Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

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 ludicrous 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 romantic 3 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 1 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 1 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 fortitude of Rebecca, but of the puritanic severities and awful zeal of Balfour of Burley, and the yet more frightful energy of Macbriar, equally ready to sacrifice a blameless youth, and to bear without shrinking the keenest of mortal agonies. In the fierce and hunted child of the mist—in the daring and reckless libertine Staunton—in the fearful Elspeth—in the vengeful wife of M<Jregor—are traits of wild and irregular greatness, fragments of might and grandeur, which show how noble and sacred a thing the heart of man is, in spite of its strangest debasements and perversions. How does the inimitable portrait of Claverhouse at first excite our hatred for that carelessness of human misery, that contempt for the life of his fellows, that cold hauteur and finished indifference which are so vividly depicted;—and yet how does his mere soldierly enthusiasm redeem him at last, and almost persuade us that the honour and fame of such a man were cheaply purchased by a thousand lives! We can scarcely class Rob Roy among these mingled characters. He has nothing but the name and the fortune of an outlaw and a robber. He is, in truth, one of the noblest of heroes—a Prince of the hether and the rock—whose very thirst for vengeance is tempered and harmonized by his fondness for the wild and lovely scenes of his home. Indeed the influences of majestic scenery are to be perceived tinging the rudest minds which the author has made to expatiate amidst its solitudes. The passions even of Burley and of Macbriar, borrow a grace from the steep crags, the deep masses of shade, and the silent caves, among which they were nurtured, as the most rapid and perturbed stream which rushes through a wild and romantic region bears some reflection of noble imagery on its impetuous surface. To some of his less stern but unlettered personages, nature seems to have been a kindly instructor, nurturing high thoughts within them, and well supplying to them all the lack of written wisdom. The wild sublimity of Meg Merrilies is derived from her long converse with the glories of creation; the floating clouds have lent to her something of their grace; she has contemplated the rocks till her soul is firm as they, and gazed intently on the face of nature until she has become half acquainted with its mysteries. The old king's beadman has not journeyed for years in vain among the hills and woods; their beauty has sunk into his soul; and his days seem bound each to each by "by natural piety" which he has learned among them.

That we think there is much of true poetical genius—much of that which softens, refines, and elevates humanity in the works of this author—may be inferred from our remarks on his power of embodying human character. The gleams of a soft and delicate fancy are tenderly cast over many of their scenes—heightening that which is already lovely, relieving the gloomy, and making even the thin blades of barren regions shine refreshingly on the eyes. We occasionally meet with a pure and pensive beauty, as in Pattieson's description of his sensations in his evening walks after the feverish drudgery of his school—with wild yet graceful fantasies, as in the songs of Davie Gellatly—or with visionary and aerial shapes, like the spirit of the House of Avenel. But the poetry of this author is, for the most part, of a far deeper cast;— flowing from his intense consciousness of the mysteries of our nature, and constantly impressing on our minds the high sanctities and the mortal destiny of our being. No one has ever made so impressive a use of the solemnities of life and death—of the awfulness which rests over the dying, and renders all their words and actions sacred—or of the fond retrospection, and the intense present enjoyment, snatched fearfully as if to secure it from fate, which are the peculiar blessings of a short and uncertain existence. Was ever the robustness of life—the mantling of the strong current of joyous blood—the high animation of health, spirits, and a stout heart, more vividly brought before the mind than in the description of Frank Kennedy's demeanour as he rides lustily forth, never to return 1—or the fearful change from this hearty enjoyment of life to the dullness of mortality, more deeply impressed on the imagination than in all the minute examinations of the scene of his murder, the traces of the deadly contest, the last marks of the struggling footsteps, and the description of the corpse at the foot of the crag 1 Can a scene of mortality be conceived more fearful than that where Bertram, in the glen of Dernclugh, witnesses the last agonies of one over whom Meg Merrilies is chaunting her wild ditties to soothe the passage of the spirit1 What a stupendous scene is that of the young fisher's funeral—the wretched father writhing in the contortions of agony—the mother silent in

tender sorrow—the motley crowd assembled to partake of strange festivity—and the old grandmother fearfully linking the living to the dead, now turning her wheel in apathy and unconsciousness, now drinking with frightful mirth to many "such merry meetings," now, to the astonishment of the beholders rising to comfort her son, and intimating with horrid solemnity that there was more reason to mourn for her than for the departed! Equal in terrific power, is the view given us of the last confession and death of that " awful woman"— her intense perception of her long past guilt, with her deadness to all else—her yet quenchless hate to the object of her youthful vengeance, animating her frame with unearthly fire —her dying fancies that she is about to follow her mistress, and the broken images of old grandeur which flit before her as she perishes. These things are conceived in the highest spirit of tragedy, which makes life and death meet together, which exhibits humanity stripped of its accidents in all its depth and heighth, which impresses us at once with the victory of death, and of the eternity of those energies which it appears to subdue. There are also in these works, situations of human interest as strong as ever were invented—attended too with all that high apparel of the imagination, which renders the images of fear and anguish majestical. Such is that scene in the lone house after the defeat of the Covenanters, where Morton finds himself in the midst of a band of zealots, who regard him as given by God into their hands as a victim—where he is placed before the clock to gaze on the advances of the hand to the hour when he is to be slain, amidst the horrible devotion of his foes, The whole scene is, we think, without an equal in the conceptions which dramatic power has been able to embody. Its startling unexpectedness, yet its perfect probability to the imagination—the high tone and wild enthusiasm of character in the murderers—the sacrificial cast of their intended deed in their own raised and perverted thoughts—the fearful view given to the bodily senses of their prisoner of his remaining moments by the segment of the circle yet to be traversed by the finger of the clock before him, enable us to participate in the workings of his own dizzy soul, as he stands "awaiting till the sword destined to slay him crept out of its scabbard gradually, and, as it were by straw-breadths," and condemned to drink the bitterness of death " drop by drop," while his destined executioners seem "to alter their forms and features like the spectres in a feverish dream; their features become larger and their faces more disturbed;" until the beings around him appear actually demons, the walls seem to drop with blood, and "the light tick of the clock thrills on his ear with such loud, painful distinctness, as if each sound were the prick of a bodkin inflicted on the naked nerve of the organ." The effect is even retrospectively heightened by the heroic deaths of the Covenanters immediately succeeding, which give a dignity and a consecration to their late terrific design. The trial and execution of Fergus Mac Ivor are also, in the most exalted sense of the term, tragical. They are not only of breathless interest from the external circumstances, nor of moral grandeur from the heroism of Fergus and his follower, but of poetic dignity from that power of imagination which renders for a time the rules of law sublime as well as fearful, and gives to all the formalities of a trial more than a judicial majesty. It is seldom, indeed, that the terrors of our author offend or shock us, because they are accompanied by that reconciling power which softens without breaking the current of our sympathies. But there are some few instances of unrelieved horror—or of anguish, which overmasters fantasy—as the strangling of Glossin by Dirk Haiteraich, the administering of the torture to Macbriar, and the bloody bridal of Lammermuir. If we compare these with the terrors of Burley in his cave—where with his naked sword in one hand and his Bible in the other, he wrestles with his own remorse, believing it, in the spirit of his faith, a fiend of Satan— and with the sinking of Ravenswood in the sands; we shall feel how the grandeur of religious thought in the first instance, and the stately scenery of nature and the air of the supernatural in the last, ennoble agony, and render horrors grateful to the soul.

We must not pass over, without due acknowledgment, the power of our author in the description of battles, as exhibited in his pictures of the engagement at Preston Pans, of the first skirmish with the Covenanters, in which they overcome Claverhouse, and of the battle in which they were, in turn, defeated. The art by which he contrives at once to give the mortal contest in all its breadth and vastness—to

« ПредишнаНапред »