« PrécédentContinuer »
hero is a Briton chief, the Lord of Gloucester, or the Bright City, and the interest of the poem requires that we should place our affections on the British side. This we are well enough disposed to do; for it is a very curious fact, (an instance perhaps of the force of names and words,) that even to this day, a motley race as we are of Saxons, Angles, Danes and Normans, any thing but Britons, we indentify ourselves entirely with these last in reading our early history, and regard the former as invaders and conquerors with whom we have no connection. So far the subject of Samor is well chosen; but unfortunately we have been familiar from our earliest years with Saxon victories and British defeats; and though we find upon examination that the struggle was long and severe, we know that the issue approached nearly to the extermination of the Britons. It is impossible therefore not to feel something unsatisfactory and imperfect in the close of the story ;-those with whom we sympathize are victorious and exult in the return of peace and freedom--we stand by them in their triumph, like superior beings, and know that their joys are delusive, and their calamities respited only for a moment.
The poem opens at Troynovant, on the return of the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa from a successful expedition against the Picts. The degenerate King Vortigern receives them with a prodigal welcome, and conducts the chiefs to a banquet in the palace. This is described with perhaps somewhat too much of oriental magnificence; but the Saxon warriors and British courtiers, the baud of effeininate and parasite court bards, and the white-haired Aneurin shedding indignant tears at the prostitution of his art, and degradation of his country, are spiritedly contrasted. At the close of a war-song Rowena enters the hall-she is a very important personage in the poem, and Mr. Milman has lavished on her in this and many other places all the richness of his fancy and language.
"Sudden came floating through the hall an air
Flower-wreath’d, their snowy robes from clasped zone
Was bliss, was sweet indulgence.'--pp. 6-8. It must not be supposed that we give our unqualified applause to this passage; we object to the diction in many parts of it; (but this is an old quarrel between Mr. Milman and ourselves, upon which we will say a few words hereafter ;) we think moreover that there is some little inconsistency in the conception of the character. But its principal fault as a composition is an injudicious misture of the beauty wbich is merely external, with that which is to be inferred from the effects it produces, or the qualities it is said to express. It is very possible to give the liveliest idea of beauty without the definite drawing of a single feature, or the mention of any merely corporeal attribute, such as shape, or colour; it is equally possible to invert the mode of description: but it is very seldom ihat the two can be well mixed, at least in the present instance they are jumbled together in most unaccommodating masses.
As every one knows, the weak and passionate Vortigern is subdued by this beautiful apparition, who, after pledging his health,
instantly instantly retires as she came. The King impatiently inquires who and whence she is, and learns from Hengist that she is his daughter. Upon this a conversation ensues between them apart, and ends with the proclamation of Hengist King of Kent by the infatuated monarch. The Saxons receive it with a clamorous shout of joy, and drain their goblets to the new King—but this introduces to us the hero of the poem in a noble manner. Nothing can be more happy in conception or execution—the language and metre have a solemn and placid dignity, without effort, involution, or glitter--the ideas are correspondent, and the precise effect is produced, which was intended, of impressing.us from the first moment with a lofty idea of Samor.
• As mid the fabled Libyan bridal stood
His speech, and courtly reverence smooth'd its tone.'-p.11. The speech which follows is not unworthy of the introduction, neither vaunting nor (which is Mr. Milman's usual fault) too long; but simple, dignified and firm; denying the king's right to give any part of the island, which was his only to govern, and disclaiming any allegiance to the new chief. At the close he leaves the hall, attended by the nobler part of the British courtiers. Vortigern makes light of the threatened opposition; he exclaims contemptuously
• Whom the flax binds not, must the iron gyve.' As he leaves the banquet, Samor encounters him; his open and animated remonstrances joined with the most earnest supplications rouse in the King the dormant virtues of the warrior and patriot, and in the enthusiasm of the moment he determines on renouncing the dishonourable alliance with the Saxon. The resolution has hardly passed his lips, when the fatal beauty arrives in her bridal car, and the poet tells ús the issue in a single line,
" Alone she came-alone she went not on.' The second book opens with another of the thousand and one imitations of the Council of Kings in the bliad, and we are sorry, principally on that account, that År. Milman should have thought it necessary to the conduct of the story. There is nothing that so
disturbs the illusion, which should be preserved in all works of ficțion, as imitation of incident. In a narration of real events if circumstance occurs resembling one already familiar to us, we are surprised at first, but we instantly regard it as what it really is, a curious though not an unnatural coincidence, and the sensation on the whole is rather pleasurable than otherwise. But when the same thing happens in a work of fiction, we reflect and examine for a moment as in the former case, but the first and immediate effect of this is to dispel all the dream, in wbich we had yielded to the story as true; and this alone is painful; the second effect is, dissatisfaction with the author, who having the tissue of incidents at his disposal might have avoided this imitation. In the present instance the borrowed incidents may be convenient for the introduction and development of new characters, but we think that Mr. Milman's ingenuity properly tasked might have discovered some less hacknied means for the same object.
In order to make our readers understand this part of the poem, we must go back a little to events which are supposed by the poet to have happened before its commencement. Constantine, King of Britain, is said to have aspired to the purple, and to have led an army to the continent to support his claim. After some successes he lost his own life and crown, together with the flower of bis troops, in a disastrous battle near Arles.* He left three sons, Constans, Emrys, (Aurelius Ambrosius,) and Uther, but they were all thought too young to conduct the retreat of the army and sustain the sinking fortunes of Britain; Vortigern therefore was elected King. In the council now assembled Emrys first rises, and in a firm yet temperate manner reclaiins for his brother and himself the crown, which they had lost by their youth, but which Vortigern had forfeited by his treason to the common weal. Uther follows— a more impetuous character—bis warm and animating appeal to the chiefs, his denunciation of instant and interminable war on Vortigern and his allies produce a suitable effect on the council. Shouts of war are heard, spears are brandished, and shields are clashed; when Samor rises to still the commotion. This is managed with too apparent intention of contrast, and his speech is much too long and too rhetorical; as in many other places it is Mr. Milman and not his bero, who speaks; still there is much of beauty, and even moral force in the address;
Or phrenetic vengeance: we must rise in wrath, It is not of much importance in a case like this, but Mr. Milman will find that he has misquoted Gibbou as to these facts in his prefatory notice.
But wear it as a mourner's robe of grief,
In sorrow to be so enforc'd.-p. 28. In reply to Emrys and Uther he urges the superior right of Constans, their elder brother, to the vacant throne. Constans was a peaceful hermit, and the proposition of such a man for King at such a crisis calls forth the bitter scoff of Caswallon, chief of the mountains north of Trent; who demands the crown for himself, and threatens to join the Saxons if rejected. Caswallon's character will fully appear in the sequel; it is sufficient here to observe of him that he is the Mezentius of the poem, as Malwyn, his only son, is the Lausus. This latter personage bursts upon us in a very interesting manner, refusing to share his father's treason, but throwing himself between bim and the spears of the irritated chiefs.
Caswallon, however, is dismissed in safety from the assembly a single incident in the mode of his departure finely marks the character of the man,
'far was heard
Of branches rent by his unstooping helm.'—p. 33. Samor's proposition is assented to, and he is himself commissioned to bear the offer of the crown to Constans; Emrys departs to solicit succours from Hoel, King of Aquitain ; Uther is dispatched to the west, and the other chiefs repair each to his own domains to stir up his vassals to the great enterprize. Such is the council, of which it seemed necessary to say thus much for the better knowledge of the personages who till great part of Mr. Milman's canvass.
Samor immediately departs on his mission to Constans, accompanied by his friend Elidure; in their way, from a woody eminence they see the bridal procession of Vortigern and Rowena winding along the valley below. How or why this procession came so near the place of assembly of the insurgent chiefs, or whither it was going, we are not informed. It seems to have been brought here for the sake of an incident, which might have been very sublime, if the judgment which regulated the execution had been at all equal to the fancy which conceived it. A shape of strange and savage appearance bursts suddenly upon the gay troop, and arresting its progress by the terror it inspires, utters a tremendous denunciation of woe upon the nuptials. Before a shaft could Hy,' the path was vacant.'--Vortigern alone recognises Merlin, and moans' his name in anguish. This is finely imagined. A slight inaccuracy may be remarked in the manner of the recognition by Vortigern. It must be remembered that the persons on the stage at present are Samor