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.