Page images
PDF
EPUB

For the present we go on with M. Sismondi, who having disposed of the first and second species of Romances in favour of the Normans, ascribes the origin of the third to the French, and their celebrity to Ariosto, who made so great use of their fictions.

« Mais la troisième famille des romans chevaleresques est toute française, quoique leur plus grande célébrité soit due au grand poète de l'Italie qui s'en est emparé ; c'est celle de la cour de Charlemagne, et de ces paladins. L'histoire de Charlemagne, la plus éclatante du moyen âge, avait dû laisser aux siècles suivans un sentiment d'étonnement et d'admiration; son long régne, sa prodigieuse activité, ses brillantes victoires, ses guerres avec les Sarrazins, les Saxons, les Lombards; son influence sur l'Allemagne, l'Italie et l'Espagne, et le renouvellement de l'empire, d'Occident, avaient rendu son nom populaire dans toute l'Europe long-temps après qu'on avait perdu la mémoire des événemens qui l'avaient signalé. C'était, en effet, un héros propre à la chevalerie, un point brillant au milieu des ténèbres, auquel on pouvait attacher une création toute fantastique." Tom. I. p. 284.

Here, then, we have three species of Romances :-King Arthur and the Round Table, &c., Amadis de Gaul, and Turpin, &c. &c. &c. The first exclusively belongs to the Normans. The second belongs to the Normans also, though all other Romances of the sanie species be of Spanish extraction, because the Spaniards copied the idea from the Normans, who never saw them; and the third is French. We have seen the reasons for attributing the first two to the Normans; those which M. Sismondi assigns for the third, are equally ponderous. He says that the chronicle of Turpin, because it relates the history and deeds of Charlemagne, owes its origin to the expedition of Alphonso IV., King of Castile, against Toledo, in the year 1089. In the second place, this chronicle is to be considered as a history, because it contains the relation of incredible deeds of war--Des faits incroyables de guerre, page 288–Miracles and enchantments, without the least allusion to love and women. And at last, that in the year 1289, under the reign of Philip the Bold, the Romance writers began to make use of this chro, nicle, because they regarded it still as a history. Upon such incontrovertible reasoning, M. Sismondi has grounded the theory with which he has been pleased to favour the public.

It would require more leisure and more room than we have, to point out the whole extent to which our author has let his imagina. tion keep place with the wonderful recitals of the good Turpis. We are truly sorry that neither ourselves nor our readers possess the Hippogriff of Rogiero, who carried Astolfo to the moon.

[ocr errors]

There

There, perhaps, we might have found, arranged in a chrono, logical order, the Romances in the same way in which our autbor has thought proper to do in his book; just as Ariosto arranged in that satellite of our globe, the phials which contained the brains of all those who had lost them on earth. The Italian poet, however, disposed of his ampolle, according to the causes which had replenished them with the brains of men ; and in the distribution of his Romances, M. Sismondi has shewn such a wonderful felicity of invention which baffles all the calculations of our earthly chronology, and which would make Turpin, Altissimo, and Ariosto, to be ashamed of the poverty of their own.

Seriously, if M. Sismondi had laboured during the whole course of his life, to bundle together a heap of absurdities of all descriptions, he could not have met with a greater success than he now has, in laying down his theory concerning the origin of Romances. To detail them all would require a work as voluminous as the Litterature itself du midi de l'Europe, and for this reason we shall, in our next Number, briefly state to our readers, the real fact concerning this new species of writing unknown to the ancients, from which we have derived our modern epic.

Art. III. Helga: a Poem, in seven Cantos. By the Hon. . Willian Herbert. 8vo. pp. 299. 12s. Murray, 1815. THIS is not the first offering which has been made by Mr. Her. bert to the Scandinavian muse.' The public are already in posa sesion of some very pretty translations from the Icelandic, by the same hand: it is with pleasure, therefore, that we hail the appearance of a longer and more finished poem. A Northern Epic is indeed a phenomenon in poetry; we wonder indeed that this field should have so long continued unoccupied. We do not indeed hold the Runic fragments so high as Mr. Herbert, yet we agree with him that there is much in the manners, the scenery, and the superstitions of the Northern climates, to open a wide expanse to a poetical imagination. We are happy, therefore, that a scholar of such distinguished elegance, as Mr. Herbert is acknowledged to be, has led the way, and with how much success, will appear from an examination of the poem. · The poem opens with a feast in the hall of Ingva, king of Sweden, whose beautiful daughter, Helga, is the heroine of the song. The merriment is suddenly disturbed by the rude entrance of twelve wolfish Danes, the chief of whom, Angantyr, comes to claim Helga as his bride. As he appears inclined to

E . VOL. V. JAN. 1816.

put

put his threats into execution, the king calls on all his subject
knights to defend his daughter. They all shrink from the con-
test, Hialmar excepted, who challenges Angantyr to meet him in
the field of Samsoe, and there to decide by the sword their claims
to the maid. This atter much scowling is accepted, and An.
gantyr, after a gratuitous display of his manual strength, retires.
In the second Canto, Helga descends to the tomb of Vala, a .
mighty prophetess of ancient times.

“ But yet, if rumor rightly tells,
In her cold bones the spirit dwells;
And still, if bold intruder come,
Her voice unfolds his hidden doom:
And oft the rugged ear of Hell
Is sooth’d by some melodious spell,
Slow-breathing from the hollow stone
In witching notes and solemn tone;
Immortal strains, that tell of things,
When the young down was on the wings
Of hoary Time, and sometimes swell
With such a wild enchanting peal, .
As heard above would fix the eye
Of nature in sweet ecstacy,
Steal every sense from mortal clay,

And drag the willing soul away." P. 34. Her descent is described in a strain of elegant and classical poetry. As she proceeds, she is startled with obscene spirits which glide between the rocks.

“ O who shall save thee, - Helga! mark
The ambush'd spirits of the dark !
Those are the powers accurst, that ride
The blasting whirlwind, and preside
O'er nature's wrecks; whose hands delight
To weave the tempest of the night,
Spread the red pestilence, and throw
A decper gloom o'er human woe!
Those are the fiends, that prompt the mind
To deeds of darkness, and behind
Send their fell crew with sickening breath,
Despair, and infamy, and death!" P. 43.

She reaches the tomb, and a voice informs her, that if Hialmar can procure a faulchion, forged by a race, of pigmies, who live immortal in the Northern fel!s, Angantyr shall fall beneath his hand, but that she herself shall rue the time when she came to consult so dreadful an oracle. In the beginning of the third Canto it is intimated, that all which passed was but a dream.

Be

Be this as it may, she is summoned in the morning to the hall of state, where she finds the monarch and his courtiers preparing for the chase. Helga joins the party, but as she lingers behind the rest, a wolf springs suddenly upon her, but is instantaneously dispatched by the arm of Hialmar: he now declares his love, and finds his affections returned by Helga. She informs him of her fancied journey to the tomb of Vala; Hialmar is resolved alone to seek the mystic faulchion, and sets sail to accomplish his purpose. The beginning of the fourth Canto gives us a spirited picture of the northern scenery, through which he passes. He discovers at last the retreat of the unearthly race.

« Silent he trod the winding cave,
Dark as the cloisters of the grave,
While round the dank imprison'd air
Sigh'd piteous, breathing chill despair;
Till full display'd, a glorious light
Burst sudden on his wondering sight.
A vault immense before him lay,
Yet was the dungeon bright as day.
There high uprear'd on either hand
Compact basaltic columns stand,
Shaft above shaft, a monsterous pile,
Like that which girds fair Staffa's isle,
Or the huge mass whose giant pride
Breasts the full strength of Erin's tide.
Nor lacks there radiance to disclose
Their various shapes and magic rows.
Myriads of lights their lustre shed,
By secret exhalations fed;
And, as each alabaster lamp
Dispels the gloom and joyless damp,
The vaulted roof sends back their rays,
And crystals and stalactites blaze.
Around unnumber'd treasures lie,
Of every hue and changeful die;
The ore that gives each metal birth,
Torn from the fruitful womb of earth;
And countless gems, a brilliant heap,
And pearls and corals from the deep.
Next lie huge bars of metal sheen,
Then piles of weapons bright and keen; ..
And many an engine form'd for ill
By cunning workmanship and skill.
Beyond, through that long vista seen
The double row of steel between,
In a dread nook obscure and low
The distant furnace seem'd to glow. .
E 2

· A loath

A loathsome, wan, and meagre race,
With shaggy chin and sallow face,
Treading with steps demure and slow
The Pigmy folk moved to and fro.
Some on their sturdy shoulders bore
The weight of rude unsmelted ore;
Some, from the high-piled stores displaced,
The ponderous bars of metal raised;
Near the hot furnace others staid,
and laboring smote the glowing blade;
Or, tempering the sharp steel, unheard
Mutter'd the powerful magic word.
In the full centre of the hall
Stood a dark statue, huge and tall;
Its form colossal, seen from far,
Shew'd like the thunderous God of war,
The sinews strain’d for deadly strife,
The strong limbs starting into life.
Its left hand grasp'd an iron shield,
Its right a threatening falchion held;
On the pure blade were written plain
These fatal words, “Angantyr's bane."
Hialmar's eyes shone bright as fire,
Their keen glance spoke his soul's desire.
• Art thou, he cried, “the thundering Thor,
• First of the gods in strife and war?
• Or does thy marrowless strength in vain
• Those iron muscles seem to strain
• In threatening mockery, form’d to scare
• The coward from the Pigmies' lair?

Whate'er thou art, Hialmar's hand
• Must tear from thine that flaming brand.'

Him answered straight, with visage wan,
Smiling in spite, a dwarfish man.

• Go, boaster, seize the shining prize!

But know, who wins that falchion, dies !'” P. 85. Our classical readers will trace the cave of Vulcan in every line of Mr. Herbert, and again the spirit of Achilles in the breast of Hialmar, who though death is to be the lot of him who gains the victorious blade,

..^ •To others preach of death and sorrow!

I heed not what may fall to-morrow!
• Glory and bright renown be mine,
• And let my deeds, while living, shine!
• O! why should man, whose hours must tend
• To death, their necessary end,

In the dull lap of ease retire,
And feed unseen life's feeble fire;

« Nor

« PreviousContinue »