The Solitudes of Nature and of Man; Or the Loneliness of Human Life
By WILLIAM ROUNSEVILLE ALGER. Boston : Roberts Brothers.
MR. ALGER brings to the examination of one of the most interesting aspects of life a spirit full of delicate and generous sympathies, a mind stored by wide reading, and an enthusiastic industry. It has been his purpose to study the nature of solitude as a fact of place, — in the desert, the sea, the wilderness, and the ruin, — and as a principle in the heart of man, isolating individuality, grief, love, occupation, selfishness, genius, and death, — and to evolve from this study lessons concerning the dangers and uses of solitude. His work throughout is illustrated from the lives of men and the world ; and following the strictly ethical part of it are sketches of men whom instinct or circumstance led to seek solitude, and who loved it,
Mr. Alger’s affection for his theme has sometimes, it seems to us, made him claim for solitude characters which can hardly be considered solitary, but it has not tempted him into the much greater error —to which his abundant compassion rendered him peculiarly liable — of defending or applauding men for their solitude. Even of the solitude of men of genius he can say : “ The panacea for their wretchedness is to seek fulfilment and excellence, instead of fame and applause. It is not aspiration, but ambition, that is the mother of misery in man. . . . . Great intellect, imagination, and heart are conditions of noble joy and content, when free from that extravagant desire for public approbation which so often accompanies them.” Indeed, the philosophy of the book is generally as sound as its feeling is warm ; and the uses of solitude are pointed out as that recovered balance and power of quiet introspection which make men fitter to live in the world.
The frequent passages of beauty and thought which occur in these essays make us regret all the more the extravagances — nearly as frequent — of fancy and of phrase in which the author indulges himself. The brightness of Eastern imagery has so taken the fondness of Mr. Alger, that the colors of Western expression seem thin and pale to him; and his metaphor continually passes into hyperbole, making us feel ungratefully the consequences of study that gave us his book on “ The Poetry of the Orient.” He has a weakness also for unkempt verbal immigrants from the High Dutch, — cousins-German to our English speech, as we may call them, — with the bar-sinister for the most part. What with his Orientalism and his Germanism, he sometimes produces an effect of grotesqueness and extravagance which might be studied as a model of everything to be avoided in style.