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a species of novel of a tragi-comic nature, which, far from pretending to the extreme sentiment and delicacy of the works last mentioned, admitted, like the elder English comedy, a considerable dash of coarse and even indelicate humour. Such were the compositions of Fielding; and such of Smollet, the literary Hogarth, whose figures, though they seldom attained grace or elegance, were marked with indelible truth and peculiarity of character. Instead of this kind of comic satire, in which to borrow a few words of Old Withers, abuses, when whipped, were perhaps stripped a little too bare, we have now the lowest denizens of Grub Street narrating, under the flimsy veil of false names, and through the medium of a fictitious tale, all that malevolence can invent and stupidity propagate concerning private misfortunes and personal characters. We have our Winters in London, Bath, and Brighton, of which it is the dirty object to drag forth the secret history of the day, and to give to Scandal a court of written record. The talent which most of these things indicate is that of the lowest newspaper composition, and the acquaintance with the fashionable world precisely what might be gleaned from the footman or porter; while the portraits of Bow Street officers, swindlers, and bailiffs, are possibly drawn from a more intimate acquaintance. The shortness of our cruise has not yet permitted us to fall in with any of these picaroons; but let them beware, as Lieutenant Bowling says, how they come athwart our hawser; WOL. XVIII. L
“we shall mind running them down no more than so many porpoises.” “Plunging from depth to depth a vast profound,” we at length imagined ourselves arrived at the Limbus Patrum in good earnest. The imitators of Mrs Radcliffe and Mr Lewis were before us; personages who, to all the faults and extravagances of their originals, added that of dulness, with which they can seldom be charged. (we strolled through a variety of castles, each of which was regularly called Il Castello; met with as many
captains of condottieri; heard various ejaculations of Santa Maria and Diabolo ; read by a decaying
lamp, and in a tapestried chamber, dozens of legends as stupid as the main history; examined such suites of deserted apartments as might fit up a reasonable barrack; and saw as many glimmering lights as would make a respectable illumination—Amid these o: imitations of the Castle of Udolpho, we lighted unexpectedly upon the work which is the subject of the present article, and, in defiance of the very bad taste in which it is composed, we found ourselves insensibly involved in the perusal, and at times impressed with no common degree of respect for the powers of the author. We have at no time more earnestly desired to extend our voice to a bewildered traveller, than towards this young man, whose taste is so inferior to his powers of imagination and expression, that we never saw a more remarkable instance of genius degraded by the labour in which it is employed. It is the resentment and regret which we experience at witnessing
the abuse of these qualities, as well as the wish to hazard a few remarks upon the romantic novel in
general, which has induced us (though we are obliged to go back a little) to offer our criticism on the Fatal Revenge, or the Family of Montorio.
It is scarcely possible to abridge the narrative, nor would the attempt be edifying or entertaining. A short abstract of the story is all for which we can afford room. It is introduced in the following striking manner.
“At the siege of Barcelona by the French, in the year 1697, two young officers entered into the service at its most hot and critical period. Their appearance excited some surprise and perplexity. Their melancholy was Spanish, their accent Italian, their names and habits French.
“They distinguished themselves in the service by a kind of careless and desperate courage, that appeared equally insensible of praise or of danger. They forced themselves into all the coups de main, the wild and perilous sallies that abound in a spirited siege, and mark it with a greater variety and vivacity of character than a regular campaign. Here they were in their element. But among their brother officers, so cold, so distant, so repulsive, that even they who loved their courage, or were interested in their melancholy, stood aloof in awkward and hesitating sympathy. Still, though they would not accept the offices of the benevolence their appearance inspired, they were involuntarily always conciliating. Their figures and motions were so eminently noble and striking, their affection for each other so conspicuous, and their youthful melancholy so deep and hopeless, that every one enquired and sought intelligence of them from an impulse stronger than curiosity. Nothing could be learnt; nothing was known, or even conjectured of them.
“During the siege, an Italian officer, of middle age, arrived to assume the command of a post of distinction. His first meeting with these young men was remarkable. They stood speechless and staring at each other for some time. In the mixture of emotions that passed over their countenances, no one predominant or decisive could be traced by the many and anxious witnesses that surrounded them.
“As soon as they separated, the Italian officer was persecuted with enquiries about the strangers. He answered none of them; yet he admitted that he knew circumstances sufficiently extraordinary relating to the young men, who, he said, were natives of Italy.
“A few days after, Barcelona was taken by the French forces. The assault was terrible; the young officers were in the very rage of the fight; they coveted and courted danger; they stood amid showers of grape and ball; they rushed into the heart of crater and explosions; they literally ‘wrought in the fire.” The effects of their dreadful courage were foreseen by all; and cries of recall and expostulation sounded around them on every side, in vain.
“On the French taking possession of the town, there was a general demand for the brothers. With difficulty the bodies were discovered, and brought with melancholy pomp into the commander's presence. The Italian officer was there; every eye was turned on him.”—Introd. pp. ix.-xiii.
The history of these mysterious brethren is told by the officer who had recognised them, and runs briefly thus: Orazio, Count of Montorio—for we begin our story with the explanation, which in the original concludes it—possessed of wealth, honours, and ancestry, is married to a beautiful woman, whom he loves doatingly, but of whose affections he is not possessed. A villanous brother instils into his mind jealousy of a cavalier to whom the countess had formerly been attached. Orazio causes the supposed paramour to be murdered in the presence of the lady, who also dies: he then flies from his country with feelings of desperation thus forcibly described :
“My reason was not suspended, it was totally changed. I had become a kind of intellectual savage 3) a being that, with the malignity and depravation of inferior natures, still retains the
reason of a man, and retains it only for his curse. Oh that midnight darkness of the soul, in which it seeks for something
whose loss has carried away every sense but one of utter and desolate privation; in which it traverses leagues in motion and worlds in thought, without consciousness of relief, yet with a dread of pausing. I had nothing to seek, nothing to recover; the whole world could not restore me an atom, could not show me again a glimpse of what I had been or lost; yet I rushed on as if the next step would reach shelter and peace.”—Vol. iii. p. 380.
In this maniac state he reaches an uninhabited islet in the Grecian archipelago, where, from a conversation accidently overheard between two assassins sent by his brother to murder him, the wretched Orazio learns the innocence of his victims, and the full extent of his misery. He contrives to murder his murderers, and the effect of the subsequent discovery upon his feelings is described in a strain of language, which we were alternately tempted to admire as sublime and to reprobate as bombastic. Orazio determines on revenge, and his plan is diabolically horrid. He resolves to accomplish the murder of his treacherous brother, who, in consequence of his supposed death, had now assumed the honours of the family; and he further determined that this act of vengeance should be perpetrated by the hands of that very brother's own sons, two amiable youths, who had no cloud upon their character, excepting an attachment to mysterious studies, and a strong propensity to superstition. We do not mean to trace this agent of vengeance through the various devices and stratagems by which he involved in his toils his unsuspecting