Cambridge : Sever and Francis.
To those bound by kindred and personal friendship to the heroic young men whose histories are recounted in these volumes, the work has of course a value which others cannot duly estimate ; but every one must perceive that it has merits very rare in neurologic literature. The memorials are written with constant good taste, and there is little of the detraction of over-praise in them, though they have that warmth and fulness of appreciation which might be expected from writers selected for their intimate relations with the dead. Where no friend or kinsman could be found to contribute a biography, the task was performed by the editor, with the sympathy which united him to the subject of his sketch — whoever he might be — as a soldier and scholar. Indeed, Mr. Higginson has performed all his work in the preparation of these memorials with excellent effect. We have here, not only the narratives of certain Harvard graduates who died in the service of their country during the late war, but a tribute to the highest and best feeling which has ever animated men to war.
There is sufficient interest of event and adventure in the biographies to attract the general reader, but their worthiest claim is in their representative character. None of these brilliant and generous young men gave more than the simplest and obscurest soldier whom a patriot impulse drew from the shop or the furrow ; but their lives are more vocal, and they more eloquently present the image of a martyrdom that crowned the silent tens of thousands. The book only repeats, with whatever of variation in the story, a sole theme, — ungrudging sacrifice to the common good of lives which letters and affection and the world claimed with those appeals and promises so hard for the gifted, the young, and the happy to resist. And except that the sublimity of the nation’s, passion and triumph seems to enter and fill these as no lives of egotism can be filled, it would not be possible to regard without inconsolable regret the sum of so much loss. What should comfort us for the fact that a man rich in youth and culture, and instinct with high feelings and purposes, fell before the rifle of some Arkansas savage, or Georgian peasant, or Carolinian vassal, but that the cause of mankind had crowned and accepted the sacrifice, and that his death had helped to disenthrall his murderer ? Not to heap the measure of the leading traitors’ crimes did such another scholar quit his books and languish in hospitals : he died for God’s poor everywhere forever ; and from the agony of yet another who hungered and thirsted to death in prison, a whole race was clothed with freedom.
With what consciousness of perfection life passes from the man who dies for others, none of the heroic and good can turn back upon their ended careers to assure us. We who spend ourselves in the futile effort to fill existence with selfish schemes of toil or pleasure, and close each empty day with a sense of disappointment and hopelessness, can only guess the satisfaction of self-devotion from that keener sentiment of our own fatuity and unworthiness noth which we read an heroic history. As nothing we do in the circle of our low-creeping, narrow wills establishes us in our own esteem, we must believe that those equal to a great vocation and a great ordeal do at last have the delight of conscious merit and success. Never labor of pen or brush or chisel but brought its author more secret anguish of failure than joy of triumph ; the sublimest song is harsh with jarring discords to the singer, because of that extreme beauty which would not be uttered. But without doubt the hero feels the grandeur of his work, and knows its completeness. There is no touch lacking in his picture ; spheral music is not sweeter nor perfccter than his poem. The years of Titian or of Homer could only have deferred his triumph and reward.