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of native literature. When a writer knows that every sentiment which he utters, will subject him to a practical evidence of the dissent of those whose disapprobation it may meet, it requires a powerful resolution to escape the trammels which such knowledge is fitted to impose—an under current, unsuspected, perhaps, by himself, is set, of perilous influence upon his sincerity and impartiality, and unless he be constantly aided by the stronger power of an opposing rectitude and firmness of purpose, he degenerates into a mere trimmer and time-server, the sport of every shifting puff of the popular gale. If independence be not sustained by the public hand, it can accomplish nothing—it is a flower, which, if on it the baleful breath of party-spirit of any description be permitted to blow, must soon wither and die. Whilst, therefore, we shall follow the counsel of the great dramatist and philosopher,
“Not to stint
we shall hope for that support, which in such an undertaking especially as ours, those only who are in the habit of “swearing by no masters,” have a right to expect. Testimonium veritati, non amicitia reddas, is an exhortation of Semeca, which should be the motto of every review. If any branch of composition demands in an especial manner the extenuation of nothing, it is without question this of romance. Excellence here is indispensable; mediocrity is worse than useless. None other is so pregnant with peril to both the heart and the head of the reader; none exercises so extensive and predominant a sway; and unless works of this species result from a combination of virtue and genius, the perusal of them, to say the least, is a miserable waste of time. Too much scrupulousness can scarcely be exerted, particularly with respect to their influence upon morals. If the effect of the fiction be not the inculcation of truth, and truth of a character of which ignorance is not bliss, nothing should be permitted to rescue it from amathema. The cause of good morals is that of good taste. The latter cannot exist unconnected with the former. He who is incapable of appreciating moral truth, cannot long be competent to perceive that which, for the sake of contradistinction, may be termed intellectual. We are firmly convinced, that both are receiving material injury from the torrent of novels which comes unceasingly from the press, confounding the attributes of good and evil, sweeping away the landmarks of purity and sense, and deluging the public mind with the foulest waters of every species of corruption; and it behoves all who are in any way invested with the guardianship of literature and morals, to strain every nerve to arrest the destructive course of the flood. We have never felt more disposed to commit a book to the flames, than whilst reading or trying to read this tale of Carolina. What object of utility or pleasure could the author have seriously deemed such a work fitted to accomplish? A more disgusting quagmire of absurdity and monstrosity, it has never been our misfortune to wade through; and if he fancies that he has placed fanaticism in the salutary odious light, which seems to have been his design, he is much mistaken in the fond belief. By endeavouring to do too much, he has done nothing for his purpose. He has completely failed, by aiming with that improvident ambition which “o'erleaps itself.” The horrors which he has piled one upon the other, doubt. less with the idea that they would thus attain the elevation of the sublime, throw such an aspect of ridiculous and revolting improbability upon the entire narrative, as completely to frustrate its object. Famaticism might without question produce effects even more horrible, if possible, than those which are here attempted to be displayed; but to render them credible, a very different course must be pursued from that of the present writer—quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi, is a line which might have been made expressly for his picture. He seems himself to have obtained some faint glimpse of the extravagance of his efforts, and takes several opportunities to assure his readers that he does not transgress the bounds of fact, quoting from the history of Carolina, certificates, as it were, of some of the most atrocious of his incidents as well as of the groundwork of his story. Such, however, being the case, he has contrived to divest truth, in a most efficacious style, of every thing like probability, we had almost said possibility. That le vrai n'est pas toujours le vraisemblable, is abundantly testified by his pages. Truths, indeed, of the description of those which he has employed, are altogether unfit to be dragged before the public gaze in their naked hideousness. “Si j'avois la main pleine de vérites,” said the circumspect Frenchman; “je me garderois bien de l'ouvrir,” and in an especial manner is the remark applicable to such truths as these. From the preface, in which not an ill written outline of the early history of Carolina is given, we were induced to expect a work which would furnish something like an interesting picture of the region and the people amid which the scene is laid. A fine field was open in the political situation of the colony at the period selected, when the volcano which was soon to burst forth to the destruction of oppression and despotism, was beginning its portentous throes; and in connexion with it the miserable religious delusions, which then prevailed to a certain extent, might have been turned to signal account. They could have been rendered an impressive and effective shade to a picture at once replete with instruction and interest; but as we have already intimated, nothing is offered but an intolerable series of the operations of the grossest hypocrisy and the most stupid fanaticism. Before we had proceeded very far in the perusal of the work, it appeared to us that we had fallen upon an egregious subject for ridicule, but the second volume convinced us it was beyond even that. From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step —how many steps are there from the ridiculous to the disgusting? Such a pretty villain as the hero, was scarcely ever before conceived by a brain the most prolific of monsters. The author's own description of him is too delectable to be omitted. “There were four predominant vices in the character of Peter Rombert—the first was an inordinate self-conceit; the second, an avarice that coveted but to squander; the third, a base sensuality, as untameable as it was brutal; and the fourth, a crav. ing ambition, so restless and insatiable, that half the time it knew not for what it strove—his hypocrisy was subservient to all these; and had it not been for the uncontroulable nature of his temper, he would have been a still more dangerous man; but Providence never intended that man should be perfect in any thing, and least of all in villamy.” A pleasant companion, certainly, this almost faultless monster, to be associated with for the space of two mortal volumes of more than two hundred and fifty pages each! We are, however, not restricted entirely to the company of this agreeable gentleman, as a number of very angelic beings are brought into communion with him, in order that he may be enabled to exercise his commendable qualities upon them in a characteristic way, which he unquestionably does “with a vengeance.” But we have no room to go into any account of his edifying career, even if we had the inclination. We do not, we confess, apprehend much danger from the work, as nothing but the dogged resolution of a reviewer, determined to see the affair to an end for the purposes of his vocation, could enable any one to resist the temptation of treating it in the manner we indicated in the outset. It is almost as dull as it is reprehensible, the story being clumsily wrought; the interest, if ever excited, rarely sustained; and the characters for the most part awakening no sympathy whatever. Against all such productions we enter our most earnest protest: and were it for no other object than to prevent their spread, and arrest the injury which they are calculated to produce, we would beseech the Coopers, the Irvings, the Birds, the Sedgwicks, the Pauldings, not to allow their pens to be idle. Weeds will grow if flowers do not occupy the soil. That the work in question gives occasional signs of talent, cannot be denied; and if the author would exert it in a reputable manner, we should rejoice to bear our humble testimony to his success.
Rookwood: A Romance. By W. Harrison Ainsworth. From the Second London Edition. 2 vols. 12mo, pp. 412. Philadelphia: 1834.
MR. AINsworth, who, we understand, is a writer of melo-dramas for the London stage, has thought proper to present the world with a fiction, which appears to bear nearly the same relation to a regular novel, that a melo-drama bears to a regular play. As an apology for the abundance of stage effect, and the utter disregard of probability which his work displays, he has termed it a romance. He tells us, in his preface to the second edition, that “a romance was evidently wanted, and that the public were ready to receive the first that appeared with open arms”—and thus he accounts for the sale of his first edition. We may be able, in the sequel, to assign some other reasons for that remarkable phenomenon. The public, at least the American portion of it, are, no doubt, ever ready to bestow the meed of praise upon any composition, in which a proper choice of the field, and a masterly execution in every respect, shall vindicate a claim to the respectable name of romance. The recent success of one of our own writers in this department of fiction, has settled that point. But the readers of the English language—those who have assigned their respective niches in the Temple of Fame to Scott, Edgeworth, Irving, and Cooper, will undoubtedly refuse to the writer of “Rookwood,” elated though he may be with his ephemeral success, any other title than that of a maker of flashy melo-dramas, even although he may print each of his meretricious productions in three volumes and call it a romance. The story of “Rookwood” is constructed with that utter disregard of probability —that sublime contempt of human motives and impulses—that magical annihilation of the difficulties of time, space, and stubborn matter, which are no where else to be found, except in the Arabian Tales, or the marvellous narratives so happily ridiculed in Don Quixote. The descriptions have something of the gloom and extravagance of Radcliffe, without any of her wild beauty and touching repose—and the characters are for the most part monstrous, from the circumstance of their being composed of traits which cannot possibly co-exist. We have too much regard for our readers, to inflict upon them an outline of the story; but to satisfy them of the truth of our assertions, we will give them a specimen of the incidents, the description, and the characters. We will take for example the incidents of a few hours. Luke Bradley, a youth who has been brought up in a camp of gipseys, has suddenly acquired the knowledge that he is the eldest son of the deceased Sir Piers Rookwood, and is consequently heir to the estates of his late father, under the title of Sir Luke Rookwood. Having just escaped from imprisonment in his own house, he is riding on horseback to a gipsey encampment, to visit young Sybil, a girl of the tribe, whom he ardently loves, and to whom he has long been betrothed. His grandfather, a disguised Rookwood, who has long been the sexton of the family, is
mounted behind him on the horse, and by his suggestion, that the gipsey girl will not make a courtly and fashionable Lady Rookwood, nearly persuades him to abandon her and marry Eleanor Mowbray, his cousin. Before reaching the encampment they meet with Dick Turpin, a highwayman, who, by a melo-dramatic conjuncture of circumstances, has become possessed of the marriage certificate which proves Sir Luke's legitimacy. He goes with them to the camp, to arrange the terms on which he will sell the important document to Luke. On their arrival there, Sybil declines to marry Luke, from the wise reasons which have occurred to her as well as the old sexton, but at the same time forbids him to marry Eleanor. She then goes to her grandmother, Barbara, the queen of the gipseys, and discusses with her a mysterious prophecy of Barbara's, which requires a Rookwood to marry a Rookwood, in order to enjoy peacefully the estates; and the old woman requires Sybil to assist her in a very feasible scheme, to marry Luke to Eleanor, murder Eleanor, then marry him to the said Sybil, and so fulfil the prophecy and enjoy the estates peaceably and respectably. In this wise scheme the author undertakes to assist, to a certain extent; and it is marvellous to see with what dexterity he pulls the wires of his puppet characters, in order to accomplish his purpose. He makes Dick Turpin leave the camp just long enough to intercept Eleanor and her mother on their way from the funeral of Sir Piers (whither an inscrutable impulse and the will of the author had sent them), and bring them, together with a priest conveniently present, to the encampment. They are conducted into an old priory, very commodiously fitted up for the author's purposes with a subterraneous chapel and secret passages. Here the plot thickens with a vengeance. Old Barbara is ready with her band of gipseys, who surround the priory and prevent all egress. The first thing the old queen of the gipseys does, is to give the fainting Eleanor a love philtre to make her love Luke (she being the betrothed spouse of Ranulph, Luke's younger brother). Spirit of Scott! a love philtre' to accomplish the purposes of a novelist in this enlightened nineteenth century! The girl takes it and consents to marry Luke. ,
But it is the author's design that she shall not quite marry him. Who shall prevent it? Tax thy invention to the utmost, reader, thou wilt never guess. This consummation is to be prevented by no other than Sybil, the gipsey girl, who will thus defeat all her wise grandmother's schemes for her advancement. Sybil comes in, falls in love with Eleanor, and determines to save her. After a tissue of extravagant incidents, which it would be tedious to follow, the parties descend into a subterraneous chapel, to perform the marriage ceremony. When it is begun, their only torch is extinguished, and, in the dark, Sybil substitutes her hand for Eleanor's, and is married to Luke. The old queen, somewhat embarrassed on discovering this contre temps, commands Sybil to poison Eleanor. They go into a convenient subterranean recess for this purpose; but here Sybil exacts an oath from Eleanor that she will marry Luke, and then poisons herself!!!
The incidents of this stirring day are wound up, in the true melo-dramatic style, with a general battle between the retainers of the Rookwood family, and the whole tribe of the gipseys.
We think our readers will be satisfied with this specimen of the incidents. It may well be inquired whether the literary world has declined to such a state of Vandalism as to tolerate such trash as this. Shall a writer of fiction be allowed to save himself all the trouble of supplying probable motives and feelings to his characters? Shall he be allowed to annihilate all the probabilities of time, place, and action? Shall he use impossible instruments—love philtres, omnipotent old women, and disinterested highwaymen 2 Genius of true romance forbid!
We may now furnish a specimen of the author's descriptive powers. This of course must be done in his own words; and that we may not be accused of injustice, we will quote from a pet chapter—the last—the one with which he caps the climax; and at the end of which he drops the curtain, expecting, no doubt, his mine rounds of rapturous applause.
“The footsteps drew near to the mouth of the vault—it was upon the stairs— Alan stepped forward to greet, as he supposed, his grandson, but started back in astonishment and dismay, as he encountered, in his stead, Lady Rookwood. Alan retreated, while the Lady advanced, swinging the iron door after her, which closed with a tremendous clang. Approaching the statue of the first Sir Ranulph, she paused, and Alam then remarked the singular and terrible expression of her eyes, which appeared to be fixed upon the statue, or upon some invisible object mear it. There was something in her whole attitude and manner, calculated to impress the deepest terror on the beholder. And Alan gazed upon her with an awe which momently increased. Lady Rookwood's bearing was as proud and erect as we have formerly described it to have been—her brow was as haughtily bent—her chiseled lip as disdainfully curled, but the staring, changeless eye, and the deep-heaved sob, which occasionally escaped her, betrayed how much she was under the influence of mortal terror. Alan watched her in amazement. He knew not how the scene was likely to terminate, nor what could have induced her to visit this ghostly spot, at such an hour, and alone; but he resolved to abide the issue in silence—profound as her own. After a time, however, his impatience got the better of his fears and scruples, and he spoke.
‘What doth Lady Rookwood in the abode of the dead?’ asked he, at length.
“She started at the sound of his voice, but still kept her eye fixed upon the vaCarl C.W.,
* Hast thou not beckoned me hither, and am I not come?' returned she, in a hollow tone. “And now thou asketh wherefore I am here. I am here, because, as in thy life I feared thee not, neither in death do I fear thee—I am here because—”
“What seest thou?" interrupted Peter, with ill-suppressed terror.
“What see I—ha-ha-' shouted Lady Rookwood, amidst discordant laughter— ‘that which might appal a heart less stout than mine—a figure anguish writhen, with veins that glow as with a subtle and consuming flame. A substance yet a shadow, in thy living likeness—ha-—frown if thou wilt, I can return thy glances—'
* Where dost thou see this vision?” demanded Alan.
“Where?' echoed Lady Rookwood, becoming for the first time sensible of the presence of a stranger. “Ha—who art thou that questionest me?—what art thou?— speak!’ *::: matter who or what I am, returned Alan,—“I ask thee what thou dost behold.”
• Canst thou see nothing?”
* Nothing,' replied Alan.
* Thou didst know Sir Piers Rookwood?”
“Is it he?' asked Alan, drawing near her.
• It is he,' replied Lady Rookwood; “I have followed him hither, and I will follow him whithersoever he leads me, were it to *
* What doth he now?" asked Alam, ‘see’st thou him still?”
* The figure points to that sarcophagus,' returned Lady Rookwood. “Canst raise up the lid?”
‘No,' replied Alan, “my strength will not avail to lift it.’
* Yet let the trial be made,’ said Lady Rookwood; “the figure points there still— my own arm shall aid thee."
“Alan watched her in dumb wonder. She advanced towards the marble monument, and beckoned him to follow. Reluctantly did he comply. Without any expectation of being able to move the ponderous lid of the sarcophagus, at Lady Rookwood's renewed request, he applied himself to raise it. What was his surprise, when, beneath their united efforts, he found the ponderous slab slowly revolve upon its vast hinges, and with little further difficulty, it was completely elevated; though it still o the exertion of all Alan's strength to prop it open, and prevent its falling