Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

dictum about autobiographies; and so was Dr. Kitchener, in his about hares. First catch your perfectly sincere and unconscious man. He is even more uncommon

[ocr errors]

than a genius of the first order. Most men dress themselves for their autobiographies, as Machiavelli used to do for reading the classics, in their best clothes'; they receive us, as it were, in a parlor chilling and awkward from its unfamiliarity with man, and keep us carefully away from the kitchen-chimney-corner, where they would feel at home, and would not look on a lapse into nature as the unpardonable sin. But what do we want of a hospitality that makes strangers of us, or of confidences that keep us at arm's-length? Better the tavern and the newspaper; for in the one we can grumble, and from the other learn more of our neighbors than we care to know. John Smith's autobiography is commonly John Smith's design for an equestrian statue of himself, very fine, certainly, and as much like him as like Marcus Aurelius. Saint Augustine, kneeling to confess, has an eye to the picturesque, and does it in pontificalibus, resolved that Domina Grundy shall think all the better of him. Rousseau cries, "I will bare my heart to you!" and, throwing open his waistcoat, makes us the confidants of his dirty linen. Montaigne, indeed, reports of himself with the impartiality of a naturalist, and Boswell, in his letters to Temple, shows a maudlin irretentiveness; but is not old Samuel Pepys, after all, the only man who spoke to himself of himself with perfect simplicity, frankness, and unconsciousness? — a creature unique as the dodo,-a solitary specimen, to show that it was possible for Nature to indulge in so odd a whimsey! An autobiography is good for nothing, unless the author tell us in it precisely what he meant not to tell. A man who can say what he thinks of another to his face is a disagreeable rarity; but one who could look his own Ego straight in the eye, and pronounce unbiased judgment, were worthy of Sir Thomas Browne's Museum. Had Cheiron written his autobiography, the consciousness of his equine crupper would have ridden him like a nightmare; should a mermaid write hers, she would sink the fish's tail, nor allow it to be put into the scales, in weighing her character. The mermaid, in truth, is the emblem of those

who strive to see themselves; - her mirror is too small to reflect anything more than the mulier formosa supernè.

We looked for a great prize in Meshach Browning's account of himself, and have been disappointed. Not that some very fair grains of wheat may not be had for the winnowing, but the proportion of chaff is disheartening. Meshach has been edited, and has not come out of that fiery furnace unscathed. Mr. Stabler has not let him come before us in his deerskin hunting-shirt, but has made him presentable by getting him into a black dress-coat, the uniform of perfect respectability and tiresomeness. He has corrected Meshach's style for him! He has made him write that unexceptionable English which neither gods nor men, but only columns, allow. (The kindness of an anonymous correspondent, however, enables us to assure him that lay, and not laid, is the preterite of lie.) One page of Meshach's own writing would have been worth all his bear-stories put together. Many men may shoot bears, but few can write like backwoodsmen. We shall expect an edition of "The Rivals" from Mr. Stabler, with Mrs. Malaprop's epitaphs revised by the "Aids to Composition." Luckily, Meshach himself will never know the wrong that has been done him. On the contrary, he probably pleases himself in finding that he is made to write President's English, and admires the new leaves and apples not his own. But, in his polishing, American letters have met as great a loss as American fiction did when the depositions of the survivors of Bunker's Hill, taken fifty years after the battle, were burned.

However, he who knows how to read with the ends of his fingers may yet find good meat in the book. An honest provincialism has escaped Mr. Stabler's weeding-hoe here and there, and we get a few glimpses, in spite of him, into log-cabin interiors when the inmates are not in their Sunday-clothes. We learn how much a sound stomach has to do with human felicity; that a bride may make her husband happy, though her whole outfit consist of two cups and saucers, two knives and forks. and two spoons; that a man may be hospitable in a cabin, twelve by fifteen, with only the forest for his larder; and that an American needs only an axe, a rifle, and

nary red, for his start in life. Meshach Browning finds in his Paradise very much what our first parents found outside of theirs. At nineteen he is the husband of pretty Mary McMullen, and joint-proprietor with the rest of mankind of all-outdoors, it being an eccentricity of McMullen père to prefer a back to a front view of his sonsin-law. Meshach, who is sure of a comfortable fireside wherever there are trees, moves into the nearest bit of wilderness, builds a house with the timber felled to make a clearing, plants his acre or two, and forthwith shoots a bear, whose salted flesh will keep him and his wife alive till harvest. Thus in 1800 was a family founded, which fifty years later had increased to one hundred and twenty-two, of whom sixty-seven, as their progenitor says proudly, were "capable of bearing arms for the defence of their country," though, to be sure, the Harper's Ferry affair leaves us in some doubt as to the direction in which they would bear them. The community of which the Brownings, man and wife, became members at their marriage was a wholly self-subsistent one. The men wore deerskins procured by their own rifles and dressed and tailored by themselves,- while the women spun and wove both flax and wool. Powder and lead seem to have been the only things for which they were dependent on outsiders. Browning's father was an English soldier, who, escaping from Braddock's massacre, deserted and settled in the highlands of Western Maryland,—as a place, we suppose, equally safe from the provost-martial of the redcoat and the tomahawk of the red man. It is curious to think of the great contrast between father and son: the one a British soldier of the day of strictest powder and pigtail; the other, a man who never wore a hat, except in fine weather, and in the house, of course, like the rest of his countrymen. In this case, we find the very purest American type (for Meshach has not a single Old-World notion) produced in a single generation. We ourselves have known a parallel instance in the children of a British soldier who deserted during the War of 1812; in tone of thought, accent, dialect, and physique they were unmistakably Yankee. If the backwoods Americanize men so fast, is it wonderful that two centuries of the Western Hemisphere should have produced a breed so unlike

the parent Bull? It is time Bull began to reconcile himself to it.

One of the most amusing passages in Meshach's autobiography is that in which he relates his military experience as captain of a company of militia. The company appear to have gone into action only once, and that was on occasion of a muster when they undertook to lick their commander, with whom, for some reason or other, they were discontented. As well as we can make out, the result seems to have been, that the captain licked them; though our Cæsar's Commentaries are naturally so confused on this topic, that we almost feel, after reading them, as if we had been through the fight ourselves.

The book should have been shorter by at least two-thirds,- for one bear-story is just like another, and Meshach's style of narrative is one that cannot bear the prosperity of print. However, we find much that is interesting in the volume, as in all records of real experience.

Mr. Milburn's account of himself we have also found very entertaining. In some respects it belongs on the same shelf with Meshach Browning's; for we think the best chapters in it are those which bring us into contact with Cartwright and other Methodist ministers, the frontiersmen and bushfighters of the Church, who do not bandy subtilties with Mephistopheles, nor consider that the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman, but go in for a rough-andtumble fight with Satan and his imps, as with so many red Injuns undeserving of the rights and incapable of the amenities of civilized warfare. We confess a thorough liking for these Leatherstockings of the clergy, true apostolic successors of the heavy-handed fisherman, Peter. Their rough-and-ready gospel is just the thing for men who feel as if they could not get religion, unless from a preacher who can "whip" them as well as thunder doctrine at their ears.

We prefer those parts of Mr. Milburn's book in which he tells us what he saw (if we may say it of a blind man) to those in which he undertakes to tell us what he was. The history of the growth of his mind is not of vital importance to us, and we should be quite willing to have "returned unexperienced to our graves," like Grumio's fellow-servants. We think there is getting to be altogether

[ocr errors]

too much unreserve in the world. We doubt if any man have the right to take mankind by the button and tell all about himself, unless, like Dante, he can symbolize his experience. Even Goethe we only half thank, especially when he kisses and tells, and prefer Shakspeare's indifference to the intimacy of the German. Silence about one's self is the most golden of all, as men commonly discover after babbling. Mr. Milburn, in one of his chapters, gives an account of his passage through what he is pleased to call neology and rationalism. He represents himself as having sounded the depths of German metaphysics, criticism, and æsthetics. But a man who is able to write a sentence in which Lessing's Works are spoken of as if the reading of them tended to make men "transcendentalists of the supra-nebulous order" no more deserves a scourging by angels for his devotion to German literature than Saint Jerome did for being a Ciceronian. No truly thorough course of study ever weakened or unsteadied any man's mind, for it is the surest way to make him think less of himself, and we cannot help believing that the disease Mr. Milburn went through was nothing more nor less than sentimentalism, a complaint as common to a certain period of life as measles. But while we think him mistaken in his diagnosis, we cannot but commend the good sense and manliness of his course of treatment.

Bating the egotism unavoidable in a work of the sort, the style of Mr. Milburn's book is agreeable, and the anecdotes of various kinds with which it abounds render it very amusing. It is of particular interest as showing how much a blind man may accomplish both for himself and others, that the loss of sight may be borne with cheerfulness as well as resignation, and that the sufferer by such a calamity is sure of kindness and sympathy from his fellow-men.

A First Lesson in Natural History. By ACTEA. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1859. pp. 82.

THIS is an altogether charming little book. Simple, clear, and methodical, the style leaves nothing to be desired, and suggests no wish that anything were away.

An aunt called upon for more stories and no wonder, when she tells them so well-resolves to play the Nereïd, and takes her little ones in fancy down among the slopes and dells of Ocean to watch the lovely growths and the strange creatures in which, through plant and mineral, or what seem such, Life is yearning upward toward the higher individuality of Volition. She tells us (for we seemed among her hearers as we read, and drew our stool nearer) all about the sea-anemones and corals, the coral-reefs, the jelly-fishes, starfishes, and sea-urchins, which last are not to be confounded with the buoys so frequently to be met with in our harbors. That the stories have the sanction of Agassiz is warrant of their scientific accuracy, while the feminine grace with which they are told is a science to be learned of no professor.

Since the fairies are all dead, it is pleasant to know that Pan can be brought to life again for children by the study of Nature. Now that the wonders of the invisible world are closed, the little ones can have no better set-off than in the beauty and marvel of God's visible creation. Here also are food for the imagination and material for poetry. Whatever teaches a child to observe teaches him to think, and strengthens memory, a faculty which in fitting conjunction is cumulative genius. We dislike the science that is sometimes forced down youthful throats by the Mrs. Squeerses of polite learning, a vile compound of treacle and brimstone; but there is a vast difference between science as dead fact and science as living poetry,the harvest of the child's own eyes, gathered on seashores and hillsides, in fields and lanes. We like the aim and tendency of this little book, because it is likely to draw children away from books, and to entice them into that admirably ventilated schoolroom of out-doors which will give them sound lungs and stomachs and muscular limbs. It teaches them, too, without their knowing it; which is the only true way; for they contrive to make their minds duck's-backs, under the assiduous watering-pot of instruction. The knowledge it gives them is real, and not merely a thing of terms and phrases. Moreover, the kind of it is suitable; a great thing; for we hold a Pascal in a pinafore to be as great an outrage as a learned pig.

We have found the generality of books written for children of late so thoroughly bad, as void of invention as they are full of vulgarisms in thought and language, that it is a downright pleasure to meet with one so fresh and graceful as this of Actæa's. We hope she will follow it with a series, for she has shown herself qualified to do for science what Hawthorne has done for mythology.

Poems. By ANNE WHITNEY. New York: Appleton & Co. 1859.

[ocr errors]

THIS modest volume is a collection of Miss Whitney's previously printed poems, scattered about in forgotten newspapers, with perhaps as many more, which now appear in print for the first time. The uncommon merit of some of her early poems, especially "Bertha," Hymn to the Sea," and "Lilian," (here most unpoetically called "Facts in Verse,") long ago awakened a desire in lovers of good poetry to know more of Miss Whitney and what she had written; and the desire is gratified by the publication of this book. We can hardly say that the new poems are better than the old; though some of them, as "The Ceyba and the Jaguey," "Undine," "Dominique," and "My Window," are marked by the same quick insight, the same force and dignity of expression, which charm us in the earlier verses. We still find "Lilian" the best of all, as it is the longest; there are in it passages of description as clear and vivid as the landscapes of Church and Turner, and touches of profound and glowing imagination; and the whole poem, in spite of its obscurity, affects the mind like a strain of high and mournful music. The Sonnets are all more or less harsh and unintelligible, a criticism which applies to many of the other poems Miss Whitney evidently despises foot-notes as utterly as Tennyson, and leaves much unexplained in her titles and in the poems themselves, which might help us to understand them, if we knew it. Obscurity of thought and a lack of facility in versification cause evident defects in her otherwise fine book; on the other hand, she is never flat and seldom feeble, but writes as one whose thoughts and feelings move on a high level, sustained by a familiarity with the strength and beauty, rather

than the grace and tenderness of literature. Few of our country women have written better poems, and her little book gives finer food for thought and fancy than many a more bulky volume. Is it ungracious to charge her with affectation? for this is the clinging curse of modern poetry, and one may trace it even in the noble idyls of the greatest English poet now alive. The Brownings overflow with it, and it is the chief characteristic of scores of the lesser poets of the day. If all who write verses could learn how sacred language is, how full of beauty is its austere simplicity, they would cease from their endless tricks of word-painting and the Florentine mosaics of speech. Miss Whitney offends less than many in this way, and has shown some of the rarer gifts of that indefinable being, a true poet.

Sword and Gown. A Novel: by the Author of "Guy Livingstone." Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

THIS is rather a brilliant sketch than a carefully wrought and finely finished romance. The actors are drawn in bold outlines, which it does not appear to have been the purpose of the author to fill up in the delicate manner usually deemed necessary for the development of character in fiction. But they are so vigorously drawn, and the narration is so full of power, that few readers can resist the fascination of the story, in spite of the intrusive little digressions which everywhere appear, and which, jumping at random through passages of history, religion, art, politics, literature, as a circus-rider forsakes his steed to dash through the many-colored tissue screens that are invitingly held out to him, interfere quite seriously with its progress. It is certainly a book in which the interest is positive, and from which the attention is seldom allowed to wander; and is, so far, a success.

But there is also another relation in which it is to be considered. Without being much of a moralist, one may clearly perceive that its tone is unhealthy and its sentiment vicious. What it aims at we would not assume to decide; what it accomplishes is, to secure a sympathy for a reckless and dare-devil spirit which drives the hero through a tolerably long career of

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

more than moderate iniquity, and leaves him impenitent at the end. It will hardly do to say that the object of the book is only to amuse. Dealing with the subjects it does, it must work good or evil. Its theme is this: An imperious beauty, whose heart has been seared in earliest youth, and whose passions are half supposed to be dead, is brought in contact, at a French watering-place, with a man whose life has been passed in wildest excesses, whose amatory exploits have echoed through Europe, and who knows no higher human motive of action than the prosecution of selfish and sensual enjoyment. His good qualities are dauntless personal courage, which, however, often sinks into brutal ferocity, and occasional touches of generous emotion towards his friends. The young girl's heart-strings are again set in tune, and made to quiver in harmony with those of the determined conqueror. Just as her soul is yielded, the intelligence that her lover has a living wife is imparted to her. Here a resemblance to a striking incident in "Jane Eyre" may be detected; but mark the difference in the result:Jane Eyre, resolute in her righteous convictions, flies from a struggle which she perhaps feels herself incapable of sustaining; the present heroine consents to re

main near her lover, on his promise of good behavior! What follows cannot be averted,

who would expect that it should

be? The elopement which is planned, however, is prevented by the interference of a third party, and the lovers submit to their destiny of separation. They meet once again, but it is only when the hero, mortally wounded in a Crimean battle, lies expiring at Scutari. With the bitter agony of the dying farewell, the scene closes. The characters remain unchanged to the end. The Sword, though stained in many places with impurities, still glistens with a lustre that bewilders and confuses the senses. The Gown-which seems introduced at all only for the purpose of mockery, its representative being invested with all contemptible and unmanly attributes— still lies covered with the reproach that has been cast upon it.

The moral of such a book is not a good one. The author does his best, by various arts, to make the reader look kindly upon a guilty love, and to regard with admiration those who are animated by it, notwithstanding the hero is no better at the end than he was at the opening, and the heroine is rather worse. And such is his undeniable power, that with many readers he will be too likely to carry his point.

RECENT AMERICAN PUBLICATIONS.

Reynard the Fox, after the German Version of Goethe. By Thomas James Arnold, Esq.; with Illustrations from the Designs of Wilhelm von Kaulbach. New York. D. Appleton & Co. 8vo. pp. 226. $3.50.

The Eighteen Christian Centuries. By the Rev. James White, Author of a 46 History of France"; with a Copious Index. From the Second Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia. Parry & McMillan. 12mo. pp. 538. $1.25.

A New Dictionary of Quotations from the Greek, Latin, and Modern Languages. Translated into English, and occasionally accompanied with Illustrations, Historical, Poetical, and Anecdotical; with an Extensive Index, referring to Every Important Word. By the Author of "Live and Learn," etc. From the last London Edition. Philadelphia. J. B. Lippincott & Co. 12mo. pp. 527. $1.50.

An Inquiry into the Formation of Washington's Farewell Address. Philadelphia. Parry & McMillan. 8vo. pp. vii., 250. $1.25.

Sermons Published and Revised by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon. Sixth Series. New York. Sheldon & Co. 12mo. pp. xii., 450. $1.00.

The Boy's Book of Industrial Information. By Elisha Noyce, Author of "Outlines of Creation." Illustrated with Three Hundred and Seventy Engravings. New York. D. Appleton & Co. 16mo. $1.25.

The Prairie: A Tale. By J. Fenimore Cooper. Illustrated from Drawings by F. O. C. Darley. New York. W. A. Townsend & Co. 12mo. pp. ix., 479. $1.50.

Men who have Risen. Illustrated by C. A. Doyle. A. Townsend & Co. 16mo.

A Book for Boys. New York. W. pp. 315. 75 cts.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »