This is the first installment of a complete critical edition of Godwin’s ten contributions to his Juvenile Library. It makes available for the first time since 1824 the first text that Godwin both authored and published under his own imprint,...
The Athenæum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts. No. 280 (9 March 1833): 150-1.
THOSE who read to the fortieth page of this tale, then close the work for ever and call the author a wild enthusiast who deals in extravagant legends and supernatural fictions, will do him the greatest injustice. Wild his work is assuredly—extravagant sometimes to our wish, and supernatural even to the very limits of poetic belief; but the genius is stamped on every page: feelings such as the muse delights in abound, nay overflow, while a true heroic loftiness of soul, such as influenced devout men of old when they warred for their country, glows and flashes through the whole narrative. Nor is this all—there is a deep infusion of the spirit of Judah in it—not the fallen and money-changing spirit of these our latter days, but of that martial and devout spirit which kindled in the Hebrew bosoms of old, when their daughters sung “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” We have been moved as we were in our youth, when, with the Bible on our knees, we sat wondering over the doings of the heroes of Israel. Carmel is again before us, and Jerusalem with all her banners.
Alroy is a young prince of the house of Judah, who, roused by a sense of oppression and a feeling of heroism, raised in the twelfth century the banner of his people, restored for a time the fortunes of the nation, but finally sunk in the contest, dying, as he had lived, a poet and a hero. The author—the younger D'Israeli, we believe—has renounced the ordinary manner of legend writers, and imagined a style in harmony with his subject—more melodious, more elevated, more poetic, in short, than what is now the pleasure of story-tellers to use. The following is his own account of what he perhaps rather rashly considers an invention.
“As for myself, I never hesitate, although I discard verse, to have recourse to rhythm whenever I consider its introduction desirable, and occasionally even to rhyme. There is no doubt that the style in which I have attempted to write this work is a delicate and difficult instrument for an artist to handle. He must not abuse his freedom. He must alike beware the turgid and the bombastic, the meagre and the mean. He must be easy in his robes of state, and a degree of elegance and dignity must accompany him even in the camp and the market-house. The language must rise gradually with the rising passions of the speakers, and subside in harmonious unison with their sinking emotions.”
The use of this new style has produced great defects, for the author is not seldom stilted and extravagant; it has produced also great beauties, for it has frequently—very frequently—given a buoyancy of thought and an elevation of sentiment, in harmony with the ruling spirit of the narrative. There are, for instance, both faults and beauties in the following description of his hero’s horse: —
“Short time I ween that stately steed had parted from his desert home; his haughty crest, his eye of fire, the glory of his snorting nostril, betokened well his conscious pride, and pure nobility of race. His colour was like the sable night shining with a thousand stars, and he pawed the ground with his delicate hoof, like an eagle flapping its wing.”
The same may be said of the scene in the great desert, where Alroy, lying exhausted beside his horse, which had died from fatigue, is surrounded by jackals, and awakened by a lion.
“The jackals again collected around their garbage. The lion advanced to the fountain to drink. He beheld a man. His mane rose, his tail was wildly agitated, he bent over the sleeping Prince, he uttered an awful roar, which woke Alroy.
“He awoke; his gaze met the flaming eyes of the enormous beast fixed upon him with a blended feeling of desire and surprise. He awoke, and from a swoon; but the dreamless trance had refreshed the exhausted energies of the desolate wanderer; in an instant he collected his senses, remembered all that had past, and comprehended his present situation. He returned the lion a glance as imperious, and fierce, and scrutinizing as his own. For a moment their flashing orbs vied in regal rivalry; but at length the spirit of the mere animal yielded to the genius of the man. The lion cowed, slunk away, stalked with haughty timidity through the rocks, and then sprang into the forest.”
We can spare space, at present, only for a passage of a different character; we have seldom met with any scene more lively, or more eastern. Alroy is found, almost expiring, in the desert by a caravan of pious Moslems.
“Abdallah was the favourite slave of the charitable merchant Ali. In obedience of his master’s orders, he unwillingly descended from his camel, and examined the body of the apparently lifeless Alroy.
“‘A Kourd, by his dress,’ exclaimed Abdallah, with a sneer, ‘what does he here?’
“‘It is not the face of a Kourd,’ replied Ali, ‘perchance a pilgrim from the mountains?’
“‘Whatever he be, he is dead,’ answered the slave: ‘I doubt not an accursed Giaour.’
“‘God is great,’ exclaimed Ali, ‘he breathes; the breast of his caftan heaved.’
“‘’Twas the wind,’ said Abdallah.
“‘’Twas the sigh of a human heart,’ answered Ali.
“Several pilgrims who were on foot had now gathered round the group.
“‘I am a Hakim,’ observed a dignified Armenian. ‘I will feel his pulse; ’tis dull, but it beats.’
“‘There is but one God,’ exclaimed Ali.
“‘And Mahomed is his prophet,’ responded Abdallah. ‘You do not believe in him, you Armenian infidel.’
“‘I am a Hakim,’ replied the dignified Armenian. ‘Although an infidel, God has granted me skill to cure true believers. Worthy Ali, believe me, the boy may yet live.’
“‘Hakim, you shall count your own dirhems if he breathe in my divan in Bagdad,’ answered Ali; ‘I have taken a fancy to the boy. God has sent him to me. He shall carry my slippers.’
“‘Give me a camel, and I will save his life.’
“‘We have none,’ said the servant.
“‘Walk, Abdallah,’ said the master.
“‘Is a true believer to walk to save the life of a Kourd? Master slipper-bearer shall answer for this, if there be any sweetness in the bastinado,’ murmured Abdallah.
“The Armenian blooded Alroy; the blood flowed slowly but surely. The Prince of the Captivity opened his eyes.
“‘There is but one God!’ exclaimed Ali.
“‘The evil eye fall on him!’ muttered Abdallah.
“The Armenian took a cordial from his vest, and poured it down his patient’s throat. The blood flowed more freely.
“‘He will live, worthy merchant,’ said the physician.
“‘And Mahomed is his prophet,’ continued Ali.
“‘By the stone of Mecca, I believe it is a Jew,’ shouted Abdallah.
“‘The dog!’ exclaimed Ali.
“‘Pah!’ said a negro-slave, drawing back with disgust.
“‘He will die,’ said the Christian physician, not even binding up the vein.
“‘And be damned,’ said Abdallah, jumping again on his camel.
“The party rode on, the caravan proceeded. A Kourdish horseman galloped forward. He curbed his steed as he passed Alroy bleeding to death.
“‘What accursed slave has wounded one of my clan?’
“The Kourd jumped off his horse, stripped off a slip of his blue shirt, stanched the wound, and carried the unhappy Alroy to the rear.”
To the tale of Alroy the author has added the history of a Christian hero placed in a somewhat similar situation, but achieving a happier end.
It will soon be heard and seen what the world and the critics say regarding the poetic style of the author of ‘Alroy.’ For ourselves, we think he is right to a certain extent: the finest passages in all works which have moved us most, partake of the poetic character; if a page of history lingers on our memory, and many do, it is one in which the muse has had her influence in language as well as thought.