« ZurückWeiter »
vengeance inflicted for the real or supposed violence committed on the lady, formed a befitting prelude to his other deeds of blood, and did not fall short of the enormity of those crimes which have rendered his subsequent career so infamous.
In appearance, Cabrera is about the middle stature, rather slight, and not ungracefully formed. To a stranger, his countenance is not indicative of the ferocity which has made him so remarkable, even amongst the sanguinary leaders of the Carlist bands; and his demeanour, when not under the influence of intense excitement, is mild and gentle. Even when affected by some overwhelming feeling, his external manner betrays little of the tempest which rages within : it is not boisterous, nor loud, but rather that of deep, calm, concentrated, yet deadly, determination. On one occasion only is it recorded that this habitual calmness completely abandoned him. This monster, who is not redeemed by another virtue, wept like an infant snatched from the bosom, when the tidings of his mother's death reached him. He loved her much; and her murder turned to gall whatever little of earthly feeling made his heart still human. He shut himself up in his apartment during two days, without admitting an individual, with the exception of one favoured servant, a relative, it is said, to witness the agony of grief to which he abandoned himself, and which almost deprived him of consciousness.
Though nominally in arms for Don Carlos, it is believed that his attachment to the person, or sentiments, of the Pretender is not very profound. Of all the generals bound to the cause of despotism, Cabrera was least under the influence of the mimic court of Estella or Oñate. He never concealed his contempt for the mental imbecility of the brother of Ferdinand; and none of the despicable and bigoted intriguers who infested head-quarters ever dared to interfere with his plans. With regard to the cruelty alleged against Cabrera, so multifarious have been the acts of atrocity committed by all since the commencement of the war, and with which, unfortunately for the cause of freedom, the Cristino party had been also stained, that it may be difficult to select one who will appear much more guilty than the rest. Yet if such a man exist, Cabrera is that person.
His heart seems utterly steeled against all human feelings. His personal ambition is very great; and it is said that he once considered the possibility an idea, which, perhaps, he may not have yet abandoned — of restoring the province of Aragon to the independence it enjoyed before the accession to the crown of Spain of the House of Austria, and of placing himself at the head of its government. He is a bold, bad man -- devoid of principle, actuated by selfishness, loving cruelty for its own sake, and capable of perpetrating any enormity to further his designs; but, unfortunately for those opposed to him, endowed, too, with such vast energy and high talent, as to render their success a matter of much uncertainty, and their failure a cause of desolation and ruin on all within his reach.
NOVEL WRITING AND NEWSPAPER CRITICISM.
There are few things more easy, and at the same time more unprofitable and idle, than to pour forth a chapter of lamentations on evils arising out of circumstances and influences beyond any voluntary control, and rail with a “forty parson power" against some mischief which, after all, may be only a necessary concomitant of a particular social state - vexing our souls with contending against what we regard as the degeneracy of the age in matters of morals or of taste, as our forefathers whilome did with waging war on flowing locks, and the turned-up toes of gallants' shoes, and with about as much chance of doing any good, as had the broom of the renowned Mrs. Partington of resisting the incursions of the Atlantic Ocean. Bookshelves may groan, and pulpits and professional chairs resound with wellmeant efforts for the improvement of society; but unless they can succeed in pointing to the organ whose diseased action occasions the peccant symptoms, the attempts of authorised and unauthorised teachers are likely to be equally fruitless. “ Si nous voulons être vertueux otons les circonstances qui nous empêchent de l'être. Il n'y a pas d'autre moyen.”
In our last number we took occasion to express our opinion that the faulty manner in which the daily press had in general fulfilled the duties of its critical department had powerfully contributed to bring about the present deplorable prostration of the drama, and of the doubtful, if not declining state of public taste in art and light literature in general; but it would have appeared to us to little purpose to do so, unless we could, at the same time, point out some change in the present newspaper system, which, in our opinion at least, might give some hopes of ameliorating the evil complained of. It may, indeed, be urged that though there can scarcely be two opinions on the subject of the dramatic art, it is by no means certain that our remarks have any further applicability than that we are often worse judges of the spirit and tendencies of the age in which we live than of those more remote, since there is no 6 bank or shoal of time” on which we can take our stand, but must ourselves be swept along with its mighty current. Our fears often magnify the proportions of objects which threaten us pearly, and the clouds which throw so dark a shadow over our horizon might give way to light and sunshine if we took our view from a more elevated spot.
Fully conscious of the truth of this objection, we are rather inclined to put a query than to make an assertion as to the present character of our literature, and the probability that there are causes at work threatening its further degradation. It is evident that at a time of such great literary, or, at all events, of such great publishing activity, literature could not always remain to its votaries what it once was, – a religion, or heart-worship. Like other blessings, for which in former days men have held their lives a cheap sacrifice, it has become common enough to be disregarded. The learning, once so high and proud a distinction when the scholar lived apart in his own lofty sphere, holding free communion only with those who were, like himself, the initiated priests of knowledge, and looking down on the rest of mankind as on a different and inferior race, might indeed have nourished much vain-glory and self-sufficiency, but it frequently brought purer feelings and loftier aspirations than attend our better knowledge, and was looked on as a sacred deposit not to be lightly prostituted to base or venal purposes.
Idle and fantastic, it is true, was often the nature of the pursuits on which the name of learning was bestowed, but they were ennobled by the spirit in which they were followed; and we can scarcely afford to smile at their childishness, unless we are prepared to show that the grander truths of which we are in possession can inspire us with as true a faith, and as generous a devotion.
The great increase in the numbers of the reading public, and the demand thus created for a regular supply of literary productions, as wares adapted to the market, have necessarily raised up a class of persons, who follow literature as a branch of industry, - authors by the grace of the booksellers, with whom the first question is and must be to hit the popular taste of the moment.
The vast facilities afforded by newspapers for bestowing on these manufactures a showy, though transitory popularity, and developing all the resources of the art of puffing, have been found too convenient to publishers not to be readily seized upon, while the critic, staking little of his reputation on the truth and candour of an anonymous verdict, finds the selection of a few striking passages, as they are called, and the repetition of some complimentary phrases, a temptingly easy mode of fulfilling his task; the rapidity required in every branch of newspaper composition, — the number of new works crowded on his attention, really rendering any thing like calm and thoughtful criticism exceedingly difficult
, if not impossible. It is evident that the best and highest productions are not those best adapted to this sort of process. Works of a deep and earnest character, requiring some attention and exertion on the part of the reader, are unmanageable for such a purpose, and nothing deserving the name of a work of art can be estimated in this fragmentary manner, without regard to its scope and aim as a whole. To books of travels only, as in their nature desultory, is it in any degree applicable; and accordingly, as this system has acted on them less injuriously than on any other, they are among the most creditable productions of the modern press; but it is on fictitious literature that its pernicious effects have been most strikingly felt, and that the most obvious symptoms of a feeble and corrupt taste have consequently displayed themselves. * The tawdry sentiment, childish finery, and piquant personalities of the fashionable novel, or the glaring situations and exaggerated horrors of the Newgate school, are as well fitted to catch the eye as the advertisements of Morison's pills or Warren's blacking. The emptiest articles are most easily raised by the breath of newspaper applause, and in these, therefore, the most extensive and flourishing trade is carried on.
In judging of the importance of any branch of literature by its operation on national character and taste, we should be much inclined to reverse the usual order of precedence, and regard the ballads, the penny and “twopenny trash," and the novels and romances as infinitely more deserving of consideration than the stately quartos and books which “ every gentleman ought to have in his library,” and which, once purchased, often remain ranged in quiet dignity on its shelves, or serve only to promote the afterdinner slumbers of its owner.
The most pernicious doctrine contained in these may remain as harmless as the bottled up poisons in the chemist's shop; but when these poisons find their way to the brewer and the baker, and become articles of daily use and consumption, the case grows more serious.
Every body knows the value rightly ascribed by the government of the period to Dibdin's sailor songs, and similar productions, in awakening and directing the enthusiasm of the people ; and the effects of the prevalent tone
of popular novels, though not quite so easily perceived, as influencing those classes whose lives are more removed from observation, we consider to be not less certain and powerful.
The impulse given to the public mind by Scott's novels, in the direction of historical research, and the life and interest bestowed by them on inquiries previously confined to the professed student and the antiquary, have produced a favourable change in the mode in which history is now written: and the influence of even a single studied novel of extensive popularity is often perfectly evident, as in the case of the “Sorrows of Werter” for instance, which undoubtedly turned thousands of heads, and even set at liberty many brains, though probably only such as were of no value to any but the owner.
It is not often that the author of a scientific theory or a philosophical treatise can flatter himself with having produced effects as widely spread and as lasting as those of a favourite romance. If, then, we admit the power exercised by fictitious writing over popular feeling and action, it becomes a matter of deep and serious moment to know what is at any time its prevalent tone and spirit; and we cannot help regarding it as matter of regret that the taste of the day should give the preference to works which afford a coarse and strong stimulus, rather than to those quieter, but infinitely more skilful representations of life and character, which must ever . remain the models for this class of writing. The patiently and exquisitely wrought pictures of a really great novelist — as different from the flashy random sketches of the productions poured forth with the rapidity of a steam engine, as one of Titian's portraits from the daubery of the scene painter, — demand not only genius, but an expenditure of time and labour, to which the modern novel writer has little inducement, since every reward he can hope for is as likely to follow the lesser as the greater exertion.
It is in general a decided symptom of weakness in a writer of fiction to choose rather for the subjects of his delineations remote and unfamiliar characters and events, than such as in real life come before his actual observation, — such cloud-like phantom pictures as, resembling nothing in heaven above or in earth beneath, he would fain impose on us for the beings of distant countries or of by-gone times. The vigour of imagination and intimate knowledge of the past, which enabled Scott, for instance, to present us living and breathing a likeness of Louis XI., or Friar Tuck, or Jonathan Oldbuck, or any other person whom he might encounter in his daily rambles, is a rare combination indeed; and even he was far from being equally successful on all occasions, and has often filled up his canvas with mere lay figures, habited in appropriate costume. Many writers resort to history, because they know not what use to make of the present. They want the observant eye and the sure hand
that would enable them to render faithfully that which lies before them. They could not for their lives produce a portrait of a London shop-keeper or a country squire, which should not shock by its exaggeration and gross want of truth; but they will furnish you on the shortest notice with a splendid ideal representation of an inhabitant of Herculaneum, or a “ Princess of the holy Roman empire." Yet to be unable to represent what we see, should seem a poor ground for claiming credit for the higher faculty of bodying forth “the forms of things unknown.” We are aware that it is common for those who wish to disguise poor and common-place conceptions under strange aud fantastic forms, to declare that the character of modern social life renders it eminently unfit for the purposes of fiction, or that if they must select their subject from their own times, they must at least choose such as they and their readers are least acquainted with. The glare and glitter attendant on a high station, or the misery and crime too often darkening the lowest, are considered indispensable to the creation of a powerful interest. The tawdry frivolity of the one, and the coarseness and violence of the other class, are derived from congenial sources ; and such novels as “Almacks” and “ Jack Shepherd” have their springs of interest equally in our mere animal propensities : the desire of the sensual indulgences. procurable by wealth and rank, and the fear and horror with which we listen to a tale of blood and physical suffering, are equally remote from intellectual pleasure. Such stimulants as these ought to be most sparingly employed, and never but in the strictest subordination to some higher object; yet these are the staple commodities with a vast majority of our novel writers.
The large portion of society included in what are called the middle classes, among which are to be found some of the richest developments of individual and national character, are generally condemned as too hopelessly prosaic to be turned to any poetical account, and have even been pronounced, “ex cathedrâ,” by quarterly critics, " the most unromantic and unpicturesque portion of the community."
The sayings and doings of the dwellers in the charmed circles of May Fair have found more chroniclers' than can be numbered, and some straggling rays have even lighted up the murky dens of Field Lane and Mutton Hill, but the “ Limbo lying, I wist not where," between these extremes is seldom visited. Even Boz himself (“et tu Brute”), though unquestionably owing some part of his success to the richness of this mine which he has had the skill and strength to work, endeavours to excuse himself with his readers by presenting his heroes and heroines with a handsome fortune at the dénouement, and even occasionally hinting his contempt for the habitual dwellers in this intermediate purgatory. This is but one among the many modes of rendering tribute to Mammon, and cherishing those servile cravings after aristocratic distinctions, which form the very canker of our society, and are no where so disgusting as when manifesting themselves in the republic of letters. The very poor, as exciting no jealousy, are often brought forward in displays of sentimental tenderness, and become interesting at all events as objects of benevolence to the wealthy, as conduits to carry off their superfluous virtues; but while parish boys and factory girls may be safely admitted to the familiarity accorded to inferior animals, the class one step below us must be kept aloof by all means. In a fashionable novel, enjoying a high and in some respects a deserved reputation, it is stated that the heroine — an amiable and benevolent young lady of course — would as soon have thought of speaking to her horse as to her waiting-woman, except to give her necessary orders.
We have alluded to this spirit in our writers of fiction partly because it is in itself degrading to literature, and partly that it tends to impoverish its resources, and circumscribe its legitimate domains; but our present purpose was chiefly to inquire whether an honest and vigilant surveillance on the part of the periodical press might not have the power to keep its stream free from this and many other impurities. Under existing circumstances, however, we fear that a critic, who should assume a very high tone on this or any other point of morals, would but expose himself to Ophelia's admonition to her lecturing brother
“ Do not as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven ;