Page images
PDF
EPUB

involves in one magnificent view the condition and destiny of the whole human race; and while it shews our declension from man's primitive integrity, opens a prospect of return to his original perfection. Important must that be, which gives us a just perception of our lost and ruined state, and leads us rightly to value the redemption of the Gospel.

A proper sense of the depravity of our nature may be considered, indeed, the foundation of personal and practical religion; the only ground on which a solid superstructure of faith and piety can be built. The man who considers himself as innocent and upright as our first parent when he was formed in the image of his Maker, cannot have a just conception of his need of a Redeemer, nor ever be sufficiently upon his guard against the bias of his natural inclinations.

'Humility and watchfulness against the encroachments of sin, are the virtues that proceed from a sincere belief of this doctrine. Impressed with a strong sense of our infirmity, we learn to distrust ourselves, and to place our dependence upon God. Convinced that we have an enemy within ever watching for an advantage over us, we are put upon our guard against the insidiousness of his attacks, and are taught to detect and extirpate those secret suggestions of evil, which prove to many the beginning of awful transgressions.

The fact," that this infection of nature doth remain in them that are regenerate," affords an easy solution of a difficulty that frequently occasions distress to the minds of the pious. Regeneration is considered by many as a state of comparative perfection. Brought by the grace of God to sincere repentance, and led to embrace the blessed hope of everlasting life, which he has given us in Jesus Christ, their first impressions of the value of these inestimable blessings fill the soul with love and peace and joy. Animated with the glorious prospects before them, they press forward in the way that leadeth unto life, and imagine that nothing will ever damp their ardour or retard their progress. Perfection seems almost within their reach, and they are eager to grasp the splendid prize. alas! this ardour and exertion after a while begin to abate. The law of sin in their members warring against the law of their minds, produces a dulness of soul and coldness of the affections, which make them imagine that none ever possessed hearts so wicked and so insensible as their own. From this doctrine they may learn that there is nothing peculiar in their

case.

But

'Men may differ, indeed, in the degrees of their infirmity, but the influence of religion, is, by the effect of our natural corruption, rendered variable and imperfect in all. As long as we continue in the body, we shall experience opposition from it to our spiritual progress: perfection is reserved for that happy state, in which "this corruptible shall put on incorruption; and this mortal shall be clothed with immortality, and death be swallowed up in victory."

The doctrine of human depravity has always been a distinguishing character of Christianity. It stands between the world and the church, like the cloud and pillar of fire between the camp of Israel and the host of the Egyptians. To the world it appears only a mass of mystery and darkness; to the church it is a guide to our steps amidst the brightness of day, and in the darkest night of temptation and sin, a light to illuminate our path.

'May we all have grace to follow its sure direction: and neither pervert it into an excuse for our transgressions, nor use it as a justification of indifference to our religious duties. Sinful though we are by nature, we cannot complain that we are without the help of divine grace. As great as has been our fall, so great has been our redemption; and if we fail to attain the heavenly inheritance, it will not be owing to our natural inability, but to our neglect of that great salvation.'---pp. 158---161.

We are not inclined, at present, or on this arena, to fight for dogmas inch by inch. We leave to other opportunities and combatants, the spear and the trumpet-the ambuscades and the treacheries, and poisoned arrows of theological controversy. We shall not quote texts, or fling around us the shafts of polemical invective, either in support of Dr. Waite, where we agree with him, or in refutation of his opinions, where we dissent from them. But we cannot help expressing our gratification, when we see that Christian doctrine begins at length to be discussed with Christian charity; or avoid hailing with delight, the spectacle of an able and a zealous divine, who is evidently far more anxious to convert opponents by argument, than to crush them by persecution.

ART. II. Paul Jones; a Romance. By Allan Cunningham, author of Marmaduke Maxwell,' &c. 3 vols. 31s. 6d. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. London: Longman and Co. 1827.

BEFORE the modern novel came into repute, two kinds of prose fiction had been popular- so far, at least, as the eras in which they flourished allowed of popularity; and each gave rise to a satire upon itself, from which the principal part of whatever knowledge the generality of readers possess, concerning these compositions, is derived. The first of them was the romance, which owed its fall, and owes a great part of its celebrity, to Don Quixote. When the tale of pure chivalry lost its attractions, it was succeeded by a species of maritime romance, which bore the same relation to voyages and travels, that the romance did to history. This class of works usually came forth under the titles of Lives and Adventures; and gave rise to a satire, not less famous, perhaps, than that of Cervantes himself, in Gulliver's Travels. The romance originated in that state of society, when the study of every man was almost exclusively war; the tale of maritime adventure sprung up, when much of the attention of nations had been turned to such subjects, by the discovery of the New World; and when it is considered, that this discovery is the most extraordinary recorded in the history of human events, it may at first seem surprising that it had not a stronger effect in turning the stream of fiction into that direction. But if we examine a little deeper, it will be found that the effect produced was too strong to evaporate in idle sallies of fancy; and gave birth to a spirit of enterprize

which still subsists, and which, as it is more rational in all respects than that of knight-errantry, seeks also a more sober kind of reAnother reason why fiction has not found employment for herself here, in proportion to the apparent magnitude of the field, may be, that the real narratives of adventurers to foreign shores possess most of the attractions which imagination could have bestowed: consequently, the scope for fable was materially les

sened.

But fiction never found out her legitimate object, till society ar rived at that pitch of refinement, when the study of individual passions became more interesting than the naked relation of incidents, either of adventure or suffering. The history of the human heart, and of every-day life, came to be, in the eyes of most, of more importance than onslaughts, sieges, and shipwrecks, in which they never had any part, and which, therefore, might astonish for a moment, but could not engage their lasting attention. They turned to matters more familiar and first, the drama presented the prominent features of the social character; and afterwards, the desire of a minuter knowledge, gave rise and encouragement to the novel. The French, however much they might be behind in a poetical point of view, for a long time preceded us in social improvements and as that people have not a great sense of personal dignity, they took the readiest way of gratifying the curiosity which this improvement generated, by a detail of their own private affairs, in their memoirs. The prouder Englishman, now that he has the same curiosity to provide for, strives to accomplish it by bringing the knowledge derived from observation in society to bear upon a set of fictitious incidents and actors. Hence the novel may be aptly enough distinguished as the fiction of Memoir. It is no easy matter to determine to which of all these classes of fictitious narrative, Mr. Cunningham's present work most properly belongs the plot of it, if plot it may be called, is similar to those of the old romances; the scene is as varied as in the most rambling Life and Adventures; and the conversations and exhibition of character are much in the style of the novel. The author himself has termed it a romance;' but we have some doubts of the propriety of this designation. Strictly speaking, a romance cannot now be written: the time for it has long passed away, else why are not some of the old works which bear that name still familiar? The modern romance is, in fact, essentially a novel: the subject of it is ancient manners: and passages of arms, and other characteristics of the age of chivalry, may be introduced; but nevertheless, the whole is so moulded, that it becomes a novel, and is misnamed romance. Another use made of the term Romance is, that it is applied indiscriminately to such works of imagination as do not readily come under any other description. When an author finishes a work out of the common rules of composition, he says to himself,-"What am I to do with this production? the

most extraordinary licenses are taken in it, and I shall be abused at all hands on account of them. The critics will never allow that it is a novel.-Oh! I have it," he continues; "I'll get rid of all these difficulties, by calling it a romance;" and a romance he writes it down, and thinks himself secure from censure. We very much suspect that Mr. Cunningham stands in this predicament. But not to dispute about names, we shall state briefly in what points Paul Jones, considering it simply as a work written with a view to please the public, appears to us defective.

In the first place, the frequent transition from one country to another, is a grand fault of the performance. We would not impose, rigidly, upon the writer of prose fiction, unities either of time or place; but still there are certain bounds which must be observed with respect to both of these particulars. The man who sits down comfortably by the fire, to enjoy himself over a work of this description, and opens with a scene in some quarter of Great Britain, does not like to be whirled away to Paris-to be twitched from Paris to America-to be transferred, after a turn or two among the half-bloods, to the storming of a Turkish city on the Liman sea-brought back thence to St. Petersburgh, and from St. Petersburgh to Paris. It is clear, that so many violent changes of situation, cannot admit of any regularity of plot; characters must be taken up, and dropped again, before we gain much acquaintance with them, and the reader soon comes to regard the majority of dramatis persona with the same indifference that he feels in gazing at a passing crowd. One writer can scarcely be supposed conversant enough with the characters of men of so many different regions; and, granting that he were, unless that part of his story relating to each, were made complete in itself, we do not see how it is possible, with the same change of place and of character, to combine all that knowledge in one work, and carry the interest unimpaired through the whole of it.

This want of proper connection in the parts of his story, is undoubtedly the primary defect in the present work; though there are other faults which Mr. Cunningham must sedulously avoid, if to the praise of an eminently gifted, he would add that of being an eminently successful writer. He introduces supernatural appearances, and scenes of bloodshed, with much too great a profusion. Incidents like these, as most authors well know, must be sparingly and cautiously used. With respect to spiritual visitations, their reign of terror" is completely over: they may still continue effective in some old authors, because we are aware that they wrote of times when the belief was unquestioned, and in times when it

was very little so. But a modern ghost story is the most precarious of all attempts, unless for the purpose of ridicule. In a very little time, it will no longer suffice even for that purpose; for we are now just at that point, when it is very good sport to laugh at the fears which have held so long a tyranny over the mind. It is

still easy to conceive, that under certain circumstances, a man may think he has seen a spectre; and therefore, if the writer accounts to his reader for the appearance, it may be allowed to have much the same effect in the tale, as if the author and reader both were parties to the belief. But if no clue to the natural explanation is supplied, a displeasure arises in the reader, that he should be treated like a child, and the book is apt to be laid aside in disgust. Now Mr. Cunningham offends in two ways, by the use of supernatural agency: for, in the first place, he resorts to it when there is not an adequate occasion, and when there does not follow any proportionate result; secondly, he leaves the mystery without a word of elucidation. In fact, he seems to consider a ghost in a man's way, to be nearly as much a matter of course, in some situations, as a lamp-post is in others, and not much more to be minded. But he should beware how he tempts the reader to the same conclusion, respecting the incidents he finds it necessary to employ. If he listens to our advice, he will never hereafter write, "enter ghost," without telling us who acts it. The precaution recommended by Bottom, to prepare the audience for the roaring of his lion, is no less necessary in this instance, The aptitude with which his personages come to daggers and blood, is the next objection. The number of his battles, by land and water, we find no fault with; for men think less of the carnage of a general engagement, than of one individual act of slaughter; and it is with people's feelings on the subject, and not the exact amount of cruelty, that we have to do. But habitual brawling and stabbing, are no more agreeable in fictitious narrative than in real life. A rencontre, or two, to give a new spirit to the lagging interest, may be permitted; but when they are made cheap by their frequency, they not only fail when they might be resorted to with some success, but they do material injury elsewhere.

The public may know in what estimation we hold Mr. Cunningham's talents, when we take such pains to inculcate rules so obvious, but which he is, unaccountably, in the habit of most completely disregarding. He possesses a name not inconsiderable in our literature; he has been praised by the author of Waverley, and is besides, received by the world as a man of genius: but after all, we suspect, that his fame with posterity will rest neither upon the work which procured him the former enviable distinction, nor upon those productions with which the reading public is at present most familiar. The most unquestioned reputation which he has yet attained, he derived long ago, from his lyrics in his native Scotland. That he may still add something to that fame, is extremely probable; for he is a man of undoubted genius. We know of few writers gifted with such fulness of mind as Mr. Cunningham: indeed, he is full to a fault, and overflows upon every subject he touches, without possessing the power of condensing his energy, and making it all bear upon one point. No man has

« PreviousContinue »