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Famous Reviews by Editor: R. Brimley Johnson

Part 7 out of 10

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lanes. The miserable and confined accommodation which such habitations
afforded, drove _men of business_, as they were called, that is, people
belonging to the law, to hold their professional rendezvouses in
taverns, and many lawyers of eminence spent the principal part of their
time in some tavern of note, transacted their business there, received
the visits of clients with their writers or attornies, and suffered no
imputation from so doing. This practice naturally led to habits of
conviviality, to which the Scottish lawyers, till of very late years,
were rather too much addicted. Few men drank so hard as the counsellors
of the old school, and there survived till of late some veterans who
supported in that respect the character of their predecessors. To vary
the humour of a joyous evening many frolics were resorted to, and the
game of _high jinks_ was one of the most common.[1] In fact, high jinks
was one of the _petits jeux_ with which certain circles were wont to
while away the time; and though it claims no alliance with modern
associations, yet, as it required some shrewdness and dexterity to
support the characters assumed for the occasion, it is not difficult to
conceive that it might have been as interesting and amusing to the
parties engaged in it, as counting the spots of a pack of cards, or
treasuring in memory the rotation in which they are thrown on the table.
The worst of the game was what that age considered as its principal
excellence, namely, that the forfeitures being all commuted for wine, it
proved an encouragement to hard drinking, the prevailing vice of the
age.

[1] We have learned, with some dismay, that one of the ablest lawyers
Scotland ever produced, and who lives to witness (although in
retirement) the various changes which have taken place in her courts
of judicature, a man who has filled with marked distinction the
highest offices of his profession, _tush'd_ (pshaw'd) extremely at
the delicacy of our former criticism. And certainly he claims some
title to do so, having been in his youth not only a witness of such
orgies as are described as proceeding under the auspices of Mr.
Pleydell, but himself a distinguished performer.

On the subject of Davie Gellatley, the fool of the Baron of
Bradwardine's family, we are assured there is ample testimony that a
custom, referred to Shakespeare's time in England, had, and in remote
provinces of Scotland, has still its counterpart, to this day. We do not
mean to say that the professed jester with his bauble and his
party-coloured vestment can be found in any family north of the Tweed. Yet
such a personage held this respectable office in the family of the Earls
of Strathemore within the last century, and his costly holiday dress,
garnished with bells of silver, is still preserved in the Castle of
Glamis. But we are assured, that to a much later period, and even to
this moment, the habits and manners of Scotland have had some tendency
to preserve the existence of this singular order of domestics. There are
(comparatively speaking) no poor's rates in the country parishes of
Scotland, and of course no work-houses to immure either their worn out
poor or the "moping idiot and the madman gay," whom Crabbe characterizes
as the happiest inhabitants of these mansions, because insensible of
their misfortunes. It therefore happens almost necessarily in Scotland,
that the house of the nearest proprietor of wealth and consequence
proves a place of refuge for these outcasts of society; and until the
pressure of the times, and the calculating habits which they have
necessarily generated had rendered the maintenance of a human being
about such a family an object of some consideration, they usually found
an asylum there, and enjoyed the degree of comfort of which their
limited intellect rendered them susceptible. Such idiots were usually
employed in some simple sort of occasional labour; and if we are not
misinformed, the situation of turn-spit was often assigned them, before
the modern improvement of the smoke-jack. But, however employed, they
usually displayed towards their benefactors a sort of instinctive
attachment which was very affecting. We knew one instance in which such
a being refused food for many days, pined away, literally broke his
heart, and died within the space of a very few weeks after his
benefactor's decease. We cannot now pause to deduce the moral inference
which might be derived from such instances. It is however evident, that
if there was a coarseness of mind in deriving amusement from the follies
of these unfortunate beings, a circumstance to the disgrace of which
they were totally insensible, their mode of life was, in other respects,
calculated to promote such a degree of happiness as their faculties
permitted them to enjoy. But besides the amusement which our forefathers
received from witnessing their imperfections and extravagancies, there
was a more legitimate source of pleasure in the wild wit which they
often flung around them with the freedom of Shakespeare's licensed
clowns. There are few houses in Scotland of any note or antiquity where
the witty sayings of some such character are not occasionally quoted at
this very day. The pleasure afforded to our forefathers by such
repartees was no doubt heightened by their wanting the habits of more
elegant amusement. But in Scotland the practice long continued, and in
the house of one of the very first noblemen of that country (a man whose
name is never mentioned without reverence) and that within the last
twenty years, a jester such as we have mentioned stood at the side-table
during dinner, and occasionally amused the guests by his extemporaneous
sallies. Imbecility of this kind was even considered as an apology for
intrusion upon the most solemn occasions. All know the peculiar
reverence with which the Scottish of every rank attend on funeral
ceremonies. Yet within the memory of most of the present generation, an
idiot of an appearance equally hideous and absurd, dressed, as if in
mockery, in a rusty and ragged black coat, decorated with a cravat and
weepers made of white paper in the form of those worn by the deepest
mourners, preceded almost every funeral procession in Edinburgh, as if
to turn into ridicule the last rites paid to mortality.

It has been generally supposed that in the case of these as of other
successful novels, the most prominent and peculiar characters were
sketched from real life. It was only after the death of Smollet, that
two barbers and a shoemaker contended about the character of Strap,
which each asserted was modelled from his own: but even in the lifetime
of the present author, there is scarcely a dale in the pastoral
districts of the southern counties but arrogates to itself the
possession of the original Dandie Dinmont. As for Baillie Mac Wheeble, a
person of the highest eminence in the law perfectly well remembers
having received fees from him.

* * * * *

Although these strong resemblances occur so frequently, and with such
peculiar force, as almost to impress us with the conviction that the
author sketched from nature, and not from fancy alone; yet we hesitate
to draw any positive conclusion, sensible that a character dashed off as
the representative of a certain class of men will bear, if executed with
fidelity to the general outlines, not only that resemblance which he
ought to possess as "knight of the shire," but also a special affinity
to some particular individual. It is scarcely possible it should be
otherwise. When Emery appears on the stage as a Yorkshire peasant, with
the habit, manner, and dialect peculiar to the character, and which he
assumes with so much truth and fidelity, those unacquainted with the
province or its inhabitants see merely the abstract idea, the beau ideal
of a Yorkshireman. But to those who are intimate with both, the action
and manner of the comedian almost necessarily recall the idea of some
individual native (altogether unknown probably to the performer) to whom
his exterior and manners bear a casual resemblance. We are therefore on
the whole inclined to believe, that the incidents are frequently copied
from _actual_ occurrences, but that the characters are either entirely
fictitious, or if any traits have been borrowed from real life, as in
the anecdote which we have quoted respecting Invernahyle, they have been
carefully disguised and blended with such as are purely imaginary. We
now proceed to a more particular examination of the volumes before us.

They are entitled "Tales of my Landlord": why so entitled, excepting to
introduce a quotation from Don Quixote, it is difficult to conceive: for
Tales of my Landlord they are _not_, nor is it indeed easy to say whose
tales they ought to be called. There is a proem, as it is termed,
supposed to be written by Jedediah Cleishbotham, the schoolmaster and
parish clerk of the village of Gandercleugh, in which we are given to
understand that these Tales were compiled by his deceased usher, Mr.
Peter Pattieson, from the narratives or conversations of such travellers
as frequented the Wallace Inn, in that village. Of this proem we shall
only say that it is written in the quaint style of that prefixed by Gay
to his Pastorals, being, as Johnson terms it, "such imitation as he
could obtain of obsolete language, and by consequence in a style that
was never written nor spoken in any age or place."

* * * * *

We have given these details partly in compliance with the established
rules which our office prescribes, and partly in the hope that the
authorities we have been enabled to bring together might give additional
light and interest to the story. From the unprecedented popularity of
the work, we cannot flatter ourselves that our summary has made any one
of our readers acquainted with events with which he was not previously
familiar. The causes of that popularity we may be permitted shortly to
allude to; we cannot even hope to exhaust them, and it is the less
necessary that we should attempt it, since we cannot suggest a
consideration which a perusal of the work has not anticipated in the
minds of all our readers.

One great source of the universal admiration which this family of Novels
has attracted, is their peculiar plan, and the distinguished excellence
with which it has been executed. The objections that have frequently
been stated against what are called Historical Romances, have been
suggested, we think, rather from observing the universal failure of that
species of composition, than from any inherent and constitutional defect
in the species of composition itself. If the manners of different ages
are injudiciously blended together,--if unpowdered crops and slim and
fairy shapes are commingled in the dance with volumed wigs and
far-extending hoops,--if in the portraiture of real character the truth
of
history be violated, the eyes of the spectator are necessarily averted
from a picture which excites in every well regulated and intelligent
mind the hatred of incredulity. We have neither time nor inclination to
enforce our remark by giving illustrations of it. But if those
unpardonable sins against good taste can be avoided, and the features of
an age gone by can be recalled in a spirit of delineation at once
faithful and striking, the very opposite is the legitimate conclusion:
the composition itself is in every point of view dignified and improved;
and the author, leaving the light and frivolous associates with whom a
careless observer would be disposed to ally him, takes his seat on the
bench of the historians of his time and country. In this proud assembly,
and in no mean place of it, we are disposed to rank the author of these
works; for we again express our conviction--and we desire to be
understood to use the term as distinguished from _knowledge_--that they
are all the offspring of the same parent. At once a master of the great
events and minuter incidents of history, and of the manners of the times
he celebrates, as distinguished from those which now prevail,--the
intimate thus of the living and of the dead, his judgment enables him to
separate those traits which are characteristic from those that are
generic; and his imagination, not less accurate and discriminating than
vigorous and vivid, presents to the mind of the reader the manners of
the times, and introduces to his familiar acquaintance the individuals
of his drama as they thought and spoke and acted. We are not quite sure
that any thing is to be found in the manner and character of the Black
Dwarf which would enable us, without the aid of the author's
information, and the facts he relates, to give it to the beginning of
the last century; and, as we have already remarked, his free-booting
robber lives, perhaps, too late in time. But his delineation is perfect.
With palpable and inexcusable defects in the _denouement_, there are
scenes of deep and overwhelming interest; and every one, we think, must
be delighted with the portrait of the Grandmother of Hobbie Elliott, a
representation soothing and consoling in itself, and heightened in its
effect by the contrast produced from the lighter manners of the younger
members of the family, and the honest but somewhat blunt and boisterous
bearing of the shepherd himself.

The second tale, however, as we have remarked, is more adapted to the
talents of the author, and his success has been proportionably
triumphant. We have trespassed too unmercifully on the time of our
gentle readers to indulge our inclination in endeavouring to form an
estimate of that melancholy but, nevertheless, most attractive period in
our history, when by the united efforts of a corrupt and unprincipled
government, of extravagant fanaticism, want of education, perversion of
religion, and the influence of ill-instructed teachers, whose hearts and
understandings were estranged and debased by the illapses of the wildest
enthusiasm, the liberty of the people was all but extinguished, and the
bonds of society nearly dissolved. Revolting as all this is to the
Patriot, it affords fertile materials to the Poet. As to the _beauty_ of
the delineation presented to the reader in this tale, there is, we
believe, but one opinion: and we are persuaded that the more carefully
and dispassionately it is contemplated, the more perfect will it appear
in the still more valuable qualities of fidelity and truth. We have
given part of the evidence on which we say this, and we will again recur
to the subject. The opinions and language of the _honest party_ are
detailed with the accuracy of a witness; and he who could open to our
view the state of the Scottish peasantry, perishing in the field or on
the scaffold, and driven to utter and just desperation, in attempting to
defend their first and most sacred rights; who could place before our
eyes the leaders of these enormities, from the notorious Duke of
Lauderdale downwards to the fellow mind that executed his behest,
precisely as they lived and looked,--such a chronicler cannot justly be
charged with attempting to extenuate or throw into the shade the
corruptions of a government that soon afterwards fell a victim to its
own follies and crimes.

Independently of the delineation of the manners and characters of the
times to which the story refers, it is impossible to avoid noticing, as
a separate excellence, the faithful representation of general nature.
Looking not merely to the litter of novels that peep out for a single
day from the mud where they were spawned, but to many of more ambitious
pretensions--it is quite evident that in framing them, the authors have
first addressed themselves to the involutions and developement of the
story, as the principal object of their attention; and that in
entangling and unravelling the plot, in combining the incidents which
compose it, and even in depicting the characters, they sought for
assistance chiefly in the writings of their predecessors. Baldness, and
uniformity, and inanity are the inevitable results of this slovenly and
unintellectual proceeding. The volume which this author has studied is
the great book of Nature. He has gone abroad into the world in quest of
what the world will certainly and abundantly supply, but what a man of
great discrimination alone will find, and a man of the very highest
genius will alone depict after he has discovered it. The characters of
Shakespeare are not more exclusively human, not more perfectly men and
women as they live and move, than those of this mysterious author. It is
from this circumstance that, as we have already observed, many of his
personages are supposed to be sketched from real life. He must have
mixed much and variously in the society of his native country; his
studies must have familiarized him to systems of manners now forgotten;
and thus the persons of his drama, though in truth the creatures of his
own imagination, convey the impression of individuals who we are
persuaded must exist, or are evoked from their graves in all their
original freshness, entire in their lineaments, and perfect in all the
minute peculiarities of dress and demeanour.

* * * * *

Admitting, however, that these portraits are sketched with spirit and
effect, two questions arise of much more importance than any thing
affecting the merits of the novels--namely, whether it is safe or
prudent to imitate, in a fictitious narrative, and often with a view to
a ludicrous effect, the scriptural style of the zealots of the
seventeenth century; and secondly, whether the recusant presbyterians,
collectively considered, do not carry too reverential and sacred a
character to be treated by an unknown author with such insolent
familiarity.

On the first subject, we frankly own we have great hesitation. It is
scarcely possible to ascribe scriptural expressions to hypocritical or
extravagant characters without some risk of mischief, because it will be
apt to create an habitual association between the expression and the
ludicrous manner in which it is used, unfavourable to the reverence due
to the sacred text. And it is no defence to state that this is an error
inherent in the plan of the novel. Bourdaloue, a great authority,
extends this restriction still farther, and denounces all attempts to
unmask hypocrisy by raillery, because in doing so the satirist is
necessarily compelled to expose to ridicule the religious vizard of
which he has divested him. Yet even against such authority it may be
stated, that ridicule is the friend both of religion and virtue, when
directed against those who assume their garb, whether from hypocrisy or
fanaticism. The satire of Butler, not always decorous in these
particulars, was yet eminently useful in stripping off their borrowed
gravity and exposing to public ridicule the affected fanaticism of the
times in which he lived. It may also be remembered, that in the days of
Queen Anne a number of the Camisars or Huguenots of Dauphine arrived as
refugees in England, and became distinguished by the name of the French
prophets. The fate of these enthusiasts in their own country had been
somewhat similar to that of the Covenanters. Like them, they used to
assemble in the mountains and desolate places, to the amount of many
hundreds, in arms, and like them they were hunted and persecuted by the
military. Like them, they were enthusiasts, though their enthusiasm
assumed a character more decidedly absurd. The fugitive Camisars who
came to London had convulsion-fits, prophesied, made converts, and
attracted the public attention by an offer to raise the dead. The
English minister, instead of fine and imprisonment and other inflictions
which might have placed them in the rank and estimation of martyrs, and
confirmed in their faith their numerous disciples, encouraged a dramatic
author to bring out a farce on the subject which, though neither very
witty nor very delicate, had the good effect of laughing the French
prophets out of their audience and putting a stop to an inundation of
nonsense which could not have failed to disgrace the age in which it
appeared. The Camisars subsided into their ordinary vocation of
psalmodic whiners, and no more was heard of their sect or their
miracles. It would be well if all folly of the kind could be so easily
quelled: for enthusiastic nonsense, whether of this day or of those
which have passed away, has no more title to shelter itself under the
veil of religion than a common pirate to be protected by the reverence
due to an honoured and friendly flag.

Still, however, we must allow that there is great delicacy and
hesitation to be used in employing the weapon of ridicule on any point
connected with religion. Some passages occur in the work before us for
which the writer's sole apology must be the uncontroulable disposition
to indulge the peculiarity of his vein of humour--a temptation which
even the saturnine John Knox was unable to resist either in narrating
the martyrdom of his friend Wisheart or the assassination of his enemy
Beatson, and in the impossibility of resisting which his learned and
accurate biographer has rested his apology for this mixture of jest and
earnest.

"There are writers," he says (rebutting the charge of Hume against
Knox), "who can treat the most sacred subjects with a levity bordering
on profanity. Must we at once pronounce them profane, and is nothing
to be set down to the score of natural temper inclining them to wit
and humour? The pleasantry which Knox has mingled with his narrative
of his (Cardinal Beatson's) death and burial is unseasonable and
unbecoming. But it is to be imputed not to any pleasure which he took
in describing a bloody scene, but to the strong propensity which he
had to indulge his vein of humour. Those who have read his history
with attention must have perceived that he is not able to check this
even on the very serious occasions."--_Macrie's Life of Knox_, p. 147.

Indeed Dr. Macrie himself has given us a striking instance of the
indulgence which the Presbyterian clergy, even of the strictest
persuasion, permit to the _vis comica_. After describing a polemical
work as "ingeniously constructed and occasionally enlivened with strokes
of humour," he transfers, to embellish his own pages, (for we can
discover no purpose of edification which the tale serves), a ludicrous
parody made by an ignorant parish-priest on certain words of a Psalm,
too sacred to be here quoted. Our own innocent pleasantry cannot, in
this instance, be quite reconciled with that of the learned biographer
of John Knox, but we can easily conceive that his authority may be
regarded in Scotland as decisive of the extent to which a humourist may
venture in exercising his wit upon scriptural expressions without
incurring censure even from her most rigid divines.

It may however be a very different point how far the author is entitled
to be acquitted upon the second point of indictment. To use too much
freedom with things sacred is a course much more easily glossed over
than that of exposing to ridicule the persons of any particular sect.
Every one knows the reply of the great Prince of Conde to Louis XIV when
this monarch expressed his surprize at the clamour excited by Moliere's
Tartuffe, while a blasphemous farce called _Scaramouche Hermite_ was
performed without giving any scandal: "C'est parceque Scaramouche ne
jouoit que le ciel et la religion, dont les devots se soucioient
beaucoup moins que d'eux-memes." We believe, therefore, the best service
we can do our author in the present case is to shew that the odious part
of his satire applies only to that fierce and unreasonable set of
extra-presbyterians, whose zeal, equally absurd and cruel, afforded
pretexts for the severities inflicted on non-conformists without
exception, and gave the greatest scandal and offence to the wise, sober,
enlightened, and truly pious among the Presbyterians.

The principal difference betwixt the Cameronians and the rational
presbyterians has been already touched upon. It may be summed in a very
few words.

After the restoration of Charles II episcopacy was restored in Scotland,
upon the unanimous petition of the Scottish parliament. Had this been
accompanied with a free toleration of the presbyterians, whose
consciences preferred a different mode of church-government, we do not
conceive there would have been any wrong done to that ancient kingdom.
But instead of this, the most violent means of enforcing conformity were
resorted to without scruple, and the ejected presbyterian clergy were
persecuted by penal statutes and prohibited from the exercise of their
ministry. These rigours only made the people more anxiously seek out and
adhere to the silenced preachers. Driven from the churches, they held
conventicles in houses. Expelled from cities and the mansions of men,
they met on the hills and deserts like the French Huguenots. Assailed
with arms, they repelled force by force. The severity of the rulers,
instigated by the episcopal clergy, increased with the obstinacy of the
recusants, until the latter, in 1666, assumed arms for the purpose of
asserting their right to worship God in their own way. They were
defeated at Pentland; and in 1669 a gleam of common sense and justice
seems to have beamed upon the Scottish councils of Charles. They granted
what was called an _indulgence_ (afterwards repeatedly renewed) to the
presbyterian clergy, assigned them small stipends, and permitted them to
preach in such deserted churches as should be assigned to them by the
Scottish Privy Council. This "indulgence," though clogged with harsh
conditions and frequently renewed or capriciously recalled, was still an
acceptable boon to the wiser and better part of the presbyterian clergy,
who considered it as an opening to the exercise of their ministry under
the lawful authority, which they continued to acknowledge. But fiercer
and more intractable principles were evinced by the younger ministers of
that persuasion. They considered the submitting to exercise their
ministry under the controul of any visible authority as absolute
erastianism, a desertion of the great invisible and divine Head of the
church, and a line of conduct which could only be defended, says one of
their tracts, by nullifidians, time-servers, infidels, or the Archbishop
of Canterbury. They held up to ridicule and abhorrence such of their
brethren as considered mere toleration as a boon worth accepting. Every
thing, according to these fervent divines, which fell short of
re-establishing presbytery as the sole and predominating religion, all
that did not imply a full restoration of the Solemn League and Covenant,
was an imperfect and unsound composition between God and mammon,
episcopacy and prelacy. The following extracts from a printed sermon by
one of them, on the subject of "soul-confirmation," will at once exemplify
the contempt and scorn with which these high-flyers regarded their more
sober-minded brethren, and serve as a specimen of the homely eloquence
with which they excited their followers. The reader will probably be of
opinion that it is worthy of Kettledrummle himself, and will serve to
clear Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham of the charge of exaggeration.

There is many folk that has a face to the religion that is in fashion,
and there is many folk, they have ay a face to the old company, they
have a face for godly folk, and they have a face for persecutors of
godly folk, and they will be daddies bairns and minnies bairns both;
they will be _prelates_ bairns and they will be _malignants_ bairns
and they will be the people of God's bairns. And what think ye of that
bastard temper? Poor Peter had a trial of this soupleness, but God
made Paul an instrument to take him by the neck and shake it from him:
And O that God would take us by the neck and shake our soupleness from
us.

Therefore you that keeps only your old job-trot, and does not mend
your pace, you will not wone at _soul-confirmation,_ there is a whine
(i.e., _a few_) old job-trot, and does not mend your pace, you will
not wone at _soul-confirmation,_ there is a whine old job-trot
ministers among us, a whine old job-trot professors, they have their
own pace, and faster they will not go; O therefore they could never
wine to _soul-confirmation_ in the mettere of God. And our old
job-trot ministers is turned _curates_, and our old job-trot
professors is joined with them, and now this way God has turned them
inside out, and has made it manifest and when their heart is hanging
upon this braw, I will not give a gray groat for them and their
profession both.

The devil has the ministers and professors of Scotland, now in a sive,
and O as he sifts, and O as he riddles, and O as he rattles, and O the
chaff he gets; And I fear there be more chaff nor there be good corn,
and that will be found among us or all be done: but the
_soul-confirmed_ man leaves ever the devil at two more, and he has ay
the matter gadged, and leaves ay the devil in the lee side,--Sirs O
work in the day of the cross.

The more moderate presbyterian ministers saw with pain and resentment
the lower part of their congregation, who had least to lose by taking
desperate courses, withdrawn from their flocks, by their more zealous
pretenders to purity of doctrine, while they themselves were held up to
ridicule, old jog trot professors and chaff-winnowed out and flung away
by Satan. They charged the Cameronian preachers with leading the deluded
multitude to slaughter at Bothwell, by prophesying a certainty of
victory, and dissuading them from accepting the amnesty offered by
Monmouth. "All could not avail," says Mr. Law, himself a presbyterian
minister, "with McCargill, Kidd, Douglas, and other witless men amongst
them, to hearken to any proposals of peace. Among others that Douglas,
sitting on his horse, and preaching to the confused multitude, told them
that they would come to terms with them, and like a drone was always
droning on these terms with them: 'they would give us a half Christ, but
we will have a whole Christ,' and such like impertinent speeches as
these, good enough to feed those that are served with wind and not with
the sincere milk of the word of God." Law also censures these irritated
and extravagant enthusiasts, not only for intending to overthrow the
government, but as binding themselves to kill all that would not accede
to their opinion, and he gives several instances of such cruelty being
exercised by them, not only upon straggling soldiers whom they shot by
the way or surprized in their quarters, but upon those who, having once
joined them, had fallen away from their principles. Being asked why they
committed these cruelties in cold blood, they answered, 'they were
obliged to do it by their sacred bond.' Upon these occasions they
practised great cruelties, mangling the bodies of their victims that
each man might have his share of the guilt. In these cases the
Cameronians imagined themselves the direct and inspired executioners of
the vengeance of heaven. Nor did they lack the usual incentives of
enthusiasm. Peden and others among them set up a claim to the gift of
prophecy, though they seldom foretold any thing to the purpose. They
detected witches, had bodily encounters with the enemy of mankind in his
own shape, or could discover him as, lurking in the disguise of a raven,
he inspired the rhetoric of a Quaker's meeting. In some cases, celestial
guardians kept guard over their field-meetings. At a conventicle held on
the Lomond-hills, the Rev. Mr. Blacader was credibly assured, under the
hands of four honest men, that at the time the meeting was disturbed by
the soldiers, some women who had remained at home, "clearly perceived as
the form of a tall man, majestic-like, stand in the air in stately
posture with the one leg, as it were, advanced before the other,
standing above the people all the time of the soldiers shooting."
Unluckily this great vision of the Guarded Mount did not conclude as
might have been expected. The divine sentinel left his post too soon,
and the troopers fell upon the rear of the audience, plundered and
stripped many, and made eighteen prisoners.

But we have no delight to dwell either upon the atrocities or
absurdities of a people whose ignorance and fanaticism were rendered
frantic by persecution. It is enough for our present purpose to observe
that the present Church of Scotland, which comprizes so much sound
doctrine and learning, and has produced so many distinguished
characters, is the legitimate representative of the indulged clergy of
the days of Charles II, settled however upon a comprehensive basis. That
after the revolution, it should have succeeded episcopacy as the
national religion, was natural and regular, because it possessed all the
sense, learning, and moderation fit for such a change, and because among
its followers were to be found the only men of property and influence
who acknowledged presbytery. But the Cameronians continued long as a
separate sect, though their preachers were bigoted and ignorant, and
their hearers were gleaned out of the lower ranks of the peasantry.
Their principle, so far as it was intelligible, asserted that paramount
species of presbyterian church-government which was established in the
year 1648, and they continued to regard the established church as
erastian and time-serving, because they prudently remained silent upon
certain abstract and delicate topics, where there might be some
collision between the absolute liberty asserted by the church and the
civil government of the state. The Cameronians, on the contrary,
disowned all kings and government whatsoever, which should not take the
Solemn League and Covenant; and long retained hopes of re-establishing
that great national engagement, a bait which was held out to them by all
those who wished to disturb the government during the reign of William
and Anne, as is evident from the Memoirs of Ker of Kersland, and the
Negotiations of Colonel Hooke with the Jacobites and disaffected of the
year.

A party so wild in their principles, so vague and inconsistent in their
views, could not subsist long under a free and unlimited toleration.
They continued to hold their preachings on the hills, but they lost much
of their zeal when they were no longer liable to be disturbed by
dragoons, sheriffs, and lieutenants of Militia.--The old fable of the
Traveller's Cloak was in time verified, and the fierce sanguinary
zealots of the days of Claverhouse sunk into such quiet and peaceable
enthusiasts as Howie of Lochgoin, or Old Mortality himself. It is,
therefore, upon a race of sectaries who have long ceased to exist, that
Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham has charged all that is odious, and almost all
that is ridiculous, in his fictitious narrative; and we can no more
suppose any moderate presbyterian involved in the satire, than we should
imagine that the character of Hampden stood committed by a little
raillery on the person of Ludovic Claxton, the Muggletonian. If,
however, there remain any of those sectaries who, confining the beams of
the Gospel to the Goshen of their own obscure synagogue, and with James
Mitchell, the intended assassin, giving their sweeping testimony against
prelacy and popery, The Whole Duty of Man and bordles, promiscuous
dancing and the Common Prayer-book, and all the other enormities and
backslidings of the time, may perhaps be offended at this idle tale, we
are afraid they will receive their answer in the tone of the revellers
to Malvolio, who, it will be remembered, was something a kind of
Puritan: "Doest thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no
more cakes and ale?--Aye, by Saint Anne, and ginger will be hot in the
mouth too."

ON LEIGH HUNT

[From _The Quarterly Review_, January, 1816]

_The Story of Rimini, a Poem_. By LEIGH HUNT. fc. 8vo. pp. 111. London,
1816.

A considerable part of this poem was written in Newgate, where the
author was some time confined, we believe for a libel which appeared in
a newspaper, of which he is said to be the conductor. Such an
introduction is not calculated to make a very favourable impression.
Fortunately, however, we are as little prejudiced as possible on this
subject: we have never seen Mr. Hunt's newspaper; we have never heard
any particulars of his offence; nor should we have known that he had
been imprisoned but for his own confession. We have not, indeed, ever
read one line that he has written, and are alike remote from the
knowledge of his errors or the influence of his private character. We
are to judge him solely from the work now before us; and our criticism
would be worse than uncandid if it were swayed by any other
consideration.

The poem is not destitute of merit; but--and this, we confess, was our
main inducement to notice it--it is written on certain pretended
_principles_, and put forth as a pattern for imitation, with a degree of
arrogance which imposes on us the duty of making some observations on
this new theory, which Mr. Leigh Hunt, with the weight and authority of
his venerable name, has issued, ex cathedra, as the canons of poetry and
criticism.

These canons Mr. Hunt endeavours to explain and establish in a long
preface, written in a style which, though Mr. Hunt implies that it is
meant to be perfectly natural and unaffected, appears to us the most
strange, laboured, uncouth, and unintelligible species of prose that we
ever read, only indeed to be exceeded in these qualities by some of the
subsequent verses; and both the prose and the verse are the first
eruptions of this disease with which Mr. Leigh Hunt insists upon
inoculating mankind.

Mr. Hunt's _first_ canon is that there should be a _great freedom_ _of
versification_--this is a proposition to which we should have readily
assented; but when Mr. Hunt goes on to say that by _freedom of
versification_ he means something which neither Pope nor Johnson
possessed, and of which even "they knew less than any poets perhaps who
ever wrote," we check our confidence; and, after a little consideration,
find that by freedom Mr. Hunt means only an inaccurate, negligent, and
harsh style of versification, which our early poets fell into from want
of polish, and such poets as Mr. Hunt still practise from want of ease,
of expression, and of taste.

"_License_ he means, when he cries _liberty_."

Mr. Hunt tells us that Dryden, Spenser and Ariosto, Shakespeare and
Chaucer (so he arranges them), are the greatest masters of _modern_
versification; but he, in the next few sentences, leads us to suspect
that he really does not think much more reverently of these great names
than of Pope and of Johnson; and that, if the whole truth were told, he
is decidedly of opinion that the only good master of versification, in
modern times, is--Mr. Leigh Hunt.

Dryden, Mr. Hunt thinks, is apt to be _artificial_ in his style; or, in
other words, he has improved the harmony of our language from the
rudeness of Chaucer, whom Mr. Hunt (in a sentence which is not grammar,
p. xv) says that Dryden (though he spoke of and borrowed from him)
neither relished nor understood. Spenser, he admits, was musical from
pure taste, but Milton was only, as he elegantly expresses it,
"_learnedly_ so." Being _learned in music_, is intelligible, and, of
Milton, true; but what can Mr. Hunt mean by saying that Milton had
"_learnedly_ a _musical ear_"? "Ariosto's fine ear and _animal spirits_
gave a _frank_ and exquisite tone to all he said"--what does this mean?--
a fine ear may, perhaps, be said to _give_, as it contributes to, an
exquisite tone; but what have _animal spirits_ to do here? and what, in
the matter of _tones_ and _sounds_, is the effect of _frankness_? We
shrewdly suspect that Mr. Hunt, with all his affectation of Italian
literature, knows very little of Ariosto; it is clear that he knows
nothing of Tasso. Of Shakespeare he tells us, "that his versification
escapes us because he _over-informed_ it with knowledge and sentiment,"
by which it appears (as well, indeed, as by his own verses), that this
new Stagyrite thinks that good versification runs a risk of being
spoiled by having _too much meaning_ included in its lines.

To wind up the whole of this admirable, precise, and useful criticism by
a recapitulation as useful and precise, he says, "all these are about as
different from Pope as the church organ is from the bell in the steeple,
or, to give him a more decorous comparison, the song of the nightingale
from that of the cuckoo."--p. xv.

Now we own that what there is so _indecorous_ in the first comparison,
or so especially _decorous_ in the second, we cannot discover; neither
can we make out whether Pope is the organ or the bell--the nightingale
or the cuckoo; we suppose that Mr. Hunt knows that Pope was called by
his contemporaries the _nightingale_, but we never heard Milton and
Dryden called _cuckoos_; or, if the comparison is to be taken the other
way, we apprehend that, though Chaucer may be to Mr. Hunt's ears a
_church organ_, Pope cannot, to any ear, sound like the _church bell_.

But all this theory, absurd and ignorant as it is, is really nothing to
the practice of which it effects to be the defence.

Hear the warblings of Mr. Hunt's nightingales.

A horseman is described--

The patting hand, that best persuades the check,
_And makes the quarrel up with a proud neck_,
The thigh broad pressed, the spanning palm _upon it_,
And the jerked feather _swaling_ in the _bonnet_.--p. 15.

Knights wear ladies' favours--

Some tied about their arm, some at the breast,
_Some, with a drag, dangling from the cap's crest_.--p. 14.

Paulo pays his compliments to the destined bride of his brother--

And paid them with an air so frank and bright,
As to a friend _appreciated at sight_;
That air, in short, which sets you at your ease,
Without _implying_ your perplexities,
That _what with the surprize in every way_,
The hurry of the time, the appointed day,--
She knew _not how to object_ in her confusion.--p. 29.

The meeting of the brothers, on which the catastrophe turns, is
excellent: the politeness with which the challenge is given would have
delighted the heart of old Caranza.

May I request, Sir, said the prince, and frowned,
Your ear a moment in the tilting ground?
_There_, brother? answered Paulo with an _air_
Surprized and _shocked_. Yes, _brother_, cried he, _there_.
The word smote _crushingly_.--p. 92.

Before the duel, the following spirited explanation takes place:

The prince spoke low,
And said: Before _you answer what you can_,
I wish to tell you, _as a gentleman_,
That what you may confess--
Will implicate no person known to you,
More than disquiet in _its_ sleep may do.--p. 93.

Paulo falls--and the event is announced in these exquisite lines:

Her _aged_ nurse--
Who, shaking her _old_ head, and pressing close
Her withered _lips_ to _keep the tears_ that rose--p. 101.

"By the way," does Mr. Leigh Hunt suppose that the aged nurses of Rimini
weep with their mouths? or does he mistake crying for drivelling?--In
fact, the young lady herself seems to have adopted the same mode of
weeping:

With that, a _keen_ and _quivering glance of_ tears
Scarce moves her _patient mouth_, and disappears.

But to the nurse.--She introduces the messenger of death to the
princess, who communicates his story, in pursuance of her command--

Something, I'm sure, has happened--tell me what--
I can bear all, though _you may fancy not_.
Madam, replied the squire, you are, I know,
All sweetness--_pardon me for saying so_.
My Master bade _me_ say then, resumed _he_,
That _he_ spoke firmly, when he told it _me_,--
That I was also, madam, to your ear
Firmly to speak, and you firmly to hear,--
That he was forced this day, _whether or no_,
To combat with the prince;--'--p. 103.

The _second_ of Mr. Hunt's new principles he thus announces:

With the endeavour to recur to a freer spirit of versification, I have
joined one of still greater importance--that of having a _free and
idiomatic_ cast of language. There is a cant of art as well as of
nature, though the former is not so unpleasant as the latter, which
affects non-affectation.--(What does all this mean?)--But the proper
_language of poetry_ is in fact nothing different from that of real
life, and depends for its dignity upon the strength and sentiment of
what it speaks. It is only adding _musical modulation_ to what a _fine
understanding_ might actually utter in the midst of its griefs or
enjoyments. The poet therefore should do as Chaucer or Shakespeare
did,--not copy what is obsolete or peculiar in either, any more than
they copied from their predecessors,--but use as much as possible an
_actual, existing language,_--omitting of course _mere vulgarisms_ and
_fugitive phrases_, which are the cant of ordinary discourse, just as
tragedy phrases, _dead idioms,_ and exaggerations of dignity, are of
the artificial style, and yeas, verilys, and exaggerations of
simplicity, are of the natural.--p. xvi.

This passage, compared with the verses to which it preludes, affords a
more extraordinary instance of self-delusion than even Mr. Hunt's notion
of the merit of his versification; for if there be one fault more
eminently conspicuous and ridiculous in Mr. Hunt's work than another, it
is,--that it is full of _mere vulgarisms_ and _fugitive phrases_, and
that in every page the language is--not only not _the actual, existing
language_, but an ungrammatical, unauthorised, chaotic jargon, such as
we believe was never before spoken, much less written.

In what vernacular tongue, for instance, does Mr. Hunt find a lady's
waist called _clipsome_ (p. 10)--or the shout of a mob "enormous" (p.
9)--or a fit, _lightsome_;--or that a hero's nose is "_lightsomely_
brought down from a forehead of clear-spirited thought" (p. 46)--or that
his back "drops" _lightsomely in_ (p. 20). Where has he heard of a
_quoit-like drop_--of _swaling_ a jerked feather--of _unbedinned_ music
(p. 11)--of the death of _leaping_ accents (p. 32)--of the _thick
reckoning_ of a hoof (p. 33)--of a _pin-drop_ silence (p. 17)--a
_readable_ look (p. 20)--a _half indifferent wonderment_ (p. 37)--or of

_Boy-storied_ trees and _passion-plighted_ spots,--p. 38.

of

Ships coming up with _scattery_ light,--p. 4.

or of self-knowledge being

_Cored_, after all, in our complacencies?--p. 38.

We shall now produce a few instances of what "_a fine understanding
might utter_," with "the addition of _musical modulation_," and of the
_dignity_ and _strength_ of Mr. Hunt's sentiments and expressions.

A crowd, which divided itself into groups, is--

--the multitude,
Who _got_ in clumps----p. 26.

The impression made on these "clumps" by the sight of the Princess, is
thus "musically" described:

There's not in all that croud one _gallant_ being,
Whom, if his heart were whole, and _rank agreeing_,
It would not _fire to twice of what he is_,--p. 10.

"Dignity and strength"--

First came the trumpeters--
And as they _sit along_ their easy way,
Stately and _heaving_ to the croud below.--p. 12.

This word is deservedly a great favourite with the poet; he _heaves_ it
in upon all occasions.

The deep talk _heaves_.--p. 5.
With _heav'd_ out tapestry the windows glow.--p. 6.
Then _heave_ the croud.--_id_.
And after a rude _heave_ from side to side.--p. 7.
The marble bridge comes _heaving_ forth below.--p. 28.

"Fine understanding"--

The youth smiles _up_, and with a _lowly_ grace,
_Bending_ his _lifted_ eyes--p. 22.

This is very neat:

No peevishness there was--
But a _mute_ gush of _hiding_ tears from one,
Clasped to the _core_ of him who yet shed none.--p. 83.

The heroine is suspected of wishing to have some share in the choice of
her own husband, which is thus elegantly expressed:

She had stout notions on the marrying _score_.--p. 27.

This noble use of the word _score_ is afterwards carefully repeated in
speaking of the Prince, her husband--

--no suspicion could have touched him more,
Than that of _wanting_ on the generous _score_.--p. 48.

But though thus punctilious on the _generous score_, his Highness had
but a bad temper,

And kept no reckoning with his _sweets and sours_.--p. 47.

This, indeed, is somewhat qualified by a previous observation, that--

_The worst of Prince Giovanni_, as his bride
Too quickly found, was an ill-tempered pride.

How nobly does Mr. Hunt celebrate the combined charms of the fair sex,
and the country!

_The two divinest things this world_ HAS GOT,
A lovely woman in a rural spot!--p. 58.

A rural spot, indeed, seems to inspire Mr. Hunt with peculiar elegance
and sweetness: for he says, soon after, of Prince Paulo--

For welcome grace, there rode not such another,
Nor yet for strength, except his lordly brother.
Was there a court day, or a sparkling feast,
Or better still--_to my ideas, at least!_--
A summer party in the green wood shade.--p. 50.

So much for this new invented _strength_ and _dignity_: we shall add a
specimen of his syntax:

But fears like these he never entertain'd,
And had they crossed him, would have been disdain'd.--p. 50.

* * * * *

After these extracts, we have but one word more to say of Mr. Hunt's
poetry; which is, that amidst all his vanity, vulgarity, ignorance, and
coarseness, there are here and there some well-executed descriptions,
and occasionally a line of which the sense and the expression are good--
The interest of the story itself is so great that we do not think it
wholly lost even in Mr. Hunt's hands. He has, at least, the merit of
telling it with decency; and, bating the qualities of versification,
expression, and dignity, on which he peculiarly piques himself, and in
which he has utterly failed, the poem is one which, in our opinion at
least, may be read with satisfaction after GALT'S Tragedies.

Mr. Hunt prefixes to his work a dedication to Lord Byron, in which he
assumes a high tone, and talks big of his "_fellow-dignity_" and
independence: what fellow-dignity may mean, we know not; perhaps the
_dignity_ of a _fellow_; but this we will say, that Mr. Hunt is not more
unlucky in his pompous pretension to versification and good language,
than he is in that which he makes, in this dedication, to _proper
spirit_, as he calls it, and _fellow-dignity_; for we never, in so few
lines, saw so many clear marks of the vulgar impatience of a low man,
conscious and ashamed of his wretched vanity, and labouring, with coarse
flippancy, to scramble over the bounds of birth and education, and
fidget himself into the _stout-heartedness_ of being familiar with a
LORD.

OF SHAKESPEARE

[From _The Quarterly Review_, October, 1816]

_Shakespeare's Himself Again! or the Language of the Poet asserted;
being a full and dispassionate Examen of the Readings and
Interpretations of the several Editors. Comprised in a Series of Notes,
Sixteen Hundred in Number, illustrative of the most difficult Passages
in his Plays_--_to the various editions of which the present Volumes
form a complete and necessary Supplement_. By ANDREW BECKET. 2 vols.
8vo. pp. 730. 1816.

If the dead could be supposed to take any interest in the integrity of
their literary reputation, with what complacency might we not imagine
our great poet to contemplate the labours of the present writer! Two
centuries have passed away since his death--the mind almost sinks under
the reflection that he has been all that while exhibited to us so
"transmographied" by the joint ignorance and malice of printers,
critics, etc., as to be wholly unlike himself. But--_post nubila,
Phoebus!_ Mr. Andrew Becket has at length risen upon the world, and
Shakespeare is about to shine forth in genuine and unclouded glory!

What we have at present is a mere scantling of the great work _in
procinctu_--[Greek: _pidakos ex ieraes oligaelizas_]--sixteen hundred
"restorations," and no more! But if these shall be favourably received,
a complete edition of the poet will speedily follow. Mr. Becket has
taken him to develop; and it is truly surprizing to behold how beautiful
he comes forth as the editor proceeds in unrolling those unseemly and
unnatural rags in which he has hitherto been so disgracefully wrapped:

Tandem aperit vultum, et tectoria prima reponit,--
Incipit agnosci!--

Mr. Becket has favoured us, in the Preface, with a comparative estimate
of the merits of his predecessors. He does not, as may easily be
conjectured, rate any of them very highly; but he places Warburton at
the top of the scale, and Steevens at the bottom: this, indeed, was to
be expected. "Warburton," he says, "is the _best_, and Steevens the
_worst_ of Shakespeare's commentators"; (p. xvii) and he ascribes it
solely to his forbearance that the latter is not absolutely crushed: it
not being in his nature, as he magnanimously insinuates, "to break a
butterfly upon a wheel!" Dr. Johnson is shoved aside with very little
ceremony; Mr. Malone fares somewhat better; and the rest are dismissed
with the gentle valediction of Pandarus to the Trojans--"asses, fools,
dolts! chaff and bran! porridge after meat!" With respect to our author
himself, it is but simple justice to declare, that he comes to the great
work of "restoring Shakespeare"--not only with more negative advantages
than the unfortunate tribe of critics so cavalierly dismissed, but than
all who have aspired to illumine the page of a defunct writer since the
days of Aristarchus. As far as we are enabled to judge, Mr. Becket never
examined an old play in his life:--he does not seem to have the
slightest knowledge of any writer, or any subject, or any language that
ever occupied the attention of his contemporaries; and he possesses a
mind as innocent of all requisite information as if he had dropped, with
the last thunderstone, from the moon.

"Addison has well observed, that 'in works of criticism it is absolutely
necessary to have a _clear and logical head_.'" (p.v.) In this position,
Mr. Becket cheerfully agrees with him; and, indeed, it is sufficiently
manifest, that without the internal conviction of enjoying that
indispensable advantage, he would not have favoured the public with
those matchless "restorations"; a few specimens of which we now proceed
to lay before them. Where all are alike admirable, there is no call for
selection; we shall therefore open the volumes at random, and trust to
fortune.

"_Hamlet_. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time?"

This reading, Mr. Becket says, he cannot admit; and he says well: since
it appears that Shakespeare wrote--

"For who would bear the _scores_ of _weapon'd_ time?"

using _scores_ in the sense of stripes. Formerly, _i.e.,_ when Becket
was _in his sallad days_, he augured, he says, that the true reading
was--

--"the scores of _whip-hand_ time."

Time having always the _whip-hand,_ the advantage; but he now reverts to
the other emendation; though, as he modestly hints, the epithet
_whip-hand_ (which he still regards with parental fondness) will perhaps
be thought to have much of the manner of Shakespeare.--Vol. i, p. 43.

"_Horatio_.--While they, distill'd
Almost to jelly with the act of fear,
Stand dumb, and speak not to him!"

We had been accustomed to find no great difficulty here: the words
seemed, to us, at least, to express the usual effect of inordinate
terror--but we gladly acknowledge our mistake. "The passage is not to be
understood." How should it, when both the pointing and the language are
corrupt? Read, as Shakespeare gave it--

--"While they _bestill'd_
Almost to _gelee_ with the act. Of fear
Stand dumb," &c.--that is, petrified (or rather icefied) p. 13.

"_Lear_. And my poor fool is hang'd!"

With these homely words, which burst from the poor old king on reverting
to the fate of his loved Cordelia, whom he then holds in his arms, we
have been always deeply affected, and therefore set them down as one of
the thousand proofs of the poet's intimate knowledge of the human heart.
But Mr. Becket has made us ashamed of our simplicity and our tears.
Shakespeare had no such "lenten" language in his thoughts; he wrote, as
Mr. Becket tells us,

"And my _pure soot_ is hang'd!"

Poor, he adds, might be easily mistaken for _pure_; while the _s_ in
_soot_ (sweet) was scarcely discernible from the _f_, or the _t_ from
the _l_.--p. 176.

We are happy to find that so much can be offered in favour of the old
printers. And yet--were it not that the genuine text is always to be
preferred--we could almost wish that the critic had left their blunder
as it stood.

"_Wolsey_.--that his bones
May have a tomb of orphans' tears wept on them."

A tomb of tears is ridiculous. I read--a _coomb_ of tears--a _coomb_
is a liquid measure containing forty gallons. Thus the expression,
which was before absurd, becomes forcible and just.--vol. ii, p. 134.

It does indeed!

"_Sir Andrew_. I sent thee six-pence for thy leman (mistress): had'st
it?" Read as Shakespeare wrote: "I sent thee sixpence for thy
_lemma_"--_lemma_ is properly an _argument_, or _proposition assumed_,
and is used by Sir Andrew Aguecheek for a story.--p. 335.

"_Viola_. She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy."--Correct it thus:

"She pined in thought
And with _agrein_ and _hollow_ melancholy."--p. 339.

"_Iago_. I have rubb'd this young quat almost to the sense,
And he grows angry"--

that is, or rather _was_, according to our homely apprehension, I have
rubb'd this pimple (Roderigo) almost to bleeding:--but, no; Mr. Becket
has furnished us not only with the genuine words, but the meaning of
Shakespeare--

I have _fubb'd_ this young _quat_--_Quat_, or cat, appears to be a
contraction of cater-cousin--and this reading will be greatly
strengthened when it is remembered that Roderigo was really the
intimate of Iago.--p. 204.

In a subsequent passage, "I am as melancholy as a gibb'd cat"--we are
told that _cat_ is not the domestic animal of that name, but a
contraction of _catin_, a woman of the town. But, indeed, Mr. Becket
possesses a most wonderful faculty for detecting these latent
contractions and filling them up. Thus,

"_Parolles_. Sir, he will steal an egg out of a cloister." Read (as
Shakespeare wrote), "Sir, he will steal an _Ag_ (i.e., an _Agnes_) out
of a cloister." _Agnes_ is the name of a woman, and may easily stand
for chastity.--p. 325.

No doubt.

"_Carter_. Prithee, Tom, put a few flocks in Cut's saddle; the poor
beast is wrung in the withers out of all cess."

Out of all cess, we used to think meant, in vulgar phraseology, out of
all measure, very much, &c.--but see how foolishly!

_Cess_ is a mere contraction of _cessibility_, which signifies the
_quality of receding_, and may very well stand for _yielding_, as
spoken of a tumour.--p. 5.

"_Hamlet_. A cry of players."

This we once thought merely a sportive expression for a _company of_
players, but Mr. Becket has undeceived us--"_Cry_ (he tells us) is
contracted from _cryptic_, and cryptic is precisely of the same import
as mystery."--p. 53. How delightful it is when learning and judgment
walk thus hand in hand! But enough--

--"the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in its own deliciousness"--

and we would not willingly cloy our readers. Sufficient has been
produced to encourage them--not perhaps to contend for the possession of
the present volumes, though Mr. Becket conscientiously affirms, in his
title-page, that "they form a complete and _necessary_ supplement to
every former edition"--but, with us, to look anxiously forward to the
great work in preparation.

Meanwhile we have gathered some little consolation from what is already
in our hands. Very often, on comparing the dramas of the present day
(not even excepting Mr. Tobin's) with those of Elizabeth's age, we have
been tempted to think that we were born too late, and to exclaim with
the poet--

"Infelix ego, non illo qui tempore natus,
Quo facilis natura fuit; sors O mea laeva
Nascendi, miserumque genus!" &c.

but we now see that unless Mr. Andrew Becket had also been produced at
that early period, we should have derived no extraordinary degree of
satisfaction from witnessing the first appearance of Shakespeare's
plays, since it is quite clear that we could not have understood them.

One difficulty yet remains. We scarcely think that the managers will
have the confidence, in future, to play Shakespeare as they have been
accustomed to do; and yet, to present him, as now so happily "restored,"
would, for some time at least, render him _caviare to the general_. We
know that Livius Andronicus, when grown hoarse with repeated
declamation, was allowed a second rate actor, who stood at his back and
spoke while he gesticulated, or gesticulated while he spoke. A hint may
be borrowed from this fact. We therefore propose that Mr. Andrew Becket
be forthwith taken into the pay of the two theatres, and divided between
them. He may then be instructed to follow the _dramatis personae_ of our
great poet's plays on the stage, and after each of them has made his
speech in the present corrupt reading, to pronounce aloud the words as
"restored" by himself. This may have an awkward effect at first; but a
season or two will reconcile the town to it; Shakespeare may then be
presented in his genuine language, or, as our author better expresses
it, be HIMSELF AGAIN.

ON MOXON'S SONNETS

[From _The Quarterly Review_, July, 1837]

_Sonnets by_ EDWARD MOXON. Second Edition. London, 1837.

This is quite a _dandy_ of a book. Some seventy pages of drawing-paper--
fifty-five of which are impressed each with a single sonnet in all the
luxury of type, while the rest are decked out with vignettes of nymphs
in clouds and bowers, and Cupids in rose-bushes and cockle-shells. And
all these coxcombries are the appendages of, as it seems to us, as
little intellect as the rings and brooches of the Exquisite in a modern
novel. We shall see presently, by what good fortune so moderate a poet
has found so liberal a publisher.

We are no great admirers of the sonnet at its best--concurring in Dr.
Johnson's opinion that it does not suit the genius of our language, and
that the great examples of Shakespeare and Milton have failed to
domesticate it with us. It seems to be, even in master hands, that
species of composition which is at once the most artificial and the
least effective, which bears the appearance of the greatest labour and
produces the least pleasure. Its peculiar and unvaried construction must
inevitably inflict upon it something of pedantry and monotony, and
although some powerful minds have used it as a form for condensing and
elaborating a particular train of thought--_an Iliad in a nutshell_--yet
the vast majority of sonneteers employ it as an economical expedient, by
which one idea can be expanded into fourteen lines--fourteen lines into
one page--and, as we see, fifty-four pages into a costly volume.

The complex construction, which at first sight seems a difficulty, is,
in fact, like all mechanism, a great saving of labour to the operator. A
sonnet almost makes itself, as a musical snuff-box plays a tune, or
rather as a cotton _Jenny_ spins twist. When a would-be poet has
collected in his memory a few of what may have struck him as poetical
ideas, he puts them into his machine, and after fourteen turns, out
comes a sonnet, or--if it be his pleasure to spin out his reminiscences
very fine--a dozen sonnets.

Mr. Moxon inscribes as a motto on his title-page four lines of Mr.
Wordsworth's vindication of his own use of the sonnet-form--

In truth, the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence to _me_,
In sundry moods 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the _sonnet's_ scanty plot of ground.

Yes, Mr. Moxon, to _him_ perhaps, but not to every one--the "plot of
ground" which is "_scanty_" to an elephant is a wilderness to a mouse;
and the garment in which Wordsworth might feel straitened hangs flabby
about a puny imitator. There seems no great modesty in the estimate
which Mr. Moxon thus exhibits of his own superior powers, but we fear
there is, at least, as much modesty as truth--for really, so far from
being "_bound_" within the narrow limit of the sonnet, it seems to us to
be

--a world too wide
For his shrunk shank.

Ordinary sonneteers, as we have said, will spin a single thought through
the fourteen lines. Mr., Moxon will draw you out a single thought into
fourteen sonnets:--and these are his best--for most of the others appear
to us mere soap bubbles, very gay and gaudy, but which burst at the
fourteenth line and leave not the trace of an idea behind. Of two or
three Mr. Moxon has kindly told us the meaning, which, without that
notice, we confess we should never have guessed.

* * * * *

Another of the same genus--though, he had just told us

My love I can _compare_ with _nought_ on earth--

is like _nought on earth_ we ever read but Dean Swift's song of similes.
I _will prove_, he says, that

A swan--
A fawn--
An artless lamb--
A hawthorn tree--
A willow--
A laburnum--
A dream--
A rainbow--
Diana--
Aurora--
A dove that _singeth_--
A lily,--and finally,
Venus herself!
--I in truth will prove
These are not _half_ so _fair_ as she I love.

_Sonnet_ iii, p. 43.

Such heterogeneous compliments remind us of Shacabac's gallantry to
_Beda_ in _Blue Beard:_ "Ah, you little rogue, you have a prettier mouth
_than an elephant_, and you know it!"--A _fawn-coloured_ countenance
rivalling in _fairness a laburnum_ blossom, seems to us a more dubious
type of female beauty than even an elephant's mouth.

_Love_, it may be said, has carried away better poets and graver men
than Mr. Moxon seems to be, into such namby-pamby nonsense; but Mr.
Moxon is just as absurd in his _grief_ or his _musings_, as in his
_love_.

When he hears a nightingale--"sad Philomel!"--he concludes that the bird
was originally created for no other purpose than to prophesy in Paradise
_the fall of man_, or, as he chooses to collocate the words,

_Prophetic_ to have mourned of _man_ the _fall_,--p. 9.

but he does not tell us what she has been doing ever since.

When he sees two Cumberland streams--the Brathay and Rothay--flowing
down, first to a confluence, and afterwards to the sea, he fancies "a
_soul-knit_ pair," man and wife, mingling their waters and gliding to
their final haven--

in kindred love,
The haven Contemplation sees _above_!

_Below_, he would--following his allegory--have said; but rhyme forbade--
and _allegories_ are not _so headstrong_ on the banks of the Brathay as
on those of the _Nile_.

A sonnet on Thomson's grave is a fine specimen of empty sounds and solid
nonsense:--

Whene'er I linger, Thomson, near thy tomb,
Where _Thamis_--

"_Classic Cam_" will be somewhat amazed to hear his learned brother
called _Thamis_--

Where Thamis urges his majestic way,
And the Muse loves at twilight hour to stray,
I think how in thy theme ALL _seasons_ BLOOM;--

What, all four?--_autumn_, nay, _winter_--blooming?

What _heart_ so cold that of thy fame has _heard_,
And _pauses_ not to _gaze_ upon each scene.

We are inclined to be very indulgent to what is called a confusion of
metaphors, when it arises from a rush of ideas--but when it is produced
by an author's having no idea at all, we can hardly forgive him for
equipping the _Heart_ with eyes, ears, and legs:--he might just as well
have said that on entering Twickenham church to visit the tomb, every
_Heart_ would take off _its hat_, and on going out again would put _its
hand_ in _its pockets_ to fee the sexton.

And pauses not to gaze upon each scene
That was familiar to thy raptured view,
Those walks beloved by thee while I pursue,
Musing upon the years that intervene--

Why this line _intervenes_ or what it means we do not see--it seems
inserted just to make up the number--

Methinks, as eve descends, a hymn of praise
To thee, their bard, the _sister Seasons_ raise!

That is, as we understand it, ALL the _Seasons meet together_ on one or
more evenings of the year, to sing a hymn to the memory of Thompson.
This _simultaneous entree_ of the Four Seasons would be a much more
appropriate fancy for the opera stage than for Twickenham meadows.

Such are the tame extravagances--the vapid affectations--the unmeaning
mosaic which Mr. Moxon has laboriously tesselated into fifty and four
sonnets. If he had been--as all this childishness at first led us to
believe--a very young man--we should have discussed the matter with him
in a more conciliatory and persuasive tone; but we find that he is, what
we must call, an old offender. We have before us two little volumes of
what he entitles poetry--one dated 1826, and the other 1829--which,
though more laughable, are not in substance more absurd than his new
production. From the first of these we shall extract two or three
stanzas of the introductory poem, not only on account of their intrinsic
merit, but because they state, pretty roundly, Mr. Moxon's principles of
poetry. He modestly disclaims all rivalry with Pope, Byron, Moore,
Campbell, Scott, Rogers, Goldsmith, Dryden, Gray, Spenser, Milton, and
Shakespeare; but he, at the same time, intimates that he follows, what
he thinks, a truer line of poetry than the before-named illustrious,
but, in this point, _mistaken_ individuals.

'Tis not a poem with learning fraught,
To that I ne'er pretended;
Nor yet with Pope's fine touches wrought,
_From that my time prevented_.

We skip four intermediate stanzas; then comes

Milton divine and great Shakespeare
With reverence I mention;
My name with theirs shall ne'er appear,
_'Tis far from my intention!_
If poetry, as one _pretends,
Be all imagination!_
Why then, at once, _my bardship ends--
'Mong prose I take my station._

_Moxon's Poems, p. 81, Ed. 1826._

But as _"common sense"_ must see, says Mr. Moxon, that _imagination_ can
have nothing to do with _poetry_, he engages to pursue his tuneful
vocation, subject to _one_ condition--

You'll hear no more from me,
If _critics prove unkind;_
My next _in simple prose_ must be,
_Unless I favour find!_

We regret that some _kind_--or, as Mr. Moxon would have thought it,
_unkind_--critic, did not, on the appearance of this first volume,
confirm his own misgivings that he had been all this time, like the man
in the farce, talking not only _prose_, but _nonsense_ into the bargain:
this disagreeable information the pretension of his recent publication
obliges us to convey to him. The fact is, that the volume at first
struck us with serious alarm. Its typographical splendour led us to fear
that this style of writing was getting into fashion; and the hints about
_"classic Cam"_ seemed to impute the production to one of our
Universities: on turning, with some curiosity, to the title-page, for
the name of the too indulgent bookseller who had bestowed such unmerited
embellishment on a work which we think of so little value--_we found
none_; and on further inquiry learned that _Dover Street, Piccadilly_,
and not the banks of _"classic Cam"_ is the seat of this sonneteering
muse--in short, that Mr. Moxon, the bookseller, is his own poet, and
that Mr. Moxon, the poet, is his own bookseller. This discovery at once
calmed both our anxieties--it relieved the university of Cambridge from
an awful responsibility, which might have called down upon it the
vengeance of Lord Radnor; and it accounted--without any imputation on
the public taste--for the extraordinary care and cost with which the
paternal solicitude of the poet-publisher had adorned his own volume.
Mr. Moxon seems to be--like most sonneteers--a man of amiable
disposition, and to have an ear--as he certainly has a _memory_--for
poetry; and--if he had not been an old hand--we should not have presumed
to say that he is incapable of anything better than this tumid
commonplace. But, however that may be, we do earnestly exhort him to
abandon the self-deluding practice of being his own publisher. Whatever
may have been said in disparagement of the literary taste of the
booksellers, it will at least be admitted that their experience of
public opinion and a due attention to their own pecuniary interest,
enable them to operate as a salutary check upon the blind and
presumptive vanity of small authors. The necessity of obtaining the
_"imprimatur"_ of a publisher is a very wholesome restraint, from which
Mr. Moxon--unluckily for himself and for us--found himself relieved. If
he could have looked at his own work with the impartiality, and perhaps
the good taste, that he would have exercised on that of a stranger, _he_
would have saved himself a good deal of expense and vexation--and _we_
should have been spared the painful necessity of contrasting the
ambitious pretensions of his volume with its very moderate literary
merit.

ON "VANITY FAIR" AND "JANE EYRE"

[From _The Quarterly Review_, December, 1848]

1. _Vanity Fair; a Novel without a Hero._ By WILLIAM MAKEPEACE
THACKERAY. London, 1848.

2. _Jane Eyre; an Autobiography._ Edited by CURRER BELL. In 3 vols.
London. 1847.

A remarkable novel is a great event for English society. It is a kind of
common friend, about whom people can speak the truth without fear of
being compromised, and confess their emotions without being ashamed. We
are a particularly shy and reserved people, and set about nothing so
awkwardly as the simple art of getting really acquainted with each
other. We meet over and over again in what is conventionally called
"easy society," with the tacit understanding to go so far and no
farther; to be as polite as we ought to be, and as intellectual as we
can; but mutually and honourably to forbear lifting those veils which
each spreads over his inner sentiments and sympathies. For this purpose
a host of devices have been contrived by which all the forms of
friendship may be gone through, without committing ourselves to one
spark of the spirit. We fly with eagerness to some common ground in
which each can take the liveliest interest, without taking the slightest
in the world in his companion. Our various fashionable manias, for
charity one season, for science the next, are only so many clever
contrivances for keeping our neighbour at arm's length. We can attend
committees, and canvass for subscribers, and archaeologise, and
geologise, and take ether with our fellow Christians for a twelvemonth,
as we might sit cross-legged and smoke the pipe of fraternity with a
Turk for the same period--and know at the end of the time as little of
the real feelings of the one as we should about the domestic relations
of the other. But there are ways and means for lifting the veil which
equally favour our national idiosyncrasy; and a new and remarkable novel
is one of them--especially the nearer it comes to real life. We invite
our neighbour to a walk with the deliberate and malicious object of
getting thoroughly acquainted with him. We ask no impertinent questions--
we proffer no indiscreet confidences--we do not even sound him, ever so
delicately, as to his opinion of a common friend, for he would be sure
not to say, lest we should go and tell; but we simply discuss Becky
Sharp, or Jane Eyre, and our object is answered at once.

There is something about these two new and noticeable characters which
especially compels everybody to speak out. They are not to be dismissed
with a few commonplace moralities and sentimentalities. They do not fit
any ready-made criticism. They give the most stupid something to think
of, and the most reserved something to say; the most charitable too are
betrayed into home comparisons which they usually condemn, and the most
ingenious stumble into paradoxes which they can hardly defend. Becky and
Jane also stand well side by side both in their analogies and their
contrasts. Both the ladies are governesses, and both make the same move
in society; the one, in Jane Eyre phraseology, marrying her "master,"
and the other her master's son. Neither starts in life with more than a
moderate capital of good looks--Jane Eyre with hardly that--for it is
the fashion now-a-days with novelists to give no encouragement to the
insolence of mere beauty, but rather to prove to all whom it may concern
how little a sensible woman requires to get on with in the world. Both
have also an elfish kind of nature, with which they divine the secrets
of other hearts, and conceal those of their own; and both rejoice in
that peculiarity of feature which Mademoiselle de Luzy has not
contributed to render popular, viz., green eyes. Beyond this, however,
there is no similarity either in the minds, manners, or fortunes of the
two heroines. They think and act upon diametrically opposite principles--
at least so the author of "Jane Eyre" intends us to believe--and each,
were they to meet, which we should of all things enjoy to see them do,
would cordially despise and abominate the other. Which of the two,
however, would most successfully _dupe_ the other is a different
question, and one not so easy to decide; though we have our own ideas
upon the subject.

We must discuss "Vanity Fair" first, which, much as we were entitled to
expect from its author's pen, has fairly taken us by surprise. We were
perfectly aware that Mr. Thackeray had of old assumed the jester's
habit, in order the more unrestrainedly to indulge the privilege of
speaking the truth;--we had traced his clever progress through "Fraser's
Magazine" and the ever-improving pages of "Punch"--which wonder of the
time has been infinitely obliged to him--but still we were little
prepared for the keen observation, the deep wisdom, and the consummate
art which he has interwoven in the slight texture and whimsical pattern
of "Vanity Fair." Everybody, it is to be supposed, has read the volume
by this time; and even for those who have not, it is not necessary to
describe the order of the story. It is not a novel, in the common
acceptation of the word, with a plot purposely contrived to bring about
certain scenes, and develop certain characters, but simply a history of
those average sufferings, pleasures, penalties, and rewards to which
various classes of mankind gravitate as naturally and certainly in this
world as the sparks fly upward. It is only the same game of life which
every player sooner or later makes for himself--were he to have a
hundred chances, and shuffle the cards of circumstance every time. It is
only the same busy, involved drama which may be seen at any time by any
one, who is not engrossed with the magnified minutiae of his own petty
part, but with composed curiosity looks on to the stage where his
fellow-men and women are the actors; and that not even heightened by the
conventional colouring which Madame de Stael philosophically declares
that fiction always wants in order to make up for its not being truth.
Indeed, so far from taking any advantage of this novelist's licence, Mr.
Thackeray has hardly availed himself of the natural average of
remarkable events that really do occur in this life. The battle of
Waterloo, it is true, is introduced; but, as far as regards the story,
it brings about only one death and one bankruptcy, which might either of
them have happened in a hundred other ways. Otherwise the tale runs on,
with little exception, in that humdrum course of daily monotony, out of
which some people coin materials to act, and others excuses to doze,
just as their dispositions may be.

It is this reality which is at once the charm and the misery here. With
all these unpretending materials it is one of the most amusing, but also
one of the most distressing books we have read for many a long year. We
almost long for a little exaggeration and improbability to relieve us of
that sense of dead truthfulness which weighs down our hearts, not for
the Amelias and Georges of the story, but for poor kindred human nature.
In one light this truthfulness is even an objection. With few exceptions
the personages are too like our every-day selves and neighbours to draw
any distinct moral from. We cannot see our way clearly. Palliations of
the bad and disappointments in the good are perpetually obstructing our
judgment, by bringing what should decide it too close to that common
standard of experience in which our only rule of opinion is charity. For
it is only in fictitious characters which are highly coloured for one
definite object, or in notorious personages viewed from a distance, that
the course of the true moral can be seen to run straight--once bring the
individual with his life and circumstances closely before you, and it is
lost to the mental eye in the thousand pleas and witnesses, unseen and
unheard before, which rise up to overshadow it. And what are all these
personages in "Vanity Fair" but feigned names for our own beloved
friends and acquaintances, seen under such a puzzling cross-light of
good in evil, and evil in good, of sins and sinnings against, of little
to be praised virtues, and much to be excused vices, that we cannot
presume to moralise upon them--not even to judge them,--content to
exclaim sorrowfully with the old prophet, "Alas! my brother!" Every
actor on the crowded stage of "Vanity Fair" represents some type of that
perverse mixture of humanity in which there is ever something not wholly
to approve or to condemn. There is the desperate devotion of a fond
heart to a false object, which we cannot respect; there is the vain,
weak man, half good and half bad, who is more despicable in our eyes
than the decided villain. There are the irretrievably wretched
education, and the unquenchably manly instincts, both contending in the
confirmed _roue_, which melt us to the tenderest pity. There is the
selfishness and self-will which the possessor of great wealth and
fawning relations can hardly avoid. There is the vanity and fear of the
world, which assist mysteriously with pious principles in keeping a man
respectable; there are combinations of this kind of every imaginable
human form and colour, redeemed but feebly by the steady excellence of
an awkward man, and the genuine heart of a vulgar woman, till we feel
inclined to tax Mr. Thackeray with an under estimate of our nature,
forgetting that Madame de Stael is right after all, and that without a
little conventional rouge no human conplexion can stand the stage-lights
of fiction.

But if these performers give us pain, we are not ashamed to own, as we
are speaking openly, that the chief actress herself gives us none at
all. For there is of course a principal pilgrim in Vanity Fair, as much
as in its emblematical original, Bunyan's "Progress"; only unfortunately
this one is travelling the wrong way. And we say "unfortunately" merely
by way of courtesy, for in reality we care little about the matter. No,
Becky--our hearts neither bleed for you, nor cry out against you. You
are wonderfully clever, and amusing, and accomplished, and intelligent,
and the Soho _ateliers_ were not the best nurseries for a moral
training; and you were married early in life to a regular blackleg, and
you have had to live upon your wits ever since, which is not an
improving sort of maintenance; and there is much to be said for and
against; but still you are not one of us, and there is an end to our
sympathies and censures. People who allow their feelings to be lacerated
by such a character and career as yours, are doing both you and
themselves great injustice. No author could have openly introduced a
near connexion of Satan's into the best London society, nor would the
moral end intended have been answered by it; but really and honestly,
considering Becky in her human character, we know of none which so
thoroughly satisfies our highest _beau ideal_ of feminine wickedness,
with so slight a shock to our feelings and properties. It is very
dreadful, doubtless, that Becky neither loved the husband who loved her,
nor the child of her own flesh and blood, nor indeed any body but
herself; but, as far as she is concerned, we cannot pretend to be
scandalized--for how could she without a heart? It is very shocking of
course that she committed all sorts of dirty tricks, and jockeyed her
neighbours, and never cared what she trampled under foot if it happened
to obstruct her step; but how could she be expected to do otherwise
without a conscience? The poor little woman was most tryingly placed;
she came into the world without the customary letters of credit upon
those two great bankers of humanity, "Heart and Conscience," and it was
no fault of hers if they dishonoured all her bills. All she could do in
this dilemma was to establish the firmest connexion with the inferior
commercial branches of "Sense and Tact," who secretly do much business
in the name of the head concern, and with whom her "fine frontal
development" gave her unlimited credit. She saw that selfishness was the
metal which the stamp of heart was suborned to pass; that hypocrisy was
the homage that vice rendered to virtue; that honesty was, at all
events, acted, because it was the best policy; and so she practised the
arts of selfishness and hypocrisy like anybody else in Vanity Fair, only
with this difference, that she brought them to their highest possible
pitch of perfection. For why is it that, looking round in this world, we
find plenty of characters to compare with her up to a certain pitch, but
none which reach her actual standard? Why is it that, speaking of this
friend or that, we say in the tender mercies of our hearts, "No, she is
not _quite_ so bad as Becky?" We fear not only because she has more
heart and conscience, but also because she has less cleverness.

No; let us give Becky her due. There is enough in this world of ours, as
we all know, to provoke a saint, far more a poor little devil like her.
She had none of those fellow-feelings which make us wondrous kind. She
saw people around her cowards in vice, and simpletons in virtue, and she
had no patience with either, for she was as little the one as the other
herself. She saw women who loved their husbands and yet teazed them, and
ruining their children although they doated upon them, and she sneered
at their utter inconsistency. Wickedness or goodness, unless coupled
with strength, were alike worthless to her. That weakness which is the
blessed pledge of our humanity, was to her only the despicable badge of
our imperfection. She thought, it might be, of her master's words,
"Fallen Cherub! to be weak is to be miserable!" and wondered how we
could be such fools as first to sin and then to be sorry. Becky's light
was defective, but she acted up to it. Her goodness goes as far as good
temper, and her principles as far as shrewd sense, and we may thank her
consistency for showing us what they are both worth.

It is another thing to pretend to settle whether such a character be
_prima facie_ impossible, though devotion to the better sex might well
demand the assertion. There are mysteries of iniquity, under the
semblance of man and woman, read of in history, or met with in the
unchronicled sufferings of private life, which would almost make us
believe that the powers of Darkness occasionally made use of this earth
for a Foundling Hospital, and sent their imps to us, already provided
with a return-ticket. We shall not decide on the lawfulness or otherwise
of any attempt to depict such importations; we can only rest perfectly
satisfied that, granting the author's premises, it is impossible to
imagine them carried out with more felicitous skill and more exquisite
consistency than in the heroine of "Vanity Fair." At all events, the
infernal regions have no reason to be ashamed of little Becky, nor the
ladies either: she has, at least, all the cleverness of the sex.

The great charm, therefore, and comfort of Becky is, that we may study
her without any compunctions. The misery of this life is not the evil
that we see, but the good and the evil which are so inextricably twisted
together. It is that perpetual memento ever meeting one--

How in this vile world below
Noblest things find vilest using,

that is so very distressing to those who have hearts as well as eyes.
But Becky relieves them of all this pain--at least in her own person.
Pity would be thrown away upon one who has not heart enough for it to
ache even for herself. Becky is perfectly happy, as all must be who
excel in what they love best. Her life is one exertion of successful
power. Shame never visits her, for "'Tis conscience that makes cowards
of us all"--and she has none. She realizes that _ne plus ultra_ of
sublunary comfort which it was reserved for a Frenchman to define--the
blessed combination of _"le bon estomac et le mauvais coeur"_: for Becky
adds to her other good qualities that of an excellent digestion.

Upon the whole, we are not afraid to own that we rather enjoy her _ignis
fatuus_ course, dragging the weak and the vain and the selffish
[Transcriber's note: sic], through mud and mire, after her, and acting
all parts, from the modest rushlight to the gracious star, just as it
suits her. Clever little imp that she is! What exquisite tact she
shows!--what unflagging good humour!--what ready self-possession! Becky
never disappoints us; she never even makes us tremble. We know that her
answer will come exactly suiting her one particular object, and
frequently three or four more in prospect. What respect, too, she has
for those decencies which more virtuous, but more stupid humanity, often
disdains! What detection of all that is false and mean! What instinct
for all that is true and great! She is her master's true pupil in that:
she knows what is really divine as well as he, and bows before it. She
honours Dobbin in spite of his big feet; she respects her husband more
than ever she did before, perhaps for the first time, at the very moment
when he is stripping not only her jewels, but name, honour, and comfort
off her.

We are not so sure either whether we are justified in calling hers _"le
mauvais coeur."_ Becky does not pursue any one vindictively; she never
does gratuitous mischief. The fountain is more dry than poisoned. She is
even generous--when she can afford it. Witness that burst of plain
speaking in Dobbin's favour to the little dolt Amelia, for which we
forgive her many a sin. 'Tis true she wanted to get rid of her; but let
that pass. Becky was a thrifty dame, and liked to despatch two birds
with one stone. And she was honest, too, after a fashion. The part of
wife she acts at first as well, and better than most; but as for that of
mother, there she fails from the beginning. She knew that maternal love
was no business of hers--that a fine frontal development could give her
no help there--and puts so little spirit into her imitation that no one
could be taken in for a moment. She felt that that bill, of all others,
would be sure to be dishonoured, and it went against her conscience--we
mean her sense--to send it in.

In short, the only respect in which Becky's course gives us pain is when
it locks itself into that of another, and more genuine child of this
earth. No one can regret those being entangled in her nets whose vanity
and meanness of spirit alone led them into its meshes--such are rightly
served; but we do grudge her that real sacred thing called _love_, even
of a Rawdon Crawley, who has more of that self-forgetting, all-purifying
feeling for his little evil spirit than many a better man has for a good
woman. We do grudge Becky _a heart_, though it belong only to a
swindler. Poor, sinned against, vile, degraded, but still true-hearted
Rawdon!--you stand next in our affections and sympathies to honest
Dobbin himself. It was the instinct of a good nature which made the
Major feel that the stamp of the Evil One was upon Becky; and it was the
stupidity of a good nature which made the Colonel never suspect it. He
was a cheat, a black-leg, an unprincipled dog; but still "Rawdon _is_ a
man, and be hanged to him," as the Rector says. We follow him through
the illustrations, which are, in many instances, a delightful
enhancement to the text--as he stands there, with his gentle eyelid,
coarse moustache, and foolish chin, bringing up Becky's coffee-cup with
a kind of dumb fidelity; or looking down at little Rawdon with a more
than paternal tenderness. All Amelia's philoprogenitive idolatries do
not touch us like one fond instinct of "stupid Rawdon."

Dobbin sheds a halo over all the long-necked, loose-jointed,
Scotch-looking gentlemen of our acquaintance. Flat feet and flap ears
seem henceforth incompatible with evil. He reminds us of one of the
sweetest creations that have appeared from any modern pen--that plain,
awkward, loveable "Long Walter," in Lady Georgina Fullerton's beautiful
novel of "Grantley Manor." Like him, too, in his proper self-respect; for
Dobbin--lumbering, heavy, shy, and absurdly over modest as the ugly fellow
is--is yet true to himself. At one time he seems to be sinking into the
mere abject dangler after Amelia; but he breaks his chains like a man, and
resumes them again like a man, too, although half disenchanted of his
amiable delusion.

But to return for a moment to Becky. The only criticism we would offer
is one which the author has almost disarmed by making her mother a
Frenchwoman. The construction of this little clever monster is
diabolically French. Such a _lusus naturae_ as a woman without a heart
and conscience would, in England, be a mere brutal savage, and poison
half a village. France is the land for the real Syren, with the woman's
face and the dragon's claws. The genus of Pigeon and Laffarge claims it
for its own--only that our heroine takes a far higher class by not
requiring the vulgar matter of fact of crime to develop her full powers.
It is an affront to Becky's tactics to believe that she could ever be
reduced to so low a resource, or, that if she were, anybody would find
it out. We, therefore, cannot sufficiently applaud the extreme
discretion with which Mr. Thackeray has hinted at the possibly assistant
circumstances of Joseph Sedley's dissolution. A less delicacy of
handling would have marred the harmony of the whole design. Such a
casualty as that suggested to our imagination was not intended for the
light net of Vanity Fair to draw on shore; it would have torn it to
pieces. Besides it is not wanted. Poor little Becky is bad enough to
satisfy the most ardent student of "good books." Wickedness, beyond a
certain pitch, gives no increase of gratification even to the sternest
moralist; and one of Mr. Thackeray's excellences is the sparing quantity
he consumes. The whole _use_, too, of the work--that of generously
measuring one another by this standard--is lost, the moment you convict
Becky of a capital crime. Who can, with any face, liken a dear friend to
a murderess? Whereas now there are no little symptoms of fascinating
ruthlessness, graceful ingratitude, or ladylike selfishness, observable
among our charming acquaintance, that we may not immediately detect to
an inch, and more effectually intimidate by the simple application of
the Becky gauge than by the most vehement use of all ten commandments.
Thanks to Mr. Thackeray, the world is now provided with an _idea_,
which, if we mistake not, will be the skeleton in the corner of every
ball-room and boudoir for a long time to come. Let us leave it intact in
its unique fount and freshness--a Becky, and nothing more. We should,
therefore, advise our readers to cut out that picture of our heroine's
"Second Appearance as Clytemnestra," which casts so uncomfortable a
glare over the latter part of the volume, and, disregarding all hints
and inuendoes, simply to let the changes and chances of this moral life
have due weight in their minds. Jos had been much in India. His was a
bad life; he ate and drank most imprudently, and his digestion was not
to be compared with Becky's. No respectable office would have ensured
"Waterloo Sedley."

"Vanity Fair" is pre-eminently a novel of the day--not in the vulgar
sense, of which there are too many, but as a literal photograph of the
manners and habits of the nineteenth century, thrown on to paper by the
light of a powerful mind; and one also of the most artistic effect. Mr.
Thackeray has a peculiar adroitness in leading on the fancy, or rather
memory of his readers from one set of circumstances to another by the
seeming chances and coincidences of common life, as an artist leads the
spectator's eye through the subject of his picture by a skilful
repetition of colour. This is why it is impossible to quote from his
book with any justice to it. The whole growth of the narrative is so
matted and interwoven together with tendril-like links and bindings,
that there is no detaching a flower with sufficient length of stalk to
exhibit it to advantage. There is that mutual dependence in his
characters which is the first requisite in painting every-day life: no
one is stuck on a separate pedestal--no one is sitting for his portrait.
There may be one exception--we mean Sir Pitt Crawley, senior; it is
possible, nay, we hardly doubt, that this baronet was closer drawn from
individual life than anybody else in the book; but granting that fact,
the animal was so unique an exception, that we wonder so shrewd an
artist could stick him into a gallery so full of our familiars. The
scenes in Germany, we can believe, will seem to many readers of an
English book hardly less extravagantly absurd--grossly and gratuitously
overdrawn; but the initiated will value them as containing some of the
keenest strokes of truth and humour that "Vanity Fair" exhibits, and not
enjoy them the less for being at our neighbour's expense. For the
thorough appreciation of the chief character they are quite
indispensable too. The whole course of the work may be viewed as the
_Wander-Jahre_ of a far cleverer female, _Wilhelm Meister_. We have
watched her in the ups-and-downs of life--among the humble, the
fashionable, the great, and the pious--and found her ever new, yet ever
the same; but still Becky among the students was requisite to complete
the full measure of our admiration.

"Jane Eyre," as a work, and one of equal popularity, is, in almost every
respect, a total contrast to "Vanity Fair." The characters and events,
though some of them masterly in conception, are coined expressly for the
purpose of bringing out great effects. The hero and heroine are beings
both so singularly unattractive that the reader feels they can have no
vocation in the novel but to be brought together; and they do things
which, though not impossible, lie utterly beyond the bounds of
probability. On this account a short sketch of the plan seems requisite;
not but what it is a plan familiar enough to all readers of novels--
especially those of the old school and those of the lowest school of our
own day. For Jane Eyre is merely another Pamela, who, by the force of
her character and the strength of her principles, is carried
victoriously through great trials and temptations from the man she
loves. Nor is she even a Pamela adapted and refined to modern notions;
for though the story is conducted without those derelictions of decorum
which we are to believe had their excuse in the manners of Richardson's
time, yet it stamped with a coarseness of language and laxity of tone
which have certainly no excuse in ours. It is a very remarkable book: we
have no remembrance of another combining such genuine power with such
horrid taste. Both together have equally assisted to gain the great
popularity it has enjoyed; for in these days of extravagant adoration of
all that bears the stamp of novelty and originality, sheer rudeness and
vulgarity have come in for a most mistaken worship.

The story is written in the first person. Jane begins with her earliest
recollections, and at once takes possession of the readers' intensest
interest by the masterly picture of a strange and oppressed child she
raises up in a few strokes before him. She is an orphan, and a dependant
in the house of a selfish, hard-hearted aunt, against whom the
disposition of the little Jane chafes itself in natural antipathy, till
she contrives to make the unequal struggle as intolerable to her
oppressor as it is to herself. She is, therefore, at eight years of age,
got rid of to a sort of Dothegirls Hall, where she continues to enlist
our sympathies for a time with her little pinched fingers, cropped hair,
and empty stomach. But things improve: the abuses of the institution are
looked into. The Puritan patron, who holds that young orphan girls are
only safely brought up upon the rules of La Trappe, is superseded by an
enlightened committee--the school assumes a sound English character--
Jane progresses duly from scholar to teacher, and passes ten profitable
and not unhappy years at Lowood. Then she advertises for a situation as
governess, and obtains one immediately in one of the midland counties.
We see her, therefore, as she leaves Lowood, to enter upon a new life--a
small, plain, odd creature, who has been brought up dry upon school
learning, and somewhat stunted accordingly in mind and body, and who is
now thrown upon the world as ignorant of its ways, and as destitute of
its friendships, as a shipwrecked mariner upon a strange coast.

Thornfield Hall is the property of Mr. Rochester--a bachelor addicted to
travelling. She finds it at first in all the peaceful prestige of an
English gentleman's seat when "nobody is at the hall." The companions
are an old decayed gentlewoman housekeeper--a far away cousin of the
squire's--and a young French child, Jane's pupil, Mr. Rochester's ward
and reputed daughter. There is a pleasing monotony in the summer
solitude of the old country house, with its comfort, respectability, and
dulness, which Jane paints to the life; but there is one circumstance
which varies the sameness and casts a mysterious feeling over the scene.
A strange laugh is heard from time to time in a distant part of the
house--a laugh which grates discordantly upon Jane's ear. She listens,
watches, and inquires, but can discover nothing but a plain matter of
fact woman, who sits sewing somewhere in the attics, and goes up and
down stairs peaceably to and from her dinner with the servants. But a
mystery there is, though nothing betrays it, and it comes in with
marvellous effect from the monotonous reality of all around. After
awhile Mr. Rochester comes to Thornfield, and sends for the child and
her governess occasionally to bear him company. He is a dark,
strange-looking man--strong and large--of the brigand stamp, with fine
eyes and lowering brows--blunt and sarcastic in his manners, with a kind
of misanthropical frankness, which seems based upon utter contempt for
his fellow-creatures and a surly truthfulness which is more rudeness than
honesty. With his arrival disappears all the prestige of country
innocence that had invested Thornfield Hall. He brings the taint of the
world upon him, and none of its illusions. The queer little governess is
something new to him. He talks to her at one time imperiously as to a
servant, and at another recklessly as to a man. He pours into her ears
disgraceful tales of his past life, connected with the birth of little
Adele, which any man with common respect for a woman, and that a mere
girl of eighteen, would have spared her; but which eighteen in this case
listens to as if it were nothing new, and certainly nothing distasteful.
He is captious and Turk-like--she is one day his confidant, and another
his unnoticed dependant. In short, by her account, Mr. Rochester is a
strange brute, somewhat in the Squire Western style of absolute and
capricious eccentricity, though redeemed in him by signs of a cultivated
intellect, and gleams of a certain fierce justice of heart. He has a
_mind_, and when he opens it at all, he opens it freely to her. Jane
becomes attached to her "master," as Pamela-like she calls him, and it
is not difficult to see that solitude and propinquity are taking effect
upon him also. An odd circumstance heightens the dawning romance. Jane
is awoke one night by that strange discordant laugh close to her ear--
then a noise as if hands feeling along the wall. She rises--opens her
door, finds the passage full of smoke, is guided by it to her master's
room, whose bed she discovers enveloped in flames, and by her timely aid
saves his life. After this they meet no more for ten days, when Mr.
Rochester returns from a visit to a neighbouring family, bringing with
him a housefull of distinguished guests; at the head of whom is Miss
Blanche Ingram, a haughty beauty of high birth, and evidently the
especial object of the Squire's attentions--upon which tumultuous
irruption Miss Eyre slips back into her naturally humble position.

Our little governess is now summoned away to attend her aunt's death-bed,
who is visited by some compunctions towards her, and she is absent
a month. When she returns Thornfield Hall is quit of all its guests, and
Mr. Rochester and she resume their former life of captious cordiality on
the one side, and diplomatic humility on the other. At the same time the
bugbear of Miss Ingram and of Mr. Rochester's engagement with her is
kept up, though it is easy to see that this and all concerning that lady
is only a stratagem to try Jane's character and affection upon the most
approved Griselda precedent. Accordingly an opportunity for explanation
ere long offers itself, where Mr. Rochester has only to take it. Miss
Eyre is desired to walk with him in shady alleys, and to sit with him on
the roots of an old chestnut-tree towards the close of evening, and of
course she cannot disobey her "master"--whereupon there ensues a scene
which, as far as we remember, is new equally in art or nature; in which
Miss Eyre confesses her love--whereupon Mr. Rochester drops not only his
cigar (which she seems to be in the habit of lighting for him) but his
mask, and finally offers not only heart, but hand. The wedding day is
soon fixed, but strange misgivings and presentiments haunt the young
lady's mind. The night but one before her bed-room is entered by a
horrid phantom, who tries on the wedding veil, sends Jane into a swoon
of terror, and defeats all the favourite refuge of a bad dream by
leaving the veil in two pieces. But all is ready. The bride has no
friends to assist--the couple walk to church--only the clergyman and the
clerk are there--but Jane's quick eye has seen two figures lingering
among the tombstones, and these two follow them into church. The
ceremony commences, when at the due charge which summons any man to come
forward and show just cause why they should not be joined together, a
voice interposes to forbid the marriage. There is an impediment, and a
serious one. The bridegroom has a wife not only living, but living under
the very roof of Thornfield Hall. Hers was that discordant laugh which
had so often caught Jane's ear; she it was who in her malice had tried
to burn Mr. Rochester in his bed--who had visited Jane by night and torn
her veil, and whose attendant was that same pretended sew-woman who had
so strongly excited Jane's curiosity. For Mr. Rochester's wife is a
creature, half fiend, half maniac, whom he had married in a distant part
of the world, and whom now, in self-constituted code of morality, he had
thought it his right, and even his duty, to supersede by a more
agreeable companion. Now follow scenes of a truly tragic power. This is
the grand crisis in Jane's life. Her whole soul is wrapt up in Mr.
Rochester. He has broken her trust, but not diminished her love. He
entreats her to accept all that he still can give, his heart and his
home; he pleads with the agony not only of a man who has never known
what it was to conquer a passion, but of one who, by that same
self-constituted code, now burns to atone for a disappointed crime. There
is no one to help her against him or against herself. Jane had no friends
to stand by her at the altar, and she has none to support her now she is
plucked away from it. There is no one to be offended or disgraced at her
following him to the sunny land of Italy, as he proposes, till the
maniac should die. There is no duty to any one but to herself, and this
feeble reed quivers and trembles beneath the overwhelming weight of love
and sophistry opposed to it. But Jane triumphs; in the middle of the
night she rises--glides out of her room--takes off her shoes as she
passes Mr. Rochester's chamber;--leaves the house, and casts herself
upon a world more desert than ever to her--

Without a shilling and without a friend.

Thus the great deed of self-conquest is accomplished; Jane has passed
through the fire of temptation from without and from within; her
character is stamped from that day; we need therefore follow her no
further into wanderings and sufferings which, though not unmixed with
plunder from Minerva-lane, occupy some of, on the whole, the most
striking chapters in the book. Virtue of course finds her reward. The
maniac wife sets fire to Thornfield Hall, and perishes herself in the
flames. Mr. Rochester, in endeavouring to save her, loses the sight of
his eyes. Jane rejoins her blind master; they are married, after which
of course the happy man recovers his sight.

Such is the outline of a tale in which, combined with great materials
for power and feeling, the reader may trace gross inconsistencies and
improbabilities, and chief and foremost that highest moral offence a
novel writer can commit, that of making an unworthy character
interesting in the eyes of the reader. Mr. Rochester is a man who
deliberately and secretly seeks to violate the laws both of God and man,
and yet we will be bound half our lady readers are enchanted with him
for a model of generosity and honour. We would have thought that such a
hero had had no chance, in the purer taste of the present day; but the
popularity of Jane Eyre is a proof how deeply the love for illegitimate
romance is implanted in our nature. Not that the author is strictly
responsible for this. Mr. Rochester's character is tolerably consistent.
He is made as coarse and as brutal as can in all conscience be required
to keep our sympathies at a distance. In point of literary consistency
the hero is at all events impugnable, though we cannot say as much for
the heroine.

As to Jane's character--there is none of that harmonious unity about it
which made little Becky so grateful a subject of analysis--nor are the
discrepancies of that kind which have their excuse and their response in
our nature. The inconsistencies of Jane's character lie mainly not in
her own imperfections, though of course she has her share, but in the
author's. There is that confusion in the relations between cause and
effect, which is not so much untrue to human nature as to human art. The
error in Jane Eyre is, not that her character is this or that, but that
she is made one thing in the eyes of her imaginary companions, and
another in that of the actual reader. There is a perpetual disparity
between the account she herself gives of the effect she produces, and
the means shown us by which she brings that effect about. We hear
nothing but self-eulogiums on the perfect tact and wondrous penetration
with which she is gifted, and yet almost every word she utters offends
us, not only with the absence of these qualities, but with the positive
contrasts of them, in either her pedantry, stupidity, or gross
vulgarity. She is one of those ladies who puts us in the unpleasant
predicament of undervaluing their very virtues for dislike of the person
in whom they are represented. One feels provoked as Jane Eyre stands
before us--for in the wonderful reality of her thoughts and
descriptions, she seems accountable for all done in her name--with
principles you must approve in the main, and yet with language and
manners that offend you in every particular. Even in that _chef-d'oeuvre_
of brilliant retrospective sketching, the description of her
early life, it is the childhood and not the child that interests you.
The little Jane, with her sharp eyes and dogmatic speeches, is a being
you neither could fondle nor love. There is a hardness in her infantine
earnestness, and a spiteful precocity in her reasoning, which repulses
all our sympathy. One sees that she is of a nature to dwell upon and
treasure up every slight and unkindness, real or fancied, and such
natures we know are surer than any others to meet with plenty of this
sort of thing. As the child, so also the woman--an uninteresting,
sententious, pedantic thing; with no experience of the world, and yet
with no simplicity or freshness in its stead. What are her first answers
to Mr. Rochester but such as would have quenched all interest, even for
a prettier woman, in any man of common knowledge of what was nature--and
especially in a _blase_ monster like him?

* * * * *

But the crowning scene is the offer--governesses are said to be sly on
such occasions, but Jane out-governesses them all--little Becky would
have blushed for her. They are sitting together at the foot of the old
chestnut tree, as we have already mentioned, towards the close of
evening, and Mr. Rochester is informing her, with his usual delicacy of
language, that he is engaged to Miss Ingram--"a strapper! Jane, a real
strapper!"--and that as soon as he brings home his bride to Thornfield,
she, the governess, must "trot forthwith"--but that he shall make it his
duty to look out for employment and an asylum for her--indeed, that he

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