« ZurückWeiter »
their other amiable qualities, for their great respect to strangers. The peculiarity of their position, and the absence of so many things which are commonplaces to other countries, such as streets, horses, and coaches, add, no doubt, to this feeling. But a foolish or vain people would only feel a contempt for what they did not possess. Milton, in one of those favourite passages of his, in which he turns a mere vocabulary into such grand meaning and music, shows us whose old footing he had deli hted to follow. How he enjoys the distance; emphatically using the words, far, farthest, and utmost !
“Embassies from regions far remote,
Parad. Reg. Book IV.
One of the main helps to our love of remoteness in general, is the associations we connect with it of peace and quietness. Whatever there may be at a distance, people feel as if they should escape from the worry of their local cares. “Oh that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away, and be at rest.” The word far is often used wilfully in poetry, to render distance still more distant. An old English song begins
“In Irelande, farre over the sea,
There dwelt a bonny king."
Thomson, a Scotchman, speaking of the western isles of his own country, has that delicious line, full of a dreary yet lulling pleasure :
“As when a shepherd of the Hebrid isles,
Placed far amid the melancholy main."
In childhood, the total ignorance of the world, especially when we are brought up in some confined spot, renders everything
beyond the bounds of our dwelling a distance and a romance. Mr Lamb, in his “ Recollections of Christ's Hospital,” says that he remembers when some half-dozen of his schoolfellows set off, “ without map, card, or compass, on a serious expedition to find out Philip Quarll's Island.” We once encountered a set of boys as romantic. It was at no greater distance than at the foot of a hill near Hampstead; yet the spot was so perfectly Cisalpine to them, that two of them came up to us with looks of hushing eagerness, and asked, “whether, on the other side of that hill
, there were not robbers ;” to which the minor adventurer of the two added, “ And some say, serpents.” They had all got bows and arrows, and were evidently hovering about the place, betwixt daring and apprehension, as on the borders of some wild region). We smiled to think which it was that husbanded their suburb wonders to more advantage, they or we; for while they peopled the place with robbers and serpents, we were peopling it with sylvans and fairies.
So was it when
Or let me die !
MAN who does not contribute his quota of grim stories
now-a-days seems hardly to be free of the republic of
letters. He is bound to wear a death's head as part of his insignia. If he does not frighten everybody, he is nobody. If he does not shock the ladies, what can be expected of him?
We confess we think very cheaply of these stories in general. A story, merely horrible or even awful, which contains no sentiment elevating to the human heart and its hopes, is a mere appeal to the least judicious, least healthy, and least masculine of our passions-fear. They whose attention can be gravely arrested by it are in a fit state to receive any absurdity with their wits off; and this is the cause why less talents are required to enforce it than in any other species of composition. With this opinion of such things, we may be allowed to say, that we would undertake to write a dozen horrible stories in a day, all of which should make the common worshippers of power, who were not in the very healthiest condition, turn pale. We would tell of haunting old women, and knocking ghosts, and solitary lean hands, and Empusas on one leg, and ladies growing longer and longer, and horrid eyes meeting us through key-holes, and plaintive heads, and shrieking statues, and shocking anomalies of shape, and things which when seen drive people mad; and indigestion knows what besides. But who would measure talents with a leg of veal, or a German sausage ?
Mere grimness is as easy as grinning ; but it requires something to put a handsome face on a story. Narratives become of suspicious merit in proportion as they lean to Newgate-like offences, particularly of blood and wounds. A child has a reasonable respect for a raw-head-and-bloody-bones, because all images whatsoever of pain and terror are new and fearful to his inexperienced age : but sufferings merely physical (unless sublimated like those of Philoctetes) are commonplaces to a grown man. Images, to become awful to him, must be removed from the grossness
of the shambles. A death's head was a respectable thing in the hands of a poring monk, or of a nun compelled to avoid the idea of life and society, or of a hermit already buried in the desert. Holbein's “Dance of Death,” in which every grinning skeleton leads along a man of rank, from the Pope to the gentleman, is a good memento mori;, but there the skeletons have an air of the ludicrous and satirical. If we were threatened with them in a grave way, as spectres, we should have a right to ask how they could walk about without muscles. Thus, many of the tales written by such authors as the late Mr Lewis, who wanted sentiment to complete his talents, are quite puerile. When his spectral nuns go about bleeding, we think they ought in decency to have applied to some 'ghost of a surgeon. His little gray men, who sit munching hearts, are of a piece with fellows that eat cats for a wager.
Stories that give mental pain to no purpose, or to very little purpose compared with the unpleasant ideas they excite of human nature, are as gross mistakes, in their way, as these, and twenty times as pernicious : for the latter become ludicrous to grown people. They originate also in the same extremes, either of callousness, or morbid want of excitement, as the others. But more of these hereafter. Our business at present is with things ghastly and ghostly.
A ghost story, to be a good one, should unite as much as possible objects such as they are in life with a preternatural spirit. And to be a perfect one-at least, to add to the other
utility of excitement a moral utility—they should imply some great sentiment; something that comes out of the next world to remind us of our duties in this; or something that helps to carry on the idea of our humanity into after-life, even when we least think we shall take it with us. When the buried majesty of Denmark” revisits earth to speak to his son Hamlet, he comes armed, as he used to be, in his complete steel. His visor is raised, and the same fine face is there; only, in spite of his punishing errand and his own sufferings, with
“A countenance more in sorrow than in anger."
When Donne, the poet, in his thoughtful eagerness to reconcile life and death, had a figure of himself painted in a shroud, and laid by his bedside in a coffin, he did a higher thing than the monks and hermits with their skulls. It was taking his humanity with him into the other world, not affecting to lower the sense of it by regarding it piecemeal, or in the framework. Burns, in his “Tam o' Shanter,” shows the dead in their coffins, after the same fashion. He does not lay bare to us their skeletons or refuse,-things with which we can connect no sympathy or spiritual wonder. They still are flesh and body, to excite the one; yet so look and behave, inconsistent in their very consistency, as to exite the other.
“ Coffins stood round like open presses,
Reanimation is perhaps the most ghastly of all ghastly things, uniting as it does an appearance of natural interdiction from the next world with a supernatural experience of it. Our human consciousness is jarred out of its self-possession. The extremes of habit and newness, of commonplace and astonishment, meet suddenly, without the kindly introduction of death and change; and the stranger appals us in proportion. When