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Art. I. The Lay of the Last Minstrel : a Poem. By Waiter

Scott, Esquire. 4to. pp. 318. Edinburgh, Constable & Co.

London, Longman & Co. 1805. We consider this poem as an attempt to transfer the refine

ments of modern poetry to the matter and the manner of the antient metrical romance. The author, enamoured of the lofty visions of chivalry, and partial to the strains in which they were formerly embodied, seems to have employed all the resources of his genius in endeavouring to recal them to the favour and admiration of the public, and in adapting to the taste of modern readers, a species of poetry which was once the delight of the courtly, but has long ceased to gladden any other eyes than those of the scholar and the antiquary. This is a romance, therefore, composed by a minstrel of the present day; or such a romance as we may suppose would have been written in modern times, if that style of composition had continued to be cultivated, and partaken consequently of the improvements which every branch of literature has received since the time of its defertion.

Upon this supposition, it was evidently Mr Scott's business to retain all that was good, and to reject all that was bad in the models upon which he was to form himself; adding, at the same time, all the interest and the beauty which could poflibly be alo {imilated to the manner and spirit of his original. It was his duty, therefore, to reform the rambling, obscure, and interminable narratives of the ancient romancers,-to moderate their die gressions,-to abridge or retrench their unmerciful or needless descriptions,—and to expunge altogether those feeble and prosaic pasiages, the rude stupidity of which is so apt to excite the defision of a modern reader: at the same time he was to rival, if POL. VI. NO. II. А

he

he could, the force and vivacity of their minute and varied representations--the characteristic fimplicity of their pictures of manners-ihe energy and conciseness with which they frequently describe great events-and the lively colouring and accurate drawing by which they give the effect of reality to every scene they undertake to delineate. In executing this arduous talk, he was permitted to avail himfelf of all that variety of style and manner which had been sanctioned by the antient practice, and bound to embellish his performance with all the graces of diction and versification which could be reconciled to the fimplicity and familiarity of the minstrel's song.

With what success Mr Scott's efforts have been attended in the execution of this adventurous undertaking, our readers perhaps will be better able to judge in the sequel: but, in the mean time, we may safely venture to affert, that he has produced a very beautiful and entertaining poem, in a style which may fairly be considered as original, and which will be allowed to afford satisfactory evidence of the genius of the author, even though he should not succeed in converting the public to his own opinion as to the interest or dignity of the subject. We are ourselves inclined indeed to suspect that his partiality for the strains of antiquity, has imposed a little upon the severity of his judgement and impaired the beauty of the present imitation, by directing his attention rather to what was characteristic, than to what was unexceptionable in his orginals. Though he has spared too many

of their faults, however, he has certainly improved upon their beauties : and while we can scarcely help regretting, that the feuds of Border chieftains should have monopolised as much poetry as might have served to immortalise the whole baronage of the empire, we are the more inclined to admire the interest and magnificence which he has contrived to communicate to a subject so unpromising.

Whatever may be thought of the conduct of the main story, the manner of introducing it must be allowed to be extremely poetical. An aged minstrel who had 'harped to King Charles the Good,' and learned to love his art at a time when it was honoured by all that was distinguished in rank or in genius, having fallen into neglect and misery in the evil days of the usurpation, and the more frivolous gayeties or bitter contentions of the fucceeding reigns, is represented as wandering about the Border in poverty and folitude a few years after the revolution. In this Situation, he is driven, by want and weariness, to seek shelter in the castle of the Dutchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth; and being cheered by the hospitality of his reception, offers to fing an ancient strain,' relating to the old warriors of her family ;

and

and after some fruitless attempts to recal the long-forgotten melody, pours forth the Lay of the Last Minstrel,' in lix cantos, very skilfully divided by some recurrence to his own situation, and some complimentary interruptions from his noble auditors.

The construction of a fable seems by no means the forte of our modern poetical writers : and no great artifice, in that respect, was to be expected, perhaps from an imitator of the ancient romancers. Mr Scott, indeed, has himself insinuated, that he considered the story as an object of very subordinate importance, and that he was less solicitous to deliver a regular narrative, than to connect such a series of incidents as might enable him to introduce the manners he had undertaken to delineate, and the imagery with which they were associated. Though the conception of the fable is, probably from these causes, exceedingly defective, it seems necessary to lay a short sketch of it before our readers, both for the gratification of their curiosity, and to facilitate the application of the remarks we may be afterwards tempt. ed to offer.

Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, the Lord of Brankfome, was flain in a skirmish with the Cars about the middle of the sixteenth

He left a daughter of matchlefs beauty, an infant fon, and a high-minded dame of a widow, who, though a very virtuous and devout person, was privately addicted to the study of magic, in which she had been initiated by her father. Lord Cranstoun their neighbour was at feud with the whole clan of Scott, but had falien desperately in love with the daughter, who returned his passion with equal sincerity and ardour, though withheld, by her duty to her mother, from uniting her destiny with his. The poem opens with a defcription of the warlike eftablishment of Branksome-hall; and the first incident which occurs, is a dialogue between the spirits of the adjoining mountain and river, who, after consulting the stars, declare that no good fortune can ever bless the mansion ' till pride be quelled, and love be free.' The lady, whose forbidden studies had taught her to understand the language of those speakers, overhears this conversation, and vows, if possible, to retain her purpofe in spite of it. She calls a gallant knight of her train, therefore, and directs him to ride immediately to the abbey of Melrose, and there to ask, from the monk of St Mary's aisle, the mighty book that was hid in the tomb of the wizard Michael Scott. The remainder of the first canto is occupied with the night journey of the warrior. When he delivers his ineffage, the monk appears filled with con

ternation and terror, but leads him at last through many galleries and chapels to the spot where the wizard was interred, and, A 2

after

after fome account of his life and character, the warrior heaves up the tomb-Itone, and is dazzled by the streaming splendour of an ever-burning lamp, which illuminates the sepulchre of the enchanter. With trembling hand he takes the book from the fide of the deceased, and hurries home with it in his bofom.

In the mean time, Lord Cranstouri and the lovely 'Margaret have met at dawn in the woods adjacent to the castle, and are repeating their vows of true love, when they are startled by the approach of a horseman. The lady retreats, and the lover advancing, finds it to be the messenger from Branksome, with whom, as an hereditary enemy, he thinks it neceffary to enter immediately into combat. The poor knight, fatigued with his nocturnal adventures, is dismounted at the firft Thock, and falls defperately wounded to the ground, while Lord Cranstoun, relenting towards the kinsman of his beloved, directs his page to attend him to the castle, and gallops home before any alarm can be given. Lord Cranstoun's page is something unearthly. It is a little milhapen diwarf, whom he found one day when he was hunting, in a solitary gien, and took home with him. It never speaks, except now and then to cry' Loft! loft ! loft!' and is on the whole a hateful, malicious little urchin, with no one good quality but his unaccountable attachment and fidelity to his matter. This personage, on approaching the wounded Borderer, difcovers the mighty book in his bofom, which he finds some difficulty in opening, and has scarcely had time to read a single spell in it, when he is struck down by an invisible hand, and the clafps of the magic volume fhut suddenly more closely than ever. This one spell

, however, enables him to practise every kind of illusion. He lays the wounded knight on his horse, and leads him into the castle, while the warders fee nothing but a wain of hay. He throws him

down, unperceived, at the door of the lady's chamber, and turns , to make good his retreat. In pafling through the court, however, he

sees the young heir of Buccleuch at play, and, assuming the form of one of his companions, tempts him to go out with him to the woods, where, as soon as they pass a rivulet, he resumes his own shape, and bounds away. The bewildered child is met by two English archers, who make prize of him, and carry him off, while the goblin page returns to the castle, and perfonates the young baron, to the great annoyance of the whole inhabitants.

The lady finds the wounded knight, and eagerly employs charms for his recovery, that she may learn the story of his díraster. The lovely Margaret, in the mean time, is fitting on her turret, gazing on the western star, and musing on the scenes of the morning, when the discovers the blazing beacons that announce the approach of an English enemy. The alarm is imme

diately

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