« ZurückWeiter »
conduct of life, come with best effect from those who have passed through its busy scenes ; and the revolutions of empires should be related, not by men who have lived all their days among books, but by those who, having long been engaged in the public service, at length retire to contemplate the pictures of history and describe its events. How many books have we, to teach morality to the rising generation. And yet, are these professed treatises on virtue, equal in their effects to the short, eloquent, and unexpected moral truths, which, coming from the mouths of men experienced in the world, carry conviction directly to the mind ? Demosthenes lived in the confusion of a turbulent democracy, and his orations sparkle with moral truths, and lessons of pure wisdom applied to the government of life. Almost all the great writers of antiquity, from the fabled Orpheus, the ruler of the Thracians, to Boëthius, the last philosopher of the Romans, were public characters. Who needs to have recalled to his mind, Æschylus, Tyrtaeus, Sophocles? or above all, the four great lights of ancient history, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Polybius, all of whom were familiar with public service and with danger? Or among the Romans, Cicero, the senator Sallust, Cesar, and the consul Tacitus? If we glance for a moment at the literary men of modern Italy, when it first rose from its torpor, we find again Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, and in later days, Machiavelli, and Filicaja, high in place and influence as statesmen. We could carry these illustrations much further. We will but recur to England. The great guide of modern philosophy is the Chancellor Bacon; Paradise Lost would probably never have been written, had not the genius of its author been elevated and expanded by taking an active part in the attempt to liberate mankind. Why need we allude to Sheridan and Burke; or to Byron, who, but for his vices, would have been still more renowned as a statesman than as a poet ? No man,
who loves fine reasoning, and eloquent expressions of feeling, can wish that Burke had remained a man of letters, or weigh for one moment, the whole worth of his severe literary efforts against his single speech for conciliation with America, or his justificatory “ Letter to a noble Lord.”
We infer from these facts, that literature will not suffer, even though men's minds should be strongly interested in politics. A new and all important subject of thought, unknown to despotic governments, the science of civil polity, is presented to the understanding; men learn to grow warm with true philanthropy; the voluntary contributions of our towns and villages to send a knowledge of the gospel to the furthest isles, prove the affections to have become exalted and enlarged; and knowledge,
and religion, and liberty, are considered in their influences on society, and their tendency to improve the whole family of man. The power of genius, still continues to preserve the best thoughts and hopes of one age, for the use of coming generations. The general spirit of free inquiry and action calls into notice and ripens minds, which might otherwise have lain dormant.
We will venture to draw one other inference from the reflections into which we have been led. Our statesmen owe to their country something more than their counsels. It is their duty not only to guide us by their wisdom, while they are entrusted with power, but, if they can, to embody in language the best lessons of their experience, to leave written memorials of their genius, to deliver to their contemporaries and to posterity instruction of patriotism and national honour. At present, public opinion is one; we are swayed by one pure spirit, (we would say the spirit of the age, but that we hope the spirit of which we speak may be, not of the age, but eternal,) one general impulse in favour of liberty and virtue. This invisible power is of constant agency, though concentrated in no place, dwelling in every part of the union, and extending its influence throughout the world. How can the general mind be preserved in this elevation, unless the master spirits of each age diffuse their generous conceptions through the public? We will respect the politician who serves the purposes of the moment with fidelity; but deeper gratitude is due to him, who, besides labouring faithfully for the national prosperity, extends this influence beyond limits by committing just thoughts to eloquent langriage. The former serves his country for a short period; the latter for ever. The one is as a refreshing shower to the parched earth; the other as a living fountain that pours out a perennial stream. The former is a cheering light, that sheds a useful and valued but transitory brightness, and, being soon consumed, leaves no traces of its vanished splendour; the latter kindles a light which never dies, a beacon for all generations, which may aspire after liberty and glory.
Let us be permitted then to recommend liberal pursuits to any who aspire to serve their country. It will confer a new and a high claim to honour, if they add the science of the scholar to the clear judgment of the statesman, the earnestness of enthusiasm to the keen eye acquired in the world. There is no more admirable sight than to behold good actions united to good words; it is a shame for a man to profess a morality which he refuses to practice; and while the independence of genius would spurn the vain honours conferred by royal patronage, stars, crosses, titles,
garters, or a diplomatic station of doubtful morality, every man in a free country owes his best services to the state, and may feel honoured on being called to public employments by the will of an intelligent people. Among us, the good example has already been given. Many of the names which are mentioned with most esteem in our literature, are those of men who were distinguished in public life. No one has written better advice for the nation than the nation's father, our own beloved Washington; and Franklin, and Jefferson, and Marshall, and Hamilton, and Ames, and Wirt, and Webster, and Clinton, and the elder and the younger Adams, have not only achieved and defended and administered our constitution, but have explained the principles of government and the operation of laws, committed to writing our history and the lives of our illustrious men, and inculcated lessons of practical prudence and love of whatever is exalted in human nature.
We cannot but rejoice that Mr. Everett has been given to the national councils. These orations are a proof, that he will bring to them extensive knowledge, a superiority over local prejudices, and a spirit determined to serve his whole country, But when we read his productions, and are willingly detained by his pure language and varied eloquence, we must add that he cannot spared from its literature, and it may be claimed of him as a duty still to repel the attacks of foreign jealousy, and to add to our literary monument productions of lasting value. These orations are but the first fruits of a mind which has yet before itself a long course of improvement and exertion.
Art. XXIX.—The Novice, or the Man of Integrity. From the
French of L. B. PICARD, author of the Gil Blas of the Redolution, &c. &c.-New-York, Geo. & Chas. Carvill. 1825.
Mons. PICARD has acquired a considerable degree of popularity in Paris, by his Gil Blas of the Revolution and his other novels, of which the one before us has been translated for the amusement of the English public, and the translation is now reprinted in this country. It is not often that the expedients usually employed by novelists to fasten the attention and relieve the weariness of the reader are so entirely neglected as in the present work. Few productions of the kind afford so little exercise for the imagination, or contain so few appeals to the deeper and stronger
passions. There are no attempts to thrill us with horror or to melt us with pity; no “moving accidents Vol. 1.
by flood and field;" the plot is not made to turn upon any great political or physical calamities. There are no characters with sublimated passions and heated imaginations—there is nothing extravagantly heroic, nothing wild, nor sentimental, nor poetical. The author introduces no celebrated historical personages, nor manners of another age—those materials of which so many brilliant fictions have been forged in our day for the admiration of the world. Not only has he declined the task of filling up the hard and severe outlines which history and tradition have left us of these originals, with a fresh and vigorous but imaginary colouring, ingeniously contrived to harmonize with the true, but the fact is, that he has not even given us any elaborate exhibition whatever of any striking peculiarities of character, either individual or national. There is an almost entire absence of all description of visible objects—there are no places presented us, which, after a time, become to us like familiar haunts--there is no painting of costume nor bringing out of singularities of manner—there are no personages whose peculiar appearance the mind figures to itself, giving them features and voices with which we become acquainted-no incidents are related with that graphic fidelity which might almost make us believe them passing before our eyes. Neither is this a book of humour and drollery—the characters are neither placed in ludicrous situations, nor made to utter any thing particularly smart or particularly laughable. The world in which its hero moves is the dim every day world about us; the scene is laid in modern France, but it is not France seen in those picturesque lights in which it would present itself to a stranger. What then, it may be asked, is the charm which detains us in the perusal of these volumes, for there certainly is one which keeps us reading, contentedly and broad awake, to the end, in spite of the absence of the ordinary attractions of fictitious narrative. It lies in the good sense and the close and shrewd observation of human life shown in the work, in the pleasant vein of satire upon the follies and false maxims of the world running through it, in the natural and lively manner in which an ingeniously contrived succession of incidents is related, and, if those who abhor a moral in a work of fiction will forgive us the heresy, in the beauty and soundness of the lesson it inculcates.
It is obvious that such a work, however excellent in its kind, must be the very antipodes of those novels which have within a few years obtained such universal applause. It will therefore probably find many admirers among those who pay a forced and reluctant homage to the great and prolific genius which has
produced the Waverly novels. It is no slander against the powers of that author, to say that a great deal of the praise bestowed upon his works is merely the echo of those voices which give the lead to public opinion in matters of taste. In a pack of hounds, it is not to be supposed that every one who barks perceives the scent of the game, neither is it to be taken for granted that every man who opens his mouth in praise of a master-piece in literature, has therefore a genuine relish of its excellencies. That this should be true of the works of this author, to a greater extent than in almost any other case, is but the natural consequence of his sudden and unprecedented popularity. We have known those who thought some of his earlier productions but poor things at best, until they were set right by those whose opinions upon such subjects they felt themselves bound to adopt. There is still a lurking disposition among a considerable portion of the literary public to escape from the thraldom in which they are held. This is manifested by the criticisms which have been passed upon these delightful fictions,-criticisms in which each successive work, (except the last, which has burst upon the public with an overawing splendour) has been regularly pronounced inferior to the one which preceded it. This does not seem like the expression of an earnest and hearty admiration; it looks rather like an artifice to loosen gradually the chain that cannot be broken at once, until at last a complete emancipation shall be effected from the slavery of being obliged to admire at all. For ourselves, we are of opinion that it is too much to require that all sorts of people should be pleased with the same novel, and think that a great latitude of choice should be allowed, where so ample a provision is made for every variety of taste. To those whose plainer palate does not relish the banquets prepared by the wizard of the North, but who notwithstanding suppose themselves under a necessity of suppressing their wry faces, and swallowing the viands with an appearance of greediness and delight, we cannot do a better service than to recommend the simple repasts of M. Picard. The book before us is one which they may read with genuine pleasure, and praise without affectation.
George Dercy, the hero of the story, is a young man, whose simplicity and scrupulous honesty, notwithstanding the possession of good parts and great diligence, had procured for him at school the nick name of * Niais or Simpleton; a respectful ap
* This word is rendered Novice in the title page of this translationterm which does not fully express the meaning of the original.