A History and Description of New England, General and Local
By Austin J. Coolidge, 1859. pp. xxv., 1023.and . Illustrated with Numerous Engravings. In Two Volumes. Vol. I. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Boston :
THIS is a book of great labor, being nothing less in plan than a condensed town-history of New England. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, one is forced to admit that there is very little poetry in American history. It is a record of advances in material prosperity, and scarce anything more. The only lumps of pure ore are the Idea which the Pilgrims were possessed with and its gradual incarnation in events and institutions. Beyond this all is barren. There is a fearful destitution of the picturesque elements. It is true that our local historians commonly avoid all romance as if it were of the Enemy ; but if we compare their labors with “ The Beauties of England and Wales,” for example, the work certainly of uninspired men, we shall be convinced that the American Dryasdust suffers from poverty of material. There is no need to remind us of Hawthorne; but he is such a genius as is rare everywhere, and could conjure poetry out of a country meetinghouse.
In books of this kind we see evidence of what is called the “enterprise ” of our people on every page,— one almost hears the hum of the factory-wheels, as he reads, —but that is all. It is not to be wondered at that foreigners fail to find our country interesting, and that the only good book of American travels is that of De Tocqueville, who deals chiefly with abstract ideas. It is possible to conceive minds so constituted that they may reach before long the end of their interest in the number of shoes, yards of cotton, and the like, which we produce in a year. The only immortal Greek shoemaker is he who had the good luck to be snubbed by Apelles, and Penelope is the only manufacturer in antiquity whose name has come down to us.
One thing in the narrative part of this volume is striking,— the continual recurrence of massacre by the French and Indians. This is something to be borne in mind always by those who would understand the politics of our New England ancestors. We confess that we were surprised, the other day, to see a journal so able and generally so philosophical as the London “Saturday Review” joining in the outcry about the treatment of the Acadians. If our forefathers were ever wise and foreseeing, if they ever showed a capacity for large political views, it is proved by their early perception that the first question to be settled on this continent was, whether its destiny should be shaped by English or Keltic, by Romish or Protestant ideas. By what means they attempted to realize their thought is quite another question. Great events are not settled by sentimentalists, nor history written in milk-and-water. Uninteresting in many ways the Puritans doubtless were, but not in the least spoony.
The volume before us contains a vast amount of matter and fulfils honestly what it promises. It tells all that is to be told in the way of fact and statistics. The first settlers, the clergymen, the enterprising citizens, the men of mark,—all their names and dates are to be found here. Of the literary execution of the book we cannot speak highly. The style is of the worst. If a meeting-house is spoken of, it is a “church edifice”; if the Indians set a house on fire, they “ apply the torch” ; if a man takes to drink, he is seduced by “the intoxicating cup”; even mountains are “ located.” On page 68, we read that “ the pent-up rage that had long heaved the savage bosom, and which had only been smouldering under the pacific policy of Shurt, now knew no bounds, and burst forth like the fiery torrent of the volcano ” ; on the same page, “ the impending doom which, like a storm-cloud in the heavens, had overhung with its sable drapery the settlements along the coast, and Pemaquid in particular.” Of a certain tavern we are told that the daughters of the landlord were “genteel, sprightly, intelligent young ladies, ambitious of display and of setting a rich and elegant table.” This is no doubt true, but surely History should sift her facts with a coarser sieve.
In spite of these faults, the book is one which all New Englanders will find interesting, and we hope that in their second volume the authors will balance their commendable profusion of industry with a corresponding economy of fine writing.