« FöregåendeFortsätt »
met with neither water nor stones. The floor was covered with a thick coating of ice, and dipped so rapidly, that, finding it impossible to keep our feet, we sat down, and slid forward by our own weight. On holding the torches close to the ice, we could discover its thickness to seven or eight feet, clear as crystal. It was not long till we reached a spot, the grandeur of which amply rewarded all our toil: and would have done so, though we had travelled an hundred times the distance to see it. The roof and sides of the cave were decorated with the most superb icicles, crystallized in every possible form, many of which rivalled in minúteness the finest zeolites; while, from the icy floor, rose pillars of the same substance, assuming all the curious and phantastic shapes imaginable, mocking the proudest specimens of art, and counterfeiting many well-known objects of animated nature. Many of them were upwards of four feet high, generally sharpened at the extremity, and about two feet in thickness. A more brilliant scene perhaps never presented itself to the human eye, nor was it easy for us to divest ourselves of the idea that we actually beheld one of the fairy scenes depicted in eastern fable. The light of the torches rendered it peculiarly enchanting.'-vol. ii. pp. 195, 196.
We must here (though much remains on which we could dwell with pleasure) close our account of these interesting volumes, which we venture to say will be found productive of a very high degree of instruction as well as amusement, by all who have any relish for the grand and awful scenes of nature, or for the honest and artless simplicity, now so rarely found, of an uncorrupted race of people.
We had nearly overlooked the Appendix. It contains (besides a translation of a spirited Icelandic Ode on the Bible Society) an Historical View of the Icelandic Translations of the Scriptures,' compiled with great diligence; and an Inquiry into the Nature and Characteristic Features of Icelandic Poetry,' which evinces not only good taste, but an acquaintance with the subject never attained before, we believe, by any of our countrymen.
ART. II.-Women; or, Pour et Contre. A Tale. By the Author of Bertram.' 3 vols. Edinburgh. 1818.
A HASTY reader might wonder what could induce an author to
take up a style of composition which appears to unite the extremes of vulgarity and heroics, of poverty and pedantry-to spoil a very ordinary story by extraordinary exertions, and to throw away thoughts and language, which would furnish out another Bertram, upon the ephemera of a circulating library. We have however discovered, or believe that we have discovered, that the work is not quite what it appears, nor the reverend author altogether so weak and inconsistent as he seems to be at first sight. He aspires (according to our view of the subject) to convey instruction through the
pages of a romance; and as children (he writes evidently for extreme youth) are prevailed upon to take their powders in jelly, he has endeavoured to make his lessons palatable by administering them in the shape of a novel.
The great object of the author is to turn this species of writing into ridicule-to show with how little talent or ingenuity three volumes may be concocted-to exhibit the monstrous, the impossible absurdities which can be passed off as a plot-and to expose the raving nonsense which novel readers are content to receive as sublimity and pathos.
We have before seen some attempts of this kind, and we remember to have read the Heroine and one or two other mock romances with considerable amusement; but these were feeble and ineffective compared with the present production,—their irony was too fine, and their pleasantry hardly sufficiently obvious; nor did they expose, in sufficient caricature, all the absurdities which they proposed to laugh out of countenance:-the admirable work now before us is of a much higher pitch; in the first place its size and appearance (no inconsiderable points in the merit of a novel) are copied exactly from some of the best models; the insidious design of a satirical pamphlet is easily detected, but the imposing gravity of three volumes, of about three hundred pages each, sets suspicion (as well as some others of the faculties) asleep, and a reader may swallow the whole dose before he finds out that he has been tricked.
In the next place the author has taken care, every now and then, to assume so grave and serious a tone, that the detection of his pleasantry is postponed from page to page. Very often, when you are just ready to burst out, and laugh like parrots at a bagpiper,' the solemn wag puts on so sober a countenance that your muscles recompose themselves, and your delusion, or at least your wonder, is agreeably prolonged, even to the very catastrophe.
The third peculiar merit of this parody, for such we must call it, is that the objects of its ridicule are not imaginary: the author grapples manfully with the prevailing taste of the public, and does not hesitate to caricature the most striking characters of the most popular romances of the day; and his happy, though audacious art contrives to render personages copied from Madame de Staël, or the author of Waverley, absolutely ridiculous. This is the most effective part of the work, and if it happily shall diminish the admiration which but too many persons feel for Corinne or Meg Merrilies, the reverend monitor will, we presume, consider his time as not mispent.
The last and not the least merit which we shall notice is, that he has artfully contrived to wheedle the incautious reader into a
great deal of miscellaneous literature; and while he appears to be relating the story of a gang of mad Irish men and women, he is really expending the fruits of his severer studies. The learning is not, as we shall see, very deep, nor very accurate; but still it is so much above what young ladies would otherwise read at Brighton or Broadstairs, that we think the author is entitled to great commendation for this happy mode of conveying instruction.
We have strong doubts whether it be quite fair to attempt to give a summary of the story. The absurdities, which pass off well enough when spread through three volumes, will hardly bear gathering up into half a dozen lines; and the reader who should look at the mere skeleton of the plot, might accuse the author of pursuing his ridicule too openly, and of destroying the effect of his satire by the extreme lengths to which it is carried. We are aware of all this; but as there are several points of pleasantry which we can hardly bring to light without making some kind of statement of the story, we hope the ingenious author will forgive us if we venture on a brief but faithful abstract of the fable.
In the month of November, (the day unluckily is not mentioned,) in the year 1814, about seven o'clock in the evening, the stage coach which plies between a remote province in Ireland and the capital, broke down at the little village of Lucan, about five miles from Dublin. In this coach happened to be Mr. or rather Master De Courcy, a well-grown lad of good property, who had just left school and was proceeding to finish his education at the university of Dublin. His guardians (like true novel guardians) had sent him unattended, even by a servant, to find his way into his college, of which he knows nothing, through a city in which he never was. When the coach breaks down all the other passengers choose, most unaccountably, to remain at Lucan for the night, but De Courcy— the only one probably who knows nothing of the way-sets forth manfully for the city; the evening was, as usual, delightful, but it degenerated, as usual, into a stormy night: in the outskirts of the town our young traveller meets, as usual, a post-chaise and four driving furiously along-as usual, there is a heroine in it-as usual, she is in the power of some monster who is hurrying her away with some atrocious design. De Courcy, as usual, pursues the carriage, and after several of the usual difficulties rescues the beautiful and insensible Eva from an old hag in whose cottage she had been just deposited by the unknown ravisher, and restores her to her guardian, who luckily happens to be in the streets at that time of night, and hearing a person inquiring for a hackney coach naturally guesses he. can be no other than the preserver of his niece.—But the guardian is a methodist, who, little inclined to improve his acquaintance with De Courcy, takes his niece home without giving her preserver
VOL. XIX. NO. XXXVIII.
even an invitation to pay them a visit the visit of inquiry is not withstanding paid, and Charles and Eva become deeply enamoured of each other; he, our readers already know, is a perfect model of a man, six feet high, dark eyes, brown hair, and the noblest intelligence of countenance; she, on the contrary, is fair-touchingly fair-her eyes are of the usual melting blue, and her deportment has all the usual amiable and graceful timidity of the soft-eyed maids of romance. She is just fifteen, quite a marriageable age, but as he is only seventeen, and as both are in good health, new incidents must be imagined to make the book go on a little longer before it can be concluded either by death or wedlock.
Accordingly, a brilliant Italian actress arrives in Dublin-not Madame Catalani, but a Madame Dalmatiani, who is a perfect parody of Corinne. With her too De Courcy is fascinated and by degrees enamoured, till at last he divides his time between the methodist meeting-house, where Eva never lifts her gentle eyes from her hymn book, and the theatre, where the adorable Dalmatiani wins all hearts and transports all imaginations. But she is no common actress. She is a woman of property, and rather plays from vanity and enthusiasm than for profit. She keeps a great house, troops of ser vants, gaudy equipages, an elegant table, and gives splendid assemblies, at which she sings, dances, and talks prose and poetry after the manner of her prototype. She is so fine a judge of the arts that she carries about with her a beautiful cast of the Venus de Medici,' to which she modestly transfers the wreaths which her admirers offer to her. De Courcy is admitted to her select society; she, as in courtesy bound, grows enamoured of him-he, in return, becomes intoxicated with her; but she is, notwithstanding appearances, woman of nice virtue, and De Courcy is a man of nice honour; so their love is all of a matrimonial tendency, and he offers her his hand. Poor Eva in the meanwhile pines away; she is too gentle to fret. De Courcy has fits of repentance, and Zaira (Madame Dalmatiani) is perplexed between jealousy of the one, love of the other-the stage in the evening-the assembly at night; in short, one wonders how she can avoid running mad.
Sur ces entrefaites, et à propos de bottes, the allies arrive in Paris, and thither the fascinating Zaira and the faithless Charles hasten. They are now inseparable and recognised lovers, and again the novel is threatened with a premature conclusion, when Charles fortunately learns from a French gentleman, that Zaira the young, the beautiful, the pure, has been many years married, and has even borne a child. At these words De Courcy rushed from the house in a species of fury and despair,' (vol. iii. p. 47.); and • the thought of his intellectual' angel's having condescended to bear a child, staggers his resolution of marrying her: at this critical
moment his prudent guardian writes to him, (not to know why he has left his college and gone strolling through Europe at the age of seventeen years and seven months,) but to dissuade him from marrying Madame Dalmatiani who is only twice as old as himself. This beautiful and parental epistle concludes in these words:
'Let not the country that can boast a Grattan, a Curran, a Moore, an Edgeworth, a Lady Morgan, a Phillips, a Shiel, reckon a character so degraded among those of her children!
Even this pathetic apostrophe might have failed, and Charles De Courcy might have disgraced the country of Charles Phillips, but that he hears from an acquaintance just arrived from Ireland that Eva is dying-not a sham Irish death,—but really and bonâ fide dying.
This fatal intelligence strikes him to the heart-it is his own death-wound; his constitution, never strong, is suddenly impaired, and his conscience as suddenly awakened; he hastens back to Ireland to attend the bed-side of Eva. Zaira is heart-broken at his evasion, and as near death's door as either Eva or De Courcy-but she musters up strength to follow him. Then comes the usual death-bed eclaircissement-the old hag from whom De Courcy had rescued Eva, and who figures on sundry occasions throughout the work, in all the squalid distraction of an Irish pauper lunatic, turns out to have been once a most beautiful young peasant girl seduced by a man of fortune-Zaira, the young, the elegant, the intellectual, is her bastard daughter, who ran away with an Italian fiddler, and Eva is the child of Zaira and grand-child of the beggar woman!
The conclusion now becomes easy-Eva, De Courcy, and the beggar-woman all die on the spot, and Madame Dalmatiani is left, like Moonshine and Wall, to bury the dead!
Such is the story; and we believe our readers will now agree that it presents a collection of all the extravagancies of all novels which none but a master-hand would have made.
It is now time to show that the execution surpasses the design; materiam superat opus,' as Madame Dalmatiani would have said.
The imitations of Corinne are too diffuse to be extracted; some of them are very comical, but in others truth obliges us to say there is somewhat of exaggeration. Corinne never talks either Greek or Hebrew; while Zaira is a perfect Polyglott, quotes all the mottos of the Spectators and Ramblers in the original tongue-and talks you