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Art. H. Ivanhoe ; a Romance. By " the Author of Waverley," &c.
3 vols. cr. 8vo. Edinburgh. 1820. THERE are several good reasons for our not saying much
about the present production of the Author of Waverley. In the first place, it belongs to a class of works which has but doubtful claims upon our notice; in the next place, we have recently delivered our sentiments pretty much at large upon some preceding publications of the same Author; and we shall only add, though we have twenty reasons quite as strong in reserve, that most of our readers have before this time made up their own opinion about the merits of Ivanhoe, and will therefore care less about ours. It is almost impossible to keep pace with the pen of this prolific Writer. Before the novel in question could have completed the circulation of the reading societies, or half the subscribers to the libraries could have been satisfied, a new series of volumes is in the hands of the public, and more are understood to be behind. We might regret this rapidity of composition in a writer of so much talent, were there not reason to believe, that he is one who can execute with spirit only his first warm conceptions, and that the attempt to elaborate would, with him, be as unsuccessful as it would be irksome. He has probably taken greater pains, if not in writing, yet, in order to write the present work, than in the case of any of the preceding tales : accordingly, it contains more information of a certain kind, is in parts more highly wrought, and is richer in antiquarian details, than perhaps any other; but it has less of verisimilitude, and makes a much more evanescent, if not a less vivid impression upon the Teader's fancy.
The Author was himself aware that he was making an experiment very different froin any of bis previous attempts, when he undertook to carry bis readers six hundred years back, instead of sixty, and to obtain an interest for the traditions and manners of old England, similar to that which has been excited in . behalf of those of our poorer and less celebrated neighbours.' In the Dedicatory Epistle to the Rev. Dr. Dryasdust, he anticipates and replies to the objections which à priori lie against such an attempt, founded on the remote distance of the state of society in which the scene is laid, the total dissimilarity of the circumstances and manners of that era, to any thing which comes within the range of an Englishman's experience, and the scantiness of the materials for memoirs of the domestic life of our Saxon and Norman ancestors. English is a term scarcely applicable, indeed, to the times of Richard I. At that period, the very language of the country was undergoing a transition correspondent to the change which was being wrought upon the people, by the blending down of the conquerors and the con
quered into one nation; and while Norman French was the only language of honour, of chivalry, and of justice,' which continued to be the case to the time of Edward the Third, it is not without a contradiction in terms that we can speak of old Eng. lish manners, as having under such circumstances come into existence. Whether we term them English, or French, or Anglo-Norman, they were still, however, the manners of our ancestors, and as such, a legitimate matter of curiosity. The only question is, whether they admit of being brought before us with a grapbic force of description, that shall transport us in imagination back to the times to which the tale refers, and deceive us into the belief that in the pictures of the Novelist, we have represented to us the realities of history,
From one obvious means of aiding to produce such an illusion, the Writer is of necesity debarred by the circumstance, that the language he is compelled to employ, is not the language of the times in which his dramatis persona are supposed to have lived: at the same time there is, in the present instance, just a sufficient mixture of foreign and antiquated phraseology, to fix the reader's attention upon the circumstance, and to give the medium employed, the awkwardness of translation. The extent of this disadvantage can be judged of only by calling to mind how much of the spirit and effect of the dialogue in the preceding tales of the Author of Waverley, arise from the recognised peculiarities of provincial idiom, and the comic force of quaint or familiar turns of expression. We could point out more than one of the ideal actors, who is indebted to this circumstance for nearly the whole of his dramatic individuality and importance. The character of the Jester in Ivanhoe, is one of the most interesting in the Tale; strange to say, however, it is an interest of an heroic kind, arising from the touching display of his fidelity to his master, and his other very singular good qualities. His appropriate excellence as a professed humourist, is very tolerably vindicated by the occasional sallies of his wit; yet, in spite of his best efforts, he is, take him altogether, an exceedingly less amusing and less comic personage than either Captain Dugald Dalgetty, or Dousterswivel, or Dominie Sampson. In a pure romance, the modern flavour of the language put into the mouths of the ladies and gentlemen of remote times, is not felt to be a discre. pancy; but the present work has for its design, in common with all the inimitable productions of its Author, to present to us, with antiquarian fidelity, the manners and customs of the
age. Every part, therefore, must be in more than dramatic consistency; every thing bordering upon palpable anachronism, must be carefully avoided; and although the language 'must not be • exclusively obsolete and unintelligible, yet no word or turn
of phraseology betraying an origin directly modern,' is, if pos
sible, to be admitted into the composition. All that the romancewriter is concerned to make us believe, is, that the events be details, took place in the order and under the circumstances described, and that the parties whose names are given, bad an existence, and did and said in substance the things ascribed to their agency. But the Author of Ivanhoe, not content with this, aims to produce the conviction in his readers, that the personages of the tale performed their part in a specific manner, and used certain specific modes of speech; that the events recorded not merely took place, but took place under such and such minutely defined peculiarities of scene and circumstance. The consequence is, that the moment the antiquary is at fault, the pseudo-historian is detected in his forgeries ; every incongruity in the narrative, operates as an impeachment of bis testimony; the costume which the actors have borrowed from ancient times, is perceived to be the only thing which claims affinity with reality; and while we admire the ingenuity and inventive fertility of the Writer, no other impression is left on the mind, than that of a pageant or a masquerade.
It is a fatal disadvantage in all historical romances, that they attempt to combine two opposite kinds of interest; that arising from general views of society connected with moral and political considerations, and implying a certain degree of abstraction, which is the proper interest of history, and
that resulting from an engrossing sympathy with the feelings and fortunes of individuals, which is the appropriate charm of fictitious narrative. It is true that sometimes the historian, by deviating into the province of the biographer, succeeds in bespeaking a very strong feeling of interest on behalf of some favourite hero; but neither the design nor the excellence of history consists in producing any such effect upon the feelings through the medium of the imagination. The effect, however, is still in sufficient harmony with that of the general narrative, the mind being in either case occupied with realities. In the state of feeling requisite to the full enjoyment of a work of fiction, the realities of history can, on the contrary, please only as they are disguised by circumstances which give them the power of acting upon the imagination. The sole purpose which they are adapted to serve, is, to lend an appearance of verity to the supposititious details which are built upon them; for which purpose it is requisite that they should occupy the mere back-ground, so as never to become the object of distinct attention. But in that anomalous sort of production which is perpetually hovering between history and romance without possessing the genuine character of either, the illusion is never complete: the grand facts of history are perpetually forcing themselves upon the recollection in all their unromantic truth and moral importance, while a competitor
interest to which the imagination is quite disposed to yield, is ever soliciting the feelings, and awakening emotions of an opposite nature. We think that if the readers of such works were at sufficient leisure to attend to the operation of their own minds under the excitation of perusal, they would find that they never entered into the full spirit of the fiction, except when they fairly lost sight of the bistory.
The historical plays of Shakspeare may seem to require our notice as a grand exception to this remark. The fact is, that they please, not as romance, but as history: the illusion is complete, but it is produced by different means from those employed by the Novelist ; and the high tragic interest which is for the niost part excited by the graver scenes of the great Dramatist, bears a much nearer relation to what the same scenes in real life would produce, than is the case with any other species of fiction. Add to this, that the charm of the language, and the beauty and elevation of the sentiment, qualities substantially real, have no small share in the effect produced upon the imagination.
A comparison has been more than indirectly suggested between Shakspeare and the Author of Waverley. No better illustration could have been furnished than that with which the Novelist has himself supplied us in Ivanhoe, for the purpose of pointing out the extent of the difference. Shakspeare is all true ;' he is always true to nature, and where he differs from the truth of bistory, it is only by strong and repeated efforts that the mind can disengage itself from the thraldom of his authority. In the delineation of the Scottish and Gaelic national characters, the Author' of the Novels is equally faithful, and, within a certain range, the power of observation supplies to him the place of that mighty creative genius which made Shakspeare free of the universe. Nothing since Hamlet and Falstaff took their place among the real existences of history, has ever approached so near to those splendid creations of fancy, in individuality and verisimilitude, as some of the familiar personages in these tales. But we must not confound the description of talent, 'any more than the degree of talent, which has originated the latter, with the comprehensive genius of the great Expositor of Nature.
Ivanhoe is perhaps one of the cleverest of all our Author's productions; but in those respects in which it was an experiment, it is, in our opinion, à failuré. It professes to be a romance; but the talents of the Author are not adapted to romance-writing. He is, if we mistake not, destitute of the requisite enthusiasm. The writer of a romance must at least seem to be in earnest, and by this means he may succeed in engaging the reader's attention to his narrative, how improbable soever it may be, and how foreign soever the events to his experience. A sort of reflected belief is awakened by the recital VOL. XIII. N.S.
of wonders which are known to have exerted on the minds of others the effect of reality, provided there is nothing in the air and manner of the reciter to counteract it. Our Author refers to the goblin tale written by Horace Walpole,' which has • thrilled many a bosom,' and it furnishes an instance in point. The Castle of Otranto is so admirable an imitation of the old romances, that it passes with the reader, not simply as a record of the times to which it relates, but as a production of those times; and hence it is that the enchanted casque, which, viewed as a modern fiction, would be too palpably false tu awaken any sensation of terror, is an incident perfectly proper and bigbly impressive. In like manner, the Lay of the Last Minstrel derives from the character of the imaginary bard, a charm which none of the subsequent poems of the same Author possess. The authenticity of tales of gramarye and witchcraft, is quite equal to that of the more plausible fictions about damsels and warriors; and as to the various degrees of credibility which respectively attach to them, that circumstance can make no difference, when there is, in either case, absolutely no ground of belief, but the reader is called upon to place himself in the situation of those persons by whom they were alike received with implicit credulity:
If there be any justice in these remarks, it will be sufficient to say, tbat Ivanhoe has po pretensions to the character of an ancient legend: it has, none of the musty odour of antiquity about it. The diction of the narrative is unaffectedly modern; and it is only in the dialogue that any attempt is made to give an antique cast to the phraseology. Instead of the grave and somewhat dignified style in wbich it behooved the celebrator of aneient deeds of chivalry to describe such high achievements, a vein of facetiousness runs through the composition, which is not always in unison with good taste; and the Author throughout the narrative, takes especial care to keep himself distinct from the subjects of the fiction, ever and anon pretending to translate from the language of the original, or inserting parenthetical notes and reflections, such as might be looked for in a genuine and veritable history. The effect of this, is positively bad; and the alternate description and dialogue present a species of patchwork, which has neither beauty, nor apparent necessity, nor correctness to recommend it. There are many parts of the Tale which are strikingly picturesque and dramatic, and the characters of some of the personages are very finely discriminated; all this we readily admit; but wliat we complain of, and what we think most readers on a cool perusal will perceive to be matter of just complaint, is, that the Author bas not given us either genuine romance or genuine history: he has furnished us with neither' a memoir nor a legend of the times,