MR. LEIGHTON, we understand, had his drama1 all stereotyped and ready for publication before the subject of Mr. Tennyson’s Harold was known. The coincidence is an odd one, and inevitably leads to a comparison of the two tragedies; but though Mr. Leighton must suffer, and would doubtless expect to suffer, by the comparison, we are not sure that the simultaneous publication is any disadvantage to him. On the contrary, it gains for his work a serious cousideration which writers making their first appearance in literary drama can seldom secure in this country. Mr. Leighton’s play is the work of a sympathetic student of history and a self-possessed, modest lover of poetry, rather than of a strongly creative mind. Neither does it contain any of those lines and phrases which in Mr. Tennyson’s tragedy recall (however fleetingly) the warmly receptive quality of the laureate’s genius, his power of picturing things with a stroke. The, tremendous fateful power of Harold’s falsehood in Mr. Tennyson’s presentation throws into unfavorable contrast the cursoriness with which Mr. Leighton touches it. The whole situation is too minutely mapped out in this American treatment of the theme : the English author’s touch has the breadth of a different and a native familiarity. But in two or three points Mr. Leighton has, we think, decided more wisely than his famous fellow-dramatist. Harold’s motive for going to Normandy, as here given,—namely, the wish to bring back to his mother the younger son Wulfnoth or Wolnoth, Duke William’s hostage, — is better than the mere whim of going “to hawk and hunt” in Flanders, assigned by Mr. Tennyson. So, too, King Edward’s objection to his absence is more strongly brought out in The Sons of Godwin. Mr. Tennyson leaves Edith’s grief at the thought of giving up Harold to be imagined. Mr. Leighton, though he is not very trenchant in his representation, and fails through excess of rhetoric over feeling, at least tries to give us that emotion. And finally, the American author takes us on to the fields of York and Hastings, while the English poet keeps all the battling just beyond the edge of his page, where we can not see it. On the other hand, Sir. Leighton falls into the great error of leaving Aldwyth out of the play : Harold is advised to marry her, and an allusion shortly afterward shows that he has taken the advice ; but that is all that we hear about this important event. The choice of Archbishop Aldred as the source of intrigue, instead of Aldwyth, is not good. It diverts too much attention to a person in whom we have no interest. And this dispersion of interest, together with the use of long speeches and soliloquies, is the great defect of the work.
— Whatever may be the historical value of the sagas of the North,2 no one will deny that from a literary point of view they are eminently worthy of study. They are the clear and strong utterances of a warmblooded and clear-sighted race, which measured the world fearlessly by its own standard ; they deal with large primitive passions which we, amid the refinements of a later civilization, have lost the power to sympathize with, though not the power to comprehend. Hence the wild tragic force which faces us everywhere in these Northern romances. It was the time when the individual in his relation to society was supreme, when the individual was strong, and society as yet crudely organized and therefore weak. The very first chapters of the Saga of Thorstein Viking’s Son give striking instances of this. First the brothers Vifil and Vesete woo King Alf’s daughters, and when refused carry them off by force ; then the berserk Harek challenges King Ring of Sweden to fight with him, and if he is conquered to surrender to him Ids kingdom and his daughter Hunvor. The king is old and dares not accept the challenge ; and the princess in her distress sends a messenger to the outlaw Vifil, whose son Viking fights in single combat with the berserk and slays him. Occurrences like these abound in all the earlier sagas. Passion, bare and unadorned, be it wrath, avarice, or sensuality, is a sufficient motive for any action, and a motive which society was forced to recognize; and where hostile passions clash, strength is the only arbiter.
It is plain that in an age which was so poorly provided with legal and moral restraints, individual traits, both good and bad, must have become almost grotesquely emphasized. In primitive man the purely animal passions are those which are apt to assert themselves the most strongly; and the resemblance to this or that animal lay near enough to suggest the thought of mental if not physical kinship (and even instances of the latter occur in the sagas) and the frequent adoption of animal names. Among the Norsemen, as among most savage races, names like Bear (Björn), Wolf (Ulf), Fox (Rav), etc., are kept alive by long ancestral tradition, and are met with even at the present day.
Where mental characteristics were so pronounced, the drawing of character naturally became a very simple process; and it is refreshing to note with what bold distinctness the sagaman paints not only his heroes but even the more subordinate actors. They are all drawn as it were en profile, or rather cut like large silhouettes that stand forth with a grim clearness of outline against the pale hectic horizon. Therefore, while reading a saga one is never in danger of misplacing his sympathies, even though the author is strictly impartial and never steps out of his rôle to approve or condemn. In the tale of Thorstein Viking’s Son, for instance, the history of Njorfe’s and Viking’s friendship in good and evil days is related with a singular simplicity and pathos which appeal to the heart as no comment or exhortation in the first person could ever have done.
As a literary performance the Saga of Thorstein is not equal to Njola and Gisli the Outlaw; but they differ so widely in scope and character that it is hardly fair to compare them. The wars between the sons of Viking and the sons of Njorfe arc full of fine and stirring incidents, and the element of supernaturalism, which here and there blends with the stern realism of the tale, instead of interrupting its progress gives it rather an added charm. The story-teller is evidently so fully convinced of the truth of all he relates that no one will have the heart to quarrel with his methods and still less to cast doubt upon his voracity.
The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold is a continuation of Thorstein Viking’s Son’s saga, and both are here very properly bound in the same volume. The beauty of the former saga, which Tegnér has interpreted in his wondrously melodious and full-sounding verse, has been recognized among nearly all European nations, and in England and Germany it has become almost a fashion for literary dilettanti to win their spurs by some novel maltreatment of Tegnér’s great poem. The question has seldom been raised whether the Swedish poet represented the saga age faithfully when he made the noble Fridthjof a romantic lover of the Minnesinger type, and endowed him with an emotional volubility wholly foreign to the stern and silent race from which he sprang. If, as Mr. G. W. Cox thinks, Fridthjof is a solar myth, it is of very little consequence whether the qualities with which Tegnér invested him are Greek, or Norse, or German. But as we cannot help clinging to a vague hope that he has actually lived, we are profoundly grateful to Professor Anderson for placing the original legend and Tegnér’s version of it side by side in the present volume, and thereby giving every reader who will take the trouble the opportunity of making up his mind as to the historical identity of the hero in his ancient and his modern costume. That Tegnér has produced a great and noble poem we and all the world will admit, but we venture to suggest that it might have been even greater if it had adhered more closely to historical truth.
Professor Stephens’s version of Fridthjof’s saga we have never been able to admire, although it ts tolerably free from blunders and very faithful to the text; but it is too distinctly the work of a well-meaning and painstaking philologist; the divine afflatus is lacking.
The translation of the Icelandic prose saga by Professor Anderson and Mr. Jón Bjarnason is uniformly good, and is performed with a linguistic discrimination and taste which, considering the difficulty of the task, are worthy of high praise. We notice that they have followed closely in the footsteps of Dr. Dasent and William Morris as regards the adoption of archaic phrases, but for all that their hook is a much more readable one than, for instance, The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs which Morris and Magnusson have contrived to render into a language remoter from the comprehension of modern readers than that of the original text. The introduction is free from all extraneous matter, and furnishes (what few introductions do furnish) a clew to the proper interpretation of the work. We earnestly hope that the present volume may he merely a forerunner of a long series of similar translations done by equally competent men. If the great sagas of the North were generally known among us, they could hardly fail to produce a healthful influence upon the future of American literature. At all events such has been the result in other lands. In Germany they have produced Wagner’s Nibelungen Ring (the text of which was taken from the Volsunga saga), in Denmark they brought forth Oehlenschläger, in Norway a Björnson, and in Sweden a Tegnér.
— The popular suspense as to Mr. Bret Harte seems now in a fair way of meeting with relief. A doubtful sort of quietus was provided in Gabriel Conroy, which forced many of the romancer’s admirers to think that he had sunk his prospects in a sort of “ Smith’s pocket” of exhausted fiction-matter. But Mr. Harte’s latest publication3 will give his readers the very different calm of satisfied expectation. Thankful Blossom is beyond question a captivating, spirited, and well-told story. The author, as it seems to us, has never done a better piece of writing in its kind than the opening description of a freezing April evening. It is peculiarly one of his gifts to call our attention first to some matter of this sort, seemingly immaterial in itself, and presently by his ingenious handling to convince us that the narrative could not possibly have been so well taken up in any other way. He begins here with the mud of the morning’s thaw stiffened “into a rigid record of that day’s wayfaring on the Baskingridge road,” over which the American army had been moving; the setting of the scenery which follows, and the preparatory pause when “with the coming-on of night came too an icy silence that seemed to stiffen and arrest, the very wind,” are singularly good; and we ar,e thus brought with perfect precision to the horseman whose approach is marked by the cracking of the freshly formed ice in the road. Then, how the military horseman alights near the Blossom farm, and the suggestions of a tender tryst, the suspense, and the rising moon that lifted herself over the hills and looked at him, “ blushing a little as if the appointment were her own,” — all this is brought in with much niceness. We speak of it because this element in Mr. Harte’s writing is not half enough prized, and because, moreover, the fitness and logical succession of these first pages are characteristic of the present tale throughout. It is a no less conscientious than delightful piece of work The character of Thankful, sparkling, mobile, is given with charming lightness and freshness; and her unformed, changeable phase has just the elusiveness of a dew-drop, which trembles as a thing of the moment only among the leaves of a rose. All the other persons are well conceived, and are sketched in Mr. Harte’s best style of forcible reserve. A critic, we observe, has attempted to mildew the incidental picture of Martha Washington by likening it to Thackeray’s Rachel Esmond; but for this we find no justification; one cannot say how, with the limitations of person and period, Mr. Harte could have made his Lady Washington different, without injury. And if we speak of Thackeray it must ho said frankly that Mr. Harte has treated Washington far more profoundly and to better purpose than the author of The Virginians, although upon a canvas so much smaller than the English novelist’s. But the sensible reader, who is not obliged to write a notice of this pretty romance, will not feel called upon to bring a thing so entirely itself into competition with what is wholly something else; and critics not injured by their craft may honestly congratulate Mr. Harte on having now proved that he knows how to work with other than Californian ore. The brief compass of the tale and its larger merit contrasted with the author’s much inferior and more bulky novel will, we suppose, bring up the old question whether Mr. Harte’s inspirations are not shaped with special reference to the short story.
— If contrast is all that is needed, the third 4 and fourth5 volumes in the No Name Series make each other successful. Thcv have in themselves, however, qualities that render them individually good. Is That All, a story laid in an American country town, is very slight, and though the situation is fresh it is not made the most of. In Kismet, on the other hand, the situation, if we leave out the scenery is far from unhackneyed, and is made rather too much of: the story, we mean, drags in spite of the really clever, entertaining conversation. But the authoress (?) of Kismet has a singularly forcible gift of stamping her male persons with characteristics of their own, albeit Livingston is a fade creature whose ennui might naturally proceed from his having been captured and made to parade himself under the showmanship of a long succession of novelists. The men in Is That All are very unsatisfactory, excepting Colonel Pryor; and the whole affair suffers from the pale intellectual light under which it is shown. Yet there is a singular keenness of observation and a neatness in the writing of Is That All, no less than in some of the characterization, which is very praiseworthy and it is success enough for one venture in fiction to have penciled the ladies and gentlemen here depicted with so unerring a refinement. But penciling is the best word we can give to the art of the book, which to Kismet is as a hard-lined sketch to a painting. There is much more life in Kismet, and if its emotion is not very stupendous it is certainly interesting. We might carry our antitheses farther, but are content with pointing out that both novels have many of the little ingenuities of action and conversation which feminine writers sometimes deploy without too much consciousness, and that both give grounds for hoping that light, agreeable, and well - executed American, novels may become more plenty than they have been.
— The Messrs. Roberts' anonymous series flowers out very freshly in its fifth volume. This hook6 is full of spring and summer coloring, apt to the approaching •season on the eve of which it appears, and it drops from the press with an inspiring click as of the first base-ball that flies from the bat, announcing the end of winter. It is, in fine, a bright, attractive story of base-ball matches and matches of a more gentle sort, agreeably peppered with villainy in small quantities, so as to sustain the relish. But there is so much clever observation of character, such charming description of nature, such excellent humor heightened by refinement, that the book — dealing with a popular American theme hitherto untouched — is a notable triumph of current story-writing. Miss Milton, Dick Softy, Grandhurst, and old Snevel are capitally drawn, and the author has managed his plot very prettily. The style, though good, is somewhat too detached, and in spots shows inexperience.
— Mr. Morris’s Norse epic has come upon us quietly. While attention is clamorously invited to inferior and ephemeral works, and discussion is rife over much which is hardly worth the reading, a great poem of almost solitary beauty, profound, complete, intensely interesting and significant by virtue of its subject to all who have a trace of Scandinavia in their speech and lineage, arises upon the world of letters with all the familiar mystery of a new day. Sigurd, the Volsung, is the second great English epic of our generation (let us pause and reflect how rich we are), and it ranks after Tennyson’s Arthuriad in order of time only. It fully equals that monumental work in the force and pathos of the story told, while it surpasses it in unity and continuity of interest, and may fairly divide with the Idyls of the King the suffrages of the reading world on the question of poetical form.
The story of Sigurd is founded upon, and indeed closely follows, the Völsunga saga, the Icelandic prose form of the Niebelungen Tied. It is a subject which has long haunted Mr. Morris’s imagination. In 1870 he published in connection with Eiríkr Magnússon, translator of the Legends of Iceland, a literal prose version of the saga, accompanied by metrical versions of some of the lays of the elder Edda on which that in its turn is supposed to have been founded some time in the prolific twelfth century. In his brief preface to this prose translation, Mr. Morris speaks of the Völsunga saga as “the most complete and dramatic form of the great epic of the North . . . that story which should bo to all our race what the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks, — to all our race first, and afterwards, when the change of the world has made our race nothing more than a name of what has been, — a story, too, —then should it be to those that come after us no less than the Tale of Troy has been to us.” And in the fourth volume of the Earthly Paradise, in his introduction to the Fostering of Aslaug, the poet makes affectionate allusion to the fascination exercised over him by the whole mighty drama of which Aslaug’s story is but a doubtful episode, and to his dream of one day giving it a fuller illustration: —
Of Sigurd who the dragon slew
Upon the murder-wasted heath ;
And how Love led him unto Death Through strange, wild ways of joy and pain.
Then such a story should ye gain,
If I could tell it all aright,
As well might win you some delight
From out the wofullest of days.
But now have I no heart to raise
That mighty sorrow laid asleep,
That love so sweet, so strong, so deep,
That as ye hear the wonder told,
In those few, strenuous words of old,
The whole world seems to rend apart
When heart is torn away from heart.
But the world lives still, and to-day
The green Rhine wendeth on its way
Over the unseen golden curse
That drew its lords from worse to worse
Till that last dawn in Atli’s hall
When the red flame flared overa ll,
Lighting the leaden, sunless sea.”
Certainly, if the resolute work of genius in many departments of art could effect the ascendancy of any body of legend over the heart of a race, the great Niebelungen tragedy must have won largely on our affections during the last few years; and Mr. Morris has now accomplished more in this direction than all his predecessors. The Icelandic saga is especially superior to the Germanic lay in its presentation of the character of Brynhild, to which it gives added splendor and symmetry, while rendering it intensely and most movingly human. And the Brynhild of Mr. Morris’s Sigurd rises by the unearthly grandeur of her traits and mystery of her sufferings, and by the inviolate purity of her passion, a whole heaven above the most illustrious heroine whether of Greek story or of romance.
The poem has a singular equality of beauty ; and, noble as the opening passage is, there is hardly even a transient falling away from the level of it, until the last word of the fateful tale is told.
Dukes were the door-wards there and the roofs were thatched with gold ;
Earls were the wrights that wrought it, and silver-nailed were its doors ;
Earls’ wives were its weaving-women, queens’ daughters strewed its floors ;
And the masters of its song-craft were the mightiest men that cast
The sails of the storm of battle adown the bickering blast.
There dwelt men merry-hearted, and in hope exceeding great
Met the good days and the evil, as they went the ways of fate ;
There the gods were unforgotten, yea, whiles they walked with men,
Though e’eu in that world’s beginning rose a murmur now and again,
Of the midward time and the fading, and the last of the latter days,
And the entering in of the terror, and the death of the Peoples’ Praise.
Thus was the dwelling of Volsung, the King of the Midworld’s Mark,
As a rose in the winter season, a candle in the dark,” etc.
King Volsung was the grandfather of that Sigurd whom the poet calls the Peoples’ Praise. Sigmund, the father of the hero, was the last of ten sons, the nine of whom, together with their royal old father, were treacherously slain by Siggeir, king of the Goths, who had married their only sister, “ the snow-white Signy.” Sigmund escaped and took refuge in the woods, where Signy ministered to him for a season. The story of these two is in itself exceedingly thrilling, and we can with difficulty pass it by without quotation, but it is kept in due subordination to the yet more sublime and memorable tale of Sigurd, who was the posthumous child of Sigmund by a late marriage with Hiordis, the daughter of Eylimi, the king of the Isles. The account of the fostering of Sigurd includes the comparatively familiar tale of the mighty smith Regin, the king of the Dwarfs, who forged for Sigurd out of the fragments of Sigmund’s glaive his immortal sword, the Wrath: —
The Sunderer, the Deliverer, the torch of days to be.”
Regin gave Sigurd instruction in all manner of magic lore and told him, in the course of that fore-ordained tuition, the mystical story of his own ancient but now nearly accomplished life : —
As men-folk count the years ; and I taught them to reap and to sow,
And a famous man I became : but that generation died,
And they said that Frey had taught them, and a god my name did hide.
Then I taught them the craft of metals, and the sailing of the sea,
And the taming of the horse-kind, and the yokebeasts’ husbandry,
And the building up of houses ; and that race of man went by,
And they said that Thor had taught them, and a smithying carle was I.
And their speech grew into music of measured time and due,
And they smote the harp to my bidding, and the land grew soft and sweet;
But ere the grass of their grave-mounds rose up above my feet,
It was Bragi had made them sweet-mouthed, and I was the wandering scald ;
Yet green did my cunning flourish by whatso name I was called,
And I grew the master of masters. Think thou how strange it is
That the sword in the hands of a stripling shall one day end all this !”
For Sigurd, incited by Regin, slew Fafnir, the brother of Regin, who in the guise of a serpent guarded upon the Glittering Heath the renowned Treasure-Horde, which brought doom sooner or later to all who possessed it. Aud he slew Regin also, when the treachery of the latter was manifest, and bound the fateful Horde upon his divine steed, Greyfell, and fared forth to the land of the Niblungs, or Niebelungen. But he halted upon his way, on the height of Hindfell, and at the crisis of the story ; for there he found the armed maiden, Brynhild, sleeping, and awoke her because the hour was come. We may live and read long before we meet with poetry more noble in thought, more celestially sweet and satisfying in form, than the pages which describe the meeting and mutual recognition of these immortal lovers. The “ wise redes ” of Brynhild to Sigurd before their parting, the counsel which she gave him, and which she deprecated while giving with so divine a humility aud courtesy as but the echo of his own unformulated wisdom, have been done into English more than once. We give a few random extracts : —
“ Be wise and cherish thine hope in the freshness of the days,
And scatter its seed from thine hand in the field of the peoples’ praise.
Then fair shall it fall in the furrow, and some the earth shall speed,
And the sons of men shall marvel at the, blossom of the deed;
But some the earth shall speed not; nay, rather the wind of heaven
Shall waft it away from thy longing — and a gift to the gods thou hast given,
And a tree for the roof and a wall In the house of the hope that shall be,
Though it seemeth our very sorrow, and the grief of thee and me.
Wilt thou do the deed and repent it ? Thou hadst better never been horn !
Wilt thou do the deed and exalt it ? Then thy fame she It be outworn !
Thou shalt do the deed and abide it, and sit on thy throne on high,
And look on to-day aud to-morrow as those who never die.
Love thou the gods, and withstand them, lest thy fame should fail in the end
And thou be but their thrall and their bondsman, who wert boru for their very friend;
For few things from the gods are hidden, and the hearts of men they know,
And hole that none rejoiceth to quail and, crouch alow.
I have spoken the word, beloved, to thy matchless glory and worth; ,
But thy heart to my heart hath been speaking, though my tongue hath Set it forth,
For I am she that loveth, and I know what thou wouldst teach
From the heart of thine unlearned wisdom, and I needs must speak thy speech,”
They then swore vows of eternal fidelity, vows which were broken, as we know, because the two fell victims to a cruel snare. Almost every reader is familiar with the outline of that heart-rending story, and we will not anticipate the interest of the few who are not so, by recounting it here.
After all, quotation, however copious, is vain, as every worthy reader will acknowledge when he turns the last page of the poem, and feels for a moment as if the whole earth were made void by its ending. We have tried to select those passages which best show how deeply Mr. Morris has entered into that “ dark and true and tender ” heart of the North, which the world, after ages passed in the worship of Greek ideals, is only just beginning to fathom.
It remains to say a few words about the peculiarities of Mr. Morris’s manner and the measure which he has so happily adopted for this his greatest work. It is natural, first of all, to compare the latter with the metre of his translation of the Æneid, his last long poem, and it is very remarkable that a verse which is so nearly the quantitative equivalent of the fourteen-syllabled measure chosen by the poet for his translation should be as distinguished for its wayward and unwearying melody as the latter was for a perfectly mechanical and intensely disagreeable sing-song. Our disappointment and exasperation with Æneids — for we had thought Mr. Morris the one man on earth fit to make a perfect English translation of Virgil — are yet too recent to be mentioned with due critical calmness; but in return he has now, as it seems to us, fixed forever the most appropriate form of rhymed verse for an English epic. A hexameter composed like this, of iambic and anapestic feet with a constant variety of relative arrangement and a fluctuating cæsura, has many of the qualities which render the Latin hexameter most delightful; and we would like well, in our solemn dubiety about English hexameters, to see a translation into the measure of Sigurd both of the Georgics and the Æneid, as scholarly as Mr. Morris’s own and as musical as this might he. The foundation of the verse is of course that of the original German Niebelungen, of which Carlyle wrote so charmingly when the Lied first came into fashion. “A strange charm lies in these old tones, where in gay, dancing melodies the sternest tidings are sung to us; and deep floods of sadness and strife play lightly in little curling billows, like seas in summer. It is as a meek smile, in whose still, thoughtful depths a whole infinitude of patience and love and heroic strength he revealed.” But Mr. Morris has rounded and enriched the metre of the lay by the much more liberal employment of anapests, a foot which he had shown himself capable of managing with peculiar grace in Love is Enough. The nearest approach to the effect of this finished and beautified measure has been made by Mr. Swinburne in some of his choruses, and particularly in that very famous one from Atalanta in Calydon, —
There came to the making of man,” etc.
which is indeed precisely similar, except that two lines are made of one.
Concerning Mr. Morris’s unsparing rejection of Latin words and his free employment of archaic expressions, it need only be said that these peculiarities are so exactly suitable to the character of his present work as to blend with its faultless general harmony and he hardly noticeable in it.
— Mr. Van Laun is a writer who deserves the thanks of the public for the good service he has done the cause of letters by his excellent translation of Taine’s History of English Literature,7 as well as by his faithful rendering of Molière ; and now, in writing his history of French literature, he fills what lias always been an awkward void in the book shelves of those who were unfamiliar with the French and German languages, Mr. Van Laun, it need hardly he said, is an ardent follower of Taine, and in this book be employs, hand, passibus œquis, his master’s method. He holds that “the history of a literature is the history of a people,” and that “ we might as well say that a plant is classified by a description of its color, form, and texture, as to boast that we had recorded the literature of a nation before connecting it with, and showing its origin from, and dependence upon, that nation’s history.” Neither of these statements will probably he denied by any thoughtful man, and in his theories Mr. Van Laun is satisfactorily sound. This statement does not imply any fault-finding with what he has accomplished; no one can imagine that the adoption of Taine’s theories about the proper way of writing literary history is all that is needed to write a hook that shall equal that Frenchman’s masterpiece; and a man can yet have done his task in even a commendable way, without coming near what, with all its faults, is possibly a work of genius. This is certainly true of books which aim at giving needed information; and although Mr. Van Laun by no means confines himself to the meagre stringing together of facts, he nowhere rises to any great height, any more than he generally falls below the level of respectability. He gives a brief but continuous account of the history of France, or at least of those portions of the history which are of especial bearing in determining an author’s development, so that while the reader’s memory is not swamped under a crowd of superfluous details, it is yet possible for him to see the relations between the different men and their times. It is a bird’s-eye view of early French literature that is to he found in this volume, rather than a complete history ; there are names omitted and subjects passed over lightly which the more serious student will have to look up elsewhere ; and even the celebrated writers have to put up with very few pages. What is the best point in the book is the importance. given to showing the connection between the history and the literature; this is clearly, if briefly, made out to the elucidation of both, but the direct literary exegesis is far from presenting any novelty or especial merit. This requires something more than the management of facts with exactness, and this something more, the perception of an author’s peculiar power together with the ability of explaining it, is lacking. How accurate a notion, for instance, would the reader get of Montaigne from the meagre description Mr. Van Laun gives of him ? Not that what he says of the writings of the great essayist is not, in the main, true enough, but it is completely inadequate. The discussion of his portrait is particularly unsatisfactory, and this is the more unfortunate because, according to Mr. Van Laun, “ the whole character of the man —nay, the whole character of the satirical Frenchman, of whom he was the ante type — is expressed in the portrait.” He goes on to say : “ One might take him, at the first glance, for a French Shakespeare, in gown, fur tippet, and ruffle, with a loose, low-crowned hat to hide the absence of veneration. But a closer attention soon reveals the difference. . . . Perspicacity is here, and clearness, and power of concentration, but little imagination and less constructiveuess. The eyes are small, but they denote shrewdness and reflection,” etc., as if large eyes usually expressed shrewdness. The vague allusions to phrenology are a most alarming symptom in a man whose business really lies with what was inside of the writers’ heads, and not with their bumps of veneration and constructiveness. It is impossible not to think of what short work Montaigne would have made of his critic.
This is perhaps the most marked case of Mr. Van Laun’s incompetence to do more than guide the reader through the rudiments of the study of literature; he is incapable of properly appreciating, or at any rate of profiting by his appreciation of the great writers. So long as he confines himself to those authors who did not rise above mediocrity, he does well enough ; but when he comes to the occasional great man who stands out like a peak in the general level, Mr. Van Laun gets out of breath before he has climbed half high enough to describe all his merits, and slides down into commonplace with the most depressing haste. The conclusion of the whole matter is that this history of French literature is a useful hand-book for the reader and for the student who is not investigating the subject exhaustively, but it is not a book with any new presentation of its subject, or that throws any great light on literature. The succeeding volumes will yet he looked for with interest, because the information which Mr. Van Laun industriously accumulates cannot fail to be of service.
On page 190 he uses “ lays” for “ lies,” and on page 311 is to be found the awkward word “ predeceased,” meaning ” died before.” It is a word that would make even a newspaper reporter grit his teeth.
— Mr. John Dennis has written an interesting book on English Literature.8 It will be noticed that he bears a name already famous in the by no means crowded list of English writers; but two men more unlike than the critic of the last century and the one of the present it would be hard to find. The other Mr. John Dennis had a very savage way of falling on his foes from behind with a tough cudgel, and of trampling on them with heavy shoes. Yet, with all his roughness, the right was often on his side ; and although he spoke of Pope as “ a young, squab, short gentleman whose outward form, though it should be that of a downright monkey, would not differ so much from human shape as his unthinking immaterial part does from human understanding,” — a compliment which, with others of the same sort, such as calling the celebrated poet “ as stupid and as venomous as a hunchbacked toad,” won for him immortality in the Dunciad, — although he did that and worse, some of his comments on Addison’s Cato are by no means devoid of sense. He wrote as he felt about people he did not like ; but now the edge has been taken from what was once called the scalpel of the critic, and he is become as mealy-mouthed as if he were criticising anonymously the books published under his own name. This of course is an exaggeration, and so far as it would seem to decry Mr. Dennis, our contemporary, it does him injustice. What is meant is to call attention to the different methods of literary critics of the present day. Of these, this author is a very good example. Mr. Dennis is not what can he called a brilliant writer, but his book has many claims to attention. He has read well; he knows his authors, and that is something; and he knows other authors well, so that there is a pleasant air of good letters about the volume without aiiv ostentatious display of learning. He has chosen interesting subjects for his essays: Daniel Defoe, Matthew Prior, Southey, Wesley, Pope, The Wartons, Sir Richard Steele, English Lyrical Poetry, English Rural Poetry, and The English Sonnet; but, as is only natural, the same thing that makes the men in this list interesting to him has done the same thing for other writers, so that there is some unavoidable triteness at times in what he says ; but yet this is not a frequent fault. These subjects are all such as can bear a good deal of comment, and Mr. Dennis is never wearisome; even if not astoundingly brilliant, he is never foolish; his opinions he has felt for himself; he does not merely echo the common judgment even when he agrees with it. Indeed, it is a fault with these essays that they end rather suddenly, and the reader who is going on peaceably and pleasantly is stopped by a rather violent jolt, — the effect, probably, of the limits put by the editors of the magazines in which the papers originally appeared.
All the articles on the different men are good, for Mr. Dennis is a sympathetic student of character, but there is something disappointing in that on English lyrical poetry. The subject is too vast for one article, and in endeavoring to do justice to a great number of poems the writer has become commonplace. The stream grew shallow by spreading over a large surface. Before condemning Waller as he does, it would have been fairer to mention his Go, lovely Bose, as well as his Lines to a Girdle, part of which is quoted, though all the rest, with slight exceptions, is justly passed over. The essay on English rural poetry lias very much the same fault. It is also to he regretted that the sonnet did not secure more thorough treatment. In spite of these faultfindings, however, the book is deserving of praise ; it cannot be read without helping to foster a love of good literature, and a man who aids that deserves well of his kind. Those who read him will not have a chance to appropriate startling opinions which they will be able to quote with effect, but they will feel persuaded to give their attention to the men and subjects written about so pleasantly.
— Readers of Dante, who know the excellence of Witte’s edition of the Commedia, will be glad to learn that this acute critic and profound Dante scholar has recently published an edition of the Vita Nuova,9 which does for that book what this editor has already done for the Commedia, in finally determining the text and in discreet choice of notes and illustrations. In both books Witte has completed his task with the utmost thoroughness, and there is no man fix ing better equipped by study and tact for this work. To sing his praises as a commentator is wholly unnecessary ; he is well known as the great authority on Dante ; and now, as a man no longer young, he offers this late fruit of a life of honorable toil to the world, or rather to that small section of the world that studies the great Italian poet.
In the volume before us we find the text settled by the rigidest examination of the various MSS., with foot-notes stating the various readings of different authorities; and with another set of foot-notes conveniently separated from these, which form a concise commentary on the text. The introduction contains a brief account of the Vita Nuova, and is followed by lists of the MSS., and of the different editions, so that both the beginner and the more advanced reader will find here all that they need for the study of this book, which, if for nothing else, would be of importance from the light it throws upon Beatrice’s position in the Commedia. Often, however, it stands on its own merits, and many read it without observing what Mr. Rossetti, noticing the way in which it forebodes the Commedia, calls “ the strain like the first falling murmur which reaches the ear in some remote meadow, and prepares ns to look upon the sea.” It has a charm, as is frequently pointed out, for the young and for lovers; with them it finds its surest audience, and for them especially it remains a classic.
This volume is dedicated to an American, Mr. Charles E. Norton, whose contributions to the Dante literature receive here warm and deserved commendation from the man most capable of judging their real worth. It is to he hoped that Witte will he able to give us his edition of the Convito. It can hardly bring him more honor than he has already won in this field, where exactness and elegance of scholarship are the same thing; where, too, the ardor of the worshipers makes up for the smallness of their number.
FRENCH AND GERMAN.<FNREF>2</FNREF>
It cannot he said that Auerbach has done himself much credit by writing his new stories, the Neue Dorfgeschichten.10 His early sketches of peasant life first brought him into prominence as a writer of fiction, showing as they did his love of nature, part of which was his birthright as a German, —for poetry and science were the main attractions for those of his fellow-countrymen who did not follow the trade of war, — and part of which was his own sensitiveness to uncomplex impressions. They further testified to his skill in observing the rustic character; that is strongly marked in Germany and stood in so vivid contrast to the monotony of the civilized Germans, just as the popular idioms are conciser and more picturesque than the classical written language, that he was attracted to the study of the peasants, whom apparently he had good means of knowing. In all his novels the reader finds the people from the lower walks of life alone possessing clearly marked active traits. In On the Heights, Walpurga, the wet-nurse, heroine of fiction as she is, and artificial as the composition of the story may be, stands out clearly, while the king is a mere abstraction, like a Muse or one of the Graces in old-fashioned poetry. When Auerbach leaves his peasants he is apt to give us certain qualities packed together under one hat rather than a living human being, but the peasants are drawn with a loving and partial hand. In this volume he takes up again the threads of those of the more important short stories, and shows how these last thirty years have wrought a change in the conditions of life in Germany. At the same time, besides this patriotic interest, there is the artistic one of the greatness of the change in Auerbach, who has .lived the time of one generation of men since he left these characters, never expecting, doubtless, to call them back, gray-haired and venerable, to entertain the public once more. What has life taught him ? Does he retain his cliild-like simplicity and sentimental optimism ? Are moonlight and fields of grain and the songs of birds still the unfailing panaceas for disappointment in love, in business, for revolt against injustice, and Similar sufferings ? The answer is a singular one. Time has passed over his head, but his heart is as young as ever. Simplicity he has in a great measure lost, for the ingenuousness of youth can hardly be retained even when Fate grants the old man the fulfillment of his early dreams. So that although the new Germany is triumphant, Auerbach hardly succeeds in looking at life so directly as he once did, and there is an air of effort, at times, where once his pen moved easily. This is especially noticeable in the first of the stories, which is the sequel to the Frau Professorin, wherein was told the tale of the painter who married the peasant girl and then grew tired of her, and began to detest her rustic ways which did not observe the strict laws of conventional etiquette, so that finally they separated. Here we have the painter again, returned to the village where he had met his wife, in order to do penance there for his coldness during the rest of his days. It must be confessed he chose a singular way of paying respect to the memory of his departed spouse, for the very first thing he does is to fall in love with a girl whom she had treated as her own daughter, and he would have married her if he had not fallen down-stairs and killed himself in a brawl with his brother-in-law, who was offended at his fickleness. What the meaning of the story is it is not easy to make out, more especially because an old but artificial friend of the hero is disentombed and utters a serious warning against this second match; but his advice fares no better than advice in real life.
The other stories are more intelligible. The second is a continuation of the Tolpatsch, whose son is the hero. He goes back from America to visit his father’s old home, and also to get a wife from the same place. There is nothing startling in the story ; there are frequent references to the new state of things in Germany, which show Auerbach’s content with the present, but neither this nor the third and last tale, continuing Die Sträflinge, bears the mark of any improvement in the art of story-telling during the last thirty years, The sun shines as bright in these later volumes as in the early ones, and the full moon is as frequent a visitor in one as in the other, and the birds are coming or going and singing as mystically as ever. It is singular that a man can retain for thirty years, or, more accurately, for sixty years, this confidence in his child-like interpretation of nature. The fact would seem to be that Auerbach reached with one step a height where he has since always remained. He has had no subsequent intellectual growth. He brings these attractive peasants on the scene, and so long as they are honest and mystical in their talk, like Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney’s young heroines, and admire sunsets, moonrisings, singing birds, flowers, grain-fields, and trees, they get good husbands, who fall in love with them as suddenly as if they fell on the ice; moreover, these virtuous peasants generally secure husbands or wives who live in much higher social circles. Life, according to this author, is the most goodnatured disposer of events that could be found. Every one gets a prize as surely as every soldier in the French farce gets a decoration. This amiable optimism reminds one of the usual Christmas stories with their ostentatious generosity and kindliness, and certainly it is not the highest art. The doctrine of cheerfulness has its place in fiction, of course, but in this case it labors under the disadvantage of making every reader feel as if he knew a great deal better than the author what was the true way of looking at tilings. After all, these stories are hardly better than fairy tales, for in fact a close observation of the world shows that even those who are fondest of natural scenery and of detecting analogy between it and the moral world have their share of sorrow, suffering, and disappointment, and Auerbach’s interpretation of the whole matter is not satisfactory.
M. Philarète Chasles was by no means so great a man as he thought himself, but yet this volume of his memoirs11 will be found of interest, on account of his descriptions of various people whom he met and of some of the strange scenes of his life. His father was one of those who voted the execution of Louis XVI., and maintained till his dying day a most hitter hatred of kings and their ways, He gave his son a careful education, and, following the advice of Rousseau that every hoy should learn some manual trade, he had him work in a printer’s office when a boy. It was while engaged in this way, at the age of fourteen, that the young Philarète Chasles was one day suddenly, seized and thrown into a real mediæval dungeon for three months. On his release by Chateaubriand’s interposition, he was sent to England to avoid similar interruptions of his studies. This precocious experience taught the lad much, and gave him a chance to learn what was going on outside of France. He saw Coleridge, Bentham, aud other eminent Englishmen, but even these advantages did not profit him as much as they should have done, for the writer of these lines heard, him declare in a lecture on English literature at the Collége de France ten years ago that boxing-day was the day which was universally devoted by Englishmen to le boxe, or prize-fighting. But in this volume he gives very little space to those glib generalities of which he was very fond and which continually brought him into error, and in narration ho does very well. His style is always bad, hut it is less tiresome here than elsewhere. The book labors under the misfortune of being in good part an apology and an explanation of the envious ways of others, yet it is well worth reading. This volume comes down to about 1830, and gives us some particulars about Chateaubriand, Madame Récamier, Gautier, Balzac, and others, which we have not space to transcribe.
— The reader, if a person of active intelligence, has probably already made the swift generalization that no Frenchman is able to see clearly or describe fairly a foreign land, and that Philarète Chasles, who always boasted of his knowledge of England, was as clever as the best. But here is a book about this country which destroys any such hasty conclusion. M. de Molinari has collected in a volume12 the letters he wrote hence to the Journal des Débats between the end of June and the beginning of October of last year, and it would not be easy to name a more accurate report upon this country by any stranger; and his success is the more astonishing in view of his apparently slight knowledge of the language. He was a most busy traveler ; his stay was a brief one, but he did not waste a day; the summer, it will he remembered, was very hot, but, not deterred by his sufferings in Philadelphia and New York, after a brief trip to Niagara and through Canada to Saratoga, he set sail for Charleston, visited also Savannah, Augusta, Atlanta, Mobile, and New Orleans, went up the Mississippi to St. Louis, thence made his way to Chicago and back to New York again through Cincinnati and Philadelphia, starting for home after a hasty visit to Boston. Now a book like De Tocqueville’s cannot be written after a trip of this sort, but it is surprising how good a book can he written when the right man takes the journey, and puts in his letters home only what he sees, without venom and without flattery, and what he hears from trustworthy people. M. de Molinari has a very pleasant humor which keeps him safe from the black pessimism that seizes so many travelers after they have had to put up with discomforts, and he records inconveniences without deducing from them the hopeless degradation of all Americans. For instance, in recounting his stay at one of the huge hotels in Saratoga, after speaking about the dancing he saw, “gentlemen and ladies dancing without gloves,” he goes to his room, No. 1315, and finds his bed not made, and the next morning his boots not blacked. “ Is this an accidental omission or a widespread vengeance of the negro servants upon the white race ? ” And then he laughs at all the splendors of the hotel, with two miles of parlors, ten acres of carpets, etc., and such neglect of duty as he had suffered from. But he is far from confining himself to these trivial, superficial matters, and yet he does not neglect them any more than he does the hot duel between gargling oil and sozodont, which pursued him from one end of our land to another and gave him a good deal of amusement.
He gives considerable space to comments on onr wide-spread habit of bragging, our tremendous conceit, those vices which are so continually denounced by an unwelcome minority. In summing up, after singing the glories of our material successes, he says, “ However, there is another side to this splendid medal. While devoting their unequaled energy, perhaps too exclusively, to creating the material of civilization, the Americans have neglected or have given only cool attention to those arts and sciences which have for their object the cultivation of man and the wise government of society. American literature is excessively poor, and especially during the last few years has produced very few works of science or of imagination which deserve to be mentioned. The fine arts have only begun to be cultivated; excellent pianos are made in the United States, but no artists tire found there. The material of instruction is beyond reproach ; the schools are large, well warmed and ventilated, the desks and chairs of the scholars are of the best sort, but the courses of instruction are simply copied from ours, and the only noteworthy improvement in late years is the teaching of Greek to girls. . . . The increase of private schools along-side of the free public schools does not prove that the public instruction in the United States deserves absolutely all the extravagant eulogy given them in the platforms of the political parties and in public speeches.” A more serious evil, he goes on to say, is the indifference of the public to the proper management of politics. He enumerates our sufferings from professional politicians who have the elections almost entirely in their own hands. “ Every American, black or white, is au elector, and all important offices are filled by election. Only, the elections are made by the politicians and for themselves; and such is the power of their organization that the mass of voters in their hands is like a flock of sheep in the hands of their shepherd. It is necessary to vote for the candidates whom they chose in their conventions, or to lose one’s vote.”
He shows how excessively our money is squandered by those who assume to take charge of it, and concludes thus: “ The schooling the Americans are making at their own expense merely proves, in my opinion, that republican institutions admit corruption like everything else in this world ; perhaps, too, that absolute democracy is not the last word of the wisdom of nations. Nevertheless I shall not go so far, and from the singular sight I saw I shall simply draw two conclusions which seem to be of a kind that may he accepted by moderate men of all parties: first, that it will not be sufficient for us to go to election meetings, disguised as troubadours or Turks, in order to improve seriously our politicians; secondly, that if there is much to admire and even imitate in the United States, there is also something to be neglected.”
Those who object to this author’s strictures will find plenty of amusing descriptions of the different cities he visited. We regret we have not space to quote some of the things he said about Boston, which was one of the last places he visited. He certainly gives in a few pages some of the more striking traits of the city.
Chase and Hall, Cincinnati: The Problem of Problems, and its Various Solutions; or, Atheism, Darwinism, and Theism, fly Clark Braden.
Edmouston and Douglas, Edinburgh : Oils and Water Colors. By William Renton.
Eighth Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners. January, 1877.
Estes and Lauriat, Boston : Half - Hour Recreations in Natural History. Part 12. Mental Powers of Insects. By A. S. Packard, Jr.
History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois. By John Carroll Power. Assisted by Mrs. S. A. Power. Under the Auspices of the Old Settlers’ Society.
Henry Holt & Co., New York ; Philosophical Discussions. By Chauncy Wright. With a Biographical Sketch of the Author by Charles Eliot Norton. — Leisure Hour Series. The Convicts and their Children. By Berthold Auerbach. Translated by Charles T. Brooks. — The Heritage of Laugdale. ByMrs. Alexander.
Hurd and Houghton, New York : Biographical and Historical Essays. By Thomas De Quincey.
J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia: Life in South Africa. By Lady Barker.
Longmans, Green, & Co., London : A Thousand Miles up the Nile. By Amelia B. Edwards. With upwards of Seventy Illustrations, engraved by G. Pearson after Finished Drawings executed on the Spot by the Author.
Lovell, Adam, Wesson, & Co., New York : A Yacht Voyage. Letters from High Latitudes. Being Some Account of a Voyage in 1856, in the Schooner Yacht Foam, to Iceland, Jan Mayen, and Spitsbergen. By Lord Dufferin, Governor General of the Dominion of Canada. — The Splendid Advantages of being a Woman, and Other Erratic Essays. By Charles J. Dunphie.— The Shadow of the Sword. By Robert Buchanan.
Jas. R. Osgood & Co., Boston : Poems of Places. Edited by Henry W. Longfellow. France. Vols. I., II. —The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association during the First Century of the United States of America. By George Washington Warren.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York : Modern Materialism in its Relations to Religion and Theology. By James Martineau, LL. D. With an Introduction by Henry W. Bellows, D. D. — The Childhood of the English Nation; or, the Beginnings of English History. By Ella S. Armitage.— Sir Roger De Coverley. Consisting of the Papers relating to Sir Roger which w ere originally published in The Spectator. With an Introductory Essay by John Habberton.— The Jukes. A Study in Crime. Pauperism, Disease, and Heredity, By R. L. Dugdale. With an Introduction by Elisha Harris, M. D.
Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., New York : Michael Strogoff, the Courier of the Czar. By Jules Verne, Translated by W. H. G. Kingston. With Ninety Full-Page Illustrations. — An Introduction to Political Economy. By Arthur Latham Perry, LL. D.
Second Annual Report of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
A. Williams & Co., Boston : The Life and Industrial Labors of William Wheelwright in South America. By J. R. Albéreti, late Minister of the Argentine Republic to France and England. With an Introduction by the Hon. Caleb Cushing.
Edwin A. Wilson, Springfield, Ill.: Second Coming of Christ. By James H. Brookes.
- The Sons of Godwin. A Tragedy. By WILLIAM LEIGHTON, JR. Philadelphia.: J. B. Lippmcott & Co. 1877.↩
- Viking Tales of the North. The Sagas of ThorStein Viking’s Son, and Fridthjof the Bold. Translated from the Icelandic by ROSMUS B. ANDERSON, A. M., Professor of the Scandinavian Languages in the" University of Wisconsin, etc., and JÓN BJARNASON. Also Tegnér’s Fridthjof’s Saga. Translated into English by GEORGE STEPHENS. Chi cago: S. C. Griggs & Co. London: Trübner & Co 1877.↩
- Thankful Blossom. A Romance of the Jerseys, 1779. By BRET HARTE. Illustrated. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. 1877.↩
- No Name Series Is That All. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1876.↩
- No Name Series. Kismet. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1877.↩
- No Name Series. The Great Match, and Other Matches. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1877.↩
- The Story of Sigurd, the Volsung, and the Fallof the Niblungs. By WILLIAM MORRIS. Boston: Roberta Brothers. 1877.↩
- History of French Literature. By HENRI VAN LAUN. Vol. I. From its Origin to the Renaissance. Now York : G. p. Putnam’s Sons, 1876.↩
- Studies in English Literature. By JOHN DENNIS. London: Edward Stanford. 1876.↩
- La Vita Nuova di Dante Allighieri, Ricoretta, coll’ ajuto di testi a penni ed illustrata da CARLO WITTE. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1876.↩
- All books mentioned under this head are to be had at Schoenhof and Moeller’s, 40 Winter St., Boston, Mass.↩
- Nach Dreissig Jahren. Neue Dorfgeschichten. Von BERTHOLD AUERBACH. 3 vols. Stuttgart. 1876↩
- Œuvres de Philarète Chasles. Memoires. Tome Premier. Paris: Charpentier. 1876.↩
- Lettres sur les États-Unis et le Canada. Addressees au Journal des Débats à l'Occasion de l’Exposition Universelle de Philadelphie, par M. G. de MOLINARI, Membre Correspondent de l' Iustitut, Paris : Hachette. 1876.↩