Character and Characteristic Men

By EDWIN P. WHIPPLE. Boston : Ticknor and Fields.
IF we should say this is a book that brings, its author under its title, and that he is in every page of it to us the unconscious subject of his own pen, we might sufficiently express our sense of its reality and vital strength. But no self-introduction could be more modest or undesigned. We know of no volume in which vigor walks with less attendance of vanity, or less motion of covert egotism in the stalwart stride; yet the style, which proverbially is the man, does not lack decisive stamp, but is too peculiar to be confounded with any other. It is not flaming, or flowing, or architectural. It is not built, but wrought, with blows of the hammer. We should emphasize the writer’s historic taste, but that his learning is so at the service of his philosophy that it never burdens, but only arms. There is a tough welding of principle with fact, and fetching of opposite poles together in the constant circulation betwixt ideas and events. Sometimes an excess of antithesis shows a little too much the wrinkled brow of thought, striving to put more into a sentence than it will fairly carry, and corrugating the elsewhere smoother lines, — as in a hilly country there was said to be too much soil to be evenly disposed of, and so part of it bad to be pushed up into the sky. But this roughness is better than thinness ; and in Mr. Whipple’s book there are passages of swift, grand eloquence, and of intense peace and depth. Wit and humor, native to our author, with no malignity or pride for an ally, combine with sentiment and reflection, and his talent is never wrapped up in a merely elegant phrase, but in plain and homely words is the delivery of his sense. We would cite, in proof of the justness of our criticism, such essays as those on “Character,” “Intellectual Character,” and “ Washington and the Principles of the Revolution.” Those on Thackeray and Nathaniel Hawthorne show, with appreciative praise, the literary doctor’s fatal feeling of the patient’s pulse. The courtesy of Everett is gracefully owned; arid there is a fine glimpse of that face of Thomas Starr King, which did not seem so much to mirror the sun as to make the sunbeam a shadow of itself ; while a just tribute is paid to the original and courageous genius and research of our great enthusiast and naturalist, Agassiz. But this is a book to be mastered only by a thorough perusal, and no hasty diagonal glance along the leaves can render justice to it. While deserving attention for its general merits of intelligence, morality, humanity, and a spiritual faith, which no eye of friendship is needed to discern, in the judiciary department of letters it has an unrivalled claim. For faculty of pure criticism we know not Mr. Whipple’s equal. The judgment-seat shines in his eye. We seem to be hearing all the time the kindly sentence of an infallible sight. We should be afraid of the decree which such knowledge, intuition, imagination, and logic combine to pronounce, but that no grudge provokes, or bribe can ever bias the court; and, while its just conscience cannot acquit hollow pretensions, over its own decisions preside an absolute purity and the loftiest ideal of human life.