Page images

of parliament. A simple reader is quite astounded to find that he is ignorant of English which he fancied that he understood half-a-year ago. In 1822, at the time of my embassy to London, the fashionable was expected to exhibit at the first glance an unhappy and unhealthy man; to have an air of negligence about his person, long nails, a beard neither entire nor shaven, but as if grown for a moment unawares, and forgotten during the preoccupations of wretchedness; hair in disorder; a sublime, wild, wicked eye; lips compressed in disdain of human nature; a Byronian heart, overwhelmed with weariness and disgust of life.

The dandy of the present day must have a conquering, frivolous, insolent look. He must pay particular attention to his toilet, wear moustaches or a beard trimmed into a circle like Queen Elizabeth's ruff, or like the radiant disk of the sun. He shows the proud independence of his character by keeping his hat on his head, by lolling upon sofas, by thrusting his boots into the faces of the ladies seated in admiration upon chairs before him. He rides with a cane, which he carries like a taper, regardless of the horse, which he bestrides as it were by accident. His health must be perfect, and he must always have five or six felicities upon his hands. Some radical dandies who have advanced the furthest towards the future have a pipe.

But, no doubt, all this has changed, even during the time that I have taken to describe it.

Among the thousands of novels which have inundated England for half a century past, few have maintained their ground. The works of Anne Radcliffe form a distinct species. Those of Mrs. Barbauld, Miss Edgeworth, and Miss Burney, have, it is said, many chances of living.

"The laws," says Montaigne, "ought to lay restraints upon unqualified and useless writers, as it does upon vagrants and idlers. Myself and a hundred others ought to be banished from the hands of our people. Scribbling seems to be a certain symptom of a distracted age. When did we write so much as since we have been in trouble? When did the Romans as at the time of their ruin."

I have scarcely made mention of the English women who have formerly shone, or who still shine in literature, because, in pursuing my plan, I should have been drawn into comparisons which I do not choose to make. Madame de Staël is the queen of her epoch, and her works have remained.

Some French women, even at the present day, are distinguished by extraordinary merit as writers: one of them has opened a route in which she will not be much followed, and by which she will certainly not travel to posterity. Women, when they


possess genius, mix with it secrets which constitute part of the charm of their talent, and which cannot be separated from it: now, no one has a right to penetrale into those mysteries of the woman and the muse. Lastly, talent frequently changes its object and nature; one must have patience and wait, in order to admire it in its different forms. Several have been seduced and run away with, as it were, by their youthful years: brought back to the maternal home by the breaking of the spell, they have added to their lyre the grave or plaintive chord on which religion or misfortune is expressed.



BUT these different schools of sedentary novelists, novelists travelling in coaches or chaises, novelists of lake and mountain, novelists of cities and drawing-rooms, have all merged in the new school of Walter Scott, just as poetry has rushed into the track of Lord Byron.

The illustrious painter of Scotland seems to me to have created a false class; he has, in my opinion, confounded history and romance: the novelist has set about writing historical romances, and the historian romantic histories. I speak on this subject with some vexation, because I, who have described, loved, sung, extolled so much the old Christian temples, am dying of spleen from hearing them so constantly depreciated: there was left me as a last illusion, a cathedral; it has been taken from me by storm.

When an author enjoys a geneal reputation in his own country; when that reputation is sus

tained for a great number of years; nobody, and least of all a foreigner, has a right to question the titles of this reputation; they are established on the most solid foundations-the true genius of the language, the national instinct, and the consent of public opinion.

I refuse, therefore, to sit in judgment on any English author, whose merit does not appear to me to reach that degree of superiority which it has in the eyes of his countrymen. If, in Walter Scott, I am frequently obliged to skip the interminable conversations; if I do not always meet with that select nature, that perfection of scenery, that originality, those thoughts, those traits, which I find in Manzoni and several of our modern novelists; it is my own fault. But one of the great merits of Walter Scott, in my opinion, is, that he may be put into the hands of every body. It requires much greater efforts of talent to interest whilst keeping within due bounds, than to please by overleaping them; it is not so easy to regulate the heart as to derange it.

Burke restricted the politics of England to the past; Walter Scott drove back the English to the middle ages: all that was written, manufactured, built, was Gothic: books, furniture, houses. churches, mansions. But the barons of the Magna Charta are now-a-days the fashionables of Bond

« EelmineJätka »