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I have no right to name it for him, hut shall proceed to point out some of its most striking beauties and defecte.
Nothing can be more engaging than the introduction and close of every book ; and no reader, I believe, would wish these to be either shortened or altered. Both the thoughts and the versification are equally fine; and the art of the old bard in his applications of the narrative to his hearers is very pleasing and well imagined. The hero of the story itself appears to be Sir William of Deloraine, though he acts only a subordinate part in the conduct of it; and this perhaps may be deemed a fault; but some amends for it are made by the exquisite delineation of his character, and the admirable manner in which it is supported throughout. He is precisely the Ferrau of Italian and French romance, excepting in the brutality of that giant; for the Scotch marauder could mourn over a fallen enemy; and though he
« Harried the lands of Richard Musgrave,
he lamented the death of an honourable foe, and would have given his lands to have redeemed his life. The whole of his character is pourtrayed with a masterly hand, and the contrast between him and Cranstoun, the exact counterpart of the gallant and courtly knight of Charlemagne, or the Round Table, is drawn with great skill. When they engage, the one thinks of his mistress, and ejaculates a prayer; the other has no mistress, and knows no prayer; * but,
* It is however such a fault as is imputed to Milton, who in the opinion of many able critics has erred in making Satan his hero, instead of Adam.
“He stoop'd his head and he couch'd his lance," as the only preparations necessary for the combat.
The most interesting and highly-wrought passage of the whole poen is Deloraine's journey to Melross Abbey and the visit to Michael Scott's tomb there, The whole description of the abbey, of the wizard himself, (who seems to exist in a state somewhat similar to that of the Vampyres in Hungary,) and of Deloraine's aged conductor, is superior to any thing of the kind that has appeared in modern poems, and perhaps would not lose hy a comparison
of those which are most esteemed among the ancients. It forms several separate pictures adorned with the most vivid and brilliant colouring; and they are so put together as to form a wellblended whole, in which all the parts unite, and without any one of which it would be incomplete.
Thus, for instance, their progress through the cloisters, where
“ The pillared arches were over his head,
And under bis feet were the bones of the dead," however common the fact
ancient church, shews the author to have possessed a truly poetic genius; of which one great part is the being
* His ignorance, who could not read, and knew no prayer
“ Save to patter an Ave Mary,” reminds me of one of the Montmorencis (I think Anne the Constable) who used to make his mark only; "attendu,” says Brantomé, “ quil ne scavoit ni lire ni ecrire."
enabled to seize upon striking and affecting images, drawn from common occurrences or objects that may be seen every day, and yet are passed unnoticed by vulgar minds.
The beauties of this poem are to be seen in almost every page, while its faults, (for it is not wholly exempt from defects,) are thinly scattered over the surface, rari nantes in gurgite vasto, neither glaring nor offensive. It is the part of just criticism however, though its least pleasing office, to notice them as well as its excellencies. The most important of them relates to the machinery; and here a violation of the well-known rule of Horace, Nec Deus intersit, &c. is but too apparent. The dialogue overheard by the Grammered Countess between the two river Sprites, concerning Margaret's marriage, is needless, because the information might have been conveyed both to her and the reader by more obvious means; and it is unpoetical, because it is a violent use of supernatural assistance (not to be resorted to without necessity,) and even such as, 1 believe, forms no part of the local superstition of the Lowlands.
In the tragedy of Douglas, Home, in his fine description of the storm, introduces a similar supernatural Being to heighten the horrors of it.
“ And loud and shrill The angry Spirit of the water sliriek'd.” But I doubt whether there be any authority for supposing that the river Spirits meddle in the domestic concerns of the mansions on their banks, or meet to gossip about the intermarriages of the
families which inhabit them. And the same learning that enabled the Countess to interpret their conversation, would have assisted her also to gain the requisite information without their help.
But the machinery of the greatest length, as well as consequence, is that of the magic book. This is so well described; its consequences are so striking and wonderful; the purport of it is concealed beneath a veil so thick, and its mystic contents are so darkly alluded to, and still left in that state of unexplained horror which so powerfully affects the mind, that few readers of taste will be inclined to object to the introduction of it. Yet it has been observed that it is not of use towards the conduct of the story, adequate to the eagerness of the Countess to possess it. And so far as to the furtherance of her schemes only, this is true; for the effect it pro, duces is directly contrary to what she wished. But that magic art should deceive its votaries is very consonant to poetical justice ; and it was only by the
agency of the book that the catastrophe of the narrative, viz. the marriage of Cranstoun and Margaret, is produced. For it was through the power of the book that the young Heir of Branksome” was stolen, and that Cranstoun was enabled to personate Deloraine, conquer Musgrave, and redeem the boy ; which was the only way of inducing the Countess to consent to the marriage.
And here it ought to be pointed out, with respect to the moral conduct of the piece, how ingeniously it is contrived that the violent passions of the Countess, which led her to have recourse to those dark arts, which must not even be named, and for
which the monk was to do a treble penance for having only " thought them his heart within,” had the unlooked-for effect of completely defeating her own purposses.
In this respect therefore here was dignus vindice nodus for the use of machinery; no common means, no human persuasions could have induced her to consent to resign her hatred to the family of Cranstoun. The end of the drama could not have been attained but by the aid of magic.
The conduct of the dwarf, which has also been objected to, is to be defended upon the same principle. The book without him would have been useless; and he, though far from intending it, was a principal agent in conducting the poem to its destined conclusion. The dark obscurity in which his story is involved, both when he was lost and found, is bighly poetical, and affords a delightful scope for the imagination.
As a minor blemish it may be observed, that the character of Margaret is not sufficiently prominent to excite much interest. There is nothing to distinguish it from any other; and therefore to most readers the recovery of the “ young Heir" will seem an event of more consequence than her marriage.
It has also been mentioned as a fault, that there are no similies throughout the poem; but whether that can be so deemed, in a work which lays claim to no higher rank than that of a minstrel's Song is, I think, at least doubtful. If the objection be well founded, it is one which only the judgment makes on reflection ; and which the imagination, warmed with the beauty of the piece, and deeply engaged by the attention which it excites, can hardly stop to discover.