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priesthood, and other matters; but the materials are both scanty and difficult of access. To render a fiction, therefore, the scene of which is laid in times so long gone by, either interest ing or attractive-to be able to fill up with real, living, breathing characters, those dim and uncertain outlines to invest them with feelings and humours, with hearts of flesh and blood, like our own-to develop passions and affections which we have ourselves experienced-to impart to the dream-like characters of old tradition that fresh and deep interest which we feel about the beings of times with which we are familiar, and people that we know -to fill up with proper and living colours the faded outlines of the ancient canvas-is a task of incredible difficulty, and one in which no Eng. lish writer since the days of Sir Walter Scott, and until the appearance of “ The Last of the Barons" (we do not mention “Rienzi," for we have really much more knowledge of the history of those times than of our own), has been completely successful.
It is a curious reflection why the task of painting the manners and weav. ing romances out of our ancient history, should have been reserved for writers of the present century, and that which has just passed. While we have trage. dies and comedies in abundance, we have no such thing as a novel describing the character of those times. Possibly the true reason may be, that the genius and imagination of the people was more likely to be attracted by the thea trical display of dramatic representations, than by the more quiet and tranquil enjoyments which have so completely succeeded them. It is not un.. likely that the drama also found peculiar favour in the eyes of those who were fond of martial displays, so much more attractive to the eye than the accomplishment of reading, in which they were but indifferently versed.
The species of literature called the prose romance, has probably owed its origin to the singer of songs and bal. lads, who went about from house to house, narrating, in spirit-stirring words, the deeds of chivalry. The oid ballad passed gradually into the Fomance, and the romance has now supplanted the drama; but there is no reason to suppose that the genius which gave birth to those and similar ballads,
could not have woven the incidents they contain into the shape of romance, had that form been suitable or agreeable to the taste of the age. A distinction between the drama and the novel has been drawn by Goethe, in his “ Wil. helm Meister,” which also goes some way in solving the question. “The drama," he says, “has characters and deeds—the field of romance is incident, feelings, and manners ;” and, therefore, in proportion as mankind become more educated, and their taste more fastidious, they will cultivate the latter, and neglect the former.
But of all those forms in which the novel is presented to our notice, the historical is certainly the most attractive, as it is also the most artistic and elegant. The evil most to be dreaded from a perusal of novels namely, that of relaxing the mind, and of unfitting it for the performance of the graver duties of life-need not be apprehended here; but from the interest with which they invest the characters and the incidents of the longforgotten past, the mind is gradually imbued with a desire to learn more of the history of times thus rendered so attractive; and so a taste for real history is generated and created, while, at the same time, our better feelings and sympathies are excited ; and from what we have read for amusement at first, we at length derive instruction and profit. We speak thus not without some experience; for we are not ashamed to confess that we are indebted to the novels of Sir Walter Scott for any little taste for the cultivation of the history of Scotland we now possess ; and had it not been for « Harold, the last of the Saxons," we fear that Thierry's “ History of the Norman Conquest” would have for a long time occupied, with uncut leaves, the shelves of our book-case; and the records of that period of ancient English history have rested but lightly upon our mind, with no deeper trace than those of other fleeting associations of our school-boy days.
The period which the author has selected for the scene of his romance is singularly felicitous, in regard of those associations which appeal to national sympathies. There are few more interesting subjects of contemplation, or more suggestive of reflection, than the unavailing struggles of a people in the cause of nationality; and full of brilliant thought and profound observation as are many of the previous writings of Sir E. Bulwer—the more brilliant and the more profound from his complete and thorough knowledge of the work ings of the human heart—there is a certain touching and pathetic sadness in his tone, as he lingers over the ancient memories of departed freedom which is irresistibly attractive. He has succeeded in stirring the hearts, and in exciting the gentler affections of his readers, by the beautiful picture he draws of the last Saxon; so fraught with simple and manly grace, so true, so nobleso full of all the qualities which command the applause of men, and yet doomed to so early and so sad a fate—the gentler affections of his simple and honest heart so rudely torn asunder-his brief and brilliant career. We see him, as he departs on his jour. ney to the court of William, departing -to use the language of the ancient chronicler-as if on a party of pleasure, surrounded by gay companions, with his falcon on his wrist, and his hounds running before him. We see him beneath the standard of England, sus. taining with dauntless valour the des. perate chances of the unequal fight, and granted, by the generosity of the invader, a grave upon the coast he had guarded so well. The whole picture rises before us, fresh from the creative hand of this glorious master; and we linger spell-bound, as it were, by its exquisite beauty and wonderful power. That the difficulty to which we have adverted obtruded itself on the notice of Sir E. Lytton, is shown in his preface. He states :-“That the main consideration which withheld him from his task, was his sense of the unfamiliarity of the ordinary reader with the characters, events, and, so to speak, the very physiognomy of a period ante Agamemnona, before the brilliant age of matured chivalry, which has given to song and to romance the deeds of the later knighthood, and the glo. rious frenzy of the crusades."
In his dedicatory preface, also, the author enters fully into a discussion of the difficulties which beset him in striking into this new path-the chief of which he seems to consider the fol. lowing out his conception of extracting romance from “ actual history," with out incurring the censure of pedantry,
by reason of a too accurate adhesion to the result of his researches into the chronicles of the time. In our opinion he has been completely successful. He has woven a romance of rare beauty out of the incidents of the time, without, in any instance, as far as we can trace, the slightest deviation from accurate historical detail, save in regard of the connexion between Harold and Edith; and for this very trifling and unimportant deviation he has incurred the censure of a hebdomadal critic, because, forsooth, the said critic is at a loss whether to treat the work as history or as romance. If this be really so, he is one of the stupidest of bis class; and his dulness is the less excus. able, because if he had given himself the trouble of reading the preface, he would have seen that there was not the slightest ground for such petty cavilling. He complains that the notes set ap a claim for the fiction, notwithstanding the writer's denial of the pretension to the dignity and importance of history, and that it is, therefore, impossible to reconcile the two. This observation is not only uncandid, but it is untrue. Had the critic read the preface, he would have seen what was the writer's object.
“In the notes," says Sir Edward Lytton, “which I have thought neces. sary aids to the better comprehension of these volumes, my only wish has been to convey to the general reader such illustrative information as may familiar. ize him more easily with the subject matter of the book, or refresh his memory on incidental details not without a national interest. In the mere references to authorities, I do not pretend to arrogate to fiction the proper character of a history. The references are chiefly used either when wishing particularly to distinguish from invention what was borrored from a chronicle, or when differing from some popular historian, to whom the reader might be likely to refer, it seemed well to state the authority upon which the difference was founded."
Was there ever more miserable petty cavilling than in the strictures to which we have adverted, or was there ever a more deliberate “ suppressio veri" than in the assertion, that these valuable notes have been added for the purpose of ostentatiously parading the historical erudition of the author? In the passages of rare and touching beauty with which this work abounds, not the least interesting is the author's allusion, in the preface from which we have been quoting, to the circumstances under which it was written.
“ Again," says the author to his friend, Mr. D'Eyncourt:
must possess a deep attraction for them. It contains an accurate and lucid account of the history of those early times, finished with an elegance and classic beauty which show that the author has only to make the attempt, in order to take a high rank amongst the historical writers of his age. Less diffuse than Thierry, he has all the glowing eloquence of Gibbon, and the classic beauty of Turner. But, in order that our readers may have an early taste of these beautiful descriptions, in which the work abounds, we shall present to their notice one or two selections from the opening chapters:
"I seem to find myself under your friendly roof; again to greet my provident host, entering that Gothic chamber in which I had been permitted to establish my unsocial study; heralding the advent of majestic folios, and heaping libraries round the unworthy work. Again, pausing from my labour, I look through that castle casement, and be yond that feudal moat, over the broad landscapes which, if I err not, took their names from the proud brother of the Conqueror himself; or when, in those winter nights, the grim old tapestry moved in the dim recesses, I hear the Saxon thegn winding his horn at the turret door from which the prelate of Bayeux had so unrighteously expelled him. What marvel that I lived in the times of which I wrote,-Saxon with the Saxon,-Norman with the Norman, -that I entered with no gossip less venerable than that current at the court of the Confessor, or startled by pallid guests when I deigned to meet them with the last news which Harold's spies had brought over from the camp at St.
“But far beyond these recent associations of a single winter (for which heaven reward thee!), goes the memory of a friendship of many winters, and proof to the storms of all. Often have I come for advice to your wisdom, and sympathy to your heart, bearing back with me, in all such seasons, new increase to that pleasurable gratitude which is perhaps the rarest, nor the least happy sentiment that experience leaves to man."
“Merry was the month of May, in the year of our Lord 1052. Few were the boys and few the lasses who overslept themselves in that buxom month. Long ere the dawn the young crowds had sought mead and woodland, to cut poles and wreath flowers. Many a mead then lay fair and green beyond the village of Charing, and behind the isle of Thorney (amidst the brakes and briars of which where then rising fast and fair the Hall and Abbey of Westminster). Many a wood lay dark in the starlight along the slopes rising above the dank Strand, with its numerous canals or dykes, and on either side of the great road into Kent; flutes and horns sounded far and near through the green places, and laughter, and song, and the crash of breaking boughs.
“As the dawn came gray up the east, arch and blooming faces bowed down to bathe in the May dew. Patient oxen stood dozing by the hedge-rows — all fragrant with blossoms till the gay spoilers of the May came first from the woods with lusty poles, followed by girls with laps full of flowers, which they had caught asleep. The poles were prankt with nosegays, and a chaplet was hung round the horns of every ox. Then, towards day-break, the processions streamed back into the city through all its gates. Boys with their May-gads (peeled willow wands twined with cowslips) going before; and clear through the lively din of the horns and flutes, and amidst the moving grove of branches, choral voices singing some early Saxon strain, precursor of the later song
The tale opens with a scene in which we are introduced to some of the characters. These passages are of a beauty and effect so dazzling, that it would be difficult to surpass them by anything we can now rePollect within the compass of Engish literature. They are followed by some historical notices of great vigour ind accuracy, which may account for he slight interest which the first vourne possesses for the mere novel. 'eader; but to others who are capable of appreciating or enjoying such things, hat very portion of the book which las such slender claims for the former,
** We have brought the summer home.'
“Often in the good old days, before the Monk King reigned, kings and ealdermen had thus gone forth a-Maying : but these merriments savouring of heathenesse, that good prince misliked; ne
vertheless the song was as blythe, and the boughs were as green, as if king and ealderman had walked in the train."
the house of Hilda the heathen prophetess. The girl's blue eyes, rendered dark by the shade of their long lashes, were fixed intently upon the stern and troubled countenance which was bent upon her own-but bent with that abstract gaze which shows that the soul is absent from the sight. So sat Hilda, and so reclined her grandchild Edith."
Passing over the portrait of Hilda the Prophetess, who, being an elderly, and not very interesting female, and introduced for the purpose of making the reader acquainted with some of the curious superstitions of our forefathers, we shall now present to the notice of our readers the graceful portrait of Edith the Fair ; and if the author has committed “ a departure" from the details of history, in regard of her connexion with Harold, he has unquestionably, by so doing, rendered his story in. finitely more touching, in the deeper interest, and plaintive sadness, with which the character of his heroine is invested. In attaining his avowed object, of rendering the work " more fitting for a general perusal, and one that might be entrusted fearlessly to the young," he has, at the same time, achieved the double purpose of gaining a larger field for the display of the artistic skill, which he so largely possesses, in elaborating from the elements of the affections those beautiful results which can only be drawn from a pure and loving female heart :
" A few daisies, primroses, and cowslips, grew around; these Edith began to pluck, singing, as she wove, a simple song that, not more by the dialect than the sentiment, betrayed its origin in the ballad of the Norse, which had, in its more careless composition, a character quite distinct from the artificial poetry of the Saxons
**Merrily the throstle sings
In the merry May;
My heart is far away.
Merrily, with blossom boughs,
Laugheth out the tree; Mine eyes upon the blossom look
My heart is on the sea.
My May is not the blossom bough,
The music in the sky; My May was in the winter trost,
When one was smiling by.'"
Whoever looks into the poetry of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, will song see the marked difference which the sweet and simple style of this exquisite little ballad presents to the striking metaphors and frequent periphrases in which their rude conceptions abound. It is difficult to conceive anything more barbarous than the abrupt and imper: fect reliques that have been handed down to us as specimens of the Anglo
“Near the window sat a woman, advanced in years, and of a mien and aspect singularly majestic. Upon a small tripod before her was a Runic manuscript, and an inkstand of elegant form, with a silver graphium or pep. At her feet reclined a girl somewhat about the age of sixteen; her long, fair hair parted across her forehead, and falling far down her shoulders. Her dress was a linen under-tunic, with long sleeves, rising high to the throat, and without one of the modern artificial restraints of the shape ;—the simple belt sufficed to show the slender proportions and delicate outline of the wearer.
“ The colour of the dress was of the purest white; but its hems or borders were richly embroidered. This girl's beauty was something marvellous. In a land proverbial for fair women, it had already obtained her the name of the fair.' In that beauty were blended, not as yet without a struggle for mastery, the two expressions seldom united in one countenance-the soft and the noble; indeed in the whole aspect there was he evidence of some internal struggle. The intelligence was not yet complete; the soul and heart were not yet united; and Edith, the Christian maid, dwelt in
The main object of the bards seems to have been to create obscurity, not by a redundance of epithets, but by endeavouring to express their ideas in as few words as it was possible. In the historical songs of our ancestors, selected by Sharon Turner, abundant specimens may be found. The Song of Canute, the poems of Adhelm, and the translation by Alfred of Buethius, and of the Song of Cædmob, abound in these peculiarities so inte resting to those who are desirous et tracing the progress of song from those remote and quaint originals. " Ibe characteristics of Anglo-Saxon song, says Mr. Turner, in his valuable work, “ seem to be these-it consists chiefly of periphrases and metaphors, espressa
ed in a metrical but simple arrangement of words, with some alliteration. The usual particles are most frequently omitted, and the intended meaning is conveyed in short and contracted phrase, multiplied by the periphrasis and metaphor. The position of the words is forced out of the natural arrangement, by a wilful inversion, and the regular course of the subject is frequently interrupted by violent and abrupt transitions. By these peculiari. ties, which seem to be quite artificial, the Saxon poetry is distinguished from prose.” But to return to our author. Possibly, few of the portraits, which stand out so fresh and living from his canvas, are exceeded in accuracy, as well as depth of colouring, by that of William the Conqueror. The lights and deep shadows of his character are truly touched by a master-hand, and a more exquisite representation of that extraordinary man, or a more skilful development of the qualities of his powerful and crafty mind, it is difficult to conceive. Nothing can be finer than the contrast which it presents to the portrait of the chivalrous and simple nature of the illustrious Saxon; and throughout the many passages in the book before us which bear the broad mark of the mas. ter's hand_his delineation of the character of William the Conqueror can hardly be surpassed. He has at tained at once the great ends of truth and effect, without omitting one of those delicate touches by which a character so mixed can only be indicated. But let us, without any further prefatory account, give our readers his portrait, as he appeared to the eyes of the Saxon maiden on that sweet May evening :
above the stature of many of those present; nevertheless, so did his port, his air, the nobility of his large proportions fill the eye, that he seemed to tower immeasurably above the rest. His countenance was yet more remarkable than his form. Still in the prime of youth, he seemed at the first glance younger, at the second older than he was. At the first glance younger, for his face was perfectly shaven, without even the moustache which the Saxon courtier, in imitating the Norman, still declined to surrender, and the smooth visage and bare throat sufficed in themselves to give the air of youth to that dominant and imperious presence, His small skull-cap left unconcealed his forehead, shaded with short, thick hair, uncurled but black and glossy as the wings of a raven. It was on that forehead that time had set its traces; it was knit into a frown over the eyebrows; lines deep as furrows crossed its broad but not elevated expanse. That frown spoke of hasty ire, and the habit of stern command. Those furrows spoke of deep thought and plotting scheme; the one betrayed but temper and circumstance—the other, more noble, spoke of the character and the intellect. The face was square, and the regard lionlike; the mouth, small and even beauti. ful in outline, had a sinister expression in its exceeding firmness; and the jaw, vast, solid, as if bound in iron, showed obstinate, ruthless, determined willsuch a jaw as belongs to the tiger amongst beasts, and the conqueror amongst men—such as it is seen in the effigies of Cæsar, of Cortes, of Napoleon.
"That presence was well calculated to command the admiration of women, not less than the awe of men. But no admiration mingled with the terror that seized the girl, as she gazed long and wistful upon the knight. The fascination of the serpent on the bird held her mute and frozen. Never was that face forgotten; often, in after life, it haunted her in the noonday-it frowned upon her dreams."
“Edith instinctively raised her eyes, and once fixed upon the knight, they seemed chained as by a spell. His vest, of a cramoisay so dark that it seemed black beside the snowy garb of the Confessor, was edged by a deep band of embroidered gold, leaving perfectly bare nis firm, full throat-firm and full as a column of granite; a short jacket or
short jacket or mantaline of far, pendant from the shoulders, left developed in all its breadth, a breast that seemed meet to stay the march of an army; and on the left arm, curved to support the falcon, the vast muscles rose round and gnarl. ed through the close sleeve.
"In height, he was really but little
In order to connect the extracts which we intend to quote, it may be as well to give our readers a short abstract of the story upon which they are grafted ; and in doing so we shall not occupy their time further than is abso. lutely necessary, in order to recall to their recollection that portion of our national history which this work is intended to illustrate.
The banishment of the great Earl Godwin, with his sons, Sweyn, Tostig, and Gurth, from the shores of Eng