IT is upwards of twelve years since Mr. Austin published The Human Tragedy.1 It was withdrawn from circulation some time ago, with a view to presenting it again “ recast and completed,” as the author tells us in one of those discursive prefaces of which, he is so fond, and since then he has, as it were, suspended the public verdict by references to its reappearance, as if no fair or final judgment of his powers could anticipate that event. It is about three years since this announcement was first made, and it has been frequently repeated; last year formally, on the title-page of The Tower of Babel, a new work by the same hand, which stated that The Human Tragedy would appear in the autumn of 1875. Thus far, however, the publishing lists have said nothing about it as come or coming. Meanwhile, in view of the catalogue before us,—all, except The Season, subsequent to The Human Tragedy,—no one can be charged with haste who forms an opinion upon them. It is easy, moreover, to see how Madonna’s Child and Rome or Death will be made to fit into The Human Tragedy, so that we do not feel ourselves guilty of injustice in turning back to the original edition to include that in our general review. The first stanza is as follows: —
In this decrepit, money-ridden, crass age,
Although the best of them can scarce atone to me
For the discomforts of a seasick passage,
Now that the world’s grand sights and sounds
have grown to me
Less sweet than in a younger and more rash age ;
The one when there I hold in least abhorrence
Is ex-grand-ducal, Arno-girdled Florence.”
Most people would require that the rest of the poem should be extraordinarily fine to make amends for such a beginning. The remainder is not equally bad, possibly this is the worst; but there is nothing actually to redeem it. The rather grandiose name points expectation towards sorrows of universal or at least common familiarity, those sorrows whose poignancy is intensified by the sense of the inevitable ; but we have, instead, the history of a flirtation which verges on the heroine’s seduction before her marriage and accomplishes it afterwards, — a story fortunately not of everybody’s experience. The tone is frankly licentious, although there is plenty of declamation against the debasing effects of business and the professions; against profligate idleness there is none, whatever tacit reprobation we may infer. This being the plot, filled in with the hero’s minor adventures, and a specimen of the verse having been given, it remains only to mention the inexpressible vulgarity and cheap smartness of the performance. One is reminded of Byron, and of De Musset in his Byronic period, but it is like seeing some low Leporello in Don Juan’s cast-off clothes. Whatever merit the poem possesses is absolutely lost in the disgust it excites. There is an arrogance throughout which is at once ludicrous and exasperating. The above sample of Mr. Austin’s verse sufficiently exhibits his dexterity, but he devotes a page and a half of the second canto to enlarging on his mastery of Pegasus, in metaphors which irresistibly recall the dissertations of some cockneys on their horsemanship. This conceit and the air of a man à homes fortunes which he assumes combine to produce an odious and offensive style of writing.
But this is not the author’s only work ; he has published two satires, The Season and The Golden Age. A poet of the present day who appropriates the scourge of the satirist before he has won his laurels shows great self-sufficiency as to both moral and intellectual qualifications. He might be left alone, however, to the enjoyment of his self-esteem, but that these productions have been highly praised both in England and by the Revue des Deux Mondes, on whose staff Mr. Austin has an enthusiastic admirer, M. Theodore Bentzon, — the pseudonym, we have heard, and repeat it with due respect, of a female contributor. This makes it worth while to examine his pretensions. He cunningly forestalls criticism, and keeps up a running commentary on his own verses, by means of prefaces and foot-notes, a little after the fashion of the stage directions by which M. Feuillet endeavors to elucidate the unutterable climaxes of his dramas. By this means every poet may be his own critic, but the arrangement, however convenient, is inadmissible, not because it robs us of our function, but because an author so well aware of his own defects should correct them in the original text and not at the bottom of the page. Mr. Austin makes use of this mode of proceeding to sneer at possible objections and defy his censors in advance, and the tone of these remarks is ineffably absurd, like a school-boy’s attempts to be sardonic. As to the verses themselves, the matter and measure recall the satirists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; those are good models, and many of Mr. Austin’s lines have energy and vigor; his lash sometimes whistles as it falls. But other passages remind one of the more ponderous and less pointed irony of the late Lord Lytton’s New Timon. Like most people who find fault with the present, he has no particular moment in the past to point to as his ideal; he is not happy as the laudator temporis acti when he cries, —
A Nelson’s flag, a Churchill’s flashing blade,
Debased to menials of rapacious trade.”
Those who within the brief space of twenty years have witnessed the abolition of slavery in America, the emancipation of the Russian serfs, the fall of the temporal power, and the Overthrow of the Second Empire, not to speak of the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the righting of many another long-standing wrong, cannot feel that their generation has been wholly ignoble and degenerate, notwithstanding actual evils against which Mr. Austin’s denouncing voice is but one of a vast chorus. It is, on the whole, a cheap form of scorn and satire which attacks such well-abused evils as the adulteration of food, bribery, baby-farming, infanticide, and the Prince of Wales. The sewing-girl’s sufferings have been already sung, and in a far more moving strain, in the Song of a Shirt; the poet’s wish has been often and better expressed before, from Horace to Rogers, and mock-heroics sounded with more magniloquence by Pope; but the same presumption which leads Mr. Austin to sneer at Tennyson and Longfellow, in a way as unbecoming as it is undeserved, enables him to strut unabashed in the footsteps of such noble predecessors.
Nevertheless, it is with a much greater respect for his ability than when we threw down The Human Tragedy that we close the satires and open Madonna’s Child and Rome or Death, two poems which came out in quick succession, and which, with another still unwritten, are to complete The Human Tragedy. The impression left by the first is of trite and hackneyed treatment of a commonplace subject, sparsely sprinkled with lines and couplets of some beauty. The plot is not original; verse, prose, and real life have shown us graceful vestals who pass their lives in bringing flowers to deck empty sanctuaries, beguiled from their pastime by interesting unbelievers, while sometimes heavenly love proves victorious over earthly, and a broken heart is laid on the altar as a final offering. The first point which strikes us is an absence of imagination and fancy ; there are long descriptions of sea and land, sun and storm, night and day, minute as a catalogue but with nothing poetical or pictorial in them, nothing which calls up an image or wakes an emotion. There are pretty bits such as this, describing a flowering branch shaken over a brook: —
Dappling the dark stream with a milk-white track;”
but not a stanza worth quoting entire, unless it be this picture of the unvisited shrine dressed with flowers : —
Within, was sweet and fragrant as the clove ;
Gold-dappled bees were humming everywhere,
Fancying Madonna’s shrine a honeyed grove ;
And overhead, fluttered by coming care,
A little bird flew to and fro, and strove
To find some niche secure from savage rude,
Where it might build its nest and rear its brood.
Faint yellow butterflies flickered, gayly dight,
Whose shifting shadows to the gaze did show
Like golden flaws within the spotless white.
But for the rest, around, above, below,
There was no breath, no stir, no sound, no sight;
It was as quiet as could quiet be,
And all the place seemed lapped in vacancy.”
There is nothing in this to prepare one for the spirited opening of Rome or Death, which bursts upon us like the bugles of a cavalry charge. Mr. Austin always ranges higher when he reaches Italy, and this poem is all of Italy. It is the story of Garibaldi’s unfortunate campaign of October, 1867, in which, the author informs us, he took part. It is really a little epic, full of poetic and martial inspiration, with the clangor of battle resounding through it. The measure is against it, Mr. Austin having chosen the ottava rima ; but from the muster of the volunteers through the advance on Rome, the success at Monte Rotondo, and the defeat at Mentone, the impetus carries the verse along without pause or slackening, hurrying us with it until we stop breathless, at the end, with a sense of throbbing pulses and tightening muscles. The narrative rushes through sixty stanzas, many of which, though singly fine, lose half their power by being separated from the rest. Not the finest, but some which best bear isolating, are those in which Garibaldi posts his little force : —
High, leavened at the thought of combat nigh,
Far off they saw, as when a ground-mist grows,
Or distant copse shows feathery to the eye
When first the early-budding sallow blows,
About the walls a haze ambiguous lie,
Which, when it once had shape and substanceta'en,
Rolled itself out and crept along the plain.
And glitter, as when tips of Orient rays
Glint on the ripples of a rolling stream,
Until it glowed, one scintillating blaze,
Flickering and flashing in each morning beam.
And then they knew it was no vaporous haze,
But foe come forth, bayonet, blade, and gun
Shining and shimmering in the dancing sun.
Along the heights and broken slopes he spread
The little cohorts of his clustered band.
Some in the shrunken streamlet’s stony bed
He showed to crouch, and others bade to stand
Behind the waving ridge’s sheltering head,
And watch, with eye alert and firelock low,
To deal dark death on tho presumptuous foe.
Cover he found in vineyards densely green.
As with the wand of conjuring Mars, he changed
To panoply of war their peaceful screen,
From all sweet pristine purposes estranged.
Terraced and sloped to form the fruitful scene
Of happy toil, behold them frowning fort
And cruel jungle for man’s tigerish sport.
Glistened among its shifting, colored sprays,
He dotted children of the mountain-meads,
Who mark the chamois with unerring gaze
On track that only to the snow-line leads ;
Whilst others in the cut-down corn and maize,
Cut but unstacked, he bade in ambush wait,
Patient as vengeance, pitiless as fate,”
Lines of nervous vigor run like strong tendons through the verse : —
And suckled by a she-wolf
There are, besides, some beautiful, tranquil pictures. Mr. Austin’s old defects are still to be found, especially the inveterate tendency to commonplace, but the whole is so inspiriting and full of passion that they pass almost unnoticed. The worst fault is the introduction of a sort of double lovestory, which is altogether out of place, destroying the unity and hampering the action. There is nothing in modern English poetry comparable to Rome or Death except Macaulay’s Lays, of which we are here occasionally reminded ; but even those stirring ballads are not so rousing, so kindling, as this, and although the author of Horatius and Ivry may have a distinction which Mr. Austin has not, he has not more fire, and has nowhere made so prolonged an effort as to relate a whole campaign.
The immeasurable superiority of this over Mr. Austin’s previous productions led us to hope that he had found his wings, and that the world had a new poet. We heard the title of his next book, The Tower of Babel, with dismay and misgiving, and read it with deep disappointment. It is a drama in blank verse, of which the dramatis personœ are the dwellers in the plain of Shinar, B. c. 2300. The main interest lies in the love of Afrael, a spirit, for Noema, wife of Aarn, chief builder of the tower. Now Moore’s Loves of the Angels, and Lamartine’s Chute d’un Ange, which are both based on the same idea, are neither of them masterpieces, but they are superior to the Tower of Babel, even in giving a more elevated conception and treatment of the subject. The loves of Afrael and Noema are merely a celestial flirtation; the incident of his coming to take her to fly on a night when her husband is to be absent is too much like a lively lady of our own days going to drive on the sly. Mr. Austin, in his preface, states that he has “ not concerned himself to eschew what are commonly called anachronisms,” and in this he has done wisely if he wished his work to have any life ; but certainly the tone of common life is unsuitable to a theme dignified to us as all scriptural subjects are by a traditional sacredness. Mr. Austin has either not felt this, or been unable to keep up the pitch ; he struggles between bombast and bathos, between highflown sentiment and gross familiarity. The language and conduct of the angelic visitant constantly remind one of Sir Harry or Lady Bab, in High Life below Stairs, where the servants play at being great gentlefolk. Afrael preaches free love to Noema, but maternal instinct keeps her straight; when the violent death of Aran, at the destruction of the tower, leaves her a widow, she weds Afrael, who forsakes his home in the planet Venus, doffs his wings, settles on earth, and makes a good husband and stepfather, while awaiting his turn as pater fa-milias. The group who build the tower, or oppose its building, represent modern personages or party-types, the drama being a satire within an allegory, of which one is forced to find the application for one’s self. But there is too much expenditure of mind when it requires as much to read a work as to write it.
Such is the groundwork of this singular structure ; it contains some fine passages and powerful lines, not much beauty, but a good deal of prettiness, which is out of place; yet let us give one or two instances :
“ Fledged with lightness, flit from star to star; ”
“ Exact as echo to a calling voice, . thou respondest ere I could complete my song to call thee forth.”
But the chief strength lies in a certain stringent pathos in Noema’s speeches : —
When Love immortal dies ! When two fair beings,
Who were the morning in each other’s eyes,
Fade into irrecoverable night,
And hear each other through the darkness call,
But never find each other’s faces more ! ”
I have a husband, a contracted lord,
Who drags my body and service after him,
As in the patient camel’s desert march
The fore foot draws the hinder.”
The lines in which she refuses to leave her child for her spirit lover vibrate as if a woman had written them : —
My ears would listen for his little shout,
My lips grow drouthy for his April kiss,
And all my heart feel empty, because drained
Of the sweet, freshening waters which he struck
Straight from this arid desert rock, when first
I felt him struggling feebly in my womb.”
Although the scene of the destruction of the tower is extravagant and preposterous, there is something striking and spirited in the idea of its overthrow by a tremendous storm, and the downfall of the defiant hosts upon its battlements.
The Interludes are minor poems, for the most part in the vein of what fifty years ago was called the cockney school; a few remind one of some of Mr. Tennyson’s least successful early poems, wherein he tried to be sprightly. So that, in spite of Mr. Austin’s contemptuous review of his fellowsingers in his essay entitled The Poetry of the Present, he recalls almost every poet of the half-century, and always to his own disadvantage.
After trying to do full justice to his talent, in summing up his characteristics we should say that if Messrs. Swinburne and Rossetti had not accustomed the public to indecency, his coarseness would not be tolerated. For his vulgarity one or two specimens will suffice: —
Or roguish chin, for letting it be smacked ? ”
Notwithstanding the high lyrical quality he shows now and then, especially in Rome or Death, there is something essentially unpoetic in his tone of thought, which betrays itself in ignoble and prosaic comparisons, in a perpetual tendency to commonplace, in expressions so unlucky as to be ludicrous, as when he describes Garibaldi’s volunteers rushing like streams from their mountainhomes, and adds, “ or in a flight of stares,” etc., which at first strikes one as a misprint, but is seen by the context to mean starlings. Since the long-past days when we were set to learn “ An Austrian army awfully arrayed,” we have never Seen alliteration’s artful aid so resorted to as in many of Mr. Austin’s lines: —
His rhythm is often defective, although in his later poems it runs freer and more smoothly than in earlier ones. But the ear winces under rhymes like “quiet, riot,” “ well, terrible,” “ Hymen, Timon,” “ Madonna, honor.” There is a great show of meaning and significance in Mr. Austin’s verses, even when he does not wield the censor’s scourge; but it is not easy to make out their moral. Perhaps it is condensed in a short poem called The Two Visions, in which he describes a marble city, a pleasant place where he sees “ a noble-looking maiden ” lay down Dante and go to the wash-tub, where a poet makes verses and chops wood, where there are no churches, but coöperative stores, the marriage service is done away with, and the dead are disposed of by cremation. This is the golden Jerusalem of communism, and it may well be Mr. Austin’s celestial country, for, as we have heard it expounded, in that millennium skilled labor will be at no premium; indeed, nobody will be permitted to do anything better than anybody else, including, no doubt, writing poetry.
— The best essays in Mr. Fiske’s new volume2 are the two reviews of the recent work of Messrs. Tait and Stewart, and the excellent paper on Athenian and American Life. The others follow these in a variety of interest, merit, and date. There are critical notices, more or less extended, of Taine’s Philosophy of Art, Longfellow’s Dante, Motley’s United Netherlands, Kenan’s Jesus, Paine’s Oratorio of St, Peter, Draper’s Conflict of Science and Religion, etc., some of which were written within a year or two, but most of which appeared seven or eight years ago. Such as were meant for newspaper reviews of the books mentioned have the characteristics of that sort of writing. They are of the best of their kind, but they are of their kind; and they give the collection a somewhat scrappy effect; here and there they remain quite needlessly marred by expressions of partisan political feeling, not very pertinent to their subjects at any time, and now of no value whatever.
But the book has a unity and a charm quite superior to all these slight defects, in the clearness, of the thought and the beauty of such a style as was perhaps never before brought to the illustration of the topics with which Mr. Fiske habitually deals. There is something better still in the admirable spirit of his writing ; it is of all writing of its sort, probably, the most humane. Certainly, scientific denial of religious belief could not be less offensive, more tenderly considerate ; and Mr. Fiske has his reward for this in the leniency, almost cordiality, with which his rejection of creeds is received by those to whom those creeds are dear. One hears, for example, something like exultation over his spare admission, at the close of his review of The Unseen Universe, that, in favorable atmospheric and social conditions, man may not be wholly unconscious of an immortal spirit, or may not altogether absurdly indulge the hope that he has something of the sort about his person. Chopin and June weather were not always necessary to this conviction; but they are now at least highly desirable; with the mercury at the freezing point and a benumbed organ-grinder under the window, one were of the brutes that perish. To tell the truth, we do not so much value Mr. Fiske’s confession of faith as we like the fashion in which he shows the error of Messrs. Tait and Stewart in supposing that their Unseen Universe of quintessentiallv fine material is less material than ours, or that it is a more fitting habitation for undying spirits. If the spirit lives after death, it lives in a spiritual world, Mr. Fiske rightly argues, and that he refuses to grope
through ether in search of some undiscovered country that we may hereafter materially colonize ought to count much more in his favor with believers than his susceptibility to blue skies and Beethoven. The first of these two essays is a magnificently solid, succinct, and lucid statement of the nebular theory of the origin and destiny of the universe, and is perhaps the author’s best literary expression. It is a spacious style, in which the necessarily many-syllabled diction moves with a large, unhindered freedom, and presents the thoughts and ideas with an unsurpassed distinctness and orderliness. Through all you feel the perfect sincerity of the writer, his generous conception of his own office, and his steadfast devotion to his convictions of truth. He gives the preference to science where science can prove; where science merely asserts, he declines to affirm, and he indicates its limitations as an answer and a consolation in the frankest terms. These characteristics mark all his criticism, on literary as well as metaphysical subjects, and give value to his most occasional work. The review of Longfellow’s Dante is less good than several others could have written, and the papers on the United Netherlands and the Bengal Famine seem not to have the strongest reasons for re-publication ; but such essays as those on The Unseen World and that on Athenian and American Life we could not have had but for the wide culture, the comprehensive thought, and the delightful manner of this author. He is one of the American writers of whom we may be glad even at his second-best, as in some of these papers. At his best he has already achieved a place as wholly his own as it is eminent.
— According to reports in the daily papers there are soon to be established in Japan colleges for instruction in the fine arts, and if this be true, it is only fair to suppose that this swift adoption of the customs of other nations will bring to an untimely end all that is characteristic in Japanese art. Its decay has already been clearly marked; the last dozen years, while they have seen very rich stores of the oldest and best works of that country brought into the American and European market, have also led to the deterioration of the former methods of working in order to supply a very great demand, and to the manufacture of poor material to satisfy defective taste. Under these circumstances we cannot help being grateful to a writer who gives us a careful study of so remarkable and so evanescent a form of beauty as is the art of this singular country.
In the first place, it is but just to state that the author is well prepared for the discussion of the subject he has set himself, not only by his own study of the best Japanese work, but also by his familiarity with the art of other countries, which he has made the subject of previous books. This volume is justly entitled A Glimpse at the Art of Japan,3 for it could hardly be more without a very thorough study of Japanese history, political and social, and of the language and literature of the country, such as lies beyond the reach of any foreigner. Mr. Jarves gives a brief synopsis of Japanese history and mythology, and bestows a few words on Japanese literature ; all of these pages have their bearing on the main subject of the book, for the art of a country is, so to speak, only one limb of a complicated body, and for its proper comprehension it demands full knowledge of all the rest. He has noticed many of the qualities which go to the making of the Japanese mind, and combine to form that concinnity which is the especial charm of everything Japanese. Those distinctive traits which fascinate the rest of the world, Mr. Jarves points out with a most hearty enthusiasm, and this enthusiasm is perhaps the best thing in the book. Exact definition of artistic excellence will always baffle a writer, who might almost as well undertake to paint a symphony as to tell his readers exactly what is good in any work of art, and why it is good. Hence the unfortunate writer is reduced to seeking to express his meaning or rather his feeling by all sorts of comparisons, and the ardor he feels is communicated by sympathy to the reader. In that way Mr. Jarves’s enthusiasm is efficient ; he enjoys Japanese art thoroughly, he distinguishes the good from the bad, and he communicates a good deal of information about this singular people, whom he really loves. This is what is needed in a book of this sort, which makes no pretense of concerning itself with the statistics of art, but rather preaches its attractiveness. The author shows us the simplicity underlying all the life of this people, their absolute lack of hypocrisy, which enables them to look at everything in the heavens above and on the earth beneath directly, without awe, diffidence, or prejudice. This is perhaps their most marked trait; it distinguishes them from other races, who all have more or less of reverence, while some, as, for instance, the Anglo-Saxon, are not devoid of hypocrisy. The Japanese directness of view is the cause of their grace, as well as the absence of grandeur in their work. They express what they see clearly, and not vague, silent feelings. The Germans may be called their antipodes, and the Trench are nearest to them in their love of truth and beauty. In one or two respects they might be called a nation of Voltaires, if it were not that a general expression like that, which tries to condense all the truth into a single line, only succeeds in leaving out a vast amount of what is necessary for a complete definition. In this case what would be omitted is the great delicacy of the Japanese, their wonderful, unmorbid sensitiveness to beauty and pathos. In their literature there are little poems so full of meaning that to find their like we have to go back to the Greek anthology, to the few fragments of Sappho, or to Omar Khayyam; there is certainly nothing of this sort in Voltaire.
While Mr. Jarves points out intelligently and entertainingly what is good in Japanese art, he is hardly just to the rest of the world, and he is very fond of giving raps over the shoulders of the Japanese at those races which consider themselves more civilized. At times this grows wearisome. The illustrations, thirty in number, which decorate the book are well chosen, but the method of reproducing them, photolithography, has proved unsatisfactory, and on looking at some of them one feels as if blindness were suddenly attacking him, so dim and faint are the outlines. With others this does not hold true. Many of our readers, however, will have Japanese books of their own and will not need to be embarrassed by this defect. The book is well printed,
— It is perhaps a fair conjecture that this novel4 is a first attempt on the part of its author, and if this is the case it would seem to give promise of a fair amount of success, to judge from the good qualities this volume contains. There are certain merits in Davault’s Mills which, while they do not place this novel in the highest class, yet bring it into the category of those which deserve kind treatment on the part of even the most truculent critic. The author’s style is agreeable and free from faults, if we except the local peculiarity of using will and would where exacter care requires shall and should; but apart from this trifling fault, the book is well written. There is a pleasant humor in the bits of description, the conversations are full, life-like, and generally of service in carrying on the story. The characters, too, arc distinctly drawn, although their number is great; too great, perhaps, for the concentration of the reader’s interest, which runs the risk of being divided, among a multitude of claimants. The plot of the novel is not remarkably new, and it would have been none the worse for some condensation. At times it seems as if the course of true love ran too smoothly for the pleasure of the reader, who is taught by his experience to expect more harrowing of his soul than he will find here. But however this may he, Davault’s Mills, although far from being a sensational story, is a pleasing record of simple events told with good taste, and the occasional languidness of the narration is more than compensated by the pleasing tone the writer unfailingly maintains. We hope Mr. Jones will give us another novel in which he will keep what is good in this, and add a more soul-stirring plot.
— Mr. Mills’s enthusiastic book on Buddhism5 shows what a fascination that religion has for a certain number of Europeans and Americans, both those who have visited countries where it still holds sway, and those who have merely read its sacred books and the reports of travelers. It is to this last class alone, apparently, that Mr. Mills belongs. He has evidently read a good deal of the Buddhist literature, and he gives the public, in a brief form, the result of his reading and reflection. All his thought upon the subject is strongly tinged with admiration, and he draws a very rose-colored picture of the virtues of the Buddhists. Doubtless Mr. Mills can quote authorities corroborating his warm praise of the virtues of those who profess this religion, but quite as surely there is another side to the picture; the Buddhist monasteries in Japan, for instance, were not always filled with persons void of all guile. In general, however, he is right; there can be no doubt that Buddhism encourages much of what is noblest in men, and that its influence over
ignorant, half-civilized races, as well as over those higher in the intellectual scale, is one of the most interesting phenomena in religious history. It may be a strange thing to say, but it is perhaps worthy of consideration, that it owes its great success to its very simple logical character. (1.) There is pain, sorrow in the world. (2.) This comes of the desires, of lack, and of sin. (3.) This pain may cease by Nirvâna. (4.) There is a way that leads thither. Upon these statements is built the whole theory of Buddhism. It is plain to every one that, to use other words, man is prone to sin. As to what is meant by Nirvâna, commentators differ. Before taking up that point, however, it should be said that Buddha accepted as part of his religion the belief, widespread among his followers, in the transmigration of the soul. The good were rewarded, not in an eternal life, but in a subsequent transmigration ; the wicked were punished in the same way. There was an endless chain of existences, the separate links, so to speak, varying in happiness according to the deserts of the being in question. Every one kept a debtor and creditor account, not with heaven nor with any deity, but with the law presiding over the universe. The lusts and appetites produced crime, crime sure punishment in this life or another; piety and virtue brought their reward. What the Buddhist tried to attain was Nirvâna. Now, what was this Nirvâna ? Mr. Mills claims that it was not annihilation. “ No man,” he says, “ who laid such emphasis on the royal virtues, who was himself so devoted, with a lover’s enthusiasm, to humanity, who had a heart so tender and warm, could be absorbed and lost in nihilism. This belongs to renunciants, to withdrawn dreamy speculators, and not to great doers.” This doctrine, he says, has been considered “ fit only for madmen.” But the arguments in defense of this abused interpretation are deserving the attention of the sane. In the first place, if there is any weight in the argument from authority, respectful consideration is demanded for a theory upheld by Burnout, Stanislas Julien, Bishop Bigandet (who says, however, “ The question ... is philosophically little left open to discussion, though it will probably ever remain without a perfect solution. But the logical inferences from the principles of genuine Buddhism inevitably lead to the dark, cold, and horrifying abyss of annihilation ”), the Rev, Spence Hardy, the Rev. D. J. Gogerly, and Mr. James d’Alwis, who certainly outweigh in knowledge of the subject Max Müller, with whom Mr. Mills agrees. But of course a mere array of distinguished names will not settle any point in dispute in the minds of those who really care for it, and it will be necessary to bring forward more cogent reasons for supposing that Nirvâna meant annihilation. Not only is it so stated in the Buddhistic books, but the force of all the doctrines points to that same opinion. Our aversion to annihilation has nothing to do with the matter ; it is, to be sure, not a view that commends itself to us, but it is the only logical consequence of their belief. It was to them their only escape from the horrors of existence; since everything in life was bad, cessation from life could alone bring relief. We in our day cling to life, but they, on the other hand, saw no way of escape from its dreary round except through this Nirvana. There is no place for a heaven in their cosmogony, and there is no reason to suppose that Buddha ever taught that there was one. There is not one of the sentences quoted by Mr. Mills, page 139, which contradicts this explanation of Nirvâna. It is true that later authorities point towards understanding by Nirvâna some sort of heaven, but the older books do not allow this interpretation.
Mr. Mills’s argument against this view is the à priori one that a man like Buddha could not have held it; perhaps he could not, if he had been horn a European and bred a Christian, but a native of the East, believing in the wretchedness of life and in the transmigration of the soul, is not to be judged wholly from the nineteenth-century point of view.
This modern, Christian interpretation of Buddhism is perhaps the most serious fault to be found with this book. It shows a strong yearning towards the higher side of that religion, but it is all seen through modern glasses, and somewhat darkly. The life of Buddha, with which the book opens, is made up of a number of myths, collected from various sources, and not treated by the most rigid laws of critical analysis. But to find the exact facts of his life would be, if not an impossible task, one certainly' beyond the powers of any writer who has command of only second - hand material. Mr. Mills has collected a good deal of information about Buddha and his religion, and his book states fairly and attractively what is best in them.
— A manual of English literature cannot fail to be of service if it is properly used and too much is not demanded of it. The call for such books will probably be verygreat, so long as it is supposed that it will be possible in time to find one which shall so cunningly condense and arrange the information it contains that there will be no further need of studying those books which make English literature, when one can read through, and if necessary learn by heart, a volume telling all about it. With most books of this sort we have no patience. They give half-page extracts from Paradise Lost to enable the fortunate reader to talk glibly about Milton for the rest of his life, or they burden the memory with bits of petrified criticism, which seem to have been made by the incompetent for the delight of the superficial. As a book of reference, however, or as a guide in studying, a manual like this of Mr. Arnold’s6 may be of great service. He goes over the ground from the earliest beginnings of English literature down to the year 1850 with satisfactory thoroughness. The small size of the book and the number of names that must be mentioned in it naturally tend to crowd out some of the less famous though deserving writers, for whom the curious will have to consult completer works. The first part of the manual is simply descriptive; three hundred and forty pages are devoted to the enumeration of the different authors, with brief but accurate descriptions of their more important writings. The last two hundred pages contain critical matter, consisting of intelligent discussion of the more important works of English literature, with such notes, comments, illustrations, and examples as serve to throw light upon the subjects treated. It is easy to see how this part of the book might attract a studious boy, and incline him to a really thorough reading of the original books, instead of filling him with false pride in the cheap acquisition of dates and trivial information. For, it must be remembered, the only way this book can be of real service to a student is as a guide through literature, which does not take the place of original study, but directs and aids it. For this purpose, and for this alone, the manual deserves favorable mention. The most noticeably curious passage in it is that in which Mr. Arnold disproves the possible assertion that “Peter Pindar” was a sort of English Beaumarchais ; men of straw might be left to combat this statement. It reminds one of our numerous American Popes, and Lambs, and Poston Juniuses, etc., of brief note.
— The American readers of General Burgoyne’s life7 will turn with most interest to those passages which offer an illustration of the events in the war for independence, which serve as a background upon which to write Burgoyne’s generalship. His statesmanship and dramatic powers found no special field for exhibition here, though he tried hard to persuade the ministry at the outbreak of the conflict that his proper place was that of general pacificator in New York, and though he sought to enliven the dullness of the winter of the blockade with his farce to be performed at Faneuil Hall. One turns, therefore, to the account of his part in the siege of Boston, and to the narrative of events attending his descent from Canada and surrender to General Gates at Saratoga, with curiosity to learn if his biographer has produced any letters or papers not hitherto published which can add to the history of the struggle.
Burgoyne accepted with reluctance the post assigned him as one of the three major-generals sent over with the reënforcements for Governor Gage, and seems to have done his best to get back to England again as soon as possible. His judgment upon the conduct of the war strikes us at this date as accurate, and the letters from his pen add fresh evidence to the fatuity of the counsels which controlled the British ministry. He was very proud of his pen, and Governor Gage seems to have regarded him as an excellent ally at a time when his own wits were sorely pressed by the embarrassments of his situation. The somewhat famous proclamation by Governor Gage, of June 12, 1775, excepting Hancock and Adams from amnesty, now proves to have been written by Burgoyne, who had been in Boston only a week or two, and whose literary truculence must have excited the admiration of the common place governor. The correspondence with Washington, also, when complaint was made of the treatment of prisoners by the British, was conducted by Burgoyne, under cover of Gage’s name. But the most notable paper is a letter from Burgoyne to Lord North respecting the correspondence which had passed between himself and General Charles Lee. Lee had written an intemperate letter to his old comrade, with whom he had seen service in Portugal, warning him against the influences which had misled Governor Gage as to the principles, temper, disposition, and force of the colonies. Burgoyne’s reply was conciliatory, and has received considerable praise for its moderation and general civility of tone. He proposed in it that Lee should meet him within the British lines on Boston Neck, both for the sake of friendship and in order that explanations might be made which would tend to lessen the bitter feeling growing up between the two countries. The proposition excited some discussion, and Lee submitted the correspondence to Congress, which declined to permit the interview. So far history had already recorded, but now we have an additional document in this letter of Burgoyne’s to Lord North, which suggests speculation as to what would have been the result had the interview taken place ; for with elaborateness of phrase and in studied detail Burgoyne lays down the series of approaches which he intended against Lee’s honor. He appears to have been a little afraid of the effect which Lee’s expressions of friendship might have on his own reputation. “He served under me in Portugal,” he says, “ and owed me obligations which in the very overflow of his misanthropy he has since constantly acknowledged, and we have usually conversed upon a certain style of friendship. Soon after this gentleman’s arrival in the enemy’s camp, I received the first of the inclosed letters from him. It was my intention to have sent your lordship only extracts, leaving out those virulent apostrophes which stand, like oaths at Billingsgate, for expletives when reason fails ; but finding it was printed in the New York Gazetteer even before I received it, that it has been reprinted in all the American papers, and probably, by the same pains to circulate it, will find its way into the English ones, I send the letter entire, persuaded that the terms applied to your lordship will make about the same impression upon you in point of pain that I found, when he warns me of your offenses towards me, in point of resentment. . . . The great object I proposed to myself in my answer to Lee was to obtain an interview; and had I succeeded I would have cut him short in that paltry jargon of invective alluded to above, and with which the infatuation of the vulgar is supported, and, laying ministers aside, would have pressed upon him, to conviction if possible, the sentiments of the nation at large in support of government.” He then proceeds to unwind the coil with which he had provided himself to entrap Lee in his vanity and avarice, confident that his diplomacy would have resulted in winning Lee over to a dishonorable return to the British service. “ Were he secretly brought over,” he concludes, “ the services he might do are great; and very great, I confess, they ought to be, to atone for his offenses.”
It is not impossible that Burgoyne’s labored scheme for corrupting Lee’s integrity may have been a little more solid after the interview was refused, and he was at liberty to make full use of it in recommending himself to government, but the conception and hypothetical execution are a commentary upon the honor which Burgoyne so frequently took occasion to claim as a fundamental part of his character. He refers in this letter to another letter from Lee which he incloses, but a foot-note adds that it is not forthcoming; he speaks of it as “ perhaps of much more importance,” but the slight reference which he makes to its contents does not intimate anything more than a continuation of the line taken up by Lee in his first letter.
The account of the campaign which resulted in Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga is given with great clearness, both from the statement already published by Burgoyne and from additional letters and documents. The fairness with which the editor of the volume treats the whole subject of the Revolutionary War justifies one in siding with him in the condemnation which he gives to the dilatoriness of Congress in carrying out the terms of the convention of Saratoga. Burgoyne’s character and achievements are impartially and clearly stated in the volume, and the whole temper in which the work is executed deserves praise. Burgoyne was not a great man, but a little more success would have thrown him over upon the side of men about whom history busies itself; his defeat at Saratoga, momentous from its consequences rather than from the magnitude of the action, lay like a cloud upon him during the remainder of his life, and has continued to obscure the ability which he possessed.
FRENCH AND German.8
The fourth volume of Brandes’ lectures on the literature of the nineteenth century 9 is of special value to us, because it treats of those great English poets who made the early part of this century so important to the student and so interesting to the reader. We have already spoken of the first volume of this important work,10 and the second and third, which carry further the investigation of French and German literature, deserve equal praise. But here we have the writer on ground where we can observe him more carefully, where we at least are at home, and have already stored up a good supply of opinions or at any rate of prejudices. We can perhaps come to the discussion of the claims of these rival poets with more coolness than did our forefathers, not from any greater virtue of our own, but simply because we have less at stake.
The poets of whom Brandes treats are Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Scott, Keats, Moore, Landor, Shelley, and Byron. At the beginning he makes the following announcement: “ It is my intention to portray that profound and important tendency in the English literature of the first years of the century, which, breaking free from classical forms and traditions, produces a love of nature which inspires their whole literature, leads from naturalism to radicalism, and rises from a revolt against old-fashioned literary models to a mighty protest against the religious and political reaction, and plants the seed of all the free - thinking ideas and liberal deeds which since that time have marked European culture.” This, it will be noticed, is a wider generalization from the works of these writers than the one commonly taken by critics, who are apt to overlook the connection between different writers in matters of what may be called social principle, and to devote their attention more exclusively to literary matters. There is the same difference between Brandes’ book, which shows the correspondence of ideas in separate countries, and a manual of English literature, that there is between a volume on the science of language and an English grammar. In a word, literary criticism feels the same impulses as every other object of study, — prehistoric antiquities, ancient and modern history, geology, theology even, sociology, and antiquities, — and wheels into line to endure examination from a great many points of view.
The feeling of nationality, according to Brandes awoke, when Napoleon threatened Europe with the prospect of turning it into one huge universal state. What this produced in Germany he has already shown in the second volume of his lectures. In England Wordsworth gave it “ the form of patriotism capable of poetical descriptions,” and Southey, “ a wholly or half official glorification of the royal family and of the national victories, while Scott and Moore appeared as poetical incarnations of the two other kingdoms.” All these poets had in common a strong love of nature. Another important peculiarity which they shared was a keen love of justice. “ Wordsworth inherits this from Milton; with Shelley and Byron it is an innate feeling which they long to have the world share with them. It has place neither in Byron’s great predecessor, Goethe, nor in his richly endowed French successor, De Musset. Neither of these has ever, like him, summoned kings and governments before the throne of justice. Peculiarly English is it that this justice, of which the English dream, is not, like that of Schiller, an à priori idea, but the child of utility.”
It is not with generalities like these, however, that this brilliant author is contented ; after making his statements of what he is going to show and prove, he sets about proving it with the utmost care. He devotes considerable space to each of the above-mentioned poets, giving a tolerably full description of their life and works. He keeps a happy mean, when speaking of Wordsworth, between the ardor of some of his admirers and mere contempt; he points out Wordsworth’s weaker sides without excessive zeal, and he is open to what is fine in his poetry. Coleridge he treats in the same way. Southey he takes next, and he shows that he has done what not every reader can boast of doing, namely, that he has read all of this quickly forgotten poet’s writings. Braudes always has a pleasant vein of humor, and here it crops out clearly in his description of Thalaba. Scott comes next, who is treated with fairness. These words may be quoted : “In this century an author who keeps himself aloof from the whole development of modern culture is swiftly punished. If he has not the power, like Byron, to know by intuition everything which science examines and establishes, his works slip from the hands of cultivated people to be taken up by those who read only for entertainment, or else they are preserved by the cultivated and are bound up for birthday presents for their sons and daughters, and nephews and nieces. This is the fate which Scott has in great measure met with. The author who in the second and third decades of this century ruled the literary market, whose influence extended throughout Europe, who in France had imitators like Mérimée, Hugo, and Dumas (Les Mosquetaires), in Italy a youth like Manzoni, in Germany disciples like Fouqué and Alexis, in Denmark admirers and scholars like Paul Möller, Ingenmnn, and Hauch, has in our day, by the silent but instructive criticism of the times, become the favorite author of boys and girls of fourteen, a poet whom every grown-up person has read, but never reads now.”
Of Keats he speaks with admiration, showing this poet’s wonderful feeling for plastic form. He says that while Wordsworth takes us out into a real flower garden, Keats leads us into a hot-house, filled with warm air, sweet scents, and delicious fruits. Braudes seizes very clearly Keats’s distinguishing traits. Then follows a long account of Moore, disproportionately long in comparison with the faintness of the mark that poet and satirist has left upon English literature. There is a full description of the troubles in Ireland just at the end of the last century, which would of course present more novelty to the original hearers of these lectures, delivered in Copenhagen, than they do to us, but even with allowance made for that, Moore seems to get much more space than he deserves, and more praise than he generally receives from those who speak his language and have passed the age of seventeen.
After Moore comes Landor, whose name would surely not be found in every English book that pretended to go over the same ground as this. “ Coming from Moore to Landor,” he says, “ is like leaving the dancing waves and stepping on the firm ground.” He commends Pericles and Aspasia to the reader, and that fine one of the Imaginary Conversations in which Epicurus, Leontion, and Ternissa are the speakers. He points out how transparent is the veil which hides Landor himself here. Brandes’ comments are throughout very much to the point; he writes of Landor in terms of praise, but without in the least hiding the faults which marred this distinguished man, while on the other hand he says hardly a word about his poetry, which is surely a serious omission.
The last two hundred pages of the book are devoted to Shelley and Byron, who have earned this position by their great influence upon the world at large. In speaking of Shelley, Brandes is really eloquent; he describes with warm feeling the persecution which followed Shelley, and he gives an admirable picture of the attractive side of his character, his kindness, his zealous love of liberty, as well as his intellectual readiness. That Shelley suffered unjustly can hardly be denied now by anyone, but in his answers to his antagonists he gave no sign of an attractive character or gentle temper. His Peter Bell the Third, or CEdipus Tyrannus, when read now seems made up of nothing but virulence. The merely mechanical part of the poetry is dull and uninteresting, and the satire is heavy-handed and, what is bad, wholly unamusing. For the Prometheus, The Cenei, and Shelley’s better work, Brandes has only the warmest praise. The Witch of Atlas, which to many readers presents difficulties in the way of comprehension, he unfolds and interprets without hesitation, and so with the rest. In a word, Brandes sympathizes heartily with Shelley and writes of him as many of his admirers would; he agrees with a large number of readers in setting him high, but, it is also true, he does not discriminate between what is good and what is unworthy of praise.
Byron has not yet won a position of respect ; there are now few who would denounce him as he was denounced in his life-time, but there are still many who would not be prepared to agree with the hearty praise he has won from Brandes. This author brings convincingly the charge of hypocrisy against the British nation, and paints a picture of Byron as a lover of liberty such as would have puzzled those who used to abuse him, and it is confusing even now. In Shelley, Brandes has already seen the hater of tyrants, the poet who has learned to detest conventionality, and who breaks out into violent reactionary outcry against the smooth, easy ways of society. He was a leader who was too far in advance of his followers ; but “Byron was the poet of individuality, unlike any of his predecessors, and as such he was to a marked degree egotistical; his prejudices and vanity could not be eradicated without harm to his nobler traits. Shelley, on the other hand, appears in his ideals; he unfolded himself until he embraced the universe.” Byron lacked that devotion to a lofty, imaginative ideal, but he had the practical sense which made of him a successful leader. He stands, according to Brandes, at the end of the list of revolutionary poets who began with war against the Alexandrine verse and the practice of personification, and who at last revolted against society. That a reaction is beginning in English opinion concerning Byron it would be hard to deny. He was hooted out of court, but now people are working over the former harsh judgment and are treating him with real consideration. An appeal like this by Brandes cannot fail to be of service; but although it is earnest and eloquent, it would seem to be inaccurate because it takes no account of what was one of the prominent traits of Byron, as it has been of two other leading men of this century, Lamartine and Victor Hugo, and that trait is affectation. Now, that Byron was affected, or that Victor Hugo is not wholly without self-consciousness, cannot he made clear to those who think the contrary. Any who, like Mr. Pater, for instance, regard Hugo as a genius akin to Michael Angelo, can never be convinced of the opposite, can of course never feel as if the Trench writer were anything but the sineerest of mortals. And so with Byron ; some people think that besides his egotism, there was a tendency to ungenuine, theatrical posing in his character and conduct which was less worthy of admiration than some other of his qualities. They may be wrong; it may be that the fault lies merely in their interpretation of what he says. But so long as they imagine that they perceive this defect, their enjoyment of Byron’s works will be lessened, and his fame will have to suffer from the suspicion. Many will read his life and feel convinced of the existence of this fault, and all the eloquence of Brandes will not remove the thought of it, and will not keep it from poisoning their enjoyment of Byron’s poetry. Byron doubtless has never received proper treatment from the English, but it may be questioned whether in their endeavor to do him justice and to make up for their previous unfairness they ever go so far as Brandes has here gone. In many ways what he says is admirable; he differs from Taine in giving Manfred only moderate praise, and in setting Cain very high. He gives us full particulars about Byron’s life, without neglecting anything of importance, but with an amusing effort to prove Byron an innocent, much-abused man. A few words of his summing up may not be amiss : “ The naturalism in English intellectual life begins in Wordsworth as rustic love for external nature, as a saving up of impressions of nature, and as kindness towards the dumb beasts, children, peasants, and the meek in heart. It sinks with him into a dull imitation of nature. In Coleridge and still more in Southey it approaches contemporary German romanticism. ... In Scott it deals with history and the peculiarities of different nations, and in vivid colors he paints man as belonging to a certain people, and to a definite time. In Keats . . . it remains neutral between calm contemplation of nature and preaching the gospel of nature and of natural rights. . . . With Landor it stands forth as free, pagan humanity, too proud and too alarming to charm Europe. In Shelley it turns into pantheistic enthusiasm for nature, and poetic radicalism, which rises above all poetic means.” And then comes Byron, singing the song of freedom, and announcing happier days for Europe. Such is Brandes' notion of the literary development of English poetry during the first forty years of the century. However one may be inclined to disagree with him, and there is hardly a page without something to call forth a quarrel, it will be impossible not to be fascinated by his wit and moved by his eloquence. He certainly makes his mark on the literary thought of his time. And when at this late day the English are collecting money for a statue to Byron, which is a sure sign of a change in public opinion, this volume cannot fail to find readers and admirers, though, perhaps, those who best know English literature will not follow him, clever as he is, too closely.
- The Human Tragedy. The Season. Interludes. The Golden Age. Madonna’s Child. Rome or Death. The Tower of Babel, By ALFRED ACS- TIN. Edinburgh and London : William Blackwood and Sons.↩
- The Unseen World and other Essays. By JOHN FISKE, M. A. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1876.↩
- A Glimpse at the Art of Japan, By JAMES JACKSON JARVES, author of Art Studies, Art Idea, etc. With Illustrations. New York : Hurd and Houghton: Cambridge ; The Riverside Press. 1876.↩
- Davault’s Mills. A Novel. By CHARLES HENRY JONES. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1876.↩
- The Indian Saint; or, Buddha and Buddhism, A Sketch, Historical and Critical, By CHARLES D. B. MILLS. Northampton, Mass. : Journal and Free Press Co. 1876.↩
- A Manual of English Literature, Historical and Critical. With an Appendix on English Metres. By THOMAS ARNOLD, M. A., of University College, Oxford. American Edition, revised. Boston: Ginn Brothers. 1876.↩
- Political and Military Episodes in the Latter Half of the Eighteenth Century. Derived from the Life and Correspondence of the Right Hon. John Burgoyne, General, Statesman, Dramatist. By EDWARD BARRINGTON DE FONBLANQUE. With portrait, illustrations, and maps. London: Macmillan & Co. 1876.↩
- All books mentioned under this head are to be had at Schoenhof and Moeller’S, 40 Winter St., Bos. ton, Mass.↩
- Die Hauptströmungen der Literatur des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Vorlesungen gehalten an der Kopenhagener Universität. Von G. BRANDES. Uebersetzt und eingeleitet von ADOLF STRODTMANN. Vierter Band : Der Naturalismus in England. Berlin. Duncker. 1876.↩
- The Atlantic Monthly, 115 (January, 1875).↩