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Art. III.- Traditions of Lancashire. By J. Roby, M.R.S.L. 2 vols.
rp. 659, royal 8vo. Longman and Co. At a period like the present, when the “cacoethes scribendi ” so manifestly pervades all ranks and classes ;-when thé mania for authorship seems to have seized on the nation with as strong a hold as ever did the fury for stock-jobbing ;-when lords and ladies, with laudable anxiety to enlighten the minds and improve the morals of their fellow-creatures, condescend to stock our circulating libraries from the well-furnished stores of their imagination ; it does seem a little extraordinary that so vast a field of entertainment as our country records and traditions present, should have been hitherto unexplored.
Sir Walter Scott, to be sure, has not been an idle manufacturer in this line; but appears rather with the fall of prices to be engaged in working“ double tides,” to keep pace with the increased demand for historical and traditionary information of other days. He has, indeed, drawn with splendid success on the variety of incident and adventure, supplied by the romantic history of his country, and which he has presented to us in so beautiful and varied a dress. Several clever and active writers, also, as we well know, have taken advantage of the traditions of Ireland, and, among some rubbish, several interesting tales have been the result of such profitable research. The legends of Germany and Italy have, moreover, been introduced to us by some distinguished names, connected with the best historical recollections of those countries; which they have shewn to be by no means inferior in interest to any with which we have been brought acquainted. We are, nevertheless, of opinion, that authors of undoubted talent, had hardly need to have been at so much pains to seek out foreign materials on which to exercise their abilities, while richer sources, we suspect, lay open to them, whence they might have drawn with superior reputation to themselves, in their own country.
We do not here allude to writers, who, like Scott, Göethe, and Miss Edgeworth, are natives of those countries whose manners and peculiarities they have so ably illustrated ; but to those of native talent who, in despair of finding such subjects as they had proposed to themselves, directed their inquiries to other channels, and sought foreign ground;—like the tourist, who in his anxiety to visit other shores, is unmindful of the beautiful scenes he leaves behind.
Mr. Roby, however, has not followed their example; he has taken advantage of this unaccountable neglect, and with patriotic zeal, presented us with a series of tales, founded on the current traditions of his native county. The idea of the work was, perhaps, suggested to him by the appearance of the “Romance of English History;" to which in the chronological arrangement of the stories, as well as in their modern embellishment, they bear no little resemblance. The two works, nevertheless, though similar in origin and arrangement, are essentially different, inasmuch as the tales of English romance have been chosen with regard to historical accuracy; whereas the present volumes, though occasionally embracing points of history, seem more particularly directed to the preservation of the fast fading traditions of our ancestors. They at least serve to snatch from oblivion some traits of old times and manners; of the virtues and foibles of characters once famous in their day, into whose castle-halls we are here introduced, and made to participate in all the incidents of their strange and chequered fortunes. Among these figure the names of our British heroes of antiquity, whose "eventful history” has singularly enough been celebrated in the novels and romances of Italy, Spain, and France, while to us they have been only preserved in the snatches of old ballads, or in allusions to the history of our national poetry. Whether“ for good or evil,” their names were once bruited in the ear of fame ; their deeds were the theme of British bards; filled the souls of Britons with emulative fire, and led on the chivalry of our Edwards and our Henries to their fields of triumph upon Gallic and Scottish ground. Names, then, that once acted like a spell upon the soldier,—such names as King Arthur and his knights; of Sir Launcelot, Sir Tristram, and their brave brotherhood, ought not only to be celebrated in foreign song and fiction, but kept alive and imperishable in the historical records of our country. What is more, they deserve the best efforts of the modern novelist and the artist, to set off their high achievements to advantage, rescued from the neglect of ages, and arrayed in the noblest fictions, the art of the poet can invent.
It is time the author, however, should explain his own views; and how far they are in accordance with those we entertain, and with which, we think, the subject would best reward the inquiries of the antiquarian and the novelist. In the first place, we least of all approve the style of Mr. Roby's preface, of which, to use his own words, it might be observed that herein is a piece of egotism, at best rarely needed, generally intrusive, and always tiresome.' Yet, singularly enough, he has thought fit to extend the tiresome tone of it to six well-filled pages—not much to the purpose. Of this preface, too, the most valuable portion has been extracted word for word from Mr. Roscoe's introduction to his series of “ German Novelists,” and is given as the opinion of a German writer, without any acknowledgment. At the close of these six pages, in which the author enters too little into the spirit and feeling of his subject, 'and much more than was called for into his own motives and objects, he yet modestly disclaims all pretensions to superior knowledge.' He does not even pretend to the name of antiquary; no disparagement, we hope, to that learned and august body, and, in
fact," he attempts nothing more than what others might perhaps have done better ;' professions of humility, which we are strongly inclined to discredit; as no one writes a book without he believes himself better informed on the subject than those for whose edification it is intended. Too much of this always reminds us of Coleridge's celebrated lines, in which he speaks of no less a personage than the D— going on a visit to his “ Snug little farm of the earth,” when he spies a cottage,
with coach-house so fine,
Was pride cloathed in humility." Such observations, in this affected tone adopted in some prefaces, it must be confessed but too commonly met with, might be deemed uncalled for, did we not find the author adopting a very different strain, in a conceited motto inserted in the title-page ; wherein he gives us pretty clearly to understand, that being so well satisfied with himself, he would be likely to estimate too highly the abilities of those who differ from him. Be this as it may, we merely notice these little contradictions, and dismiss the consideration for matters of more importance, remarking, by the way, that just criticism is always received with pleasure by truly able and enlightened writers. We feel assured, therefore, that the preceding remarks will not be construed into the slightest feeling of disrespect towards Mr. Roby or his book; we would rather, at all times, bestow praise than censure; and we are happy to observe, in the present instance, that the character and merits of the Traditions of Lancashire,' are such as to suffer little from the slight strictures we have thought it our duty to make.
It is evident that the materials which form the groundwork of the volumes before us, though offering abundant scope for interest and entertainment, are nevertheless meagre and inefficient in their original shape. They are, for the most part, confined to bare details of real or feigned events, without any embellishment from dramatic incident, imagery, or description. They require, therefore, considerable aid from the judgment and fancy of a modern writer, in bringing into view the best points susceptible of illustration, such as are barely hinted at in the original ; and investing them with brighter colours, and a more imposing form. This task Mr. Roby has performed in a very respectable manner; he seems to possess a lively imagination, and his descriptions are frequently striking and effective. Many of his characters are exceedingly well pourtrayed; and the dialogue is well sustained throughout. Occasionally, indeed, there is a redundancy in his style, which, to say the least of it, is unpleasant to those who wish to read their native language free from affectation or extravagance. His imagination
too sometimes appears to run riot, and to exhaust itself in hyperbole and metaphor. Such passages, for instance, as we meet with (in page 213, vol. i.) are by no means uncommon.
• His bushy grey eyebrows threw a strange and almost unnatural shade over the deep recesses beneath, across which, at times, like the foam swept over the dark billows of the spirit, a light and glowing track was visible, marking the powerful conflict within.' —vol. i. p. 213.
This may be considered indeed by some readers, as very fine ; but we must confess, that to us it appears a mistaken and vitiated mode of expression, and which, when forming a style, possesses neither beauty nor common sense. It is here, however, only ad exception to Mr. Roby's general style, which is clear and bold; and we would advise him by no means to allow himself to be carried away by his imagination, so as to lose sight of it, or to fall into occasional affectation and rant. He ought not, in treading the mystic regions of romance, altogether to become estranged from sober realities ; on a future occasion he will do well to remember, that these very exalted flights are utterly incomprehensible to the less soaring faculties of the generality of his readers. Here and there, too, we meet with instances of grammatical inaccuracy; and the frequent repetition of the phrase from whence,' is exceedingly disagreeable ; and though tolerated in the antique style, is a decided barbarism. We have likewise first learned from Mr. Roby, that`ham and eggs, greens and bacon,' are condiments. These are very trivial, but they are not the less errors; and we would just take the liberty of hinting, borrowing by the way a little of his own phraseology, that, “if his memory have played him truant in the rudiments of his native tongue, he will find neither lack of dictionaries nor grammars to expound the same withal.'
We must again repeat, that such inadvertencies cannot be allowed to detract from the positive merit of the work; and were it not in the hope that our remarks will be well received, we certainly should not have volunteered so unpleasant a duty.
The author by no means opens his volumes with their best contents; as Sir Tarquin and the Goblin Builders would by many be considered as not above the calibre of Jack the Giant Killer, and the famous Tom Thumb. They are nevertheless told with spirit, and we dare say may be pleasant enough to those who delight in the remote legends of our land. Mab's Cross is a remarkably good story, though much more might have been made of the materials. It is formed on a popular legend of the Bradshaigh family :- Sir William Bradshaigh, second son to Sir John, was a great traveller, and a souldger, and married to Mabell, daughter and sole heiress of Hugh Norris de Haghe and Blackrode, and had issue, &c.'
Now this Sir William being absent ten years in the wars, was supposed to be dead, and his Lady is compelled to marry a Welch Knight. Her former husband, however, returning in the habit of a Palmer, discovers himself to his lady, and slays his enemy. He
afterwards lives happily with his wife, undergoing only, by way of penance, sentence of outlawry for a year and a day, for the murder, and the said Dame Mabell was enjoined by her confessor to doe penance, by going onest every week barefout and barelegged to a Crosse neare Wigan, from the Haghe, wilest she lived, and is called Mabb to this day, and ther monument lyes in Wigan Church, as you see them ther portrey’d.'
Out of materials, simple as these, the author has contrived to produce a very beautiful story; and we subjoin an extract to give the reader a fair specimen of what he has to expect.
• The hall was nearly cleared; yet the palmer sat, as if still awaiting audience, behind a distant pillar, and deeply pondering, as it might seem, the transactions he had witnessed. The last of their suppliants had departed ere he rose, bending lowly as he approached. The eye of the noble dame suddenly became riveted on him. She was leaning in front of her maidens, beside a richly carved canopy of state, underneath whiclı, on days of feudal hospitality and pomp, presided the master of the banquet. Behind, a long and richly-variegated window poured down a chequered halo of glory around her form. She seemed an angel of light, issuing from that fountain of splendour, and irradiating the whole group with her presence.
““ Reverend pilgrim, thy behest ?” She said this with a shudder of apprehension, as if dreading an answer to her enquiry. The pilgrim spoke not, but advanced.
* The attendants drew aside. A silence, chill and unbroken as the grave, pervaded the assembly. He took from his vest a silver ring. The lady Mabel grasped the well-known signet. With agony, the most heartrending and intense, she exclaimed:
"“ My husband's signet !-Where ?—whence came this pledge ?Speak!" A
pause ensued.- It was one of those short ages of almost insupportable suspense, when the mind, wound up to the keenest susceptibility of endurance, seems vibrating on the verge of annihilation,-as if the next pulse would snap its connexion with the world for ever.
" Lady,” the pilgrim answered, in a low sepulchral tone, “it is a bequest from thy husband. It was his wife's last pledge,-a seal of unchanging fidelity. He bade me seek his dame, and say, ' His last sigh was to her,—his last wish to heaven.”
•Lady Mabel listened—every tone sunk like a barbed arrow to her heart. The voice resembled not that of her deceased husband, yet such was the deceptive influence arising from the painful irritation which her spirits had undergone, that, if reason had not forbidden, her fancy would have invested it with supernatural attributes,—listening to it as though it were a voice from the tomb.
"" For the love I bore, and yet bear, to his most honoured name, tell me, I conjure thee, tell me, his earthly resting-place. My last pilgrimage shall be thither. I will enshrine his hallowed relics, and they shall be a pledge of our union where we shall no more part.”
* The last words were spoken with a solemnity of expression awful and thrilling, beyond the power of language to convey.