Page images
PDF
EPUB

the state of his own mental feelings at this period ; and a novel called The Adversary, on which he had employed himself even shortly before his last moments. Neither was the strength of his courage in any respect abated ; he could endure bodily agony with firmness, though he could not bear the visionary terrors of his own mind. The medical persons made the severe experiment whether by applying the actual cautery to his back by means of glowing iron, the activity of the nervous system might not be restored. He was so far from being cast down by the torture of this medical martyrdom, that he asked a friend who entered the apartment after he had undergone it, whether he did not smell the roasted meat. The same heroic spirit marked his expressions, that “he would be perfectly contented to lose the use of his limbs, if he could but retain the power of working constantly by the help of an amanuensis.” Hoffmann died at Berlin, upon the 25th June, 1822, leaving the reputation of a remarkable man, whose temperament and health alone prevented his arriving at a great height of reputation, and whose works as they now exist ought to be considered less as models for imitation than as affording a warning how the most fertile fancy may be exhausted by the lavish prodigality of its possessor)

ARTICLE XI.

THE OMEN.

[The Omen. By John Galt, Esq. Blackwood's
Magazine, July, 1824.]

[ocr errors]

THE Muse of Fiction has of late considerably extended her walk; and it will probably be admitted, that she has lent her counsel to authors of greater powers, and more extended information, than those who detailed the uninteresting Memoirs of Jenny and Jemmy Jessamy, and the like tiresome persons. The grave humour of Fielding—the broad comedy of Smollett—the laboured pathos of Richardson—the sentiment of Mackenzie and Sterneare of course excluded from this comparison. But even these distinguished authors seem to have limited the subjects of fictitious composition to imaginary incidents in private life, and to displaying the influence of the ordinary passions of mankind—the world in which they and their readers lived, could show parallel instances of the adventures narrated, and characters to match in some degree with the personages introduced. But the modern novelists, compelled, perhaps, by the success of their predecessors, to abandon a field where the harvest was exhausted, have, many of them, chosen elsewhere subjects of a different description. We have now novels which may take the old dramatic term of Chronicles; bringing real and often exalted persons on the stage; adorning historical events with such ornaments as their imagination can suggest; introducing fictitious characters among such as are real, and assigning to those which are historical, qualities, speeches, and actions, which exist only in the writer's fancy. These historical novels may operate advantageously on the mind of two classes of readers; first, upon those whose attention to history is awakened by the fictitious narrative, and whom curiosity stimulates to study, for the purpose of winnowing the wheat from the chaff, the true from the fabulous. Secondly, those who are too idle to read, save for the purpose of amusement, may in these works acquire some acquaintance with history, which, however inaccurate, is better than none. If there is a third class, whose delight in history is liable to be lessened by becoming habituated to the fairy-land of fiction, it must be confessed, that to them the historical romance or novel runs risk of doing much harm. But the readers liable to suffer by this perversion, are supposed to be but few in number, or, indeed, to merge almost entirely in the second class, since the difference is but nominal betwixt those who read novels, because they dislike history—and those who dislike history, because they read novels.

It is not, however, of historical novels that we are now about to speak, but of another species of these productions which has become popular in the present day, and of which the interest turns less upon the incidents themselves, than upon the peculiar turn of mind of the principal personage who is active or passive under them, and which character is not like Mackenzie's Man of Feeling, a picture improved from nature, but has something in it so exaggerated, as to approach the verge of the grotesque or unnatural. In such works, it is the character of the individual, not the events of the tale, which constitute the charm of the writing. There is a strong resemblance betwixt the novel of character, and what was called, in the seventeenth century, plays of humour, when the interest consisted in observing how particular incidents worked upon those of the dramatis personae, to whom was assigned a natural or acquired peculiarity of sentiment and taste, which made them consider matters under a different light from that in which they appeared to mankind in general. The Morose of Ben Jonson, whose passion it is to have every thing silent around him, the Volpone, and almost all the principal characters of that able and learned dramatist, are influenced by some over-mastering humour, which, like the supposed influence of the planet under which he was born, sways and biasses the individual, and makes him unlike to the rest of his species even in the events most common to humanity. Mr Godwin has been one of the masters in the novel of character, a title which we rather choose than that of humour, which has now acquired an almost exclusive comic meaning. The morbid sensibility of Fleetwood, and the restless speculating curiosity of Caleb Williams, are instances of his talent in that department. There is, perhaps, little general sympathy with the overstrained delicacies of Fleetwood, who, like Falkland in the School for Scandal, is too extravagant in his peculiarities to deserve the reader's pity. On the other hand, few there are who do not enter into and understand the workings of the mind of Caleb Williams, where the demon of curiosity, finding a youth of an active and speculative disposition, without guide to advise, or business to occupy him, engages his thoughts and his time upon the task of prying into a mystery which no way concerned him, and which from the beginning he had a wellfounded conviction might prove fatal to him, should he ever penetrate it. The chivalrous frenzy of Falkland, in the same piece, though perhaps awkwardly united with the character of an assassin, that love of fame to which he sacrifices honour and virtue, is another instancé of a humour, or turn of mind, which, like stained glass, colours with its own peculiar tinge every object beheld by the party. In the elegant little volume which forms the subject of this article, we find another example of the novel of character, and indisputably a good one. The theme which he has chosen, as predominating in his hero's mind, a youth of a gentle,

« PreviousContinue »