Part 5 out of 5
scattered through the work, which make us ready to believe in the
figurative comparison of the prefacer, when he tells us that "the
coral-grains of the 'Opened Pomegranate' will become in Provence the
chaplet of lovers."
If Roumanille and Aubanel contented themselves with the publication of
poems of no very ambitious length, the author of "Mireio" aimed directly
at enriching his language at the outset with an epic. He has given us in
twelve cantos the song of Provence. He makes us see and feel the life of
Languedoc,--traverse the Crau, that Arabia Petrasa of France,--see
the Rhone, and the fair daughters of Arles, in their picturesque
costumes,--see the wild bulls of the Camargo, the Pampas of the
Mediterranean. We are among the growers of the silk-worm; we hear the
home-songs and talks of the Mas, listen to the people's legends and
tales of witchery, and can study the Middle-Age spirit that still in
these regions endows every shrine with miracles, as we follow the
pilgrimage to the chapel of the Three Marys.
"Mireio" is all Provence living and breathing before us in a poem. No
wonder, then, that, in the present dearth of poetry in France, this epic
or idyl, call it as you will, was received with acclamations. M. Rene
Taillandier has consecrated to it one of his most masterly articles
in the "Revue des Deux Mondes." Lamartine has devoted to it a whole
_entretien_ in his "Cours de Litterature." It was discussed, quoted,
translated in all the journals of the capital. We may revert to it at
greater length in a future number of the "Atlantic."
The name of Jasmin, the harbor-poet of Agen, is already familiar to the
English public. Professor Longfellow has translated his "Blind Girl of
Castel-Cuille." His name is known in Paris as well, perhaps, as that of
any other living French poet, if we except Lamartine and Victor Hugo.
Accompanied with a French translation, his principal poems, "Mous
Soubenis," "L'Abuglo de Castel-Cuille," "Francouneto," "Maltro
l'Innoucento," "Lous Dus Frays Bessous," "La Semmano d'un Fil," have
been read as much north of the Loire as south.
"The Curl-Papers"--for thus he styles his works--having been translated
into German and English, the reputation of the author may be called
European. The forty maintainers of the Floral Games of Clemence Isaure
at Toulouse awarded him the title of _Maitre es Jeux-Floraux_. His
progress through the South was marked by ovations, and every town, from
Marseilles to Bordeaux, hastened to recognize the modern Troubadour.
Happier than most of his predecessors, Jasmin receives his laurels in
season, and can wear the crowns that are presented him. The "Papillotos"
were formerly scattered in three costly volumes; they have now been
collected in one handsome duodecimo, with an accompanying French
translation of the principal pieces,--a translation which called from
Ampere the remark,--_"A defaut des vers de Jasmin, on ferait cent lieues
pour entendre cette prose-la!"_
"Les Piaoulats d'un Reipetit" is one of the rare productions of the
written literature of Auvergne, so rich in antique legends and original
popular songs. The author, at the Archaeological Concourse of Beziers,
in 1838, obtained deserved encomium for his "Ode to Riquet," the
creator of the great Southern French Canal, linking the Atlantic and
Mediterranean. He has written in the Romanic dialect in use in Auvergne,
which, if it lacks the finish and polish of the Provencal, is not
wanting in grace and ingenuousness. It is characterized by a rude
energy, a sombre harmony, that tallies well with the wild and rural
character of the country.
At first sight, the dialect seems to have a marked affinity with that
made use of by Jasmin in his "Papillotos." It is, however, easily
distinguishable by the frequent use of peculiar gutturals, the almost
constant change of _a_ into _o_, and a greater number of radicals of
Celtic origin. In a recent work on Auvergne, it is argued that these
Celtic words form the basis of the language. The history of the region
itself would tend to corroborate this theory.
Sheltered by rocky mountain-ranges, the Domes, the Dores, and Cantal,
(_Mons Celtorum_) the Arverni obstinately repulsed every attempt towards
the naturalization of the Roman tongue, and battled for six centuries
with the same energy displayed by them, when, under Vercingetorix,
they fought for their nationality and the independence of Gaul against
Caesar. The Latin could exercise, therefore, but slight influence on
the idiom of these regions, which has preserved since then in its
vocabulary, and even in syntactical forms, a marked relationship with
the Celtic, which, according to Sidonius Apollinaris, was still spoken
there in the sixth century.
The actual dialect of Auvergne is peculiarly adapted to recitals of a
legendary nature, owing to its vivacity of articulation, coupled with
a kind of gloom in the quality of the sounds. _Naif_ and touching in
popular song and Christmas carol, it is not divested of a certain
grandeur for subjects deserving of a higher style.
The works of M. Veyre comprise the various styles of shorter poems. His
"Ode to Riquet," and that in honor of Gerbert, (Pope Silvester II., a
native of Auvergne,) show what the language can do in the hands of a
master. In the latter he describes the career of that predestined child
whom legend accompanied from his cradle to the grave.
"La Fiero de St. Urbo," curious picture of the manners of the country,
is written in that ironical and gay vein of which the older French
writers possessed the secret; but that is now fast dying away.
"Repopiado" and "Lou Boun Sens del Payson" show that the language of
Auvergne is no less adapted to moral teachings than to the touching
inspirations and free jovial songs of the country Muse.
The work of M. Veyre is the first tending to give his native province
a share in the literary revival of the Romanic idioms, which is so
universally felt in Southern France, and has of late produced so much.
_History of the United Netherlands, from the Death of William the Silent
to the Synod of Dort._ With a Full View of the English--Dutch Struggle
against Spain; and of the Origin and Destruction of the Spanish Armada.
By JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY, LL.D., D.C.L. New York: Harper & Brothers. Vols.
I. and II. 8vo.
These volumes bear the unmistakable mark, not merely of historical
accuracy and research, but of historical genius; and the genius is not
that of Thierry or Guizot, of Gibbon or Macaulay, but has a palpable
individuality of its own. They evince throughout a patient, persistent
industry in investigating original documents, from the mere labor of
which an Irish hod-carrier would shrink aghast, and thank the Virgin
that, though born a drudge, he was not born to drudge in the bogs and
morasses of unexplored domains of History; yet the genius and enthusiasm
of the historian are so strong that he converts the drudgery into
delight, and lives joyful, though "laborious days." There is not a page
in these volumes which does not sparkle with evidences of an enjoyment
far beyond any that the rich and pleasure-seeking idler can ever know;
and while the materials are those of the barest and bleakest fact, the
style of the narrative is that of the gayest, most genial, and most
elastic spirit of romance. We have read all the best fictions which
have been published during the interval which has elapsed between the
publication of the "History of the Dutch Republic" and that of the
"History of the United Netherlands," but we have read none which
fairly exceeds, in what is called, in the slang of fifth-rate critics,
"breathless interest," this novel, but authentic memorial of a past
The first requirement of an historian in the present century is original
research,--not merely research into rare printed books and pamphlets,
but into unpublished and almost unknown manuscripts. No sobriety of
judgment, no sagacity of insight, no brilliancy of imagination can
compensate for defective information. The finest genius is degraded to
the rank of a compiler, unless he sheds new light upon his subject by
contributing new facts. The severest requirements of the Baconian method
of induction--requirements which have been notoriously disregarded
by men of science in the investigation of Nature--remain in force as
regards the students of history. The powers of analysis, generalization,
statement, and narrative in Macaulay's historical essays were fully
equal to any powers he displayed in the "History of England from the
Reign of James II." No candid critic can deny that there is little in
his "History" which, as far as regards essential facts and principles,
had not been previously stated in a more sententious form in his Essays.
But we recollect the time when the same dignified scholars who are now
insensible to his defects were blind to his merits, and with majestic
dulness classed him among the inglorious company of superficial,
untrustworthy, brilliant declaimers. The moment, however, he published
in octavo volumes a solid history, and appended to the bottom of each
page the obscure authorities on which his narrative was founded, and
which plainly exhibited the capacity of the brilliant declaimer
to perform all the austerest duties of the drudge, his reputation
marvellously increased among the most frigid and most exacting
dispensers of praise. To come nearer home, we remember the time when
Bancroft's rhetoric entirely shut out from the eyes of antiquaries and
men of taste Bancroft's industry and scholarship. It was not until he
plainly showed his power to "toil terribly," not until he palpably
_added_ to our knowledge of American history, that men who had sneered
at his occasional rhapsodies of patriotism admitted his claims to be
considered the historian of the United States. They resisted Bancroft as
long as Bancroft gave them the slightest reason to believe that he was
interposing his own mind between them and facts which they know its well
as he; but when, by independent and indefatigable research, at home and
abroad, he indisputably widened the sphere of their information, they
pardoned the faults of the rhetorician in their gratitude to the toiling
investigator who had added to their knowledge.
It is the felicity of Mr. Motley, that, like Prescott, he is not placed
under the necessity of overcoming prejudices. There is nobody on either
side of the Atlantic (whether we use the word as indicating its limited
sense as an ocean, or its larger and more liberal moaning as a magazine)
who would not rejoice in his success, and be grieved by his failure. And
this good feeling on the part of the public he owes, in a great degree,
to the individuality he has impressed upon his work. That individuality
is not the individuality of a partisan or of a theorist, but the
individuality of a broad-minded, high-minded, chivalrous gentleman. With
a soul open to the finest sentiments and ideas of the age in which he
lives, tolerant of frailty, but intolerant of meanness, falsehood, and
malignity, and writing with the frankness with which a cultivated man of
decided opinions might speak to a company of chosen associates, the
most obstinate bigot can hardly fail to feel the charm of his free
and cordial manner of expression. Hume, Gibbon, Hallam, and Macaulay,
Sismondi, Guizot, and Michelet, all have in their characters something
which invites and provokes opposition. But the spirit which underlies
Mr. Motley's large scholarship is so thoroughly genial and generous,
and is so purified from the pedantry of knowledge and the pedantry of
opinion, that it is impossible for him to rouse in other minds any of
the antipathy which is often felt for powerful individualities whose
powers of mind and extent of erudition still enforce respect and extort
admiration. The instinctive sympathy he thus creates is due to no lack
of intrepidity in expressing his love for what is right and his hatred
for what is wrong. No historian is more decisive in his judgments, or
more scornful of the arts and hypocrisies by which the champions of
opposite opinions are flattered and propitiated. But his spirit is that
of the knight "without reproach," as well as the knight "without fear";
and even his adversaries cannot but delight in the singleness and
simplicity of purpose with which he strives after the truth. Nothing in
his position or in his character gives them the slightest pretence for
supposing that his bold advocacy of liberal views is connected with any
ulterior designs or any "fatted calf" of theory or office. While he
is thus healthily free from the taint of the partisan, he is also
independent of the austere insensibility of the judicial Pharisee, whose
boast is that he decides questions relating to human nature without any
admixture of human instinct and human feeling. Mr. Motley, throughout
his History, writes from his heart as well as from his head; and we have
been unable to discover that he has swerved from the truth of things by
allowing his narrative to be vitiated by an undue prominence of either.
If we pass from the historian's individuality to his materials, we find,
that, in a great degree, his facts are discoveries, and that, if his
book possessed no literary value whatever, it would still be an'
important addition to the history of Europe during the latter part of
the sixteenth century. He has, of course, studied all the prominent
contemporary chronicles and pamphlets of Holland, Flanders, Spain,
France, Germany, and England; and if his materials had been confined to
published sources of information, he would still be in possession of
facts not generally known or carefully analyzed and combined; but the
peculiar value of his History is due to its exhaustive examination, of
unpublished private letters and political documents. The archives of
Holland, England, and Spain have been opened to his investigations,
and he has been particularly fortunate in being able to road the whole
correspondence between Philip II., his ministers, and governors,
relating to the affairs of the Netherlands, from 1584 to the death of
that monarch. Placed thus at the centre from which events radiated, and
understanding perfectly the real designs which Spain concealed under a
cover of the most diabolical dissimulation, and which are now for the
first time completely elucidated, he was able to judge of the mistakes
of the other cabinets of Europe, also laid bare to his unwearied
research. The study of the manuscripts in the English State-Paper
Office, and in the collections of the British Museum, has given him a
perfect insight into the characters and policy of the statesmen of the
England of Elizabeth; and the exact relations which England bore to
Holland and Spain he has for the first time clearly indicated. As
a contribution to the history of England, these two volumes are of
inestimable value. They will disturb, and in some cases revolutionize,
the fixed opinions which the most intelligent Englishmen of the present
day have formed of almost every public man of the Elizabethan era;
and we cannot but wonder that this work should have been left for an
American scholar to accomplish.
The present volumes of Mr. Motley's History begin with the murder of
William of Orange, in 1584, and extend only to the assassination of
Henry HI. of France, in 1589. These five years, however, are crowded
with individuals and events of special importance, and the historian
has shed new light on every topic he has touched. The determination of
Philip II. to put down the revolt of the Netherlands was part of an
extensive scheme, which involved the conquest of England and France,
the extermination of Protestantism, and the subjection of Europe to
the despotic sway of Spain and Rome. The interest of the history is
therefore European. To grasp it requires a knowledge of the minutest
threads of a tangled web of intrigue which spread from the Escorial to
the North Sea. This knowledge Mr. Motley has obtained. The cabinets of
Spain, England, and France have yielded up their inmost secrets to his
indefatigable research. He peeps over the shoulder of Philip, and reads
the despatch by which he intends to outwit Walsingham,--and in a second
of time is peeping over the shoulder of Walsingham, to see what the
latter is doing to outwit Philip. There is something inexpressibly
stimulating to curiosity in watching the movements of the nimble
historian as he speeds from one cabinet to another, and, the invisible
spy in the councils of all, detects the misconceptions and blunders
of each. In this complicated game of craft, policy, and passion, our
historian is the first writer who has arrived at the knowledge of the
cards which each player held in his hand at the time the game was
In 1584, the subjugation of the Netherlands seemed to be but a question
of time; and the disparity between the power of Spain and that of her
revolted provinces is thus strikingly stated:--
"The contest between those seven meagre provinces upon the sand-banks
of the North Sea and the great Spanish Empire seemed at the moment with
which we are now occupied a sufficiently desperate one. Throw a
glance upon the map of Europe. Look at the broad, magnificent Spanish
Peninsula, stretching across eight degrees of latitude and ten of
longitude, commanding the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, with a genial
climate, warmed in winter by the vast furnace of Africa, and protected
from the scorching heats of summer by shady mountain and forest and
temperate breezes from either ocean. A generous southern territory,
flowing with wine and oil and all the richest gifts of a bountiful
Nature,--splendid cities,--the new and daily expanding Madrid, rich in
the trophies of the most artistic period of the modern world,--Cadiz, as
populous at that day as London, seated by the straits where the ancient
and modern systems of traffic were blending like the mingling of the two
oceans,--Granada, the ancient wealthy seat of the fallen Moors,--Toledo,
Valladolid, and Lisbon, chief city of the recently conquered kingdom of
Portugal, counting, with its suburbs, a larger population than any city,
excepting Paris, in Europe, the mother of distant colonies, and the
capital of the rapidly developing traffic with both the Indies: these
were some of the treasures of Spain herself. But she possessed Sicily
also, the better portion of Italy, and important dependencies in Africa,
while the famous maritime discoveries of the age had all inured to her
"The world seemed suddenly to have expanded its wings from East to West
only to bear the fortunate Spanish Empire to the most dizzy heights of
wealth and power. The most accomplished generals, the most disciplined
and daring infantry the world has ever known, the best-equipped and most
extensive navy, royal and mercantile, of the age, were at the absolute
command of the sovereign. Such was Spain.
"Turn now to the north-western corner of Europe. A morsel of territory,
attached by a slight sand-hook to the continent, and half-submerged by
the stormy waters of the German Ocean: this was Holland. A rude climate,
with long, dark, rigorous winters and brief summers,--a territory, the
mere wash of three great rivers, which had fertilized happier portions
of Europe only to desolate and overwhelm this less-favored land,--a soil
so ungrateful, that, if the whole of its four hundred thousand acres of
arable land had been sowed with grain, it could not feed the laborers
alone,--and a population largely estimated at one million of souls:
these were the characteristics of the province which already had
begun to give its name to the new commonwealth. The isles of
Zealand--entangled in the coils of deep, slow-moving rivers, or
combating the ocean without--and the ancient episcopate of Utrecht,
formed the only other provinces that had quite shaken off the foreign
yoke. In Friesland, the important city of Groningen was still held for
the King; while Bois-le-Duc, Zutphen, besides other places in Gelderland
and North Brabant, also in possession of the royalists, made the
position of those provinces precarious."
The safety of the Netherlands appeared to depend so entirely on their
success in gaining the assistance of foreign powers, that it is not
surprising that the Estates eagerly offered the sovereignty of the
country, first to France and then to England. The details of the
negotiations with these powers Mr. Motley recounts at great length.
When England, at last, adopted the side of the Netherlands, and caught
glimpses of the fact that the struggle of the latter against Spain
was her cause no less than the cause of the Dutch, the parsimony and
indecision of Elizabeth, and the hesitating counsels of her favorite
minister, Burleigh, prevented the English-Dutch alliance from being
efficient against the common enemy. An incompetent general, the Earl of
Leicester, was sent over to Holland with the English troops; yet even
his incompetency might not have stood in the way of success, had he
not been hampered with instructions which paralyzed what vigor and
intelligence he possessed, and had not his soldiers been left to starve
by the government they served. Elizabeth was trying to secure a peace
with Spain, while Philip and Farnese were busy in contriving the means
of an invasion of England; and up to the time the Spanish Armada
appeared in the British seas, she and her government were thoroughly
cajoled by Spanish craft. Mr. Motley remorselessly exposes, not only the
duplicity of Philip, but the credulity of Elizabeth; he demonstrates
the superiority of Spain in all the arts which were then supposed to
constitute statesmanship; and shows that it was to no sagacity and
vigor on the part of the English government, but to the instinctive
intelligence and intrepidity of the English people, that the nation was
saved from overthrow. Walsingham is almost the only English statesman
who comes out from the historian's pitiless analysis with any credit;
and, in respect to sagacity, Burleigh is degraded below Leicester: for
Leicester at least understood that the enmity of Philip of Spain to
England was unappeasable, and therefore justly considered his perfidious
negotiations for peace as a mere blind to cover designs of conquest.
But we have no space, in this hurried notice of Mr. Motley's work, to
linger on the fertile topics which his luminous narrative suggests. In a
future article we hope to do some justice to the facts, principles, and
judgments he has established. At present, after indicating his diligence
in exploring original authorities, and the importance of the conclusions
at which he arrives, we can only venture a few remarks on his historical
genius and method.
As regards his historical genius, it is sufficient to say that he
exhibits both sympathy and imagination. He has so completely assimilated
his materials that his narrative of events is that of an eye-witness
rather than that of a chronicler. Reproducing the passions, without
participating in the errors of the age about which he writes, he
intensely realizes everything he recounts. The siege of Antwerp and
the defeat of the Spanish Armada are the two prominent and obvious
illustrations of his power of pictorial description: in these he has
presented facts with a vividness and coherence worthy of the great
masters of poetry and romance; and his capacity of thus giving
unmistakable reality to events is not merely exercised in harmony
with the literal truth of things, but makes that truth more clearly
appreciated. Desirous as he is to impress the imagination, he never
sacrifices accuracy to effect.
The same picturesque truthfulness characterizes his descriptions of
individuals. In the present volumes he has analyzed and represented a
wide variety of human character, separated not only by personal, but
national traits. Philip II., Farnese, and Mendoza,--Olden-Barneveld,
Paul Buys, St. Aldegonde, Hohenlo, Martin Schenk, and Maurice of
Nassau,--Henry III., Henry of Navarre, and the Duke of Guise,--Queen
Elizabeth, Burleigh, Walsingham, Buckhurst, Leicester, Davison, Raleigh,
Sidney, Howard, Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, and Norris,--all, as
delineated by him, have vital reality, all palpably live and move before
the eye of his mind.
The method which Mr. Motley has adopted is admirably calculated to
insure accuracy as well as reality to his representation of events and
persons. His plan is always to allow the statesmen and soldiers who
appear in his work to express themselves in their own way, and convey
their opinions and purposes in their own words. This mode is opposed to
compression, but favorable to truth. Macaulay's method is to re-state
everything in his own language, and according to his own logical forms.
He never allows the Whigs and Tories, whose opinions and policy he
exhibits, to say anything for themselves. He detests quotation-marks.
His summaries are so clear and compact that, we are tempted to forget
that they leave out the modifications which opinions receive from
individual character. The reason that his statements are so often
questioned is due to the fact that he insists on his readers viewing
everything through the medium of his own mind. Mr. Motley is more
objective in his representations; and his readers can dispute his
summaries of character and expositions of policy by the abundant
materials for differing judgment which the historian himself supplies.
_Life of Andrew Jackson_. By JAMES PARTON, Author of the "Life of Aaron
Burr," etc., etc. 3 vols. 8vo. New York: Mason Brothers. 1860.
We criticized Mr. Parton's "Life of Aaron Burr" with considerable
severity at the time of its appearance; and we are the more glad to meet
with a book of his which we can as sincerely and heartily commend. The
same quality of sympathy with his subject, which led him in his former
work to palliate the moral obliquity and overlook the baseness of his
hero, in consideration of brilliant gifts of intellect and person, gives
vigor and spirit to his delineation of a character in most respects so
different as that of Jackson. This man, who filled so large a place
in our history, and left perhaps a stronger impress of himself on our
politics than any other of our public men except Jefferson, was well
worthy to be made a subject of careful study and elucidation. Mr. Parton
has given us the means of understanding a character hitherto a puzzle,
and deserves our hearty thanks for the manner in which he has done it.
We think the book remarkably fair in its tone, though perhaps Mr. Parton
is now and then led to exaggerate the positive greatness of Jackson,
who, as it appears to us, was rather eminent by comparison and contrast
with the men around him. But there were many strong, if not great
qualities in his composition, and so much that was picturesque and
strange in the incidents of his career and the state of society which
formed his character, that we have found this biography one of the most
instructive and entertaining we ever read. If Mr. Parton sometimes
exaggerates his hero's merits, he is also outspoken in regard to his
faults. If here and there a little Carlylish, his style has the merit of
great liveliness, and his pictures of frontier-life are full of interest
Mr. Parton begins his book with a new kind of genealogy, and one suited
to our Western hemisphere, where men are valued more for what they
themselves are than for what their grandfathers were,--for making than
for wearing an illustrious name. He shows that Jackson came of a good
stock,--pious, tenacious of opinion and purpose, and brave,--the
Scotch-Irish. He then tells us how young Jackson imbibed his fierce
patriotism, riding as a boy-trooper, and wellnigh dying a prisoner,
during the last years of the Revolutionary War. He lets us see his hero
cock-fighting, horse-racing, bad-whiskey-drinking, studying law, and
fighting by turns, leaving behind him somewhat dubious but on the
whole favorable memories, yet somehow getting on, till he is appointed
District-Attorney among the wolves, wildcats, and redskins of Tennessee.
The story of his emigration thither and his early life there is
wonderfully picturesque, and told by Mr. Parton with the spirit which
only sympathy can give.
A great part of the material is wholly new, and we are at last enabled
to get at the real Jackson, and to gain something like an adequate and
consistent conception, of him. We are particularly glad to learn
the truth about Mrs. Jackson, after so many years of slander and
misunderstanding, and to find something really touching and noble,
instead of ludicrous, in the grim General's devotion to his first and
only love. We get also for the first time an understandable account of
the Battle of New Orleans, made up with praiseworthy impartiality from
the accounts of both sides. Nor is it only here that the author gives us
new light. He enables us to judge fairly of the sad story of Arbuthnot
and Ambrister, and throws a great deal of light on many points of our
political history which much needed honest illumination. The book is of
especial interest at the present time, as it contains the best narrative
we have ever seen of the Nullification troubles of 1832. Mr. Parton not
only shows a decided talent for biography, but his work is characterized
by a thoroughness of research and honesty of purpose that make it, on
the whole, the best life yet written of any of our public men.
_Poems_. By ROSE TERRY. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1861. pp. 231.
We forget who it was that once charitably christened one of his volumes
"Prose by a Poet," in order that the public might be put on their guard
as to the difference between it and the others,--inexperienced critics
are so apt to make mistakes! The example seems to us worth following,
and, were this dangerous frankness made a point of honor in title-pages,
we should be able at a glance to distinguish the books that must be
bought from those that may be read. We should then see advertised "The
Ten-Inch Bore, or Sermons by Rev. Canon So-and-so,"--"Essays to do Good,
by a Victim of Original Sin,"--"Poems by a Proser,"--"Political Economy,
by a Bankrupt," and the like. We should know, at least, what we had to
We do not mean to apply this to Miss Terry; but her volume reminded us,
by the association of opposites, of the title to which we have referred.
We had long known her as a writer of picturesque and vigorous prose, as
one of the most successful sketchers of New England character, abounding
in humor and pathos; but we had never conceived her as a writer of
verse. The readers of the "Atlantic" remember too well her "Maya, the
Princess," "Metempsychosis," and "The Sphinx's Children," to need
reminding that she has qualities of fancy as remarkable as her faculty
for observing real life. Miss Terry seems in this volume to have sought
refuge from the real in the ideal, from the jar and bustle of the
outward world in the silent and shadowy interior of thought and being.
Her poems have the fault of nearly all modern poetry, inasmuch as they
are over-informed with thought and sadness. By far the greater number of
her themes are abstract and melancholy. It appears to us that her mind
moves more naturally and finds readier expression in the picturesque
than in the metaphysical; and in saying this we mean to say that she is
really a poet, and not a rhymer of thoughts. "Midnight" is a poem full
of originality and vigor, with that suggestion of deepest meaning which
is so much more effective than definite statement. "December XXXI."
gives us a new and delightful treatment of a subject which the poets
have made us rather shy of by their iteration. We would signalize also,
as an especial favorite of ours, "The Two Villages," and still more the
very striking poem "At Last." But, after all, we are not sure that the
Ballads are not the best pieces in the volume. The "Frontier Ballads,"
in particular, quiver with strength and spirit, and have the true
game-flavor of the border.
_Harrington_. By the Author of "What Cheer?" Boston: Thayer & Eldridge.
One of the most impossible books that man ever wrote. A book which one
could almost prove never could be written, and which, as an illogical
conclusion, but a stubborn fact, has been written, nevertheless.
"Harrington" is an Abolition novel, the scene of which is laid in
Boston, with a few introductory chapters of plantation-slavery in
Louisiana. Its principal merit is its burning earnestness of feeling and
purpose; and earnestness is sacred from criticism. Whenever the warm,
pulse of an author's heart can be felt through the texture of his story,
criticism is mere flippancy. But, at the risk of making our author's lip
curl with disdain of the sordid insensibility that refuses to join
in his enthusiasm throughout, we shall venture to remind him that
enthusiasm is no proof of truth, whether in argument or conclusion.
The introductory chapters, containing the flight of the slave Antony
through the Louisiana swamp, are almost unequalled for unfaltering
power, for gorgeous wealth of color. Many of the glowing sentences
belong rather to passionate poetry than to tamer prose. The agonized
resolution that turns the panting fugitive's blood and body to
fire,--the fear, so vividly portrayed that the reader's nerves thrill
with the shock that brings the hunted negro's heart almost to his mouth
with one wild throb,--the matchless picture of the forest and marsh,
lengthening and widening with dizzy swell to the weary eye and failing
brain,--all are the work of a master of language.
When the scene shifts to Boston, the language, which was in perfect
keeping with the tropical madness of Antony's flight and the tropical
splendor of the Southern forest, is extravagant to actual absurdity,
when used with reference to ordinary scenes and ordinary events. All the
force of contrast is lost; and contrast is the great secret of effect.
The lavish richness of our author's words is as little suited to the
things they describe as a mantle of gold brocade would be to the
shoulders of a beggar. Even the loveliest of young women is more likely
to enter a room by the ordinary mysterious mode of locomotion than to
"flash" into it like a salamander. That it was possible for Muriel
Eastman, in gratifying her "vaulting ambition" by a very creditable
spring over the parallel bars, to "toss the air into perfume," we are
not prepared to deny, having no very clear notion of the meaning of
those remarkable words; but when, we are told that Mrs. Eastman was
"ineffably surprised, yet more ineffably amused," we must be allowed to
enter an energetic protest. Harrington himself is perhaps a trifle too
"regnant" to be altogether satisfactory; and there are many similar
extravagances and inaccuracies.
The social intercourse of the ladies and gentlemen in this book is
particularly bad. It seems as if the author were ignorant of the usages
of good society, and, impatient of the vulgar ceremony of inferior
people, had seen no way to assert the superiority of his two fair ladies
and their unimaginable lovers, except making them dispense with all
such observances whatever. His uncertainty how people in their position
really do act has hampered his powers; and he is not that rarity, an
original writer, but that very common person, one who tries to be
original. Real ladies and gentlemen are not reduced to the alternative
of either being embarrassed by the ordinary social rules or disregarding
them altogether; they take advantage of them. It is a false originality
that is singular about ordinary forms; it is only the tyro in chess who
is "original" in his first move; Paul Morphy, the most inventive of
players, always begins with the customary advance of the king's pawn.
There is the usual partiality--one-sidedness--common to the writings
and orations of our author's political school. It may well be doubted
whether in reality all the virtues have been monopolized by the
Antislavery men, all the vices by their opponents. Our author only hurts
his own cause, when he invests with a halo of light every brawler
who echoes the words of the really eminent leaders. Because one
Abolitionist, who has sacrificed power and position to his creed, is
entitled to praise, is another, who perhaps, by advocating the same
doctrines, gains a higher position, a wider influence, perhaps an easier
support, than he could in any other way, to share the credit of having
made a sacrifice? One would not disparage martyrs; but Saint Lawrence on
a cold gridiron, and the pilgrim who boiled his peas, are entitled to
more credit for their shrewdness than their suffering. Our author,
however, makes no distinction; and a natural result will be that many of
his readers, knowing that in one case his praises are undeserved, will
be slow to believe them just in any case. And not only are all of
this particular school disinterested, but they are all among the
master-intellects of the age, apparently by definition. Mr. Harrington
himself is the commanding intellect of the story, perhaps because of his
belief in the greatest number of heresies,--being somewhat peculiar
in his religious views, believing in woman's rights, considering the
marriage ceremony a silly concession to popular prejudice, giving
credence to omens, active as an Abolitionist, and--to crown all--holding
that Lord Bacon wrote Shakspeare's Plays! We sympathize entirely with
the author's indignant protest against thinking a theory necessarily
inaccurate because it contravenes the opinion of the majority.
Certainly, a new thing is not necessarily wrong; but neither is a new
thing necessarily right; and we are heartless enough to pronounce the
"Baconian theory" rather weak than otherwise for a hero.
We cannot close our notice of this book without commending the old
French fencing-master as particularly good. He talks very simply and
well on matters that he understands, and is silent on those that he does
not understand,--affording in both respects an excellent example to the
more important characters.
* * * * *
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