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with his accusers; but happening unfortunately to meet with his Majesty in a retired part of the Park to which he had pursued the stag, ahead of all his attendants, his sudden appearance so startles and alarms that pacific monarch, that he accuses him of a treasonable design on his life, and has him committed to the Tower, under that weighty accusation. In the mean time, however, a certain Margaret Ramsay, a daughter of the celebrated watchmaker of that name, who had privately fallen in love with him at the table of George Heriot her godfather, and had, ever since, kept watch over his proceedings, and aided him in his difficulties by various stratagems and suggestions, had repaired to Greenwich in male attire, with the romantic design of interesting and undeceiving the King with regard to him. By a lucky accident, she does obtain an opportunity of making her statement to James; who, in order to put her veracity to the test, sends her, disguised as she was, to Glenvarloch's prison in the Tower, and also looses upon him in the same place, first his faithful Heriot, and afterwards a sarcastic courtier, while he himself plays the eavesdropper to their conversation, from an adjoining apartment constructed for that purpose. The result of this Dionysian experiment is, to satisfy the sagacious monarch both of the innocence of his young countryman, and the malignity of his accusers; who are speedily brought to shame by his acquittal and admittance to favour.
NIGEL ABSTRACT OF STORY.
There is an underplot of a more extravagant and less happy structure, about a sad and mysterious lady who inhabits an inaccessible apartment in Heriot's house, and turns out to be the deserted wife of Lord Dalgarno, and a near relation of Lord Glenvarloch. The former is compelled to acknowledge her by the King, very much against his will; though he is considerably comforted when he finds that, by this alliance, he acquires right to an ancient mortgage over the lands of the latter, which nothing but immediate payment of a large sum can prevent him from foreclosing. This is accomplished by the new-raised credit and consequential agency of Richie Moniplies, though not without a scene of petti
FAULTS AND MERITS.
fogging difficulties. The conclusion is something tragical and sudden. Lord Dalgarno, travelling to Scotland with the redemption-money in a portmanteau, challenges Glenvarloch to meet and fight him, one stage from town; and, while he is waiting on the common, is himself shot dead by one of the Alsatian bullies, who had heard of the precious cargo with which he was making the journey. His antagonist comes up soon enough to revenge him; and, soon after, is married to Miss Ramsay, for whom the King finds a suitable pedigree, and at whose marriage-dinner he condescends to preside; while Richard Moniplies marries the heroic daughter of the Alsatian miser, and is knighted in a very characteristic manner by the good-natured monarch.
The best things in the book, as we have already intimated, are the pictures of King James and of Richard Moniplies-though my Lord Dalgarno is very lively and witty, and well represents the gallantry and profligacy of the time; while the worthy Earl, his father, is very successfully brought forward as the type of the ruder and more uncorrupted age that preceded. We are sorely tempted to produce a sample of Jin Vin the smart apprentice, and of the mixed childishness and heroism of Margaret Ramsay, and the native loftiness and austere candour of Martha Trapbois, and the humour of Dame Suddlechops, and divers other inferior persons. But the rule we have laid down to ourselves, of abstaining from citations from well-known books, must not be farther broken, in the very hour of its enactment; — and we shall therefore conclude, with a few such general remarks on the work before us as we have already bestowed on some other performances, probably no longer so familiar to most of our readers.
We do not think, then, that it is a work either of so much genius or so much interest as Kenilworth or Ivanhoe, or the earlier historical novels of the same authorand yet there be readers who will in all likelihood prefer it to those books, and that for the very reasons which induce us to place it beneath them. These reasons are― First, that the scene is all in London-and that the.
NIGEL ITS INFERIORITIES.
piece is consequently deprived of the interest and variety derived from the beautiful descriptions of natural scenery, and the still more beautiful combination of its features and expression, with the feelings of the living agents, which abound in those other works; and next, that the characters are more entirely borrowed from the written memorials of the age to which they refer, and less from that eternal and universal nature which is of all ages, than in any of his former works. The plays of that great dramatic era, and the letters and memoirs which have been preserved in such abundance, have made all diligent readers familiar with the peculiarities by which it was marked. But unluckily the taste of the writers of that age was quaint and fantastical; and though their representations necessarily give us a true enough picture of its fashions and follies, it is obviously a distorted and exaggerated picture—and their characters plainly both speak and act as no living men ever did speak or act. Now, this style of caricature is too palpably copied in the work before us-and, though somewhat softened and relaxed by the good sense of the author, is still so prevalent, that most of his characters strike us rather as whimsical humourists or affected maskers, than as faithful copies of the actual society of any historical period; and though they may afford great delight to such slender wits as think the commentators on Shakspeare the greatest men in the world, and here find their little archæological persons made something less inconceivable than usual, they cannot fail to offend and disappoint all those who hold that nature alone must be the source of all natural interest.
Finally, we object to this work, as compared with those to which we have alluded, that the interest is more that of situation, and less of character or action, than in any of the former. The hero is not so much an actor or a sufferer, in most of the events represented, as a spectator. With comparatively little to do in the business of the scene, he is merely placed in the front of it, to look on with the reader as it passes. He has an ordinary and slow-moving suit at court-and, à propos of
POOR HERO-AND TOO INACTIVE.
this-all the humours and oddities of the sovereign are exhibited in rich and splendid detail. He is obliged to take refuge for a day in Whitefriars-and all the horrors and atrocities of the Sanctuary are spread out before us through the greater part of a volume. Two or three murders are committed, in which he has no interest, and no other part than that of being accidentally present. His own scanty part, in short, is performed in the vicinity of a number of other separate transactions; and this mere juxtaposition is made an apology for stringing them all up together into one historical romance. We should not care very much if this only destroyed the unity of the piece -but it also sensibly weakens its interestand reduces it from the rank of a comprehensive and engaging narrative, in which every event gives and receives importance from its connexion with the rest, to that of a mere collection of sketches, relating to the same period and state of society.
The character of the hero, we also think, is more than usually a failure. He is not only a reasonable and discreet person, for whose prosperity we need feel no great apprehension, but he is gratuitously debased by certain infirmities of a mean and somewhat sordid description, which suit remarkably ill with the heroic character. His prudent deportment at the gaming table, and his repeated borrowings of money, have been already hinted at; and we may add, that when interrogated by Heriot about the disguised damsel who is found with him in the Tower, he makes up a false story for the occasion, with a cool promptitude of invention, which reminds us more of Joseph Surface and his French milliner, than of the high-minded son of a stern puritanical Baron of Scotland.
These are the chief faults of the work; and they are not slight ones. Its merits do not require to be specified. They embrace all to which we have not specially objected. The general brilliancy and force of the colouring, the ease and spirit of the design, and the strong touches of character, are all such as we have long admired in the best works of the author. Besides the
King and Richie Moniplies, at whose merits we have already hinted, it would be unjust to pass over the prodigious strength of writing that distinguishes the part of Mrs. Martha Trapbois, and the inimitable scenes, though of a coarse and revolting complexion, with Duke Hildebrod and the miser of Alsatia. The Templar Lowestoffe, and Jin Vin, the aspiring apprentice, are excellent sketches of their kind. So are John Christie and his frail dame. Lord Dalgarno is more questionable. There are passages of extraordinary spirit and ability in this part; but he turns out too atrocious. Sir Mungo Malagrowther wearies us from the beginning, and so does the horologist Ramsay- because they are both exaggerated and unnatural characters. We scarcely see enough of Margaret Ramsay to forgive her all her irregularities, and her high fortune; but a great deal certainly of what we do see is charmingly executed. Dame Ursula is something between the vulgar gossiping of Mrs. Quickly in the Merry Wives of Windsor, and the atrocities of Mrs. Turner and Lady Suffolk; and it is rather a contamination of Margaret's purity to have used such counsel.
We have named them all now, or nearly-and must at length conclude. Indeed, nothing but the fascination of this author's pen, and the difficulty of getting away from him, could have induced us to be so particular in our notices of a story, the details of which will so soon be driven out of our heads by other details as interesting and as little fated to be remembered. There are other two books coming, we hear, in the course of the winter; and by the time there are four or five, that is, in about eighteen months hence, we must hold ourselves prepared to give some account of them.