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For wasting fire and dying groan,
Might bribe him for delay.
p. 364, 365. Clara and a charitable priest now try in vain to sooth his last remorse.' less agonies : he hears a lady's voice singing reproachful stanzas in his year, and is deaf to the consolations or hopes of religion. All at once
“ The war, that for a space did fail,
And-STANLEY! was the cry:
And fired his glazing eye:
And shouted “ Victory!
Were the last words of Marmion.” p. 366. The lady is now hurried away by the priest; and the close of the day is thus described, with undiminished vigour and spirit.
“ But as they left the dark’ning heath,
More desperate grew the strife of death.
That fought around their king:
Unbroken was the ring;
The instant that he fell.
As fearlessly and well,
And from the charge they drew,
Sweep back to ocean blue.
Dissolves in silent dew.
While many a broken band,
To gain the Scottish land;
And raise the universal wail.” p. 368—370. The powerful poetry of these passages can receive no illustration from any praises or observations of ours. It is superiour, in our apprehension,
to all that this author has hitherto produced; and, with a few faults of diction, equal to any thing that has ever been written upon similar subjects. Though we have extended our extracts to a very unusual length, in order to do justice to these fine conceptions, we have been obliged to leave out a great deal, which serves, in the original, to give beauty and effect to what we have actually cited. From the moment ihe author gets in sight of Flodden Field, indeed, to the end of the poem, there is no tame writing, and no intervention of ordinary passages. He does not once flag or grow tedious ; and neither stops to describe dresses and ceremonies, nor to commemorate the harsh names of feudal barons from the Border. There is a flight of five or six hundred lines, in short, in which he never stoops his wing, nor wavers in his course; but carries the reader forward with a more rapid, sustained, and lofty movement, than any epic bard that we can at present remember.
From the contemplation of such distinguished excellence, it is painful to be obliged to turn to the defects and deformities which occur in the same composition. But this, though a less pleasing, is a still more indispensable part of our duty; and one, from the resolute discharge of which, much more beneficial consequences may be expected. In the work which contains the fine passages we have just quoted, and many of nearly equal beauty, there is such a proportion of tedious, hasty, and injudicious composition, as makes it questionable with us, whether it is entitled to go down to posterity, as a work of classical merit, or whether the author will retain, with another generation, that high reputation which his genius certainly might make toeval with the language. These are the authors, after all, whose faults it is of most consequence to point out; and criticism performs her best and boldest office, not when she tramples down the weed, or tears up the bramble—but when she strips the strangling ivy from the oak, or cuts out the canker from the rose. 'The faults of the fable we have already noticed at sufficient length. Those of the execution we shall now endeavour to enumerate with greater brevity.
And, in the first place, we must beg leave to protest, in the name of a very numerous class of readers, against the insufferable number, and length, and minuteness of those descriptions of ancient dresses and manners, and buildings, and ceremonies, and local superstitions, with which the whole poem is overrun, which render so many notes necessary, and are, after all, but imperfectly understood by those to whom chivalrous antiquity has not hitherto been an object of peculiar attention. We object to these, and to all such details, because they are, for the most part, without dignity or interest in themselves; because, in a modern author, they are evidently unnatural; and because they must always be strange, and, in a good degree, obscure and unintelligible to ordinary readers.
When a great personage is to be introduced, it is right, perhaps, to give the reader some notion of his external appearance; and when a memorable event is to be narrated, it is natural to help the imagination by some picturesq. e representation of the scenes with which it is connected. Yet, even upon such occasions, it can seldom be advisable to present the reader with a full inventory of the hero's dress, from his shoebuckle to the plume in his cap, or to enumerate all the drawbridges, portcullisses, and diamond cut stones in the castle. Mr. Scott, however, not only draws out almost all his pictures in these full dimensions, but frequently introduces those pieces of Flemish or Chinese painting to represent persons who are of no consequence, or places and events which are of no importance to the story. It would be endless to go through the poem for examples of this excess of
minute description; we shall merely glance at the first canto as a specimen. We pass the long description of Lord Marmion himself, with his mail of Milan steel; the blue ribands on his horse's mane ; and: bis blue velvet housings. We pass also the two gallant squires who ride behind him. But our patience is really exhausted, when we are forced to attend to the black stockings and blue jerkins of the inferiour persons in the train, and to the whole process of turning out the guard with advanced arms on entering the castle.
" Four men-at-arms came at their backs,
With halberd, bill, and battle-axe :
The soldiers of the guard,
Stood in the castle yard;
For welcome-shot prepared-
The trumpets flourished brave,
And thundering welcome gave.
Stood on the steps of stone,
They hailed Lord Marmion,
All as he lighted down.” p. 29–32.
“ Now broach ye a pipe of Malvoisie,
Bring pasties of the doe.” And after the repast is concluded, they have some mulled wine, and drink good night very ceremoniously.
“ Lord Marmion drank a fair good rest,
The Captain pledged his noble guest,
The cup went round among the rest.” In the morning, again, we are informed that they had prayers, and that knight and squire
“ broke their fast
And thus a whole canto is filled up with the account of a visit and a supper, which led to no consequences whatever, and are not attended with any circumstances which must not have occurred at every visit and supper among persons of the same rank at that period. Now, we are really at a loss to know, why the mere circumstance of a moderate antiquity should be supposed so far to ennoble those details, as to entitle them to a place in poetry, which certainly never could be claimed for a description of more modern adventures. Nobody, we believe, would be bold enough to introduce into a serious poem a description of the hussar boots and gold epaulets of a commander in chief, and much less to particularize the liveries and canes of his servants, or the order and array of a grand dinner, given even to the cabinet ministers. Yet these things are, in their own nature, fully as picturesque, and as interesting, as the ribands at the mane of Lord Marmion's horse, or his supper and breakfast at the castle of Norham. We are glad, indeed, to find these little details in old books, whether in prose or verse ; because they are there authentick and valuable documents of the usages and modes of life of our ancestors; and we are thankful when we light upon this sort of information in an ancient romance, which commonly contains matter much more tedious. Even there, however, we smile at the simplicity which could mistake such naked enumerations for poetical description; and reckon them as nearly on a level, in point of taste, with the theological disputations that are sometimes introduced in the same meritorious compositions. In a modern romance, however, these details being no longer authentick, are of no value in point of information; and as the author has no claim to indulgence on the ground of simplicity, the smile which his predecessors excited is in some danger of being turned into a yawn. If he wishes sincerely to follow their example, he should describe the manners of his own time, and not of theirs. They painted from observation, and not from study; and the familiarity and naïveté of their delineations, transcribed with a slovenly and hasty hand from what they saw daily before, them, is as remote as possible from the elaborate pictures extracted by a modern imitator from black-letter books, and coloured, not from the life, but from learned theories, or at best from mouldy, monkish illuminations, and muti. lated fragments of painted glass.
But the times of chivalry, it may be said, were more picturesque than the present times. They are better adapted to poetry; and every thing that is associated with them has a certain hold on the imagination, and partakes of the interest of the period. We do not mean utterly to deny this; nor can we stop, at present, to assign exact limits to our assent: but this we will venture to observe, in general, that if it be true that the interest which we take in the contemplation of the chivalrous era, arises from the dangers and virtues by which it was distinguished, from the constant hazards in which its warriours passed their days, and the mild and generous valour with which they met those hazards, joined to the singular contrast which it presented between the ceremonious polish and gallantry of the nobles, and the brutish ignorance of the body of the people ;-if these are, as we conceive they are, the sources of the charm which still operates in behalf of the days of knightly adventure, then it should follow, that nothing should interest us, by association with that age, but what serves naturally to bring before us those hazards and that valour, and gallantry, and aristocratical superiority. Any description, or any imitation of the exploits in which those qualities were signalized, will do this most effectually. Battles, tournaments, penances, deliverance of dainsels, instalments
of knights, &c.—and, intermixed with these, we must admit some descrip. tion of arms, armorial bearings, castles, battlements, and chapels : but the least and lowest of the whole certainly is the description of servants' liveries, and of the peaceful operations of eating, drinking, and ordinary salutation. These have no sensible connexion with the qualities or peculiarities which have conferred certain poetical privileges on the manners of chivalry. They do not enter either necessarily or naturally into our conception of what is interesting in those manners; and, though protected, by their strangeness, from the ridicule which would infallibly attach to their modern equivalents, are substantially as unpoetick, and as little entitled to indulgence from impartial criticism.
We would extend this censure to a larger proportion of the work before us than we now choose to mention-certainly to all the stupid monkish legends about St. Hilda and St. Cuthbert, to the ludicrous description of Lord Gifford's habiliments of divination ; and to all the various scraps and fragments of antiquarian history and baronial biography, which are scattered profusely through the whole narrative. These we conceive to be put in purely for the sake of displaying the erudition of the author; and poetry which has no other recommendation but that the substance of it has been gleaned from rare or obscure books, has, in our estimation, the least of all possible recommendations. Mr. Scou's great talents, and the novelty of the style in which his romances are written, have made even these defects acceptable to a considerable part of his readers. His genius, seconded by the omnipotence of fashion, has brought chivalry again into temporary favour; but he ought to know, that this is a taste too evidently unnatural to be long prevalent in the modern world. Fine ladies and gentlemen now talk, indeed, of donjons, keeps, tabards, scutcheons, tressures, caps of maintenance, portcullisses, wimples, and we know not what besides ; just as they did in the days of Dr. Darwin's popularity, of gnomes, sylphs, oxygen, gossamer, polygynia, and polyandria. That fashion, however, passed rapidly away; and if it be now evident to all the world, that Dr. Darwin obstructed the extension of his fame, and hastened the extinction of his brilliant reputation, by the pedantry and ostentatious learning of his poems, Mr. Scott should take care that a different sort of pedantry does not produce the same effects. The world will never be long pleased with what it does not readily understand; and the poetry which is destined for immortality, should treat only of feelings and events which can be conceived and entered into by readers of all descriptions.
There are many blemishes, both of taste and of diction, which we had marked for reprehension, but now think it unnecessary to specify; and which, with some of those we have mentioned, we are willing to ascribe to the haste in which much of the poem seems evidently to have been composed. Mr. Scott knows too well what is due to the publick, to make any boast of the rapidity with which his works are written ; but the dates and the extent of his successive publications show sufficiently how short a time could be devoted to each ; and explain, though they do not apologize for, the many imperfections with which they have been suffered to appear. He who writes for immortality should not be sparing of time ; and if it be true, tl:at in every thing which has a principle of life, the period of gestation and growth bears some proportion to that of the whole future existence, the author now before us should tremble when he looks back on the miracles of his own facility.