaps there is nothing very original in the conception, were depicted with skill far superior to that which the author had hitherto displayed, and the work attracted the public attention in proportion. That of La Motte, indeed, is sketched with particular talent, and most part of the interest of the piece depends upon the vacillations of a character who, though upon the whole we may rather term him weak and vicious, than villanous, is, nevertheless, at every moment on the point of becoming an agent in atrocities which his heart disapproves of. He is the exact picture of “ the needy man who has known better days,” and who, spited at the world, from which he has been expelled with contempt, and condemned by circumstances to seek an asylum in a desolate castle full of mysteries and horrors, avenges himself, by playing the gloomy despot within his own family, and tyrannizing over those who were subjected to him only by their strong sense of duty. A more powerful agent appears on the scene-obtains the mastery over his dark but irresolute spirit, and, by alternate exertion of seduction and terror, compels him to be his agent in schemes against the virtue, and even the life of an orphan, whom he was bound in gratitude, as well as in honour and hospitality, to cherish and protect.
The heroine, too, wearing the usual costume of innocence, purity, and simplicity, as proper to heroines as white gowns are to the sex in general, has some pleasing touches of originality. Her grateful affection for the La Motte family-her reliance on their truth and honour, when the wife had become unkind, and the father treacherous towards her, is an interesting and individual trait in her character.
But although, undoubtedly, the talents of Mrs. Radcliffe, in the important point of drawing and finishing the characters of her narrative, were greatly improved since her earlier attempts, and manifested sufficient power to raise her far above the common crowd of novelists, this was not the department of art on which her popularity rested. The public were chiefly aroused, or rather fascinated, by the wonderful conduct of a story, in which the author so successfully called out the feelings of mystery and of awe, while chapter after chapter, and incident after incident, maintained the thrilling attraction of awakened curiosity and suspended interest. Of these, every reader felt the force, from the sage in his study, to the group which assembles around the evening taper, to seek a solace from the toils of ordinary life, by an excursion into the regions of imagination. The tale was the more striking, because varied and relieved by descriptions of the ruined mansion, and the forest with which it is surrounded, under so many different points, now pleasing and serene, pow gloomy, now terrible-scenes which could only have been drawn by one to whom nature had given the eye of a painter with the spirit of a poet.
In 1793, Mrs. Radcliffe had the advantage of visiting the scenery of the Rhine, and, although we are not positive of the fact, we are strongly inclined to suppose that the Mysteries of Udolpho were written, or at least corrected, after the date of this journey; for the mouldering castles of the robber chivalry of Germany, situated on the wild and romantic banks of that celebrated stream, seem to have given a bolder flight to her imagination, and a more glowing character to her colouring, than are exhibited in the Romance of the Forest. The scenery on the Lakes of Westmoreland, which Mrs. Radcliffe visited, about the same time, was also highly calcalated to awaken her fancy, as nature has in these wild but beautiful regions realized the descriptions in which this authoress loved to indulge. Her remarks upon these countries were given to the public in 1794, in a very well written work, entitled, A Journey through Holland, etc.
Much was of course expected from Mrs. Radcliffe's next effort, and the booksellers felt themselves authorized in offering what was then considered as an unprecedented sum, £500 for The Mysteries of Udolpho. It often happens, that a writer's previous reputation proves the greatest enemy, which, in a second attempt upon public favour, he has to encounter. Exaggerated expectations are excited and circulated, and criticism, which had been seduced into former approbation by the pleasure of surprise, now stands awakened and alert, to pounce upon every failing. Mrs. Radcliffe's popularity, however, stood the test, and was heightened, rather than diminished by The Mysteries of Udolpho. The very name was fascinating, and the public, who rushed upon it with all the eagerness of curiosity, rose from it with unsatiated appetite. When a family was numerous, the volumes flew, and were sometimes torn from hand to hand, and the complaints of those whose studies were thus interrupted, were a general tribute to the genius of the author. One might still be found of a different and higher description, in the dwelling of the lonely invalid, or the neglected votary of celibacy, who was bewitched away from a sense of solitude, of indisposition, of the neglect of the world, or of secret sorrow, by the potent charm of this mighty enchantress. Perhaps the perusal of such works may, without injustice, be compared with the use of opiates, baneful, when habitually and constantly resorted to, but of a most blessed power in those moments of pain and languor, when the whole head is sore, and the whole heart sick. If those who rail indiscriminately at this species of composition, were to consider the quantity of actual pleasure which it produces, and the much greater proportion of real sorrow and distress which it alleviates, their philanthropy ought to moderate their critical pride, or religious intolerance.
To return to The Mysteries of Udolpho. The author, pursuing her own favourite bent of composition, and again waving her wand over the world of wonder and imagination, had judiciously used a spell of broader and more potent command. The situation and distresses of the heroines, have here, and in The Romance of the Forest, a general aspect of similarity. Both are divided from the object of their attachment by the gloomy influence of unfaithful and oppressive guardians, and both become inhabitants of time-stricken towers, and witnesses of scenes now bordering on the supernatural, and now upon the horrible. But this general resemblance is only such as we love to recognise in pictures which have been painted by the same hand, and as compaRions for each other. Every thing in The Mysteries of Udolpho is on a larger and more sublime scale than in The Romance of the Forest; the interest is of a more agitating and tremendous nature; the scenery of a wilder and more terrific description; the characters distinguished by fiercer and more gigantic features. Montoni, a desperado, and captain of Condottieri, stands beside La Motte and his Marquis, like one of Milton's fiends beside a witch's familiar. Adeline is confined within a ruined manor-house, but her sister heroine, Emily, is imprisoned in a huge castle, like those of feudal times; the one is attacked and defended by bands of armed mercenary soldiers, the other only threatened by a visit from constables and thief-takers. The scale of the landscape is equally different: the quiet and limited woodland scenery of the one work forming a contrast with the splendid and high-wrought descriptions of Italian mountain-grandeur which occur in the other.
In general, The Mysteries of Udolpho was, at its first appearance, considered as a step beyond Mrs. Radcliffe's former work, high as that had justly advanced her. We entertain the same opinion in again reading them both, even after some years interval. Yet there were persons of no mean judgment, to whom the simplicity of The Romance of the Forest seemed preserable to the more highly coloured and broader style of The Mysteries of Udol. pho; and it must remain matter of opinion, whether this preference be better founded than in the partialities of a first love, which in literature, as in life, are often unduly predominant. With the majority of the public, the superior magnificence of landscape, and dignity of conception of character, secured the palm for the more recent work.
The fifth production by which Mrs. Radcliffe arrested the attention of the public, was fated to be her last. The Italian, which appeared in 1790, was purchased by the booksellers for £800, and obtained a share of public favour equal to any of its predecessors. Here, too, the author had, with much judgment, taken such a difference, that while employing her own peculiar talent, and painting in the style of which she may be considered the inventor, she cannot be charged with repeating or copying herself. She selected the new and powerful machinery afforded her by the Popish religion, when established in its paramount superiority, and thereby had at her disposal, monks, spies, dungeons, the mute obedience of the bigot, the dark and dominating spirit of the crafty priest, all the thunders of the Vatican, and all the terrors of the Inquisition. This fortunate adoption placed in the hands of the authoress a powerful set of agents, who were at once supplied with means and motives for bringing forward scenes of horror; and thus a tinge of probability was thrown over even those parts of the story which are most inconsistent with the ordinary train of human events.
Most writers of romance have been desirous to introduce their narrative to the reader, in some manner which might at once excite interest, and prepare his mind for the species of excitation
which it was the author's object to produce. In The Italian, this has been achieved by Mrs. Radcliffe with an uncommon degree of felicity, nor is there any part of the romance itself which is more striking than its impressive commencement. A party of English travellers visit a Neapolitan church.
66 Within the shade of a portico, a person with folded arms, and eyes directed towards the ground, was pacing behind the pillars the whole extent of the pavement, and was apparently so engaged by his own thoughts, as not to observe that strangers were approaching. He turned, however, suddenly, as if startled by the sound of steps, and then, without farther pausing, glided to a door that opened into the church, and disappeared.
“ There was something too extraordinary in the figure of this man, and too singular in his conduct, to pass unnoticed by the visiters. He was of a tall thin figure, bending forward from the shoulders; of a sallow complexion, and harsh features, and had an eye which, as it looked up from the cloak that muffled the lower part of his countenance, was expressive of uncommon ferocity.
“ The travellers, on entering the church, looked round for the stranger, who had passed thither before them, but he was nowhere to be seen; and, through all the shade of the long aisles, only one other person appeared. This was a friar of the adjoining convent, who sometimes pointed out to strangers the objects in the church which were most worthy of attention, and who now, with this design, approached the party that had just entered.
“ When the party had viewed the different shrines, and whatever had been judged worthy of observation, and were returning through an obscure aisle towards the portico, they perceived the person who had appeared upon the steps passing towards a confessional on the left, and, as he entered it, one of the party pointed him out to the friar, and inquired who he was; the friar turning to look after him, did not immediately reply, but, on the question being repeated, he inclined his head, as in a kind of obeisance, and calmly replied, He is an assassin.'
"An assassin!' exclaimed one of the Englishmen; "an assassin, and at liberty!'
“ An Italian gentleman, who was of the party, smiled at the astonishment of his friend.
“He has sought sanctuary here,” replied the friar; 'within these walls he may not be hurt.'
“• Do your altars then protect a murderer?' said the Englishman.
"He could find shelter nowhere else!' answered the friar meekly.
“ • But observe yonder confessional,' added the Italian, that beyond the pillars on the left of the aisle below a painted window. Have you discovered it? The colours of the glass throw, instead