Page images

ventive genius, the grace and the interest of some lofty and sweet and superhuman characters--for which, though evidently fictitious, and unnatural in any stage of society, the remoteness of the scene on which they are introduced, may serve as an apology--if they could need any other than what they bring along with them in their own sublimity and beauty.

In comparing this work then with the former productions of the same master-hand, it is impossible not to feel that we are passing in a good degree from the reign of nature and reality, to that of fancy and romance; and exchanging for scenes of wonder and curiosity, those 'more homefelt sympathies and deeper touches of delight that can only be excited by the people among whom we live, and the objects that are constantly around us.

A far greater proportion of the work is accordingly made up of splendid descriptions of arms and dresses moated and massive castles-tournaments of mailed champions -solemn feasts-formal courtesies, and other matters of external and visible presentment, that are only entitled to such distinction as connected with the older times, and novel by virtue of their antiquity-while the interest of the story is maintained far more by surprising adventures and extraordinary situations, the startling effect of exaggerated sentiments, and the strong contrast of exaggerated characters, than by the sober charms of truth and reality,—the exquisite representation of scenes with which we are familiar, or the skilful development of affeetions which we have often experienced,

These bright lights and deep shadows--this succession of brilJiant pictures, addressed as often to the eye as to the imagina, tion, and oftener to the imagination than the heart—this preference of striking generalities to homely details, all belong more properly to the province of poetry than of prose; and Ivanhoe accordingly seems to us much more akin to the most splendid of modern poems, than the most interesting of modern novels; and savours much more of the author of Marmion or the Lady of the Lake, than of that of Waverley or Old Mortality. F

For our part we prefer, and we care not who knows it, the prose to the poetrywhether in metre or out of it; and would willingly exchange, if the proud alternative were in our choice, even the great fame of Mr Scott, for that which awaits the mighty unknown who has here raised his standard of rivalry within the ancient limits of his reign. We must now proceed, however, to give some account of his attempt, to the few among our readers to whom it may

still be unknown; and to express our opinion--and we dare say theirs also--of its merits, to the rest.

The scene, as we have already said, is laid in the time of Richard the Ist, and in the memorable year of his escape from his long imprisonment, and his brief and triumphant restoration to his English subjects. A great part of its interest, too, depends, as we have also intimated, on the contrast of the Norman and Saxon characters, and the splendid exhibition of what was pecu liar in each: And to understand the slight abstract of the story with which we mean to accompany and connect our extracts, 'it is only necessary to premise, that Cedric, one of the few Saxon thanes who still retained the ample possessions of his forefathers, and bravely made head against the insolent usurpations of the Norman nobility, had long acted as guardian to the lady Rowena, a descendant of the illustrious Alfred, in whose issue he still nourished a feeble hope that the antient line of the English monarchs might be restored. Though himself of the noblest race, he did not conceive his family entitled to aspire to this lofty alliance; and, while the great object of his patriotic anxiety was to unite the lovely Rowena to the noble Athelstane of Coningsburgh, he had banished his only son from this presence, for having presumed to solicit the favour of the royal beauty. Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, for so was the son called, though conscious of having made an impression on the tender heart of Rowena, had submitted in silence to this exile; and had not abated his father's displeasure by following the fortunes of the Norman Richard in his chivalrous exploits in Palestine, where it was understood he had performed many feats of valour, and endured many wrongs and hardships ; though the imperfect communication that could be maintained with that distant region, had long rendered his fate uncertain.

The story opens, after some historical notices of great vigour and accuracy, with a picture of two of Cedric's domestics tending his herd of swine in a forest adjoining his domain in the central districts of Yorkshire: one of them is the keeper of the herd, the other is the household jester or fool of the worthy thane. That our readers may have an early taste of the force and liveliness of the descriptions in which the work abounds, we must present them with a few of these introductory sentences.

• The sun was setting upon one of the rich glassy glades of that förest, which we have mentioned in the beginning of the chapter, Hundreds of broad short-stemmed oaks, which had witnessed perhaps the stately march of the Roman soldiery, flung their broad gnarled arms over a thick carpet of the most delicious


sward ; in some places they were intermingled with beeches, hollies, and copeswood of various descriptions, so closely as totally to intercept the level þeams of the sinking sun ; in others they receded from each other, forming those long sweeping vistas, in the intricacy of which the eye

their way.

delights to lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet wilder scenes of sylvan solitude. Here the red rays of the sun shot a broken and discoloured light, that partially hung upon the shattered boughs and mossy trunks of the trees, and there they illuminated in brilliant patches the portions of turf to which they made

A considerable open space, in the midst of this glade, seemed formerly to have been dedicated to the rites of Druidical su. perstition ; for, on the summit of a hillock, so regular as to seem artificial, there still remained part of a circle of rough unhewn stones, of large dimensions. Seven stood upright; the rest had been dislodged from their places, probably by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and lay, some prostrate near their former site, and others on the side of the hill. One large stone only had found its way to the bottom; and in stopping the course of a small brook, which glided smoothly round the foot of the eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble voice of murmur to the placid and elsewhere silent streamlet.

• The human figures which completed this landscape, were in number two, partaking, in their dress and appearance, of that wild and rustic character which belonged to the woodlands of the West-Rid. ing of Yorkshire at this early period. The eldest of these men had a stern, savage, and wild aspect. His garment was of the simplest form imaginable, being a close jacket with sleeves, composed of the tanned skin of some animal, on which the hair had been originally left, but which had been worn off in so many places, that it would have been difficult to distinguish, from the patches that remained, to what creature the fur had belonged. This primeval vestment reached from the throat to the knees, and served at once all the usual purposes of body-clothing ; there was no wider opening at the colJar, than was necessary to admit the passage of the head, from which it may be inferred, that it was put on by slipping it over the head and shoulders, in the manner of a modern shirt, or ancient hauberk. Sandals, bound with thongs made of boars' hide, protected the feet; ind a sort of roll of thin leather was twined artificially round the legs, and, ascending above the calf, left the knees bare, like those of a Scottish Highlander. To make the jacket sit yet more close to the body, it was gathered at the middle by a broad leathern belt, secured by a brass buckle; to one side of which was attached a sort of scrip, and to the other a ram's horn, accoutred with a mouth-piece, for the purpose of blowing. In the same belt was stuck one of those long, broad, sharp-pointed, and two-edged knives, with a buck'shorn handle, which were fabricated in the neighbourhood, and bore even at this early period the name of a Sheffield whittle. The man had no covering upon his head, which was only defended by his own thick hair, matted and twisted together, and scorched by the influence of the sun into a rusty dark red colour, forming a contrast with the overgrown beard upon his cheeks, which was rather of a yellow or amber hue. One part of his dress only remains, but it is too remark. able to be suppressed; it yas a brass ring, resembling a dog's collarz

[ocr errors]

but without aný opening, and soldered fast round his neck, so loose as to form no impediment to his breathing, yet so tight as to be incapable of being removed, excepting by the use of the file. On this singular gorget was engraved in Saxon characters, an inscription of the following purport :“Gurth, the son of Beowulph, is the born thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood. 1. 7–10.

The Fool, whose whole part is copied with considerable boldness and success from the specimens of that character in Shakespeare, and especially, we think, from the kind-hearted one who attended on the wanderings of the unhappy Lear, is described with equal effect; and a considerable and very characteristic dialogue is maintained between him and his companion, about their several occupations, and common sufferings from the Normans, when they are interrupted by the approach of the portly Prior of a neighbouring abbey, accompanied by a fierce and stately cavalier, attended by two Moorish slaves in habits of the gorgeous East. The bearing and equipments of the whole party are described with the greatest spirit; but as such objects have been often described before, we take leave to pass them over, as well as the conversation which passes as they inquire the way to the dwelling of Cedric, on whose hospitality they mean to encroach for that night's lodging, as they travel to an approaching tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche. They find a pilgrim in the wood, who guides them to the place of their destination; of which, and its potent proprietor, we have the following admirable description.

. The mansion was a low, irregular building, containing several court-yards or enclosures, extending over a considerable space of ground, and which, though its size argued the inhabitant to be a person of wealth, differed entirely from the tall, turreted, and castellated buildings in which the Norman nobility resided, and which had become the universal style of architecture throughout England. Rotherwood was not, however, without defences; no habitation, in that disturbed period, could have been so, without the risk of being plundered and burnt before the next morning. A deep fosse, or ditch, was drawn round the whole building, and filled with water from a neighbouring stream. A double stockade, or palisade, com. posed of pointed beams, which the adjacent forest supplied, defended the outer and inner bank of the fosse. There was an entrance from the west through the outer stockade, which communicated by a drawbridge, with a similar opening in the interior defences.

In a hall, the height of which was greatly disproportioned to its extreme length and width, a long oaken table, formed of planks rough-hewn from the forest, and which had scarcely received any polish, stood ready prepared for the evening meal of Cedric the Saxon. The roof, composed of beams and rafters, had nothing to divide the apartment from the sky excepting the planking and thatch,


[ocr errors]

There was a huge fire-place at either end of the hall; but as the chim nies were constructed in a very clumsy manner, at least as much of the smoke found its way into the apartment as escaped by the proper vent. The constant vapour which this occasioned, had polished the rafters and beams of the low-browed hall, by encrusting them with a black varnish of soot. On the sides of the apartment hung implements of war and of the chase; and there were at each corner folding doors, which gave access to other parts of the extensive building,

The other appointments of the mansion partook of the rude simplicity of the Saxon period, which Cedric piqued himself upon maintaining. The floor was composed of earth mixed with lime, trodden into such a hard substance, as is often employed in flooring our modern barns, For about one quarter of the length of the apartment, the floor was raised by a step ; and this space, which was called the dais, was occupied only by the principal members of the family and visitors of distinction. Massive chairs and settles of carved oak were placed upon the dais ; and over these seats and the more elevated table was fastened a canopy of cloth, which served in some degree to protect the dignitaries who occupied that distinguished station froin the weather, and from the rain, which in some places found its way through the ill constructed roof.

In the centre of the upper table were placed two chairs more elevated than the rest, for the master and mistress of the family, who presided over the scene of hospitality, and, from doing so, derived their Saxon title of honour, which signifies " The Dividers of Bread. To each of these chairs was added a footstool, curiously carved and inlaid with ivory, which mark of distinction was peculiar to them.

. One of these seats was at present occupied by Cedric the Saxon, who, though but in rank a thane, or, as the Normans called him, a Franklin, felt, at the delay of his evening meal, an irritable impatience which might have become an alderman whether of ancient or of modern times. It appeared, indeed, from the countenance of this proprietor, that he was of a frank, but hasty and choleric temper. He was not above the middle stature, but broadshouldered, long-armed, and powerfully made, like one accuscomed to endure the fatigue of war or of the chase; his face was broad, with large blue eyes, open and frank features, fine teeth, and a well formed head, altogether expressive of that sort of good humour which often lodges with a sudden and hasty temper. Pride and jealousy there was in his eye, for his life had been spent in asserting rights which were constantly liable to invasion; and the prompt, fiery and resolute disposition of the man, had been kept constantly upon the alert by the circumstances of his situation. His long yellow hair was equally divided upon the top of his head and upon his brow, and combed down on each side to the length of his shoulders ; it had but little tendency to grey, although Cedric was approaching to his sixtieth year.

- His dress was a tunic of forest green, furred at the throat and cuffs with what was called minever ; a kind of fur

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »