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to this early dream of forest wanderings that in after life we derive pleasure from works of fiction, and more especially from those parts which remind us more strongly of our chivalric longings. Who has not in many a tented field battled for his country? Where is the man who has not released his lady-love from haunted castle? Ah! even the fat old man who opens oysters at Florence's has had his vision of love and beauty; and, dear reader, where is the absurdity of his having had these delusions, any more than yourself ? Leigh Hunt has often said, that every man had a strong suspicion he was eminently ridiculous on certain occasions, and yet this very man was to himself his own hero: thus confirming the saying, that no one was a hero in the eyes of his valet, but always in his own.
The horror of an event is often formed in the mind by the absurdity of the same under somewhat different aspect. We will trespass again on Leigh Hunt for an illustration. He told us that notwithstanding all he had read and all he had written on the horrors of war, he had never his mind filled with the perfect idea of its gigantic lawlessness, till on the occasion of a review, or sham fight, during the Napoleontic war.
The King had reviewed the Volunteers on Wimbledon Common one intensely sultry day, and as part of the regiment to which the lively author of “Rimini” belonged was marching home, they entered some little village near the scene of this mimic slaughter. They had neither eaten nor drunk since morning, and the corporeal part of their natures was becoming vociferous for sustenance. On a sudden they beheld a baker .carrying a large basket of newly-baked loaves ; veni, vidi, vici,
was the order of the day; swift as thought the hapless baker was overthrown, his basket vanished from him, and ere the bewildered knight of the oven could look around him the contents had already been introduced to the gastric juice, and were undergoing its digestive process. Leigh Hunt paused to survey the scene, and said, “Good Heaven ! if in a peaceful country like this so little regard is paid to the laws of property, what on earth must be the result when a brutal and maddened soldiery is let loose upon a defenceless town ?"
While we are on this subject, the mention of Leigh Hunt's Dame reminds us of a singular anecdote he told us one day. It is well known that as editor of the Examiner he incited and encouraged Sir Francis Burdett to defy the House of Commons to imprison him. It is not so well known that the self-said editor of the Examiner (in his capacity of volunteer soldier) helped a few days afterwards to take him to the Tower of London for following his advice.
We remember one of the party took him to task for this apparent contradiction, if not treachery; but he defended himself on the ground that he was right in his capacity of public journalist to spirit him up to assist the liberty of the subject, and that it was no less his duty on the other hand as a soldier to obey the orders of his superior officer.
After this digression we shall enter one of Mr. Cooper's forests and refresh our readers' attention.
We must premise that this is by no means one of his best “ bits of painting;" still it has all the characteristics of his style, and we present it, being the first that comes to hand. The river was confined between high and cragged rocks, one of which impended above the spot where the canoe rested. As these, again, were surmounted by tall trees, which appeared to totter on the brows of the precipice, it gave the stream the appearance of running through a deep and narrow dell. All beneath the fantastic limbs and ragged tree-tops, which were, here and there, dimly painted against the starry zenith, lay alike in shadowed obscurity. Behind them, the curvature of the banks soon bounded the view, by the same dark and wooded outline ; but in front, and apparently at no great distance, the water seemed piled against the heavens whence it tumbled into caverns, out of which issued those sullen sounds that had loaded the evening atmosphere. It seemed, in truth, to be a spot devoted to seclusion, and the sisters imbibed a soothing impression of increased security, as they gazed upon its romantic, though not unappalling beauties. A general movement among their conductors, however, soon recalled them from a contemplation of the wild charms that night had assisted to lend the place, to a painful sense of their real peril.
“ The horses had been secured to some scattering shrubs that grew in the fissures of the rocks, where, standing in the water, they were left to pass the night. The scout directed Heyward and his disconsolate fellow travellers to seat themselves in the forward end of the canoe, and took possession of the other himself, as erect and steady as if he floated in a vessel of much firmer materials. The Indians warily retraced their steps towards the place they had left, when the scout, placing his pole against a rock, by a powerful shove, sent his frail bark directly into the centre of the turbulent stream. For many minutes the struggle between the light bubble in which they floated, and the swift current, was severe and doubtful. Forbidden to stir even a hand, and almost afraid to breathe, lest they should expose the frail fabric to the fury of the stream, the anxious passengers watched the glancing waters in feverish suspense. Twenty times they thought the whirling eddies were sweeping them to destruction, when the master-hand of their pilot would bring the bows of the canoe to stem the rapid, and their eyes glanced over a confused mass of the murmuring element so swift was the passage between it and their little vessel. A long, a vigorous, and, as it appeared to the females, a desperate effort, closed the scene. Just as Alice veiled her eyes in horror, under the impression that they were about to be swept within the vortex at the foot of the cataract, the canoe floated, stationary, at the side of a flat rock, that lay on a level with the water."
In the Leather-Stocking Tales we have the complete life of Natty Bumppo more elaborately described than perhaps any other hero of romance ; in short, a sort of Sir Charles Grandison of the woods. We cannot help giving to this novel the fullest measure of praise; notwithstanding that the life extends through fifteen volumes, we read the dying scene of the hero with regret.
We seem to be really losing a companion with whom we have had many journeyings—with whom we have had hair-breadth adventures—whose fidelity, coolness, sagacity, and undaunted courage, have helped us at the very last need—and with whom we have sat 'neath the forest's edge, or in the heart of the wood, chatting and discussing many a pleasant meal after some breathless escape! The consistency of his character is so admirably preserved that we almost feel his existence to be a personal fact, the demonstration of which would be absurd.
Much has been said by critics of the similarity between
a novel and a comedy, and a romance and a tragedy. We think, however, the difference very wide; being no less than between action and narration. The dramatist includes the novelist and the romancist. The latter may eke out his shortcomings by description, as a man in an equivocal position may explain the ambiguity away, and stultify to a certain extent the evidence of the spectator's senses. But in a dramatist all must be plain and palpable; there is no interpreter save the spectator, and he is incapable of being corrupted by any partisanship beyond his own feelings. It is this which renders a dramatist so rare a production in all ages, more especially our own, while novelists are as plentiful as oysters.
The whole mystery lies in a nutshell. There are tendencies in the human heart which require a certain pabulum to satisfy, and it shows a considerable knowledge of our common nature to select that particular one. A very popular author must necessarily be a man of great sagacity. A keen instinct is indispensable for a great dramatist, although mere playwrights may be made out of a clever selecter of theatrical situations. It not unfrequently occurs that a good acting play is far from a natural representation, and sometimes it may be diametrically opposed to nature. Whenever a dramatic action is startling the poet has failed in his legitimate result. A true dramatist works to a point; and although every scene should have a certain unexpectedness in it, so as to keep the interest alive and create an appetite for the denouement, yet the climax should be artistically reached by the natural process of human passion, and not vaulted into at a bound, like a mountebank's trick.