Part 5 out of 5
by their signs; but if they did business, it was with closed doors
and barred shutters. After we had paid a newsboy five cents for the
"Mercury," and five more for the "Courier," we were at the end of our
possibilities in the way of extravagance. At half-past one arrived the
ferry-boat with a few passengers, mostly volunteers, and a deck-load of
military stores, among which I noticed Boston biscuit and several dozen
new knapsacks. Then, from the other side, came the "dam' nigger," that
is to say, the drummer of the new shoes, beating his sheepskin at the
head of about fifty men of the Washington Artillery, who were on their
way back to town from Fort Moultrie. They were fine-looking young
fellows, mostly above the middle size of Northerners, with spirited and
often aristocratic faces, but somewhat more devil-may-care in expression
than we are accustomed to see in New England. They poured down the
gangway, trailed arms, ascended the promenade-deck, ordered arms,
grounded arms, and broke line. The drill struck me as middling, which
may be owing to the fact that the company has lately increased to about
two hundred members, thus diluting the old organization with a large
number of new recruits. Military service at the South is a patrician
exercise, much favored by men of "good family," more especially at this
time, when it signifies real danger and glory.
Our rajpoots having entered the boat, we of lower caste were permitted
to follow. At two o'clock we were steaming over the yellow waters of the
harbor. The volunteers, like everybody else in Charleston, discussed
Secession and Fort Sumter, considering the former as an accomplished
fact, and the latter as a fact of the kind called stubborn. They talked
uniform, too, and equipments, and marksmanship, and drinks, and cigars,
and other military matters. Now and then an awkwardly folded blanket was
taken from the shoulders which it disgraced, refolded, packed carefully
in its covering of India-rubber, and strapped once more in its place,
two or three generally assisting in the operation. Presently a firing at
marks from the upper deck commenced. The favorite target was a conical
floating buoy, showing red on the sunlit surface of the harbor, some
four hundred yards away. With a crack and a hoarse whiz the minie-balls
flew towards it, splashing up the water where they first struck and then
taking two or three tremendous skips before they sank. A militiaman from
New York city, who was one of my fellow-passengers, told me that he
"never saw such good shooting." It seemed to me that every sixth ball
either hit the buoy full, or touched water but a few yards this side of
it, while not more than one in a dozen went wild.
"It is good for a thousand yards," said a volunteer, slapping his
bright, new piece, proudly.
A favorite subject of argument appeared to be whether Fort Sumter ought
to be attacked immediately or not. A lieutenant standing near me talked
long and earnestly regarding this matter with a civilian friend,
breaking out at last in a loud tone,--
"Why, good Heaven, Jim! do you want that place to go peaceably into the
hands of Lincoln?"
"No, Fred, I do not. But I tell you, Fred, when that fort is attacked,
it will be the bloodiest day,--the bloodiest day!--the bloodiest----!!"
And here, unable to express himself in words, Jim flung his arms wildly
about, ground his tobacco with excitement, spit on all sides, and walked
away, shaking his head, I thought, in real grief of spirit.
We passed close to Fort Pinckney, our volunteers exchanging hurrahs with
the garrison. It is a round, two-storied, yellow little fortification,
standing at one end of a green marsh known as Shute's Folly Island.
What it was put there for no one knows: it is too close to the city to
protect it; too much out of the harbor to command that. Perhaps it might
keep reinforcements for Anderson from coming down the Ashley, just as
the guns on the Battery were supposed to be intended to deter them from
descending the Cooper.
On the wharf of the ferry three drunken volunteers, the first that I had
seen in that condition, brushed against me. The nearest one, a handsome
young fellow of six feet two, half turned to stare back at me with a--
"How are ye, Cap'm? Gaw damn ye! Haw, haw, aw!"--and reeled onward,
brimful of spirituous good-nature.
Four days more had I in Charleston, waiting from tide to tide for a
chance to sail to New York, and listening from hour to hour for the guns
of Fort Sumter. Sunday was a day of excitement, a report spreading that
the Floridians had attacked Fort Pickens, and the Charlestonians feeling
consequently bound in honor to fight their own dragon. Groups of earnest
men talked all day and late into the evening under the portico and in
the basement-rooms of the hotel, besides gathering at the corners and
strolling about the Battery. "We must act." "We cannot delay." "We ought
not to submit." Such were the phrases that fell upon the ear oftenest
As I lounged, after tea, in the vestibule of the reading-room, an
eccentric citizen of Arkansas varied the entertainment. A short, thin
man, of the cracker type, swarthy, long-bearded, and untidy, he was
dressed in well-worn civilian costume, with the exception of an old
blue coat showing dim remnants of military garniture. Heeling up to a
gentleman who sat near me, he glared stupidly at him from beneath a
broad-brimmed hat, demanding a seat mutely, but with such eloquence of
oscillation that no words were necessary. The respectable person thus
addressed, not anxious to receive the stranger into his lap, rose and
walked away, with that air of not, having seen anything so common to
disconcerted people who wish to conceal their disturbance. Into the
vacant place dropped the stranger, stretching out his feet, throwing
his head back against the wall, and half closing his eyes with the
drunkard's own leer of self-sufficiency. During a few moments of
agonizing suspense the world waited. Then from those whiskey-scorched
and tobacco-stained lips came a long, shrill "Yee-p!"
It was his exordium; it demanded the attention of the company; and
though he had it not, he continued:--
"I'm an Arkansas man, _I_ am. I'm a big su-gar planter, _I_ am. All
right! Go a'ead! I own fifty niggers, _I_ do. Yee-p!"
He lifted both feet and slammed them on the floor energetically, pausing
for a reply. He had addressed all men; no one responded, and he went
"I'm for straightout, immedit shession, _I_ am. I go for 'staining
coursh of Sou' Car'lina, _I_ do. I'm ready to fight for Sou' Car'lina.
I'm a Na-po-le-on Bonaparte. All right! Go a'ead! Yee-p! Fellahs don't
know me here. I'm an Arkansas man, I am. Sou' Car'lina won't kill an
Arkansas man. I'm an immedit shessionist. Hurrah for Sou' Car'lina! All
There was a lingering, caressing accent on his "_I_ am," which told how
dear to him was his individuality, drunk or sober. He looked at no one;
his hat was drawn over his eyes; his hands were deep in his pockets;
his feet did all needful gesturing. I stepped in front of him to get
a fuller view of his face, and the action aroused his attention. He
surveyed my gray Inverness wrapper and gave me a chuckling nod of
"How are ye, Bub? I like that blanket, _I_ do."
In spite of this noble stranger's goodwill and prowess, we still found
Fort Sumter a knotty question. In a country which for eighty years has
not seen a shot fired in earnest, it is not wonderful that a good
deal of ignorance should exist concerning military matters, and
that second-class plans should be hatched for taking a first-class
fortification. While I was in Charleston, the most popular proposition
was to bombard continuously for two whole days and nights, thereby
demoralizing the garrison by depriving it of sleep and causing it to
surrender at the first attempt to escalade. Another plan, not in general
favor, was to smoke Anderson out by means of a raft covered with burning
mixtures of a chemical and bad-smelling nature. Still another, with
perhaps yet fewer adherents, was to advance on all sides in such a vast
number of row-boats that the fort could not sink them all, whereupon
the survivors should land on the wharf and proceed to take such further
measures as might be deemed expedient. The volunteers from the country
always arrived full of faith and defiance. "We want to get a squint at
that Fort Sumter," they would say to their city friends. "We are going
to take it. If we don't plant the palmetto on it, it's because there's
no such tree as the palmetto." Down the harbor they would go in the
ferry-boats to Morris or Sullivan's Island. The spy-glass would be
brought out, and one after another would peer through it at the object
of their enmity. Some could not sight it at all, confounded the
instrument, and fell back on their natural vision. Others, more lucky,
or better versed in telescopic observations, got a view of the fortress,
and perhaps burst out swearing at the evident massiveness of the walls
and the size of the columbiads.
"Good Lord, what a gun!" exclaimed one man. "D'ye see that gun? What an
almighty thing! I'll be ----, if I ever put my head in front of it!"
The difficulties of assault were admitted to be very great, considering
the bad footing, the height of the ramparts, and the abundant store of
muskets and grenades in the garrison. As to breaches, nobody seemed to
know whether they could be made or not. The besieging batteries were
neither heavy nor near, nor could they be advanced as is usual in
regular sieges, nor had they any advantage over the defence except in
the number of gunners, while in regard to position and calibre they were
inferior. To knock down a wall nearly forty feet high and fourteen feet
thick at a distance of more than half a mile seemed a tough undertaking,
even when unresisted. It was discovered also that the side of the
fortification towards Fort Johnstone, its only weak point, had been
strengthened so as to make it bomb-proof by means of interior masonry
constructed from the stones of the landing-place. Then nobody wanted to
knock Fort Sumter down, inasmuch as that involved either the labor
of building it up again, or the necessity of going without it as a
harbor-defence. Finally, suppose it should be attacked and not taken?
Really, we unlearned people in the art of war were vastly puzzled as we
thought tins whole matter over, and we sometimes doubted whether our
superiors were not almost equally bothered with ourselves.
This fighting was a sober, sad subject; and yet at times it took a turn
toward the ludicrous. A gentleman told me that he was present when the
steamer Marion was seized with the intention of using her in pursuing
the Star of the West. A vehement dispute arose as to the fitness of the
vessel for military service.
"Fill her with men, and put two or three eighteen-pounders in her," said
the advocates of the measure.
"Where will you put your eighteen-pounders?" demanded the opposition.
"On the promenade-deck, to be sure."
"Yes, and the moment you fire one, you'll see it go through the bottom
of the ship, and then you'll have to go after it."
During the two days previous to my second and successful attempt to quit
Charleston, the city was in full expectation that the fort would shortly
be attacked. News had arrived that Federal troops were on their way with
reinforcements. An armed steamer had been seen off the harbor, both by
night and day, making signals to Anderson. The Governor went down
to Sullivan's Island to inspect the troops and Fort Moultrie. The
volunteers, aided by negroes and even negro women, worked all night on
the batteries. Notwithstanding we were close upon race-week, when the
city is usually crowded, the streets had a deserted air, and nearly
every acquaintance I met told me he had been down to the islands to
see the preparations. Yet the whole excitement, like others which had
preceded, ended even short of smoke. News came that reinforcements had
not been sent to Anderson; and the destruction of that most inconvenient
person was once more postponed. People fell back on the old hope that
the Government would be brought to listen to reason,--that it would
give up to South Carolina what it could not keep from her with justice,
--that it would grant, in short, the incontrovertible right of peaceable
secession. For, in the midst of all these labors and terrors, this
expense and annoyance, no one talked of returning into the Union, and
all agreed in deprecating compromise.
Once more, this time in the James Adger, I set sail from Charleston. The
boat lost one tide, and consequently one day, because at the last
moment the captain found himself obliged to take out a South Carolina
clearance. As I passed down the harbor, I counted fourteen square-rigged
vessels at the wharves, and one lying at anchor, while three others had
just passed the bar, outward-bound, and two were approaching from the
open sea. Deterred from the Ship Channel by the sunken schooners, and
from Maffitt's Channel by the fate of the Columbia, we tried the Middle
Channel, and glided over the bar without accident.
"Sailing to Charleston is very much like going foreign," I said to a
middle-aged sea-captain whom we numbered among our passengers. "What
with heaving the lead, and doing without beacons, and lying off the
coast o' nights, it makes one think of trading to new countries."
I had, it seems, unintentionally pulled the string which jerked him.
Springing up, he paced about excitedly for a few moments, and then broke
out with his story.
"Yes,--I know it,--I know as much about it as anybody, I reckon. I lay
off there nine days in a nor'easter and lost my anchors; and here I am
going on to New York to buy some more; and all for those cursed Black
In South Carolina they see but one side of the shield,--which is quite
different, as we know, from the custom of the rest of mankind.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
1. _Descriptive Ethnology._ By R.G. LATHAM. 2 vols. London. 1859.
2. _Anthropologie der Naturvoelker._ Von Dr. T. WAIZ. 2 Baender. Leipzig.
Some writers have the remarkable faculty of making the subject which
they may happen to treat forever more distasteful and wearisome to their
readers. Whether the cause be in the style, or the point of view, or
the method of treatment, or in all together, they seem able to force the
student away in disgust from the whole field on which they labor, with
vows never again to cross it.
Such an author, it seems to us, is pre-eminently R.G. Latham, in his
treatment of Ethnology. Happy the man who has any such philosophic
interest in Human Races, that he can ever care to hear again of the
subject, after perusing Mr. Latham's various volumes on "Descriptive
Ethnology." We wonder that the whole English reading public; has not
consigned the science to the shelf of Encyclopedias of Useful Knowledge,
or of Year-Books of Fact, or any other equally philosophic and connected
works, after the treatment which this modern master of Ethnology has
given to the subject.
Such disconnected masses of facts are heaped together in these works,
such incredible dulness is shown in presenting them, such careful
avoidance of any generalization or of any interesting particular, such
a bald and conceited style, and such a cockneyish and self-opinionated
view of human history, as our soul wearies even to think of. Mr. Latham
disdains any link of philosophy, or any classification, among his "ten
thousand facts," as being a fault of the "German School" (whatever that
may be) of Ethnology. It seems to him soundly "British" to disbelieve
all the best conclusions of modern scholarship, and to urge his own
fanciful or shallow theories. He treats all human superstitions and
mythologies as if he were standing in the Strand and judging them by the
ideas of modern London. His is a Cockney's view of antiquity. He cannot
imagine that a barbarous and infant people, groping in the mysteries of
the moral universe, might entertain some earnest and poetic views which
were not precisely in the line of thought of the Londoners of the
nineteenth century, and yet which might be worth investigating. To his
mind, there is no grand march of humanity, slow, but certain, towards
higher ideals, through the various lines of race,--but rather
innumerable ripples on the surface of history, which come and pass away
without connection and without purpose.
The reader wades slowly through his books, and leaves them with a
feeling of intense disgust. Such a vast gathering of facts merely to
produce this melancholy confusion of details! You feel that his eminence
in the science must be from the circumstance that no one else is dull
enough and patient enough to gather such a museum of facts in regard
to human beings. The mind is utterly confused as to divisions of human
races, and is ready to conclude that there must be almost as many
varieties of man as there are tribes or dialects, and that Ethnology has
not yet reached the position of a science.
The reader must pardon the bitterness of our feelings; but we are just
smarting from a prolonged perusal of all Mr. Latham's works, especially
the two volumes whose title is given above; and that we may have
sympathy, if only in a faint degree, from our friends, we quote a few
passages, taken at random, though we cannot possibly thus convey an
adequate conception of the infinite dulness of the work.
The following is his elegant introduction:--
"I follow the Horatian rule, and plunge, at
once, _in medias res_. I am on the Indus, but
not on the Indian portion of it. I am on the
Himalayas, but not on their southern side. I
am on the northwestern ranges, with Tartary
on the north, Bokhara on the west, and Hindostan
on the south. I am in a neighborhood
where three great religions meet: Mahometanism,
Buddhism. Brahminism. I _must_ begin
somewhere; and here is my beginning."--
Vol. i. p. 1.
The following is his analysis of the beautiful Finnish Kalevala:--
"Wainamoinen is much of a smith, and more of a harper. Illmarinen is
most of a smith. Lemminkainen is much of a harper, and little of a
smith. The hand of the daughter of the mistress of Pohjola is what, each
and all, the three sons of Kalevala strive to win,--a hand which the
mother of the owner will give to any one who can make for her and
for Pohjola _Sampo_, Wainamoinen will not; but he knows of one who
will,--Illmarinen. Illmarinen makes it, and gains the mother's consent
thereby. But the daughter requires another service. He must hunt down
the elk of Tunela. We now see the way in which the actions of the heroes
are, at one and the same time, separate and connected. Wainamoinen
tries; Illmarinen tries (and eventually wins); Lemminkainen tries. There
are alternations of friendship and enmity. Sampo is made and presented.
It is then wanted back again.
"'Give us,' says Wainamoinen, 'if not the whole, half.'
"'Sampo,' says Louki, the mistress of Pohjola,' cannot be divided.'
"'Then let us steal it,' says one of the three.
"'Agreed,' say the other two.
"So the rape of Sampo takes place. It is taken from Pohjola, whilst the
owners are sung to sleep by the harp of Lemminkainen; sung to sleep,
but not for so long a time as to allow the robbers to escape. They are
sailing Kalevalaward, when Louki comes after them on the wings of the
wind, and raises a storm. Sampo is broken, and thrown into the sea. Bad
days now come. There is no sun, no moon. Illmarinen makes them of silver
and gold. He had previously made his second wife (for he lost his first)
out of the same metals. However, Sampo is washed up, and made whole.
Good days come. The sun and moon shine as before, and the sons of
Kalevala possess Sampo."--Vol. i., pp. 433, 434.
This, again, is Mr. Latham's profound and interesting view of
"Buddhism is one thing. Practices out of which Buddhism may be developed
are another. It has been already suggested that the ideas conveyed by
the terms _Sramanoe_ and _Gymnosophistoe_ are just as Brahminic as
Buddhist, and, _vice versa_, just as Buddhist as Brahminic.
"The earliest dates of specific Buddhism are of the same age as the
earliest dates of specific Brahminism.
"Clemens of Alexandria mentions Buddhist pyramids, the Buddhist habit of
depositing certain bones in them, the Buddhist practice of foretelling
events, the Buddhist practice of continence, the Buddhist Semnai or holy
virgins. This, however, may he but so much asceticism. He mentions this
and more. He supplies the name Bouta; Bouta being honored as a god.
"From Cyril of Jerusalem we learn that Samnaism was, more or less,
Manichaean,--Manichaeanism being, more or less, Samanist. Terebinthus,
the preceptor of Manes, took the name Baudas. In Epiphanius, Terebinthus
is the pupil of Scythianus.
"Suidas makes Terebinthus a pupil of Baudda, who pretended to be the
son of a virgin. And here we may stop to remark, that the Mongol
Tshingiz-Khan is said to be virgin-born; that, word for word, Scythianus
is Sak; that Sakya Muni (compare it with Manes) is a name of Buddha.
"Be this as it may, there was, before A.D. 300,--
"1. Action and reaction between Buddhism
"2. Buddhist buildings.
"3. The same cultus in both Bactria and
"Whether this constitute Buddhism is another
question."--Vol. ii. p. 317.
And more of an equally attractive and comprehensible character.
We assure the reader that these extracts are but feeble exponents of the
peculiar power of Mr. Latham's works,--a power of unmitigated dulness.
What his views are on the great questions of the science--the origin
of races, the migrations, the crossings of varieties, and the like--no
mortal can remember, who has penetrated the labyrinth of his researches.
An author of a very different kind is Professor Waiz, whose work on
Anthropology has just reached this country: a writer as philosophic as
Mr. Latham is disconnected; as pleasing and natural in style as the
other is affected; as simply open to the true and good in all customs or
superstitions of barbarous peoples as the Englishman is contemptuous of
everything not modern and European. Waiz seems to us the most careful
and truly scientific author in the field of Ethnology whom we have
had since Prichard, and with the wider scope which belongs to the
The bane of this science, as every one knows, has been its theorizing,
and its want of careful inductive reasoning from facts. The
classifications in it have been endless, varying almost with the fancies
of each new student; while every prominent follower of it has had some
pet hypothesis, to which he desired to suit his facts. Whether the
_a priori_ theory were of modern miraculous origin or of gradual
development, of unity or of diversity of parentage, of permanent and
absolute divisions of races or of a community of blood, it has equally
forced the author to twist his facts.
Perhaps the basest of all uses to which theory has been put in this
science was in a well-known American work, where facts and fancies in
Ethnology were industriously woven together to form another withe about
the limbs of the wretched African slave.
Waiz has reasoned slowly and carefully from facts, considering in
his view all possible hypotheses,--even, for instance, the
development-theory of Darwin,--and has formed his own conclusion on
scientific data, or has wisely avowed that no conclusion is possible.
The classification to which he is forced is that which all profound
investigators are approaching,--that of language interpreted by history.
He is compelled to believe that no physiological evidences of race can
be considered as at all equal to the evidences from language. At the
same time, he is ready to admit that even this classification is
imperfect, as from the nature of the case it must be; for the source of
the confusion lies in the very unity of mankind. He rejects _in toto_
Professor Agassiz's "realm-theory," as inconsistent with facts. The
hybrid-question, as put by Messrs. Gliddon and Nott, meets with a
searching and careful investigation, with the conclusion that nothing
in facts yet ascertained proves any want of vitality or power of
propagation in mulattoes or in crosses of any human races.
The unity of origin and the vast antiquity of mankind are the two
important conclusions drawn.
His second volume is entirely devoted to the negro races, and is the
most valuable treatise yet written on that topic.
The whole work is mainly directed towards _Naturvoelker_, or "Peoples in
a State of Nature," and therefore cannot be recommended for translation,
as a general text-book on the science of Ethnology,--a book which is
now exceedingly needed in all our higher schools and colleges; but as
a general treatise, with many new and important facts, scientifically
treated, it can be most highly commended to the general scholar.
_Il Politecnico. Repertorio Mensile di Studi applicati alia Prosperita e
Coltura Sociale._ Milano, 1860. New York: Charles B. Norton, Agent for
Libraries, 596, Broadway.
Among the best first-fruits of Italian liberty are the free publication
and circulation of books; and it is a striking indication of the new
order of things in Lombardy, that the publishers at Milan of the monthly
journal, "Il Politecnico," should at once have established an American
agency in New York, and that in successive numbers of their periodical
during the present year they should have furnished lists of some of the
principal American publications which they are prepared to obtain for
Italian readers. It will be a fortunate circumstance for the people of
both countries, should a ready means be established for the interchange
of their contemporaneous works in literature and science.
The "Politecnico" is not altogether a new journal. Seven volumes of it
bad been published, and had acquired for it a high reputation and a
considerable circulation, when political events put a stop to its
issue. The Austrian system of government after 1849 repressed alt free
expression of thought in Lombardy; and no encouragement was afforded for
the publication of any work not under the control of the administration.
With the beginning of the present year the "Politecnico" was
reestablished, mainly through the influence and under the direction of
Dr. Carlo Cattaneo, who had been the chief promoter of the preceding
original series. The numbers of the new series give evidence of talent
and independence in its conductors and contributors, and contain
articles of intrinsic value, beside that which they possess as
indications of the present intellectual condition and tendencies of
Italy. The journal is wholly devoted to serious studies, its object
being the cultivation of the moral and physical sciences with the arts
depending on them, and their practical application to promote the
national prosperity. That it will carry out its design with ability is
guarantied by the character of Cattaneo.
Carlo Cattaneo is a man of unquestioned power of intellect, of strong
character, and resolute energy. Already distinguished, not only as a
political economist, but as a forcible reasoner in applied politics, he
took a leading part in the struggle of 1848 in Milan, and, inspired by
ill-will towards Charles Albert and the Piedmontese, was one of the
promoters of the disastrous Lombard policy which defeated the hopes of
the opponents of Austria at that day. Though an Italian liberal, and
unquestionably honest in his patriotic intentions, he was virtually an
ally of Radetzky. When the Austrians retook Milan, he was compelled to
fly, and took refuge in Lugano, where he compiled three large volumes
on the affairs of Italy, from the accession of Pius IX. to the fall of
Venice, in which he exhibited his political views, endeavoring to show
that the misfortunes of Lombardy were due to the ambitious and false
policy of the unhappy Charles Albert. His distrust of the Piedmontese
has not diminished with the recent changes in the affairs of Italy; and
although Lombardy is now united to Piedmont, and the hope of freedom
seems to lie in a hearty and generous union of men of all parties in
support of the new government, Cattaneo, when in March last he was
elected a member of the National Parliament, refused to take his seat,
that he might not be obliged to swear allegiance to the King and the
Constitution. His political desire seems to be to see Italy not brought
under one rule, but composed of a union of states, each preserving
its special autonomy. He is a federalist, and does not share in the
unitarian view which prevails with almost all the other prominent
Italian statesmen, and which at this moment appears to be the only
system that can create a strong, united, independent Italy. It was to
him, perhaps, more than to any other single man, that the difficulties
which lately arose in the settling of the mode of annexation of Sicily
and Naples to the Sardinian kingdom were due; and the small party in
Parliament which recently refused to join in the vote of confidence in
the ministry of Cavour was led by Ferrari, the disciple of the Milanese
But however impracticable Cattaneo may be, and however mistaken and
extravagant his political views, he is a man of such vigor of mind, that
a journal conducted by him becomes, from the fact of his connection with
it, one of the important organs of Italian thought. We trust that the
"Politecnico" will find subscribers among those in our country who
desire to keep up their knowledge of Italian affairs at a time of such
extraordinary interest as the present.
_Elsie Venner_. A Romance of Destiny. By OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. 2 vols.
Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1861.
English literature numbers among its more or less distinguished authors
a goodly number of physicians. Sir Thomas Browne was, perhaps, the
last of the great writers of English prose whose mind and style were
impregnated with imagination. He wrote poetry without meaning it, as
many of his brother doctors have meant to write poetry without doing it,
in the classic style of
"Inoculation, heavenly maid, descend!"
Garth's "Dispensary" was long ago as fairly buried as any of his
patients; and Armstrong's "Health" enjoys the dreary immortality of
being preserved in the collections, like one of those queer things they
show you in a glass jar at the anatomical museums. Arbuthnot, a truly
genial humorist, has hardly had justice done him. People laugh over his
fun in the "Memoirs of Scriblerus," and are commonly satisfied to think
it Pope's. Smollett insured his literary life in "Humphrey Clinker";
and we suppose his Continuation of Hume is still one of the pills which
ingenuous youth is expected to gulp before it is strong enough to
resist. Goldsmith's fame has steadily gained; and so has that of Keats,
whom we may also fairly reckon in our list, though he remained harmless,
having never taken a degree. On the whole, the proportion of doctors who
have positively succeeded in our literature is a large one, and we
have now another very marked and beautiful case in Dr. Holmes. Since
Arbuthnot, the profession has produced no such wit; since Goldsmith, no
author so successful.
Five years ago it would have been only Dr. Holmes's intimate friends
that would have considered the remarkable success he has achieved not
only possible, but probable. They knew, that, if the fitting opportunity
should only come, he would soon show how much stuff he had in
him,--sterner stuff, too, than the world had supposed,--stuff not
merely to show off the iris of a brilliant reputation, but to block out
into the foundations of an enduring fame. It seems an odd thing to say
that Dr. Holmes had suffered by having given proof of too much wit; but
it is undoubtedly true. People in general have a great respect for those
who scare them or make them cry, but are apt to weigh lightly one who
amuses them. They like to be tickled, but they would hardly take the
advice of their tickler on any question they thought serious. We have
our doubts whether the majority of those who make up what is called "the
world" are fond of wit. It rather puts them out, as Nature did Fuseli:
They look on its crinkling play as men do at lightning; and while they
grant it is very fine, are teased with an uncomfortable wonder as to
where it is going to strike next. They would rather, on the whole,
it were farther off. They like well-established jokes, the fine old
smoked-herring sort, such as the clown offers them in the circus,
warranted never to spoil, if only kept dry enough. Your fresh wit
demands a little thought, perhaps, or at least a kind of negative wit,
in the recipient. It is an active, meddlesome--quality, forever putting
things in unexpected and somewhat startling relations to each other;
and such new relations are as unwelcome to the ordinary mind as poor
relations to a _nouveau riche_. Who wants to be all the time painfully
conceiving of the antipodes walking like flies on the ceiling? Yet wit
is related to some of the profoundest qualities of the intellect. It is
the reasoning faculty acting _per saltum_, the sense of analogy brought
to a focus; it is generalization in a flash, logic by the electric
telegraph, the sense of likeness in unlikeness, that lies at the root
of all discoveries; it is the prose imagination, common-sense at fourth
proof. All this is no reason why the world should like it, however; and
we fancy that the Question, _Ridentem dicere verum quid vetat?_ was
plaintively put in the primitive tongue by one of the world's gray
fathers to another without producing the slightest conviction. Of
course, there must be some reason for this suspicion of wit, as there
is for most of the world's deep-rooted prejudices. There is a kind of
surface-wit that is commonly the sign of a light and shallow nature.
It becomes habitual _persiflage_, incapable of taking a deliberate and
serious view of anything, or of conceiving the solemnities that environ
life. This has made men distrustful of all laughers; and they are apt to
confound in one sweeping condemnation with this that humor whose base
is seriousness, and which is generally the rebound of the mind from
over-sad contemplation. They do not see that the same qualities that
make Shakspeare the greatest of tragic poets make him also the deepest
Dr. Holmes was already an author of more than a quarter of a century's
standing, and was looked on by most people as an _amusing_ writer
merely. He protested playfully and pointedly against this, once or
twice; but, as he could not help being witty, whether he would or no,
his audience laughed and took the protest as part of the joke. He felt
that he was worth a great deal more than he was vulgarly rated at, and
perhaps chafed a little; but his opportunity had not come. With the
first number of the "Atlantic" it came at last, and wonderfully he
profited by it. The public were first delighted, and then astonished. So
much wit, wisdom, pathos, and universal Catharine-wheeling of fun and
fancy was unexampled. "Why, good gracious," cried Madam Grundy, "we've
got a _genius_ among us fit last! I always knew what it would come to!"
"Got a fiddlestick!" says Mr. G.; "it's only rockets." And there was no
little watching and waiting for the sticks to come down. We are afraid
that many a respectable skeptic has a crick in his neck by this time;
for we are of opinion that these are a new kind of rocket, that go
without sticks, and _stay up_ against all laws of gravity.
We expected a great deal from Dr. Holmes; we thought he had in him the
makings of the best magazinist in the country; but we honestly confess
we were astonished. We remembered the proverb, "'Tis the pace that
kills," and could scarce believe that such a two-forty gait could be
kept up through a twelvemonth. Such wind and bottom were unprecedented.
But this was Eclipse himself; and he came in as fresh as a May morning,
ready at a month's end for another year's run. And it was not merely
the perennial vivacity, the fun shading down to seriousness, and the
seriousness up to fun, in perpetual and charming vicissitude;--here was
the man of culture, of scientific training, the man who had thought as
well as felt, and who had fixed purposes and sacred convictions. No, the
Eclipse-comparison is too trifling. This was a stout ship under press
of canvas; and however the phosphorescent star-foam of wit and fancy,
crowding up under her bows or gliding away in subdued flashes of
sentiment in her wake, may draw the eye, yet she has an errand of duty;
she carries a precious freight, she steers by the stars, and all her
seemingly wanton zigzags bring her nearer to port.
When children have made up their minds to like some friend of the
family, they commonly besiege him for a story. The same demand is made
by the public of authors, and accordingly it was made of Dr. Holmes. The
odds were heavy against him; but here again he triumphed. Like a good
Bostonian, he took for his heroine a _schoolma'am_, the Puritan Pallas
Athene of the American Athens, and made her so lovely that everybody was
looking about for a schoolmistress to despair after. Generally, the best
work in imaginative literature is done before forty; but Dr. Holmes
should seem not to have found out what a Mariposa grant Nature had made
him till after fifty.
There is no need of our analyzing "Elsie Venner," for all our readers
know it as well as we do. But we cannot help saying that Dr. Holmes has
struck a new vein of New-England romance. The story is really a romance,
and the character of the heroine has in it an element of mystery; yet
the materials are gathered from every-day New-England life, and that
weird borderland between science and speculation where psychology and
physiology exercise mixed jurisdiction, and which rims New England as
it does all other lands. The character of Elsie is exceptional, but not
purely ideal, like Cristabel and Lamia. In Doctor Kittredge and his
"hired man," and in the Principal of the "Apollinean Institoot," Dr.
Holmes has shown his ability to draw those typical characters that
represent the higher and lower grades of average human nature; and in
calling his work a Romance he quietly justifies himself for mingling
other elements in the composition of Elsie and her cousin. Apart from
the merit of the book as a story, it is full of wit, and of sound
thought sometimes hiding behind a mask of humor. Admirably conceived are
the two clergymen, gradually changing sides almost without knowing it,
and having that persuasion of consistency which men always feel, because
they must always bring their creed into some sort of agreement with
There is something melancholy in the fact, that, the moment Dr. Holmes
showed that he felt a deep interest in the great questions which concern
this world and the next, and proved not only that he believed in
something, but thought his belief worth standing up for, the cry of
_Infidel_ should have been raised against him by people who believe in
nothing but an authorized version of Truth, they themselves being the
censors. For our own part, we do not like the smell of Smithfield,
whether it be Catholic or Protestant that is burning there; though,
fortunately, one can afford to smile at the Inquisition, so long as its
Acts of Faith are confined to the corners of sectarian newspapers.
But Dr. Holmes can well afford to possess his soul in patience. The
Unitarian John Milton has won and kept quite a respectable place in
literature, though he was once forced to say, bitterly, that "new
Presbyter was only old Priest writ large." One can say nowadays, _E pur
si muove_, with more comfort than Galileo could; the world does move
forward, and we see no great chance for any ingenious fellow-citizen to
make his fortune by a "Yankee Heretic-Baker," as there might have been
two centuries ago.
Dr. Holmes has proved his title to be a wit in the earlier and higher
sense of the word, when it meant a man of genius, a player upon thoughts
rather than words. The variety, freshness, and strength which he has
lent to our pages during the last three years seem to demand of us that
we should add our expression of admiration to that which his countrymen
have been so eager and unanimous in rendering.
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