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"Fugitives and vagabonds; their practice was duplicity, and their daily meditation, plots and conspiracies. They had little reputation to support, and were careless of the decorums and decencies of life. Undoubtedly, they were made worse by exile. Undoubtedly, a King driven from country to country, without almost the means to sustain him, and whose sister was found lying in bed for want of fuel to warm her elsewhere, was wanting in some of those motives to which the decorums and dignity of Kings are ordinarily indebted. A King is an artificial and unnatural personage, but a King in exile is a creature still more anomalous.”
The dogmatist goes on to assert whatever pleases his imagination. We know that Charles the Second endured great calamities, and that in after life he became a bad prince; but it is quite new to attribute his vices to his misfortunes. If that were just, the wicked faction which caused his misfortunes is answerable for his vices. Of the plots and conspiracies which the royalists were daily meditating, Mr. Godwin is the first historian that makes mention, and he gives us no account of them.
We shall not weary our readers with pursuing Mr. Godwin through his narrative of the proceedings which followed the restoration. The republicans are still the subject of his culogium, upon the loyalists he still casts his obscene censure. There is one passage which we extract from his account of the trial of the regicides, which is indeed abominable, not because it is historically false, but because it is libellous of that unsullied purity, which at this present time we justly attach to the courts of our criminal jurisdiction. The nature of Mr. Godwin's affections may be accurately judged of by that one paragraph.
"Nothing can be more odious to a liberal mind than the practice which unhappily takes place in some degree in all courts of justice, of measuring the words of the persons arraigned before them, and requiring them to speak in what is called the manner befitting their unhappy situation. The insolence of the Judges, the delight they apparently feel in interrupting, in checking, in rebuking, and trampling upon the prisoners brought before them, which we more or less perceive in the reading of all trials, certainly conduces to none of the ends of justice. They expect to be emphatically thanked for their generosity, if they practice any degree of decency towards the man whose cause they are appointed to hear, and if they consent to put him to death with any sort of gentility. They look for a canting and hypocritical profession of offence and of sorrow, and hold out a lure, often a fallacious one, that such professions shall be considered in mitigation of punishment. They are more anxious to degrade and to dishonour, than to inflict the censure of the law. If a man fairly asserts his own conception of his case, and refuses to acknowledge his offence,
where, whatever may be the judgment of the ministers of the law, he finds none, this is treated as a heinous aggravation of his legal guilt and many a one has paid the forfeit of his life, merely because he has spoken upon his trial that firm language, which is calculated to honour his memory to the latest posterity."
Slander like this must be wholly without effect.
After the Restoration, Milton composed his two immortal poems, the Paradise Lost and the Paradise Regained. He lived till 1674, pardoned of all his offences, and unmolested by the government. Mr. Godwin tells us that he died "full of years and glory." Undoubtedly, the glory of unequalled genius is indisputably his. It is not to that glory that Mr. Godwin refers.
We shall spare ourselves the unprofitable toil of describing the incidents detailed in the remaining part of this volume. Edward and John Philips long survived their uncle, and supported themselves chiefly by the labour of authorship. They are almost forgotten, and the judgment of mankind, which has doomed them and their works to oblivion or neglect, ought not to be disputed their works may remain for the occasional re search of the curious, or to complete the roll of local and unimportant history; but we assure our readers, that this piece of biography, so far as it relates to them, does not contain "a handful" of useful knowledge, or any thing to reward the labour of perusing it.
There is so close a resemblance between the affairs of the present age and those which afford the theme of this publication, that we could not pass by the work without calling the attention of our readers to its motive and tendency. The happiness of our own generation mainly depends upon the perfect re-esta blishment of the royal family of France, which, after many years of affliction passed in exile, are again seated on their hereditary throne. We should be hopeless of the tranquillity of Europe, or the stability of any government, if their title, or the expediency of maintaining it, were judged of by the principles here laid down. There is also in this country a tendency to of the opinions upon ecclesiastical affairs, the prevalence of which led formerly to such great calamity. We trust the Church is not yet in danger; but when an attack is insidiously made upon its fundamental discipline, and the authority of Milton is again made to bear against its bulwarks, we render good service to our country by attempting to shew the value of that authority, and to expose the ascertained qualities of the person who adduces it.
ART. III. De Rancé, a Poem. By J. W. Cunningham, A.M. Cadell and Davies. 1815.
IT has been our painful duty to speak with disapprobation of two productions of Mr. Cunningham, not because they were deficient in ability, (for we are bound to admit that in the former at least "THE VELVET CUSHION," a very fair portion of talent was displayed), but because the opinions which they inculcated appeared to us in many points replete with fallacy and danger. It was against the principles of his own writings that our ani madversions were chiefly directed. Upon their literary merits we were willing to speak with impartiality. We gave Mr. Cunningham credit, for "some instances of pathos," and for expressing himself, on some occasions, with "much animation." These are poetical qualifications: when therefore we heard that Mr. C. was preparing for the press a poem, in which the interest excited by strong affection and energy of character was to be enlisted in defence of Religion and sound principles, by way of contrast to the too popular works of a certain noble author, we hailed the intelligence that he had assigned so well-chosen an occupation to his active mind with no small degree of pleasure: we were prepared to find in the intended publication, the powers above specified, heightened and set forward by the elo quence of verse; and we looked forward to the appearance of the volume with considerable expectation.
A very long preface, equal indeed in bulk to nearly a third of the poem itself, appears to us unnecessarily employed in maintaining the truth of a proposition which few will feel inclined to deny; namely, that sentiments of piety and virtue are very powerful auxiliaries to poetry. To prove this, Mr. Cunningham quotes the opinions of Horace, of Longinus, of Quintilian, of Beattie, of Pope, of Johnson, and lastly of Mr. C. Grant: and the practice, not only of Homer, Pindar, the Greek Tragedians, Horace, Virgil, Spenser, Milton, and Cowper, but also of the most eminent proficients in the Sister Arts, of the Sculptors, Painters, and Musicians, of ancient and modern times; and, in addition to this weight of authority, he supports his doctrine by several very convincing arguments of his own. But we conceive that all this formidable array is drawn out against a visionary enemy; and that the " persuasion which appears to prevail with many indivi→ duals," is not, as he states it," that it is scarcely possible to employ poetry successfully in the service of Religion," but merely that it should be employed as an irregular auxiliary, and not be
put in the same ranks with sermons, lectures, dissertations, and others, which are the natural and regular soldiers of the garrison. Further, there is a " prevailing persuasion," that poems on Scriptural subjects are generally unsuccessful; a persuasion partly arising ex accidenti, because, in point of fact, the generality of such poems have been dull; and partly from considerations of the great difficulty which an author has to encounter in attempting to diffuse through a long work the interest which his readers have been accustomed to feel in the simple and condensed narratives of the Bible; and of the danger which he incurs, if he should try to embellish his plot with new facts, of exposing more plainly the poverty of his own coinage, when set beside the pure current gold of the original history.
These opinions however Mr. Cunningham has not endeavoured to refute, nor indeed are they any obstacles to the favourable reception of his own poem, which would never have appeared to us peculiarly religious, and the spirit of which did not certainly demand so copious an exposition and so laboured a defence. Its faults are, in our judgment, of a very different nature, and are to be looked for in the execution of the work, rather than in its design; but of these we shall speak with greater perspicuity, when we have laid before our readers a short analysis of
The Abbot de Rancé was a man, who, like the warrior Bishops of Germany, disgraced his sacred profession by the vices of a profligate soldier. Endowed with great talents, and undaunted courage and energy, he was enthusiastically devoted to the chase, the slave of violent passions, and withal an open scoffer at the most sacred truths of Religion. In one of his hunting excursions in the neighbourhood of the Rhone, he and one single companion, having outstripped all the rest of the company, and having alone been witnesses to the fall of the deer, are benighted in a wild and solitary region. A storm of thunder and lightning, which adds to the horror of the scene, only excites the impious blasphemies of De Rancé, who takes occasion, rather unnecessarily, to repeat his belief in chance, and his utter scorn of an all-ruling Providence. In the midst however of his vauntings, he and his friend are attacked by robbers, his friend falls; and he himself, after a valiant resistance, is forced to fly, and escapes only by swimming across a rapid torrent, where the assailants forbear to follow him. He had nearly perished in his passage by a shot from one of the pursuing ruffians, but the ball fortunately struck him on his "belt of steel," and rebounded without doing him any injury. If he felt any grateful or tender emotions at this miraculous preservation, their influence was but of short duration; and he directs his steps without any come
punction to the Castle of Chaumont, to that tower which contained the fair object of his guilty love, who like him had broken her vows of chastity and celibacy, and to whom he was accustomed to pay his midnight visits, even whilst she was dwelling under her father's roof. A secret staircase in the rock conducts him to Laura's chamber; he enters, and is surprized that she is not there a lamp in a distant apartment attracts his notice; he hastens towards it, and there finds his beloved, not as he fondly hoped in the full bloom of beauty, eagerly watching for his arrival, but a cold and corrupted corpse. The shock is too powerful even for the bold De Rancé; anguish and remorse seize upon his mind, and he rushes from the spot in a state of frenzy.
The aged father of Laura, to whom on her death bed she had revealed the secret of her shame, deeming his guilty daughter unworthy of sleeping amongst her purer ancestors, and dreading to expose his disgrace to the light of day, causes her remains to be conveyed by night down that spiral staircase which was so familiar to De Rancé, and to be interred in the gloomy cavern which concealed its base. The sad ceremony begins; and a holy friar, who had watched over the infancy of the fallen Laura, performs the obsequies with true devotion. But as her body is laid in the ground, and the last requiem pronounced over her, a man rushes wildly through the crowd, and in an agony of sorrow throws himself into the grave to die with her. The aspect of this man, so worn with misery and remorse, so changed from the once proud De Rancé, unnerves the vengeance even of the father of Laura; and he is left alone with the pious friar, whose charity induces him to attempt the recovery and salvation of the miserable wretch before him. These labours of love are finally successful; De Rancé is conveyed to a peasant's cottage, where the example of its happy and virtuous inhabitants, and the lessons of the good father, awaken in his mind a true repentance, and lead him to seek for peace in the truths of Religion. But the energies of his powerful mind can be contented with no middle course. His penitence must be as severe as his crimes were flagrant, and the reclaimed De Rancé ends his days as the strictest and most austere observer of the rigid laws of the Monastery of La Trappe.
The story, as will be seen, is extremely simple; and the dearth of incidents gives occasion to Mr. Cunningham to introduce a large portion of moral remark and declamation. This is always perilous; for as nothing is so easy as to put serious reflections and pious sentiments into verse, the writer is glad to relieve himself from the difficult task of animated narrative and faithful description, by indulging in the flowery field of declamation; and he fills page after page, without remembering that the pleasure with