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The Fortunes of Nigel. By the Author of "Waverley," i: Kenilworth," &c. In 3 vols. 12mo. pp. 950. Edinburgh: Constable & Co. 1822.
It was a happy thought in us to review this author's works in groups, rather than in single pieces; for we should never otherwise have been able to keep up both with him and with our other business. Even as it is. we find we have let him run so far ahead, that we have now rather more of him on hand than we can well get through at a sitting; and are in danger of forgetting the early part of the long series of etories to which we are thus obliged to look back, or of finding it forgotten by the public—or at least of having the vast assemblage of events and characters that now lie before us something jumbled and confounded, both in our own recollections, and that of our admiring readers.
Our last particular notice, we think, was of Ivanhoe, in the end of 1819; and in the two years that have since elapsed, we have had ¡he Monastery, the Abbot, Kenilworth, the Pirates, and Nigel,—one, two, three, four, five —large original works from the same fertile and inexhaustible pen. It is a strange manufacture! and, though depending entirely on invention and original fancy, really seems to proceed with all the steadiness and regularity of a thing that was kept in operation by industry and application alone. Our whole fraternity, for example, with all the works of all other writers to supply them with material?, are not half so sure of bringing out their two volumes in the year, as this one author, with nothing but his own genius to depend on, is of bringing out his six or seven. There is no instance of any such experiment being M long continued with success; and, according to all appearances, it is just as far from a termination now, as it was at the beginning. If it were only for the singularity of the thing, it would be worth while to chronicle the actual course and progress of this extraordinary adventure.
Of the two first works we have mentioned, the Monastery and Ihe Abbot, we have the least to say; and we believe the public have the least curiosity to know our opinion. They are certainly the least meritorious of the whole series, either subsequent or preceding; and while they are decidedly worse than the other works of the same author, we are not sure that we can say, as we have done of some of his other failures, that they are better than those of any other recent writer of fiction.— So conspicuous, indeed, was their inferiority, that we at one time apprehended that we should have been called upon to interfere before our time, and to admonish the author of the hazard to which he was exposing his fame. But as he has since redeemed that 'lip, we ehall now pase it over lightly, and
merely notice one or two things that still live in our remembrance.
We do not think the White Lady, and the other supernatural agencies, the worst blemish of "The Monastery." On the contrary, the first apparition of the spirit by her lonely fountain (though borrowed from Lord Byron's Witch of the Alps in Manfred), as well as the effect of the interview on the mind of the young aspirant to whom she reveals herself, have always appeared to us to be very beautifully imagined: But we must confess, that their subsequent descent into an alabaster cavern, and the seizure of a stolen Bible from an altar blazing with cold flames, is a fiction of a more ignoble stock; and looks very like an unlucky combination of a French fairy tale and a dull German romance. The Euphuist too. Sir Piercie Shafton, is a mere nuisance throughout. Nor can we remember any incident in an unsuccessful farce more utterly absurd and pitiable, than the remembrance of tailorship that is supposed to be conjured up in the mind of this chivalrous person, by the presentment of the fairy's bodkin to his eyes. There is something ineffably poor at once, and extravagant, in the idea of a solid silver implement being taken from the hair of a spiritual and shadowy being, for the sage purpose of making an earthly coxcomb angry to no end ;—while our delight at this happy imagination is not a little heightened by reflecting that it is all the time utterly unintelligible, how the mere exhibition of a lady's bodkin should remind any man of a tailor in his pedigree—or be thought to import such a disclosure to the spectators.
But, notwithstanding these gross faults, and the general flatness of the monkish parts— including that of the Sub-prior, which is a failure in spite of considerable labour — it would be absurd to rank this with common novels, or even to exclude it from the file of the author's characteristic productions. It has both humour, and fancy and pathos enough, to maintain its title to such a distinction.— The aspiring temper of Halbert Glendinning, the rustic establishment of Glendearg, the picture of Christie of Clinthill, and, above all, the scenes at the castle of Avene], are all touched with the hand of a master. Julian's dialogue, or soliloquy rather, to his hawk, in presence of his paramour, with its accompaniments and sequel, is as powerful as any thing the author has produced; and the tragic and historical scenes that lead to the conclusion are also, for the most part, excellent. It ¡я а work, in short, which pleases more upon a second reading than at first—as we not only pass over the Euphuism and other dull pasrages, but, being aware of its defects, no longer feel the disappointment and provocalion which are apt, on their first excitement, to make us unjust to its real merits.
In point of real merit, "The Abbot" is not much better, we think, than the Monastery— but it is fuller of historical painting, and, in the h'gher scenes, has perhaps a deeper and more exalted interest. The Popish zealots, •.vht'ther in the shape of prophetic crones or heroic monks, are very tiresome personages. Catherine Seyton is a wilful deterioration of Diana Vernon, and is far too pert and confident ; while her paramour Roland Grœme is, for a pood part of the work, little better than a blackguard boy, who should have had his head broken twice a day, and been put nightly in the stocks, for his impertinence. Some of the scenes at Lochleven are of a different pitch ;—-though the formal and measured sarcasms which the Queen and Lady Douglas interchange with such solemn verbosity, have a very heavy and unnatural effect. These faults, however, are amply redeemed by the beauties with which they are mingled. There are some grand passages, of enthusiasm and devoted courage, in Catherine Seyton. The escape from Lochleven is given with great effect and spirit—and the subsequent mustering of the Queen's adherents, and their march to Langside, as well as the battle itself, are full of life and colouring. The noble bearing and sad and devoted love of George Douglas —the brawl on the streets of Edinburgh, and the scenes at Holyrood, both serious and comic, as well as many of the minor characters, such as the Ex-abbot of St. Mary's metamorphosed info the humble gardener of Lochleven, are all in the genuine manner of the author, and could not have proceeded from any other hand. On the whole, however, the work is unsatisfactory, and too deficient in design and unity. We do not know why it should have been called "The Abbot." as that personage has scarcely any thing to do with it. As an historical sketch, it has neither beginning nor end ;—nor does the time which it embraces possess any peculiar interest:—and for a history of Roland Cíteme, which is the only denomination that can give it coherence, the narrative is not only far too slight and insignificant in itself, but is too much broken in upon by higher persons and weightier affairs, to retain any of the interest which it might otherwise have possessed.
"Konilworth," however, is a flight of another wing—and rises almost, if not altogether, to the level of Ivanhoe ;—displaying. ]>erhaps. as much power in assembling tofiethiT. and distributing in striking groups, the copious historical materials of that romantic age, as the other does in eking out their scantiness by the riches of the author's imagination. Elizabeth liersc:!, surrounded as she is with lively and imposing recollections, was a difficult personage to bring prominently forward in a work of fiction: But the '.ask, we think, is here not only fearlessly, but admirably performed; and the character brought out. not merely with the most un
sparing fulness, but with the most brilliant and seducing effect. Leicester is less Ьаррт and we have certainly a great deal too much both of the blackguardism of Michael Lambourne, the atrocious villany of Vamey and Foster, and the magical dealings of Alain and Wayland Smith. Indeed, almost all iilower agents in the performance have a so.-. of Demoniacal character; and the deep arc disgusting guilt by which most of the main incidents are developed, make a splendid passage of English history read like the Newgale Calendar, and give a certain horror to tastory, which is neither agreeable to bittor:caj truth, nor attractive in a work of imagiuaLo.'i The great charm and glory of-the pen however, consists in the magnificence ü.u vivacity of the descriptions with which:: abounds; and which set before our eyes, v и a freshness and force of colouring which a:. scarcely ever be gained except by actual 4servation, all the pomp and stateline^s. Iik glitter and solemnity, of that heroic rei-. The moving picture of Elizabeth's night et :iy to Kenilworth is given with such spirit. Miness, and copiousness of detail, that we «em actually transported to the middle of the scene. We feel the press, and hear the m¡>4 and the dm—and descry, amidst the la;i:rv lights of a summer eve, the majestical pnor cand waving banners that surround the ma.vof the heroic Queen; while the mixture o: ludicrous incidents, and the ennui that rtftls on the lengthened parade and fatiguin? prt'uration, give a sense of truth and reality to tit sketch that seems to belong rather to recri: recollection than mere ideal concfpt:on. Wt believe, in short, that we have at luis moment as lively and distinct an impression of :kwhole scene, as we shall have in a few wf4? of a similar joyous Entry, for which preparations are now making* in this our lena: nr tropolis,—and of which we hope, before ¡ha; time, to be spectators. The account of Le cester's princely hospitality, and of the гиг. divertisemenls that ensued.—the fea<t:i^ and huntings, the flatteries and dissembhi? the pride, the jealousy, the ambilion. the revenge,—are all portrayed with the same ai • mating pencil, and leave every thing bfh¡r¿ but some rival works of the same ипптаПеь artist. The most surprising piece of mor? description, however, that we have ever set-. is that of Amy's magnificent apartment» »1 Cumnor Place, and of the dress and beautv of the lovely creature for whom they »e:e adorned. We had no idea before litt opholstery and millinery could be made so engaging; and though we are aware that il ¡f the living Beauty that gives its enchantmer ¡ to the scene, andi breathes over the whole ал air of voluptuousness, innocence, and pity. '•'• is impossible not to feel that the vivid an! clear presentment of the visible object.« br which she is surrounded, and the ar.liqn' splendour in which she is enshrined, rot onir strengthen our impressions of the reality, bot
actually fascinate and delight us in themselves.—just as the draperies and still-life in a grand historical picture often divide our admiration with the pathetic effect of the story told by the principal figures. The catastrophe of the unfortunate Amy herself is too sickening and full of pity to be endured; and we shrink from the recollection of it, as we would from that of a recent calamity of our own. The part of Tressilian is unfortunate on the whole, though it contains touches of interest and beauty. The sketch of young Raleigh is splendid, and in excellent keeping with every thing beside it. More, we think, might have been made of the desolate age and broken-hearted anguish of Sir Hugh Robsart; though there are one or two little traits of his paternal love and crushed affection, that are inimitably sweet and pathetic, and which might have lost their effect, perhaps, if the scene had been extended. We do not care much about the goblin dwarf, nor the host, nor the mercer,—nor any of the other characters. The^ are all too fantastical and affected. They seem copied rather from the quaintness of old plays, than the reality of past and present nature; and serve better to show what manner of personages were to be met with in the Masks and Pageants of the age, than what were actually to be found in the living population of the land.
1:The Pirates" is a bold attempt to furnish ont a long and eventful story, from a very narrow circle of society, and a scene so circumscribed as scarcely to admit of any great scope or variety of action; and its failure, in so far ae it may be thought to have failed, should, i:i fairness, be ascribed chiefly to this scantiпем and defect of Ihe materials. The author, accordingly, has been obliged to borrow pretty largely from other regions. The character aaa story of Mertoun (which is at once common-place and extravagant),—that of the Pirate himself,—and that of Halcro the poet, have no connection with the localities of Shetland, or the peculiarities of an insular life. Mr. Vellowlees, though he gives occasion to wme strong contrasts, is in the same situation. The great blemish, however, of the work, ig the inconsistency in Cleveland's character, or rather the way in which he disappoints us, by turning out so much better Irian we had expected—and yet substantially so ill. So great, indeed, is this disappointment, and so strong the grounds of it. that we cannot help suspecting that the author hirneelf must have altered his design in the course of the work; and, finding himself at a loss how to make either a demon or a hero of the parsonage whom he had introduced with a view to one or other of these characters, betook himself to the expedient of leaving him in that neutral or mixed state, which, after all. suits the least with his conduct and situation, or with the effects which he is supposed to produce. All that we see of him is a daring, underbred, forward, heartless fellow— very unlikely, we should suppose, to captivate the affections of the high-minded, romantic Minna, or even to supplant an old •Í
friend in the favour of the honest Udallar. The charm of the book is in the pictuie of his family. Nothing can be more beautiful than the description of the two sisters, and the gentle and innocent affection that continues to unite them, even after love has come to divide their interests and wishes. The visit paid them by Norna, and the tale she tells them at midnight, lead to a fine display of the perfect purity of their young hearts, and the native gentleness and dignity of their character. There is, perhaps, still more genius in the development and full exhibition of their father's character: who is first introduced to us as little else than a jovial, thoughtless, hospitable housekeeper, but gradually discloses the most captivating traits, not only of kindness and courage, but of substantial generosity and delicacy of feeling, without ever departing, for an instant, from the frank homeliness of his habitual demeanour. Norna isa new incarnation of Meg Merrilees, and palpably the same in the spirit. Less degraded in her habits and associates, and less lofty and pathetic in her denunciations, she reconciles fewer contradictions, and is, on the whole, inferior perhaps to her prototype; but is far above the rank of a mere imitated or borrowed character. The Udaller's visit to her dwelling on the Fitful-head is admirably managed, and highly characteristic of both parties. Of the humorous characters, Yellowlees is the best. Few things, indeed, are better than the description of his equestrian progression to the feast of the Udaller. Claud Halcro is too fantastical; and peculiarly out of place, we should think, in such a region. A man who talks in quotations from common plays, and proses eternally about glorious John Dryden, luckily is not often to be met with anywhere, but least of all in the Orkney Islands. Bunce is liable to the same objection,—though there are parts of his character, as well ae that of Fletcher and the rest of the crew, given with infinite spirit and effect. The denouement of the story is strained and improbable, and the conclusion rather unsatisfactory: But the work, on the whole, opens up a new world to our curiosity, and affords another proof of the extraordinary pliability, as well as vigour, of the author's genius.
We come now to the work which has afforded us a pretext for this long retrospection, and which we have approached, as befitteth a royal presence, through this long vista of preparatory splendour. Considering that it has now been three months in the hands of the public—and must be about as well known to most of our readers as the older works to which we have just alluded—we do not very well see why we should not deal with it as
j summarily as we have done with them; and. sparing our dutiful readers the fatigue of toiling through a detail with which they are al
! ready familiar, content ourselves with marking our opinion of it in the same general and comprehensive manner that we have ventured to adopt as to those earlier productions. Thi§ accordingly is the course which, in the main, we propose to follow; though, for the sake of 2 v 2
WORKS OF FICTION. *
our distant readers, as well as to give more rests.
force and direct application to our general remarks, we must somewhat enlarge the scale of our critical notice. This work, though dealing abundantly in invention, is, in substance, like Old Mortality and Kenilworth, of an historical character, and may be correctly represented as an attempt to describe .#. by examples, the manners of the court, and *...} speaking, of the age, of James I. of England...And this, on the whole, is the most favourable aspect under which it can be considered; for, while it certainly presents us with a very brilliant, and, we believe, avery faithful o of the manners and habits of the time, we cannot say that it either embodies them in a very interesting story, or supplies us with any rich variety of particular characters. Except King James himself, and Richie Moniplies, there is but little individuality in the personages represented. We should perhaps add Master George Heriot; except that he is too staid and prudent a person to engage very much of our interest. The story is of a very simple structure, and may soon ł. told. Lord Glenvarloch, a young Scottish nobleman, whose fortunes had been ruined by his father's profusion, and chiefly by large loans to the Crown, comes to London about the middle of James' reign, to try what part of this debt may be recovered from the justice of his now opulent sovereign. From want of patronage and experience, he is unsuccessful in his first application; and is about to withdraw in despair, when his serving man, Richard Moniplies, falling accidentally in the way of George Heriot, the favourite jeweller and occasional banker of the King, that benevolent person (to whom, it may not be known to our Southern readers, Edinburgh is indebted for the most flourishing and best conducted of her founded schools or charities) is pleased to take an interest in his affairs, and not only represents his case in a favourable way to the Sovereign, but is the means of introducing him to another nobleman, with whose son, Lord Dalgarno, he speedily forms a rather inauspicious intimacy. By this youth he is initiated into all the gaieties of the town; of which, as well of the manners and bearing of the men of fashion of the time, a very lively picture is drawn. Among other things, he is encouraged to try his fortune at play; but, being poor and prudent, he plays but for small sums, and, rather unhandsomely we must owu, makes it a practice to come away after a moderate winning. On this account he is slighted by Lord Dalgarno, and his more adventurous associates; and, having learned that they talked contemptuously of him, and that Lord D. had F. the King and the Prince against im, he challenges him for his perfidy in the Park, and actually draws on him, in the precincts of the royal abode. This was, in those days, a very serious offence; and, to avoid its immediate consequences, he is advised to take refuge in Whitefriars, then known by the cant name of Alsatia, and understood to possess the orivileges of a sanctuary against ordinary ar
A propos of this retirement, we have a very striking and animated picture of the bullies and bankrupts, and swindlers and petty felons by whom this city of refuge was chiefly inhabited—and among whom the young Lord has the good luck to witness a murder, committed on the person of his miserly host. He then bethinks himself of repairing to Greenwich, where the court was, throwing himself upon the clemency of the King, and insisting on being confronted with his accusers; but happening unfortunately to meet, with his Majesty in a retired part of the Park to which he }. 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 Ramsey, a daughterofthecelebrated watchmakerofthat name, who had privately fallen in love with him at the table of George Heriot her god-father, and had, ever since, kept watch over his proceedings, and aided him in his difficulties by va. rious 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 acci. dent, 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 o: ment 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. There is an underplot of a more extravagant and less happy structure, about a sad and mysterious sady 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 pettifogging difficulties. The conclusion is something tra. gical 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 him: self shot dead by one of the Alsatian bullies. who had heard of the precious cargo with which he was making the journey. His an:
tagonist comes up soon enough to revenge him : and. soon after, is married to MissRam»'•y. for whom the King finds a suitable pediiiri't*. 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 m 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 tvpe 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 arid 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 is Kenilworth or Ivanhoe, or the earlier historical novels of the same author—and 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 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 ns.—and, though somewhat softened and relaxed by the good sense of the author, is still m prevalent, that most of his characters strike ns rather as whimsical humourists or affected maskers, than as faithful copies of the actual society of any historical period; and though Ihey may afford great delight to such slender
wits as think the commentators on Shakespeare the greatest men in the world, and here find their litlle archœological 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 eo 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 merelyplaced 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, о propos of 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 apoloey 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 interest —and reduces it from the rank of a comprehensive and engaging narrative, in which every event gives and receives importance from its connection 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 damsal 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 have long admired in the best works of the author. Besides the King and Richie Moniplies, at whose merits we have already hintedj it would be unjust to pass over tha prodigious strength of writing that distin