Page images

wood, after receiving the Lord Keeper under his roof *, of Abbot Boniface, on the tranquillity of his early days, compared with his present troublesome dignity; of Father Eustace on the withered leaves in Glendearg+; of Leicester, while perusing his future fortunes in the starry heaven; and of Varney, when setting out for Cumnor, with the Earl's message to his lady. It would require but a moment's recollection to double the number of instances; but I will detain you no longer on this point, except to notice the following short speech of Dousterswivel, where that personage, in the true style of the theatre, talks broken English to himself. But, ah! it is all nonsense; all one part ' of de damn big trick and imposture. Deivil! that one 'thick-sculled Scotch baronet, as I have led by the nose for 'five years, should cheat Herman Dousterswivel !'-Antiquary, vol. ii. ch. 10.

[ocr errors]

As the beauty of these tales is often enhanced by their admirable dramatic effect, so too they occasionally lose in elegance and simplicity by an over-ambitious seeking after what are technically called coups-de-theatre. There are some, I will not say many passages of both writers, in which either the transactions themselves are so remote from common nature, or the coincidences of time, place, situation of parties, and other accidents, are contrived with such apparent study, and so much previous sacrifice of probability, that the scene when fully opened appears not properly dramatic, but melo-dramatic.

In Ivanhoe, when the castle of Front-de-bœuf is wrapped in flames, and its besiegers stand waiting its downfall, be

* Bride of Lammermoor, vol. ii. c. 1.

+ Monastery, vol. i. c. 6, 8.

Kenilworth, vol. ii. c. 9.

hold the Saxon Ulrica, by whose hand the conflagration was kindled, appears on a turret, in the guise of one of the 'ancient furies, yelling forth a war-song,' her hair dishevelled, and insanity in her eyes. Brandishing her distaff, she stands (like Fawdoun's Ghost), among the crashing towers, till, having finished several stanzas of her barbarous hymn, she at last sinks among the fiery ruins. The whole incident is described with much spirit, and may not be inconsistent with manners and customs at some time prevalent in our country: it would, no doubt, have made the fortune of a common romance; but in such a work as Ivanhoe, it appears, I think, too glaring and meretricious an ornament, and too much in the taste of the Miller and his Men. The same melo-dramatic turn is observable in that striking passage of The Lady of the Lake, where a Saxon soldier is employed, during the battle at Loch Katrine, to bring off a boat from the island on which Sir Roderick's clansmen have placed their wives and families:

"He nears the isle-and lo!

His hand is on a shallop's bow.

Just then a flash of lightning came:

It tinged the waves and strand with flame.-
I marked Duncraggan's widowed dame,
Behind an oak I saw her stand,

A naked dirk gleam'd in her hand:
It darkened—but amid the moan
Of waves, I heard a dying groan ;—
Another flash!—the spearman floats
A weltering corse beside the boats;
And the stern Matron o'er him stood,
Her hand and dagger streaming blood.

Lady of the Lake, canto vi. st. 20.

* Vol. iii. ch. 1.

An incident of the same class, and remarkable both for its fantastic effect, and for the improbable means and abrupt manner of its accomplishment, is the interruption of Miss Vere's marriage, by the Black Dwarf issuing from behind a monument in the family chapel, and proclaiming himself the rightful lord of Ellieslaw, his pretensions being supported by a party who had opportunely assembled in arms for another purpose, at the moment when their aid was wanted in this adventure; and the plot having been still further assisted by the castle doors standing all open, and the servants being all intoxicated*. Another scene of the same character occurs in Rokeby †, where Philip Mortham, supposed to have been assassinated at Marston-Moor, starts up from behind the tomb of his wife exactly in time to parry the stab which Risingham aims at Wilfrid.

To vary narrative by the introduction of detached lyrical pieces, is a practice resorted to with characteristic frequency by the poet, and occasionally, though more sparingly, adopted by the novelist. In this, too, both, at times, become a little theatrical. The scene contrived for Waverley by Miss Mac-Ivor, at the cascade, where, after terrifying the Southron by a display of her activity in walking 6 over four-inched bridges,' she seats herself on a mossy fragment of rock, at a convenient distance from the waterfall, and touching her harp, pours forth a long but spirited Jacobite invocation, is got up with too evident an attention to stage effect; and the performance of Ellen Douglas before FitzJames, under circumstances not very dissimilar §, has some

* Black Dwarf, ch. 18.


+ Canto ii. st. 17 to 21.
Waverley, vol. i. ch. 22.

§ Lady of the Lake, canto i. st. 30 to 32:-
"She paused-then, blushing, led the lay
grace the stranger of the day."-st. 32.

thing of the same fault. We now and then find entire songs, deliberately executed in situations which are usually (except in operas,) considered the most uninviting to vocal exhi- · bition. Thus, in the Lady of the Lake, a bridegroom summoned away in the midst of the nuptial ceremony, to forward Sir Roderick's fiery cross, breaks out in voluntary song,' and completes three long stanzas of the impromptu, while 'glancing o'er bank and brae,' with the speed of 'fire from flint*. And, I have already mentioned the passage of Ivanhoe, where the Saxon virago chaunts fifty lines of martial poetry from the top of a burning castle in which she is about to perish.

[ocr errors]


It has been frequently noticed as a fault in the stories of both these authors, that the hero (by which name, according to romantic etiquette, we are to understand the personage who marries the heroine), is not sufficiently important, and fails to maintain his legitimate pre-eminence above the other characters. This deficiency is, I think, attributable, in different instances, to different causes, and not uniformly to the same, as critics seem to have assumed, who lay the whole blame on the general faultlessness or inactivity of these nominal heroes.

[ocr errors]

Waverley having caused inquiry to be made respecting the expressions applied to himself by Fergus's Celtic bard, Una returned in a few minutes, and repeated to her mistress a few lines in Gaelic., Flora seemed to think for a moment, and then slightly colouring, she turned to Waverley-' it is impossible to gratify your curiosity, Captain Waverley, without exposing my own presumption. If you will give me a few moments for consideration, I will endeavour to engraft the meaning of these lines upon a rude English translation,' &c.-Waverley, vol. i. ch. 22. * Canto iii. st. 22, 3.

[ocr errors]

One circumstance very common in the novels and poems, and highly disadvantageous to the principal personage, is, that during a great part of the story, he is made the blind or involuntary instrument of another's purposes; the attendant on another's will; and the sport of events over which he exercises no controul. Such, for example, is Waverley; a hero, who, from beginning to end of his history, is scarcely ever left upon his own hands, but appears almost always in the situation of pupil, guest, patient, protégé, or prisoner; engaged in a quarrel from which he is unconsciously extricated; half duped and half seduced into rebellion; ineffectually repenting; snatched away by accident from his sinking party; by accident preserved from justice; and restored by the exertions of his friends to safety, fortune, and happiness. Such a hero is De Wilton, who is introduced to us as the vanquished rival of Marmion, becomes by mere chance the Baron's attendant and guide, and obtains in his execution of that office the means and opportunity of achieving the few acts we find recorded of him. Malcolm Græme, in the Lady of the Lake, is a royal ward, without command of vassals or lands; makes a truant expedition (for a generous purpose, indeed), to Loch Katrine, where he hears the proposal of Roderick Dhu for the hand of Ellen discussed and rejected without his interference draws on a momentary quarrel with the chieftain, by a somewhat unseasonable act of gallantry, incurs the rebuke of Douglas, and returning homewards, is consigned to prison, from which he is released at the end of the story by his mistress's interest with the Monarch. Henry Bertram might justly claim to be the hero of Guy Mannering, if perils, labours, and courageous achievements, could of themselves confer such a dignity; but it is difficult to consider him in that light, because we see him the mere king of a chess

« PreviousContinue »