Imágenes de páginas

are, indeed, some passages which cannot be reconciled with the contrary supposition. And while we join with the first-mentioned critic in condemning the work, we must, at the same time, express our opinion that much of the clamour which has been raised against it, has originated in causes very different from a regard for morality. There is a factitious delicacy, closely connected with impurity of mind, which, while it shrinks from gross indecency, can tolerate the foulest sensuality, so long as it is expressed in refined language. It is its own image only that it hates; it cannot endure to see its own thoughts clothed in the language appropriate to them. It is to his infringement on this morbid species of decorum, in the case of the thirty ill-omened stars which frown at the commencement of the fourteenth chapter, that our author owes the outrageous abuse which he has incurred from many, whose sense of propriety was probably not in the least startled by the scene of the rescue, and one or two other passages. Our condemnation rests on different grounds. We disapprove of the work, not because it contains a single indecent passage, but because its general tendency is to inflame the passions, or, at least, to promote a taste for morbid excitement. We appeal to every unsophisticated mind, whether some of the leading incidents, and the manner in which they are told, have not this tendency; by their judgment we would stand or fall. The first question, indeed, which occurs on the perusal of a work of this kind, is not, whether the book is a moral one or the contrary, but why such a subject should have been chosen at all? Were there not a thousand others equally calculated to exercise the writer's powers? It is an officious piece of impropriety- -a mere gratuitous obtrusion of what is wrong. As to the paltry plea, that justice is, in the end, administered to all parties, it is surely too contemptible to deceive even those who set it up. We could say more on this subject, but we fear we have already” exhausted the patience of our readers.

In order to do justice to the author, we will quote one of his most characteristic passages :—

It was long ere Mr. Blair fell asleep that night, but exhausted nature at last sunk under the burden of reflection; and, for several hours, he lay buried in slumber as profound as had ever visited his eyelids.

He awoke, sitting bolt-upright in his bed, his hands clenched violently together, his night-cap off, his hair on end, and the sweat standing in big and palpable drops upon his forehead, and the sound of his own screaming voice in his ear. He clasped his brows, and staring wildly about him in the dim chamber, strove instinctively, rather than consciously, to retrace the outlines of what he now felt to be nothing but a dream, although he was still too much agitated with its delusions to be able to enjoy the sense of reality and repose. Everything, however, as he looked back, seemed to become darkened the moment his mental eye approached it;-every strong and distinct image seemed to vanish, and leave but a vapour behind it, and it was in vain he endeavoured to make out any consistent or intelligible notion of what had passed—although a sort of confused and distorted cloudland' of terrible things still continued to lour above the whole surface of his imagination -the black river-the sob of his child-the water gushing into his eyes and ears, and then closing with a rushing sound over his head-the agony of mortal terror-the joy of sudden deliverance-the tears of joy-these had


all been with him, and he felt that they had been with him as vividly as during the waking hours of the eventful day before. But other images had followed these, some of them as dark and as terrible, but the whole texture of which seemed now to elude the grasp of his remembrance. He had a sort of obscure sense of having been fighting, wrestling, combating fiercely, hand in hand, with some strong adversary;-whether he had stood or fallen he could not tell, but there was such a mixture of the feelings of wrath and sorrow, that this was as nothing :

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

What did not diminish, but much increase and strengthen the pain and horror of all this, was, that a sort of voluptuous, languid, sultry air, seemed to hang over the whole mass of the retrospect: red setting sunsbroad, calm, purple skies-mighty trees, loaded with leaves and blossomsthese were the strange accompaniments-strangely jumbled together and ill defined, it is true-of screams, and battles, and headlong peril, and blood, and death, and misery. Beautiful women's shapes, smiling eyes, and burning blushes, darted in glimpses here and there from amidst the thickest of tumults. Everything was waxing every moment obscurer and dimmer, as he gazed back upon it.

Dii meliora piis!

Before we conclude, it will, perhaps, be expected that we should say something on a work, published some time ago, by the author of Adam Blair, but totally unconnected with it in subject; we mean Valerius. It is an attempt to embody in fictitious narrative, after the manner of the modern romance, the manners, passions, opinions, and occupations of ancient Rome; differing, however, from Sismondi's Julia Severa, and other works of this class, inasmuch as it professes to be a narrative of events by a contemporary and eye-witness. To this supposition the style of the work is carefully accommodated, being thickly interwoven with Latin idioms, which give it an air of stiffness resembling that of a literal translation, so as to produce a novel, and frequently impressive effect. Valerius, the hero and narrator of the story, is a sort of Roman Francis Osbaldistone, a native of Britain, but born of Roman parents, who visits the city of his ancestors, sees the lions, (we do not mean merely those of the amphitheatre,) falls in love with a fair Christian neophyte, becomes a convert himself, marries her, and returns to Britain. The subject possesses great capabilities to a scholar and a man of genius. The thousand high associations connected with Rome-its architectural splendour-its imposing ceremonies, sacred and profane-its manners, differing in so many striking points from our own-the various schools of philosophers, answering, in a great measure, to our religious sects-the mighty conflict of opinions accompanying the promulgation of the new faith-are among the most obvious of the

materials which such a writer might convert to excellent purpose. If the author has not done all that might be done, it must at least be allowed that he has produced a very animated and interesting work; nor is it any disparagement to his abilities to have failed in an attempt, in which none but a few extraordinary men have ever succeeded that of writing on an ancient subject as an ancient would have written. We allude to the anachronisms of sentiment rather than to the violations of costume, which are comparatively few. We feel no pleasure in hearing prætors talk like aldermen, and flamens like church dignitaries; we might have heard it all, without going so far as the reign of Trajan for it; nor ought the heir of the Valerii to make love like the heir of the Osbaldistones.

But the greatest failure of all is in the introduction of Christianity, a subject which might have been made susceptible of the noblest effect; and this deficiency is the more unpardonable, as every thing here was at his disposal-he might have had it all his own way-no one would have disputed the accuracy of his statements had they been ever so favourable. We confess that, from his account, we should be inclined to consider the new religion a superfluity and an impertinent intrusion. With the exception of a few fine compliments paid to the sublime theology of the Old Testament, and an elaborate description of the death of a martyr, we remember nothing that leaves any powerful impression in its favour, nor can we see how Valerius, or any one else, is the better for embracing it. Thraso himself, the martyr, is represented as having, subsequently to his conversion, joined the Roman army in the attack of Jerusalem, through pure hatred to the Jews, from whom his family had received some injuries. Almost the first act of Valerius, after his reception of the new faith, is to commit a deed of murder and treason; and the gentle Athanasia herself is introduced to us, on the same occasion, in the guise of a Helen Macgregor rather than of a Christian neophyte. Of the characters, the centurion Sabinus is by far the best. Xerophrastes, the Stoic, (we presume this is the Greek for Dr. Dryasdust,) answers to his name; nor are Licinius, his son, or the gay widow Rubellia, much better. Dromo and Boto, the two slaves, are entertaining. Then we have the haughty priestess of Apollo, and young Sempronia, who enacts the part of Ismene or Chrysothemis to her sterner sister. The catastrophe is huddled up in an exceedingly awkward manner. It is in passages of solemn or splendid description that the author succeeds best. We extract the account of a procession made by the Sempronii to their family burial place, for the purpose of expiating the pollution which it had incurrred by having been made the scene of Christian worship. The chaunt, with which it concludes, breathes a more classical spirit than any thing in the work; it is exquisitely antique. We except the last stanza but one, of which the conception, though highly poetical, is not in the manner of ancient poetry.

But while we were moving onwards thus slowly and silently, we heard of a sudden a clang of cymbals among the trees, a little to the right hand, and the Centurion, saying," What procession can this be?" led the way down a

narrow path branching from the main road, which appeared to conduct towards the place from which the sound proceeded. This path was winding and dusky, being edged on either side with pines and cypresses, so that for some space we saw nothing; and the cymbals having ceased again, the Centurion said, "I suppose it is some funeral; they have probably completed every thing, and have seen out the last gleam among the embers. Let us get on, for perhaps we may be kept back by their procession, if they are already returning."

We quickened our pace accordingly, and held on till at length a sharp turning of the road discovered to us a great number of persons who were standing quite silent, as if in contemplation of some ceremony or other spectacle; but what it was, owing to the sinking of the ground beyond, and the intervention of such a crowd of people, we could not see. Several persons on horseback seemed, like ourselves, to have had their progress interrupted; but they were sitting quietly, and making no claim. The silence of the whole assembly was indeed such, that Sabinus motioned to me to ask no questions, adding in a low whisper," Take off your riding-cap; it is some religious rite, and see every body is uncovered."


The Centurion himself, however, was not a person to be stopped thus, without wishing to understand something further of the cause of the interruption; so ere long he began to manifest considerable symptoms of fretfulness. The one side of the road was guarded by a high wall, to the top of which a number of the more juvenile spectators had climbed ;-the other by a ditch of great breadth, and full of water, beyond which was a grove of trees; and I saw him eyeing the ditch, as if considering whether, by passing it, it might not be possible, without disturbing the crowd, to get nearer the object of their attention, or at least to make progress in our journey. At last he beckoned to me to follow him, and the bold equestrian at one leap passed easily over the ditch, and all the reeds that bordered it. I imitated the example, and so did the Prætorian soldier, who had now come up to us; but as for Dromo, he was obliged to remain (patiently or impatiently) behind; for, of a truth, the animal he bestrode was in nowise calculated for such feats.

We rode very quickly, therefore, along the margin of the trees, and ere we had reached the bottom of the declivity on which they grew, I perceived plainly that we had come close to the Sempronian monument, and that the ceremony, whatever it might be, was taking place immediately in front of the old tower upon the road. We gave our horses to the soldier, and contrived with some difficulty to gain the bank on the side of the way immediately over against it-the same place, in fact, where the Cretan slave had taken his station among the pine-trees, on the night when all those things occurred of which I have already spoken to you. Like him, we placed ourselves as quietly as we could behind the trunks of the trees, and, indeed, for our purpose, there could have been no better situation. We were contented, however, to occupy it as much as possible without attracting observation; for it was evident, in spite of the curiosity that detained so great a multitude near at hand, there must be something mysterious or ominous of nature in that which was taking place, since not one of the crowd had dared to come forward, so as to be within hearing of the officiators.

And these, indeed, were a very melancholy-looking group. For men, and women, and children of every age, to the number it may be of an hundred, appeared all standing together sorrowfully, and in garments of black; while, in the midst of them, and immediately by the base of the monument, two or three veiled priests, with their necessary assistants, seemed to be preparing for sacrifice a strong black bull, whose hoofs spurned the dust as they held him, and his gilded horns glittered in the light of the declining sun. Sabinus no sooner discovered the arrangement of the solemn company, than he sus

pected what was their occupation, and he whispered to me, while as yet all was silent, "Be sure, these are all the kindred of the Sempronii. Without question they have come to purify the mausoleum, and to avert, according to the custom of antiquity, the vengeance of the violated manes. Behold," said he, "that tall and stately figure, close to the head of the animal on the right hand; that, I know, is Marcia-yes, Marcia Sempronia-she that is priestess of Apollo the Palatine. Without doubt, these by her are her brothers."

"Some of her near relations they must be," I made answer, also in a whisper; "for observe you that young woman, whose face is wrapped in her mourning veil, and whose sobs are audible even through all its folds? I had one glimpse of her countenance this moment, and I am sure it is the young Sempronia, the cousin and companion of the unfortunate Athanasia-the daughter of Lucius the senator."

"Poor girl," replied Sabinus, "From my heart do I pity her. See how she is in agony from thinking of that which hath befallen her friend. They are all joining hands, that the nearest of the kindred touching the priest, his deed may appear manifestly to be the deed of all. The Priestess of Apollo takes hold of the left hand of him that wields the axe, and they are all hand in hand. She, poor soul, alas! she is ill able to take any part in their service; and they all appear sufficiently downcast."

At this moment, one of the officiators sounded a few mournful notes upon a trumpet, and its solitary echo thrilled the air. The priest who held the axe, clave at one blow the forehead of the blindfold bull. The blood streamed, and wine streamed with it abundantly, upon the base of the mausoleum; and then, while we were yet gazing on the convulsions of the dying animal, the trumpet sounded a second time, and the whole company sung together, the sacrificing priest leading and directing them. Distinct above all, yet low and stedfast rather than loud, I heard the voice of the stately Priestess of Apollo; but as for poor Sempronia, her notes were broken, and her assistance feeble.

The shadows of the tower and of the pine-trees lay strongly upon them, and I thought there was something of a very strange contrast between the company and their chaunt on the one hand, and the beautiful sculptures, full of all the emblems of life and happiness on the other, with which, according to the gay dreams of Grecian fancy, the walls of the funereal edifice itself had here and there been garnished. Fauns, and torch-bearing nymphs and children, crowned with garlands, and wreathed groups and fantastic dances, seemed to enliven almost to mockery the monumental marbles; but one felt the real gloominess both of death and superstition, in the attitudes and accents of the living worshippers.

We have noticed several inaccuracies with regard to names and things. Ostia is written Ostium; this, however, is not so bad as the blunder of the Edinburgh Reviewer on Demosthenes, who supposes that the Oritæ must come from a place called Oritum. We have also the Janicular for Janiculum; Anthony as a prænomen ; and Athanasia as a name originally pagan. The compound, Xerophrastes, contains no less than three barbarisms. The eagle is used as synonymous with centurion in general, whereas it was only used to designate the primipilus, or first centurion of the legion, who had the charge of the legionary eagle. And the ladies and gentlemen of the story are described as sitting together in the Amphitheatre, like the good folks at Drury-lane, notwithstanding the edict of Augustus, by which separate seats were assigned to the women.

« AnteriorContinuar »