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“The time has been, our senses would have cool’d To hear a night-shriek; and our fell of hair / Would at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir }, As life were in’t. We have supped full with horrors; And direness, now familiar to our thoughts, Cannot once start us.” [Macbeth, act v. sc. 5.] These appear to us the greatest disadvantages under which any author must at present struggle, who chooses supernatural terror for his engine of moving the passions. We dare not call them insurmountable, for how shall we dare to limit the efforts of genius, or shut against its possessor any avenue to the human heart or its passions P. Mr Murphy himself, for aught we know, may be destined to show us the prudence of this qualification. He possesses a strong and vigorous fancy, with great command of language. He has indeed regulated his incidents upon those of others, and therefore added to the imperfections which we have pointed out, the want of originality. But his feeling and conception of character are his own, and from these we judge of his powers. In truth, we rose from his strange chaotic novel romance as from a confused and feverish dream, unrefreshed and unamused, yet strongly impressed by many of the ideas which had been so vaguely and wildly presented to our imagination. It remains to notice the pieces of poetry scattered through these volumes, many of which claim our attention; but we cannot stop to criticise them. There is a wild and desultory elegy, vol. ii. pp. 305–309, which, though not always strictly metrical, has passages of great pathos, as well as fancy. If the author of it be indeed, as he des
cribes himself, young and inexperienced, without literary friend or counsellor, we earnestly exhort him to seek one on whose taste and judgment he can rely. He is now like an untutored colt, wasting his best vigour in irregular efforts, without either grace or object; but there is much in these volumes which promises a career that may at some future time astonish the public.
woMEN ; OR. Pour ET contRE.
[Women; or, Pour et Contre: A Tale. By the Author of BERTRAM, &c. From the Edinburgh Review, June, 1818.]
THE author of a successful tragedy has, in the general decay of the dramatic art which marks our age, a good right to assume that distinction in his titlepage, and claim the attention due to superior and acknowledged talent. The faults of Bertram are those of an ardent and inexperienced author; but its beauties are undeniably of a high order; and the dramatist who has been successful in exciting pity and terror in audiences assembled to gape and stare at shows and processions, rather than to weep or tremble at the convulsions of human pas
sion, has a title to the early and respectful attention of the critic. Mr Maturin, the acknowledged author of Bertram, a tragedy, is a clergyman on the Irish establishment, employed chiefly, if we mistake not, in the honourable task of assisting young persons during their classical studies at Trinity College, Dublin. He has been already a wanderer in the field of fiction, and is the author of the House of Montorio, a romance in the style of Mrs Radcliffe, the Wild Irish Boy, and other tales. The present work is framed upon a different and more interesting model, pretending to the merit of describing the emotions of the human heart, rather than that of astonishing the reader by the accumulation of imaginary horrors, or the singular combinations of marvellous and perilous adventures. Accordingly, we think we can perceive marks of greater care than Mr Maturin has taken the trouble to bestow upon his former works of fiction; and that which is a favourite with the author himself, is certainly most likely to become so with the
' [The Rev. Charles Robert Maturin, curate of St Peter's, Dublin, an eccentric character, but a man of genius, shared the usual fate of irregular and incoherent genius, in a continued family warfare, with “elegant desires,” poverty, and bailiffs. He died in October, 1824. Besides the present and preceding articles of review, Mr Maturin published tales, called, The Milesian Chief. 4 vols. ; The Wild Irish Boy, 3 vols.; Melmoth the Wanderer, 4 vols.; and The Albigenses, 4 vols.; two Tragedies—Bertram, and Manuel; The Universe, a Poem; and two volumes of sermons. Among other fantastic humours of this gentleman, it is said that when he wished his family to be aware that the fit was on him, he used to stick a wafer on his forehead.]
public and with the critic. Upon his former works, the author has, in his preface, passed the following severe sentence.
“None of my former prose works have been popular. The strongest proof of which is, none of them arrived at a second edition; nor could I dispose of the copyright of any but of the Milesian, which was sold to Mr Colburn for L.80, in the year 1811.
“Montorio (misnomed by the bookseller The Fatal Revenge, a very bookselling appellation) had some share of popularity, but it was only the popularity of circulating libraries: it deserved no better; the date of that style of writing was out when I was a boy, and I had not powers to revive it. When I look over those books now, I am not at all surprised at their failure; for, independent of their want of external interest (the strongest interest that books can have, even in this reading age), they seem to me to want reality, vraisemblance; the characters, situations, and language are drawn merely from imagination; my limited acquaintance with life denied me any other resource. In the tale which I now offer to the public, perhaps there may be recognised some characters which experience will not disown. Some resemblance to common life may be traced in them. On this I rest for the most part the interest of the narrative. The paucity of characters and incidents (the absence of all that constitutes the interest of fictitious biography in general) excludes the hope of this work possessing any other interest.”
The preface concludes with an assurance, that the author will never trespass again in this kind;—a promise or threat which is as often made and as often broken as lovers' vows, and which the reader has no reason to desire should in the present case be more scrupulously adhered to, than by other authors of ancient and modern celebrity. Let us only see, what the work really deserves, a favourable reception from the public; and we trust Mr Maturin may be moved once more to resume a species of composition so easy to a writer of rich fancy and ready powers, so delightful to the numerous class of readers, who have Gray's authority for supposing it no bad emblem of paradise to lie all day on a couch and read new novels. In analyzing Women, we are tempted to hesitate which end of the tale we should begin with. It is the business of the author to wrap up his narrative in mystery during its progress, to withdraw the veil from his mystery with caution, and inch as it were by inch, and to protract as long as possible the trying crisis “when any reader of common sagacity may foresee the inevitable conclusion;” a period after which neither interest of dialogue nor splendour of description, neither marriage dresses, nor settlement of estates, can protract the attention of the thorough-bred novel reader. The critic has an interest the very reverse of this. It is his business to make all things brief and plain to the most ordinary comprehension. He is a matterof-fact sort of person, who, studious only to be brief and intelligible, commences with the commencement, according to the instructions of the giant Moulineau, “que tous ces recits qui commencent par le milieu ne font qu'embrouiller l’imagination.” It is very true, that, in thus exercising our privilege, the author has something to complain of. We turn his wit the seamy side without, explain all his machinery, and the principles on which it moves before he causes it to play; and, like the persecution which the petty jealousy of his great neighbours at Hagley exercised on poor