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THE NORTH-AMERICAN REVIEW for the October Quarter, 1649. Boston: CHARLES C. LITTLE AND JAMES BROWN. New-York: C. S. FRANCIS AND COMPANY. London: J. CHAPMAN: PUTNAM's American Agency.
The present number of this time-honored and influential Quarterly is one of the best issues of the work which we have read very many months. There is abundant variety in the character of the books reviewed, as well as in the style in which the reviewers' several tasks are accomplished. Cordial praise is awarded where praise is deserved, and where the whip and branding-iron are demanded, these instruments of justice are put in requisition without undue severity, but yet with an unflinching hand. The first paper in the number, upon . French Ideas of Democracy and a Community of Goods,' embracing a running commentary upon the contents of some seven or eight recent works from the French press, bearing upon the general theme illustrated by the reviewer, we have not yet found leisure adequately to discuss. The second article in the Review, however, we could not pass by. It is upon ·Lyell's Second Visit to America,' and is an admirable paper, both in its spirit and in its style. Ample credit is awarded to this intelligent and fair-minded author, although the reviewer does not in all cases agree with him in his geological theories. We collate a few passages from this paper, which will afford the reader some idea of its spirit and the felicitous ease of its style:
'SIR CHARLES LYELL's book is a very amusing mélange of observations on geology and men and manners in the United States; he speculates with about equal success on the various for. mations of rock and the different strata of society, taking rather a deeper interest, we suspect, in the former than the latter, but expatiating upon both in a very sensible and judicious manner, and always choosing to examine and form his opinions for himself. He is a sturdy English. man at heart, and judges of things quite involuntarily from an English point of view; but he has wandered about the world so long, and seen so many varieties of human nature, that he has worn off most of the knobs and sharp corners of his Anglican peculiarities, and writes at times almost like a cosmopolite. If he has any weakness, it is upon the subject of old fossi} bones and shells, of which he is so fond that he cannot help thinking well of the people who live in the districts where they abound. The sight of them invariably puts him into good humor; he rubs his hands, and the country about him forthwith assumes a smiling aspect; the people and the institutions appear very well, and really seem to be admirably adapted to each other. The truth is, we believe, that his observations on the state of society are inserted only by way of condiment to his geological pudding, in order to make it palatable to a larger portion of the public.
*His passion for geology was a signal advantage for him as a general observer in another respect. It carried him off from the great routes for travellers, and away from large cities, into remote districts and obscure villages, where he became acquainted with all classes of the population. Accustomed to hard fare and still harder lodgings from the many similar excursions which he had made in Europe, he submitted with invincible good humor to the various privations and annoyances which he had reason to expect while journeying in such regions, and was not made so terribly uncomfortable as Colonel HAMILTON was, by not finding all the luxuries of a Parisian hotel in a little back-woods settlement on the banks of the Wabash. If elated by some geological good luck in groping about in a dirty coal mine, or in grubbing after fossils and shells in a mud-hole, he comes up with a smiling but smutty face, and VOL. XXX.
very dirty hands, and remarks that the appearance of the country is quite pleasant, and the peo ple are really very civil.'
Speaking of the way in which the dress, household arrangements, manners, etc., of the upper classes' of America are copied by the masses,' the reviewer touches upon one of the styles which the wealthy and refined fancied could not be imitated :
A HAPPY thought occurred to them some ten years since. "What is new,' they argued, 'how. ever costly and useless, can and will be copied; but what is ancient can only be forged, and, fortunately, the stock of old furniture that has survived the dilapidations of time and the love of change is very limited. We can be exclusive by filling our houses with old chairs, clawfooted stands, and worm-eaten tables. Beside, this fashion will be really respectable ; histori. cal associations cluster around these venerable relics, and people are at liberty to imagine that they have been in the family' for several generations. This plan was really ingenious, and it had the success that it deserved. Old furniture immediately rose to an unconscionable price, and fashionable drawing-rooms were immediately filled with tables at which the Pilgrim Fathers had sat, and chairs that came over in the Mayflower.' Sundry old farmers' wives were delighted to find that they could exchange the ancient, inconvenient, and dilapidated articles, which had actually been in their families a century or two, for new and comfortable furniture, and receive something handsome to boot; and they always wisely made the change when their daughters, who were quicker than their elders in ascertaining the mutations of fashion, would let them. But Yankee cabinet-makers are ingenious, and the market was soon filled with modern antiques which no mortal could distinguish from those manufactured by the Puritans. And now, every mechanic's wife has her parlor filled with these detestable inventions; to be sure, their inconvenience in use is no concern to her, as the parlor is carefully shut up three hundred and sixty-days in the year, and the family eat and live in the kitchen. But in the drawing-rooms of the opulent, the annoyance is chronic; no two articles being alike, they do not admit of symmetrical arrangement, but are clustered together in elegant confusion,' another fashion that is faithfully copied by the million. Thus a visitor cannot cross the room without imminent peril to his limbs, nor even sit down in comfort on an awkward, straight-backed chair, which, on homeopathic principles, would be a sure cure for the lumbago.
Well and truly does the reviewer subsequently remark: • Talk about the natural equality of the human race, and the injustice and artificialness of all social distinctions! Why, in this American democracy, which is now three-quarters of a century old, in this society where the law recognises no difference of rank, a society which legally has no top and no bottom, all the world, whether rich or poor, with a manful disregard of common consistency, bravely eating their own democratic words, are actively endeavoring to create in-equality, to establish and jealously to preserve their own rank in the teeth of the law, and to surmount the social barrier which their neighbors have succeeded in setting up.'
The succeeding article is a review of Mrs. Lee’s Memoirs of the Buckminsters, father and son, the eminent New-England clergymen; a well-written paper, containing lively and graphic portraits of the inner and outer man of these eloquent divines. The notice of 'Greenleaf's Edition of Cruise' is among our postponed reading; but not so the paper upon · Novels and Novelists, and Charles Dickens; a review from the pen of one who evidently appreciates and truly feels the genuine humor, true pathos, and simple yet effective and most felicitous style of this most popular of England's later authors. We are glad to find in this paper a true appreciation of the novel proper, as well as of the “ink-wasters' who have bored out the public with their long-winded productions, and placed all publishers on their guard against them. Time was, when even Mr. Simms novels were read; but now few publish, and fewer read, elaborations of that class. The reviewer remarks:
"A GOOD portion of the feeble things purporting to be novels are bad, and some of them exe. crably bad. Ink-wasters, who could write nothing else, whom nature never intended to write any thing, have still considered themselves abundantly qualified to write fiction; consequently, all the nonsense and fat-wittedness in poor perverted human nature have been fully represented in the congress of romance. Of all printed books that ever vexed the wise, and charmed the foolish, a bad novel is probably that which best displays how far the mind can descend in the sliding scale of sense and nature. In the art of embodying imbecility of thought and pettiness of sentiment in a style correspondingly mean and gauzy, all other men and women have been fairly distanced by certain novelists.
The great novelist should be a poet, philosopher, and a man of the world, fused into one. Understanding man as well as men, the elements of human nature as well as the laws of their combinations, he should possess the most extensive practical knowledge of society, the most universal sympathies with his kind, and a nature at once shrewd and impassioned, observant and creative, with large faculties harmoniously balanced.'
We segregate a few passages from the reviewer's observations upon DICKENS :
*DICKENS as a novelist and prose poet is to be classed in the front rank of the noble company to which he belongs. He has revived the novel of genuine practical life, as it existed in the works of FIELDING, SMOLLETT, and GOLDSMITH; but at the same time has given to his materials an individual coloring and expression peculiarly his own. His characters, like those of his great exemplars, constitute a world of their own, whose truth to nature every reader in. stinctively recognises in connection with their truth to DICKENS. • The tendency of DICKENS's
genius, both in delineating the actual and the imaginary, is to personify, to indivi. dualize. This makes his page all alive with character. Not only does he never treat of man in the abstract, but he gives personality to the rudest shows of nature, every thing he touches becoming symbolic of human sympathies or antipathies.' • The whole originality and power of Dickens lie in his instinctive perception of individual character. He has gleaned all his facts from observation and sympathy, in a diligent scrutiny of actual life, and no contem. porary author is less indebted to books. His style is all his own, its quaint texture of fancy and humor being spun altogether from his own mind, with hardly a verbal felicity which bears the mark of being stolen. In painting character, he is troubled by no uneasy sense of himself. When he is busy with Sam WELLER or Mrs. NICKLEBY, he forgets CHARLES DICKENS. Not taking his own character as the test of character, but entering with genial warmth into the peculiarities of others, and making their joys and sorrows his own, bis perceptions are not bounded by his personality, but continually apprehend and interpret new forms of individual being; and thus his mind, by the readiness with which it genially assimilates other minds, and the constancy with which it is fixed on objects external to itself, grows with every exercise of its powers. By this felicity of nature, the man who began his literary life with a condemned farce, a mediocre opera, and some slight sketches of character, written in a style which but feebly indicated the germs of genius, produced, before the expiration of eight years, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Martin Chuzzlewit, in a continually ascending scale of intellectual excellence, and achieved a fame not only gladly recognised wherever the English tongue was spoken, but which extended into France, Germany, Italy, and Holland, and caused the translation of his works into languages of which he hardly understood a word. Had he been an egotist, devoured by a ravenous vanity for personal display, and eager to print the image of himself on the popular imagination, his talents would hardly have
made him known beyond the street in which he lived, and his mind by self-admi. ration would soon have been self-consumed. His fellow-feeling with his race is his genius.'
The reviewer expresses only a general regret in lamenting that we have not a class of novels illustrative of American life and character, which does some justice to both. • Novelists,' says the Quarterly,' we have in perilous abundance, as Egypt had locusts; some of them unexcelled in the art of preparing a dish of fiction by a liberal admix. ture of the horrible and sentimental.' One would almost suppose, from hearing the usual despairing criticisms of the day, that in the United States the national novel was an impossible creation. Are there, then, no materials here for the romantic and heroic; nothing over which poetry can lovingly hover; nothing of sorrow for pathos to convert into beauty ; no fresh individualities of disposition over which humor, born of pathos, can pour its floods of genial mirth; no sweet household ties, no domestic affections, no high thoughts, no great passions, no sorrow, sin and death? Has our past no story to tell? Is there nothing of glory in the present, nothing of hope in the future ? In no country, indeed, is there a broader field opened to the delineator of character and manners, than in our own land.'
HERBERT's translation of the PROMETHEUS and AGAMEMNON of Æschylus is elaborately reviewed and very highly commended by a discriminating critic in the ensuing paper of the Quarterly. The next article is a just and searching criticism of that unequalled tissue of brazen falsehoods, Mr. CHARLES Lanmar's 'Summer in the Wilderness.' The reviewer remarks in opening, that he had been led to a post-mortem examination of an imposition at once weak and bold, because its veracity, among other qualities, had been commended in one of the literary papers of London, and because he wished to offer the book as a warning to other MUNCHAUSEN authorlings.
Mr. LANMAN's style is justly characterized as “ ambitious, and labored into a sort of painful prettiness, with a superabundance of fine sentiment.' The untruthfulness which pervades the book is abundantly established by direct evidence. To those of our countrymen,' says the reviewer, 'who are familiar with the country about the upper Mississippi and Lake Superior, the principal scene of our author's observations, any exposition of his falsehoods would be superfluous; but to foreigners who undertake to speculate upon the condition of the Indian race and upon the conduct of our government toward them, taking the facts reported by this writer for the basis of their observations, such an exposition may afford a useful lesson.' Mr. LANMAN makes various squaws and old Indians tell him long and stupid yarns in a language of which he does not understand three words, and his hunting exploits are proved to be the grossest exaggerations. As a specimen of style merely, the reviewer quotes a passage, the images in which are pronounced rather pretty,' and the language on the whole such as would do credit to a promising sophomore.' But it so happens that even the images commended are stolen! It was LONGFELLOW who lay upon the green, looking up into heaven, and saw the
sailing clouds go by, Like ships upon the sea,'
and not the plagiarist who concealed the jewel among his own paste and pinchbeck. Touching the fabrications of the book, the reviewer observes : “Some few departures from the truth in minor matters, in the recital of personal adventures, for instance, might have been pardoned if there had been even a show of useful information; but the writer appropriates to himself not only the incidents that happened to others, their exposures and escapes, but their observations and the scenes which they had witnessed, coolly representing himself as the observer or original witness. What little valuable information the book affords appears to have been gained in this way ;
and the account is so perverted and mingled with gross fabrications that its value is wholly destroyed.' The reviewer proceeds to establish the truth of his charge beyond all doubt or gainsaying. He proves the falsehoods with which the book abounds; that Lanman travelled but ninety miles on the south shore of Lake Superior, and that in a canoe loaned him by Mr. MORRISON, whose own adventures, in distant places which Lanman never even approached, he describes as happening to himself at those places; he gives elaborate pictures of nature's wonders which it is proved he never beheld : he describes five lakes in the lake country around the Upper Mississippi, not one of which he ever visited, although he interlards his descriptions with direct and repeated assertions that he had been there, he saw, he observed, etc. The searching review we have been considering closes with the following sentences :
'It gives us no pleasure to break a fly upon the wheel; but a regard for truth and justice will not allow so flagrant a violation of both, in a book of some literary pretensions, to escape unpunished. The copious extracts given in this article are enough to show what these pretensions are worth. The forgeries of LANDER, IRELAND and GEORGE PSALMANAZAR, however flagitious in design, were executed with so much spirit, learning and imagination, that they have secured for themselves a place, though not an enviable one, in literary history. But this fabrication by Mr. LANMAN, while it equals theirs in audacity, is so feeble and puerile, that our notice of it can but create a brief delay in its speedy passage to oblivion. There was a risk, however, that it might be fished up at a future day by some mousing historian, and quoted as the evidence of an eye-witness in relation to the aspect of the country, the condition of the Indians, and the conduct of the white traders at the present time in the region about the Upper Mississippi and Lake Superior. This danger, we think, is now sufficiently obviated.'
Mr. LANMAN, squirming under the effect produced by a recent notice of one of his later · booklings in these pages, wrote to an old and esteemed friend and contemporary, attributing to us the letter from Mr. Morrison, published several months since in · The Tribune' daily journal, setting forth the true character of his summer in the Wilderness ! Probability rather favors the conclusion that the reply of our friend, in connection with the review we have been considering, was satisfactory' to our small MUNCHAUSEN. It strikes us that it is as little creditable to deliberately write and publish such a collection of wholesale falsehoods as are proved to be contained in the Summer in the Wilderness' as it was in a certain literary and pseudo-artistic gentleman' whom we could name, to beg, by whining appeals to fellow artists, specimens of their skill and genius, ' to enjoy, as a lover of art, and when so obtained, to sell them and pocket the proceeds! But even this is better than to borrow pictures of distinguished artists, ostensibly for the purpose of copying them, and then sell them; and better, we also think, than offering to write puffs of private picture-galleries for a consideration,' and failing to receive it, abusing the same and their proprietor. It is only necessary that such things should be known to render all similar attempts harmless for the future.
FRONTENAC, OR THE ATOTARHO OF THE IROQUOI$: a Metrical Romance. By ALFRED B. STREET.
From BENTLEY's London edition. New-York : BAKER AND SCRIBNER. Second Notice.
Having given in our last number the history in detail of the incidents upon which this, the most elaborate of Mr. Street's efforts, is based, we proceed, as we promised, to present some examples of the poetical excellence which characterizes its contents. In the first place, we must express, as we have often expressed before, our cordial admiration of Mr. STREET as a påinter of nature. We know no American poet who can so successfully transfer, as it were to canvass itself, the features, in minutest detail, of a forest or a landscape. Nothing escapes his observant eye. Different tinted mosses, vari-colored foliage of all the families of trees, the thistle-down floating starlike in the blue ether, the aspects of the seasons in their changes, he pictures with such fidelity that the reader sees with his eyes the very landscape spread out before him. We proceed to select one or two passages in justification of the praise here awarded, regretting only that the large drafts upon this department of the KNICKERBOCKER prevent our making them as numerous as we could wish. Read the following, and admit that you are in. The Wilderness' described :
• INNUMERABLE vistas far
Extended, myriad trunks between,
Till closed by hillock or ravine.
Straight, crooked, slant, each seeking light;
With some all splintered, bare and white,
Of prostrate trunks in chaos cast,
With upturned roots, dark circles vast,
· Pines met the eye, all tasselled o'er;