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Literary Anecdotes and Imitations
LITERARY ANECDOTES AND IMITATIONS.
(Continued from pa. 41.)
" You surprise me," I cried, “ in your character of this gentleman. I cannot perceive in his actions or his conversation any traces of genius, yet you contrast the possession of talent with all the unworthipess of perverted ability; the great and the insignificant are mixed up in the materials that form his mind, like the concentration of opposite colors in the Kaleidoscope."
“An illustration of what I assert," returned my friend, “ would convince you at once; but before I proceed further, you may be amused by perusing a few observations which I extracted from the letter of an intimate friend. They are desultory, but capable of leading you into my opinion.”
He shewed me a note book, and pointing out to my attention a particular page, handed it to me for my perusal. I found that the observations were only fragmentary, yet I was somewhat pleased with the manner in which they were thrown together. They ran nearly thus:
“You have heard of the new tragedy. There is a revolution in taste-an insurrection in the empire of literature. The obsolete phrases of the antique, the bombast of early writers, coupled with the images of our modern authors, seem to form the standard of excellence, by which productions of the present day are to be judged. The reviewers—the sapient reviewers are deluded into this new system, and have become converts to a faith whose only merit is the novelty of its introduction. What do you think of such a line as this,
The vassals of thine enemy await to do thee dead?
Cowley could not write more unmusically, and Shakspeare, in his most negligent moments, never uttered a viler pleonasm. Yet upon such models as those the modern style is formed; unfortunately for the adopter, it requires a close copy not only of their phraseology but of their inanner of treating subjects to render this new antique at all sufferable.
It occurs to ine that they have mistaken the true spirit of imitation, (for I cannot countenance this system by any other title); the terms and not the thoughts of our early writers are dragged in upon all occasions, deceiving superficial readers into a belief that there is a similarity of genius. Were they indued to set up Shakespeare,
Literary Anecdotes and Imitations.
Beaumont and Fletcher, and some of the authors of Charles's reign as the criterion of taste, it is not words but ideas that should be studied; it is the manner of thinking the turn of expression-the loftiness of conception the correctness and appropriate use of imagery -rather than the diction that should be imitated, and then, and not till then will I admit the claims of such revivers of the old drama. *
* In this play there is a fine vein of poetry, a tenderness and a pathos rarely equalled, but even through all this there is a thread of unnatural bombast that sometimes destroys not only the music of the lines, but the simplicity of the thoughts,
“ Turn over another leaf,” observed my friend, " and you will perceive an extract from a scene in one of this author's plays-read it, and let me have your opinion."
“ Before I look at it,” I rejoined, “ 1 would wish to ask you what you meant when you observed that he has produced the best and the worst play of modern days? There appears a contradiction in the expression that I cannot reconcile."
“ It is easily expounded. In the play to which I alluded the imagery is highly poetical-although laden with the errors which are pointed out in those observations- there is a nerve and beauty in the alternation between the personages of his Drama—but at the same time there is not only a neglect but an absolute violation of morality in his subjeci. Thns, excellent with respect to composition, it is highly reprehensible in the scenes and situations it brings forward. But look at my extract, you will doubtless be dazzled; but I have some hesitation in thinking you may be pleased.”
I now turned to the extract. I could collect from a few introductory words of his own, that the spirit of evil under an assumed character was tempting the virtue of a female.
Wilt thou not hear me, Bertha ? I have sworn,
I would have gladly knelt
Literary Anecdotes and Imitations.
And vowed amidst the general blight and ruin,
For thou wert false
Were I as guilty, Bertha,
Yet still I would have been unchanged to thee !
The fervent words of an apostate's vow-
Have ne'er been true again.-
'Twas falsely thought-
These—these have changed-yet I am still the same!" “ You remember a dramatic poem,” resumed my friend, « written by a noble author-it was, perhaps, one of the greatest efforts of his genius, and this gentleman has modelled bis figures in a great measure upon that beautiful sketch. The same gloomy atmosphere surrounds his hero—the same unsearchable darkness of mindI had almost said the same contempt of all religious obligation, but that I fear it might be attaching a stigma to his name, that even his professional
Sketches of Character.
avocation could not redeem. I will not contrast his literary pursuits with those adopted by other clergymen-such a comparison would be injurious to his fame, and his readers are already prepared to decry his continuance of them.”
At this moment I turned my head, and perceived the subject of our conversation engaged by two young gentlemen whose appearance spoke every thing but steadiness. They were living pictures of fashion, and I paused in astonishment at the reflection, that so much talents should be wasted in the company of light and frivolous boys. My friend perceiving my reverie interrupted me
“ Those are the companions,” said he, “ that he selects. You will form your own conclusions. I know not whether, like Congreve,* he wishes to be thought a man of fashion, rather than of genius; but I am satisfied that the one is a more respectable and desirable character than the other. You will now be naturally anxious to have a specimen of his novel-writing—that too is contained in my note book.”
He ran over a few pages, till he came to the place where the following fragment was copied.
“ Before I offer any opinion on its merits, I beg you may attentively peruse that passage.” It ran as follows:
(To be continued.)
SKETCHES OP CHARACTER.
FROM MY NOTE BOOK,
It was my habit in my youth to amuse an idle hour in sketching the characters of my acquaintances in a note-book which I carried for the purpose. I continued this practice for some time, till at last, another pursuit interfering, I threw my sketches aside, nor was it till after the lapse of five and twenty years, that I found them by chance the other day at the bottom of an old trunk. It occurred to me that they might fill a vacant page of the “ Inquisitor," and as most of the individuals whom I have attempted to describe have long
• It is said that when Congreve was going to be introduced to Voltaire, be expressed a wish that it should be in the character of a private gentleman, and not as a man of letters.
Sketches of Character.
since “ shuffled off this mortal coil,” and are now insensible to praise or censure, I may, I think, without much indecorum present my sketches to your readers, particularly as I have avoided mentioning real names, and have substituted others in their place which bear some analogy to their respective eharacters. So far by way of preface; and now give me leave to introduce you, Mr. Editor, to my old acquaintance
MRS. BARBARA BUSTLE.
“ This is surely the busiest little body in life-she is in a continual fuss from morning till night; she rises with the lark, and her first care is to rouse up her slumbering servants and set them to business; then she hurries to her grounds to see that her people are all stirring. She knows every thing, and stops at nothing: farming is her great delight, and she can discourse with wonderful volubility on the merits of a newly invented plough, or patent machine for winnowing corn. She is never idle, for, when she sits, spinning, knitting, or patch-work quilts engage her attention ; indeed she bas so many articles of this nature in hands at once, and she has so much to do beside, that few of them have a chance of being completed. She has neither time nor taste for reading; if we except an occasional glance which she bestows on a. System of Domestic Cookery,' to which, by the way, she never admits that she is at all indebted ; she is constantly employed in her kitchen, her larder, or her dairy ; and although she has servants at her command in every station, she thinks that nothing will be right unless she assists in it. She is in a continual fret, and she never sees you but she has some new grievance to state; in short, to believe. herself, she is the most unfortunate of ladies with respect to her domestics.
As she passes most of the winter months in the city, she is constantly on foot, for she seldom employs her carriage, seeking for bargains in every direction; and as she stands in high repute for cleverness among her country neighbors, she has innumerable commissions to execute, and she never thinks of distance or dirty streets, if a penny can be saved in a purchase. Wherever an auctioneer plies his bammer, there is Mrs. Bustle ; and whatever is set up in the shape of a bargain, is sure to be knocked down to the indefatigable lady; no matter if she is already supplied with the article, whatever it may be, it was so cheap, that she actually thought it a pity to let it pass; and thus her drawers and lumber-rooms.
VOL. II.NO. II,