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of that delightful romance has been woven. Its charm consists in a great degree in the simplicity itself, in the small number of historic incidents it records, the interest of those incidents in themselves, and the room thereby afforded for working up all the details, and the minor plot of the piece, -the loves of the page and Catharine,-in perfect harmony with the main event, and without disturbing its development.
It were to be wished that later writers had followed the example thus set by the father of historical romance in the selection of their subject, and the construction of their plot. But, so far from doing so, they have in general run into the opposite extreme, and overlaid their story with such a mass of historical facts and details as has not only destroyed the unity of interest, but has in many cases rendered the story itself scarcely intelligible. Take two of the most popular romances of two justly celebrated living novelists, Sir E. L. Bulwer and Mr James—The Last of the Barons, and Philip Augustus. The period of history, the leading characters, and the subject of both, are admirably chosen ; and the greatest talent has been displayed in both, in the conception of the characters, and the portrait of the ideas and manners of the times which both present. But the grand defect of each, and which chills to a great degree the interest they otherwise would excite, is the crowding of historic incident, and complication of the story. Bulwer's novel is so crowded with rebellions, revolutions, and dethronements, that even the learned reader, who has some previous acquaintance with that involved period of English history, has great difficulty in following the story. Ample materials exist for two or three interesting historical novels in its crowded incidents. Philip Augustus labours equally plainly under the same defect. There is a triple plot going forward through nearly the whole piece; the story of the King and Queen, with the Papal interdict; that of Prince Arthur Plantagenet and his cruel uncle, John of England ; and that of De Coucy and Isador of the Mount. No human ability is adequate to carrying three separate stories abreast in this manner, and awakening the interest of the reader in each. The human mind is incapable of taking in at the same time deep emotion of more than one kind. What should we say if Shakspeare had presented us with a tragedy in which were brought forward scenes or acts about the ambition of Macbeth, the loves of Romeo and Juliet, and the jealousy of Othello ? Assuredly, they would have mutually strangled each other. This is just what happens in these otherwise admirable novels; the complication of the events, and the variety of interests sought to be awakened, prevent any one from taking a strong hold of the mind. Rely upon it, there is more truth in the principle of the Greek unities than we moderns are willing to admit. The prodigious overpowering effect of their tragedies is mainly owing to the unity of emotion which is kept up. It bears the same relation to the involved story of modern romance which the single interest of the Jerusalem Delivered or Iliad does to the endless and complicated adventures of Ariosto’s knights, or the sacred simplicity of the Holy Families of Raphael to the crowded canvass of Tintoretto or Bassano.
Perhaps the most perfect novel that exists in the world, with reference to the invaluable quality of unity of emotion, as well as the admirable disquisitions on subjects of taste and reflection which it contains, is Madame de Stael's Corinne. Considered as a story, indeed, it has many and glaring defects. The journey of Lord Nelvil and Corinne to Naples from Rome, is repugnant to all our ideas of female decorum ; and the miserable sufferings and prostration of the heroine in the third volume, during her visit to Scotland, are carried to such a length as to leave a painful impression on every reader's mind. But abstracting these glaring errors, the conception and execution of the work are as perfect as possible. The peculiar interest meant to be excited, the particular passion sought to be described, is early brought forward, and the whole story is the progress and final lamentable result of its indulgences. The depths of that passion are revealed with a power and knowledge of the human heart which never was surpassed. But though the scene is laid in Italy, the love of Corinne is not that of southern Europe. It is not the sudden passion of Juliet for Romeo, the peculiar growth of that beauteous land, which is portrayed, but the refined attachment of northern Europe, which is taken in more by the ear than the eye, and springs from the sympathy of minds who have many
tastes and feelings in common. Nothing detracts from,
Another principle which seems to regulate the historical
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to the piece, to see a faithful and graphic description of a · knight on horseback, with his companion, and their respective squires, skirting a wood, mounted on powerful steeds, on a clear September morning. The painting of his helm and hauberk, his dancing plume and glancing
mail, his harnessed steed and powerful lance, interests once or even twice; but it is dangerous to try the experiment of such descriptions too often. They rapidly pall by repetition, and at length become tedious or ridiculous. It is in the delineation of the human heart that the inexhaustible vein of the novelist is to be found ; it is in its emotions, desires, and passions, ever varying in externals, ever the same in the interior, that scope is afforded for the endless conceptions of human genius. Descriptions of still life, pictures of scenery, manners, buildings, and dresses, are the body, as it were, of romance; they are not its soul. They are the material parts of the landscape—its rocks, mountains, and trees ; they are not the divine ray of the sun which illuminates the brilliant parts of the picture, and gives its peculiar character to the whole. The skilful artist will never despise them ; on the contrary, he will exert himself to the utmost in their skilful delineation, and make frequent use of them, taking care to introduce as much variety as possible in their representations. But he will regard them as an inferior part only of his art; as speaking to the eye, not the heart ; as the body of romance, not its soul ; and as valuable chiefly as giving character or life to the period described, and repose to the mind in the intervals of the scenes of mental interest or pathos, on which his principal efforts are to be concentrated. Sections of external things often strike us as extremely brilliant, and give great pleasure in reading ; but with a few exceptions, where a moral interest bas been thrown into the representation of nature, they do not leave any profound or lasting impression on the mind. It is human grandeur or magnanimity, the throb of grief, the thrill of the pathetic, which is imprinted in indelible characters on the memory. Many of the admirable descriptions of still life in Waverley fade from the recollection, and strike us as new every
time we read them ; but no one ever forgot the last words of Fergus, when passing on the hurdle under the Scotch gate at Carlisle, “God save King James !” None
of the splendid descriptions in the chorusses of Æschylus produce the terrible impression on the mind which Sophocles has done by that inimitable trait, when in the close of Antigone he makes Eurydice, upon hearing of the suicide of her son Hæmon on the body of his betrothed, leave the stage in silence, to follow him by a violent death to the shades below.
The last rule which it seems material for the historical novelist to observe is, that characteristic or national manners, especially in middle or low life, should, wherever it is possible, be drawn from real life. The manners of the highest class over all Europe are the same. If a novelist paints a well-bred person in one capital, his picture may, with a few slight variations, stand for the same sphere of society in any other. But in middle, and still more in low life, the diversity in different countries is very great, and such as never can be reached by mere reading, or study of the works of others. And yet, amidst all this diversity, so much is human nature at bottom everywhere the same, that the most inexperienced reader can distinguish, even in the delineation of manners to which he is an entire stranger, those which are drawn from life, from those which are taken from the sketches or ideas of others. Few in this country have visited the Sierra Morena, and none certainly have seen it in the days of Cervantes, yet we have no difficulty in at once perceiving that Sancho Panza, and the peasants and muleteers in Don Quixote, are faithfully drawn from real life. Few of the innumerable readers of Sir Walter have had personal means of judging of the fidelity of his pictures of the manners and ideas of the Scotch peasants in his earlier novels; but yet there is no one in any country who does not at once see that they have been drawn from nature, and contain the most faithful picture of it. It is the fidelity of this picture which gives the Scotch novels their great charm. It is the same with Fielding : his leading characters in low life are evidently drawn from nature, and thence his long-continued popularity. When Sir Walter comes to paint the manners of the middle classes or peasants in England, from plays, farces, and the descriptions of others, as in Kenilworth, Woodstock, Peveril of the Peak, and the Fortunes of Nigel, he is infinitely