Page images
PDF
EPUB

nation to possess? and that government would consult the interest, and deserve the thanks of future ages, by appointing a commission to examine into the state of these national edifices, with the view of taking adequate measures for preserving what no expenditure could possibly replace ? There is one class of men, indeed, by whom any

such measures would be opposed; and the temper and the capacity of that class have been admirably illustrated by Berkeley, when he represents himself as walking in St. Paul's, and meditating on the analogy between the building itself and the Christian church in its largest sense. · The divine order and economy of the one,' he says,

seemed to be emblematically set forth by the just, plain, and majestic architecture of the other. And as the one consists of a great variety of parts united in the same regular design, according to the truest art and most exact pro« portion; so the other contains a decent subordination of members, various sacred institutions, sublime doctrines, and solid precepts of morality digested into the same design, and with an admirable concurrence tending to one view—the happiness and exaltation of human nature. In the midst of my contemplation, I beheld a fly upon one of the pillars; and it straightway came into my head, that the same fly was a free-thinker; for it required some comprehension in the eye of the spectator, to take in at one view the various parts of the building, in order to observe their symmetry and design. But to the fly, whose prospect was confined to a little part of one of the stones of a single pillar, the joint beauty of the whole, or the distinct use of its parts, were inconspicuous; and nothing could appear but small inequalities on the surface of the hewn stone, which in the view of that insect seemed so many deformed rocks and precipices.'

It was said by a man of genius, that Westminster Abbey is part of the constitution. We cannot conclude better than by leaving the reader to reflect upon the serious truth which is conveyed in that lively expression.

Art. II.—Lives of the Novelists. By Sir Walter Scott. 2 vols.

12mo. Paris, Galignani. 1825. A FEW years ago there appeared at Edinburgh ten volumes

in succession of a collection entitled Ballantyne's Novelists' Library, to which Sir Walter Scott supplied prefatory memoirs of the various authors whose works the publication included. The book had the additional recommendations of handsome type and paper, and careful printing-yet it does not seem to have met with success; at least we are at a loss to account otherwise for its sudden suspension, in a state of obvious incompleteness. In the meantime, Mr. Galignani has taken the liberty to detach

Sir Walter's Memoirs from the bulky tomes in which they lay buried; and we hope our notice of his publication may induce those of whose property he has availed himself to imitate the shrewdness of his example. These essays are among the most agreeable specimens of biographical composition we are acquainted. with: they contain a large assemblage of manly and sagacious remarks on human life and manners—and much ingenious criticism besides; and, thus presented in a compact form, must be considered as throwing a new and strong light upon a department of English literature, perhaps the most peculiar, certainly the most popular, and yet, we cannot help thinking, among the least studied of all that we possess.

It is acknowledged on all sides that the novel is the only form of composition to which modern invention can lay any claim; and as it has every appearance of being as natural a form as any that exists, it is no wonder that much speculation should have been expended on the causes of its remaining, to all intents and purposes, untouched by those who carried the drama on the one hand, and history on the other, to their classical perfection. It has been maintained by more than one ingenious writer that, in point of fact, the manners of antiquity did not present a field for this kind of delineation at all comparable to that which social life, as existing in modern times, supplies; that the division of the population into freemen and slaves necessarily abridged, in a miserable manner, the range and extent of social sympathies—and that the all but oriental separation of the sexes in the intercourse of higher life implied an if possible still more unhappy defect of humanizing interest. That these circumstances must have exerted a great and a most unfavourable influence on the whole being and form of ancient society there can be no question: but we must be excused for doubting whether any such influences ever did or could operate to the extent that has been assumed. We have the poets, the historians, the philosophers of antiquity before US;

the fragments of its art are still the wonders of the world: and the influence of its intellect is stamped in indelible traces on every European language, and on every system of jurisprudence that has as yet been applied to the regulation of the most ordinary transactions of social life among any civilized people. It would be difficult, we suspect, to find any thorough-bred civilian who would not smile to hear it maintained that a Fielding or a Le Sage could have been at any loss for materials amidst a society so exquisitely refined and complicated as the recorded decisions of the old Roman lawyers imply. But it is not necessary to call in special authority. Artificial institutions, however ill devised, still leave us men and women, parents and children, lovers and friends,

servants

verna.

servants and masters, mutually dependent and depending, conscious of the dignity of our nature and the excellence of virtue, subject to the temptations of sense and the tyranny of passion. In every age, at all events among every civilized people, the great elements of social interest must have been the same. A man was not the less your valet because he happened to be born your

You might make what regulations you pleased as to the order of processions, and the benches of theatres; but what lawgiver ever hit upon a plan that could assure domestic tranquillity to the husband of a Xantippe,or prevent an Arria from dying with her Pætus? It appears to us, in truth, to be somewhat strange to talk about slavery as blotting three parts of a population out of the map of manners, when we know that that condition of human life was capable of embracing at once a Dromio and the Terence who drew him; and, much as modern woman owes to Gothic chivalry and the religion of the Bible, we must still ask what charm of female character remained entirely destitute of homage among nations that appreciated the amatory delicacy of the Anthologies, the filial piety of an Antigone, the conjugal devotion of an Alcestis, the majestic sorrows of an Andromache? It is much to be regretted that we have no ancient novels :--but surely it is a strange vanity which leads us to decide that the materials for any form of imaginative composition could have been a-wanting among communities who were unquestionably familiar with the highest displays of human intellect in every walk of art and science, and with the exhibition of human character under every light and shade which could result from the conflicting influence of principle and passion on every possible variety of temperament and constitution.

Who, to take an example, can read Horace, and doubt that Horace might have written a novel? It can scarcely be doubted that Quintus Horatius Flaccus had uncles and aunts and cousins enough among the slaves, from which class of the population his family had so recently emerged. He rose by his own talents to the very highest society-he had seen mankind and womankind in every degree—in the cottage and the palace, and in every intervening order of human habitation. He had enjoyed the humours of inns, and, whether he enjoyed them or not, he had witnessed all the incidents of a campaign, at least as varied, and as interesting, we should fancy, as that which terminated in Culloden :-he was the companion of statesmen whose characters and manners may have been as picturesque, we suppose, as those of Olivarez or Lerma, or Buckingham or Chatham: nor can we be persuaded that the intrigues of the Ovids and the Julias had nothing entertaining in them, or that the author of Peregrine Pickle

could

could have supped with Novidienus, and found no use for his tables. The scattered members of the novelist are found everywhere among the writers of antiquity; and the Journey to Brundusium in esse, is proof enough that the expedition of a Roman Humphry Clinker might have been. Why might not the Sabine farm-house have been described as minutely as Pliny's grand villa, and yet as lightly as the pavilions of Lirias? or why should the complete and satisfactory, though untechnical description of such a scene of retirement have been devoid of luxury to the reader, who had, after a couple of volumes of the Suburra and the Via Sacra, been compelled to feel as if he had, in good carnest,

.- heard the imperial city's din

Beat on his satiate ear'? If we look for excitements of a darker kind, we cannot see why the Jews and Chaldeans of the Roman suburbs might not have been made as imposing as any Gipsies of our acquaintance; or why Canidia herself might not have presented as picturesque a full-length as Meg Merrilies. As for robbers and murderers and their

caves, both Le Sage and Smollett have, as it is, taken their best pieces of that sort from Lucian; and indeed both this last writer, and the author, whoever he was, that passes under the name of Petronius, have in many places approached so closely the strain and tone of the most popular modern novelists, that we wonder at, scarcely less than we regret, the fact of their having missed the full career of a path which was so near them, and which, if they had once hit on it, must have been found so admirably adapted for the display of their peculiar talents.

It is a very common trait of human vanity to argue that because a thing was not, it could not have been. At what period are we to fix the commencement of the novel in posse ?? What mere theory can account for our having no English novel of the æra of the Canterbury Tales ? Why should it have been impossible for a contemporary of Froissart to compose an admirable novel? Why should the country of Shakspeare have been without such a work, while he and Cervantes died on the same day? Was it impossible to introduce Mrs. Quickly in the same form of composition with Mrs. Towouse ? Might not Justice Shallow's great chamber have been the scene of as many adventures as Squire Western's hall ?-Might not Sir Hugh Evans or Holofernes have figured through books and chapters as nobly as Mr. Abraham Adams or Mr. Thwackum? Would Beatrice have been an insipid heroine in comparison with Sophia Western ? Or must Autolycus have lost all his humour by figuring under a plain English name and surname at some Warwickshire wake? We beg leave, in public-dinner phrase,' to deprecate the idea.'

We

if they

We suspect, then, that the question why the moderns have and the ancients had not this form of composition, is not to be answered by any investigation as to the character of the materials respectively presented by ancient and by modern society and modes of life. Wherever the materials of a good tragedy or a good comedy or a good satire have been found, there also, we must continue to think, the materials of a good romance or novel might have been discovered. In a word, we apprehend, that the question is to be solved by reference, not at all to the materials made use of, but to certain circumstances in the situation of those to whom the product was to be addressed. Antique life, we have no doubt, afforded abundant matter for the pen of the novelist; but we have many doubts whether there was any antique public that would have adequately rewarded its exertions. The novel could not, we apprehend, have had a fair chance in those times in opposition to the drama.

The old Greeks, as a people, could not read, nor, could, was it possible to supply them, as a people, with books. The elements of their narrative and lyric poetry, therefore, were gradually blended together in a form of composition, which, in addition to the original accompaniments of music and dance, admitted those of action and spectacle; and with this, elaborated into perfection by consummate art and genius, the lively, the essentially southern imagination of a people whose talent was prodigiously superior to their knowledge, was abundantly satisfied. The Romans borrowed not only the form but the substance of their drama from the Greeks; and to little purpose, for the character of the people was essentially military; and the display of martial skill, the pomp of warlike processions, and, above all, the horrible interest of actual combats between man and beast, and man and man, seem to have left little room in the popular affections for the milder and more elegant excitements of dramatic art, even had the political circumstances of the country been as favourable as, in the only times when poetical art flourished in any shape, they were otherwise-to the theatrical display of the heroic characters and events of the national history on the one hand, or the free coram populo exposure of actual national manners on the other. The histrionic profession was, with one or two exceptions, the badge of general contempt; and mere dancers and singers divided the applause, even of the most luxurious times, with charioteers and gladiators. The Romans adopted the dramatic form, therefore, in vain ; and, having little turn for invention in such matters, they created no form of their own to supply the want of a national drama. The modern nations set out, like their predecessors, with a

literature

VOL. XXXIV. NO, LXVIII.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »