Page images

of the nobleness of its final heritage. All the | purity of an angel. She is at the same time softenings of evil to the moral vision by the one of the grandest of tragic heroines, and the gentleness of fancy, are proofs that evil itself divinest of religious enthusiasts. Clarissa shall perish. Our yearnings after ideal beauty alone is above her. Clementina steps statelily show that the home of the soul which feels in her very madness, amidst "the pride, pomp, them, is in a lovelier world. And when man and circumstance" of Italian nobility; Clarissa describes high virtues, and instances of no- is triumphant, though violated, deserted, and bleness, which rarely light on earth; so sub- encompassed by vice and infamy. Never can lime that they expand our imaginations beyond we forget that amazing scene, in which, on the their former compass, yet so human that they effort of her mean seducer to renew his outmake our hearts gush with delight; he disco- rages, she appears in all the radiance of menvers feelings in his own breast, and awakens tal purity, among the wretches assembled to sympathies in ours, which shall assuredly one witness his triumph, where she startles them by day have real and stable objects to rest on! her first appearance, as by a vision from above; and holding the penknife to her breast, with her eyes lifted to heaven, prepares to die, if her craven destroyer advances, striking the vilest with deep awe of goodness, and walking placidly, at last, from the circle of her foes, none of them daring to harm her! How pathetic, above all other pathos in the world, are those snatches of meditation which she commits to the paper, in the first delirium of her wo! How delicately imagined are her preparations for that grave in which alone she can find repose ! Cold must be the hearts of those who can conceive them as too elaborate, or who can venture to criticise them. In this novel all appears most real; we feel enveloped, like Don Quixote, by a thousand threads; and like him, would we rather remain so for ever, than break one of their silken fibres. Clarissa Harlowe is one of the books which leave us different beings from those which they find us. Sadder and wiser" do we arise from its perusal.

The early times of England-unlike those of Spain-were not rich in chivalrous romances. The imagination seems to have been chilled by the manners of the Norman conquerors. The domestic contests for the disputed throne, with their intrigues, battles, and executions, have none of that rich, poetical interest, which attended the struggles for the Holy Sepulchre. Nor, in the golden age of English genius, were there any very remarkable works of pure fiction. Since that period to the present day, however, there has been a rich succession of novels and romances, each increasing the stores of innocent delight, and shedding on human life some new tint of tender colouring.

The novels of Richardson are at once among the grandest and the most singular creations of human genius. They combine an accurate acquaintance with the freest libertinism, and the sternest professions of virtue-a sporting with vicious casuistry, and the deepest horror of free-thinking-the most stately ideas of paternal authority, and the most elaborate display of its abuses. Prim and stiff, almost without parallel, the author perpetually treads on the very borders of indecorum, but with a solemn and assured step, as if certain that he could never fall. "The precise, strait-laced Richardson," says Mr. Lamb in one of the profound and beautiful notes to his specimens, "has strengthened vice from the mouth of Lovelace, with entangling sophistries, and abstruse pleas against her adversary virtue, which Sedley, Villiers, and Rochester wanted depth of libertinism sufficient to have invented.” He had, in fact, the power of making any set of notions, however fantastical, appear as "truths of holy writ," to his readers. This he did by the authority with which he disposed of all things, and by the infinite minuteness of his details. His gradations are so gentle, that we do not at any one point hesitate to follow him, and should descend with him to any depth before we perceived that our path had been unequal. By the means of this strange magic, we become anxious for the marriage of Pamela with her base master; because the author has so imperceptibly wrought on us the belief of an awful distance between the rights of an esquire and his servant, that our imaginations regard it in the place of all moral distinctions. After all, the general impression made on us by his works is virtuous. Clementina is to the soul a new and majestic image, inspired by virtue and by love, which raises and refines its conceptions. She has all the depth and intensity of the Italian character, with all the

[ocr errors]

Yet when we read Fielding's novels after those of Richardson, we feel as if a stupendous pressure were removed from our souls. We seem suddenly to have left a palace of enchantment, where we have past through long galleries filled with the most gorgeous images, and illumined by a light not quite human nor yet quite divine, into the fresh air, and the common ways of this "bright and breathing world." We travel on the high road of humanity, yet meet in it pleasanter companions, and catch more delicious snatches of refreshment, than ever we can hope elsewhere to enjoy. The mock heroic of Fielding, when he condescends to that ambiguous style, is scarcely less pleasing than its stately prototype. It is a sort of spirited defiance to fiction, on the behalf of reality, by one who knew full well all the strongholds of that nature which he was defending. There is not in Fielding much of that which can properly be called ideal-if we except the character of Parson Adams; but his works represent life as more delightful than it seems to common experience, by disclosing those of its dear immunities, which we little think of, even when we enjoy them. How delicious are all his refreshments at all his inns! How vivid are the transient joys of his heroes, in their checkered course-how full and overflowing are their final raptures! His Tom Jones is quite unrivalled in plot, and is to be rivalled only in his own works for felicitous delineation of character. The little which we have told us of Allworthy, especially that which re

lates to his feelings respecting his deceased | fair; the blameless vanities of his daughters, wife, makes us feel for him, as for one of the and his resignation under his accumulated best and most revered friends of our child- sorrows, are among the best treasures of mehood. Was ever the "soul of goodness in mory. The pastoral scenes in this exquisite things evil" better disclosed, than in the tale are the sweetest in the world. The scents scruples and the dishonesty of Black George, of the hay-field, and of the blossoming hedgethat tenderest of gamekeepers, and truest of rows, seem to come freshly to our senses. thieves? Did ever health, good-humour, frank- The whole romance is a tenderly-coloured heartedness, and animal spirits hold out so picture, in little, of human nature's most freshly against vice and fortune as in the genial qualities. hero? Was ever so plausible a hypocrite as Blifil, who buys a Bible of Tom Jones so delightfully, and who, by his admirable imitation of virtue, leaves it almost in doubt, whether, by a counterfeit so dexterous, he did not merit some share of her rewards? Who shall gainsay the cherry lips of Sophia Western? The story of Lady Bellaston we confess to be a blemish. But if there be any vice left in the work, the fresh atmosphere diffused over all its scenes, will render it innoxious. Joseph Andrews has far less merit as a story-but it depicts Parson Adams, whom it does the heart good to think on. He who drew this character, if he had done nothing else, would not have lived in vain. We fancy we can see him with his torn cassock, (in honour of his high profession,) his volumes of sermons, which we really wish had been printed, and his schylus, the best of all the editions of that sublime tragedian! Whether he longs after his own sermons against vanity-or is absorbed in the romantic tale of the fair Leonora-or uses his ox-like fists in defence of the fairer Fanny, he equally imbodies in his person, "the homely beauty of the good old cause,' of high thoughts, pure imaginations, and manners unspotted by the world.

[ocr errors]

De Foe is one of the most extraordinary of English authors. His Robinson Crusoe is deservedly one of the most popular of novels. It is usually the first read, and always among the last forgotten. The interest of its scenes in the uninhabited island is altogether peculiar; since there is nothing to develope the character but deep solitude. Man, there, is alone in the world, and can hold communion only with nature, and nature's God. There is nearly the same situation in Philoctetes, that sweetest of the Greek tragedies; but there we only see the poor exile as he is about to leave his sad abode, to which he has become attached, even with a child-like cleaving. In Robinson Crusoe, life is stripped of all its social joys, yet we feel how worthy of cherishing it is, with nothing but silent nature to cheer it. Thus are nature and the soul, left with no other solace, represented in their native grandeur and intense communion. With how fond an interest do we dwell on all the exertions of our fellow-man, cut off from his kind; watch his growing plantations as they rise, and seem to water them with our tears! The exceeding vividness of all the descriptions are more delightful when combined with the loneliness and distance of the scene "placed far amid the melancholy main" in which we become dwellers. We have grown so familiar with the solitude, that the print of man's foot seen in the sand seems to appal us as an awful thing!-The Family Instructor of this author, in which he inculcates weightily his own notions of puritanical demeanour and parental authority, is very curious. It is a strange mixture of narrative and dialogue, fanaticism and nature; but all done with such earnestness that the sense of its reality never quits us. Nothing, however, can be more harsh and unpleasing than the

Smollet seems to have had more touch of romance than Fielding, but not so profound and intuitive a knowledge of humanity's hidden treasures. There is nothing in his works comparable to Parson Adams; but then, on the other hand, Fielding has not any thing of the kind equal to Strap. Partridge is dry, and hard, compared with this poor barber-boy, with his generous overflowings of affection. Roderick Random, indeed, with its varied delineation of life, is almost a romance. Its hero is worthy of his name. He is the sport of fortune rolled about through the " many ways of wretchedness," almost without re-impression which it leaves. It does injustice sistance, but ever catching those tastes of joy which are everywhere to be relished by those who are willing to receive them. We seem to roll on with him, and get delectably giddy | in his company.

The humanity of the Vicar of Wakefield is less deep than that of Roderick Random, but sweeter tinges of fancy are cast over it. The sphere in which Goldsmith's powers moved was never very extensive, but within it he discovered all that was good, and shed on it the tenderest lights of his sympathizing genius. No one ever excelled so much as he in depicting amiable follies and endearing weaknesses. His satire makes us at once smile at and love all that he so tenderly ridicules. The good Vicar's trust in Monogamy, his son's purchase of the spectacles, his own sale of his horse to his solemn admirer at the

both to religion and the world. It represents the innocent pleasures of the latter as deadly sins, and the former as most gloomy, austere, and exclusive. One lady resolves on poisoning her husband, and another determines to go to the play, and the author treats both offences with a severity nearly equal!

Far different from this ascetic novel is that best of religious romances, the Fool of Quality. The piety there is at once most deep and most benign. There is much, indeed, of eloquent mysticism, but all evidently most heartfelt and sincere. The yearnings of the soul after universal good and intimate communion with the divine nature were never more nobly shown. The author is most prodigal of his intellectual wealth-"his bounty is as boundless as the sea, his love as deep." He gives to his chief characters riches endless as the

spiritual stores of his own heart. It is, indeed, only the last which gives value to the first in his writings. It is easy to endow men with millions on paper, and to make them willing to scatter them among the wretched; but it is the corresponding bounty and exuberance of the author's soul, which here makes the money sterling, and the charity divine. The hero of this romance always appears to our imagination like a radiant vision encircled with celestial glories. The stories introduced in it are delightful exceptions to the usual rule by which such incidental tales are properly regarded as impertinent intrusions. That of David Doubtful is of the most romantic interest, and at the same time steeped in feeling the most profound. But that of Clement and his wife is perhaps the finest. The scene in which they are discovered, having placidly lain down to die of hunger together, in gentle submission to Heaven, depicts a quiescence the most sublime, yet the most affecting. Nothing can be more delightful than the sweetening ingredients in their cup of sorrow. The heroic act of the lady to free herself from her ravisher's grasp, her trial and her triumphant acquittal, have a grandeur above that of tragedy. The genial spirit of the author's faith leads him to exult especially in the repentance of the wicked. No human writer seems ever to have hailed the contrite with so cordial a welcome. His scenes appear overspread with a rich atmosphere of tenderness, which softens and consecrates all things.

We would not pass over, without a tribute

of gratitude, Mrs. Radcliffe's wild and wondrous tales. When we read them, the world seems shut out, and we breathe only in an enchanted region, where lover's lutes tremble over placid waters, mouldering castles rise conscious of deeds of blood, and the sad voices of the past echo through deep vaults and lonely galleries. There is always majesty in her terrors. She produces more effect by whispers and slender hints than ever was attained by the most vivid display of horrors. Her conclusions are tame and impotent almost without example. But while her spells actually operate, her power is truly magical. Who can ever forget the scene in the Romance of the Forest, where the marquis, who has long sought to make the heroine the victim of licentious love, after working on her protector, over whom he has a mysterious influence, to steal at night into her chamber, and when his trembling listener expects only a requisition for delivering her into his hands, replies to the question of "then-to-night, my Lord!" "Adelaide dies"—or the allusions to the dark veil in the Mysteries of Udolpho-or the stupendous scenes in Spalatro's cottage? Of all romance writers Mrs. Radcliffe is the most romantic.

The present age has produced a singular number of authors of delightful prose fiction, on whom we intend to give a series of criticisms. We shall begin with MACKENZIE, whom we shall endeavour to compare with Sterne, and for this reason we have passed over the works of the latter in our present cursory view of the novelists of other days.



ALTHOUGH Our veneration for Mackenzie has induced us to commence this series of articles with an attempt to express our sense of his genius, we scarcely know how to criticise its exquisite creations. The feelings which they have awakened within us are too old and too sacred almost for expression. We scarcely dare to scrutinize with a critic's ear, the blending notes of that sad and soft music of humanity which they breathe. We feel as if there were a kind of privacy in our sympathies with them as though they were a part of ourselves, which strangers knew not-and as if in publicly expressing them, we were violating the sanctities of our own souls. We must recollect, however, that our readers know them as well as we do, and then to dwell with them tenderly on their merits will seem like discoursing of the long-cherished memories of friends we had in common, and of sorrows participated in childhood.

The purely sentimental style in which the tales of Mackenzie are written, though deeply felt by the people, has seldom met with due

appreciation from the critics. It has its own genuine and peculiar beauties, which we love the more the longer we feel them. Its consecrations are altogether drawn from the soul. The gentle tinges which it casts on human life are shed, not from the imagination or the fancy, but from the affections. It represents, indeed, humanity as more tender, its sorrows as more gentle, its joys as more abundant than they appear to common observers. But this is not effected by those influences of the imagination which consecrate whatever they touch, which detect the secret analogies of beauty, and bring kindred graces from all parts of nature to heighten the images which they reveal. It affects us rather by casting off from the soul those impurities and littlenesses which it contracts in the world, than by foreign aids. It appeals to those simple emotions which are not the high prerogatives of genius, but which are common to all who are "made of one blood," and partake in one primal sympathy. The holiest feelings, after all, are those which would be the most common if gross selfish


as sacred treasures. The sorrows over which it sheds its influence are "ill-bartered for the garishness of joy;" for they win us softly from life, and fit us to die smiling. It endures, not only while fortune changes, but while opinions vary, which the young enthusiast fondly hoped would never forsake him. It remains when the unsubstantial pageants of goodliest hope vanish. It binds the veteran to the child by ties which no fluctuations even of belief can alter. It preserves the only identity, save that of consciousness, which man with certainty retains-connecting our past with our present being by delicate ties, so subtle that they vibrate to every breeze of feeling; yet so strong that the tempests of life have not power to break them. It assures us that what we have been we shall be, and that our human hearts shall vibrate with their first sympathies while the species shall endure.

ness and low ambition froze not "the genial current of the soul." The meanest and most ungifted have their gentle remembrances of early days. Love has tinged the life of the artisan and the cottager with something of the romantic. The course of none has been along so beaten a road that they remember not fondly some resting-places in their journeys; some turns of their path in which lovely prospects broke in upon them; some soft plats of green refreshing to their weary feet. Confiding love, generous friendship, disinterested humanity, require no recondite learning, no high imagination, to enable an honest heart to appreciate and feel them. Too often, indeed, are the simplicities of nature and the native tendernesses of the soul nipped and chilled by those anxieties which lie on them "like an untimely frost." "The world is too much with us.". We become lawyers, politicians, merchants, and forget that we are men, and sink in our transitory We think that, on the whole, Mackenzie is vocations that character which is to last for the first master of this delicious style. Sterne, A tale of sentiment-such as those of doubtless, has deeper touches of humanity in that honoured veteran whose works we would some of his works. But there is no sustained' now particularly remember-awakens all these feeling-no continuity of emotion-no extendpulses of sympathy with our kind, of whose ed range of thought, over which the mind can beatings we had become almost unconscious. brood in his ingenious and fantastical writings. It does honour to humanity by stripping off its His spirit is far too mercurial and airy to suffer artificial disguises. Its magic is not like that him tenderly to linger over those images of by which Arabian enchanters raised up glit-sweet humanity which he discloses. His cletering spires, domes, and palaces by a few ca- verness breaks the charm which his feeling balistic words; but resembles their power to spreads, as by magic, around us. His exquidisclose veins of precious ore where all seemed site sensibility is ever counteracted by his persterile and blasted. It gently puts aside the ceptions of the ludicrous, and his ambition brambles which overcast the stream of life, after the strange. No harmonious feeling and lays it open to the reflections of those deli- breathes from any of his pieces. He sweeps cate clouds which lie above it in the heavens." that curious instrument, the human heart," It shows to us the soft undercourses of feeling, which neither time nor circumstances can wholly stop; and the depth of affection in the soul, which nothing but sentiment itself can fathom. It disposes us to pensive thoughtexpands the sympathies-and makes all the half-forgotten delights of youth "come back❘ upon our hearts again," to soften and to cheer us.

Too often has the sentiment of which we have spoken been confounded with sickly affectations in a common censure. But no things can be more opposite than the paradoxes of the inferior order of German sentimentalists and the works of a writer like Mackenzie. Real sentiment is the truest, the most genuine, and the most lasting thing on earth. It is more ancient as well as more certain in its operations than the reasoning faculties. We know and feel before we think; we perceive before we compare; we enjoy before we believe. As the evidence of sense is stronger than that of testimony, so the light of our inward eye more truly shows to us the secrets of the heart than the most elaborate process of reason. Riches, honours, power, are transitory-the things which appear, pass away-the shadows of life alone are stable and unchanging. Of the recollections of infancy nothing can deprive us. Love endures, even if its object perishes, and nurtures the soul of the mourner. Sentiment has a kind of divine alchymy, rendering grief itself the source of tenderest thoughts and farreaching desires, which the sufferer cherishes

with hurried fingers, calling forth in rapid succession its deepest and its liveliest tones, and making only marvellous discord. His pathos is, indeed, most genuine while it lasts; but the soul is not suffered to cherish the feeling which it awakens. He does not shed, like Mackenzie, one mild light on the path of life; but scatters on it wild coruscations of evershifting brightness, which, while they sometimes disclose spots of inimitable beauty, often do but fantastically play over objects dreary and revolting. All in Mackenzie is calm, gentle, harmonious. No play of mistimed wit, no flourish of rhetoric, no train of philosophical speculation, for a moment diverts our sympathy. Each of his best works is like one deep thought, and the impression which it leaves, soft, sweet, and undivided as the summer evening's holiest and latest sigh.

The only exception which we can make to this character, is the Man of the World. Here the attempt to obtain intricacy of plot disturbs the emotion which, in the other works of the author, is so harmoniously excited. A tale of sentiment should be most simple. Its whole effect depends on its keeping the tenor of its predominant feeling unbroken. Another defect in this story is, the length of time over which it spreads its narrative. Sindall, alone, connects the two generations which it embraces, and he is too mean and uninteresting thus to appear both as the hero and the chorus. When a story is thus continued from a mother to a daughter, it seems to have no legitimate

matchless in their kind. Never was so much of the terrific alleviated by so much of the pitiful. The incidents are most tragic; yet over them is diffused a breath of sweetness, which softens away half their anguish, and reconciles us to that which remains. Our minds are prepared, long before, for the early nipping of that delicate blossom, for which this world was too bleak. Julia's last interview with Savillon mitigates her doom, partly by the joy her heart has tasted, and which nothing afterwards in life could equal, and partly by the certainty that she must either become guilty or continue wretched. Nothing can be at once sweeter and more affecting than her ecstatic dream after she has taken the fatal mixture, her seraphical playing on the organ, to which the waiting angels seem to listen, and her tranquil recalling the scenes of peaceful happiness with her friend, as she imagines her arms about her neck, and fancies that her Maria's tears are falling on her bosom. Then comes Montaubon's description of her as she drank the poison:-"She took it from me smiling, and her look seemed to lose its confusion. She drank my health! She was dressed in her white silk bed-gown, ornamented with pale, pink ribands. Her cheek was gently flushed from their reflection; her blue eyes were turned upwards as she drank, and a dark-brown ringlet lay on her shoulder." We do not think even the fate of "the gentle lady married to the Moor" calls forth tears so sweet as those which fall for the Julia of Mackenzie!

boundary. The painful remembrances of the former interferes with our interest for the latter, and the present difficulties of the last deprive us of those emotions of fond retrospection, which the fate of the first would otherwise awaken. Still there are in this tale scenes of pathos delicious as any which even the author himself has drawn. The tender pleasure which the Man of Feeling excites is wholly without alloy. Its hero is the most beautiful personification of gentleness, patience, and meek sufferings, which the heart can conceive. Julia de Roubigné, however, is, on the whole, the most delightful of the author's works. There is, in this tale, enough of plot to keep alive curiosity, and sharpen the interest which the sentiment awakens, without any of those strange turns and perplexing incidents which break the current of sympathy. The diction is in perfect harmony with the subject "most musical, most melancholy" with "golden cadences" responsive to the thoughts. There is a plaintive charm in the image presented to us of the heroine, too fair almost to dwell on. How exquisite is the description given of her by her maid, in a letter to her friend, relating to her fatal marriage:"She was dressed in a white muslin night-gown, with striped lilac and white ribands; her hair was kept in the loose way you used to make me dress it for her at Belville, with two waving curls down one side of her neck, and a braid of little pearls. And to be sure, with her dark, brown locks resting upon it, her bosom looked as pure white as the driven snow. And then her eyes, when We rejoice to know and feel that these she gave her hand to the count! they were delicious tales cannot perish. Since they cast down, and you might see her eyelashes, were written, indeed, the national imagination like strokes of a pencil, over the white of her has been, in a great degree, perverted by skin-the modest gentleness, with a sort of strong excitements, and "fed on poisons till sadness too, as it were, and a gentle heave of they have become a kind of nutriment." But her bosom at the same time." And yet, such the quiet and unpresuming beauties of these is the feeling communicated to us by the works depend not on the fashion of the world. whole work, that we are ready to believe even They cannot be out of date till the dreams of this artless picture an inadequate representa- young imagination shall vanish, and the tion of that beauty which we never cease to deepest sympathies of love and hope shall be feel. How natural and tear-moving is the chilled for ever. While other works are exletter of Savillon to his friend, describing the tolled, admired, and reviewed, these will be scenes of his early love, and recalling, with loved and wept over. Their author, in the intense vividness, all the little circumstances evening of his days, may truly feel that he which aided its progress! What an idea, in has not lived in vain. Gentle hearts shall a single expression, does Julia give of the ever blend their thought of him among their depth and the tenderness of her affection, remembrances of the benefactors of their when describing herself as taking lessons in youth. And when the fever of the world drawing from her lover, sne says that she felt" shall hang upon the beatings of their hearts," something from the touch of his hand "not the less delightful from carrying a sort of fear along with that delight: it was like a pulse in the soul!" The last scenes of this novel are

how often will their spirits turn to him, who, as he cast a soft seriousness over the morning of life, shall assist in tranquillizing its noontide sorrows!

« PreviousContinue »