Part 5 out of 5
We do not admit, that, because a man has published a volume or a
picture, he has published himself, excommunicated his soul from the
sanctuary of privacy, and made his life as common as a tavern-threshold
to every blockhead in the parish,--or that any Pharisee who kept
carefully to windward of his virtues, out of the way of infection, has
thereby earned the right to mismoralize his failings after he is dumbly
defenceless. The moral compasses that are too short for the aberration
may be, must be, unequal to the orbit. We would not deny that Burns was
a chamberer and a drunkard because he was a great poet; but we would not
admit that whiskey and wenches made him any the less the most richly
endowed genius of his century, with just title to the love and
admiration of men. It is not for us to decide whether he, who, by
doubling the suggestive and associative power of any thought, fancy,
feeling, or natural object, has so far added permanently to the sum of
human happiness, is not as sure of a welcome and a well-done from the
Infinite Fatherliness as he that has turned an honest penny by printing
a catechism; but we are sure that it is a shallow cant which holds up
the errors of men of genius as if they were especial warnings, and
proofs of how little the rarest gifts avail. Is it intended to put men
on their guard against being geniuses? That is scarcely called for till
those who yield to the temptation become more numerous. Do they mean,
We, too, might have been geniuses, but we chose rather to be good and
dull? Self-denial is always praiseworthy, and we reconcile ourselves to
the Ovid lost in consideration of the Deacon gained. But if it be meant
that the danger was in the genius, we deny it altogether. Burns's genius
was the one good thing he had, and it was always, as it always must be,
good, and only good, the leaven of uncontaminate heaven in him that
would not let him sink contentedly into the sty of oblivion with the
million other tipplers and loose-livers of his century. It was his
weakness of character, and not his strength or pride of intellect, that
betrayed him; and to call his faults errors of genius is a mischievous
fallacy. If they were, then they were no lesson for the rest of us; if
they were not, to call them so is to encourage certain gin-and-water
philosophers who would fain extenuate their unpleasant vices by the plea
that they are the necessary complement of unusual powers,--as if the
path to immortality were through the kennel, and fine verses were to be
written only at the painful sacrifice of bilking your washerwoman.
We are over-fond of drawing monitory morals from the lives of gifted
persons, tacking together our little ten-by-twelve pinfolds to impound
breachy human nature in, but it is only because we know more than we
have any business to know of the private concerns of such persons
that we have the opportunity. We are thankful that the character of
Shakspeare is wrapped safely away from us in un-Boswellable night.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge the man stood forever in the way of Samuel
Taylor Coleridge the poet and metaphysician, and the fault of the
poppy-juice in his nature is laid at the door of the laudanum he bought
of the apothecary. Yet all the drowsy juices of Circe's garden could not
hinder De Quincey from writing his twenty-five volumes. To us nothing is
more painful, and nothing seems more cruelly useless, than the parading
of mortal weaknesses, especially of those to whom we are indebted
for delight and teaching. For an inherent weakness has no lesson of
avoidance in it, being helpless from the first, and by the doom of its
own nature growing more and more helpless to the last, not more so in
the example than in him who is to profit by it, and who is more likely
to have his appetite flattered by good company than his fear aroused by
the evil consequence. Because the swans have a vile habit of over-eating
themselves, shall we nail them to the barn-door as a moral lesson to the
There is, doubtless, a great deal to be taught by biography; but it is
by the mistakes of men that we learn, and not by their weaknesses. To
see clearly an error of judgment and its consequences may be of positive
service to us in the conduct of life, while a vice of temperament
concerns us not at all in private men, and only so far in statesmen
and rulers as it may have been influential in history as a modifier of
action, or is essential to an understanding of it as an explainer of
The Autobiography of Leslie seems to us in some sort the complement
of Haydon's, and throws the defiant struggle of that remarkable
self-portraiture into stronger relief by the contrast of its equable
good-fortune and fireside tranquillity. The causes of the wide
difference in the course and the result of these two lives are on the
surface and are instructive. Comparing the two men at the outset, we
should have said that all the chances were on Haydon's side. If he had
not genius, he had at least the temperament and external characteristics
that go along with it. He had what is sometimes wanting to it in its
more purely aesthetic manifestation, the ambition that spurs and the
unflagging energy that seemed a guerdon of unlimited achievement.
Yet the ambition fermented into love of notoriety and soured into a
fraudulent self-assertion, that grew boastful as it grew distrustful of
its claims and could bring less proof in support of them; the energy
degenerated into impudence, evading the shame of spendthrift bankruptcy
to-day by shifts that were sure to bring a more degrading exposure
tomorrow; and the whole ended at last in a suicide whose tragic pang
is deadened to us by the feeling that so much of the mixed motive that
drove him to it as was not cowardice was a hankering after melodramatic
effect, the last throb of a passion for making his name the theme of
public talk, and his fate the centre of a London day's sensation.
Chatterton makes us lenient to a life of fraud by the dogged and cynical
uncomplainingness of the despair that drove him to cut it short; but
Haydon continues his self-autopsy to the last moment, and in pulling the
trigger seems to be only firing the train for an explosion that shall
give him a week longer of posthumous notoriety. The egotism of Pepys was
but a suppressed garrulity, which habitual caution, fostered by a period
of political confusion and the mystery of office, drove inward to a kind
of soliloquy in cipher; that of Montaigne was metaphysical,--in studying
his own nature and noting his observations he was studying man, and that
with a singular insouciance of public opinion; but Haydon appears to
have written his journals with a deliberate intention of their some day
advertising himself, and his most private aspirations are uttered with
an eye to the world. Yet it was a genuine instinct that led him to the
pen, and his lifelong succession of half-successes that are worse than
defeats was due to the initial error of mistaking a passion for a power.
A fine critic, a vivid sketcher of character, and a writer of singular
clearness, point, and eloquence was spoiled to make an artist, sometimes
noble in conception, but without sense of color, and utterly inadequate
to any but the most confused expression of himself by the pencil. His
very sense of the power which he was conscious of somewhere in himself
harassed and hampered him, as time after time he refused to see that his
failure was due, not to injustice or insensibility on the part of the
world, but to his having chosen the wrong means of making his ability
felt and acknowledged. His true place would have been that of Professor
and Lecturer in the Royal Academy. The world is not insensible or
unjust, but it knows what it wants, and will not long be put off with
less. There is always a public for success; there never is, and never
ought to be, for inadequacy. Haydon was in some respects a first-rate
man, but the result of his anxious, restless, and laborious life was
almost zero, as far as concerned its definite aims. It does not convey
the moral of neglected genius, or of loose notions of money-obligations,
ending in suicide, but simply of a mischosen vocation, leading sooner or
later to utter and undeniable failure. _Pas meme academicien_! Plenty of
neglected geniuses have found it good to be neglected, plenty of Jeremy
Diddlers (in letters and statesmanship as often as in money-matters)
have lived to a serene old age, but the man who in any of the unuseful
arts insists on doing what Nature never asked him to do has no place in
the world. Leslie, a second-rate man in all respects, but with a genuine
talent rightly directed, an obscure American, with few friends, no
influential patrons, and a modesty that would never let him obtrude his
claims, worked steadily forward to competence, to reputation, and the
Council of the Academy. The only blunder of his life was his accepting
the Professorship of Drawing at West Point, a place for which he was
unsuited. But this blunder he had the good sense and courage to correct
by the frank acknowledgment of resignation. Altogether his is a career
as pleasant as Haydon's is painful to contemplate, the more so as we
feel that his success was fairly won by honest effort directed by
a contented consciousness of the conditions and limitations of his
Nothing can be more agreeable than the career of a successful artist.
His employment does not force upon him the solitude of an author; it
is eminently companionable; from its first design, through all the
processes that bring his work to perfection, he is not shut out from the
encouragement of sympathy; his success is definite and immediate; he
can see it in the crowd around his work at the exhibition; and his very
calling brings him into pleasant contact with beauty, taste, and (if a
portrait-painter) with eminence in every department of human activity.
Leslie's passage through the world was of that equal temper which is
happiest for the man and unhappiest for the biographer. With no dramatic
surprises of fortune, and no great sorrows, his life had scarce any
other alternation than that it went round with the earth through night
and day, and would have been tame but for his necessary labor in an
art which he loved wisely and with the untumultuous sentiment of
an after-honey-moon constancy. We should say that his leading
characteristic was Taste, an external quality, it is true, but one which
is often the indication of more valuable ones lying deeper. In the
conduct of life it insures tact, and in Art a certain gentlemanlike
equipoise, incapable of what is deepest and highest, but secure also
from the vulgar, the grotesque, and the extravagant. Leslie, we think,
was more at home with Addison than with Cervantes.
His autobiographical reminiscences are very entertaining, especially
that part of them which describes a voyage home to America, varied by
a winter in Portugal, during the early part of his life. The Scotch
captain, who, with his scanty merchant-crew, beats off a Bordeaux
privateer, and then, crippled and half-sinking, clears for action with
what he supposes to be a French frigate, but which turns out to be
English, is a personage whose acquaintance it is pleasant to make. The
sketches of life in Lisbon, too, are very lively, and the picture of
the decayed Portuguese nobleman's family, for whose pride of birth an
imaginary dinner-table was set every day in the parlor with the remains
of the hereditary napery and plate, the numerous covers hiding nothing
but the naked truth, while their common humanity, squatting on the floor
in the kitchen, fished its scanty meal from an earthen pot with pewter
spoons, is pathetically humorous and would have delighted Caleb
Balderstone. In after-life, Leslie's profession made him acquainted with
some of the best London life of his time, and the volume is full of
agreeable anecdotes of Scott, Irving, Turner, Rogers, Wilkie, and
many more. It contains also several letters of Irving, of no special
interest, and some from a sort of Lesmahago of a room-mate of Leslie's,
named Peter Powell, so queer, individual, and shrewd, that we are sorry
not to have more of them and their writer. Altogether the book is one of
the pleasantest we have lately met with.
_The Old Battle-Ground_. By J.T. TROWBRIDGE, Author of "Father
Brighthopes," "Neighbor Jackwood," etc. New York: Sheldon & Company.
1860. pp. 276.
Mr. Trowbridge's previous works have made him known to a large circle of
appreciating readers as a writer of originality and promise. His "Father
Brighthopes" we have never read, but we have heard it spoken of as one
of the most wholesome children's books ever published in America, and
our knowledge of the author makes us ready to believe the favorable
opinion a just one. Parts of "Neighbor Jackwood" we read with sincere
relish and admiration; they showed so true an eye for Nature and so
thorough an appreciation of the truly humorous elements of New England
character, as distinguished from the vulgar and laughable ones. The
domestic interior of the Jackwood family was drawn with remarkable truth
and spirit, and all the working characters of the book on a certain
average level of well-to-do rusticity were made to think and talk
naturally, and were as full of honest human nature as those of the
conventional modern novel are empty of it. An author who puts us in the
way to form some just notion of the style of thought proper to so large
a class as our New England country-people, and of the motives likely to
influence their social and political conduct, does us a greater service
than we are apt to admit. And the power to conceive the leading
qualities that make up an average representative and to keep them
always clearly in view, so as to swerve neither toward tameness nor
exaggeration, is by no means common. This power, it seems to us, Mr.
Trowbridge possesses in an unusual degree. The late Mr. Judd, in his
remarkable romance of "Margaret," gave such a picture as has never been
equalled for truth of color and poetry of conception, of certain phases
of life among a half-gypsy family in the outskirts of a remote village,
and growing up in the cold penumbra of our civilization and material
prosperity. But his scene and characters were exceptional, or, if
typical, only so of a very limited class, and his book, full of fine
imagination as it is, is truly a romance, an ideal and artistic
representation, rather a poem than a story of manners general and
familiar enough to be called real.
Mr. Trowbridge, we think, fails in those elements of (we had almost said
creative) power in which Mr. Judd was specially rich. If the latter had
possessed the shaping spirit as fully as he certainly did the essential
properties of imagination, he would have done for the actual, prosaic
life of New England what Mr. Hawthorne has done for the ideal essence
that lies behind and beneath it. But, with all his marvellous fidelity
of dialect, costume, and landscape, and his firm clutch of certain
individual instincts and emotions, his characters are wanting in any
dramatic unity of relation to each other, and seem to be "moving about
in worlds not realized," each a vivid reality in itself, but a very
shadow in respect of any prevailing intention of the story. With the
innate sentiments of a kind of aboriginal human nature Mr. Judd was
at home; with the practical working of every-day motives he seemed
strangely unfamiliar. It is just here that Mr. Trowbridge's strength
and originality lie; but, with that not uncommon tendency to overvalue
qualities that we do not possess, and to attempt their display, to the
neglect, and sometimes at the cost, of others quite as valuable, but
which seem cheap, because their exercise is easy and habitual,--and
therefore, we may be sure, natural and pleasing,--he insists on being a
little metaphysical and over-fine. What he means for his more
elevated characters are tiresome with something of that melodramatic
sentimentality with which Mr. Dickens has infected so much of the
lighter literature of the day. Here and there the style suffers from
that overmuchness of unessential detail and that exaggeration of
particulars which Mr. Dickens brought into fashion and seems bent on
wearing out of it,--a style which is called graphic and poetical by
those only who do not see that it is the cheap substitute, in all
respects equal to real plate, (till you try to pawn it for lasting
fame,) introduced by writers against time, or who forget that to be
graphic is to tell most with fewest penstrokes, and to be poetical is
to suggest the particular in the universal. We earnestly hope, that,
instead of trying to do what no one can do well, Mr. Trowbridge will
wisely stick close to what he has shown that no one can do better.
"The Old Battle-Ground," whose name bears but an accidental relation to
the story, is an interesting and well-constructed tale, in which Mr.
Trowbridge has introduced what we believe is a new element in American
fiction, the French Canadian. The plot is simple and not too improbable,
and the characters well individualized. Here, also, Mr. Trowbridge
is most successful in his treatment of the less ambitiously designed
figures. The relation between the dwarf Hercules fiddler and the
heroine Marie seems to be a suggestion from Victor Hugo's Quasimodo and
Esmeralda, though the treatment is original and touching. Indeed, there
is a good deal of pathos in the book, marred here and there with the
sentimental extract of Dickens-flowers, unpleasant as _patchouli_.
Generally, however, it has the merit of unobtrusiveness,--a rare piece
of self-denial nowadays, when authors have found out, and the public has
not, how very easy it is to make the public cry, and how much the simple
creature likes it, as if it had not sorrows enough of its own. But it is
in his more ordinary characters that Mr. Trowbridge fairly shows himself
as an original and delightful author. His boys are always masterly.
Nothing could be truer to Nature, more nicely distinguished as to
idiosyncrasy, while alike in expression and in limited range of ideas,
or more truly comic, than the two that figure in this story. Nick
Whickson, too, the good-natured ne'er-do-well, who is in his own and
everybody's way till he finds his natural vocation as an aid to a dealer
in horses, is a capital sketch. The hypochondriac Squire Plumworthy
is very good, also, in his way, though he verges once or twice on the
"heavy father," with a genius for the damp handkerchief and long-lost
We are safe in assigning to Mr. Trowbridge a rank quite above that of
our legion of washy novelists; he seems to have a definite purpose and
an ambition for literary as well as popular success, and we hope that
by study and observation he will be true to a very decided and peculiar
talent. We violate no confidence in saying that the graceful poem, "At
Sea," which first appeared in the "Atlantic," and which, under the name
of now one, now another author, has been deservedly popular, was written
by Mr. Trowbridge.
JULY REVIEWED BY SEPTEMBER.
The Editors of the "Atlantic," of course, have universal knowledge
(with few exceptions) at their fingers' ends,--that is, they possess
an Encyclopaedia, gapped here and there by friends fond of portable
information and familiar with that hydrostatic paradox in which the
motion of solids up a spout is balanced by a very slender column of the
liquidating medium. The once goodly row of quartos looks now like a set
of mineral teeth that have essayed too closely to simulate Nature by
assaulting a Boston cracker; and the intervals of vacuity among the
books, as among the incisors, deprive the owner of his accustomed
glibness in pronouncing himself on certain topics. Among the missing
volumes is one of those in M, and accordingly our miss-information [A]
on all subjects from Mabinogion to Mustard is not to be entirely relied
upon. Under these painful circumstances, and with the chance of still
further abstractions from our common stock of potential learning, we
have engaged a staff of consulting engineers, who contract, for certain
considerations, to know every useless thing from A to Z, and every
obsolete one from Omega to Alpha. In these gentlemen we repose unlimited
confidence in proportion to their salaries; for a considerable
experience of mankind has taught us that omniscience is a much commoner
and easier thing than science, especially in this favored country and
under democratic institutions, which give to every man the inestimable
right of knowing as much as he pleases. Everything was going on well
when our Man of Science unaccountably disappeared, and our Aesthetic
Editor experienced in all its terrors the Scriptural doom of being left
to himself. This latter gentleman is tolerably _shady_ in scientific
matters, nay, to say sooth, light-proof, or only so far penetrable as
to make darkness visible. Between science and nescience the difference
seems to his mind little, if _n e_, and he would accept as perfectly
satisfactory a statement that "the ponderability of air in a vitreous
table-tipping medium (the abnormal variation being assumed as $ x-b
.0000001) is exactly proportioned to the squares of the circumambient
distances, provided the perihelia are equal, and the evolution of
nituretted carbogen in the boomerang be carefully avoided during
evaporation; the power of the parallax being represented, of
course, according to the well-known theorem of Rabelais, by H.U.M.
Hemsterhuysius seems to have been familiar with this pretty experiment."
The above sentence being shown to the Aesthetic Editor aforesaid, he
acknowledges that he sees nothing more absurd than common in it, and
that the theory seems to him as worthy of trial as Hedgecock's quadrant,
which he took with him once on a journey to New York, arriving safely
with a single observation of the height of the steamer's funnel.
[Footnote A: MISS-INFORMATION. A higgledy-piggledy want of intelligence
acquired by young misses at boarding-schools.--_Supplement to Johnson's
This premised, it naturally follows that the Aesthetic Editor (the July
number falling to his turn) must take advantage of the absence of
his Guardian Man of Science to publish an article on Meteorology. A
condition of things in which the _omne scibile_ was left entirely at his
disposal, to be knocked about as he pleased, appeared to him no small
omen of a near millennium; and what subject could be more suitable to
begin with than the weather, a topic of general interest, (since we have
no choice of weather or no,) in which exact knowledge is comfortably
impossible, and in which he felt himself at home from his repeated
experiments in raising the wind in order to lower the due-point? (See
_The Weathercock, an Essay on Rotation in Office, by Sir Airy Vane._)
Meanwhile, after the mischief was all done and a Provisional Government
of Chaos Redux comfortably established in Physics, the Man of Science
turns up suddenly in the following communication. [A council was called
on the spot, the Autocrat in the chair, and it was decided, with only
one dissenting voice, that the communication should be printed as a
lesson to the peccant Editor, who, for the future, was laid under a
strict interdict in respect of all and singular the onomies and ologies,
and directed to consider the weather a matter altogether unprophetable,
except to almanac-makers,--the said Editor to superintend such
publication, and to be kept on a diet of corn-cob for the body and
Sylvanus Cobb (or his own works, at his option) for the mind, till it
be done. The chairman added, that for a second offence he should do
penance, according to ancient usage, in a blank sheet of the Magazine,
(a contribution of his own being to that end suppressed,)--a form of
punishment likely to be as irksome to himself as grateful to the readers
of that incomparable miscellany.]
"_Abercwmdwddhwm Mine_, 28th July, 1860.
"WELL-MEANING, BUT MISGUIDED, FRIEND!
"An unexpected opportunity of personally investigating a highly nauseous
kind of mephitic vapor drew me and Jones suddenly hither without time
to say farewell or make explanations. I made the journey in--10' by
electric telegraph, and am delighted that I came, for anything more
unpleasant never met my nostrils, and I am almost sure of adding a new
element to the enjoyment of the scientific world.
"I have already secured several bottles-full, and shall exhibit it at the
next meeting of the Association: of course you shall have a sniff in
advance. I should have returned before this, but unhappily the chain by
which we descended gave way a few days ago near the top, in hoisting
out the first series of my observations, and as yet there has been no
opportunity of replacing it. Communication with the upper world is kept
up by means of a small cord, however, and in this way we are supplied
with food for body and mind. As good luck would have it, our butter came
down wrapped in a half-sheet of your last volume of poems, containing my
old favorites, 'Modern Greece,' and the 'Ode to a Deserted Churn.' These
I read aloud several times to the miners, and their longing to return
sooner to a world where they could get the rest of the volume became so
strong, that, as I was about to begin my fifth reading, they consented
to an expedient of escape which I had already proposed once or twice in
vain. This was to blow us out by means of the fire-damp. The result of
the experiment I cannot yet fully report, as some confusion ensued.
Jones has disappeared, having been, as I hope and believe, discharged
upward, and I have found the remains of only one miner, so that it seems
to have been a tolerable success, though I myself was blown inward,
owing to the premature explosion of the train. In one respect the result
was highly satisfactory to me personally. Jones had all along insisted
that the vapor was antiphlogistic. Whichever way he went, I think
(fair-minded as he is) he must be by this time convinced of his error,
and I shall accordingly enter him in my Report as discharged cured.
I may add, as an interesting scientific fact, that his ascent was
accompanied by such a sudden and violent fall of the barometer (which he
had in his lap) that the instrument was broken. This would seem to prove
a considerable decrease in the weight of the atmosphere at the moment
of explosion. The darkness was oppressive at first; but a happy thought
occurred to me. You know Jones's poodle, and how obese he is? Well, he
was shot into my lap, where he lay to all appearance dead. I had some
matches in my pocket and at once kindled the end of his tail, which
makes a very good candle, quite as good as average dips, _tales,
quales_. By the light of this I proceed to note down my first series
of comments as a tail-piece to your meteorological article in the July
'Atlantic,' of which we received a copy in due course, as the magazine
has a large circulation among our friars miner down here.
"METEOROLOGY 'MADE EASY.'
"In glancing at the article on 'Meteorology' in the July number of the
'Atlantic Monthly,' I was so struck by the dashing style in which the
writer presents what he calls the 'leading principles' of the science,
that, in spite of portentous errors, I was tempted to follow his
diversified flight to its very close. Reading pencil in hand, I gathered
up a long list of mistakes in fact and in philosophy, of which the
following specimens, although but the first fruits of a not very
critical examination, may serve to illustrate the carelessness--shall
I not say ignorance?--of the writer on the topics in regard to which he
proposes to enlighten the general reader.
"1. According to our essayist, the weight of the atmosphere is about
43/1000ths that of the globe,--in other words, 1/23d part. Now a simple
calculation, or a reference to one of the standard works on Physics,
should have taught him that the weight of the entire air is less than
one-millionth part of that of the earth,--that is, _fifty thousand times
less than he states it to be_."
[We are quite sure that our (tor-)Mentor is mistaken in assuming a
uniform weight for the atmosphere. It differs in different places.
During our lecturing-tours, we have frequently observed an involuntary
depression of the eyelids (producing _almost_ an appearance of sleep) in
a part of the audience, which we were at a loss to attribute to anything
but the weight of the atmosphere. Water varies in the same way. It is
hardly necessary to say that Lake Wetter derives its name from the
superior quality of its dampness.]
"2. Of the specific gravity of the air he seems to be amusingly
uncertain,--making it first 833 times and afterwards 770 times less than
that of water; and in the same connection he says, in chosen
phrase, that 'density, or _closeness_, is another quality of the
atmosphere,'--as if it were its characteristic, and not common to all
[A very neat way of arriving at specific gravity in its densest form is
to distil the "funny column" of a weekly newspaper. To arrive at the
desired result in the speediest way, let the operation be performed in
what is known among bucolic journalists as a "humorous retort." Density
and closeness should not be spoken of as equivalent terms. The former is
a common quality of the human skull, rendering it impervious; whereas a
man may be very close and yet capable of being stuck,--with bad paper,
"3. In mentioning the _constituents of the atmosphere_, he adopts
without explanation the loose statement of some of the books, placing
carburetted hydrogen on the same footing as to constancy and amount with
carbonic acid, and making no allusion to nitric acid. Yet chemistry has
shown, that, except in special localities, carburetted hydrogen occurs
only as a slight trace, the existence of which in most cases is rather
inferred than actually demonstrated, and that it has no important
office to perform,--while nitric acid shares with ammonia in the grand
function of the nourishment of plants. In a later paragraph the error is
aggravated by the assertion, that 'no chemical combination of oxygen and
nitrogen has ever been detected in the atmosphere, and it is presumed
none will be,'--as if every flash of lightning did not produce a notable
quantity of this compound, which, washed down by the rain, may be
detected in almost every specimen of rain-water we meet. What would
Johnstone, Boussingault, Liebig, and the other agricultural chemists say
[For complete proof on this head, be struck by lightning. For
ourselves, we are convinced, and would rather have some other head
taken for an experiment by way of illustration. But any of our
readers who is unsatisfied has only to place himself in front of a
lightning-express-train with an ordinary conductor. To insure being
struck, let the experimenter provide himself amply with patent
safety-rods. At least, this result is pretty sure in houses, and is
worth trying out of doors.]
"In the same connection he characterizes nitrogen as a substance 'not
condensible under fifty atmospheres,' leaving the reader to infer
that the preceding ingredient on the list, oxygen, is condensible
(liquefiable) within that limit of pressure, and that nitrogen becomes
liquid at or above it; whereas neither oxygen nor nitrogen has ever yet
been compressed into a liquid, although a force of more than _fifty
times fifty_ atmospheres has been brought to act upon them."
[We consider an experiment requiring twenty-five hundred atmospheres,
when the thermometer marks 93 deg. in the shade, indictable at common law.
To desire more than one, under such circumstances, is unreasonable, and
"4. In referring to the Thermo-barometer as a means of measuring
heights, the writer confounds the late Professor Edward Forbes with
Professor James D. Forbes, recently of Edinburgh, but now Provost of
the University of St. Andrews. The former was a great Zooelogist and
Botanist, and did not occupy himself with investigations in Physics;
the latter is an eminent Physicist, the author of the viscous theory of
Glaciers; and it is he who made the observations here ascribed to the
'Professor Forbes, whose untimely death the friends of science have
had so much reason to deplore.' The author adds the further mistake
of supposing that the numerical constant, 549 feet for each degree,
determined by James Forbes for Scotland, is equally correct for all
[This hardly needed confutation. No university requires any numerical
constant of height as qualification for a degree; and if they did, 549
feet would be excessive, unless, perhaps, at Warsaw, where everybody is
tall enough to end in _ski_.]
"5. Our essayist discloses but an imperfect inkling of knowledge on the
subject of capillarity in barometers, when he speaks of this complex
action as equivalent to _the attraction between the mercury and the
glass tube_; and he commits a yet graver mistake, practically speaking,
in reiterating the long exploded error, that 'the weight of the
atmosphere at the level of the sea is the same all over the world.' No
fact in Meteorology is better established than that the mean pressure at
the sea-level is different for different latitudes. In the vicinity of
Cape Horn the barometer is three-fourths of an inch lower than at the
Equator, and according to Schouw the pressure increases from the Equator
up to a certain latitude (38 deg.) in both hemispheres, and diminishes
thence towards the Poles."
[The connection between capillarity and the fat of the common bear is
well known to all manufacturers of trycoverus compounds, and they are
probably right in advertising that grease of this description restores
tone to the hair,--of course a fine beary tone. As the weight of the
bear depends on his fat, the inference to a bear-ometer is obvious. It
is a familiar fact that the bear supports life during hibernation by
sucking his paws; but it may not be so generally known that the waste
thus induced in the anterior extremities is restored by the moral
consciousness of the animal that the fat he is so carefully hoarding is
to confer a posthumous blessing on mankind. This is a touching example
of the adaptation of means to end, and Shakspeare, the great natural
philosopher, has made use of it for one of his most striking metaphors,
where he says, "that the thought of something after death must give us
"6. Discoursing on the elasticity of the air, the writer styles it
'the most compressible of bodies,'--as if it had any advantage in this
respect over the numerous other species of gaseous matter. As to the
illustration which he gives, namely, that 'a glass vessel full of air,
placed under a receiver and then exhausted by the air-pump, will burst
into atoms,' we can only say, what every schoolboy knows, that the
_bursting_ would be _inwards_, unless, indeed, our meteorologist means
that the external receiver was to be exhausted, and in that case he
should so have expressed himself."
[The theory of exhausted receivers is, in our opinion, worthy only of
the childhood of science, when chemistry and astronomy were alchemy and
astrology, and people would believe anything. In this enlightened age of
the universal subscription-paper, exhausted givers are familiar objects,
but a receiver who finds the labors of his calling excessive is as
non-existent as the harpy, his mythological prototype.]
"7. In regard to the extent to which the compression of air has been
actually carried, he tells us that 'Brockhaus says that air has as yet
been compressed only into _one-eighth of its original bulk_.' Is
it possible that a writer on Meteorology is unacquainted with the
well-known experiments of Dulong and Arago, and the more recent ones
of Regnault, in which the compression was three times the amount here
stated, or that he requires to be referred to those of Natterer, who, by
a powerful condensing apparatus, has lately compressed _seven hundred
and twenty-six volumes of air into a single volume_?"
[Any man who has succeeded in condensing seven hundred and twenty-six
volumes into one deserves the applause of the reading public. We
trust M. Natterer will extend his benevolent labors to all the great
libraries. With the most perfect apparatus of compression, however, we
doubt if contemporary literature will yield anything like so high an
average as 1 in 726.]
"8. In the paragraphs devoted to the optical relations of the
atmosphere, our author has shown a happy faculty for making his subject
obscure. After suggesting that the refraction of the rays in the
atmosphere may be due to what he calls its 'lenticular outline,' he
defines refraction to be 'the bending of a ray passing obliquely from a
rarer into a denser medium,'--a good enough popular definition, but for
its sad defectiveness. Is he not aware that the light is also bent in
penetrating obliquely from a denser into a rarer medium, as in passing
from the surface of a low plain to the eye of a spectator on a
neighboring mountain, and that the bending is just as great in this
direction of its motion as in the other? And does he not know that it
changes its course whenever it passes from a vacuum into any ponderable
medium or in the opposite direction? In future attempts to make
science easy, let him remember that these are all equally instances of
refraction, and should be included in its definition.
"Under the same head, we are led to infer that it is only in 'the warm
and moist nights of summer,' that 'the moon, as she rises above the
horizon, appears much larger than when at the zenith'; and we are
taught, in connection with the origin of the mirage and the spectre
of the Bracken, that 'rainbows are due to this condition of the
atmosphere.' If, instead of rainbows, we may be allowed to read _halos_,
we can understand the writer, who, instead of thinking of summer
showers, appears to have had a _haze_ in his mind while penning this and
[The _dictum_ of our correspondent in regard to light passing from
a ponderable medium into a vacuum requires some qualification. An
exception should be made of "Spiritual Mediums," who, being flesh and
blood, are of course ponderable. Now, if we represent the Medium by A,
and the head of any one consulting her by B, there can be no doubt that
the latter is an absolute vacuum; but it is demonstrable that nothing
like light ever passed from the former to the latter. There is a
closer analogy between refracted light and a Brocken spectre than our
scientific friend seems willing to admit. For what follows we refer our
readers to the remarkable essay of Alderman Moon, "On the Identity of
Halocination and Lunacy."]
"9. As our author advances in this branch of his subject, he grows far
too profound for our scientific apprehension. Giving him all credit for
_wishing to be clear_, we confess to a sad mystification as to what he
calls the 'Polarity of Light,' where a beam is described as 'revolving
around poles peculiar to itself' and as producing 'beautiful
_spectres_,' and we want new illumination from him as to his theory of
colors. We agree to the statement that 'each object has a particular
reflecting surface of its own,' as we cannot see how _its_ particular
surface could be the property of another,--but why this should make the
surface 'throw back light at its own angle' we do not exactly fathom,
and we are puzzled to know _which is the owner of the said angle_,
the light or the surface. No one doubts that 'the modest blush which
crimsons the cheek of beauty,' to use the author's words, is caused by a
rush of blood to the skin; but how this produces 'a corresponding change
in its angle of reflection,' and what such a change has to do with the
result, are problems too transcendental for the _exact_ sciences."
[On all questions relating to the Poles we reserve our opinion till the
return of Dr. Hayes's expedition. But we think they have little to hope
from any future attempt at revolution, especially with such insufficient
weapons as their axes, which, though they keep up a constant stir about
them, have been long superseded by the improvements of modern military
science. We think our correspondent hasty in admitting that "each object
has a particular reflecting surface of its own." A little inquiry among
his neighbors would have satisfied him that the human brain seldom
possesses anything of the kind.]
"But these specimens must suffice as indications of the general
character of this attempt at _popularizing science_. To do this without
misleading and confounding the general reader is a task which claims
the largest and most exact knowledge, and the greatest perspicuity of
statement, no less than a flowing style and felicitous illustration.
It is a task in which true success, though apparently frequent, is in
reality extremely rare."
"P.S. I had written thus far, when the fire suddenly penetrating, I
suppose, to the nervous system of the poodle, he ran off, leaving me
in total darkness and with no hope that his tail (like too many in the
'Atlantic') would be continued. By the brief candle of a match I manage
to add this, and to subscribe myself
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