صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

THE BRITISH

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

JANUARY 1, 1868.

[ocr errors]

Art. I.-Works by George MacDonald.

(1.) Within und Without. A Dramatic Poem. Longmans. (2.) Poems. Longmans. (3.) Phantastes. A Faerie Romance. Smith, Elder, & Co. (4.) The Portent. A Story of the Second Sight. Smith, Elder,

& Co. (5.) David Elginbrod. A Novel. 3 vols. Hurst & Blackett. (6.) Alec Forbes of Howglen. 3 vols. Hurst & Blackett. (7.) Adela Cathcart. 3 vols. Hurst & Blackett. (8.) Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood. Alexander Strahan, (9.) Unspoken Sermons. Alexander Strahan. (10.) Robert Falconer. Alexander Strahan. (11.) Guild Court. Alexander Strahan. (12.) Poems. Alexander Strahan.

dc. &c. &c. PERHAPS the first impression derived from a perusal of George MacDonald's writings is that of their originality ; but along with this impression comes another which might be thought to be inconsistent with it, namely, that the mind of their author has been the subject of many and varied influences, and that the originality by which it is now distinguished folds up in its embrace a host of derivative elements. No inconsistency is necessarily implied; for one originality is not as another originality. There is an originality of the rock in the sea, and an originality of the cultured garden ; an originality, rugged and bare, with footing only for a little company of seabirds, and no music save that of the spray and the gale, and the long roll of ocean in chasm and cave; and an originality of waving blooms and clustered fruits and softly swelling foliage,

NO. XCIIL.

B

to which has gone much digging, trenching, casting of seed, pruning, training, watering, but which attests itself in an indestructible something, revealed alike in fruit and flower, in leaf and petal, derived from the natural quality of the soil.

George MacDonald's literary originality is of the latter kind. He has had many soul-gardeners, and seeds from provinces widely remote from each other have lodged in his mind. In one volume, or in one page of a volume, we are reminded of the legendary tale (mährchen) which plays so important a part in the literature of the Germans; the legendary tale of enchantment and mystery, of wizards, fays, and moonlit grottoes, in which the imagination of a race born and bred in woods, an imagination sombre, wayward, delighting in the vast, the awful, the mysterious, arraying itself in clouds and forest-glooms, yet with intense sun-bursts of passion and enthusiasm breaking through, has found congenial employment. It was said by a skilled critic, that Tieck, very eminent in this department, would have been proud to have written MacDonald's Phantastes. We have no doubt of it; and he would have had cause : for if we may found an opinion on a limited acquaintance with the writings of Tieck, he was capable of nothing that would bear comparison with the work of MacDonald. In another volume, or in another page of the same volume, we are haunted with reminiscences-strangely blended-of Spenser and Novalis, the allegorical painting of the one brooded over by the spirit of mystical devoutness which breathes in the visions of the other. Then we leave dream and allegory behind, and Jean Paul seems to be our companion as we behold an exultant sympathy streaming out upon the visible world of man and of nature, scattering the dewdrops of fancy upon sward and branch, flashing into the eyes of child and old man, rejoicing in the beauty of the world, laughing and clapping its hands till rock and valley ring. Anon, a stiller, deeper influence breathes around; we are aware of a meditative, earnest, venerable presence; a white, calm brow and very thoughtful eye, and priest-like hands lifted up to bless the world in the name of the Lord, and mouth uttering marvellous things, hard to understand, respecting the sympathy of man with the spirit of nature, and the life that is in stars, and hills, and primroses. To our lip rises the name of Wordsworth. Nor are thus indicated more than a few of the influences which have acted upon the mind of George MacDonald. Among the older masters, Shakespeare, Dante, Bacon, and Milton have left most visibly the impress of their power upon him; and among the writers of his own day, old enough to stand to him in the relation of preceptors, a specially direct and vigorous influence has been exerted by Mr. Maurice, an influence potent in

Mr. MacDonald's Nationality.

3

shaping his opinions, and in suggesting those ideas which play a principal part in his system and habit of thought. But beneath these complex and multitudinous influences, the strong personality of MacDonald not only makes itself felt, but asserts its supremacy. He reflects and represents ; but whatever te receives from his time, or from past times, becomes his own. The flame of his genius fuses into a vivid unity all the possessions of his mind. There is not one of the men we have named touching whom it would not be incorrect to say that George MacDonald is his pupil and disciple. But this personality is an ultimate fact, and, like other ultimate facts, it admits not of exact description; it is the indetinable something which is the secret of the individual nature; and if we catch a glimpse or two of it as we proceed, we shall do well.

There can be no doubt, for one thing, that in the original outfit and capital on which George MacDonald has traded, the contribution made by his Scottish birthplace and training was considerable. It were easy to exaggerate the importance of the Scottish element in his moral and intellectual composition; but it is unquestionably one organic element; and he has already given to the world delineations of Scottish scenery, and of Scottish life and manners, more remarkable than any which have appeared since the time of Scott. Whatever the excellences or the defects of these, they have a character of their own; a character unmistakably and profoundly Scottish, and yet so strongly distinguished from that of the Scottish delineations of Sir Waiter, that they might seem to belong to a different country. We may, indeed, remark in passing, that an interesting illustration of the richness of human nature, viewed as the subject matter of art, and of the opulence of material for scenical description possessed by even a little bit of God's world, is afforded in the fact that Scotland, after Burns had

and Scott had written, presented fresh fields and pastures new to the genius of MacDonald. All countries rich in river, hill, and seaboard, with climate advantageous to health, and soil fitted either for vineyards or for cornfields, have produced a form of existence favourable to artistic representation -a vivid, hearty, melodious, mirthful, earnest life, - and poets able to set the picture of that life to music. So it was in Greece; so in Palestine ; so it has been in Scotland : but it is an astonishing thing to say of any country and of any people, that the materials they present for artistic delineation were not exhausted by two such writers as Robert Burns and Walter Scott. We do not affirm that George MacDonald has as yet earned a right to be named with these ; he is not old as an author, and his genius, much as it has already done, has not, unless we are much

sung

mistaken, achieved its masterpiece ; he has not the broad flashing humour of Burns, or his mighty stroke in satire, or his command over the fire-fountains of passion ; nor has he shown a power of characterization comparable with that of Scott; but it is true, nevertheless, that he has entered a province of Scottish character and manners into which Scott never ventured, and into which Burns cast, at most, a few hasty glances.

All that is most picturesque and racy in Scotland and Scotchmen-all that lies on the surface or near the surface-was rendered by Scott. Few of the main types of the national character escaped him. Burns struck a deeper note in the passionate tenderness of his best lyrics, which seem to come from 'the heart within the heart' of Scotland ; and his “Cottar's Saturday Night’is a faithful, unadorned, most expressive and impressive piece of historical painting from that region of domestic life in which the religion of Scotland has played so benign a part. But neither in Scott nor in Burns do we meet with

any

delineation of the religion of Scotland, as it frequently displays itself in individual natures of thoughtfulness and emotional depth. That religion is none the less characteristically Scottish for the circumstance that it may present itself as a reaction against, or in the way of reflection and comment upon, the especial type of theology which is embodied in the formularies of the Presbyterian churches of Scotland. Such is the religion which is portrayed by George MacDonald in David Elginbrod and other characters in his works, and it is portrayed with skill, felicity and precision.

David Elginbrod's version of Christianity admits of brief and definite statement. In the Bible, in the world, in time, in eternity, he will see nothing but the expansion or the interpretation of the sentence, God is Love.' We have the key to his whole creed in the few following words of conversation between him and Hugh Sutherland, a young student with whom he is on terms of close friendship :

• But (says Sutherland) you seem to me to make out that God is nothing but love !

' Ay, naething but love. What for no ?'
• Because we are told He is just.'
•Would He be lang just if He didna lo'e us ?'
• But does He not punish sin ?'

• Would it be any kindness not to punish sin } Not to use a' means to pit awa' the ae ill thing frae us? Whatever may be meant by the place o' meesery, depen' upo't, Mr. Sutherlau', it's only anither form o’ love, love shinin' through the fogs o' ill, an' sae gart leuk (made to look) something verra different thereby. Man, raither nor Darid Elginbrod's Theology.

5

see my Maggy (his only daughter-an' ye'll no doot 'at I lo'e her raither nor see my Maggy do an ill thing, I'd see her lyin' deid at my feet. But supposin' the ill thing ance dune, it's no at my feet I wad lay her, but upo' my heart, wi' my auld arms aboot her, to haud the furthur ill aff o her. An' shall mortal man be more just than God ? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker ? O my God! My God !”

This expression of boundless trust in the love of God, with resolute acceptance of evil as the shadow which gives completeness to the victory of light, is accurately descriptive of the intellectual groundwork on which many a devout Scotchman of the present day has learned to base his religion; but MacDonald's knowledge of his countrymen is brought out, not merely in the statement of David Elginbrod's faith, but also in the account given of the relation in which his peculiar faith places him to his Calvinistic neighbours. There is considerable interest in this matter, and it is worth inquiring into for a few moments.

An Englishman, turning to the Confession of Faith, the principal formulary of all Presbyterian churches, and reading the chapter ‘of God's eternal decree,' concludes that the relatior in question can be none other than that of irreconcilable opposition and frank hostility. By the decree of God,' we read in that chapter, 'for the manifestation of His glory, some men ' and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others

foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, 'thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.' Everlasting death, as we learn in a subsequent chapter, includes “all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.'

Yet David Elginbrod, though making no mystery of his belief in universal redemption, and even in universal ultimate salvation, is deemed sufficiently orthodox by those about him to be asked to become an elder of the congregation; and, though he declines to go this length, he continues to worship in his parish church, and puts himself in no attitude of antagonism to his wife Janet and other strait-laced Calvinists.

[ocr errors]

"I'll tell ye what it is, Mr. Sutherlan,'-thus he explains his position -'the minister's a' richt in himsel an' sae's my Janet here, an' mony mair ; an' aiblins (perhaps) there's a kin' o'trowth in a' 'at they say; but this is my quarrel wi' a' thae words an' words an' airguments an' seemilies as they ca’ them, an' doctrines, an' a' that-they jist haud a puir body at airm's lenth oot ower frae God himsel. An' they raise a mist an' a stour a' aboot Him, 'at the puir bairn canna see the Father Himseľ, stan'in' wi' His airms streekit (stretched) out

« السابقةمتابعة »