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nity of Roderick, as well as the probability of the narrative, is preserved, by resting the issue of the combat on swordmanship; and lest this misfortune on the part of Roderick should too strongly incline us to pity him, he is again degraded by his brutal grapple and sanguinary malice. The disappointment of bis aim through dizziness, is not only a most sublime incident, but relieves the knight from that odium which would have attached to him, if he had disengaged himself by the slaughter of his antagonist. In disposing of Murdoch, no such management was required. We willingly quit so painful a subject, and only add, in farther illustration of the merit of the poem'in developing characters, that even Allan-bane, and the widowed mother of young
Duncan, are each signalized in the course of the narrative by an action worthy of Clan-Alpine...
Before we quit this topic, under which it might be proper to notice the superiority of the present poem to Marmion in the importance of its action, and the skill with which it is conducted to a catastrophe,-it seems proper to state an objection against the introduction of supernatural events.
Mr. Scott must have been extremely inadvertent, if he did not perceive that the toleration of idle tales and superstitious conceits in an old miostrel, was no pledge of the public clemency toward a modern
who should take the same liberties. The poem before us is not so exceptionable in this respect as Marmion; but there are several incidents, such as the sympathetic sword, the sympathetic harp, the second-sight of Allan-bane, and the true oracle of Brian, which appear to us entirely indefensible in such a performance as the Lady of the Lake. If a belief in these wonders had only been attributed to the persons of the drama, very well; but to expect the same belief on poetical evidence from critics and philosophers, implies either a gross want of reflection, or a surprising mistake in estimating the average credulity of the age. Surely it could not escape Mr. Scott's attention, that the probability required in the action or the machinery of a poem must be of a kind to satisfy the reader, not the actor,--except indeed the fiction be evidently poetic, and not intended to pass for fact. We can suffer a modern writer to amuse us with sylphs and gnomes; but what would be the reception of a poet, who should write an epic on the Spanish revolution, and ascribe the fatal wound of Sir John Moore to the malicious skill of Mars disguised as a French officer of artillery?
Our preference of the present work to Marmion, as a poetical composition, is not so much founded upon a collation of particular passages, as the comparative effect of the whole. Indeed it might be difficult to mention one passage of equal length, that exceeds the description of Constance before her judges. On this point, however, a pretty accurate judge
ment may be formed from the foregoing extracts, (which, in tenderness to those who are not so extravagant as to spend two guineas for one poem, we have made unusually copious) especially when it is added, that we have omitted as large a portion of fine writing as we have retained. The versification is not very often harsh, and (if we except the songs) the regular' order of syllables and couplets is comparatively but seldom interrupted. The poem abounds with novel and beautiful similes, often very ingeniously unfolded, and delivered, for the most part, with uncommon grace and felicity of expression. The poet is also as diligent and successful as ever, in localizing his descriptions. It is curious, indeed, to observe how many of his rugged Scotish names are scattered in the course of this fluent poetry, and how much more sweetly it seems to 'babble by' for these very obstructions. In the reader who is acquainted with the place, the name of it awakens a pleasing train of recollections, or a gratifying consciousness of knowledge; he who has never seen it, supplies the want of observation by the aid of fancy, which is ever prompt to invest what is unknown with imaginary charms; and both are impressed with a reality and a distinctness in the representation, which can never attach to such as are nameless and indetermirrte. A finer specimen of the art cannot be given, than the following simile, in which the awe Sir Roderick's look impressed upon his clan is compared to the terror of the inferior birds at the appearance of an eagle. The reader will not fail to observe how much of its beauty would fade, if deprived of its' local habitation.'
• Such glance the mountain eagle threw,
Silenc the warblers of the brake.? p. 100. An obvious blemish of this poem is, that the language is not pure; it is neither English nor Scotch. The obsolete and provincial terms with which it is speckled, though ever so much wanted to increase the copiousness and power of our language, will certainly not be received into ordinary use. It is a fault of no trivial consequence in a poem of such high pretensions, that it is partly written in a dialect, which will never be tolerated by the universities, the senate, the bar, on the more private circles of polished or intellectual society. And it is the more to be regretted, because it in some measüre occasions a still more serious fault, which we must call the flimsiness of Mr. Scott's poetry. His resources of lan, guage are so extensive, that he is not sufficiently nice in examining the fitness of his conceptions before they are formally enlisted and attired; in the train of his thoughts, therefore, we not only find some that are very uncouthly dressed, but others that are as lame, as spiritless, as feeble, and as deformed, as the recruits of Sir John Falstaff. If he is driven hard for a rhyme, he has only to rummage among his antiques. Besides this, Mr. Scott is a minstrel; and all improvisalori, whether they sing or say, give vent to a certain portion of tautology, absurdity, and common-place. If he cannot precisely express the right sense in one couplet, he may add an expletive; provided he is eloquent, it is not necessary he should be exact: and, if the exigency is very pressing, he has only to dispense with the laws of metre, or increase the number or change the order of his rhymes. It is this affluence of language, and this' exemption from the restraints by which other imaginations are limited, that enable Mr. Scott to overwhelm his subject with superfluous thoughts, and his thoughts with a redundancy of expression. In one place he informis us, by three distinct efforts, how very 6 still the old minstrel sat upon a certain occasion, when, for aught we can perceive, be might as well have been swinging his leg ór folding his fingers. On this affecting subject, however, the poet employs three illustrative couplets, each begining with the words so still ;' which must be allowed, indeed, to be very moderate, when it is considered that with equal propriety, and but little more trouble, he might bave given us a round dozen. Much after the same manner, he has overlaboured his illustrations of the sudden contrasts produced in the appearance of the mountain pass, by the summoning whistle and dismissing sign of Sir Roderick. There are other instances of a similar kind, where the poet has not had the art to conceal his artifice : but these passages are so very beautiful, that almost every reader, will overlook or forgive the fault, and turn bis indignation upon the fastidiousness of the critic. It vexes us, nevertheless, that a writer who has qualifications for obtaining the favour of the epic muse, and essaying the noblest Aights of human intellect, should so often descend to the garrulity of the minstrel.
Under the same head of censure, we must notice the frequent instances of colloquial negligence and familiarity in his style. To describe the echo of a pack' of hounds, he says, with a due regard to rhyme, Rock glen and mountain paid them back. Of certain trees he tells us, that they
cast anchor,' meaning that they took root. He also talks of dark lightning,' informs us that Fitz James "undid the collar from his throat,' and with the same happy artlessness describes Douglas's sorrow when he saw The Commons rise against
the law. Another of the modes in which he chooses to be quaint and slovenly is to omit, the article.
We have now to bring a still heavier charge. In Mr. S.'s Lay, the introduction of songs appeared to admit of some apology, from the character of the Minstrel.' He was a vagabond who had no settlement in any parish of Parnassus, and was scarcely amenable to any court of criticism. In Marmion, the ele gance of Fitz-Eustace's song, but more especially the fine allusion to it in the dying scene of the traitor,' afforded it a protection not otherwise deserved, and of which Lochinvar had no right to take the benefit. But in the poem before us, there are songs and ballads without end. There is first, an impromptu by Miss Douglas, addressed to Sir Janies Fitz-James; considering that it was composed extempore, and never befire performed, we must own it does her great credit; and as she makes no excuse of hoarseness, and was accompanied by old Allan-bane on the harp, we have no doubt it went off
very well. Then comes a song in honour of Roderick by his band of music, which seems to have been noisy enough. Then there is a Coronaeh,' or lamentation for Duncan. Another song, as we have mentioned before, is chaunted at full speed by Norman, to console himself for the interruption of his nuptial merriment: and upon the whole we are glad the wedding dinner was put off, for it certainly would have been enlivened by several songs, all of which would have been repeated by Mr. Scott. Afterwards we are treated with a ballad by Allan-bane; and then we have a hymn to the Virgin by Ellen; and then a cantata by the mad woman; and then a drinking-song, as vile and vulgar as possible, by one of the life-guards, and then a bravura by Allan-bane, the whole concluding with a dirge by the same performer. All these might have done very well for a new voluine of Ballads and Lyrical Pieces ; but we do really regret that Mr. Walter Scott should have taken his notion of a heroic
from the song-and-recitation performances of Mr. Dibdin.
On these grounds we cannot but entertain some apprehen. sion, that the works of Mr. Scott will rank a degree or two lower in the impartial estimation of a future age, than might be expected from their present popularity, When we contemplate the productions of ancient genius, so rigorously divested of unpecessary parts and useless ornaments, so laboriously compact and so diligently polished, it seems evident that these are the compositions which least depend upon the capric-s of fashion. If the relics of classical antiquity, however, may be compared to gems,--of slow formation, solid 'texture, uniform lustre, and undecaying value,--we should fear that the rapid deposition, incongruous elements, and motley hues of Mr. Scott's productions, will not intitle them in comparison to be appreciated much higher than a spar.
There are other grounds on which the decline of Mr. Scott's reputation has been predicted, and which appear to us extremely visionary. The vividt representations of ancient manners, for which he has been ridiculed, not only increase the illusion and dramatic effect of his narratives, but are both valuable and interesting in themselves as historical lessons. Even trivial circumstances, if distinctive and characteristic of a peculiar state of society, are no longer trivial. Indeed we are quite at a loss to guess on what reason minute descriptions of arinour and dress and deportment can be censured in a poem, without passing the same sentence upon an attention to the truth of costume in historical paintings or dramatic performances. Neither is it true that the characters. and events which Mr. Scott has thought proper to illustrate, are too remote from ordinary life to be the objects of syronathy. We have, indeed, little to do with camps or convents; but the same passions and hopes and fears are common to huinan nature in all conditions; and usually affect us the most, when displayed in a state of elevation and refinement We are much more willing to place ours..ives in the situation of a higher; than of a lower order; and nothing as- . suredly is more hostile to the excitement of tender and sublime emotions, than the introduction of circumstances that are vulgar and contemptible. There certainly is not a single street in this metropolis which could be made to look so enchanting in poetry, as Mr. Scott's Trosach, though every shop were inost accurately described; nor a single linen-draper whose blood would tremble through his veins so much, in reading a poetical narrative of a brother-tradesman being hustled in St. Giles's, as in accompanying Fitz-James behind Sir Ro. derick
It is impossible, however, that these poems should sink into oblivion. With all their blemishes and defects, there is so much to interest in the fable, so much to amuse in the sketches of society, so much heroism in the characters, and above all such a superlative beauty and magical distinctness in the pictures, that as long as successive generations shall be found to read English poetry, the productions of Walter Scott will.be read with pleasure. The novelty of the style will cease, but the peculiar attraction will endure; the current of fashion may set in a new direction, but the tide of sensibility will ever obey the influences of genius. Art. II. Baily's Doctrine of Life Annuities and Assurances, &C.
(Concluded from p. 510.) HAVING, in our last number, stated our opinion of the
general merits of Mr. Baily's book, and pointed out a