Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

LEVER'S “ TOM BURKE OF OURS."

That this recent addition to a successful series of works is written upon the plan and principle of its predecessors has doubtless been sufficient to secure it immediate popularity, and possibly that favour would have been risked, or at least lessened, if for the expected variety of brilliant, stormy, and exciting scenes, continually shifting, a regularly constructed story, and a plot elaborated and laid down with military exactness, like a plan of battle, had been substituted. Who is to expect an author to employ the ingenious agencies of the most careful and deeply studied art, when it is precisely by the want of them that he works his charm! Mr. Lever produces his effects, not by one grand and startling conception steadily pursued and worked out, but by the number and impressiveness of a series of pictures, each of which is the story itself while it lasts, and must kindle its own emotions of laughter or fear, pity or horror, or it fails. What such works want of laboriously wrought out effect as a whole, in the longdeferred catastrophe, they clearly gain in the animation and force which characterize all their component parts, and make each chapter in succession a romance in itself. The reader, at the end, feels that he has, “supped full” of terror, pathos, whimsicality, or life-like adventure, as the case may happen, and has read a narrative the course of which required no long, tedious detail, or dry explanatory interlocutions, to elucidate character by character and connect scene with scene. Though the strain upon him has been long maintained, and his curiosity has been kept protractedly upon the stretch, yet he is nevertheless thankful for having escaped the dulness which the circumstantial and steady-going narrator often finds it impossible to avoid.

But although Mr. Lever has not yet thought it expedient to take up his position on the field of literature with a display of great generalship in his plans and arrangements, and although the present, like his other works, does not evince any forethought with regard to his design, or any constructive power beyond the simplest order of arrangement, yet it is not to be inferred that some necessary art is wanting, or that there is not a needful sense of method and order in the management, not of the story, but of the chief character, which keeps alive its interest. On the contrary, there is in Tom Burke a manifestation of considerable art in this respect, under circumstances which commonly imply the absence of it.

Tom “of ours” is truly Irish, yet he seems a kind of Frenchman. He is a patriot of ’98 engaged on the French stage ; an ardent lover of liberty, yet smitten to desperation with the heroism of Buonaparte, and fighting for the military despotism which it establishes ; a youth who always thinks rightly, and generally acts wrongly; who is, under all circumstances, true to his trust, and half his time on the very verge of betraying it; who is to the inmost core faithful to friend and master, and yet is continually found in the company of their enemies, and is often compromised; who is all honour and patriotism, yet contrives to get mixed up with secret plotters and blood-shedders in Ireland, and with the infuriate and remorseless Chouans in France; who never harboured a dishonourable thought, or committed a disgraceful deed, and yet is tried for treason in one country and felony in another.

Is this enough to imply the thoroughly Irish temper and condition of our poor, perplexed, entangled hero? There is more behind. “ Burke of Ours" has a father who loves him, but disowns and beggars him; a brother who never sees, but delights to ruin him; guardians, after a fashion, who are his deadly foes; a country he is anxious to die for, that thirsts for his life as her enemy while yet a boy; a country by adoption, from which he is glad to escape with all of the gallant and honourable blood he has not shed in her defence. He has enemies ever on his track; friends who are continually conducting him into traps and pitfalls; companions who invite him to a duel once a day; and lastly, a mistress whom he passionately adores, but who, maiden as she is, and loving him with equal purity and excess, bears, by the obligation of the marriage ceremony, the name of another, and is indeed the wife of his benefactor!

Here, at least, should be enough to stimulate curiosity. But all these contradictions are accounted for and reconciled with no common art, and every inconsistency is regulated upon a plan that renders it a fitting and well-adjusted portion of the character or the position. In fact, Tom Burke is entirely natural, but strictly Irish; in habits, disposition, and fortunes, he is gloriously Irish.

The author's principal object in this work is the portrayal of the general features of military life in France, during a period unquestionably most favourable to its display, and destined to be ever famous, beyond all modern precedent, in the annals of the world. The time was, we need not say, the time of the Consul and the Emperor. The events and characters, or what is more vaguely called the “ lights and shadows,” of that extraordinary period, were chosen as a subject which might be treated with little aid from fiction. The subject, too, had been long meditated upon, but it appears that distrust and difficulties arose in the course of it, and the original plan was departed from. Mr. Lever says at the close, what is more to be regretted, that these, “ combined with failing health, rendered what might have been a matter of interest and amusement to the writer, a tale of labour and anxiety.” The announcement is not to be read without sympathy and concern; but as regards the narrative itself, we venture to say, that such a declaration could nowhere be anticipated. The power of the work is especially strong and vivid in several of the closing scenes, and the admirable expositions in an Irish court of justice, with its superb touches of character and humour, are no whit inferior to those graphic scenes in which Irish barbarism and refinement, Irish cunning and fidelity, above all, Irish poverty, oppression, and love of country, are so splendidly portrayed in the opening of the story.

The scene between these two Irish points, and throughout the whole body of the narrative, lies in France, under the very eye of Napoleon, who is constantly on the scene. His shadow is over it, like a spell. The image introduced does not violate our conceptions of truth, or disappoint expectation. It is no disjointed or inflated impersonation of glory; but a delineation real enough, and coloured only up to the character of the scene it moves through. It is neither theatrical, nor abstract and idealized; neither merely formal, nor highly fantastic. Mr. Lever writes with enthusiasm ; if he had written otherwise, he must have written most flatly ; but his estimate of the great military genius, of the mighty capacity that controlled men, and the power of character that shed its influences over all, seldom outstrips bare justice, and he carefully discriminates between the hero and the despot -the gigantic deeds and their desolating consequences.

Equal success marks the hasty but graphic sketches of the marshals, the statesmen, and the agents, courtly and military, surrounding the grand figure. Still greater ability is shewn in the portraitures of the chiefs of the Bourbon party, and in the narrative of the struggle, capture, and imprisonment of the desperate Chouans and their terrible leader. Amongst the characters most ably drawn, or exhibited in a light the most picturesque, is the loyalist Beauvais ; but still more masterly is the sketch of the wily and accomplished Chevalier Duchesne.

The character of this subtle person, his spirit of intrigue, his unsated desire for revenge when once injured, the scoffing principle of his nature, the tendency of his powerful mind to depreciate what all around him loved or respected, to strip life of every beautiful illusion, and reduce the noble to the utterly selfish, is very nicely conceived ; and in the execution of the conception, exhibiting the evil influences with which he mysteriously works out his ends, a high power, both of the dramatic in art, and the moral in purpose, is quietly but strikingly displayed.

There is another set of characters, drawn, as may be supposed, with an intimate knowledge of all the general features of active military life, and with a keen insight into the peculiarities of the situations in which they are represented. These are the soldiers, whether in bivouac, or the charge, in the mad laughing revel, in the hopeless march, or in the ghastly litter borne along to exulting cries of " Vive l'Empereur !Chief amongst these is a character, old Pioche, who will ever be famous among corporals—a rank in the army which literature has rather delighted to honour. In connexion with his touching story, will be remembered the fate and character of one of the feminine powers of the work—the charming, the irresistible Vivandiere, thus known only by her military designation—the good angel of the army, and at once the most soft and daring, the boldest and most delicate, of her sex. Out of the exaggeration and melo-dramatic adventure which surround her, still rises an image, true to nature, and exquisitely womanly; and of the other female characters of the story, all that it is necessary to say is, that they are drawn with purity of taste, and power of painting, and that an influence is thus skilfully derived, which materially softens the savage and revolting associations of the narrative.

Yet another class of characters there is, in which great fidelity and power may be discerned; and these are more entirely of the Irish order. The characteristic sketches are numerous; but they all fade before Captain Bubbleton, who is a farce-hero of the first water, and must have astonished Lord Castlereagh. But he is, after all, a common-place, when measured with Darby M-Keown—the lying, daring, villanous, unconscionable, yet most conscientious, brave, faithful, honest, Ireland-loving piper! He is a creature to know, and in many of the finest qualities that lift man out of his native grossness, often in spite of himself, into almost angelic endeavours for his kind, ranks with Pioche and the Vivandiere.

Of the hero himself, the gallant and agreeable “Tom Burke of

а

Ours," the protege of Josephine, (whose figure glides with grace and dignity through the Court scenes of the story,) and the favoured of Napoleon whom he idolized, it is fair to say, that his chequered course carries everywhere its moral with it. The voluntary soldier of Buonaparte, he bad never borne arms against England; but signalized his devotion to his adopted chief, by rejoining him in the decline of his fortunes. He seals that devotion at Fontainbleau, and is rewarded with the hand he had ever sought-a maiden hand, though a widowed one; the virgin wife of his venerated general, who, by a stroke of Buonaparte-policy, had entered into a contract of marriage, that Josephine's maid-of-honour might be reserved, through every peril, for such a destiny. Thus, “ Burke of Ours,” it may be seen, obtained his wife, at last, in a rather Irish way.

Tom Burke merited more than half his misery, by his blindness to error, until entangled in it; by his foolish idea of combining two allegiances, or supposing that he could possibly have more than one at a time; and by his youthful and fatal mistake of confounding a dream of military glory with the golden visions of enlightenment and liberty.

The animated and brilliant narrative of party struggle and intrigue, as well as of the most exciting military contention, which form the larger portion of these volumes ; the pictures of social strife: the powerful sketches of battle-adventure; would alone fix the eager attention of every intelligent reader, even if the story wanted the charm of fictitious interest, and the happiest combinations of natural character.

SONNET FROM CAMOENS.*

[ocr errors]

BY THOMAS ROSCOE.
The quiet beauty of this verdant hill ;-

The shadow of these green-embowering trees

The gentle sweep of sunlit shores, whose breeze
All sorrow banishes ;--the evening still ;
The murmurs of the sea,—the wild bird's thrill

Of vesper song ;-day's dying glory please.
The folding herds—the hum of home-wing'd bees-
The golden Heecy clouds that paint each rill:
Yes! all that wondrous nature from her breast

II
With lavish love-and varied bounty throw

Flowers, meads, and woous-earth-heaven in beauty drest, If thee I see not, yield me no repose

Absent, in rain by every charm carest

I meet fresh dawn, or loveliest evening's close. i In one of the late Mr. Beckford's letters from Lisbon, (November 8th, 1787,9 in which he recounts a conversation which he had with a young Portuguese poet, named Manuel Maria, there occurs the following interesting passage relating to the works of the great Camoens. Perceiving how much I was attracted towards him, he said to me, • I did not expect an Englishman would have condescended to pay a young obscure modern versifier any attention. You think we have no bard bat Camoens, and that Camoens has written nothing worth notice but the Lusiad. Here is a sonnet worth half the Lusiad. Not an image of rural beauty has escaped our divine poet; and how feelingly are they applied from the landscape to the heart! What a fascinating languor, like the last beams of an evening sun, is thrown over the whole composition! If I am anything, this sonnet has made me what I am.'"-Beckford's Italy, &c., pp. 11, 205, 206.

Saint James's:

OR

THE COURT OF QUEEN ANNE.

BY THE EDITOR.

BOOK THE THIRD.

CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH.

WHEREIN HARLEY ATTAINS THE HIGHEST POINT OF HIS AMBITION; AND THE

MARQUIS DE GUISCARD IS DISPOSED OF.

SHORTLY afterwards, Mr. Bussiére, an eminent surgeon, residing near Saint James's Park, arrived, and while examining the extent of injury sustained by the sufferer, the penknife-blade fell from the waistcoat into his hand. Seeing this, Harley took it from him, observing, with a smile, that it belonged to him, and requesting that the handle of the knife might be preserved. He then demanded of the surgeon, whether his hurts were likely to prove mortal ? “ If you think so,” he said, “ do not hide your fears from me.

I profess no idle disregard of death, but there are some family affairs which it is necessary I should arrange before I am driven to extremity.”

“I am not apprehensive of any serious consequences, sir,” replied Bussiére ; " but as a slight fever will probably ensue, it may be well not to allow anything to disturb your mind. If you have any arrangements, therefore, to make, I would recommend you not to postpone them."

“I understand you, sir," returned Harley, “and will not neglect the caution.”

His wounds were then probed and dressed. He bore the operation, which was necessarily painful with great fortitude, not once uttering a groan, and jestingly, remarking, as the incision was enlarged, that the surgeon's knife was sharper than Guiscard's

. The

dressing completed, Bussiére declared that there was not the least danger, and that he would be answerable for his patient's speedy and perfect cure-an announcement which was heard with the liveliest satisfaction by every one present except the assassin, who, as he lay bound in a corner, gave vent to his disappointment in a deep execration. This drew Harley's attention to him, and he begged Bussiére to examine his wounds.

“Better let me die," cried Guiscard; “for if I recover I will make such revelations as shall for ever blast your credit."

“ Ungrateful dog !” exclaimed Saint-John ; “ actuated, as you

VOL. VI.

GG

« EdellinenJatka »