« AnteriorContinua »
But by an effort, and with trembling hand,
My child ! my boy! It cannot be,' he said ;
The wretched Count fell senseless on the stone." At the end of the Poem is a translation of Froissart's account of these transactions; and we think that the perusal of that admirable narrative will increase rather than lessen the satisfaction of the reader with the metrical version of Mr. Powell, inasmuch as it will show with what fidelity he has retained the main features of the story, and in how congenial a spirit of “ picturesqueness" he has superadded the embellishments of a Troubadour to the animated descriptions of the Chronicler.
ED WIN THE FAIR.
AN HISTORICAL DRAMA. BY HENRY TAYLOR, AUTHOR OF “ PHILIP VAN ARTEVELDE." This Play will, we think, sustain the reputation of its author. It is not inferior to his former work. Yet we cannot commend the design so much as the execution of this new production. Having arranged his plot and cast his characters according to his fancy, Mr. Taylor has worked out his own notion with much ability, unquestionably. But in the construction of the plot itself, and in his delineation of some of the actors, more particularly of Dunstan, the hero of the piece, he has not only rejected historical probabilities, but adopted prejudices that betray him into caricature. We do not care much for his aberrations from the fainter lines of history so remote ; nor for convenient anachronisms, freely indulged in and as freely avowed; nor for the character of Edwin being represented in the fair colours given to it by some modern writers, though all the weight of elder evidence tends to stamp him as a lawless prodigal and profligate; we do not complain if a vixen mistress be presented to us as the royal and blameless wife; nor do we captiously inquire why Mr. Taylor is content with Hume's version of the story of Edwin, or at least with a version which, if his own, so conforms to Hume's as to induce the suspicion that the dramatist has not taken the trouble to investigate the old authorities with much more care than was previously taken by the historian, who quotes several that he must have read but superficially, or not at all, if we are to judge by the discrepancy between the premises and the conclusions. We are not over-jealous of the encroachments of fiction upon fact at this early stage of our history, though we would not recommend them. We do not dispute the dramatist's right to take VOL. XCVI.
his own course, and we are willing to follow him, even if he leads us astray, provided his deviations are plausibly contrived, and if he introduces us to scenes and circumstances which have at least verisimilitude, if not verity. In the character of Dunstan, as exhibited to us by Mr. Taylor, we see little or no probable likeness to that of a man who, whether he were or were not “ pushed sometimes past the confines of his reason,” exercised so paramount a sway, not over the raw and ignorant masses only, but over the comparatively civilized thanes and gesiths of his time and country, over ealdermen and kings, and even over the shrewd and tutored intellects of the dignitaries of his own order. That “the Anglo-Saxon times furnish examples of both the hero and the scholar which the Norman can hardly supply," is a fact that Mr. Taylor himself admits, and of which the researches of Turner, Lingard, Augustin, Thierry, and other diligent and judicious examiners of ancient chronicles, will convince any reader who is indisposed to the labour of collating them for himself. Dunstan could never have obtained or held his ascendancy over such men by mountebank tricks of mock-sanctity, or the palpable devices of a “cunning carpenter." No doubt any sturdy charlatan, with sufficient power of face, might, at any period in the tenth century, as in the nineteenth, pass himself off upon the weak or stupid as a worker of miracles. There are no pretensions too monstrous for a class of believers who are found in all ages, and who seem to be generated as the natural prey of the reptiles that live on their credulity. But such quacks have no permanent hold upon society at large, and never establish for themselves an abiding influence over minds and circumstances through which distinction can be achieved. Had Dunstan really degraded himself to the vulgar level of a howling dervise, he might have “ pleased the pigs," and frightened the pig-tenders of Mayfield Forest, and alarmed all the old women and children in the neighbourhood, and not a few, perhaps, of the stout churls also (for we do not suppose the hard heads of the boors of Sussex, in the year 956, to have been superstition-proof, any more than those of the clowns of East Kent, who in 1837 and 1838 believed in the divinity of a mad maltster from Truro):-had he given out that he“ met the Evil One in bodily oppugnancy,” to use Mr. Taylor's stiff phrase, or, in plain English, that he met the Devil and pulled his nose with red hot irons; or had be shut up a confederate in a box made in the form of a cross, and so secured oracular responses exactly suited to his purposes; or had he been such a wizard in mechanics as not only to devise the construction of a wooden platform that should give way under a certain weight, but should fall just at the right time and precipitate his opposers, while he stood safe on the only firm plank, he might have deceived the multitude into a belief in his supernatural powers; but he would never have become the chief leader of his time of a great movement in the Church, the head of the powerful party that caused the law of celibacy of the priesthood to be again enforced in this country, after it had grown obsolete, and re-established it so firmly, against all opposition, that it maintained its authority for five centuries. Of all those juggling feats has Dunstan been accused, as every body knows; but it is remarkable, considering the credit that has been given to the accusations, that no writer contemporary with Dunstan, or writing soon after his decease, even so much as alludes to them. They were inventions of a later period, pretended to have been derived from Latin documents that had been consumed by fire. For one of them only can we discover any specious foundation. It is related by various writers, that when Dunstan was present at a meeting of the Witan, in Wiltshire, the flooring gave way, and that he was not one of those who had his limbs fractured by the misadventure. The successive annalists to whom we are indebted for that most valuable of all our early records, “ The Saxon Chronicle,” were careful transmitters of miracles, prodigies, and portents, as well as of more precious matters; but the notice of that accident is simply thus:
“This year " (978, twenty-two years after the time of Mr. Taylor's Play, and nearly as many after the most likely date of Edwin's death,) “all the ealdermen of England fell, at Calne, off an upper floor; but the holy Dunstan, Archbishop, alone stood upon a beam, and some were frightfully hurt, and some escaped not with life.” There is no allusion to, or hint of a miracle.
Mr. Taylor has availed himself of those more than equivocal anecdotes to illustrate his view of the character of Dunstan, in which he finds combined, inconsistently, we think, the strictest morals with the loosest principles; the sternest asceticism with the most ambitious and unscrupulous lust of rule; and the wiliness of a mummer with the sincerity of an enthusiast. He makes him talk and act like a fiend incarnate, religiously convinced all the time that “the end sanctifies the means," though endowed with an intellect far too lofty and subtle for credence in so contemptible a dogma. To all this we have little other objection than its incongruity; it is a kind of mosaic character; and indeed, to our taste, the whole story is too much a mosaic of history; and it is scarcely fair to call it “an Historical Drama.”
It is, however, a very clever composition ; and we shall have great pleasure in giving our readers proofs that, whether we are right or wrong in finding fault with the plan, our strictures arise from no indisposition to acknowledge the merits of the author's performance.
The Play opens in a wood with a dialogue between a swineherd and a forester. There is no getting on with an Anglo-Saxon tale without the help of swine and mast.
“ The hog he munched the acorns brown,
Till joyfully twinkled his tail,
As though he were drunk with ale :
To man is done, that acorns do to swine.” So sings the swineherd, and we delight in his song. By-the-bye, we doubt whether the gruntling of the above ditty twinkles his tail with the same propriety as
“In the rough fern-clad park the herded deer
Shook the still twinkling tail and glancing ear," in an “ Evening Walk," published some half century ago. But so sings the swineherd Ulf-though with a heavy heart, for his pigs have now lost their appetite, which misfortune he attributes to their having strayed too near to the place
“where holy Dunstan dwells, Scourging his wasted body half the night,
And wrestling with the Evil One." The forester reproves his ignorance, and tells him that the pigs are plague-stricken on account of the wickedness of “the vile Seculars," the married priests. They are interrupted by Athulf, the King's cousin, and brother to Elgiva, the future queen : this earl asks the way to Kingston, and is told that the shortest way is by Warlewond-chase, but that it will lead him near the dreaded retreat where Dunstan " for three weeks past nightly encounters Satan.” Atbulf, though for himself indifferent, declines that road, lest his “ attendance should war thin," and asks to be led by any devious path where he may “ eschew the Devil and Father Dunstan.” The forester conducts him by another road to Kingston, where he has an interview with his friend, Earl Leolf, commander of the King's forces, or Heretoch, between whom and Athulf's sister, Elgiva, there had been a mutually understood at. tachment, more serious on Leolf's side than on the lady's, for she is now about to wed the King, Edwin the Fair, so called from “ his exquisite beauty." To his friend's inquiry, “ What ails the Court ?" Leolf answers,
" Its old disorder; complex and compounded
Of many ills in even shares partaken.
With hatred's canker.” A good report of bad symptoms, in spite of its hissing plurality of genitive cases-Athulf rejoins,
“To which add no doubt
Monks for Physicians." In the next scene we have Dunstan alone in Warlewood-chase, and overhear the following ambitious soliloquy,
No matter-let her choose-To-night then be it.
And bellow there as is thy wont.
Well said, Satan! Ay!
Ha! the Queen Mother!” Gunnilda, the Queen Mother, enters; a dame “over whose mean and meagre soul hath monkery triumphed.” She is faint with fear and weariness, and prays to be allowed to sit. He politely answers, “ If stand thou canst not, kneel!" and the Dowager-Majesty obediently falls on her knees, and thus propitiates her tyrant,
“ In thy holy hands
As knowing it is Heaven's.” In this reverent posture and frame of mind, she confers with Dunstan on the approaching marriage of the King to his cousin Elgiva; to