Page images
[ocr errors]

But though we think this last romance of Mr. Scott's about as good as the former, and allow that it affords great indications of poetical talent, we must remind our readers, that we never entertained much partiality for this sort of composition, and ventured on a former occasion to express our regret, that an author endowed with such talents should consume them in imitations of obsolete extravagance, and in the representation of manners and sentiments in which none of his readers can be supposed to take much interest, except the few who can judge of their exactness. To write a modern romance of chivalry, seems to be much such a fantasy as to build a modern abbey, or an English pagoda. For once, however, it may be excused as a prelly caprice of genius; but a second production of the same sort is entitled to less indulgence, and imposes a sort of duty to drive the author from so idle a task, by a fair exposition of the faults which are in a manner inseparable from its execution. To enable our readers to judge fairly of the present performance, we shall first present them with a brief abstract of the story; and then endeavour to point out what seems to be exceptionable, and what is praiseworthy, in the execution

Lord Marmion, the fictitious hero of the poem, was an English knight of great rank, fortune, and prowess, in the reign of Henry VIII., and had, some years before the opening of the narrative, seduced, and carried off from her convent, Constance de Beverley, a professed nun of good farnily, whom he had afterwards retained about his person in the disguise of a page. At the end of three years, however, he falls in love with the fair face, or the broad lands, of Clara de Clare, a damsel of great merit, whose affections, however, were previously engaged to Ralph de Wilton, a valiant knight in her neighbourhood. Marmion can think of no better way of disposing of this rival, than to employ Constance to put a parcel of forged letters, importing treasonable practices, into his portfolio, and thereafter to arraign him of those offences before their jealous sovereign. The forged papers give credit to this accusation; and the matter is referred to the judgment of God by a single combat between the two parties. In this contest the treacherous Marmion is victorious; and the true De Wilton, who is supposed to die of his wounds, assumes the dress of a palmer, and wanders from shrine to shrine, brooding over his unmerited disgrace and his natural purposes of revenge. Constance, in the mean while, who had lent herself to this scheme for promoting the marriage of Marmion, only to make herself mistress of a secret which gave her power over his life, now resolves to gratify her own jealousy and envy by the destruction of the rival who had supplanted her in the heart of of her seducer. She therefore engages a wicked monk in a plot to murder the Lady Clare; but before she can carry it into execution, she is delivered up by Marmion, now satiated with her beauty, and wearied out with her murmurs, to the spiritual superiors from whom she had fled, and by whom this new crime of projected murder is speedily detected. The Lady Clare, in the mean time, full of sorrow for De Wilton, and of horror at his conqueror, had retired into the convent of Whitby, with the intention of taking the veil; and Lord Marmion, bearing down remorse with pride and ambition, was proceeding on an embassy from his sovereign to the court of James IV. of Scotland, to enquire into the cause of the great levy of troops which that prince was making, and the destination of the vast army which he had assembled in the neighbourhood of his capital.

Such is the situation of matters at the commencement of the poem, which opens with the arrival of Lord Marmion, and his train, at ihe castle of Norham, upon the Tweed, the last English post upon his road, where he takes up his quarters on a fine summer evening in the year of our Lord 1513. The whole first canto is taken up with the description of his train, and his reception and entertainment in the castle ; every minute particular of which, from the letting down the drawbridge, and bringing in the venison pasties for supper, down to the presentation of the stirrup cup at parting in the morning, is recorded with the most anxious and scrupulous exactness. While at table, he asks his host to provide him a guide to the Scottish court; and after some consultation, a holy palmer is introduced for this purpose, who afterwards turns out to be his injured rival De Wilton, although so much disguised by his dress, beard, and misery, as not to be recognised by his oppressor. This is the only incident in the first canto that can be said to bear at all upon the business of the poem. It ends with the departure of the embassy on the following morning, under the guidance of the mysterious palmer.

In the Second Canto, we entirely drop Lord Marmion and his retinue, in order to attend to the voyage of "Clara, and the fate of Constance. This poor lady had been detected in her plot against her rival in the monastery of Holy Isle; and a chapter of the adjoining superiors had been summoned, to pass sentence on her for this crime, and for the breach of her monastic vows. The canto begins with a picture of the voyage of the abbess of Whitby, to assist at this tragical convocation. There is then a description of the abbey at Holy Isle, and an abstract of the legends connected with the history of its saints, and with those of the rival foundation of Whitby. Then comes the condemnation of Constance and her auxiliary monk. The judges assemble in a low, dark vault, paved with tombstones, and lighted with an iron chandelier, where two deep niches already appear in the massive walls with stones and mortar laid, ready to immure the convicled delinquents. The monk howls and shrieks with unmanly and unheeded agonies of terror; but Constance maintains a lofty and heroic resolution. She discloses the whole perfidy of Marmion, in his accusation of De Wilton, and his baseness to herself: she expresses little penitence for her own conspiracy against the blameless Lady Clare; but after arraigning her judges of bigoted cruelty, and prophesying the speedy downfall of their power, she receives sentence* from the stern blind abbot of Lindisfarn, and is left to expiate her offences in the gloomy sepulchre to which she is committed.

In the Third Canto, we return again to Lord Marmion and the Palmer, who guides him in silence across the Border, and to the village of Gifford, in East Lothian, where the train halts for the night at a country inn. Here the ghastly visage and keen steady eye of the Palmer disturbs the soul of Marmion, and awes the whole band into silence. Marmion tries to relieve. this by calling on one of his squires for a song: but is still further annoyed, when he pitches upon a favourite air of Constance, and sings about the vengeance that is reserved for those who are perfidious in love. The host

[ocr errors]

We were a little surprised at the words of this sentence, “Sinful sister, part in peace!" which soands more like a merciful dismissal than a condemnation. On looking into the notes, we find Mr. Scou has adopted this formula from what we humbly conceive to be a mistranslation of the Latin vade in pacem, which does not signify, part in peace, but, “ go into peace," or into eternal rest ; a pretly intelligible miltimus to another world.


then tells a long story of a rencontre which took place in the neighbourhood; between King Alexander III. and a spirit in the shape of Edward I. of England, in which the Scottish monarch discomfiled his unearthly antagonist, and forced him to reveal the fortune that awaited him in the war in which he was engaged with the Danes. He concludes with saying that any knight who will repair at midnight to the same spot, and blow his bugle of defiance, will still be encountered by an aerial representation of his greatest enemy; and, if victorious, may learn from him the destiny of his future life. Marmion is unable to sleep after hearing all these stories ; and rising in the night, mounts his charger, and gallops to the appointed ground, where he is encountered by the figure of De Wilton, and unborsed in the first shock. His foe, however, spares his life, and disappears; and the astonished champion returns sullenly to his train. The reader will probably guess, what is afterwards related at length, that this unexpected opponent was no other than the real De Wilton himself, who had heard Marmion ride out, and, suspecting his purpose, had put off his Palmer's dress, and borrowing the arms and the steed of one of his sleeping attendants, had followed, and answered his challenge.

The Fourth Canto pursues the march of Marmion to the Scottish court. In his way, he meets the chief herald, or Lyon King at Arms of Scotland, who had been despatched to attend him, and who conducts him to a castle a few miles from Edinburgh, where he is to reside for a day or two, till the King is at leisure to receive him. Here the Lord Lyon tells a strange story, of a vision which had recently appeared to his sovereign at Linlithgow, warning him not to persist in his warlike resolutions; which Marmion repays, by recounting his night adventure at Gifford. At last they take the way to Edinburgh : and the Canto ends with a spirited description of the appearance of that city and the adjoining landscape, as it appears on gaining the summit of the hills that rise above it on the south, and of the great army that then lay encamped between the bottom of these hills and the wails.

The Fifth Canto begins with a more exact and detailed description of the different bands and sorts of forces through which Marmion passed in his way to the city. In the evening he is conducted to the court, which, as well as the person of the Scottish monarch, is described with great spirit and vivacity. He is then told, that his sovereign's aggressions on the Border have been such as to leave little hope of accommodation; but that he is to take up his residence in Lord Angus's castle of Tantallon till the return of the herald who had been sent to complain of these injuries, and to denounce desperate hostility, if they were not instantly respaired. We now learn, too, that the Lady Abbess of Whilby, returning by sea with Lady Clare, from the condemnation of poor Constance, had been captured by a Scottish privateer and brought to Edinburgh, to await the disposal of the sovereign. These unfortunate persons are now put under the charge of Lord Marmion, and directed to remain with him al Tantallon, and to be conducted by him to their respective homes, upon his final relurn to England. The Abbess, who had received from the dying Constance the written proofs of the perfidy of Marmion and the innocence of De Wilton, is fearful thal these documents may fall into the hands of that unprincipled warrior, and, in her distress, applies to the Palmer, to whom she narrates the whole story, and puls the papers into his hands, that they may be presented to Cardinal Wolsey, or the King, and Clara be delivered from the suit of so unworthy an admirer. The conference of these holy persons, which takes place in a

gallery looking down on the street, is suddenly broken off by a strange. apparition of figures like heralds and pursuivants, who glide through the air, and, taking their station at the market-cross, summon the Scottish king and most of his nobles, together with Marmion and De Wilton, to appear before the throne of their Sovereign within forty days. The Palmer protests and appeals against this citation. The train afterwards proceeds to , Tantallon, the Abbess being dropped at a convent in the way; and Marmion, growing impatient at the delay of the Scottish herald, and learning that James had advanced into Northumberland at the head of a great army, and that Lord Surrey had marched to oppose him, resolves to join the latter army without further delay, and to stay no longer in the castle of Lord Angus, whose demeanour he observed had recently become very cold and disrespectful,

In the beginning of the last Canto, which is by far the busiest, we learn that De Wilton, who had obtained the proofs of his innocence from the Abbess, had told his story to Lord Angus, who had agreed to restore him to the rank of knighthood, and, for that purpose, had sought out a suit of old armour, with which he proposed to invest him, and send him forth armed to the English host. Over this armour, as it lay in the castle-yard, to be watched by the knightly candidate, the Lady Clare first stumbles, and, then moralises; when, behold, De Wilton himself stands before her, and. in a few words, recounts his disastrous story, and clears his injured fame. Clara assists in accoutring him as a knight; and forth be rides in the morning on an old steed of the Earl's. Marmion, in the mean time, gets his band set in order, and presents himself to take leave of his host, who refuses lo shake hands with him at parting; and some high words pass between them. However, he goes on, accompanied by Clara, in very bad humour; and, by the way, learns the particulars of the extraordinary conversion of the Palmer into a knight ; and calling to mind the whole particulars of his deportment, becomes satisfied that this mysterious personage is no other than his ancient and still dreaded rival. ne sight of the two armies, however, soon drives all other thoughts from his mind. . He leaves the Lady Clare on an eminence in the rear, and gallops to Lord Surrey, who instantly assigns him a station in the van, where he is received with shouts of joy and exullalion. The battle is very finely described. It is represented as seen from the eminence where Clara was left; and the indistinctness, of the picture, and the anxiety and uncertainty which results from that indistinctness, add prodigiously to the interest and grandeur of the representation. His two squires bear back Marmion, mortally wounded, to the spot where Clara is waiting. In his last moments, he learns the fate of Constaree, and bursts out in an agony of rage and remorse, which is diverted, however, by the Dearer roar of the battle; and he expires in a chivalrous exclamation of encouragement to the English warriors. The poet now hurries to a conclusion; the disastrous issue of Flodden Field is shortly but powerfully represented; and the reader is told, in a few words, of the restoration of De Wilton to his honours, and of his happy marriage with Clara, which closes

Now, upon this narrative, we are led to observe, in the first place, that it forms a very scanty and narrow foundation for a poem of such length as is now before us. There is scarcely matter enough in the main story for a ballad of ordinary dimensions; and the present work is not so properly difersified with episodes and descriptions, as made up and composed of them.

the story.


[ocr errors]



No long poem, however, can maintain its interest without a connected narrative. It should be a grand historical picture, in which all the personages are concerned in one great transaction, and not a mere gallery of detached groups and portraits. When we accompany the poet in his career of adventure, it is not enough that he points out to us, as we go along, the beauties of the landscape, and the costume of the inhabitants: the people must do something after they are described; and they must do it in concert, or in opposition to each other; while the landscape, with its castles, and woods, and defiles, must serve merely as the scene of their exploits, and the field of their conspiracies and contentions. There is too little connected incident in Marmion, and a great deal too much gratuitous description.'

In the second place, we object to the whole plan and conception of the fable, as turning mainly upon incidents unsuitable for poetical narrative, and brought out in the denouement in a very obscure, laborious, and imperfect manner. The events of an epic narrative should all be of a broad, clear, and palpable description; and the difficulties and embarrassments of the characters, of a nature to be easily comprehended and entered into by readers of all descriptions. Now, the leading incidents in this poem are of a very narrow and peculiar character, and are woven together into a pretty intricacy and entanglement, which puzzles the reader instead of interesting him, and fatigues instead of exciting his curiosity. The unaccountable conduct of Constance, in first ruining De Wilton in order to forward Marmion's suit with Clara, and then trying to poison Clara, because Marmion's suit seemed likely to succeed wiih her-but, above all, the paltry device of the forged letters, and the sealed packet given up by Constance at her condemnation, and handed over by the Abbess to De Wilton and Lord Angus, are incidents not only unworthy of the dignity of poetry, but really incapable of being made subservient io its legitimate purposes. They are particularly unsuitable, too, to the age and character of the personages to whom they relate; and, instead of forming the instruments of knightly vengeance and redress, remind us of the machinery 01 a bad German novel, or of the disclosures which might be expected on the trial of a pettyfogging attorney. The obscurity and intricacy which they communicate to the whole story, must be very painfully felt by every reader who tries to comprehend it; and is prodigiously increased by the very clumsy and inartificial manner in which the denouement is ultimately brought about by the author. Three several attempts are made by three several persons to beat into the head of the reader the evidence of De Wilton's innocence, and of Marmion's guilt; first, by Constance in her dying speech and confession; secondly, by the Abbess in her conference with De Wilton; and, lastly, by this injured innocent himself, on disclosing himself to Clara in the castle of Lord Angus. After all, the precise nature of the plot, and the detection, is very imperfectly explained, and, we will venture to say, is not fully understood by one hall of those who have fairly read through every word of the quarto now

We would object, on the same grounds, to the whole scenery of Constance's condemnation. The subterranean chamber, with its low arches, massive walls, and silent monks with smoky torches, its old chandelier in an iron chain,--the stern abbots and haughty prioresses, with their flowing black dresses, and book of statutes laid on an iron table, are all images borrowed from the novels of Mrs. Radelille and her imitators. The public, we believe, has now supped full of this sort of horrors; or, if any effect is still to be produced by their exhibition, it may certainly be pro

before us.

« PreviousContinue »