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repress our exultation at the rising prospects and rapid improves ment of our own country, or to close our eyes to the decisive evidence which every day brings before us, of the mutual advan. tages which commerce and literature derive from each other, Not only in the metropolis, but in many of the great commercial towns of the United Kingdom, academical institutions are formed, and literary societies established, upon different plans and with different resources, but all of them calculated to promote the great object of intellectual improvement. In some of these the town of Liverpool has led the way. It was, I believe, her Athenæum and Lyceum that set the first example of those associations which are now so generally adopted; and it may justly be observed that these establishments have no longer left the beneficial influence which commerce and literature have on each other to be inferred from historical deductions, or far-sought arguments, but have actually brought them together, have given them a residence under the same roof, and inseparably united the bold, vigorous, and active character of the one with the elegant accomplishments and lighter graces of the other.'
We hope that the glowing expectations of this philanthropic orator will be realized; that Liverpool will become to the western hemisphere a fountain of instruction and of liberality; and that here no tests devised by superstition or intolerance are to exclude the learner from the lecture-room, or the professor from the chair.
ART. IX. Ivanhoe ; a Romance. By the Author of " Waverley, &c.
12mo.3 Vols. 11. 108. Boards. Edinburgh, Constable and Co.; London, Hurst and Co. 1820. IT
T has been remarked that living authors are estimated by
their worst productions, but, when personal envy is buried with them, by their best. We are by no means disposed, however, to visit the still unavowed though scarcely unknown writer of Ivanhoe, while he yet lives, with a rule of judgment so harsh and invidious; and long may the hour be deferred, which is to bring him to the posthumous test of departed genius. We cannot, indeed, be unmindful of the languor which he has soothed, and the wearisomeness which he has beguiled, by the successive works that have flowed from bis pen; nor indisposed to be grateful for that freshness and vivacity of invention, which have imparted distinctness and variety to each of them.
Still, it would be an affectation of candour wholly inconsistent with the unbending impartiality which is the first quality of a critical journal, if we dissembled that degree of disappointment which has been caused in our minds by the
volumes before us. That, from the very nature of things, this disappointment is not unfrequently the effect of unfounded expectation; that we too often require of him who has long toiled in our service an unintermitted play of fancy, and an unimpaired happiness of execution ; and that occasionally to fall below the unreasonable measure of the demand implies no defect of merit, and ought to incur no diminution of fame; are positions which it would be unjust to deny. Passing by those ebbs and flows of the intellectual faculty, to which it has sometimes been supposed that even men of the most unquestionable genius have been liable, - the fancy which half persuaded Milton that he was born in a latitude some degrees too northern, or hinted to Dryden that he never wrote happily till the autumnal equinox, more rational causes
be assigned for the inequalities so often observed in the creations of the same mind. They who have long pleased are apt to relax their diligence, as if the same end could be attained when the effort to produce it is diminished. It may happen, also, that the powers are enfeebled by exercise; or, which more frequently occurs, that the fountains become at length exhausted, from which so much amusement and delight have flowed on us; and sometimes the humour of the reader produces the failure of the writer, who, like all caterers for public entertainment, has to undergo the sudden alternations of taste and the shifting caprices of applause.
It is evident, however, that the author of “ Waverley" does not require any of these topics of vindication. • Ivanhoe' exhibits no symptoms of worn out or debilitated powers ; and, if ever incentives to exertion were supplied to those who write for the general amusement, his toil has been exhilarated and his genius has been animated by success beyond the most sanguine calculations even of vanity itself, by gratitude for that success, and by recompences (as we have reason to believe) that throw into insignificance the most splendid remunerations hitherto known in the history of our national letters. Fashion, which in this modern world bears so boundless a sway, bas contributed to his triumphs; the diffidence of him who, having by one effort earned a reputation which he trembles lest the succeeding attempt may destroy, has never had cause to rebuke him; and his imagination, of which age has not yet dimmed the brightness, must on this as on former occasions, whenever like Prospero he wished to task it, have stood obedient to his “strong biddings.” Where, then, are we to seek for the causes of a falling-off
, which almost justifies the provident caution that another reason called from
the publisher *, in requesting that some guarantee should appear on the title-page, to satisfy the public that the volumes were written by the author of Waverley ?? Far be it from us to insinuate that no traces are to be recognized of those astonishing powers, which delighted us in “Guy Mannering” and fascinated us in the “ Antiquary:" but that a wide interval of merit exists between those admirable works and the present must be admitted, we think, by the most zealous and even idolatrous of his readers.
The most obvious solution of a difficulty which approaches to a literary problem is the less felicitous choice of the subject. Not that we indiscriminately object to historical romances, if we are compelled to use that contradictory appellation. We still remember the pleasure with which we perused Miss Lee's “ Recess,” and one or two other books of the same description, which were deservedly favourites with the public; while we ingenuously confess that the union of romance with authentic events must draw its power of imparting pleasure from repugnant and contradictory sources. Like opposite forces operating on matter, they must become destructive of each other: they form an ill-assorted combination, arising out of elements that can never coalesce. Authenticated history, of which the leading traits are present to our remembrance, perpetually appeals against the fictions with which she is compelled to associate; as if the fabulous personages, who are mixed with the graver characters of her drama, were usurpations on her established and rightful province.
“ Non bene conveniunt, nec una sede morantur.” Romance is discouraged in her career by those whispers of incredulity, and those intimations of incongruity, which are inseparable from such an admixture : some suspicion perpetually haunts us, that the real course of events is broken up to suit the purposes of the story; and even that part of it, which is authentic narration, is obliged to carry on a debate with the doubts raised up against it by the interposition of romantic incidents and fictitious persons. In this conflict, the mind, on the one hand, refuses to acquiesce in certain and indisputable fact; while, on the other, the fiction, however ingenious may be its structure, works on us with its charm half broken and its potency nearly dissolved. In vain we would gladly give the reins of our fancy into the hands of the author, when, at every step that it takes, it stumbles on a reality that checks and intercepts it: not unlike the effect
* See the advertisement prefixed to • Ivanhoe.'
of that imperfeot slumber which is interrupted by the sounds of the active world, - a confused mixture of drowsy and waking existence. It is neither perfect romance nor perfect history.
Even historical dramas are open to this objection, when a considerable interpolation of fabled incidents occurs. We may venture to conjecture that the great master of our drama, or (to render him better justice) of human life itself, had some perception of this disadvantage. In his plays, which he called G6 Histories,” he adhered to real events, or to those known and received traditions which in his time supplied its place; and even the shadowy forms that affrighted the conscience of Richard were not considered as departures from the real world, by an audience that believed in supernatural beings, and during the reign of a monarch who recorded, in a book full of pedantry and learning, his own royal persuasion of their reality. Shakspeare, however, seemed fearful of trying the experiment of a drama partly real and partly romantic, which, if capable of success under any management, must have triumphed in his hands. In the plays founded on English story, he has scarcely departed from our English chronicles; and in those which are Roman, as Coriolanus, Julius Cæsar, and Anthony and Cleopatra, the critical reader will almost perceive Sir Thomas North's version of Plutarch's Lives accurately dramatized. Macbeth, Lear, and Cymbeline, (not indeed authenticated history, but popular legends,) belonged to the public credence, and were received for history by the audience of an age that was not in the habits of nicely scrutinizing the foundations of its faith. Jonson, also, a critic and dramatist, did not venture in his Catiline and Sejanus to stir out of the circle of historic truth. that the mixed species was beyond the daring of those extraordinary men ; probably because they perceived too truly and had balanced too nicely the sources of dramatic delight, not to perceive that, before an audience who were previously convinced that what they heard was real history, though aided by the accessories of scenic decoration and living personages, a wide departure from that history would have been fatal to the pleasure which it imparted. If Dryden mixed up adventitious incidents in the dramas which he constructed on the conquest of Mexico, he seems to have taken advantage of the remoteness of the scene of the real events, and of the slender knowlege of them in his audience; whom the narrations of the Spanish historians had scarcely reached, and on whom, there fore, the incidents of the drama had all the effect of original invention.
We have ventured these remarks, under a conviction that the mixture of real with fictitious occurrences creates at best but a confused and imperfect pleasure; and that, in the instance before us, it goes some way at least to account for the inferiority that may be perceived in • Ivanhoe' to the productions which have conferred so high an estimation on their author. On a former occasion, (Review for December, 1818, when the second series of “ Tales of My Landlord” came under our notice, we were not unobservant of the forced and unnatural connection of one of the principal persons of the story with the events of the riots at Edinburgh in 1736; and of the extraordinary violence done both to real history and moral probability, by the intercourse into which Effie Deans was thrown with the Duke of Argyle. Our objection was rather hinted than stated; yet we would ask those who have been most strongly charmed with the turns and fortunes of that entertaining story, whether the incongruity and unfitness of those parts of it did not impede and in some degree impair the pleasure which it afforded ? It was, to say the least, an unnecessary aberration into history, or rather an unnecessary departure from fiction. Viewed in either relation, it is a deformity, and the less intitled to forgiveness because wholly extraneous and adventitious to the progress or the interest of the narration. If our remark on that occasion had its foundation in just criticism, the force of the objection is not impaired when the fault, instead of being merely incidental, pervades the whole of the production.
In his preceding compositions, the author appeared before us in his own appropriate department; and he luxuriated, as it were, in subjects of description that were more capable of coalescing with his peculiar powers, than those which are the ground-work of • Ivanhoe.' We then endeavoured to analyze, with as much precision as the matter permitted, the causes of the interest which the works excited, and of the hold which they acquired on the general feeling ; and we did not lose sight of some objections, which, though of little weight when placed against the prevailing excellences of the whole, yet deserved to be thrown into the uplifted scale. We perceived that the narrative was not unfrequently prolix and tedious, and in some of the most momentous periods of it protracted and wiredrawn to the torturing minuteness of Guicciardini himself; that the dialogue, though for the most part highly dramatic, occasionally languished for want of a seasonable variety, or of that quickness of reciprocation without which a dialogue even in real life is flat and uninteresting; -- that even those individual peculiarities which constitute a single man into a