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Significant Scots
Robert MacKenzie Daniel


The late Mr. Robert Mackenzie Daniel, author of the "Young Widow," the ”Scottish Heiress,” and other popular works of fiction, was best known to general readers, through his soubriquet of the ”Scottish Box.” We think it was the Literary Gazette which first designated Mr. Daniel by that title; and from its aptness, as indicating tho peculiar quality of his talents, it was at once adopted nod received as just, by the general reading public. Not that his style was in anything akin to that of the distinguished author of “Pickwick," for never, perhaps, in that respect alone, did two authors differ more widely than the “Scottish Box," and the original “Box," but rather that the name being already in the market, as the head of a class of literature, original in the real sense of the term, and distinctive for the deep and varied acquaintance with human life which it displayed, it appeared to the mind of the critic, the most aptly descriptive of an author, who, without possessing attributes of genius at all comparable to Dickens, yet owned, in common with his great prototype, the quality of treating the subjects which he chose as the groundworks of his novels, in a manner truly original, and totally devoid of the violations of truth and nature, so characteristic of fashionable works of fiction. Mr. Daniel finished his career but a short time ago, and a posthumous production from his pen, entitled the "Cardinal's Daughter,” has just made its appearance. Sir Egerten Bridges remarks, that in perusing any literary work, the reader is always anxious to know something of its author—how he thought, how he spoke, and what were his habits; and if such curiosity is excited in the case of books in general, how much more so in the case of one whose author has ceased to exist before his hand was allowed to give the last polish to its pages, and whose final moments—his brain now torn and dismembered by the stern necessities of his position, a wife and children looking for that support, which his exertions were inadequate to supply, was enshrouded amid the clouds of dark insanity!

Robert Mackenzie Daniel was born in Inverness-shire in the year 1814. His father was a small landed proprietor or laird, within a short distance of the county town, and Robert was the youngest child of a rather numerous family. His school education having been completed at Inverness, young Daniel was sent at the age of fifteen, to Marischal College, Aberdeen. Here he remained for the space of three yean diligently pursuing his studies, and though he was by no means what is generally styled an “arduous student,” still the basis of general knowledge which he acquired was scarcely inferior, nay, perhaps, superior, to that which the utmost ardour in most other youths could have supplied. After years built a superstruction of information upon this basis surpassed but seldom. Even in boyhood there were few subjects of au intellectual nature in which he was not tolerably conversant; and a strong inclination to a desultory mode of study continued with him through life. Unlike most men who have their peculiar “hobby,” instead of regarding merely one subject as worthy of particular attention, he ever “looked with appetite of keenest edge” upon everything alike. No epicure in the choice of viands for the intellectual palate, he resembled the hardworking labourer, who, returning from his day's labourious toil, devours his evening’s meal without questioning its quality, On quitting Aberdeen, he removed to Edinburgh, from the desire of his friends that he should niv direct his studies with a view to the bar, which was ahe his own inclination at this period. In prosecution ot this object, ho entered the office of a writer to the Signet, at the same time attending the law classes of the University. His legal studies were pursued with unremitting vigour, although he by no means neglected the cultivation of his mind in other respects. For the space of several sessions he was a constant attendant upon the prelections of Professor Wilson, and had a strong taste for a literary life deeply engendered in his mind by the illustrious example he saw before him. After a residence of four years at Edinburgh, Mr. Daniel began to abandon the idea of following the profession of an advocate. Although he had hitherto devoted himself to the study of Scottish jurisprudence with zeal, his more matured thoughts, as already hinted, at length began to manifest a decided tendency to a literary occupation. Perhaps the resolution of abandoning the bar was confirmed by other circumstances of even a more pressing nature than strong inclination towards a different mode of lift. The tardiness of success at the Scottish bar to any but those of powerful connexion amongst writers or solicitors is proverbial. You are sure to meet with some degree of success if you wait long enough for it, and this probationary process of waiting must be gone through according to the strictest letter of what the Scotch call “gentility." It wan precisely the inability to find tho means to support this “gently” which Mr. Daniel was in want of. He looked before him, and beheld in the vista of professional struggle long years of obscurity and neglect. He bethought him that he might meet with success as a literateur in London, and, accordingly, we find him there in the latter part of 1836. His fate at first as a literary man in the great metropolis was similar to that of most men at their outset—he wrote for periodicals by the dozen, but his communications were very often rejected. After a season of trial and vexation, he was for a brief period engaged in connexion with the “Courier," a deceased evening paper. This situation he subsequently exchanged for the editorship of the "Court Journal,” on the establishment of that weekly, which he conducted for the space of two years. Of Mr. Daniel's ephemeral productions, pootieal and prose, we can take no account, scattered as they are over numerous London magazines, to which he in time found admission. His maiden novel was the ”Scottish Heiress" which was produced in 1842. The marked success which attended this, his first considerable attempt, encouraged its author to another effort in the following year, and accordingly the "Gravedigger” appeared in 1843. His second production, however, was scarcely received with the same amount of popular applause as his first, and it was always regarded by its author as a failure. In 1844, Mr. Daniel having recently married, removed from London to Jeney, hoping that, amid the Elysian beauties of that ancient islet, he might fial that quiet and repose so requisite to continuous fitemry labour. There, in a short apace of time, he produced the "Young Widow" which, from the universal acclaim with which it was greeted, at once placed its anther in a distinguished position amongst popular Dorelists. He was now in regular demand at the  libraries—a work by the "Scottish Box” was sue to command a sale, and he needed no longer indulge misgivings as to his prospect of success in that department of literature which he had adopted. His next effort was the “Young Baronet,” which was fitted to be the last published in its author’s lifetime. It was published in November 1845, and felly supported the opinions which the best critics had already expressed of Mr. Daniel's talents. We see that the subject of our notice retired to Jersey, in the hope of finding that quiet and repose, which continuous literary labour so necessarily requires; and such enjoyments would have been his, had he kept aloof from extraneous pursuits by no means congenial to his mind. It happened, in an evil moment, that Mr. Daniel, in January 1845, accepted the editorship of a paper then started in Jersey, designated the "Jersey Herald.” la the small community of the Channel Islands, the tide of petty politics rune to an inconceivable height; and any individual occupying the position of editor of a public Journal, is always regarded as the rightful devoted victim of personal abuse, from all who differ in opinion from that system of policy -which he advocates. There are two political parties in Jersey—the Rose party, and the Laurel party. They are so called from the distinctive badge which the adherents of each respectively wear in their buttonholes on gala days. Their politics of course have nothing to do with the politics of England; but originate entirely within their own little circle. The Rose party may be regarded as the Whigs of the locality, and very illiberal Whigs they ire: the Laurel party may be called the Tories and, if there is a pin to choose between them, the latter are decidedly the more liberal of the two. Such is the virulence of party faction, and the personal danger to which an editor of a newspaper is exposed, that the luckless wight who occupies this distinguished position is obliged to be always armed, on the street and in his office, with a life-preserver, or oaken cudgel, in order to be prepared against the anticipated attacks of those upon whose political escapades he has descanted in his columns. Mr. Daniel was the editor of a Rose paper, and the numerous nose-pullings and cudgelling of which he was the victim, at the hands of the Lauretitee, embittered the existence f a man not adapted for, at least, that species of party strife. Mr. Daniel conducted the "Jersey Herald” tall September, last year, when, immediately subsequent to Her Majesty’s visit to the island, he was overtaken by a mental malady which, six months afterwards, resulted in his death. On the appearance of the malady in question —which, by the way, had for some time previously been foreshadowed by unequivocal symptoms—be was removed by his friends to England, where, notwithstanding the unabated exertion of the most eminent medical skill, his disease underwent no alteration for the better. The decay of his physical powers keeping pace with the daily increasing hope-lessness of his mental recoveiy. Mr Daniel, unconscious of every thing passing around him, gradually sunk, till at length his career terminated at the early age of thirty-three. His death took place in March, in Bethlehem Hospital.

In estimating the merits of Mr. Daniel as an author, it would perhaps be untrue to say, that although his pages are undoubtedly, in a remarkable degree, exempt from the usual sickly sentiment, and other unnatural characteristics of the great mass of novels devoid, more or less, to the portraiture of life, he was the best and most skilful writer of his class. In dealing just with the author of the ”Young Widow,” let us not be unjust to others who have pushed themselves into notoriety in the same field. Be it sufficient, therefore, to say of him In the feudatory strain, that he was a writer of great talent and great premise. His style of language, clear, copious and severely adorned, was at all times calculated to express, in the noblest accents, the varied thoughts and emotions of his intellectual mind. The “Cardinal's Daughter,” to which reference, is a posthumous work, has already been made, evinces that, notwithstanding the reputation its author had already attained in one department of novel-writing, he was destined, had time and opportunity been permitted, to achieve for loftier and mom enduring in the higher historical walk.

The "Cardinal’s Daughter” is the only work of Mr. Daniel of which the basis is taken from history. It in ushered in by a preface, to which we must make slight allusion, on it explains the reason for which (not to speak of the protracted illness and death of its lamented author),, it had not received final corrections at his hands. The work was, in feet, written before his malady commenced, but its correction and publication had been delayed for some time, in order that he might, by editing "The Poor Cousin" introduce his wife to the notice of tho public, probably, under the apprehension, "that in m short space she would be left to obtain, by her own exertions, for herself and children, that livelihood which, though at most severe sacrifices of mind and body, he had hitherto supplied.” Happily, "The Poor Cousin” met with that success which its editor so anxiously desired, and the widow is now fairly embarked in the career from which the husband has just been removed. A new work is advertised as shortly to appear from her pen; and, from the ability evinced in her former production, we are justified in anticipating that the same need of approval won by the first effort, will not be denied to the second.

The “Cardinal,” alluded to in the titles in Cardinal Wolsay, and the "Daughter” is Henrietta, a nun, mid to have been the offspring of that celebrated dignitary. Although the "Daughter” gives name to the work, yet the Cardinal himself is the most prominent and interesting character therein. One Ralph Brandon, a purely fictitious character, is also introduced, and occupies a very important position among the actors in the drama. He is the Cardinal’s secretary, and passionately in love with Henriette, whom, at the anticipated dissolution of the monasteries, he intends to marry. The chief interest of the story consists in the detail of the fresh obstacles the Cardinal every day devised to frustrate the ultimate designs of Brandon. The latter has imbibed the principles of the reformed, then rapidly gaining ground, and this difference of opinion from his master, furnishes the opportunity of numerous hits at the state of the Church at that period. Space, however, will not permit us to give even a hasty outline of the story, and the reader who is curious to learn the full details of the "Cardinal's Daughter,” must consult the work itself.

The tale is artistically pat together, and exhibits, on the part of its author, great power as a historical romancist.

One would almost fancy that the writer who could adopt for the title of a work a name so peculiar as that before us, meant to make it a handle for exposing the immorality of one of the greatest men in former times. In this idea, however, he would be mistaken. Instead of regarding Wolsey as, in any degree, unworthy of his vocation as a priest, our author considers the priesthood as highly honoured, and illustrated by possessing him within Its pale. Mr. Daniel is, in fact, the most unqualified admirer of the butcher’s son, we remember ever to have met with. He talks of “that glorious mind which had burst like prisoners over difficulties which environed it, and snapped the iron chains which bound it to neglect— that lightning energy of character which had rendered him triumphant at home and abroad, feared by those who hated him, and respected by those who derided his birth; and which had stamped upon the countenance of Wolsey, a character of greatness which no bearing could disguise." Some writers have stigmatised the Cardinal, as one, who, like Richard the Third, possessed neither “love nor pity,” and who, in order to gain his own personal ends, would hesitate at no means which craft or dishonesty could devise. Our author, on the contrary, avers, that generous, vigorous, and lofty as his character was, tempestuous, and daring as his life had been, there wore still elements of the richest affection in Wolsey’s heart, ”and instead of falling in with the representations of those who describe him as avaricious, he advocates the old man’s part by assuring us that “his nature was bountiful as the day." The following is the author’s conception of the character of Brandon in conjunction with that of Wolsey.

"They might have formed a study for a painter. Wolsey’s bold expressive features now perfectly exposed —the noble forehead and curled grey hair—the large clear eyes, so full o*f fire, yet changeful as a woman’s—the fine broad chest and manly air, which the guise of priesthood could not conceal, and the insignia of his dignity lying spurned, as it were, at his side—showed, or might have seemed to show, something of the trinity of his character —the judge, the statesman, and the priest—while he wore upon his countenance a stamp of genius which also showed that he was fitted for them all. Brandon, too, had something in his aspect that made one look on it again. Deformed in person yet handsome in features, slightly built yet of a frame indicating strength and activity—young iu yean, and of an expression of countenance denoting impetuosity even to fierceness, there was yet blended with it a firmness and a haughty gravity, which, far from weakening the general effect, gave it a vigour and a character of determination eminently its own. Both knew each other well; the one had almost attained the summit of his ambition—the other had but entered upon the race, yet was conscious of possessing those qualities which lead to the greatest success: both were superior to the times in which they lived—the one, indeed, had all the passions and enthusiasm of youth to an intensity that was his curse—the other bad none of these, yet it is not saying too much to affirm that there was something of fellowship between the young secretary and his priestly lord.”

Mr. Daniel, throughout all his works, evinces great power in the use of passionate declamation when occasion calls it forth; but no subject which he has previously treated, afforded so frequent opportunity for the display of his talents in this respect as the present. We think he could have made a good dramatist. In the following Brandon and Henriette are engaged in colloquy upon the crimes of the Church :—

"'But the Cardinal

“Will fall with the Church which he madly upholds.

"And thou?

"I will grieve for my lord, but rejoice that the bated rule of Rome is at an end—I will joy for thee, my loved one, but mourn for poor Katherine, banished from wedlock and a throne, at the caprice of a tyrant’s will.

"Ralph this is the heretic’s creed

"I reck not. The crimes of the Church are odious in the sight of God, and their rule is tyranny to man. The splendour that decks their stately domes is purchased with the orphan’s bread—the rich lands that smile around them are shut against the poor man’s kine—their learning is cloistered as a precious thing, and their knowledge serves but to bind with stronger shackles the consciences,, the thoughts, the mind, the bright immortal soul of man. When a boy I cursed them. I longed to grapple with the men that threw a holy mantle over a heart of guile : they are a load upon the land—England rots beneath their sway—let the day come, I will be foremost to tear them from their lofty seats—to bear the crafty secrets of their hallowed dens. I know them; they are hounds that whine around the foot of power, and make merchandise of man’s devotion to his God. There is a handwriting on the wall —this kingdom has departed from them, and the hearts of good men will exult in liberty. Oh! it is a foul blot on this beautiful world that man should thus become a god to man, and deal heaven’s curse and pardon with a palsied hand—an old dotard in a scarlet gown! Let the day come.

I will be the first to welcome it. I long to see my countrymen free in soul—liberty they will have—a tyrant now nits upon the throne, but superstition aids him not, and when the channels of knowledge are unbarred, men will then canvass the royal power, its limits and its rights. Yes, my Henriette, I long to see the day, when England shall shake off her vassalage to Rome—when these greedy churchmen shall be taught that splendour is not needed in holy ministering, and the English peasant can raise his brow to heaven, heedless of a dull priest’s frown!

"This is the language of the heretics,’ repeated Henriette, gazing earnestly upon him.

“It matters little, sweet one, if it is the language of truth. I tell thee, my Henriette, that m day is at hand when the nests of these proud birds shall be rifled and their plumage torn.”

Scarcely inferior to his power of declamation already referred to, are the abilities of our author in description. Many of the descriptions in the ''Cardinal’s Daughter” are very effective; the appearance of London in the reign of Henry the VIII. is especially so. Conducted by Mr. Daniel, we wander in imagination along the fields, skirting the "Strand” of the river Thames, till we arrive at a "Convent" whose "Garden" is the "Covent Garden” of to-day, the mart for vegetables and flowers. London of the sixteenth century is called up before ns in vivid colouring, at every page. Every spot, associated in immortal history with the events of the period in which the scene of the present work is laid, is compelled into our presence, and made to appear just as they severally appeared then; old St. Pauls, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey, and its then surrounding sylvan country of green fields and wooded hills. Among the characters secondary te those already named, may be mentioned the "Bluff Harry” himself, and his ill-fated consort, Anne Boleyn; both equally necessary for a work founded on any subject connected with the. career of Wolsey. How true to fact such characters are drawn, we leave to readers of history to determine.

The prominent faults of the "Cardinal's Daughter” are those incident to all literary productions written against time. The necessities of his family demanded that he should write rapidly and incessantly; while the earlier portion of the sheets was going through the press.

Mr. Daniel was stretched upon his death-bed; nor did any vitality of mind remain to direct such corrections as, had his intellect remained with him, would doubtless have been made; and before the latter portion of his manuscript had as yet even come into the printer's hands, he was in his grave. The “Cardinal’s Daughter" is, in the true sense of the phrase, a “posthumous work," and as such let it be judged.


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