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And spoke in friendship ev'ry distant tongue;
« Nor far some Andalusian saraband
STANDARD NOVELS AND ROMANCES.
No kind of literary talent is more overrated than that of a reviewer, and this opinion Egeria was often in the practice of maintaining. « Not,” she used to say, “ that I undervalue the endowment, independent of the learning, requisite to constitute a true critic; but, now-a-days, reviewers and rhymsters are a superabundant race, and among the innumerable swarms of both, which pester and sully modern literature, there are as few critics as there are poets.
« One of the most characteristic peculiarities of a reviewer is a certain pert and off-hand manner, occasionally lively, sometimes gay, and perhaps now and then really witty. The free air, I would almost call it swagger, with which he carries himself, obtains much more consideration than would be accorded to his degree of ability differently employed. He is akin to those sprightly personages who are always on the best terms with themselves, and amusingly unacquainted with their proper place in society. They elbow themselves into notice with the most pleasant disregard, not only of all due precedence, but of the worth and the feelings of others. They say smart things with the happiest nonchalance, and, while they push aside modest or offended merit, are so very diverting in their selfconceit, that the grave and decorous are irresistibly led to join them in their laughter, even while condemning alike their impudence and deficiencies.
“But though I have so little respect for the ephemeral progeny of the periodical press, I have yet still less for those authors who regard the faults of reviewers as proceeding from malice and malignity. I believe, indeed, that there is as much honesty of intention among reviewers as among any other class of persons whatever, and that they are really inclined to be as conscientiously just in their strictures as the flippancy of their natures will allow. It is well known, that they but undertake to review books ; to think that they should read them is one of the many unreasonable expectations in which young authors are apt to indulge.
“ But if thiş be the general character of those on
whom so many book-buyers fix their faith, it is not to be denied, that now and then gleams of a better and brighter spirit of criticism occasionally break out from the mass of vapour that darkens and deforms the literature of the periodical press. It is, for example, an excellent compendious estimate of the most celebrated novels and romances by Mr Jeffrey-one, in fact, of those articles which have established his fame as a critic, despite the innumerable impertinencies that he has allowed to escape from his pen."
“ The first-rate writers in this class are of course few; but those few we may reckon, without scruple, among the greatest ornaments and the best benefactors of our kind. There is a certain set of them, who, as it were, take their rank by the side of reality, and are appealed to as evidence on all questions concerning human nature. The principal of these are Cervantes and Le Sage ; and, among ourselves, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, and Sterne. As this is a department of criti. cism which deserves more attention than we have ever yet bestowed on it, we shall venture to treat it a little in detail, and endeavour to contribute something towards settling the standard of excellence, both as to degree and kind, in these several writers.
“ We shall begin with the renowned history of Don Quixote, who always presents something more stately, more romantic, and at the same time more real to our imagination, than any other hero upon record. His lineaments, his accoutrements, his pasteboard visor, are familiar to us as the recollections of our early home. The spare and upright figure of the hero paces distinctly before our eyes; and Mambrino's helmet still glitters in the sun! We not only feel the greatest love and veneration for the knight himself, but a certain respect for all those connected with him—the Curate, and Master Nicolas the barber-Sancho and Dapple—and even for Rosinante's leanness and his errors ! Perhaps there is no work which combines so much originality with such an air of truth. Its popularity is almost unexampled ; and yet its real merits have not been sufficiently understood. The story is the least part of them, though the blunders of Sancho, and the unlucky adventures of his master, are what naturally catch the attention of ordinary readers. The pathos and dignity of the sentiments are often disguised under the ludicrousness of the subject, and provoke laughter when they might well draw tears. The character of Don Quixote itself is one of the most perfect disinterestedness. He is an enthusiast of the most amiable kind, -of a nature equally open, gentle, and generous ;-a lover of truth and justice, and one who had brooded over the fine dreams of chivalry and romance, till the dazzling visions cheated his brain into a belief of their reality. There cannot, in our opinion, be a greater mistake than to consider Don Quixote as a merely satirical work, or an attempt to explode, by coarse raillery, the long-forgotten order of chivalry. There could be no need to explode what no longer existed. Besides, Cervantes himself was a man of the most sanguine and enthusiastic temperament; and even through the crazed and battered figure of the knight, the spirit of chivalry shines out with undiminished lustre; and one might almost imagine that the author had half-designed to revive the example of past ages, and once more 'witch the world with noble horsemanship;' and had veiled the design, in scorn of the degenerate age to which it was addressed, under this fantastic and imperfect disguise of romantic and ludi. crous exaggeration. However that may be, the spirit which the book breathes to those who relish and under,
stand it best, is unquestionably the spirit of chivalry; nor perhaps is it too much to say, that, if ever the flame of Spanish liberty is destined to break forth, wrapping the tyrant and the tyranny in one consuming blaze, it is owing to Cervantes and his knight of La Mancha, that the spark of generous sentiment and romantic enterprise from which it must be kindled, has not been quite extinguished.
“ The character of Sancho is not more admirable in the execution than in the conception, as a relief to that of the knight. The contrast is as picturesque and striking as that between the figures of Rosinante and Dapple. Never was there so complete a partie quarrée ;-they answer to one another at all points. Nothing can surpass the truth of physiognomy in the description of the master and man, both as to body and mind ;--the one lean and tall, the other round and short ;-the one heroical and courteous, the other selfish and servile ;-the one full of high-flown fancies, the other a bag of proverbs ;-the one always starting some romantic scheme, the other always keeping to the safe side of tradition and custom. The gradual ascendency, too, obtained by Don Quixote over Sancho, is as finely managed as it is characteristic. Credulity, and a love of the marvellous, are as natural to ignorance as selfishness and cunning. Sancho by degrees becomes a kind of lay-brother of the order ; acquires a taste for adventures in his own way; and is made all but an entire convert by the discovery of the hundred crowns in one of his most comfortless journeys. Towards the end, his regret at being forced to give up the pursuit of knight-errantry almost equals his master's; and he seizes the proposal of Don Quixote to turn shepherds with the greatest avidity,--still applying it, however, in his own fashion ; for while the Don is ingeniously torturing the names of his humble acquaintance into classical terminations, and contriving