It was said, we remember, of Dr. Darwin’s Botanic Garden—that it was the sacrifice of Genius in the Temple of False Taste; and the remark may be applied to the work before us, with the qualifying clause, that in this instance the Genius is less obvious, and the false taste more glaring. No writer of good judgment would have attempted to revive the defunct horrors of Mrs. Radcliffe’s School of Romance, or the demoniacal incarnations of Mr. Lewis: But, as if he were determined not to be arraigned for a single error only, Mr. Maturin has contrived to render his production almost as objectionable in the manner as it is in the matter. The construction of his story, which is singularly clumsy and inartificial, we have no intention to analyze:—many will probably have perused the work, before our review reaches them; and to those who have not, it may be sufficient to announce, that the imagination of the author runs riot, even beyond the usual license of romance;—that his hero is a modern Faustus, who has bartered his soul with the powers of darkness for protracted life, and unlimited worldly enjoyment;—his heroine, a species of insular goddess, a virgin Calypso of the Indian ocean, who, amid flowers and foliage, lives upon figs and tamarinds; associates with peacocks, loxias and monkeys; is worshipped by the occasional visitants of her island; finds her way to Spain, where she is married to the aforesaid hero by the hand of a dead hermit, the ghost of a murdered domestic being the witness of their nuptials; and finally dies in the dungeons of the Inquisition at Madrid!—To complete this phantasmagoric exhibition, we are presented with sybils and misers; parricides; maniacs in abundance; monks with scourges pursuing a naked youth streaming with blood; subterranean Jews surrounded by the skeletons of their wives and children; lovers blasted by lightning; Irish hags, Spanish grandees, shipwrecks, caverns, Donna Claras and Donna Isidoras, all opposed to each other in glaring and violent contrast, and all their adventures narrated with the same undeviating display of turgid, vehement, and painfully elaborated language. Such are the materials, and the style of this expanded nightmare: And as we can plainly perceive, among a certain class of writers, a disposition to haunt us with similar apparitions, and to describe them with a corresponding tumor of words, we conceive it high time to step forward and abate a nuisance which threatens to become a besetting evil, unless checked in its outset.
Political changes were not the sole cause of the rapid degeneracy in letters that followed the Augustan era of Rome. Similar corruptions and decay have succeeded to the intellectual eminence of other nations; and we might be almost led to conclude, that mental as well as physical power, after attaining a certain perfection, became weakened by expansion, and sunk into a state of comparative imbecility, until time and circumstance gave it a new progressive impetus.