to the peculiarities of the age, is matter worthy of serious consideration; for, if the habits and notions which he evidently strives to bring into fashion, find more favour than is implied in their being tolerated for the sake of the fascinating stories in which they are embodied, there are many of us, whose long-cherished hopes of national and European liberty are likely to be bitterly disappointed, and whose attachment to constitutional government and equal rights may cost us as much suffering and privation as Redgauntlet experienced in his hopeless efforts to stem the torrent of public opinion. It is not, however, our present purpose to enter upon so wide a theme, and to attempt an "estimate of the times" with this reference; though that subject might be materially circumscribed by the recollection of how much more influential are interests than principles, or rather how necessarily and how closely the latter are dependent on the former. That the author of Waverley himself entertains considerable expectations of political influence from his writings, may be gathered from the frequency and the pertinacity with which he returns to the charge. In the greater number of the novels which he has produced, we find one common outline, in which it is not easy to determine whether we should be more astonished at the sameness of the design, or the ingenuity and variety of the details and the colouring,-at the paucity of the elements, or the number of their combinations. As in the Italian Commedia del Arte, Harlequin and Columbine, Trufaldino and Il Dottore, ever present the same masks, and bring the same personal peculiarities in evidence: so in the novels "by the author of Waverley," we have again and again served up the party contests of a divided nation-Papistical Jacobites for the heroes of the melodrame, hypocritical mechanics and canting puritans for the niais, and a young walking gentleman and lady of no very decided character, who owe their safe passage through the casualties of the story, and their ultimate prosperity at its close, to their inertness and irresolution, and to a considerable dose of that political pliancy which is well known, "intra muros et extra," by the technical appellation of "trimming." This poverty of invention we cannot attribute to the sterility of the author's imagination. He has in every other department of his art exhibited such wonderful and inexhaustible fecundity, that he cannot, in thus frequently returning to the one theme, but be influenced by some powerful, though perhaps unconscious impulse, to disgust the people with the turmoil inseparable from the assertion of rights, and to recommend a political quietism, which leaves every thing to chance, and finds in every abuse its own compensation and cure.

Be this, however, as it may; be it accident or design, there is, we are sorry to say, but too much sympathy between the author and his readers: and the present "piping times of peace" give an additional inducement to those which human nature, in all ages, affords for the adoption of a fashionable indifference, and for embracing those very convenient mezzo termini in politics, which forward personal and private advantage, without a barefaced abandonment of public interests. Against this tendency, whether in the novel or the reader, we feel it our duty to protest, and to bear testimony against an apathy and a flexibility, which are as dangerous to the community as they are degrading to the individuals; and which, if they become general, will be the grave of national honour and of public prosperity.

Having thus disburthened our consciences, we proceed to the more ordinary part of our office, as reporters of the literary novelties, or showmen of the reigning literary lions of the day; namely, the preparing our readers for what they have to expect from the perusal of Redgauntlet. In this, we shall confine ourselves to a mere comparative criticism; for the peculiarities of the writer, his defects and his excellencies, are too generally known to require or admit of more illustration and it is only with reference to himself and his former productions, that the public require an anticipated judgment of his present work, concerning which all will sooner or later judge for themselves. Compared with this standard, we have great pleasure in stating that Redgauntlet is not a failure; that the vigour of the author's style, and the interest of his story (notwithstanding it is in a considerable degree “crambe repetita,") are unabated: and if the new novel does not in every respect rise to the level of Quentin Durward, or the earlier productions of the same pen, it does not exhibit any of those apoplectic Archbishop-of-Toledoish symptoms, which afflicted its readers in St. Ronan's Well. The narrative, which is partly conducted in letters, and partly as the journals of two of the personages, proceeds currently and uninterruptedly ; and the reader is not suffered to pause, till he arrives at the conclusion. We are too much the reader's friend to diminish this charm, by the customary abridgment of incidents and plot; we may, however, disclose, that the tale turns upon a supposed personal appearance of the Pretender in England, subsequent to the defeat of 1745. That the tradition of such an event should exist, is. certainly ground enough for a novelist to build upon: but the recentness of the event, and the knowledge that after the victory at Culloden the Jacobite chiefs came to a mutual understanding, that each should, unblamed, make the best peace he could with St. James's, detracts something from the vraisemblance of the story. In fact the man who could embark in new plots after this event, must have been so visionary an enthusiast, or so desperate and unprincipled a disturber of the public repose, as in ordinary cases to deprive him of all just claims to poetical interest. A madman or an adventurer is as unfit a subject for heroic narrative as the worthies of the Newgate Calendar. This weakness of the design is, however, gradually redeemed in the execution; and Redgauntlet, though but a repetition of the Jacobite gentleman of the previous novels, displays energies sufficient to establish his hold over the imagination of the reader.

In our review of Quentin Durward we have lamented the frequent and almost exclusive introduction of characters undignified by a single noble or generous sentiment. This defect pervades the minor personages of the dramatis personæ of Redgauntlet. Smugglers, conspirators, spies and traitors, drunkards and pirates, fools and fiddlers, to be rendered endurable should have their vices redeemed by strong passion and by striking positions; but, above all, their deep shadows should be relieved by corresponding lights-by the introduction of other characters who may do justice to human nature, and remove from the heart that load of sickness which the uninterrupted view of depravity produces, even in the very abandoned themselves. Unfortunately, in almost all the Waverley novels, and more particularly in the one before us, the little goodness which here and there comes to the surface, is too closely

allied, if not to imbecility, to incapacity, for it to produce this effect. The inequality of the war between vice and virtue, between the designing and the unsuspecting, is too palpable; and the reader, instead of rising with new impulses of enthusiasm towards good, from the perusal, is compelled to quit the book with a hopeless depression of spirits, at the predominance of evil, and with a tame disposition to acquiesce in an order of things which appears absolutely irremediable.

Of the author's attempts at moral interest in Redgauntlet, Nanty Ewart, a sort of sentimental pirate, is among the most feeble; and a Quaker, introduced for the same purpose, is not sufficiently eccentric, or important to the "better carrying on of the plot" to be effective. Peebles, a cracked-brain, law-bewildered suitor in forma pauperis before the Court of Sessions, has more of the wild and whimsical peculiarity of the author's style of invention; but he must not be compared with former attempts in the same line. All this, however, does not prevent the incidents from being amusing, the dialogue forcible, and the situations striking; and our readers will probably not thank us for thus looking out for the excellencies that are not to be found in their favourite author, but retort upon us the plura nitent in carmine. If so, we must beg leave so far to differ, as to declare our feeling, that where excellence most abounds, we are most offended by the paucis maculis, and the most desirous to see them reformed altogether. The "Heart of Mid Lothian" shews that it is more want of will than of power, that prevents the author from avoiding that which is by no means a splendid fault; and upon this point we can admit of no compromise.

Under the head of faults we must also notice an occasional coarseness and vulgarity of style, which look as if some parts of the execution had been consigned to an inferior hand. Of this the following passages, though striking, are not solitary instances.

"Had the question been asked in that enchanted hall of fairy land, where all interrogatories must be answered with absolute sincerity, Darsie would certainly have replied that he took her for the most frank-hearted and ultraliberal lass that had ever lived since Mother Eve ate the pippin without paring.” -Vol. iii. p. 117.

"One or two of them wore liveries, which seemed known to Mr. Redgauntlet, for he muttered between his teeth, Fools, fools! were they on the march to hell, they must have their rascals in livery with them, that the whole world might know who were going to be damned.”—Ib. p. 183.

[ocr errors]

We are neither saints, nor hypercritics; but we cannot help thinking what " my grandmother's review" would have said to Leigh Hunt or to Lord Byron, had they written in this "Cambyses' vein." We question likewise whether in a naughty liberal, "Cassius picking Cæsar's pocket instead of drawing his poniard on the dictator," would pass muster as a point of taste. But "dant veniam corvis" is the motto of the day.

Notwithstanding these blemishes, we have no doubt that Redgauntlet will meet with its full share of that species of success, of which its author seems most ambitious. If it does not add a leaf to his laurels, it will by no means detract from them. Before the hindmost, and behind the first, it will pass through the hands of all the reading public of England, it will add to the stock of mental amusement of the day, it will add to the author's stock in the three per cents. ; and we trust that it will in every way so far satisfy him, as to hurry forward the appearance of its embryo successor.


A Tale from the Conde Lucanor.

GOOD stories seem to be imperishable. They are, it is true, doomed to undergo many transmutations, and to appear embodied under different forms; but the informing spirit which captivates our attention, is the same, whatever shape they assume, whatever language they speak. A tale may often be traced through every nation of Europe, till we lose it among the wild traditions of the North, or the romantic lore of the East.

There was a period in the growth of society at which the imagination had a peculiar aptitude to conceive novel and striking combinations of characters and events-of moral actions and chances; of the power of the human will, and the external motives which oppose or modify it. At that period it was that the main store of tales was created, which every succeeding age and nation have made to undergo the changes which suited the originals to their own taste and notions. Indeed, the great difficulty in the invention of a tale appears to arise from the fewness of extraordinary situations which the world affords: Whatever, therefore, offers the means of introducing some source of novelty into a narrative, presents an opportunity of forming an interesting tale. Such means, however, decrease as the refinement of society advances. In the trammels of civilized life, the imagination is shorn of her wings, the judgment becomes sceptical and fastidious, the heart is rendered cold and cautious. We do not mean to question the higher advantages by which these losses are compensated; but merely state a fact which the observation of society at different stages makes obvious.

It will be evident that we do not speak of the modern novels, in which the interest chiefly arises from the play of the human passions which the complicated machinery of society puts into motion; but of the more simple species of tales, the offspring of pure imagination. The characters of the primitive tale and the modern novel are as distinct as the two states of society which produce them. The former springs from fancy, in the youth of mankind; the latter is the fruit of dear-bought experience, at an advanced period of the world.

But though the states and dispositions of the human mind which respectively give birth to these two kinds of composition, have little in common, man's taste for both is nearly permanent. There occurs, indeed, a temporary fastidiousness, which will not be amused with stories that delighted our forefathers; but the artificial excitement which, for a time, unfits society for every thing not seasoned up to its feverish palate, gradually disappears; or, what is more probable, the source of our morbid cravings being exhausted by the very means invented to gratify them, the mind returns to a more natural state, and feels refreshed by what it at one time loathed as tame and insipid.

This relapse into a youthful taste may be observed no less in the mass of society, than in individuals. The analogy may still be traced farther, if we observe that the revived taste of society for the primitive sports of imagination, not unlike the renovated zest for the amusements

* See New Monthly Magazine, No. XLIII. p. 28. VOL. XI. NO. XLIV.


of childhood, which often appears on the decline of life, is a taste of sympathy, not of action. Society, after its maturity, may turn with pleasure to the contemplation of the simple play of fancy in which she delighted when young; but, contented with a mere review of her childish toys, she would be ashamed at the attempt to contrive new ones of the same sort. Society would not accept, now-a-days, a new series of oriental tales, though there is scarcely a man who will not revert with pleasure to those pages of enchantment. A continuation of Sir Launcelot, and the recovery of the Sangreal, would be received with more than indifference even from the pen of the author of Waverley; yet few will pass over the fragments of that kind, which, in the notes to Sir Walter Scott's poems, enhance the interest of his works. The fact is, that the human mind, at its present age, can no more believe in sorcerers and magicians, than a man of fifty could decently, or even pleasurably join at one of the favourite games of his childhood. Both, however, may and often do, preserve a strong sympathy for the feelings of those who truly and heartily enjoy the tale of wonder, and those who still delight in the life and bustle of a youthful game.

Sismondi, in censuring the extravagance of some modern schools of poetry, observes, that "there are German and even French writers, who, preferring poetry to every other display of mind, would gladly bring back that credulity which gives full scope to the imagination. With this view they make their works either incoherent or improbable, in the hope of making them, in an equal measure, poetical. Thus they miss the peculiar advantages of the present age, without reaching those of the past. Ignorance, to be tolerated, must be involuntary: it is only in that case that we can enter into all its prejudices. We shall hear the history of Blue Beard without our incredulity being revolted, if the narrator be a knight of the fourteenth century; but we should receive it with a contemptuous smile from one of our contemporaries."

Sympathy, that widely extended principle of our moral nature, is the sole cause of these phenomena. That philosopher must have steeled himself by reflection who does not feel some symptoms of horror upon hearing the account of an apparition, or any supernatural event, from the mouth of a person who firmly believes he witnessed it. The philosopher may laugh at the credulity of the narrator; but the man will respond to the strong feelings of his fellow-man.

Such is the reason why our interest is excited by old writers of supernatural tales, and but very seldom by others. With their works in our hands we are transported to other times; we imagine ourselves living among the author's contemporaries, partaking of their feelings, and almost persuaded into their belief. If to this is added a lively description of remote scenery, of places suited to the tone and character of the narrative, and most of all, a strong allusion to some of the mysterious principles of the human mind, the charm becomes irresistible.

If partiality to a favourite author does not bias our judgment, the story of the Dean of Santiago, which we subjoin, in a free translation from the Spanish of Prince Don Juan Manuel, is one of the finest specimens of this species of composition. But we must defer making any observations on its peculiar character till our readers have the story itself before them.

« 上一页继续 »