Abbildungen der Seite

enongh that the author has literary power and skill. Else why do the failures of every great novelist and playwright almost always outnumber the successes? Even Shakspeare offers no exception to the &ct. What a descent from " Hamlet" to " Titus Andronicus," from "Othello" to "Cymbeline "! Miss Bronte writes "Jane Eyre," and fails ever afterwards to come up to her own standard. Bulwer delights us with "The Caxtons," and then (inks to the dulness of "The Strange Story." Dickens gives us " Oliver Twist," and then tries the patience of confiding readers in "Martin Chuzzlewit." We will not undertake to analyze all the reasons for these startling discrepancies; but one obvious reason is infelicity in the choice of a subject. A subject teeming with the right capabilities will often enable an ordinary playwright to produce a drama that will rpuse an audience to wild enthusiasm; whereas, if the subject is nilpregnant with dramatic issues, not even genius can invest it with the charm that commands the sympathy and attention of the many. Watch a large, miscellaneous audience, as it listens, rapt, intent, and weeping, to Kotzpbue's "Stranger," and tee the same audience as it tries to attend to Talfourd's "Ion." Yet here it is the back writer who succeeds and the true poet who fails. Why? Because the former has hit upon a subject which gives Mm at once the advantage of nearness to the popular heart, while the latter has selected a theme remote and unsympathetic.

In " Peculiar" Mr. Sargent has had the lack, if we may so call it, of finding the materials for his plot in incidents which carry in themselves so much of dramatic power that a story is evolved from them with the facility and inevitableness of a fete. When the United States forces under General Butler occupied New Orleans, certain developments connected with the workings of "the peculiar institution" were made, which showed a state of social degradation of which we had not supposed even Slavery capable. It appeared that women, so white as to be undistingaishable from the fairest Anglo-Saxons, were held aa slaves, lashed as slaves, subjected to all the indignities which irresponsible mastership involves.

"Peculiar " derives its title from one of

the characters of the novel, nn escaped negro slave, who has received from his sportive master the name of " Peculiar Institution." The great dramatic fact of the story lies in the kidnapping of the infant child of wealthy Northern parents who have been killed in a steamboat-explosion on the Mississippi. The child, a giil, is saved from the water, but saved by two " mean whites," creatures and hangers-on of the Slave Power, H Ixi take her to New Orleans, and finally, being in want of money, sell her with other slaves at auction. In a very graphic and truthful scene, the " vendue " is depicted. About this little girl, Clara by nnnie, the intensest interest is thenceforth made to centre. Her every movement is artfully made a matter of moment to the reader.

Antecedent to the introduction of Clara, the true heroine of the novel, we have the story of Estelle, also a white slave. At first this story seems like an episode, but it is soon found to be inextricably interwoven with the plot. The author has shown remarkable dexterity in preserving the unity of the action so impressively, while dealing with such a variety of characters. Like a floating melody or li-mn in a symphony or an opern, lhc smimtin of Estelle are introduced almost with the effect of pathetic music. Indeed, to those accustomed to look at plots as works of art, the constructive skill maniie.-t in this novel will be not the least of its attractive features.

One word as to the characters. These are drawn with a firm, confident pencil, as if they were portraits from life. Occasionally, from very superabundance of material, the author leaves his outline unfilled. But the important characters are all live and actual flesh and blood. In Pompilard, a capitally drawn figure, many New-Yorkers will recognize an original, faithfutty limned. In Colonel Delancy Hyde, "Virginia-born," we have a most amusing representative of the lower orders of the "Chivalry." Estelle is a charming creation, and we know of few such touching love-stories as that through which she moves with such naturalness and grace. In the cousins Vance and Kenrick we have strongly marked and delicatejy discriminated portraits. The negro "Peculiar" is made to attract much of our sympathy and respect. He is not the buffoon that the stage and the novel generally make of the black man. Hebelongs rather to the class of which Frederick Douglas is a type. It is no more than poetic justice that from "Peculiar" the book should take its name.

We should say more of the plot, did we not purposely abstain from marring the reader's interest by any indiscreet foreshadowing. Everybody seems to be reading or intending to read the book; and its success is already so far assured that no hostile criticism can gainsay or check it. Not the least of the merits of " Peculiar" is the healthy patriotic spirit which runs through it, vivifying and intensifying the whole. The style is remarkably animated, often eloquent, and would of itself impart interest to a story far less rich than this in incident, and less powerful in plot.

The Life of William Hickling Prescott. By , George Ticknor. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

The third edition of Mr. Ticknor's "History of Spanish Literature" was noticed with due commendation in our number for November last. That was a work drawn exclusively from the region of the intellect, and written by the " dry light" of Hi" understanding. The author appeared throughout in a purely judicial capacity. His task was to summon before his literary tribunal the writers of a foreign country, and mostly of past generations, and pronounce sentence upon their clnims and merits. Learning, method, sound judgment, and good taste are displayed in it; but the subject afforded no chance for the expression of those personal traits which are shown in daily life, and make up a man's reputation in the community where he dwells.

But the Life of Prescott is a book of another mood, and drawn from other fountains than those of the understanding. It glows with human sympathies, and is warm with human feeling. It is the record qf a long and faithful friendship, which began in youth and continued unbroken to the last. It is the elder of the two that discharges this last office of affection, to his younger brother. Mr. Ticknor could not write the life of Mr. Prescott without sbowing how worthy he himself was of

having so true, so loving, and so faithful a friend. But he has done this unconsciously and unintentionally. For it is one of the charms of this delightful book — one of the most attractive of the attractive class of literary biography to which it belongs that we have ever read — that the biographer never intrudes himself between his subject and the reader. The story of Mr. Prescott's life is told simply and naturally, and as far as possible in Mr. Prescott's own words, drawn from his diaries and letters. Whatever Mr. Ticknor has occasion to say is said with good taste and good feeling, and he has shown a fine judgment in making his portraiture of his friend so life-like and so true in detail, and yet in never overstepping the line of that inner circle into which the public has no right to enter. We have in these pages a record of Mr. Prescott's life from his cradle to his grave, sufficiently minute to show what manner of man he was, and what influences went to make up his mind and character; and it is a record of more than common value, as well as interest.

For the last twenty years of his-life Mr. Prescott was one of the most eminent and widely known of the residents of Boston. He was universally beloved, esteemed, and admired. He was one ofthe first persons whom a stranger coming among us wished to see. His person and countenance were familiar to many who had no further acquaintance with him; and as he walked about our streets, many a glance of interest was turned upon him of which he himself was unconscious. The general knowledge that his literary honors had been won under no common difficulties, owing to his defective sight, invested his name and presence with a peculiar feeling of admiration and regard. The public at large, including those persons who had but a slight acquaintance with him, saw in him a man very, attractive in personal appearance, and of manners singularly frank and engaging. There was the same charm in his conversation, his aspect, the expression of his countenance, that was felt in his writings. Everything that he did seemed to have been done easily, spontaneously, and without effort. There were no marks of toil and endurance, of temptations resisted and seductions overcome. His graceful and limpid style seemed to flow along with the natural movement of a running stream. tad to those who saw his winning smile ud listened to his gay and animated talk he appeared like one who had basked in innshine all his days and never known the iron discipline of life.

But this was not true; at least, it was not the whole truth. Besides this exterotl, superficial aspect, there was an inner life which was known only to the few who knew him intimately, and which his biography has now revealed to the world. This memoir sets the author of "Ferdinand and Isabella " before the public, as Mr. Ticknor says in his preface, "as a man whose life for more than forty years was one of almost constant struggle, — of an almost constant sacrifice of impulse to duty, of the present to the future." Take Mr. Present! as he was at the age of twenty-five, and see what the chances are, u the world goes, of his becoming a laborious and successful man of letters. He »as handsome in person, attractive in manners, possessed of a competent property, very happy in his domestic relations, with one eye destroyed and the other impaired by a cruel accident; what was more probable, more natural, than that he should become a mere man of wit and pleasure about town, and never write anything beyond a newspaper-article or a review? And we should remember that defective sight was not the only disability under which he labored. His health was never robust, and be was a frequent sufferer from rheumatism und dyspepsia, — the former a winter visitor, and the latter a summer. And not only this, but there was yet another lion in his path. His temperament was naturally indolent. He was fond of social gay"?, "flight reading, of domestic chat. Ho W that love of lounging which Sydney Smiih said no Scotchman but Sir Jamee Mackintosh ever had. But there was a stoieal element in him, lying beneath this euy and pleasure - loving temperament, •"d subduing and controlling it. He had 1 "gilant conscience and a very strong *"!. He had early come to the conclu*""i that not only no honor and no usefulnsa, but no happiness, could be secured 'luiout a regular and daily recurring oc'"Pation. Jle made up his mind, after • «•* reflection and consideration, to make uterature his profession ; and not only that, TMt he further made up his mind to toil 10 "'«, his chosen and voluntary vocation. VOL.

with i L.- patient and uninterrupted industry of a professional man whose daily bread depends upon his daily labor.

And the biography before us reveals that inner life of struggle and conquest which, while Mr. Prescott was living, was known only to his most intimate friends. We see here how resolutely and steadily he contended, not only against defective sight and indifferent health, but also against the love of ease and the seductions of indolence. We see with what strenuous effort his literary honors were won, as well as with what gentleness they were worn. And thus the work has a distinct moral value, and is full of encouragement to those who, under similar or inferior disabilities, have determined to make the choice of Hercules, and prefer a life of labor to a life of pleasure. And this moral lesson is conveyed in a most winning and engaging way. The interest of the narrative is kept up to the end with the freshness of a well-constructed work of fiction. It is an interest not derived from stirring adventures, for Mr. Prescott's life was very uneventful, but from its happy portraiture of those delightful qualities of mind and character of which his life was a revelation. Though it tells of constant struggle and not a little suffering, the tone of the book is genial, sunny, and cheerful, as was the temperament of the historian himself. For it is a remarkable fact that Mr. Prescott's bodily infirmities never had any effect in making his mind or his character morbid. His spiritual nature was eminently healthy. His leading intellectual trait was sound good sense and the power of seeing men and things as they were. He had no whims, no paradoxes, no prejudices. His histories reflect the aggregate judgment of mankind upon the personages he describes and the events he narrates, without extravagance or overstatement in any direction. And it was the same with his character, as shown in daily life; it was frank, generous, cordial, and manly. No man was less querulous, less irritable, less exacting than he. His social nature was warm; discriminating, but not fastidious. He liked men for the good there was in them, and his taste in friendship was wide and catholic. He was rich in friends, and this book proves how just a title to such wealth he could show. We shall be surprhled, if this biography does not Attain a popularity as wide and as enduring as that enjoyed by any of Mr. Prescott's historical works. It is largely made up of extracts from his letters and private journals, which are full of the playful humor, the ready sympathy, the sunny temper, the kindly judgment of men and things, which made the historian so dear to his friends and so popular among his acquaintances.

We cannot dismiss this book without saying a word or two in praise of its externals. Handsome books are, happily, no longer so rare a product of the American press as to require heralding when they do'appear, but this is so beautiful a specimen of the art of book - manufacturing that it deserves special commendation. The type, paper, press-work, and illustrations are nil admirable, and the whole is a result not easily to be surpassed in any part of the world.

tfy Ftirm of Edgeioood. A Country Book. By the Author of "Reveries of a Bachelor." New York: Charles Scribner. l2mo.

When " Ik Marvel" ten years ago turned farmer, a good proportion of the reading public supposed that his experiment would combine the defects of gentleman- ami poet-farming, and that he would escape the bankrupt^' of Shenstone only by possessing the purse of Astor. That a man of refined sentiments, elegant tastes, wide cultivation, and humane and tender genius, given, moreover, to indulgences in "Reveries" and the " Dream-Life," should succeed in the real business of agriculture, seemed a monstrous supposition to those cockney idealists who consider the cultivation of the mind incompatible with the cultivation of the ground,who cannot bring, by any theory of the association of ideas, practical talent into neighborly good-will with lofty aspirations, and who necessarily connect the government of brutes with an imbruted intelligence. The book we have under review is a blunt contradiction to objectors of the literary class. That it w practical, the coarsest former must admit; that its practicality is not purchased by any mean and unwise concessions to " popular prejudice," the most sensitive littera

teur will concede; and that the whole representation constitutes a most charming book, all readers will be eager to pronounce. Indeed, the critic of the volume is somewhat puzzled to harmonize the fine rhythm of the periods, and the superb propriety of the tone, with the subject-matter. The bleakest and most ghastly aspects of Nature, — the most prosaic tacts of the farmer's life,—Irish servants and compostheaps,— cows which try to consume their own milk,—beehives which send forth swarms to sting the children of the house, and give no honey, — soils which refuse to bear the products which intelligence has anticipated, — all are transformed into " something rich and strange" by the poet's alchemy, without any sacrifice of truth, or the insertion of details which a farmer would disavow as inaccurate or sentimental. The " Ik" is a full counterpoise to the "Marvel," even to the most literal reader of the volume, though it is certain that no book has ever before appeared in our country in which the fanner-life of New England has assumed so poetic a form. The "chiel" among the agriculturists "taking notes" will be more likely to seduce than to warn; and if the record of his eventual triumphs be received as gospel truth, we must expect a vast emigration of the men of mind from the cities to the country. Who would not cheerfully encounter all the vexations attending a settlement in "My Farm in Edgewood " for the compensations so bountifully provided for the privations?

To the literary reader the doubt will arise, whether the writer of this work might not have more profitably employed his time, during the last ten years, in creating thoughts than in " improving" land, — in diffusing information than in selling milk. As a poetic, scientific, nnd practical farmer, he has doubtless silenced all cynic doubts of his capacity to make four or six per cent, on the capital he invested in land ; but it is plain, that, without capital, he might have made three or four times as much by the genial exercise of his literary power. The talent exercised on his farm we must, therefore, consider from a financial point of view to have been more or less wasted. As a "gentleman-farmer," he might easily have repaired from his study all the losses which his trained subordinates of the garden and the field incurred from the lack of his consUnt superintend^> Everything which a man of mind could want in a countryresidence might have been obtained without his personal oversight of every minnte detail, and the net result of the gains of the year would huve been greater, if, instead of riding daily into New Haven to sell his milk, he had stayed quietly in Ids study to write for the magazines. This calculation we have made from a rigid scrutiny of the figures in which the author sums up, year after year, his gains. We have been provoked into this comparison by the evident glee with which Ik Marvel parades the results of his agricultural labors. So earnest is he to show that a man of genius can make money by farming, that he is inclined to overlook the distinction between the work of an ordinary and that of an extraordinary mind. Waiving this consideration, we have nothing to object to his ten years' seclusion from literature. That seclusion has brought him into contact with the rough realities of a farmer's life, has enabled him personally to inspect every process of agriculture, and furnish his mind with an entirely new class of facts. The result is a book whose merit can hardly be overpraised. It should be in every farmer's library, as a volume full of practical advice to aid his daily work, and full of ennobling suggestions to lift his calling into a kind of epic dignity. As a book for the generality of readers, it far exceeds any previous work of the author in force, naturalness, and beauty, in vividness of description and richness of style, and in that indefinable element of genius which envelops the most prosaic details in an atmosphere of refinement and grace.

Mfthods nf Study in Natural History, By L. Aoassiz. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 12mo.

A Work from the scientific storehouse of Professor Agassiz needs only to have attention called to its existence to command universal welcome. The readers of the " Atlantic " arc already in some measure familiar with its contents, being a reprint of a series of papers published in this journal; but they will be read again with double satisfaction in this continuous form. The

avowed purpose is "to give some general hints to young students as to the methods by which scientific truth has been reached."

There are many lovers of Nature, and many students of Nature; but there are very few whom we may term philosophers of Nature. In other words, there are those who are charmed with the external world, its landscapes, its beauteous forms and tints, and all its various adaptations to fascinate the senses, — and those who delight in deciphering and describing all the details of individual objects, and their wonderful fitness to the rlile they have severally or unitedly to play ; and there is the man who, endowed with all this, seeks to go still farther, and from myriads of observations to deduce great general truths. Uc is the philosopher.

When Agassiz arrived in this country, there were many good observers of Nature here, and many who had accumulated a large store of facts. Each one had been working in his own way, almost alone, scarcely knowing the ultimate aims of scientific research, much less knowing how to arrive at them. To him, more than to any other person, zoologists in this country are indebted for showing them how to work, and for presenting to them a plan to be worked out, with processes and means by which this is to be done. And now he designs to diffuse these high aims and methods throughout the community. As he says, '-The time has come when scientific truth must cease to be the property of the few, when it must be woven into the common life of the world." Of all men, he is the one to gain the ear and understanding of the public on such matters, and to command the recognition of his conclusions. His faculty of simplifymg great principles, and of clothing them in such language and with such illustrations as to render them intelligible and attractive to the uninstructed, is one of Professor Agassiz's most rare characteristies. In these chapters he has unfolded some of the methods by which high scientific results have been and may be attained, and has well illustrated them. In a short sketch of the progress of Natural History, he has noticed the methods which were successively pursued in its study, and the long time which elapsed before anything like true science was developed ; he has pointed out the necessity and nature of classification, the im

« ZurückWeiter »