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and in opening the several and separate actions which are interwoven in the novel and all this is accomplished by rapid and graphic touches, that place the men and the scenes before you, and let you at once into their passions, interests, and designs, without a single formal portrait or description. Had the development of his plot to the same point, been attempted in the regular narrative form, it would have taken up a volume. But hcrc, half an hour's conversation among some soldiers of Cortes's army lounging under a tree by the lake side, in view of Mexico, serves to make us acquainted with all the leading characters of the piece, and brings us at once " in medias res.” When we have read it, we feel as much at home in the new scene of action, as if we had shaken hands with Bernal Diaz himself, and heard the quaint cid annalist expatiate on the conqueror's actions; and scen him shake his head mys. teriously at his designs.
The promise held forth in this splendid overture, is fully redeemed in the execu. tion of the work. Almost every part of it displays the same strength of conception and felicity of execution. The interview of Cortes and the Mexican ambassadors, is characterized by the same features of power and beauty. The barharians speak and act in character; and the reception of their offers and their defiance, by the Great Captain, serve to display the peculiar features of his character in their true light. We may remark liere that Bird differs from most writers of fiction, in the circumstance of drawing his Indian characters from the lie. They are real savages. Their ideas are consistent with their condition; and none of the refinements of civi. lization are ever suffered to disturb the truth and fidelity with which they are de. lineated. The character of Gustimozin, as displayed in this novel, may challenge comparison with that of any savage in the whole range of fiction. The beautiul simplicity and purity of Zelahualla, may at first seem too sublimated for a barbarian; but it is by no means inconsistent with the authentic accounts of the Mexican princesses. Her interviews with Juan are among the most attractive portions of the narrative.
The trial and execution of Villafana afford a fine opportunity for the display of the author's powers. The scene is highly effective. Effective in a physical point of view it could hardly fail to be in any hands; but the author, according to his uniform practice in such cases, has rendered the moral far more striking than the physical effect. His power is displayed, not in the assemblage of circumstances of bodily suffering which shock the senses, but in the development of moral traits and emotions, which address themselves irresistibly to the understanding and the heart. The bitter scorn and sarcasm of Cortes as lays his hand upon the shoulder of Villa. fana, and deliberately prohes his inmost soul, would not be unworthy of the pen that delineated Iago and Richard. The scenic effect of the trial and death, is lost in the truly dramatic effect of the dialogue.
Where the real physical horrors supplied by the history are very abundantprecisely such horrors too as an inferior writer would revel in, and which many critics would regard his dilating upon as an evidence of power--thcre, cur author spares the feelings of his reader a finished picture, and contents himself with the slightest sketch; a single circumstance is sclected, and the rest is left to the imagination—as, for example, in the terrible famine to which the city of Mexico was reduced during the siege. Here one of our intense writers would have delighted himself, and excruciated his readers with a minute description of scene after scene of intense suffering—and all the records at hand of sieges and shipwrecks would have been ransacked, to furnish the most shocking circumstances of death by in. anition. Such is not the practice of the author of the “Infidel.” One circumstance, chosen with judgment and related without parade, serves to tell the whole story.
One of the personages passing through the garden of the King's palace, observes that every leaf and every blade and root of grass has been removed for food. The reader's own mind is left to conceive the extremity of famine which could have produced such an effect. The author's business is with man—moral, intellectual man. The physical world is ever kept in due subservience. Natural beauty and sublimity are displayed in all their striking and glowing features; but always with reference to the development of the human character and destiny.
The character of Cortes is much more fully displayed in the “ Infidel" than in “Calavar;" and perhaps there is no better evidence of the author's ability in either work, than his success in this difficult undertaking, Most of the attempts to intro. duce historical characters, and give them a leading agency in works of this class, since the time of Scott, have been decided failures. In almost every instance which we now recollect, these personages are made to speak and act entirely out of character. They become modernised or assimilated to the creations of the author's own fancy, in such a degree as to do and say all sorts of impossible things. But in the character of Cortes, as delineated in both these novels, there is not a trait which is not fully warranted by contemporary history. He performs a very im. portant part in the “Infidel;” and the light thrown upon his character by the full and just display of it which is thus effected, affords a commentary on his history of the most desirable and interesting kind. Let it not be supposed that we are speaking at random in this matter, or that there is any exaggeration in giving such a degree of authority to the details of a historical novel. The manner in which the materials for this delineation of Cortes were obtained, and the fidelity with which they are employed, give them a uniform stamp of truth and reality; and we may take our idea of the real conqueror with as much security from Bird as from Bernal Diaz himself.
The “ Infidel" is on the whole superior to “ Calavar.” In strength of conception, invention, and power of description, there is hardly a perceptible difference. But in style, in dramatic effect, in general ease and felicity of execution, and in the combination of materials and concentration of action, it is clearly superior. With respect to the latter qualities, there might be some doubt at first. The story of “Calavar” is more strictly single and consecutive than that of the “Infidel.” But a few moments' examination will show that this arises from the wide difference in the materials, and especially in the historical position of the personages who are necessarily to figure in the narrative. More power of combination was required, in order to give a proper degree of unity and compactness to the fable in the later work, and more was actually exerted.
The Yemassee. A Romance. By the author of Guy Rivers, &c.
2 vols. 1835.
It would be an amusing task to place in juxta-position the various criticisms, as they are styled by the courtesy of our mother tongue, which have been written con. cerning this romance, and the previous work of its author—Guy Rivers; at the same time that it would furnish a delectable commentary upon the system of puffing, which obtains at present to an extent so lamentable for the true interests of litera. ture. Guy Rivers was eulogized from one end of the country to the other, as a faultless monster_a production further than which the force of nature could not go; and the Yemassee is pronounced in the same quarters a decided improvement upon it--a specimen, we suppose, of what we once heard a French showman call
an animal that he was exhibiting-la plus parfaite perfection, une perfection si inexprimable, qu'elle ne peut pas être exprimée. It is thus that the extravagant praise which is lavished upon inferior objects, drives the bestowers of it into the perpetration of downright absurdity, when something better is offered to their eulogistic propensities, rendering merited encomium a mere farce; for we humbly submit, in spite of the weighty authority of the philosophical Frenchman whose language we have quoted, that perfection cannot be made more perfect—that faultlessness cannot be decidedly improved.
Fortunately for us, not having been enthusiastic admirers of Guy Rivers, or fallen into ecstacies about it in our critical capacity, we may express an agreement with the opinion that the present work is greatly superior to it, without becoming obnoxious to the imputation of uttering nonsense. The Yemassee is undoubtedly so much more creditable a production in every way than the previous compositions of Mr. Simms, that it may well authorize the hope that he will render himself as justly, as he is said to be actually, popular. It evinces the possession of a mine which, if it be properly worked, will be the producer of coin worthy of the freest circulation throughout the domain of literature. But this will never be the case, if Mr. Simms allows himself to believe that it is the case now; if he puts faith in the inconsiderate, undiscriminating adulation of those who would stifle his genius with excessive perfume, causing it, as it were, to die of a rose in aromatic pain. He has by no means accomplished all that we are sure he is capable of doing, if he will not wrap himself up in that cloak of self-sufficiency by which the movements of the loftiest intellect must be impeded. We should draw a favourable inference upon this head, from the Yemassee, in which he seems to have benefited in a material degree by the animadversions which were made upon the monstrosities of Guy Rivers, in avoiding all sins of the kind; although, it is true, he throws a sort of Parthian arrow in his preface at those by whom they were condemned, stoutly maintaining, in a most sophistical theory, that they are perfectly justifiable, whilst he abandons farther meddling with them in practice.
The merits of the Yemassee, which both in quality and quantity are without question such as to render it on the whole a novel of no ordinary merit, have been so emblazoned and re-emblazoned that it would be needless to enter into any detail of them here. They are indeed almost entirely of that protuberant order which strike at once—few if any of those more delicate and unobtrusive beauties which are scarcely noticed at first, being discoverable in the work. The general interest of the story—a most important point; the stirring nature of most of the incidents; some superior detached scenes; powerful contrasts of character; one or two fine portraitures; and several excellent descriptions, are merits which all must recognise. But all their excellence is requisite to counterbalance the defects with which they are associated; and we know not how we could pay a greater compliment to the work than by affirming that these are counterbalanced, for they are neither few nor inconsiderable.
In the first place we must take the liberty of remarking that Mr. Simms has not yet learnt his trade—that he does not know how to write—and that in consequence he often mars some of his finest imaginings by the manner in which he expresses them. A more exceptionable style than his we have rarely encountered in any volume of the slightest pret sions. We might fill more pages than our readers would thank us for doing, with egregious specimens of English, culled from his pages, which, if they did not puzzle their understanding, would certainly provoke their laughter. A “superabundant redundancy" of words to convey the simplest idea, involving it in a cloud which almost conceals it from view--conceits in
numerable, one of which, the epithet bestowed upon flowers of “idiots of the forest," should entitle its author to a patent—vulgarisms of phraseology indicative of any thing but a sedulous study of classic models, and these frequently by the side of the most ambitious attempts, imparting an aspect of tawdryism and what is called the shabby genteel, resembling a coat out at the elbow bedizened with gold lace-unwarrantable coinings of words, and employment of others in a way that no grammar nor dictionary would justify-sentences of clumsy construction—and inopportune and ludicrous use of French terms, particularly of the word abandon, the meaning of which Mr. Simms evidently does not comprehend—are all vices with which his style is replete, and which we do hope he will endeavour to correct.
In the management of the story there is at times a want of skill, especially in that part in which the escape of Harrison, the siege of the Block House, and the love phrenzy of Hugh Grayson, are dove-tailed together. Powerfully as each of these incidents is worked up in a separate point of view, they are not combined in that unembarrassed artist-like manner which, amid a multiplicity of details, semper ad eventum festinat. The author evidently seems here to have got into an imbroglio, from which he does not see clearly how to extricate himself; and at length he accomplishes the matter as well as he may. If, however, he is sometimes at fault in rescuing himself from difficulty, he makes up for it by a singular faculty of saving his personages from destruction when no one else could. He discharges for them all the functions which Homer makes his deities perform for the benefit of his warriors, in the way of snatching them from death, when they are absolutely in the gripe of the grim monster—functions to which, in ancient times, nothing short of supernatural power was deemed competent, but which are mere trifles to your modern novelist, who thinks nothing of tumbling his ladies and gentlemen over precipices in order to have the pleasure of picking them up alive. A much greater miracle than the march of Birnam wood to Dunsinane, would seem requisite to destroy such charmed lives as those of the white hero and heroine of the Yemassee. A damsel who had been saved from the poisonous fangs of a rattlesnake, just as they were entering her delicate flesh; who twice on one night was saved by her venerable and peaceable old sire from the murderous knife of the savage, when it was upon the very thread of her existence; and then was saved by her lover's shooting, à la mode de Tell, a ruffian, who was carrying her off in his arms, and held her before him to shield himself—might certainly, without presumption, have deemed herself invulnerable to the shafts of fate, and was a very fit wise for a hero, who “in the most interesting crises of his life,” to use our author's phrase, when more than once his “indignant soul” is about to come “rushing through his wounds,” is preserved from that disagreeable escapade by the interposition of a jewel of a dog; who dashes through a whole host of Indians, and makes them believe he is an entire army; and who, when he can be rescued in no other way, is saved by the very murderer that attempts to assassinate him, who relents in the very nick of time, whilst his dagger is descending to inflict the mortal stab! Hairbreadth 'scapes are doubtless interesting affairs, but resurrections in any work but “ Tom Thumb" we must be allowed to “gulp at.”
In dialogue, our author does not invariably shine. The conversations of lovers are said to be generally foolish, and he takes especial care not to disprove the assertion. May we never be in love, if we must say and listen to such things as delight the tongues and ears of Bess and Harrison, both persons whom we admire and like vastly, at almost every other time than when they are engaged in cooing! There is more sense, and truth, and eloquence, and every thing else that is valuable, in the colloquy between Lord Craven and that admirable specimen of " darkness visible,"
old Hector, in which the latter refuses his freedom, than in all the interlocutions by which the work is recommended to the good will of sighing swains and damsels. A better argument in favour of the continuance of slavery, after it has become a habit, has rarely been made, than that of the honest namesake of the Trojan hero. We do not relish the discussions between Hugh Grayson and Bess; they are tedious, and somewhat nonsensical.
The only decided failure among the characters is the patriotic leech, Dr. Nichols, than whom a greater bore and abortion we have never wished to be delivered from. Humour is not by any means the forte of Mr. Simms; and we would strenuously advise him to be as sparing in its employment as possible, if the Doctor is a sample
his abilities in that line. The mother of the Graysons seems to be an imitation of the “mither” of Cuddie in Old Mortality, but the copy is more perceptible in the intention than the execution. As to Dugdale, although we consider him a dog that would reflect no discredit upon any canine associution, cven that of the faithful quadrupcd of Ulysses, we are rather inclined to think, that the introduction of four. footed personages into novels is a matter which is overdone. We have not space, however, to discuss this high question now; and conclude with heartily wishing Mr. Simms all the success which he will deserve if he takes time and pains, caring less for quantity than quality, and remembering that in literature as in every thing else, “the more hurry the less speed.”