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Atravida Spanish ship of war, which in the year 1796 was sent expressly for that purpose from the Falkland Islands, from which they were stated to be only distant about 10° of longitude, as ascertained by three chronometers. Every body of course believed in their existence, and in the right position being assigned to them; but Captain Weddell had his doubts from not finding them in their place on the chart in a former voyage. He now, therefore, determined to look for them more narrowly; he got into their supposed latitude, which, indeed, could not be mistaken; he ran down the longitude many degrees both ways, and spent ten days in this examination; he could depend on his chronometers, and all hands were constantly on the look out; and the result was, that no such islands as the Auroras are in existence. The Spaniard, without intending to practise any deceit, had been led into the delusion, as is supposed, by three icebergs, the side of one of which was probably covered with black earth, and thus resembled a rock-like another seen in another place by Captain Weddell himself; for it is mentioned in the journal of the Atravida that the eastern extremity of one of these masses was white, and the western side very dark, across which was a snowy belt. But we are warned to stop-which we do with a hearty recommendation of Mr. Weddell's little volume to all nautical men especially, and as one that deserves to find a place on the shelf of every library that pretends to a collection of voyages and travels.
ART. IV.-Philippe-Auguste; Poëme Héroïque, en Douze Chants. Par F. A. Parseval, Membre de l'Académie Française. Paris. 1826. pp. 448.
THIS volume, the appearance of which has produced a sensation in Paris, and, what is still better, obtained for Monsieur Parseval a gold snuffbox from His Most Christian Majesty, opens with a dedication:
A LA MÉMOIRE
Then comes an 'Avis de l'Auteur,' informing us that his poem is the fruit of twenty consecutive years of assiduous labour, and that it should have remained still longer in his portfolio, but for the following consideration:
'Je ne veux point attendre que l'âge me prive d'une force nécessaire pour corriger les fautes qui me seront révélées par le grand jour de l'impression.'
With such solemnity and such modesty is a new epic introduced to the world.
M. Parseval, far from leaving the public to form an unassisted opinion of his merits, has considerately added to his twelve cantos, as many clusters of critical notes, in which the principles of epic composition are elaborately expounded; and every passage, the audacité' of which seemed likely to startle the ignorant, is carefully defended by maxims from Boileau and precedents from Virgil. Occasionally, moreover, the herd of readers are kindly put on their guard by incidental intimations of a character yet more conclusive and unanswerable: for example—
'Ce fragment, par les lectures que j'en ai faites, a obtenu une espèce de célébrité et m'a valu beaucoup d'encouragement de la part de mes confrères.'-p. 433.
Finally, our author, reminding us in a note that
Horace, Ovide, et plusieurs poëtes antiques ont terminé leurs ouvrages par un épilogue où ils s'applaudissent de leurs succès,' opens the twelfth canto of Philippe-Auguste with an apostrophe to the Pyramids of Egypt.
Vous m'avez inspiré, superbes pyramides !
J'ai voulu, COMME VOUS, éterniser mon nom!' &c. &c.
All this is imposing enough: nor does the performance itself, on the first rapid survey of its Arguments, appear unworthy of a considerable blowing of trumpets. M. Parseval has put mankind in possession of one more unquestioned epic: divided into twelve books: having its episodes introduced exactly at the established distances, and of the most legitimate dimensions: crammed full of similes, visions, and prophecies; heroes of the most spotless magnanimity, and cowardly giants ten feet high; armour bright from hell on the one side and from heaven on the other; charms, invocations, sorcerers, demons, enchanted bowers, amorous fountains, talking trees: single combats, in which the direct interference of supernatural power enables the personage whose cause is righteous, and his valour unequalled, to triumph, and great battles of 200,000 on a side, in which the fate of the day is uniformly decided by some phenomenon in the clouds; seductions, each of which brings in the course of cantos repentance and a baby, and murders, followed as inevitably by remorse and a ghost:-in a word, all the old * materies vatum.'
There are three deities to whom M. Parseval ascribes the chief management of the affairs of Philip of France, and his rebellious vassal the count of Boulogne-for these, as our poet frequently observes, are the Æneas and Turnus of the new epic; -to wit, first his holiness the Pope, who, however, changes sides more than once in the course of the action, and appears inferior in power as well as consistency to the others: secondly, Genevieve,
the tutelary saint of Paris, and the Venus of this piece; and thirdly, Melusine, the fairy of Feudal Anarchy, who is its relentless Juno. The former of these ladies is represented throughout as claiming, receiving, and indeed most richly meriting, a degree of homage, which to read of even in an epic poem must severely wound the orthodox feelings of Dr. Doyle. She acts as completely as an independent power, and at least as effectually, as any of Jupiter's sons or daughters do in the Iliad. The other female Vindex, for whom M. Parseval's ingenuity has prepared so many knots, his Démon Féodal,' is a more original creation of the fancy. She is a somewhat Dagon-like fairy, lovely woman above the girdle, below that mark rejoicing in voluminous slimy folds en immense spirale,' equipped with a battlemented and machicolated helmet, and, moreover, with scaly armour, on which bends, fesses, cheverons, lozenges, tressures, griffins, and all the forms of heraldic decoration are set forth in endless combinations of quartering, and blazoned, secundum artem, in azure, gules, vert, sable, ermine, or, and argent. This demon of escutcheons has a whole troop of inferior immortals, crest-and-motto imps we suppose, at her command, and she maintains moreover a strict correspondence with the King of the Volcanoes, who is at all times ready to lend her his powerful co-operation. To balance this subterraneous alliance again, the tutelary saint of Paris has an old friendship with the Spirit of the Loire. He of the Volcanoes entertains the baronial devil by an eloquent lecture on Geology, in which he hints his acquiescence in the theories of Mr. Paullet Scrope, and then obliges her by shipwrecking Philip of France and all his court; while the Genius of the Loire-of whom we are informed that,
'Ses cheveux sur son corps en ondes se déroulent,
Y forment des ruisseaux qui sur ses flancs s'écoulent,
the active Genius of the Loire drowns, in return, the retreating army of John, King of England. The poet, charmed with the manner of this retribution, exclaims in one of his self-gratulatory and instructive notes
'La personification d'un fleuve dans la théogonie Chrétienne ne doit avoir aucun rapport avec celle d'un fleuve du Paganisme.'
He adds, J'ai cherché à vaincre cette difficulté, et j'espère que mes lecteurs m'en sauront gré;'—and we, to speak for ourselves, beg leave to assure M. Parseval that we feel extremely obliged to him for the trouble he has taken upon this occasion.
Our author appears, indeed, throughout all his notes to be
haunted with an exceeding dread that the marvellous machinery of which he so lavishly makes use, may displease the critics of these degenerate and prosaic days. Twice he takes occasion to quote at length the same four lines of 'notre législateur Boileau.' 'Sans tous ces ornemens le vers tombe en langueur; La poésie est morte, ou rampe sans vigueur; Le Poëte n'est plus qu'un orateur timide, Qu'un froid historien d'une fable insipide.'
And again and again he reminds the world, that Virgil has produced an epic, but Lucan no more than a gazette in hexameters. We believe, however, that M. Parseval will find he has been rather mistaken in his apprehensions. Few critics, we venture to say, will seize on the appearance of his great work, as presenting an irresistible opportunity for investigating the principles on which either the marvellous in general, or any particular species of the marvellous, has been, or ought to be introduced either in this, or in any other species of composition. Such speculations, it will in all probability be decided, may be safely deferred until another Poëme Héroïque' of the old school shall have been put forth by some person in whom the public have the pleasure to recognize not merely a diligent student of the various treatises of the poetic art, but a poet.
If hard students are commonly rewarded in France by gold snuffboxes, the gentleman has deserved his, which we hope is a musical one. He has got his Horace and his Boileau by heart, And if we have not read Longinus,
Will magisterially outshine us :'
He has perused with laudable perseverance M. de Sainte Palaie's Essays on Chivalry, Dr. Robertson's View of the Feudal System, the Renée of the Vicomte de Chateaubriand, the Castle of Otranto, and many other works illustrative of the manners and customs of the middle ages; and the lore thus laboriously accumulated is spread, with a generous hand, both over his numbers and his notes. He has given us we know not how many tournaments, parliaments of love, banquets, ordeals, dubbings of knights, and professions of nuns-but unfortunately, he has described no realities which had not been much better described before-and he has invented nothing but what is absurd. We understand that the skill with which he constructs his Alexandrines has been much applauded in his own country; and this praise he probably deserves. But if we overlook the mere mechanism of versification, and come to M. Parseval's language, we fear it is impossible not to see that in this far more essential matter, poverty, conceit, and utter incongruity of effect are blemishes equally prevailing and
fatal. There is a constant struggle to blend the picturesque simplicity of the Chronicler or Romancer, with what the French talk of as the polished stateliness of the French tragedy; and the result is disagreeable. In one paragraph we have Haute et puissante dame,' and in the next Quoi, Madame?' Royal spectres begin their speeches with an Eh bien,' and when the ghost of the chosen hero Montmorenci himself heads the French army, and decides the fate of the empire at Bovines, we are told that
Germains, Hongrois, Teutons, reculent effrayés,
La force en vain combat, l'épouvante est plus forte; Mort ou vivant, fantôme ou chevalier, N'IMPORTE Again, one of the principal preux of the cycle of Philippe Auguste, conceiving an unfortunate passion for the wife of the eldest son of his king and his own most particular friend, is, as is proper, by that lady rejected and rebuked; falls, of course, into a state of the most profound and heroic melancholy, and thus describes his situation
'Le bonheur est fécond, le malheur est aride,
But the best example is behind. The main knot in the fable of M. Parseval is this: Philippe Auguste, being persuaded that his dearly beloved queen, Isembure, is an adultress, dismisses her and takes Agnes de Meranie in her stead. The pope, disapproving of this proceeding, lays an interdict on the kingdom of France, the consequences of which are fearful in the extreme; more particularly the interruption to marriages, thus tenderly, classically, and ecclesiastically alluded to by our poet
'O vierges, qui d'amour languissez dès l'aurore,
In the meantime Agnes herself becomes convinced of her predecessor's purity-for no other reason in the world but that the said predecessor, with whom she meets one fine morning by the merest accident in the world in a church, assures her she is pure. The Queen de facto engages Montmorenci to prove the fact thus ascertained, by a duel, and the result is the re-establishment of the Queen de jure, the removal of the interdict, and the final triumph of Philippe Auguste over all his enemies. Now it seems pretty
clear that the return of Isembure to her husband's arms under such circumstances is an incident of high importance in the plot