Part I


SWEET Sister! as I wandered on the mountains of Sion, behold! a gazelle came bounding o'er the hills! It perceived me, it started back, it gazed at me with trembling surprise. Ah! fear not! fair creature, I fondly exclaimed, fear not, and flee not away! I too have a gazelle in a distant land; not less beautiful her airy form than thine, and her dark eye not less tremulously bright!

Ah! little did I deem, my sweetest friend, that ere I pressed that beauteous form again, Sorrow should dim the radiance of thy smile, and charge that brilliant eye with many a tear!* Yet trust thee, dearest, in a brother's love, the purest sympathy of our fallen state! If I recall one gleam of rapture to thy pensive cheek, not in vain I strike my lonely lyre, or throw these laurels at thy fairy feet!


THE time of this Romance is the twelfth century.

At that period, this was the political condition of the East.

The Caliphate was in a state of rapid decay. The Seljukian Sultans, who had been called to the assistance of the Commanders of the Faithful, had become like the Mayors of the palace in France, the real sovereigns of the Empire. They had carved four kingdoms out of the dominions of the successors of the Prophet, which conferred titles on four Seljukian Princes, to wit, the Sultan of Bagdad, the Sultan of Persia, the Sultan of Syria, and the Sultan of Roum, or Asia Minor.

But these warlike princes, in the relaxed discipline and doubtful conduct of their armies, began themselves to evince the natural effects of luxury and indulgence. They were no longer the same invincible and irresistible warriors who had poured forth from the shores of the Caspian over the fairest regions of the East, and although they still contrived to preserve order in their dominions, they witnessed with ill-concealed apprehension the rising power of the Kings of Karasmé, whose conquests daily made their territories more contiguous.

With regard to the Hebrew people, it should be known that after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Eastern Jews, while they acknowledged the supremacy of their conquerors, gathered themselves together for all purposes of jurisdiction, under the controul of a native ruler, an asserted descendant of David, whom they dignified with the title of “The Prince of the Captivity.” If we are to credit the enthusiastic annalists of this imaginative people, there were periods of prosperity when “the Princes of the Captivity” assumed scarcely less state, and enjoyed scarcely less power than the ancient Kings of Judah themselves. Certain it is that their power increased always in an exact proportion with the weakness of the Caliphate, and without doubt in some of the most distracted periods of the Arabian rule, the Hebrew princes rose into some degree of local and temporary importance. Their chief residence was Bagdad, where they remained until the eleventh century, an age fatal in Oriental history, and from the disasters of which “the Princes of the Captivity” were not exempt. They are heard of even in the twelfth century. I have ventured to place one at Hamadan, a favourite residence of the Hebrews, from being the burial-place of Esther and Mordecai.

In this state of affairs arose Alroy, a name perhaps unknown to the vast majority of my readers; yet, if I mistake not, a memorable being, and the dry record of whose marvellous career I have long considered as enveloping the richest materials of poetic fiction.

With regard to the supernatural machinery of this romance, it is Cabalistical and correct. From the Spirits of the Tombs to the sceptre of Solomon, authority may be found in the traditions of the Hebrews for all these spiritual introductions.

I believe that the character of Oriental life is not unfaithfully pourtrayed in these pages. It has undergone less changes than the genius of the Occident. I have had the advantage of studying the Asiatics in their most celebrated countries and capitals. An existence of blended splendour and repose, varied only by fitful starts of extravagant and overwhelming action, and marvellous vicissitudes of fortune, a strong influence of individual character, a blind submission to destiny, imagination, passion, credulity: these are some of the principal features of society in the most favoured regions of the globe.

And now for my style. I must frankly confess that I have invented a new one. I am conscious of the hazard of such innovation, but I have not adopted my system without long meditation, and a severe examination of its qualities. I have in another work already ventured to express my opinion that the age of Versification has past. I have there observed, “The mode of composition must ever be greatly determined by the manner in which the composition can be made public. In ancient days, the voice was the medium by which we became acquainted with the inventions of a poet. In such a method, where those who listened had no time to pause, and no opportunity to think, it was necessary that everything should be obvious. The audience who were perplexed would soon become wearied. The spirit of ancient poetry, therefore, is rather material than metaphysical. Superficial, not internal; there is much simplicity and much nature, but little passion, and less philosophy. To obviate the baldness, which is the consequence of a style where the subject and the sentiments are rather intimated than developed, the poem was enriched by music, and enforced by action. Occasionally, were added the enchantment of scenery, and the fascination of the dance. But the poet did not depend merely upon these brilliant accessaries. He resolved that his thoughts should be expressed in a manner different from other modes of communicating ideas. He caught a suggestion from his sister art, and invented metre. And in this modulation, he introduced a new system of phraseology, which marked him out from the crowd, and which has obtained the title of ‘poetic diction.’

“His object in this system of words was to heighten his meaning by strange phrases, and unusual constructions. Inversion was invented to clothe a common-place with an air of novelty; vague epithets were introduced to prop up a monotonous modulation; were his meaning to be enforced, he shrank from wearisome ratiocination and the agony of precise conceptions, and sought refuge in a bold personification, or a beautiful similitude. The art of Poetry was to express natural feelings in unnatural language.

“Institutions ever survive their purpose, and customs govern us when their cause is extinct. And this mode of communicating poetic invention still remained, when the advanced civilization of man, in multiplying manuscripts, might have made many suspect that the time had arrived when the poet was to cease to sing, and to learn to write. Had the splendid refinement of Imperial Rome not been doomed to such rapid decay, and such mortifying and degrading vicissitudes, I believe that Versification would have worn out. Unquestionably that empire, in its multifarious population, scenery, creeds, and customs, offered the richest materials for emancipated Fiction, materials, however, far too vast and various for the limited capacity of metrical celebration.

“That beneficent Omnipotence, before which we must bow down, has so ordered it, that Imitation should be the mental feature of Modern Europe; and has ordained that we should adopt a Syrian religion, a Grecian literature, and a Roman law. At the revival of letters, we behold the portentous spectacle of national poets communicating their inventions in an exotic form. Conscious of the confined nature of their method, yet unable to extricate themselves from its fatal ties, they sought variety in increased artifice of diction, and substituted for the melody of the lyre, the barbaric clash of rhyme.

“A revolution took place in the mode of communicating Thought. Now, at least, it was full time that we should have emancipated ourselves for ever from sterile metre. One would have supposed that the Poet who could not only write, but even print his inventions, would have felt that it was both useless and unfit that they should be communicated by a process invented when his only medium was simple recitation. One would have supposed, that the Poet would have rushed with desire to the new world before him, that he would have seized the new means that permitted him to revel in an universe of boundless invention; to combine the highest ideal creation with the infinite delineation of teeming Nature; to unravel all the dark mysteries of our bosoms, and all the bright purposes of our being; to become the great instructor and champion of his species; and not only delight their fancy, and charm their senses, and command their will, but demonstrate their rights, illustrate their necessities, and expound the object of their existence; and all this too in a style charming and changing with its universal theme, now tender, now sportive; now earnest, now profound; now sublime, now pathetic; and substituting for the dull monotony of metre, the most various, and exquisite, and inexhaustible melody.”1

While I have endeavoured to effect my own emancipation from the trammels of the old style, I do not for a moment flatter myself that the new one, which I offer, combines those rare qualities which I anticipate may be the ultimate result of this revolution. But such as it is, it stands upon its own merits, and may lead abler men to achieve abler consequences.

It has been urged by a very ingenious and elegant critic, when commenting, perhaps with the apprehensive indignation of a versifier, upon the passage which I have quoted, “that the melodies of language are the echoes of the melodies of thought: as in hearing martial music, the step involuntarily takes a statelier tread, as to gayer airs, a lighter and more buoyant one; so does the elevated idea take a more noble, or the feelings of tenderness a sweeter tone, than those of ordinary discourse.”

I perfectly assent to this remark, which was intended to show “the fallacies” of my system. I do not oppose Melody because I oppose Verse. Thoughts are not always melodious, ideas always noble, and feelings always tender. The curse of metre is, that it makes all thoughts, ideas, and feelings—all action and all passion alike monotonous, and is at the same time essentially limited in its capacity of celebration. As for myself, I never hesitate, although I discard verse, to have recourse to rhythm whenever I consider its introduction desirable, and occasionally even to rhyme. There is no doubt that the style in which I have attempted to write this work is a delicate and difficult instrument for an artist to handle. He must not abuse his freedom. He must alike beware the turgid and the bombastic, the meagre and the mean. He must be easy in his robes of state, and a degree of elegance and dignity must accompany him even in the camp and the market-house. The language must rise gradually with the rising passions of the speakers, and subside in harmonious unison with their sinking emotions.

With regard to the conduct of this tale, it will speedily be observed to be essentially dramatic. Had, indeed, the drama in this country not been a career encompassed with difficulties, I should have made Alroy the hero of a Tragedy. But as, at the present day, this is a mode of composition which for any practical effect is almost impossible, I have made him the hero of a Dramatic Romance. The Author, therefore, seldom interferes in the conduct of the story. He has not considered it his duty to step in between the reader and the beings of his imagination, to develope and dwell upon their feelings, or to account for their characters and actions. He leaves them in general to explain every thing for themselves, substituting on his part Description for Scenery, and occasional bursts of lyric melody for that illustrative music, without which all dramatic representations are imperfect, and which renders the serious Opera of the Italians the most effective performance of modern times, and most nearly approaching the exquisite drama of the ancient Greeks.

To the Tale of Alroy I have added the history of a Christian hero placed in a somewhat similar position, but achieving a very different end; and I hope the reader will experience the pleasure of an agreeable contrast in the Rise of the great Iskander.