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CRITICISM.-Tales of my Landlord, collected and arranged by JEDEDIAH
CLEISH BOTHAM, Schoolmaster and Parish Clerk of Gandercleugh. Edin: burg, for Wm. Blackwood; and London, for John Murray, 1816. 4 vols. 12 mo. and New York, for J. Eastburn, 1817. 2 vols. 12 mo. $ 2.
It is impossible to read the first sheet of this production without a conviction that it is by the author of Waverly, Guy Manner. ing, and The Antiquary, though the title-page gives us no such information. It is not difficult to conjecture why it should have been omitted when we recollect the concludiug sentence of the preface to The Antiquary, in which the writer took leave of the public “ as one not likely soon to trouble it again." Eight months, however, are scarcely elapsed before he once more introduces himself to our notice in four volumes of Tales of my Landlord.
Besides the reason above given, several others may have induced Mr. Forbes (or whoever the writer in reality be) to persevere in his anonymous system of authorship; in the first place, the volumes on our table are by no means equal to his other productions; and although an indication on the title-page would greatly have assisted the tale, and enhanced the price of the copy-right, he may have been unwilling to risk his nameless fame in this new expe. riment; or, in the next place, he may have been desirous of ascertaining whether the popularity of his novels have hitherto acquired, ought in any large proportion to be attributed to the oftenrepeated, and as often-refuted report, that Mr. Walter Scott, at least, had “ a main finger in their composition." It is, however, not very material to settle these questions, nor to indulge in further fruitless conjecture as to the author's motives for persevering in a provoking concealment (as most of his female readers term it,) which appears to answer no purpose but that of exciting curiosity by withholding its gratification, as appetite is created by the refusal of sustenance.
The tales before us are two in number, and are called “ The Black Dwarf,” and “ Old Mortality:" the scenes of both lie in Scotland, and the design of the author is declared to be, to por tray the manners of his countrymen; and they are to be followed by others of the same character at a future period. They are both compounded of fiction and history, the latter being ingeniously made to assist the former in the development of the characters, and the production of the events. There is, however, a defect in their arrangement, for « The Black Dwarf” refers to the state of Scotland in the reign of Queen Anne, while “ Old Mortality" speaks of its condition during the struggles by the Presbyterians in favour of the solemn league and covenant,” in the latter end of the reign of Charles II. For this reason, we wish that the order had been reversed-that as far as any difference exists, not only the historical transactions, but the manners and habits of the people, might have been displayed chronologically. In another respect
also, this change might have been advantageous; for although the first story, according to the present arrangement, bears the more tempting title, it is much inferior to that which follows in most of the respects in which this author's novels are excellent.
The general title of “ Tales of my Landlord” is derived from the circumstance, that they are supposed to have been collected from the relations of different persons at the Wallace Inn at Ganclercleugh: this is rather a clumsy expedient, for they are the tales of any body but the landlord, and " Old Mortality” does not profess to have its origin even in that source. It is a little surprising that an individual who has shown so much skill in interweaving facts with fiction, and heightening the one by the other, should have so completely failed in his endeavours to give an appropriate introduction to these entertaining relations. Mr. Peter Pattieson is supposed to have been the writer and compiler of the tales, who, dying young, left them to the care of Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham, the schoolmaster, to whom he had been usher and assistant. The clumsiness of this contrivance, and the awkward manner in which it is executed, have nothing, however, to do with the merits of the novels themselves.
In speaking of these separate productions, we shall take them in the order of time and of comparative merit and importance, beginning therefore with “ Old Morality," which occupies the three last of the four volumes. It is not to be supposed, that in the limits to which we are compelled to restrict ourselves, we can enter even into a brief detail of the story, which is somewhat complicated, and the less necessary, because the historical matters introduced and contributing to the unwinding of the plot, are generally known to all readers but those who would read this story as a mere novel for the amusement the fable will afford.
66 Old Morality” is a sort of nick-name given by the people of Scotland to an antiquated Presbyterian, who having engaged and suffered in the struggles of 1679, preserved his unshaken zeal for his party, and in his declining years, journied from burial-ground to burial-ground with his hammer and chissel, renewing the decaying names on the tomb stones of those who had fought and fallen in the cause he reverenced: from the details he supplied, Peter Pattieson is supposed to have framed the novel which bears his title.
There is considerable bustle and business in the story, not merely from the numerous conflicts in which the covenanters are engaged with their enemies, in which the hero and some of the principal characters are concerned; but from the great number of personages introduced; they are not less than sixteen or eighteen in number, to nearly all of whom parts of importance are assigned; and in the space of the whole three volumes, the author has not room completely to develop any of their characters; some are killed off earlier and some later, according to convenience; so that VOL. IV.
at the end they are reduced to three or four individuals, who, ac. cording to custom, are dismissed as happy as love, matrimony, and money can make them. The man who forms the principal feature, and who first excites and afterwards heads the Covenanters in the battles of London Hill and Bothwell Bridge, is John Balfour, of Burley, who assassinated Dr. Sharpe, archbishop of St. Andrew's and whose temper and dispositions are described, and kept up with great consistency throughout. He is a Highlander, or “ one of the hiil-folk," of uncommonly sturdy proportions, and of a mind corresponding with his make-undaunted, fierce, and zealous to the last degree in the holy cause he had <spoused. He has fied from the murder he has committed, and is sheltered as a distressed traveller merely by Henry Morton, the hero of the tale, a young man of benevolence, courage, and of handsome proportions, who is in love with Miss Edith Bellenger, the grand-daughter of Lady Margaret Bellenger, and niece to Major Bellenger, who are both well supported characters, though the idea of the latter is evidently derived from My Uncle Toby. The rival of Morton is Lord Evandale, who, though unsuccessful with the lady, is, we apprehend, too successful with the reader, for he attracts even more interest than Morton, and he is not disposed of until the novel is nearly concluded.
Henry Morton unites himself to the Covenanters, and becomes one of their leaders, his associates besides Balfour being the fanatical preachers, who put themselves at the head of the rebels to vindicate the cause against the Prelatists, upon whom they denounce, and often execute the most bloody vengeance. To these persons are assigned various ridiculous names, such as Poundtext, Kettledrummle, &c. which are employed, we understand, as a sort of short-hand to save the trouble of entering into the detail of their conduct and objects; in various parts, however, we have a little too much of their incoherent scrutinising
On the other side; at the head of the Royalists, is Colonel Grahamne, cf Claverhouse, afterwards created for his services Viscount Dundee, who subsequently commanded the Highlanders in their resistance to the revolution, and the expulsion of the Stuarts. At the period embraced by this story, he is the enterprising, courage. ous, and skilful antagonist of Balfour and his, zeal-blinded friends, and is supported principally by Lord Evandale, Ensign Grahame, Bothwell, Inglis, and others, who all contribute their share to the advancement of the plot. It is an excellence of modern novelists, almost peculiar to the author before us, that instead of occupying a great number of pages in dull and trite description of the various persons who constitute the machinery of the work, detailing first their personal advantages in the usual style of disgusting hyperbole, and afterwards their intellectual endowments and accomplishments in a strain equally extravagant and absurd, he leaves the reader to form his own notions by hints as the story proceeds, or by the actions in which the parties are severally engaged. For this reason we can seldom extract any particular passages which at one view will afford a portrait of any one of the characters: there is, however, one little exception to this remark in the person of the heroine, Edith Bellenger, who is thus spoken of: the author first mentions her grand-mother Lady Margaret, and then proceeds,
“ Near to the enormous leathern vehicle* which we have attempted to describe, vindicating her title to precedence over the untitled gentry of the country, might be seen the sober palfrey of Lady Margaret Bellenden, bearing the erect and primitive form of Lady Margaret herself, decked in those widow's weeds which the good lady had never laid aside since the execution of her husband for his adherence to Montrose.
“ Her grand-daughter, and only earthly care, the fair-haired Edith, who was generally allowed to be the prettiest lass in the Upper ward, appeared beside her aged relative like Spring placed close to Winter. Her black Spanish jennet, which she managed with great grace, her gay riding-dress, and laced side-saddle, had been anxiously prepared to set her forth to the best advantage. But the clustering profusion of ringlets, which, escaping from under her cap, were only confined by a green ribband from wantoning over her shoulders; her cast of features, soft and feminine, yet not without a certain expression of playful archness, which redeemed their sweetness from the charge of insipidity; sometimes brought against blondes and blue. eyed beauties,-these attracted more admiration froin the western youth than either the splendour of her equipments, or the figure of her palfrey." p. 38–39. vol. ii.
We shall now, without further preface, extract some parts of these volumes, noticing so much of the story as is necessary to render them intelligible, and to enable the reader to appreciate their merit: some passages may stand by themselves as separate pictures, which require little or no illustration from surrounding objects. Such is the case with the following humorous account of an old penurious Scotch Laird's table and family party dinner about the year 1680.
"The Laird of Milnwood kept up all old fashions which were connected with economy. It was, therefore, still the custom of his house, as it had been universal in Scotland about fifty years before, that the domestics, after having placed the dinner on the table, sate down at the lower end of the board, and partook of the share which was assigned to them, in company with their masters. Upon the day, therefore, after Cuddie's arrival, being the third from the opening of this narrative, Old Robin, who was butler, valet-de-chambre, footman, gardener and what not, in the house of Milowood, placed on the table an immense charger of broth, thickened with oatmeal and colewort, in which ocean of liquid was indistinctly discovered, by close observers, two or three short ribs of lean mutton sailing to and fro). Two huge baskets, one of bread made of barley and pease, and one of oat-cakes, flanked this standing dish. A large boiled salmon would now-a-days have indicated more liberal housekeeping; but at that period it was caught in such plenty in the considerable rivers in Scotland, that it was generally applied to feed the servants, who are said sometimes to have stipulated that they should not be required
* The antique coach of the Lord Lieutenant of the county.
to eat a food so luscious and surfeiting in its quality above five times a week. The large black-jack, filled with very small beer of Milnwood's own brewing, was indulged to the servants at discretion, as were the bannocks, cakes, and broth: but the Mutton was reserved for the heads of the family, Mrs. Wilson included, and a measure of ale, somewhat deserving the name, was set apart in a silver tankard for their exclusive use. A huge kebbock (a cheese that is made with ewe milk mixed with cow's milk) and a jar of salt butter, were in common to the company.
" To enjoy this exquisite cheer, was placed at the head of the table, the old laird himself, with his nephew on the one side, and the favourite housekeeper on the other. At a long interval, and beneath the salt of course, sate old Robin, a meagre, half-starved serving-man, rendered cross and cripple by the rheumatism, and a dirty drab of a house-maid, whom use had rendered callous to the daily exercitations which her temper underwentat the bands of her master and Mrs. Wilson; a barn-man, a white headed cow-heard boy, and Cuddie, the new ploughman and his mother, completed the party. The other labourers bolonging to the property resided in their own houses, happy at least in this, that if their cheer was not more delicate than that which we have described; they could at least eat their fi!l; unwatched by the sharp, envious, grey eyes of Milnwood, which seemed to measure tbe quantity that each of the dependants swallowed, as closelr as if their glances attended each mouthful in its progress from the lips to the stomach. This close inspection was unfavourable to Cud. die, who was much prejudiced in his new master's opinion, by the silent celerity with which he caused the victuals to disappear before him. And ever and anon Milnwood turned his eyes from the huge feeder to cast indignant glances upon his nephew, whose repugnance to rustic labour was the principal cause of his needing a ploughman, and who had been the direct means of his hiring this very cormorant”-p. 172, vol. ii.
Henry Morton, thc hero, joined the Calvinistical Covenanters, and one defect, and no inconsiderable defect of this story is, that he is made, almost without motive, to desert the side on which his love, his relatives, and his interest all lay: this inconsistency might have been remedied, had the author described him with a little more enthusiasm than he appears to have possessed, more justifi. able hatred of the tyranny and cruelty of the royal party, and warmer admiration of the principles, however perverted, of the cause which he espoused. This, however, is not done, and the only inducement he appears to have had, consists in revenge for ill treatment le receeived from a party of life-guards. After he had declared his intention to Balfour of Burley, the latter introduces him to the council of the Covenanters: the manner in which business was conducted at these assemblies, may be judged of from the subsequent extract.
««We will not, with my consent,' said Burley, engage in a siege which may consume time. We must forward, and follow ouradvantage by occupying Glasgow; for I do not fear that the troops we have this day beaten, even with the assistance of my lord Ross's regiment, will judge it safe to await our coming.'
“Howbeit,' said Poundtext, we may display a banner before the Tower, and blow a trumpet, and summon them to come forth. It may be that they will give over the place unto our mercy, though they be a rebel