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In childhood, the total ignorance of the world, especially when we are brought up in some confined spot, renders every thing beyond 'the bounds of our dwelling a distance and a romance. Mr. Lamb, in his Recollections of Christ's Hospital, says that he remembers when some half-dozen of his schoolfellows set off, “ without map, card, or compass, on a serious expedition to find out Philip Quarll's Island.” We once encountered a set of boys as romantic. It was at no greater distance than at the foot of a hill near Hampstead; yet the spot was so perfectly Cisalpine to them, that two of them came up to us with looks of hushing eagerness, and asked, “ whether, on the other side of that hill there were not robhers :" to which, the minor adventurer of the two added, “ And some say serpents." They had all got bows and arrows, and were evidently hovering about the place, betwixt daring and apprehension, as on the borders of some wild region. We smiled to think which it was that husbanded their suburb wonders to more advantage, they or we: for while they peopled the place with robbers and serpents, we were peopling it with sylvans and fairies.
“ So was it when my life began;
So is it pow. I am a man;
Or let me die!
PASSAGES FROM OSSIAN, ALLUDED TO IN OUR LAST. On renewing our acquaintance with Ossian, we felt tempted to go to some length about him ; but we must reserve our criticism for another time. The following are as many specimens of his uses of mist, as we have room for. The first is very grand; the second as happy in it's analogy ; the third is ghastly, but of more doubtful merit.
Two chieFS PARTED BY THEIR KING.-" They sunk from the king on either side, like two columns of morning mist, when the suu rises between them on his glittering rocks. Dark is their rolling on either side, each toward its reedy pool.”
A GREAT ENEMY." I love a foe like Cathmor: his soul is great; his arm is strong; his battles are full of fame. But the little soul is like a vapour, that hovers round the marshy lake. It never rises on the green hill, lest the winds meet it there."
A TERRIBLE OMEN.-" A mist rose slowly from the lake. It came, in the figure of an aged man, along the silent plain. It's large limbs did not move in' steps ; for a ghost supported it in mid air. It came towards Selma's hall, and dissolved in a shower of blood.”
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There he arriving round about doth fly,
No. X.-WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15th, 1819.
A TALE FOR A CHIMNEY CORNER. A man who does not contribute his quota of grim stories now-a-days, seems hardly to be free of the republic of letters. He is bound to wear a death's head, as part of his insignia. If he does not frighten every body, he is nobody. If he does not shock the ladies, what can be expected of him?
We confess we think very cheaply of these stories in general. A story, merely horrible or even awful, which contains no sentiment elevating to the human heart and it's hopes, is a mere appeal to the least judicious, least healthy, and least masculine of our passions, fear. They whose attention can be gravely arrested by it, are in a fit state to receive any absurdity with their wits off ; and this is the cause, why less talents are required to enforce it, than in any other species of composition. With this opinion of such things, we may be allowed to say, that we would undertake to write a dozen horrible stories in a day, all of which should make the common worshippers of
power, who were not in the very healthiest condition, turn pale. We would tell of Haunting Old Women, and Knocking Ghosts, and Solitary Lean Hands, and Empusas on One Leg, and Ladies growing Longer and Longer, and Horrid Eyes meeting us through Key-holes, and Plaintive Heads, and Shrieking Statues, and Shocking Anomalies of Shape, and Things which when seen drove people mad; and indigestion knows what besides. But who would measure talents with a leg of veal, or a German sausage.
Mere grimness is as easy as grinning; but it requires something to put a handsome face on a story. Naratives become of suspicious merit in proportion as they lean to Newgate-like offences, particularly of blood and wounds. A child has a reasonable respect for a Raw-head-and-bloody-bones, because all images whatsoever of pain and terror are new and fearful to his inexperienced age : but sufferings merely physical (unless sublimated like those of Philoctetes) are common-places to a grown man. Images, to become awful to him, must be removed from the grossness of the shambles. A death's head was a respectable thing in the hands of a poring monk, or of a nun
compelled to avoid the idea of life and society, or of a hermit already buried in the desart. Holbein's Dance of Death, in which every grinning skeleton leads along a man of rank, from the Pope to the gentleman, is a good Memento Mori; but there the skeletons have an air of the ludicrous and satirical. If we were threatened with them in a grave way, as spectres, we should have a right to ask how they could walk about without muscles. Thus many of the tales written by such authors as the late Mr. Lewis, who wanted sentiment to complete his talents, are quite puerile. When his spectral nuns go about bleeding, we think they ought in decency to have applied to some ghost of a surgeon. His little Grey Men, who sit munching hearts, are of a piece with fellows that eat cats for a wager.
Stories that give mental pain to no purpose, or to very little purpose compared with the unpleasant ideas they excite of human nature, are as gross mistakes, in their way, as these, and twenty times as pernicious : for the latter become ludicrous to grown people. They originate also in the same extremes, either of callousness, or morbid want of excitement, as the others. But more of these hereafter. Our business at present is with things ghastly and ghostly.
A ghost story, to be a good one, should unite as much as possible objects such as they are in life with a præternatural spirit. And to be a perfect one,-at least to add to the other utility of excitement a moral utility,—they should imply some great sentiment,-something that comes out of the next world to remind us of our duties in this ; or something that helps to carry on the idea of our humanity into after-life, even when we least think we shall take it with us. When " the buried majesty of Denmark” revisits earth to speak to his son Hamlet, he comes armed, as he used to be, in his complete steel. His visor his raised; and the same fine face is there; only, in spite of his punishing errand and his own sufferings, with
A countenance more in sorrow than in anger. When Donne the poet, in his thoughtful eagerness to reconcile life and death, had a figure of himself painted in a shroud, and laid by his bedside in a coffin, he did a higher thing than the monks and hermits with their skulls. was taking his humanity with him into the other world, not effecting to lower the sense of it by regarding it piecemeal or in the frame-work. Burns, in his Tam O'Shanter, shews the dead in their coffins after the same fashion. He does not lay bare to us their skeletons or refuse, things with which we can connect no sympathy or spiritual wonder. They still are flesh and body to excite the one; yet so look and behave, inconsistent in their very consistency, as to excite the other.
Coffins stood round like open presses.
Each, in his cauld hand, held a light. Reanimation is perhaps the most ghastly of all ghastly things, uniting as it does an appearance of natural interdiction from the next world,
with a supernatural experience of it. Our human consciousness is jarred out of it's self-possession. The extremes of habit and newness, of common place and astonishiment, meet suddenly, without the kindly introduction of death and change; and the stranger appals us in proportion. When the account appeared the other day in the newspapers of the galvar:ized dead body, whose features as well as limbs underwent such contortions, that it seemed as if it were about to rise up, one almost expected to hear, for the first time, news of the other world. Perhaps the most appalling figure in Spenser is that of Maleger ; (Fairy Queen. B. 2. c. 11.)
Upon a tygre swift and fierce he rode,
But of such subtile substance and unsound,
That like a ghost he seemed, whose grave-clothes were unbound. Mr. Coleridge in that voyage of his to the brink of all unutterable things, the Ancient Mariner (which works out however a fine sentiment) does not set mere ghosts or hobgoblins to man the ship again, when it's crew are dead; but reanimates, for a while, the crew themselves. There is a striking fiction of this sort in Sale's Notes upon the Koran.
Solomon dies during the building of the temple, but his body remains leaning on a staff and overlooking the workmen, as if it were alive ; till a worm knawing though the prop, he falls down. The contrast of the appearance of humanity with something mortal or supernatural, is always the more" terrible in proportion as it is complete. In the pictures of the temptations of saints and hermits, where the holy person is surrounded, teazed, and enticed, with devils and fantastic shapes, the most shocking phantasm is that of the beautiful woman. To return also to the Ancient Mariner. The most appalling personage in Mr. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner is the Spectre-woman, who is called Life-in-Death. He renders the most hideous abstraction more terrible than it could otherwise have been, by embodying it in it's own reverse.
« Death” not only “ lives” in it; but the “unutterable" becomes uttered. To see such an unearthly passage end in such earthliness, seems at the moment to turn common-place itself into a sort of spectral doubt. The Mariner, after describing the horrible calm, and the rotting sea, in which the ship was stuck, is speaking of a strange sail which he descried in the distance.
The western wave was all a-flame.
Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Who thicks man's blood with cold. But we must come to Mr. Coleridge's story, with all our imagination upon us. Now let ús put out knees a little nearer the fire, and tell a homelier one about Life in Death. The groundwork of it is in Sandys's Commentary upon Ovid, and quoted from Sabinus. *
A gentleman of Bavaria, of a noble family, was so afflicted at the death of his wife, that unable to bear the company of any other person, he gave himself entirely up to a solitary way of living. This was the more remarkable in him, as he had been a man of jovial habits, fond of his wine and visitors, and impatient of having his numerous indulgencies contradicted. But in the same temper perhaps might be found the cause of his sorrow; for though he would be impatient with his wife, as with others, yet he loved her, as one of the gentlest wills he had ; and the sweet and unaffected face which she always turned round upon his anger, might have been a thing more easy for him to trespass upon, while living, than to forget, when dead and gone. His very anger towards her, compared with that towards others, was a relief to him; and rather a wish to refresh himself in the balmy feeling of her patience, than to make her unhappy herself; or to punish her, as some would have done, for that virtuous contrast to his own vice.
But whether he bethought himself, after her death, that this was a very selfish mode of loving; or whether, as some thought, he had wearied out her life with habits so contrary to her own; or whether, as others reported, he had put it to a fatal risk by some lordly piece of self-will, in consequence of which she had caught a fever on the cold river during a night of festivity; he surprised even those who thought that he loved her, by the extreme bitterness of his grief. The very mention of festivity, though he was patient for the first day or two, afterwards threw him into a passion of rage; but by degrees even his rage followed his other old habits. He was gentle, but ever silent. He eat and drank but sufficient to keep him alive; and used to spend the greater part of the day in the spot where his wife was buried.
He was going there one evening, in a very melancholy manner, * The Saxon Latin poet, we presume, Professor of Belles-lettres, at Frankfort. We know nothing of him except from a biographical dictionary.