Page images

taken the lead in a line of composition, appealing to those powerful and general sources of interest, a latent sense of supernatural awe, and curiosity concerning whatever is hidden and mysterious ; and if she has been ever nearly approached in this walk, which we should hesitate to affirm, it is at least certain, that she has never been excelled or even equalled.

We have been given to understand, we trust from good authority, that a posthumous work of Mrs Radcliffe's is likely soon to make its appearance. Come when it will, and contain almost what it may, it must be an acquisition to the public of no common interest.? the case with all the productions of a strong and original genius. Her heroines too nearly resemble each other, or rather they possess hardly any shade of difference. They have all blue eyes and auburn hair-the form of each of them has the airy lightness of a nymph'-they are all fond of watching the setting sun, and catching the purple tints of evening, and the vivid glow or fading splendour of the western horizon. Unfortunately they are all likewise early risers. I say unfortunately, for in every exigency Mrs Radcliffe's heroines are provided with a pencil and paper, and the sun is never allowed to rise nor set in peace. Like Tilburina in the play, they are • inconsolable to the minuet in Ariadne,' and in the most distressing circumstances find time to compose sonnets to sunrise, the bat, a sea-nymph, a lily, or a butterfly.”—Dunlop's History of Fiction, vol. iii., p. 387.]

i [As this sheet is passing through the press, the Editor observes the announcement of the “ Poetical Works of Mrs Ann Radcliffe, now first collected, in two volumes, 8vo;" but whether the poetical Romance previously alluded to by Sir Walter Scott is to be included in this publication, does not appear.—May, 1834.]


We must on the present, as on former occasions, commence our biographical sketch of a delightful author, with the vain regret, that we can say little of his private life which can possibly interest the public. The distinguished men of genius, whom, after death, our admiration is led almost to canonize, have the lot of the holy men, who, spending their lives in obscurity, poverty, and maceration, incur contempt, and perhaps persecution, to have shrines built for the protection of their slightest relics, when once they are no more. Like the life of so many of those who have contributed most largely to the harmless enjoyments of mankind, that of Le Sage was laborious, obscure, and supported with difficulty by the precarious reward of his literary exertions.

ALAIN RENE LE SAGE was born in a village near to the town of Vannes, in Britanny, about the year 1668. The profession of his father is not mentioned ; but as he bequeathed some property to his son, he conld not be of the very lowest rank. Unfortunately he died early, and his son fell under the tutelage of an uncle, so careless of one of the most sacred duties of humanity, that he neglected alike the fortune and education of his ward. The latter defect was in a great measure supplied by the

affection of the Père Bochard of the order of the Jesuits, Principal of the College of Vannes, who, interested in the talents displayed by the young Le Sage, took pleasure in cultivating his taste for literature. Our author, however, must have been late in attracting Bochard's notice ; for when he came to Paris in 1693, in his twenty-fifth year, his principal object was to prosecute his philosophical studies, with what ultimate view does not appear.

With good-humour and liveliness, joined to youth, and, it is said, a remarkably handsome person, Le Sage soon felt the influence of the Parisian atmosphere, was much engaged in society, and distinguished by an intrigue with a woman of rank, who shared with him, as his biographer expresses it, her heart and fortune. How this amour terminated we are not told, but one of a better and more virtuous character succeeded. Le Sage became enamoured of a beautiful young woman, the daughter of a joiner in the Rue de la Mortellerie, married her, and, from that period, found his principal happiness in domestic affection. By this union he had three sons, whose fortunes we shall afterwards have occasion to mention, and a daughter, whose filial piety is said to have placed her sole occupation in contributing to the domestic enjoyment of her celebrated parent.

Le Sage continued after his marriage to frequent the circles of Paris, where literary men mingled as guests upon easy terms, and appears to have acquired several sincere and active friends, among whom the Abbé de Lyonne entitled himself not only to the author's personal gratitude, but to that of posterity. He settled upon Le Sage a pension of six hundred livres, and made him, besides, many valuable presents, yet served him much more essentially by directing his attention to Spanish literature, which he was afterwards so singularly to combine with that of his own country.

Danchel, a man of some celebrity, engaged Le Sage in a translation of the Letters of Aristenetus, which he caused to be printed at Chartres, (though the title bears Rotterdam,) in 1695.

The particular circumstances of Spain had given a strong cast of originality to the character of their literature. The close neighbourhood of so many petty kingdoms, so frequently engaged in intestine wars, occasioned numerous individual adventures, which could not have taken place under any one established and extended government. The high romantic character of chivalry which was cherished by the natives, the vicinity of the Moors, who had imported with them the wild, imaginative, and splendid fictions of Araby the Blessed—the fierceness of the Spanish passions of love and vengeance, their thirst of honour, their unsparing cruelty,– placed all the materials of romance under the very eye of the author who wished to use them. If his characters were gigantic and overstrained in the conception, the writer had his apology in the temper of the nation where his scene was laid ; if his incidents were extravagant and improbable, a country in which Castilians and Arragoneze, Spaniards and Moors, Mussulmans and Christians, had been at war for so many ages, could furnish historians with real events, which might countenance the boldest flights of the romance. And here it is impossible to avoid remarking, that the French, the gayest people in Europe, have formed their stage on a plan of declamatory eloquence, which all other nations have denounced as intolerable ; while the Spaniard, grave, solemn, and stately, was the first to introduce in the theatre all the bustle of lively and complicated intrigue ;—the flight and the escape, the mask and ladder of ropes, closets, dark-lanterns, trap-doors, and the whole machinery of constant and hurried action ; and that with such a profusion of invention, that the Spanish stage forms a mine in which the dramatic authors of almost all other countries have wrought for ages, and are still working, with very slight chance either of failure or detection.

1 So early as 1704, Le Sage understood the language so well as to give a translation of Avellaneda's Continuation of Don Quixote, which gave so much offence to Cervantes.

Le Sage was not slow in endeavouring to turn to his own advantage his acquaintance with the Spanish drama. He translated from the original of Don Francisco de Rojas, Le Traître Puni. It was not acted, but printed in the year 1700. Another play, Don Felix de Mendoce, he translated from Lope de Vega ; but this also remained unacted, and was not even printed, until the author published his Théâtre, in 1739.

Le Point d'Honneur, another translation from the Spanish, was performed at the Théâtre François, in 1702, without success. The satire turned upon the pedantic punctilios formerly annexed to the discussion of personal “ dependences," as they

« PreviousContinue »