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“THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLY.”
Here are we in a bright and breathing world.—Wordsworth. [New Monthly Magazine.]
WE esteem the productions which the great novelist of Scotland has poured forth with startling speed from his rich treasury, not only as multiplying the sources of delight to thousands, but as shedding the most genial influences on the taste and feeling of the people. These, with their fresh spirit of health, have counteracted the workings of that blasting spell by which the genius of Lord Byron once threatened strangely to fascinate and debase the vast multitude of English readers. Men, seduced by their noble poet, had begun to pay homage to mere energy, to regard virtue as low and mean compared with lofty crime, and to think that high passion carried in itself a justification for its most fearful excesses. He inspired them with a feeling of diseased curiosity to know the secrets of dark bosoms, while he opened his own perturbed spirit to their gaze. His works, and those imported from Germany, tended to give to our imagination an introspective cast, to perplex it with metaphysical subtleties, and to render our poetry “sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.” The genius of our country was thus in danger of being perverted from its purest uses to become the minister of vain philosophy, and the anatomist of polluted natures.
“The author of Waverly,” (as he delights to be styled) has weaned it from its idols, and restored to it its warm youthful blood and human affections. Nothing can be more opposed to the gloom, the inward revolvings, and morbid speculations, which the world once seemed inclined to esteem as the sole prerogatives of the bard, than his exquisite crea
tions. His persons are no shadowy abstractions—no personifications of a dogma-no portraits of the author varied in costume, but similar in features. With all their rich varieties of character, whether their heroical spirit touches on the godlike, or their wild eccentricities border on the farcical, they are men fashioned of human earth, and warm with human sympathies. He does not seek for the sublime in the mere intensity of burning passion, or for sources of enjoyment in those feverish gratifications which some would teach us to believe the only felicities worthy of high and impassioned souls. He writes every where with a keen and healthful relish for all the good things of life constantly refreshes us where we least expected it, with a sense of that pleasure which is spread through the earth “ to be caught in stray gifts by whoever will find," and brightens all things with the spirit of gladness. There is little of a meditative or retrospective cast in his works. Whatever age he chooses for his story lives before us: we become contemporaries of all his persons, and sharers in all their fortunes. Of all men who have ever written, excepting Shakspeare, he has perhaps the least of exclusiveness, the least of those feelings which keep men apart from their kind. He has his own predilectionsand we love him the better for them even when they are not ours- but they never prevent him from grasping with cordial spirit all that is human. His tolerance is the most complete, for it extends to adverse bigotries; his love of enjoyment does not exclude the ascetic from his respect, nor does his fondness for hereditary rights and time-honoured institutions prevent his admiration of the fiery zeal of a sectary. His genius shines with an equal light on all-illuminating the vast hills of purple heath, the calm breast of the quiet water, and the rich masses of the grove—now gleaming with a sacred light on the distant towers of some old monastery, now softening the green-wood shade, now piercing the gloom of the rude cave where the old Covenanter lies free and universal, and bounteous as the sun-and pouring its radiance with a like impartiality “ upon a living and rejoicing world.”
We shall not attempt, in this slight sketch, to follow our author regularly through all his rich and varied creations ; but shall rather consider his powers in general of natural description-of skill in the delineation of character—and of exciting high and poetical interest, by the gleams of his fancy, the tragic elevation of his scenes, and the fearful touches which he delights to borrow from the world of spirits.
In the vivid description of natural scenery our author is wholly without a rival, unless Sir Walter Scott will dispute the pre-eminence with him; and, even then, we think the novelist would be found to surpass the bard. The free grace of nature has, of late, contributed little to the charm of our highest poetry. Lord Byron has always, in his reference to the majestic scenery of the universe, dealt rather in grand generalities than minute pictures, has used the turbulence of the elements as symbols of inward tempests, and sought the vast solitudes and deep tranquillity of nature, but to assuage the fevers of the soul. Wordsworth—who, amidst the contempt of the ignorant and of the worldly wise, has been gradually and silently moulding all the leading spirits of the age-has sought communion with nature, for other purposes than to describe her external forms. He has shed on all creation a sweet and consecrating radiance, far other than " the light of common day." In his poetry the hills and streams appear, not as they are seen by vulgar eyes, but as the poet himself, in the holiness of his imagination has arrayed them. They are peopled not with the shapes of old superstition, but with the shadows of the poet's thought, the dreams of a glory that shall be. They are resonant-not with the voice of birds, or the soft whisperings of the breeze, but with echoes from beyond the tomb. Their lowliest objects-a dwarf bush, an old stone, a daisy, or a small celandine-affect us with thoughts as deep, and inspire meditations as profound, as the loveliest scene of reposing beauty, or the wildest region of the mountains-because the heart of the poet is all in all—and the visible objects of his love are not dear to us for their own colours or forms, but for the sentiment which he has linked to them, and which they bring back upon our souls. We would not have this otherwise for all the romances in the world. But it gladdens us to see the intrinsic claims of nature on our hearts asserted, and to feel that she is, for her own sake, worthy of deep love. It is not as the richest index of divine philosophy alone that she has a right to our affections; and, therefore, we rejoice that in our author
she has found a votary to whom her works are in themselves “ an appetite, a feeling, and a love," and who finds, in their contemplation, “ no need of a remoter charm, by thought supplied, or any interest unborrowed from the eye.” Every gentle swelling of the ground—every gleam of the waterevery curve and rock of the shore--all varieties of the earth, from the vastest crag to the soft grass of the woodland walk, and all changes of the heaven from “morn to noon, from noon to latest eve,”—are placed before us in his works with a distinctness beyond that which the painter's art can attain, while we seem to breathe the mountain air, or drink in the freshness of the valleys. We perceive the change in the landscape at every step of the delightful journey through which he guides us. Our recollection never confounds any one scene with another, although so many are laid in the same region, and are alike in general character. The lake among the hills, on which the cave of Donald Bean bordered - that near which the clan of the M Gregors combated, and which closed in blue calmness over the body of Maurice-and that which encircled the castle of Julian Avenel—are distinct from each other in the imagination, as the loveliest scenes which we have corporally visited. What in softest beauty can exceed the description of the ruins of St. Ruth; in the lovelily romantic the approach to the pass of Aberfoil; in varied lustre the winding shores of Ellangowan bay; in rude and dreary majesty the Highland scenes, where Ronald of the Mist lay hidden; and in terrific sublimity the rising of the sea on Fairport Sands, and the perils of Sir Arthur Wardour and his daughter ? Our author's scene of comparative barrenness are enchanting by the vividness of his details, and the fond delight with which he dwells on their redeeming features. We seem to know every little plot of green, every thicket of copse-wood, and every turn and cascade of the stream in the vale of Glendearg, and to remember each low bush in the barren scene of her skirmish between the Covenanters and Claverhouse, as though we had been familiar with it in childhood. The descriptions of this author are manifestly rendered more vivid by the intense love which he bears to his country—not only to her luxuriant and sublime scenery, but “ her bare earth, and mountains bare, and grass in the green field.” He will scarcely leave a brook, a mountain ash, or a lichen on the rocks of her shore, without due honour. He may fitly be regarded as the genius of Scotland, who has given her a poetical interest, a vast place in the imagination, which may almost compensate for the loss of that political independence, the last struggling love for which he so nobly celebrates.
“ The author of Waverly” is, however, chiefly distinguished by the number, the spirit, and the individuality of his characters. We know not, indeed, where to begin or to end with the vast crowd of their genial and noble shapes which come thronging on our memory. His Indicrous characters are dear to us, because they are seldom merely quaint or strange, the dry oddities of fancy, but have as genuine a kindred with humanity as the most gifted and enthusiastic of their fellows. The laughter which they excite is full of social sympathy, and we love them and our nature the better while we indulge it. Whose heart does not claim kindred with Baillie Nichol Jarvie, while the Glasgow weaver without losing one of his nice peculiarities, kindles into honest warmth with his ledger in hand, and in spite of broad-cloth grows almost ro mantic? In whom does a perception of the ludicrous for a moment injure the veneration which the brave, stout-hearted and chivalrous Baron of Bradwardine inspires ? Who shares not in the fond enthusiasm of Oldbuck for black letter, in his eager and tremulous joy at grasping rare books at low prices, and in his discoveries of Roman camps and monuments which we can hardly forgive Edie Ochiltree for disproving? Compared with these genial persons, the portraits of mere singularity-however inimitably finished-are harsh and cold : of these, indeed, the works of our author afford scarcely more than one signal example-Captain Dalgetty—who is a mere piece of ingenious mechanism, like the automaton chess-player, and with all his cleverness, gives us little pleasure, for he excites as little sympathy. Almost all the persons of these novels, diversified as they are, are really endowed with some deep and elevating enthusiasm, which, whether breaking through eccentricities of manner, perverted by error, or mingled with crime, ever asserts the majesty of our nature, its deep affections, and undying powers. This is true, not only of the divine enthusiasm of Flora Mac Ivor—of the sweet heroism of Jeannie Deans of the angelic tenderness and