Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

mistake is, however, now completely corrected by the publication of her whole correspondence and

poems, in five volumes, under the sanction of her grandson, the present Marquis of Bute.

But the most elegant production that has ever adorned this walk of literature, is Dr. Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands. It is more rich in sentiment than in description; and where the country.supplies nothing to arrest the attention of his readers, his fertile mind more than supplies the deficiency. I cannot resist the temptation of transcribing one pase sage, which displays the author's address in introducing his own reflexions, and his exquisite manner of imparting them. The passage relates to his first landing at Icolmbkill, the antient seat of religion and learning. “We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary.of the Caledonian regions, whence sayage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the

[ocr errors]

past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid pbilosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona!

It would however be unreasonable to expect that every book of travels should be as highly finished as if it came from the accomplished pen of Dr. Johnson; that would be to lay an embargo upon much useful information. The simple, but admired narrative of Col. Stedman, never fails to interest and amuse.

There is one species of narrative which remains to be noticed. It might be classed as a kind of biography, but it is properly a work of imagination, I mean fictitious narrative. Respecting what is a mere exertion of fancy, scarcely any rules can be established, and in this respect even Aristotle's poetics have done more harm than good, particularly in the rules

which he pretends to prescribe for dramatic poetry. So much must depend on the author's peculiar genius, the times in which he lives, the subject he undertakes, and many other circumstances, that the only process I can properly adopt is to exhibit a short view of the principal writers in this class.*

Fictitious narrative would be of very remote date if we were to admit in our review those which class under the description of poetry. It would then include all the antient ballads, and even epic poetry itself. But in the present letter I must confine myself to what is strictly prose.

I am disposed myself to place the Cyropædia of Xenophon in the class of fabulous narrations, though some have contended for it as a true history. It appears to me as a narrative intended to support a theory, like the Emilius of Rousseau, of which it undoubtedly serves as the model The Ephesian Xenophoʻi is the next who furnishes us with a specimen of this

* Since writing the above, however, I have seen some excellent rules for novel writers in the second volume of Mr. Cumberland's Memoirs, p. 259.

[ocr errors]

kind of writing; for his Ephesian or Loves of Atrocomus and Anthia is unquestionably a romance. The Ethiopics of Heliodorus, or Loves of Theagenes and Chariclea, is another production of the same description. The author is supposed to have been bishop of Tricca, in Thessaly, in the reign of Theodosius. I know of nothing of the kind amongst the Romans, unless we consider as such the obscene and nonsensical rhapsody of Petronius Arbiter.

What were the Milesian and Ionian tales it is impossible to say, as we have no remains of them extant; but in the East this kind of composition was composed probably very early (as I believe many pieces in the Sanscrit will testify), and among the Arabians certainly with great success, as instanced in the charming volumes of Arabian Nights Entertainments.

In all these Eastern productions there is a mixture of the mythology of the times; and the romances of the middle ages are marked by the same character, and might probably derive their origin from the Saracens, who a few years before had overrun a great part of Europe, and were masters of all the science and literature then extant in the world. The com

mon subject of these performances is a long continued contest between a knight and a ma. gician. The latter entangles the former in his spells, but the knight, through the assistance of his tutelary saint, and his mistress, is always ultimately victorious. I do not pretend to be conversant in this antiquated branch of reading. You will find the names of the most celebrated romances in Don Quixo e, and, to say the truth, I could furnish you with nothing more.

To that incomparable performance let us therefore pass, for it gave a new direction to this fashion of writing, and was the first example of the humorous or satirical romance.

Though intended chiefly as a burlesque on this species of writing, yet it contains many fine specimens of genius, independant of the original plan. There is in it some poetry not of the meanest description; and the stories of Dorothea, Cardenio, &c., afford perhaps the models of those affecting stories which have been produced by modern writers. I have read this delightful work more than once in the original. I must observe that no work loses so much by translation ; it is impossible to transfuse the kuriosa felicitas of the author, or the peculiar

« ZurückWeiter »