Monthly Review, part 1 (1833): 588-9.
“The Wondrous Tale of Alroy” is a romance, written on a
plan, and in a style, altogether original; but how far calculated
to have success, we shall not take upon us to decide.
The great object of the author seems to be to present to
the public a picture of the average character of oriental
life; and in choosing as the period for the time of his illustration,
the twelfth century, he feels that he is justified in the
arrangement, inasmuch as but little difference in manners
and habits has, never since that remote era, been introduced
in the east. The representation of the manners, as they were
formed in the twelfth century, says the author, will therefore
stand good as a description of those of the present day.
The most authentic account which we have of Alroy, shows
him to have been either an enthusiast or an impostor. The
sultan, before whom he was once conducted, made some inquiries
of him; he replied, that he was the Messiah. He seems to have
been well acquainted with magic, and other mysteries peculiar
to those times. At the period of his appearance, the caliphate
was in a condition of rapid decay, which allowed the Seljukian
sultans, or magistrates of the provinces, to be absolute masters
instead of the caliph, who had been left, as it was thought
by Divine command, as governor of the whole. These smaller
sultans had divided the dominions held by the successors of
the Prophet, into four portions, each giving birth to a title;
so that the ancient caliphate was separated into so many jurisdictions,
the rulers of which were called Sultan of Bagdad, Sultan of
Persia, Sultan of Syria, and Sultan of Roum, or Asia Minor;
but the common vice of luxury soon corrupted these sultans,
and it was not until they saw the whole country threatened
by the invasion of the kings of Karasme, that they began to
consider the danger of their situation. The Arabian power
sustained also not a little prejudice from that of the Hebrew.
In the east, the Jews, upon the destruction of Jerusalem,
were in the habit of holding periodical meetings for all purposes
of jurisdiction and internal regulations. At their head was
a native ruler, who was said to be a descendant of David,
and to whom they gave the title of “The Prince of Captivity.”
These princes were still in existence, when Alroy rose to
fix the attention of the eastern world by his powers of mind.
The nature of this romance is not such as will allow us
to delay long upon it: it is altogether a mere emanation of
an eccentric fancy rioting in its own licentiousness, and
giving shapes and forms to the ideal superstitions of the
dark ages. The style is elevated to the scale of the formal
and primitive character of Ossian’s poems, and savours more
of the arrangement which belongs to metrical poetry, than
that which is natural to prose.
In justifying the employment of the strange style which
he has formed, the writer admits that it is one of his own
invention. Conscious of the hazard which attends so bold an
experiment, he has not resolved upon coming before the public
with his discovery, without previous meditation, as well as
examination of its qualities. Notwithstanding the precautions
of our author, we fear that he has not been quite successful
in exempting himself from all objection on the score of his
style; at all events, we feel quite certain that few will
be found in his train as voluntary imitators.