Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

till my beard had grown to my chin, covered themselves ; but I was still an and the nails of my fingers were like embarrassed man. To help me out of the talons of an eagle.

my embarrassments, an appointment Thus was it till a change took in India was procured for me. There place in the arrangement of the asy. I have spent the last ten years, and lum. How it came about, I know with the mode of my return you are not; but after enduring this treatment acquainted.” for a series of years, I was one day set at liberty, and furnished with proper

Thus ended a tale as wild and ex. clothing. Whether my mind was ever travagant as any which I ever perin a state of chaos, I cannot tell. There used. The impression left upon my are moments when I believe it. There own mind was, that the poor gentleman are others when I believe it not ; per- laboured under a derangement of inhaps it may be the case still.

tellect when he compiled it. I be" I was set free as one cured. They lieve it is no uncommon matter for told me that my wife died from acci- insane persons to fancy themselves dentally falling upon the fender, and stained with a thousand crimes which that my grief for her decease turned they never perpetrated, and the vicmy brain. Poor fools, they knew not tims of a thousand evils which they that it was I who killed her.

never endured ; and I am strongly “My affairs had, during the period disposed to hold that opinion in the of my confinement, in some degree re- case of my shipwrecked guest.

ON THE DRAMATIC POWERS OF THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.

Why does not the Author of Waverley scarcely ever approached but by him, write a play? The question has been with the wonders of Homer and Shaka often asked, but I do not know that I speare. In mere description, it is have ever heard it fully and satisfac- true, he yields to no poet, not to the torily answered. No less an authori- highest, of ancient or modern times, ty than Sir Walter Scott, has given The landscape almost lives in his his opinion, that the habits of narra- page. It is truer than painting. There tion unfit a novelist for a species of is an extent in the grouping, and a composition which consists altogether minute variety, which no pencil could of dialogue ; and of dialogue from picture. We tremble at the brink of which the narrative and the descrip- a precipice, and listen for the voice of tive must be wholly banished. This the waters that are raging and roaring is nothing else than saying, that the below. We shudder at the approach novelist requires larger and more va- of a devouring flood, and at the rapid ried powers than the dramatic writer, ruin which it spreads as it advances. Dialogue, choice of character and in- We are hurried along in the tumult cident, are common to both. The of the battle ; and see, not posture, difference lies in narrating and de- but action ; not the struggle of a sinscribing, in the novel, what is not gle moment, but a succession of danwritten in the drama, but represented gers and achievements. In no other in the scenery, or done by the actors writings, except those of the great on the stage. The triumph of the poets I have just mentioned, and perdrama is in the incidents which de- haps the productions of the great velope passion, and the language which Athenian orator, (for eloquence, in its gives it utterance; and it is the power highest state, differs little from

pure which the Great Unknown possesses, poetry,) do we find so many passages, of throwing his characters into those in which we are prone to forget, that situations in which the human heart we are not beholders or 'hearers, but works the strongest, and suffers the readers only, in which we grow undeepest, and of giving to the keenest conscious that our conceptions are anguish, and the most stormy passion, awakened merely by the magic which language of terrible fidelity, that has genius can lend to language. placed his writings upon a level, But it is surely too much to say,

that

because description is more diffuse than from his violence. Never did dramadialogue, that he who excels in both tic poet imagine a situation more incombined, may not succeed in either tensely agitating. Never did any

poet separately. Still more inconsistent is conceive a more lofty instance of the it to maintain, that the writer whose moral sublime; the love of purity, grandest feats are performed by ex- the dread of dishonour, the intrepid hibiting the passions through the lan- dignity of habitual virtue, joined to a guage of those they agitate, and by high sense of what she deemed due to means of such situations as best un- the ancient faith of her fathers-a fold them, could not excel in a kind faith which she cherished with a spirit of composition, confined to that work unbroken by fatigue, captivity, solionly. It is easy to show by reference, tude, and insult--all urging weak woboth to particular parts of the novels man to brave the King of Terrors in of the Author of Waverley, and gene- one of his most appalling forms. One rally to those of his tales which have might well expect that language would been most popular, that his most suc- faint under the effort to give exprescessful efforts have been in passages sion to the emotions which, at such a essentially dramatic. I shall select crisis, must agitate such a being. The but two of these passages, both of author tries the experiment; and the which shall be from Ivanhoe; and I success is, if possible, more wonderselect from that tale, chiefly because, ful than the previous work which highly dramatic as it is throughout; made success so hazardous. The senits descriptions have been often deem- timents that burst from his heroine, ed the principal cause of its great po- are those which alone could sustain pularity

her at the elevation to which he had The first is the interview between raised her; defiance to her brutal foe; Rebecca and Brian de Bois-Guilbert, an appeal to her religion, which she in the chamber of her confinement in was saving from pollution in her own Front-de-Bouf's castle. Bois-Guil- person; an expression of horror at bert, a Templar, sworn to celibacy by the fate from which, by her own high the vows of his order, had taken Re courage, she is thus rescued, mixed becca and her father prisoners, in an with triumph at the dreadful means excursion from the castle. He enters of refuge to which she resorts. Draher apartment, and after confessing matic poetry furnishes not a speech his rank and calling, and seeking in of sublimer pathos than that comvain to win her by persuasion to his prised in these brief words :-“ Subdesires, threatens her with violence by mit to my fate !-And sacred Heaven ! the right of the conqueror over bis to what fate ?--embrace thy religion ! captive. The situation, even at this and what religion can it be that harmoment, is fraught with harrowing bours such a villain ? - Thou the best interest. A woman, young, lovely, lance of the Templars !-craven Knight! and a captive, of a degraded caste, yet --forsworn Priest! - spit at thee, with a loftiness of soul that never and I defy thee. The God of Abraleft her for a moment, through danger ham's proniise hath opened un escape or debasement, stands, alone and de. to his daughtereven from this abyss fenceless, under the licentious gaze, of infamy. and within the grasp, of a lawless and Nor is this all. The whole dialogue remorseless ruffian, come with the which follows is held to the same ele. avowed purpoes of violating her ho- vation; nor, to the conclusion of this nour. Escape is impossible ; suppli- wonderful scene, does it descend for cation is useless; resistance vain. The one moment. It is rather enhanced ruin of the victim seems inevitable. by the final conquest gained by an The next instant, by one prompt and unprotected Jewish maiden over the decisive act of heroic fortitude that baughty Templar, a warrior, and a act her own-she is snatched from the conqueror, cowed by the fearless vasacrifice. But it is only to encounter lour of mere unaided virtue, into an another peril, scarcely less horrible. 'involuntary homage to its purity., I Opening a latticed window, she springs may observe here, that this is a kind of upon the battlement, and exulting in contrast, which is, in all works of the the alternative of the dreadful death imagination, especially those of the which the precipice offers to her, she dramatic kind, of infinite power. It taunts the ravisher with her security is when moral strength, coming in VOL. XIX.

U

aid of physical weakness, wins an un- ' her.--" Nay, but for the love of your expected victory over mere brute phy- own daughters," she cried, addressing sical force, which seemed, and was the senior judges;—"alas, you have no believed, to be above resistance. daughters !—but for the remembrance

The other passage which I shall of your mothers—for the love of your notice, is that of Rebecca's trial for sisters, and of female decency, let me pretended witchcraft. The Templar not be thus handled in your presence, has borne her off from Front-de- It suits not a maiden to be disrobed Beut's castle when it was stormed by such rude grooms. I will obey and burned, and has concealed her in you,” (and she withdrew her veil.) the establishment of his der, at Ye are elders among your people, and Templestowe. She is discovered by at your command, I will show you

the the Grand Master; and the Warden, features of an ill-fated maiden.The a friend of Bois-Guilbert, persuades scene did not require this last exquihim, as the only means of escaping the site touch of nature, the excuse which punishment incurred by a Templar the poor persecuted Jewish maid, forconvicted of an intrigue with an in- ced to forego the decent customs of fidel, to sanction a charge, preferred her race, thus makes to her own against Rebecca, of having employed wounded modesty, when she tells her sorcery to seduce him. Before the judges that she will obey them, bewhole body of the Templars, assembled cause they are elders among their peoin their hall with all the

pomp

of the ple. order, with the Grand Master, a weak But in a few moments the character and austere bigot, at their head, she of the scene changes. Pity gives way is brought forth, without an advocate to admiration. Rebecca appears again, or an attendant, to answer a charge, cool, collected, fearless in the midst of in establishing which the pride of the danger, as when before she looked order, anxious that the frailty of a down without a shudder upon death, brother should be proved not to have and stood with an eye that “ quailed fiowed from human corruption—the not,” and a cheek that “ blanched universal belief in the existence and not,” upon the brink of the battleefficacy of witchcraft-and the detes- ment. She is condemned to die the tation in which the age and country death of a sorceress—to be burnt alive. held her race-conspired to overwhelm Yet her spirit bends not. She supplia beautiful Jewess, whose loveliness cates no mercy from her judges, nor was considered as the instrument, and intercession from her accuser ; but therefore taken as a proof, of her with the boldness and pride of conguilt. Here again she was alone, a scious innocence, indignant at a charge, woman, and defenceless; before ad- not against her piety merely, but verse and interested judges--an arm- against the purity of her maiden hoed tribunal-an ecclesiastical court- nour, she turns to Bois-Guilbert and clothed with the triple terrors of arms, cries,-" To himself-yes, Brian de religion, and law; from whose judg, Bois-Guilbert, to thyself I appeal, ment, in those bigotted and forceful whether these accusations are not times, appeal was hopeless. Can any false? - as monstrous and calumnious addition be conceived possible, to the as they are deadly?”. There is a pause; sympathies arising from this subjec- all eyes turn to Bois-Guilbert; he is tion of innccence unprotected, and silent. Speak,” she

says,

“ if thou beauty made a crime, before interest- art a man-if thou art a Christian, ed guilt, brandishing a stern, remorse- speak! I conjure thee, by the habit less, and resistless power? The au- which thou dost wear-by the name thor finds a circumstance to make thou dost inherit-by the knighthood pity still more deep and painful, by thou dost vaunt–by the honour of enhancing our sense of the purity of thy mother-by the tomb and the the victim, and of the heartless rigour bones of thy father-I conjure thee to of her enemies. She is ordered to un- say, are these things true ?” veil. She pleads in excuse the customs The

group and the situation in this of her people, that a maiden should scene, to say nothing now of the asnot stand uncovered “ when alone in tonishing powers of language displayan assen:bly of strangers.” At the ed in it, have, for dramatic effect, stern mandate of the Grand Master, been seldom equalled. The place, the the guards are about rudely to unveil assemblage, are imposing. The cha

[ocr errors]

racters, strongly marked as individuals nature, but does not step beyond them, throughout the work, are here brought she adopts the suggestion on the inout in full and clear developement. stant, and, for a time, she is saved. The Grand Master, a gloomy reli- The suspense and anxiety impressed gionist, severe and self-denying in his on the reader or the audience by such own person, devoted to the interests a scene, is extreme. Here, as in the of his order, and sore of any imputa- passage before referred to, there seems tion on its credit,--the sworn foe of no hope of refuge. Bois-Guilbert, who the infidel, șits in judgment on a Jew- alone could prove her innocence, is ess, accused of having corrupted, by her accuser. Even the poor grateful hellish arts, the purity of a Templar. creature, who had been cured by her Still the Grand Master is a man. Pity skill in medicinals, and had come for. for the youth, the beauty, and the in- ward to disprove the charge of sorcery trepidity of the victim, all friendless by giving evidence of her beneficent as she is, incline him to clemency; acts, is deemed only to have confirm but habit, superstition, and the spirit ed her guilt, which is presumed from of his order, are too strong for nature, the very skill thus pleaded in her faand he finally remains stern and in- vour. The judges are convinced, and flexible. Bois-Guilbert, a man not inexorable ; but she is again preserwholly vicious, but of violent passions, ved in a manner the most unexpected which long indulgence had made un- and sudden. And again, to crown the governable, and which had choked triumphs of the poet's genius, she is up, though not quite destroyed, the her own preserver. early seeds of virtue, stands struggling But strong as is the temptation, I between, on the one hand, ardent love, must for the present forbear from faror a passion of equal force which ther allusion to particular passages, usurped its place, inspiring a rude and humbly undertake the office of sense of right; and, on the other, the attempting to vindicate the author of dread of shame and degradation, and Waverley, from the implied imputaof the loss of long-cherished projects tion of incapacity for dramatic compoof ambition. Half inclined to relent; sition, that has not long since fallen he is by turns scolded and soothed by from a quarter, from which the pubthe wily Wardeni, who, having aided lic, for some reason or other, were his designs upon Rebecca, and being least inclined to expect it. fearful of a disclosure, is interested in The lovers of the old genuine Briher condemnation. Rebecca herself tish drama had been for some time inhow shall I describe her?--surrounded dulging and expressing hopes, that the with circumstances, and exhibiting amazing powers displayed in the whole qualities, all conspiring to render her series of these dramatic tales, (for such an object at once of sympathy, reve- in strictness they are,) would be aprence, admiration, and even wonder. plied at length to prove, that the anHer péril-terrible ; her beauty-the cient staple of British literature had cause of it; her innocence-unfriend- not for ever vanished from amongst ed; her courage-unbroken by the us. As each half-yearly period sucprospect of the faggot that was to con- ceeded another, in which the Magician sume, and the stake that was to hold scattered his enchantments, he was fast in the flames her tortured body- besought by those who felt his charms or even by the perpetual infamy to most deeply, to conjure back to us, in which her yet unspotted name was to his own proper form and dress, the be consigned. One thing only seems genius of Shakspeare. As if to show wanting to complete the sublime inte- us that poets and enchanters will not rest of the scene, that which gives the be bidden to their work, the Great Unfinish to all moral grandeur,-the tri- known hås, I fear, announced through umph of cool, unaided, superior in- one, who is, somehow, supposed to tellect, over a host of foes, whose be the confidant of all his literary dreadful sentence no force could parry secrets, that the mantle which ShakAnd this addition is supplied. It is speare dropped, and which none after suggested, hurriedly, at the moment him has ever since lifted, will be left when it is all but too late, that she still unappropriated by the nearest of should demand the trial by combat, his kindred, whom the world has seen and a champion. With a presence of since he departed. mind which goes to the very limits of Sir Walter Scott, in his Critical and

17

Biographical Notice of Fielding, pre- any habits, be confined for ever to a fixed to a late edition of that author's certain track, like the mechanic and works, and written with all that de- the artist, whose powers of execution lightful ease and spirit which would depend as much, and often far more, have betrayed the writer, even if it upon manual dexterity, than on the had not been dated from Abbotsford, intellect or the imagination. The has the following passage :-“ Force great critic, whose fiat I now venture of character, strength of expression, to question, is himself an example of felicity of contrast and situation, a versatility, more than sufficient to well-constructed plot, in which the show, that the creative faculty, indevelopement is at once natural and stead of becoming fettered by its own unexpected, and where the interest is works, and growing less flexible by kept uniformly alive till summed up' progressive excellence in one direcby the catastrophe ;-all these requi- tion, may increase in strength, as its sites are as essential to the labour of a sphere of exertion becomes

larger and novelist as to that of a dramatist, and more various, and, after holding the indecd appear to comprehend the sum world for years in admiration of its of the qualities necessary for success deeds in old and beaten paths, may in both departments.” It is scarcely astonish still more by its exploits upon possible for language to express, with new and untrodden ground. greater clearness and vigour, the title The passage first quoted is indeed of the Author of Waverley to the same a decisive answer to the second. Ficsupremacy in the old sphere of the titious narrative and dramatic poetry first glories of British genius, as in are of kindred natures. The novelist that new region which he has half- must be, to a certain extent, a drama. conquered, half-created for himself. tist; or, in as far as he fails in being But the hopes raised by this passage, such, his works will want truth, viwhich seems almost to promise what vacity, and power. The most elabowe have so long desired, are cruelly rate descriptions of the loveliest and dealt with in the succeeding pages ; sublimest objects, the most vivid nar. and we are told, that “ he who ap- ratives of events of the highest inteplies with eminent success to the one rest, will not of themselves make a (pursuit), becomes in some degree un- novel readable. The persons must qualified for the other, like the arti- speak as well as act, or they will exzan, who, by a particular turn for ex- cite but little sympathy. Sentiment cellence in one mechanical department, and passion cannot be given at second loses the habit of dexterity necessary hand ;-they can be known only by for acquitting himself with equal re- the language of those who feel and putation in another; or as the artist, are agitated. And if it is the dramatic who has dedicated himself to the use character that gives life and spirit to of water-colours, is usually less dis- a novel, the novelist who imparts it tinguished by his skill in oil-paint- to his works must surely become, by ing.".

each successive trial, more and more If this opinion be well founded, we qualified for dramatic composition. must bid adieu to all hopes of the re- It is urged at some length, in the generation of the drama, perhaps for disquisition which I here presume to another century. It is not likely that canvass, that narration and

description the next age will be more prolific in are so foreign from the drama, that the works of the imagination than the they cannot be pursued long by any last. The world is growing sadly un. writer without impairing his

dramatic poetical ; and if the greatest dramatic powers; and Fielding is alleged as an genius which has appeared for a cen- instance of the truth of this opinion. tury and a half has, by his habits of Fielding's plays certainly add nothing composition, unfitted himself for that to his reputation ; but it is very far kind of poetry, where can we expect from clear that his habits of narration the adventurous spirit to arise that prevented his success in that style of will attempt the task, and achieve it, writing. It is indeed impossible to in which the Author of Waverley, had read a dozen pages of any of his nohe tried it, must have failed ? vels, without perceiving that his was

But I do not think the present ge- never a dramatic genius. His great neration will easily be induced to be excellence is in describing situations. lieve that the genius of a poet can, by In dialogue he is always diffuse, and

« ForrigeFortsæt »