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[New Monthly Magazine.]
Although our veneration for Mackenzie has induced us to commence this series of articles with an attempt to express our sense of his genius, we scarcely know how to criticize its exquisite creations. The feelings which they have awakened within us are too old and too sacred almost for expression. We scarcely dare to scrutinize with a critic's ear, the blending notes of that sad and soft music of humanity which they breathe. We feel as if there were a kind of privacy in our sympathies with them—as though they were a part of ourselves, which strangers knew not—and as if in publicly expressing them, we were violating the sanctities of our own souls. We must recollect, however, that our readers know them as well as we do, and then to dwell with them tenderly on their merits, will seem like discoursing of the long cherished memories of friends we had in common, and of sorrows participated in childhood.
The purely sentimental style in which the tales of Mackenzie are written, though deeply felt by the people, has seldom met with due appreciation from the critics. It has its own genuine and peculiar beauties, which we love the more the longer we feel them. Its consecrations are altogether drawn from the soul. The gentle tinges which it casts on human life are shed not from the imagination or the fancy, but from the affections. It represents, indeed, humanity as more tender, its sorrows as more gentle, its joys as more abundant than they appear to common observers. But this is not effected by those influences of the imagination which consecrate whatever they touch, which detect the secret analogies of beauty, and bring kindred graces from all parts of nature to heighten the images which they reveaL It affects us rather by casting off from the soul, those impurities and littlenesses which it contracts in the world, than by foreign aids. It appeals to those simple emotions which Eire not the high prerogatives of genius, but which are common to all who are "made of one blood," and partake in one primal sympathy. The holiest feelings, after all, are those which would be the most common if gross selfishness and low ambition froze not "the genial current of the souL" The meanest and most ungifted have their gentle remembrances of early days. Love has tinged the life of the artizan and the cottager with something of the romantic. The course of none has been along so beaten a road that they remember not fondly some resting places in their journeys; some turns of their path in which lovely prospects broke in upon them; some soft plats of green refreshing to their weary feet. Confiding love, generous friendship, disinterested humanity, require no recondite learning, no high imagination, to enable an honest heart to appreciate and feel them. Too often, indeed, are the simplicities of nature, and the native tendernesses of the soul nipped and chilled by those anxieties which lie on them "like an untimely frost." "The world is too much with us." We become lawyers, politicians, merchants, and forget that we are men, and sink in our transitory vocations, that character which is to last for ever. A tale of sentiment—such as those of that honoured veteran whose works we would now particularly remember—awakens all these pulses of sympathy with our kind, of whose beatings we had become almost unconscious. It does honour to humanity by stripping off its artificial disguises. Its magic is not like that by which Arabian enchanters raised up glittering spires, domes, and palaces by a few cabalistic words; but resembles their power to disclose veins of precious ore where all seemed sterile and blasted. It gently puts aside the brambles which overcast the stream of life, and lays it open to the reflexions of those delicate clouds which lie above it in the heavens. It shows to us the soft undercourses of feeling, which neither time nor circumstances can wholly stop; and the depth of affection in the soul, which nothing but sentiment itself can fathom. It disposes us to pensive thought—expands the sympathies—and makes all the half-forgotten delights of youth "come back upon our hearts again," to soften and to cheer us.
Too often has the sentiment of which we have spoken been confounded with sickly affectations in a common censure. But no things can be more opposite than the paradoxes of the inferior order of German sentimentalists and the works of a writer like Mackenzie. Real sentiment is the truest, the most genuine, and the most lasting thing on earth. It is more ancient as well as more certain in its operations, than the reasoning faculties. We know and feel before we think; we perceive before we compare; we enjoy before we believe. As the evidence of sense is stronger than that of testimony, so the light of our inward eye more truly shows to us the secrets of the heart than the most elaborate process of reason. Riches, honours, power, are transitory—the things which appear, pass away—the shadows of life alone are stable and unchanging. Of the recollections of infancy nothing can deprive us. Love endures, even if its object perishes, and nurtures the soul of the mourner. Sentiment has a kind of divine alchymy, rendering grief itself the source of tenderest thoughts, and far-reaching desires, which the sufferer cherishes as sacred treasures. The sorrows over which it sheds its influence are "ill barter'd for the garishness of joy;" for they win us softly from life, and fit us to die smiling. It endures, not only while fortune changes, but while opinions vary, which the young enthusiast fondly hoped would never forsake him. It remains when the unsubstantial pageants of goodliest hope vanish. It binds the veteran to the child by ties which no fluctuations even of belief can alter. It preserves the only identity, save that of consciousness, which man with certainty retains—connecting our past with our present, being by delicate ties so subtle, that they vibrate to every breeze of feeling; yet so strong that the tempests of life have not power to break them. It assures us that what we have been we shall be, and that our human hearts shall vibrate with their first sympathies, while the species shall endure.
We think that, on the whole, Mackenzie is the first master of this delicious style. Sterne, doubtless, has deeper touches of humanity in some of his works. But there is no sustained feeling—no continuity of emotion—no extended range of thought, over which the mind can brood in his ingenious and fantastical writings. His spirit is far too mercurial and airy to suffer him tenderly to linger over those images of sweet humanity which he discloses. His cleverness breaks the charm which his feeling spreads, as by magic, around us. His exquisite sensibility is ever counteracted by his perceptions of the ludicrous, and his ambition after the strange. No harmonious feeling breathes from any of his pieces. He sweeps "that curious instrument, the human heart," with hurried fingers, calling forth in rapid succession its deepest and its liveliest tones, and making only marvellous discord. His pathos is, indeed, most genuine while it lasts; but the soul is not suffered to cherish the feeling which it awakens. He does not shed, like Mackenzie, one mild light on the path of life; but scatters on it wild coruscations of ever shifting brightness, which, while they sometimes disclose spots of inimitable beauty, often do but fantastically play over objects dreary and revolting. All in Mackenzie is calm, gentle, harmonious. No play of mistimed wit, no flourish of rhetoric, no train of philosophical speculation, for a moment diverts our sympathy. Each of his best works is like one deep thought, and the impression which it leaves, soft, sweet, and undivided as the summer evening's holiest and latest sigh! •
The only exception which we can make to this character, is the Man of the World. Here the attempt to attain intricacy of plot disturbs the emotion which, in the other works of the author, is so harmoniously excited. A tale of sentiment should be most simple. Its whole effect depends on its keeping the tenor of its predominant feeling unbroken. Another defect in this story is, the length of time over which it spreads its narrative. Sindall, alone, connects the two generations which it embraces, and he is too mean and uninteresting thus to appear both as the hero and the chorus. When a story is thus continued from a mother to a daughter, it seems to have no legitimate boundary. The painful remembrance of the former interferes with our interest for the latter, and the present difficulties of the last deprive us of those emotions of fond retrospection, which the fate of the first would otherwise awaken. Still there are in this tale scenes of pathos delicious as any which, even the author himself, has drawn. The tender pleasure which the Man of Feeling excites is wholly without alloy. Its hero is the most beautiful personification of gentleness, patience, and meek sufferings, which the heart can conceive. Julia de Roubigne however, is, on the whole, the most delightful of the author's works. There is in this tale enough of plot to keep alive curiosity, and sharpen the interest which the sentiment awakens, without any of those strange turns and perplexing incidents which break the current of sympathy. The diction is in perfect harmony with the subject—" most musical, most melancholy"—with "golden cadences" responsive to the thoughts. There is a plaintive charm in the image presented to us of the heroine, too fair almost to dwell on. How exquisite is the description given of her by her maid, in a letter to her friend, relating to her fatal marriage:—" She was dressed in a white muslin night-gown, with striped lilac and white ribands; her hair was kept in the loose way you used to make me dress it for her at BelviHe, with two waving curls down one side of her neck, and a braid of little pearls. And to be sure, with her dark brown locks resting upon it, her bosom looked as pure white as the driven snow. And then her eyes, when she gave her hand to the count! they were cast down, and you might see her eye-lashes, like strokes of a pencil, over the white of her skin—the modest gentleness, with a sort of sadness too, as it were, and a gentle heave of her bosom at the same time." And yet, such is the feeling communicated to us by the whole work, that we are ready to believe even this artless picture an inadequate representation of that beauty which we never cease to feel. How natural and tear-moving is the letter of Savillon to his friend, describing the scenes of his early love, and recalling, with intense vividness, all the little circumstances which aided its progress! What an idea, in a single expression, does Julia give of the depth and the tenderness of her affection, when describing herself as taking lessons in drawing from her lover, she says that she felt something from the touch of his hand "not the less delightful from carrying a sort of fear along with that delight: it was like a pulse in the soul!" The last scenes of this novel are matchless in their kind. Never was so much of the terrific alleviated by so much of the pitiful. The incidents are most tragic; yet over them is diffused a breath of sweetness, which softens away half their anguish, and recon