« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
The Domestic Tale' proceeds from a different school, from what has been termed the Cockney School,' a coterie of poets and philosophers, who have been for some time struggling for celebrity by means of the most outrageous eccentricities both of style and of opinion. These gentlemen aspire to be the Epicureans of the day. They glory in being regarded as a set of out of the way fellows,' who on the subject of taste, as well as of morals and religion,' make free to follow the guidance of their own sensations.' This downward guidance has naturally led them far enough away from the standard of Christian purity; but then, they are most thoroughly classic, at least in their religious sentiments, and have more than half persuaded themselves that the religion of the loves and of the luxuries,' as they term the old idolatry of Pagan Greece, was a much better thing than the superstition of the Bible. In their 'retired conferences' they profess to differ from the believers in Revelation, by obstinately thinking well' of their Maker, whom they imagine to be a being full of kindness, wisdom, and strength, not at all weak in his designs, or subject to vindictiveness, and other bad passions,' which the Scriptures attribute to him. The 'exuberant kindness' of the Deity is proved by his sending such fine spirits as Shakspeare, Raffaelle, and Mozart,' to dwell with us, not to mention a hundred others inferior, • perhaps, but still divine,' such as Leigh Hunt, Bysshe Shelley, Haydon, and Hazlitt: to speak of the earth on which such spirits have sojourned, this green earth painted with flowers, revelling among joyous sounds,' and so forth, as "a vale of tears," as the Scripture terms it, is in their view only vulgar-minded impiety. It is true, that somehow or other men are subject to misfortunes and evils, but these need not disturb the exquisite sensations of a philosopher, so long as he can keep out of debt, and live at Hampstead. Listen to Altham's biographer.
Is there among the misfortunes of this world any of power to unfit a man for this enjoyment?—Yes. Is it the sickening dismay and perished hopes of one issuing from the death-chamber of a child, or more beloved wife, with the last look of the expiring sufferer trembling through the mistiness of his eyes?-No: for the covering heavens," if he throws himself under their cope, are infinitely kind, and so is the earth with its refreshing greenness. They will not, it is true, do away with his sorrow; but, as he looks from. some shady place through the leaves poised on the topmost branch of a tall tree into the deep still blue, a sympathy and a calm come down, bringing with them hopes and beautiful imaginings, so that even in his sadness he enjoys a blessed influence. Is it want of health-No: for what can charm away the uneasiness of the invalid like the free and fragrant air, containing in it's space a thousand birds the music of one singing close by him, and ceasing only that 2 K
VOL. X. N.S.
his attention may be carried out to the far horizon, from the very edge of which, as it seems, shoot some faint trillings, superseded anon by notes heard with more distinctness in the middle distance, which give place as quickly to others startling him again at his very ears the while, his attention thus fatigued, a slumberous charm creeps over him, and he is prepared for a happy sleep. Even age with it's infirmities derives a dim foretaste of beatitude from the look of nature; but the misfortune I allude to admits not of such consolation; mean as it is in it's character, it nevertheless paralyzes the mind, haunting it unceasingly with notions of self-abasement-it is the misery of being in debt!' p. 30-32.
But this very misery arises from the denying contrivances ' of selfish men,' which interfere in the course' of this very pleasant world, disturbing the sensations and marring the luxuries, 'visual and otherwise,' of the very pleasant fellows who love to play their discountenanced pranks' up and down in it. In other words, the being in debt would be a small matter, were it not for the illiberal notions of the money scrapers, who are rude enough to remind poets and gentlemen of their forgotten obligations, and to insist, sometimes peremptorily, upon matters of mere honesty. 'Alas!' says our Author, and our readers will coincide in the sentiment, if not in its designed application, there is only one part out of tune of nature's music, and that 'is man; and dreadfully, to be sure, does he contrive to spoil 'the harmony!' p. 6.
But to our tale. Altham is a 'spirit' of this high poetical order of sensationists: his character is, we apprehend, designed to embody the beau idéal of the sect, on which account we are glad to notice that he is represented as a married man, fond of his wife and children. He falls in love with a beautiful young lady whom he meets with one night at the theatre; the progress and consummation of their intimacy occupy the first three chapters of the Tale. When they had been married about a year, it happened that they were invited to spend the evening at the house of a friend, in company with a Mr. Simpson, a Methodist, with whom Frank Altham has some unpleasant altercation. This simple circumstance is the unsuspected cause of overwhelming misfortunes. In consequence of the failure of the merchant who had been entrusted with the whole of his little property, Altham is left dependent on the salary he enjoys as secretary to lord Avon; this reverse, which compels him only to make retrenchments, he bears with manly fortitude, and his wife displays on the occasion the most exemplary nobleness of mind. Lord Avon is, however, killed by a fall from his horse, and his brother, the heir to the title, who at first appears disposed to treat Altham with every mark of consideration, gives him an abrupt dismissal. For this, it
afterwards appears, he is indebted to the calumnious representations of his character given by Simpson, with whom his lordship, being himself a Calvinistic fanatic, was accustomed to associate. In this emergency, Altham, by the assistance of his father-in-law, opens a music shop, but the flattering success he at first obtains is of short duration. His customers suddenly fell off. He called upon them, but they avoided him. 'There was a blight upon him.' He sold his stock at last, to pay his creditors, and with a faint heart resolved to divert his exertions into some other channel. A day-school is his next resource, and in this, the same temporary prosperity is succeeded by the same sudden and mysterious reverse: he seemed to 'strive against what seemed an uncontrolable fatality.' Reduced to the greatest distress, his goods are at length seized for arrears of taxes, and himself is arrested and sent to jail for debt. All this is the work of Simpson, who under the terrors of approaching death, confesses to Altham's friend, that in consequence of the unfortunate argument he had with our hero, he had persecuted him with insatiable malice, spreading among all his connexions the report that he was an atheist, and had made a compact with the devil. At the same time that this mystery is cleared up, and that his friend Marriott, who had been absent from town at the time of his arrest, procures his discharge from prison, a sealed packet from the trustee who had defrauded him of his property, announces the repair of the merchant's fortunes, and restores Altham to independence, his house at Hampstead, and his incomparable wife.
The chief fault of the tale as a tale, is the gross absurdity of what we must call the plot. We do not allude to the character of Simpson merely, which is unnatural from the necessity of the case, but to the supposed effects which his calumnies are represented to have taken in every instance, so as to ruin Altham's business and character. Such a case could never in possibility have occurred in the present state of society. But upon the incidents of the tale, the Author has bestowed a very subordinate attention, his object being rather the illustration of character, and of the skill he displays in this part of the fiction, our readers will judge from the following specimen.
Lord Avon was a man of high and ancient descent, and was strongly fenced round with the most unbending aristocratical notions; in spite of which he had for some years beeu a Calvinist, holding constant communion with many vulgar and intolerant persons of that He was constitutionally ailing, and therefore gloomy; and it was unfortunate for him, that instead of meeting with some cheerful and philosophical physician, who would have told him that the phantoms of his mind originated in bodily disorder, which might be removed by diet, exercise, and medicine, he fell, or rather was led
by his fears, into the toils of a crew of fanatics who endeavour to propitiate the Almighty by blaspheming and thinking ill of him. His case was something like that of the unhappy poet Cowper. Though these people had managed to inoculate Lord Avon with their opinions, they could not vulgarise his appearance, nor taint his conversation with any of their cant phrases; he was still a gentleman. His portrait may thus be given :
He was something above the age of thirty; tall, thin, and pale. His features, which were large, stood at a kind of ceremonious distance from each other on his face; there was not that appearance of proportion which you see in the countenances of cheerful persons, but the materials seemed spread beyond the strength of their substance, and an air of coldness and despondency was the effect. His utterance was measured and feeble, though not at all like the languishing affectation of his sect; nothing about him was of the conventicle, except his opinions, but these were burnt into him.
The Rev. Mr. Driver, who has been alluded to in previous parts of this narrative, was altogether made up of affectation. I question if he believed in the doctrines with which he had been successful in ensnaring the weak minds of Lord Avon and Simpson. He was genuine in nothing but his love of tippling; and even this did not appear in his person as it did in poor Simpson's. There was in him a singular expression of cunning, derived chiefly from the formation of his lips, which were very thin; and he had moreover a habit of compressing them so strongly together, that his mouth looked like a wiry line drawn tightly across his countenance. His face was pale, but not thin; neither did it look bloated or sottish. The fellow did not think of what he preached, and so kept in tolerable health. His figure had an effeminate fleshiness about it; there was an effeminatę cant in the tones of his voice, and a foppish display in his dress.
The reader, who recollects the description given of Simpson, will immediately perceive that between each of these three men there must be some points of repulsion. Simpson could not imitate the mincing expressions of Driver, nor could Driver abide Simpson's square cut hair and black striped Manchester waistcoats; neither would he patronize his disdain of the sex; but in the fervour of their devotion they had no objection to get drunk together. Then Lord Avon would neither be foppish with the one, nor coarse and ferocious with the other; nor would he drink with either; but on doctrinal points he agreed with them entirely,-was fond of entering into what they call "close fellowship in faith," and would assist them in inventing new arguments to prove the original condemnation of all the inhabitants of the earth.' pp. 124-128.
The Author has not left us in doubt, as to what class of religionists he means to charge with holding these sentiments: in Simpson's library, the Tottenham Court Hymns, and the Evangelical Magazine are particularly specified.
Perhaps, we need apologize to our readers for occupying thus much of our pages with such miserable trash; (we have purposely avoided some of the most profane paragraphs ;) but the
fact is, the Writer of the Tale displays talents worthy of being employed for a better purpose, and slight as the story is, he has contrived to make it in parts very natural and touching. We allude chiefly to the domestic scenes between Altham and his wife. Even the consummate ignorance which is displayed with respect to every thing connected with religion, is some palliation of the baseness of the representations it is employed to convey. There is no internal evidence that he knows better. The attack upon the Calvinists is not made under the mask of attachment to orthodoxy, or to any mode of Christian profession it is the coarse, bold, undisguised assault of the infidel, who hates alike the church and the conventicle. Whether the tale was written to please Altham's friends, or merely for the bookseller-whether the impulse was the want of pence, or the desire of praise, it is just so much the less criminal in its design, as it addresses neither the passions of the lower classes, nor the fears and self-interested prejudices of those in the higher ranks. It will be read, in fact, but by few, and those few it will leave certainly not the better, but not much the worse for the perusal. It is too dull to excite a powerful interest, too unnatural to deceive a person who has the least knowledge of the world. The infidelity and impiety which disfigure it, are matter of concern chiefly to the Author himself, for which he will have to answer at another tribunal than ours; but for the sake of what he most values in this world, his literary character, we would caution him against a misapplication of his talents in 2 future, which will procure him in the end nothing better than the pity of those whom he calumniates, and from every respectable member of society the tribute of contempt.