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Charles had accompanied Lord I? ,
on the preceding day, to visit the distant mansion of a neighbouring chieftain, for the limits of neighbourhood are extended farther in regions where every thing seems to participate in the greatness of the scale on which nature is herself displayed. Although the other females were well aware of the numerous chances which the warmth of Highland kindness afforded to prevent the departure of a guest on the appointed day, yet the restless emotions which Lady D felt were
excited in her own bosom by her husband's absence; she guessed, and guessed rightly, that no temptation, however powerful, could operate to delay his return, when its object was to regain the enjoyment of her society. She therefore continued still to expect him, after every one else had abandoned all expectation of his appearance. She started at every sound, and glanced her fine eyes hastily to the. door at every footstep, nor could the assurances of her companions persuade her to dismiss her hopes, or convince her that it was not now at all probable that the gentlemen would arrive that night, late as it then was; but that it was more likely they had been prevailed on to remain, to participate in some hunting expedition, projected for the amusement of the southern stranger.
There sat another personage at that festive board, on whom mirth seemed to have little effect; its beams, which shot in every direction from the eyes of the young and the gay around her, fell on her high and marble features, and raven eye, like those of the sun on the dark cavern of some cheerless and sea-beaten crag, engulfing, rather than reflecting, its light. This was the Lady Assynt, who, to do honour to Sir Charles and his young bride, had been invited to the castle. But little had she added to the general mirth, for ever since her arrival, she had sat in the midst of hilarity, like the lonely cormorant on its rock, unmoved and regardless of the playful waves that murmured around her. Few attempts were made to bring her into the play of conversation, and even those few were soon silenced by chilling monosyllabic replies, delivered in a lofty and repulsive maimer. She b*d been therefore left undisturbed to the full possession of her own gloomy
thoughts. At last her very presence seemed to be almost forgotten, or, if observed at all, she was noticed with no other interest than were the stiff and smoke-discoloured portraits of family ancestry, that stared in sullen and silent majesty from the deep carved pannels of the ancient apartment where the party was seated.
The good-humoured jest, and the merry tale went round, and the laugh of youthful joy was at its highest,— when a piercing shriek produced a sudden and death-like silence, and directed every head towards the Lady Assynt, who seemed for a moment to be violently convulsed. The effect of such an unlocked for interruption to the general gayety may be easily conceived. The ladies arose in confusion; every assistance was proffered; and numerous inquiries were made. But seeming' to endeavour by a desperate effort, to summon up resolution to overcome • the sudden nervous malady which apparently affected her, she put back both the kind and the curious with a wave of her hand, and haughtily resumed her usual dignified and freezing deportment, without deigning to give any explanation.
It was some time before the company was restored to its composure, and hilarity had hardly begun again to enliven it, when a louder and yet more unearthly shriek again roused their alarm, and raised them from their seats in the utmost consternation. The Latly Assynt now presented a spectacle that chilled every one. The same convulsion seemed to have recurred with redoubled violence. She started up in its paroxysm; and her uncommonly tall figure was raised to its full height, and set rigidly against the high back of the gothic chair in which she had been seated, cs if from anxiety to retreat as far as its confined space would allow, from some horrible spectacle that appalled her. her arms were thrown up in a line with her person; each particular bony finger was widely separated from its fellow; and her stretched eyeballs were fixed in glassy and motionless unconsciousness. She seemed for a time to lose all sense of existence, and, though in an upright posture, to have been suddenly struck into a stiffened corpse. By degrees she began to writhe, as if enduring extreme agony: her livid lips moved rapidly, without the utterance of sound; until finally overcome by her sufferings, she sank within the depth of the antique chair, and remained for some minutes in a languid and abstracted reverie. The mingled anxiety and curiosity of the company was unbounded; numerous and loud were the inquiries; and of the inquirers, Lady 1) , who seemed
instinctively to apprehend something dreadful connected with her own fate, was the most earnestly solicitous of all. The Lady Assynt needed not the swarm of interrogatories which buzzed around her. She looked at first as if she heard them not; then raising herself solemnly, and somewhat austerely, from the reclining position into which she had dropped, she spread her hands before her, and sweeping than slowly backwards to right and left, she divided the ring of females who surrounded her, and brought Lady D
full within the range of her vision. At first she started involuntarily at sight of her; but melancholy and pity mingling themselves amidst the sternness of features to which such tender emotions seemed to have been long strangers, in a deep and articulate voice, and with the solemn and sibylline air,
she slowly addressed Lady D ,
whilst profound silence sat upon every other lip. "Let the voice of gladness yield to that of mourning! Cruel is the blow that hangs over thee, poor innocent dove! and sad is it for me to tell thee what thou art but too anxious to know. A vision crossed my sight, and I saw a little boat, in which were
thy luid and Lord H -: it was
tossed by a sudden and tempestuous gust, that swept the dark surface of the loch in a whitening line. I saw the waves dashing over the frail bark; and sorely did the two Highlanders who rowed than contend with their oars against the outrageous whirlwind. I hoped, yet shuddered, from fear of
the event. Again the spirit of vision
opened my unwilling eyes, and compelled me to behold that last wave, which whelmed them beneath the burst of its tremendous swell. The land was near. Stoutlv the drowning wretches struggled with their fate. I saw Lord R and his sturdy servants, one by one, reach the shore;
but ""My husband!" shrieked
Lady I) in anguish, as she grasped
the arm of the seer, " Oh! tell we
that my husband was saved!"—" His body"—replied the Lady Assynt, in a lower and more melancholy voice— "His body was driven by the merciless waves upon the yellow beach; the moonbeam fell upon his face, but the spark of life was quenched." Lady
1) 's death-like grasp was relaxed,
and she swooned away in the arms of those who surrounded her. The Lady Assynt regarded her not: somewhat of her former convulsion again came upon her; and starting up in a frenzied manner, she exclaimed, in a piercing voice, scarcely distinguishable from a scream, "And now, they bear him hither!—See how pale and cold he looks—how his long hair drips— how ghastly are his unclosed eyes— how blanched those lips where lately sat the warm smile of love!" Then sinking again, after a short interval, she continued, in a more subdued tone, "He is gone for ever! No more shall he revisit his own fair halls and fertile fields. Yet is not all hope lost with him; for his son shall live after him, and bring back anew the image of his father."
The ladies were now busied about
Lady D- , who lay in a deep faint.
All seemed to be as much interested in her, as if the events described in the waking visions of the Lady Assynt had already actually happened. Yet every one affected to treat her words as the idle dreams of a distempered brain; although, in the very looks of the different speakers, there was a fear betrayed, that ill accorded with their words, manifesting the general apprehension that something tragical was to be dreaded, At last a contused noise seemed to arise frcm the under apartments of the castle; mutterings, and broken sentences, and half-suppressed exclamations, were heard en the great stairs and in the passages. The name of Sir Charles was frequently repeated by different voices. The more anxious of the party tried to gain information by running to the windows. The Haiing lights of torches were seen to hurry across the courtyard, where all seemed to be bustle and dismay. And then it was that the doleful sound of the bagpipe, playing a sad and wailing lament, came upon the ear f'ri in without the castlegate. A slow, heavy, and measured tramp of many feet upon the drawbridge, told that a party of men were bearing some heavy weight across it. Unable longer to submit to the suspense in which they were held, the greater part of the females now rushed from the hall. A cry of horror was heard; and the mysterious anticipations of the gifted Lady Assynt were found to be, in truth, too dreadfully realized.
Lord R , in the deepest affliction, told the sad tale, with all its circumstances. Though much pressed to remain, Sir Charles had resisted all the kind importunity of their host. Their homeward way lay across the
ferry of . The sudden squalls
affecting such inward arms of the sea are too well known: one of these had assailed them in the middle of the loch, and had been productive of the melancholy catastrophe. Nor was the prophetic conclusion of the seer's vision left unaccomplished. There was no suspicion of Lady D 's pregnancy at the time; but such proved to be the case, and, according to the prediction, the child was a son, who lived, the sole hope of an old and respectable family. T. L. O.
FRAGMENT OF AN ESSAY ON TASTE,
Supposed to be written by
In analyzing literary compositions, we ought always to attend to the difference which subsists between that species of merit founded on the direct interest and attraction of the ideas which are employed, and that other sort of merit founded on the skill and dexterity with which materials are combined, and the justness of the relations which we are able to trace among parts. It is evident that the former species of merit is the one to be met with among the early, original, and patriarchal writers of all countries; and that the latter kind of merit is the one most frequently exemplified in the subsequent ages, when the rules of composition have begun to be canvassed and understood, and when men have begun to pry into the means by which their feelings are acted upon. The primitive writers had to address
persons whose feelings are still in their native condition, that is to say, whose feelings had never been excited, except by the real events of life, and who, consequently, had formed no associations or opinions concerning the literary means employed in producing mental excitement. To these unreflecting auditors the means were invisible, and they experienced only the result. On the other hand, authors of a later period have to address themselves, not to human nature in the abstract, but to human nature with a very intricate system of literary associations and opinions superinduced upon it. Unfortunately, too, the nature of these associations depends, not merely upon established models of fine writing, but also upon the daily abortions and failures of literature. Certain materials, from being too easily come at, are habitually preyed upon and deteriorated by bad authors, so that they become as it were proscribed. Add to this the perversity of theorists and babblers, who will not sit with patience and attention till a book has time to work its proper effect, and to transmit the impressions meant by the author, but who must stop to speculate in their own way, at the end of every paragraph; and who, in the course of the perusal, so intermingle the doings of their own minds with those of the author, that the ultimate impression derived from the book depends as much upon what has been thrown in by the reader, as upon what was originally furnished by the writer.
Literary compositions ought certainly not to be adapted to the habits of literary men, but to the habits of the public at large; otherwise they will prove but feeble and short-lived. Literary men are not the best persons to appreciate the real interest and attraction which conceptions will possess for people engaged in the business of the world, whose understandings have been turned to serious concerns, and whose energies are kept in a state of habitual tension. It is not writings which are merely ingenious, graceful, and finely managed, that will do for every-day folks. They must have something broad, vigorous, and rousing, although it should not always be conducted with tine taste, which, after all, is but a morbid state of our perccptions, and luckily will never be acquired by mankind at large. Scholars, owing to the effeminacy of their habits, perceive many things too strongly, and feel other things too weakly. They do not possess the elements of human nature in the average proportion, and therefore are little to be trusted, I think, in judging of poetry and popular literature, which is by no means addressed exclusively to the understanding and imagination, but to the whole aggregate mass of faculties, sentiments, and propensities, which go to make up human nature—a great part of which, as I said before, is often imperfect in studious people. I would be ready to bet any money, if the thing were capable of being ascertained, that a common shopkeeper in London has more feeling of the manly and energetic passages of Shakspeare, than most of those feeble young lads whom a milksop constitution has led to addict themselves to the belles lettres. The language of Shakspeare is like the sound of trumpet, and speaks to men of full bloods and masculine temperaments; and it is not easy to conceive how it young consumptive clergyman, perspiring at the nose, with scarcely any brawn upon his legs, should ever be able to crush into the pit of the theatre upon a full night, or enter into .the real spirit of Shakspeare after he got there.
I therefore think it extremely unfortunate, that the respect which mankind feel for intellect and erudition, should enable literary persons to assume the authority which they do assume in matters of taste. For all the intellect and acuteness in the world will only enable a person to decide upon the skill and conduct exhibited in a piece, and upon the neatness of the arrangement o(" the ideas contained in it, but never upon its general potency as an appeal to human nature. The best ratification of a good work, is when human nature makes the proper responses to it. As for the responses of critics, they put one in wind of the Aldermen of Braywick. "Be not wise beyond what is written," says the Scripture; but in no work do critics perceive distinctly what is written. They always see something more or something else. I say they know not how the thing looks to a plain,
downright, and rational man. They are not in a sound state of mind, any more than those sons of corruption, who, for these thirty years, have been putting the vilest misconstructions upon every thing which I have written, and who continue to do so, although they have been again and again exposed and detected, and a thousand and a thousand times overlaid with argument and fact, and tracked home to the innermost den of hireling malignity.
Taste relates chiefly to fineness and propriety of arrangement. Now, I say, (and so says every vigorous mind) give me a sufficient supply of materials such as Shakspeare pours forth, and I do not care so much about the general design, or the observance of proprieties, which for the most part afford but a feeble and trivial pleasure—a pleasure perceived coldly by the judgment, and not a powerful throb of passion communicated to the heart, or an enlivening impulse given to the reflective powers. If this preference were not just, how should it happen that men of sense derive so much gratification from the perusal of Shakspeare's writings, which, all the world admits, are a chaos, and nothing but a chaos, of thoughts, observations, and pictures. In making this remark, however, I must not fail to allow that Shakspeare exhibits the utmost coherence in the delineation of human character. This is the highest kind of coherence; and it is the only kind which he possesses. But the very licenses he takes enable him to fill his pages with a greater variety of remarks, images, and mental food, of every sort.
Upon looking over what I have written, I begin to think that I have gone a little too far, and have advanced some things savouring of paradox. But let not the malignant rejoice. My propositions will be found true in all their bearings, true in every item, if they are properly explained. The sources of pleasure in a literary production are so complicated, that it is not easy to insist much upon the advantages of one, without saying something in prejudice of another. The fact is, that they are not always compatible, and that, like the faculties they address, they sometimes pull different ways. Tenderness and enthusiasm, for instance, incline to dwell perseveringly upon the same thoughts, or, at least, upon thoughts so much akin to each other, as to cherish and prolong the same sentiment. The understanding, on the other hand, is often gratified by the juxtaposition and comparison of ideas, which are calculated to produce very different sentiments; and the faculty of ridicule delights in ideas which bear an express contradiction to each other. Now we see that different authors have entertained very different opinions concerning the possibility of reconciling these jarring interests in the same composition. Shakspeare, in keeping the mind always full, is certainly sometimes apt to garble impressions and feelings, so rapidly does he shift the intellectual scene. These mixed masse* of thought bear a close resemblance to what really takes place in the human mind; and when viewed in the light of imitations, they are excellent. I will, at the same time, however, admit, that poetry is not altogether an imitative art. It is also a selective and perfectionating art; and, by picking out of the general chaos, a number of thoughts which have the same character and colour, is often able to produce more sustained and continuous impressions than those which occur in nature. But what I mean to point out is the radical difference between substance and conduct or arrangement. It seems to be a conclusion warranted by the whole history of poetry, that those writers who aim at too high a degree of purity and propriety, generally fall into a corresponding poverty of materials; and for my part, I confess myself to be, on the whole, an advocate for the full and substantial style of composition, as being the one best adapted to the appetites of a vigorous mind.
There is another reason for this preference. Nations vary in their characters; there is a difference of mental constitution to be observed among them; and their literature should be adapted, not to the outlandish and bookish tastes of scholars, who, by too much reading, come to belong to no country, but to the indigenous habits peculiar to each nation. Now I do not think that Englishmen, generally speaking, are remarkable for » quick perception of those exactitudes, ■fatnesses, and skilful adaptations,
which form so great a part of what is called fine taste. At least, the perception of these things does not afford an excitement sufficiently great to fill the minds of Englishmen, who, after all, (and I do not say it contemptuously) are but obtuse cubs in many things; and I think, therefore, that our literature should not make too many appeals to a delicate and quick perception of coherences, but grapple with our passions, imaginations, and intellects,—foggy, robust, and confused as they are. The Frenchmen have far more quicksightedness in these matters. They are speedily able to detect irregularity and unsuitableness wherever it exists; and, on the other hand, their minds are highly gratified by the observance of fitness and decorum, as one may easily perceive in the construction of their tragedies. The ancient Greeks (although very different people from the French) probably resembled them in quicksightedness, to which they added strong and lofty feelings; but their plays are no models for us, who are not what is called classical in our habits of thinking, but plain Englishmen, just as we should be. I remember, on coming home from America, when I landed at Portsmouth, the first thing that met my eye was the sign of the Tankard and Cross Cudgels, which immediately struck me as an happy emblem of the nature of my countrymen.
I recollect of seeing lately, in the Edinburgh Review, a discourse upon literary compositions, in which it was said, that a perfect performance should have but one beauty, and should not be crowded with too many incidental strokes of genius; in short, that it should resemble, in purity and simplicity, a Greek temple. But there is a material difference between a poem and a visible object like a Greek temple. A temple can afford to be plain and meagre in its details, because we see the whole at once, and, in contemplating the general design, find no dearth of mental occupation; since, in fact, it exhibits as many parts, and as many beautiful relations of parts, as can be attended to without confusion. But the conceptions and impressions we derive from a poem are successive and multifarious; and I am thoroughly convinced, that nine persons