« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
its result has always been a confused amalgamation of opinions and doctrines, having no affinity, no connection with each other, and it has thus served to retard rather than to promote the cause of truth. We submit the above remarks, already too much protracted, to the candid consideration of our readers.
ZENOBIA AND PROBUS.
Zenobia : Or, Letters of Lucius M. Piso, from Palmyra,
to his Friend Marcus CURTIUS, at Rome. Now first translated and published. 2 vols. New York and
Boston. 1838. Probus : Or, Rome in the third Century, in Letters of
Lucius M. Piso, from Rome, to Fausta, Daughter of GRACCHUS, in Palmyra. 2 vols. New York and Boston. 1838.
These interesting volumes, understood to be from the pen of Rev. William Ware, have deservedly risen to a high place in our contemporary literature. We have long been abundantly supplied with stories founded on the incidents of modern history, and showing almost every phase of modern society, from the wild fanaticism of the crusaders, down to the savage ferocity and warrior fortitude of our own Indians. We are, therefore, the more disposed to welcome the appearance of works, that carry us beyond the region which has so often been described, and open before us the scenes of a period, which, to the student of history, is filled with events of momentous interest. When we call to mind the number of those who, since the publication of the earliest of the Waverley novels, have risen to a respectable eminence in the literature of fiction, we are more than ever impressed with the immense variety of aspects under which this manycolored life of ours may be viewed. It was formerly contended, that the materials of romance must be drawn from the incidents of a past age, lest fancy and fact should
seem too much to contradict each other, and that which actually happened, and that which only is likely to have happened, should stand in contrasts too bold and striking. But this idea seems recently to have been abandoned. For we have now served up, in the forms of fashionable romance, not only historical events, occurring within our own personal recollection, but incidents of private life, which date back but two or three years, and even the “sayings and doings” of the last season at some of our innumerable places of public resort. These, worthless as they often are, constitute the principal reading of a considerable portion of society. We almost think it in vain longer to cry out against them, and are beginning to settle down in patient waiting for the progress of higher intelligence, and better taste, and more than all, of a purer morality, to accomplish what we once thought might be effected by a speedier reform.
To be a successful writer of historical romance, requires powers and labors, corresponding to those which belong to the writer of history itself. They must both accurately study the features, and thoroughly comprehend the spirit, of the age of which they write. They must alike be endowed with a power of generalization, that can reduce the mass of facts and events to the principles on which they depend, and a vigor of imagination, and a faculty of dramatic exhibition, which shall avoid the dulness and dryness of minute narration, and combine the scattered details into forms of enduring interest and beauty. The difference between them is mainly in this; that the historian is content with setting forth the striking and general characteristics of a period, with portraying the revolutions that agitate the surface of society, and delineating the characters who stand forth as the leaders and representatives of the generation to which they belong; while the writer of romance, guided by the unchanging principles of our common nature, enters the retreats of private life, exhibits the subordinate incidents, which history does not stoop to notice, and portrays the passions and interests, the magnanimity and meanness, that controlled the daily actions of men. The one narrates only what might have happened in such an age as that described; the other relates what actually did happen, and what, indeed, gave character to the age itself. In history, we have the truth of fact, and of course, that of nature, too; in historical romance, the truth of nature alone. When both are written with equal fidelity, and with a like conscientious regard to the interests of truth and virtue, they awaken the same sympathies with mankind, and teach the same lessons of human nature and divine providence. The difference between these two forms of history is not unlike the difference between the conceptions of a mind endowed with an active and ardent imagination, and those of a cool and unimaginative mind, on reading the same narration of facts. Suppose the narrative be of a battle-scene. To the reader destitute of of imagination, it presents the statistics of the conflict, the numbers and positions of the contending hosts, the issue of the contest, and an estimate of the loss sustained by either army, and here and there a striking incident mingling in with the thread of the narrative; while before the mind of the other there arises the scene, in all its reality and fearful sublimity. His fancy lingers over it, until he seems to see the fiery leaders, charging at the head of their embattled legions, their banners fluttering gaily in the breeze, and their music stimulating their martial prowess. The field of battle seems spread around him, and he gazes upon its groups of dying and dead, and hears the sigh at the thought of friends who are away, the parting prayer, the agonizing groan, the shriek of death, until he is forced to turn away, saddened at the spectacle which his fancy has presented before him.
The volumes, which we have placed at the head of this article, belong to the species of literature we have now been discussing. Both these works, taken together, constitute a continuous historical romance, of which the first part relates to Palmyra, and closes with the fall of that renowned seat of eastern empire; and the second relates entirely to Rome, and closes with the death of the emperor Aurelian. They are an attempt at the reproduction of the close of the third century of the Christian era, a period when Palmyra, in the full meridian of her shortlived glory, was reposing beneath the benignant sway of the great Zenobia, and when Rome, maddened with the victories, and crowned with the wealth which a thousand years of almost perpetual war had heaped upon her, was mustering her armies for yet new conquests, and holding
the world in awe of her power. Lucius Manlius Piso, a Roman patrician, of ancient family, is called to Palmyra, to endeavor to ascertain the fate of his brother Calpurnius, who, along with the emperor Valerian, had been carried into captivity, by Sapor, king of Persia, and while residing in the east, becomes an intimate visiter at the court of Zenobia, and writes of the affairs and fate of her kingdom, to his friend Marcus Curtius, at Rome. These letters constitute the first of the works we have mentioned above. The second consists of letters written by the same patrician, to his friends in Palmyra, after his return to Rome. The author, we think, has shown his judgment in selecting the form of letters, since romance, as now understood, is a species of literature wholly unknown to any period of classic antiquity; and there would have been a singular impropriety in supposing a manuscript story, after the model of a modern novel, to have been discovered among the scattered remains of Roman literature. The style, though occasionally careless, and now and then too decidedly modern, for a work professing to come from so remote an age, is yet, on the whole, admirably fitted to the character assumed by the author, and indicates a mind, not only well stored with the learning of the period which he describes, but unusually familiar with the epistolary forms of Latin antiquity. Saving the halo of romance which is thrown over it, all the language is constantly reminding us of the letters of Cicero and Pliny the younger, and the other specimens of Latin composition which have come down to us.
The author, as we have already suggested, has entered upon a field of romance hitherto almost unoccupied. With here and there an exception, the writers of fiction, in our language, have drawn their materials from the incidents of modern history, and left the ancient world, with its peculiar institutions, its mysterious mythologies, and strange and varied forms of public and private character, its wars, its tumults and crimes, all to be illustrated upon the pages of veritable history alone. Of all the periods of antiquity, none furnishes so rich materials for a sober, historical drama or romance, as that transition period, when the long-decaying power and valor of the Roman empire were rapidly becoming extinct, and when, amidst the expiring glories of the pagan worship, Christianity
was emerging from her Galilean obscurity, and hastening, over fallen shrines and deserted temples, to climb the summits of the capitol, and "place upon her brow the diadem of the Cæsars.” It is a portion of this period, that the author has selected, to portray in these volumes. A period, more filled with historic and romantic interest, could hardly have been chosen, from the whole range of history. On the one hand, is the majestic fabric of the Roman empire, its massy frame-work, bearing the marks which the vices and crimes of centuries had graven upon it, beginning to give signs of the universal ruin, that, in a subsequent age, was so fearfully consummated. Its allconquering legions are abroad over every plain, and along every frontier; its early patriotism has become nearly extinct; its ancient faith, descending from the founders of the city, is fast dying away in the minds of the people, and, amidst the scepticism and licentiousness that every where succeed, there appears the benignant form of Christianity, diffusing her gentle influences over the humble walks of life, shedding her mild light upon the mysteries which philosophy had toiled in vain to solve, and kindling in the hearts, alike of the ignorant and the learned, aspirations for a purer virtue, and faith in a nobler destiny than poetry, in its brightest visions, had ever revealed. On the other hand is Palmyra, the city of Palms, rising from an unknown origin, almost the only oasis in the desert that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, gathering within its narrow limits the resources and energies of the east, and beneath the sway of the beauteous and ambitious Zenobia, putting forth its power, in proud rivalry even with the imperial city of the Cæsars. It is the relations subsisting between subjects like these, and the vast machinery of incidents that spring from these relations, and suggest themselves to every mind, that our author has illustrated in the volumes before us.
The “Letters from Palmyra,” present, as their leading subject of interest, no less a personage than Zenobia herself, of whom Gibbon gives the following (for him at least) glowing description :
“ Modern Europe has produced several illustrious women, who have sustained with glory the weight of empire ; nor is our own age destitute of such distinguished characters. But, if we except the