صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

walls, which mark her writings. Mrs. Radcliffe, we are assured, never saw Haddon House ; and, although it was a place excellently worth her attention, and could hardly have been seen by her without suggesting some of those ideas in which her imagination naturally revelled, yet we should suppose the mechanical aid to invention—the recipe for fine writing—the sleeping in a disinantled and unfurnished old house, was likely to be rewarded with nothing but a cold, and was an affectation of enthusiasm, to which Mrs. Radcliffe would have disdained to have recourse.”

We should be glad to know where that author slept, who, in imagination, raised the grand and terrific castle in "The Romance of the Pyrenees." Probably in some snug bed-chamber in Manchester or Litchfield. Martin, who paints mountains with more grandeur and truth than any living artist, say his brothers in the art, was of humble origin, bred to a trade, with scarcely a common school education, and, above all, was never out of England in his life. This is a more striking instance than Mrs. Radcliffe ; for, says Scott of her descriptions (and we are pleased to have such support for our opinions), they “ were marked in a particular degree (to our thinking at least) with the characteristics of fancy-portraits ; yet many of her contemporaries conceived them to be exact descriptions of scenes which she had visited in person.” There is a sympathy, no doubt, between the material and intellectual world, a fitness in the one for the other. There are powers in some minds, sleeping their first, infant sleep; let but a certain chord be touched in nature, and to what sweet and universal harmony do they wake! what sounds do they pour forth in unison! They need no musician to instruct them—the teacher is within ! Look into your Locke, or your Stewart, and explain it if you can. You will come away none the wiser for your search, though you may come away fancying yourself possessed of all knowledge.

People were not content with making Mrs. Radcliffe lie awake all night in a chilly, damp, old house, in order to build castles in the air; but they must needs drive her mad with ghosts of her own raising; though she herself protests to us, after the manner of Snug, the joiner, that they are no true ghosts, but that one is a smuggler, another an unfortunate lady, and a third a piece of wax-work. No one, who has raised a sprite, was ever frightened out of his senses at the sight of it. We have never heard of Monk Lewis's going mad, or of Maturin's dying out of his wits. Either of them would have been more overcome at the terrors of the other's conjuring up, than at any of his own raising. Writing

Reference's cock) Schwart 1-5.40 9944



is too serious a business; there is no leisure time to be frightened in; there are too many powers hard at work to allow of any thing more than just enough of that excitement which is necessary to keep them in motion. If you wish an author to feel his own production with the same kind of intensity that another does, you must let him forget it for a time, and then be his own reader. “ The evening was always her favorite season for composition," says the biographer of Mrs. Radcliffe, “when her spirits were in their happiest tone, and she was most secure from interruption. So far was she from being subjected to her own terrors, that she often laughingly presented to Mr. Radcliffe chapters which he could not read alone without shuddering.”. Not that she laughed while actually writing, or that the word, happiest, is intended to be used in its more ordinary sense.

We are not at all surprised at Mrs. Radcliffe's not going mad to oblige the world; but we cannot so well account for her doing so little to oblige it in a more agreeable way after writing “ The Italian"-the best of her works. Having produced all her prose works, except the one before us, in the course of seven years, and before she was thirty-four,—an age at which few authors can be said to have reached their prime,-she seems to have sat down for the remainder of her life satisfied with the quiet occupations and enjoyments of domestic life, and with now and then amusing herself with writing verses, or entering on her journal descriptions of the scenery she passed through in the summer excursions with her husband, of which she was so fond. Up to the close of “ The Italian,” her mind seems gradually to have ascended; and perhaps she felt as if the next step might be downward. It may be that she was right. “ Gaston de Blondeville,”—not given to the world till after her death, and written scarcely five years after “The Italian,”—though showing a surprising improvement in style, discovers, at the same time, a subsiding of those energies by which she had held us with such dreadful mastery. Besides, it sometimes happens, even with minds of great genius, that the exciting cause ceasing with the completing of a work, and exhaustion following intense action; a despondency comes over the spirits, and, instead of taking hope from the past to go on with, they are ready to stop and sit down with despair. It is true, that this state rarely lasts long, and that the mind commonly gathers strength and life again. But there may be some of a more delicate frame, who never entirely free themselves of the misgiving; and this mistrust weakening the elasticity of their powers, brings upon them the very feebleness

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

they feared. It is not that critics by profession may praise a second work less heartily than they did a first, or that the crowd of second-hand talking critics and readers may declare themselves sorry at your failure, and yet take more pleasure in it than in your success, it is not this, though this inay mingle with it,-it is the dread of falling short of that excellence which the mind imagines to itself, to which it looks up with tremulous delight, and longs after with all the cravings of the full, yet hungry soul. Genius is, perhaps, not more distinctly marked out from mere talents by its originating powers, than by its intense delight in, and longing after, this grand and beautiful intellectual excellence, and its love of it for itself alone. He only who has had this glorious vision, and had his soul moved by it, as the man of genius alone can be moved, he only can know how disheartening is the fear that he may be forced to say to himself,—I have failed! Whether any thing like this had its effect upon the delicate mind of Mrs. Radcliffe, is mere conjecture now. Perhaps there is something in the nature of the thoughts and passions with which, and upon which, she wrought, that exhausts itself. The terrific, in real life, is apt in time to produce indifference or stupor, and, in our fictitious being, is likely, it may be, to settle away into a gentle and quieting calm. The sublime, too, besides ils tenseness, may want the relief of variety in its character, to enable us to be so frequently or so long affected by it, as by other einotions of the soul; and we know that the mind which has been some time forced by it above its ordinary condition, becomes wearied, and is glad to loosen its hold. We are but feeble creatures here; and there are thoughts and feelings which sometimes stir themselves within us, which are too mighty for us now. If we are wise, we shall not try to strangle them in our souls, but reverently think of them as prophetic of that expanded and grander state of being which our spirits are ordained to.

Perhaps, after all, an aversion to being talked about,-which seemed a striking part of this female's character; an accidental suspension of her labors breaking up the habit of application and exertion ; a full relish for the snugness and quiet of home; the pleasure she took in her summer excursions with her husband, and the thousand little occupations and scarcely observed pleasures of daily life, which so satisfy simple minds and kind hearts; and, more than these, that most absorbing of all human enjoyments, the luxurious dreaming of a creative intellect, may have done more towards checking her after exertions, than all that is contained in our notion upon the effects of the sublime and terrific. For to say that sublimity is as natural and easy to a sublime mind, as wit is to a witty one, sounds very like a truism; and yet, if it be a truism, there is an end to all speculation upon the matter.

Upon her dislike to personal notoriety, and being stared at by the public, her biographer remarks; “A scrupulous self-respect, almost too nice to be appreciated in these days, induced her sedulously to avoid the appearance of reception on account of her literary fame. The very thought of appearing in person as the author of her romances shocked the delicacy of her mind. To the publication of her works she was constrained by the force of her own genius; but nothing could tempt her to publish herself ; or to sink, for the moment, the gentlewoman in the novelist.”

Let the cause of Mrs. Radcliffe's silence be what it may, no one, who thinks of the new power which seems suddenly to have developed itself in “ The Italian,” but must feel sorry that she did not set about another work while her mind was yet glowing with the exercise of that she had just finished. We allude to the masterly dialogues in that greatest of her works, particularly in the interview between the Marchesa and Schedoni in the church of San Nicolo; that between Schedoni and Spalatro, when the latter refuses to murder Ellena; and in the scene, also, in which Schedoni discovers Ellena to be his daughter. The deadly shrewdness, the sophistry with a mixture of emotion in the first; the close, abrupt, and highly impassioned character of the next, and those following, have seldom been approached by any novelist. It is this which puts life, indeed, into a story; and when we think what Mrs. Radcliffe might have done, had she gone on thus, we cannot but feel sad at what we have lost. “Dialogue! dialogue ! dialogue!” said Miss Edgeworth once to a sister author. It is this in which the novelist rises towards the higher rank of the dramatist, -we mean our older dramatists when we speak of superiority,—and the closer the language, the oftener a whole train of thought or emotion is given by a sudden turn, or the peculiar use of one little word, so much the better. The best novel dialogues are apt to be diffuse enough. It is well observed by the “Quarterly Review,” in answer to Scott, that many have failed in the drama, who have afterwards been the authors of our first-rate novels; but that we have no instance of any distinguished dramatist who has failed as a novelist. We cannot, at present, recollect any dramatist who has made the attempt. If any one should make it, and fail, we should say, that he failed because he had undertaken an inferior sort of labor, and that his powers, not being fully


[ocr errors]

tasked, and so, excited to their utmost, grew languid at their work. How very rare a thing is it for a poet to be a writer of the higher order of prose. Sir Walter is, naturally enough, inclined to make the most of his own calling. But we have no belief at all, that he could write a play worthy of him. Pray heaven, he do not try, and put us to shame!

We have wandered far enough; and must come back to take a look at “Gaston de Blondeville.” We are disappointed in it, as we feared we should be, when we saw the notices in its praise. There is a ghost,-a true ghost, and no sham; a true knight he is, too,—but he lacks “the horrors." He is, as it were, a daylight sort of ghost, and not my father's spirit in arms,—visiting the glimpses of the moon, making night hideous. Perhaps, however, we should except his first appearance, at the tomb of Geoffrey de Clinton ; and his second, in the gallery, opposite the king, at the banquet. At the tournament, he is a mere parade-ghost. And the description of the tournament has this same fault, of too much getting up; and, for the matter of that, so has Sir Walter Scott's much praised one, notwithstanding all its splendor. Both authors should, in courtesy, have left tournaments to Chaucer's gentlemanly old knight. They would therein not only have shown their courtesy, but, to our minds, their wisdom too.

The merchant, on whom the story turns, weeps, and sighs, and faints, like a very woman. Now, in those days of travel and violence, it stood one of that calling well in stead to keep good heart. It is true, that he begins well; but there is in this tale a want of vividness, and stir, and spirit. The fire burnt low in which this work was forged. We are not willing, after all, to think that this tameness of which we complain was owing to Mrs. Radcliffe's mind having lost its energy, but rather to her plan, her attempt to make fiction a vehicle for true history, instead of using history merely as a good ingredient to work into fiction, as Shakspeare and Scott have done. Any one, who is pleased with getting a knowledge of some of the dresses and ceremonies of those times in this way, will take a deeper interest in the work than we have done. For our part, we had rather dig in the dust of the old chroniclers. We knew a gentleman who never could bring himself to read Anacharsis, because he would not be manæuvred into knowledge, as the child is by the playing-map and the like trickery:

We must not be thought to say, that this work is without spirit and interest; we have intended to speak of it in comparison with

« السابقةمتابعة »