Imágenes de páginas

saw. There is no grandeur in his ambition, which was mainly confined to personal glory and the glory of his family; but it was so intense and incessant in its action, that it stimulated his intellect to prodigious displays of strength. Having succeeded in raising himself to the mastery of France, and in placing crowns on the heads of his brothers and sisters, he tries to mingle the glory of France with his personal glory, but he never gets out of himself completely. That old selfishness which he said was his only refuge, ever returns. When, at last, these personal motives are withdrawn from him, as they were during his imprisonment at St. Helena, his mind loses its force, his conversation becomes weak and petulant, and even his body decays. Much admiration has been expressed by French writers of the talk of Napoleon while he was at St. Helena, but we confess, that it seems to us, that its sagacity and importance have been greatly exaggerated. These letters, written from the midnight bivouac, or on the field, are much better evidences of the wonderful grasp and quickness of his intellect.

Let us add, that this work has been well translated, and that the notes and introductions to the several chapters are highly intelligent.

-A reprint of the Life of Jeffrey, by LORD COCKBURN, was a compliment that the work itself did not deserve. it is so unskillfully executed, and yet it is the only record we have of the famous critic. It was a fine subject for biography, not on account of Jeffrey himself—who was much overrated-but on account of his relationships, and the times in which he lived. A literary man, of ordinary calibre, might have made a most entertaining work of it; but the Scotch judge, who undertook it, has made a dull one. Jeffrey's letters, which it contains, are the only relief, and those are not among the best specimens of epistolatory style.

ready and active intellect, earnest purposes, considerable reading, and a fluent, at times, brilliant rhetoric; but his judg ments of men and books are, for the most part, excessively shallow. Indeed, we do not recall a single instance in which he has exhibited any discernment or originality in detecting the genius of his contemporaries; while there are hundreds of cases in which he was utterly mistaken. He perceived, we believe, the extraordinary merit of the Scotch novels; but when he came to speak of the magnificent poetry which was growing up about him, and which has made the nineteenth century an era in the literary history of mankind. he was as obtuse as an owl. He said some pretty and superficial things about it; but not a word that would show that he had an insight into the soul of the matter.

Jeffrey's most characteristic essay is his Dissertation on Beauty-full of wit, or, rather. of sparkling argumentation, and charming in style; but obviously the work of an adroit and accomplished advocate, rather than of a philosopher or thinker. The theory it expounds is really an absurd one; and yet it is set up with such an appearance of logic, and such a fine power of illustration, that the reader is forced to suppose it a thing of great account. His mind was acute, but not profound; capable of making dazzling popular effects, but not of deep and lasting revolutions of thought. Of all his manifold contributions to the Edinburgh Review, what one has made any mark upon its age, or is recalled by posterity? It is not impossible, at the same time, to mention, among the works of other critics, some that will enjoy a perennial acceptance. Lamb's remarks, for instance, on the acting of Shakespeare's plays, Coleridge's notes on Shakespeare, Carlyle's Burns and Goethe, and even Macaulay's Clive and Lord Bacon, are a part of permanent literature; but we doubt whether Jeffrey's compositions, any of them, will live as long. His reputation will rest mainly upon the simple fact, that he was the editor of the Edinburgh Review, to whose taste and ability it was indebted for its early and wide celebrity.

What Jeffrey was as a lawyer and a justice, we are unable to say; but, it seems to us, that he was not so great a critic as he was reputed to be. Lord Cockburn calls him "the greatest of the British critics," which is making the others very small. But that is an exaggeration. Compared with Hazlitt, Lamb, Coleridge, Wilson, De Quincey, Macaulay, Carlyle, etc., he was far from being the greatest. He had a

-The Attaché in Spain.-We cannot conceive of a better position for studying the society of a nation, than that usually enjoyed by the members of an embassy, who are admitted to all circles of society, and

[ocr errors]

have plenty of leisure, as well as opportu nity, for forming judgments. They come into close contact with all the great people of the state; they get behind the scenes on public occasions; it is a part of their duty to enter into the festivities of the court, and their residence generally continues long enough to enable them to correct early impressions, and to comprehend the deeper as well as the more exterior movements of society. Yet how few good books have emanated from that source? Owing partly to the restraint which diplomats suppose they are bound to put upon themselves, and partly to the fact that they are chosen for their political, rather than their literary abilities.

lasts for a few months, and then there is another explosion, followed by another ministry, which follows the fate of its predecessors. In his representation of these changes, the attaché, of course, takes the conservative side-if there be any conservative side in the midst of such incessant changes. He is, at any rate, no friend to the rebels as he calls those who violently oppose the government--and scarcely does justice to the popular movement. Great crimes are always committed, in the midst of insurrectionary frenzies; but it should not be forgotten that four crimes, equally great, though, perhaps, less repulsive, have been their provocation. The luxury, the levity, the recklessness, and the corruption of the court will generally explain the discontent and ferocity of the canaille. The governing classes, as they are called, do not govern, but misgovern, led on by their own insane selfishness and love of power, in utter contempt of the government, and more solicitous about their pleasures than the popular welfare. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that the governed should make chronic attempts to take the reins in their own hands.

The letters of this German attaché are scarcely an exception to the rule. They are lively and various, giving us many entertaining glimpses of Madrid and its people; but they are wholly on the surface, making no pretension to philosophic, or even political sagacity. They are just such letters as a well-bred and well-educated young man, with no particular objects in life, might write home to his family-chatty, good-natured, self-complacent, and full of lords and ladies. A great many details are of no interest to the public, while much is omitted which the public would like to see. In one respect, it differs from most English books on Spain, namely, that the author has a thorough faith in the honor and virtue of the people, and despises all the current scandal about the queen, and the nobility as well. He thinks that the degradation of Spain is to be ascribed to the selfish politicians, and that there is integrity enough in the nation to save it, if the rascals who alternately usurp the gov ernment, would only give it a chance.

The most interesting parts of the book (except for the ladies, who will find the details of the toilette more to their taste) are those which relate to the rise and progress of the late revolutions-of which we get capital outside views, with only, now and then, a look on the inside of affairs. All the while that the government and court are running the mad round of dissipation -dancing and feasting-the volcanic elements are at work among the under currents. Conspiracies come to a head-break out-are suppressed-the leaders shot-and the dancing and feasting go on. A new ministry opens a new order of things, which

This book, if a translation, as it purports to be, is excellently well done--reading as freshly as a native English work.

-The Day Star.-A useful monograph has been prepared by Mr. G. L. DAVIS, of Baltimore, on the "toleration" allowed and practiced by the early colonists of Maryland. It is remarkable that the first and nearest approach to practical freedom of conscience, made in history, was accomplished by the Catholics and Protestants who settled together at St. Mary's, under the proprietary of Lord Baltimore. With a Protestant king to grant the charter, a Catholic baron to receive it, and a mingled population of several religions to be influenced by it, the government was more nearly impartial than any that had been before administered. We say, more nearly, because it was not universally tolerant. The provisions of the charter extended to Christians alone, and did not include Jews, deists, atheists, and even some professedly Christian sects-such as Unitarians and Quakers. Yet, in practice, these classes experienced no real persecution; and Mr. Davis clearly shows that the world is indebted for the example mainly to the Catholics, though some Protestants joined in it.

In the introduction to his historical details, Mr. Davis indulges in a few brief speculations on the subject of toleration, in which he seems to us to regard the antagonism between Church and State as far more fundamental and irreconcilable than is really the case. The great contest of the future-not unaccompanied by the shedding of blood-he thinks, will be between that atheism which is the proper groundprinciple of the state, and that faith which is the essence of ethics. In the view of one party, the perfect state will ignore all merely religious considerations, while in that of the other, a perfect state and a perfect church are identical conceptions. But this statement overlooks the aid man has a right to expect from the progress of science, which, as soon as it shall have established the merely natural sciences on a basis of true philosophy, will advance towards the solution of social problems. That there is a law for the organization of society, and all its powerful institutions such as the state, the church, the university, the family, the workshop-cannot admit of a doubt; and we have no more doubt, that man will attain to the knowledge of this law. Our moral and social sciences are yet in the condition that astronomy was before Copernicus; but, in spite of their greater complexity and difficulty, will be reduced to the same order that astronomy has since been. As soon as it is once seen that these are sciences, and not collections of arbitrary dogmas, the world will proceed to reduce them to practice. Now, in science, there is no place for the question of toleration -which implies uncertainty of opinion, and the consequent necessity of enduring all opinions, till the truth is demonstrated. When that appears, the question is eviscerated of its importance. Truth is positive and imperative, and asserts itself without debate.

-Life of Washington. By WASHINGTON IRVING. Vol. II. On the appearance of the first volume of this agreeable biography, we spoke at some length of its general plan and execution; and, when it is completed, we shall have something further of the same sort to offer. Our present object is, merely to call attention to the second volume, which issued from the press a month or two since, and to give a brief statement of its contents.

The first volume embraced a period of forty-three years, from Washington's birth

to his assumption of the command, by the appointment of the Continental Congress, over the New England army, then lying before Boston. The period embraced in the present volume is much more limited-so limited, indeed, as to rouse some curiosity how, consistently with the rules of proportion, the remainder of Washington's life is to be compressed into a single volume. This second volume embraces a period of a year and a half-from the 3d of July, 1775, the morning after Washington's arrival at Cambridge, till his retirement, in January, 1777, to the heights of Morristown, after having recovered the Jerseys from the enemy. But, if the period is short, it includes many events, and those of great and stirring interest-the siege and recovery of Boston; the first formation of a Continental army; the expedition against Canada, so romantic and brilliant in its commencement, and so disastrous in its ending; the loss of Long Island and New York; the melancholy retreat across the Jerseys, during which the American army seemed on the point of annihilation; and the reëstablishment of the hopes of the country, by the brilliant successes of Trenton and Princeton, and the retirement of the British to New Brunswick and its neighborhood. In the severe test to which Washington was put, in the course of these rapid and shining events, his character and abilities were fully brought out, and those rare qualities displayed, which qualified him, in a peculiar manner, for the great services which, then and subsequently, he rendered to his country; so that his biographer has ample excuse for the prominence which he has given to this period of his life, and the minuteness with which its events are related. In his method of treating those events, Mr. Irving has judiciously consulted the bent of his peculiar genius. He makes little attempt at generalization, or at the detection of what lay under the surface. He aims, rather, at a vivid and picturesque narration of external events, at once mellowed and warmed up by that genial humor which gives so much both of life and grace to whatever comes from his pen. Of course, he has furnished a narrative, which, regarded in this light, far excels any embracing the same period, that has hitherto appeared, and which, it is almost superfluous to say, is not likely to be very soon surpassed.


March is a month infamous throughout the world. Nobody speaks well of March. He is a blusterer, and a nuisance. He brings us rain, or he brings us wind, and, often enough, he brings us both. He delights in colds and consumptions; he combines the fevers of February with the catarrhs of April. In a word, he is held to be worthy the title he has borrowed from that disagreeable old heathen, the god of


And yet we are not sorry to chronicle his coming; for, ill and vicious as he is, he is the herald of the spring. The roar of his gales is the requiem of the winter, and of the winter we are glad to be well rid; for, mitigate the mischiefs of the winter as you may, it is, after all, and especially to us dwellers in cities, a most detestable season.

Human nature abhors the cold. It pinches our noses, it nips our ears, it blears our eyes; it screws the "face divine" out of all comeliness. It is the mother of innumerable vexations and discomforts to all of us. Of the terrible misery which it inflicts upon the poor, the ill-fed, the illclothed, we will not speak; that is a topic too sad and solemn for these notes. It is not ours to smite open our readers' hearts with the wail of shipwrecked seamen freezing on a frozen coast; the unknown Franklins who, each year, perish miserably within sight of our homes; nor with the cry of children starving in the shattered hovels that disgrace our city streets, and shame our flaunting civilization. Themes so pregnant and so grave as these, we leave to graver pens than ours; for their issues are of the weightiest that can concern the pulpit or the press. We war with winter, not as with an enemy and a tyrant, but as with the most intolerable of bores.

We know how much has been said and sung of the charms of winter; of the tales in the chimney corner; of the comfortable glow that comes into the heart, when a goodly company of friends are gathered about the fire, and the curtains are drawn, and the sleet rattling upon the panes, scarce heard for the merry laughter within. We admit that it is not easy to conceive of a Christmas dinner in a garden of blooming roses, under a warm, blue sky.

But with the open fire-place, all plans for the jollity of winter have lost their power. "Christmas around the Register," fancy such a title for a book of good old Christmas stories!

When the great logs crackled and sparkled in the deep, shadowy chimney, and the ruddy flames threw a broad, flickering radiance out upon the happy faces in the room, then there was indeed a snug delight in the close, northern life, which might make us almost content to forego the luxury of sweet southern airs. But a cozy company around a hole in the floor!

As one of our truest poets sang, once upon a time, in these pages,

"The lusty antique cheer

Down that dark hole in the floor Staggers, and is seen no more!"

We are reduced to counterfeiting the tropics by steam, and breathe an atmosphere which has all the oppressiveness of the Indian climate, without its lustrous glories.

And out of doors, what a world!

Lord Palmerston, who, if not the wisest, is the wittiest of prime ministers, once defined dirt to be merely something in the wrong place; which definition, although the dictionaries have not yet admitted it, is by far the best that ever was given of a very disagreeable word.

And, by this definition, snow in New York must be held to be eminently dirt.

Snow in the country is, no doubt, useful for agriculture. So much we will admit, with the man who owned, that water might be useful for navigation. Nay, we will go further, and confess, that snow in the country, according to the eternal fitness of things, is also very beautiful. It converts the landscape, indeed, from a painting into an engraving; but the brain of the keen-eyed artist is an inimitable one, and the mind finds a pleasure in these superb effects of light and shade, which almost atones for the passing away of the summer's glory.

A snow storm in the country is one of the loveliest of nature's operations. To call that soft, steady fall of pure white flakes a "storm," is really a most absurd misnomer. One hardly knows where the beauty culminates. whether in the hours.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

popular superstition, which makes them the receptacles of all manner of dreadful evidences of all manner of dreadful crimes. Who can say what an array of horrors shall be revealed, if these mighty mountainranges should ever really melt away?

Hateful is the snow, hateful the winter that brings it.

And therefore, once again we say, welcome is March, harbinger of spring, though he sniffle and whine his lamentable carol of better days a-coming.

Yet the dreary days that are past, have not been without their consolations. The social world has acted on Mark Tapley's conviction, that "it was creditable to be jolly under the circumstances."

And it certainly was so. We lost, to be sure, our bright and beautiful Opera House (not the building exactly, but the use and behoof thereof) just when we were beginning most to need it. Madame Lagrange, our most satisfactory prima donna, departed, not exactly singing the "nunc dimittis," but yet, we hope, not without feeling, that her admirable gifts, and her faithful use of them for our profit and pleasure, had not been utterly unappreciated. Philadelphia, in its meek, complacent fashion, and Boston, with its usual fanatical extravagance, have since been enjoying the "pluie de perles" which fell so long about us- -the ungrateful. Our Hensler (but for us the Bostonians would never have heard her), our Brignoli, our Rovere, and our fascinating Didiée, have been winning applause and laurels from the excitable Athenians. They will come back to us once more, in this same muchabused month of March; and, if we are good, we shall have plenty of good things in the pleasant spring nights. Arditi will give us a new opera, of which even the KnowNothings speak amiably; and it is to be hoped that we shall have learned, by two months' experience, how very unwise it is to throw away our good fortune, and to suffer our Academy doors to be closed.

We have no seeds of corn, or wheat, or turnips in Broadway to be blanketed from the frost; our only subterranean treasures are the gas-pipes and the mains of Croton water, and these are independent of the snow. The snow cannot help us. So it hinders us horribly, and beclogs and befouls our ways.

How ugly it soon becomes! The streets look as if they had been traversed by illmade carts filled with damp brown sugar; the pavements are blistered all over with irregular blotches of dirty white.

Here and there to be seen on a steep roof, or on the crockets and finials of some pseudo-Gothic church, the high-piled white looks picturesquely enough. But the picturesque is dearly purchased by the peril of one's life, from masses suddenly falling, or still more suddenly thrown off these impending heights. We shall never admire the snow-clad roofs, till we are assured that the guardians of the public safety have really made up their minds, that it is inexpedient to allow quiet citizens to be put out of the way by city avalanches, and that the avenues ought to be almost as secure as the passes of Switzerland.

When that time-that Saturnian agewill come, who can venture to predict? Two weary months have witnessed the gradual accumulation in our highways of snow-mountains, which the boldest charioteer trembles to attempt.

The Napoleon of our St. Bernard has not yet appeared, nor even a Hannibal, armed with vinegar-cruet, to dissolve these dangerous Alps.

They rise on every hand, so solid, so threatening, that we do not wonder at the

But though Rossini and Meyerbeer have been dumb to us so long, we have not been utterly deserted of the tuneful throng. Our Philharmonic concerts have, so far, been radiantly successful. With one exception, so admirably balanced, so harmoniously proportioned an orchestra has never before been heard in America; and it is no slight indication of the hold which music, as an art, is winning upon our people, tha

« AnteriorContinuar »