Слике страница

*tween the ranks of society are but frail and low, 'the regular gate is open, and the tax of admit'tance a trifle; and he who, out of mere wanton

ness, overleaps the fence, may be justly supposed ' not to have attained a philosophical indifference ' to the circumstance of being born in the excluded • district.'--Life of Swift, Sect. III. p. 137, ed. 1814.

This fondness of our authors for simile has sometimes induced both to pursue it beyond the limits of correct taste. For example:

• The monk dropped into the natural train of pensive thought which these autumnal emblems . of mortal hopes are peculiarly calculated to in

spire. There,' he said, looking at the leaves which lay strewed around, lie the hopes of early youth, first formed that they may soonest wither, 6 and loveliest in spring to become most con"temptible in winter ; but you, ye lingerers,' added • he, looking to a knot of beeches which still bore • their withered leaves, you are the proud plans

of adventurous manhood, formed later, and still clinging to the mind of age, although it acknow• ledges their inanity! None lasts, none endures, save the foliage of the hardy oak, which only begins to shew itself when that of the rest of the • forest has enjoyed half its existence. A pale and • decayed hue is all it possesses; but still it retains • that symptom of vitality to the last.-So be it with • father Eustace! The fairy hopes of my youth I


' have trodden under foot like those neglected

rustlers—to the prouder dreams of my manhood I look back as to lofty chimeras, of which the 'pith and essence has long since faded; but my ' religious vows, the faithful profession which I • have made in my maturer age, shall retain life

while aught of Eustace lives.”—Monastery, Vol. I. ch. 8.

Such a lecture on leaves might have become the good father's lips well enough in a public address, but surely no man ever spun a thought so fine for his own particular edification. The following metaphor is, I think, carried one step too far

• Ambition is often smothered when deprived of hope; but its restless ghost seldom fails to haunt · those whom it has called vassals, and to excite

them to animosity or vengeance, even after hope • is no more.”Life of Swift, Sect. vi. p. 360, ed. 1814.

That ambition dies for want of hope, and that its ghost appears to men afterwards, is matter amply sufficient for one metaphor; but when the author proceeds to state what that ghost says or does, we find ourselves unexpectedly embarked in an allegory, and resent the artifice while we own its ingenuity. The same observation will apply to the lines,

“ Within these walls, stifled by damp and stench, Doth Hope's fair torch expire; and at the snuff,


Ere yet 'tis quite extinct, rude, wild, and wayward,
The desperate revelries of wild despair,
Kindling their hell-born cressets, light to deeds
That the poor captive would have died ere practised,
Till bondage sunk his soul to his condition.”

Prefixed to ch. 9, vol. ii. of Rob Roy, and said

to be from 'The Prison,' act 1. scene iii.

The next two similitudes have each a circumstance de trop.

• The hail-drops in her hair-were like the specks of white ashes on the twisted boughs of the blackened and half consumed oak.'-- Tales of my Landlord, 3d Series, Vol. IV. ch. 1, note.

On the other side sat Isabella, pale as death, ' her long hair uncurled by the evening damps, and falling over her shoulders and breast, as the wet streamers droop from the mast when the storm has passed away and left the vessel stranded on the beach.' - Black Dwarf, ch. 17.

The following passages, though containing no simile, may be mentioned with propriety in this place, as displaying the same proneness to conceit and overstraining of thoughts

[ocr errors]

“ Scattered lay the bones of men
In some forgotten battle slain,
And hleached by drifting wind and rain.

[blocks in formation]

Beneath the broad and ample bone,
That bucklered heart to fear unknown,

A feeble and a timorous guest,
The field-fare framed her lowly nest;
There the slow blind-worm left his slime
On the fleet limbs that mocked at tiine;
And there, too, lay the leader's skull,
Still wreathed with chaplet flushed and full,
For heath-bell, with her purple bloom,
Supplied the bonnet and the plume."

Lady of the Lake, Canto III. St. 5.

No, deep amid disjointed stones
The wolves shall batten on his bones,
And then shall his detested plaid,
By bush and briar in mid air staid,
Wave forth a banner fair and free,
Meet signal for their revelry.”

Ibid. Canto IV. St. 23.

A few such blemishes as these are not worthy to be balanced against the splendid excellencies I have before endeavoured to enumerate; but the parallel between the novelist and minstrel becomes more complete, when it is shown that both are occasionally betrayed into a common fault by the morbid activity of an over-laboured imagination.



signatur cera figuris, Nec manet ut fuerat, nec formas servat easdem, Sed tamen ipsa eadem est.

Ovid. Met. Lib. XV. 1. 169, &c.


y, my masters: is not this the tale
We heard from him o' the forest, that shrewd harper
With the brief northern name? Just so it ran, sure;
There was the knave that masked it in a cowl,
And stared away men's stomachs at their meat,
('Twas a mad jest); the old knight and his daughter;
(But he was then called Valentine, she Isabel)
The youth that loved two maidens, fought for both, too;
And the crazed wench that wandered on the hills,
All pale and faded, like the languid moon
By day seen slumbering o'er a misty stream.
Go thy ways, wag, do'st think we hear a story
And take no note on't?

Old Play.

We enter now, Sir, upon a narrower field of criticism. Our attention has hitherto been directed to general characteristics; to the prevailing spirit of works collectively considered, rather than to the peculiar turn of separate productions. In the comparison which remains to be made of particular stories, incidents, and phrases, I think I shall be able to point out some resemblances so striking and undeniable, that it will almost appear a waste of

« ПретходнаНастави »