MR. E. BULWER'S LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.
A SOJOURN at Naples, a visit to Pompeii, and an examination of the relics of the buried city collected in the Neapolitan Museum, suggested to Mr. BULWER the idea of his work. His object was to give to the world a representation of classical life as it appeared in the manners, amusements, and superstitions Of the ancients. His judgment would have accomplished the task by means of a novel : his fancy or genius appears to have better liked a romance. Hence there is a mixture of the common and the strange, the possible and the fabulous, which creates harsh discord, rather than variety or contrast; and it unluckily happens that the wild and wonderful form the main part of the plot. It is evident too, that, with the excitement natural to genius Mr. BULWER commenced the attempt as soon as he conceived it, and without more preparation than the facts of his tour and the general classical reading of an elegant scholar could supply. It may there- • fore be supposed that the Last Days of Pompeii is not one of Mr. BULWER'S most successful efforts. It is not a representation of life as it is, as it was, or even as it could have been. Neither are faults or deficiencies in the characters and manners redeemed by a well-conceived and finely-developed story, or by such a fe- licity of execution as would compel us to overlook all other defects. Passages of eloquence, touches of truth and brilliancy, may of course be found: there is that peculiar turn — sometimes happy, sometimes beautiful, sometimes forcible — which seems the essential property of this writer : there are also several lyrical pieces scattered about, which, though not equal to the "Lament of the Last Faun," are not unworthy of the author: but the whole, when weighed in the critical balance, will be found wanting. The main story is of that kind which JOHNSON declared was found on every stage except SHAIESPEAReS. There is "a lover, a ,
lady, and a rival," and that rival is the/ villain of the piece. The name of this person is Arbaces. He is an Egyptian, and a magi-
cian. His.wealth is great, his rogueries are greater ; but his luxu-
ries and his gayeties yield to nothing save his skill in tnagic, his knowledge of mankind, and his pedigree; this last putting to shame the Brydgean, the Confucian, and the Cambrian ge- nealogies, for it is traced (by himself) to Rameses the ancient Egyptian King. When the story opens, he is fast approaching forty — the age at which rakes settle. He hast fixed his eyes upon his ward, lone: but Glaucus — a sort of Grecian Mr. Pel- ham, with less of foppery and more of feeling — is a successful Tival. The Egyptian first calumniates the Greek ; but this fail- king, he inveigles lone to his house, and offers force. Being fbiled unexpectedly by an earthquake, he is thrown, as sailors say, upon his beam-ends; and the story must have stopped hail he not luckily got an opportunity of murdering Aptecides, the bro- ther of lone, and laying the crime upon Glaucus. It was not, however, perpetrated so secretly but that it was observed by one
• Calenus, a priest of Isis and a creature of Arbaces. This worthy, on the eve of the second day's trial, comes to the accuser, ex- plains his knowledge of the facts, demands an enormous reward, and is inveigled by Arbaces into a subterranean dungeon, where he is locked in and left to starve. In the mean time, the trial goes on : Glaucns is convicted, and condemned to be exposed to a lion in the amphitheatre. A blind girl — another of the Egyptian's prisoners—has, however, heard enough to raise her suspicions: she has a conference with Calenus through the keyhole, and contrives to write and send a letter to Sallust the night before the execution. This friend of Glauens is an Epicu- tean: the epistle reaches him when he is too drtnik to read it ; but on waking in the morning, he instantly marches Oil with his people to the 1?,gypt;an's house, and releasing Calenus, proceeds with him to the theatre. In a common way, he would have arrived to late; but the lion had refused to attack Glaucus,—owing, we are led to infer, to the sultriness of the weather, symptomatic of the coming eruption. The mob, thirsting for blood, are about to seize upon Arbaces ; when the eruption itself bursts 11,rth, and the:.e is a general satire qui petit movement. Poetical justice is inflicted at last, not by the march of events, but by the march of lava and of lightning. Arbaces is killed by a falling column ; the other bad or indifferent characters of the romance are stifled or smothered ; but lone, Gluticus, and Sallust get clean off, the latter settling at Rome, the two former at Athens, where they turn Christians.
The story rather gains by compression, and by the omission of episodes and of minutice. Yet it will be seen, even from the abridgment, that the fable is not one of those where the character and the events are so artfully adapted to each other, that the actor colours the circumstance, and that, let the same thing hap- pen to another person, the enct would be different. Neither is it what is called a carefully-constructed story, where each event seems to influence the others, and the whole forms a connected chain, from which if one link be removed the series is destroyed. Some of the circumstances are incidents, many mere accidents. The effect produced is melodramatic—dependent upon situation, not passion ; and the interest is of the kind inspired by the falling of a ladder or a pistol's missing fire.
On a former occasion, we gave our reasons for deeming that an- cient life was ill-adapted to works of fiction ; on account of our scanty knowledge of the manners, as well as from their remote- ness and contrast to our own, which consequently deprived them of our sympathy. Mr. BULWER, in his introduction, seems to consider that exactness is not necessary ; nor is it. "Inaccuracies, errors of inadvertence or forgetfulness," are nothing. The diffi- culty is to catch the antique spirit; which is ill-achieved by giving to ancient fops the tone and language of modern dandies, or by merely substituting at an entertainment ancient for modern cus- toms. A contemporary, indeed, seems rather to consider ignorance an advantage. Unable to render a positive reason for his raptures, the critic gravely states, that " the manners, the customs, the habits of life, which lie (the author) had now to describe, were all foreign to him ; therefore he could not draw from his own expe- rience, by which he has ever been to a limited extent cabined and shut in : " and hence he infers" the entire mastery over the subject," which he conceives to be exhibited. But, be we right or wrong in our notion as to the fitness of classic subjects for novels, we have little doubt about the difficulty attendant upon the one chosen. If earthquakes and volcanoes are to be made the machinery of a tale —not mere episodes (be it observed) to be described, but events to be interwoven—there appears to be little room for the display of " artistical power," or for the creation of human interest. The agents are too mighty for the actors to grapple with; their effects can neither be foreseen, nor avoided, nor controlled ; as no one can calculate upon their return, they afford neither illus- trations of life nor rules of conduct; and as they make no dis- tinction of persons, the good can only be saved ani the bad punished by miracle. They scarcely furnish a fit subject for bril- liant or eloquent description: their horrors are best painted in a simple and exact narrative.
Our extracts must be brief. One of the best episodes of the work is the games in the amphitheatre. It is described with ani- mation, and something of a living interest is thrown into it. The following is a specimen.
THE COMBAT AND DEATH 01 A GLADIATOR.
Sporus now tried, by great rapidity of evolution, to get round his antagonist, who mecessarily moved with pain and slowness. In so doing, he lost has eau- tion; he advanced too near to the giant, raised his arm to strike, and received the three points of the fatal spear full in his breast. Ile sank on his knee. le moment more, the deadly net was cast over him; he struggled against its meshes in vain ; again, again, again, he %eddied mutely beneath the fresh strokes of the trident ; his blood flowed fast through the net and redly over the sand: he lowered his arms in acknowledgment of defeat.
The conquering retiarins withdrew his net, and, leaning on his spear, looked to the audience for their judgment. Slowly, too, at the same moment, the van. quished gladiutor rolled his dim and despairing eyes around the theatre. From row to row, from bench to bench, there glared upon him but merciless and un- pitying eyes.
Hushed was the roar, the murmur. The silence was dread, for in it was as sympathy; not i/ hand, no, not even a woman's hand, gave the signal of charity and life ! Sporus had never been popular in the arena ; and, I itely, the interest of the combat had been excited on behalf of the wounded Niger. The people were warmed into blood ; the ,,limit, fight bad ceased to charm, the interest had mounted up to the desire of sacrifice and the thirst of death.
The gladiator felt that his doom was sealed : he uttered no prayer, no groan. The people gave the signal of death. In dogged but agouized sub:nission, he bent his neck to receive the fatal stroke. And now, as the spear of the retiarius was not a weapon to inflict instant and certain death, there stalked into the arena a grim and fatal form, brandishing a short sharp sword, and with features utterly concealed beneath its vigor. With slow and measured steps, this dismal headsman approached the gladiator, still kneeling, laid his left hand on his humbled crest, drew the edge of the blade across dais neck, turned round to the assembly, lest in the last moment remorse should come upon them ; the dread signal continued the same: the blade glitterrd brightly in the air, fell, and the gladiator rolled upon the sand ; his Borba quivered, were still—he was a corpse!
Aprecides, the brother of lone, is led by his own enthusiastic weakness and the art of Arbacea (who hopes to influence the sister by the brother) to become a priest of Isis. Disgusted with the tricks and profligacy of his brethren, he is upon the point of turning Christian ; when Arbaces invites him to his house, and, having first bewildered him with the mysteries of Egyptian learn- ing, corrupts him by a banquet. The chapter is written with power and fancy, but the scene is more splendid than real. We will take a part which will enable us to extract a lyric distin- guished for the ease and vigour of its flow.
With that sound, the veil was, as it were, to be rent in twain : it parted, it seemed to vanish into air ; and 3 seene which no Sybarite ever more than ri- valled, broke upon the dazzled gaze of the youthful priest. A vast banquet-roan stretched beyond, blazing with countless lights, which filled the warm air with the scents a frankineenee, of jasmine, of violets, of myrrh ; all that the most odorous flowers, all that the most costly spices could distil, seemed gathered into one ineffable and ambrosial essence : from the light columns that sprang up- ward to the airy roof, hung draperies of white, studded with golden stars. At the extmoities of the room, two fountains cast up a spray, which, catching the rays of the roseate light, glittered like countless diamonds. In the centre of the room, as they entered, there roe slowly from the floor, to the sound of unseen minstrelsy, a table, spread with all the viands which sense ever devoted to fancy, and vases of that lost Myrrhine fibril., so glowing in its colours, so transparent in its material, were crowned with the exotics of the East The couches, to which this table was the centre, were covered with tapestries of azure and gold; and from invisible tubes in the vaulted roof, deseern!ed showers of fragrant waters, that cooled the delicious air, and coutemled with the lamps, as if the spirits of wave and fire disputed which element could furnish forth the nest delicious odours. And now, fr behind the snowy draperies, trooped such forms as Adonis be-he-hi when he lay on the lap of Venus. They came, some with garlands, others with lyres they surrounded the youth, they led his steps to the banquet. They flung the chaplets round him in rosy chains. The earth—the thought of earth—vanished from his soul. lie imagined himself an a dream, and :suppreseed his breath lest he should wake too 509B ; the senses, to which he had never yielded as yet, beat in his burning pulse and confused kit) dizzy and reeling sight. And while thus amazed and lost, once again, but an brisk and Bacchie measures, rose the magic strain.
In the veins of the calix foams and glows The blood of the mantling, vine, But, oh ! in the bowl of Youth there glows A Leabitun, more divine!
Bright, bright, As the Hasid light, Its waves through thine eyelids shine!
Fill op, fill up, to the sparkling brim, The juice of the young Lyams, The grape is the key that we owe to him,
FLOM the jail of the world to free us,
Drink, drink, Whet need to shrink, When the lamps akin can see us?
Drink, drink, as I quaff from thine eyes The wine of a softer tree, Give thy smiles to the god of the grape—thy sighs, Beloved one, give to me. Turn, turn, My glances burn, And thirst for a look from thee!
Mr. BULWER is perhaps unequal to the production of a true, complete, and enduring novel— a work that shall "hold the mirror up to nature," and b read and rc-read with pleasure when the gloss of novelty is past. But there is one path of excel- lence in which he seems to walk without a rival—we mean the classical lyric. In a style of composition which other poets have never attempted without perpetrating some tedious or ridiculous pe- dantry, Mr. BULWER unites truth, tenderness, grace, and expres- sion, with a classical feeling and spirit rare in itself, but we think altogether unknown in combination with modern reality and life- like effect. Why does he not cultivate this rare talent ? An an Otology, however small, containing such pieces as the " Lament of the Last Faun " and the Anacreontic just quoted, would be worth a score of novels like Pelham and Pompeii. If they require— which probably they do—some prose introduction, let hint weave them into short tales, resembling those with which he enriched two of the Annuals last season.