Scott, though living in an age unusually prolific of original poetry, has manifestly outstripped all his competitors in the race of popularity; and stands already upon a height to which no other writer has attained in the memory of any one now alive. We doubt, indeed, whether any English poet ever had so many of his books sold, or so many of his verses read and admired by such a multitude of persons, in so short a time. We are credibly informed, that nearly thirty thousand copies of "The Lay" have been already disposed of in this country; and that the demand for Marmion, and the poem now before us, has been still more considerable, — a circulation, we believe, altogether without example, in the case of a bulky work, not addressed to the bigotry of the mere mob, either religious or political.
A popularity so universal is a pretty sure proof of extraordinary merit, — a far surer one, we readily admit, than would be afforded by any praises of ours: and, therefore, though we pretend to be privileged, in ordinary cases, to foretel the ultimate reception of all claims on public admiration, our function may be thought to cease, where the event is already so certain and conspicuous. As it is a sore thing, however, to be deprived of our privileges on so important an occasion, we hope to be pardoned for insinuating, that, even in such a case, the office of the critic may not be altogether superfluous. Though the success of the author be decisive, and likely to be permanent, it still may not be without its use to point out, in consequence of what, and in spite of what, he has succeeded; nor altogether uninstructive to trace the precise limits of the connexion which, even in this dull world, indisputably subsists between success and desert, and to ascertain how far unexampled popularity implies unrivaled talent.
As it is the object of poetry to give pleasure, it seems to be a pretty safe conclusion, that that poetry must be the best which gives the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of persons. Yet we must pause a little, before we give our assent to so plausible a proposition. It would not be quite correct, we fear, to say that those are invariably the best judges who are most easily pleased. The great multitude, even of the reading world, must necessarily be uninstructed and injudicious; and will frequently be found, not only to derive pleasure from what is worthless in finer eyes, but to be quite insensible to those beauties which afford the most exquisite delight to more cultivated understandings. True pathos and sublimity will indeed charm everyone but, out of this lofty sphere, we are pretty well convinced, that the poetry which appears most perfect to a very refined taste, will not turn out to be very popular poetry.
This, indeed, is saying nothing more, than that the ordinary readers of poetry have not a very refined taste; and that they are often insensible to many of its highest beauties, while they still more frequently mistake its imperfections for excellence. The fact, when stated in this simple way, commonly excites neither opposition nor surprise: and yet, if it be asked, why the taste of a few individuals, who do not perceive beauty where many others perceive it, should be exclusively dignified with the name of a good taste; or why poetry which gives pleasure to a very great number of readers, should be thought inferior to that which pleases a much smaller number, — the answer, perhaps, may not be quite so ready as might have been expected from the alacrity of our assent to the first proposition. That there is a good answer to be given, however, we entertain no doubt: and if that which we are about to offer should not appear very clear or satisfactory, we must submit to have it thought, that the fault is not altogether in the subject.
In the first place, then, it should be remembered, that though the taste of very good judges is necessarily the taste of a few, it is implied, in their description, that they are persons eminently qualified, by natural sensibility, and long experience and reflection, to perceive all beauties that really exist, as well as to settle the relative value and importance of all the different sorts of beauty; — they are in that very state, in short, to which all who are in any degree capable of tasting those refined pleasures would certainly arrive, if their sensibility were increased, and their experience and reflection enlarged. It is difficult, therefore, in following out the ordinary analogies of language, to avoid considering them as in the right, and calling their taste the true and the just one, when it appears that it is such as is uniformly produced by the cultivation of those faculties upon which all our perceptions of taste so obviously depend. It is to be considered also, that though it be the end of poetry to please, one of the parties whose pleasure, and whose notions of excellence, will always be primarily consulted in its composition, is the poet himself; and as he must necessarily be more cultivated than the great body of his readers, the presumption is, that he will always belong, comparatively speaking, to the class of good judges, and endeavour, consequently, to produce that sort of excellence which is likely to meet with their approbation. When authors, and those of whose suffrages authors are ambitious, thus conspire to fix upon the same standard of what is good in taste and composition, it is easy to see how it should come to bear this name in society, in preference to what might afford more pleasure to individuals of less influence. Besides all this, it is obvious that it must be infinitely more difficult to produce any thing conformable to this exalted standard, than merely to fall in with the current of popular taste. To attain the former object, it is necessary, for the most part, to understand thoroughly all the feelings and associations that are modified or created by cultivation; — to accomplish the latter, it will often be sufficient merely to have observed the course of familiar preferences. Success, however, is rare, in proportion as it is difficult; and it is needless to say, what a vast addition rarity makes to value, — or how exactly our admiration at success is proportioned to our sense of the difficulty of the undertaking.
Such seem to be the most general and immediate causes of the apparent paradox, of reckoning that which pleases the greatest number as inferior to that which pleases the few; and such the leading grounds for fixing the standard of excellence, in a question of mere feeling and gratification, by a different rule than that of the quantity of gratification produced. With regard to some of the fine arts — for the distinction between popular and actual merit obtains in them all — there are no other reasons, perhaps, to be assigned; and, in music for example, when we have said that it is the authority of those who are best qualified by nature and study, and the difficulty and rarity of the attainment, that entitles certain exquisite performances to rank higher than others that give far more general delight, we have probably said all that can be said in explanation of this mode of speaking and judging. In poetry, however, and in some other departments, this familiar, though somewhat extraordinary rule of estimation, is justified by other considerations.
As it is the cultivation of natural and perhaps universal capacities, that produces that refined taste which takes away our pleasure in vulgar excellence, so, it is to be considered, that there is an universal tendency to the propagation of such a state; and that, in times tolerably favourable to human happiness, there is a continual progress and improvement in this, as in the other faculties of nations and large assemblages of men. The number of intelligent judges may therefore be regarded as perpetually on the increase. The inner circle, to which the poet delights chiefly to pitch his voice, is perpetually enlarging; and, looking to that great futurity to which his ambition is constantly directed, it may be found, that the most refined style of composition to which he can attain, will be, at the last, the most extensively and permanently popular. This holds true, we think, with regard to all the productions of art that are open to the inspection of any considerable part of the community; but, with regard to poetry in particular, there is one circumstance to be attended to, that renders this conclusion peculiarly safe, and goes far indeed to reconcile the taste of the multitude with that of more cultivated judges.
As it seems difficult to conceive that mere cultivation should either absolutely create or utterly destroy any natural capacity of enjoyment, it is not easy to suppose, that the qualities which delight the uninstructed should be substantially different from those which give pleasure to the enlightened. They may be arranged according to a different scale, — and certain shades and accompaniments — may be more or less indispensable; but the qualities in a poem that give most pleasure to the refined and fastidious critic, are in substance, we believe, the very same that delight the most injudicious of its admirers: — and the very wide difference which exists between their usual estimates, may be in a great degree accounted for, by considering, that the one judges absolutely, and the other relatively — that the one attends only to the intrinsic qualities of the work, while the other refers more immediately to the merit of the author. The most popular passages in popular poetry, are in fact, for the most part, very beautiful and striking; yet they are very often such passages as could never be ventured on by any writer who aimed at the praise of the judicious; and, this for the obvious reason, that they are trite and hackneyed, — that they have been repeated till they have lost all grace and propriety, — and, instead of exalting the imagination with the impression of original genius or creative fancy, they only nauseate and offend, by the association of paltry plagiarism and impudent inanity. It is only, however, on those who have read and remembered the original passages, and their better imitations, that this effect is produced. To the ignorant and the careless, the twentieth imitation has all the charm of an original; and that which oppresses the more experienced reader with weariness and disgust, rouses them with all the force and vivacity of novelty. It is not, then, because the ornaments of popular poetry are deficient in intrinsic worth and beauty, that they are slighted by the critical reader, but because at once recognises them to be stolen, and perceives that they are arranged without taste or congruity. In his indignation at the dishonesty, and his contempt for the poverty of the collector, he overlooks altogether the value of what he has collected, or remembers it only as an aggravation of his offence, — as converting larceny into sacrilege, and adding the guilt of profanation to the folly of unsuitable finery. There are other features, no doubt, that distinguish the idols of vulgar admiration from the beautiful exemplars of pure taste; but this is so much the most characteristic and remarkable, that we know no way in which we could so shortly describe the poetry that pleases the multitude, and displeases the select few, as by saying that it consisted of all the most known and most brilliant parts of the most celebrated authors of a splendid and unmeaning accumulation of those images and phrases which had long charmed every reader in the works of their original inventors.
The justice of these remarks will probably beat once admitted by all who have attended to the history and effects of what maybe called poetical diction in general, or even of such particular phrases and epithets as have been indebted to their beauty for too great a notoriety. Our associations with all this class of expressions, which have become trite only in consequence of their intrinsic excellence, now suggest to us no ideas but those of school-boy imbecility and childish affectation. We look upon them merely as the common, hired, and tawdry trappings of all who wish to put on, for the hour, the masquerade habit of poetry; and, instead of receiving from them any kind of delight or emotion, do not even distinguish or attend to the signification of the words of which they consist. The ear is so palled with their repetition, and so accustomed to meet with them as the habitual expletives of the lowest class of versifiers, that they come at last to pass over it without exciting any sort of conception whatever, and are not even so much attended to as to expose their most gross incoherence or inconsistency to detection. It is of this quality that Swift has availed himself in so remarkable a manner, in his famous "Song by a person of quality," which consists entirely in a selection of some of the most trite and well-sounding phrases and epithets in the poetical lexicon, strung together without any kind of meaning or consistency, and yet so disposed, as to have been perused, perhaps by one half of their readers, without any suspicion of the deception. Most of those phrases, however, which had thus become sickening, and almost insignificant, to the intelligent readers of poetry in the days of Queen Anne are in themselves beautiful and expressive, and, no doubt, retain much of their native grace in those ears that have not been alienated by their repetition.
But it is not merely from the use of much excellent diction, that a modern poet is thus debarred by the lavishness of his predecessors. There is a certain range of subjects and characters, and a certain manner and tone, which were probably, in their origin, as graceful and attractive, which have been proscribed by the same dread of imitation. It would be to long to enter, in this place, into any detailed examination of the peculiarities — originating chiefly in this source — which distinguish antient from modern poetry. It may be enough just to remark, that, as the elements of poetical emotion are necessarily limited, so it was natural for those who first sought to excite it, to avail themselves of these subjects, situations, and images that were most obviously calculated to produce that effect, and to assist them by the use of all those aggravating circumstances that most readily occurred as likely to heighten their operation. In this way, they got possession of all the choice materials of their art; and working without fear of comparisons, fell naturally into a free and graceful style of execution, at the same time that the profusion of their resources made them somewhat careless and inexpert in their application. After poets were in a very different situation. They could neither take the most natural and general topics of interest, nor treat them with the ease and indifference of these who had the whole store at their command — because this was precisely what had been already done by those who had gone before them; and they were therefore put upon various expedients for attaining their object, and yet preserving their claim to originality. Some of them set themselves to observe and delineate both characters and external objects with greater minuteness and fidelity, — and others to analyze more carefully the mingling passions of the heart, and to feed and cherish a more limited train of emotion through a longer and more artful career, — while a third sort distorted both nature and passion according to some fantastical theory of their own, or took such a narrow corner of each, and dissected it with such curious and microscopic accuracy, that its original form was no longer discernible by the eyes of the uninstructed. In this way we think that modern poetry has both been enriched with more exquisite pictures, and deeper and more sustained strains of pathetic, than were known to the less elaborate artists of antiquity; at the same time that it has been defaced with more affectation, and loaded with far more intricacy. But whether they failed or succeeded, — and whether they distinguished themselves from their predecessors by faults or by excellences, the later poets, we conceive, must be admitted to have almost always written in a more constrained and narrow manner than their originals, and to have departed farther from what was obvious, easy and natural. Modern poetry, in this respect, may he compared, perhaps, without any great impropriety, to modern sculpture. It is greatly inferior to the antient in freedom, grace and simplicity; but, in return, possesses a more decided expression, and more fine finishing of less suitable embellishments.
Whatever may be gained or lost, however, by this change of manner, it is obvious, that poetry must become less popular by means of it. The most natural and obvious manner, is always the most taking; — and whatever costs the author much pains and labour, is usually found to require a corresponding effort on the part of the reader, which all readers are not disposed to make. That they who seek to be original by means of affectation, should revolt more by their affectation than they attract by their originality, is just and natural; but even the nobler devices that win the suffrages of the judicious by their intrinsic beauty, as well as their novelty, are extremely apt to repel the multitude, and to obstruct the popularity of some of the most exquisite productions of genius. The beautiful but minute delineations of such admirable observers as Crabbe or Cowper, are apt to appear tedious to those who take no interest in their subjects, and no concern about their art; — and the refined, deep and sustained pathetic of Campbell, is still more apt to be mistaken for monotony and languor, by those who are either devoid of sensibility, or impatient of quiet reflection. The most popular style undoubtedly is that which has great variety and brilliancy, rather than exquisite finish in its images and descriptions; and which touches lightly on many passions, without raising any so high as to transcend the comprehension of ordinary mortals — or dwelling on it so long as to exhaust their patience.
Whether Mr. Scott holds the same opinion with us upon these matters, and has intentionally conformed his practice to this theory, — or whether the peculiarities in his compositions have been produced merely by following out the natural bent of his genius, we do not presume to determine: but, that he has actually made use of all our recipes for popularity, we think very evident; and conceive, that few things are more curious than the singular skill, or good fortune, with which he has reconciled his claims on the favour of the multitude, with his pretensions to more select admiration. Confident in the force and originality of his own genius, he has not been afraid to avail himself of common-places both of diction and of sentiment, whenever they appeared to be beautiful or impressive, — using them however, at all times, with the skill and spirit of an inventor: and quite certain that he could not be mistaken for a plagiarist or imitator, he has made free use of that great treasury of characters, images and expressions, which had been accumulated by the most celebrated of his predecessors; at the same time that the rapidity of his transitions, the novelty of his combinations, and the spirit and variety of his own thoughts and inventions, show plainly that he was borrower from any thing but poverty, and took only what he could have given if he had been born in an earlier generation. The great secret of his popularity, however and the leading characteristic of his poetry, appear to us to consist evidently in this, that he has made more use of common topics, images and expressions, than any original poet of later times; and, at the same time, displayed more genius and originality than any recent author who has worked in the same materials. By the latter peculiarity, he has entitled himself to the admiration of every description of readers; — by the former, he is recommended in an especial manner to the inexperienced, at the hazard of some little offence to the more cultivated and fastidious.
In the choice of his subjects, for example, he does not attempt to interest merely by fine observation or pathetic sentiment, but takes the assistance of a story, and enlists the reader's curiosity among his motives for attention. Then his characters are all selected from the most common "dramatis personae" of poetry; — Kings, warriors, knights, outlaws, nuns, minstrels, secluded damsels, wizards, and true lovers. He never ventures to carry us into the cottage of the peasant, like Crabbe or Cowper; nor into the bosom of domestic privacy, like Campbell; nor among creatures of the imagination, like Southey or Darwin. Such personages, we readily admit, are not in themselves so interesting or striking as those to whom Mr. Scott has devoted himself; but they are far less familiar in poetry — and are therefore more likely, perhaps, to engage the attention of those to whom poetry is familiar. In the management of the passions, again, Mr. Scott appears to us to have pursued the same popular, and comparatively easy course. He has raised all the most familiar and poetical emotions, by the most obvious aggravations, and in the most compendious and judicious way. He has dazzled the reader with the splendour, and even warmed him with the transient beat of various affections; but he has nowhere fairly kindled him with enthusiasm, or melted him into tenderness. Writing for the world at large, he has wisely abstained from attempting to raise any passion to a height to which worldly people could not be transported; and contented himself with giving his reader the chance of feeling, as a brave, kind and affectionate gentleman should often feel in the ordinary course of his existence, without trying to breathe into him either that lofty enthusiasm which disdains the ordinary business and amusements of life, or that quiet and deep sensibility which unfits for all its pursuits. With regard to diction and imagery, too, it is quite obvious that Mr. Scott has not aimed at writing either in a pure or a very consistent style. He seems to have been anxious only to strike, and to be easily and universally understood; and, for this purpose, to have culled the most glittering and conspicuous expressions of the most popular authors, and to have interwoven them in splendid confusion with his own nervous diction and irregular versification. Indifferent whether he coins or borrows, and drawing with equal freedom on his memory and his imagination, he goes boldly forward, in full reliance on a never-failing abundance and dazzles, with his richness and variety, even those who are most apt to be offended with his glare and irregularity. There is nothing, in Mr. Scott, of the severe and majestic style of Milton — or of the terse and fine composition of Pope — or of the elaborate elegance and melody of Campbell — or even of the flowing and redundant diction of Southey. — But there is a medley of bright images and glowing words, set carelessly and loosely together — a diction, tinged successively with the careless richness of Shakespeare, the harshness and antique simplicity of the old romances, the homeliness of vulgar ballads and anecdotes, and the sentimental glitter of the most modern poetry, — passing from the borders of the ludicrous to those of the sublime — alternately minute and energetic — sometimes artificial, and frequently negligent — but always full of spirit and vivacity, — abounding in images, that are striking, at first sight, to minds of every contexture — and never expressing a sentiment which it can cost the most ordinary reader an exertion to comprehend.
Such seem to be the leading qualities that have contributed to Mr. Scott's popularity and, as some of them are obviously of a kind to diminish his merit in the eyes of more fastidious judges, it is but fair to complete this view of his peculiarities by a hasty notice of such of them as entitle him to unqualified admiration — and here it is impossible not to be struck with that vivifying spirit of strength and animation which pervades all the inequalities of his composition, and keeps constantly on the mind of the reader the impression of great power, spirit and intrepidity. There is nothing cold, creeping or feeble, in all Mr. Scott's poetry; — no laborious littleness, or puling classical affectation. He has his failures, indeed, like other people; but he always attempts vigorously; and never fails in his immediate object, without accomplishing something far beyond the reach of an ordinary writer. Even when he wanders from the paths of pure taste, he leaves behind him the footsteps of a powerful genius; and moulds the most humble of his materials into a form worthy of a nobler substance. Allied to this inherent vigour and animation, and in a great degree derived from it, is that air of facility and freedom which adds so peculiar a grace to most of Mr. Scott's compositions. There is certainly no living poet whose works seem to come from him with so much ease, or who so seldom appears to labour, even in the most burdensome parts of his performance. He seems, indeed, never to think, either of himself or his reader, but to be completely identified and lost in the personage with whom he is occupied; and the attention of the reader is consequently either transferred, unbroken, to their adventures, or, if it glance back for a moment to the author, it is only to think how much more might be done, by putting forth that strength at full, which has, without effort, accomplished so many wonders. It is owing partly to these qualities, and partly to the great variety of his style, that Mr. Scott is much less frequently tedious than any other bulky poet with whom we are acquainted. His store of images is so copious, that he never dwells upon one long enough to produce weariness in the reader; and, even where he deals in borrowed or in tawdry wares, the rapidity of his transitions and the transient glance with which he is satisfied as to each leave the critic no time to be offended, and hurry him forward along with the multitude, enchanted with the brilliancy of the exhibition. Thus, the very frequency of his deviations from pure taste, comes, in some sort, to constitute their apology; and the profusion and variety of his faults to afford a new proof of his genius.
These, we think, are the general characteristics of Mr. Scott's poetry. Among his minor peculiarities we might notice his singular talent for description, and especially for the description of scenes abounding in motion or action of any kind. In this department, indeed, we conceive him to be almost without a rival, either among modern or antient poets; and the character and process of his descriptions are as extraordinary as their effect is astonishing. He places before the eyes of his readers a more distinct and complete picture, perhaps than any other artist ever presented by mere words; and yet he does not enumerate all the visible parts of the subject with any degree of minuteness, nor confine himself by any means to what is visible. The singular merit of his delineations, on the contrary, consists in this, that, with a few bold and abrupt strokes, he finishes a most spirited outline, — and then instantly kindles it by the sudden light and colour of some moral affection. There are none of his fine descriptions accordingly, which do not derive a great part of their clearness and picturesque effect, as well as their interest, from the quantity of character and moral expression which is thus blended with their details, and which, so far from interrupting the conception of the external object, very powerfully stimulate the fancy of the reader to complete it; and give a grace and a spirit to the whole representation, of which we do not know where to look for any other example.
Another very striking peculiarity in Mr. Scott's poetry, is the air of freedom and nature which he has contrived to impart to most of his distinguished characters; and with which no poet more modern than Shakespeare has ventured to represent personages of such dignity. We do not allude here merely to the genuine familiarity and homeliness of many of his scenes and dialogues, but to that air of gaiety and playfulness in which persons of high rank seem, from time immemorial, to have thought it necessary to array, not their courtesy only, but their generosity and their hostility. This tone of good society, Mr. Scott has shed over his higher characters with great grace and effect; and has, in this way, not only made his representations much more faithful and true to nature, but has very agreeably relieved the monotony of that tragic solemnity which ordinary writers appear to think indispensable to the dignity of poetical heroes and heroines. We are not sure, however, whether he has not occasionally exceeded a little in the use of this ornament; and given, now and then, too coquetish and trifling a tone to discussions of great interest.
Mr. Scott has many other characteristic excellences; but we have already detained our readers too long with this imperfect sketch of his poetical character, and must proceed, without further delay, to give them some account of the work which is before us. Of this, upon the whole, we are inclined to think more highly than of either of his former publications. We are more sure, however, that it has fewer faults, than that it has greater beauties; and as its beauties bear a strong resemblance to those with which the public has already been made familiar in these celebrated works, we should not be surprised if its popularity were less splendid and remarkable. For our own parts, however, we are of opinion, that it will be oftener read hereafter than either of them; and that, if it had appeared first in the series, their reception would have been less favourable than that which it has experienced. It is more polished in its diction, and more regular in its versification; the story is constructed with infinitely more skill and address; there is a greater proportion of pleasing and tender passages, with much less antiquarian detail; and, on the whole, a larger variety of characters, more artfully and judiciously contrasted. There is nothing so fine, perhaps, as the battle in Marmion — or so picturesque as some of the scattered sketches in the Lay; but there is a richness and a spirit in the whole piece, which does not pervade either of these poems, — a profusion of incident, and shifting brilliancy of colouring, that reminds us of the witchery of Ariosto, — and a constant elasticity, and occasional energy, which seem to belong more peculiarly to the author now before us.
It may appear superfluous, perhaps, for us to present our readers with any analysis of a work, which is probably, by this time, in the hands of as many persons as are likely to see our account of it. As these, however, may not be the same persons, and as, without making some such abstract, we could not easily render the few remarks we have to offer intelligible, we shall take the liberty of beginning with a short summary of the fable.
The first canto, which is entitled the Chase, begins with a pretty long description of a stag hunt in the Highlands of Perthshire. As the chase lengthens, the sportsmen drop off; till at last the foremost huntsman is left alone; and his horse, overcome with fatigue, stumbles and dies in a rocky valley. The adventurer pursues a little wild path, through a deep ravine; and at last, climbing up a craggy eminence, discovers, by the light of the evening sun, Loch-Katrine, with all its woody islands and rocky shores, spread out in glory before him. After gazing with admiration on this beautiful scene, which is described with greater spirit than accuracy, the huntsman sounds his horn, in the hope of being heard by some of his attendants, and sees, to his infinite surprise, a little skiff, guided by a lovely woman, glide from beneath the trees that overhang the water, and approach the shore at his feet. The lady calls to her father; and, upon the stranger's approach, pushes her shallop from the shore in alarm. After holding a short parley with him, however, from the water, she takes him into the boat, and carries him into a woody island, where she leads him into a sort of sylvan mansion, rudely constructed of trunks of trees, moss and thatch, and hung round, within, with trophies of war, and of the chase. An elderly lady is introduced at supper and the stranger, after disclosing him to be "'James Fitz-James, the knight of Snowdoun," tries in vain to discover the name and history of the ladies, whose manners discover them to be of high rank and quality. He then retires to sleep, and is disturbed with distressful visions, rises and tranquillizes himself, by locking on the lovely moon-light landscape, — says his prayers, and sleeps till the heathcock crows on the mountains behind him; — and thus closes the first canto.
The second opens with a fine picture of the aged harper, Allan-bane sitting on the island beach with the damsel, watching the skiff which carries the stranger back again to land. The minstrel sings a sweet song; and a conversation ensues, from which the reader gathers, that the lady is a daughter of the house of Douglas, and that her father, having been exiled by royal displeasure from the court, had been fain to accept of this asylum from Sir Roderick Dhu, a Highland chieftain, who had long been outlawed for deeds of blood, but still maintained his feudal sovereignty in the fastnesses of his native mountains. It appears also, that this dark chief is in love with his fair protege, but that her affections are engaged to Malcolm Graeme, a younger and more amiable mountaineer, the companion and guide of her father in his hunting excursions. As they are engaged in this discourse, the round of distant music is heard on the lake; and the barges of Sir Roderick are discovered proceeding in triumph to the island. Her mother calls Ellen to go down with her to receive him; but she, hearing her father's horn at that instant on the opposite shore, flies to meet him and Malcolm Graeme, who is received with cold and stately civility by the lord of the isle. After some time, Sir Roderick informs the Douglas, that his retreat has been discovered by the royal spies, and that he has great reason to believe that the King, (James V.), who, under pretence of hunting, had assembled a large force in the neighbourhood, was bent upon their destruction. He then proposes, somewhat impetuously, that they should unite their fortunes indissolubly by his marriage with Ellen, and rouse the whole Western Highlands to repress the invasion. The Douglas, with many expressions of gratitude, declines both the war and the alliance; and, intimating that his daughter has repugnances which she cannot overcome, and that he, though ungratefully used by his sovereign, will never lift his arm against him, declares that he will retire to a cave in the neighbouring mountains, till the issue of the threat is seen. The strong heart of Roderick is wrung with agony at this rejection; and, when Malcolm advances to offer his services, as Ellen rises to retire, he pushes him violently hack; and a scuffle ensues, of no very dignified character, which is with difficulty appeased by the giant arm of Douglas. Malcolm then withdraws in proud resentment; and, refusing to be indebted to the surly chief even for the use of his boat, plunges into the water, and swims over by moonlight to the mainland; — and, with the description of this feat, the second canto concludes.
The third canto, which is entitled "The Gathering," opens with a long and rather tedious account of the ceremonies employed by Sir Roderick, in preparing for the summoning or Gathering of his clan. This is accomplished by the consecration of a small wooden cross, which, with its point scorched and dipped in blood, is circulated with incredible celerity through the whole territory of the chieftain. The eager fidelity with which this fatal signal is hurried on and obeyed, is represented with great spirit and felicity — a youth starts from the side of his father's coffin, to bear it forward; — and having run his stage, delivers it into the hands of a young bridegroom returning from church, who instantly binds his plaid around him, and rushes onward from his bride. In the mean time, Douglas and his daughter had taken refuge in the mountain cave; and Sir Roderick, passing near their retreat in his way to the muster, hears Ellen's voice singing her evening hymn to the Virgin. He does not obtrude on her devotions, but hurries to the place of rendezvous, where his clan receive him with a shout of acclamation, and then couch on the bare heath for the night. This terminates the third canto.
The fourth begins with more incantations. Some absurd and disgusting ceremonies are gone through by a wild hermit of the clan, with a view to ascertain the issue of the impending war; — and this oracular response is obtained, — "that the party shall prevail which first sheds the blood of its adversary." We are then introduced to the minstrel and Ellen, whom he strives to comfort for the alarming disappearance of her father, by singing a long fairy ballad to her; and just as the song is ended, the knight of Snowdoun appears before her, declares his love, and urges her to put herself under his protection. Ellen, alarmed, throws herself on his generosity — confesses her attachment to Graeme, and with difficulty prevails on him to seek his own safety by a speedy retreat from those dangerous confines. The gallant stranger at last complies; but, before he goes, presents her with a ring, which he says he had received at the hand of King James, with a promise to grant any boon that should be asked after producing it. As he is pursuing his way through the wild, his suspicions are excited by the conduct of his guide, and confirmed by the musical warnings of a mad woman, who sings to him about the toils that are set, and the knives that are whetted against him. He then threatens his false guide, who discharges an arrow at him, which kills the maniac. The knight slays the murderer; and, learning from the expiring victim that her brain had been turned by the cruelty of Sir Roderick, he vows vengeance on his head; and proceeds with grief and apprehension along his dangerous way. When chilled with the midnight cold, and exhausted with want and fatigue, he suddenly comes upon a chief reposing by a lonely watch-fire; and, though challenged in the name of Roderick Dhu, boldly avows himself his enemy. The clansman, however, disdains to take advantage of a worn-out wanderer, and pledges himself to escort him safe out of Sir Roderick's territory; after which, he tells him he must answer with his sword for the defiance he had uttered against the chieftain. The stranger accepts his courtesy upon these chivalrous terms; and the warriors sup and sleep together on the plaid of the mountaineer.
They rouse themselves by dawn, at the opening of the fifth canto, entitled "The Combat," and proceed towards the Lowland frontier; the Highland warrior seeking, by the way, at once to vindicate the character of Sir Roderick, and to justify the predatory habits of his clan. Fitz-James expresses freely his detestation of both; and the dispute growing warm, he says, that never lover longed so to see the lady of his heart, as he to see before him this murderous chief and his myrmidons. "Have then thy wish," answers his guide; and giving a loud whistle, a whole legion of armed men start up at once from their mountain ambush in the heath; while the chief turns proudly, and says, Those are the warriors of Clan-Alpine-and "I am Roderick Dhu!" — The Lowland knight, though startled, repeats his defiance and Sir Roderick, respecting his valour, by a signal dismisses his men to their concealment, and assures him anew of his safety till they pass his frontier. Arrived on this equal ground, the chief now demands satisfaction, and forces the knight, who tries all honourable means of avoiding the combat with so generous an adversary, to stand upon his defence. Roderick, after a tough combat, is laid wounded on the ground; and Fitz-James, sounding his bugle, brings four squires to his side; and after giving the wounded chief into their charge, gallops rapidly on towards Stirling. As he ascends the hill to the castle, he descries the giant form of Douglas approaching to the same place; and the reader is then told, that this generous lord had taken the resolution of delivering himself up voluntarily, with a view so save Malcolm Graeme, and if possible Sir Roderick also, from the impending danger. As he draws near to the castle, he sees the King and his train descending to grace the holiday sports of the commonalty, and resolves to mingle in them, and present himself to the eve of his alienated sovereign as victor in whose humbler contentions. He wins the prize accordingly, in archery, wrestling, and pitching the bar; and receives his reward from the hand of the prince, who does not condescend to recognise his former favourite by one glance of affection. Roused at last by an insult from one of the royal grooms, he proclaims himself aloud, is ordered into custody by the King, and represses a tumult of the populace which is excited for his rescue. At this instant a messenger arrives with tidings of mo approaching battle between the clan of Roderick and the King's lieutenant, the Earl of Moray; and is ordered back to prevent the combat, by announcing that both Sir Roderick and Lord Douglas are in the hands of their sovereign.
The sixth and last canto, entitled "The Guard-Room," opens with a very animated description of the motley mercenaries that formed the royal guard, as they appeared at early dawn, after a night of stern debauch. While they are quarrelling and singing, the centinels introduce an old minstrel and a veiled maiden, who had been forwarded by Mar to the royal presence; and Ellen, disclosing her countenance, awes the ruffian soldiery into respect and pity by her grace and liberality. She is then conducted to a more seemly waiting-place, till the king should be visible and Allan-bane, asking to be conducted to the prison of his captive lord, is led, by mistake, to the sick-chamber of Roderick Dhu, who is dying of his wounds in a gloomy apartment in the castle. The high-souled chieftain inquires eagerly after the fortunes of his clan, the Douglas, and Ellen; and, when he learns that a battle had been fought with doubtful success, entreats the minstrel to sooth his parting spirit with a description of it, and with the victory song of his clan. Allan-bane complies; and the battle is told in very animated and irregular verse. When the vehement strain is closed, Roderick is found cold; and Allan mourns him in a pathetic lament. In the mean time, Ellen hears the voice of Malcolm Graeme lamenting his captivity from an adjoining turret of the palace, and, before she has recovered from her agitation, is startled by the appearance of Fitz-James, who comes to inform her that the court is assembled, and the king at leisure to receive her suit. He conducts her trembling steps to the hall of presence, round which Ellen casts a timid and eager glance for the monarch; but all the glittering figures are uncovered, and James Fitz-James alone wears his cap and plume in the brilliant assembly! The truth immediately rushes on her imagination: — the knight of Snowdoun is the king of Scotland! and, struck with awe and terror, she falls speechless at his feet, clasping her hands, and pointing to the ring in breathless agitation. The prince raises her with eager kindness — declares aloud that her father is forgiven, and restored to favour — and bids her ask a boon for some other person. The name of Graeme trembles on her lips; but she cannot trust herself to utter it, and begs the grace of Roderick Dhu. The king answers, that he would give his best earldom to restore him to life, and presses her to name some other boon. She blushes, and hesitates; and the king, in playful vengeance, condemns Malcolm Graeme to fetters, — takes a chain of gold from his own neck, and, throwing it over that of the young chief, puts the clasp into the hand of Ellen.
Such is the brief and naked outline of the story which Mr. Scott has embellished with such exquisite imagery, and enlarged by so many characteristic incidents, as to have rendered it one of the most attractive poems in the language. That the story, upon the whole, is well digested and happily carried on, is evident from the hold it keeps of the reader's attention through every part of its progress. It has the fault, indeed, of all stories that turn upon an anagnorisis or recognition, that the curiosity which is excited during the first reading, is extinguished for ever when we arrive at the discovery. This, however, is an objection which may be made, in some degree, to almost every story of interest; and we must say for Mr. Scott, that his secret is very discreetly kept, and very felicitously revealed. If we were to scrutinize the fable with malicious severity, we might also remark, that Malcolm Graeme has too insignificant a part assigned him, considering the favour in which he is held both by Ellen and the author; and that, in bringing out the shaded and imperfect character of Roderick Dhu, as a contrast to the purer virtue of his rival, Mr. Scott seems to have fallen into the common error, of making him more interesting than him whose virtues he was intended to set off, and converted the villain of the piece in some measure into its hero. A modern poet, however, may perhaps be pardoned for an error, of which Milton himself is thought not to have kept clear, and for which there seems so natural a cause, in the difference between poetical and amiable characters. There are several improbabilities, too, in the story, which might disturb a scrupulous reader. Allowing that the king of Scotland might have twice disappeared for several days, without exciting any disturbance or alarm in his courtiers, it is certainly rather extraordinary, that neither the Lady Margaret, nor old Allan-bane, nor any of the attendants at the isle, should have recognized his person; and almost as wonderful, that he should have found any difficulty in discovering the family of his entertainer. There is something rather awkward, too, in the sort of blunder or misunderstanding (for it is no more) which gives occasion to Sir Roderick's Gathering and all its consequences; nor can any machinery be conceived more clumsy for effecting the deliverance of a distressed hero, than the introduction of a mad woman, who, without knowing or caring about the wanderer, warns him, by a song, to take care of the ambush that was set for him. The maniacs of poetry have indeed had a prescriptive right to be musical, since the days of Ophelia downwards; but it is rather a rash extension of this privilege to make them sing good sense, and to make sensible people he guided by them.
Before taking leave of the fable, we must be permitted to express our disappointment and regret at finding the general cast of the characters and incidents so much akin to those of Mr. Scott's former publications. When we heard that the author of the Lay and of Marmion was employed upon a Highland story, we certainly expected to be introduced to a new creation, and to bid farewell, for awhile, to knights, squires, courtiers, and chivalry; — but here they are all upon us again, in their old characters, and nearly in their old costume. The same age — the same sovereign — the same manners — the same ranks of society — the same tone, both for courtesy and for defiance. Loch-Katrine, indeed, is more picturesque than St. Mary's Loch; and Roderick Dhu and his clan have some features of novelty; — but the Douglas and the King are the leading personages; and the whole interest of the story turns upon persons and events having precisely the same character and general aspect with those which gave their peculiar colour to the former poems. It is honourable to Mr. Scott's genius, no doubt, that he has been able to interest the public so deeply with this third presentment of the same chivalrous scenes; but we cannot help thinking, that both his glory and our gratification would have been greater, if he had changed his hand more completely, and actually given us a true Celtic story, with all its drapery and accompaniments in a corresponding style of decoration.
Such a subject, we are persuaded, has very great capabilities, and only wants to be introduced to public notice by such a hand as Mr. Scott's, to make a still more powerful impression than he has already effected by the resurrection of the tales of romance. There are few persons, we believe, of any degree of poetical susceptibility, who have wandered among the secluded vallies of the Highlands, and contemplated the singular people by whom they are still tenanted — with their love of music and of song — their hardy and irregular life, so unlike the unvarying toils of the Saxon mechanic — their devotion to their chiefs — their wild and lofty traditions — their national enthusiasm — the melancholy grandeur of the scenes they inhabit — and the multiplied superstitions which still linger among them, — without feeling, that there is no existing people so well adapted for the purposes of poetry, or so capable of furnishing the occasions of new and striking inventions. The great and continued popularity of Macpherson's Ossian, (though discredited as a memorial of antiquity, at least as much as is warranted by any evidence mow before the public), proves how very fascinating a fabric might be raised upon that foundation by a more powerful or judicious hand. The celebrated translation, though defaced with the most childish and disgusting affectations, still charms with occasional gleams of a tenderness beyond all other tenderness, and a sublimity of a new character of dreariness and elevation; and, though patched with pieces of the most offensive plagiarism, still maintains a tone of originality which has recommended it in every nation of the civilized world. The cultivated literati of England, indeed, are struck with the affectation and the plagiarism, and renounce the whole work as tawdry and fictitious; but the vulgar at home, and almost all classes of readers, abroad, to whom those defects are less perceptible, still continue to admire; and few of our classical poets have so sure and regular a sale, both in our own and in other languages, as the singular collection to which we have just alluded. A great part of its charm, we think, consists in the novelty of its Celtic characters and scenery, and their singular aptitude for poetic combinations; and therefore it is that we are persuaded that if Mr. Scott's powerful and creative genius were to be turned in good earnest to such a subject, something might be produced still more impressive and original than even this age has yet witnessed.
It is now time, however, that we should lay before our readers some of the passages in the present poem which appear to us most characteristic of the peculiar genius of the author; — and the first that strikes us, in turning over the leaves, is the following fine description of Sir Roderick's approach to the isle, as descried by the aged minstrel, at the close of his conversation with Ellen. The moving picture — the effect of the sounds — and the wild character and strong peculiar nationality of the whole procession, are given with inimitable spirit and power of expression.
—But hark, what sounds are these?
My dull ears catch no faltering breeze,
No weeping birch, nor aspens wake,
Nor breath is dimpling in the lake
Still is the canna's hoary beard,
Yet, by my minstrel faith, I heard—
And hark again some pipe of war
Sends the bold pibroch from afar.—
Far up the lengthened lake were spied
Four darkening specks upon the tide,
That, slow enlarging on the view,
Four manned and masted barges grew,
And bearing downwards from Glengyle.
Steered full upon the lonely isle
The point of Brianchoil they passed,
And, to the windward as they cast,
Against the sun they gave to shine
The bold Sir Roderick's bannered Pine.
Nearer and nearer as they bear,
Spears, pikes, and axes flash in air.
Now might you see the tartans brave,
And plaids and plumage dance and wave:
Now see the bonnets sink and rise,
As his tough oar the rower plies;
See, dashing at each sturdy stroke,
The wave ascending into smoke;
See the proud pipers on the bow,
And mark the gaudy streamers flow
From their loud chanters down, and sweep
The furrowed bosom of the deep,
As, rushing through the lake amain,
They plied the ancient Highland strain.
Ever, as on they bore, more loud
And louder rung the pibroch proud.
At first the sounds, by distance tame,
Mellowed along the waters came,
And, lingering long by cape and bay
Wailed every harsher note away
Then, bursting bolder on the ear,
The Clan's shrill Gathering they could hear;
Those thrilling sounds, that call the might
Of old Clan-alpine to the fight.
Thick beat the rapid notes, as when
The mustering hundreds shake the glen
And, hurrying at the signal dread,
The battered earth returns their tread.
Then prelude light, of livelier tone,
Expressed their merry marching on,
Ere peal of closing battle rose,
With mingled outcry, shrieks and blows
And mimic din of stroke and ward,
As broad-sword upon target jarred;
And groaning pause, ere yet again,
Condensed, the battle yelled amain;
The rapid charge, the rallying shout,
Retreat borne headlong into rout,
And bursts of triumph, to declare
Clan-Alpine's conquest — all were there.
Nor ended thus the strain; but slow,
Sunk in a moan prolonged and low,
And changed the conquering clarion swell
For wild lament o'er those that fell.
The war-pipes ceased; but lake and hill
Were busy with their echoes still;
And, when they slept, a vocal strain
Bade their hoarse chorus wake again,
While loud an hundred clans-men raise
Their voices in their Chieftain's praise.
Each boat-man, bending to his oar,
With measured sweep the burthen bore,
In such wild cadence, as the breeze
Makes through December's leafless trees.
The chorus first could Allan know,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine, ho! iro!"
And near, and nearer as they, rowed,
Distinct the martial ditty flowed.
Hail to the chief who in triumph advances
Honoured and blessed be the ever-green Pine!
Long may the Tree in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!—
Ours is no sapling, chance-sown by the fountain,
Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade;
When the whirlwind has stripped every leaf on the mountain.
The more shall Clan-Alpine exult in her shade.
Moored in the rifted rock,
Proof to the tempest's shock,
Firmer he roots him the ruder it blow;
Menteith and Breadalbane, then,
Echo his praise agen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! iero!"
Row, vassals, row, for the pride of the Highlands!
Stretch to your oars, for the ever-green Pine!
O! that the rose-bud that graces you islands,
Were wreathed in a garland around him to twine!
O! that some seedling gem,
Worthy such noble stem,
Honoured and blessed in their shadow might grow
Loud should Clan-Alpine then
Ring from her decpmost glen,
"Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu, ho! ieroe!" p. 65-71.
The reader may take next the following general sketch Loch-Katrine.
One burnish'd sheet of living gold,
Loch-Katrine lay beneath him rolled;
In all her length far winding lay,
With promontory, creek and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier light
And mountains, that like giants stand,
To centinel enchanted land.
High on the south, huge Benvenue
Down to the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls and mounds, confusedly hurled,
The fragments of an earlier world;
A wildering forest feathered o'er
His ruined sides and summit hoar,
While on the north, through middle air,
Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare. p. 18, 19.
The next is a more minute view of the same scenery in a summer dawn, — closed with a fine picture of its dark lord.
The summer dawn's reflected hue
To purple changed Loch-Katrine blue;
Mildly and soft the western breeze
Just kissed the lake, just stirred the trees,
And the pleased lake, like maiden coy,
Trembled but dimpled not for joy;
The mountain shadows on her breast
Were neither broken nor at rest;
In bright uncertainty they lie,
Like future joys to Fancy's eye.
The water lily to the light
Her chalice rear'd of silver bright;
The doe awoke, and to the lawn,
Begemmed with dew-drops, led her fawn;
The grey mist left the mountain side,
The torrent showed its glistening pride;
Invisible in flecked sky,
The lark sent down her revelry;
The black-bird and the speckled thrush
Good-morrow gave from brake and bush;
In answer cooed the cushat dove,
Her notes of peace, and rest, and love.
No thought of peace, no thought of rest,
Assuaged the storm in Roderick's breast.
With sheathed broad-sword in his hand,
Abrupt he paced the islet strand,
The shrinking band stood oft aghast
At the impatient glance he cast;—
Such glance the mountain eagle threw,
As, from the cliffs of Benvenue,
She spread her dark sails on the wind,
And, high in middle heaven reclined,
With her broad shadow on the lake,
Silenced the warblers of the brake. p. 98-100.
The following description of the starting of "the fiery cross," bears more marks of labour than most of Mr. Scott's poetry, and borders perhaps, upon straining and exaggeration; yet it shows great power.
Then Roderick, with impatient look,
From Brian's hand the symbol took:
"Speed, Malise, speed!" he said, and gave
The crosslet to his hench-man brave.
"The muster-place be Lanric mead—
Instant the time — speed, Malise, speed!"
Like a heath-bird, when the hawks pursue,
A barge across Loch-Katrine flew;
High stood the hench-man on the prow,
So rapidly the bargemen row,
The bubbles, where they launched the boat,
Were all unbroken and afloat,
Dancing in foam and ripple still,
When it had neared the mainland hill;
And from the silver beach's side
Still was the prow three fathom wide,
When lightly bounded to the land,
The messenger of blood and brand.
Speed, Malise, speed! the dun deer's hide
On fleeter foot was never tied.
Speed, Malise, speed! such cause of haste
Thine active sinews never braced.
Bend 'gainst the steepy hill thy breast,
Burst down like torrent from its crest;
With short and springing footstep pass
The trembling bog and false morass;
Across the brook like roe-buck bound,
And thread the brake like questing hound;
The crag is high, the scaur is deep,
Yet shrink not from the desperate leap;
Parched are thy burning lips and brow,
Yet by the fountain pass not now;
Herald of battle, fate, and fear,
Stretch onward in thy fleet career!
The wounded hind thou not now,
Pursuest not maid through greenwood bough,
Nor pliest thou now thy flying pace
With rivals in the mountain race;
But danger, death, and warrior deed,
Are in thy course — Speed, Malise, speed! p. 112-114.
The following reflections on an ancient field of battle, afford the most remarkable instance of false taste in all Mr. Scott's writings. Yet the brevity and variety of the images serve well to show, as we have formerly hinted, that even in his errors there are traces of a powerful genius.
—a dreary glen,
Where scattered lay the bones of men,
In some forgotten battle slain,
And bleached by drifting wind and rain.
It might have tamed a warrior's heart,
To view such mockery of his art:
The knot-grass fettered there the hand,
Which once could burst an iron band;
Beneath the broad and ample bone,
That bucklered heart to fear unknown,
A feeble and a timorous guest,
The field-fare framed her lowly nest;
There the slow blind-worm left his slime
On the fleet limbs that mocked at time;
And there, too, lay the leader's skull,
Still wreathed with chaplet flushed and full,
For heath-bell, with her purple bloom,
Supplied the bonnet and the plume. p.102, 103.
One of the most striking passages in the poem, certainly, is that in which Sir Roderick is represented as calling up his men suddenly from their ambush, when Fitz-James expressed his impatience to meet, face to face, that murderous chieftain and his clan.
Have, then, thy wish!" — He whistled shrill,
And he was answered from the hill;
Wild as the scream of the curlieu,
From crag to crag the signal flew.
Instant, through copse and heath, arose
Bonnets and spears and bended bows;
On right, on left, above, below,
Sprung up at once the lurking foe;
From shingles grey their lances start,
The bracken-bush sends forth the dart,
The rushes and the willow-wand
Are bristling into axe and brand,
And every tuft of broom gives life
To plaided warrior armed for strife,
That whistle garrison'd the glen
At once with full five hundred men,
As if the yawning hill to heaven
A subterranean host had given.
Watching their leader's beck and will,
All silent there they stood and still.
Like the loose crags whose threatening mass
Lay tottering o'er the hollow pass,
As if an infant's touch could urge
Their headlong passage down the verge,
With step and weapon forward flung,
Upon the mountain-side they hung.
The mountaineer cast glance of pride
Along Benledi's living side,
Then fixed his eye and sable brow
Full on Fitz-James — "How say'st thou now?
These are Clan-Alpine's Warriors true;
And, Saxon, — I am Roderick Dhu!"—
Fitz-James was brave: — Though to his heart
The life-blood thrilled with sudden start,
He mann'd himself with dauntless air,
Returned the Chief his haughty stare,
His back against a rock he bore,
And firmly placed his foot before:—
"Come one, come all this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I."
Sir Roderick marked — and in his eyes
Respect was mingled with surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foeman worthy of their steel.
Short space he stood — then waved his hand:
Down sunk the disappearing hand;
Each warrior vanished where he stood,
In broom or bracken, heath or wood;
Sunk brand and spear and bended bow,
In osiers pale and copses low
It seemed as if their mother Earth
Had swallowed up her warlike birth.
The wind's last breath had tossed in air,
Pennon, and plaid, and plumage fair,—
The next but swept a lone hill side,
Where heath and fern were waving wide;
The sun's last glance was glinted back,
From spear and glaive, from targe and jack,—
The next, all unreflected, shone
On bracken green, and cold grey stone. p. 202-205.
The following picture is of a very different character, and touched with the hand of a true poet.
Yet ere his onward way he took,
The Stranger cast a lingering look,
Where easily his eye might reach
The Harper on the islet beach,
Reclined against a blighted tree,
As wasted, grey, and worn as he.
To minstrel meditation given,
His reverend brow was raised to heaven,
As from the rising sun to claim
A sparkle of inspiring flame.
His hand, reclined upon the wire,
Seemed watching the awakening fire;
So still he sate, as those who wait
Till judgement speak the doom of fate:
So still, as if no breeze might dare
To lift one lock of hoary hair;
So still, as life itself were fled,
In the last sound his harp had sped.
Upon a rock with lichens wild,
Beside him Ellen state and smiled, &c. p. 50, 51.
The dream of the Stranger in the lonely island is marked with the same characters.
The hall was cleared — the Stranger's bed
Was there of mountain-heather spread,
Where oft an hundred guests had lain,
And dreamed their forest sports again.
But vainly did the heath-flower shed
Its moorland fragrance round his head;
Not Ellen's spell had lulled to rest
The fever of his troubled breast,
In broken dreams the image rose
Of varied perils, pains, and woes;
His steed now flounders in the brake,
Now sinks his barge upon the lake;
Now leader of a broken host,
His standard falls, his honour's lost.
Then — (from my couch may heavenly might
Chase that worst phantom of the night!)—
Again returned the scenes of youth,
Of confident undoubting truth;
Again his soul he interchanged
With friends whose hearts were long estranged
They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead;
As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday.
And doubt distracts him at the view,
O were his senses false or true!
Dreamed he of death or broken vow,
Or is it all a vision now!
At length, with Ellen in a grove,
He seemed to walk, and speak of love;
She listened with a blush and sigh,
His suit was warm, his hopes were high;
He sought her yielded hand to clasp,
And a cold gauntlet met his grasp:
The phantom's sex was changed and gone,
Upon its head a helmet shone;
Slowly enlarged to giant size,
With darkened check and threatening eye,
The grisly visage, stern and hoar,
To Ellen still a likeness bore. p. 40-42.
Though these extracts have already extended this article beyond all reasonable bounds, we must give Ellen's introduction to the court, and the transformation of Fitz-James into the King of Scotland. The unknown prince, it will be recollected, himself conducts her into the royal presence.
With beating heart, and bosom wrung,
As to a brother's arm she clung.
Gently he dried the falling tear,
And gently whispered hope and cheer;
Her faltering steps half led, half staid,
Through gallery fair and high arcade,
Till, at his touch, its wings of pride
A portal arch unfolded wide.
Within 'twas brilliant all and light,
A thronging scene of figures bright;
It glowed on Ellen's dazzled sight,
As when the setting sun has given
Ten thousand hues to summer even,
And, from their tissue, fancy frames
Aerial knights and fairy dames.
Still by Fitz-James her footing staid;
A few faint steps she forward made,
Then slow her drooping head she raised,
And fearful round the presence gazed;
For him she sought, who owned this state,
The dreaded prince whose will was fate!—
She gazed on many a princely port,
Might well have ruled a royal court;
On many a splendid garb she gazed,—
Then turned bewildered and amazed,
For all stood bare; and, in the room,
Fitz-James alone wore cap and plume,
To him each lady's look was lent,
On him each courtier's eye was bent
Midst furs and silks and jewels sheen,
He stood, in simple Lincoln green,
The centre of the glittering ring,—
And Snowdoun's Knight is Scotland's King!
As wreath of snow on mountain breast,
Slides from the rock that gave it rest,
Poor Ellen glided from her stay,
And at the Monarch's feet she lay;
No word her choaking voice commands,—
She showed the ring she clasped her hands.
O! not a moment could he brook,
The generous prince, that suppliant look
Gently he raised her, — and the while
Checked with a glance the circle's smile;
Graceful, but grave, her brow he kissed,
He bade her terrors be dismissed;—
"Yes, Fair; the wandering poor Fitz-James
The fealty of Scotland claims.
To him thy woes, thy wishes, bring;
He will redeem his signet ring, &c. p. 281-284.
We cannot resist adding the graceful winding up of the whole story.
"Malcolm, come forth!" — And at the word,
Down kneeled the Graeme to Scotland's Lord.
"For thee, rash youth, no suppliant sues,
From thee may Vengeance claim her dues,
Who, nurtured underneath our smile,
Hast paid our care by treacherous wile,
And sought, amid thy faithful clan,
A refuge for an outlawed man,
Dishonouring thus thy loyal name.
Fetters and warder for the Graeme!
His chain of gold the King unstrung,
The links o'er Malcolm's neck he flung,
Then gently drew the glittering band,
And laid the clasp on Ellen's hand. p. 283.
There are no separate introductions to the cantos of this poem; but each of them begins with one or two stanzas in the measure of Spenser, usually containing some reflections connected with the subject about to be entered on; and written, for the most part, with great tenderness and beauty. The following, we think, is among the most striking.
Time rolls his ceaseless course. The race of yore
Who danced our infancy upon their knee,
And told our marvelling boy-hood legends store,
Of their strange ventures happ'd by land or sea,
How are they blotted from the things that be!
How few, all weak and withered of their force,
Wait on the verge of dark eternity,
Like stranded wrecks, the tide returning hoarse,
To sweep them from our sight! Time rolls his ceaseless course.
Yet live there still who can remember well,
How, when a mountain chief his bugle blew, &c. p. 97-8.
There is an invocation to the Harp of the North, prefixed to the poem; and a farewell subjoined to it in the same measure, written and versified, it appears to us, with more than Mr. Scott's usual care. We give two of the three stanzas that compose the last.
Harp of the North, farewell! The hills grow dark,
On purple peaks a deeper shade descending:
In twilight copse the glow-worm lights her spark;
The deer, half-seen are to the covert wending,
Resume thy wizard elm! the fountain lending.
And the wild breeze, thy wilder minstrelsy;
Thy numbers sweet with Nature's vespers blending,
With distant echo from the fold and lea,
And herd-boy's evening pipe, and hum of housing bee.
Hark! as my lingering footsteps slow retire,
Some Spirit of the Air has waked thy string!
'Tis now a Seraph bold, with touch of fire;
'Tis now the brush of Fairy's frolic wing.
Receding now, the dying numbers ring
Fainter and fainter down the rugged dell,
And now the mountain breezes scarcely bring
A wandering witch-note of the distant spell—
And now, 'tis silent all! — Enchantress, fare thee well! p. 289, 290.
These passages, though taken with very little selection, are favourable specimens, we think on the whole, of the execution of the work before us. We had marked several of an opposite character; but, fortunately for Mr. Scott, we have already extracted so much, that we shall scarcely have room to take any notice of them; and must condense all our vituperation into a very insignificant compass. One or two things, however, we think it our duty to point out. Though great pains have evidently been taken with Brian the Hermit, we think his whole character a failure, and mere deformity, — hurting the interest of the story by its improbability, and rather heavy and disagreeable, than sublime or horrible in its details. The quarrel between Malcolm and Roderick, in the second canto, is also ungraceful and offensive. There is something foppish and out of character in Malcolm's rising to lead out Ellen from her own parlour; and the sort of wrestling match that takes place between the rival chieftains on the occasion, is humiliating, and indecorous. The greatest blemish in the poem, however, is the ribaldry and dull vulgarity which is put into the mouths of the soldiery in the guard-room. Mr. Scott has condescended to write a song for then, which will be read with pain, we are persuaded, even by his warmest admirers: and his whole genius, and even his power of versification, seems to desert him when he attempts to repeat their conversation. Here is some the stuff which has dropped, in this inauspicious attempt, from the pen of one of the first poets of his age or country.
"Old dost thou wax, and wars grow sharp;
Thou now hast glee-maiden and harp.
Get thee an ape, and trudge the land,
The leader of a juggler band."—
"No, comrade; — no such fortune mine,
After the fight, these sought our line,
That aged harper and the girl;
And having audience of the Earl,
Mar bade I should purvey them steed,
And bring them hitherward with speed.
Forbear your mirth and rude alarm,
For none shall do them shame or harm."—
"Hear ye his boast!" cried John of Brent,
Ever to strife and jangling bent,—
"Shall he strike doe beside our lodge,
And yet the jealous niggard grudge
To pay the forester his fee?
I'll have my share howe'er it be." p. 250, 251.
His Highland freebooters, indeed, do not use a much nobler style. For example—
"It is, because last evening-tide
Brian an augury hath tried,
Of that dread kind which must not be
Unless in dread extremity,
The Taghairm called; by which, afar,
Our sires foresaw the events of war.
Duncraggan's milk-white bull they slew,"—
"Ah! well the gallant brute I knew;
The choicest of the prey we had,
When swept our merry men Gailangad.
Sore did he cumber our retreat;
And kept our stoutest kernes in awe,
Even at the pass of Beal 'maha." p. 146, 147.
Scarcely more tolerable are such expressions as—
For life is Hugh of Larbert lame;—
or that unhappy couplet, where the king himself is in such distress for a rhyme, as to be obliged to apply to one of the most obscure Saints on the kalendar.
'Tis James of Douglas, by Saint Serle;
The uncle of the banish'd Earl.
We would object, too, to such an accumulation of strange words as occurs in these three lines.
Fleet foot on the correi;
Sage counsel in Cumber;
Red hand in the foray, &c.
Nor can we relish such babyish verses as
He will return: — dear lady, trust:
With joy, return. He will, — he must.
Nay, lovely Ellen! Dearest nay.
These, however, and several others that might be mentioned, are blemishes which may well be excused in a poem of more than five thousand lines, produced so soon after another still longer: and though they are blemishes which it is proper to notice, because they are evidently of a kind that may be corrected, it would be absurd, as well as unfair; to give them any considerable weight in our general estimate of the work, or of the powers of the author. Of these, we have already spoken at sufficient length; and must now take an abrupt leave of Mr. Scott, by expressing our hope, and tolerably confident expectation of soon meeting with him again. That he may injure his popularity by the mere profusion of his publications, is no doubt possible; though many of the most celebrated poets have been among the most voluminous: but, that the public must gain by this liberality, does not seem to admit of any question. If our poetical treasures were increased by the publication of Marmion and the Lady of the Lake, notwithstanding the existence of great faults in both these works, it is evident that we should be still richer if we possessed fifty poems of the same merit; and, therefore, it is for our interest, whatever it may be as to his, that their Author's muse should continue as prolific as she has hitherto been. If Mr. Scott will only vary his subjects a little more, indeed, we think we might engage to ensure his own reputation against any material injury from their rapid parturition; and, as we entertain very great doubts whether much greater pains would enable him to write much better poetry, we would rather have two beautiful poems, with the present quantum of faults — than one, with only one tenth part less alloy. He will always be a poet, we fear, to whom the fastidious will make great objections; but he may easily find, in his popularity, a compensation for their scruples. He has the jury hollow in his favour; and though the court may think that its directions have not been sufficiently attended to, it will not quarrel with the verdict.