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(November, 1817.) Lalla Rookh; an Oriental Romance. By Thomas MOORE. 4to. pp. 405.: London : 1817.
THERE is a great deal of our recent poetry stitution of genius. While it is more splendid derived from the East : But this is the finest in imagery-(and for the most part in very Orientalism we have had yet. The land of 'good taste)-more rich in sparkling thoughts the Sun has never shone out so brightly on the and original conceptions, and more full indeed children of the North-nor the sweets of Asia of exquisite pictures, both of all sorts of beaubeen poured forth, nor her gorgeousness dis- ties and virtues, and all sorts of sufferings and played so profusely to the delighted senses of crimes, than any other poem that has yet come Europe. The beauteous forms, the dazzling before us; we rather think we speak the sense splendours, the breathing odours of the East, of most readers, when we add, that the effect seem at last to have found a kindred poet in of the whole is to mingle a certain feeling of that green isle of the West; whose Genius disappointment with that of admiration to has long been suspected to be derived from a excite admiration rather than any warmer warmer clime, and now wantons and luxuri- sentiment of delight—to dazzle, more than to ates in those voluptuous regions, as if it felt enchant-and, in the end, more frequently to that it had at length regained its native ele- startle the fancy, and fatigue the attention, by ment. It is amazing, indeed, how much at the constant succession of glittering images home Mr. Moore seems to be in India, Persia, and high-strained emotions, than to maintain and Arabia; and how purely and strictly a rising interest, or win a growing sympathy, Asiatic all the colouring and imagery of his by a less profuse or more systematic display book appears. He is thoroughly embued with of attractions. the character of the scenes to which he trans- The style is, on the whole, rather diffuse, ports us; and yet the extent of his knowledge and too unvaried in its character. But its is less wonderful than the dexterity and ap- greatest fault
, in our eyes, is the uniformity parent facility with which he has turned it to of its brilliancy—the want of plainness, sim. account, in the elucidation and embellishment plicity, and repose. We have heard it observed of his poetry. There is not, in the volume by some very zealous admirers of Mr. Moore's now before us, a simile or description, a name, genius, that you cannot open this book witha trait of history, or allusion of romance which out finding a cluster of beauties in every page. belongs to European experience; or does not Now, this is only another way of expressing indicate an entire familiarity with the life, the what we think its greatest defect. No work, dead nature, and the learning of the East. consisting of many pages, should have detachNor are these barbaric ornaments thinly scat- ed and distinguishable beauties in every one tered to make up a show. They are showered of them. No great work, indeed, should have lavishly over all the work, and form, perhaps many beauties: If it were perfect, it would too much, the staple of the poetry and the have but one; and that but faintly perceptible, riches of that which is chiefly distinguished except on a view of the whole. Look, for ex: for its richness.
ample, at what is perhaps the most finished We would confine this remark, however, to and exquisite production of human art—the the descriptions of external objects, and the design and elevation of a Grecian temple, in allusions to literature and history—or to what its old severe simplicity. What penury of may be termed the materiel of the poetry be ornament—what rejection of beauties of defore us. The Characters and Sentiments are tail !—what masses of plain surface-what of a different order. They cannot, indeed, be rigid economical limitation to the useful and said to be copies of European nature; but they the necessary! The cottage of a peasant is are still less like that of any other region. scarcely more simple in its structure, and has They are, in truth, poetical imaginations ;- not fewer parts that are superfluous. Yet but it is to the poetry of rational, honourable, what grandeur-what elegance—what grace considerate, and humane Europe, that they and completeness in the effect! The whole is belong-and not to the childishness, cruelty, beautiful-because the beauty is in the whole: and profligacy of Asia. It may seem a harsh But there is little merit in any of the parts, and presumptuous sentence, to some of our except that of fitness and careful finishing. Cosmopolite readers: But from all we have Contrast this, now, with a Dutch pleasurebeen able to gather from history or recent ob- house, or a Chinese—where every part is servation, we should be inclined to say that meant to be separately beautiful—and the re. there was no sound sense, firmness of purpose, sult is deformity !-where there is not an inch or principled goodness, except among the na- of the surface that is not brilliant with varied tives of Europe, and their genuine descendants. colour, and rough with curves and angles
There is something very extraordinary, we and where the effect of the whole is monstrous think, in the work before us—and something and offensive. We are as far as possible from which indicates in the author, not only a great meaning to insinuate that Mr. Moore's poetry exuberance of talent, but a very singular con- is of this description. On the contrary, we
think his ornaments are, for the most part, /ceive of their proceedings, or to sympathise truly and exquisitely beautiful; and the gene- freely with their fortunes. The disasters to ral design of his pieces very elegant and in- which they are exposed, and the designs in genious: All that we mean to say is, that which they are engaged, are of the same amthere is too much ornament-too many insu- bitious and exaggerated character; and all lated and independent beauties-and that the are involved in so much pomp, and splendour, notice, and the very admiration they excite, and luxury, and the description of their exhurt the interest of the general design; and treme grandeur and elegance forms so connot only withdraw our attention too importu- siderable a part of the whole work, that the nately from it, but at last weary it out with less sublime portion of the species can with their perpetual recurrence.
difficulty presume to judge of them, or to enIt seems to be a law of our intellectual con- ter into the concernments of such very exquistitution, that the powers of taste cannot be site persons. The incidents, in like manner, permanently gratified, except by some sustain- are so prodigiously moving, so excessively ed or continuous emotion; and that a series, improbable, and so terribly critical, that we even of the most agreeable excitements, soon have the same difficulty of raising our senticeases, if broken and disconnected, to give any ments to the proper pitch for them ;-and, pleasure. No conversation fatigues so soon as finding it impossible to sympathise'as we that which is made up of points and epigrams; ought to do with such portentous occurrences, and the accomplished rhetorician, who are sometimes tempted to withhold our sym
pathy altogether, and to seek for its objects could not ope His mouth, but out there flew a trope,"
among more familiar adventures. Scenes of
voluptuous splendour and ecstasy alternate must have been a most intolerable companion. suddenly with agonising separations, atrocious There are some things, too, that seem so plainly crimes, and tremendous sufferings -battles, intended for ornaments and seasonings only, incredibly fierce and sanguinary, follow close that they are only agreeable, when sprinkled in on entertainments incredibly sumptuous and moderation over a plainer medium. No one elegant;-terrific tempests are succeeded by would like to make an entire meal on sauce pi- delicious calms at sea : and the land scenes quante ; or to appear in a dress crusted over with are divided between horrible chasms and prediamonds; or to pass a day in a steam of rich cipices, and vales and gardens rich in eternal distilled perfumes. It is the same with the blooms, and glittering with palaces and temglittering ornaments of poetry-with splendid ples-while the interest of the story is mainmetaphors and ingenious allusions, and all the tained by instruments and agents of no less figures of speech and of thought that consti- potency than insanity, blasphemy, poisonings, tute its outward pomp and glory. Now, Mr. religious hatred, national antipathy, demoniMoore, it appears to us, is decidedly too lavish acal misanthropy, and devoted love. of his gems and sweets;-he labours under a We are aware that, in objecting to a work plethora of wit and imagination-impairs his like this, that it is made up of such materials, credit by the palpable exuberance of his pos- we may seem to be objecting that it is made sessions, and would be richer with half his of the elements of poetry,--since it is no doubt wealth. His works are not only of costly ma- true, that it is by the use of such materials terial and graceful design, but they are every- that poetry is substantially distinguished from where glistening with small beauties and tran- prose, and that it is to them it is indebted for sitory inspirations-sudden flashes of fancy, all that is peculiar in the delight and the inthat blaze out and perish; like earth-born terest it inspires: and it may seem a little meteors that crackle in the lower sky, and un- unreasonable to complain of a poet, that he seasonably divert our eyes from the great and treats us with the essence of poetry. We have lofty bodies which pursue their harmonious already hinted, however, that it is not advisacourses in a serener region.
ble to live entirely on essences; and our obWe have spoken of these as faults of style:jection goes not only to the excessive strength But they could scarcely have existed in the of the emotions that are sought to be raised, style, without going deeper; and though they but to the violence of their transitions, and the first strike us as qualities of the composition want of continuity in the train of feeling that only, we find, upon a little reflection, that the is produced. It may not be amiss, however, same general character belongs to the fable, to add a word or two more of explanation. the characters, and the sentiments, that they In the first place, then, if we consider how all sin alike in the excess of their means of the fact stands, we shall find that all the great attraction,--and fail to interest, chiefly by poets, and, in_an especial manner, all the being too interesting.
poets who chain down the attention of their In order to avoid the debasement of ordi- readers, and maintain a growing interest nary or familiar life, the author has soared to through a long series of narrations, have been a region beyond the comprehension of most remarkable for the occasional familiarity, and of his readers. All his personages are so very even homeliness, of many of their incidents, beautiful, and brave, and agonising--so totally characters and sentiments. This is the diswrapt up in the exaltation of their vehement tinguishing feature in Homer, Chaucer, Ariemotions, and withal so lofty in rank, and so osto, Shakespeare, Dryden, Scott—and will be sumptuous and magnificent in all that relates found to occur, we believe, in all poetry that to their external condition, that the herd of has been long and extensively popular; or that ordinary mortals can scarcely venture to con- is capable of pleasing very strongly, or stirring very deeply, the common sensibilities of our sist, or the energies they had exerted. To nature., We need scarcely make an excep- make us aware of the altitude of a mountain, tion for the lofty Lyric, which is so far from it is absolutely necessary to show us the plain being generally attractive, that it is not even from which it ascends. If we are allowed to intelligible, except to a studious few-or for see nothing but the table land at the top, the those solemn and devotional strains which de- effect will be no greater than if we had rerive their interest from a still higher princi- mained on the humble level of the shoreple: But in all narrative poetry—in all long except that it will be more lonely, bleak, and pieces made up of descriptions and adven- inhospitable. And thus it is, that by ex. tures, it seems hitherto to have been an indis- aggerating the heroic qualities of heroes, they pensable condition of their success, that most become as uninteresting as if they had no of the persons and events should bear a con- such qualities—that by striking out those siderable resemblance to those which we meet weaknesses and vulgar infirmities which with in ordinary life; and, though more ani. identify them with ordinary mortals, they not mated and important than to be of daily oc- only cease to interest ordinary mortals, but even currence, should not be immeasurably exalted to excite their admiration or surprise ; and af. above the common standard of human fortune pear merely as strange inconceivable beings, and character.
in whom superhuman energy and refinement It should be almost enough to settle the are no more to be wondered at, than the power question, that such is the fact-and that no of flying in an eagle, or of fasting in a snake. narrative poetry has ever excited a great in- The wise ancient who observed, that being terest, where the persons were too much puri- a man himself, he could not but take an interfied from the vulgar infirmities of our nature, est in every thing that related to man-might or the incidents too thoroughly purged of all have confirmed his character for wisdom, by that is ordinary or familiar. But the slightest adding, that for the same reason he could take reflection upon the feelings with which we no interest in any thing else. There is nothread such poetry, must satisfy us as to the ing, after all, that we ever truly care for, but reason of our disappointment. It may be told the feelings of creatures like ourselves:-and in two words. Writings of this kind revolt by we are obliged to lend them to the flowers their improbability; and fatigue, by offering and the brooks of the valley, and the stars and no points upon which our sympaihies can airs of heaven, before we can take any delight readily attach.—Two things are necessary to in them. With sentient beings the case is give a fictitious narrative a deep and com- more obviously the same. By whatever manding interest; first, that we should believe names we may call them, or with whatever that such things might have happened; and fantastic attributes we may please to invest secondly, that they might have happened to them, still we comprehend, and concern ourourselves, or to such persons as ourselves. selves about them, only in so far as they reBut, in reading the ambitious and overwrought semble ourselves. All the deities of the poetry of which we have been speaking, we classic mythology-and all the devils and feel perpetually, that there could have been angels of later poets, are nothing but human no such people, and no such occurrences as creatures—or at least only interest us so long we are there called upon to feel for; and that as they are so. Let any one try to imagine it is impossible for us, at all events, to have what kind of story he could make of the admuch concern about beings whose principles ventures of a set of beings who differed from of action are so remote from our own, and who our own species in any of its general attributes are placed in situations to which we have never-who were incapable, for instance, of the known any parallel. It is no doubt true, that debasing feelings of fear, pain, or anxietyall stories that interest us must represent pas- and he will find, that instead of becoming sions of a higher pitch, and events of a more more imposing and attractive by getting rid extraordinary nature than occur in common of those infirmities, they become utterly inlife; and that it is in consequence of rising significant, and indeed in a great degree inthus sensibly above its level, that they become conceivable. Or, to come a little closer to objects of interest and attention. But, in order the matter before us, and not to go beyond that this very elevation may be felt, and pro- the bounds of common experience-Suppose duce its effect, the story must itself, in other a tale, founded on refined notions of delicate places, give us the known and ordinary level, love and punctilious integrity, to be told 10 a and, by a thousand adaptations and traits of race of obscene, brutal and plundering sarages universal nature, make us feel, that the char- -or, even within the limits of the same counacters which become every now and then the try, is a poem, turning upon the jealousies of objects of our intense sympathy and admira- court intrigue, the pride of rank, and the cabals tion, in great emergencies, and under the in- of sovereigns and statesmen, were put into fluence of rare but conceivable excitements, the hands of village maidens or clownish laare, after all, our fellow creatures—made of bourers, is it not obvious that the remoteness the same flesh and blood with ourselves, and of the manners, characters and feelings from acting, and acted upon, by the common prin- their own, would first surprise, and then reciples of our nature. Without this, indeed, volt them—and that the moral, intellectual the effect of their sufferings and exploits and adventitious Superiority of the personages would be entirely lost upon us; as we should concerned, would, instead of enhancing the be without any scale by which to estimate the interest, entirely destroy it, and very speedily magnitude of the temptations they had to re- extinguish all sympathy with their passions, and all curiosity about their fate?-Now, what meet her enamoured bridegroom in the degentlemen and ladiesare to a ferocious savage, lightful valley of Cashmere. The progress or politicians and princesses to an ordinary of this gorgeous cavalcade, and the beauty rustic, the exaggerated persons of such poetry of the country which it traverses, are exhibitas we are now considering, are to the ordinary ed with great richness of colouring and picreaders of poetry. They do not believe in turesque effect; though in this, as well as in the possibility of their existence, or of their the other parts of the prose narrative, a ceradventures. They do not comprehend the tain tone of levity, and even derision, is freprinciples of their conduct; and have no quently assumed—not very much in keeping, thorough sympathy with the feelings that are we think, with the tender and tragic strain of ascribed to them.
poetry of which it is the accompaniment, We have carried this speculation, we be certain breakings out, in short, of that mocklieve, a little too far—and, with reference to ing European wit, which has made itself the volume before us, it would be more cor- merry with Asiatic solemnity, ever since the rect perhaps to say, that it had suggested these time of the facetious Count Hamilton—but observations, than that they are strictly ap- seems a little out of place in a miscellany, plicable to it. For though its faults are cer- the prevailing character of which is of so tainly of the kind we have been endeavouring opposite a temper. To amuse the languor, to describe, it would be quite unjust to char- or divert the impatience of the royal bride, in acterise it by its faults—which are beyond all the noon-tide and night-halts of her luxurious doubt less conspicuous than its beauties. progress, a young Cashmerian poet had been There is not only a richness and brilliancy of sent by the gallantry of the bridegroom; and diction and imagery spread over the whole recites, on those occasions, the several poems work, that indicate the greatest activity and that form the bulk of the volume now before elegance of fancy in the author; but it is us. Such is the witchery of his voice and everywhere pervaded, still more strikingly, look, and such the sympathetic effect of the by a strain of tender and noble feeling, poured tender tales which he recounts, that the poor out with such warmth and abundance, as to princess, as was naturally to be expected, steal insensibly on the heart of the reader, falls desperately in love with him before the and gradually to overflow it with a tide of end of the journey; and by the time she sympathetic emotion. There are passages enters the lovely vale of Cashmere, and sees indeed, and these neither few nor brief, over the glittering palaces and towers prepared which the very Genius of Poetry seems to for her reception, she feels that she would have breathed his richest enchantment- joyfully forego all this pomp and splendour, where the melody of the verse and the beauty and fly to the desert with her adored Feraof the images conspire so harmoniously with morz. The youthful bard, however, has now the force and tenderness of the emotion, that disappeared from her side; and she is supthe whole is blended into one deep and bright ported, with fainting heart and downcast stream of sweetness and feeling, along which eyes, into the hated presence of her tyrant! the spirit of the reader is borne passively when the voice of Feramorz himself bids her away, through long reaches of delight. Mr. be of good cheer—and, looking up, she sees her Moore's poetry, indeed, where his happiest beloved poet in the Prince himself! who had vein is opened, realises more exactly than that assumed this gallant disguise, and won her of any other writer, the splendid account young affections, without deriving any aid which is given by Comus of the song of from his rank or her engagements.
The whole story is very sweetly and gaily "His mother Circe, and the Sirens ihree,
and is adorned with many tender as Amid the fowery-kiriled Naiades, Who, as they sung, would take the prison'd soul,
well as lively passages, without reckoning And lap it in Elysium !”
among the latter the occasional criticisms of
the omniscient Fadladeen, the magnificent And though it is certainly to be regretted and most infallible grand chamberlain of the that he should so often have broken the mea- Haram whose sayings and remarks, we sure with more frivolous strains, or filled up cannot help observing, do not agree very well its intervals with a sort of brilliant falsetto, it with the character which is assigned himshould never be forgotten, that his excellences being for the most part very smart, sentenare at least as peculiar to himself as his faults, tious, and acute, and by no means solemn, and, on the whole, perhaps more characteristic stupid, and pompous, as was to have been of his genius.
expected. Mr. Moore’s genius, however, we The volume before us contains four sepa- suppose, is too inveterately lively, to make it rate and distinct poems—connected, however, possible for him even to counterfeit dulness. and held together "like orient pearls at ran- We come at last, however, to the poetry, dom strung,” by the slender thread of a slight The first piece, which is entitled “The prose story, on which they are all suspended, Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,” is the longest, and to the simple catastrophe of which they we think, and certainly not the best, of the in some measure contribute. This airy and series. It has all the faults which we have, elegant legend is to the following effect. somewhat too sweepingly, imputed to the Lalla Rookh, the daughter of the great Au- volume at large ; and it was chiefly, indeed, rengzebe, is betrothed to the young king of with a reference to it, that we made those Bucharia; and sets forth, with a splendid introductory remarks, which the author will train of Indian and Bucharian attendants, to I probably think too much in the spirit of the 57
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sage Chamberlain. The story, which is not illusions, he poisons the remnant of his ad in all its parts extremely intelligible, is herents, and himself plunges into a bath, of founded on a notice, in D'Herbelot, of a da- such corrosive quality, as instantly to extin. ring impostor of the early ages of Islamism, guish life, and dissolve all the elements of who pretended to have received a later and the mortal frame. Zelica then covers herself inore authoritative mission than that of the with his fatal veil, and totters out to the ramprophet, ard to be destined to overturn all parts, where, being mistaken for Mokanna, iyrannies and superstitions on the earth, and she rushes upon the spear of her Azim, and to rescue all souls that believed in him. To receives his forgiveness in death! while he shade the celestial radiance of his brow, he survives, to pass the rest of his life in continalways wore a veil of silver gauze, and was ual prayer and supplication for her erring spirit; at last attacked by the Caliph, and extermi- and dies at last upon her grave, in the full nated, with all his adherents. On this story, assurance of rejoining her in purity and bliss. Mr. Moore has engrafted a romantic and not It is needless to enlarge on the particular very probable tale of two young lovers, Azim faults of this story, after the general observaand Zelica; the former of whom having been tions we hazarded at the outset. The char. supposed to perish in battle, the grief of the acter of Mokanna, as well as his power and latter unsettles her understanding; and her influence, is a mere distortion and extrava. distempered imagination is easily inflamed gance : But the great blemish is the corrupby the mystic promises of the Veiled Prophet, tion of Zelica; and the insanity so gratuiwhich at length prevail on her to join the tously alleged by the poet in excuse of it. troop of lovely priestesses who earn a blissful Nothing less, indeed, could in any way acimmortality in another world, by sharing his count for such a catastrophe; and, after all, embraces upon earth. By what artful illu- it is painful and offensive to the imagination. signs the
distracted maid was thus be- The bridal oath, pledged with blood among trayed to her ruin, is not very satisfactorily the festering bodies of the dead, is one of the explained; only we are informed that she overstrained theatrical horrors of the German and the Veiled Apostle descended into a school; and a great deal of the theorising charnel-house, and took a mutual oath, and and argumentation which is intended to pallidrank blood together, in pledge of their eter- ate or conceal those defects, is obscure and nal union. At length Azim, who had not incomprehensible. Rich as it is, in short, in been slain, but made captive in battle, and fancy and expression, and powerful in some had wandered in Greece till he had imbibed of the scenes of passion, we should have had the love of liberty that inspired her famous great doubts of the success of this volume, if heroes of old-hears of the proud promises it had all been of the same texture with the of emancipation which Mokanna (for that poem of which we are now speaking. Yet, was the prophet's name) had held out to all even there, there is a charm, almost irresistinations, and comes to be enrolled among the ble, in the volume of sweet sounds and beauchampions of freedom and virtue. On the tiful images, which are heaped together with day of his presentment, he is introduced into luxurious profusion in the general texture of a scene of voluptuous splendour, where all the the style, and invest even the absurdities of seducive influences of art and nature are in vain the story with the graceful amplitude of their exerted to divert his thoughts from the love rich and figured veil.' What, for instance, can of Zelica and of liberty. He breaks proudly be sweeter than this account of Azim's entry away from these soft enchantments, and finds into this earthly paradise of temptations ? a mournful female figure before him, in whom he almost immediately recognises his long. Silent and bright, where nothing but he falls
Meanwhile, through vast illuminated balls, lost and ever-loved Zelica. The first moment of fragrant waters, gushing with cool sound of their meeting is ecstasy on both sides; but from many a jasper fount, is heard around, the unhappy girl soon calls to mind the un- Young Azim roams bewilderd ; nor can guess utterable condition to which she is reduced—What means this maze of light and loneliness! and, in agony, reveals to him the sad story of Here, the way leads, o'er tesselated floors her'derangement, and of the base advantages Where, rang'd in cassolets and silver urns, that had been taken of it. Azim at first sweet wood of aloe or of sandal burns ; throws her from him in abhorrence, but soon And here, at once, the glittering saloon turns, in relenting pity, and offers at last to Bursts on his sight, boundless and bright as noon ! rescue her from this seat of pollution. She Where, in the midst, reflecting back the rays listens with eager joy to his proposal, and is in broken rainbows, a fresh fountain plays about to fly with him in the instant, when All rich with Arabesques of gold and flowers :
High as ih' enamell'd cupola ; which towers the dread voice of Mokanna thunders in her And the mosaic floor beneath shines through ear her oath of eternal fidelity. That terrible The sprinkling of that fountain's silvery dew, sound brings back her frenzy. She throws Like ihe wet, glist'ning shells, of ev'ry dye ; her lover wildly from her, and vanishes at That on the margin of the Red Sea lie. once, amidst the dazzling lights of that un- “Here too he traces the kind visitings holy palace. Azim then joins the approaching of woman's love, in those fair, living hings army of the Caliph, and leads on his forces of land and wave, whose fate-in bondage thrown against the impious usurper. Mokanna per
For their weak loveliness is like her own! forms prodigies of valour—but is always borne on one side gleaming with a sudden grace back by the superior force and enthusiasm of In which it undulates, small fishes shine,
Through water, brilliant as the crystal vase Azim: and after a long course of horrors and Like golden ingots from a fairy mine !