Page images

'Upon entering the place of refuge, he found Balfour seated on his humble couch, with a pocket Bible open in his hand, which he seemed to study with intense meditation. His broadsword, which he had unsheathed in the first alarm, at the arrival of the dragoons, lay naked across his knees, and the little taper that stood beside him on the old chest, which served the purpose of a table, threw a partial and imperfect light upon those stern and harsh features, in which ferocity was rendered more solemn and dignified by a wild cast of tragic enthusiasm. His brow was that of one in whom some strong o'ermastering principle has overwhelmed all other passions and feelings,-like the swell of a high spring-tide, when the usual cliffs and breakers vanish from the eye, and their existence is only indicated by the chafing foam of the waves that burst and wheel over


The singular beauty of this passage consists in the truth of the delineation, and the power and skill with which the whole picture is drawn. The words marked in italics are the main features-the materials of the description—and their grouping contributes powerfully to deepen the impression. First, we have Balfour, the principal figure. The couch, the Bible, the broadsword, and the taper, are external accessories, and the reflection of the light upon his features gives the writer an opportunity of revealing the character and feelings, as well as the outward appearance, of the fanatical Puritan. The graceful figure with which the passage closes, renders it one of the most striking and impressive descriptions in the works of this great writer.

[ocr errors]


The second example is a description of external appearance, extracted from Prescott's 'History of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain':—

His com

'King Ferdinand was of the middle size. plexion was fresh; his eyes bright and animated; his nose and mouth small and finely formed, and his teeth white; his forehead lofty and serene, with flowing hair of a bright chestnut. His manners were courteous, and his countenance seldom clouded by anything like spleen or melancholy. He was grave in speech and action, and had a marvellous dignity of presence. His whole demeanour, in fine, was truly that of a great king.'

Here, the writer does little more than enumerate the several particulars of Ferdinand's appearance, viz., his height, complexion, features, hair, speech, action, and manner, and lastly, sums up with his whole demeanour. Though nothing is said of the king's morals or intellect, the passage fulfils its probable intention, which was to give a lively picture of his personal appearance.


Our next example is the description of a prospect; and is characterised by that vigour of delineation, and exquisite delicacy, and accuracy in choice of terms, for which its author is so justly celebrated :—

'If I were to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be seen to the greatest possible advantage, it would be that wild path winding round the foot of the high belt of semicircular rocks, called Salisbury

crags, and marking the verge of the steep descent which slopes down into the glen on the south-eastern side of the city of Edinburgh. The prospect, in its general outline, commands a close-built, high-piled city, stretching itself out beneath in a form which, to a romantic imagination, may be supposed to represent that of a dragon; -now a noble arm of the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary of mountains; and now a fair and fertile champaign country, varied with hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by the picturesque ridge of the Pentland Mountains. But as the path gently circles round the base of the cliffs, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchanting and sublime objects, changes at every step, and presents them blended with, or divided from each other in every possible variety which can gratify the eye and the imagination. When a piece of scenery so beautiful, yet so varied,—so exciting by its intricacy, and yet so sublime,-is lighted up by the tints of morning or of evening, and displays all that variety of shadowy depth exchanged with partial brilliancy, which gives character even to the tamest of landscapes, the effect approaches near to enchantment.'- Sir W. Scott.


The following is the description of the moral character of Oliver Cromwell, by Smollett:

'His character was formed of an amazing conjunction of enthusiasm, hypocrisy, and ambition. He was possessed of courage and resolution that overlooked all dangers, and saw no difficulties. He dived into the

characters of mankind with wonderful sagacity, whilst he concealed his own purposes under the impenetrable shield of dissimulation. He reconciled the most atrocious crimes to the most rigid notions of religious obligations. From the severest exercises of devotion he relaxed into the most ludicrous and idle buffoonery. He preserved the dignity and distance of his character in the midst of the coarsest familiarity. He was cruel and tyrannical from policy, just and temperate from inclination; perplexed and despicable in his discourse, clear and consummate in his designs; ridiculous in his reveries, respectable in his conduct: in a word, the strangest compound of villany and virtue, baseness and magnanimity, absurdity and good sense, that we find upon record in the annals of mankind.'

Here, again, the words in italics show the main features of the character. It is to be observed, that the historian first notes the general disposition, and then proceeds to support his opinion by enumerating particulars. The first-mentioned qualities seem to form the basis of the character, and the latter part of the passage shows the result of those qualities, the whole concluding with a general view of the subject.


The following description of a town in France is extracted from Mr. M'Culloch's 'Geographical Dictionary.' It consists merely of an enumeration of particulars.

'Château Thierry is a town in France, in the department of Aisne, situated on the Marne, twenty-five miles south of Soissons, and having a population

of 4,761. It is built on the declivity of a hill, the summit of which is surmounted by its ancient castle, a vast mass of thick walls, towers, and turrets. It has a considerable suburb on the left bank of the Marne, the communication between them being kept up by a handsome stone bridge of three arches. It has a court of primary jurisdiction, a communal college, an establishment for the spinning of cotton, and tanneries. The famous poet, La Fontaine, not less original by his character and conduct than by his talent and genius, was born here on the 8th July, 1661. The house which he inhabited is still preserved; and a marble statue was erected to his memory on the end of the bridge in 1824. Château Thierry suffered considerably during the campaign of 1814.'


The last example is the description of a piece of mechanism, which is given on the same principle as above, viz., enumeration; the parts, actions, &c., of the subject, being stated in their proper order.

'The automaton coach and horses constructed for Louis XIV., when a child, and described by M. Camus, is exceedingly curious. This consisted of a small coach, drawn by two horses, in which was the figure of a lady with a footman and page behind. On being placed at the extremity of a table of determinate size, the coachman smacked his whip, and the horses immediately set out, moving their legs in a very natural manner. When the carriage reached the edge of the table, it turned at a right angle, and proceeded along that edge. When it arrived opposite to the place

« PreviousContinue »