Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie/Maud Muller/the Vision of Sir Launfal..

By HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. With Illustrations by F. O. C. Harley. Boston : Ticknor and Fields. By JOHN G. WHITTIER. With Illustrations by W. J. Hennessy. Boston : Ticknor and Fields. By JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL. With Illustrations by S. Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. By HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW. With Illustrations. Boston ; Ticknor and Fields.
OF these volumes three have long since taken their place in the letters of America, and in the hearts of all who know and love the purest, the truest, and the best that poesy can offer. To them in their secure position will now be added “ Flower-deLuce,”—Mr. Longfellow’s latest volume, — which, containing indeed for the most part only such lyrics as he has already contributed for desultory publication, is yet rich with the fruit of the deep insight, wise thought, earnest feeling, and ripe scholarship of his full maturity.
But it is not our purpose to pause in criticism over works that may fairly be said to have passed beyond the province of contemporary criticism. Rather is it our desire to welcome them as they are tendered to us in a new form, and to commend the artistic character of their presentation. For these books indicate that out of the many attempts which have been made in this country — some of them most creditable, too, and nearly approaching thorough excellence — to produce illustrative and mechanical effects equal to those of England and continental Europe, there has at last come an absolute accomplishment, from which we hope and are ready to believe there will be no recession.
One book of great beauty would hardly raise our faith, so far. It might be the result of a fortunate combination of propitious circumstances, an accident of which the best intent in the world could not cause a deliberate repetition, — for chance can work well as easily as ill, may make a plan as simply as mar it, and none need be told how often the best-devised schemes “gang a-gley” by reason of some fortuity for which no allowance had been made.
But when from the same press there emanate in a single season several books, prepared, at different times by different hands, although, of course, under the same general direction and supervision, the natural inference is, that something positive has been attained, either in the principle of manufacture, or in a better understanding of the elements which must enter into the composition of a really elegant hook, and a juster estimate of the manner in which these elements are to be combined.
In the four books under consideration, all the necessary conditions appear to have been recognized and fulfilled. It is, of course, too much to say that they are perfect, and many who are versed in the particulars of lineal art will perhaps find things which they might wish otherwise. But with all such qualification, these volumes show indisputably that in the matter of illustration and typography the New World is now quite the equal of the Old.
The artists engaged — to whose names, as mentioned above, should be added those of H. Fenn, G. Perkins, S. Colman, Jr., and W. Waud, as illustrators of “ Flowerde-Luce” — are all men well known, and most of them are eminent in their profession. Each has had a subject which suited closely his capacity and taste, together, evidently, with the liberty of treating his theme according to his own discretion, and as amply as he pleased, — the brief poem, “ Maud Muller,” for instance, having been supplied by Mr. Hennessy with thirteen illustrations, while in the other volumes equal liberality is manifest.
We have not the space to make, as we should like to do, an exact analysis of these volumes, comparing each artist’s series of drawings, one by one, with his chosen passages of the text; but a careful examination convinces us that as a whole these designs are remarkably appreciative and apt. Every person will not expect his own ideal Evangeline or Sir Launfal to appear before him on the page, but every reflective mind will find, we think-, such a parallelism Iretween poetry and picture as is not only consistent with exactness, but will further serve to illuminate and beautify the text.
Intelligent or even inspired drawing is vain, if to it be not added faithfulness and fervor on the part of those whose handiwork follows that of the draughtsman, and upon whom his fate and fame greatly depend,— the engraver and the printer. Heretofore it has seemed almost impossible for American representatives of these three arts to work together for good. The drawing might he faultless as it lay intact upon the wood, but the graver in a heedless hand or the manipulation of an injudicious pressman left little except the broad, indestructible characteristics in the impression which was eventually made public.
At last, let us be thankful, a new era has dawned, and we have here woodcuts which may confidently invite comparison with any as examples of the highest excellence which has yet been reached in this department. The thorough and intelligent workmanship of the University Press has preserved to us every line and shade which was intrusted to its care, and the prints are free alike from fade indistinctness and from ruinous weight of color. The engraving which is so admirably represented is thoroughly good, and, to our thinking, it is of a better school than that which largely obtains in England at this time, and the degeneracy and slovenliness of which have been of late so much criticised and deplored by the best judges. The most of the designs have been engraved by Mr. A. V. S. Anthony, who ranks probably at the head of American engravers, and whose delicacy of feeling and touch, beautifully exemplified in the eighth and twelfth pictures of “Maud Muller,” entitle much of his work to an estimation not far below that accorded to Linton or Thompson. The few remaining blocks were cut by Mr. J. P. Davis and Mr. Henry Marsh, who emulate most praiseworthily the excellence, skill, and fidelity of Mr. Anthony.