Of Thalaba—the wild and wondrous song.
The preface to the present volumes informs us that they include a reprint of the book of travels, of which a small private edition passed through the press forty years ago, and of the existence of which—though many of our readers must have heard some hints—few could have had any knowledge. Mr. Beckford has at length been induced to publish his letters, in order to vindicate his own original claim to certain thoughts, images, and expressions, which had been adopted by other authors whom he had from time to time received beneath his roof, and indulged with a perusal of his secret lucubrations. The mere fact that such a work has lain for near half-a-century, printed but unpublished, would be enough to stamp the author’s personal character as not less extraordinary than his genius. It is, indeed, sufficiently obvious that Mr. Rogers had read it before he wrote his “Italy “—a poem, however, which possesses so many exquisite beauties entirely its own, that it may easily afford to drop the honour of some, perhaps unconsciously, appropriated ones; and we are also satisfied that this book had passed through Mr. Moore’s hands before he gave us his light and graceful “Rhymes on the Road,” though the traces of his imitation are rarer than those which must strike everyone who is familiar with the “Italy.” We are not so sure as to Lord Byron; but, although we have not been able to lay our finger on any one passage in which he has evidently followed Mr. Beckford’s vein, it will certainly rather surprise us should it hereafter be made manifest that he had not seen, or at least heard an account of, this performance, before he conceived the general plan of his “Childe Harold.” Mr. Beckford’s book is entirely unlike any book of travel in prose that exists in any European language; and if we could fancy Lord Byron to have written the “Harold” in the measure of “Don Juan,” and to have availed himself of the facilities which the ottima rima affords for intermingling high poetry with merriment of all sorts, and especially with sarcastic sketches of living manners, we believe the result would have been a work more nearly akin to that now before us than any other in the library.
Mr. Beckford, like “Harold,” passes through various regions of the world, and, disdaining to follow the guide-book, presents his reader with a series of detached, or very slenderly connected sketches of the scenes that had made the deepest impression upon himself. He, when it suits him, puts the passage of the Alps into a parenthesis. On one occasion, he really treats Rome as if it had been nothing more than a post station on the road from Florence to Naples; but, again, if the scenery and people take his fancy, “he has a royal reluctance to move on, as his own hero showed when his eye glanced on the grands caracteres rouges, traces par la main de Carathis?... Qui me donnera des loix?— s’ecria le Caliphe.”