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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 4, February, 1858 by Various

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reform. For the moment, the English mind, bending in a surprised
deference to the stormy assault of the enthusiasts of the new school,
partly carried away by its characteristic admiration of the heroism of
their attack and the fiery eloquence of their champion, Ruskin, and
perhaps not quite assured of its final effect, forgets to unmask
its terrible artillery. But to upset the almost immovable English
conservatism, to teach the nation new ways of thought and feeling, in a
generation! Cromwell could not do it; and this wave of reform that
now surges up against those prejudices, more immovable than the white
cliff's of Albion, will break and mingle with the heaving sea again, as
did that of the republicanism of the Commonwealth, whose Protector never
sat in his seat of government more firmly than Ruskin now holds the
protectorate of Art in England. When political reform moved off to
American wildernesses for the life it could not preserve in England, it
but marked the course reform in Art must follow. The apparent ascendency
which it has obtained over the old system will as certainly turn out
to be temporary as there is logic in history; because an Art, like a
political system, to govern a nation, must be in accordance with its
character as a nation,--must, in fact, be the outgrowth of it. The only
unfailing line of kings and protectors is the people; with them is no
interregnum; and when the English people become fitted by intellectual
and moral progress to be protectors of a new and living Art, it will
return to them just as surely as republicanism will one day return from
its exile,--

"And all their lands restored to them again,
That were with it exiled."

The philosophic Art will find a soil free from Art-prejudices and open
to all seeds of truth; it will find quiet and liberty to grow, not
without enemies or struggles, but with no enemies that threaten its
safety, nor struggles greater than will strengthen it. The appreciation
and frank acceptance it has met on its first appearance here, the number
of earnest and intelligent adherents it has already found, are more
than its warmest friends hoped for so soon. But in England, while its
appreciating admirers will remain adherents to its principles, it will
pass out of existence as an independent form of Art, and the elements
of good in it will mingle with the Art of the nation, as a leaven
of nonconformity and radicalism, breeding agitations enough to keep
stagnation away and to secure a steady and irresistible progress. Its
truest devotees will remain in principle what they are, losing gradually
the external characteristics of the school as it is now known,--while
the great mass of its disciples, unthinking, impulsive, will sink hack
into the ranks of the old school, carrying with them the strength they
have acquired by the severe training of the system, so that the whole of
English Art will be the better for Pre-Raphaelitism. But with Ruskin's
influence ceases the Commonwealth of Art; for Ruskin governs, not
represents, English feeling,--governs with a tyranny as absolute, an
authority as unquestioned, as did Oliver Cromwell.

Of the men now enlisted in the reform, few are of very great value
individually. Millais will probably be the first important recusant.
He is a man of quick growth, and his day of power is already past; the
reaction will find in him an ally of name, but he has no real greatness.
William Holman Hunt and Dante Rosetti are great imaginative artists, and
will leave their impress on the age. Ford Madox Brown, as a rational,
earnest painter, holds a noble and manly position. But then we have done
with great names. Much seed has sprung up on stony ground; but, having
little soil, when the sun shines, it will die. The slow growth is the
sure one.

* * * * *

LITERARY NOTICES.

_History of the Republic of the United Slates of America, as traced in
the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and his Contemporaries_. By John C.
HAMILTON Vol. I. New York: D. Appleton & Co., Broadway. 1857.

Comic Histories have never been to our taste. The late Mr. Gilbert a
Beckett, we always thought, might have employed his _vis comica_, or
force of fun, better than in linking ludicrous images and incongruous
associations with the heroes of ancient and modern times. The department
of Comic Biography, we believe, has received few contributions, if any,
from the frolic quills of wicked wags. The cure, however, of this defect
in our literature, if any there be, may be looked upon as begun in the
work whose title stands at the head of this notice. The author, indeed,
had not the settled purpose of the facetious writers we have just
dispraised, of making game of the subject of his book, no more than he
has the wit and cleverness which half redeem their naughtinesses.
The absence of these latter qualities is supplied in his case by
the self-complacent good faith in which be puts forth his monstrous
assumptions and the stolid assurance with which he maintains them. But
the effect of his labors, as of theirs, is to throw an atmosphere of
ludicrous ideas around the memory of a great man, painful to all persons
of good taste and correct feelings.

Filial piety is a virtue to which much should be forgiven. And the son
of such a father as Alexander Hamilton might well be pardoned for even
an undue estimate of his services, if it were kept within the decent
bounds of moderate exaggeration. But when he undertakes to make his
father the incarnation of the Revolution and of the Republic, and to
concentrate all the glories of that heroic age in him as the nucleus
from which they radiate, he must pardon us, if we think, that, by long
contemplation of the object of his filial admiration, his mental sight
has become morbid and distorted, and sees things which are not to be
seen. Beginning his book with the assumption that Hamilton was the
first to conceive the idea, of "the Union of the People of the United
States,"--an assumption which we can by no means admit, though supported
(as we learn from a foot note) by the opinion of Mr. George Ticknor
Curtis,--the author proceeds "to trace in his life and writings the
history of the origin and, early policy of this GREAT REPUBLIC." Through
the whole volume, "THE REPUBLIC" stands rubric over the left hand page,
and "HAMILTON" over the right, and the identity of the two is sought to
be established from the beginning to the end. Now, deep as is the sense
we entertain of--the services of Hamilton to his country, and scarcely
less than filial as is the veneration we have been taught from our
earliest days to feel for his memory, we must pronounce this pretension
to be as absurd and futile in itself as it is unjust and ungenerous to
the other great men of that pregnant period.

We do not know whether or not Mr. John C. Hamilton is of opinion, that,
had his illustrious father lived and died a trader in the island of
Nevis, the American Revolution would never have taken place, nor the
American Republic been founded; but he plainly considers that the
great contest began to assume its most momentous gravity from the time
Hamilton first entered upon the scene, as an haranguer at popular
meetings in New York, as a writer on the earnest topics of the day, as
a spectator of the broadside fired by the Asia on the Battery, as a
captain of artillery at White Plains, and especially as the aide-de-camp
and secretary of Washington. This part of the history of Hamilton, and
particularly the testimony about his selection by Washington for this
great confidence when scarcely twenty years of age, bears to his eminent
qualities, one would think, honor enough to satisfy the most pious of
sons. But from this moment, according to the innuendoes, if not the
broad assertion of Mr. Hamilton, Washington was chiefly of use to sign
the letters and papers prepared by his military secretary, and to carry
out the plans he had conceived. On the theatre of the world's history,
from this time forth, Washington is to be presented, like Mr. Punch on
the ledge of his show-box, squeaking and jerking as the strings are
pulled from below by the hand of his boy-aide-de-camp. He writes letters
to Congress, to all and singular the American Generals, to the British
Generals, to the Governors of States, and to all whom it may concern,
"over the signature of Washington," (which detestable Americanism Mr.
Hamilton invariably uses,) the whole credit of the correspondence being
coolly passed over to the account of the secretary! That Hamilton did
his duty excellently well there is no question, but it was a purely
ministerial one. He furnished the words and the sentences, but
Washington breathed into them the breath of their life. As well might
the confidential clerk of Mr. John Jacob Astor claim his estate, in
virtue of having written, under the direction of his principal, the
business letters by which it was acquired. If we are not mistaken, this
Mr. Hamilton some time since included Washington's Farewell Address in
the collection of his father's works. Perhaps Mr. Jefferson owes it to
the accidents of time and distance, that the Declaration of Independence
is not reclaimed as another of Hamilton's estrays. We forbear to
characterize this attempt to transfer the credit of the correspondence
of Washington from the heart to the hand, in the terms which we think it
deserves; for we apprehend the mere statement of the case will enable
every right-judging man to form a very competent opinion of it for
himself.

Though we cannot conscientiously say, judging from this book, that Mr.
Hamilton has inherited the literary skill of his father, it is very
clear that he is the faithful depositary of his political antipathies.
At the earliest possible moment the hereditary rancor against John Adams
bursts forth, and it bubbles up again whenever an opening occurs or can
be made. His patriotism, his temper, his manners, his courage, are
all in turn made the theme of bitter, and of what is meant for strong
denunciation. His journeys from Philadelphia to Braintree, though with
the permission of Congress, are "flights"; his not taking the direct
road, which would bring him in dangerous vicinity to the enemy, is a
proof of cowardice! His free expression of opinion as to the conduct
of the campaign in the Jerseys--made before the seal of success had
certified to its wisdom--was rancorous hostility to Washington, if not
absolute conspiracy against him; and so on to the end of the chapter.
As this volume only brings the history of the Republic, as contained in
that of Hamilton, then in the twenty-second year of his age, to 1779, we
tremble to think of what yet awaits the Second President, as the twain
in one grow together from the gristle into the bone. What we have here
we conceive to be the mere sockets of the gallows of fifty cubits'
height on which this New England Mordecai is to be hanged up as an
example to all malefactors of his class. We make no protest against this
summary procedure, if the Biographer of the Republic think it due to the
memory of his father; but we would submit that he has begun rather early
in the day to bind the victim doomed to deck the _feralia_ of his hero.

The literary execution of this book is not better than its substantial
merits deserve. The style is generally clumsy, often obscure, and
not unseldom harsh and inflated. Take an instance or two, picked out
absolutely at random.--"The disaffected, who held throughout the contest
the seaboard of the State in abeyance, driven forth, would have felt in
their wanderings there would be no parley with them." p. l27. Again, "It
became the policy of the Americans, while holding the enemy in check, to
draw him into separate detachments, in successive skirmishes to profit
of their superior aim and activity, and of their better knowledge of the
country, and to keep up its confidence by a system of short and gradual
retreats from fastness to fastness,--from river beyond river." p.
l29.--These sentences, taken at hap-hazard from two consecutive leaves,
are not unfair specimens of the literary merits of this intrepid attempt
to convert the history of the nation, at its most critical period, into
a collection of _Memoires pour servir_ to the biography of General
Hamilton.

We are very sure that Mr. Hamilton has undertaken a task for which he
has neither the necessary talent nor materials, and which can only end,
as it has begun, in a ridiculous failure. If we could hope that our
words would reach or influence him, we would entreat him to be content
with the proud heritage of fame which his father left to his children,
without seeking to increase it by encroachments on that left behind
them by his great contemporaries. The fame of Hamilton, indeed, is no
peculiar and personal property of his descendants. It belongs to us all,
and neither the malice of his enemies nor the foolish fondness of his
son can separate it from us. Notwithstanding the amusement we could not
help deriving from the perusal of this volume, and sure as we are that
the book must grow more and more diverting, in its way, as it goes on,
we cannot but feel that the entertainment will be dearly purchased
at the cost of even the; shadow of just ridicule resting, even for a
moment, on so illustrious and venerable a name as that of ALEXANDER
HAMILTON.

_Parthenia: or the Last Days of Paganism_. By ELIZA BUCKMINSTER LEE,
Author of "Naomi," "Life of Jean Paul," "Lives of the Buckminsters,"
etc., etc. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1858. 12mo. pp. 420.

The true gauge of any civilization, whether of a race, a nation, or a
district, is to be found in the character and position of its women.
Slaves, toys, idols, companions, they rise with every ascending grade of
culture until they have won the natural place so long denied them. The
feminine string rings a true octave with the masculine, and makes a
perfect concord, when left to vibrate in its entire length. But the
lower forms of social humanity are constantly shortening it, and so
producing occasional harmonies at the expense of frequent discords.

We hold such a book as "Parthenia" to have a wide significance to all
who read thoughtfully. It is the work of a thoroughly cultivated woman,
who, in her nobleness of aim, in her generosity of sentiment, in her
purity of thought and style, may be considered a worthy representative
of our best type of educated womanhood. Mrs. Lee's former writings have
made her name honored and cherished in both hemispheres. Thomas Carlyle
said of her "Lives of the Buckminsters," "that it gave an insight into
the real life of the highest natures,"--"that it had given him a much
better account of character in New England than anything he had seen
since Franklin."

We hail a production like this, so scholarlike and serene, so remote
from the trivialities and vulgarities of ambitious book-makers, with
pleasure and pride. We are thankful--let us add in a whisper--for
a story, with love and woman in it, which does not rustle with
_crinoline_; that most useful of inventions for ladies with limited
outlines, and literary man-milliners with scanty brains; which has
filled more than half the space in our drawing-rooms, and nearly as
large a part of some of our periodicals, since the Goddesses of Grace
and of Dulness united to bestow the precious gift on Beauties and
Boeotians.

A story deals with human nature and time. All that is truly human is
interesting, however abstractly stated; but it requires the _mordant_
of specific circumstance, involving some historical period, to make
it stain permanently. Everything that belongs to Time, as his private
property,--everything _temporary_, using that word in its ordinary
sense,--is uninteresting, except so far as it serves to fix the colors
of that humanity which we always love to contemplate. The statuary,
who cares nothing about Time, loves to drop his costuming, trumpery
altogether. The cheap story, written for the day, is dressed in all the
fashionable articles that can be laid upon it, like the revolving lady
in a shop window. The real story, which alone outlives the _modiste's_
bonnets and shawls, may drape itself as it pleases; for it does not
depend on its _peplos_, or _stola_, on its _stomacher_, or _basque_,--or
_crinoline_, for its effect.

"Parthenia" is a tale of the fourth century, but it tells the experience
of lofty souls in all centuries. The particular period chosen is one of
the deepest interest,--that of the conflict of expiring Paganism with
growing Christianity, under Julian the Apostate. Julian's character, as
drawn in the story, may be considered as a true historical study. The
"grand _conservative_ of the fourth century," as Mrs. Lee calls him, is
painted as a violent and arbitrary man, but always sincere and noble in
his delusions. He never loses our respect, and we admire as often as
pity him. When people, professing to believe that a few sestertia
invested in papyri and sent to their barbarian neighbors would be sure
to save hundreds or thousands of fellow-creatures from an eternity
of inconceivable agony, do, notwithstanding, expend great sums on
"snow-white mules and golden harness," to carry them to the Basilica,
or on any other selfish gratification whatsoever, we cannot wonder
that Julian, or anybody else, is ready to take up the pleasant "creed
outworn" which Wordsworth half yearns after in his famous sonnet, as
preferable to that base system of psychophagy prevailing in the church
of Antioch.

Parthenia, the heroine of the story, is drawn with great power and
feeling. She comes before us at first with the classic charms of an
Athenian beauty; she leaves us resplendent with the aureola of a
Christian saint. The change is gradually and naturally wrought; a
Christian maid-servant wins her love and reverence, and her proud and
restless heart finds peace in the simple faith taught by the little
slave, Areta.

We cannot in this brief notice follow the incidents of the tale, which
will be found full of interest. A remarkably graceful style and a
harmonious arrangement of scenery and incident make the chapters flow on
like a series of gliding pictures. The pleasure afforded by the beauty
of the story will, perhaps, be enough for most readers; but those
who read carefully will perceive that it furnishes matter for deep
reflection to the student of history and of theology.

_The Life of Michael Angela Buonarotti, with Translations of many of his
Poems and Letters_. Also _Memoirs of Savonarola, Raphael, and Victoria
Colonna_. By JOHN S. HARFORD, Esq., D.C.L., F.R.S., etc., etc. 2 vols.
8vo. London. 1857.

Autobiographies are not the only memoirs in which there is scope for the
display of vanity. Some men flatter themselves by connecting their names
on a title-page with the name of some great character of the past.
Self-love quickens their admiration of their hero, and admiration for
their hero gratifies their self-love. Mr. Harford belongs to this class
of biographers. The title and the appearance of his volumes excite
expectations which acquaintance with them disappoints. The book is not a
mere harmless piece of literary presumption; it is a positive evil, as
cumbering ground which might be better occupied, and as giving such
authority as it may acquire to false views of Art and to numerous errors
of fact. There was need of a good biography of Michel Angelo, and Mr.
Harford has made a bad one. The defects of the book are both external
and essential. Mr. Harford's mind is of the commonplace order, and
incapable of a true appreciation either of the character or the works
of such a man as Michel Angelo. He has no sympathetic insight into the
depths of human nature. Nor has he the method and power of arrangement,
such as may often be found in otherwise second-rate biographers, which
might enable him to set forth the external facts of a life in such lucid
and intelligible order as to exhibit the force of circumstances and
position in moulding the character. His learning, of which there is a
considerable display, appears on examination shallow and superficial,
and his style of writing is often clumsy, and never elegant.

Michel Angelo, like all great men of genius, is the reflex and express
image of many of the ruling characteristics and tendencies of his time.
The strongest natures receive the strongest impressions, and the most
marked individuality pervades the character which is yet the clearest
and best defined type of its own age. The decline of religious faith,
the vagueness of the prevailing religious philosophy, and the approach
of the Reformation, are all to be predicated from the "Last Judgment" in
the Sistine Chapel; the impending fall of Art is to be read in the form
of the "Moses" of San Pietro in Vincoli; the luxury and pomp of the
Papal Court and Church are manifest in the architecture of St. Peter's,
whose dome is swollen with earthly pride; the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel betrays the recoil toward heathenism from the vices and
corruptions that then hung round Christianity; and the Sacristy of San
Lorenzo is the saddest and grandest exhibition that those days afforded
of the infidelity into which the best men were forced.

Vasari and Condivi are the great providers of facts in relation to
Michel Angelo, and they have left little to be desired in this respect.
The garrulous fondness of Vasari leads him into delightful Boswellian
details, and gives us more than a mere outline narrative. Mr. Harford
has transferred much of Vasari's writing to his own pages, but has
succeeded in translating or mistranslating all vitality out of it.

Mr. Harford has attempted, by giving sketches of the chief characters of
Florence and of Rome during Michel Angelo's life, to show some of the
personal influences which most affected him. But his bricks all lie
separate; they are not built up with mortar that holds them together.
A superficial account of the Platonic Academy is inserted to show the
effect of the fashionable philosophy of Florence upon the youthful
artist; but it is so done that we learn little more from it than that
the Academy existed, that Michel Angelo was a member of it, and that he
wrote some poems in which some Platonic ideas are expressed. There is no
philosophic analysis of the individual Platonism which is apparent, not
only in his poems, but in some of his paintings,--no exhibition of its
connection with the other portions of his intellectual development.
Michel Angelo's ideas of beauty, of the relation of the arts, of the
connection between Art and Religion, deserve fuller investigation than
they have yet received. His tremendous power has exerted such a control
over sensitive, imaginative, and weak minds, that even his errors have
been accepted as models, and his false ideas as principles of authority.
Mr. Harford's book will do little to assist in the formation of a true
judgment upon these and similar points.

But we will not confine our notice to assertions; we will exhibit at
least some of the minor faults upon which our assertions are based,--for
it would demand larger space than we could give to enter upon the
illustration of the principal faults of the book. First, then, for
inaccuracies of statement,--which are the less to be excused, as Mr.
Harford had ample opportunity for correctness. For instance, in the
description of the tombs of the Medici, Mr. Harford writes of the famous
figures of Aurora and Twilight, Day and Night: "The four figures that
adorn the tombs are allegorical; and they are specially worthy of
notice, because they first set the example of connecting ornamental
appendages of this description with funereal monuments. Introduced by
so great an authority, this example was quickly followed throughout the
whole of Europe." The carelessness of this assertion is curious. The
custom of connecting allegorical figures with funereal monuments had
prevailed in Italy for a long time before Michel Angelo. Perhaps the
most striking and familiar instance, and one with which Mr. Harford must
have been acquainted, is that afforded by the tombs of the Scaligeri at
Verona, where, on the monument to Can Signorio, of the latter part of
the fourteenth century, appear Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, and other
allegorical figures.

Again, in speaking of the old basilica of St. Peter's, he speaks of the
unusual _Orientalism_ of this the principal church of Western Europe,
whose entrance is towards the _east_ and the altar to the _west_. Now
this _Orientalism_ is by no means unusual in the churches at Rome.
Indeed, it seems to have been the rule of building for the early
churches,--and Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni Laterano, San
Sebastiano, San Clemente, and innumerable others, exhibit it in their
construction. The priest, officiating at the altar, which stood advanced
into the church, looked toward the east.

Again, Mr. Harford says, "The pencil of Giotto was employed by Benedict
XII. in the year 1340"; but be does not tell us how the pencil answered
the purpose for which it was employed in a hand other than its master's.
Giotto died in 1336.

Such are specimens of errors of statement. We can give but a
very few examples of the numerous mistranslations we have
marked,--mistranslations of such a nature as to throw a doubt over the
statements in every portion of the book. In a letter to Luca Martini,
thanking him for a copy of Varchi's commentary on one of his own
sonnets, Michel Angelo says: "Since I perceive by his words and praises
that I am esteemed by the author to be that which I am not, I pray you
to offer such words to him from me as befit such love, affection, and
courtesy." This Mr. Harford translates as follows: "And since I am
almost persuaded by the praises and commendations of its author to
imagine myself to be that which I am not, I must entreat you to convey
to him some expressions from me appropriate to such love, affection, and
courtesy."--Again, writing to Benvenuto Cellini, to express his pleasure
in a portrait bust of his execution, which he had just seen, he says:
"Bindo Altoviti took me to see it--I had great pleasure in it, but it
vexed me much that it was put in a bad light." Mr. Harford renders:
"Bindo Altoviti recently showed me his own portrait, which delighted
me, but he little understood me, for he had placed it in a very bad
light."[A]--Again, in another letter, Michel Angelo says: "Teaching him
that which I know that his father wished he should learn," which Mr.
Harford transforms into, "I will teach him all that I know, and all that
his father wished him to learn." Rather a considerable promise!--In
another letter, Mr. Harford makes Michel Angelo say, "I thank you for
everything you say on the subject, as far as I can foresee the future."
Michel Angelo did say: "For which news I thank you heartily," or, to
translate literally and to show the origin of Mr. Harford's error, "I
thank you as much as I know how I can,"--_quanto so e posso_.

[Footnote A: Here Mr. Harford shows his ignorance of the common Italian
idiom, _e' mi seppe molto male_,--"it vexed" or "displeased me much." He
tries to render the words literally, and makes nonsense.]

One would have supposed that a consciousness of an imperfect
acquaintance with the Italian language might at least have deterred
Mr. Harford from attempting poetical translations from it. But he has
notwithstanding rendered many of Michel Angelo's poems into English
verse. Of these poems Wordsworth said, "So much meaning has been put
by Michel Angelo into so little room, and that meaning sometimes so
excellent in itself, that I found the difficulty of translating him
insurmountable. I attempted at least fifteen of the sonnets, but could
not anywhere succeed." How Mr. Harford has succeeded where Wordsworth
failed, we will leave our readers to infer.

We wish that dissatisfaction with Mr. Harford's volumes might lead some
better qualified person to attempt the biography of Michael Angelo.

* * * * *

*** The continuation of the story, "Akin by Marriage," is unavoidably
deferred, owing to the severe illness of the author. It will he resumed
as soon as his health shall permit.

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