Page images

misapplied talent, or as having contributed any considerable quantity of food to the more depraved appetites of his fellowmen. On the contrary, until the above work fell into our hands we had seen nothing to warrant such an opinion. It was only when we read "Martin Faber" that we began to fear that he was enticed from the only allowable regions of fiction--we mean those where attempts are made through her agency to call into exercise the better feelings of our nature, by engaging our interest and exciting our sensibilities-and had begun to descend into the far lower and less honourable province of feeding a depraved taste or pandering to the sensual inclinations of man. In the former of these departments Mr. Simms had gained a deservedly high reputation, and we anticipated, what we trust will yet be the result, a gradual development of improved and improving powers exercised with a view to the exaltation of our national literature and the amelioration of our national morals.

We look upon "Martin Faber" as an imitation--not indeed without talent of some description-of the bad German school -a school whose tastes and principles are totally diverse from the healthy and native propensities of the American character; and one which can never be popular here unless it be unduly fostered and encouraged, and invested in the garb of beauty by the industry of dazzling and misdirected talent. We hold that no greater curse could befall our land, particularly in the infant years of her literature, than the growth among us of works of fiction of the German-we should rather say Satanic-order, or those of kindred parentage, the modern French romances, tales, novels, dramas, or by whatever name it is deemed proper to designate the appeals which are constantly made in that country to the unholy promptings of corrupted nature. We would raise an early and unwearied voice against the first approach of this moral pestilence-for such we regard it-and emphatically would we do it when the poison is scattered by an author of our own.

The present is a second edition of this story. The first, published two years ago, was severely criticised, and Mr. Simms, in a laboured preface, seeks to deprecate censure. His claims to originality, which he appears anxious to establish, we are not disposed to controvert; but we consider him-however sincere may have been his design of rendering the work "purely moral"-as utterly failing in the attempt to reach this high aim. Let our author leave the imitation of unworthy foreign models, and devote his admitted powers to some nobler and worthier object.

Falkner; a Novel. By the author of "Frankenstein." New York: Harper & Brothers, 1837.

This is a book which we cannot commend highly-nor should we be disposed to recommend it at all to our readers. It can be praised only by comparison; and this as contrasted with "Frankenstein."

We do not dispute that Mrs. Shelley has produced a tale of much interest, and one containing many passages of considerable force and beauty-but, as a whole, the moral tone of her story is not a healthy one, and the sentiments are partially false and much exaggerated. Her hero is by no means a natural character; and a palliation is attempted for his offence -to apply to it no stronger term-which morality and justice could never approve. There is a stiffness, too, about much of the dialogue which does not exhibit the practised writer-and the trial of Falkner is heavily managed; presenting no striking incident, and not handled by one familiar with such details.

We confess ourselves not over indulgent to such productions, nor do we wish to see a taste for them encouraged. They illustrate no portion of history-develope no new views of human nature and conduce in no particular to the advancement of religion or morals. To a mere work of fiction, having no reference to either of these ends, we are not disposed to accord our approbation; even though we may recognise the hand of talent in some of the portraitures.

As compared, however, with her prior and most celebrated work, "Frankenstein," Falkner exhibits evidence of a highly improved taste. Indeed, we regard the former as one of the most disgusting productions in the language. We pity the man, much more the woman, who could dwell upon such scenes with other feelings than those of loathing and horror. This novel is worse than any of Maturin; for these exhibit none of the coarseness and indelicacy which are inherent in such ale as Frankenstein. It is but debasing the high attribute of genius to call the authorship of such works any evidence of that quality.

If Falkner, therefore, be a gradation in the progress of Mrs. Shelley's mind, we hail it as a decided improvement, and would urge her to proceed in the labours of her pen.

The Library of American Biography. Conducted by JARED SPARKS. Vol. 7th. Boston: Hilliard, Gray & Co., 1837.

During the last quarter we have received another volume of this truly national work, which continues to be regularly issued. We hope that its circulation is sufficient to compensate both editor and contributors for their labours. The paper and printing of this work would do honour to the British press. Our eastern brethren have reason to congratulate themselves upon the excellence to which the art has attained among them. Unlike the miserable editions which are usually put forth of our new books that seem but intended to announce the ephemeral character of their contents, this publication is issued in a style which commends it to the shelves of any library.

Its contents, too, are worthy of the manner in which it is got up. They embody a fund of biographical information connected with the colonization and revolutionary history of our country which should be accessible to all, and most of which no American scholar should be without. We fear (and it is not to our credit that the assertion may be made) that the publi cation in question is regarded with more interest in England than at home. This should not be so. Let it not be said that it is too valuable and substantial a work to be popular; or that solid encouragement is only extended to the trifles of the day.

This number contains four lives, all well written, viz. those of Sir William Phips, Israel Putnam, Lucretia Maria Davidson, and David Rittenhouse. Each, except the third, has an appropriate dignity in its subject. In regard to it we may remark, that though the distinguished writer has made the most of her materials, and the lady seems to have been a sensitive and refined person, of great modesty and real worth, yet we are disposed to consider her as not entitled from her abilities to the niche in the library of American biography which has been assigned to her.

We trust that the series will proceed regularly to its completion.

Nick of the Woods, or the Jibbenainosay. 2 vols. By the author of "Calavar." Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837.

Dr. Bird has presented us with a novel of thrilling interest. Every thing, indeed, which touches upon the wild men of our western forests and prairies; which is connected with the early

history; the rapid decay; the character and habits of the American Indian possess for us a very strong attraction. Genius has heretofore in the same field opened scenes and incidents of commanding interest; and our author is not behind his great predecessors in the same path, in his powers of engaging our attention. Fiction, however, in this department does not alone challenge our regards or awaken our sympathies-real life, as displayed in the career of adventurers among that people, affords as much of excitement and agitation of feeling as the most highly wrought picture of the novelist. In proof of this we would refer to the delightful narrative of Mr. Irving, which we reviewed in our last number.

Two estimates of the Indian character have generally been formed by writers upon the subject, widely different indeed in their results. By one of these, the North American Indians have been supposed to be possessed of almost every virtue which can ennoble human nature. Magnanimity, wisdom, generosity, bravery, independence, eloquence-have each and all been challenged for them by their admirers. On the other hand, their characters are alleged to be but a compound of treachery, cruelty, cowardice, ignorance, and conceit; and their boasted eloquence, a cheat. The truth, indeed, appears to be a compound of these two diverse opinions. That they are brave and wise-(probably cunning would be the more appropriate expression)--and high-spirited, we are inclined to admit. But we are also persuaded that they are eminently cruel and barbarous; selfish, treacherous, and revengeful. Of their powers of oratory we are extremely sceptical.

Dr. Bird adopts the unfavourable estimate of their qualities--not mingling with it a sufficient grain of allowance. On the whole, however, we regard him as more correct than those persons who look for the perfection or even a high standard of human nature amid the woods and wilds--or among any unchristianized, warlike tribes. We are glad that our author's book has been published, simply for this, if for no other reason, that something might be plausibly urged on both sides of the question. And this has been effected in a narrative which loses none of its interest because its hero has not been selected from a savage people.

Upon the beauties of the work we have not space to enlarge. They are doubtless familiar to our readers; for the novel must have been extensively perused by this time. Our duties as critics will be better discharged by pointing out what we consider a few of its defects.

The female characters possess no special interest. Indeed they are exceedingly tame. The delineation of female cha

VOL. XXI.—No. 42.


racter is not the writer's forte. There is a want of individuality about them without which no portrait can be attractive.

Again; we cannot but view Nathan as an unnatural sketch. While there is much force and originality in the conception of such a character, and while, as we admit, it is admirably sustained throughout and engages our continued admiration; yet we feel that the whole picture is forced and exaggerated-a caricature indeed of qualities which have a real separate existence, but which we cannot conceive as coexisting in the same individual. There is not about Nathan the close adherence to nature which we at once recognise and admire in Leatherstocking.

Dr. Bird, however, we consider in the direct path to the highest distinction as an American novelist. To American novels--if his powers be exclusively adapted to this department of literature--let him confine himself. In tales of mere imagination or feeling, or portraitures of individual character, we are inclined to think he would fail. He possesses strength, not grace--fire, not delicacy of tact--takes bold views rather than nicely discriminates. In description he excels. With the features of our country he is familiar; and he enters into the spirit of her history and politics. As Americans, we feel a strong interest in his success--as Philadelphians, doubly so.

Gleanings in Europe; France. By the Author of the "Spy." Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837.

We have regarded Mr. Cooper in most of his late works as merely playing with his unquestioned abilities--as not at all seriously putting forth his strength. He appears to have contented himself with a fame, brilliant indeed, but still not one (as no literary man's is) entirely above diminution or free from decay. The wisest may slip into dotage, and the brightest be darkened with a cloud.

It is no small matter to trifle with a reputation however high. A great man may readily outlive it. It is more easy still for one to write down his own fame. Even Sir Walter Scott was beginning to disparage his excellent repute as a novelist when death called him hence. Mr. Cooper should feel that it is still more in his power to do so than it was for the great Scotsman.

We concede that in the works we refer to, our distinguished countryman has written much that is sprightly and agreeable; and that some of his descriptions of scenery are very fine. But we speak of them in mass; and as such we have no hesitation in pronouncing them unworthy of his powers. His politics (for

« PreviousContinue »