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was making overtures for that purpose. But it was now too late. The king, maddened by the loss of Elgiva, rushed forward with blind and precipitate haste to Malpas, where the body of his murdered wife awaited a royal sepulture, and where was intrenched the haughty rebel who had brought her down to a premature grave. Deaf to every voice but that which from the inmost recesses of his soul cried for revenge, Edwin plunged wildly into his fate. Covered with wounds, he fell once more into the toils of his deadly enemy. An awful sound recalled him to momentary animation and strength. It was the low dirge from the choir of the neighbouring cathedral, chanting the funeral obsequies of Elgiva. He flew from his dying couch, cast himself with delirious ravings on her cold and inanimate form, and then, invoking the vengeance of heaven on their persecutor, descended with her to the grave.
Incomplete, and therefore inaccurate, as it is, this slight abridgment of the tale will show, that the dramatic action of "Edwin the Fair" is rather disastrous than tragical. We wit ness, indeed, the deadly conflict of thrones, spiritual and temporal. The sceptre falls from a feeble grasp, and the crozier is elevated in sanguinary triumph. But it is the triumph of power over weakness, of craft over simplicity, of mature worldly wisdom over childish inexperience. An overwhelming calamity befalls Edwin and Elgiva, but it is provoked neither by any gigantic guilt, nor by any magnanimous self-devotion. They perish, the victims of imprudence rather than of crime-of a rash marriage and a venial inconstancy. This is quite probable-quite in accordance with truths to be gathered from the experience of each passing day; but for that very reason, it is a fable which does not fulfil the laws imposed on the stage by Eschylus and Shakspeareby their imitators and their critics-or rather by reason and nature herself. It does not break up our torpid habitual associations. It excites no intense sympathy. It gives birth to no deep emotion, except, indeed, regret that vengeance does not strike down the oppressor. There is a failure of poetical justice in the progress and in the catastrophe of the drama. If it were a passage of authentic history, the mind might repose in the conviction that the Judge of all must eventually do right. But as it is a fiction, it is impossible not to repine that right is not actually done. Such unmerited disasters and prosperous injustice are, we know, consistent with the presence of a superintending Deity. But they do not suggest it. The handwriting on the wall has no pregnant meaning, nor mythic significancy. It is not apparently traced by the Divine finger, nor has the seer given us any inspired interpretation. It is one of those legends from which a moralist might deduce important lessons of prudence, but from which a dramatist could hardly evoke a living picture of the destiny of man-of man opposed and aided by powers mightier than his own, engaged in an unequal though most momentous conflict, impotent even when victorious, and majestic even when subdued.
This objection to the plot of his drama has evidently been anticipated by Mr. Taylor himself. He summons some dark clouds to gather around Dunstan at the moment of his success, and dismisses him from our view, oppressed by the only domestic sorrow to which his heart was accessible, and by omens of approaching calamity from an inroad of the Northmen. Thus the triumph of the wicked is tempered, and some endeavour is made to gratify, as well as to excite, the thirst for his punishment. It is hardly a successful attempt. The loss in mature life of an aged mother, is a sorrow too familiar and transitory to be accepted as a retribution for crimes of the deepest dye; and war, however disastrous to others, has seldom any depressing terrors for the rulers of mankind. Besides, there are yet some fetters, however light, which chronology will throw over the volatile spirit of poetry; and it is hard to forget the historical fact, that no Danish invasion ever disturbed the tranquillity of Dunstan; but that he lived and died in that century of repose, for which England was indebted to the wisdom and the valour of the two great predecessors of Edwin.
Mr. Taylor has therefore employed another and more effectual resource to relieve the inherent defects of the subject he has chosen. He avails himself of the opportunity it affords for the delineation and contrast of characters, which he throws off with a careless prodigality, attesting an almost inexhaustible affluence. In every passage where the interest of the story droops, it is sustained by the appearance of some new person of the drama, who is not a mere fiction, but a reality with a fictitious name. The stage is not possessed by its ancient tenants provided with a new set of speeches, but with recruits, who present some of the many aspects under which man has actually presented himself to a most sagacious and diligent observer. This, however, is not true of Dunstan, the most conspicuous of all those who contribute to the action or to the dialogue. He is drawn, not from actual life, but from books. In the great drama of society, which is acted in our age on the theatre of the civilized world, no part has been, or could be, assigned to a spiritual despot, in which to disclose freely the propensities and the mysteries of his nature. The poet has therefore taken the outline from the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, and has supplied the details and the colouring from his own imagination. Hence the central figure is less congruous-less in harmony with itself than those of the group by which it is surrounded; but then it is more ideal, is cast in bolder relief, and is thrown off with greater force and freedom.
The real Dunstan, the recluse, the saint, and the statesman of the tenth century, had his full share of the inconsistencies which distinguish man as he is, from man as he is painted. He was endowed with all the faculties by which great actions are achieved, and with the temperament without which they are never under taken. Conversant in his early manhood with every science by which social life had then been improved, and by every art by which it had been embellished, his soul was agitated
by ambition and by love. Unprosperous in | be pronounced to be dramatic. He is at once both, his wounded spirit sought relief in soli- the victim of religious misanthropy and selftude and penitential exercises; and an age adoration. He has worshipped the world, has familiar with such prodigies, regarded with been rejected by his idol, and has turned away astonishment and reverence the austerity of mortified, but not humbled, to meditate holier his self-discipline. When, at length, he emerged joys, and to seek an eternal recompense. But, from the grave, (for in that similitude he had in the pursuit of these sublime objects, he is dug his cell,) he was supposed by others, and haunted by the memory of the delights he has probably by himself, to have buried there all abandoned, and of the injustice which has exthe tastes and the passions which had once pelled him from the ways and the society of enslaved him to the world. But other spirits mankind. These thoughts distil their bitteras secular as the first, though assuming a holier ness even into his devotions. His social afgarb, had entered his bosom, and taken up fections droop and wither as their proper their abode there. All the energies once wasted aliment is withdrawn. His irascible feelings on letters, music, painting, and science, or in deepen, and pass into habits of fixed antipathy the vain worship of her to whom his young and moroseness. heart had been devoted, were henceforth con- sions he becomes the calumniator of his speTo feed these gloomy passecrated to the church and to his order. He cies, incredulous of human virtue, and astute became the foremost champion of sacerdotal in every uncharitable construction of human celibacy and monastic retirement; assumed motives. His malignity establishes a disasthe conduct of the war of the regular against trous alliance with his disordered piety. He the secular clergy; and was the founder of the ascribes to the Being he adores the foul pasecclesiastical system which continued for five sions which fester in his own bosom. His centuries to control all the religious, and to personal wrongs are no longer the insignifiaffect all the political institutions of his native cant ills of an individual sufferer, nor have land. private revenge-for his foes are antagonists his personal resentments the meanness of a of the purposes of heaven; and to crush them can be no unacceptable homage to the Supreme Arbiter of rewards and punishments. With the cold unsocial propensities of a withered heart, disguised from others and from himself by the sophistries of a palsied conscience, Dunstan finds his way back to the busy world. He lives among men to satiate an ambition such as might be indulged by an incarnation of the evil spirit-an ambition exfor the increase and the display of it, but ulting in conscious superiority, and craving spurning and trampling in the dust the victims over whom it triumphs. Patriotism, loyalty, humility, reverence-every passion by which man is kind to his brethren-all are dead in him; and an intense selfishness, covered by holy pretexts, reigns in undisputed sovereignty in his soul. Man is but the worthless instrument of his will; and even to his Creator he addresses himself with the unawed familiarity of a favourite. Proud, icy-cold, and remorseless, he wades through guilt sneeringly and exultingly-the subject of a strange spiritual disease, compounded of a paralysis of all the natural sympathies, and a morbid vigour of all the mental energies. This portrait is terrible, impressive, and (unhappily) not improbable. It labours, however, under one inconsistency.
But the Severn leaping down the rocks of Plinlimmon, and the same stream when expanded into a muddy and sluggish estuary, does not differ more from itself, than St. Dunstan, the abbot of Glastonbury, from Dunstan the metropolitan of the church, and the minister of the crown of England. During five successive reigns, all the powers of the government were in his hands, but he ruled ingloriously. When his supreme power had once been firmly secured, all the fire and genius of his earlier days became extinct. the sublime example of Alfred, and the more With recent glories of Athelstan before his eyes, he accomplished nothing and attempted nothing for the permanent welfare of his country. No one social improvement can be traced to his wisdom or munificence. He had none of the vast conceptions, and splendid aims, which have ennobled the usurpations of so many other churchmen. After an undisputed possession of power for forty years' continuance, he left the state enfeebled, and the crown in hopeless degradation. To him, more than to any man, must be ascribed the ruin of the dynasty under which he flourished, and the invasions which desolated the kingdom during half a century from his death. He had commanding talents and dauntless courage, but a low, narrow, selfish spirit. His place in the Roman calendar was justly assigned to him in acknowledgment of his incomparable services to the papacy; but he has no station in the calendar of the great and good men who, having consecrated the noblest gifts of nature and of fortune to their proper ends, live for the benefit of all generations, and are alike revered and celebrated by all.
The Dunstan of this tragedy is not the lordly churchman reposing in the plenitude of success, but the fanatic grasping at supreme command. He is the real hero of "Edwin the Fair," towering over all his associates, and distinguished from them all by a character, which, in the full and proper sense of the term, may
this tragedy, is wanting in one essential eleThe fanaticism of Dunstan, as delineated in ment. He has no profound or deeply cherished convictions. He does not believe himself to be the selected depositary of divine truth. He does not regard dissent from his own opinions tive anticipations of the everlasting wo of his as criminal; nor does he revel in any vindictheological antagonists. He is not clinging to any creed which, if rejected by others, may elude his own grasp. The enemies of the church are indeed his enemies; but they are so because they endanger his power, not because they disturb the repose or the self-com
placency of his mind. He has (to borrow the distinction of a great writer) the fanaticism of the scourge, the brand, and the sword, without having the fanaticism of the creed. He is a fanatic, without being an enthusiast. His guilt is not extenuated by any passionate attachment for truth or sanctity, or for what he believes to be true and sacred. He rushes into oppression, treachery, fraud, and plunder, not at the impulse of a disordered imagination, but at the bidding of a godless, brotherless heart.
This absence of theological hatred, founded on the earnest attachment to some theological opinions, impairs both the congruity and the terror of Dunstan's dramatic character. He is actuated by no passion intense enough to provoke such enormous guilt; or familiar enough to bring him within the range of our sympathies; or natural enough to suggest, that some conceivable shifting of the currents of life might hurry us into some plunge as desperate as that which we see him making. His homicides are not bloody sacrifices, but villanous murders. His scourge is not the thong of Dominic, so much as the lash with which Sancho (the knave!) imposes on the credulity of his master. His impious frauds are not oracular deceptions, but the sleight-of-hand tricks of a juggler. He is waited on by an imp of darkness, who is neither man nor fiend; for he perpetrates the foulest crime, without malignity, or cupidity, or any other obvious motive. He slaughters Elgiva and Leolf; raises his hand to assassinate the king; and, at Dunstan's command, climbs a tree, to howl there like the devil; and then enters the cavity of the crucifix, to utter a solemn response in the person of the Redeemer.
The objection to this is not the improbability, but the revolting hatefulness of the guilt which Dunstan and his minister divide between them. Unhappily it is not historically improbable, but the reverse. Sanguinary and devious have been the paths along which many a canonized saint has climbed that celestial eminence. Tricks, as base and profane as that of Dunstan's crucifix, have been exhibited or encouraged, not merely by the vulgar heroes, but by some of the most illustrious fathers of the church. But if they violated the eternal laws of God, it was to accomplish what they devoutly believed to be the divine will. Saints and sinners might agree in the means to be used, but they differed entirely as to the ends to be accomplished. Ambrose, preaching at Milan over the bleeding remains of the disinterred martyrs, lent himself to what he must have suspected or known to be a lie. But the lie was told and exhibited for the confutation of the Arians, to which holy object Ambrose would as readily have sacrificed his life. And though evil done that good may come, be evil still-nay, an evil peculiarly pestilent and hard to be forgiven-yet there is, after all, a wide difference between Bishop Bonner and Jonathan Wilde. Devout fanaticism, if it may not extenuate, does at least sublimate crime. By the intensity of his convictions, the greatness of his aims, and the energy of his motives, the genuine fanatic
places himself beyond the reach of contempt, of disgust, or of unmixed abhorrence. We feel that, by the force of circumstances, the noblest of men might be betrayed into such illusions, and urged into such guilt as his. We acknowledge that, under happy auspices, he might have been the benefactor, not the curse of his species. We perceive that, if his erring judgment could be corrected, he might even yet be reclaimed to philanthropy and to peace. If we desire that retributive justice should overtake him, the aspiration is, that he may fall "a victim to the gods," and not be hewed as "a carcass for the hounds." Not such is the vengeance we invoke on the dramatic Dunstan and his ministering demon. We upbraid the tardiness of human invention, which laboured a thousand years in the discovery of the treadmill. Or rather our admiration of the genius which created so noble an image of intellectual power, ruthless decision, and fearful hardihood, is alloyed by some resentment that the poet should so have marred the work of his own hands. How noble a work it is will be best understood by listening to the soliloquy in which Dunstan communes with his own heart, and with his Maker, on the commission intrusted to him, and on the spiritual temptations he has to encounter in the discharge of it:
"Spirit of speculation, rest, oh rest!
And push not from her place the spirit of prayer!
A host of imps and Ethiops, dark doubts,
In the same spirit, at once exulting, selfexploring, and irreverent, Dunstan bursts out in a sort of pan on his anticipated success, as he enters the tower to persuade the abdication of his sovereign.
"Kings shall bow down before thee, said my soul,
Thy chambers are most cheerful, though the light
I thank you, Gracious Powers! Supernal Host:
The spirit thus agitated had not always been a prey to disquieting thoughts. Dunstan had once loved as other men love, and even on his seared heart were engraven recollec
tions which revive in all their youthful warmth
"When Satan first
To music of the fountains and the birds,
Or else in skirting groves by sunshine smitten,
I should have owned it for an Angel's voice,
That gather round a throne. What call is thine
strances of conscience.
"And call'st thou this a fraud, thou secular lack-brain?
Here in the heart of Man. And if from hence
I tweak him by the snout. A fair belief
It is with admirable truth and insight into human character that Dunstan is made to resort to artifices, as various as the occasions suggesting them, to evade the expostulations with which conscience still tracks him in the path of guilt. From scorn of man he passes to a kind of adoration of the mystical abstract Being, to which, in the absence of more palpable idols, it is so easy to render an extravagant homage. What a labyrinth of gigantic, vague, half-conceited images is it into which he plunges, in the endeavour to sustain his own mind, by contemplating the majesty and the holiness of the impersonation in the cause of which he is willing to believe himself engaged.
To the dramatic character of Dunstan, the antithesis is that of Wulfstan the Wise. idealist arrested in the current of life by the eddy of his own thoughts, he muses away his existence in one long, though ever-shifting dream of labours to be undertaken, and duties to be performed. Studious of books, of nature, of the heart, and of the ways of man, his intellectual wealth feeds a perennial stream of discourse, which, meandering through every field of speculation, and in turns enriching all, still changes the course it ought to pursue, or confined, as often as any obstacle is opposed overflows the banks by which it should be to its continuous progress. Love, poetry, friendship, philosophy, war, politics, morals, and manners, each is profoundly contemplated, eloquently discussed, and helplessly abandoned, by this master of ineffectual wisdom: and yet he is an element in society which could be derstanding in the camp or the exchange. His worse spared than the shrewdest practical unwide circuit of meditation has made him catholic, charitable, and indulgent. In the large horizon which his mental eye traverses, he discerns such comprehensive analogies, such countless indications of the creative goodness, and such glorious aspects of beauty and of grace, as no narrower ken could embrace, and no busier mind combine and harmonize. form such combinations, and to scatter prodigally around him the germs of thought, if happily they may bear fruit in intellects better disciplined, though less opulent than his own, is the delight and the real duty of Wulfstan, the colloquial. His talk, when listeners are to be had, thus becomes a ceaseless exercise of kindness; and even when there are none to heed him, an imaginary circle still enables him to soliloquize most benevolently. In this munificent diffusion of his mental treasures, the good man is not merely happy, but invulnerable! Let fortune play her antics as she will, each shall furnish him with a text; and he will embellish all with quaint conceits or diagnostic expositions. His daughter steals an unworthy match; but he rebounds from the shock to moralize on parental disappointment and conjugal constancy. He is overborne and trampled down by the energy of Dunstan, and immediately discovers in his misadventure a proof how well the events of his own age are adapted for history; and how admirably a retirement to Oxford will enable himself to become the historian. Could Samuel Taylor
Coleridge have really thus blossomed in the iron age of the Anglo-Saxons? It is a hard problem. But the efflorescence of his theatrical representative is rendered probable to all who ever performed the pilgrimage to the Hierophant at Highgate, in the golden era of George IV. Never was there a group of auditors better disposed or better able to appreciate the wisdom of a sage, than those who are collected round Wulfstan. See with what fine discrimination and keen relish his portrait is sketched by one of them.
This life and all that it contains, to him
Fill'd with book wisdom, pictured thought, and love
All things he understands, and nothing does.
Whose wisdom lay in dealings and transactions; Yet so much action as might tie his shoe Cannot his will command; himself alone By his own wisdom not a jot the gainer. Of silence, and the hundred thousand things 'Tis better not to mention, he will speak, And still most wisely-But, behold! he comes.' Leolf, who thus delineates the character of Wulfstan, is about to announce to the old man the secret marriage of his daughter; and as the earl cautiously approaches the unwelcome topic, the philosopher finds in each turn of the discourse some theme which hurries him away to a boundless distance from the matter in hand. Obeying the law by which his own ideas are associated, but with the tendency observable in all dreamers, sleeping or waking, to reconcile the vision with any suggestion from without, he involves himself in an inquiry how a man in middle life should wed, and on that critical topic thus makes deliver
"Love changes with the changing life of man:
Nor drains their source; but proffers with free grace
Mr. Shandy's expenditure of eloquence on
"The wind, when first he rose and went abroad
Descended with a wafture and a swoop,
The spirit of rumination possesses all the No wonder, then, that persons of this drama. Leolf feeds on his own thoughts, as best becomes a discarded lover. But of that deplorable class of mankind, he is a remarkable, if not altogether a new variety. He had climbed the central arch and in the bridge of life, painfully conscious of the solitude of his heart in the midst of the busy crowd, and cherishing a vague but earnest desire for deliverance. ideal form, lovely as the day-spring, and radiant with love to him, haunted his path, and he lived in the faith that the bright reality would at length be disclosed, when his spirit should know the blessedness of that union which mystically represents to man the design and the perfection of his being. She came, or seemed to come, in the form of Elgiva-the glorious impersonation of that dazzling fantasy-the actual fulfilment of many a dream, too fondly courted by his solemn and overburdened mind. Nature had made her beautiful, and, even when the maiden's ruby lips were closed, her beaming eye and dimpled cheek gave utterance to thoughts, now more joyous or impassioned, now more profound or holy, than any which could be imparted through the coarser vehicle of articulate speech. So judged the enamoured interpreter of that fair tablet-mistaking for emanations of her mind the glowing hues reflected by the brilliant surHe threw over the object face from his own.
of his homage all the most rich and graceful draperies stored in the wardrobe of his own pensive imagination; unconsciously worshipped the creature of his own fancy; and adorned her with a diadem which, though visible to him alone, had for a true heart a greater value than the proudest crown which could be shared with kings.
Such was not Elgiva's judgment. Her ear drank in the flatteries of Edwin; nor had he long to sue for the hand which had been plighted to the champion and defender of his One word from him would have throne. A ready vengeance was in the grasp sealed the doom of his successful rival. But of Leolf. he probes the incurable wound which had no such words passed his lips. In his solitude blighted all the hopes, and dispelled all the illusions of life. He broods with melancholy intentness over the bleak prospect, and drains to the dregs the bitter cup of irremediable desolation. But in his noble spirit there is no place for scorn, resentment, or reproach. His duty, though it be to protect with his life the authors of his wretchedness, is performed in the true spirit of duty;-quietly, earnestly, and without