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very dejection and self-distrust of his nature rendered him more liable than other men to impressions at once deep and abiding. Thus he was a saint in his infancy at the bidding of his nurse—then a cavalier at the command of his uncle—an inamorato because the empress desired it—a warrior and a viceroy because such was the pleasure of Charles—a devotee from seeing a corpse in a state of decomposition—a founder of colleges on the advice of Peter Faber—a Jesuit at the will of Ignatius– and general of the order because his colleagues would have it so. Yet each of these characters, when once assumed, was performed, not merely with constancy, but with high and just applause. His mind was like a sycophant plant, feeble when alone, but of admirable vigour and luxuriance when properly sustained. A whole creation of such men would have been unequal to the wolk of Ignatius Loyola; but, in his grasp, one such man could perform a splendid though but a secondary service. His life was more eloquent than all the homilies of Chrysostom. Descending from one of the most brilliant heights of human prosperity, he exhibited every where, and in an aspect the most intelligible and impressive to his contemporaries, the awful power of the principles by which he was impelled. Had he lived in the times and in the society of his infamous kinsmen, Borgia would not improbably have shared their disastrous renown. But his dependent nature, moulded by a far different influence, rendered him a canonized saint; an honourable, just and virtuous man; one of the most eminent ministers of a polity as benevolent in intention as it was gigantic in design; and the founder of a system of education pregnant with results of almost matchless importance. His miracles may be not disadvantageously compared with those of the Baron Manchausen; but it would be less easy to find a meet comparison for his genuine virtues. They triumph over all the silly legends and all the real follies which obscure his character. His whole mature life was but one protracted martyrdom, for the advancement of what he estermed the perfection of his own nature, and .ne highest interests of his fellow-men. Though he maintained an intimate personal intercourse with Charles IX. and his mother, and enjoyed their highest favour, there is no reason to suppose that he was intrusted with their atrocious secret. Even in the land of the inquisition he had firmly refused to lend the influence of his name to that sanguinary tribunal; for there was nothing morose in his fanaticism, nor mean in his subservience. Such a man as Francis Borgia could hardly become a persecutor. His own church raised altars to his name. Other churches have neglected or despised it. In that all-wise and all-compassionate judgment, which is uninvaded by our narrow prejudices and by our unhallowed feelings, his fervent love of God and of man was doubtless permitted to cover the multitude of his theoretical errors and real extravagances. Human justice is severe, not merely because man is censorious, but because he reasonably distrusts himself, and fears lest his weakness should confound the distinctions of good and
evil. Divine justice is lenient, because there alone love can flow in all its unfathomable depths and boundless expansion—impeded by no dread of error, and diverted by no misplaced sympathies. To Ignatius, the founder of the order of the Jesuits; to Xavier, the great leader in their missionary enterprises; to Laynez, the author of their peculiar system of theology; and to Borgia, the architect of their system of education, two names are to be added to complete the roll of the great men from whose hands their institute received the form it retains to the present hour. These are Bellarmine, from whom they learned the arts and resources of controversy; and Acquaviva, the fifth in number, but in effect the fourth of their generals— who may be described as the Numa Pompilius of the order. There is in the early life of Bellarmine a kind of pastoral beauty, and even in his later days a grace, and a simplicity so winning, that it costs some effort to leave such a theme unattempted. The character of Acquaviva, one of the most memorable rulers and lawgivers of his age, it would be a still greater effort to attempt. “Henceforth let no man say,” (to mount on the stilts of dear old Samuel Johnson) “come, I will write a disquisition on the history, the doctrines, and the morality of the Jesuits—at least let no man say so who he has not subdued the lust of story-telling.” Filled to their utmost limits, lie before us the sheets so recently destined to that ambitious enterprise. Perhaps it may be as well thus to have yielded to the allurement which has marred the original design. If in later days the disciples of Ignatius, obeying the laws of all human institutions, have exhibited the sure though slow developement of the seeds of error and of crime, sown by the authors of their polity, it must at least be admitted that they were men of no common mould. It is something to know that an impulse, which after three centuries is still unspent, proceeded from hands of gigantic power, and that their power was moral as much as intellectual, or much more so. In our own times much indignation and much alarm are thrown away on innovators of a very different stamp. From the ascetics of the common room, from men whose courage rises high enough only to hint at their unpopular opinions, and whose belligerent passions soar at nothing more daring than to worry some unfortunate professor, it is almost ludicrous to fear any great movement on the theatre of human affairs. When we see these dainty gentlemen in rags, and hear of them from the snows of the Himmalaya, we may begin to tremble. The slave of his own appetites, in bondage to conventional laws, his spirit emasculated by the indulgences, or corroded by the cares of life, hardly daring to act, to speak, or to think for himself, man— gregarious and idolatrous man—worships the world in which he lives, adopts its maxims, and tread its beaten paths. Torouse him from his lethargy, and to give a new current to his thoughts heroes appear from time to time on the verge of his horizon, and hero-worship, pagan or Christian, withdraws him for awhile from still baser idolatry. To contemplate the teach much which well deserves the knowing; but nothing more clearly than this—that no one can have shrines erected to his memory in the hearts of men of distant generations un
motives and the career of such a man, may less his own heart was an altar on which daily
sacrifices of fervent devotion, and magnanimous self denial, were offered to the only true object of human worship.
TAYLOR'S EDWIN THE FAIR."
[EDINBURGH Review, 1843.]
Thrs is a dramatic poem full of life and beauty, thronged with picturesque groups, and with characters profoundly discriminated. They converse in language the most chaste, harmonious, and energetic. In due season fearful calamities strike down the lovely and the good. Yet “Edwin the Fair” is not to be classed among tragedies, in the full and exact sense of the expression.
“To purge the soul by pity and terror,” it is not enough that the stage should exhibit those who tread the high places of the earth as victims either of unmerited distress, or of retributive justice. It is farther necessary that their sorrows should be deviations from the usual economy of human life. They must differ in their origin, and their character, from those ills which we have learned to regard as merely the established results of familiar causes. They must be attended by the rustling of the dark wings of fate, or by the still more awful march of an all-controlling Providence. The domain of the tragic theatre lies in that dim region where the visible and invisible worlds are brought into contact; and where the wise and the simple alike perceive and acknowledge a present deity, or demon. It is by the shocks and abrupt vicissitudes of fortune, that the dormant sense of our dependence on that inscrutable power in the grasp of which we lie, is quickened into life. It is during such transient dispersion of the clouds beneath which it is at other times concealed, that we feel the agency of heaven in the affairs of earth to be a reality and a truth. It is in such occurrences alone (distinguished in popular language from the rest, as providential) that the elements of tragedy are to be found in actual or imaginable combination. There the disclosure of the laws of the universal theocracy imparts to the scene an unrivalled interest, and to the actors in it the dignity of ministers of the will of the Supreme. There each event exhibits some new and sublime aspect of the divine energy working out the divine purposes. There the great enigmas of our existence, receive at least a partial solution. There, even amidst the seeming triumph of wrong, may be traced the dispensation of justice to which the dramatist is bound; and there also extends before his view a field of meditation drawn from themes of surpassing majesty and pathos.
• Edwin the Fair: an Historical Drama. By HENRY TAYLoR, author of “Philip Van Arte velde.” London: 12mo, 1842.
Such is the law to which all the great tragic writers of ancient or of modern times have submitted themselves—each in his turn assuming this high office of interpreting the movements of Providence, and reconciling man to the mysteries of his being. Thus Job is the stoic of the desert—victorious over all the persecutions of Satan, till the better sense of unjust reproach and undeserved punishment breaks forth in agonies which the descending Deity rebukes, silences, and soothes. Prometheus is the temporary triumph over beneficence, of a power at once malignant and omnipotent, which, at the command of destiny, is blindly rushing on towards the universal catastrophe which is to overwhelm and ruin all things. Agamemnon returns in triumph to a home, where, during his long absence, the avenging furies have been couching to spring at last on the unhappy son of Atreus—every hand in that fated house drooping with gore, and every voice uttering the maledictions of the infernals. CEdipus, and his sons and daughters, represent a succession of calamities and crimes which would seem to exhaust the catalogue of human wretchedness; but each in turn is made to exhibit the working of one of the most awful of the laws under which we live—the visitation of the sins of parents upon their children to the third and fourth generation. Macbeth is seduced by demoniacal predictions to accomplish the purposes, by violating the commands of Heaven, and so to meditate, to extenuate, and to commit, the crimes suggested by the fiend in cruel mockery. Hamlet is at once the reluctant minister and the innocent victim of the retributive justice to the execution of which he is goaded by a voice from the world of departed spirits. Lear is crushed amidst the ruins of his house, on which parental injustice, filial impiety, foul lusts, and treacherous murder, had combined to draw down the curse of the avenger. Faust moves on towards destruction under the guidance of the fiend, who lures him by the pride of knowledge and the force of appetite. allenstein plunges into destruction, drawing down with him the faithful and the good, as a kind of bloody sacrifice, to atone for treachery to which the aspect of the stars and the predictions of the diviner had impelled him. And so, through every other tragic drama which has awakened the deeper emotions of the spectator or the reader, might be traced the operation of the law to which we have referred. How far this universal characteristic of tragedy—the perceptible intervention in human affairs of powers more than human—is to be discovered in “Edwin the Fair,” the following brief and imperfect outline of the plot may sufficiently determine. In the fresh and dewy dawn of life, Edwin and Elgiva had been wont to rove— “O'er hill, through dale, with interlacing arms, And thrid the thickets where wild roses grow, Entangled with each other like themselves.” But their sun had scarcely risen above the eastern horizon when the dreams of childhood faded away before the illusions of youth. He ascended the Anglo-Saxon throne, and she plighted her troth to Earl Leolf, the commander of the English armies. The earl was “a man in middle age, busy and hard to please,” and not happy in the art of pleasing. Such, at least, was the more deliberate opinion or feeling of Elgiva. In a day of evil augury to herself, and to her house, the inconstant maiden crushed the hopes of her grave, though generous suitor, to share the crown of her early playmate. It sat neither firmly nor easily on his brows. Athulf, the brother, and Leolf, the discarded suitor of the queen, were the chief opponents of the powerful body which, under the guidance of Dunstan, were rapidly extending over the monarchy, and the Church of England, the authority of the monastic orders. In the approaching alliance of Athulf's family to Edwin, the abbot of Glastonbury foresaw the transfer, to a hostile party, of his own dominion over the mind of his young sovereign. Events had occurred to enhance and justify his solicitude. Athulf's energy had enabled Edwin to baffle the pretexts by which Dunstan had delayed his coronation. It was celebrated with becoming splendour, and was followed by a royal banquet. The moment appeared to the king propitious for avoiding the vigilant eye of his formidable minister. He escaped from the noisy revels, and flew on the wings of love to an adjacent oratory, where, before his absence had excited the notice and displeasure of his guests, he exchanged with Elgiva the vows which bound them to each other till death should break the bond. They little dreamed how soon it should thus be broken. Resenting the indignity of the king's abrupt desertion of the festive board, the assembled nobles deputed the abbot and the archbishop of Canterbury to solicit, and if necessary to compel his return. They found him in the society of his newly af. fianced bride, and assailed them with gross imputations, which she indignantly repelled by an open avowal of her marriage. Availing himself of the disorder of the moment, and of the canonical objections to their union, founded on their too near consanguinity, Dunstan caused them to be seized and imprisoned. Elgiva was despatched to Chester, the king and Athulf being secured in the Tower of London. Leolf, who had absented himself from the coronation, was in command of the royal forces at Tunbridge, where he was quickly joined by Athulf, who had found the means of escaping from prison. The two earls then separated—
Leolf proceeding to the north, with a part of the army, to rescue Elgiva, and Athulf assuming the conduct of the power destined for the deliverance of the king. Whatever may have been the indignation of the confederate lords, their policy dictated pacific measures; and to these the archbishop, offended and alarmed by the audacity of Dunstan, willingly lent himself. He convened a synod to deliberate on the validity of the royal marriage, and on the propriety of applying to Rome for a dispensation. Long and fervent debate ensued. The church as represented in that holy conclave, had given strong indications of a conciliatory spirit, when, casting himself, in vehement prayer before a crucifix, Dunstan invoked the decision of Him whose sacred image it bore. An audible voice, which seemed to proceed from the cross, (though really uttered by a minister of the abbot's crimes, who had been concealed for the purpose within its ample cavity,) forbade the ratification of the royal nuptials. Rising from the earth, the holy abbot pronounced a solemn excommunication of Edwin, Elgiva, and their adherents, and dismissed the assembly which had so vainly attempted to defeat the will of heaven, and of heaven's chosen minister. The triumphant Dunstan then proceeded to the Tower, to obtain from the captive and excommunicated king the abdication of his crown. He was answered by indignant reproaches, and at length withdrew, but not till he had summoned into the royal presence an assassin, prepared to bring the controversy to a decisive and bloody close. At that instant Athulf and his forces burst into the Tower. Edwin regained his freedom, and Dunstan fled in disguise into Hampshire. But the saint of Glastonbury possessed too powerful a hold on the attachment and reverence of the multitude, to be thus defeated by any blow however severe, or by any exposture however disgraceful. A popular insurrection in his favour arrested his flight to France. He resumed his self-confidence, appeared again in his proper character, and lifted up his mitred front, with its wonted superiority, in a Wittenagemot which he convened at Malpas. There, surrounded by his adherents and his military retainers, he openly denounced war on his sovereign. Under the guidance of Athuls, the king had moved from London towards Chester, to effect a junction with Leolf and his army. The attempt was not successful. Impatient of her prison, Elgiva had exercised over her jailer the spell of her rank and beauty, and had ren...? him at once the willing instrument and the companion of her escape. Leolf was apprized of her design, and anxious for the safety of her who had so ill-requited his devotion, advanced to meet her, supported only by a small party of his personal attendants. They met, and, while urging their flight to Leolf's army, were overtaken by a party attached to the cause of Dunstan, and slain. For this catastrophe Dunstan was not, in intention at least, responsible. Alarmed by intelligence of a Danish invasion, he had become desirous of a reconciliation with Edwin, and was making overtures for that purpose. But it was now too late. The king, maddened by the loss of Elgiva, rushed forward with blind and precipitate haste to Malpas, where the body of his murdered wife awaited a royal sepulture, and where was intrenched the haughty rebel who had brought her down to a premature grave. Deaf to every voice but that which from the in most recesses of his soul cried for revenge, Edwin plunged wildly into his fate. Covered with wounds, he fell once more into the toils of his deadly enemy. An awful sound recalled him to momentary animation and strength. It was the low dirge from the choir of the neighbouring cathedral, chanting the funeral obsequies of Elgiva. He flew from his dying couch, cast himself with delirious ravings on her cold and inanimate form, and then, invoking the vengeance of heaven on their persecutor, descended with her to the grave. Incomplete, and therefore inaccurate, as it is, this slight abridgment of the tale will show, that the dramatic action of “Edwin the Fair” is rather disastrous than tragical. We witness, indeed, the deadly conflict of thrones, spiritual and temporal. The sceptre falls from a feeble grasp, and the crozier is elevated in sanguinary triumph. But it is the triumph of power over weakness, of craft over simplicity, of mature worldly wisdom over childish inexperience. An overwhelming calamity befalls Edwin and Elgiva, but it is provoked neither by any gigantic guilt, nor by any magnanimous self-devotion. They perish, the victims of imprudence rather than of crime—of a rash marriage and a venial inconstancy. This is quite probable—quite in accordance with truths to be gathered from the experience of each passing day; but for that very reason, it is a fable which does not fulfil the laws imposed on the stage by AEschylus and Shakspeare— by their imitators and their critics—or rather by reason and nature herself. It does not break up our torpid habitual associations. It excites no intense sympathy. It gives birth to no deep emotion, except, indeed, regret that vengeance does not strike down the oppressor. There is a failure of poetical justice in the rogress and in the catastrophe of the drama. f it were a passage of authentic history, the mind might repose in the conviction that the Judge of all must eventually do right. But as it is a fiction, it is impossible not to repine that right is not actually done. Such unmerited disasters and prosperous injustice are, we know, consistent with the presence of a superintending Deity. But they do not suggest it. The handwriting on the wall has no pregnant meaning, nor mythic significancy. It is not apparently traced by the Divine finger, nor has the seer given us any inspired interpretation. It is one of those legends from which a moralist might deduce important lessons of prudence, but from which a dramatist could hardly evoke a living picture of the destiny of man;–of man opposed and aided by powers mightier than his own, engaged in an unequal though most momentous conflict, impotent even when victorious, and majestic even when subdued.
This objection to the plot of his drama has evidently been anticipated by Mr. Taylor himself. He summons some dark clouds to gather around Dunstan at the moment of his success, and dismisses him from our view, oppressed by the only domestic sorrow to which his heart was accessible, and by omens of approaching calamity from an inroad of the Northmen. Thus the triumph of the wicked is tempered, and some endeavour is made to gratify, as well as to excite, the thirst for his punishment. It is hardly a successful attempt. The loss in mature life of an aged mother, is a sorrow too familiar and transitory to be accepted as a retribution for crimes of the deepest dye; and war, however disastrous to others, has seldom any depressing terrors for the rulers of mankind. Besides, there are yet some fetters, however light, which chronology will throw over the volatile spirit of poetry; and it is hard to forget the historical fact, that no Danish invasion ever disturbed the tranquillity of Dunstan; but that he lived and died in that century of repose, for which England was indebted to the wisdom and the valour of the two great predecessors of Edwin.
Mr. Taylor has therefore exployed another and more effectual resource to relieve the inherent defects of the subject he has chosenHe avails himself of the opportunity it affords for the delineation and contrast of characters, which he throws off with a careless prodigality, attesting an almost inexhaustible affluence. In every passage where the interest of the story droops, it is sustained by the appearance of some new person of the drama, who is not a mere fiction, but a reality with a fictitious name. The stage is not possessed by its ancient tenants provided with a new set of speeches, but with recruits, who present some of the many aspects under which man has actually presented himself to a most sagacious and diligent observer. This, however, is not true of Dunstan, the most conspicuous of all those who contribute to the action or to the dialogue. He is drawn, not from actual life, but from books. In the great drama of society, which is acted in our age on the theatre of the civilized world, no part has been, or could be, assigned to a spiritual despot, in which to disclose freely the propensities and the mysteries of his nature. *. poet has therefore taken the outline from the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, and has supplied the details and the colouring from his own imagination. Hence the central figure is less congruous—less in harmony with itself—than those of the group by which it is surrounded; but then it is more ideal, is cast in bolder relief, and is thrown off with greater force and freedom.
The real Dunstan, the recluse, the saint, and the statesman of the tenth century, had his full share of the inconsistencies which distinguish man as he is, from man as he is painted. He was endowed with all the faculties by which great actions are achieved, and with the temperament without which they are never under taken. Conversant in his early manhood with every science by which social life had then been improved, and by every art by which it had been embellished, his soul was agitated by ambition and by love. Unprosperous in both, his wounded spirit sought relief in solitude and penitential exercises; and an age familiar with such prodigies, regarded with astonishment and reverence the austerity of his self-discipline. When, at length, he emerged from the grave, (for in that similitude he had dug his cell,) he was supposed by others, and probably by himself, to have buried there all the tastes and the passions which had once enslaved him to the world. But other spirits as secular as the first, though assuming a holier garb, had entered his bosom, and taken up their abode there. All the energies once wasted on letters, music, painting, and science, or in the vain worship of her to whom his young heart had been devoted, were henceforth consecrated to the church and to his order. He became the foremost champion of sacerdotal celibacy and monastic retirement; assumed the conduct of the war of the regular against the secular clergy; and was the founder of the ecclesiastical system which continued for five centuries to control all the religious, and to affect all the political institutions of his native land. But the Severn leaping down the rocks of Plinlimmon, and the same stream when expanded into a muddy and sluggish estuary, does not differ more from itself, than St. Dunstan, the abbot of Glastonbury, from Dunstan the metropolitan of the church, and the minister of the crown of England. During five successive reigns, all the powers of the government were in his hands, but he ruled ingloriously. When his supreme power had once been firmly secured, all the fire and genius of his earlier days became extinct. With the sublime example of Alfred, and the more recent glories of Athelstan before his eyes, he accomplished nothing and attempted nothing for the permanent welfare of his country. No one social improvement can be traced to his wisdom or munificence. He had none of the vast conceptions, and splendid aims, which have ennobled the usurpations of so many other churchmen. After an undisputed possession of power for forty years' continuance, he left the state enfeebled, and the crown in hopeless degradation. To him, more than to any man, must be ascribed the ruin of the dynasty under which he flourished, and the invasions which desolated the kingdom during half a century from his death. He had commanding talents and dauntless courage, but a low, narrow, selfish spirit. His place in the Roman calendar was justly assigned to him in acknowledgment of his incomparable services to the papacy; but he has no station in the calendar of the great and good men who, having consecrated the noblest gifts of nature and of sortune to their proper ends, live for the benefit of all generations, and are alike revered and celebrated by all.
The Dunstan of this tragedy is not the lordly churchman reposing in the plenitude of success, but the fanatic grasping at supreme command. He is the real hero of “Edwin the Fair,” towering over all his associates, and distinguished from them all by a character, which, -in the full and proper sense of the term, may
be pronounced to be dramatic. He is at once the victim of religious misanthropy and selfadoration. He has worshipped the world, has been rejected by his idol, and has turned away mortified, but not humbled, to meditate holier joys, and to seek an eternal recompense. But, in the pursuit of these sublime objects, he is haunted by the memory of the delights he has abandoned, and of the injustice which has expelled him from the ways and the society of mankind. These thoughts distil their bitterness even into his devotions. His social af. sections droop and wither as their proper aliment is withdrawn. His irascible feelings deepen, and pass into habits of fixed antipathy and moroseness. To feed these gloomy passions he becomes the calumniator of his species, incredulous of human virtue, and astute in every uncharitable construction of human motives. His malignity establishes a disastrous alliance with his disordered piety. He ascribes to the Being he adores the foul passions which fester in his own bosom. His personal wrongs are no longer the insignificant ills of an individual sufferer, nor have his personal resentments the meanness of a private revenge—for his foes are antagonists of the purposes of heaven; and to crush them can be no unacceptable homage to the Supreme Arbiter of rewards and punishments. With the cold unsocial propensities of a withered heart, disguised from others and from himself by the sophistries of a palsied conscience, Dunstan finds his way back to the busy world. He lives among men to satiate an ambition such as might be indulged by an incarnation of the evil spirit—an ambition exulting in conscious superiority, and craving for the increase and the display of it, but spurning and trampling in the dust the victims over whom it triumphs. Patriotism, loyalty, humility, reverence—every passion by which man is kind to his brethren—all are dead in him; and an intense selfishness, covered by holy pretexts, reigns in undisputed sovereignty in his soul. Man is but the worthless instrument of his will; and even to his Creator he addresses himself with the unawed familiarity of a favourite. Proud, icy-cold, and remorseless, he wades through guilt sneeringly and exultingly—the subject of a strange spiritual disease, compounded of a paralysis of all the natural sympathies, and a morbid vigour of all the mental energies. This portrait is terrible, impressive, and (unhappily) not improbable. It labours, however, under one inconsistency. The fanaticism of Dunstan, as delineated in this tragedy, is wanting in one essential element. He has no profound or deeply cherished convictions. He does not believe himself to be the selected depositary of divine truth. He does not regard dissent from his own opinions as criminal; nor does he revel in any vindictive anticipations of the everlasting wo of his theological antagonists. He is not clinging to any creed which, if rejected by others, may elude his own grasp. The enemies of the church are indeed his enemies; but they are so because they endanger his power, not because they disturb the repose or the self-com