Page images

I had intended to have narrated a very eloquent conversation on the festivals of our forefathers—with a dissertation on the BoyBishop--and a brief philosophical view of the Reformation. But I am dressing for the Windsor Ball; and have therefore only time to express my undoubting faith that Montem will long flourish, as ancient Herbertus hath written,

In spite of the Pursuits of Literature,
The Microcosm, and the Miniature.”

P. A.

[ocr errors]




“ You are engaged, father, said the King, and, as I think, with this new-fashioned art of multiplying manuscripts by the intervention of machinery. Can things of such mechanical and terrestrial import interest the thoughts of one before whom heaven has unrolled her own celestial volumes ?

My brother, replied Martivalle, for so the tenant of this cell must term even the King of France, when he deigns to visit him as a disciple,-believe me, that, in considering the consequences of this invention, I read with as certain augury as by. any combination of the heavenly bodies, of the most awful and portentous changes. When I reflect with what slow and limited supplies the stream of science hath hitherto descended to us; how difficult to be obtained by those most ardent in its search; how certain to be neglected by all who regard their ease ; how liable to be diverted or altogether dried up by the invasions of barbarism ; can I look forward without wonder and astonishment to the lot of a succeeding generation, on whom knowledge will descend like the first and second rain, uninterrupted, unabated, unbounded; fertilizing some grounds and overflowing others ; changing the whole form of social life; establishing and overthrowing religions; erecting and destroying kingdoms.”Quentin Durward, vol. ii. page 63.

Even as the art of printing loosed the flood of learning on the earth, as foretold in this amply accomplished prophecy, so have the creations of this wonderful genius been poured out upon us with an abundance and variety, more astonishing than many recorded miracles. In former times no one wrote without some great impulse-some sure prospect of reward from fortune or from fame; and the works which have descended to us are works which promise to last. The oral communications which learning and genius made to the world were few and limited, and the pen, the only multiplier of the labours of the mind, was a slow and uncertain servant;-fame, therefore, instead of having wings to fly over the earth, as the painters erroneously represent her, travelled with a tardy foot, and blew not her trumpet till she blew it over the

grave. We live under a happier dispensation. The cheapness and the facility of printing allure thousands into the ranks of literature, in spite of nature ; and every wind wafts abroad an unceasing succession of the labours of the common intellects of the land, as well as the creations of happier and more gifted spirits. It is true that all this profusion of seed, which the daily wind of the world sows, fails to take root and flourish. Like the brood of the crocodile, this unsummable

progeny of the press is scattered upon the surface of the waters-a moiety to sink and be seen no more-some to swim for a brief space and perish—others to float a little longer and then drift into some quiet and oblivious nook-while a few leaves dance gaily upon the top of the waves, and at last find their way into time's eternal volume. That this latter fate awaits the productions of the author of “ Waverley” we can have little doubt—they have far too much of the living principle of eternity's fairest works to go to decay soon, and we know of no living genius to whom future fame seems so certain. The works of other men exhibit, like the image in the Babylonian monarch's dream, a frame of metal and feet of clay; and, addressing themselves but to certain casts and classes of mankind, threaten to perish at some period more or less remote; but the works of the northern wizard address themselves to all ranks and conditions, present nature in so many hues and shapes, while actions, and characters, and superstitious beliefs, and supernatural impulses, are stamped so freshly and so brightly, that we see the whole moving and breathing before us. Such perfect enchantment has never been breathed over the multitude since the days of the unrivalled Shakspeare.

Painters of fictitious domestic life have indeed preceded him, and who can forget Fielding, and Smollett, and Richardson ; but can we assert that they threw light upon his path and showed him the way? The light which leads him is of a brighter and more etherial nature. To look for the sources from which the current of his genius flows, we must penetrate into the regions of the ancient romance; but to name and number all the streams which contribute their waters and are lost in the ocean of his labours, would far exceed our limits and our purpose. No great and lasting writer ever obtained his fame without borrowing largely and wisely ; and we know of no living genius who has written so much and borrowed so little, and borrowed with such good sense and discernment. The old romances, the old histories, the old chronicles, the old legends, and the old ballads, have presented him with incidents, with characters, with many allusions, and numerous illustrations. The rude but real and vivid presentment of action and character, contained in the works which charmed our forefathers, has exercised a strong influence over his mind; but many of his most moving and wondrous scenes—wondrous alike for their pathos and their humour, their fresh and breathing portraiture of life, and their matchless ease and naiveté, are drawn with no stinted hand from the legends and traditions of his country. To this inexhaustible store-house of national feeling, character, and belief, nearly all the great spirits of the earth, from Homer down to the author of

Waverley,” have had the good sense to go; and who has brooded more successfully over those relics of tradition-united the broken and dismembered parts so wondrously together, breathing into them the breath of life, like the man of Judah of old, when he prophesied unto the valley of dry bones, and made them into an army. All those who wish to stamp upon their works the fixed and permanent image of their nation, must condescend, like the author before us, to become acquainted with life past and present;-to go from hall to bower—from the baron's castle to the shepherd's shiel

-must converse with the peasant at his hearth as well as with the noble; learn the concerns of many-coloured life; and hearken from rude, as well as from learned lips, the legends, and stories, and scraps of ancient songs, which still linger among a curious and original people. A brilliant creation may no doubt be evoked by a splendid fancy alone, but speculation will not work all the wonders necessary for lasting fame; some of the less etherial materials must lay the foundations--fancy can only supply the carving and imagework of the temple.

So much has been written and imagined concerning the author of these novels, that we should feel glad if our vanity would consent to be silent, and let time or accident divulge a secret which, at present, forms one of the popular topics of conversation. Who is the author of " Waverley ?” is a question you hear in all companies -the men discuss it with that gravity and importance of face, which pertains to such an inquest—the ladies, to whom all secrets scever are dear, go in search of the author while they are settling the summer patterns for frills and flounces, and renew the conversalion again while cards go round, and during the intermissions of the dance. This mysterious problem has been known to interpose in the heavier matters of political questions—and the inquiry into marketable boroughs has given precedence to the hopeless query “ who wrote the Scottish novels ?” The secret, however, that every one inquires about, every one pretends to know ;-the south, which empties its rich population among the highland hills and Scottish glens in summer, receives, when its wandering squires and merchants return, a mass of what they call knowledge of savage life; and the mist in which the creator of these works has hitherto remained involved, is wafted at once away. Every one brings back some secret token of recognition-some certain sign by which he is known, and known to them alone. One declares who supplied him with one of the brightest pieces of humour in “ Waverley," another communicated with his own tongue an incident woven into

Ivanhoe,” '-a third told him the tale which he has darkened down into the cavern scene in “ Guy Mannering;” and there are few who talk of him, who fail to discover that to their native place, and the legends and traditions pertaining to it, he is largely indebted for

many of his most moving or ludicrous passages.

If the needle of general belief points northward for the author, there are many who have their doubts, and contend that the cold and sterile region of Scotland could yield no such joyous and happy genius. A southern sun and more hospitable climate were necessary to produce such a creation. Others, again, believe that one mind and one hand are unequal to the production of such a swift and miraculous succession of works of intellect; and

suppose, with the English peasant, when he sought to account for the singular construction of his frame, that they are the offspring of subscription. They contend that a few master spirits, each perfect in its part and calling, have begot this splendid progeny, and they seek to assign to each their share; dismembering the whole and perfect form, and crying out, like the woman in scripture, “ let it be neither thine nor mine, but divide it.” To one, they say, belongs the high and heroic portions, the knightly deeds, and bold resolves, and all the moving and chivalrous acts by flood and field. To a second is consigned the management by dark intrigue, and plot, and cabal, and all the mysterious parts of the narrative which require a shrewd, and a cunning, and subtle spirit. A third reigns over the wide domain of superstitious belief and superhuman impulses; the unsubstantial and shadowy forms which haunted and waylaid men of yore, are supposed to be charmed into existence at his bidding. To a fourth is confided the management of that tithe of mankind over whose brain the full moon holds influence; and woman with her loves, and her joys, and desires, is placed under the controul of one with a spirit as wayward, and capricious, and engaging as her own. And, finaliy, to a rough, rude, ready-witted spirit, is committed the characters, and feelings, and opinions of the peasantry. And thus is the empire of this region of romantic fiction taken from the righteous king, and given to the Medes and the Persians.

In such speculations as these we have heard men indulge; and a curious volume might be written concerning the whimsical and remarkable opinions which the Scottish novels have occasioned. But we are warned by the fast diminishing space which we have assigned ourselves for this subject, to be brief with preliminary things, and hasten to the work in hand. We are sorry for this, inasmuch as we imagine we can bring to the pleasing task of attempting to characterize the genius of the illustrious author, a mind not undisciplined in the same paths in which it has pleased him to move; and that we associate wiin some knowledge in the ancient lore of his country, an intimate acquaintance with the poetical peasantry of the north, and their wild and instructive traditions. We confess we have seen no critical examination of these productions, where much knowledge of this peculiar kind was at all exhibited; and without this no one can pretend to dip deeper into the stream of his stories, than the swallow dips its wing into the water to wet its feathers, and shake the drops off again. Many curious and pleasing matters press upon us, but we may not stay to expatiate upon them;-and, as the victims of necessary brevity, all we can say is, that his

power over

the human character is not at all inferior to his glowing descriptions of stirring events, and that in all that moves, and agitates, and interests, he seems second only to Shakspeare. See what a multitude of frank, free, and impetuous young spirits, he has let loose among his more staid and stately personages; look at his fierce cavaliers and his fanatic Cameronians—his peasants ascending into the heroic-his nobles descending towards the vulgar—the wayward and witty grace he has shed over some—the low cunning and intense selfishness in which he has preserved the worthless clay of others. If the retiring meekness and sweet austere bashfulness of many

of his females have obtained him small praise among the more impetuous madams of the present generation, “ e’en’s the mair pity;" only see how many thousands of slender spinsters he has set on horseback by the witty gaiety and captivating graces of Diana Vernon. But we must have done with a list of excellencies which threatens to be a long one, and bid farewell to his early works, with the assurance that no one ever brought to the superstructure of national or domestic romance, such rich and durable and dazzling materials—or displayed greater skill in preparing them, or a more rapid and magical hand in employing them;

-and, to dismiss the metaphor, who has charmed so many sweet and tender and elevating things, out of the rude materials of humble life, or poured so much poetry into the characters and actions and narrative of


Of Quentin Durward it is now time to speak; and we are not sure but it will be as great a favourite as Ivanhoe, and we think it fairly surpasses any of the latter works of the author. We say we are not sure, because we wish not to be deemed one of those decisive gentlemen who settle the fortune of an author and the fame of his work at a single glance; and moreover we have ever seen that the last published Scottish novel is reckoned by critics the least perfectall which induces us to secure ourselves by a cautious opinion. We remember that Guy Mannering was thought inferior to Waverley, and the Antiquary to Guy Mannering, and Old Mortality to all the three; that Rob Roy was a great falling off, and the Heart of MidLothian, one of the finest efforts of intellect, inasmuch as it evoked such a splendid vision from condemned criminals and the common ranks of life, was held by all as a certain sign of decaying and exhausted powers. And so shall we be told that the present work shows the winter fall, rather than the summer glory, of the leafand what is this to the author ?

All the reviewers who daily, or weekly, or monthly, or quarterly, stand snarling in the way of honest men's fame, may as well seek to stay the sun from shining, as try to retard for a single moment the march of these marvellous works. Now we have a new scene, and fresh ground broken, and a bold and original picture filled with the adventurous and stirring spirits, who embroiled, in the days of Lewis the Eleyenth, the courts of France and Burgundy. The history of an heroic and adventurous youth is recorded. A deceitful King-a bold and choleric Duke-crafty counsellors-ministers of

« PreviousContinue »