Слике страница

out any material result, and descriptions which even retard the main action. The principal character is strikingly poetical, and its effect skilfully heightened by the manner in which the subordinate figures, even those of a grotesque outline, are grouped around it. Of those interesting and highly fanciful incidents, which, although rather appendages than essential parts of the principal narrative, in fact constitute its chief beauty as a work of imagination, I need only mention, as particular examples, the ominous slaughter of the raven *, the fiendish conferences between Ailsie Gourlay and her companions t, and the legend of Lord Ravenswood and the Naiad †, which contains in itself all the elements of a beautiful and affecting poem. I treat these as appendages, because the story might be told without them; but it must also be observed, that without them the story would not be worth telling. It

may be suggested, that the characteristic features which I have pointed out in the Bride of Lammermoor, belong rather to the species of fiction than to the individual fable, and that all romantic tales must bear the same resemblance to poetic narrative, which appears, perhaps, a little more decidedly than usual in the instance now adduced. But the observation would not hold true, even if confined to the novels of the present author. In Waverley and Guy Mannering, for example, there are flights of imagination and strokes of passion beyond the scope of a mere prose writer; but the poetical character does not predominate either in the general design, or in the majority of incidents, or in the agency by which those incidents are brought about. Both Waverley and Guy Mannering might possibly, with some

* Vol. ii. c. 7.

+ Vol. ii. c. 9. iii, 7, 8. I Vol. i. c. 4.

loss of effect, be thrown into verse, but neither of them is, like the Bride of Lammermoor, a tale which no man but a poet could tell.

I have dwelt long upon this work, as it appeared to furnish the most striking and complete illustration of my remark on the genius of its author. If other examples were required, I would point out the Introduction to Old Mortality, and the story of serjeant More M-Alpin*, both, I think, conceived in the true spirit of poetry. It seems not improbable, that the Legend of Montrose was, in part, formed out of materials originally collected for a metrical romance; but the author has succeeded ill in making this portion of his fable combine and harmonize with the rest. There appears a natural incongruity between the lofty and imaginative, and the broad and familiar parts of the subject; they may be joined, but they refuse to blend. The Monastery is liable to a similar objection: nothing can be more poetical in conception, and sometimes in language, than the fiction of the White Maid of Avenel; but when this ætherial personage, who rides on the cloud which • for Araby is bound,' who is

“Something betwixt heaven and hell

Something that neither stood nor fellt"

whose existence is linked by an awful and mysterious destiny to the fortunes of a decaying family; when such a being as this descends to clownish pranks, and promotes a frivolous jest about a tailor's bodkin, the course of our sym

* Introduction to A Legend of Montrose, Tales of My Landlord, Third Series, vol. iii.

+ Vol. i. c. 11.

pathies is rudely arrested, and we feel as if the author had put upon us the old-fashioned pleasantry of selling a bargain. It is an unsafe thing to venture on a high poetical flight in a composition partly ludicrous and familiar, unless some reconciling medium can be found to give mellowness and consistency to the whole. No man can be more sensible of this difficulty, for no man has more frequently triumphed over it, than the writer whom I have presumed, in the instances just cited, to pronounce unsuccessful.

From the invention and general conduct of his stories, I might proceed to the particular passages of the novelist which betray a poet's hand.

hand. But examples of this nature are so abundant, and the best of them are so familiar even to the most negligent reader, that it would be unpardonable to detain you on this point. I have only then to observe, that the passages alluded to are not merely eloquent, natural, spirited, impassioned, they are nothing if not poetical. You are probably acquainted with Mr. Hope's Memoirs of a Greek: it is a work abounding in brilliant and often affecting composition; there is much eloquent narrative, much highly-finished description; but the narrative and the description are those of an accomplished prose writer. In all that he relates we see distinctly and with pleasure the object or action which the author places before us; but there his power ceases; he has not the art of making a few words call up a host of images in the mind, and, by the happy suggestion of a single thought, transporting the reader's fancy into a world of illusion: and in this he totally differs from the author of Waverley, and from every true poet.

But the novelist (and it serves to illustrate the habitual bent of his mind) not only indulges in poetical description, where the course of his narrative obviously leads to it, but discerns, as by instinct, and seizes with enthusiasm, every

[ocr errors]

slighter opportunity which the incidents afford him for introducing such embellishments. Thus he compares the antics of a clownish boy escaped from his pedagogue to the ‘frisking' of a goblin by moon-light*.' In describing a maiden sinking under consumption, “You would have thought,” he says, that the very trees mourned for her, for their leaves

dropt around her without a gust of windt. If he puts in motion a body of soldiers, by day-light they are seen issuing from among trees, their arms' glance like lightning, and the waving of banners is accompanied by the clang of trumpets and kettle-drums: by night the steel caps glitter in the moon-light, and the dark figures of the horses and riders' are “imperfectly traced through the gloom I.' If a cannon is discharged from a fortress, the castle is invested in

wreaths of smoke, the edges of which dissipate slowly in 6 the air, while the central veil is darkened ever and anon ? by fresh clouds poured forth from the battlements,' and the spectator reflects, that each explosion may ring some

brave man's knell g.' If we launch our vessel on a Highland loch, a piper makes shrill melody in the bow, or the rowers chant wild airs that float mournfully to the shore |I. If we embark for a sea voyage, the white sails swell, the ship leans her side to the gale, and goes roaring through * the waves, leaving a long and rippling furrow to track her

course;' the port becomes undistinguishable in the distance, and the hills melt into the blue sky . This is not the pro

[ocr errors]

* Kenilworth, vol. i. c. 9. † Waverley, vol. i. c. 4. # Ibid. vol. ii. c. 23. Tales of My Landlord, First Series, vol. ii. c. 6, 11.

§ Waverley, vol. ii. c. 16. || Legend of Montrose, last vol. c. 2. Heart of Mid-Lothian, vol. iv. c. 9.

9 Tales of My Landlord, First Series, vol. iv. c. 7.

fessional cant of a vulgar novel-maker, whose moon trembles on the sea of course, whenever his heroine touches the lute in a balcony: it is the writing of one who has always looked at objects with the eye of a poet, and unavoidably speaks of them as he sees them.

There is, I think, no occasion to demonstrate that the author of Waverley is as great an antiquary as the author of Marmion, and as deeply infected with bibliomania as the editor of Patrick Carey's Triolets. No person can have a doubt on this latter point, who remembers the description put into the mouth of Mr. Oldbuck, of a bookcollector picking up a curious work at a stall, where its value is not known*. It is an effusion from the


heart: and there can, I think, be no question, that the character of Monkbarns, with all its eccentricities, was originally created by the novelist for the purpose of parading his own hobby-horse.

While the Antiquary is before us, let me remark as a trifling circumstance, yet not unworthy of attention, that in the course of this novel (and I believe not in this only) the writer makes frequent display of his acquaintance with the language and literature of Germany, to which the author of Marmion at least is no strangert. The poet is evidently a proficient in the Spanish tongue*; and the novelist quotes Cervantes in the original g.

In classical learning, both writers appear to have made equal and very similar acquirements: we may trace in the

* Antiquary, vol. i. c. 3. + See, for instance, his translation of Bürger's · Lenore,' and other German ballads. Miscellaneous Poems, Edinburgh, 1820.

I See Note ii. on The Vision of Don Roderick.
§ General motto to the Tales of My Landlord.

« ПретходнаНастави »