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“There !” cried three hundred sparrows with one voice, “who dares to disbelieve in Maggy now 3" So, in the good old dark days of superstition, a certain church would scare away its simple spiritual sparrows from the carnal good things of this life in the seedtime of the year, which the priests, careless of their bodies, thoughtful only of their souls, kept them from, and kept unto themselves; and this they did by setting scarecrows and scaresparrows as sentinels over all things sacred to the church, and setting them in motion, till the uninitiate were subdued by terror, and fled for their lives. Meanwhile all orders of the hierarchy—popes, anti-popes, bishops, archbishops, abbots, priors, monks, friars, priests, deacons, archdeacons, massmen, chaunters, vergers, even beadles and lay brothers, who, like the Goose and Magpie of our story, were in the secret, and knew what sort of scarecrow it was which kept the illiterati from trespassing—enjoyed themselves, entered without fear into these sacred places, strode over the tabooed spots, and gobbled up every good thing they could gather, as proper to geese but improper to sparrows, and from which these only were to be scared away by sweet persuasion where that would do ; and where that i. by the terrors of the church and the engineery of enormous ying.
--THE FAwn of SERtoRIUs. 2 vols. post 8vo. London: Longman & Co.
This fiction is one of a noble kind: a kind that is not of the highest but still one that is graceful, instructive, and interesting. It has a little fallen into the sere and yellow leaf; and since circulating libraries have become more abundant, and cab-drivers, and turnpike men, and other sedentary personages, beguile their weary hours with works of fiction, a style more illustrative and daguerreotype has somewhat misplaced it.
The novel of the modern age might be divided into as many classes as the drama by Polonius. W. certainly have the historical, the historical-political, the historical-domestic, the historical-modern, the historical-middle-aged, the historical-classical, and were we as fluent and as tedious as the old courtier we could outrival his list with the infinite varieties of modern fiction. Sertorius belongs to the historical-classical, a kind that we think may be traced to the elegant and interesting romance of Valerius by Lockhart, who, in more senses than one, is the son of Scott. Sir Walter himself had not much sympathy with the cold and abstracted nature of classical writing, but having brought novels into fashion with the learned, and obtained that great triumph over academic prejudice, the elegant scholars of the time brought forth the historical-classical romance. And it betrays conspicuously its origin. Correctness of manners, archaeological accuracy, and the sententious morality of the ancients, as recorded in their precise and logical philosophic moralists, are its distinguishing characteristics. It possesses a certain cold formality of character, as if the knowledge had been derived from a study of marble and bronzes, and gleaned through “the spectacles of books.” The same earthly, unspiritual, sensual, though refined feelings that are perceptible in all the classical, at the least in the Roman writers, predominate in it, and men and women are delineated on principles §: to those which govern geometrical proportion rather than to that mingled and mingling process which actual observation of life produces. Still as the product of refined minds, as dealing with remote objects, interesting and suggestive from their very remoteness, this class of writing has many charms, and more especially for the cultivated. A kind of real idealism pervades it too, which precludes its being tested by nature or reality; and although it is felt not to be a true delineation of humanity, nor aspirituel subliming of it, yet it is taken as accordant with a character of its own, and all necessary allowances being made the mind is interested, unreal, and untrue, as it abstractedly is. It is an elegant and stately dream, and as such pleasingly absorbs the reader. The Fawn of Sertorius is the production of a truly ripe scholar, filled to overflowing with information, which streams with a copiousness and smoothness that proves it is derived from an abundant well of knowledge. We could almost do it the honour to suppose it from the }. of the finest writer of scholastic prose of the day—Walter Savage andor. We do not perceive, however, the penetrating glances into human character, nor the brief but vivid touches which make his delineations glow with an intense reality. It may be the product of decaying perfection, or the early effort of a ripening genius. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the extremes of morning and evening. Whoever is the author, it is a proof, with others lately had, that however weary we may grow of forms of fiction, that fiction itself is a necessary offshoot in some shape of humanity itself, and that we shall never be without its manifestation in some phase or other. We trust this work may be the product of a young hand, that we may hope for farther and perhaps still higher works from it. We have considered the work as a fiction, for it is of little moment whether Sertorius only required an equal historian to have ranked him with Julius Caesar, as the novelist contends. As the world, however, will judge by results and not by intrinsic merits, it would seem very unlikely that any pen could have given him such renown, even had he been able to wo it as powerfully in his own behalf as Caesar. Of Sertorius we knownothing, except from Plutarch, though probably curious scholars are able to piece together some fragmentary information regarding him. In one important particular, affecting completely the entire character of Sertorius, the novelist swerves from the ancient biographer. The latter in most unequivocal terms declares that Sertorius “feigned a lye of the Hinde” (in the quaint translation of North), and that “he made the simple barbarous people believe that it was a gift that Diana had sent him, by the which she made him understand of many and sundry things to come: knowing well enough of himselfe that the barbarous people were men easily deceived, and quickly caught by any subtile superstition, besides that, by art also he brought them to believe it as a thing very true.” The novelist starts with citing that this tale of the Fawn is a proof that the Roman mind was of the same spiritual and superstitious nature that the Teutonic is acknowledged to be. The whole conduct of Sertorius, as related by Plutarch, would lead to a different conclusion, proving him to have been an extremely politic and worldly-minded gentleman, very wise in his generation. After reading again the Life of Sertorius, as given in Plutarch, we cannot but think a story of more power and interest might have been given from it. Every paragraph is there a suggestion, and it abounds with scenes of glowing interest. Had any of our old dramatists condensed it into “some three hours' play,” what an intensity of life and action would they have revealed ! In the present work we have some agreeable description, pleasing sentiment, and elegant disquisition, but it wants life and vigour to give it a universal interest. The scholar will be pleased with it, and the reflective man of the world may be interested in its development of the conduct of men engaged in rivalry for power, and banded together for merely selfish purposes: but the general reader will prefer fictions less elegant but more true; and seek for a more exciting narrative, regardless if it be less didactic.
MEMoins of THE PRINCIPAL AcroRs IN THE PLAYs of SHAREspeaRE. By J.-PAYNE Collier, Esq., F.S.A. Printed for the Shakespeare Society. London: 8vo. Of all the books which the Shakespeare Society has yet issued, we deem this the most interesting. There have been many volumes printed by the Society, for which the lovers of literature must be grateful, and which, by being printed and distributed in various copies, are secured from total destruction. The Coventry Miracle and Chester Whitsun Plays; The Accounts of the Revels at Court; Jonson's Conversations with Drummond; The Diary of Henslowe, and numerous reprints of plays of value and variety, are all and each good; but they still had only an interest for the highly cultivated reader of our old literature; the present is a handsome volume, which the general reader will find highly interesting. It is impossible for any one to be in the habit of perusing Shakespeare's Plays not to imbibe an irrepressible curiosity to know something personally of a writer so immeasurably superior and different from all others. That this is the case is proved by the innumerable books published endeavouring to dissipate the darkness that shrouds his biography § the piecing together the few fragmentary scraps that relate to him. his natural, if not laudable curiosity, extends to those connected with him, and in the utter hopelessness of getting any full particulars of the great one himself, we extend our researches to his great contemporaries and his as great representors. Here then is a volume the fruit of a life of diligent research guided by “ol. truth and controlled by the most cautious investigation. e know, bulky as the book is (upwards of 300 pages), that every fact has been sifted, and the whole mass winnowed by the faithful author. Mr. Collier stands above suspicion, and may be cited in this particular as the contrast of Stevens, who also spent a life and a fortune on the same researches, but who rendered nugatory all his labour by an utter disregard for truth. The volume contains the lives of twenty-five performers, all the principal actors but one in the plays of Shakespeare. Commencing with the “renowned Burbadge,” and ending with John Rice, who seems so far like his modern namesake to have “jumped Jim Crow,” that he went from stage-playing to preaching; no such extraordinary change in those days, however, when the stage had not very long emerged from the church. We have said all the principal actors but one in the plays of Shakespeare are included in this volume; that one omitted is the great one himself. His life has been already as elaborately given by Mr. Collier as the known details will admit; and he justly belongs to another volume of still higher natures,-the dramatists. The interest of the volume consists in the collection of numerous facts which incidentally shadow forth the modes of life of our “buried ancestors,” and we read it with that solemn but not gloomy interest, wherewith, on a bright summer day, we peruse the inscriptions in an ancient churchyard. We are reminded of our mortality at every turn; we read of christenings and burials, intermingled with marriages and solemnities; but we are in such goodly company, and so plainly perceive that death, at all events, is not invidious, but that in departing with him we only fulfil the inevitable law, that we are sobered but not saddened; interested and not depressed. In this particular, too, the biographies assimilate with the subjects; their lives were spent in uttering dramas, where all these mingled elements of our existence were the constant theme. The Life of Richard Burbadge is intensely interesting. Of all men he must have known most of Shakespeare. The words of Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Richard, Romeo, were first given to the world, never afterwards to be forgotten, by him. He must have known the whole process of their creation. He must have heard from the lips of Shakespeare himself his own commentary upon them. All that scholars of all realms have since so eagerly sought to learn must have been familiar to
him. Every vibration of feeling, every reach of the author's thought must have been developed to him. What philosophers have since speculated upon must have been shown to him in all its depth and power; and the whole crowd of commentators would have been unnecessary had he only faithfully recorded his interviews with him. “But he died and made no sign;” woful omission, ... injury. He seems, however, to be in other respects worthy of such association. and was a great actor, having as such a noble passionate imagination; He was three years younger than his great }.} and instructor, for that Shakspeare's instruction was a chief reason of his greatness there can be no doubt. The relative position of dramatist and actor was then properly arranged. Burbadge looked up to him ; but we doubt if in the present day the transcendent genius of even the greatest of the world's writers could have subdued the ignorant and indestructible arrogance of a modern favourite actor. They who mutilate his works when dead to minister to their inordinate vanity, would have had the temerity to dictate to him were he living. But the ancient actors were a different and more noble race. They had genius and reverence. Imaginations moreover, and were not mere rhetorical spouting swaggerers, who could only perform characters suited to their narrow natures and stunted idiosyncrasies. We find that Shakespeare, the author, friend and partner, of the great actor, did not confine himself in drawing the characters of Shylock and Coriolanus, Romeo and Richard, Prince Harry or Othello, Brutus or Lear, to any individuality or peculiarities; but had an actor able to pourtray the infinite variety of his conceptions, and not a mere person, whose narrow range would limit his genius. Burbadge had the great requisite for acting a fine and plastic imagination. He was not a mere factitious stage-player. All the notices of him proclaim that he had so much of that power, which seems to have vanished from our time;-the power of personation.
Thy stature small, but every thought and mood
And that he had the power
there is testimony more trustworthy than that of modern newspapers. He survived his friend and coadjutor only three years, dying also at
an age too premature. We have left ourselves no space to remark on the remaining twenty
four biographies, but cordially commend the volume to the perusal of
all lovers of literature. It is a book that ought greatly to add to the numbers of the Shakespeare Society.