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If they expected to live some thousands of years on earth, and felt that, without improvement, without being provided with intellectual resources, their minds must pine and perish, would they not consent to begin? But why should they expect any easier rule, because the progress of their being is to lead them to another world ? But there is another sort of objection. I am too old to
" learn. Whatever I might have been, if I had been thoroughly educated, or if I had improved my opportunities, I am too old to change my course now; the time has gone by with me.' And this is often said by one whose years do not number more than forty or fifty. What a strange misconception, we must say again, - what a strange misconception is this for beings with the hope of immortality to bear their thoughts onward! The infinite ages are before us; we have lived fifty or seventy years, and we say, that we are too old to take
up the task of self-improvement; that the time is gone by for entering upon that work, for which life and being and immortality are given.
Christianity, if we believe in it, will teach us new views both of time and eternity, both of the mind and of our duty to it. The gift of such faculties as ours will seem vast, and will awaken the most solemn consideration of the means for their improvement. We shall not care for the improvement of any thing more than of this inward and wonderful being. We shall consult it, as a being travelling to eternity, and ask of it as some enshrined and mysterious oracle, how its demands are to be met, its wants satisfied, and its destinies fulfilled. Life will be clothed with fresh and never-dying interest. Its prospect will not be that of leading us through dull years, through tasks rendered wearisome by repetition, through pleasures rendered irksome by familiarity. Its very age will be youthful ; the youth of an everlasting life. Its very last hour will be an hour to be improved as connected with end
Such, then, in the Christian estimate, will be the mind, and such the duty of its improvement; and the hour, whenever it comes, that may be devoted to this end, will not be the sport
, of every idle vanity, but will be held sacred, as if it were a Sabbath hour, - sacred to the soul, sacred to eternity!
ART. VII. — The American Common-Place Book of Poetry;
with occasional Notes. By GEORGE B. CHEEVER. Boston. Carter, Hendee, & Babcock. 1831. 12mo. pp. 405. The literary rank of a collector of pieces of poetry or prose
a written by other people, is not very high in the general estimation, because his office is thought to require no talent, and but a very ordinary kind of labor. It appears to us, that this is taking an unfair and superficial view of the matter. We do not contend that it needs high genius to cull elegant extracts and compile a common-place book, but we do assert that not only industry, but good taste, poetic feeling, and a considerable knowledge of books are all necessary in the getting together of a collection of poetry or prose, which shall be worth reading or keeping. The business is quite a different one from that of raking hay. It is not only collection, but selection; and for selection higher qualities are demanded than those of a day-laborer.
These higher qualities, which all such collectors of literature should have, but of which too many have proved themselves destitute, are those which go to form the faculty of discrimination. The collector of a common-place book of poetry, for instance, should have a susceptibility to what is truly beautiful, sublime, and affecting in poetry, that he may be able to discriminate between compositions which possess these characters, and those which only counterfeit them, offering tinsel and gaudiness for beauty, bombast for sublimity, and mawkishness for pathos. He should have an ear for the music of poetry, that he may be able to discriminate between the rugged and the smooth, the harsh and the grateful. He should moreover have a mind as well as an ear, that he may be able to discriminate between that poetry which is merely a pleasant sound, and that which combines sound with sense. He must have all these qualities, or his work will be a wretched patchwork, with good pieces in it here and there, by chance, and because he could not well help finding them among the mass, but with bad and flimsy pieces every where. There is one requisite more which the collector must have, if he intends his work for the eyes of moral and Christian people, — he must have a true and deep respect for religion, or at least for virtue and moral purity, so that he will from
principle avoid the introduction of any tainted composition, however it may be recommended by the venal graces of poetry. The man who will put into a book, which from its
. character is a family and social book, any thing to offend the serious, or cause modesty to hold its tongue and hide its head, is not so much a subject for criticism, as for the House of Correction.
The American Common-Place Book of Poetry' amply denotes that its editor possesses the best qualifications for such a work. We know of no collection of the kind, which seems to us so good, and so well adapted to answer its end. It is made with taste, with judgment, and with religious feeling. It will not only amuse, but edify the leisure hour. It is, besides, a fair representative, and even epitome, of American poetry; for what is the whole body of American poetry but a great common-place book? There is not a poem, worthy of the name, in the whole compass and extent of it. It consists altogether of scraps, — many of them, to be sure, exquisite scraps, — and all our poets, living and dead, how
ever beautifully some of them have written, are only scrapwriters, after all. We say not so in disparagement of them, but merely to state the fact.
Mr. Cheever has fallen into one or two mistakes with regard to the origin of his specimens. This was to have been expected. A great deal of pretty poetry appears only in our newspapers, the editors of which seldom give themselves the trouble of telling us where it comes from, even if they know. A collector of American poetry is thus led into frequent danger of transferring a piece from the corner of a newspaper, as American, which had been copied by the editor from some English paper or magazine, in the usual slovenly manner, without note or acknowledgment of any kind. Deceived in this way, probably, Mr. Cheever has given us Charlotte Smith’s ‘Sonnet to the Moon. He took it from the Massachusetts Spy. And the way in which it got into the Spy we believe to be as follows. The well known Mr. Isaiah Thomas of Worcester printed an edition, many years ago, of Miss Smith's Sonnets. He was also the editor of the Spy. It was very natural, therefore, that while the Sonnets were going through the press, he should now and then slide one of them into his Poet's Corner, to save trouble, and give his readers a taste of the forthcoming book. We
are surprised, notwithstanding, that Mr. Cheever should not have recognised this familiar sonnet, and we suspect he is surprised himself, for he must have been acquainted with it. Well do we remember that 'Queen of the silver bow!' and how
very used to think it; and well do we remember the copperplate engraving which stood opposite to the sonnet in that identical edition, representing a young lady in a sentimental attitude, gazing with all her eyes on an exceedingly bright moon.
The lines entitled "The Two Homes' sound to us very much like Mrs. Hemans. We will not be positive, however, that they are hers.
We cannot agree with Mr. Cheever in all the estimates which he forms of the comparative merits of our poets. We cannot place Mr. Dana at the head of them, though we should place him high. We cannot go along with him entirely in his admiration of Mr. Carlos Wilcox. We confess that we never saw his name before; but that has nothing to do with the question of his merits. If his life had been spared, he probably would have grown into a poet, for he had the elements of one. Mr. Cheever seems to have been misled in his judgment of him, by a feeling resembling the ardor of a discoverer. We agree that the images in the following lines
make up a picture,' not indeed inimitably beautiful, but beautiful, and true to nature’; but such lines never could or ought to have been popular, they are so deficient in smoothness, harmony, and ease.
'A sultry noon, not in the summer's prime,
Brushes along the surface with a shade
A calm, sublime immensity below.' - pp. 68, 69. We cannot spare room for the whole of the extract as given by Mr. Cheever. The remainder is very good, and very descriptive, but like most of the specimens from Wilcox, it is, owing to a certain ungracefulness of expression and rhythm, hard to read and rather tiresome. In justice to both the gentlemen, we will quote another piece by the same writer, headed “September, with which we have no heart to find fault, because it is in the main so beautiful.
The sultry summer past, September comes,