Зображення сторінки

but with an impression as if the events and feelings had been personal to himself. This is the case also with the story of St. Leon, which, with less dramatic interest and intensity of purpose, is set off by a more gorgeous and flowing eloquence, and by a crown of preternatural imagery, that waves over it like a palmtree! It is the beauty and the charm of Mr. Godwin's descriptions that the reader identifies himself with the author; and the secret of this is, that the author has identified himself with his personages. Indeed, he has created them. They are the proper issue of his brain, lawfully begot, not foundlings, nor the “bastards of his art.” He is not an indifferent, callous spectator of the scenes which he himself pourtrays, but without seeming to feel them. There is no look of patch-work and plagiarism, the beggarly copiousness of borrowed wealth ; no tracery-work from worm-eaten manuscripts, from forgotten chronicles, nor piecing out of vague traditions with fragments and snatches of old ballads, so that the result resembles a gaudy, staring transparency, in which you cannot distinguish the daubing of the painter from the light that shines through the flimsy colours and gives them brilliancy. Here all is fairly made out with strokes of the pencil, by fair,

not by factitious means. Our author takes a given subject from nature or from books, and then fills it up with the ardent workings of his own mind, with the teeming and audible pulses of his own heart. The effect is entire and satisfactory in proportion. The work (so to speak) and the author are one. We are not puzzled to decide upon their respective pretensions. În reading Mr. Godwin's novels, we know what share of merit the author has in them. In reading the Scotch Novels, we are perpetually embarrássed in asking ourselves this question; and perhaps it is not altogether a false modesty that prevents the editor from putting his name in the title-page-he is (for any thing we know to the contrary) only a more voluminous sort of Allena-Dale. At least, we may claim this advantage for the English author, that the chains with which he rivets our attention are forged out of his own thoughts, link by link, blow for blow, with glowing enthusiasm : we see the genuine ore melted in the furnace of fervid feeling, and moulded into stately and ideal forms; and this is so far better than peeping into an old iron shop, or pilfering from a dealer in marine stores! There is one drawback, however, attending this mode of proceeding, which attaches génerally, indeed, to all originality of composition ;

namely, that it has a tendency to a certain degree of monotony. He who draws upon his own resources, easily comes to an end of his wealth. Mr. Godwin, in all his writings, dwells upon one idea or exclusive view of a subject, aggrandises a sentiment, exaggerates a character, or pushes an argument to extremes, and makes up by the force of style and continuity of feeling for what he wants in variety of incident or ease of manner. This necessary defect is observable in his best works, and is still more so in Fleetwood and Mandeville; the one of which, compared with his more admired performances, is mawkish, and the other morbid. Mr. Godwin is also an essayist, an historian-in short, what is he not, that belongs to the character of an indefatigable and accomplished author ? His Life of Chaucer would have given celebrity to any man of letters possessed of three thousand a year, with leisure to write quartos : as the legal acuteness displayed in his Remarks on Judge Eyre's Charge to the Jury would have raised any briefless barrister to the height of his profession. This temporary effusion did more—it gave a turn to the trials for high treason in the year 1794, and possibly saved the lives of twelve innocent individuals, marked out as political victims to

[ocr errors]

the Moloch of Legitimacy, which then skulked behind a British throne, and had not yet dared to stalk forth (as it has done since) from its lurking-place, in the face of day, to brave the opinion of the world. If it had then glutted its maw with its intended prey (the sharpness of Mr. Godwin's pen cut the legal cords with which it was attempted to bind them), it might have done so sooner, and with more lasting effect. The world do not know (and we are not sure but the intelligence may startle Mr. Godwin himself), that he is the author of a volume of Sermons, and of a Life of Chatham.*

Mr. Fawcett (an old friend and fellow-student of our author, and who always spoke of his writings with admiration, tinctured with wonder) used to mention a circumstance with respect to the last-mentioned work, which may throw some light on the history and progress of Mr. Godwin's mind. He was anxious to make his biographical account as complete as he could, and applied for this purpose to many of his acquaintance to furnish him with anecdotes or to suggest criticisms. Amongst others Mr. Fawcett repeated to him what he thought a striking passage in a speech on General Warrants delivered by Lord Chatham, at which he (Mr. Fawcett) had been present. Every man's house” (said this emphatic thinker and speaker) “ has been called his castle. And why is it called his castle? Is it because it is defended by a wall, because it is surrounded with a moat? No, it may be nothing more than a straw-built shed. It may be open to all the elements : the wind may enter in, the rain may enter in-bụt the king cannot enter in !" His friend thought that the point was here palpable enough : but when he came to read the printed volume, he found it thus transposed : “ Every man's house is his castle. And why is it called so? Is it because it is defended by a wall, because it is surrounded with a moat ? No, it may be nothing more than a straw-built shed. It may be exposed to all the elements : the rain may enter into it, all the winds of Heaven may whistle round it, but the king cannot, &c.” This was what Fawcett called a defect of natural imagination. He at the same time admitted that Mr. Godwin had improved his native sterility in this respect; or atoned for it by incessant activity of mind and by accumulated stores of thought and powers of language. In fact, his forte is not the spontaneous, but the voluntary

* We had forgotten the tragedies of Antonio and Ferdinand. Peace be with their manes!

« НазадПродовжити »