« EdellinenJatka »
beneath the sufferings of the world, their immortal souls rise into the region of spirits, to witness a triumph more glorious, an ascendency more enduring, than ever attended the arms of Cæsar or Alexander.
Though pursuing the same pure and ennobling career, though gifted with the same ardent imagination, and steeped in the same fountains of ancient lore, no two writers were ever more different than Chateaubriand and Sir Walter Scott. The great characteristic of the French author, is the impassioned and enthusiastic turn of his mind. Master of immense information, thoroughly imbued at once with the learning of classical and catholic times; gifted with a retentive memory, a poetical fancy, and a painter's eye, he brings to bear upon every subject the force of erudition, the images of poetry, the charm of varied scenery, and the eloquence of impassioned feeling. Hence his writings display a reach and variety of imagery, a depth of light and shadow, a vigour of thought, and an extent of illustration, to which there is nothing comparable in any other writer, ancient or modern, with whom we are acquainted. All that he has seen, or read, or heard, seems present to his mind, whatever he does, or wherever he is. He illustrates the genius of Christianity by the beauties of classical learning; inhales the spirit of ancient prophecy on the shores of the Jordan ; dreams on the banks of the Eurotas of the solitude and gloom of the American forests ; visits the Holy Sepulchre with a mind alternately excited by the devotion of a pilgrim, the curiosity of an antiquary, and the enthusiasm of a crusader; and combines in his romances, with the tender feelings of chivalrous love, the heroism of Roman virtue and the sublimity of Christian martyrdom. His writings are less a faithful portrait of any particular age or country, than an assemblage of all that is grand, and generous, and elevated in human nature. He drinks deep of inspiration at all the fountains where it has ever been poured forth to mankind, and delights us less by the accuracy of any particular picture, tban by the traits of genius which he has combined from every quarter where its footsteps have trod. His style seems formed on the lofty strains of Isaiah, or the beautiful images of the Book of Job, more than all the classical or modern literature with which his mind is so amply stored. He is admitted by all Frenchmen, of whatever party, to be the most perfect living master of their language, and to have gained for it beauties unknown to the age of Bossuet and Fenelon. Less polished in his periods, less sonorous in his diction, less melodious in his rhythm, than these illustrious writers, he is incomparably more varied, rapid, and energetic; his ideas flow in quicker succession, his words follow in more striking antithesis; the past, the present, and the future rise up at once before us ; and we see how strongly the stream of genius, instead of gliding down the smooth current of ordinary life, has been broken and agitated by the cataract of revolution.
With far less classical learning, fewer images derived from travelling, inferior information on many historical subjects, and a mind of a less impassioned and energetic cast, our own Sir Walter is far more deeply read in that book which is ever the same—the human heart. This is his unequalled excellence : there he stands, without a rival since the days of Shakspeare. It is to this cause that his astonishing success has been owing. We feel in his characters that it is not romance, but real life which is represented. Every word that is said, especially in the Scotch novels, is nature itself. Homer, Cervantes, Shakspeare, and Scott, alone have penetrated to the deep substratum of character, which, however disguised by the varieties of climate and government, is at bottom everywhere the same ; and thence they have found a responsive echo in every human heart. Every man who reads these admirable works, from the North Cape to Cape Horn, feels that what the characters they contain are made to say, is just what would have occurred to themselves, or what they have heard said by others as long as they lived. Nor is it only in the delineation of character, and the knowledge of human nature, that the Scottish novelist, like his great predecessors, is but for them without a rival. Powerful in the pathetic, admirable in dialogue, unmatched in description, his writings captivate the mind as much by the varied excellencies which they exhibit, as by the powerful interest which they maintain. He has carried romance out of the region of imagination and sensibility into the walks of actual life. We feel interested in his characters, not because they are ideal beings with whom we have become acquainted for the first time when we began the book, but because they are the very persons we have lived with from our infancy. His descriptions of scenery are not luxuriant and glowing pictures of imaginary beauty, like those of Mrs Radcliffe, having no resemblance to actual nature, but faithful and graphic portraits of real scenes, drawn with the eye of a poet, but the fidelity of a consummate draughtsman. He has combined historical accuracy and romantic adventure with the interest of tragic events : we live with the heroes, and princes, and paladins of former times, as with our own contemporaries ; and acquire from the splendid colouring of his pencil such a vivid conception of the manners and pomp of the feudal ages, that we confound them, in our recollections, with the scenes which we ourselves have witnessed. The splendour of their tournaments, the magnificence of their dress, the glancing of their arms; their haughty manners, daring courage, and knightly courtesy ; the shock of their battle-steeds, the splintering of their lances, the conflagration of their castles, are brought before our eyes in such vivid colours, that we are at once transported to the age of Richard and Saladin, of Bruce and Marmion, of Charles the Bold and Philip Augustus. Disdaining to flatter the passions, or pander to the ambition of the populace, he has done more than any man alive to elevate their character, to fill their minds with the noble sentiments which dignify alike the cottage and the palace, to exhibit the triumph of virtue in the humblest stations over all that the world calls great, and, without ever indulging a sentiment which might turn them from the scenes of their real usefulness, to bring home to every mind the “ might that slumbers in a peasant's arm.” Above all, he has uniformly, in all his varied and extensive productions, shown himself true to the cause of virtue. Amidst all the innumerable combinations of character, event, and dialogue, which he has formed, he has ever proved faithful to the polar star of duty; and alone, perhaps, of the great romance writers of the world, has not left a line which on his deathbed he would wish recalled.
Of such men France and England may well be proud ; shining, as they already do, through the clouds and the passions of a fleeting existence, they are destined soon to
illuminate the world with a purer lustre, and ascend to that elevated station in the higher heavens where the fixed stars shed a splendid and imperishable light. The writers whom party has elevated, the genius which vice has seduced, are destined to decline with the interests to which they were devoted, or the passions by which they were misled. The rise of new political struggles will consign to oblivion the vast talent which was engulfed in the contention ; the accession of a more virtuous age buries in the dust the fancy which was enlisted in the cause of corruption ; while these illustrious men, whose writings have struck root in the inmost recesses of the human heart, and been watered by the streams of imperishable feeling, will for ever continue to elevate and bless a grateful world.
To form a just conception of the importance of Chateaubriand's Genius of Christianity, we must recollect the period when it was published, the character of the works it was intended to combat, and the state of society in which it was destined to appear.
For half a century before it appeared, the whole genius of France had been incessantly directed to undermine the principles of religion. The days of Pascal and Fenelon, of Saurin and Bourdaloue, of Bossuet and Massillon, had passed away ; the splendid talent of the seventeenth century was no longer arrayed in the support of virtue ; the supremacy of the church bad ceased to be exerted to thunder in the ear of princes the awful truths of judgment to come. Borne away in the torrent of corruption, the church itself had yielded to the increasing vices of the age ; its hierarchy had become involved in the passions they were destined to combat; and the cardinal's purple covered the shoulders of an associate in the midnight orgies of the Regent Orleans. Such was the audacity of vice, the recklessness of fashion, and the supineness of religion, that Madame Roland tells us, what astonished her in her youthful days was, that the heaven itself did not open to rain down upon the guilty metropolis, as on the cities of the Jordan, a tempest of consuming fire.
While such was the profligacy of power and the audacity of crime, philosophic talent lent its aid to overwhelm the remaining safeguards of religious belief. The middle and the lower orders could not, indeed, participate in the luxurious vices of their wealthy superiors, but they could well be persuaded that the faith which permitted such enormities, the religion which was stained by such crimes, was a system of hypocrisy and deceit. The passion for innovation, which more than any other feature characterised that period in France, invaded the precincts of religion as well as the bulwarks of the state : the throne and the altar, the restraints of this world and the next, as is ever the case, crumbled together. For half a century, all the genius of France had been incessantly directed to overturn the sanctity of Christianity; its corruptions were represented as its very essence, its abuses as part of its necessary effects. Ridicule, ever more powerful than reason with a frivolous age, lent its aid to overturn the defenceless fabric; and for more than one generation, not one writer of note had appeared to maintain the hopeless cause.
Voltaire and Diderot, d'Alembert and Raynal, Laplace and Lagrange, had lent the weight of their illustrious names, or the powers of their versatile minds, to carry on the war. The Encyclopedie was a vast battery of infidelity incessantly directed against Christianity ; while the crowd of licentious novelists, with which the age abounded-Louvet, Crebillon, Laclos, and a host of others-insinuated the poison, mixed up with the strongest allurements to the passions, and the most voluptuous seductions to the senses.
This inundation of infidelity was soon followed by sterner days; to the unrestrained indulgence of passion succeeded the unfettered march of crime. With the destruction of all the bonds which held society together, with the removal of all the restraints on vice or guilt, the fabric of civilisation and religion was speedily dissolved. To the licentious orgies of the Regent Orleans succeeded the infernal fury of the Revolution; from the same Palais Royal from whence had sprung those fountains of courtly corruption, soon issued forth the fiery streams of democracy. Enveloped in this burning torrent, the institutions, the faith, the nobles, the throne, were destroyed ; the worst instruments of the Supreme Justice, the passions and ambition of men, were suffered to work their unresisted way; and in a few years the religion of eighteen centuries was abolished, its priests slain or exiled, its Sabbath abolished, its rites proscribed,