« ПредишнаНапред »
its shades, as Shakspeare has drawn it. Not so is it with our author; his spells have manifest hold on himself, and, therefore, they are very potent with the spirits of his readers. No prophetic intimation in his works is ever suffered to fail. The spirit which appears to Fergus—the astronomical predictions of Guy Mannering—the eloquent curses, and more eloquent blessings, of Meg Merrilies—the dying denunciation of Mucklewrath—the old prophecy in the Bride of Lammermuir-all are fulfilled to the very letter. The high and joyous spirits of Kennedy are observed by one of the by, standers as intimations of his speedy fate. We are far from disapproving of these touches of the super-human, for they are made to blend harmoniously with the freshest hues of life, and without destroying its native colouring, give to it a more solemn tinge. But we cannot extend our indulgence to the seer in the Legend of Montrose, or the Lady of Avenel, in the Monastery; where the spirits of another world do not cast their shadowings on this, but stalk forth in open light, and “in form as palpable” as any of the mortal characters. In works of passion, fairies and ghosts can scarcely be “ simple products of the common day," without destroying all harmony in our perceptions, and bringing the whole into discredit with the imagination as well as the feelings. Fairy tales are among the most exquisite things in the world, and so are delineations of humanity like those of our author ; but they can never be blended without debasing the former into chill substances, or refining the latter into airy nothings. . We shall avoid the fruitless task of dwelling on the defects of this author, on the general insipidity of his lovers, on the want of skill in the development of his plots, on the clumsiness of his prefatory introductions, or the impotence of many of his conclusions. He has done his country and his nature no ordinary service. He has brought romance almost into our own times, and made the nobleness of humanity familiar to our daily thoughts. He has enriched his. tory to us by opening such varied and delicious vistas to our gaze, beneath the range of its loftier events and more public characters. May his intellectual treasury prove exhaustless as the purse of Fortunatus, and may he dip into it unsparing. ly for the delight and the benefit of his species !
[New Monthly Magazine.]
MR. GODWIN is the most original-not only of living novelists—but of living writers in prose. There are, indeed, very few authors of any age who are so clearly entitled to the praise of having produced works, the first perusal of which is a signal event in man's internal history. His genius is by far the most extraordinary, which the great shaking of nations and of principles-the French revolutionimpelled and directed in its progress. English literature, at the period of that marvellous change, had become sterile; the rich luxuriance which once overspread its surface, had gradually declined into thin and scattered productions of feeble growth and transient duration. The fearful convulsion which, agitated the world of politics and of morals, tore up this shallow and exhausted surface-disclosed vast treasures which had been concealed for centuries—burst open the secret springs of imagination and of thought—and left, instead of the smooth and weary plain, a region of deep valleys and of shapeless hills, of new cataracts and of awful abysses, of spots blasted into everlasting barrenness, and regions of deepest and richest soil. Our author partook in the first enthusiasm of the spirit-stirring season-in“ its pleasant exercise of hope and joy”-in much of its speculative extravagance, but in none of its practical excesses. He was roused not into action but into thought; and the high and undying energies of his soul, unwasted on vain efforts for the actual regeneration of man, gathered strength in those pure fields of meditation to which they were limited. The power which might have ruled the disturbed nations with
the wildest, directed only to the creation of high theories and of marvellous tales, imparted to its works a stern reality, and a moveless grandeur which never could spring from mere fantasy. His works are not like those which a man, who is endued with a deep sense of beauty, or a rare faculty of observation, or a sportive wit, or a breathing eloquence, may fabricate as the “idle business” of his life, as the means of profit or of fame. They have more in them of acts than of writings. They are the living and the immortal deeds of a man who must have been a great political adventurer had he not been an author. There is in “Caleb Williams” alone the material—the real burning energy— which might have animated a hundred schemes for the weal or wo of the species. No writer of fictions has ever succeeded so strikingly as Mr. Godwin, with so little adventitious aid. His works are neither gay creatures of the element, nor pictures of external life—they derive not their charm from the delusions of fancy, or the familiarities of daily habitude—and are as destitute of the fascinations of light satire and felicitous delineation of society, as they are of the magic of the Arabian Tales. His style has “no figures and no fantasies,” but is simple and austere. Yet his novels have a power which so enthralls us, that we half doubt, when we read them in youth, whether all our experience is not a dream, and these the only realities. He lays bare to us the innate might and majesty of man. He takes the simplest and most ordinary emotions of our nature, and makes us feel the springs of delight or of agony which they contain, the stupendous force which lies hid within them, and the sublime mysteries with which they are connected. He exhibits the naked wrestle of the passions in a vast solitude, where no object of material beauty disturbs our attention from the august spectacle, and where the least beating of the heart is audible in the depth of the stillness. His works endow the abstractions of life with more of real presence, and make us more intensely conScious of existence, than any others with which we are acquainted. They give us a new feeling of the capacity of our nature for action or for suffering, make the currents of Our blood mantle within us, and our bosoms heave with indistinct desires for the keenest excitements and the strangest
perils. We feel as though we could live years in moments of energetic life, while we sympathize with his breathing characters. In things which before appeared indifferent, we discern sources of the fullest delight or of the most intense anguish. The healthful breathings of the common air seem instinct with an unspeakable rapture. The most ordinary habits which link one season of life to another become the awakeners of thoughts and of remembrances “which do often lie too deep for tears.” The nicest disturbances of the imagination make the inmost fibres of the being quiver with agonies. Passions which have not usually been thought worthy to agitate the soul, now first seem to have their own ardent beatings, and their tumultuous joys. We seem capable of a more vivid life than we have ever before felt or dreamed of, and scarcely wonder that he who could thus give us a new sense of our own vitality, should have imagined that mind might become omnipotent over matter, and that he was able, by an effort of the will, to become corporeally immortal! The intensity of passion which is manifested in the novels of Godwin is of a very different kind from that which burns in the poems of a noble bard, whom he has been sometimes erroneously supposed to resemble. The former sets before us mightiest realities in clear vision; the latter embodies the phantoms of a feverish dream. The strength of Godwin is the pure energy of unsophisticated nature; that of Lord Byron is the fury of disease. The grandeur of the last is derived from its transitoriness; that of the first from its eternal essence. The emotion in the poet receives no inconsiderable part of its force from its rebound from the dark rocks and giant barriers which seem to confine its rage within narrow boundaries; the feeling in the novelist is in its own natural current deep and resistless. The persons of the bard feel intensely, because they soon shall feel no more; those of the novelist glow, and kindle, and agonize, because they shall never perish. In the works of both, guilt is often associated with sublime energy; but how dissimilar are the impressions which they leave on the spirit! Lord Byron strangely blends the moral degradation with the intellectual majesty; so that goodness appears tame, and crime only is honoured and exalted. Godwin, on the other hand, only teaches us bitterly to mourn the evil which has been cast on
a noble nature, and to regard the energy of the character not as inseparably linked with vice, but as destined ultimately to subdue it. He makes us every where feel that crime is not the native heritage, but the accident, of the species of which we are members. He impresses us with the immortality of virtue; and while he leaves us painfully to regret the stains which the most gifted and energetic characters contract amidst the pollutions of time, he inspires us with hope that these shall pass away for ever. We drink in unshaken confidence the good and the true, which is ever of more value than hatred or contempt for the evil !
“ Caleb Williams,” the earliest, is also the most popular of our author's romances, not because his latter works have been less rich in sentiment and passion, but because they are, for the most part, confined to the development of single characters; while in this there is the opposition and deathgrapple of two beings, each endowed with poignant sensibilities and quenchless energy. There is no work of fiction which more rivets the attention-no tragedy which exhibits a struggle more sublime, or sufferings more intense, than this; yet to produce the effect, no complicated machinery is employed, but the springs of action are few and simple. The motives are at once common and elevated, and are purely intellectual, without appearing for an instant inadequate to their mighty issues. Curiosity, for instance, which generally seems a low and ignoble motive for scrutinizing the secrets of a man's life, here seizes with strange fascination on a gentle and ingenuous spirit, and supplies it with excitement as fervid, and snatches of delight as precious and as fearful, as those feelings create which we are accustomed to regard as alone worthy to enrapture or to agitate. The involuntary recurrence by Williams to the string of frenzy in the soul of one whom he would die to serve—the workings of his tortures on the heart of Falkland till they wring confidence from him—and the net thenceforth spread over the path of the youth like an invisible spell by his agonized master, surprising as they are, arise from causes so natural and so adequate, that the imagination at once owns them as authentic. The mild beauty of Falkland's natural character, contrasted with the guilt he has incurred, and his severe purpose to lead a long life of agony and crime, that his fame