Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Night and Morning,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 114-133


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[page 114, continued:]

NIGHT AND MORNING. A NOVEL. BY THE AUTHOR OF “PELHAM,” “RIENZI,” “EUGENE ARAM,” ETC. TWO VOLUMES. RE-PUBLISHED BY HARPER AND BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

[Graham’s Magazine, April, 1841.]

THE Right Hon. Charles Leopold Beaufort, of Beaufort Court, England, a proud and misanthropical old bachelor, with a rental of twenty thousand pounds, has two nephews, Philip and Robert Beaufort. The former, who is the elder of the two and heir-apparent to the uncle’s estate, is thoughtless and generous, with unsteady principles. The latter is a crafty man-of-the-world, whose only honesty consists in appearing honest — a scrupulous decorist. Philip, in love with Catharine Morton, the daughter of a tradesman, and in fear of his aristocratic uncle’s displeasure, is married clandestinely, in a remote village of Wales, by a quondam college friend to whom he had presented a living — the Rev. Caleb Price. The better to keep the secret, a very old Welshman, certain soon to die, and William Smith, Philip’s servant, are the sole witnesses of the ceremony. This performed, Smith is hired to bury himself in Australia until called for, while the deaf man dies as expected. Some time having elapsed, Philip, dreading accident to the register, writes to Caleb for an attested copy of the record. Caleb is too ill to make it, but employs a neighbouring curate, Morgan Jones, to make and attest it; and despatches it, [page 115:] just before dying, to Philip who, fearing his wife’s impatience of the concealment required, deposits the document, without her knowledge, in a secret drawer of a bureau. The register itself is afterward accidentally destroyed. Catharine has soon two children, — first Philip, the hero of the novel, and then Sydney. For their sakes she bravely endures the stigma upon her character. She continues to live openly with her husband as his mistress, bearing her maiden name of Morton; and the uncle, whose nerves would have been shocked at a misalliance, and who would have disinherited its perpetrator, winks at what he considers the venial vice. The old gentleman lives on for sixteen years, and yet no disclosure is made. At last he dies, bequeathing his property to his eldest nephew, as was anticipated. The latter prepares forthwith to own Catharine as his wife; relates to his brother the facts of the clandestine marriage; speaks of the secreted document, without designating the place of its deposit; is disbelieved by that person entirely; mounts his horse to make arrangements for a second wedding, and for proving the first; is thrown, breaks his neck, and expires without uttering a word. Catharine, ignorant of the secret drawer (although aware that a record had been secreted), failing to find William Smith, and trusting her cause to an unskilful lawyer, is unable to prove her marriage, but in the effort to do so makes an enemy of Robert Beaufort, who takes possession of the estate as heir at law. Thus the strict precautions taken by the father to preserve his secret during the uncle’s life, frustrate the wife in her attempts to develop it after his death, and the sons are still considered illegitimate. This is the pivot of the story. Its incidents are made up of the struggles of the young men [page 116:] with their fate, but chiefly of the endeavours of the elder, Philip, to demonstrate the marriage and redeem the good name of his mother. This he finally accomplishes (after her death, and after a host of vicissitudes experienced in his own person), by the accidental return of William Smith, and by the discovery of an additional witness in Morgan Jones, who made the extract from the register, and to whom the rightful heir is guided by this long-sought document itself, obtained from the hands of Robert Beaufort (who had found it in the bureau), through the instrumentality of one Fanny, the heroine, and in the end the wife of the hero.

We do not give this as the plot of “Night and Morning,” but as the groundwork of the plot; which latter, woven from the incidents above mentioned, is in itself exceedingly complex. The groundwork, as will be seen, is of no very original character — it is even absurdly commonplace. We are not asserting too much when we say that every second novel since the flood has turned upon some series of hopeless efforts, either to establish legitimacy, or to prove a will, or to get possession of a great sum of money most unjustly withheld, or to find out a ragamuffin of a father, who had been much better left unfound. But, saying nothing of the basis upon which this story has been erected, the story itself is, in many respects, worthy its contriver.

The word plot, as commonly accepted, conveys but an indefinite meaning. Most persons think of it as of simple complexity; and into this error even so fine a critic as Augustus William Schlegel has obviously fallen, when he confounds its idea with that of the mere intrigue in which the Spanish dramas of Cervantes and Calderon abound. But the greatest involution [page 117:] of incident will not result in plot; which, properly defined, is that in which no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole. It may be described as a building so dependently constructed, that to change the position of a single brick is to overthrow the entire fabric. In this definition and description, we of course refer only to that infinite perfection which the true artist bears ever in mind — that unattainable goal to which his eyes are always directed, but of the possibility of attaining which he still endeavours, if wise, to cheat himself into the belief. The reading world, however, is satisfied with a less rigid construction of the term. It is content to think that plot a good one, in which none of the leading incidents can be removed without detriment to the mass. Here indeed is a material difference; and in this view of the case the plot of “Night and Morning” is decidedly excellent. Speaking comparatively, and in regard to stories similarly composed, it is one of the best. This the author has evidently designed to make it. For this purpose he has taxed his powers to the utmost. Every page bears marks of excessive elaboration, all tending to one point — a perfect adaptation of the very numerous atoms of a very unusually involute story. The better to attain his object he has resorted to the expedient of writing his book backwards. This is a simple thing in itself, but may not be generally understood. An example will best convey the idea. Drawing near the dénouement of his tale, our novelist had proceeded so far as to render it necessary that means should be devised for the discovery of the missing marriage record. This record is in the old bureau — this bureau is at Fernside, originally the seat of Philip’s father, but now in possession of one Lord Lilburne, a member of [page 118:] Robert Beaufort’s family. Two things now strike the writer — first, that the retrieval of the hero’s fortune should be brought about by no less a personage than the heroine — by some lady who should in the end be his bride — and, secondly, that this lady must procure access to Fernside. Up to this period in the narrative, it had been the design to make Camilla Beaufort, Philip’s cousin, the heroine; but in such case, the cousin and Lord Lilburne being friends, the document must have been obtained by fair means; whereas foul means are the most dramatic. There would have been no difficulties to overcome in introducing Camilla into the house in question. She would have merely rung the bell and walked in. Moreover, in getting the paper, she would have had no chance of getting up a scene. This lady is therefore dropped as the heroine; Mr. Bulwer retraces his steps, creates Fanny, brings Philip to love her, and employs Lilburne, (a courtly villain, invented for all the high dirty work, as De Burgh Smith for all the low dirty work of the story), employs Lilburne to abduct her to Fernside,  where the capture of the document is at length (more dramatically than naturally) contrived. In short, these latter incidents were emendations, and their really episodical character is easily traced by the critic. What appears first in the published book, was last in the original Ms. Many of the most striking portions of the novel were interleaved in the same manner — thus giving to afterthought that air of premeditation which is so pleasing. Effect seems to follow cause in the most natural and in the most provident manner, but, in the true construction, the cause (and here we commit no bull) is absolutely brought about by the effect. The many brief, and seemingly insulated chapters met with in the course of [page 119:] the narrative, are the interposed afterthoughts in question.

So careful has been our author in this working-up of his story — in this nice dovetailing of its constituent parts — that it is difficult to detect a blemish in any portion. What he has intended to do he has done well; and his main intention, as we have before hinted, was perfection of plot. A few defects, indeed, we note; and note them chiefly to show the skill with which that narrative is wrought, where such blemishes are the sole ones.

In the first place, there are some descriptive passages, such as the love adventures of Caleb Price, the account of Gawtrey’s early life, prefaced by that of his grandfather, and the dinner-scene at Love’s, which scarcely come within the category of matters tending to develop the main events. These things, in short, might have been omitted with advantage (because without detriment) to the whole.

At page 254, Vol. II., we perceive the first indications of slovenness, (arising, no doubt, from the writer’s anxiety to conclude his task), in an incident utterly without aim, and composed at random. We mean the relapse of Philip into a second illness when nursed by Fanny through the first, at the house of old Gawtrey.

At page 21, Vol. I., we are told that Caleb Price, having received from his friend Beaufort a certain letter (whose contents would have been important in the subsequent attempts to establish Catharine’s claim), held it over the flame of the candle, and that “as the paper dropped on the carpetless floor,  Mr. Jones prudently set thereon the broad sole of his boot, and the maid-servant brushed it into the grate.” [page 120:]

“Ah, trample it out; hurry it among the ashes. The last as the rest,” said Caleb, hoarsely. “Friendship, fortune, hope, love, life — a little flame — and then — and then —”

Don’t be uneasyit’s quite out,” said Mr. Jones.

Now this is related with much emphasis; and, upon reading it, we resolved to hold in memory that this important paper, although torn, was still unburned, and that its fragments had been thrown into a vacant grate. In fact, it was the design of the novelist to re-produce these fragments in the dénouement — a design which he has forgotten to carry out.

We have defined the word plot in a definition of our own to be sure, but in one which we do not the less consider substantially correct; and we have said that it has been a main point with Mr. Bulwer in this his last novel, “Night and Morning,” to work up his plot as near perfection as possible. We have asserted, too, that his design is well accomplished; but we do not the less assert that it has been conceived and executed in error.

The interest of plot, referring, as it does, to cultivated thought in the reader, and appealing to considerations analogous with those which are the essence of sculptural taste, is by no means a popular interest; although it has the peculiarity of being appreciated in its atoms by all, while in its totality of beauty it is comprehended but by the few. The pleasure which the many derive from it is disjointed, ineffective, and evanescent; and even in the case of the critical reader it is a pleasure which may be purchased too dearly. A good tale may be written without it. Some of the finest fictions in the world have neglected it altogether. We see nothing of it in “Gil Blas,” in the “Pilgrim’s [page 121:] Progress,” or in “Robinson Crusoe.” Thus it is not an essential in story-telling at all; although, well managed, within proper limits, it is a thing to be desired. At best it is but a secondary and rigidly artistical merit, for which no merit of a higher class — no merit founded in nature — should be sacrificed. But in the book before us much is sacrificed for its sake, and everything is rendered subservient to its purposes. So excessive is, here, the involution of circumstances, that it has been found impossible to dwell for more than a  brief period upon any particular one. The writer seems in a perpetual flurry to accomplish what, in autorical parlance, is called “bringing up one’s time.” He flounders in the vain attempt to keep all his multitudinous incidents at one and the same moment before the eye. His ability has been sadly taxed in the effort — but more sadly the time and temper of the reader. No sooner do we begin to take some slight degree of interest in some cursorily-sketched event, than we are hurried off to some other, for which a new feeling is to be built up, only to be tumbled down, forthwith, as before. And thus, since there is no sufficiently continuous scene in the whole novel, it results that there is not [[a]] strongly effective one. Time not being given us in which to become absorbed, we are only permitted to admire, while we are not the less chilled, tantalized, wearied, and displeased. Nature, with natural interest, has been given up a bond-maiden to an elaborate but still to a misconceived, perverted, and most unsatisfactory Art.

Very little reflection might have sufficed to convince Mr. Bulwer that narratives, even one-fourth so long as the one now lying upon our table, are essentially inadapted to that nice and complex adjustment of incident [page 122:] at which he has made this desperate attempt. In the wire-drawn romances which have been so long fashionable (God only knows how or why) the pleasure we derive (if any) is a composite one, and made up of the respective sums of the various pleasurable sentiments experienced in perusal. Without excessive and fatiguing exertion, inconsistent with legitimate interest, the mind cannot comprehend at one time and in one survey the numerous individual items which go to establish the whole. Thus the high ideal sense of the unique is sure to be wanting; for, however absolute in itself be the unity of the novel, it must inevitably fail of appreciation. We speak now of that species of unity which is alone worth the attention of the critic — the unity or totality of effect.

But we could never bring ourselves to attach any idea of merit to mere length in the abstract. A long story does not appear to us necessarily twice as good as one only half so long. The ordinary talk about “continuous and sustained effort” is pure twaddle and nothing more. Perseverance is one thing and genius is another, — whatever Buffon or Hogarth may assert to the contrary, — and notwithstanding that, in many passages of the dogmatical literature of old Rome, such phrases as “diligentia maxima,” “diligentia mirabilis” can be construed only as “great talent” or “wonderful ability.” Now if the author of “Ernest Maltravers,” implicitly following authority like les moutons de Panurge, will persist in writing long romances because long romances have been written before, — if, in short, he cannot be satisfied with the brief tale (a species of composition which admits of the highest development of artistical power in alliance with the wildest vigour of imagination), — he must then content [page 123:] himself, perforce, with a more simply and more rigidly narrative form.

And here, could he see these comments upon a work which (estimating it, as is the wont of all artists of his calibre, by the labour which it has cost him) he considers his chef d’œuvre, he would assure us, with a smile, that it is precisely because the book is not narrative, and is dramatic that he holds it in so lofty an esteem. Now in regard to its being dramatic, we should reply that, so far as the radical and ineradicable deficiencies of the drama go, it is. This continual and vexatious shifting of scene, with a view of bringing up events to the time being, originated at a period when books were not; and in fact, had the drama not preceded books, it might never have succeeded them — we might, and probably should, never have had a drama at all. By the frequent “bringing up” of his events the dramatist strove to supply, as well as he could, the want of the combining, arranging, and especially of the commenting power, now in possession of the narrative author. No doubt it was a deep but vague sense of this want which brought into birth the Greek chorus — a thing altogether apart from the drama itself, never upon the stage — and representing or personifying the expression of the sympathy of the audience in the matters transacted.

In brief, while the drama of colloquy, vivacious and breathing of life, is well adapted to narration, the drama of action and passion will always prove, when employed beyond due limits, a source of embarrassment to the narrator, and it can afford him, at best, nothing which he does not already possess in full force. We have spoken upon this head much at length; for we remember that, in some preface to one of his previous [page 124:] novels, (some preface in which he endeavoured to pre-reason and pre-coax us into admiration of what was to follow — a bad practice), Mr. Bulwer was at great pains to insist upon the peculiar merits of what he even then termed the dramatic conduct of his story. The simple truth was that, then, as now, he had merely concentrated into his book all the necessary evils of the stage.

Giving up his attention to the one point upon which we have commented, our novelist has failed to do himself justice in others. The overstrained effort at perfection of plot has seduced him into absurd sacrifices of verisimilitude, as regards the connexion of his dramatis personæ each with each and each with the main events. However incidental be the appearance of any personage upon the stage, this personage is sure to be linked in, will I nill I, with the matters in hand. Philip, on the stage coach, for example, converses with but one individual, William Gawtrey; yet this man’s fate (not subsequently but previously) is interwoven into that of Philip himself, through the latter’s relationship to Lilburne. The hero goes to his mother’s grave, and there comes in contact with this Gawtrey’s father. He meets Fanny, and Fanny happens to be also involved in his destiny (a pet word, conveying a pet idea of the author’s) through her relationship to Lilburne. The witness in the case of his mother’s marriage is missing, and this individual turns up at last in the brother of that very Charles De Burgh Smith with whom so perfectly accidental an intimacy has already been established. The wronged heir proceeds at random to look for a lawyer, and stumbles at once upon the precise one who had figured before in the story, and who knows all about previous investigations. Setting out in [page 125:] search of Liancourt, the first person he sees is that gentleman himself. Entering a horse-bazaar in a remote portion of the country, the steed up for sale at the exact moment of his entrance is recognized as the pet of his better days. Now our quarrel with these coincidences is not that they sometimes, but that they everlastingly, occur, and that nothing occurs besides. We find no fault with Philip for chancing, at the identically proper moment, upon the identical men, women, and horses necessary for his own ends and the ends of the story, but we do think it excessively hard that he should never happen upon anything else.

In delineation of character our artist has done little worth notice. His highest merit in this respect is, with a solitary exception, the negative one of not having subjected himself to dispraise. Catharine and Camilla are — pretty well in their way. Philip is very much like all other heroes — perhaps a little more stiff, a little more obstinate, and a little more desperately unlucky than the generality of his class. Sydney is drawn with truth. Plaskwith, Plimmins, and the Mortons, just sufficiently caricatured, are very good outline copies from the shaded originals of Dickens. Of Gawtrey — father and son, — of De Burgh Smith, of Robert Beaufort, and of Lilburne, what is it possible to say, except that they belong to that extensive firm of Gawtrey, Smith, Beaufort, Lilburne, and company, which has figured in every novel since the days of Charles Grandison, and which is doomed to the same eternal configuration till romance-writing shall be no more?

For Fanny the author distinctly avows a partiality, and he does not err in his preference. We have observed, in some previous review, that original characters, so called, can only be critically praised as such, [page 126:] either when presenting qualities known in real life, but never before depicted (a combination nearly impossible), or when presenting qualities which, although unknown, or even known to be hypothetical, are so skilfully adapted to the circumstances around them, that our sense of fitness is not offended, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why those things might not have been which we are still satisfied are not. Fanny appertains to this latter class of originality, which in itself belongs to the loftier regions of the Ideal. Her first movements in the story, before her conception (which we have already characterized as an afterthought) had assumed distinct shape in the brain of the author, are altogether ineffective and frivolous. They consist of the unmeaning affectation and rhodomontade with which it is customary to invest the lunatic in common-place fiction. But the subsequent effects of love upon her mental development are finely imagined and richly painted; and, although reason teaches us their impossibility, yet it is sufficient for the purposes of the artist that fancy delights in believing them possible.

Mr. Bulwer has been often and justly charged with defects of style; but the charges have been sadly deficient in specification, and for the most part have confounded the idea of mere language with that of style itself, although the former is no more the latter, than an oak is a forest, or than a word is a thought. Without pausing to define what a little reflection will enable any reader to define for himself, we may say that the chief constituent of a good style (a constituent which, in the case of Washington Irving, has been mistaken for the thing constituted) is what artists have agreed to denominate tone. The writer who, varying this as occasion may require, well adapts it to the fluctuations [page 127:] of his narrative, accomplishes an important object in style. Mr. Bulwer’s tone is always correct; and so great is the virtue of this quality that he can scarcely be termed, upon the whole, a bad stylist.

His mere English is grossly defective — turgid, involved, and ungrammatical. There is scarcely a page of “Night and Morning” upon which a schoolboy could not detect at least half a dozen instances of faulty construction. Sentences such as this are continually occurring — “And at last silenced, if not convinced, his eyes closed, and the tears yet wet upon their lashes, fell asleep.” Here, strictly speaking, it is the eyes which “fell asleep,” and which were “silent if not convinced.” The pronoun, “he” is wanting for the verb “fell.” The whole would read better thus — “And at last, silent, if not convinced, he closed his eyes, and fell asleep with the tears yet on the lashes.” It will be seen that, besides other modifications, we have changed “upon” into “on” and omitted “wet” as superfluous when applied to tear; who ever heard of a dry one? The sentence in question, which occurs at page 83, Vol. I., was the first which arrested our attention on opening the book at random; but its errors are sufficiently illustrative of the character of those faults of phraseology in which the work abounds, and which have arisen, not so much through carelessness, as from a peculiar bias in the mind of the writer, leading him, perforce, into involution, whether here in style, or elsewhere in plot. The beauty of simplicity is not that which can be appreciated by Mr. Bulwer; and whatever may be the true merits of his intelligence, the merit of luminous and precise thought is evidently not one of the number.

At page 194, Vol. I., we have this, “I am not [page 128:] what you seem to suppose — exactly a swindler, certainly not a robber.” Here, to make himself intelligible, the speaker should have repeated the words “I am not” before “exactly.” As it stands, the sentence does not imply that “I am not exactly a swindler,” etc. but (if anything) that the person addressed imagined me to be certainly not a robber but exactly a swindler — an implication which it was not intended to convey. Such awkwardness in a practised writer would be inconceivable did we not refer in memory to that moral bias of which we have just spoken. Our readers will of course examine the English of “Night and Morning” for themselves. From the evidence of one or two sentences we cannot expect them to form a judgment in the premises. Dreading, indeed, the suspicion of unfairness, we had pencilled item after item for comment — but we have abandoned the task in despair. It would be an endless labour to proceed with examples. In fact it is folly to particularize where the blunders would be the rule and the grammar the exception.

Sir [[Edward Bulwer]] Lytton has one desperate mannerism of which we would be glad to see him well rid — a fashion of beginning short sentences, after very long ones, with the phrase “So there” or something equivalent, and this, too, when there is no sequence in the matter to warrant the use of the word “So.” Thus, at page 136, Vol. I., “So there they sat on the cold stone, these two orphans”; at page 179, “So there by the calm banks of the placid lake, the youngest born of Catharine passed his tranquil days,” and just below, on the same page, “So thus was he severed from both his protectors, Arthur and Philip”; and at page 241, Vol. II., “So there sat the old man,” etc., etc. — and in innumerable other instances throughout the work. [page 129:]

Among the niaiseries of his style we may mention the coxcombical use of little French sentences, without the shadow of an excuse for their employment. At page 22, vol. II., in the scene at the counterfeiter’s cellar, what can be more nonsensical than Gawtrey’s “C’est juste; buvez donc, cher ami,” “C’est juste; buvez donc, vieux renard,” and “Ce n’est pas vrai; buvez donc Monsieur Favart?” Why should these platitudes be alone given in French, when it is obvious that the entire conversation was carried on in that tongue? And, again, when, at page 49, Fanny exclaims, “Méchant, every one dies to Fanny!” why could not this heroine have as well confined herself to one language? At page 38 the climax of absurdity, in this respect, is fairly capped; and it is difficult to keep one’s countenance, when we read of a Parisian cobbler breathing his last in a garret, and screaming out “Je m’étouffe — air!”

Whenever a startling incident is recorded, our novelist seems to make it a point of conscience that somebody should “fall insensible.” Thus, at page 172, vol. I., — “ ‘My brother, my brother, they have taken thee from me,’ cried Philip, and he fell insensible,” — and at page 38, vol. II., “ ‘I was unkind to him at the last,’ and with these words she fell upon the corpse insensible,” etc., etc. There is a great deal too much of this. An occasional swoon is a thing of no consequence, but “even Stamboul must have an end,” and Mr. Bulwer should make an end of his syncopes.

Again. That gentlemen and ladies, when called upon to give alms, or to defray some trifling incidental expense, are in the invariable habit of giving the whole contents of their purses without examination, and, moreover, of “throwing” the purse into the bargain, is an [page 130:] idea most erroneously entertained. At page 55, Vol. I., we are told that Philip, “as he spoke, slid his purse into the woman’s hand.” At page 110, “a hint for money restored Beaufort to his recollection, and he flung his purse into the nearest hand outstretched to receive it.” At page 87, “Lilburne tossed his purse into the hands of his valet, whose face seems to lose its anxious embarrassment at the touch of the gold.” It is true that the “anxious embarrassment” of any valet out of a novel would have been rather increased than diminished by having a purse of gold tossed at his head; but what we wish our readers to observe, is that magnificent contempt of filthy lucre with which the characters of Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer “fling,” “slide,” “toss,” and tumble whole purses of money about!

But the predominant and most important failing of the author of “Devereux,” in point of style, is an absolute mania for metaphor — metaphor always running into allegory. Pure allegory is at all times an abomination — a remnant of antique barbarism — appealing only to our faculties of comparison, without even a remote interest for our reason, or for our fancy. Metaphor, its softened image, has indisputable force when sparingly and skilfully employed. Vigorous writers use it rarely indeed. Mr. Bulwer is all metaphor or all allegory — mixed metaphor and unsustained allegory — and nothing if neither. He cannot express a dozen consecutive sentences in an honest and manly manner. He is the king-coxcomb of figures of speech. His rage for personification is really ludicrous. The simplest noun becomes animate in his hands. Never, by any accident, does he write even so ordinary a word as time, or temper, or talent, without the capital [page 131:] T. Seldom, indeed, is he content with the dignity and mysticism thus imposed; for the most part it is TIME, TEMPER and TALENT. Nor does the common-place character of anything which he wishes to personify exclude it from the prosopopœia. At page 256, Vol. I., we have some profound rigmarole, seriously urged, about piemen crying “all hot! all hot!” “in the ear of Infant and Ragged Hunger,” thus written; and, at page 207, there is something positively transcendental all about LAW — a very little thing in itself, in some cases, but which Mr. Bulwer, in his book, has thought proper to make quite as big as we have printed it above. Who cannot fancy him, in the former instance, saying to himself, as he gnaws the top of his quill, “that is a fine thought!” and exclaiming in the latter, as he puts his finger to the side of his nose, “ah, how very fine an idea that is!”

This absurdity, indeed, is chiefly observable in those philosophical discussions with which he is in the wicked habit of interspersing his fictions, and springs only from a rabid anxiety to look wise, — to appear profound, — even when wisdom is quite out of place, and profundity the quintessence of folly. A “still small voice” has whispered in his ear that, as to the real matter of fact, he is shallow — a whisper which he does not intend to believe, and which, by dint of loud talking in parables, he hopes to prevent from reaching the ears of the public. Now, in truth, the public, great-gander as it is, is content to swallow his romance without much examination, but cannot help turning up its nose at his logic.

“The men of sense,” says Helvetius, “those idols of the unthinking, are very inferior to the men of passions. It is the strong passions which, rescuing us from Sloth, can alone impart to us that continuous and [page 132:] earnest attention necessary to great intellectual efforts” — Understanding the word “efforts” in its legitimate force, and not confounding it altogether with achievements, we may well apply to Mr. Bulwer the philosopher’s remark, thence deducing the secret of his success as a novelist. He is emphatically the man of “passions.” With an intellect rather well balanced than lofty, he has not full claim to the title of a man of genius. Urged by the burning desire of doing much, he has certainly done something. Elaborate even to fault, he will never write a bad book, and has once or twice been upon the point of concocting a good one. It is the custom to call him a fine writer, but in doing so we should judge him less by an artistical standard of excellence than by comparison with the drivellers who surround him. To Scott he is altogether inferior, except in that mock and tawdry philosophy which the Caledonian had the discretion to avoid, and the courage to contemn. In pathos, humour, and verisimilitude he is unequal to Dickens, surpassing him only in general knowledge and in the sentiment of Art. Of James he is more than the equal at all points. While he could never fall as low as D’Israeli has occasionally fallen, neither himself nor any of those whom we have mentioned have ever risen nearly so high as that very gifted and very extraordinary man.

In regard to “Night and Morning,” we cannot agree with that critical opinion which considers it the best novel of its author. It is only not his worst. It is not as good as “Eugene Aram,” nor as “Rienzi” — and is not at all comparable with “Ernest Maltravers.” Upon the whole it is a good book. Its merits beyond doubt overbalance its defects; and if we have not dwelt upon the former with as much [[unction]] as upon the latter, it is because [page 133:] the Bulwerian beauties are precisely of that secondary character which never fails of the fullest public appreciation.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Night and Morning)