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Having thus disburdened our consciences, we proceed to the more ordinary part of our office, as reporters of the literary novelties, or showmen of the reigning literary lions of the day ; namely, the preparing our readers for what they have to expect from the perusal of Redgauntlet. In this, we shall confine ourselves to a mere comparative criticism; for the peculiarities of the writer, his defects and his excellencies, are too generally known to require or admit of more illustration: and it is only with reference to himself and his former productions, that the public require an anticipated judgment of his present work, concerning which all will sooner or later judge for themselves. Compared with this standard, we have great pleasure in stating that Redgauntlet is not a failure; that the vigour of the author's style, and the interest of his story (notwithstanding it is in a considerable degree " crambe repetita,") are unabated: and if the new novel does not in every respect rise to the level of Quentin Durward, or the earlier productions of the same pen, it does not exhibit any of those apoplectic Archbishop-of-Toledoish symptoms, which afflicted its readers in St. Ronan's Well. The narrative, which is partly conducted in letters, and partly as the journals of two of the personages, proceeds currently and uninterruptedly; and the reader is not suffered to pause, till he arrives at the conclusion. We are too much the reader's friend to diminish this charm, by the customary abridgment of incidents and plot; we may, however, disclose, that the tale turns upon a supposed personal appearance of the Pretender in England, subsequent to the defeat of 1745. That the tradition of such an event should exist, is. certainly ground enough for a novelist to build upon: but the recentness of the event, and the knowledge that after the victory at Culloden the Jacobite chiefs came to a mutual understanding, that each should, unblamed, make the best peace he could with St. James's, detracts something from the vraisemblance of the story. In fact the man who could embark in new plots after this event, must have been so visionary an enthusiast, or so desperate and unprincipled a disturber of the public repose, as in ordinary cases to deprive him of all just claims to poetical interest. A madman or an adventurer is as unfit a subject for heroic narrative as the worthies of the Newgate Calendar. This weakness of the design is, however, gradually redeemed in the execution; and Redgauntlet, though but a repetition of the Jacobite gentleman of the previous novels, displays energies sufficient to establish his hold over the imagination of the reader.
In our review of Quentin Durward we have lamented the frequent and almost exclusive introduction of characters undignified by a single noble or generous sentiment. This defect pervades the minor personages of the dramatis personae of Redgauntlet. Smugglers, conspirators, spies and traitors, drunkards and pirates, fools and fiddlers, to be rendered endurable should have their vices redeemed by strong passion and by striking positions; but, above all, their deep shadows should be relieved by corresponding lights—by the introduction of other characters who may do justice to human nature, and remove from the heart that load of sickness which the uninterrupted view of depravity produces, even in the very abandoned themselves. Unfortunately, in almost all the Waverley novels, and more particularly in the one before us, the little goodness which here and there comes to the surface, is too closely allied, if not to imbecility, to incapacity, for it to produce this effect. The inequality of the war between vice and virtue, between the designing and the unsuspecting, is too palpable; and the reader, instead of rising with new impulses of enthusiasm towards good, from the perusal, is compelled to quit the book with a hopeless depression of spirits, at the predominance of evil, and with a tame disposition to acquiesce in an order of things which appears absolutely irremediable.
Of the author's attempts at moral interest in Redgauntlet, Nanty Ewart, a sort of sentimental pirate, is among the most feeble; and a Quaker, introduced for the same purpose, is not sufficiently eccentric, or important to the "better carrying on of the plot" to be effective. Peebles, a cracked-brain, law-bewildered suitor in forma pauperis before the Court of Sessions, has more of the wild and whimsical peculiarity of the author's style of invention; but he must not be compared with former attempts in the same line. All this, however, does not prevent the incidents from being amusing, the dialogue forcible, and the situations striking; and our readers will probably not thank us for thus looking out for the excellencies that are not to be found in their favourite author, but retort upon us the plura nitent in carmine. If so, we must beg leave so far to differ, as to declare our feeling, that where excellence most abounds, we are most offended by the paucis maculis, and the most desirous to see them reformed altogether. The " Heart of Mid Lothian"' shews that it is more want of will than of power, that prevents the author from avoiding that which is by no means a splendid fault; and upon this point we can admit of no compromise.
Under the head of faults we must also notice an occasional coarseness and vulgarity of style, which look as if some parts of the execution had been consigned to an inferior hand. Of this the following passages, though striking, are not solitary instances.
"Had the question been asked in that enchanted hall of fairy land, where all interrogatories must be answered with absolute sincerity, Darsie would certainly have replied that he took her for the most frank-hearted and ultraliberal lass that had ever lived since Mother Eve ate the pippin without paring." —Vol. iii. p. 117.
"One or two of them wore liveries, which seemed known to Mr. Redgauntlet, for he muttered between his teeth, ' Fools, fools ! were they on the march to hell, they must have their rascals in livery with them, that the whole world might know who were going to be damned."—lb. p. ] 83.
We are neither saints, nor hypercritics; but we cannot help thinking what " my grandmother's review" would have said to Leigh Hunt or to Lord Byron, had they written in this " Cambyses' vein." We question likewise whether in a naughty liberal, "Cassius picking Caesar's pocket instead of drawing his poniard on the dictator," would pass muster as a point of taste. But "dant veniam corvis" is the motto of the day.
Notwithstanding these blemishes, we have no doubt that Redgauntlet will meet with its full share of that species of success, of which its author seems most ambitious. If it does not add a leaf to his laurels, it will by no means detract from them. Before the hindmost, and behind the first, it will pass through the hands of all the reading public of England, it will add to the stock of mental amusement of the day, it will add to the author's stock in the three per cents.; and we trust that it will in every way so far satisfy him, as to hurry forward the appearance of its embryo successor.
THE DEAN OF SANTIAGO,
A Tale from the Conde Lucanor. *
Good stories seem to be imperishable. They are, it is true, doomed to undergo many transmutations, and to appear embodied under different forms; but the informing spirit which captivates our attention, is the same, whatever shape they assume, whatever language they speak. A tale may often be traced through every nation of Europe, till we lose it among the wild traditions of the North, or the romantic lore of the East.
There was a period in the growth of society at which the imagination had a peculiar aptitude to conceive novel and striking combinations of characters and events—of moral actions and chances; of the power of the human will, and the external motives which oppose or modify it. At that period it was that the main store of tales was created, which every succeeding age and nation have made to undergo the changes which suited the originals to their own taste and notions. Indeed, the great difficulty in the invention of a tale appears to arise from the fewness of extraordinary situations which the world affords: Whatever, therefore, offers the means of introducing some source of novelty into a narrative, presents an opportunity of forming an interesting tale. Such means, however, decrease as the refinement of society advances. In the trammels of civilized life, the imagination is shorn of her wings, the judgment becomes sceptical and fastidious, the heart is rendered cold and cautious. We do not mean to question the higher advantages by which these losses are compensated; but merely state a fact which the observation of society at different stages makes obvious.
It will be evident that we do not spealt of the modern novels, in which the interest chiefly arises from the play of the human passions which the complicated machinery of society puts into motion; but of the more simple species of tales, the offspring of pure imagination. The characters of the primitive tale and the modern novel are as distinct as the two states of society which produce them. The former springs from fancy, in the youth of mankind; the latter is the fruit of dear-bought experience, at an advanced period of the world.
But though the states and dispositions of the human mind which respectively give birth to these two kinds of composition, have little in common, man's taste for both is nearly permanent. There occurs, indeed, a temporary fastidiousness, which will not be amused with stories that delighted our forefathers; but the artificial excitement which, for n time, unfits society for every thing not seasoned up to its feverish palate, gradually disappears; or, what is more probable, the source of our morbid cravings being exhausted by the very means invented to gratify them, the mind returns to a more natural state, and feels refreshed by what it at one time loathed as tame and insipid.
This relapse into a youthful taste may be observed no less in the mass of society, than in individuals. The analogy may still be traced farther, if we observe that the revived taste of society for the primitive sports of imagination, not unlike the renovated zest for the amusement*
• See New Monthly Magazine, No. XL1II. p. 28. vOL. XI. NO. XLJv. H
of childhood, which often appears on the decline of life, is a taste of sympathy, not of action. Society, after its maturity, may turn with pleasure to the contemplation of the simple play of fancy in which she delighted when young; but, contented with a mere review of her childish toys, she would be ashamed at the attempt to contrive new ones of the same sort. Society would not accept, now-a-days, a new series of oriental tales, though there is scarcely a man who will not revert with pleasure to those pages of enchantment. A continuation of SirLauncelot, and the recovery of the Sangreal, would be received with more than indifference even from the pen of the author of Waverley; yet few will pass over the fragments of that kind, which, in the notes to Sir Walter Scott's poems, enhance the interest of his works. The fact is, that the human mind, at its present age, can no more believe in sorcerers and magicians, than a man of fifty could decently, or even pleasurably join at one of the favourite games of his childhood. Both, however, may and often do, preserve a strong sympathy for the feelings of those who truly and heartily enjoy the tale of wonder, and those who still delight in the life and bustle of a youthful game.
Sismondi, in censuring the extravagance of some modern schools of poetry, observes, that "there are German and even French writers, who, preferring poetry to every other display of mind, would gladly bring back that credulity which gives full scope to the imagination. With" this view they make their works either incoherent or improbable, in the hope of making them, in an equal measure, poetical. Thus they miss the peculiar advantages of the present age, without reaching those of the past. Ignorance, to be tolerated, must be involuntary: it is only in that case that we can enter into all its prejudices. We shall hear the history of Blue Beard without'our incredulity being revolted, if the narrator be a knight of the fourteenth century; but we should receive it with a contemptuous smile from one of our contemporaries."
Sympathy, that widely extended principle of our moral nature, is the sole cause of these phenomena. That philosopher must have steeled himself by reflection who does not feel some symptoms of horror upon hearing the account of an apparition, or any supernatural event, from the mouth of a person who firmly believes he witnessed it. The philosopher may laugh at the credulity of the narrator; but the man will respond to the strong feelings of his fellow-man.
Such is the reason why our interest is excited by old writers of supernatural tales, and but very seldom by others. With their works in our hands we are transported to other times; we imagine ourselves living among the author's contemporaries, partaking of their feelings, and almost persuaded into their belief. If to this is added a lively description of remote scenery, of places suited to the tone and character of the narrative, and most of all, a strong allusion to some of the mysterious principles of the human mind, the charm becomes irresistible.
If partiality to a favourite author does not bias our judgment, the story of the Dean of Santiago, which we subjoin, in a free translation from the Spanish of Prince Don Juan Manuel, is one of the finest specimens of this species of composition. But we must defer making any observations On its peculiar character till our readers have the story itself before them.
THE DEAN OF SANTIAGO AND DON ILLAN* OF TOLEDO.
It was but a short hour before noon when the Dean of Santiago alighted from his mule at the door of Don Ulan, the celebrated magician of Toledo. The house, according to old tradition, stood on the brink of the perpendicular rock, which, now crowned with the Ak/izar, rises to a fearful height over the Tagus.t A maid of Moorish blood led the Dean to a retired apartment, where Don Ulan was reading. The natural politeness of a Castillian had rather been improved than impaired by the studies of the Toledan sage, who exhibited nothing either in his dress or person that might induce a suspicion of his dealing with the mysterious powers of darkness. "I heartily greet your Reverence,'' said Don Ulan to the Dean, "and feel highly honoured by this visit. Whatever be the object of it, let me beg you will defer stating it till I have made you quite at home in this house. I hear my housekeeper making ready the noonday meal. That maid, Sir, will shew you the room which has been prepared for you; and when you have brushed off the dust of the journey, you shall find a canonical capon steaming hot upon the board."
The dinner, which soon followed, was just what a pampered Spanish canon would wish it—abundant, nutritive, and delicate.—" No, no," said Don Ulan, when the soup and a bumper of Tinto had recruited the Dean's spirits, and he saw him making an attempt to break the object of his visit, "no business, please your Reverence, while at dinner. Let us enjoy our meal at present; and when we have discussed the Olla, the capon, and a bottle of Yepes, it will be time enough to turn to the cares of life."
The ecclesiastic's full face had never beamed with more glee at the collation on Christmas eve, when, by the indulgence of the church, the fast is broken at sunset, instead of continuing through the night, than it did now under the influence of Don Julian's good humour and heart-cheering wine. Still it was evident that some vehement and ungovernable wish had taken possession of his mind, breaking out now and then in some hurried motion, some gulping up of a full glass of wine without stopping to relish the flavour, and fifty other symptoms of absence and impatience, which at such a distance from the cathedral could not be attributed to the afternoon bell. The time came at length of rising from table, and in spite of Don Julian's pressing request to have another bottle, the Dean, with a certain dignity of manner, led his good-natured host to the recess of an oriel window, looking upon the river.—" Allow me, dear Don Julian," he said, " to open my heart to you; for even your hospitality must fail to make me completely happy till I have obtained the boon which I came to ask. I know that no man ever possessed greater power than you over the invisible agents of the universe. I die to become an adept in that wonderful science, and if you will receive me for your pupil, there is nothing I should think of sufficient worth to repay your friendship."—
• Man is, we believe, the same as Millan, the Spanish name for JEmilianus. + See an interesting view of this spot among Mr. Locker's beautiful firws Spain.