Recent Literature

THE story of Henry Timrod, the South Carolinian poet, as his friend Mr. Paul H. Haynetells it, is about as sad as any tragedy in the annals of literature ; and it is darkened by some shadows peculiar to the time and place in which he expiated his purpose of being a poet. He struggled forward to the full use of his powers in a community where, as we understand it, there was a taste for literature and a certain pride in it, but no market for it; and where he paid for his devotion with poverty and privations and hard, uncongenial toil ; then, just when he might have hoped for some happier fortune, the disasters of the Rebellion gathered upon his cause and people, and, while the desolation of defeat still weighed heaviest upon them, he died suddenly of consumption. He was born in Charleston, of a German family on his father’s side, from whom he inherited a real poetic strain and a most unworldly passion for literature. As a boy, Timrod’s father ran away from school and apprenticed himself to a bookbinder, in the fond belief that he could so have constant communion with books ; and Timrod, in his turn, forsook his law-studies, and chose to be a private tutor in planters’ families for the sake of the greater opportunity for poetry this would give him. Before the war, Messrs. Ticknor and Fields published a little volume for him, which won some notice, and he wrote thereafter other poems of the warmest Southern tint, in which it seems that we of the North were, to his gentle and kindly spirit, tyrants and oppressors, and our brothers and sons, who went South to die for freedom and union, no other than ruffian hordes of hirelings So it appears that it was a holy war—on both sides ; and poor Timrod’s execration need not offend us now; some of the verses, it must be owned, were very well turned, and have a true fire and force, as such lines as these can witness : —

“ Come with the weapons at your call,
With musket, pike, or knife ;
He wields the deadliest blade of all
Who lightest holds his life.
The arm that drives its unbought blows
With all a patriot’s scorn,
Might brain a tyrant with a rose
Or stab him with a thorn.”

But these war-poems of Timrod express, as we think, only an exceptional phase of his poetic genius, which was essentially meditative and tenderly lyrical. They made him very popular with his section, however; and at one time there was talk at Charleston of publishing a luxurious edition of his poetry in London, — talk that was presently forever hushed by the din of arms, to the poet’s infinite disappointment. So he struggled on as he might, doing gladly any sort of drudgery, literary or other, till the end of the war. In 1864, he married the young English girl who inspired the loveliest poems in his book, and for a while he was not unprosporously placed on a newspaper at Columbia. Then came Sherman and doomsday, and for Timrod nothing after that but want, decay, and death, manfully fought off to the very end by as brave and high a soul as there ever was.

Of the poems in the present volume the sweetest and the best are, as we said, those inspired by his wife. He shows very little, in any of his poems, those influences of contemporary great poets which make minor poets the despair of their friends ; but in the poem called Katie, he is most freshly, tenderly, and wholly himself. It is a fancy of meeting in England this girl who makes an England everywhere ; and these are of the best lines in it : —

“ I meet her on the dusty street,
And daisies spring about her feet;
Or, touched to life beneath her tread,
An English cowslip lifts its head ;
And, as to do her grace, rise up
The primrose and the buttercup ! I roam with her through fields of cane,
And seem to stroll an English lane,
Which, white with blossoms of the May,
Spreads its green carpet in her way !
As fancy wills, the path beneath
is golden gorse, or purple heath :
And now we hear in woodlands dim
Their unarticulated hymn,
Now walk through rippling waves of wheat,
Now sink in mats of clover sweet,
Or see before us from the lawn
The lark go up to greet the dawn !
All birds that love the English sky
Throng round my path when she is by :
dhe blackbird from a neighboring thorn
With music brims the cup of morn,
And in a thick, melodious rain
The mavis pours her mellow strain !
But only when my Katie’s voice
Makes all the listening woods rejoice
I hear — with cheeks that flush and pale —
The passion of the nightingale ! ”

The Two Portraits, A Year’s Courtship, and The Lily Confidante, please us next after this, for the same half-playful qualities of graceful and delicate passion ; and it seems to us that in Timrod died a poet who was capable of enriching our somewhat slenderly endowed love-poetry with pieces in which we should find all that warmth, purity, and idealizing subtlety demanded by the American taste at its best. It would be a coarse injustice to call the cast of his genius amorous ; it merits the nobler word loving, and loving in the best sense of a poetic passion for those dear to him by the ties of friendship and nature. This appears in his poems often enough, and in his life as it is cordially and sympathetically written by Mr. Hayne ; and it.strikes home to the reader’s heart with a pang in that passage of his sister’s letter descriptive of his death. He longed to live : “ For hours the struggle lasted, and then came for a space partial quiet and consciousness. He knew that he was dying. * Oh ! ’ I murmured to him, * you will soon be at rest now ! ’ * Yes,’ he replied, in a tone so mournful that it seemed the wail of a lifetime of desolation, — ‘yes, my sister, but love is sweeter than rest! ’ ”

— We think there can be no question but the Norwegian pastoral Lars, which Mr. Taylor has just given us, is altogether the finest poem he has written ; and not this only, but one of the purest, most sweetly moralized romances which English verse of this time can show. It has from the beginning the interest of a genuine story; and this never flags from the moment we see Brita, with the other Norse maidens and Lars and Per, on that Sunday morning when the trouble begins, through all the after scenes of the duel at the wedding feast where Per is slain, of Lars’s wandering far off to Pennsylvania, and his repentance, and marriage there with Quaker Ruth, of his return with her to Norway to preach his new faith in his old home, of his encounter with Per’s brother and with Brita, and of his peaceful last clays amid foes become Friends in Arendal. Our praise could not express the skill with which all is managed, and one is loath to use one’s hackneyed adjectives on a poem which gives such fresh and unalloyed pleasure. The pictures of wild peasant life in Norway and of the tranquil Pennsylvania Quaker homes and meetings contrast every characteristic aspect and property of both, and seem to pour their atmosphere around the reader. The Norwegian scenes are exquisitely studied, the Pennsylvanian scenes are exquisitely felt; there is that difference, and yet no difference in their poetic value ; and much the same may be said of the peasant and Quaker folks who are introduced, Brita and Ruth are alike fine conceptions of that dependent, puissant feminine character which takes youth with passion and maturer life with compassion and reverence ; but all minor varieties of circumstance and education are vividly marked in the Norse girl, in whose blood the wild, headstrong impulses of her pirate ancestry live, and m the Quaker maiden, chastened almost to heavenly gentleness and purity by the still, thoughtful usage of her people. When Lars and Per stand face to face before Brita at the dance, and her choice of one or other will forbid their deadly feud, her proud girl’s heart will not let her choose, and so they fight: —

Then both drew off and threw aside their coats,
Their broidered waistcoats, and the silken scarves
About their necks ; but Per growled ‘All ! ’ and made
His body bare to where the leathern belt
Is clasped between the breast-bone and the hip.
Lars did the same : then, setting tight the belts,
Both turned a little : the low daylight clad
Their forms with awful fairness, beauty now
Of Ii‘e, so warm and ripe and glorious, yet
So near the beauty terrible of Death.
All saw the mutual sign, and understood ;
And two Stepped forth, two men with grizzled hair
And earnest faces, grasped the hooks of steel
In either’s belt, and drew them breast to breast,
And in the belts made fast each other’s hooks.
An utter stillness on the people fell
While this was done; each face was stern and strange,
And Brita, powerless to turn her eyes,
Heard herself cry, and started : ‘ Per, O Per ! ’

“ When those two backward stepped, all saw the flash
Of knives, the lift of arms, the instant clench
Of hands that held and hands that strove to strike :
All heard the sound of quick and hard-drawn breath,
And naught beside ; but sudden red appeared,
Splashed on the white of shoulders and of arms.
Then, thighs intwined, and all the body’s force
Called to the mixed resistance and assault,
They reeled and swayed, let go the guarding clutch,
And struck out madly. Per drew back, and aimed
A deadly blow, but Lars embraced him close,
Reached o’er his shoulder and from underneath
Thrust upward, while upon his ribs the knife,
Glancing, transfixed the arm. A gasp was heard .
The struggling limbs relaxed ; and both, still bound
Together, fell upon the bloody floor.

“ Some forward sprang, and loosed, and lifted them
A little ; but the head of Per hung back,
With lips apart and dim blue eyes unshut,
And all the passion and the pain were gone

The passage which we would like to place beside this is too long ; but the reader will easily find the scene where Ruth interposes between Lars and his Quaker rival, Abner Cloud. Both are powerfully painted, but only one is needed here to give the spirit of the poem in its grimmer aspects. There is a very winning and tender description of the meeting of Lars and Ruth, however, which we shall give ourselves the pleasure of quoting, in spite of its length .

“ So Lars went onward, losing hope of good,
To where, upon her hill, fair Wllmington
Looks to the river over marshy meads.
He saw the low brick church, with stunted tower,
The portal-arches, ivied now and old.
And passed the gate : lo ! there, the ancient stones
Bore Norland names and dear, familiar words !
It seemed the dead a comfort spake . he read,
Thrusting the nettles and the vines aside,
And softly wept : he knew not why he wept,
But here was something in the strange new land
That made a home, though growing out of graves
“ Led by a faith that rest could not be far,
Beyond the town, where deeper vales bring down
The winding brooks from Pennsylvanian hills,
He walked : the ordered farms were fair to see,
And fair the peaceful houses : old repose
Mellowed the lavish newness of the land,
And sober toil gave everywhere the right
To simple pleasures. As by each he passed,
A spirit whispered: ‘ No, not there ! ’ and then
; His sceptic heart said : ‘ Never anywhere ! ’
“ The sun was low, when, with the valley’s bend,
There came a change Two willow-fountains flung
And showered their leafy streams before a house
^ Of rusty stone, with chimneys tall and white ;
A meadow stretched below : and dappled cows,
Full-fed, were waiting for their evening call.
The garden lay upon a sunny knoll,
An orchard dark behind it, and the barn,
With wide, warm wings, a giant mother-bird,
Seemed brooding o’er its empty summer nest.
Then Lars upon the roadside bank sat down,.
For here was peace that almost seemed despair,
So near his eyes, so distant from his life
It lay : and while he mused, a woman came
Forth from the house, no servant-maid more plain
In her attire, yet, as she nearer drew,
Her still, sweet face, and pure, untroubled eyes
Spake gentle blood. A browner dove she seemed,
Without the shifting iris of the neck,
And when she spake her voice was like a dove s,
Soft, even-toned, and sinking in the heart.
Lars could not know that loss and yearning made
His eyes so pleading ; he but saw how hers
Bent on him as some serious angel’s might
Upon a child, strayed in the wilderness-”

The poem abounds in descriptions, which are so justly subordinated to its dramatic interest that the reader will best enjoy their charm in recurring to them after he has read the story. For the same reason it is not easy to detach them from the context for quotation. The unity of Mr. Taylor’s work in this poem is the fact that most commends itself to the critical sense; and after that comes the truth of its characterpainting. The treatment of the personages throughout is simple and unforced ; the dramatic rarely or never drops to the melodramatic in them ; they are real, and do the things natural to such people as they are. The tale is told in blank verse of unusual sweetness and strength, colored here and there with Tennysonian tints, it must be owned, but not, as one may say, flavored or perfumed with the potent qualities of the all-pervading laureate, while the whole conception and management of the poem are unlike him.

— Mr. J. E. Babson has taken the pleasure— it would be an abuse of language to call it trouble — of collecting for the first time, from old Examiners and other newspapers and magazines, some of the most delightful papers by Leigh Hunt which we have read. These he has put into a very pretty and portable volume called The Wishing-Cap Papers, after those essays in which Leigh Hunt, while in Italy, wished himself into the midst of London streets and suburbs by favor of a magical cap. We are inclined to think that he really did this, without any feigning about it; and upon trying on one or two of the Wishing-Caps, the gentle reader (and no other has any business with them) will agree with us that they do actually transport one to the London of fifty or sixty years ago, — the London of Lamb, of Hazlitt, of Coleridge, of Shelley, of Keats, — the most lovable London that ever was or will be. The Wishing-Caps are only eleven in number, but save for the editor’s conscience, all the essays in the book might have been so called, for they are all akin in spirit. The most of them are sketches of places in that dear old Cockagne which is like a fairy-land to generous lovers of letters and the stage, with reminiscences of authors and actors long since “ with God,” as Lamb used to say ; and the best of them, to our thinking, is that On the Suburbs of Genoa and the Country about London. There is mighty little about Genoa, as the reader doubtless imagines, but all that there is about London is delicious; one feels that there ought to be eternally more and more of it. And what is it ? Nothing whatever but gossip concerning houses or localities in which divers poets have lived or walked, with personal recollections of Shelley’s goodness, and of Keats’s telling the author under certain elms in Well-Walk that he was “dying of a broken heart.” But the manner, the manner! The gentle, rambling tone, the easy style, the sweet enthusiasm for literature, the tenderness for all mankind, — even Calvinists, — everything that was Leigh Hunt! You get these in the other essays, to be sure, but nowhere else so finely proportioned and adjusted. Yet we would say nothing—how could we ? — against such essays as Twilight Accused and Defended, Table Wits, Personal Reminiscences of Lords, Dr. Doddridge and the Ladies, or any of the WishingCaps proper. The only place in which Leigh Hunt seems to have failed himself, is in his Edinburgh Review of the life of George Selwyn and his contemporaries. This, too, is full of charming matter; but the easy-mannered muse of the old poet was stiffened almost into a literary lady by the chill propriety of Mr. Editor Napier, who, when Hunt proposed “ a chatty article ” on the subject named, wrote him “ a harsh letter on dignity of style.”

We should not take leave of this volume without expressing our sense of the great favor Mr. Babson is doing literature by such collections as this ; and we wish that every reader of the editor’s brief and selfdenying notes could know from what a generous ardor and full knowledge these services are rendered to authors now past helping themselves.

— We do not know of any story in literature more tragical than that which Mrs. Leonowens tells, in The Romance of the Harem, of the slave-woman Boon. Our readers will remember it as the woful tale of that favorite of the King of Siam who fell in love with one of his courtiers ; Boon being the courtier’s wife who promoted his passion for the favorite because of her own love, far above jealousy, for him. Her unselfishness in this, indeed, carries the tragedy to a height beyond any Occidental ideal; but she is none the less — perhaps all the more — a figure of the greatest nobility, the most exquisite selfdevotion ; and the hapless favorite by whose mouth the story is told, and who is crushed by Boon’s fate, which she had not the courage to share, appeals to the reader’s compassion with almost intolerable pathos. If a poet could take that story and treat it with simple greatness, it would be his fortune and his immortality ; yet we should tremble to have a poet touch it. Perhaps it is better, after all, that it should be left in the narrative, for the truth of which Mrs. Leonowens vouches. There are many other tales in her book about life in the harem which are hardly less touching and only less perfect than this. Our readers know that of L’Ore, the slave of the Siamese Queen, and we can commend the others to them. It is a strange book,— the wonderfully fresh result of unique opportunities ; for it is the personal history of many of Mrs. Leonowens’s pupils while she was the English Governess at the Siamese Court. It is not this alone, however, but also careful observation of the conditions that surrounded her, and a mass of unsentimentalized fact concerning the present Siamese civilization,—a state which has undergone startling changes since 1872, when Mrs. Leonowens’s royal pupil abolished slavery. In view of this event, the chapter on Siamese slavery is peculiarly interesting; and upon sonic characteristic of servitude almost all the incidents of the Romance turn. It is not all dark ; there is, for example, the case of that gentle lady of the harem who freed her slaves, after having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because she wished “to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowâ,” and who, with an affecting and reverent simplicity, always signed her letters with the beloved name of that author. It is by the reading of such books as this, which intimately acquaint us with the remote life of other lands and religions, that we are to learn how true to one humanity are the traits of all the different peoples, and to feel the essential unity of the race. It teaches toleration, charity, and modesty, for it teaches that the virtues we call Christian are also Buddhist virtues ; and it is in this way not merely a contribution to literature, it is a benefaction to mankind.

— We printed, three or four years ago, two stories, — Marrying a Pickpocket and The Blue River Bank Robbery,—both of which we thought showed an unusual talent for construction, and an uncommon promise in the way of realistic fiction. These stories were written by George Bryant Woods, a young journalist of Boston, who has since died in the very spring of manhood, when his successful career was plain before him, when his friends were made, and his public secure, and life opened fairest to him. It was a sad loss, and those who knew of him cannot take up the volume of Essays, Sketches, and Stories which has been compiled from his writings without being tenderly disposed towards it by the thought of his early death. But though it is chiefly an earnest of what he might have done, it by no means needs a kindly predisposition in the reader, who will not fail to see the careful observation, the good sense, the temperance of style and thought, with which Mr. Woods wrote. Here are studies, notable for their shrewdness and discretion, of American society and American celebrities; here are criticisms on the principal actors and dramatists of the last ten years, expressed with good temper and good taste, and without a touch of that smartness which is so cheaply achieved in criticism of all kinds, but with a sincere spirit of inquiry as to characteristics and values ; here are a correspondent’s letters about some old New England country towns, about the Fenian ‘invasion of Canada, about the occupation of ’Richmond, and the murder of Lincoln. It is nearly all newspaper writing, and has the stamp of evanescence upon it; but it has excellent quality, and it is proof of how much there was in the mind and heart of the author. The five stories with which the volume closes are more meditated work, and they are all proportionately good. Marrying a Pickpocket is, more especially, one of the freshest, most ingenious short stories of local life that we know.

— The College Catalogue has of late years, with the constant increase in the number of officers and students, grown from a pamphlet of seventy-five or eighty pages to twice that size. This year it is again more than doubled in bulk by the addition of a hundred and sixty pages of examination-papers. A considerable body of advertisements, also, most of which, however, are properly enough placed within these covers, still further augment its size. Being thus grown so great, though still wearing the familiar blue livery, it is no longer printed for gratuitous distribution, but is put into the shops, as is done in England with the Oxford and Cambridge Calendars, to be sold like any other book.

Even a superficial survey of the examination-papers suffices to explain and to justify their publication. In no other way could the work the University is accomplishing and the amplitude of its resources, and the efficiency of its methods be so clearly and fully set forth. These papers furnish samples, as it were, of the intellectual food it offers, and their extent and variety is such as really to give one quite a new notion of the extent and variety of human knowledge. No one can look over these pages without a quickening of his intellectual zeal and a new appetite and enthusiasm for the “things of the mind.” It is possible, of course, and such things have sometimes happened, for such papers to be fraudulently prepared with the express view of giving the public a false notion of the standard of scholarship which is maintained, and nothing, of course, is easier than to ask questions which nobody is really expected to answer. But bona fide papers, like those in hand, afford the best possible information as to the work actually accomplished, and cannot but be of the greatest value to students and to teachers. There are many of these to whom they must come as a revelation of methods and processes of instruction hitherto undreamed of. To that intelligent public, also, which is made up of the University’s own sons, who, for the most part, fancy that things are going on pretty much as they went on thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago, these pages are full of instruction.

Not less instructive and surprising are the twenty pages in the body of the Catalogue in which are detailed the various required and elective courses of study for undergraduates, with those prescribed for candidates for honors, and for the new degrees of Master of Arts, Doctor of Philosophy, and Doctor of Science. Whatever may be thought .of the so-called “ elective ” system of study, it cannot be denied that the experiment is here having a magnificent trial. With the freedom of choice allowed, and the variety and extent of the courses among which the student can choose, it would seem as if the most indifferent might find something to engage his interest and arouse his intellectual fires. It is certainly to be hoped that it may succeed in replacing the school-boy obstructiveness, which is traditional at Cambridge, by a more honest and manly tune, a workmanlike and scholarly spirit, from which in time may spring a real zeal and enthusiasm. Already, we understand, there are some signs of such a result. It is true, at least, that the ranklist exhibits an increasing proportion of names of those who do not “need’’ to study, and who, under the older dispensation, would have found little inducement to do so. This may well afford some consolation to those who have feared that the enhanced cost of a college education, by driving away that middle class who, though too well off to receive pecuniary aid, are yet not able to live at Cambridge as they are used to living at home, might result in dividing the college into two distinct bodies, the impecunious “digs’’and the wellto-do do-nothings. Such a result would be in every way disastrous, and one may pray that the gods who sit in the academic councils may finally avert it. The college training is indeed of incalculable benefit alike to the illiterate poor and to the illiterate rich. The munificent endowments in the shape of scholarships, loans, and other benefactions, all devoted to the support of capable but needy students, afford sufficient assurance that the functions of the college as a means of reaching the higher walks of life from the lower will not cease.

So far as public favor goes, the present policy, both in the college proper and in the professional schools, seems successful enough. In spite of some real and some apparent diminution of numbers in special departments, the several courses of study have never been so much frequented as now, nor, as we are given to understand, by so hard-working a set of young men. The reorganization of almost every branch of the University, amounting in some cases, as in that of the Medical School, to a complete revolution in the methods of instruction, with increased demands upon the students, has, thanks to the increased efficiency which it has brought about, only served to render the University more attractive to serious and earnest workers. The long list of candidates for the postgraduate degrees in the academical department shows also that literature and philosophy are beginning to feel at home in their ancient seat.

Whatever may be the measure of success attending any special line of policy, however, the University will doubtless grow, year by year, with the growth of the country. While its serious claims multiply, its social advantages are not likely to diminish, and these are felt to be of lasting benefit. Still, the real social advantage of collegelife is reaped while a young man is still young, and comes from the very fact that he takes part in a highly organized society, with a well-established code of manners and morals. It is common to call attention to the dangers that come from the toleration among students of certain evils. It is forgotten how many forms of vice and folly are utterly condemned by the same public opinion, and thus removed from the list of possible temptations. Indeed, in view of the risks run, in any large city, by young men who are without any such protection, and are left to fight the world, the flesh, and the Devil as best they may single-handed, college-life, even if it were less exceptionally high-toned and pure than we believe life at Cambridge to be, seems like a haven of safety in the midst of a rocky and tempestuous sea.

  1. The Poems of Henry Timrod. Edited, with a Sketch of the Poet’s Life, by PAUL H. HayneNew York : E. J. Hale and Son. 1S73.
  2. Lars : A Pastoral of Norway By BAYARD TAYLOR. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1873.
  3. The Wishing-Cap Papers, By LEIGH HUNT. Now first collected. Boston : Lee and Shepard. 1873.
  4. The Romance of the Harem. By ANNA H. LEONOWENS Boston : J. R. Osgood & Co. 1873.
  5. Essays, Sketches, and Stories, selected from the Writings of GEORGE BRYANT WOODS. With a Biographical Memoir. Boston : J. R. Osgood & Co. 1873.
  6. The Harvard University Catalogue. 1872-73. Cambridge : Published for the University, by Charles W. Sever. 1873.