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This is a work not to be lightly despatched, and we shall return to it upon the publication of Part II.
After Mr. Varley, we must be grave, and turn to sober criticism :
• TRIALS OF LIFE.' We have seen this work, which is by the author of De Lisle,' spoken of with unqualified praise in many quarters. We confess we are very much surprised at the praise not having been very strongly qualified. There is some talent displayed in the conception of one or two of the characters—that of Isabella Albany, in “ Lord Amesfort's Family” especially, although it is not sufficiently worked out; and some of the minor sketches are, we think, clever. But beyond this, there is little to praise: the style is often very incorrect, which is a singular fault at this time of day.
But there are far more serious objections than this. We cannot but regard the moral of both tales as exceedingly reprehensible. We are the farthest in the world from starting at any passing or casual freedom, or even license. That, certainly, is better avoided -- but it does not give character to a work. Neither do we think, as some do, that guilt should never be represented. Far from it; duly treated, we even think its representation calculated often to effect great good. But the whole of the story of Lady Amesfort we think to be corrupt; and, above all, the event on which the main plot of the tale turns, is, from the circumstances under which it is represented, nothing short of revolting. Neither is Lord Amesfort described, as a man of his almost impossible selfishness, baseness, and cruelty should alone be spoken of.
The second tale is, we almost shudder to say, announced, by the author in a dedication, as fact; and the papers have been very liberal in assigning a real name to the heroine. If the narrative be, as the author says, “a mere effort of memory”—the story of Alicia's sister, as well as of Alicia's self, must be true ; because Alicia's own destiny is ultimately fixed by the sister's conduct. The author dedicates the work to a living person, as having known the individual described under the name of Alicia. There must be,—if the identification be correct there are,-many living persons nearly connected with these parties. And is it to be suffered that private misfortune, even though accompanied by guilt, should be raked up after so short a lapse of time, to be held out for public entertainment in a novel? Is it to be suffered that the feelings of surviving friends should be thus wantonly exposed to pain ? We know nothing of the writer of the work; we judge it from itself; and we cannot notice it without giving vent to an honest expression of disgust on this part of the subject.
In this story, likewise, the objectionable part of the plot is given in a very objectionable manner—though, in neither case, we must in justice add, with any indelicacy of language.
Positively, not another word of direct censure shall escape our lips at this season of kindliness ;—for we feel our hearts expanding with affection towards every living thing. What has put us into this anticritical humour-(no, not anti-critical, for praise is as much the duty of a critic as blame-)? The curtains have been drawn these two hours—the fire blazed as cheeringly when we first sat down to our vocation. We have it !
• Legends of the Lakes,' by T. Crofton Croker, has destroyed, for an hour or so, all the bile in our disposition. It is not that the wit is more brilliant, the legends more amusing, than a hundred other books ;—but you feel at once in the society of a thoroughly good tempered man, when you sit down to a volume by Mr. Crofton Croker. There is nothing of the pettiness of authorship-none of the snarling at another's fame, or the howling over one's own neglect, -that make authorship such a hateful trade. There is none of that misanthropy which is put on as a cloak for ignorance and ill-nature; or of that pert dogmatism which stands, in the writer's own estimation, for logic and integrity. Here you may be amused without pretension ;-and have your laughter tickled, without the follies of a bosom friend being laid bare to the world. Mr. Croker makes even folly amiable, by throwing over it the light of his unconquerable temper; and the only fear we could have about his legends would be, that they would make some of the saints and heroes, who are the subjects of them, really to seem like respectable gentlemen ; when, in fact, the greater number of them were good-fornothing varlets. Hear how he tells a story about St. Patrick :
By the bye, Sir," said Spillane, “ I believe there is a story, something about a great serpent, I think.-Do you know any thing of it, Picket ? "
“ The serpent is it?" said Picket in reply. "Sure, every body has hard tell of the blessed Saint Patrick, and how he druve the sarpints and all manner of venomous things out of Ireland-how he bothered all the varmint' entirely. But for all that, there was one ould sarpint left, who was too cunning to be talked out of the country, and made to drown himself
. Saint Patrick didn't well know how to manage this fellow, who was doing great havoc, till at long last he bethought himself, and got a strong iron chest made, with nine boults upon it.
“ So one fine morning he takes a walk to where the sarpint used to keep; and the sarpint, who didn't like the saint in the least (and small blame to him for that!) began to hiss and show his teeth at him like any thing. • Oh,' says Saint Patrick, says he, where's the use of making such a piece of work about a gentleman like myself coming to see you ? 'Tis a nice house I have got made for you, agin the winter; for I'm going to civilise the whole country, man and beast, says he,' and you can come and look at it whenever you please; and 'tis myself will be glad to see you.'
“ The sarpint, hearing such smooth words, thought that though Saint Patrick had druve all the rest of the sarpints into the sea, he meant no harm to himself; so the sarpint walks fair and easy up to see him and the house he was speaking about. But when the sarpint saw the nine great boults upon the chest, he thought he was sould (betrayed), and was for making off with himself as fast as ever he could.
" • "Tis a nice warm house, you see,' says Saint Patrick, ' and 'tis a good friend I am to you.'
I thank you kindly, Saint Patrick, for your civility,' says the surpint, • but I think it's too small it is for me -meaning it for an excuse; and away he was going.
* Too small ! says Saint Patrick; stop, if you please,' says he, you're out in that, my boy, any how—I'm sure 'twill fit you completely. And I'll tell you what, says he, “I'll bet you a gallon of porter,' says he, ' that if you'll only try and get in, there'll be plenty of room for you.'
“ The sarpint was as thirsty as could be with his walk, and 'twas great joy to him, the thoughts of doing Saint Patrick out of the gallon of porter ; so, swelling himself up as big as he could, in he got to the chest, all but a little bit of his tail. There now,' says he, ' I've won the gallon, for you see the house is too small for me, for I can't get in my tail: when what does Saint Patrick do, but he comes behind the great heavy lid of the chest, and, putting his two hands to it, down he slaps it, with a bang like thunder. When the rogue of a sarpint saw the lid coming down, in went his tail like a shot, for fear of its being whipped off him, and Saint Patrick began at once to boult the nine iron boults.
"Oh, murder !-won't you let me out, Saint Patrick ?' says the sarpint• I've lost the bet fairly, and I'll pay you the gallon like a man.'
Let you out, my darling !' says Saint Patrick, “ to be sure I will—by all manner of means; but, you see, I haven't time now, so you must wait till to-morrow.' And so he took the iron chest, with the sarpint in it, and pitches it into the lake here, where it is to this hour, for certain ; and 'tis the sarpint struggling down at the bottom that makes the waves upon it. Many is the living man," continued Picket, “ besides myself, has hard the sarpint crying out, from within the chest under the water, — Is it to-morrow yet ? is it to-morrow yet ?' which, to be sure, it can never be. And that's the way Saint Patrick settled the last of the sarpints, Sir.” Clearly, St. Patrick was a great rogue to beguile the sarpint after this fashion; and if he had belonged to the Jockey Club, instead of the Missionary Society, would have been taught a better version of the laws of honour. Mr. Leitch Ritchie, who writes
• TALES AND CONFESSIONS,' is altogether a very different person from Mr. Croften Croker. He has more power ;-but then a great deal of that power is employed without taste and discrimination; and what between the nature of his subjects, and his mode of treating them, you are apt, with almost every tale or confession, to hurl the book across the room, and look for relief at some of the clever wood-cuts of the · Legends of Killarney' (of which we are glad thus to lug in a notice.) But then you take Mr. Ritchie's book up again, in spite of yourself;—for it is clearly a clever book. Our quarrel with it is this. He is perpetually straining after some topic of excitement, and generally contrives to light upon what is either very impossible, or very revolting: 'Skeleton Scenes,'--in which the interest turns upon a supposed murder, followed by a trial, a condemned cell, a gallows, and the supposed murdered man appearing to save his friend at the gallows' foot, will not do at this time of day. The scene and the era of this story are thus indicated :-" The heaps of grey stones that attract our attention by their precise mathematical figures, are mute, and the hammer and hammerer absent; the parched fields are deserted; the stage-coaches have ceased to fly, and the fly-vans to crawl.”
We at once see that this is England in the nineteenth century. Now every one who is not desperately ignorant of the history of his country, and of the present administration of justice, must know that from the date of the “ Camden Wonder," in the time of the Commonwealth, it has been an invariable rule of law, that no charge for murder can lie, without the body having previously been found. So far for the false excitement of the impossible ; and now for the revolting. With the exception of Sheelah's Dowry,' and two other stories, every tale turns upon some such excitements as are to be found in the · Annals of Newgate;' and the Confessions of a Body-Snatcher,' for instance, which, we believe, has been very popular, goes far into those abominations, which make the blood curdle even more than those disgusting records of guilt and suffering. We think such matters have a tendency to deprave the mind, and give it a disrelish for sound and healthful emotions. Upon this principle we detest, even to loathing, the revolting details of such trials as Thurtell's and Corder's; and we therefore cannot avoid expressing our feelings when we behold a clever writer seeking for the superstructure of his fictions amongst such hideous exhibitions of human frailty. Happy are we to see that Mr. Ritchie is about to dedicate his talents to History; and we argue that his powers will be productive of real good to his fellow men, when they are disciplined by the study of facts, and directed to what is useful.
Now, we have, in spite of ourselves, written what Mr. Ritchie and his friends will think censure. Plague on it-it is so.
The Editor's Room—the Editor's No-Room !- for here we reduced, by all sorts of intruders, to a scurvy eight pages. We have to notice six new novels, three histories, and twenty-seven books for young persons all of which must be postponed to a more convenient
A plague on this new partnership! Messieurs Fact and Fiction of the London Magazine, your unhappy minister is in a rare plight between you. He stands, like Garrick between Comedy and Tragedy, grinning and groaning ;-smiling upon his new poetical contributors on the one hand, and raving at his long-winded interpreter of all the facts of all the journals of all the languages of Europe, on the other. And yet these new auxiliaries are men of metal: and this ‘Journal of Facts,' with a little pruning and polishing, which will be acquired in time, will do the Magazine and the public good service.
Upon cool consideration, the Editor will, for once, forgive this intrusion upon his Room'—for it enables him to finish his last labours before midnight ;-and to drink the healths of his dear readers on this good Christmas Day, without the fear of the Press before his eyes to poison his libations.
After all, we shall not“ keep our Christmas in our Room.”
LONDON MAGAZINE, .
No. XI.- FEBRUARY, 1829.
ON THE APPROACHING SESSION OF PARLIAMENT.
A MOMENTOUS Session of Parliament is about to open in a few days, one which, if the indications which are plainly visible in the political horizon do not deceive us, will surpass any we have for some years witnessed in animated and important discussions. That they will be animated, we infer from the evident state of excitement of the different political parties, which compose our legislature; our opinion, that they will be important in their results, we derive from the light in which we view the situation of his Majesty's Ministers relatively to those parties, and to the country at large. We cannot, indeed, call to our recollection any time at which the mere discussions (for we do not speak of the divisions, or votes, of either of the Houses of Parliament) exercised a more commanding influence over the Government of the state than those of the present Session are, in our opinion, likely to do. That there should exist in the liberal party of all denominations an extraordinary degree of excitement and energy at the present moment is indeed not surprising. Ever since the accession of the Duke of Wellington to the office of Prime Minister, they have been lulled into an almost unprecedented inactivity. Whether this has been the result of inconceivable credulity on their part, or of eminent dexterity on the part of his Grace, it is not our intention to discuss. But, however well or ill founded their hopes and expectations may have been, either at the opening or at the close of the late Session of Parliament, those hopes and expectations are now gone. The dispositions and intentions of his Majesty's Government must be manifest to the most short-sighted. The most eminent political profligacy can scarcely keep up the affectation of blindness. It is impossible not to perceive that, at the present moment, the expression of the Prime Minister's intention upon the Catholic Question (and expressed it has now been in terms not to be misunderstood) determines the character of his government, and the consequent degree of confidence, or even forbearance, which it is likely to obtain from the liberal party in Parliament. For, as the legislature of this country is constituted, an administration hostile to Catholic Emancipation must necessarily and inevitably be to a greater or less degree hostile to liberal and enlightened policy both at home and abroad. Upon whom, we would ask, must it rest for support ?FEBRUARY, 1829.