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favoured hero, Hengist, king of the Saxons; whilst, on the other side, Merlin, the great prophet of the Celts, aids the British prince in defeating the machinations of the demons of Scandinavia.
With such materials, and with the avowed intention of taking the old metrical romance for his model, it might have been expected that the poet of Arthur would adopt, to a certain extent at least, the style as well as the mode of fabling of his prototypes. In this respect, however, he has deviated entirely, and perhaps somewhat injudiciously, from his originals; for whilst he has preserved the body and spirit of their fiction, he has clothed both in a classical garb, in the dress indeed of Homer and of Virgil, and has, consequently, given to his work a very anomalous aspect, being neither entitled, from the desultory nature of its fabric, to be considered as a classical epic, nor from the polish, concatenation, and uniform dignity of its style and versification, a gothic
It is, however, notwithstanding this incongruity, a most valuable and interesting production, both in substance and in form ; and it has moreover the merit of being the first attempt, in modern times, to re-open that rich vein of wild narrative and fiction,
which constituted the delight and the wealth of Ariosto and Spenser.
I know few poems, ancient or modern, that can boast a more beautiful exordium than that which decorates the first book of Arthur. After invocating praise on the warrior who aspires to immortality by virtuous acts and brave exploits, the bard
Such Arthur was: the song preserved his fame;
Those days are past: the vocal strain no more
Yet still his name survives ; nor deem it vain, That one, the meanest of the tuneful train, Caught by the lofty theme, with feebler lays Presumes t’unfold a tale of other days. Such, as of old to Fancy's ear addrest, Perchance had struck the sympathising breast; When lovely were our maids, and brave our youth, When virtue valour crown'd, and beauty truth.-B.i. p. 3.
The fable then commences by describing Ivar, the son of Melaschlen, chief of the Ebudæ, or Western Isles, as walking towards night by the sea-shore, and who, whilst watching the appearance of a fleet at a distance, is alarmed by the sound of horrible voices from the mountain Conagra.
This circumstance introduces to us the Weird Sisters, who are beheld by Ivar performing their magic rites on the summit. With these personages, however, the Urda, Valdandi, and Skulda of the Northern mythology, and who were supposed to preside over the past, the present, and the future, Mr. Hole has confessedly taken considerable liberties; for he has neither delineated them as in the Edda, where they are drawn as beautiful virgins inhabiting Asgard, the city of the gods, nor painted them as Shakspeare has done in his Macbeth, where, potent ministers though they be of evil, they are, in conformity with the system of witchcraft of his royal master, represented as deformed and mischievous hags. But he has taken a middle path between these two descriptions, and has thereby rendered his personification of the Fatal Sisters more, perhaps, in consonancy with the nature and epic genius of his poem.
This, their first presentation to us, is certainly wrought up with great spirit and poetical power. They are depicted calling upon the demons of revenge to pour forth the thunders of the tempest, to awake, arise, destroy !
Of fearful mien, and more than mortal size,
Now, by the potency of magic sound,
But though in splendor rose the mountain's head,
“ Ye*, who o'er nature's wide domains preside !
He ceased; for echoing from the mountain's head,
And now the splendor that enclos'd the steep,
B. i. p. 9.
In the midst of this conflicting war of the elements, a billow of prodigious size bursting on the
*" The Celtic nations imagined that a number of Genii proceeded from one first great principle, and that each of them presided over his peculiar element."