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we have only hinted at his mere affectation of antiquarian detail, while the spirit of antiquity is altogether wanting ; for where genius is, all smaller faults are redeemed by its absorbing and transcending energy; and where genius is not, it is but laborious idleness to expose the errors of ignorance, inadvertence, or presumption. But we have said sufficient to show that, however inferior the later productions of the author of Waverley may be to his earlier ones, yet out of all sight and measure they excel those of his imitators (for Mr. Smith is only a fair specimen of a whole regiment of these.) We have judged the former by a high standard; we have looked upon them in the light of the prose epic, and compared them with the loftiest dramatic efforts, because we felt that they could abide the comparison. To have attempted this with the latter would have been futile; they are incapable of being measured by anything of an elevated stature, and we have found it impossible to abstract from them any rules of good writing. have not estimated either by critical dogmas. We have only wished to exhibit the practice of both authors; we leave it to the taste of our readers to make their election,
It is clear enough that this end would have been still more triumphantly answered had it been our business to review the earlier productions of the Novelist of Scotland ; and yet here we have to blame ourselves in so far; for there is one work among his later productions, worthy of the earliest reputation of this prolific writer—the Crusaders. It is deserving of much more detailed consideration than we shall be enabled to bestow upon it, owing to the length to which this article has already extended. Of the two tales, the Betrothed has much wild grace and delicate romance; but the Talisman is of surpassing grandeur and effect. This latter story is constructed with the skill of a consummate artist. The incipient poet and novelist might learn from this
the proper use of traditionary lore and historical knowledge. The historical characters here are not introduced accidentally: something more than their mere names is given; they are active agents, having all the attributes of personality, and the vigour of real existence.
How poetical is the subject! how creative the invention of the poet! his style is elegant, his sentiments are tine, and his moral noble. The diction and the dialogue are as highly polished as in Lessing's dramas; the plot is evolved with as excellent skill. The dramatis personæ are happily discriminated. What chivalry in Sir Kenneth—what noble affection in Lady Edith—what feminine majesty in the Queen Beringaria—what blunt honesty in the Lord de Vaux—what leonine bravery in Richard! The English hero is well contrasted with the imbecile Duke of Austria and the
politic King of France. The two dwarfs are embellishments as graceful as grotesque, and the Hermit of Engaddi is an impersonation no less imaginative than savage and fantastic. Saladin, in his several characters of emir, physician, and soldan, is replete with excellent attributes, such only as a master could have so delicately blended and so effectively distinguished. The Saladin of the novelist might, not without advantage, be compared with Lessing's Saladin in Nathan the Wise. But our chapter of comparisons must come to an end.
To Lessing, the Germans are indebted for their admiration of Shakspeare's genius, and their knowledge of his inimitable writings. He seems perfectly to have understood the principles of dramatic composition, and the true nature of poetry. He perceived almost intuitively, and proceeded to demonstrate, that the so-called irregularities of Shakspeare were not essentially violations of the rules of Aristotle, as asserted by the French critics ; not offences against the principles of dramatic writing, but only deviations from the mere accidents of the Greek theatre, which, having no foundation in nature, resulted from the peculiar necessities of their modes of representation. He saw that the conveniences of the modern stage offered advantages not possessed by the ancients, and in benefiting by which the poet was not only justified, but fulfilled the higher purposes of art, and worked more in the spirit of the precepts of Aristotle than they who, without genial ambition, bound themselves slavishly to the dead letter. The dramatic works of Lessing, composed under these convictions, differ from what is generally understood by the German drama; being chaste and sober, well-constructed and highly polished. The ideal of the German drama may be found in the Robbers, the irregularities of which are essentially different from those of any work of Shakspeare. They offend not only against the unities, but the better principles of the poetic art. Schiller lived to consider his earliest work as a dramatic monster, and, in some of his later productions, went to the contrary extreme. In the meantime, however, many thought themselves released, by the doctrines of Lessing, and the example of Shakspeare, from the authority not only of Aristotle but of nature—a presumptuous error, and one for which we have no toleration.
He who has most improved the advantages, very early discovered the disadvantages, of the historical fable. In works the interest of which depends greatly, though not mainly, on the excitement of curiosity, it is an inconvenience that the denoument should be anticipated from the beginning. To avoid this inconvenience, he suspended that species of interest on the fictitious portion of his
narrative.—But it is objected that this practice tends to make the historical action only episodic. Yet, what choice has the novelist? It is clear that curiosity is not excitable for an event already known. To those who judge that the historical action is the nobler portion of the argument, it will be a sufficient apology to remind them, that the appetite of curiosity is the meanest that a writer of genius can condescend to gratify, and that this inferior kind of interest is attached, by their own showing, to the inferior part of the fable. Not all our author's tales require this apology, or are liable to that objection. Yet, however defensible his practice may be in this respect, to make historical events such mere conveniences, and historical persons such stark puppets, as the author of Brambletye House and Tor Hill has presumed to make them, is an abuse of privilege, and a license that, we apprehend, is capable of no vindication. The propriety of the principle when accurately applied, and rightly used, we think cannot long be doubted. Was the wrath of Achilles anything more than an episode in the history of the Trojan war? But there are critics who read Aristotle instead of Homer; hence they know all about poetry, but nothing of it.
Art. IX.-1. Starkie on the Law of Slander, Libel, Scan
dalum Magnatum, and False Rumours. London. 2. Holt on the Law of Libel. London. 1816. AT T a period like the present, when education and intelligence
are every day spreading more widely through society—when commerce and freedom occasion an extraordinary activity in the public mind, and rapidity of intercourse between all parts of the empire—the Press has naturally acquired a range and intensity of power altogether unparalleled in history, and such as none of our forefathers could ever have ventured to predict. The occurrences of every day bear perpetual witness to the energy and extent of the influence which it exercises over society in all its departments. The vast increase of habits of reading is attended with a corresponding augmentation of publications of all descriptions, suited to every kind of taste, and every degree of education and capacity. . But while every class of writings is supplied in varied abundance, the extraordinary increase of political publications, and of fugitive and periodical literature, is a singular characteristic of the modern press, and certainly must be reckoned foremost amongst the means of that active and wide-spreading sway which it exerts over the minds of so many millions of individuals. Learned folios may suit the retired lucubrations of the university
and the convent; but the full influence of free publication on the minds, manners, actions, and habits of men in social life, must be in a great degree effected by the more rapid and lively appeals of reviews, journals, and newspapers. It appeared, from authenticated statements (founded in part on Parliamentary returns) made by Lord John Russell to the House of Commons in April, 1822, that a single firm of booksellers, in London, were in the habit of selling five millions of volumes annually; that they paid about 55001. per annum for advertisements of their publications; and kept employed continually not less than two hundred and fifty printers and bookbinders. In the year 1821, there were not less than 23,600,000 newspapers sold in Great Britain ; of these the London daily journals sold not less than fourteen millions, and the weekly papers two millions. In 1782, the newspapers published in Great Britain and Ireland were only seventy-ninein the next eight years, to 1790, they had sustained the extraordinary increase to one hundred and forty-six: but in the following thirty years, ending in 1821, they had augmented to not less than two hundred and eighty-four. The greater journals published in London were at the first period (1782) eighteen; in 1790, they were thirty-two; and in 1821, they had increased to fifty-six. Prior to 1790, weekly papers did not exist; in 1821, there were not less than thirty-two such papers published in London alone. Circulating libraries had increased with the same extraordinary rapidity. In 1770, there were only four in the metropolis ; in 1821, the number was not less than one hundred ; and about nine hundred were scattered through the country. Book clubs, and reading societies, which were unheard-of till within the last twenty years, existed, in 1821, to the number of 1500 or 2000.
We leave these facts, without comment, to speak for themselves. Every one's observation will, indeed, satisfy him of the prodigious activity of the press of the present day; but we have referred to these details in order to remind our readers of the extraordinary ratio in which that activity has increased within the last thirty years, and in which, or in nearly an equal degree, we may fairly presume that it still continues on the advance. The change is not alone in the mere mass of publication issuing from the press; the advance and improvements in the average quality of its productions (setting aside, of course, some extraordinary examples, and single high and stately departments of literature)—is not a whit less remarkable. Any one who has even cursorily compared the newspapers, magazines, and reviews of the present day, with the corresponding publications of thirty years ago, must have been struck with the superior information—the increased vigour
of thought and style—the far superior command of all the weapons of authorship, and all the means for producing effect on readers, which belong to the contemporary writers of this description.
That so much talent and activity should be unaccompanied by any tendency to transgression and excess;—that so much of good and utility should exist without its leaven of abuse,was more than could be expected. On the contrary, it was to be anticipated that as the energies of the engine became more and more developed, its dangerous tendencies must become more conspicuous, and, of course, call for adequate safeguards against a redundant vigourmand, accordingly, the reports of our law proceedings at the present day bear witness, that, with the advancing influence and authority of the press, there has been a corresponding increase of appeals to the law against the mischiefs of its exuberance and licentiousness. The government, for a considerable period, has not stood forward among the complainants against authors; but scarcely a week now passes without producing several instances of private individuals, or public bodies, coming into the courts, and claiming the protection of the law against the calumniators and censurers of their conduct. We think the present, therefore, not an unfit season for offering some observations on the law for punishing and restraining the excesses of writers, as it standsand inquiring how far certain popular objections lately originated, or revived, against that law, are well or ill-founded. It is of the last importance that a law of such general influence and use should be rightly understood and freed from all misrepresentation—that it should be approved if wise, amended if defective. We do not propose to enter into any historical view of the progress of the English law of libel ; we shall not inquire whether it came to us from the court of Star Chamber, or the Roman republic, or emperors ;-thus much may be said in passing, that if the law came to us from Rome, few traces are to be found in it of descent from a code which punished libels on the state (famosi libelli) with death, and allowed individuals to recover damages for written calumny, whether true or false. But such inquiries are rather of historical curiosity than of direct practical interest. The claims of every law to the approbation of those who live under it, must rest on its operation and influence, rather than on any merits of pedigree; and the vices of its origin are of slight importance, if its actual condition and effects are proved to be sound and salutary.
Nothing, we conceive, can be more superficial than the objection occasionally raised against the English law of libel, that it is not defined that there is no statute, nor even book of authority, wherein the various kinds of libel are set down and enu