Imatges de pàgina


expose the mechanical aids by which the delusions were accomplished. In one respect, indeed, it is worse mismanagement; because the understanding spectator might be in some degree gratified by the view of engines which, however rude, were well adapted to produce the effects which he had witnessed. But the machinery of the Castle of Montorio, when exhibited, is wholly inadequate to the gigantic operations ascribed to it. There is a total and absolute disproportion between the cause and effect, which must disgust every reader much more than if he were left under the delusion of ascribing the whole to supernatural agency. The latter resource has indeed many disadvantages ; some of which we shall briefly notice. But it is an admitted expedient; appeals to the belief of all ages but our own; and still produces, when well managed, some effect even upon those who are most disposed to contemn its influence. We can therefore allow of supernatural agency to a certain extent and for an appropriate purpose, but we never can consent that the effect of such agency shall be finally attributable to natural causes totally inadequate to its production. We can believe, for example, in Macbeth’s witches, and tremble at their spells; but had we been informed, in the conclusion of the piece, that they were only three of his wife's chamber-maids disguised for the purpose of imposing on the Thane's credulity, it would have added little to the credibility of the story, and entirely deprived it of the interest. In like manner we fling


back upon

the Radcliffe school their flat and ridiculous explanations, and plainly tell them that they must either confine themselves to ordinary and natural events, or find adequate causes for those horrors and mysteries in which they love to involve

Yet another word on this subject. We know not if a novel writer of the present day expects or desires his labours to be perused oftener than once ; but as there


be here and there a maiden aunt in a family, for whose advantage it must be again read over by the young lady who has already devoured it in secret, we advise them to consider how much they suffer from their adherence to this unfortunate system. We will instance the incident of the black veil in the castle of Udolpho Attention is excited, and afterwards recalled, by a hundred indirect artifices, to the dreadful and unexplained mystery which the heroine had seen beneath it; and which, after all, proves to be nothing more nor less than a waxen doll. This trick


indeed for once answer the writer's purpose ; and has, we suppose, cost many an extra walk to the circulating library, and many a curse upon the malicious concurrent who always has the fourth volume in hand. But it is as impossible to reperuse the book without feeling the contempt awakened by so pitiful a contrivance as it is for a child to regain its original respect for King Solomon after he has seen the monarch disrobed of all his glory, and deposited in the same box with Punch and his wife. And, in fact, we feel inclined to abuse the author in such a case as the watch do Harlequin, when they find out his trick of frightening them by mimicking the report of a pistol. Faquin, maraud, pendard, impudent, téméraire,

Vous osez nous faire peur !” In the second place, we are of opinion that the terrors of this class of novel writers are too accumulated and unremitting. The influence of fear —and here we extend our observations as well to those romances which actually ground it upon supernatural prodigy as to those which attempt a subsequent explanation—is indeed a faithful and legitimate key to unlock every source of fancy and of feeling. Mr Murphy's introduction is expressed with the spirit and animation which, though often misdirected, pervade his whole work.

I question whether there be a source of emotion in the whole mental frame so powerful or universal as the fear arising from objects of invisible terror. Perhaps there is no other that has been, at some period or other of life, the predominant and indelible sensation of every mind, of every class, and under every circumstance. Love, supposed to be the most general of passions, has certainly been felt in its purity by very few, and by some not at all, even in its most indefinite and simple state.

“ The same might be said, à fortiori, of other passions. But who is there that has never feared ? Who is there that has not iavoluntarily remembered the gossip's tale in solitude or in dark

Who is there that has not sometimes shivered under an influence he would scarce acknowledge to himself ? I might trace this passion to a high and obvious source.

“ It is enough for my purpose to assert its existence and prevalency, which will scarcely be disputed by those who remember it. It is absurd to depreciate this passion, and deride its influence. It is not the weak and trivial impulse of the nursery, to be forgotten and scorned by manhood. It is the aspiration of a spirit; • it is the passion of immortals,' that dread and desire of their final habitations.”-Pref. pp. 4 & 5.


We grant there is much truth in this proposition taken generally. But the finest and deepest feelings are those which are most easily exhausted. The chord which vibrates and sounds at a touch, remains in silent tension under continued pressure. Besides, terror, as Bob Acres says of its counterpart, courage, will come and go; and few people can afford timidity enough for the writer's purpose who is determined on “horrifying " them through three thick volumes. The vivacity of the emotion also depends greatly upon surprise, and surprise cannot be repeatedly excited during the perusal of the same work. It is said respecting the cruel punishment of breaking alive upon the wheel, the sufferer's nerves are so much jarred by the first blow, that he feels comparatively little pain from those which follow. There is something of this in moral feeling ; nor do we see a better remedy for it than to recommend the cessation of these experiments upon the public, until their sensibility shall have recovered its original tone. The taste for the marvellous has been indeed compared to the habit of drinking ardent liquors. But it fortunately differs in having its limits : he upon whom one dram does not produce the effect, can attain the desired degree of inebriation by doubling the dose. But when we have ceased to start at one ghost, we are callous to the exhibition of a whole Pandemonium. In short, the sensation is generally as transient as it is powerful, and commonly depends upon some slight circumstances which cannot be repeated.

“ The time has been, our senses would have coold
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 ? 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

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