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ART. I. Lalla Rookh ; an Oriental Romance. By THOMAS
Moore. 4to. pp. 405. London, 1817. There is a great deal of our recent poetry derived from the 1 East : But this is the finest orientalism we have had yet. The land of the Sun has never shone out so brightly on the children of the North-nor the sweets of Asia been poured forth, nor her gorgeousness displayed so profusely to the delighted senses of Europe. The beauteous forms, the dazzling splendours, the breathing odours of the East, seem at last to have found a kindred poet in that Green Isle of the West, whose Genius has long been suspected to be derived from a warmer clime, and now wantons and luxuriates in these voluptuous regions, as if it felt that it had at length regained its native element. It is amazing, indeed, how much at home Mr Moore seems to be in India, Persia, and Arabia ; and bow purely and strictly Asiatic all the colouring and imagery of his book appears. He is thoroughly embued with the character of the scenes to which he transports us ; and yet the extent of his knowledge is less wonderful than the dexterity and apparent facility with which he has turned it to account in the elucidation and embellishment of his poetry. There is not a simile or description, a name, a trait of history, or allusion of romance which belongs to European experience; or does not indicate an entire familiarity with the life, nature, and learning of the East. Nor are these barbaric ornaments thinly scattered to make up a show. They are showered lavishly over all the work; and form, perhaps too much, the staple of the poeiry—and the riches of that which is chiefly distinguished for its richness. We would confine this remark, however, to the descriptions of external objects, and the
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allusions to literature and history- to what may be termed the materiel of the poetry before us. The characters and sentiments are of a different order. They cannot, indeed, be said to be copies of European nature; but they are still less like that of any other region. They are, in truth, poetical imaginations ; but it is to the poetry of rational, honourable, considerate, and humane Europe, that they belong-and not to the childishness, cruelty, and profligacy of Asia. So far as we have yet seen, there is no sound sense, firmness of purpose, or principled goodness, except among the natives of Europe, and their genuine descendants.
There is something very extraordinary, we think, in the work before us—and something which indicates in the author, not only a great exuberance of talent, but a very singular constitution of genius. While it is more splendid in imagery—and for the most part in very good taste-more rich in sparkling thoughts and original conceptions, and more full indeed of exquisite pictures, both of all sorts of beauties and virtues, and all sorts of sufferings and crimes, than any other poem that has yet come before us; we rather think we speak the sense of all classes of readers when we add, that the effect of the whole is to mingle a certain feeling of disappointment with that of admiraiion—to excite admiration rather than any warmer sentiment of delight to dazzle, more than to enchant-and, in the end, more frequently to startle the fancy, and fatigue the attention, with the constant succession of glittering images and high-strained emotions, than to maintain a rising interest, or win a growing sympathy, by a less profuse or more systematic display of attractions.
The style is, on the whole, rather diffuse, and too unvaried in its character. But its greatest fault, in our eyes, is the uniformity of its brilliancy-ihe want of plainness, simplicity and repose. We have heard it observed, by some very zealous admirers of Mr Moore's genius, that you cannot open this book without finding a cluster of beauties in every page. Now, this is only another way of expressing what we think its greatest defect. No work, consisting of many pages, should have detached and distinguishable beauties in every one of them. No great work, indeed, should have many beauties : If it were perfect, it would have but one, and that but faintly perceptible, except on a view of the whole. Look, for example, at what is perhaps the most finished and exquisite production of human art, the design and elevation of a Grecian temple, in its old severe simpli, city. What penury of ornament-what neglect of beauties of detail !---what masses of plain surface-what rigid economical li
mitation to the useful and the necessary! The cottage of a peasant is scarcely more simple in its structure, and has not fewer parts that are superfluous. Yet what grandeur-what elegance—what grace and completeness in the effect! The whole is beautiful--because the beauty is in the whole ; but there is little merit in any of the parts, except that of fitness and careful finishing Contrast this, now, with a Dutch pleasure-house, or a Chinese-where every part is meant to be beautiful, and the result is deformity,—where there is not an inch of the surface that is not brilliant with colour, and rough with curves and angles,--and where the effect of the whole is monstrous and offensive. We are as far as possible from meaning to insinuate that Mr Moore's poetry is of this description; on the contrary, we think his ornaments are, for the most part, truly and exquisitely beautiful, and the general design of his pieces very elegant and ingenious: All that we mean to say is, chat there is too much ornament-too many insulated and independent beauties and that the notice, and the very admiration they excite, hurt the interest of the general design.; and not only withdraw our attention too importunately from it, but at last weary it out with their perpetual recurrence.
It seems to be a law of our intellectual constitution, that the powers of taste cannot be permanently gratified, except by some sustained or continuous emotion; and that a series, even of the most agreeable excitements, soon ceases, if broken and disconnected, to give any pleasure. No conversation fatigues so soon as that which is made up of points and epigrams; and the accomplished rhetorician, who.
could not ope His mouth, but out there flew a trope, must have been a most intolerable companion. There are some things, too, that seem so plainly intended for ornaments and seasonings only, that they are only agreeable, when sprinkled in moderation over a plainer medium. No one would like to make an entire meal on sauce piquante; or to appear in a coat crusted thick over with diamonds; or to pass a day in a steam of rich distilled perfumes. It is the same with the glittering ornaments of poetry--with splendid metaphors and ingenious allusions, and all the figures of speech and of thought that constitute its outward pomp and glory. Now, Mr Moore, it appears to us, is decidedly too lavish of his gems and sweets ; he labours under a plethora of wit and imagination-impairs his credit by the palpable exuberance of his possessions, and would be richer with half his wealth. His works are not only of rich materials and graceful design, but they are everywhere glistening with small beauties and transitory inspirations--sudden flashes of fancy, that blaze out and perish; like earth-born meteors that crackle in the lower sky, and unseasonably divert our eyes from the great and lofty bodies which pursue their harmonious courses in a serener region.
We have spoken of these as faults of style,—but they could scarcely have existed without going deeper ; and though they first strike us as qualities of the composition only, we find, upon a little reflection, that the same general character belongs to the fable, the characters, and the sentiments,--that they all sin alike in the excess of their means of attraction,--and fail to interest, chiefly by being too interesting · In order to avoid the debasement of ordinary or familiar life, the author has soared to a region beyond the comprehension of most of his readers. All his personages are so very beautiful, and brave, and agonizing--so totally wrapt up in the exaltation of their vehement emotions, and withal so lofty in rank, and so sumptuous and magnificent in all that relates to their external condition, that the herd of ordinary mortals can scarcely venture to conceive of their proceedings, or to sympathize freely with their fortunes. The disasters to which they are exposed, and the designs in which they are engaged, are of the same ambitious and exaggerated character; and all are involved in so much pomp, and splendour, and luxury, and the description of their extreme grandeur and elegance forms so considerable a part of the whole work, that the less sublime portion of the species can with difficulty presume to judge of them, or to enter into the concernments of such very exquisite persons. The incidents, in like manner, are so prodigiously moving, so excessively improbable, and so terribly critical, that we have the same difficulty of raising our sentiments to the proper pitch for them ;and, finding it impossible to sympathize as we ought to do with such portentous occurrences, are sometimes tempted to withhold our sympathy altogether, and to seek for its objects among more familiar adventures. Scenes of voluptuous splendour and ecstasy alternate suddenly with agonizing separations, atrocious crimes, and tremendous sufferings;-battles, incredibly fierce and sanguinary, follow close on entertainments incredibly sumptuous and elegant ;- terrific tempests are succeeded by delicious calms at sea : and the land scenes are divided between horrible chasms and precipices, and vales and gardens rich in eternal blooms, and glittering with palaces and temples-while the interest of the story is maintained by instruments and agents of no less potency than insanity, blasphemy, poisonings, religious hatred, national antipathy, demoniacal misanthropy, and devoted love.