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William Hazlitt.

Lectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. online

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Online LibraryWilliam HazlittLectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. → online text (page 25 of 38)
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Through some odd process of servile logic, it should seem, that in
restoring the claims of the Stuarts by the courtesy of romance, the
House of Brunswick are more firmly seated in point of fact, and the
Bourbons, by collateral reasoning, become legitimate ! In any other
point of view, we cannot possibly conceive how Sir Walter imagines
f he has done something to revive the declining spirit of loyalty ' by
these novels. His loyalty is founded on ivould-le treason : he props
the actual throne by the shadow of rebellion. Does he really think
of making us enamoured of the ' good old times ' by the faithful and
harrowing portraits he has drawn of them ? Would he carry us back
to the early stages of barbarism, of clanship, of the feudal system as
* a consummation devoutly to ■ be wished ? ' Is he infatuated
enough, or does he so dote and drivel over his own slothful and
self-willed prejudices, as to believe that he will make a single convert
to the beauty of Legitimacy, that is, of lawless power and savage
bigotry, when he himself is obliged to apologise for the horrors he
describes, and even render his descriptions credible to the modern
reader by referring to the authentic history of these delectable
times ? l He is indeed so besotted as to the moral of his own story,

1 'And here we cannot but think it necessary to offer some better proof than
the incidents of an idle tale, to vindicate the melancholy representation of
manners which has been just laid before the reader. It is grievous to think that
those valiant Barons, to whose stand against the crown the liberties of England
were indebted for their existence, should themselves have been such dreadful
oppressors, and capable of excesses, contrary not only to the laws of England, but

231



THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE

that he has even the blindness to go out of his way to have a fling at
flints and dungs (the contemptible ingredients, as he would have us
believe, of a modern rabble) at the very time when he is describing a
mob of the twelfth century — a mob (one should think) after the
writer's own heart, without one particle of modern philosophy or
revolutionary politics in their composition, who were to a man, to a
hair, just what priests, and kings, and nobles let them be, and who
were collected to witness (a spectacle proper to the times) the
burning of the lovely Rebecca at a stake for a sorceress, because she
was a Jewess, beautiful and innocent, and the consequent victim of
insane bigotry and unbridled profligacy. And it is at this moment
(when the heart is kindled and bursting with indignation at the
revolting abuses of self-constituted power) that Sir Walter stops the
press to have a sneer at the people, and to put a spoke (as he thinks)
in the wheel of upstart innovation ! This is what he ' calls backing
his friends ' — it is thus he administers charms and philtres to our
love of Legitimacy, makes us conceive a horror of all reform, civil,
political, or religious, and would fain put down the Spirit of the Age.
The author of Waverley might just as well get up and make a speech
at a dinner at Edinburgh, abusing Mr. Mac-Adam for his improve-
ments in the roads, on the ground that they were nearly impassable in
many places * sixty years since ' ; or object to Mr. Peel's Police-Bill,
by insisting that Hounslow-Heath was formerly a scene of greater
interest and terror to highwaymen and travellers, and cut a greater
figure in the Newgate Calendar than it does at present. — Oh !
\\ icklifF, Luther, Hampden, Sidney, Somers, mistaken Whigs, and
thoughtless Reformers in religion and politics, and all ye, whether
poets or philosophers, heroes or sages, inventors of arts or sciences,

to thos- of nature and humanity. But alas ! we have only to extract from the

industrious Henry one of those numerous passages which he has collected from

contemporary historians, to prove that fiction itself can hardly reach the dark

. of th>- horrors of the perion.

'The description given by the author of the Saxon Chronicle of the cruelties

ised in the reign of King Stephen by the great barons and lords of castles,

who were all Normans, affords a strong proof of the excesses of which they were

capable when their passions were inflamed. " They grievously oppressed the poor

le by building castles; and when they were built, they filled them with

Wicked men or rntW devils, who seized both men and women who they imagined

had any money, threw them into prison, and put them to more cruel tortures

the martyrs ever endured. They suffocated some in mud, and suspended

then by the feet, or the head, or the thumbs, kindling fires below them. They

ads of some with knotted cords till they pierced their brains, while

threw '.thers into dungeons swarming with serpents, snakes, and toads."




Online LibraryWilliam HazlittLectures on the English poets : [and] The spirit of the age; or contemporary portraits. → online text (page 25 of 38)