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Ir is with no small pleasure that we hear, from many booksellers, the announcement of a perceptible falling off in that class of books which go among the trade by the name of "sensation-books." They are generally of the sort advertised as "thrilling," exquisite," "intensely interesting," and which' are said to run through editions of twenty and thirty thousand copies in less than a month. We have so often, within the last year, taken occasion to let our readers know the character of these publications, that we have no need now to explain it at length. Suffice it to say, that they may be, for the most part, succinctly described as trash. Without original merit of any kind, and appealing merely to sensibilities and not to the reason and conscience, they were a species of debauched literature, and every one must be glad that the day for their disappearance has come. They engendered bad habits of writing among authors, and bad habits of thought and feeling among readers, and, unless something worse takes their place a result which we do not anticipate-it will be a happy riddance.
But what is likely to take their place-ah! who can tell? What kind of reading will be furnished to that vast mass of readers who have been accustomed to waste their time on the wretched novels whose downfall we chronicle? It is impossible to say; the taste of the reading public is apt to be capricious, and, when it tires of one stimulant, readily looks about for another. But we can say what class of works ought to be advanced to the vacant niches; for the world already so abounds in good books, and men of genius, capable of writing good books, are so numerous, that no intellectual curiosity need be starved. There are capital novels extant, which, though not new, will prove, we warrant, a refreshment to those who undertake them-there are grand and exquisite poems in our English literature-there are histories, of all times, and almost all men, that have more interest than the most brilliant works of fiction-and there are innumerable essayists and travelers, whom to encounter, is to achieve a pleasure for life. Let the dis
consolate lovers of the paper-covered nonsense, now demised, turn to these for solace. They will find them less easy reading, at first, but infinitely better, in the end. They will find that their taste improves and grows by what it feeds on, until, having acquired a true appreciation of what is really good in books, they will wonder that they could ever have fed upon the sentimental husks which had once been their nutriment.
Nor need our young writers despair of a field for the proper exercise of their talent. Our whole American life is a comparatively untrodden ground; and if they must write fiction, let them try their hands upon the rich and suggestive materials lying everywhere about them. Have we, as yet, besides Uncle Tom, a genuine novel of American life? Has anything like justice yet been done to the peculiarities of the several parts of the nation? Are not the experiences of the emigrant and the settler full of tragic incident, full of pathos, full of stirring adventure, and not without their humorous side? Besides, how much of human history is to be rewritten-from the new modern stand-points-with a new sense of its picturesque effects, and a new philosophy of its bearing and significance? In fact, there is no end to the topics, which a skillful writer may make both entertaining and instructive, if he will but give his mind and his time to the task. The same expenditure of labor and thought, which is now given to some ephemeral romanceto a work which will scarcely outlive the proverbial nine days of wonder-if devoted to a nobler undertaking, would not produce, perhaps, so profitable a work for the nonce, but it would lead to a greater work in the end, and acquire for the author, instead of a transient and hollow notoriety, a lasting fame. Be this as it may, however, we are sure that the public would gain a great advantage, in the possession of a sounder, purer, and more vigorous literature.
We throw out these few words simply as hints. Our experience in the magazines here convince us that there is an almost incredible amount of intellectual activity
in this country, which, rightly directed, would soon create a brilliant literature for us. The great defect in it, however, is want of maturity and haste. Our writers do not take time to learn the secret of their own powers, to husband them with discretion, and to apply them with the most effectiveness and concentration. As the general life of the nation, so the literary life, is hurried. A certain rawness and want of depth, a certain superficial elegance, in lieu of true beauty, marks too many of our efforts. But there is great strength at the bottom of us--a luxuriance of force even-which shows that there is no deficiency of genius, and only the absence of culture and care. an intense people, and intensity passes with us, often, for real vigor, for that calm and masterly control of the powers which is the sign of true greatness of mind. The mistake lies in supposing spasmodic violence an indication of strength, whereas it is rather an indication of disease.
-APPLETON'S Cyclopædia of Biography. This is really an English book, though Mr. Appleton, in consideration of a few additions, has put his name on the title-page. It was published in London, during the past year, under the editorship of Mr. Rich, assisted by several distinguished men, such as Alison, Professors Creasy, Nichols, Ferguson, Sir David Brewster, Charles Knight, and others. The American edition has been prepared by Dr. Hawks and others, whose names are judiciously not given. Like most other works of this kind, it has a great many merits, and a great many defects. There is nothing in literature, perhaps, more difficult to compile than a good biographical dictionary. It is especially difficult when there are several hands engaged upon it, and the supervising care of the editor is not very rigid. There are so many names to be treated within a short compass, that it is in the highest degree embarrassing to decide how much space should be given to one and how much to another; and whether facts, only, should be given, or comments on character also; while the disagreement of authorities, as to dates, is often quite desperate. Our own notion is, that a biographical dictionary, which aspires to be an every-day book of reference, should confine itself, as much as possible, to an actual record of events, excluding all attempts at the analysis of the
works of great writers, and all attempts at the characterization of great men. Readers, who wish to be minutely informed on the latter topics, will not search for the information in a hand-book, but will go to the more voluminous authorities. What they consult a hand-book for, is to get at a few of the more prominent facts in the lives of persons whose names they encounter in the course of their general reading, or hear in conversation. The biographical dictionary, therefore, ought to be an index of names and facts, rather than a repository of criticism.
The work before us errs in this respect. It aims beyond its proper mark; and, in the endeavor to describe systems of thought and men--the writers being necessarily restricted to a small space-it not only becomes superficial, but omits a vast deal of information which would, otherwise, have been embraced within its covers. Under the heads of Plato, Kant, and Swedenborg, for instance, we are told about the peculiarities of their philosophical schemes, with commendation and criticisms, whereas we only wished to know the essential facts of their lives. If anybody desired to enter into the former subject, he would go to more original sources. We have three solid columns of eulogy on Sir William Hamilton, without a single date, though Sir William, being alive, is not entitled to mention at all, even if his merits, which, we confess, seem to us greatly exaggerated, had warranted so conspicuous a treatment of him. The best parts of the volume are those which make no pretension, and do not bear the initials of the distinguished men whose names are so emblazoned on the title-page.
As to the American additions, they appear to have been hastily compiled. No uniform rule, as to the selection of names and length of notice, is apparent in the general exccution. Men of no account are allowed more space than men of great account: Dr. Swett, whom nobody knows, has twice the attention of Fenimore Cooper, whom everybody knows; the late Governor Metcalfe, of somewhere out West, is more elaborately treated than Gen. Jackson, who was the foremost American of his day. Edgar Allen Poe, an extraordinary genius, has three lines; but Dr. Wainwright, who was not a genius in any way (though an excellent man), has half a column. The
Duke of Wellington fills seven columns and a half, and George Washington but two columns and a half. It is impossible, of course, to avoid these disparities altogether, but a careful editor may do much towards not rendering them too glaring.
In spite of occasional oversights and defects, we think this dictionary about the best of its kind. It is accurate, so far as we have been able to investigate it; it is full; and the memoirs, though brief, are, for the most part, well written. The numerous wood-cuts, representing men and their places of abode, add greatly to its value.
-Literary Criticisms and other Papers, by the late HORACE BINNEY WALLACE, of Philadelphia, is the title of a new volume, collected from the writings of the author, and published by Parry & McMillan, of Philadelphia. Upon the publication of the "Art, Scenery, and Philosophy in Europe," last year, we expressed our admiration of the remarkable powers of Mr. Wallace. In that volume they were mainly displayed in the most comprehensive and accurate, but also most delicate and poetic, criticisms of art. In the present collection, his themes are purely literary. It is impossible to read the two volumes without admiration of the rare and various scholarship, the clear, penetrating perception, the singularly rich, simple, and fascinating style, and the calm, comprehensive tone of the author; and equally impossible not to wonder that, with such powers, he had apparently addressed himself to no work which would give them adequate scope. But the contents of both volumes are strictly fragmentary, and were probably regarded, by Mr. Wallace, as merely studies towards some future achievement. His genius was evidently critical and analytical, not inventive; and he is an example, peculiarly precious in America, of that form of the modesty of genius which serves so lofty an ideal, that it will attempt nothing inadequate to its powers, or below its highest aspiration. Achievements which others might regard as victories, such a mind would consider only as preparatory steps, and, justly measuring its own scope, would scorn an inferior success. This was undoubtedly the case with Mr. Wallace: and, consequently, although he has left no single great work, the fragments which he did leave rank him among the most highly
endowed of the best names in American literature.
The literary criticisms of the present volume are, in great part, devoted to American authors and subjects, and the statement of his age, at the time of the composition of the various papers, is a valuable assistance in the observation of his intellectual development. His enthusiasm, at the age of twenty, for Pope, is the key of his literary sympathies. He is eminently a conservative in literature; and the feeling for Pope indicates his own intellectual habit, which was clear and precise. This conservative literary tendency prevented him from doing justice to the dignity and value of modern literature. He praises modern individuals, and often with singular want of discrimination; but he was apparently unconscious of any vital power and significance in contemporary literature as a whole. He speaks ill of the whole modern school of poetry. He calls Milton the king of poets; and, making a remarkable combination of names, says that, by Milton's canons of poetry, Byron, Wordsworth, and Hemans would fare badly. He associates, in the same way, Spenser, Dryden, and Thomson. He says, how. ever, the best things that have lately been written about Byron; and the reader pardons much to the critic's lofty requirement of superior literary and moral excellence in all his favorites. He gives the most comprehensive and accurate analysis of Irving-saying the truest things in the most felicitous manner. But he instantly vitiates our faith in his judgments, by declaring that American literature is more indebted to Dennie and General Morris than to any other two men; by extravagantly praising Fanny Forrester and Mrs. Lydia Peirson; by declaring that he who can understand Mr. Emerson may value Mr. Bancroft, and by saying that the Rev. Dr. Griswold is a man of genius. With all the various and remarkable worth of Mr. Wallace's criticisms, they have a total want of any just discrimination of relative literary excellence. His style is masterly. It is rich and choice, and perfectly lucid, with a wonderful power of plainly stating very subtle distinctions. It is colloquial and sparkling, but rises, upon occasion, into grave and stately music. Some of the descriptions of European cathedrals, in the first volume, are as superbly elaborated
as the most splendid rhetoric of Ruskin. In the last volume, we note several exquisite felicities of phrase. We quote two or three:
"In approaching the delicate creation of chaste imagination which Mr. Powers gives us in his Greek slave, after the first shock of delight, from the gentle rush of her beauty, wave-like, upon the spirit, is past, we are arrested and enchained by the profound and lofty interest of her countenance."
It would be impossible to convey more perfectly, in words, the peculiar completeness of quiet but intense pleasure occasioned by the first sight of a graceful sculpture. It is a criticism in itself. He describes Undine as follows:
"A child. to captivate the fancy; a woman, to move the heart: a spirit, to raise and awe the soul; with enchanting elegance she wears the drapery of a triple grace."
Of Moore, he says:
"He further corrupted it (his genius) by indulging his youthful appetency upon the luscious banquets of those amatory poets, sophists, and letter-writers, who were engendered of the soft decay of Greek civility, and whom the scholar fears even to touch with a momentary attention."
But our note is expanding into a review. We commend this volume as the work of a man whose death was a national loss. There has been no posthumous publication in our literature, indicative of so much power, since the extracts from a "Scholar's Journal," the diary of Charles Chauncey Emerson, a brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson, published, many years since, in the "Dial." It was he who said, of Shakespeare, that "he sits, pensive and alone, above the hundred-handed play of his imagination."
-The name of the Rev. Dr. GILMAN, of Charleston, is so well known in the literary world as to have received the compliment of a mendacious mention at the Publishers' Festival in this city, when the papers amiably assumed that everybody who ought to have been there was actually present.
And there are many persons, in all parts of our country, who will be glad to know that this estimable and accomplished divine has collected and published the most valuable productions of his pen, under the title of Contributions to Literature.
Cambridge honors, as a scholar and a poet, the man whom Carolina values as a preacher; and, in this goodly volume now
before us, the reader, curious in the literary history of his country, will recognize the style and temper of the generation which gave to Boston its long-admitted preeminence in the walks of style and scholarship, on this side the Atlantic. Yet Dr. Gilman is more than the type of a generation; he has original qualities of mind, as graceful as they are peculiar; his humor is fine and quaint; his feeling refined and gentle; he shows, not seldom, a curious felicity in expression, and a kind of reasonable oddity in speculation, altogether his own, and altogether indescribable. Two papers in this collection, the "Memoirs of a New England Village Choir," and "Some account of the Reverend Stephen Peabody," embody more amusing and interesting details of the rural life of New England, fifty years since, than are to be elsewhere found, and are quite equal, in manner as well as in matter, to Mr. Irving's portraitures of the ancestral New Yorker.
Dr. Gilman's muse is a well-bred lady, who only comes when she is bid; but his occasional pieces are among the happiest of their kind. Two of them, indeed, the "Union Ode," sung at Charleston, in the dreadful "Nullification Days," and the College hymn of "Fair Harvard,” sung at the Cambridge Centennial, have achieved a local popularity which promises to be permanent.
At Home and Abroad.-The second vol. ume of MARGARET FULLER'S works contains her tour in the West, and the letters written from Europe, during her connection with the Tribune, with some notices of her death, and the poems which that event suggested. Sadder, to us, than her untimely fate, is the broken and fragmentary way in which she has always been brought before the public. Nothing, that remains of her, is complete. Her biography was written by three persons, instead of one, and gave no connected view of her activity. Her larger works are without unity, and her lesser ones are all more or less imperfect. The letters from the West, and these letters from abroad, are desultory -full of hints and suggestions--but with no thought worked out, and no pervading purpose. Her mind, indeed, even up to the hour of her death, was unsettled and growing, and had not attained that serenity of conviction, which springs from definite
views, or clear insight. Many noble impulses lived in it, many grand thoughts rolled up before its vision; but the assurance of satisfying truth it had not reached. In her earlier years, the intellect reigned supreme over the affections-and in that state no man or woman ever attains peace; but it is beautiful to note, as she became absorbed in the struggle of Italy, and the ties of wifehood and maternity gave her objects of love, how the womanly nature emerged, and her whole being was softened, concentrated, and raised. There is a touching and mournful eloquence in the enthusiasm with which she describes the first movements of the new life in Italy, followed, as it was, by such treacherous overthrow. Sympathizing sincerely in the hopes of the patriots, admitted to their councils, sharing their dangers, admiring their leader-that singularly pure and gentle, yet strong spirit, Mazzini-her letters on the progress of the Italian revolution are the best contemporary records that we have of it, and excite a profound regret that her more elaborate work on Italy cannot be recovered. Yet, it is to be doubted, whether the history, if completed, would have possessed certain charms, which we find in these letters, written amid the stir of the battle, in the gloom or glow of the moment, with the fresh feeling of the writer pervading every word. One follows the progress of the narrative, as he turns the leaves of some deep tragedy, too much absorbed in the story of grand and melancholy events to be able to criticize the art with which they are unfolded. But this fact is itself the highest praise that could be bestowed upon the writer.
The volume is carefully edited, and neatly printed, and will be gratefully received by all the admirers of this remarkable
-Liberty and Slavery.-Professor BLEDSOE, of the University of Virginia, has published an argument, under this name, designed to show that the subjugation of one race of men by another is the very essence of human liberty, sanctioned explicitly by the moral law of the Bible, and amply sustained by the inductions of experience. Strange as it may seem, it is still a fact, that the interests involved in a particular culture, and the prejudices which it engenders, are able to mislead minds of some degree of original force, and of learning,
into such a systematic perversion of all the dictates of nature, good sense, and religion. All the world knows that slavery exists in this country, simply, because it is supposed to be the most efficient means of cultivating cotton, and that if, by the sudden disuse of that plant, or by the extensive raising of it elsewhere, the trade in it here should become unprofitable, slavery would be abandoned. Yet, inasmuch as the system has been violently attacked on moral grounds, it has been thought expedient to defend it on moral grounds; and we see accomplished professors devoting long and careful treatises to the overthrow of the accepted doctrines of politics and morals, and to the establishment of principles more compatible with this system. It is a sorry exemplification of the facility with which the mind will often persuade itself that what it wants to be right is right. Professor Bledsoe writes with earnestness, and, now and then, eloquently; but his logic is very much out at the heels.
-LIST'S National System of Political Economy. This volume is translated from the German of a very un-German authority. He was a practical man, who passed many years in this country, connected with important commercial enterprises, and his system is the result of his experiences, rather than of study. It differs from the ordinary English and French systems, in that it recommends a temporary adherence to the protective policy, in order to build up national welfare. Nations, as actually organized, and not an abstract humanity, is the true object of political-economical inquiry. The first part, which furnishes a kind of condensed history of the industrial progress of the nations, is very instructive, and some of the subsequent chapters no less so; but, as a whole, it is rather a dull work. It is called a system; but is, in reality, nothing better than a scheme, somewhat imperfectly worked out, and by no means systematically exhibited. The truth is, that political economy, as a science, is in such an inchoate state, that no system is yet possible, and all that is written about it is merely contributions pour servir. The volume before us is a proof of this; for the author of it often says one thing, the French editor, whose notes are appended, another, and the American editor a third. It would seem as if no two men could agree upon any of the more important topics of