Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

an ass.

rather, I was shocked to find my pride so humbled. “ How! (said I to myself) has the traitor, then, made a jest of me? His design in accosting my landlord in the street was only to pump him; or perhaps they understand one another. Ah! simple Gil Blas! Go hang thyself for shame, for having given such rascals an opportunity of turning thee into ridicule! I suppose they'll trump up a fine story of this affair, which will reach Oviedo, and doubtless do thee a great deal of honour, and make thy parents repent their having thrown away so much good counsel on

Instead of exhorting me not to wrong anybody, they ought to have cautioned me against the knavery of the world."

Chagrined with these mortifying reflections, and inflamed with resentment, I locked myself in my chamber and went to bed, where, however, I did not sleep; for before I could close my eyes, the carrier came to let me know he was ready to set out, and only waited for me. I got up instantly; and while I put on my clothes, Corcuelo brought me a bill, in which, I assure you, the trout was not forgotten; and I was not only obliged to gratify his exorbitance, but I had also the mortification to perceive, while I counted the money, that the sarcastic knave remembered my adventure. After having paid sauce for a supper which I had so ill digested, I went to the muleteer with my bags, wishing the parasite, the innkeeper, and his inn, at the devil.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Mrs. RADCLIFFE, a beautiful little woman of delicate constitution and sequestered habits, as fond, as her own heroines, of lonely sea-shores, picturesque mountains, and poetical meditations, perfected that discovery of the capabilities of an old house or castle for exciting a romantic interest, which lay ready to be made in the mind of every child and poet, but which (if Gray did not put it into his head) first suggested itself to the feudal dilletanteism of Horace Walpole. Horace had more genius in him than his contemporaries gave him credit for; but the reputation which his wit obtained him, the material philosophy of the day, and the pursuit of fashionable amusement, did it no good. He lost sight of the line to be drawn between the imposing and the incredible; and though there is real merit in the Castle of Otranto, and even grandeur of imagination, yet the conversion of dreams into gross daylight palpabilities, which nothing short of iron-founders could create-swords that take a hundred men to lift them, and supernatural yet substantial helmets, big as houses and actually serving for prisons -turns the sublime into the ridiculous, and has completely spoilt an otherwise interesting narrative. Mrs. Radcliffe, frightened perhaps by Walpole's failure (for this great mistress of Fear was too often a servant of it), went to another extreme; and except in what she quoted from other story-tellers, resolved all her supernatural effects into commonplace causes. Those effects, however, while they lasted, and every thing else capable of frightening people out of their wits-old haunted houses and corridors, mysterious music, faces behind curtains, cowled and guilty monks, inquisitors, nuns, places to commit murders in, and the murders themselves—she understood to perfection. To dress these in appropriate circumstances, she possessed also the eye of a painter as well as the feeling of a poetess. She conceived to a nicety the effect of a storm on a landscape, the playing of a meteor on the point of a spear, and the sudden appearance of some old castle to which travellers have been long coming, and which they have reasons to fear living in. It has been objected to her that she is too much of a melodramatic writer, and that her characters are inferior to her circumstances; the background (as Hazlitt says) of more importance than the figures. This in a great measure is true; but she has painted characters also, chiefly weak ones, as in the querulous duped aunt in Udolpho, and the victim of error, St. Pierre, in the Romance of the Forest. It must be considered, however, that her effects, however produced, are successful, and greatly successful ; and that Nature herself deals in precisely such effects, leaving men to be operated upon by them passively, and not to play the chief parts in the process by means of their characters. Mrs. Radcliffe brings on the scene Fear and Terror themselves, the grandeurs of the known world, and the awes of the unknown; and if human beings become puppets in her hands, it is as people in storm and earthquake are puppets in the hands of Nature.

The following passage, from the Mysteries of Udolpho, is one of the most favourite in her writings. Mr. Hazlitt thinks the Provençal tale in it “the greatest treat which Mrs. Radcliffe's pen has provided for the lovers of the marvellous and terrible.” Sir Walter Scott says, “The best and most admired specimen of her art is the mysterious disappearance of Ludovico, after having undertaken to watch for a night in a haunted apartment; and the mind of the reader is finely wound up for some strange catastrophe, by the admirable ghost-story which he is represented as perusing to amuse his solitude, as the scene closes upon him. Neither can it be denied, that the explanation afforded of this mysterious accident is as probable as romance requires, and in itself completely satisfactory.”

What that explanation is, the reader will find at the close of the extract.

THE

THE count gave orders for the north apartments to be

opened and prepared for the reception of Ludovico; but Dorothee, remembering what she had lately witnessed there, feared to obey; and not one of the other servants daring to venture thither, the rooms remained shut up till the time

[ocr errors]

one.

when Ludovico was to retire thither for the night, an hour for which the whole household waited with the greatest impatience.

After supper, Ludovico, by the order of the count, attended him in his closet, where they remained alone for near half an hour, and on leaving which his lord delivered to him a sword.

“ It has seen service in mortal quarrels,” said the count, jocosely, "you will use it honourably no doubt in a spiritual

To-morrow let me hear that there is not one ghost remaining in the château."

Ludovico received it with a respectful bow. You shall be obeyed, my lord,” said he ; “I will engage that no spectre shall disturb the peace of the château after this night."

They now returned to the supper-room, where the count's guests awaited to accompany him and Ludovico to the north apartments; and Dorothee, being summoned for the keys, delivered them to Ludovico, who then led the way,

followed by most of the inhabitants of the château. Having reached the back staircase, several of the servants shrunk back and refused to go further, but the rest followed him to the top of the staircase, where a broad landing-place allowed them to flock round him, while he applied the key to the door, dnring which they watched him with as much eager curiosity as if he had been performing some magical rite.

Ludovico, unaccustomed to the lock, could not turn it, and Dorothee, who had lingered far behind, was called forward, under whose hand the door opened slowly, and her eye glancing within the dusky chamber, she uttered a sudden shriek and retreated. At this signal of alarm the greater part of the crowd hurried down, and the count, Henri, and Ludovico were left alone to pursue the inquiry, who instantly rushed into the apartment, Ludovico with a

[ocr errors]

You see,

drawn sword, which he had just time to draw from the scabbard, the count with a lamp in his hand, and Henry carrying a basket containing provision for the courageous adventurer.

Having looked hastily round the first room, where nothing appeared to justify alarm, they passed on to the second; and here too all being quiet, they proceeded to a third in a more tempered step. The count had now leisure to smile at the discomposure into which he had been surprised, and to ask Ludovico in which room he designed to pass the night.

“ There are several chambers beyond these, your excellenza,” said Ludovico, pointing to a door, " and in one of them is a bed, they say. I will pass the night there; and when I am weary of watching, I can lie down.” Good,” said the count; " let us go on.

these rooms show nothing but damp walls and decaying furniture. I have been so much occupied since I came to the château, that I have not looked into them till now. Remember, Ludovico, to tell the housekeeper to-morrow to throw open these windows. The damask hangings are dropping to pieces; I will have them taken down, and this antique furniture removed.”

“ Dear sir," said Henri, “ here is an arm-chair so massy with gilding, that it resembles one of the state chairs in the Louvre more than anything else.”

“Yes," said the count, stopping a moment to survey it, " there is a history belonging to that chair, but I have not time to tell it ; let us pass on.

This suite runs to a greater extent than I imagined; it is many years since I was in them. But where is the bed-room you speak of, Ludovico ? these are only ante-chambers to the great drawing-room. I remember them in their splendour."

« ZurückWeiter »