« PreviousContinue »
profuse in your vows of attachment; but you kept your proofs for two months in your pocket:-you, Medley, led me to calculate upon a magnificent Essay, and you beguiled me with an Epigram. My honoured friends of the tribe of Balaam are those only that send an answer by return of post; the wits leave me to moan over rejected petitions and unopened remonstrances.
Down to the ground, Vyvyan Joyeuse, do I bow to your surpassing genius. But for three months, Vyvyan, have I been listening in vain for the bounding step of your gaiety, and preparing to hold both my sides at the exquisite points of your wit. You have left me, Vyvyan, to the consolations of a “ virgin muse," or an infant spectator. What is it to me, when two sheets are kept open for you, that you have been occupied with rubbers, and occupied others with rhetoric--that you have been dreaming of an article at the feet of a little angel at Lady or have lent your manuscript to a superlatively critical Šohnian? Vyvyan, I love you; but may the fiends that have haunted me come, in heaven's good time, across your pleasures !-may you know the miseries of that “ hope deferred,” over which your unhappy Editor has been weeping any day since the first of April
My dear friend, Haselfoot, your criticism is full of grace and philosophy ;-you write like an ardent admirer of the tasteful and the true. There is no ill-nature in your censure, and there is no daubing in your commendation. But, Haselfoot, there is a fearful delay in your epistles, and a terrifie gap in your MS. Are
you conscious of an awful chasm between pages 10 and 17, which no labour or ingenuity of mine can ever hope to fill? Has the post failed, or has the coach broken down? Has your messenger sold his precious packet to some watchful rival, or has he worn it to threads, like Sancho, between his heel and his shoon? O! I cry you mercy-I did not understand you were as absent as Parson Adams. Who would have thought that eight solid pages of your fairest copy would have lain perdus for three weeks in the first volume of your Stephens's Thesaurus ?
Gerard Montgomery, my “ tower of strength”—my glorious Troubadour, who will lead me in your train to gather the honours
« Of all maner of mynstralsye
That any man can specifye,” you are the most punctual of contributors; your “ heart is inditing," and you have therefore no tardy pen. But, Gerard, how have you periled me! There is not a line of even a Thomson would have blotted ;--but we live in a canting age, Gerard ; and a man must write in gyves to please the votaries of waltzing and the praisers of pirouettes. Gerard,
there are three sentences and a half of your delightful Tryamour that will not escape the microscopes of the prudes. These virtuous ladies will never rest till they have hunted out a
Cytherea all in sedges hid :" Lady Mary laughs at them all ;—but they have worried me into a bilious fever, Gerard.
And why, Haller, could you not let the calm light of your ennobling philosophy shine out, and the full stream of your historical knowledge flow on, without disturbing us with a hit at the Whigs?-And you, Merton, was it necessary to interrupt the glorious rush of your eloquence, to make a sly fling at the Tories?-You will not part with these passages. Well, sirs, I respect every man's opinions when they are founded on principle;- but if you get me into broils, be the sin and the danger upon your own heads!
And now that I have disgorged my spleen, let me hail my friends, with the courtesy of a Sylvanus Urban.
Gentlemen Contributors, we shall amply redeem the hopes that ourselves and the public have cherished. One and all I thank you. I am a very Hotspur in my anticipations. When some cold-headed proser has said to me, “ the purpose you undertake is dangerous ; the friends you have named uncertain ; the time itself unsorted ; and your whole plot too light,”—I have answered the lack-brain that “ our plot is as good a plot as ever was laid ; our friends true and constant; a good plot, good friends, and full of expectation.” Though Montagu, and Ellis, and Heron, and Payne, and Frazer, and Tell, and Bruce, and Mills, and Medley, and Lovell, have not yet brought up their forces,-is there not Villars, and Cecil, and Merton, and Montgomery, and Heaviside, and Murray, and Aymer, and Joyeuse, and Courtenay, and a dozen « great unknowns” in the field ? “ We are prepared.” For myself, I will say with honest Skelton,
“ Holde up the helme, loke up.
I wolde be merrie, what winde that ever blowe.” Gentlemen Contributors, once more I thank you ;--our bark is launching-our fates are intertwined - let old Michael Drayton declare how:
“ Like as a man on some adventure bound.
His honest friends, their kindness to express,
Some venture more, and some adventure less ;
They his good fortune freely may partake;
Yet, like good friends, their's perish for his sake.”
LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF SCOTTISH LIFE. THE TRIALS OF
MARGARET LYNDSAY SOME PASSAGES IN THE LIFE OF
The transcendent success of the author of the Scottish Novels in developing the poetical capabilities which lay hid in the history, inanners, and scenery of his country, has had the natural effect of calling into action a swarm of inferior minds, to pursue the track which
he has opened, and to gather the rich gleanings of the harvest. It is true, that there is scarcely a part of the vast prospect which has been left wholly untouched by the Scottish Homer; but it is also obvious, that the very grandeur and expanse of his design would prevent him from dwelling on many minutiæ, highly interesting in themselves, and susceptible of much embellishment; and it is equally evident, that many of the objects which his master-hand has delineated, are capable of being placed in very different lights from those in which he has exhibited them, and of assuming another and a less dazzling, yet scarcely a less beautiful colouring, in the hands of an artist of a different kind. Accordingly the individual strata of Scottish life (if we may use the expression) have been explored by adventurers of various talents, and in various directions, but with equal success. We need only refer to Hogg, whose untameable vigour, homely truth of portraiture, and richness of fancy, almost persuade us to overlook the brutal coarseness of some of his delineations; the rich romance of Allan Cunningham, his healthy and unsophisticated feeling, his fine peasantly chivalry, and the delightful and (to use an old and expressive word in its original sense) kindly glow with which he animates and realizes all he describes; the sprightly tenuity and happy manners-painting of the author of the Entail; and last, though certainly not least, and forming in some measure a separate class by themselves, the authors of these three works whose titles we have placed at the head of this article. We have included the memoirs of Adam Blair under the same head with the Lights and Shadows and the Trials of Margaret Lyndsay, as they confessedly emanate from the same junto of writers, and also because that worthy but ill-judging personage, the public, has chosen to attribute all the three works to one individual hand; an opinion which, as it is founded on report, an authority for which we profess no respect, we take upon us unceremoniously, and on our own ipsi diximus, to contradict. We are aware that the right, now arrogated by critics, of making positive assertions without proof, is an unconstitutional usurpation; it is, however, the custom, and so long as it is permitted to exist, we do not see why we should not avail ourselves of the established abuse, and dogmatize like other people; especially as it saves us the trouble of giving a reason for what we say. Not
VOL. I. PART I.
that we are without good reasons for our present peremptory affirmation; the very different moral as well as intellectual complexion of the works in question, is of itself sufficient proof, if others were wanting. Much injury is sometimes done by these unauthorised filiations of the foundlings of literature. We were assured at one time that Lord Byron was the author of the Vampire, in the same manner as we are now required to believe that he is the author of the Dogs, and that he is not the author of the Age of Bronze (they who believe one may believe the other); and we have ourselves been convicted, in a biographical dictionary of living authors, of writing an execrable tragedy, which we have not even read; a circumstance which has very much contributed to increase our disapprobation of such impertinent proceedings. In the present instance, the error is partly accounted for by the manner in which the two names we allude to have been habitually associated in men's minds, for good and for evil, from circumstances to which we need not refer; so that the idea of the one inevitably suggests that of the other, and the public, seldom very discriminating in such cases, has been in the habit of ascribing, not merely the good deeds, but the offences, of one partner to his coadjutor, on the same principle, we suppose, on which one head of an amphisbena might be impeached for the murders committed by the other. There is, too, a partial resemblance of manner, sufficient to deceive superficial observers, owing to the author of Adam Blair having unconsciously adopted some of the mannerism of his associate.
The works before us are already so generally known, and have been so repeatedly criticised and commented on in reviews and magazines, as well as at tea-tables and conversaziones, as to render any very minute or elaborate survey of their contents unnecessary. We shall therefore confine ourselves to a general view of the characters and capacities of these two writers, as far as we comprehend them, and a correction of certain misconceptions into which some of our elder brethren
appear to us to have fallen, in regard to the last of these volumes. We give the precedency to the author of Lights and Shadows, as being the worthier of the two, and because, in our examination of Adam Blair, we may probably have occasion to moralize, an office for which we have no great inclination, and which we naturally wish to put off as long as possible.
The author of Lights and Shadows is certainly a man of uncommon powers, though of a species which it is not very easy to define, from the difficulty of distinguishing between what is natural and what is superinduced ; for some of his most prominent peculiarities, both of manner and matter, are purely the result of circumstances. When we speak of him as a follower of Sir Walter Scott, we refer merely to his choice of subjects; for in all his acquired modes of thinking and writing-in all that distinguishes an individual writer from others of the same class, to a greater degree than he would otherwise be distinguished by the peculiarity of nature, he is essentially of the Lake School, and more especially a follower of Wordsworth although strong traces of Coleridge
are likewise discoverable. We mention not this as detracting from his true and proper originality, which we do not consider as at all disparaged by such a statement; but because the above remark will materially assist us in comprehending the nature and scope of the remarkable productions before us.
With this writer's earlier works we are but little acquainted, if such an avowal is pardonable in a critic. His first poem,
which we never saw, and know only by the extracts given in the reviews, seems to have been a wild, aimless, incoherent narrative, deficient, like many works of very young writers, in human interest, but containing many luxuriant plays of fancy, and many touches of domestic sweetness. His second work, a dramatic poem, we had not the courage to read—this, indeed, was before we were fully initiated in our profession. We were scared by its physiognomy at first sight. It appeared to be a long, cheerless, dismal, interminable series of dialogues, full of sickness, and death, and sepulchres, and monotonous misery, and sickly religious sentiment; and the effect of reading it must have been similar to that of traversing the cemeteries of Scutari, so admirably described in Anastasius. We cannot doubt, however, that it contained a great deal of poetry, and much natural beauty; and, at all events, it was decidedly Wordsworthian. With his smaller poems we are better acquainted; several of them are of the purely imaginative class, and are strongly marked by a passion for ideal beauty, and a propensity to sport amidst fairy worlds of his own creation, which has since found another channel, and one more in unison with the sympathies of general readers. One of the poems, subjoined to the work last alluded to, was remarkable, as exhibiting the rude outlines of his present form of writing. Had it been written in prose, it might (with the exception of the localities) have been published as one of the Lights and Shadows.
The tales before us are an attempt to delineate the more striking traits of ordinary Scottish life, in a series of insulated sketches, which, however, may almost be considered as one work, from the unity of character and purpose which pervades them, and which in a great measure supplies the want of a combining story. Each feature is complete in itself, but we feel it to be part of a corresponding whole, separate from which it could never have existed. They are short, and simple in structure, being founded, for the most part, on a single incident--some one of the ordinary or extraordinary casualties of rural life, such as place the disposition and habits of a people in an advantageous point of view, or draw forth the interesting peculiarities of their situation. Nor can it be denied that the life of the Scottish people in general, and more especially of the peasantry, with whom our author is principally concerned, is rich in materials of moral and poetical interest. The sedate and austere character of their religion, the heroic recollections with which it is associated, and the intimate manner in which it mingles itself with their daily thoughts and feelings, and even their phraseology--their familiarity with the noblest scenes of nature, producing