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LITERARY NOTICE S.
INKLINGS: CONTAINING SKETCHES OF Lire, COMPOSITION, ETCHINGS, etc. By SEABRED
Dodge Pratt, Esq. In one volume: pp. 402. Auburn, New-York: Henry Oli
When we encounter a volume like the one before us, evidently the work of a young man, with an apparent love of literature for its own sake, a seeming feeling for nature, and affections presumably fresh and young, we cannot find it in our heart to be merely critical, nor to judge the author by the standard by which the professional reviewer sustains his own position, and endeavors to establish the position, intellectually considered, of his subject. We shall permit our author, therefore, to speak for himself,' both as to his views of criticism, and through his own performances; indulging, at the same time, in occasional and brief comments of our own.
We quote first from the 'Inkling' of 'Remarks on Criticism :'
* The blacksmith must be the best judge of iron, the tailor of cloth. It is true they may be scholars, and good judges of other things, but this is no objection to their excelling in the selection of articles used daily by them; and you would not choose one to decide upon colors who could not tell green from blue, or red from pink. The critic should be competent to judge, and should not abuse his judgment with prejudice, wit,
The same subject may suggest very different reflections to the same individual, depending upon time, place, the feelings, and previous reflections. When friends leave you, Fortune frowns, Disease gnaws the bark from the tree of Happiness, you gaze upon the moon, and it is then the pale, silent listener to your tale of woe; let friends and health return, and the bright silver moon-beams dance upon the gentle waves. If a work has no merits, it is beneath criticism, as it must show a depraved taste for any one to be seen playing in a filthy pool; and commendation of excellences and beauties is as much a part of criticism as censure of defects. A critic should be a friend, tell us for our own benefit where he thinks we are in fault; and in this he may be mistaken, since no man may justly claim perfection. He should advise us of such things as are commendable, that we may compare his taste with others', leave failures, and cultivate parts more pleasing and successful.'
- The same subject,' says our author, ‘may suggest very different reflections to the same individual, depending upon the time, place, the feelings, and previous reflections.' Exactly: and if our young friend will allow us, we will state in the outset what sort of reflection 'was 'suggested' to our mind by this comparison of Disease gnawing the bark from the tree of Happiness :' namely, an old mare, afflicted with the 'heaves,' gnawing the bark from a tree, on the shady side of a country meeting-house. But, as we have already said, it is not our purpose to criticise;' for even in this we
may be mistaken.' Our first extract is from the poetical dedication, which commences figuratively and felicitously :
“THERE is a story, which you may have seen,
The dear-loved place where virtues have their birth.' We shall now proceed to quote the opening passages of several compositions,' which will afford some idea of the prose style of our young author; beginning with some remarks 'Upon Spring :'
"SPRING is the most delightful season of the year. The temperature is the most favorable for health, which prepares man the better to enjoy its exquisite loveliness. The
odor of flowers and shrubbery is borne upon the gentle breeze, and then the music of the feathered songsters which greets the ear is of the most delightful kind. But spring may be better appreciated by contrasting it with the other seasons of the year. Winter, with its dull monotony of snow and storms, has passed away; Summer, with its oppressive heat, is approaching; and Spring, mild and playful, like the lamb which sports in the green pasture, stays a short time, and then glides into sultry Summer.
How much like spring is the season of youth, when the budding intellect and fancy seem to revel in their own sweet profusion! Human existence is frequently compared to a wilderness or desert, and the actors in life's drama are likened unto the traveller of some barren waste, whose present enjoyment is derived from anticipation of future good, or from pleasing reflections upon the past. Whatever happiness we may occasionally experience from the present hour, there are many, many times, when the vacuum which we feel, if not the positive pain, compels us to acknowledge the truth of this representation. Man seldom or never rests satisfied with his present condition, however prosperous: and whatever may be his efforts to bring his rebellious passions into subjection to the will of Heaven, they will sometimes escape through some unguarded avenue of the heart, and travel in search of riches, pleasure, or power. But experience teaches us to restrain the ardor, and moderate the expectations of youth.'
Our next extract, which is very brief, is an introduction to an essay entitled 'A Composition:'
"To be able to describe correctly occurrences and scenes, and whatever we see and hear, is very desirable, but not often attainable. Some, however, possess this power in a much greater degree than others; and although we claim no superiority in this particular, yet, as it is a very desirable trait, we feel disposed to attempt its cultivation by an inadequate description of a 'Composition. 'A Composition' is one of those rare things which, from their very nature, are difficult to describe, varying with its author from the sublime to the ridiculous; and hence, the only way in which it can be done, is to be governed by general rules, and call extreme cases their exceptions.'
The next dog's-ear in the volume before us indicates the locale of a treatise 'On the Choice of a Profession,' in which the following facts are set forth :
“The choice of a profession or occupation for life is an event of such frequent occurrence, that it cannot excite interest by its novelty, and yet the magnitude of the conse
quences which depend upon the choice is probably never fully appreciated. The happiness of a man's whole life often depends materially upon his wisdom in choosing an occupation, to which his natural abilities, taste, habíts, and previous acquirements, all unite in directing him, as the one in which he may reasonably hope for success. And if it be true that there is a natural difference in talent, ability, or capacity to learn, this difference should carefully be considered in the choice of a profession or occupation. The natural traits of character,' as they are sometimes called, may eminently qualify an individual for some particular occupation, and may almost insure his success in that; and these very “traits' may make eminence doubtful in any other pursuit.'
Turning farther on, we find an “Inkling''On Enry,' a subject which is thus 'opened up' to the reader:
"We admire the noble characteristics of our nature. They are something upon which the poet and philosopher have ever dwelt with peculiar pleasure. They have always been the favorite theme of song and declamation. And surely benevolence, beneficence, and charity can never be extolled beyond their worth, for they are the chain which binds society together, the luminaries which cast a ray of sunshine over scenes darkened by the prevalence of baser passions. Yet, as much as we admire them, and gladly as we would linger upon their loveliness, the compound mixture of human nature makes it painfully necessary to attend to those viler propensities which sow the seed of discord and contention. And we would do it without exaggeration, and with all becoming charity; for without charity, while man is imperfect, harmony can never long exist.'
From an 'Inkling' on the 'Obligations of American Youth' we take the ensuing passage. It strikes us forcibly, ‘at this present writing,' that we have seen the same sentiments, better expressed, before: but we ‘may be mistaken :'
When we look around us and behold the happy condition of our country, the success which has attended its enterprises, and the general prosperity which prevails through its extensive dominions, there is a charm which mingles with the feelings of every American; and the bosom is agitated with emotion, when we contrast the present with the past, and hear recounted from the lips of the veteran, the tragic scenes which obtained our freedom. Every class of citizens rejoices in reviewing the past and anticipating the future; but none with more enthusiasm than the youth of this republic. The past presents them scenes which they are proud to contemplate - scenes of toil and danger, I had almost said, without a parallel. A few years since, and what may now be called a powerful republic was an infant colony, driven by the persecutions of the old world from the land of its nativity and the comforts of civilized life, to the gloomy shores west of the Atlantic, whose only inhabitant was the merciless savage. Few we denominate men, would purchase even liberty and all its blessings with 80 much expense. But they were inured to hardship, and no danger or privation could appal them when an unfettered conscience was the recompense. They prized liberty as the greatest boon which Heaven could bestow; and while they were securing for themselves its blessings, they were conscious of laying the foundation for the prosperity and happiness of future generations, which would yet rise and call them blessed. As this is a scientific age, and many things are done now that wer
not used to be done, hear our young author's profound thoughts on that theme:
"The present is an age remarkable for discoveries and improvements, not in any one department of human enterprise, but in all the various callings which men pursue. The patents and labor-saving machines which have been invented within a quarter of a century, are almost numberless. Various departments of science have, through the penetrating investigation of the present age, been brought to a much greater state of perfection than formerly was known. Subjects intricate and abstruse have been found to be based upon a few simple, elementary principles, and hence their investigation requires less time and produces more pleasure. But there are fields which the most sagacious have endeavored to explore, without success. Some, indeed, profess to have made important discoveries in them, but their plans, being impracticable, are viewed as chimerical schemes. Yet, notwithstanding former failures, who can doubt that this age, in which blind prejudice and superstition are to bid the world an everlasting farewell, in which men are not influenced in their belief upon a subject by their more illiterate ancestors, but by the results of deep-searching investigation; who can doubt that such an age will produce geniuses who will be able to overcome every obstacle in exploring these untried paths ?
In considering farther these prose compositions,' we must content ourselves with the thoughts 'On Contentment,' and one other, with which we shall contrast it:
"Among the many rules which have been given by the wise in different ages for advancing the happiness of man, there is one which has been universally adopted in theory, but almost wholly disregarded in practice. The sentiment it contains has been so long and so generally admitted as true, that it might perhaps with some propriety be called a proverb, if there be any particular distinction in the terms; but be that as it may, its well-known name is Contentment. This rule maintains that contentment is felicity, and that all who wish to be happy have only to bound their wishes by their power to gratify them. If this be true, it is a much better way for men to obtain their object--for the grand object of all is happiness-than the various methods so eagerly pursued by most men. It is not the lot of all who seek wealth to obtain it; and the few who accomplish their purpose, prove by experience the unsatisfying nature of the reality, which disappoints their expectations!'
Now, in compositions,' it is the wont of school-boys to 'put the best foot foremost;' and this we have permitted our author to do: and we now say to him, in all friendliness, that as he grows older, he will assuredly regret having placed such platitudes before the public. Did he think them new, or presented in any new form ? Did he expect them to 'instruct'any body, beyond what they had heard a hundred times before, in language as felicitous as his is jejune and common-place? What has he said, in all these extracts, that is not simply an 'incontrovertible fact' only, and as 'old as the seven hills?' Will it not remind his reader of the lines :
"Boston is n't in Bengal;
Flannel drawers are n't made of tripe;
And cows do n't smoke the German pipe?' Nor is our author much more to be commended in his fanciful than in his 'instructive' essays. Witness these sage reflections on a rainy day:
“Who has never seen a rainy day? This
question requires no direct answer, for the answer is implied in the question itself. Rainy days may be divided into two great classes, literal and figurative. The literal may be subdívided into a variety almost equal to the number of flowers which some botanist has given — forty thousand, leaving
great variety to blush unseen, and wither without even a name. But what is a rainy day? Day, as distinguished from night, includes the time between the rising and setting of the sun; and rain is water descending from the clouds, sometimes slowly and in small particles, sometimes swiftly, and in numberless drops, filling the whole atmosphere, equal in diameter to the largest shot which sportsmen use for ducks and pigeons. It is fortunate for human bipeds that those large drops are made a liquid substance, and with specific gravity less than the metal referred to, otherwise the prediction of a certain Miller might have been accomplished before it was prognosticated.'
Now, to show how much better our young author can write when he is not 'making a 'composition’ right out of his head,' take this little gem of a picture from an extract of a letter to a friend :
“Things here remain in statu quo. We have storms and sunshine, about the usual quantity of fogs and clouds, and some fair weather, when shadows can only be seen as you turn from the sun or remove to the shade. For my part, give me the south side of the fence when the sun shines: and as for storms, the most agreeable shower is when it rains sugar-plums. When spring returns again, I intend to chase the first butter-fly that comes along. Speaking of butter-flies, reminds me of school-boy days long since passed away, when we would gather around a score of little yellow-wings, and watch them as they changed companions, fluttering around in groups, and then floating away to extract honey from a thistle-flower. Once we found a large one with various colors, and after a long chase we caught it in a hat, and one of us having a handkerchief with which the hat was covered, we alternately took a peep with as much pleasure as large boys look through glasses at pictures of cities. One discovered only a variety of beautiful colors: another discovered the letter W in black on the wings, and said it meant that there would be War very soon; and a little girl saw a fan, which, she said, the butter-fly used without doubt when it was warm.'
Now this is natural, simple, unpretending, and shows the writer to be an observer and a lover of the 'little things' in Nature, which go to make up the satisfying joy of her devotee. And how much better is it than all the stilted, pumped-up affectation of style or feeling in the world ?
We can say but little for Mr. Pratt's poetry. He has some facility, and many faults, in verse-making. His thoughts are often not without merit, although seldom new, or expressed with originality. This we could prove by numerous passages we had pencilled, but for which we have no space. Our belief is, that he has sent to press, in the well-executed book under notice, very many things that a more mature judgment would have kept from the public eye; and that he will live to thank us for indicating thus much to him, with a frankness that has nothing in it beside a wish to do him a service.
Tar COURSE OF EMPIRE, VOYAge or Life, and other Pictures, of THOMAS COLE, N. A.
With Selections from his Letters and Miscellaneous Writings, illustrative of his Life, Character, and Genius. By Louis L. Noble. In one volume: pp. 415. NewYork: CORNISH, LAMPORT, AND COMPANY.
This work will be welcomed with pleasure by the numerous admirers of Mr. Cole, both as a man and an artist. It proceeds from the pen of a friend and neighbor, himself a writer of honorable repute, both in prose and verse, who knew his subject intimately; at the time, moreover, when the great pictures which will carry Cole's name down to posterity, in connection with the history of the highest art of the country, were perpetually-recurring themes of conversation between the artist and his friend, by which his feelings, thoughts, and intellectual processes, became matters of constant and familiar observation. As to the characteristics of Mr. COLE's pencil, the bent and purpose of his mind, and his personal bearing and manner, our readers will remember that we presented an extended consideration of them, in extracts from an excellent address by Mr. Bryant, published soon after the death of his lamented friend. In the present volume the reader will be enabled to follow Mr. COLE from his birth and school-days to the day of his death; embracing his early love for nature and art; his pedestrian tours in the West as a portraitpainter; his voyages abroad; his study of nature in Italy and Switzerland, and of the old masters at Rome; with letters and criticisms upon all that he felt and all that he saw. In these, those who knew Mr. COLE as we did, could scarcely fail to possess the deepest interest; nor will they prove of much less interest to readers who had not that pleasure. He was heart and soul a painter. He worshipped NATURE as a mistress, and Art as her lovely hand-maid. It was impossible to stand with him by the side of one of his beautiful and preēminently suggestive and instructive pictures, and not feel that you had by your side a Christian, a soul-full painter, and a practical worshipper of divine NATURE.' We have never forgotten a few remarks which he made, many years ago in the sanctum, upon the influence of Greek art in successive ages, and the living character of its beauty.