British Fiction, 18001829

SCOTT, Sir Walter. Kenilworth (1821)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 94 (Feb 1820): 146–61.

It was said in praise of Shakspeare [sic], and Dryden was the critic who said it, that he did not read mankind ‘through the spectacles of books.’ Shakspeare, however, was contented with general nature. If this vast and varied repository of manners and humours, of passion and incident, supplied his imagination with the materials which he wanted, he was well satisfied; and he cared little or nothing for those minute proprieties and petty adjustments, which give to each place or country peculiar modes and accidental fashions. His antient Romans, as Voltaire captiously remarks, have nothing Roman in them: they are merely men filled with masculine sentiments, and busily engaged in the great and lofty transactions of the scene; and, if he fixes his personages at Verona [146/147] or Milan, we see nothing that betrays the slightest anxiety in the poet to accommodate his fiction to the genius, habits, or dress of the town or nation which happens to be the object of his fable. When Speed and Lance, the servants of ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ meet each other in the streets of Milan, an adjournment is proposed to the ale-house, just as much in the ordinary course as if the Boar in East-cheap or the Tabart in Southwark were within a stone’s throw of them. As for the localities of dress, he scarcely ever gave himself the trouble of recollecting that there was any such thing as local or national costume. When Julia proposes to her chamber-maid, in the same play, that she should escape in male attire from Verona in pursuit of her lover, the hose, the farthingale, and the peculiarities of the English dress at that time engross the whole of the consultation, without the slightest allusion to the fashions and garb of the country which is the scene of the drama. These were matters which, from his lofty elevation and in his wide horizon, Shakspeare could no more see than, standing on his own cliff at Dover, he could have seen the beetles crawling at its base.

On the contrary, the author of ‘Kenilworth,’ however he may resemble the great poet in the other attributes of his genius, has not claimed the privilege so cheerfully accorded to Shakspeare. He rarely takes off the spectacles through which he contemplates the manners and adjusts the agencies of his romance, and still more rarely neglects any of the proprieties of detail. Not only has the quaint and stiff phraseology of the conversation of the times which he has chosen for his fiction become almost familiar to him from diligent reading, aided by minute observation, but the millinery of the haberdasher’s shop and the wares of a pedlar’s box are as much at his fingers’ ends as if he had actually taken their inventories. He has no doubt done well by attending to these verisimilitudes: which render more perfect the fascination of the story, and prevent our being recalled from the illusion by intimations that too frequently cross us while we are reading the romances of inferior artists, that the tale does not belong to the times or the actors to which it is attributed. They have all the effect which an improved attention to the ordonnance of the theatre has of late produced, by a closer observance of costume and propriety in scenic decoration.

He has done well also in selecting the splendid reign of Elizabeth for the period of his present story. ‘Ivanhoe’ was thrown rather too far back in our social and moral history. He there obtained, indeed, more ample room for his invention; and, in the uncertainty and darkness of real facts, a [147/148] greater licence to fill the void with those representations of life which admit all the swell of fancy and the splendor of fiction, without being rigidly brought to the test or tried by the laws of authentic and exact portraiture. He had an imposing and gallant costume to display, in the pomp of pageantry which marked the public and private transactions of that remote age; in moated castles and mailed champions; in the wild achievements that exhibited the freshness of the chivalrous honour which at that time spoke in actual deeds of ‘bold emprize,’ but of which merely the sentiments and language descended to the days of Elizabeth;—in a word, he could exhibit this costume in all the forms of physical strength and personal courage, that stand enlarged and dilated to our eyes through the hazy distance at which they are viewed, and almost overpower the imagination by their awful dimensions, At the same time, there was a disadvantage in the exhibitions of a state of life so strongly marked, and yet so obscurely known. For want of those minute and gentle strokes which a more familiar acquaintance with domestic manners and daily occurrences can alone supply, the whole delineation consisted of outline, bold and vehement and sublime, but tediously defective in variety, and fatiguing us by the sameness of the pictures and the uniformity of the sentiments and descriptions.

When the scene is laid in the good old time of Elizabeth, we feel ourselves more at home. It is at a sufficient distance for that theatrical tone and cast of diction, in which the characters of romance must in some degree express themselves in order to give effect to the dialogue, without being corrected or called to account by a living knowlege and actual experience of the style and form of conversation really prevalent; and it is sufficiently remote, also, to give effect to incidents which, if too nearly inspected, produce an enfeebled impression. Yet it is near enough not to require from the writer that exaggerated colouring which shews the picture to be fictitious, or to demand of the reader that acquiescence in strange occurrences, brought about by improbable agencies, which shocks and disgusts the understanding. It presents a happy medium between that which is too real to be pleasing, and that which, by being wholly unreal, is disgusting. There is, moreover, a certain mysterious charm that attracts us to that golden period, with its full train of delightful associations, hospitality, plenty, frugality, and content. Though vanity whispers that we are grown more enlightened and intellectual, (a suggestion which might fairly be disputed when the age of Bacon and Shakspeare is one of the objects of comparison,) yet the truly [148/149] English characteristics of that time were to be found in their fullest strength and prominence; and while in every respect except the mere quantity of books that age was as lettered as our own, it had the higher distinction of a steadier warmth of attachment to that circle of our relations which is truly and emphatically social. We have therefore great delight in straying back to our ancestors of those days, partaking though in fancy of their honest hospitalities, listening to the smart but somewhat coarse reciprocations of their dialogue, mixing in their merry though sometimes intemperate carousals, an escaping, even in fiction, from a less romantic stage of society, of which the traits are tamely and coldly monotonous.

On the literary merit of the much admired author of Waverley, we have too frequently and too recently expressed our opinion to renew either our praise or our censure, in general terms, on the present occasion. We shall merely observe, and trust to the discernment of our readers for a confirmation of our remark, that the tale now before us, with all its beauty, is still blemished by a few of the inadvertencies of hasty composition. The writer does not take sufficient time to complete the frame-work of history before be fills it up, but his invention and execution seem to go on together. The consequence is a want of general consistency, as well as the absence of a perfect congruity between the actors and the plan of the romance; while many of his characters are brought on the stage evidently with higher destinations in the fortunes and agencies of the piece, than he has allowed himself leisure ultimately to assign them. We cannot fail to perceive this incongruity in the character of Dickie Sludge; who seems to have been primarily intended for greater things than pinching the legs of the sturdy porter at Kenilworth to prompt him in the speech which he was to deliver on the entrance of Elizabeth; or, by a clumsy and improbable contrivance, preventing the letter of the Countess from reaching her lord; or even his concluding and [sic] most important act of interference between Tressilian and Leicester. He opened on us with a promise of originality, wildness, and grotesque humour, calculated to play a material part amid the changeful events of the piece, and to fill up a more considerable space in the mind and attention of the reader. That, when he was first fashioned by the hands of the author, no slight solicitude and care were expended to make hint worthy of a distinguished place among the characters of the tale, is apparent from the singularly romantic incident attending his first introduction to Tressilian; and from the anxiety exhibited in the first sketches of his habits and dispositions, to give him an intellectual port and bearing [149/150] which are thrown away on an urchin who plays a few monkey-tricks and then is no more seen.

—— ‘Amphora cœpit
Institui; currente rotâ, cur urceus exit

Yet Kenilworth is a work of extraordinary talent, and is abundantly marked by the prevailing excellences of its author; general beauty of composition, vigour of character, felicity of contrast, striking situations, and a plot skilfully contrived, though too sudden, perhaps, in its developement, and revolting in its catastrophe. We shall attempt a brief summary of the tale, to explain a few extracts, in which the peculiar powers of his mind and fancy seem to have been exercised.

The time of the narrative is that part of the splendid reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the Earl of Leicester first cherished his proud aspirings to the hand and throne of his mistress; and it opens in the midst of the strife of faction and emulation which existed between that ambitious nobleman and the Earl of Sussex, whose meritorious services in the hard hour of her adversities the Queen is well known to have highly valued. The whole story, which, unlike the other romances of the same writer, is tragic in its catastrophe, receives its complexion from the fortunes of Leicester, who is obviously its hero; but the chief interest of the narrative is derived from the hapless fate of Amy Robsart, whom the Earl had privately married, his designs on Elizabeth prompting him to a concealment of their union. She was the daughter of an impoverished fox-hunting knight in Cornwall, whose estate had been impaired by habits of too great hospitality; and she had been educated with all the blind and indulgent fondness of a parent who, like ’Squire Western, loved nothing on earth so well as his horse and his daughter. Edmund Tressilian cherished an early, and, as it proves, a steady though ill-fated attachment to this interesting but giddy being, who had unfortunately not learned to value his affection in the same proportion as she esteemed his merit.

Mystery and duplicity are necessarily called forth to conceal this marriage; the coquettish encouragement of the Virgin-Queen having inspired Lord Leicester with sentiments towards her far beyond the gallantry which she exacted from all her courtiers. This mystery, with the deceitful policy which by degrees wove around his head its inextricable meshes and at length involved him in guilt and disgrace, and the cruel custody in which a subserviency to his views made him keep his unfortunate Countess, constitute the distress of the plot; and it is a portion of the work which has been executed with [150/151] great pathos and feeling. It does not appear with sufficient clearness, perhaps, where or how the Earl became first enamoured of this rural beauty, and was so overpowered by her charms as to adopt the irretrievable measure of a solemn union: but the whole management of the intrigue, and of the means by which she was removed from her father’s house, he had confided to Varney, one of his confidential retainers, who filled the station of Master of the Horse in his princely household. This man presents a character of unmixed and consummate villainy. Sacrificing every consideration to his own views of advancement, no compunction from the beginning to the end of this sad story ever visits him; and he, aided by one Anthony Foster, to whose custody the Countess is more immediately committed, is the principal agent of the diabolical sufferings inflicted on that unfortunate lady, with the connivance at least of the ambitious courtier who had won her affections. In this respect, the writer betrays a departure in favour of Leicester from the concurrent testimony of our historians; who impute to him in express terms the murder of his wife by poison, to make way for his designs on Elizabeth. As Varney, however, was the immediate instrument by whom she was seduced from the paternal roof, and as the profligacy of his character was well known in the neighbourhood of Sir Hugh Robsart’s seat, (Lidcote Hall, in Cornwall,) her friends, and among them Tressilian, formed the melancholy conclusion that, having yielded to his arts, she was living with him in a state of unlawful intercourse. Urged by his own affection, which even the supposed circumstances of her disgraceful flight did not extinguish, and at the instance of her afflicted father, Tressilian set out on the desperate errand of reclaiming her, if possible, from her unholy connection. She was then in a splendid imprisonment, and clandestinely visited by her husband, at an old mansion, once an abbey, but desolated and despoiled at the Reformation, in the village of Cumnor, in Berkshire; now become the property of Varney by virtue of a grant from Leicester, and tenanted by Anthony Foster, the savage but puritanical villain whom Varney had selected for that office. Tressilian, who deemed it possible from these circumstances that this might be the place of her retreat, is first introduced to us at an inn in the above village, the bonny Black Bear; the humours of which are pourtrayed in the opening of the narrative, with the author’s habitual felicity in describing the domestic manners and wages of that period of our history.

In the company at the inn was a person just arrived from the wars in the Netherlands; a swaggering adventurer, nursed [151/152] in enterprize, and fit for any exploit that was likely to fill his pockets, without doing much injury to a conscience that was none of the most squeamish; by name Michael Lambourne, and a kinsman of Giles Gosling the landlord. The conversation turned on Anthony Foster, whose character inspired great terror in the neighbourhood, and on a young lady at his house, and the strictness with which she was secluded. This circumstance gave a strong hint to Tressilian; and Michael Lambourne having made a drunken bet with one of the company that he would venture up the next day to the Hall, and force Tony Foster to introduce him to his fair guest, Tressilian offered to pay half of the risk if he might accompany Lambourne in the adventure. By this artifice Tressilian calculated on obtaining entrance into the house, which was lonely, and barricadoed with great vigilance. They accordingly set forth together on the enterprize, succeed in their scheme for obtaining entrance, and we are consequently introduced to Foster, who is sketched with great power. A recognition takes place between him and Michael, they having been early acquaintances; and Foster, conceiving Lambourne to be a man whose services in furtherance of the schemes of his employer were not likely to be impeded by scruples, takes him into another apartment to talk with him, leaving Tressilian to wait their return. An accidental interview with Amy, once the object of his warmest affections, but now deeply sunken, as he imagined, in vice and dishonour, was afforded him by her casually coming into the room. We give a short extract from the pathetic dialogue which ensued, and which is in the best manner of the author;

‘ “Is my father ill?” said the lady.

‘ “So ill,” answered Tressilian, “that even your utmost haste may not restore him to health; but all shall be instantly prepared for your departure, the instant you yourself will give consent.”

‘ “Tressilian,” answered the lady, “I cannot, I must not, I dare not leave this place. Go back to my father—tell him I will obtain leave to see him within twelve hours from hence. Go back, Tressilian—tell him I am well, I am happy—happy could I think he was so—tell him not to fear that I will come, and in such manner that all the grief Amy has given him shall be forgotten—the poor Amy is now greater than she dare name. —Go, good Tressilian—I have injured thee too, but believe me I have power to heal the wounds I have caused—I robbed you of a childish heart, which was not worthy of you, and I can repay the loss with honours and advancement.”

‘ “Do you say this to me, Amy?—Do you offer me pageants of idle ambition, for the quiet peace you have robbed me of? But be it so—I came not to upbraid, but to serve and to free you.—You cannot disguise it from me; you are a prisoner. [152/153] Otherwise your kind heart—for it was once a kind heart—would have been already at your father’s bed-side. —Come—poor, deceived, unhappy maiden—all shall be forgot—all shall be forgiven. Fear not my importunity for what regarded our contract—it was a dream, and I have awaked—But come—your father yet lives—Come, and one word of affection—one tear of penitence, will efface the memory of all that has passed.”

‘ “Have I not already said, Tressilian,” replied she, “that I will surely come to my father, and that without farther delay than is necessary to discharge other and equally binding duties?—Go, carry him the news I come as sure as there is light in Heaven—that is, when I obtain permission.”

‘ “Permission?—permission to visit your father on his sick-bed, perhaps on his death-bed!” repeated Tressilian, impatiently; “and permission from whom?—From the villain, who, under disguise of friendship, abused every duty of hospitality, and stole thee from thy father’s roof!”

‘ “Do him no slander, Tressilian!—He whom thou speakest of wears a sword as sharp as thine—sharper, vain man—for the best deeds thou hast ever done in peace or war, were as unworthy to be named with his, as thy obscure rank to match itself with the sphere he moves in.—Leave me! Go, do mine errand to my father, and when he next sends to me, let him chuse a more welcome messenger.”

‘ “Amy,” replied Tressilian, calmly, “thou canst not move me by thy reproaches.—Tell me one thing, that I may bear at least one ray of comfort to my aged friend—This rank of his which thou doest boast—doest thou share it with him, Amy?—Does he claim a husband’s right to controul thy motions?”

‘ “Stop thy base unmannered tongue!” said the lady; “to no question that derogates from my honour, do I deign an answer.”

‘ “You have said enough in refusing to reply,” answered Tressilian; “and mark me, unhappy as thou art, I am armed with thy father’s fall authority to command thy obedience, and I will save thee from the slavery of sin and of sorrow, even despite of thyself, Amy.”

‘ “Menace no violence here!” exclaimed the lady, drawing back from him, and alarmed at the determination expressed in his look and manner; “threaten me not, Tressilian, for I have means to repel force.”

‘ “But not, I trust, the wish to use them in so evil a cause,” said Tressilian. “With thy will—thine uninfluenced, free, and natural will, Amy, thou canst not chuse this state of slavery and dishonour—thou hast been hound by some spell—entrapped by some art—art now detained by some compelled vow.—But thus I break the charm—Amy, in the name of thine excellent, thy broken-hearted father, I command thee to follow me.”

‘ “As he spoke, he advanced and extended his arm, as with the purpose of laying hold upon her. But she shrunk back from his grasp, and uttered a scream, which brought into the apartment Lambourne and Foster.’ [153/154]

On leaving the mansion, Tressilian meets Varney, who had been dispatched by the Earl to announce his intention of coming to visit his lady that evening; and, under the conviction that Varney was her seducer, he reproaches him with his baseness. The result is a combat, which would have ended fatally for Varney, had not the blow been arrested by Lambourne; and the parties are separated. The Earl next arrives; and a playful scene ensues with his beauteous bride, who amuses herself with disrobing him of his disguise, and contemplating with rustic wonder and delight the rich habiliments and glittering honours with which he now appears decorated. She then expresses a natural wish to take in public the rank and situation to which she was intitled, and to share openly in his glory and dignity:

‘ “Why, Amy,” said the Earl, looking around, “are not these apartments decorated with sufficient splendour? I gave the most unbounded order, and, methinks, it has been indifferently well obeyed—but if thou canst tell me aught which remains to be done, I will instantly give direction.”

‘ “Nay, my lord, now you mock me,” replied the Countess: “the gaiety of this rich lodging exceeds my imagination as much as it does my desert. But shall not your wife, my love—at least one day soon—be surrounded with the honour, which arises neither from the toils of the mechanic who decks her apartment, nor from the silks and jewels with which your generosity adorns her, but which is attached to her place among the matronage, as the avowed wife of England’s noblest Earl?”

‘ “One day?” said her husband,—“Yes, Amy, my love, one day this shall surely happen; and, believe me, thou canst not wish for that day more fondly than I. With what rapture could I retire from labours of state, and cares and toils of ambition, to spend my life in dignity and honour on my own broad domains, with thee, my lovely Amy, for my friend and companion! But, Amy, this cannot yet be; and these dear but stolen interviews are all I can give to the loveliest and the best beloved of her sex.”

‘ “But why can it not be?” urged the Countess, in the softest tones of persuasion,—“why can it not immediately take place—this more perfect, this uninterrupted union, for which you say you wish, and which the laws of God and man alike command?—Ah! did you but desire it half so much as you say, mighty and favoured as you are, who, or what, should bar your attaining your wish?”

‘The Earl’s brow was overcast.

‘ “Amy,” he said, “you speak of what you understand not. We that toil in courts are like those who climb a mountain of loose sand—we dare make no halt until some projecting rock afford us a secure stance and resting place—if we pause sooner, we slide down by our own weight, an object of universal derision. I stand high, but I stand not secure enough to follow my own in-[154/155]clination. To declare my marriage, were to be the artificer of my own ruin. But, believe me, I will reach a point, and that speedily, when I can do justice to thee and to myself. Meantime, poison not the bliss of the present moment, by desiring that which cannot at present be. Let me rather know whether all here is managed to thy liking.” ’

Lambourne was now engaged by Varney, who saw that he would be a fit instrument for the most atrocious projects, and directed him not to lose scent of Tressilian. From certain hints with which Varney’s subsequent conversation with Lambourne, at the inn, supplied him, Giles Gosling communicates his suspicion to Tressilian that his life is in danger, and urges him to escape before day-break; suggesting also that Tressilian should present to the Queen in person, and in the name of Sir Hugh Robsart, a petition in favour of Amy, whom they considered as having fallen a victim to the artifices of Varney, and as still kept under restraint by his connivance. Tressilian accordingly departs, and in his journey towards the residence of her father meets with a singular adventure which brings him into contact with Dickie Sludge and Wayland Smith; the latter also a strange character, formerly assistant of a person addicted to studies in pursuit of the grand elixir or philosopher’s stone, and tinctured in consequence with n considerable knowlege of the properties and uses of medicine. By some of those instincts which are of frequent occurrence in romance, this man attaches himself forthwith to the fortunes of Tressilian, and enters into his designs; and having cured the Earl of Sussex, then drooping under the effects of poison which had been administered to him, and which Wayland’s sagacity and experience found to have been the manna of St. Nicholas, he is despatched by Tressilian to Cumnor, to obtain from Gosling the information which he had promised to communicate to Tressilian respecting the state of affairs there, and at the same time to contrive means of effecting the deliverance of Amy.

The policy adopted by Elizabeth, of keeping an even balance between the two great factions of Leicester and Sussex which agitated the early portion of her reign, by a nice and cautious distribution of her favour, has been remarked by many of her historians. The author has ingeniously availed himself of this balancing principle between the rival Earls, and has founded on it several of the leading incidents of the work. In the mean while, Sussex, eager to catch the opportunity of throwing discredit on Leicester and his adherents, had already presented to the Queen Sir Hugh Robsart’s petition against Varney, which he had received from [155/156] Tressilian, who was one of the most zealous of Lord Sussex’s partizans. Elizabeth, having insisted on the attendance of both noblemen at court on a day appointed for that purpose, in order to effect a reconciliation, became anxious lest the collision of two such fiery spirits, each backed by a strong and numerous band of followers, and dividing between them the hopes and wishes of the nation, should break out in actual tumult, and gave directions of precaution. When the eventful hour approached, the rival Earls entered the palace at Greenwich precisely at noon. The pomp and circumstance of the court are set before the reader in great detail; and, after the forced and reluctant ceremony of the reconcilement, the petition against Varney, to the great terror and visible confusion of Leicester, is mentioned by the Queen. The whole scene has a dramatic cast, and is represented with great spirit. Varney and Tressilian are ordered into the council-chamber: but the danger that lowered over the Earl of Leicester is averted by the promptitude of Varney, a skilful pilot in extremity, and conscious that his own chances of ruin or advancement depended on the safety of his lord. He takes it on himself to acknowlege some ‘love-passages’ with Amy Robsart, and, after a little hesitation, avers that he has married her; dissipating the storm that was gathering in the royal bosom by some of those skilful flatteries, archly and cunningly interposed, to which that bosom was at all times too open. The Queen, however, appealed to the honour of Leicester respecting the truth of Varney’s allegation; and the Earl, having gone too far to recede by not contradicting his retainer’s declaration, replied, with equivocation, that to the best of his knowlege she was a wedded wife. Before this celebrated audience ended, Elizabeth intimated her intention in the week ensuing ‘to taste the good cheer of Kenilworth,’ to which she commanded Leicester to bid the Earl of Sussex welcome, and dismissed them both in complimentary phrase.—‘My lords of Sussex and Leicester, we have a word more with you. Tressilian and Varney are near your persons—you will see that they attend you at Kenilworth—and as we will (shall) then have both Paris and Menelaus within call, so we will have this same fair Helen also, whose fickleness has caused this broil. Varney, thy wife must he at Kenilworth, and forthcoming at my order.’—The Earl and his follower bowed low, without daring to look at the Queen or at each other, for the nets and toils of their falsehood were in the act of closing around them.

Leicester, in common with many persons of rank and education in those times, had great faith in judicial astrology; [156/157] and the author introduces to us a singular character, who officiated in his household as a sage versed in the mysteries of the planets; —the very person of whom Wayland Smith had learned his science, and whom Varney had employed to administer the poison to Lord Sussex, of which Wayland Smith had administered the antidote. [1] In the perplexity to which the orders of Elizabeth had reduced the Earl and his agent, this astrologer is sent down under the escort of Lambourne to Cumnor, not actually to destroy her, but to administer such a portion of this delectable medicine of the manna of St. Nicholas as should produce languor, depression, and an unwillingness to change of place. This was the only expedient that occurred to them, by which the peremptory commands of Elizabeth could be evaded; to whom they were to relate the illness of Amy and her inability to travel. The thorough-bred romance-reader will not withhold the sufficient quantum of credulity, which the writer requires of those who lend their faith to the incidents of his tale, from the strange properties ascribed to this manna; and it would be unfair to fetter him who weaves them together, in the choice and selection of his machinery. Otherwise, means more probable and less revolting might, we conceive, have been devised, without taxing too rigorously the invention of the author. However, the operation of the medicine is again counteracted by an antidote from Wayland; who moreover enables the Countess to escape, with the determination of meeting her Lord at Kenilworth, and asserting her rights. The adventures which befell them on their way form a very interesting part of the story. At length they arrive at Kenilworth without the knowlege of the Earl, and in the midst of the princely entertainments which he had prepared for the reception of his royal mistress. A series of accidents ensue, which increase the torments and perplexities of the Countess’s situation. She is restrained by her affection for Leicester, and the apprehension that an open appeal to the Queen might be injurious to his fortunes, from discovering her name and rank to Elizabeth: but, by one of those chances which are of rare occurrence in real life, though of indispensable utility in romance, she is discovered in a forlorn and piteous attitude in a sequestered grotto of the garden by the Queen herself. The result is that the infamous Varney again claims her as his wife, and [157/158] asserts that she is insane: in consequence of which she is consigned back to the custody of this unfeeling wretch by the command of her Majesty; the mean and sordid irresolution of Leicester, and his fevered and restless ambition, inducing him to acquiesce in the deceit and the villainy. At Cumnor-place, it is contrived that death, as it were by accident, shall terminate the few and wretched days of the lovely and injured Amy. The truth is afterward developed by the agency of the worthy Tressilian, Wayland Smith, and Dickie Sludge: but the penitence of Leicester is too late, for he had given the fatal mandate to her assassin; having been urged to that deadly resolve by feelings of jealousy and wounded pride, which, Iago-like, Varney had stirred up in his bosom by insinuations against Tressilian.

The pomp and pageantry of the celebrated entertainments, with which the Queen was received at Kenilworth, are set forth with the accustomed talent of the author; whose great felicity it is to clothe with new life and vigour the ceremonial usages of departed days, and to infuse a living interest into scenes drawn from those obscure recesses of history which no man has more diligence in exploring, or exercises a more powerful fancy in embellishing. We have not room to extract any parts of this bustling and animated description, which has indeed been made more or less familiar to the reader by the records of Laneham, Nichols, &c.: but we cannot omit the dignified and spirited remonstrance of the poor heart-sick Countess, when she had a casual interview with her Lord in the midst of these solemnities. It is a fine piece of moral painting, and derives much of its effect from its melancholy portraiture of a heart-broken victim of ambition in the vortex of pomp and magnificence, while the pride of wounded virtue breathes in her beautiful and eloquent remonstrance:

‘ “We will think, Amy, of some other retreat,” said Leicester; “and you shall go to one of my northern castles, under the personage it will be but needful, I trust, for a very few days of Varney’s wife.”

‘ “How, my Lord of Leicester!” said the lady, disengaging herself from his embraces; “is it to your wife you give the dishonourable counsel to acknowledge herself the bride of another—and of all men, the bride of that Varney?”

‘ “Madam, I speak it in earnest—Varney is my true and faithful servant, trusted in my deepest secrets. I had better lose my right hand than his service at this moment. You have no cause to scorn him as you do.”

‘ “I could assign one, my lord,” replied the Countess; “and I see he shakes even under that assured look of his. But he that is necessary as your right hand to your safety, is free from any [158/159] accusation of mine. May he be true to you; and that he may be, true, trust him not too much or too far. But it is enough to say that I will not go with him unless by violence, nor would I acknowledge him as my husband, were all—”

‘ “It is a temporary deception, madam,” said Leicester, irritated by her opposition, “necessary for both our safeties, endangered by you through female caprice, or the premature desire to seize on a rank to which I gave you title, only under condition that our marriage, for a time, should continue secret. If my proposal disgust you, it is yourself has brought it on both of us. There is no other remedy—you must do what your own impatient folly hath rendered necessary—I command you.”

‘ “I cannot put your commands, my lord,” said Amy, “in balance with those of honour and conscience. I will nor, in this instance, obey you. You may achieve your own dishonour, to which these crooked policies naturally tend, but I will do nought that can blemish mine. How could you again, my lord, acknowledge me as a pure and chaste matron, worthy to share your fortunes, when, holding that high character, I had strolled the country the acknowledged wife of such a profligate fellow as your servant Varney!”—

‘ “My lord, my lord, bend no angry brows on me—it is the truth, and it is I who speak it. I once did Tressilian wrong for your sake—I will not do him the further injustice of being silent when his honour is brought in question. I can forbear,” she said, looking at Varney, “to pull the mask off hypocrisy, but I will not permit virtue to be slandered in my hearing.”

‘There was a dead pause. Leicester stood displeased, yet undetermined, and too conscious of the weakness of his cause; while Varney, with a deep and hypocritical affectation of sorrow, mingled with humility, bent his eyes on the ground.

‘It was then that the Countess Amy displayed, in the midst of distress and difficulty, the natural energy of character, which would have rendered her, had fate allowed, a distinguished ornament of the rank which she held. She walked up to Leicester with a composed step, a dignified air, and looks in which strong affection essayed in vain to shake the firmness of conscious truth and rectitude of principle. “You have spoke your mind, my lord,” she said, “in these difficulties with which, unhappily, I have found myself unable to comply. This gentleman—this person I would say—has hinted at another scheme, to which I object not but as it displeases you. Will your lordship be pleased to hear what a young and timid woman, but your most affectionate wife, can suggest in the present extremity?”

‘Leicester was silent, but bent his head towards the Countess, as an intimation that she was at liberty to proceed.

‘ “There hath been but one cause for all these evils, my lord,” she proceeded, “ and it resolves itself into the mysterious duplicity with which you have been induced to surround yourself. Extricate yourself at once, my lord, from the tyranny of these disgraceful trammels. Be like a true English gentleman, knight, and earl, who holds that truth is the foundation of honour, and [159/160] that honour is dear to him as the breath of his nostrils. Take your ill-fated wife by the hand, lead her to the footstool of Elizabeth’s throne—Say, that in a moment of infatuation, moved by supposed beauty, of which none perhaps can now trace even the remains, I gave my hand to this Amy Robsart.—You will then have done justice to me, my lord, and to your own honour; and should law or power require you to part from me, I will oppose no objection—since I may then with honour hide a grieved and broken heart in those shades from which your love withdrew me.” ’

When Leicester’s acquiescence in the murderous project is at last extorted from him by Varney, the tumult of his feelings is well sketched by this powerful writer; and the concluding part of the scene is a specimen of picturesque delineation and fine composition:

‘By such a train of argument did Leicester labour to reconcile his conscience to the prosecution of plans of vengeance, so hastily adopted, and of schemes of ambition, which had become so woven in with every purpose and action of his life, that he was incapable of the effort of relinquishing them; until his revenge appeared to him to wear a face of justice and even of generous moderation.

‘In this mood, the vindictive and ambitious Earl entered the superb precincts of the Pleasance, then illumined by the full moon. The broad yellow light was reflected on all sides from the white freestone, of which the pavement, balustrades, and architectural ornaments of the place were constructed; and not a single fleecy cloud was visible in the azure sky, so that the scene was nearly as light as if the sun had but just left the horizon. The numerous statues of white marble glimmered in the pale light, like so many sheeted ghosts just arisen from their sepulchres, and the fountains threw their jets into the air, as if they sought that their waters should be silvered by the moon-beams, ere they fell down again upon their basins in showers of sparkling silver. The day had been sultry, and the gentle night-breeze, which sighed along the terrace of the Pleasance, raised not a deeper breath than the fan in the hand of youthful beauty. The bird of summer-night had built many a nest in the bowers of the adjacent garden, and the tenants now indemnified themselves for silence during the day, by a full chorus of their own unrivalled warblings, now joyous, now pathetic, now united, now responsive to each other, as if to express their delight in the placid and delicious scene to which they poured their melody.’

Such are the outlines of the romance of ‘Kenilworth,’ The key-note of the tale is sad, and its vibrations sound heavily in contrast to the noise of unfeeling pomp, festive gladness, and gorgeous parade, which is heard in the stately halls and pleasant bowers of that renowned castle. The heart, [160/161] and its most sacred sympathies, are indeed in every part of it, even amid its most stirring agitations, busily engaged with the young and beautiful bride of Leicester; and we are forced from the pride and pageantry of the festive scene to the gloom and solitude of her confinement, where she droops like the flower assailed by the tempest, whose short summer-day of beauty and of blossom is overclouded and darkened for ever.

The action of this drama, for it approximates more to the drama than any of the preceding productions of its eminent author, is rapid and changeful; and the spirit of the times of Elizabeth has been most skilfully infused into the whole story. The minute proprieties to which we have before adverted, of garb, idiom, manners and humours, and the domestic life of our ancestors in that age, even to the upholstery of an apartment, are also scrupulously preserved. So constant is this fidelity, that scarcely a passage can be found in the romance, whether its high and dignified personages sweep by in solemn and fantastic pomp, or we are ushered into the public room of an inn to hear the buffoonery and banter of social and convivial relaxation in humbler life;—scarcely a passage, we say, occurs that is not redolent of the æra which the writer has chosen to illustrate; nor is a contrivance admitted which is not faithful to his scope and his purposes. The tale, indeed, may not have that magic influence on the fancy which was experienced by those who hung over the antecedent fictions of this admired novelist; and it may abound less in those sportive creations of genius which will live, we were about to say, for ever, enshrined and embodied in Dirk Hattrick [sic], Dandy Dinmont, and Meg Merrilies: but it rushes at once to the heart, and unlocks the inmost fountains of our sympathetic affections; amending the soul by the lessons which it presents to the criminal aspirings of earthly ambition, and chastening and purifying it by the most affecting images of mortal suffering.

[1] The existence of this astrologer, Alasco, is not mere fiction; such a person having been in correspondence with Dr. Dee, who resided at Mortlake, in Surrey, at the time in question.

Notes: Format: 3 vols Crown 8vo; price 1l. 11s. 6d. Boards. Publisher: Hurst & Co.

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