British Fiction, 18001829

BULWER LYTTON, Edward George. Devereux (1829)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, 3rd ser. 10 (Aug 1829): 80–82.

If, in the construction of a novel, it be worth while to have any plot, it is worth while to have a good plot. On the other hand, if a writer can rely upon his own [80/81] powers to attract, to charm, and to interest his reader, without the aid of fable, he ought to abandon the form with the substance of the novel, and to start at once as an essayist, or a historian. It might have been well had such a reliance been felt and acted upon in the composition of ‘Devereux, a Tale, by the Author of Pelham.’ This cleverly imagined, and beautifully written production, is ostensibly the autobiography of Count Devereux, whose life was a life of frequent adventure and constant excitement. ‘Men of all grades,’ says the writer, ‘and of every character, have been familiar to me. War—love—ambition—the scroll of sages—the festivals of wit—the intrigues of states—all that agitates mankind, the hope and the fear, the labour and the pleasure—the great drama of vanities, with the little interludes of wisdom;—these have been the occupations of my manhood;—these will furnish forth the materials of that history which is now open to your survey.’ Purporting to have been written one hundred years since—a period of deep and stirring interest—the work is full of brilliant and striking views of the persons and manners of that bygone age. Kings and princes, statesmen, wits, and philosophers—those of France as well as of England—pass rapidly in succession before us: we seem as though we were thrown back upon the days of our ancestors, in whose visible presence we think, and speak, and move, and act. Lord Bollngbroke is one of the heroes of the drama; and his portrait, painted in fresh but flattering colours, is, it must be confessed, a noble one. By way of specimen, however, we must content ourselves with a part of the spirited sketch of Voltaire, as he is supposed to have appeared at the age of one-and-twenty:—

[Extract beginning ‘The countenance, then, of Marie Francis Arouet....’, and ending ‘which a god would only have used in wrath’, is omitted].

In no portions of this work is the author more successful than when he brings forward that cold, passionless woman, his mother, and that admirably preserved relic of the olden time, Sir William Devereux, his uncle, who ‘did as his ancestors had done before him, and cheap as the dignity had grown, went up to court to be knighted by Charles II. He was so delighted with what he saw of the metropolis, that he foreswore all intention of leaving it, took to Sedley and champagne, flirted with Nell Gwynne, lost double the value of his brother’s portion at one sitting to the chivalrous Grammont, wrote a comedy, corrected by Etherege, and took a wife recommended by Rochester.’ The death scene of this kind-hearted benevolent creature is exquisitely sketched.

Of the fable of Devereux, if fable it can be termed, we shall say nothing, for nothing that we could say upon the subject, would in the slightest degree illustrate the spirit of the work. It is in the delineation of character, in the exhibition of manners, and in the development of moral and philosophical feeling, that the author of ‘Pelham’ excels. In the volumes before us, he not infrequently reminds us of Godwin’s ‘Mandeville,’ though without Godwin’s intenseness. We shall close with some of his reflections upon the death of his youthful and lovely bride:—

[Extract beginning ‘Never, in the mazes of intrigue, in the festivals of pleasure, in the tumults of ambition....’, and ending on p. 82 ‘....and be once more blended with her own?’, is omitted].

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