Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

For to say that sublimity is as natural and easy to a sublime mind, as wit is to a witty one, sounds very like a truism; and yet, if it be a truism, there is an end to all speculation upon the matter.

Upon her dislike to personal notoriety, and being stared at by the public, her biographer remarks; “A scrupulous self-respect, almost too nice to be appreciated in these days, induced her sedulously to avoid the appearance of reception on account of her literary fame. The very thought of appearing in person as the author of her romances shocked the delicacy of her mind. To the publication of her works she was constrained by the force of her own genius; but nothing could tempt her to publish herself ; or to sink, for the moment, the gentlewoman in the novelist.”

Let the cause of Mrs. Radcliffe's silence be what it may, no one, who thinks of the new power which seems suddenly to have developed itself in “ The Italian,” but must feel sorry that she did not set about another work while her mind was yet glowing with the exercise of that she had just finished. We allude to the masterly dialogues in that greatest of her works, particularly in the interview between the Marchesa and Schedoni in the church of San Nicolo; that between Schedoni and Spalatro, when the latter refuses to murder Ellena; and in the scene, also, in which Schedoni discovers Ellena to be his daughter. The deadly shrewdness, the sophistry with a mixture of emotion in the first; the close, abrupt, and highly impassioned character of the next, and those following, have seldom been approached by any novelist. It is this which puts life, indeed, into a story; and when we think what Mrs. Radcliffe might have done, had she gone on thus, we cannot but feel sad at what we have lost.“ Dialogue! dialogue ! dialogue!” said Miss Edgeworth once to a sister author. It is this in which the novelist rises towards the higher rank of the dramatist,—we mean our older dramatists when we speak of superiority,—and the closer the language, the oftener a whole train of thought or emotion is given by a sudden turn, or the peculiar use of one little word, so much the better. The best novel dialogues are apt to be diffuse enough. It is well observed by the “Quarterly Review,” in answer to Scott, that many have failed in the drama, who have afterwards been the authors of our first-rate novels; but that we have no instance of any distinguished dramatist who has failed as a novelist. We cannot, at present, recollect any dramatist who has made the attempt. If any one should make it, and fail, we should say, that he failed because he had undertaken an inferior sort of labor, and that his powers, not being fully tasked, and so, excited to their utmost, grew languid at their work. How very rare a thing is it for a poet to be a writer of the higher order of prose. Sir Walter is, naturally enough, inclined to make the most of his own calling. But we have no belief at all, that he could write a play worthy of him. Pray heaven, he do not try, and put us to shame!

We have wandered far enough; and must come back to take a look at Gaston de Blondeville." We are disappointed in it, as we feared we should be, when we saw the notices in its praise. There is a ghost,-a true ghost, and no sham; a true knight he is, too,—but he lacks "the horrors." He is, as it were, a daylight sort of ghost, and not my father's spirit in arms,—visiting the glimpses of the moon, making night hideous. Perhaps, however, we should except his first appearance, at the tomb of Geoffrey de Clinton; and his second, in the gallery, opposite the king, at the banquet. At the tournament, he is a mere parade-ghost. And the description of the tournament has this same fault, of too much getting up; and, for the matter of that, so has Sir Walter Scott's much praised one, notwithstanding all its splendor. Both authors should, in courtesy, have left tournaments to Chaucer's gentlemanly old knight. They would therein not only have shown their courtesy, but, to our minds, their wisdom too.

The merchant, on whom the story turns, weeps, and sighs, and faints, like a very woman. Now, in those days of travel and violence, it stood one of that calling well in stead to keep good heart. It is true, that he begins well; but there is in this tale a want of vividness, and stir, and spirit. The fire burnt low in which this work was forged. We are not willing, after all, to think that this tameness of which we complain was owing to Mrs. Radcliffe's mind having lost its energy, but rather to her plan, her attempt to make fiction a vehicle for true history, instead of using history merely as a good ingredient to work into fiction, as Shakspeare and Scott have done. Any one, who is pleased with getting a knowledge of some of the dresses and ceremonies of those times in this way, will take a deeper interest in the work than we have done. For our part, we had rather dig in the dust of the old chroniclers. We knew a gentleman who never could bring himself to read Anacharsis, because he would not be manæuvred into knowledge, as the child is by the playing-map and the like trickery:

We must not be thought to say, that this work is without spirit and interest; we have intended to speak of it in comparison with what Mrs. Radcliffe had before done. In one respect, it is astonishingly superior to her former works; we mean in its style, which is simple, natural, unincumbered, and in perfectly good taste. We cannot account for this, unless it be, that, feigning it to be an ancient manuscript, and adopting the antique phraseology, she almost insensibly expressed herself in the naked simplicity of former times.

The extracts from the Journal are well worth reading. How a woman of Mrs. Radcliffe's mind could look at nature as she did, knowing that she was going straight to the inn to put it down in black and white, we cannot tell

. She did it, however; and so do our lady-tourists; but our lady-tourists are not Mrs. Radcliffe. The painter sketches from nature. His answer is, “'T is my vocation, Hal!” But the poetical mind of him who is not a painter, may be said to see, and not to see; all is absorbed deeply inward, and goes in mingling with emotions, and fancies of the brain, changing its shapes and relations in its very course. Perhaps there are not to be found in writing, descriptions so minute and so true as these. Light and shadow, tints of the sky, forms, and hues, and positions of objects, appear to have been viewed by Mrs. Radcliffe with all the knowledge and accuracy of a painter's eye.

There follows "Gaston de Blondeville" a pretty thick volume of poetry. Remembering the specimens of Mrs. Radcliffe's talent in this art, scattered through her novels, we went to the volume with much misgiving. We were somewhat relieved; but not well enough satisfied to persevere. There is considerable improvement in diction, and there are some quite pleasing passages, which come very near being what may be justly called good poetry. There is nothing to which that homely saying, “a miss is as good as a mile," better applies, than to what comes under the name of second-rate poetry—which, strictly speaking, is no poetry at all. To be

sure,

it
may

be in fashion, and be run after for a day; for the world is more quickly taken with the false than with the true, though it will not hold to it so long. The eyesight may be dazzled, and there may be a great expenditure of the vital principle in ecstatics ; but all comes right after a while, and people learn to distinguish between poverty and simplicity, between a superflux of words and vehement passion, deep sentiment, and rich, original thought. We

e are sorry that we cannot say more for Mrs. Radcliffe's poetry; for we would say nothing but what is well of her. There is a beauty in her mind, a gentleness, a delicacy, a retiredness in her disposition, which is wholly feminine, and which every man cannot but feel, who feels as man ought towards woman ; a disposition, which she who wants, though she may draw admiration, will never win and hold a true, respectful, knightly sentiment of love.

Alnwick Castle, with other Poems. New York. G. & C. Carvill.

1827. 8vo.

pp. 64. The author of these poems is understood to be Mr. Halleck, a name already too well known in the literature of this country, and, moreover, too closely associated with many of these compositions, to justify us in affecting to speak of this collection as an anonymous work.

Some of these poems have never appeared before, but the greater part of them have, we believe, already been published. Two of these, “ Marco Bozzaris” and “Connecticut,” were printed in the “New York Review;" and two others, “Burns" and “Wyoming," appeared in some of the late numbers of this journal. We are glad to see these scattered gems now brought together, in company with others fresh from the mine. Those among us, who have watched with any interest the growth of our native literature, have long been impatient with the author for delaying to do, what he has at length done, in this collection; and now that it is given to the public, we believe there are not a few who will complain of the frugality with which he has dealt out his treasures. The work before us is a pamphlet, with sixty pages of poetry, and two of notes, printed with a liberal allowance of margin, and ample spaces between the lines. The eye glides swiftly over the jetty type and smooth hot-pressed paper, and the most deliberate reader would finish it in less than a couple of hours. We are disposed to expostulate with one who writes so well for writing so little, particularly when he writes so much to the taste of the public. An unsuccessful author is, it is true, under no obligation to write what nobody will read, or to publish what nobody will buy. But the author of these poems has been a favorite with his countrymen from his first appearance several years since. We understand that the greater part of this collection is already sold while we are writing this notice, and we dare say the whole of it will be disposed of before our article issues from the press. It is matter of some vexation, that one thus qualified, and whose talents are thus fortunately appreciated, should be so reluctant in coming before the public, when so many of doubtful pretensions are pressing forward with such eagerness in the competition for the public favor. Of native American poetry, such as it is, there is no want. The rank soil of our literature is shooting up luxuriantly into rhyme. Almost every month produces several thick volumes of indifferent poetry, manufactured on this side the Atlantic, the titles of which are seen for a few days in large letters at the doors of the booksellers' shops, and then are forgotten. Innumerable adventurers, of various degrees of talent, but all flushed with hope and confidence, are continually entering upon this barren department of letters, and one after another challenging the admiration of the world. That prosaic world, however, minds its ordinary business, utterly insensible to the efforts made to give it pleasure; and the disappointed poets turn somewhat sadly to more lucrative employments, and are generally, we believe, as well provided for in the end as the rest of the community. But here we have the phenomenon of a writer, whose works are universally admired, and scrambled for as fast as they appear, coming before the public as if he were actually afraid of an Infavorable reception, and, like a prudent merchant, trying the market with a small cargo. After this experiment, we hope he will have no apprehensions concerning the fate of what he may hereafter write. We shall expect him to attempt something that will more fully call forth and occupy his powers than the specimens contained in the few pages before us.

Some of the principal characteristics of this author's poetry, are, the great grace and freedom of the style, and the apparently unlabored melody of the numbers. It is not that the highest degree of correctness is in all cases given to the diction, nor that the most severe judgment is invariably applied to the imagery; an occasional instance of negligence in the one, or of doubtful brilliancy in the other, only serves to set off, in a more striking light, his power of happy expression, the sweetness of his versification, and the beauty of his conceptions. Touches of pathos, and strains of high lyrical enthusiasm, are not wanting ; but what particularly distinguishes his poetry from that of our native writers, and indeed from modern English poets in general, is that vein of playful humor, which occasionally breaks out, seemingly in spite of his efforts to repress it, and always in an exceedingly graceful and happy manner. Some of the author's pieces not printed in this collection, are, perhaps, the best examples of the possession of this delightful quality ; but the poem entitled

2

VOL. II.

« AnteriorContinuar »