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Vicar of Wakefield” and “ The Deserted Vil-
Poor unprovided girls, though fair and witty,
The travels of Baron Münchausen were first published in 1786, and the esteem in which they were held, and we may conclude their merit, was shown by the numbers of editions rapidly succeeding each other, and by the translations which were made into foreign languages. It is somewhat strange that there should be a
doubt with regard to the authorship of so popular a work, but it is generally attributed to one Raspi, a German who fled from the officers of justice to England. As, however, there is little originality in the stories, we feel the less concerned at being unable satisfactorily to trace their authorship—they were probably a collection of the tales with which some old German baron was wont to amuse his guests. A satire was evidently intended upon the marvellous tales in which travellers and sportsmen indulged, and the first edition is humbly dedicated to Mr. Bruce, whose accounts of Abyssinia were then generally discredited. With the exception of this attack upon travellers' tales there is nothing severe in the work—there is no indelicacy or profanity-considerable falsity was, of course, necessary, otherwise the accounts would have been merely fanciful. We have nothing here to mar our amusement, except infinite extravagance. The author does not claim much originality, and he admits an imitation of Gulliver's Travels. But, no doubt, something is due to his insight in selection, and to his ingenuity in telling the stories well and circumstantially; otherwise this book would never have become historical, when so many similar productions have perished. The stories in the first six chapters, which
formed the original book, are superior to those in the continuation; there is always something specious, some ground-work for the gross improbabilities, which gives force to them. Thus, for instance, travelling in Poland over the deep snow he fastens his horse to something he takes to be a post, and which turns out to be the top of a steeple. By the morning the snow has disappeared—he sees his mistake, and his horse is hanging on the top of the church by its bridle. When on his road to St. Petersburgh, a wolf made after him and overtook him. Escape was impossible.
"I laid myself down flat in the sledge, and let my horse run for safety. The wolf did not mind me, but took a leap over me, and falling on the horse began to tear and devour the hinder part of the poor animal, which ran all the faster for its pain and terror. I lifted up my head slily, and bebeld with horror that the wolf had ate his way into the horse's body. It was not long before he had fairly forced himself into it, when I took my advantage and fell upon him with the end of my whip. This unexpected attack frightened him so much that he leaped forward, the horse's carcase dropped to the ground, but in his place the wolf was in harness, and I on my part whipping him continually, arrived in full career at St. Petersburgh much to the astonishment of the spectators.”
“Speaking of stags, he mentions St. Hubert's stag, which appeared with a cross between its horns. “They always have been,” he observes, “and still are famous for plantations and antlers.” This furnishes him with the ground-work of his story.
“ Having one day spent all my shot, I found myself un.
expectedly in presence of a stately stag looking at me as unconcernedly as if it had really known of my empty pouches. I charged immediately with powder and upon it a good handful of cherry stones. Thus I let fly and hit him just in the middle of the forehead between the antlers; be staggered, but made off. A year or two afterwards, being with a party in the same forest, I bebeld a noble stag with a fine full-grown cherry tree above ten feet high between its antlers. I brought him down at one shot, and he gave me haunch and cherry sauce, for the tree was covered with fruit.'
In his ride across to Holland from Harwich under the sea, he finds great mountains “ and upon their sides a variety of tall noble trees loaded with marine fruit, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, scollops, mussels, cockles, &c.,” the periwinkle, he observes, is a kind of shrub, it grows at the foot of the oyster tree, and twines round it as the ivy does round the oak.
In the following, we have a manifest imitation of Lucian-Having passed down Mount Etna through the earth, and come out at the other side, he finds himself in the Southern Seas, and soon comes to land. They sail up a river flowing with rich milk, and find that they are in an island consisting of one large cheese
"We discovered this by one of the company fainting away as soon as he landed; this man always had an aversion to cheese-when he recovered he desired the cheese to be taken from under his feet. Upon examination we found him to be perfectly right-the whole island was nothing but a cheese of immense magnitude. Here were plenty of vines with bunches of grapes, which yielded nothing but milk."
In all these cases he has contrived where there was an opening to introduce some probable details. But as he proceeds further in his work, his talent becoming duller-his extravagancies are worse sustained and scarcely ever original. Sometimes he writes mere mawkish nonsense, and at others he simply copies Lucian, as in the case of his making a voyage to the moon, and then sailing into a sea-monster's stomach.