« 上一頁繼續 »
[ 237 ]
NO, I.-SIR WALTER SCOTT.
BULWER maintains, that Scott is greater as a poet than as a novelist. There cannot he many converts to this very singular creed.
Scott was without all question the greatest Romance writer of his time, but he was far behind many of his contemporaries in poetical genius. The sun of Byron had scarcely risen above the horizon before the lesser light of Scott grew dim in the eyes of all men.
The noble poet greatly surpassed him even in the vulgar art of obtaining a certain kind of popularity amongst unpoetical readers by melodramatic tales in metre, which are so often greedily devoured by persons who are utterly blind or indifferent to the poetical beauties, by which they may be illustrated or accompanied. Neither Scott nor Byron were remarkable for the higher poetical endowments which are most appreciated by those, who care little for that part of the machinery of a poem which could be transferred without essential injury to a prose fiction ; but assuredly the noble bard exhibited a larger share of these qualities in his writings than Sir Walter. If we were to take away from any one of the latter's
poems the mere story, it would be bare indeed. A few vivid descriptions would still remain, but even these are little better than mere transcripts—they have more of the accuracy of detail than the glow of imagination. There is a want of thought as well as of imagination in Scott's poetry, and this is the reason that it is so rarely quoted. His diction is prosaic and commonplace. His words never glitter with the dews of Castalie. No poet ever wrote so much and obtained such extensive popularity, with
so little permanent effect upon his native language. Wordsworth, who is still an unpopular poet, has yet rendered many of his admirable lines familiar as household words. They have become so blended with the language, and the thoughts also, of our best public writers, that they are often repeated by persons who never opened a volume of his works. With respect even to the personages of Scott's Romances in metre, there is not one that has made any lasting impression upon the public mind. They are not psychological portraits, but rude though characteristic sketches of certain picturesque and romantic looking beings of a picturesque and romantic country and period. The poet has done little more than versify the ancient annals of his own land, and when he has left his old worm-eaten prose materials, he has fallen into the error of raising up associations that are incongruous with his subject. He jumbles old things with new. His style is the modern antique. His manner and his matter are often in startling contrast. No poet of half his eminence and real merit, has resorted so liberally to the use of the vulgar clap-traps and little arts of ordinary poetasters. Sir Walter Scott's mind was not essentially poetical, and we see this not only in his writings but in his life. But that he had great powers of some kind or other, does not admit of a moment's question. His faculties were too vigorous, and his judgment too sound to have suffered him to fail egregiously in any task that he might choose to undertake, however much opposed to his natural bent. His metrical Romances, therefore, though in many respects defective, considered in the light of mere poems, were successful as far as immediate sale and a temporary popularity were the desired objects, because there was a charm in the antiquity-grown-new-again of his subjects, and there was spirit and vigour in the execution ; but no man who has carefully watched the progress of the literature of the present day, can pretend that Scott's writings in verse have not ceased to be the favorites even of the mob of readers. He never was a poet's poet, and never will be; and he himself, with that self-knowledge which is always indicative of a superior understanding, has on more than one occasion expressed his firm conviction, that his poetry did not owe its transient popularity to any great intrinsic excellence, or to any quality that was likely to secure it a long existence. A true poet would never have had this misgiving. Wordsworth has preserved unimpaired the strong consciousness of poetical genius through evil and through good report, and feels that he can calmly await his time. He has realized Dr. Johnson's finely expressed conception respecting the quiet confidence of Milton. “ Fancy,” (says the most eloquent and interesting of the biographers of our poets, though not always their best critic,) " can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked its reputation, stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current through fear and silence. I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own consciousness, and waiting without impatience, the vicissitudes of opinion and the impartiality of a future generation.”
Sir Walter Scott's real strength lay in the line to which he eventually adhered—the prose romance. He was here unrivalled. Nothing in ancient or modern literature is to be compared to his exquisite prose fictions, considered as romances. Fielding was a greater novelist-a profounder artist.
His Tom Jones is a prose epic, and all his novels show that he had a far deeper insight into human character than Sir Walter Scott; but his successor is infinitely more picturesque in his descriptions, and has more genuine pathos, and exhibits a far greater delicacy of mind. The purest hearted readers find nothing to disgust them in the pages of Scott, but there is a coarseness and worldliness in Fielding, and a turn for low and licentious excitement that almost justifies Richardson's bitter sarcasm, that he writes as if he had
been bred in a stable-yard, though it was mean and indelicate in the author of Sir Charles Grandison to insult Fielding's sister with such an observation. Perhaps Fielding's most indecent scenes are not more offensive to a pure imagination than Richardson's own account of Pamela's escapes from her master's persecution, and the cool calculating spirit in which she made so advantageous a bargain for the surrender of her person. The most just and discriminate criticism that has yet been published upon the literary character of Sir Walter Scott, is beyond all comparison the critique on Lockhart's book in the Westminster Review by Thomas Carlyle*. Such a truly philosophical analysis of a writer's genius
* Mr. Carlyle's popularity in America has been particularly spoken of by Miss Martineau, who is one of his warmest admirers. It is difficult to understand how Mr. Carlyle should be a popular writer in any country, especially in Ameri. ca, where the people are supposed to be so fond of the plain and practical in all things. His style, one would imagine, must be as caviare to the multitude in America as it undoubtedly is in England. The most eminent of our critics at home, are in the habit of speaking of him as the profoundest thinker of his time, but for the people in general he has few attractions. He goes as far beyond the general apprehension in prose as Wordsworth does in verse. The greatest poet of the day is any thing but popular, and perhaps never will be ; but that his fame is rapidly spreading, is beyond a doubt. It is the same with Carlyle ; he is unpopular, but he has made a deep and permanent impression upon a fit audience though few. Mere popularity is a most equivocal test of genius. Hayley was once a popular poet, and so was Darwin, and so was Dryden's rival, the miserable Settle. Scott was the best Romance writer of his day, and undoubtedly exhibited some genius, even as a poet; but what was that genius compared to the genius of a Wordsworth, a Coleridge and a Shelley? And yet he sold nearly 50,000 copies of each of his poems, when the glorious trio alluded to, found it difficult to dispose of a single small edition of works, whose influence is daily increasing in the same ratio as the poetry of Scott is passing into disrepute. Scott's poems will be, of course, known to a remote posterity, because they are linked to his immortal prose romances, but it will be a juxta-position of the dead with the living.
It is pleasant to find that real merit always forces its way at last into the notice it deserves, and however mad and blind the people appear at intervals, they always settle into right opinions in the end. Mr. Carlyle, whose singular style is undoubtedly one of the obstacles to his immediate success, is evidently beginning to make his way with the general reader. This strange obscurity of style is the more to be regretted, because it is a veil that hides much real beauty of thought and sentiment. Behind this cloud is the light of a noble intellect.
is rare in these days, when periodical criticism is, (speaking generally,) so shallow or so partial, is so much the mere echo of vulgar opinion, or so much the suggestion of party spirit or personal prejudice, that readers of any sagacity have ceased to place the slightest confidence in its decisions.
Amongst others, Mr. Atherstone, the author of " Nineveh," has designated his countryman, the Scottish Shakespeare. One is almost tempted on occasions of this nature to imitate the sarcasm of Coleridge, who on being told, that Klopstock was styled the German Milton, exclaimed, “ a very German Milton indeed I” The Scotch are too fond of these inconsiderate and injudicious comparisons. They call Joanna Baillie, the Female Shakespeare. She is undoubtedly a truly admirable writer, but not a Shakespeare! Shakespeares are not quite so common. Nature has not produced such a miracle of genius in every age nor in every country. It is doing a positive injury to the reputation of any modern writer to compare him with the mighty prince of Dramatists; and no one would have been more sensible of the vast inequality of genius between the author of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet and Othello, and the writer of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, the Lady of the Lake, and the celebrated Scottish prose romances, than Walter Scott himself. He would have been unaffectedly shocked at such critical blasphemy. His
Mr. Carlyle's first publication was a “Life of Schiller.” That work is written in a pure and easy style, and though full of the philosophical thought and subtle criticism, which characterize all his writings, it has nothing in the mere composition that would lead any one to associate it with his later works, in which he seems to be getting more and more remarkable in his manner in proportion to the notice that he is attracting. He seems desirous that we shall not gain his sweets of sentiment and fancy at too easy a rate. We must study him. He is not satisfied with making his matter original, but is determined to surprise us with his manner also. It must be acknowledged that as we get more familiar with his style we discover merits in it that are in keeping with the peculiarity of the thoughts, and that a certain freshness and point is thus given them which might be lost in some degree if they were conveyed in a different form. The style would be very unfit for a feeble and commonplace writer, VOL. II.