IT may not be Mr. Browning’s intention that we should earn our poetry, like our bread, by the sweat of our brows, but there really seems to be some such curse denounced against his readers, which the lapse of time does not soften. We were about to say that Mr. Browning goes from bad to worse, but we remember how much harder to read some parts of The Ring and the Book were than The Inn Album;1 we remember Fifine at the Fair, unreadable; we remember the Red Cotton Night-Cap Country and its outer darkness; and — no, we cannot say that Mr. Browning goes from bad to worse in want of intelligibility. You can get at the whole story of The Inn Album if you will try hard enough and long enough. As to special passages and expressions, that is another thing; and as to the whole, it is not at all certain that it is worth while. But this is a matter of opinion which we willingly leave to each reader to settle after he has taken breath from the violent gymnastics of its perusal. Doubtless there are those who will feel paid for their pains, and we would be far from infecting such satisfied souls with our discontent. But they will own, we think, that the story is exceedingly disagreeable, and that the poet finally shirks his responsibility to the reader, and leaves him with a series of inconclusive and clumsily contrived situations in his mind, rather than an effect of dramatic unity. We have, to begin with, those old acquaintance, the two men who game till dawn, and rise and let the morning light in upon the fact that one owes the other ten thousand pounds. The characters are rather interesting: one is a highsouled, rich, good young plebeian; the other is a middle-aged, brilliant aristocrat, roué and gambler, whom the young fellow worships for his intellectual superiority, and whom he strives to make accept forgiveness of the ten thousand pounds which, contrary to all expectation, he has just won of him. They have come down together to the country inn where the album is, — it serves to give a. title to the poem and is otherwise mechanically employed, — and the young man is to see that morning his cousin, to whom he has been languidly making love for some time, and get her final yes or no as to their marriage. While he walks with his friend to the station where the latter is to take the train, he asks him why his life, which might be so triumphant in Parliament and elsewhere, is so aimless, and learns from him, in much darkling parenthesis, that it is because some years before he betrayed a beautiful girl, who then refused what he supposed the reparation of a marriage, and went off and married a country curate— where, he doesn’t know; but some day, he feels sure, they shall meet, and in the mean time her hate blasts his life. Then the young man tells how he too met and loved a beautiful girl, who refused him in mysterious terms, and whose memory makes him quite indifferent whether his cousin shall say yes or no to him, presently. They loiter in their talk, and lose the train, and then the old adventurer must go back to the inn where the album is, and wait while the young man goes to see his cousin at her house near by. The young lady, however, has in the mean while gone to the inn to meet — whom but the curate’s wife ? — her very dear and adored friend, who has this once consented —for the convenience of Mr. Browning’s poem — to leave the deep retirement in which she lives, and come to the inn to see her young friend and advise with her on the subject of her meditated marriage. They discuss the matter with Mr. Browning’s well-known parsimony of the definite and indefinite article, but as luck will have it the young lady has run away to say yes to her lover just at the moment when the gambler-roué-aristocrat (nobody is named in the poem) arrives; and he meets face to face the woman whom he had injured past all matrimony. The scene that then ensues is very fine and strong; his remorse and self-abasement, and her implacable scorn, and then his real falseness and baseness appearing fully, are very powerfully expressed. They are expressed apparently in the speech of the different persons, but in fact it is always one person who speaks, namely, the poet. The women are in no wise distinguished from the men by anything feminine in their phrase in this story, as they are in real life and real drama, and no one is characterized by any mental or other peculiarity not plainly attributive; they are the creatures of Mr. Browning, who has not been able to deny himself the indulgence of making them act and speak from his occasions rather than theirs. While he is making these two talk at each other in the potent fashion he undoubtedly does, the young man returns, and, bursting in upon them, perceives in her no other than the woman whom he had loved in vain. He suspects a plot between them to hoodwink him, and not only get the lord free of his debt of ten thousand pounds, but make his creditor bleed further in the debtor’s behalf, and he instantly declares his thought. But his error soon appears to him, and he sides with the woman in what follows. The inn album is lugged in from time to time, and one and another writes in it — unnecessarily, except that having got an inn and an album one must do. something with them. It is practicable also in this curious transaction for the lord to get the lady to go out of the room on purpose to let him vilify her to the young man, but in turn he has already handsomely written something in the album that altogether damns himself. It all ends by the young man’s shooting him dead in her behalf, and by her taking thereupon some “soon-spreading gear ” of which she dies instantly. While the young man stands contemplating this dénouement, the voice of the young girl singing is heard, as she comes to rejoin her friend and find her cousin. But before she enters, the curtain falls — very luckily for the poet, who has things quite his own way throughout, and at the end, by this simple device of the descending curtain, is able to leave the reader with the distracted lovers on his hands, the dead to be somehow got rid of, and the young man to be tried and somehow acquitted for the homicide.
The story is not, of course, so hideous as that of the Rod Cotton Night-Cap Country, but it is not far from as hideous, and one feels, in looking back over it, like asking for what reason the poet has subjected him to such an experience. There was a time when the answer, “For art’s sake,”would have sufficed, but this comprehensive reply is no longer sufficient, especially in a case where the art is not very good, it was certainly worth while to consider the mood and mind of a woman who, having given all to a man, finds him too false and too hateful even to be made that sort of pitiable refuge from society and himself which her seducer becomes by marriage with her. Such a marriage, which is supposed to “ make her an honest woman,” is really only an added desecration and infamy, and, if it were possible, society should honor her for refusing it. But that is not possible now, and probably never will be. The wronged woman must therefore hope to right herself only in her own eyes and in those of divine justice, and she must be a woman of extraordinary character and courage who will resolve to forego the defense of marriage even with a man who has proved himself unworthy of her. Such an heroic creature Mr. Browning supposes, and the strength, the whole essence, of his poem lies in confronting her, after years, with her betrayer, who has never, perhaps, been able to understand why she should have foregone the reparation offered her. In this encounter you have one of the most highly dramatic situations, and it is a thousand pities that Mr. Browning could not have contented himself with studying and portraying it, and left out all those cloudy impertinences that go before and after it in his poem. Almost nothing else is well done: though his work can never have a vulgar air, still it is not well done. The machinery is, as we have said, really clumsy, and the character and the expression of character, apart from this great encounter, are hardly worth considering. “ This bard’s a Browning ; he neglects the form,” he says somewhere in the course of the poem. Well, we think this a pity, whether it happens through willfulness or not, and we would earnestly urge that bard, whoever he is, to drop being a Browning, so far as neglect of the form goes. The form is helpless by itself, yet nothing but the void exists without it, and, highly scorn it as he will, Mr. Browning himself is never a poet save when he attends to it. Our own Mr. Walt Whitman is a poet who has carried neglect of the form to its logical conclusions, and has arrived at a sort of literary resemblance to all out-doors, and is much such a poet as a summer morning is, or an alarm of fire, or some unpleasant smell which he would personally prefer to prayer. Mr. Browning, in The Inn Album, has not well observed the limits which the narrative poem, the novel, and the drama give themselves, and has willfully striven to weave them all together, getting a texture, if any texture at all, which seems to combine the coarseness of all. Except in the conception of the main idea, the drama is too melodramatic; the action is all melodramatic. The prose novel in these days has been wrought by its masters to a fineness of characterization, method, and incident to which this story in verse can by no means pretend ; and as a poem The Inn Album lacks the charm in — the grace, the color, the music — which can alone justify the story-teller’s departure from prose narration. It is, in short, a curiously willful piece of bad literary art, which its attempts to outlaw itself cannot render in any degree interesting, save for the first moment of surprise.
— Mrs. Preston’s poems2 possess frequently a variety and a welded grace of diction which give them distinction, and at first lead the reader to expect rather more, perhaps, than he will get from them. We should be loath to discredit so earnest a devotion as is here manifest to the art of poetry, and yet we must believe that a deeper tone of life would have made them more valuable. Yet, curiously, it is the series of Cartoons from the Life of the Old Masters which seems to rank highest in the book ; and these are all studies more or less suggested by Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi, and Andrea del Sarto. So that we must be content, in this case as in most, to let the writer find her own way to the best within her scope. There is a marked decadence in The Hero of the Commune, and His Name, where Mrs. Preston assumes the bluff manner of Hervé Riel, with a singular undertone of Bret Harte in the choice of irregular lines, in treating real incidents. The poems on Stonewall Jackson, called Gone Forward, and Under the Shade of the Trees, show a good deal of real feeling. And it is notable that the volume is, on the whole, the most finished collection of poems which the South has given us, of late.
— The letters of Mrs. John Adams to her husband, as well as some to her son John Quincy Adams, covering a considerable term of years, have more than once been published, and the complementary letters of John Adams have also been published, both separately and in his collected writings ; but the present volume 1 for the first time gives the letters of husband and wife interchangeably and together. Yet these belong only to the period embraced in the struggle for independence, the first of the series being dated 12th May, 1774, and the last, 18th February, 178.3. Two hundred out of the two hundred and eightyfour letters in the volume are from Mr. Adams, and of the remainder, by Mrs. Adams, nearly one half are now for the first time printed. The memoir prefixed to the correspondence is substantially the same as that previously published, and a portrait of Mrs. Adams at the age of tweuty-one faces the title-page.
The ingenuous young man or maiden who hopes to find in this volume details which will enable him or her to appear faultlessly dressed and with suitable behavior at the next centennial tea-party will meet with some disappointment. Not that the mysteries of female dress, however, are wholly absent. “ I wish you would let Bass get me,” writes Mrs. Adams, “ one pound of pepper, and two yards of black calamanco for shoes;” and in the same letter she deplores the alarming scarcity of pins, — “not one pin to be purchased for love or money. I wish you would convey me a thousand by any friend traveling this way;” and again, “Pray don’t let Bass forget my pins.” “ The cry for pins is so great that what I used to buy for seven shillings and sixpence are now twenty shillings, and not to be had for that.” But these and a few similar passages are all that indicate a specially feminine element in Mrs. Adams’s letters. Her husband calls her in one place his “ farmeress,” and it is easy to see that in her seclusion at Braintree, or in the more public society of Boston, she was emphatically what her contemporaries would have called a Roman matron. One of the most curious and significant phases, indeed, of the intellectual life of the period is the consciousness of copying the Roman republic in orations, morals, and manners. The scriptural allusions which crowd the letters of John and Margaret Winthrop have not wholly disappeared in these letters, but they are more formally introduced as fragmentary bits of wisdom, and appear side by side with quotations from Pliny and Rollin’s Ancient History, while the vessels which carry the letters are the Apollo, the Juno, and the Minerva, and classical allusions constitute a good share of such playfulness as may be found. The style of Mrs. Adams’s letters, for it is to these that the reader turns with most curiosity, lacks equally the quaint dignity of Margaret Winthrop’s letters and the volatile life of more modern correspondents, but it reveals a character of firmness and of positiveness. The tone in which Mr. Adams addresses his wife indicates the respect which he had for her. He jests occasionally at her statesmanship, but it is plain that he has no hesitation in laying before her the affairs which occupy his mind, except that which springs from a fear of his letters being intercepted. It happened once at least, shortly after he had gone to Philadelphia for the first time, that a letter to his wife fell into the hands of the British and was published. It contained some allusions to his associates which were whispered to his wife, but eagerly published from the house-tops by the mischief-making enemy, and hasty words also respecting his own responsibilities, which were innocent enough when said to his wife, but construed maliciously as indications of a bursting vanity. The publication of this letter seems never to have been forgotten by Mr. Adams, who repeatedly draws hack from telling news lest his letter may be intercepted, and makes sardonic reflections on the effect of publication of this or that letter. He cautions his wife to write in enigmas, and advises her to follow his example in retaining duplicates. But this uneasiness, while hinting at a certain suspiciousness in Mr. Adams, is in itself an intimation of the difficulties under which the patriots labored. Letters were entrusted to travelers quite as often, apparently, as to the post, and the chances of success or failure in transmission seemed almost equal, especially when letters were passing back and forth across the Atlantic. The news which Mrs. Adams could write from Boston was of real importance to her husband, and his letters to her in turn were communicated discreetly to those who could profit by the intelligence they contained. Hence the burden of the letters is public affairs, and the strong interest which Mrs. Adams took in these, together with her management of the farm and education of her children, in the long absences of her husband, call up the picture of a woman of marked elevation of character and purpose. We are prepared to be indignant when her husband breaks out now and then in a petulant complaint of her for getting caught with so much paper money, and his unceasing admonition to her to be frugal. She handles facts and figures so easily, and talks so fluently of business matters, that we are sure it was by no fault of hers that paper money accumulated on her hands. The little sparring which goes on between them is, however, of an amiable character, and heated, if at all, by a certain zealous affection for each other. Mrs. Adams complains in one letter of her husband’s remissness in writing ; that indeed is the chief complaint they make of each other, though they seem to be perpetually at their desks. “I have not,” she says, “ been so parsimonious as my friend—perhaps I am not so prudent; but I cannot take my pen, with my heart overflowing, and not give utterance to some of the abundance which is in it. Could you, after a thousand fears and anxieties, long expectation, and painful suspense, be satisfied with my telling you that I was well, that I wished you were with me, that my daughter sent her duty, that I had ordered some articles for you, which I hoped would arrive, etc., etc. ? By Heaven, if you could, you have changed heart with some frozen Laplander, or made a voyage to a region that has chilled every drop of your blood; but I will restrain a pen already, I fear, too rash, nor shall it tell you how much I have suffered from this appearance of — inattention.”
The supposititious letter of this extract is doubtless one which would have been written by many wives of that period, but Mrs. Adams was no ordinary woman, and since her interests were in the great movements with which her husband was concerned, she maintained a certain dignity of behavior on all occasions, if we may take these letters as evidence. She applied herself to reading Rollin’s History and Dr. Tillotson and Bishop Butler, and, when disinclined to tell news, indulged in moral reflections supported by these writers. She had a sturdiness of mind which fed on large thoughts and cared more for what was going on in Congress than for the wax-figure show which her husband so vividly describes in one of his letters. With what strength of affection she supported her husband may be guessed from a passage of intense emotion which seems to us lifted above the level of most of her passionate writing ; she had received a letter from Mr. Lovell, who sent her a plan of the probable seat of war when her husband was in its neighborhood. “ There is no reward,” she says, “ this side the grave that would be a temptation to me to undergo the agitation and distress I was thrown into by receiving a letter in his handwriting, franked by him. It seems almost impossible that the human mind could take in, in so small a space of time, so many ideas as rushed upon mine in the space of a moment. I cannot describe to you what I felt. The sickness or death of the dearest of friends, with ten thousand horrors, seized my imagination. I took up the letter, then laid it down, then gave it out of my hand unable to open it, then collected resolution enough to unseal it, but dared not read it; began at the bottom,— read a line, — then attempted to begin it, but could not. A paper was inclosed ; I ventured upon that, and, finding it a plan, recovered enough to read the letter; but I pray Heaven I may never realize such another moment of distress.”
It is through such a medium as this book affords that one sees most truthfully the life which lies behind the historic record. The reader who follows these two eminent Americans in their exchange of news and opinions enters very closely upon the actual scenes which they trod. The facts of our history are not large, when measured by sensible standards, but the spirit which animated the minds of the generation that achieved independence is of a high and enduring kind; it breathes through these letters, and the book will go far toward making real to the attentive reader the more formal history which he reads.
— Professor Anderson’s book3 was first issued from the press in the beginning of September last, and in three months reappeared in a new edition. As its subject is drawn from the very heart of Icelandic poetic literature, it could not fail to be received with curiosity. Before this work appeared, there did not exist in the English language any complete and correct presentation of ancient Gothic heathenism as preserved in the Icelandic Eddas. Dasent’s translation of Snorre’s Edda (the younger) embraces only Gylfaginning and the beginning of Bragarcedur (Skaldskaparmal); Thorpe’s translation of the older Edda, being only a Danish translation rendered into English, is not a reliable work ; and Pigott’s Scandinavian Mythology, as also Percy’s Northern Antiquities, contains but an unsystematic and more or less unreliable collection of the old myths of the Asic faith. Pennock’s translation of Keyser’s The Religion of the Northmen is indeed a reliable small work, but, as is suggested in the preface of Anderson’s book, contains for the most part not the myths themselves, but an explanation. of them. Anderson’s work is, as it claims to be, the first complete and systematic presentation of Norse mythology in the English language. Its completeness is seen by comparing it with the Eddas in the Icelandic original, and after having examined it carefully, we find it presented in the same systematic way as the corresponding works of the Danish scholars N. M, Petersen and Grundtvig, from which it differs especially in being written in a more popular and less enigmatic language. The subject is divided into three parts, the first containing the Eddie myths of the creation and preservation of the world; the second, those of the lives and exploits of the gods; and the third, those of the final destruction of the present visible world, the death of the gods, and the universal regeneration in Ragnarökkr (the twilight of the gods). Every myth is accompanied by detailed explanations, though it may be doubted whether the Northmen really saw them all in the same poetic splendor in which Mr. Anderson arrays them. The author, in harmony with the most modern interpreters of mythology, holds the view that the various myths are in general an impersonation of the visible workings of nature, and consequently he is unwilling to admit any other mythical explanation than the physical. He concedes only that the so-called ethical interpretation, which seeks to explain the myths as personifications of the various degrees in the moral history — individual and universal — of mankind, is right so far as it deals with their application. But with due respect for this modern standpoint of mythologists, we cannot stamp the historical theories of explaining mythology, given by Snorre Sturla’s son and many others, as mere literary nonsense. We admit that a great majority of myths cannot be explained historically, nor do we believe that any one myth contains an historical truth in all its details; but neither P. A. Munch, the great historian of Norway, nor J. E. Sars, the independent investigator in the field of Norse history, in his yet unfinished work, Udsigt over den norske Historic, nor any other writer on the prehistoric life of the Scandinavian peoples has proved the impossibility of an historical foundation of the Eddic traditions. The preface of Gylfaginning in Snorre’s Edda, combining the As-gods both with the Homeric heroes of Troy, Zoroaster of Persia, and the biblic patriarchs (compare also the beginning of Ynglingasaga in Heimskringla), is in our view very remarkable as pointing to some historical persons of Asia who afterwards appear as divine objects of faith and worship among the sons of the East settled in Northern and Central Europe. Otherwise we are unable to account for the harmony and homogeneousness of the Eddic myths with those — however incomplete and fragmentary — found among the southern Teutonic (Gothic) nations, for according to incontrovertible results of historical investigations, and the philological researches of Gísli Magnússon and others, we take it for granted that the Scandinavian peoples did not immigrate to Europe in company with the Germanic nations, but that they came in separate tribes and perhaps in quite different centuries.
In the long introduction of the book we find many admirable things, but nothing so concisely elaborated as the chapter wherein Norse mythology is compared with the Greek; but there are some details in the same introduction, as also in other parts of the book, which we cannot admit. This is especially the case with the anti-Romanic utterances found in various parts of the book, which we think must be considered as paradoxical. When Grundtvig published his work on ancient history, he confessed in the preface of the book that he had written this work with prejudice against the Romans. With the same prejudice against some of the best and most prominent Roman characters Theodor Mommsen also wrote his noted history. Like the former, Mr. Anderson, in some of the many lively and fervid digressions in his work, frankly confesses his anti-Romanic disposition (for instance, on page 73, where he says “ our warfare is against the Latin,” etc., and on page 77, where he speaks of “the bondage of Rome ” from which “ we must free ourselves,” etc.). But it is interesting to observe the same anti - Romanism, or declamations against the political tendency of the Romans, in the works of some of their own most prominent writers, as Tacitus, Sallust, etc. Read, for instance, the words by the former put into the mouth of the British Calgacus (Agr., ch. 30) : “ Raptores orbis ; postquam cuncta vast anti bus defuere terrae, jam et mare scrutautur ; si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi,” etc. (Compare with this passage Anderson’s book, page 73 ff.) On the whole, however, the book, in spite of its anti-Romanic digressions and a few other points which cannot be approved, will be found an excellent and reliable presentation of the old paganism of the North. The vocabulary of myt hical proper nouns and the index at the end of the work increase its value and are quite indispensable to the reader. Some minor faults which were found in the first edition we are glad to see corrected in the second. But, like all works treating of Icelandic literature yet published in English, this “mythology” lacks a perfect conformity in the spelling of proper nouns, of which many are given not in their Icelandic form, but in a dress adopted by the scholars of Norway and Denmark.
— That unlovely object, the tramp, has been so courageously abused in the newspapers and in private conversation that there seems a kind of compensation for him in the arrival of two books largely devoted to singing the praises of the ideal tramp. Mr. Burroughs4 is an old friend who has proved his right to be listened to when he comes to tell us what he has found within eye-shot and ear-shot, and Mr Barron,5 who is a more humorous vagabond, shows himself to be a good companion for a walk, though he displays a little more self-consciousness in his vagrancy. Of the two, Mr. Burroughs is the better poet, Mr. Barron the better dog. We hasten to explain that we use this word in no disrespectful sense, but because we can think of no more faithful illustration of that sudden start into the bushes, untiring nosing about, and industrious hunt, which Mr. Barron keeps up; he trots along: with his amiable little epigrams, suddenly discovers a subject in “small caps.,” and goes off with fresh enthusiasm to explore its mysteries.
Mr. Burroughs’s poetic faculty has given us a fine picture in the opening passage of his chapter, The Exhilarations of the Road. “ Occasionally,” he writes, “ on the sidewalk, amid the dapper, swiftly-moving, high-heeled boots and gaiters, I catch a glimpse of the naked human foot. Nimbly it scuffs along; the toes spread, the sides fiatten, the heel protrudes ; it grasps the curbing, or bends to the form of the uneven surfaces, a thing sensuous and alive, that seems to take cognizance of whatever it touches or passes. How primitive and uncivil it looks in such company, — areal barbarian in the parlor. We are so unused to the human anatomy, to simple, unadorned nature, that it looks a little repulsive ; but it is beautiful, for all that. Though it be a black foot and an unwashed foot, it shall be exalted. It is a thing of life amid leather, a free spirit amid cramped, a wild bird amid caged, an athlete amid consumptives. It is the symbol of my order, the Order of Walkers.” The better half of Winter Sunshine is taken up with observations upon nature and human nature under the titles, Winter Sunshine, Exhilarations of the Road, The Snow-Walkers, The Fox, A March Chronicle, and The Apple, while the remainder of the volume is given to the author’s experience on a short trip to England and France. We like Mr. Burroughs best when he stays at home, and he seems himself, for all his enjoyment abroad, to be heartily glad to be among the scenes which he owns by virtue of a thorough use of them. His habits of observation and his cheerful temper make his record of foreign travel distinct and enjoyable, albeit it is hard, in a book, to go to Europe with a man who discovers the familiar over again ; but we know no better companion for the road at home. He steps out with a freedom and cheerfulness which make one sincerely ashamed of one’s querulous in-door habits. The writing is honest and to the point, delightfully free from an obtrusive effectiveness, yet sharp enough to keep one’s wits on the alert; no light success in the treatment of subjects which are usually too highly charged with literary affectation.
Mr. Barron’s method is more discursive, and he explains that the papers which make up his volume were brief contributions to a local journal. His book loses something of sustained effect from this cause. One is constantly starting off with him on short walks, and misses the long tramps and swinging gait which characterize Mr. Burroughs’s book. Something of the same spirit, the same enthusiasm for fresh air, pervades both writers, but with Mr. Barron the airing of his own views is so agreeable to himself, and by no means displeasing to his readers, that one is likely to come home from a walk with him less ready to report what he saw than what Mr. Barron said it was. Mr. Barron’s circuit is a small one, and he is entirely content with it. “ If you confine yourself,” he says, “ to walks of twelve miles in every direction from your home, you have a field of observation comprising four hundred and fifty-two square miles,” and in much less compass he finds plenty of food for observation and thought. To use his own expression, as soon as he takes to his legs, his brain begins to grow luminous and to sparkle, and accordingly there is a rapid succession of bright sparks of thought which go out almost as fast as they come. Nevertheless the book is the production of a humorist who does not affect his pleasure in the simple and homely, and we cordially commend it to any one who prefers wild fruit to cultivated.
Both books have an interest as literary descendants of Thoreau’s writings. Mr. Barron frankly confesses, in his preface, to having been attended on his walks by Thoreau’s ghost, and it is pleasant to find either that the ghost has improved in manners and is of a more cheerful cast of mind than formerly, or that Mr. Barron with his aggressive good nature has actually got the better of his comrade. Doubtless neither writer would have written just as he does except for Thoreau’s influence, but they both show plainly that their out door life and vagrancy have a positive connection with doorsteps, and seem none the less, but rather better, fitted for human companionship because of their experiments with solitude.
— To readers looking for a fresh, pretty, and wholesome story, with a good deal of honest sentiment, some pathos, and in places a considerable strength of passion, we commend Mr. Gift’s latest book.6 We must bid them not be discouraged, however, by a varnish of excessive “smartness ” which here and there confuses the simple and natural genre pictures which the writer presents. Mr. Gift has got too many things by heart from the pages of Charles Reade, and follows a rambling route marked out by slow-paced Thackeray. He has qualities, nevertheless, that are distinctly his own. The real ness of his people is so firm, and the charm of his young heroine so abiding, that he is able to take the most curious liberties in talking about them, as when he describes Miss Bellew at a trying moment, gazing out “ at the broad expanse of silvery sea, and giving vent every now and then to a suspicious little sniffle.” It follows from this that he is able to turn pathos and even tragedy, or the tender reconciliation of two lovers, into something very different from abstract statements or unmixed emotion, and to give them a piquant touch which carries one easily through a volume which we are inclined to call too long for its theme.
— Mr. Sargent begins his memoirs of Public Men and Events7 where the minuteness of Mr. Ingersoll’s historic statement stops, that is, at Monroe’s administration. This brings General Jackson into his pages very early, and the first volume contains a great deal about that leader, whom Mr. Sargent did not greatly admire, being himself a follower of Henry Clay. Calhoun, too, was no favorite of Mr. Sargent, one of whose best anecdotes is that which relates how Mr. Crawford, the leading candidate for president in 1824, wrote a letter in 1830, revealing the opposition of Calhoun to Jackson, in Monroe’s cabinet, and how Mr. W. B. Lewis, Jackson’s presidential trainer, would not let his friend know the contents of this letter until some months after he himself first saw it, and until it was safe for Jackson to quarrel with Calhoun, who was then his vice-president. It would have been very inconvenient had this exposure been made while Jackson was running for president on the same ticket with Calhoun, in 1828. Mr. Sargent also brings out well the apparent contradiction in Jackson’s character, that, “ with the frank bearing and apparent guilelessness of a rough soldier, he possessed in a high degree the tact and shrewdness of an adroit politician,” of which several striking examples are given. Mr. Clay’s controversy with Jackson, growing out of the election of Adams in 1825, and his subsequent opposition to Jackson’s measures, are well narrated, but always with a friendly leaning to Mr. Clay’s side. The story of the compromises of 1833 and of 1850 is told, and there is a curious anecdote concerning Mr, Calhoun’s own reluctant vote for the compromise bill of 1833, under the gentle compulsion of Senator Clayton, of Delaware. It seems to have been General Jackson’s purpose at that time (as has often been said) to hang Mr. Calhoun, if South Carolina continued to oppose the national government. Mr. Sargent gives some color to the statement made by Benton that Daniel Webster, in 1832-33, hesitated whether he should not join the administration party, at the invitation of Jackson, who was greatly pleased at his support in the conflict with the Southern nullifiers.
In the second volume, General Jackson disappears, and Mr. Adams, then fighting against slavery in the House of Representatives, becomes prominent, as does Mr. Webster also, whose connection with the administration of John Tyler is fairly narrated. Mr. Clay, however, is still the central figure, and with his death, in 1852, the work may be said to close, although the record is continued until after Mr. Webster’s death and the decision of the presidential campaign of 1852. It seems that Mr. Webster was made Secretary of State, at the urgent request of Mr. Clay, after General Taylor’s death in 1850, it having been President Fillmore’s wish to offer the position to Mr. R. C. Winthrop. This will be new, perhaps, to most readers.
As is proper in a book of this kind, Mr. Sargent gives many anecdotes, and not all of them, we may say, with perfect accuracy. Thus Samuel Cushman, who in Jackson’s and Van Buren’s congresses got the name of Previous Question Cushman, Was not a congressman from Maine, as Mr. Sargent says (i. 126), but from New Hampshire, where he represented Secretary Woodbury’s district of Rockingham. This secretary’s name is commonly spelt wrong by Mr. Sargent, who calls him Woodberry, and there are a few minor mistakes of this sort which perhaps the author would have corrected had he lived to see the publication of his book, He was a person of much observation and many opportunities for preserving anecdotes of the period about which he writes, having spent a great part of his life in Washington among the public men of his time. His judgment of them is not masterly, nor always impartial, and his style is by no means faultless ; but he has made an entertaining and a valuable book.
If Govinda Samanta8isa novel.it is apparently based on facts that have come under its author’s immediate notice, so that the book is really valuable as a picture of life. This is, to be sure, what every work of fiction tries to be, but in this case we have merely a biography of a Bengal peasant, told without any pretense of the embellishment of romance. This is not on the face a very warm introduction of a book, but we think that any one who takes it up will find it entertaining. It is a book that can be read, very much as Defoe’s less famous novels can be, from curiosity rather than from interest in the people. The author throws more light on the ways, habits, superstitions, religions belief, social laws, troubles, and rare joys of the innocent Bengal peasant than could twenty blue-books, or any number of encyclopædias. Such standard authorities leave the shell about every subject of which they treat; they tell us no more what is the real life of, to take this example, the peasants of Bengal, than a book of military tactics does of the feelings of a soldier on going into battle. If this picture is a fair one, it would be hard to find more innocent inhabitants of the globe than this simple peasantry, and certainly the marks of truth in the narrative are abundant. The book takes one man and gives a full account of the incidents of his life and that of the members of his family. There is no fine writing in it, no exaggerated appeal to the feelings, but it is a touching history, and one told with gratifying simplicity. The author shows faint touches of what carried too far would be pedantry, but which as it is may be called full appreciation of the advantages of our civilization, especially so far as English literature is concerned. But the book is not marred by this. We have no hesitation in recommending it.
— It is a question whether what are known as religious books constitute a greater or less proportion of all the books published than formerly. There was a time, in New England at least, —as the spare book-shelves in many an old country-house testify, — when a rather respectable class read religious books only. Reading was consecrated, perhaps it would be more correct to say confiscated, for the benefit of what was technically called the soul; removed out of the realm of pleasure into the shady regions of self-mortifying duty. It was a state of things unfavorable to culture, but perhaps not more so than the exclusive perusal of novels which prevails in so many quarters at present. It remains true, however, that books of a certain religious bearing are still more widely interesting, more popular, really, than any others; and any book which professes to give a fresh view, and especially a simpler solution, of the tangled problems of life and duty (even though it be, like Ecee Homo, for example, a hard book to read) is sure of its welcome and of a very general and more or less intelligent perusal. The book which fulfills its promises in this regard exercises a great influence, quite independently of literary merit, or even, one may say, in spite of it. The book which disappoints them is at best a lost venture, save as it finds its vagrant way to some mind of similar temper, and experience parallel to the author’s own ; and this is precisely the mind which it will only confirm in its previous prepossessions, not move to any new issues. Such a book is apparently the volume entitled Grace for Grace,9 by the late Rev. William James, of Rochester, New York. The title, although scriptural, smacks rather unpleasantly of cant, but the book, save in occasional forms of speech, as where the author talks of his " secret transactions with Christ,” is not canting. It is simply mystical. It consists of extracts from letters to different friends, but all on the same themes : the indwelling of the spirit of God in man, the annihilation of the human will before the (supposed) divine, the progressive and finally complete detachment of the affections from what were called in the stately and sombre language of old-fashioned divinity “the things of time and sense that perish with the using.” Here is nothing of argumentative theology, nothing, or next to nothing, of practical duty; intense introspection, necessarily, and everywhere great warmth and beauty of expression. One of the strangest facts of psychology, and one whose significance has never yet been courageously and satisfactorily fathomed, is the identity of the mystical and the sensuous temperaments. Accordingly on every page of this truly and ardently pious book we see evidences of a rich and rapturous nature in the author ; of a craving for color, warmth, and splendor, a temper singularly illustrated by his repeated references to the poetrv of Byron, as if it were the highest type. When this kind of sacred voluptuousness accompanies, as it did in the case of Mr. James, a straight and clear course, a pure, happy, and beneficent life, its possessor is of all human creatures the most poignantlv loved and lamented. The gallant and hopeful spirit, and fullness of imaginative faith, with which Mr. James faced the sudden close of his successful earthly career, are very interesting, and remind one of what Sainte-Beuve so finely said of Madame de Duras: “She conceived for suffering, if one may say so, a kind of last, sublime passion.” But when he uses such expressions as these, “ I see plainly that I shall be saved in spite of myself,” “ God’s love is wholly irrespective of our character, or of our love to him,” “For myself I feel that even sin is utterly harmless ; ” then we are required gravely to remember that these transports, this fancied severance of the life of faith from the life of earth, have their very imminent dangers in the direction of character and conduct, and that it has been repeatedly shown possible for a man sincerely to suppose this higher life to be growing and brightening at the very time that he is lost to all sense of common delicacy and dignity in his relations with his fellow-men.
— We have already spoken of the French original, so far as issued, of the Compte de Paris’s work,10 and in calling the attention of the public to it in its English dress we need only repeat the commendation already given the book. The author brings to its preparation experience and careful study his position throughout is that of a judge and not that of an advocate, which is all the more commendable in view of the recentness of the events he describes; compared in this respect with King-lake’s History of the Crimean War, for instance, the superiority of this history is very plain.
This volume includes the first two of the French, bringing the history down to the end of the first winter of the war. The work of translation has been well done, and the whole book has received the editorial supervision of Dr. Coppée, who has corrected some few slight errors.
- The Inn. Album. By ROBERT BROWNING. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1876.↩
- Cartoons. By MARGARET J. PRESTON. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1875.↩
- Familiar Letters of John Adams and his Wife, Abigail Adams, daring the Revolution. With aMemoir of Mrs. Adams. By CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS. New York : Hurd and Houghton ; Cambridge : The Riverside Press. 1876.↩
- Norse Mythology, or the Religion of our Forefathers. Containing all the Myths of the Eddas, Systematized and interpreted. By R. B. ANDERSON, A. M., Professor of the Scandinavian Languages in the University of Wisconsin, Chicago: S C. Griggs & Co. 1875.↩
- Winter Sunshine. By JOHN BURROUGHS, author of Wake Robin. New York : Hurd and Houghton. 1876.↩
- Foot-Notes, or Walking as a Fine Art. By ALFRED BARRON, (Q.) Wallingford, Conn.: Wallingford Printing Company. 1875.↩
- Pretty Miss Bellew. A Tale of Home Life. By THEO. GIFT. New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1875↩
- Public Men and Events, from the Commencement of Mr. Monroe’s Administration, in 1817, to the Close of Mr. Fillmore’s Administration, in 1853. By NATHAN SARGENT. In Two Volumes. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott St Go. 1875.↩
- Govinda Samanta, or the History of a Bengal Ráiyat. By the REV. LAL BEHARI DAY, Chinsurah, Bengal. London : Macmillan & Co. 1874.↩
- Grace for Grace. Letters of Rev. William James. New York : Dodd and Mead. 1874.↩
- History of the Civil War in America, By the COMTE DE PATHS. Translated, with the approval of the author, by Louis P. TASISTRO. Edited by HENRY COPPÉE, LL. D. Volume I. Philadelphia: Jos. H Coates & Co. 1875.↩