Page images

sufficiently understood. The story is the least part of them; though the blunders of Sancho, and the unlucky adventures of his master, are what naturally catch the attention of the majority of readers. The pathos and dignity of the sentiments are often disguised under the ludicrousness of the subject, and provoke laughter when they might well draw tears. The character of Don Quixote himself is one of the most perfect disinterestedness. He is an enthusiast of the most amiable kind; of a nature equally open, gentle, and generous; a lover of truth and justice; and one who had brooded over the fine dreams of chivalry and romance, till they had robbed him of himself, and cheated his brain into a belief of their reality. There cannot be a greater mistake than to consider 'Don Quixote' as a merely satirical work, or as a vulgar attempt to explode " the long-forgotten order of chivalry.” There could be no need to explode what no longer existed. Besides, Cervantes himself was a man of the most sanguine and enthusiastic temperament; and even through the crazed and battered figure of the knight, the spirit of chivalry shines out with undiminished lustre; as if the author had halfdesigned to revive the examples of past ages, and once more 4 witch the world with noble horsemanship.” Oh! if ever the mouldering flame of Spanish liberty is destined to break forth, wrapping the tyrant and the tyranny in one consuming blaze, that the spark of generous sentiment and romantic enterprise, from which it must be kindled, has not been quite extinguished, will perhaps be owing to thee, Cervantes, and to thy 'Don Quixote!

The character of Sancho is not more admirable in itself, than as a relief to that of the knight. The contrast is as picturesque and striking as that between the figures of Rosinante and Dapple. Never was there so complete a partie quarreé :-they answer to one another at all points. Nothing need surpass the truth of physiognomy in the description of the master and man, both as 10 body and mind; the one lean and all, the other round and short; the one heroical and courteous, the other selfish and servile; the one full of high-flown fancies, the other a bag of proverbs; the one always starting some romantic scheme, the other trying to keep to the safe side of custom and tradition. The gradual ascendancy, however, obtained by Don Quixote over Sancho, is as finely managed as it is characteristic. Credulity and a love of the marvellous are as natural to ignorance as selfishness and cunning. Sancho by degrees becomes a kind of lay-brother of the order; acquires a taste for adventures in his own way, and is made all but an entire convert by the discovery of the hundred crowns in one of his most comfortless journeys Towards the end, his regret at being forced to give up the pur suit of knight-errantry, almost equals his master's; and he seizes the proposal of Don Quixote for them to turn shepherds with the greatest avidity---still applying it in his own fashion; for while the Don is ingeniously torturing the names of his humble acquaintance into classical terminations, and contriving scenes of gallantry and song, Sancho exclaims, "Oh, what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! what crumbs and cream shall I devour !"--forgetting, in his milk and fruits, the pullets and geese at Camacho's wedding,

This intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of things, ot, as it may be called, this instind of the imagination, ís, perhaps what stamps the character of genius on the productions of art more than any other circumstance for it works unconsciously, like nature, and receives its impressions from a kind of inspira tion There is as much of this indiatinet keeping and involun. tary unity of purpose in Cervantes as in any author whatever Something of the same unsettled, rambling humour extende itself to all the subordinate parts and characters of the work. Thus we find the curate confidentially informing Don Quixote, thnt if he could get the ear of the government he has something of considerable importance to propose for the good of the state; and our adventurer afterwards (in the course of his peregrina tions) meets with a young gentleman who is a candidate for poetical honours, with a mad lover, a forsaken damarl. Ma hometan lady converted to the Christian faith, &c -all dehorated with the same truth, wildness, and debrary of fancy The whole work breathes that air of romaner, that aspiration after imaginary good, that indesenbable longing after sevmething more than we possee, that in all places and in all conditions of Life,

[ocr errors][merged small]

The leading characters in 'Don Quixote' are strictly individuals; that is, they do not so much belong to, as form a class by themselves. In other words, the actions and manners of the chief dramatis persona do not arise out of the actions and manners of those around them, or the situation of life in which they are placed, but out of the peculiar dispositions of the persons themselves, operated upon by certain impulses of caprice and accident. Yet these impulses are so true to nature, and their operation so exactly described, that we not only recognise the fidelity of the representation, but recognise it with all the advantages of novelty superadded. They are in the best sense originals, namely, in the sense in which nature has her originals. They are unlike anything we have seen before—may be said to be purely ideal; and yet identify themselves more readily with our imagination, and are retained more strongly in memory, than perhaps any others: they are never lost in the crowd. One test of the truth of this ideal painting is the number of allusions which ‘Don Quixote' has furnished to the whole of civilised Europe; that is to say, of appropriate cases and striking illustrations of the universal principles of our nature. The detached incidents and occasional descriptions of human life are more familiar and obvious; so that we have nearly the same insight here given us into the characters of innkeepers, har-maids, ostlers, and puppet-show men, that we have in Fielding. There is a much greater mixture, however, of the pathetic and sentimental with the quaint and humorous, than there ever is in Fielding. I might instance the story of the countryman whom Don Quix. ote and Sancho met in their doubtful search after Dulcinea, driving his mules to plough at break of day, and “singing the ancient ballad of Roncesvalles !” The episodes, which are frequently introduced, are excellent, but have, upon the whole, been overrated. They derive their interest from their connexion with the main story. We are so pleased with that, that we are disposed to receive pleasure from everything else. Compared, for instance, with the serious tales in Boccaccio, they are slight remain an everlasting memento of the weakness of human van ity; and the account of Gil Blas' legacy, of the uncertainty of human expectations. This novel is also deficient in the fable as well as in the characters. It is not a reguiarly constructed story; but a series of amusing adventures told with equal gaiety and good sense, and in the most graceful style imaginable

It has been usual to class our own great novelists as imitators of one or other of these two writers. Fielding, no doubt, is more like Don Quixote than Gil Blas' Smollett is more like Gil Blas' than · Don Quixote ;' but there is not much resemblance in either case. Sterne's · Tristram Shandy is a more direct in stance of imitation. Richardson can scarcely be called an imi tator of any one; or if he is, it is of the sentimental refinement of Marivaux, or of the verbose gallantry of the writers of the seventeenth century.

There is very little to warrant the common idea that Fielding was an imitator of Cervantes, except his own declaration of such an intention in the title-page of "Joseph Andrews' the romantic turn of the character of Parson Adams (the only romantic character in his works,) and the proverbial humour of Partridge, which is kept up only for a few pages Fielding's novels are, in general, thoroughly his own; and they are thoroughly Eng lish. What they are most remarkable for, is neither sentiment, nor imagination, nor wit, nor even humour, thongh there is an immense deal of this last quality : but profound knowledge of human nature, at least of English nature, and masterly pietures of the characters of men as he saw them existing This quality distin guishes all his works, and is shown almost equally in all of them. As a painter of real life, he was equal to Hogarth: as a mere om server of human nature, he was little inferior to Shakspeare, though without any of the genius and poetical qualities of his mind His humour is less rich and langhable than Smollett's his wit as often misses as hits; he has none of the fine pathos of Richand on or Strine; but he has brought togrther a greater ranety of characters in common life, narked with more distinct pero harities, and without an atom of caneature, than any other rovel writer whatever. The extreme subtlety of observation on the springs of human conduct in ordinary characters, is only equal

led by the ingenuity of contrivance in bringing those springs into play, in such a manner as to lay open their smallest irregularity. The detection is always complete, and made with the certainty and skill of a philosophical experiment, and the obviousness and familiarity of a casual observation. The truth of the imitation is indeed so great, that it has been argued that Fielding must have had his materials ready-made to his hands, and was merely a transcriber of local manners and individual habits. For this conjecture, however, there seems to be no foundation. His representations, it is true, are local and individual; but they are not the less profound and conclusive. The feeling of the general principles of human nature operating in particular circumstances, is always intense, and uppermost in his mind; and he makes use of incident and situation only to bring out character.

It is scarcely necessary to give any illustrations. Tom Jones' is full of them. There is the account, for example, of the gratitude of the elder Blifil to his brother, for assisting him to obtain the fortune of Miss Bridget Alworthy by marriage; and of the gratitude of the poor in his neighbourhood to Alworthy himself, who had done so much good in the country that he had made every one in it his enemy. There is the account of the Latin dialogues between Partridge and his maid, of the assault made on him during one of these by Mrs. Partridge, and the severe bruises he patiently received on that occasion, after which the parish of Little Baddington rung with the story, that the schoolmaster had killed his wife. There is the exquisite keeping in the character of Blifil, and the want of it in that of Jones. There is the gradation in the lovers of Molly Seagrim, the philosopher Square succeeding to Tom Jones, who again finds that he himself had succeeded to the accomplished Will Barnes who had the first possession of her person, and had still possession of her heart, Jones being only the instrument of her vanity, as Square was of her interest. Then there is the discreet honesty of Black George, the learning of Thwackum and Square, and the profundity of Squire Western, who considered it as a physical impossibility that his daughter should fall in love with Tom Jones. We have also that gentleman's disputes with his sister,

« PreviousContinue »