페이지 이미지

which lay nearly horizontal from the rock, and seemed to bend as he changed his posture, the youth at length stood upright, within what, on level ground, had been but an extended stride to the cliff on which the Swiss maiden stood. But instead of being a step to be taken on the level and firm ground, it was one which must cross a dark abyss, at the bottom of which a torrent surged and boiled with incredible fury. Arthur's knees knocked against each other, bis feet became of lead, and seemed no longer at his command ; and be experienced in a stronger degree than ever, that unnerving influence, which those who have been overwhelmed by it in a situation of like peril never can forget, and which others, happily strangers to its power, may have difficulty even in comprehending.

“The young woman discerned his emotion, and foresaw its probable consequences. As the only mode in her power to restore his confidence, she sprung lightly from the rock to the stem of the tree, on which she alighted with the ease and security of a bird, and in the same instant back to the cliff; and extending her hand to the stranger, ' My arm,' she said, 'is but a slight balustrade; yet do but step forward with resolution, and you will find it as secure as the battlement of Berne.” But shame now evercame terror so much, that Arthur, declining assistance which he could not have accepted without feeling lowered in his own eyes, took heart of grace, and successfully achieved the formidable step which placed him upon the same cliff with his kind assistant.

“ To seize her hand and raise it to his lips, in affectionate token of gratitude and respect, was naturally the youth's first action; nor was it possible for the maiden to have prevented him from doing so, without assuming a degree of prudery foreign to her character, and occasion a ceremonious debate upon a matter of no great consequence, where the scene of action was a rock scarce five feet long by three in width."-Vol. i. pp. 38-42.

We may be “ oblivious," but we cannot call from the ample stores which Sir Walter himself has supplied, anything superior in descriptive power to the passage we have quoted. It breathes of genuine inspiration—it bears the unequivocal stanıp of his ripened, but still vigorous intellect; and amidst these bold and daring touches, there is such distinctness, that we hear the blast of the tempest-hold in our breath-as the gallant stranger traces bis dangerous way from crag to crag, on the brink of the naked precipice-feel the earth tremble beneath our feet, as the rock on which he leaps, quivers and reels from its fearful height to plunge into the abyss—and grow faint and stiff with horror, while Arthur, unnerved and stunned by the imminent danger, clings to the frail support of the blasted tree, and vibrates, while his brain reels and his senses fail-in the very gorge of the yawning gulf, there is that distinctness, we say, in the whole scene, that we recur to it, as one familiar to our memory rather than


to our imagination, and the features are pencilled with such truth and individuality of expression, that it seems to us, that were a dozen artists to employ their pencils in the sketch, they would exhibit, with little variation, but the same picture! From the eminent success of this descriptive effort, and from the striking beauties of every description, scattered over the work, we venture to congratulate the public on the unabated vigour and unimpaired powers of the distinguished author! Long may he live to delight, adorn, instruct and purify the age! There is vo dimness in his mental vision-no faltering of his elastic step-no quailing of his manly spirit! Fallen though he be, “into the sear and yellow leaf,” he seems to be endowed with a patriarchal vitality—and we may apply to him, with slight change, what Ahenobarbus said of the sorceress of Egypt

Age cannot wither him- --nor custom stale

His infinite variety." We have heard it surmised that our author would exhaust himself-that he had travelled over so wide a circuit-discussed such variety of topics—exhibited such diversities of characterthat he must have tasked his powers of invention, even to weariness-fatigued his fancy-worked up all his materials of knowledge, and exhausted every field of research-so that pained by mere satiety of conquest, he might sigh (a literary Alexander) for other worlds to conquer ! We have never participated in this fear. That the frost of age might one day congeal it, we were well aware, but that a fountain so full-whose gushing waters had so recently overflowed, fertilizing and refreshing wherever they rested, should suddenly fail and be utterly dried up—we never did fear. We recollected--when the history, antiquities and manners of Scotland had been sketched in all their aspects and bearings--what spirited incursions our author had made on English ground, and we had seen token in “ Ivanhoe” and Kenilworth,” that like some of his own border ancestry, he had returned red-handed from the foray, and laden with the spoils of the South! We remembered with what spirit he had pitched his tent, and reined his war-steed before the walls of Jerusalem, and that the fair fields of France had lent their laurels to enrich his literary chaplet. With these memorials of his prowess by us, we did not fear that he would exhaust himself, while new regions remained to be explored, new incidents to be imagined, and new modes of life to be delineated. Accordingly, in the work before us, he has broken new ground-sketching, with his accustomed felicity, the terrific outlines of Alpine scenery, and delineating in the stern hardy features of Swiss republicanism, modes of political existence, heretofore unessayed. Such modes, it must be owned, are better calculated for enjoyment than description. In the contented domestic traits and unvarying tenor of such a life, there is but little aliment for the novelist—and they must, consequently, be as distasteful to him, as long periods of national tranquillity, have ever proved to the historian. Sir Walter, we apprehend, is soon aware of the truth of this reflection, for he quickly descends from the inconvenient elevation of the Swiss mountains, to enjoy in the valley of the Rhine, a more congenial atmosphere. He has no sooner surrounded himself with the emblems of monarchy and aristocracy, than he breathes freely, and feels himself again in his element. He is no longer confined to the tame, unvarying expression of Swiss bluntness and honesty, but characters worthy of a novelist ; rogues of every hue and dye, and villains of the richest turpitude, are immediately at command. Robber nobles, apostate priests, murderous landknechts, start unbidden from every bush—and the only distress of the author seems to be that of selection-his trouble is how to furnish employment to these worthy allies he has called into the field, and who hover about the flanks, until he has safely brought his travellers to the environs of Dijon, where Charles the Bold of Burgundy, then held his camp.

Having introduced this prince to us on a former occasion, in the pride

of power and insolence of prosperity, be here presents him in his decline and death, and here the interest of the work begins to decline. Huddling together in the most summary and unceremonious manner, the few characters of the drama who happen to be left alive, and bestowing scarce a word at parting on the Swiss maiden, who has magnanimously, as we think, lent her name to the book, he abruptly drops the curtain, bringing his tale to what has been aptly termed, "an apoplectic conclusion.” Apparently, in furnishing out his story, he has drawn on the same sources of information which he consulted for Quentin Durward, pursuing trains of thought suggested by his former investigations, and weaving into the present piece, such threads as could not conveniently be wrought into the tissue of the former.

In accompanying the merchants (for they are, in truth, the heroes of the piece) from Geierstein to the camp of the Burgundian Duke, it is impossible not to be struck with the fullness of the author-with the ample stores of knowledge which he has provided for the occasion. Counting for nothing the resources of an exhaustless invention, he arms himself for his task by a severe study of histories, biographies and memoirs-embueing

himself not only with the knowledge of public events and characters, but of all that was peculiar in the interests, feelings and superstitions of the period, and of the people of whom he treats. Like an experienced general, he skilfully reconnoitres the ground, and seizes on every “coin of vantage” that lies in the direction of his march. If the scenery of the Rhine begins to pall, he invokes the powers of his invention, and lo! some errant damsel, with mask on face and hawk on hand, flits opportunely by to relieve the tediousness of the way, or some scoundrel priest, whose charitable intents are robbery and murder, comes howling in your ear his dismal psalmody! Anon, when you have touched the German soil, he draws forth his stores of antiquarian lore, and sketches a most revolting (but we must suppose, not unfaithful) picture of the refinement of German manners, and the hospitalities of a German inn! “And in the lowest deep a lower deep,” as if a German inn were not simply and in itself, a perfect pandemonium, he touches a trap, and initiates you into all the fearful mysteries and appalling rites of the “ Secret Tribunal.” At Strasburg, we are unexpectedly introduced to the unhappy Margaret of Anjou, whose crimes and sorrows have been immortalized by a greater hand--and after her, her father Renè. Renè, the king of fiddlers and troubadours, is seen, in the shifting scenes of this eventful story," following his melancholy daughter, like farce succeeding tragedy.

It is not over-clear what is to be considered as the main action of the piece. If we suppose it to be the defeat and death of Burgundy, and the consequent overthrow of the scheme of Oxford, to build up through his aid, the fallen house of Lancaster, then must we look upon the visit to Provence, and the introduction of the king of the Trobadours, as an episode ; for as the embassy of Arthur entirely failed, as Provence was not surrendered to the Duke of Burgundy, and the aid required from that Prince was never furnished, it is manifest that the whole scene might have been omitted without prejudice to the general design. But we suspect that even a slighter thread of connexion would have been seized on by our author, rather than forego the occasion of exhibiting so rich an original as René, and of contrasting him so gay, insouciant, and bouyant, amidst distresses that would have crushed an ordinary spirit, with the stern, heroic, self-willed, implacable Margaret of Anjou. It is a realization, as it were, of the fable of the Osier and the Oak: the storms of life sweep harmlessly over the silly but yielding monarch, while the stubborn and inflexible heart of Margaret is rent and overwhelmed by resistance. An octogenarian king, , (a king of shreds and patches !) engaged in the regal task of composing ariettes and ballets, presiding not in the exercises befitting his age and station, but in courts of love and contests of troubadours--a dancer in religious pageants—a composer of the admired air, to the tune of which King Herod was cudgelled in the mystery; but unrivalled and surpassing himself in the festival of asses! What a caricature of a king! The character is too pitiable to be amusing, but to see such a one, entrapping his daughter, under the guise of a religious festival, in a noon-day masquerade in the streets of Aix, capering and flourishing before her, as a grotesque Solomon, come to do homage to the Queen of Sheba—is, on the part of one, who, silly as he was, must have known the sorrowing unjoyous temper of his own child—a stretch of foolery so utterly inconceivable, that we trust the author has derived it from some chronicle of the day; we trust, in short, that it is history, for it seems to us to violate all the verisimilitude, and to shock all the probabilities of fictitious narrative! The scenes in which such opposites in nature have been pourtrayed, are moving and replete with incident ; and the dialogue is free, bold, and highly characteristic-yet, we are mistaken, if the reader can feel an interest in either. The follies of René make him contemptible in spite of the goodness of his heart; and who can sympathize with Margaret, dethroned, exiled, widowed, childless as she is, who recalls the image of the implacable tyger-hearted—" she wolf of France," who is represented (without violation of dramatic probability,) as stabbing young Rutland, and tauntingly offering to dry the tears of the agonized father, with a napkin steeped in the blood of his child ?

Like Homer and Milton, our author introduces machinery into his poems : but he is mindful of the precept of Horace, and does not frame it of too costly or unmanageable materials—he introduces neither god, demigod nor archangel; sometimes he ventures on a ghost, but in general he employs a set of inferior, mere human agents-perfect busy-bodies it must be owned, who thrust themselves forward on every need of the author, to extricate his characters or the story. There is often no sufficient motive apparent for their interference, nor does the author always remember to explain it. These agents are sometimes of a very pleasing and loveable description, as every reader of taste will confess, who remember Catharine Seyton: at other times they are less inviting, and we have to take up with some “gaberlunzic body," or some old spae-wife like Meg Merrilies, who goes about with a bee in her head, acting with an energy and sagacity, beyond the reach of mere unexcited wisdom. In

[ocr errors]
« 이전계속 »