Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter/Ten Years of Preacher-Life

1. being Reminiscences of MESHACH BROWNING, a Maryland Hunter ; roughly written down by Himself. Revised and illustrated by E. STABLER. Philadelphia : J. B. Lippineott & Co. 1859. pp. x., 400.

2. Chapters from an Autobiography. By WILLIAM HENRY MILIUTUN. New York: Derby & Jackson. 1859. pp. 303.

BENVENUTO CELLINI was right in his dictum about autobiographies ; and so was Dr. Kitchener, in his about hares. First catch your perfectly sincere and unconscious man, He is even more uncommon than a genius of the first order. Most men dress themselves for their autobiographies, as Machiavelli used to do for reading the classics, in their best clothes; they receive us, as it were, in a parlor chilling and awkward from its unfamiliarity with man, and keep us carefully away from the kitchen-chimney-corner, where they would feel at home, and would not look on a lapse into nature as the unpardonable sin. But what do we want of a hospitality that makes strangers of us, or of confidences that keep us at arm’s-length? Better the tavern and the newspaper ; for in the one we can grumble, and from the other learn more of our neighbors than we care to know. John Smith’s autobiography is commonly John Smith’s design for an equestrian statue of himself, — very fine, certainly, and as much like him as like Marcus Aurelius. Saint Augustine, kneeling to confess, has an eye to the picturesque, and does it in pontijicalibus, resolved that Domina Grundy shall think all the better of him. Rousseau cries, “I will bare my heart to you!” and, throwing open his waistcoat, makes us the confidants of his dirty linen. Montaigne, indeed, reports of himself with the impartiality of a naturalist, and Boswell, in his letters to Temple, shows a maudlin irretentiveness; hut is not old Samuel Pepys, after all, the only man who spoke to himself of himself with perfect simplicity, frankness, and unconsciousness ? — a creature unique as the dodo,— a solitary specimen, to show that it was possible for Nature to indulge in so odd a wliimsey! An autobiography is good for nothing, unless the author tell us in it precisely what he meant not to tell. A man who can say what he thinks of another to his face is a disagreeable rarity ; but one who could look his own Ego straight in the eye, and pronounce unbiased judgment, were worthy of Sir Thomas Browne’s Museum. Had Cheiron written his autobiography, the consciousness of his equine crupper would have ridden him like a nightmare; should a mermaid write hers, she would sink the fish’s tail, nor allow it to be put into the scales, in weighing her character. The mermaid, in truth, is the emblem of those who strive to see themselves ; — her mirror is too small to reflect anything more than the mulier formosa superne.

We looked for a great prize in Mesliach Browning’s account of himself, and have been disappointed. Not that some very fair grains of wheat may not he had for the winnowing, but the proportion of chaff is disheartening. Meshaeh has been edited, and has not come out of that fiery furnace unscathed. Mr. Stabler has not let him come before us in his deerskin hunting-shirt, but has made him presentable by getting him into a black dress-coat, the uniform of perfect respectability and tiresomeness. He lias corrected Mcshach’s style for him ! He has made him write that unexceptionable English which neither gods nor men, but only columns, allow. (The kindness of an anonymous correspondent, however, enables us to assure him that lay, and not laid, is the preterite of lie.) One page of Meshach’s own writing would have been worth all his bear-stories put together. Many men may shoot bears, but few can write like backwoodsmen. We shall expect an edition of “ The Rivals ” from Mr. Stabler, with Mrs. Malaprop’s epitaphs revised by the “ Aids to Composition.” Luckily, Meshach himself will never know the wrong that has been done him. On the contrary, he probably pleases himself in finding that he is made to write President’s English, and admires the new leaves and apples not his own. But, in his polishing, American letters have met as great a loss as American fiction did when the depositions of the survivors of Bunker's Hill, taken fifty years after the buttle, were burned.

However, he who knows how to read with the ends of his fingers may yet find good meat in the book. An honest provincialism has escaped Mr. Stabler’s weeding-hoe here and there, and we get a few glimpses, in spite of him, into log-cabin interiors when the inmates are not in their Sunday-clothes. We learn how much a sound stomach has to do with human felicity ; that a bride may make her husband happy, though her whole outfit consist of two cups and saucers, two knives arid forks, and two spoons; that a man may be hospitable in a cabin, twelve by fifteen, with only the forest for his larder; and that an American needs only an axe, a rifle, and nary red, for his start in life. Meshach Browsing finds in his Paradise very much what our first parents found outside of theirs. At nineteen he is the husband of pretty Mary McMullen, and joint-proprietor with the rest of mankind of all-outdoors,— it being an eccentricity of McMullen père to prefer a back to a front view of his sonsin-law. Meshach, who is sure of a comfortable fireside wherever there are trees, moves into the nearest bit of wilderness, builds a house with the timber felled to make a clearing, plants his acre or two, and forthwith shoots a bear, whose salted flesh will keep him and his wife alive till harvest. Thus in 1800 was a family founded, which fifty years later had increased to one hundred and twenty-two, of whom sixty-seven, as their progenitor says proudly, were “capable of hearing arms for the defence of their country,’—though, to be sure, the Harper’s Ferry affair leaves us in some doubt as to the direction in which they would bear them. The community of which the Brownings, man and wife, became members at their marriage was a wholly self-subsistent one. The men wore deerskins procured by their own rifles and dressed and tailored by themselves,— while the women spun and wove both flax and wool. Powder and lead seem to have been the only things for which they were dependent on outsiders. Browning’s father was an English soldier, who, escaping from Braddock’s massacre, deserted and settled in the highlands of Western Maryland,— as a place, we suppose, equally safe from the provost-martial of the redcoat and the tomahawk of the red man. It is curious to think of the great contrast between father and son : the one a British soldier of the day of strictest powder and pigtail; the other, a man who never wore a hat, except in fine weather,—-and in the house, of course, like the rest of his countrymen. In this case, we find the very purest American type (for Meshaeli has not a single Old-World notion) produced in a single generation. We ourselves have known a parallel instance in the children of a British soldier who deserted during the War of 1812; in tone of thought, accent, dialect, and physique they were unmistakably Yankee. If the backwoods Americanize men so fast, is it wonderful that two centuries of the Western Hemisphere should have produced a breed so unlike

the parent Bull ?It is time Bull began to reconcile himself to it.

One of the most amusing passages in Meshach’s autobiography is that in which he relates his military experience as captain of a company of militia. The company appear to have gone into action only once, and that was on occasion of a muster when they undertook to lick their commander, with whom, for some reason or other, they were discontented. As well as we can make out, the result seems to have been, that the captain licked them ; though our Cæsar’s Commentaries are naturally so confused on this topic, that we almost feel, after reading them, as if we had been through the fight ourselves.

The book should have been shorter by at least two-thirds,— for one bear-story is just like another, and Meshach’s style of narrative is one that cannot bear the prosperity of print. However, we find much that is interesting in the volume, as in all records of real experience.

Mr. Milburn’s account of himself we have also found very entertaining. In some respects it belongs on the same shelf with Meshach Browning’s ; for we think the best chapters in it are those which bring us into contact with Cartwright and other Metliodist ministers, the frontiersmen and bushfighters of the Church, who do not bandy subtilties with Mephistoplioles, nor consider that the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman, but go in for a rough-andtumble fight with Satan and his imps, as with so many red Injuns undeserving of the rights and incapable of the amenities of civilized warfare. We confess a thorough liking for these Leatherstockings of the clergy, true apostolic successors of the heavy-handed fisherman, Peter. Their rough-and-ready gospel is just the thing for men who feel as if they could not get religion, unless from a preacher who can “whip” them as well as thunder doctrine at their ears.

We prefer those parts of Mr. Milburn’s book in which he tells us what he saw (if we may say it of a blind man) to those in which he undertakes to tell us what he was. The history of the growth of his mind is not of vital importance to us, and we should he quite willing to have “returned unexperienced to our graves,” like Grurnio’s fellow-servants. We think there is getting to he altogether too much unreserve in the world. We doubt if any man have the right to take mankind by the button and tell all about himself, unless, like Dante, he can symbolize his experience. Even Goethe we only half thank, especially when he kisses and tells, and prefer Shakspeare’s indifference to the intimacy of the German. Silence about one’s self is the most golden of all, as men commonly discover after babbling. Mr. Milburn, in one of his chapters, gives an account of his passage through what he is pleased to call neology and rationalism, He represents himself as having sounded the depths of German metaphysics, criticism, and aesthetics. But a man who is able to write a sentence in which Lessing’s Works are spoken of as if the reading of them tended to make men “ transcendentalists of the supra-nebulous order ” no more deserves a scourging by angels for his devotion to German literature than Saint Jerome did for being a Ciceronian. No truly thorough course of study ever weakened or unsteadied any man’s mind, for it is the surest way to make him think less of himself, — and we cannot help believing that the disease Mr. Milburn went through was nothing more nor less than sentimentalism, a complaint as common to a certain period of life as measles. But while we think him mistaken in his diagnosis, we cannot but commend the good sense and manliness of his course of treatment.

Bating the egotism unavoidable in a work of the sort, the style of Mr. Milburn’s book is agreeable, and the anecdotes of various kinds with which it abounds render it very amusing. It is of particular interest as showing how much a blind man may accomplish both for himself and others, that the loss of sight may be borne with cheerfulness as well as resignation, and that the sufferer by such a calamity is sure of kindness and sympathy from his fellow-men.