Slike strani
PDF
ePub

MORIER

common tale of terror ; while, on the other hand, it dovetails into no other kind of romance. The Anastasius (1819) of THOMAS HOPE is similarly an orphan production in which Vathck cannot be said to have had any hand. However, this Turco-Greek tale had been preceded, from 1813 to 1815, by Byron's most brilliant Oriental romances in THOMAS verse, and was no doubt inspired by them. Hope, (1770-1831). like Beckford, was a man of refined taste, luxurious habits, and great wealth, which had been accumulated in business. Anastasius is the autobiography of a Greek who, to escape the consequences of a wholesale devotion to crime and villainy, becomes a renegade and passes through a long series of the most extraordinary and romantic vicissitudes. He is a compound of almost all the vices of his unfortunate and degraded nation, and, in his unregulated character and passionate, elaborate style, certainly is a good companion to Byron's heroes. In its panorama of the whole social, religious, and political life of Turkey and the Morea, as well as in its general luxuriance of atmosphere, the romance might certainly have been of Byron's writing.

The Hajji Baba (1824) of JAMES JUSTINIAN MORIER is in every way a contrast to these gloomy and picturesque books. Morier lived for most of his life in the East, and, as British minister in Persia, became profoundly ac

JAMES quainted with Oriental character. Hajji Baba, there- (1780 ?-1849). fore, is a realistic transcript of manners and customs rather than a work of imagination. Morier had abundant humour; his book is the Gil Blas of Eastern life. His hero is a barber of Ispahan, who passes through a long and very various series of adventures, such as happen in the despotic governments of the East, where the pipe-bearer of one day may become the vizier of the next. He is an easy, merry, good-for-nothing whose admirable dexterity and gaiety meet with equally admirable punishments, and bring him into contact with every grade and phase of Oriental existence. Perhaps there is no modern book which gives so vast and true a picture of the life of those countries. The Hajji is not only a thorough Oriental, but a perfect specimen of the lower-class Persian, clever, unscrupulous, and always amusing, In the continuation of the story he comes to England in the suite of an embassy from “ the asylum of the universe,” which gives an opportunity for the description of a foreigner's first impressions of the country. This often has been done and done badly, but nothing could be more natural or more comic than the Hajji's relation of his English adventures, his surprise at the freedom of English women, his admiration of the * moonfaces,” and, above all, his astonished wonder at the “Coompany," the great enigma to all Orientals. JAMES BAILLIE FRASER followed Morier with two J. B. FRASER

(1783-1856). Eastern romances, The Kuzzilbash, a Tale of Khorasan (1828) and The Persian Adventurer (1830). The

romances.

HARRIET
LEE

and

and ANNA MARIA PORTER

popularity of this kind of tale was the obvious sequel of Moore's Lalla Rookh (1817), which had provoked the public to an interest in the East at a time when Byron had revived the dormant traditions of the Balkan Peninsula.

§ 11. The historical romance, properly speaking, has no worthy representative other than Scott. Some ladies preceded

him with faltering steps. SOPHIA LEE's Recess (1785) Historical claimed to be an historical romance.

Her younger Sophia and sister HARRIET LEE took the chief part in a col

lection called The Canterbury Tales (1797), which (1750-1824 hovered undecidedly between history and the love

of terror. One of these, Kruitzner, or the German's 1757-1851).

Tale, made a great impression on Byron, whose Werner (1822) was a dramatic version of the narrative. The other ladies, it has been said, had a more direct influence on Scott. JANE and ANNA MARIA PORTER were two sisters whose JANE

popular novels were, in their ultra-sentimental tone, under serious obligations to the school of terror.

Impossibly ideal heroes, blameless and injured (1776-1850

heroines, flourished in an exquisite atmosphere of and

chivalry, performed incredible deeds of valour, and 1780-1832).

endured shocking sufferings, to the mingled delight and horror of young ladies who met here for the first time with novels that it was possible to read without fear of discovery. Jane was the more ingenious of the pair, and Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) and The Scottish Chiefs (1810) have more merit than might be expected. The historical element in The Scottish Chiefs is well worked up; and the result is something a very little short of life. The tone of Miss Porter's novels may

be compared with that of the romances of a much GRACE

younger person, the Spanish Jewess, GRACE AGUILAR, (1816-1847). wh

was born in the year of The Antiquary, and

died when only thirty-one. She was learned in the Jewish religion, and was the authoress of several long novels, which, for the most part, were edited and published posthumously by her mother, and are chiefly concerned with the fortunes of Jewish heroines. They all were very popular as tales pour les jeunes filles, and contained no harm beyond their excessive abuse of sentiment. Miss Aguilar belongs to no special class of novelists; her style and method were alike eighteenth-century and commonplace; and it is only by her Days of Bruce (1852), a book not unlike The Scottish Chiefs, and the less rigidly historical Vale of Cedars (1850), that she deserves mention here.

The most industrious imitator of Scott was GEORGE PAYNE RAINSFORD JAMES, the son of a London doctor. James began

to write with Richelieu (1829), and, between that year G. P. R. JAMES

and 1860, wrote over a hundred novels. He had a (1801-1860). great deal of antiquarian knowledge, and was greatly

interested in French history; but he had neither invention nor imagination, and wrote according to a fixed

AGUILAR

recipe. The two horsemen who (unless reduced by one) invariably opened his lifeless tales of chivalry, can scarcely be called his creation, nor had he the monopoly of woodland scenery and crazy jesters; but he did all he could with them, and precluded their future appropriation. He became Historiographer Royal, and died as consul at Venice. The best that can be said of James is that his novels show a very painstaking disposition; and it must be allowed that he has been laughed at more than he actually deserves ; however, nothing but a terribly defective sense of humour could have induced a man to persevere in such a course of dulness and monotony, painting men and women without humanity or semblance of real passion, and scenes without a title to variety.

It may seem rather invidious to say that the utterly impossible romances of WILLIAM HARRISON AINSWORTH are better than the icy tales of James ; the distinction certainly gives

WILLIAM Ainsworth no great literary honour. He was a HARRISON Manchester man; and Lancashire scenes and people AINSWORTH played a large part in his stories. His first book,

(1805-1882). Sir John Chiverton (1826), probably written in collaboration with John Partington Aston, was published three years before Richelieu ; and he went on writing till late in the seventies. His style was too slipshod to deserve the name, nor was his history in any sense trustworthy. Such novels, however, as The Tower of London (1840) and Old St. Paul's (1841) were very interesting to lovers of complicated and sensational plots, and his work never suffered from a dearth of incident ; on the contrary, he invented situations so readily that he lost any sense of the distinction between probability and improbability. Crichton (1837) is a glaring example of the length to which his imagination could go. On the other hand, many of his books were shamelessly deficient in plot. The Manchester Rebels (1873), for example, is simply an historical epitome, the mere shadow of a connected story. Whether Ainsworth's popularity will last would be a difficult and not very useful question to determine ; he certainly is still read by many who like a good story and consider literary excellence a detail. It is certain, however, that Cruikshank's splendid illustrations to his better romances will do more to keep their fame alive than any merit of their own.

$ 12. The minor writers whom we have just mentioned owe their place in our memory and in any history of English literature to the fact that, whatever the direct

Exclusive parentage of their work may have been, they are

importance all attracted to the magnetic centre of Scott. Vathek, of Scott in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and The Scottish Chiefs,

fiction. with their differences and various excellence, point forward to the coming of Scott as surely as Richelieu and The Tower of London derive their uncertain life from that great source.

The influence which was most powerful in Scott's case was, as we have seen, not prose fiction, but ballad poetry. The

romantic

romance to the orthodor

German romanticism which coloured and inspired his earliest work, the Gothic fancies of Bürger and Goethe, also produced the tale of terror in its wildest form. But the tale of terror was simply the passing expression of a phase, the recognition of superficial mystery which is always the first impression derived from Gothic art, and wears away before long. In reality the corridors of Udolpho are no whit more Gothic or medieval than the vaults so sonorously described by Congreve in The Mourning Bride. The real colour of medieval romance was given to fiction by Scott; and it is very doubtful whether, among his subsequent imitators, any caught even the most pallid illumination from his genius. James and Ainsworth do very little credit to their particular form of art, nor can the immense advance shown, during their lifetime, by the historical novels of Lytton be reckoned a great success. The truth is that romantic

fiction in England is simply a subdivision of that Relation of

great poetic movement to which we are coming, and that, taken by itself, it is not representative of the

English novel. Scott's poems opened the way for novel.

his romances. Waverley would not have succeeded so immediately had the public not begun by enjoying The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The constitution of the English novel had, once and for all, been established by the great band of humorists of the eighteenth century, and more especially by Fielding ; its office was to depict contemporary life and manners, to give a faithful portrait of society. We have seen that Scott himself imitated Fielding in Waverley ; that, in St. Ronan's Well, he left romance and wrote a novel which, allowing for differences, might have been written by George Eliot. By far the most distinguished, after Scott, of contemporary writers of fiction leaned naturally to the novel of manners; even writers like Thomas Love Peacock, who is fanciful enough to be considered romantic, concealed rather obviously beneath their vagrant imaginations a deliberate intention of social satire. Godwin, and the more romantic Bage, have little in common with the historical and medieval tale. The conclusion is that, as an historical novelist, we have never had anyone like Scott. To all his successors the art has been foreign ; they either ought to have written nothing at all, or could have written other things much better. Scott stands as the great populariser, the great revealer, the magician who enthralled an audience proof against other enchantments. But his work is isolated in its kind; it is the outward and visible sign of a movement which meant far more than an external romanticism or medievalism, and to that movement it forms the proper introduction, while it is its explanation and commentary.

CHAPTER XXI.

THE POETS OF

THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT.

1. WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE, AND SOUTHEY. § 1. The share of the Lake Poets in the romantic movement. § 2.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: his life. $ 3. His poetry : its peculiarities ; its place in the movement. $ 4. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE. Life. $ 5. Coleridge's poetry: Kubla Khan, The Ancient Mariner, Christabel

. His importance as a prose critic. $ 6. Life of Robert SOUTHEY. $ 7. Southey's prose and poetry; his defects as a poet and his relative position in nineteenth-century literature.

§ 1. The introduction of Scott into this history has been in one sense rather premature. We have explained, however, that the external and objective side of the romantic

Literary movement was indicated chiefly by him, that his importance poetry was the force which drove people into an of the Lake obvious recognition of the fact that eighteenth- poets. century poetry, with its stilted and, as time went on, fatuous vocabulary, was a thing of the past, and that the opening of the new century was the beginning of a new chapter in English letters. It was therefore proper to give some account of Scott and the progress of romantic fiction, the more popular manifestation of the new spirit, before proceeding to those greater and more subjective poets whose quiet, and at first rarely appreciated, work was the actual starting-point of English literature as we know it to-day. The publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798) was the definite beginning of a literary epoch which already has lasted a century and seems likely, so far as we can tell, to retain its influence for many years to come ; and the real apostles of the romantic movement were Wordsworth and Coleridge. The theories which Wordsworth laid down in his prefaces and introductory essays to the Lyrical Ballads, the deeper and sounder critical writings which Coleridge left behind him, are still extant to explain the object sought by these great and original poets. Their work, we have seen, did not break Their link upon the world with a total novelty ; there had been past. a very marked transition from the nature-poetry of Thomson to their own. Gray's Elegy had been an advance on ENG, LIT.

2 P

« PrejšnjaNaprej »