Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

a power of which it cannot estimate the force, of which it hath every reason to doubt the purpose, and at the idea of confronting which our nature recoils.

Before we leave the story of “ The Entail," we must notice the conclusion, which is beautifully told, and will recall to most readers who are past the prime of life, feelings which they themselves must occasionally have experienced. Many, many years after the baronial race of R- had become extinguished, accident brought the young nephew, now a man in advanced age, to the shores of the Baltic. It was night, and his eye was attracted by a strong light which spread itself along the horizon.

"• What fire is that before us, postilion ?' said I. ' It is no fire,' answered he, “it is the beacon light of R- -sitten.'- Of R-sitten !' He had scarce uttered the words, when the picture of the remarkable days which I had passed in that place arose in clear light in my memory. ' I saw the þaron, -I saw Seraphina—I saw the strange-looking old aunts,-I saw myself, with a fair boyish countenance, out of which the mother's milk seemed not yet to have been pressed, my frock of delicate azure blue, my hair curled and powdered with the utmost accuracy, image of the lover sighing like a furnace, who tunes his sonnets to his mistress's eyebrows. Amidst a feeling of deep melanchody, fluttered like sparkles of light the recollection of the justiciary's rough jests, which appeared to me now much more pleasant than when I was the subject of them. Next morning I visited the village, and made some enquiries after the baronial steward : With your favour, sir,' said the postilion, taking the pipe out of his mouth, and touching bis night-cap, there is here no baronial steward ; the place belongs to his Majesty, and the royal superintendent is still in bed.' On farther questions, I learned that the Baron Roderick von Rhaving died without descendants, the entailed estate, according to the terms of the grant, had been vested in the crown. I walked up to the castle which lay now in a heap of ruins, An old peasant, who came out of the

the very

pine wood, informed me that a great part of the stones had been used to build the beacon-tower; he told me, too, of the spectre which in former times had haunted the spot, and asserted that when the moon was at the full, the voice of lamentation was still heard among the ruins.“

If the reader has, in a declining period of his life, revisited the scenes of youthful interest, and received from the mouth of strangers an account of the changes which have taken place, he will not be indifferent to the simplicity of this conclusion.

The passage which we have quoted, while it shows the wildness of Hoffmann's fancy, evinces also that he possessed power which ought to have mitigated and allayed it. Unfortunately, his taste and temperament directed him too strongly to the grotesque and fantastic-carried him too far “extra monia flammantia mundi,” too much beyond the cirele not only of probability but even of possibility, to admit of his composing much in the better style which he might easily have attained. The popular romance, no doubt, has many walks, nor are we at all inclined to halloo the dogs of criticism against those whose object is merely to amuse a passing hour. It may be repeated with truth, that in this path of light literature, "tout genre est permis hors les genres ennuyeux," and of course, an error in taste ought not to be followed up and hunted down as if it were a false maxim in morality, a delusive hypothesis in science, or a heresy in religion itself. Genius too, is, we are aware, capricious, and must be allowed to take its own flights, however eccentric, were it but for the sake of experiment. Sometimes, also, it may be eminently pleasing to look at the wildness of an Arabesque painting executed by a man of rich fancy. But we do not desire to see genius expand or rather exhaust itself

upon

themes which cannot be reconciled to taste; and the utmost length in which we can indulge a turn to the fantastic is, where it tends to excite agreeable and pleasing ideas.

We are not called upon to be equally tolerant of such capriccios as are not only startling by their extravagance, but disgusting by their horrible import. Moments there are, and must have been, in the author's life, of pleasing as well as painful excitation; and the Champagne which sparkled in his glass must have lost its benevolent influence if it did not sometimes wake his fancy to emotions which were pleasant as well as whimsical. But as repeatedly the tendency of all overstrained feelings is directed towards the painful, and the fits of lunacy, and the crisises of very undue excitement which approaches to it, are much more frequently of a disagreeable than of a pleasant character, it is too certain, that we possess in a much greater degree the

power of exciting in our minds what is fearful, melancholy, or horrible, than of commanding thoughts of a lively and pleasing character. The grotesque, also, has a natural alliance with the horrible; for that which is out of nature can be with difficulty reconciled to the beautiful. Nothing, for instance, could be more displeasing to the eye than the palace of that crack-brained Italian prince, which was decorated with every species of monstrous sculptures which a depraved imagination could suggest to the artist. The works of Callot, though evincing a wonderful fertility of mind, are in like manner regarded with surprise rather than pleasure. If we compare his fertility with that of Hogarth, they resemble each other in extent; but in that of the satisfaction afforded by a close examination the English artist has wonderfully the advantage. Every new touch which the observer detects amid the rich superfluities of Hogarth is an article in the history of human manners, if not of the human heart; while, on the contrary, in examining microscopically the diablerie of Callot's pieces, we only discover fresh instances of ingenuity thrown away, and of fancy pushed into the regions of absurdity. The works of the one painter resemble a garden carefully cultivated, each nook of which contains something agreeable or useful ; while those of the other are like the garden of the sluggard, where a soil equally fertile produces nothing but wild and fantastic weeds.

Hoffmann has in some measure identified himself with the ingenious artist upon whom we have just passed a censure by his title of “ Night Pieces after the manner of Callot,and in order to write such a tale, for example, as that called “ The Sandman,” he must have been deep in the mysteries of that fanciful artist, with whom he might certainly boast a kindred spirit. We have given an instance of a tale in which the wonderful is, in our opinion, happily introduced, because it is connected with and applied to human interest and human feeling, and illustrates with no ordinary force the elevation to which circumstances may raise the power and dignity of the human mind. The following narrative is of a different class :

66 half horror and half whim, Like fiends in glee, ridiculously grim.” Nathaniel, the hero of the story, acquaints us with the circumstances of his life in a letter addressed to Lothiar, the brother of Clara ; the one being his friend, the other his betrothed bride. The writer is a young man of a fanciful and hypochondriac temperament, poetical and metaphysical in an excessive degree, with precisely that state of nerves which is most accessible to the influence of imagination. He communicates to his friend and his mistress an adventure of his childhood. It was, it seems, the custom of his father, an honest watchmaker, to send his family to bed upon certain days earlier in the evening than usual, and the mother in enforcing this observance used to say, “ To-bed, children, the Sandman is coming!" In fact, on such occasions, Nathaniel observed that after their hour of retiring, a knock was heard at the door, a heavy step echoed on the staircase, some person entered his father's apartments, and occasionally a disagreeable and suffocating vapour was perceptible through the house. This then was the Sandman ; but what was his occupation and what was his purpose ? The nursery-maid being applied to, gave a nursery-maid's explanation, that the Sandman was a bad man, who flung sand in the eyes of little children who did not go to bed. This increased the terror of the boy,

« AnteriorContinua »