British Fiction, 18001829

DISRAELI, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield. Vivian Grey (1826)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, 3rd ser. 4 (July 1826): 35.

Vivian Grey,’ in two volumes, is another lively effort, emanating apparently from the world of fashion. Its general tone is satirical; and it contains a considerable portion of light, innocent scandal, relieved, now and then, by effective touches of sentiment and feeling.

La Belle Assemblée, 3rd ser. 5 (Apr 1827): 175–76.

The third, fourth, and fifth volumes, of ‘Vivian Grey,’ just published, contain the adventures of that hero, during a part of his sojourn in Germany, whither he had retired to bury the remembrance of his blighted hopes. He is introduced to us at Frankfort, where he becomes the intimate friend of a Baron Konigstein, at whose table he meets with several remarkable characters. He proceeds to Ems, a fashionable bathing place, where he falls in love with Violet Fane, a lovely English girl, who visits the baths for the recovery of her health. The most sanguine hopes are entertained, when, after a day of mirth and hilarity, she expires in his arms, at the moment of the declaration of his passion. The character of Violet Fane, is very sweetly drawn. In the fourth volume, we find him, with his servant, benighted in a forest, in the south of Germany. He becomes the inmate of the castle of a Mediatized Prince, and is, in a short time, deeply involved in the politics of the court of the Grand Duke of Reisenburg. He falls in love with the Archduchess of Austria, the betrothed wife of the Crown Prince of Reisenburg. A private interview is effected—the parties are surprised by the Prime Minister, and Vivian Grey is dismissed from Reisenburg, with a passport of honour to Vienna. On his way thither, he is overtaken by—we know not whether it be a tempest, a whirlwind, a tornado, or an earthquake, or by a combination of all: a bridge, a castle, and a village, are buried beneath a falling rock—a tree, in which Vivian’s servant has sought shelter, is struck by lightning—his own horse, terrified at the fall of the tree, becomes ungovernable, throws his rider, and falls dead! What may be the precise fate of our hero we know not; though we presume that he reached Vienna, and that his adventures in that dissipated city, will form the subject of some future volumes of ‘Vivian Grey.’

The effect of this work is very unequal. Several of the scenes are lively and animated, sketched with much spirit and fancy; but they are not sufficiently numerous to compensate for those of an opposite nature. The characters are too transitory, and the incidents too improbable, and unconnected, to excite any powerful interest; and the satire, though probably just, cannot be appreciated by the general reader. Howsoever the public taste may be gratified, by an exposure of the follies and vices of the higher ranks of society, it can take but little interest in eccentricities of unknown foreigners, or in [175/176] the political intrigues of a petty German court. Yet the work will be sought with avidity, by those whose curiosity has been excited by the preceding volumes.

Monthly Review, n.s. 2 (July 1826): 329–30.

This novel is decidedly the cleverest of the class to which it belongs; but when we state that the class to which we allude is the same that has produced ‘Six Weeks at Long’s,’ and similar ingenious works, we fear that our readers will consider our praise to be rather of an equivocal description. The politics and personality of Vivian Grey are in the taste of the John Bull —the literature of Blackwood’s Magazine—and the eternal affectation of extra-superfine gentility of both. The author is perpetually assuring us that no body is worthy of notice who wears a coat which is not of a peculiar colour and cut—who does not use silver forks—or who lives in Russell-square. But, excepting these affectations, of which really fashionable people are never guilty, we must allow that the author has copied, with considerable fidelity, the tone of drawing-room life, and transmitted to us with great truth, by means of a few felicitous strokes, a number of portraits which will easily be recognized as resemblances of living originals.

Vivian Grey is represented as a young man of great talents (a character, by the way, not at all justified by the pitch of his conversation), who worships the empire of the intellect, and engages in a paltry political intrigue, having for its object the formation of a Cabinet Ministry, at the head of which is to be placed a very silly old Marquis—of Carabas. Grey is employed to negotiate with a certain eloquent Mr. Cleveland, who joins the party—but its plans are defeated through the devices of a Mrs. Felix Lorraine, who appears to have been the mistress of half the people in the book. The marquis now calls his ‘monstrous clever young friend’ an adventurer, a swindler, a scoundrel, a liar, and a villain, adding the complimentary epithets of base, fawning, &c. &c. to which Grey replies only ‘My Lord!’ and quits the room to vent his rage on the fair Mrs. Felix Lorraine. He addresses her in a long speech, and she bursts a blood vessel—through impatience we suppose. The hero then proceeds to Cleveland’s, finds that respectable statesman very drunk, is kicked by him, sends a challenge, shoots Cleveland through the heart, and goes to Germany to hunt wild boars instead of place-hunting at home.

It is quite plain, that, from the outline of the story, the author is not gifted with marvellous invention. His forte is in satire, and in boldly bringing out a character by a single dash of his pencil. Thus he repre-[329/330]sents Vivacity Dull, who is an easily-recognizable ex-M. P., in the following spirited manner:—

‘We have had that unendurable bore, Vivacity Dull, with us for a whole fortnight. A report of the death of the Lord Chancellor, or a rumour of the production of a new tragedy, has carried him up to town: but whether it be to ask for the seals, or to indite an ingenious prologue to a play which will be condemned the first night, I cannot inform you. However, he is capable of doing either.’ —Vol. ii. p. 131.

We have some very unlucky attempts at eloquence and wit, and a good deal of prosing about virtuous cottagers, a little sneering at ‘liberal principles,’ and not a little vulgarity. A writer who pretends to such ultra-fashion as the author of Vivian Grey, should be less familiar with Ben Burn and the slang dictionary, and should avoid talking of ‘invites,’ &c. His fictitious characters are drawn with extreme feebleness—it is only when he is personal that he shows any power. Mrs. Felix Lorraine figures in every German novel and tragedy that ever was written.

The dedication of this book presents an example of failure in a violent attempt to be antithetical, which is too ludicrous not to be quoted: ––

‘To the best and greatest of men
I dedicate these volumes.
He for whom it is intended will accept and appreciate
the compliment. Those for whom it is not intended
Will—do the same!’

Notes: Format: 2 vols Post 8vo; price 18s. Publisher: Colburn.

Monthly Review, n.s. 5 (July 1827): 420–30.

[Review is of the following works: Karmath (EN2 1827: 72); Vivian Grey; The Prairie (EN2 1827: 24); and The Busy-Bodies (EN2 1827: 26)].

Novels of every description have of late crowded so fast upon us, that we are obliged to review them in groups, without reference to the classes of fiction to which they aspire to belong. If some of them deserve notice for the talents which they display; others, and we regret to say, the greater number of those which have been lately ushered into the world, call loudly for the severest castigation which fair and temperate criticism can inflict.

Of the first part of Vivian Grey we spoke [1] rather in mercy than justice. We must now balance the scales; and we may do so the more easily, as between the former tale and this, its declared sequel, there is not the slightest connection of events, except in the presence of the same hero. The story, if story it can be called, is held together only by the single thread of his identity. In the general strain and tone of the work, however, it must be confessed, that its parts are abundantly consistent. We have here a repetition of all the cant of mannerism and affectation of sentiment, all the false glare and hollow philosophy, all the arrogant pretension and real vulgarity, with which the former volumes so largely overflowed. In the conduct of his narrative, too, the author has shewn in this sequel, even less originality and inventive resource than in the earlier volumes of his work: his serious incidents are altogether improbable, and destitute of rational interest; and the few scenes in which he has designed to be humorous, are full only of laboured burlesque, and outrageous extravagance. And yet with all this, and with a great deal more of bad taste and worse feeling, there is a certain air of flippant cleverness and assurance in the author’s manner, which often gives to it an epigrammatic attraction, and makes his thoughts pass current for much more than they are really worth. In the creation and developement of fictitious character, it has no power whatever: his invention is poor, and his delineation feeble. But for coarse and broad satire, he possesses considerable talent: he has a lively perception of the ridiculous; and where he succeeds best is, in caricaturing the prominent foibles and eccentricities of living individuals, whom it is evident that he has selected for the originals of his portraits. Thus his only wit is [420/421] mimicry; and his finest vein of humour, no more than the indulgence of gross personality.

In the former portion of the novel, Vivian Grey was represented as a young man of great talents and unrestrained passions, who plunges, early and deep, into public and parliamentary life; is duped in his political intrigues, and kicked by a political associate; challenges the offender, of course, and shoots him through the heart; and finally retires to Germany, stricken with remorse at this catastrophe, and disappointed and disgusted, before his time, with the world, or rather with the consequences of his own precocious vices and follies. The opening of the present three volumes, then, finds this exemplary hero a sojourner in Germany –– ‘feeling himself a broken-hearted man, and looking for death, whose delay was no blessing.’ But it seems that ‘the feelings of youth, which had misled him in his burning hours of joy, equally deceived him in his days of sorrow. He lived; and in the course of time found each day of life less burdensome.’ ‘The truth is,’ adds the author, ‘that if it be the lot of man to suffer, it is also his fortune to forget.’ Vivian Grey felt that he might yet again mingle in the world, though he must meet mankind with other feelings than those of his youth. His character was changed: he had awoke to conviction of the worthlessness of human fortunes, and to indifference for the future which awaited him.

In other words, in short, it suiting the worthy author’s and his publisher’s speculations, to lead his old hero through a new dance of intricate adventures, he must needs begin by healing and new shaping this man of broken heart, and reconciling him to renewed communion and indifferent converse with mankind. The manner in which this design is prosecuted is unquestionably, if not the most original, at least the most convenient in the world. Vivian Grey wanders through Germany, mixing with society as he meets it: the author therefore dismisses his other characters, and introduces a fresh collection, just whenever it pleases him. Nothing more natural than the entrance and the exits of new persons, with new situations —nothing more easy than the stringing together of a series of unconnected and disjointed scenes, by means of a locomotive hero, who keeps continually on the wing, and who is himself ever before us, whatever may become of his ephemeral interlocutors. Thus, in the third volume, we encounter again not a single person whom we have encountered in the first and second; in the fourth and fifth, we are relieved altogether from the presence of every individual who has appeared either in the first, second, or third; with the exceptions only of the eternal and thrice broken-hearted hero, a most monstrous absurdity of a mountebank valet, and a most dull and bibacious magistrate from the Danube, who is, for an instant, forced in a second time at the end of the book, to serve no earthly purpose that is discoverable.

At the opening of the third volume, Vivian Grey enters Frank-[421/423]fort on the Maine, during the great fair of that city; and from thence, after witnessing the humours of its bustling gaiety, he adjourns to the baths at Ems, where the scene is laid throughout the remainder of the volume. The description of this German watering-place of fashionable resort, its localities, its visitors, and its pleasures, forms by far the best part of the whole work; and whatever merit may be found in the continuation of Vivian Grey, is comprised in this single volume.

The opening of the fourth volume abruptly discovers Mr. Grey and his mountebank servant benighted in a forest, in the south of Germany; and from this point to the close of the work, we are whirled through a confused series of scenes and adventures, which are at once laboriously coloured, absurdly improbable, and most tamely uninteresting. The action of the novel is, in these two volumes, laid principally at the court of one of the small states of southern Germany; which, under the title of the grand duchy of Reisenburg, can be intended, we presume, from the introduction of some historical circumstances, for no other than that of Baden—or possibly, Darmstadt. The question of the author’s intention is, however, most completely immaterial: for though he has dwelt upon the pleasures and politics of this petty court with elaborate minuteness, and doubtless purposed to represent particular personages and places under some of his fictitious titles, truth and fiction are confused and blended in such injudicious proportions, as to render it impossible to distinguish which part of the mixture is designed for the delineation of real life, and which for the mere fanciful product of invention. Political details, without the slightest interest, are given with almost interminable prolixity; and, in the story which is founded upon them, we are alternately provoked by extravagance, and wearied with dull dissertation.

There is a prime minister of the grand duke of Reisenburg, a Mr. Beckendorff, whose character, it is plain, is one of the author’s most favourite conceptions: this person is represented as, at the same time, a man of exalted genius, and a crack-brained humourist; a profound statesman, and a fiddling charlatan; and a more precious compound of contradictory absurdities, it never entered into the imagination of novel-wright to amalgamate. It had been through the skilful measures of this miracle of a minister, that, during the ascendancy of Napoleon, his master and pupil, the former margrave of Reisenburg had been raised to the grand ducal dignity, and received large accessions of territory; and by a well-timed change in his consummate policy, during the rapid decline of Buonaparte’s fortunes, he had also secured to the grand duke the favour of the holy alliance and the preservation of all his newly acquired dominions. Though living in retirement, and rarely visiting the court, this Mr. Beckendorff still rules the sovereign and the state of Reisenburg with despotic influence; and Vivian Grey is accidentally introduced to him in his solitude, during a [422/423] long and petty intrigue, which has for its result, the conversion of a mediatized and despoiled prince of the extinguished German empire, from a proud and disaffected patriot, into the obsequious grand marshal of the palace at Reisenburg. Subsequently, Mr. Grey becomes rather awkwardly involved in an intrigue of another kind, also under circumstances of extreme probability. An Austrian archduchess, the destined bride of the hereditary prince of Reisenburg, is introduced at that court incognito, by Beckendorff, that she may judge for herself of the qualities of her future husband. The result of the imperial lady’s observation is unfavourable to the prince, and very flattering to Mr. Grey, for whom she conceives a violent preference. On the good feeling and propriety of introducing by name a princess of a particular house, in the imaginary character of a very wanton young lady, we shall not stop to remark. The Austrian archduchess ‘tells her love’ by no very equivocal expressions; and her passion is as warmly returned by the sorrowing and widowed lover of Violet Fane! A terrible scene, however, ensues, in which Grey is discovered by Mr. Beckendorff on his knees before the unknown princess, and, for his presumption, most unpleasantly collared and shaken by that enraged minister. On the discovery of this indiscreet attachment, the lovers are of course cruelly separated for ever: the lady is removed to her friends, as usual in such cases; and the gentleman, being secretly dismissed from the court of Reisenburg, takes the road to Vienna, overwhelmed with astonishment, indignation and grief, and, for the third time only, most piteously broken hearted. A furious and nondescript kind of tornado, which overtakes him on his road, and kills his mountebank servant, concludes the whole business in a very appropriate and melo-dramatic style.

Such is the miserable farrago, of which the business of the two last volumes of this work is worthily compounded. As an exhibition of the characteristics of an author’s mind, we seriously believe that there does not exist, in all our language, another such egregious specimen of mingled pretension and ignorance as this continuation of Vivian Grey. Nothing in the world would be a greater mistake, than to suppose that the author is contented to be taken for a mere novelist. He is, on the contrary, oracular on all subjects: on matters of metaphysical sentiment, philosophy, science, politics, art, fashion, and taste. On all, he holds forth with the same confidence and complacency; and indubitable it is, that never man stood on better terms with himself. Thus, at the very outset, he obtrudes himself upon our notice ostensibly to vindicate his injured modesty from the suspicion of having, in the first part of his magnum opus, described his own character under that of his respectable hero; but in reality, to indulge his ineffable vanity, by talking of himself. Who cares one farthing, whether he meant to paint his own character or not? But, he placidly observes, ‘this charge is an inconvenience, which I share in com-[423/424]pany with more celebrated writers.’ A new ‘Childe Harold!’ Verily, the association is diffidently claimed: for ‘what is he to Hecuba, or Hecuba to him?’ Next he ingeniously complains (p. 10), that he has been blamed for ‘the wicked wit’ of his hero. It would be well for him, if there were as little foundation for all other reproach: for here, at least, he is utterly guiltless of offence. But if he is thus quick-sighted in attributing condemnation to himself on a charge of ‘wicked wit,’ of which no other person ever dreamt of accusing him, he recompenses his candour with self praise, which is just as little merited. At the close of a long and presumptuous depreciation of the genius of Michael Angelo, forcibly introduced (p. 47), merely to shew his very original taste in art, he observes of this trash, which he has himself put into the mouth of the speaker, ‘the baron’s lecture was rather long, but certainly unlike most other lecturers, he understood his subject.’ Yet, in the dogmatical assertions of this very sapient lecture, there is an historical error, which any school boy might have blushed to commit: two distinct periods in Italian history are confounded; and Verona, in whose streets the iron despotism of Venice had for a whole century suppressed every breath of popular commotion, is declared (p. 55) to have been in Michael Angelo’s age, ‘the constant seat of sedition.’

But this error is worth notice only as one proof, how well the author has ‘understood his subject.’ A fastidious Italian scholar too is he, who, in the cant vocabulary of art, cannot (p. 42, vol. 3), permit himself to use the word chiaroscuro, without the needless intermediate apostrophe (chiaro’scuro), and yet can talk by the hour of the Medicis;—who must needs Italianise the recognised English of punchinello, and yet has not Italian enough to save him from repeatedly (pp. 80, 318) writing the word pulcinello for puleinella. These are trifles which we should scarcely take the trouble to particularise, if they were not marks of affectation, as well as of ignorance. But our all accomplished author’s Italian is quite as accurate as the German, with which he is careful to proclaim his learning, by interlarding his speech. We take leave to assure him, that heer for herr (p. 62), is not German, but Dutch, a language of which, indeed, he does seem to have a little smattering: for when Vivian talked of a kermis for a fair, he might have been comprehended at Amsterdam, where it does signify something of the kind; but assuredly could not have been understood by a Frankfort mob, as the word happens to have, in German, no signification at all. Equally accurate, as we once before observed, is his interpretation of the common German term of respect, Euer Gnaden, or ‘your honour,’ which he renders ‘your highness,’ and makes Vivian’s servant ridiculously so use it throughout the whole work. These mistakes, too, perhaps, are trifles; nor is it reasonable to expect a writer to be accurately acquainted with other languages, who is shamefully ignorant of his own: who [424/425] habitually talks of things in kine for in kind (pp. 28, 118, vol. 3), and prattles of interesting relicts of the middle ages!!

But, moreover, for a work of so especial a pretender to fashionable refinement, and as a boasted exhibition of the conversation and manners of high life, the dialogue of these volumes contains a surprising measure of positive vulgarity and offence against grammatical purity. Thus we hear, from the lips of a gentleman (p. 35), of ‘a business being managed exceedingly bad.’ Thus too, Miss Violet Fane, who is designed for the very personification of grace, talks and acts much more like a forward milliner, or pert chambermaid, than a highly educated and diffident young lady: ‘St. George! thou holy man!’ said Miss Fane; ‘me thinks you are very impertinent. You shall not be my patron saint, if you go on so.’ This most elegant phrase is apparently a favourite form of speech with our author’s personages: ‘Now, Violet, how can you go on so?’ (p. 148).

So much for our author’s familiar manner of dissertation and dialogue. His grand and elevated style is something still better, and forms a most curious alternation of pure bombast and metaphysical fustian. That we may not be compelled to multiply examples of his inimitable fine writing, we take at random from the third volume, the following delectable rhapsody:

‘O! Music! miraculous art, that makes the poet’s skill a jest; revealing to the soul inexpressible feelings, by the aid of inexplicable sounds! A blast of thy trumpet, and millions rush forward to die: a peal of thy organ, and uncounted nations sink down to pray. Mighty is thy threefold power!

‘First, thou canst call up all elemental sounds, and scenes, and subjects, with the definiteness of reality. Strike the lyre! Lo! the voice of the winds—the flash of the lightning—the swell of the wave—the solitude of the valley!

‘Then thou canst speak to the secrets of a man’s heart, as if by inspiration. Strike the lyre! Lo!—our early love —our treasured hate—our withered joy—our flattering hopes!

‘And, lastly, by thy mysterious melodies, thou canst recall man from all thought of this world, and of himself—bringing back to his soul’s memory, dark, but delightful recollections of the glorious heritage which he has lost, but which he may win again. Strike the lyre! Lo! Paradise, with its palaces of inconceivable splendour, and its gates of unimaginable glory!’—vol. iii., pp. 197, 8.

In the same ‘Ercles’ vein’ we have a perpetual recurrence of the most inflated and overstrained images, maudlin tropes and similes, and lack-a-daisical efforts to be poetical and imaginative. But even all this ‘stuff o’ the brain,’ is more endurable than the jargon in which the author is eternally attempting to clothe his delineations of feeling and passion. Here he endeavours to emulate the morbid sensibility of Rousseau, and the cynical melancholy of Byron, without possessing one spark of the genius of either. His [425/426] conceit is to be metaphysical and gloomy; and his lot is, accordingly, to pour forth most sentimental and mysterious nonsense. As for example:

‘Oblivion and sorrow share our being in much the same manner, as darkness and light divide the course of time. It is not in human nature to endure extremities, and sorrows soon destroy either us, or themselves. Perhaps, the fate of Niobe is no fable, but a type of the callousness of our nature. There is a time in human suffering, when succeeding sorrows are but as snow falling on an iceberg. It is true, that it is horrible to think that our peace of mind should arise, not from a retrospection of the past, but from a forgetfulness of it; but, though this peace of mind is produced at the best by a mental laudanum, it is not valueless; and oblivion, after all, is a just judge.’

This is that true no-meaning, which puzzles more than sense; and Mr. Grey’s philosophy only becomes intelligible when it is impious: when it informs us that all truth is despair, and that Vivian ‘looked up to heaven with a wild smile—half of despair and half of DEFIANCE.’ If this were written in delusion, or insanity of spirit, it would be fearful and pitiable: but it is only conceived in palpable affectation; and for such affectation, what feeling shall remain but utter disgust and unmitigated contempt?

Of the next work upon our list, ‘The Prairie,’ we have to speak in somewhat more favourable terms. We have more than once recorded our opinions of Mr. Cooper’s works. Their pervading defect is in their dramatis personæ.—They have no moral characteristics; and their physical peculiarities, aided by costume and artificial manners, shew them like men in a masquerade, who have all the external requisites to support their assumed parts, but want the essentials which constitute them. They are people almost without souls—they seem to breathe no living breath, and to be surrounded by no atmosphere of humanity. They all resemble each other, and stand in the same relation to the human race, that the faces in the late Mr. West’s pictures bear to the human countenance; they want individuality of character. They are represented as possessing strong and wilful passions—marked distinctions of character; while, in reality, they only act a part in the novel. They are formed in the same mould, and of the same material. We look in vain for those fine shades of difference, those deep sources of sympathy, which embody the fictitious persons in the Waverley novels with existing humanity. The females talk like coquettes; the men like diplomatists; and the studied cleverness of the dialogue, only serves to shew the artificiality of the sentiments. In short, the author neither possesses an intuitive knowledge of character, nor has he a plastic imagination. He is more an adept in technical matters, than in the mysteries of the human heart.

The scene of this novel is laid in the Prairie of North America, an almost boundless wilderness, the monotony of whose undulating surface is unbroken either by wood or rock; and the events are [426/427] described as happening subsequently to the cession of that vast tract of country to the United States, and before it became tenanted by demi-civilised emigrants from the latter territory. The scene opens with the description of an emigrant party, engaged in the task of seeking for a spot in the Prairie where they might settle. In their progress, they fall in with an old ‘trapper,’ who directs them to a ‘bottom,’ suitable for their encampment. Here we are introduced to a girl, somewhat unromantically named Ellen Wade, who, after the arrangements of the party are completed, and the individuals who compose it are settled into slumber, leaves the encampment to meet her lover Paul Hover, who has been hovering about the train of emigrants, without daring to shew himself for fear of their leader Ishmael Bush, denominated the squatter. By thus strolling from her companions, she attracts the notice of a band of savage Indians, called Siouxes, who immediately discover the encampment of her friends, and plunder them of their cattle. At this part of the narrative the reader is introduced to Doctor Batt, or Battius, a sort of botanical ‘Dominie Sampson,’ who, for no apparent cause, is entertained in the camp of the Squatter; and with the assistance of an ass is made to seem ridiculous, and to play alternately the part of butt, doctor, conjuror, and ’scapegoat. We cannot help regarding the doctor as one of those failures in an attempt to delineate an original character, which confirms our remark upon the author’s deficiency in this respect.—There is also another, and a different character, whose positively evil qualities have no redeeming traits; and who is always in the way, without either retarding or advancing the course of the incidents. This person, named Abiram, brother of the Squatter’s wife, is a malign amid heartless wretch, without any feeling but a jealous consciousness of his own villainy. The only pretence for his introduction into the story, exists under the folds of the tent, which envelope a beautiful girl, whom Abiram, had kidnapped; and whom the Squatter carefully conceals under this tent-cloth, for what object, not only the reader, but even he himself, as is subsequently shewn, cannot divine. She is treated with the mysterious attention that we may suppose a distinguished female captive would receive, at the hands of an Arab who was conveying the precious burthen to his chief.

After this, and various other encounters with different tribes of Indians, who rove through the Prairie, and after several domestic broils, the whole party, amongst whom a schism has sprung up, turn their backs upon that region. The Trapper, Paul, Ellen, Doctor Battius, the mysterious tenant of the tent, and a stranger who had joined them, together with a faithful red Indian, make their escape, and are pursued by the Squatter and his family, and by a band of Sioux Indians, whom they induced to assist them. The fugitives are overtaken, and here commences the principal interest of the novel. The subsequent scenes with the savages, present pictures of Indian life, manners and principles, equal to any thing [427/428] of the kind we have ever read; superior even to those of a similar sort in the Mohicans. They shew how accurately the writer has noted Indian peculiarities; as well as the taste and judgment with which he has delineated the prominent and distinguishing marks of a strong natural feeling, tinctured with wildness, and subdued by compliance to arbitrary customs.

But, although Mr. Cooper has succeeded in depicting the habits of the roving Indians, we think that upon the whole, the novel is rather heavy. The two first volumes are particularly unpromising. The incidents are few and unimportant, and the dialogue even in the midst of action ‘drags its slow length along,’ in a torpid tiresome garrulity. The minor details are too elaborate; in the intensity and minuteness with which they are given, the author seems to lose sight of the story, and this occasions a disproportion between the members and the body of the narrative. The desultory conversations, introduced for the purpose of giving a natural air to the tale, occupy too prominent a position; the progress of events is not accelerated by them, and the scenes seem occasionally to stand still, waiting for the termination of these secondary dialogues before they can proceed. It requires strongly marked and original characters, as well as a lively and varied dialogue, to bear up the interest of a mere narrative of fiction, against the want of a plot and the deficiency of incident: and the work before us possesses neither in the requisite degree. The heavy and laboured dialogue, and tedious incidents, are in too strict keeping with the dull monotony of the Prairie, and the sluggish character of Ishmael and his sons. Every occurrence is described like an operation; and the details read like evidence taken in short-hand.

The mysterious interest that was involved in the folds of the tent, which seemed to the emigrant Squatter and his family little inferior in sacredness of character to the tabernacle of the ancient Israelites, is suffered to languish, and is prematurely terminated by the appearance of its fair tenant; thus leaving the story exactly as though no such interest had ever been excited. Now, as this is the only secret of the novel, it should, by all the rules of romance and novel writing, have been carried on to the denouement, and have constituted the nucleus of the plot, the clearing up of which, would have been the solution of all the difficulties and perplexities of the story; instead of which, it appears that the author had created an interest almost amounting to the supernatural, which, in the sequel, he is unable to sustain.

It is a relief to turn from the course of the narrative, to the brief portions of the history of the states, and of the inhabitants of the country where the scene is laid, which are related in a style at once clear, precise, and fluent. In this respect the work has powerful claims upon our admiration: the author has here given us many vivid and faithful descriptions of trans-atlantic scenery and manners; his Indians are real savages, and speak like men who [428/429] have the sky for their roof, earth for their carpet, war for their business, and the chase for their food and pastimes.

We believe that we are indebted to Mr. Upham for the next tale on our list: it is a brief, but elaborate picture of Arabic manners. Karmath was the founder of a numerous and powerful sect of Ismaelites, in Arabia. A spirit of revenge, and the impulse of ambition, drove him to rebel against the Caliphate, during the prosperous and happy reign of Harûn-Al-Raschid. The reformer possessed all the abilities, conduct and address, necessary to gain and keep command. But the genuine cause of the astonishing ascendancy which he held over his followers, was his reputed perfection in the mysteries of the occult arts. All the secret practisers of magic, with which Arabia abounded, and whom it was the policy of the government to endeavour to destroy by fire and sword, gathered from all quarters to the standard of Karmath: they made the dark forest and the inaccessible mountain their home, whence they issued only to murder and lay waste. The details of the slow, but skilful plan, by which that adventurer raised himself to empire, form the materials of the present narrative. But, to our apprehension, they are disfigured and lost in the homely garb of prose.

The character of Karmath, half sorcerer, half demagogue; the supernatural agency, which is the great mover of the events here received; the very scenery, amidst which they appear to run their course, constitute together a description of subject, which can only be seen with pleasure, when it is presented to us half concealed, or thinly disguised and set off, by the raiment with which poetry can artfully clothe it. In its present shape the tale is altogether too profound, if not complicated, for the purposes of general entertainment.

The style is affectedly formal, with the view perhaps of making it consistent with the character of the subject—but the effect is, to obscure the meaning in particular passages, and to throw over the whole course of the narrative a mystical air, by which it is not a little confused. Magic being one of the governing principles of the story, details of its operations form no inconsiderable portion of the volume. The principal personage also, is forced to give way too long, and too often, to a subordinate agent, with whom we feel no corresponding disposition to protract our communion, The great fault of the work indeed, appears to us to be a total want of those elements of sympathy and interest, to which we, with our European habits and notions, would be ready to respond.

But the reader, who is curious about oriental story, and desires to be better acquainted than historians will enable him, generally speaking, to be, with the fortunes of one of the most extraordinary people that ever existed, will find in this little volume much more than is sufficient to repay him for the trouble of perusing it. It is evidently the production of an enthusiast in Eastern lore —of one, who has subdued the powers of a vigorous mind, and a fancy of no ordinary reach, we think, too tamely to the guidance of a reigning passion. [429/430]

Our notice of ‘The Busy-Bodies’ must be short, and not very favourable. It is, in our opinion, unworthy the various abilities displayed in the ‘Odd Volume.’ It is deficient in the degree of invention, the discrimination of character, the genuine humour, and that general sustaining power, which marked the latter production. The chief incidents of this work scarcely rise superior to some of the most common accidents of daily life; they exhibit nothing that is calculated to touch the passions, to excite interest or gratify curiosity. The scene is laid in Scotland —not indeed in the midst of its ‘brown heaths,’ or ‘shaggy woods,’ or in the halls of its ancient castles; —for aught of advantage that is taken of national and local associations, the authors might as well have chosen for the theatre of their labours, the spot of the empire which was most barren of recollections. The history, personal and collective, of the members of a Scotch baronet’s family, supplies whatever of plot and business may be discovered in this novel. Two young ladies, the one a daughter, the other a niece to the baronet, contend for the dignity of heroine. The latter is mild, unobtrusive and virtuous: the daughter is distinguished from her cousin by an opposite set of qualities. Her brother, a common-place person, becomes the husband of an English lady, whose dislike of every thing Scotch directs all the acts, and almost every expression, of her life.

In the concerns—the foibles and the merits—the feelings and conduct of personages, such as these are, it is that we are invited to take an interest. The course which they pursue, the accidents which befal them, are of a stamp as common-place as themselves. The annals of a boarding-house, in any of the frequented towns, upon our coasts, would yield matter for a history of far superior importance and attraction. We cannot believe that genteel society in Scotland is so degenerate, as to be faithfully represented in a work consisting of a succession of scenes, in which the incessant bickering of relations, and the ill-breeding of ladies of respectable rank, form some of the most prominent features.

This novel is evidently intended as a satire on a certain class of society in Scotland; and, unless the extravagance of the caricature becomes, as in all probability it will, a complete antidote to its influence, the work, if it be read at all, will have the effect of depressing the character of Scotch domestic society in the general opinion.

[1] M. R. vol. ii., p. 329.

Notes: Review of vols 3–5 of Vivian Grey. Format: 8vo; price l1. 8s. 6d. Publisher: Colburn. Review is entitled ‘Recent Novels and Tales’.

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