« ZurückWeiter »
we are yet constrained to say, almost the only writer who has contrived with rigid historical truth, to adhere to the verisimilitude of his characters, and at the same time, to throw around them that freshness and those variegated charms which belong to mere works of imagination.
His exquisite border and chivalrous Lays, his profound study of the peculiar feudal institutions of the Highlands of Scotland, his intimate and critical acquaintance with her beroic legends, bis familiarity with the wild and sublime scenery of his country, all conspired to prepare his genius for the execution of those incomparable fictions which have made all Scotland “a holy land” for pilgrims of every clime.
Yet, it is not the least remarkable portion of the success of the author of Waverly, that his historical portraits and pictures are not confined to the events, scenes, or characters of his own country. Over those of France, Germany, Flanders, and Switzerland, he exercises scarcely an inferior power. His Lewis, his Charles of Burgundy, his Flemish burgher, and Swiss peasant, are equally as graphic as Ballie Jarvie, the Baron of Bradwardine, Mr. Peter Pattieson, or Rob Roy himself. Indeed, Scott seems to possess a power, which enables him to enter the soul of each of the personages he represents, and to exhibit him with a truth, nature and individuality, which have never been equalled, except by him, whose invention " exhausted worlds and then imagined new." We will not, however, forestall all that we have to say on this attractive theme.
IV. The Miscellaneous Novel. The great variety of fictions which may be embraced within this class, makes it necessary to confine ourselves to a selection from the most conspicuous of them. The author of Robinson Crusoe may be considered as one of the earliest writers of this species of Novel. This writer who died in 1731, left several fictions behind him, which are now scarcely remembered by name. Among them, are · The Memoirs of a Chevalier,' Romana,' and “The History of Moll Flanders.' His fame rests on that book which is usually the first we read, and the last we forget. With the single exception of Don Quixotte, we doubt whether any modern work is so universally known among common readers in Europe. Indeed, the knight of La Mancha himself scarcely enjoys a wider popular renown than honest Robinson-nor has Sancho Panza much to boast of in this behalf over the faithful Friday. It is, indeed, one of those very few books wbich make us as familiar with the scenes and characters it describes, as with our own homes and our early friends. Nor is this minute and perfect accuracy in his pictures, worthy as they are of Teniers or Wou
vermans, the least of his charms. The simplicity, clearness and beauty of bis narrative have made it the model of shipwreck narratives in our language, whether fictitious or otherwise.
In a summary of this sort, it would be impossible to omit mentioning the writings of Sterne, marked as they are, by such peculiarities, by such striking defects and signal excellencies. Tristram Shandy is a work quite sui generis, and has had few copyists or imitators even in this imitative age. When Goldsmith said to Johnson, that Sterne "was a very dull fellow," the Doctor replied, in his decided tone, Why, no sir"--and we believe the most fastidious of the readers of Yorick, will enter an equally emphatic negative. It is true' he stole much from Rasselas, and from that encyclopedia of wit, philosophy and pathos, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, but after all, the rough bullion that passed through his mint, came out with a finer stamp and more beautiful die, rendering it more fit for a wide and active circulation. His originality, however, is sufficiently vindicated by the fine conception and execution of the characters of Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, certainly most exquisitely finished images of simple and single-hearted benevolence and charity, blended with generosity and courage. They form a beautiful, and we hope a just, eulogium on human nature, and will go far to redeem much of the grossness, extravagance and license which elsewhere disfigure the works of this bighly gifted though eccentric writer.
To this class 'must Johnson's Rasselas be also assigned, which abounding in very few incidents, may be called a beautiful prose version of the Vanity of Human Wishes, which the author has enforced with a more varied philosophy, and with all the gorgeous richness which belongs to his best manner. The Chrysal of Charles Johnstone, a severe and effective satire on the age of Sir Robert Walpole; the exquisite fictions of McKenzie, so full of pathos and nature; the striking developements of single passions in the tales of Godwin, conveyed in a style of eloquence distinguished for its condensation, vehemence and splendour—the fine sketches of Holcroft, and the natural pictures of Miss Burney, belong to the class of which we are now speaking, and to which we may add, though last not least, “the charming, and in her walk, inimitable Miss Edgeworth."
The communication with the Continent, consequent on its recent pacification, has given a wider range to the Miscellaneous Novel of England, and has rendered the press prolific beyond all example, in this species of fiction. This abundance has pampered and stimulated the public appetite to such a degree, that the advent of one of these fictions is heralded across the
Atlantic, as an incident almost of national importance. In this "ridiculous and wasteful excess," occasionally works of real power and genius are turned out, (to use the technical term of the trade) well fitted to produce a more lasting impression, if they were not also crowded out by some fresh-coming novelty. Among the former, it would be unjust to forget Anastasius, Haji Baba, the Trials of Margaret Lindsay, Vivian Grey, and Cyril Thornton. The last of these we consider one of the most interesting and effective tales that we have for a long time read. It is in the pure, natural and unaffected tone of the old English novel, without a particle of the dandyism of Almack's, nor is there to be found among its dramatis persona, one of those volcanic and fiery gentlenien devils, whom Lord Byron has contributed to render so very popular, but who, in our humble estimate, are exceedingly disgustful and unpleasant companions.
characters of this novel are essentially natural and in perfect keeping, whilst its morál, conveyed through a variety of the most interesting incidents, is of the most instructive kind. Although its personages are fictitious, it is, nevertheless, somewhat bistorical in its structure, at least so far as the campaign in the Peninsula, which terminated with the battle of Albuera, is concerned. Of this, the author gives a description so transcendently graphic, that he must have been an eye-witness of the awful and stirring events which he has so powerfully delineated. We hope that we have not taken our leave of this bighly-gifted writer, and that he is destined again to delight and instruct bis generation with even some bigher and more perfect effort of his genius.
Since the appearance of Cyril Thornton, (indeed within the last year) a fresh competitor for fame has challenged the notice of the world, in the author of " Pelham" and the “Disowned." What we have said in a previous number,* in regard to the peculiarities of this writer, supersedes the necessity of our entering again into a minute discussion of his excellencies and defects. These latter are, perhaps, to be referred to the choice of his subject, rather than to the execution of his designs, which bear almost invariably the marks of a master's hand.
But since this notice of the author, he has afforded another specimen of his power-the fiction which forms the title of this article. When we prefixed it to the desultory remarks on the English Novel, in which we have indulged, we confess that we intended little more than to employ “Devereux" as a loop to hang our speculations upon. A subsequent perusal of the work,
Southern Review, No. 6. Art. 10.
satisfies us that we owe to the author and our readers, if not even a brief discussion of its characteristics, at least some examples of the power and effectiveness with which he has worked on a new subject and in a new field.
We shall not attempt to give a summary of the plot of this Novel, because such narratives, whilst they do great injustice to authors, are little calculated to entertain or enlighten readers. They are not wanted by those who have read the Novel, whilst · they are a provoking disservice to those who may be inclined to read it, even from the notice of a Reviewet-We shall, therefore, content ourselves, by informing our readers, that Devereux, although a man of fashion, and to a certain degree, a Corinthian of the age of Queen Anne, is, nevertheless, a character of higher pitch” than either “Pelham” or the “Disowned.” If he mingles with the frivolities of the fashionable world, they neither weaken nor corrupt him. He preserves the elements of a deep and even a romantic sensibility, combined with a collectellness of judgment, courage, and capacity for business, which fit him well for this world's strife. Before he reaches the meridian of manhood, he passes through the most eventful scenes of love, of wo, of policy, and of arms, in which he displays the address of a highly cultivated, liberal and elastic spirit. Notwithstanding the deep and pervading interest of the fictitious characters and incidents of this Novel, the historical, and if we may so speak, the biographical sketches from real life which are interspersed through it, form its highest attractions. The author seems to have entered deeply into the spirit of the age, in which he has laid the scene of his Novel, and to bave caught with a peculiar and felicitous fidelity, the characters of the distinguished men, who glittered in the alternate troubled sky, and bright sunshine of Louis le Grand, and Anne of Denmark. This difficult combination of fictitious with real characters, he has managed with a skill sometimes scarcely inferior to that of the author of Waverly, whilst his views of life are imbued with a deeper philosophy, and decorated by a nore gorgeous eloquence. We do not mean to say, that he has reached the same'self-sustained power, chastened taste, uniform faculty of invention, or discriminating judgment—but bis fertility is instinct with beauty and promise.
Instead of following the author through the interesting web of his narrative, we shall present to our readers, a few extracts from Devereux, which, in our opinion, are not only good specimens of the power of the author, but those which will be most attractive to the reader. Sketches of the characters of those extraordinary men, who lived in an eventful age,
and naturally, either for good or for evil; influenced the fortunes of their fellow-men.
The most interesting of the friends and associates of Devereux, to whom the author introduces us, is the celebrated Henry St. John, better known under the title of Lord Bolingbroke, whose life, marked by the most striking events and talents, exhibited a singular contrast of a youth devoted to the most profligate pleasures, and an old age, dignified by a retirement, which Sully might have envied without being able to have emulated. He thus introduces this personage
“Five minutes afterwards, the sound of carriage wheels was heard in the court-yard, then a slight bustle in the hall, and the door of the ante-room being thrown open, Mr. St. John entered.
“ He was in the very prime of life, about the middle height, and of a mien and air so strikingly noble, that it was sometime before you recovered the general effect of his person, sufficiently to examine its peculiar claims to admiration. He lost, however, nothing by a farther survey; he possessed not only an eminently handsome, but a very extraordinary countenance. Through an air of nonchalance, and even something of lassitude, through an ease of manners sometimes sinking into effeminate softness, sometimes bordering upon licentious effrontery, his eye thoughtful, yet wandering, seemed to announce that the mind partook but little of the whim of the moment, or of those levities of ordinary life, over which the grace of his manner threw so peculiar a charm. His brow was, perhaps, rather too large and thick for the exactness of perfect symmetry; but it had an expression of great mental power and determination. His features were high, yet delicate, and his mouth, which when closed, assumed a firm and rather severe expression, softened when speaking, into a smile of almost magical enchantment. Richly, but not extravagantly dressed, he seemed to cultivate, rather than disdain, the ornaments of outward appearance; and whatever can fascinate or attract, seemed so inherent in this singular man, that all which in others would have been most artificial, was in him most natural: so that it is no exaggeration to add, that to be well dressed, seemed to the elegance of his person, not so much the result of art as of a property innate and peculiar to bimself.
“Such was the outward appearance of Henry St. John; one well suited to the qualities of a mind at once more vigorous and more accomplished, than that of any other person with whom the vicissitudes of my life have ever brought me into contact
"I kept my eye on the new guest throughout the whole day: I observed the mingled liveliness and softness, which pervaded his attentions to women, the intellectual, yet unpedantic superiority he possessed in his conversations with men; his respectful demeanour to age; his careless, yet not over familiar ease with the young; and what interested me more than all, the occasional cloud which passed over his countenance at moments when he seemed sunk into a reverie, that had for its objects nothing in common with those around him.