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dry and firm land. We are not prepared to trace all its flights and wanderings, but one thing is notorious-that after it had wearied itself with extravagant efforts at the expense of all that had been deemed classical and chaste, it has at last assumed a character that is tranquil and metaphysically subtle, avoiding as much as possible whatever is purely romantic or pathetic, and dealing in ordinary scenes which afford scope for transcendental views of the soul and human nature, or in criticisms on literature and art; love, passion, and adventure being in these critical novels only introduced as episodes, or slight pegs on which to hang some fanciful theory, unintelligible speculation, or enthusiastic dream.
In Germany, therefore, there has also been a reaction, arising, as we believe, partly from the young and untried wings of genius, having discovered their impotence in the flights first attempted, or their maldirection, and partly in consequence of the languor which has come over the spirit of the people since revolutionary excitement is no longer in being, and the strange sacrifices of patriotism are longer demanded. The result accordingly presents a sort of sobriety, though it is by no means symptomatic of permanence; for it manifests rather the dulness imposed by an induced and affected obtuseness to nature, than the healthful beatings of conscious life, and the coldness of vain abstractions, rather than the aspirings of humanity.
In our own country, the changes and fashions that have characterized the regions of light literature since the commencement of the current century need not farther be alluded to than to say, that the spectral romances of the Ratcliffe school, the inanities of the Minerva Press, the splendid creations and faithful pictures of Scott, and the brood of his imitators, together with those adventurers who since he flourished have attempted to strike out a new line and originate spheres of fiction for themselves, may each and all, in a great measure, be attributed to certain cycles in manners, prevalent modes of thinking, or social and political conditions. To be sure, a genius such as Scott may and will fashion the rough and disjointed materials that are abundantly strewed around him, when feebler, less observant, and less imaginative minds have not been able to perceive such things, or if perceived be too unskilful to reduce them into shapes which shall be so wonderful that the multitude may look upon the artist both as creator and modeller. But let any one pursue the history of British literature in its lighter walks during the last forty years or so, and we think he will be satisfied that all its phases have borne a close relation to the contemporary, social, and political condition of the people, both receiving and reciprocating influences in a remarkable degree, parallel with the reactions between languor and extravagance, imitation and experiment, in matters of more obvious import.
Coming down to the present day, and to the immediate subjects
of this article, there can easily be detected much that marks an imitative as well as an inquisitive age strenuous after novelties. Where there are so many writers, novel writers of either sex, there must needs be much trash as well as imitations and sameness. It will be found, however, that not a few adventure upon their own individual capitals and stocks in trade, sometimes to the bankruptcy of their fame, no doubt, but sometimes to the establishment of a firm by which each one is known. Of this latter class the above list furnishes a number that is flattering to the age, although not one of them, we suspect, is destined to found a school, or to be regarded by their successors as a model. Indeed there is not one on our list, unless it be Mr. Bulwer, who is decidedly an originalist, even upon the narrowest scale of that which is enviable; and his genius we regard as being destitute of that breadth, that characteristic individuality, and of those general qualities that can easily be imitated, however much these may be admired. One proof that such difficulties exist may be found in the fact, that it is extremely hard to tell what really constitutes his excellences even when the reader feels deeply their combined impressions.
But to speak less vaguely-we may remark that of modern novels it has been said, that they are either historical, romantic, or fashionable; and certainly those at the head of this article may take their stand under one or other of these denominations, and in some instances under more, with the exception of the first, which, being a narrative dealing with Indian life, has as little claim to what is generally understood by historical, as a purely domestic tale has to the term fashionable. Yet Indian life, and domestic scenes, may furnish materials for a startling or pathetic novel, just as legitimately as any of the three kinds under the vaunting titles which have been mentioned as comprising the whole world of modern prose fiction.
Of Mr. Irving's "Hunters of the Prairie," we must, however, offer one general criticism, and say, that it is not so properly a novel as a series of facts, or apparent facts, well told indeed, and often conveyed in the form of natural dialogue. What we have to add, however, is, that he wants the power of lending to these dialogues a dramatic force-of preserving those lights and shadows in painting that bring the picture near and clear to the vision-of disposing of his materials in such a manner as to produce a great or fine effect, briefly and easily. In short, Mr. Treat Irving is like a faithful narrator of all that he knows, or has seen, connected with the subject of his story, without being able to make a strong impression; he paints minutely and with praiseworthy care, but his efforts amount only to so many sketches, without the composition of the artist.
We are not going to offer any specimens, for from what has been
stated, it may be presumed that no extract, such as our pages can admit, would tell. Neither are we going to outline the story, though this might be done in a few sentences. Suffice it, that it treats of Indian life, and chiefs, as the title of the wook intimates; that white as well as red samples of the human race figure in it; and that noble as well as savage deeds are performed by the children of the wilderness. But the Irvings and others have already surfeited us with Prairie scenery and Indian exploits, because there is a marvellous sameness in all that has been told by them. This uniformity is by no means relieved on the present occasion, and therefore, independent of its defects as a novel, we have found it a wearisome narrative. The work does not even contain those reflections which might, in default of original incidents, have lent it value and weight, nor does it give evidence of such methods of speculation on the part of the writer, as might have attracted the reader's admiration in behalf of the man, though not for the ground on which he has disported himself.
"Uncle Horace" is an unequal work, for while its improbabilities and imitations are striking, several of the characters are well drawn and many beautiful, even poetically impassioned parts awaken fine and strong emotions, so as to render the performance upon the whole attractive and instructive. We are not going to tell the story of the novel, but shall quote two paragraphs, the first containing a single portrait, the second, Mrs. Hall's estimate of the charms of the English fairer ones in general.
"It was a beautiful sight-Lady Ellen Revis, half sitting, half supporting herself on the couch, the drapery of which, descending from a golden star in the ceiling, nearly shrouded her figure; while her sparkling, intelligent, but restless features, were turned on the sleeping countenance of her favourite. The contour of her delicate form never looked more graceful than it did then, her head bent down and her hands clasped on her knees in an attitude of intense watchfulness. Lucky was it, for the sake of my picture, that the drapery partly concealed the figure of Lady Ellen. Her's was one of those clear, penetrating, intellectual countenances which strike immediately, and are never forgotten. Her eyes were of a deeply pure blue, full of tenderness and fire. Her brow was high, broad, and full; her nose well shaped; and her mouth capable of every variety of expression, from the most severe reproof to the bland persuasive smile which wreathes the lips with beauty. Her hair was magnificent, shading in its depths to the deepest brown, and coming out. in the sunshine with silken brightness. Her skin was clear-her complexion almost colourless, except when animated or startled, then it Aushed with the impetuosity of ardent temperament to the deepest crimson. But, alas! there ended her beauty! Nature had decreed that this lovely flower should blossom on a bended stem; the stalk was weighed down by the rich burthen of its coronal. She was deformednot much, not half so much as many who pass through society without
thinking it a misfortune; but she felt it in all its aggravated bitterness; it was the bane of her existence-the drop of poison which tainted the whole cup."
It cannot be denied that this is description of a very high order, but the next passage is even more glowing.
Despite of all that has ever been or will be said of the fragility of English beauty, its danger, its destruction, it is a blessed thing to look upon and live amongst. Talk of its fading! it never fades: it is but transferred from face to face. The bud comes forth as the blossom is perfected; and the bud bursts into blossom but to hide the falling leaves, fragrant amid the decay of the parent flower. Then the beauties of our country are so varied-the peasant girl, gifted with pearl-like modesty ; and the courtly maiden, set, as her birth-right, in a golden circlet, the intellectual face beaming intelligence; and the English matron, proud as Cornelia of her living jewels. Nor is the perfectness of English beauty confined to any class. In summer-time you meet with it every where by the hedge-rows, in the streets, in the markets, at the opera, where tiers on tiers, hundreds on hundreds of lovely faces glitter and gleam, and smile and weep; and then you wonder whence they come, and bless your fortune that they so congregate to harmonize the sight, in sweet accordance with the ear.'
It is pleasant and delightful to listen to a gifted female discoursing in favour of her sex, and Mrs. Hall does this in a manner that has seldom been surpassed, whether the exterior or the soul be her theme. We should have been better pleased, however, with her present work, had it not, in its fashionable scenes, been so servilely imitative of some of our living female novelists, and had its more romantic parts been less forcedly obtruded upon the modern manners which prevail in what are by some called the better circles of English society.
It may be said of "The Old Commodore" as of the "Hunters of the Prairie," that it belongs to a subdivision, which cannot well be ranged under either the romantic, the historical, or the fashionable class of novels. We must also add, that it is a subdivision, which for some time has been overcrowded. We are little short of being sick of nautical tales; not that the sea is barren of startling incidents, or its roamers of strongly marked characters, but that these are not sufficiently diversified to afford endless scope for the pen or pencil to throw off new combinations, so as to amount to striking original pictures. At any rate, our most esteemed nautical novelists, who are men that have spent a large portion of their lives at sea, the author of "The Old Commodore" being not the least popular of the number, have failed in the endeavour to sustain, much less to enhance, our interest by their many renewed attempts. We must also say, that these gentlemen, when taken off their favourite element and feel inclined to traverse terra firma, are for the most part signally unsuccessful in their delineations, and that they more
frequently give birth to improbabilities or caricatures, than accurate or arousing representations of life or scenery. In the instance before us, this remark holds especially true. It must also be stated, that our author fatigues us with his sea-phrases, or rather, slang, and is too anxious about filling his yarns with nautical drollery and roughness of style, so that, as a whole, the work becomes heavy and tiresome.
It is unnecessary for us to tell more of the story, than to say "The Old Commodore" is the identical gentleman that figures in the well known song which goes by that name-that we find him at first on shore, of which he is heartily sick-that in this condition he is irritable, and fond of discoursing of his bygone services and exploits-that he had been a bit of a tyrant in his day, some of his doings having brought on him the dishonour of being superseded. In the course of time, however, he is reinstated. We shall give a specimen of Sir Octavius's discipline and manner of haranguing, for such is his name, after he is restored to the sphere of his choice and delight. The ship's company are, at the time alluded to in the extract, on short allowance and on the borders of mutiny.
"Fresh beef and vegetables were now things only to be thought of with the agony of hope. A sort of mirage of turnips, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, were continually before the eyes, but, alas! many a weary league from their mouths. It is true, the Commodore gave the men full latitude of grumbling, only with this proviso, that if the expression of it, either by word or gesture, reached him, they should be flogged. He told them that he had not yet begun to complain, and that he fared exactly as they did— which was almost true-and that it was just as noble a deed to starve as to fight for one's country; and once, when twelve large, brawny, expressively hungry Jacks came aft, with three ribs of beef upon a wooden platter-and asked the Commodore respectfully, if those three bare ribs, with a piece of ruddled up salted mahogany that lined the extremities of the bones, weighing about two ounces avoirdupois, were to be served out to them for an eightpound piece of beef-which was to support twelve fellows that day and the next, which was banyan day-the old gentleman put his one eye close to it, scrutinizing the morsel as if it had been an entomological specimen of rare genus. After this visual examination, he thrust the iron spike that he always carried at the end of his arm-when he did not screw on his fork, or his spring pincers to hold his cards at whist-into the little flesh discoverable, and holding out his arm like a steel-yard, began balancing it, as if to ascertain its monstrous littleness of weight, and that too, with a countenance full of commiseration-he was just on the point of sending for the purser, when his sharp single eye caught, ranged along the main-deck, an interminable line of hungry men with miserably filled platters, all anxiously waiting the result of the bold and piteous expostulation, ready to rush on, each with his complaint.
"The Commodore was decided in a moment. He saw, at once, that all redress was precluded by the magnitude of the evil; so he turned sternly to the complainants, and said, 'My men, you had better, to save your flesh,