Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

wood, and to revive, if possible, by some means or other, the fading impression of its horrors.

The most obvious and inartificial mode of attaining this end is, by adding to, and exaggerating the supernatural incidents of the tale. But far from increasing its effect, the principles which we have laid down, incline us to consider the impression as usually weakened by exaggerated and laborions description. Elegance is in such cases thrown away, and the accumulation of superlatives, with which the narrative is encumbered, renders it tedioas, or perhaps ludicrous, instead of becoming impressive or grand.

There is indeed one style of composition, of which the supernatural forms an appropriate part, which applies itself rather to the fancy than to the imagination, and aims more at amusing than at affecting or interesting the reader. To this species of composition belong the Eastern tales, which contribute so much to the amusement of our youth, and which are recollected, if not re-perused, with so much pleasure in our more advanced life. There are but few readers, of any imagination, who have not at one time or other in their life sympathized with the poet Collins, “who,” says Dr Johnson, “ was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination, which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meadows of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens.” It is chiefly the young and the indolent who love to be soothed by works of this character, which require little attention in the perusal. In our riper age, we remember them as we do the joys of our infancy, rather because we loved them once, than that they still continue to afford us amusement.

The extravagance of fiction loses its charms for our riper judgment; and notwithstanding that these wild fictions contain much that is beautiful and full of fancy, yet still, unconnected as they are with each other, and conveying no result to the understanding, we pass them by as the championess Britomart rode along the rich strand.

" Which as she overwent,
She saw bestrewed all with rich array
Of pearls and precious stones of great assay,
And all the gravel mixt with golden ore :
Whereat she wondered much, but would not stay

For gold, or pearls, or precious stones, one hour : But them despised all, for all was in her power.” With this class of supernatural composition may be ranked, though inferior in interest, what the French call Contes des Fées ; meaning, by that title, to distinguish them from the ordinary popular tales of fairy folks which are current in most countries. The Conte des Fées is itself a very different composition, and the fairies engaged are of a separate class from those whose amusement is to dance round the mushroom in the moonlight, and mislead the belated peasant. The French Fée more nearly resembles the Peri of Eastern, or the Fata of Jtalian poetry. She is a superior being, having the nature of an elementary spirit, and possessing magical powers enabling her, to a considerable extent, to work either good or evil. But whatever merit this species of writing may have attained in some dexterous hands, it has, under the management of others, become one of the most absurd, flat, and insipid possible. Out of the whole Cabinet des Fées, when we get beyond our old acquaintances of the nursery, we can hardly select five volumes, from nearly fifty, with any probability of receiving pleasure from them.

It often happens that when any particular style becomes somewhat antiquated and obsolete, some caricature, or satirical imitation of it, gives rise to a new species of composition. Thus the English Opera arose from the parody upon the Italian stage, designed by Gay, in the Beggar's Opera. In like manner, when the public had been inundated, ad nauseam, with Arabian tales, Persian tales, Turkish tales, Mogul tales, and legends of every nation east of the Bosphorus, and were equally annoyed by the increasing publication of all sorts of fairy tales, Count Anthony Hamilton, like a second Cervantes, came forth with his satirical tales, destined to overturn the empire of Dives, of Genii, of Peris, et hoc genus omne.

Something too licentious for a more refined age, the Tales of Count Hamilton subsist as a beautiful illustration, showing that literary subjects, as well as the fields of the husbandman, may, when they seem most worn out and efféte, be renewed and again brought into successful cultivation by a new fore, may

course of management. The wit of Count Hamil, ton, like manure applied to an exhausted field, rendered the Eastern tale more piquant, if not more edifying, than it was before. Much was written in imitation of Count Hamilton's style; and it was followed by Voltaire in particular, who in this way rendered the supernatural romance one of the most apt vehicles for circulating his satire. This, there

be termed the comic side of the supernatural, in which the author plainly declares his purpose to turn into jest the miracles which he relates, and aspires to awaken ludicrous sensations without affecting the fancy far less exciting the passions of the reader. By this species of delineation the reader will perceive that the supernatural style of writing is entirely travestied and held up to laughter, instead of being made the subject of respectful attention, or heard with at least that sort of imperfect excitement with which we listened to a marvellous tale of fairy-land. This species of satire-for it is often converted to satirical purposes-has never been more happily executed than by the French authors, although Wieland, and several other German writers, treading in the steps of Hamilton, have added the grace of poetry to the wit and to the wonders with which they have adorned this species of composition. Oberon, in particular, has been identified with our literature by the excellent translation of Mr Sotheby, and is nearly as well known in England as in Germany. It would, however, carry us far too wide from our present parpose, were we to consider the comiheroic poetry which belongs to this class, and which includes the well-known works of Pulci, Berniperhaps, in a certain degree, of Ariosto himself, who, in some passages at least, lifts his knightly vizor so far as to give a momentary glimpse of the smile which mantles upon his countenance.

One general glance at the geography of this most pleasing “ Londe of Faery,” leads us into another province, rough as it may seem and uncultivated, but which, perhaps, on that very account, has some scenes abounding in interest. There are a species of antiquarians who, while others laboured to reunite and highly ornament the ancient traditions of their country, have made it their business, antiquos accedere fontes, to visit the ancient springs and sources of those popular legends which, cherished by the grey and superstitious Elde, had been long forgotten in the higher circles, but are again brought forward, and claim, like the old ballads of a country, a degree of interest even from their rugged simplicity. The Deutsche Sagen of the brothers Grimm, is an admirable work of this kind ; assembling, without any affectation either of ornamental diction or improved incident, the various traditions existing in different parts of Germany respecting popular superstitions and the events ascribed to supernatural agency. There are other works of the same kind, in the same language, collected with great care and apparent fidelity. Sometimes trite, sometimes tiresome, sometimes childish, the legends which these authors have collected with such indefatigable zeal form nevertheless a step in the history

« AnteriorContinua »