THE bad end to which persons who misbehaved toward Harriet Martineau pretty surely came, whether they wronged, or slighted, or even decidedly disagreed with her, ought to be a warning to any reviewer intending censure of her autobiography.1 Her willful enemies and her erring friends were, by her account, alike subject to very cataclysmal retributions: they fell into bad habits, they suffered public shame, they brought political and social ruin upon themselves; at the best they quarreled with each other. Of this remarkable woman, who ended her days in a rapture of atheism,and who in the closing pages of her autobiography resents the notion that the Almighty may have been privately supplying Christian consolations to her, it was the curious privilege to be as destructive to those who wished or spoke her ill as if she had been a saint. Nevertheless, in spite of the awful warning conveyed by these facts, it is not easy to resist the temptation to pronounce her autobiography a hard-hearted book. When you have made all the explanations and allowances and reservations and exceptions, it seems still that
It is abundantly entertaining. It is full of the most interesting gossip about all sorts of important people and events, and as a study of character it is fascinating. There is Miss Martineau’s character as she saw it: the just person, eccentric, disagreeable if you will, bau devoted to all high objects, singularly free from low motives, emancipated from every superstition, and able to pronounce with disinterestedness and impartiality upon whatever or whomever concerned her; and then there is Miss Martineau’s character as the reader learns to know it, which is not necessarily the same thing. The story of her childhood, with its nervous fears, its unhappy misconceptions, its sickness, and its impending trial through life-long deafness, is very pathetic, and will appeal to every one’s sympathy through those subtilely noted facts of common childish experience which both literature and after-life too generally ignore. One cannot read this part of the book without greater tenderness for the young lives given into the keeping of eareburdened men and women who, oftener from forgetfulness of their own childhood than from indifference, slight their claims upon the utmost kindness and the closest attentiveness; children remaining so long helplessly inarticulate regarding the things which make or unmake their happiness. Harriet Martineau was a morbidly gloomy and sensitive child, brooding over supposed neglect, intensely desirous to he loved and noticed and encouraged ; and in her own family, especially in her mother and sisters, she seems to have found till too late to prevent indelible effects in character little of the compassionate intelligence which she needed. If her representations wrong them, the Martineaus have only her to blame for the impression which the world will certainly have that several of them were unpleasant people, as unwise often as they were unpleasant. By her showing they were opinionated, critical, severe persons. As English Unitarians they had the narrowness along with the sturdy courage and independence of the adherents of every small sect, and they seem to have tranquilly despised most people who did not agree with them. They had no social meanness, yet in after-life, when fame began to overwhelm Miss Martineau with social flattery, her mother, then living with her in London, had so little wisdom as to be angrily jealous of these attentions. Others of her family quarreled with her because, after lying bedridden for five years, she chose to believe that she had been cured by mesmerism. This is the report which Miss Martineau herself gives of her kindred, to whom, nevertheless, she seems to have been devotedly attached and submissive in most things. Doubtless they could give a very different account of themselves and of her; and so doubtless could the other Saint Bartholomews and Marsyases in whom her pages abound. We may hesitate to accept any of these Spagnoletto studies as perfectly faithful portraits; their cruelty discredits not them alone, but the praises of such persons as she calls entirely good and wise. She is in fact another curious instance of the complete divorce in the same person of the intellectual and affeetional qualities; and she seems generally to have judged from her liking rather than liked from her judgment. Perhaps that is as good a way as the other; at any rate it is the way of most women, whether they are writers on political economy or not. In spite of it she was during the active years of her life a force in the world, as men of strong mind and purpose are forces; but it is hard to understand in our day how a brilliant literary and social success should have been achieved by a series of little novelettes illustrating the science of political economy. Yet these tales gave Miss Martineau high standing in the great London world, made her a lion against her will, first won her fame throughout Europe, and then procured her the higher distinction of exclusion from the dominions of despots who had precipitately admired her writings without waiting to see what liberal ideas she might develop. No doubt, she was fortunate in her moment; the principles which site advocated in her tales were those of the wings, then at the pinnacle of social and political eminence, and she triumphed with that party, though never quite trusting or approving it. But however much or little her success was bound up in that of the dominant party, her success was certainly very great, and it was unselfishly achieved. To its brilliancy, its universality, we owe the most interesting chapter of her autobiography, in which, with some preliminary passages on lionism, she records her impressions and recollections of nearly all the famous English men and women of her day. We must send the reader to the book for a due sense of the richness of this record, and also for a sense of the severity of her judgments upon people she disliked or contemned. In one respect, at least, every generous reader’s sympathies must be with her : her literary and social success implied none of the personal degradation which generally goes with it. If the world wanted her, it must take her on her own terms; she would not be lionized, she would not he “ taken up,” she refused to make any of the accustomed sacrifices to snobbishness. How much resolution this needed in a society like that of the English is perhaps beyond our fall appreciation ; but some notion of it may be gained from the opposite example of Thackeray, who, while always railing at snobs, lived and died in the odor of snobbery. Miss Martineau laments this voluntary subjection of the “aristocracy of nature to the aristocracy of accident,” but for herself she could have no shame and no regrets: apparently she met no one but upon the grounds of an absolute social equality. One must thoroughly like in her another principle upon which she acted at this time and always: as her sole defense against scurrilous criticism she steadily refused the acquaintance of such men as assailed her, — of Lockhart for an indecent attack in the Quarterly, of Moore for a low lampoon, of the Sterlings for mendacious articles in the Times. It is a curious comment upon the moral callousness induced by a habit of criticism that none of her outrageous reviewers seemed to think it unmanly to seek her acquaintance; and it is not comfortable to human nature to read the unblushing confession to Miss Martineau of even so amiable a wit as Sydney Smith that the early Edinburgh reviewers were purposely and studiously cruel, and that he and one of his colaborers bad spent hours one night looking over their criticism of a vegetarian who had presumed to write a book, to see if there were not yet some “ chink left in it through which they could inject another drop of verjuice to eat into his bones.” Criticism is still brutal enough, but it is not so bad as this, by a vast advance towards common humanity.
It was from the very height of her success in London that Miss Martineau turned to America, where she spent the greater part of the two years preceding the autumn of 1836. All that relates to this sojourn is of course intensely interesting, but the time is past when it could be very instructive; since Miss Martineau’s day we have learned to be our own severest censors, and many of ns have come to see ourselves as others see us, if not worse. She was indeed one of our most intelligent and liberal critics, and she remained to the day of her death one of our most steadfast friends. At one time, to be sure, about the end of Pierce’s term, she really began to despair of us (as she very well might), and to question whether the founders of the republic had not thrust more greatness upon us than we could bear; but this doubt passed away with the war. It is curious, amidst the storm of abuse with which her book was received by the people who were then supposed to be American critics, to find her fondly recalling American scenes and experiences, and declaring that none of her English friends can compare with such and such of her American friends. She came to us at a time when the first great impulse given to American life and polity was still felt, and when our statesmanship was illustrated by such men as Clay, Calhoun, and Webster. Yet she had the clear eyes to see that the moral and regenerating force was then nascent in a few despised and persecuted people, who believed that slavery should be destroyed because slavery was wholly and indefensibly wrong. She never lacked courage, and she did not hesitate to declare herself an abolitionist. That was a very pitiful and contemptible time for the whole nation, and American society and the American press turned upon the woman they had been idolizing with a rage which remains our wonder and our shame. It is really an incredible spectacle, as we look back upon it: a great people morally standing on their heads and furious with a plain-spoken foreigner who prefers to identify herself morally with the persons among them whom she finds standing on their feet. She likes many of the inverted : they are charming people with a thousand good qualities, and have done her no end of handsome kindnesses; they are cultivated, they are refined, many of them are men of genius; but after all they cannot make black white, nor a he the truth, nor the most atrocious wrong conceivable against humanity a beneficence too sacred to be questioned. This was Miss Martinenu’s position in regard to slavery and its defenders and apologists; and the American people, having now assumed the same position with all the rest of the civilized world, may well hang with shame the heads upon which they formerly stood. The case may he explained, but never can be justified: the Americans of thirty years ago were so corrupted by the fear and favor of slavery, that all our latter disgrace through venal legislation and administrative peculation is comparatively honorable and glorious. At least no one has contended that bribery and place-hunting and self-seeking in politics are right, and we did contend by millions that slavery, the blackest political crime, was right. The demoralization which must follow from such an abominable pretense as this was not more than duly manifest in our insensate treatment of all who were a conscience against it. Miss Martineau was not merely “dropped” by good society, but was almost hooted from our shores by the mob, of which good society was then a part. We need not dwell upon that disgraceful business ; it was as bad as it could be.
In the five years’ sickness by which on her return from America she paid the penalty of overwork, Miss Martineau’s mind began gradually to undergo a change in respect to religion, and she regards herself as having at that time virtually though nut consciously relinquished Unitarianism. Calvinism she felt to he a logical system, but she could not believe it; the only other logical system was in her opinion atheism, which she embraced after a certain time, and in which she rested tranquil for some thirty years and until her death. The greater part of this time she passed at Ambleside, in the Lake district, where she had built a cottage, and where she lived perfectly content, remote from London and all its intellectual and social joys. To this period belong, however, her travels in the East, her visit, to Ireland, her sojourn in Birmingham, and other episodic absences from home. The disease which had imprisoned her for five years in a sick-room at Tynemouth had been declared incurable by the best medical authority, but she recovered from it through mesmerism, and never relaxed her belief in what she had held to be the fact. For this obstinacy she was renounced by some members of her family (including her mother), and persecuted by the enemies of the so-called science which restored her to health. Her account of all this is more entertaining than the story of her growing atheism, which had another odd family consequence : her brother, the Rev. James Martineau, felt it his duty to review her Atkinson Letters—the book in which she denied Christianity — and to denounce his sister for her new opinions. She herself makes only vague and forgiving allusions to this incident; it is in Mrs. Chapman’s Memorials that one gets a distinct statement of the fact.
If her allusions to her brother’s antagonism are forgiving, he alone of all her antagonists is pardoned. All others, of whatever sex or condition, dead or alive, are treated with the unsparing rigor of one who always knew she was right. No poor little country neighborhood nobody, who ever looked away from Miss Martineau at Amhleside, is too obscure to he punished in her pitiless autobiography; on the other hand it must be owned to her honor that no one was too great in letters, society, or politics for her justice. She is a. monumentally unforgiving woman ; but she is no coward and no truckler ; and in reading her life, while you revolt from her hard resentments, you must honor her immense courage. Apparently she exaggerated many of the slights and injuries done her ; at least some of the stories she tells of her persecutions for mesmerism’s sake are too gross for acceptance ; but if her hardness were merely for those whom she believes to have meant her harm, it would not he so bad. It does not stop with them, however. Except the few persons and opinions whom she takes into favor, hardly any one mentioned escapes censure more or less unsparing; and in some cases the censure is narrow-minded and brutal. For example, writing about the year 1850, she thinks it a pity that Mazzini has not been allowed to perish in his hopeless cause; she survived the unification of Italy ten years, but no after-word records her sense of his service to that end or of the injustice of her earlier aspiration in his behalf. Broadly stated, she was incapable of tolerating means and ideas with which she did not agree. This fact must invalidate her praise as well as her censure. Sometimes, indeed, the people she lauds for their greatness and wisdom are allowed to illustrate the contrary by speaking for themselves, as in the case of Mr. Atkinson, who does not approve himself, in his letters given in the autobiography, the sage who was promised.
Upon the whole we think that most readers will leave Miss Martineau’s autobiography with an impression of her extreme narrow-mindedness; narrow-mindedness not being at all a bad thing for the world at large, but a great pity for its victim. It cramps will and opinion into a slender channel, but increases their force and effectiveness ; it is useful in getting the world on, but it is very disagreeable otherwise. We are willing to take it for the good it does us, but we excuse ourselves from liking our benefactor. In Miss Martineau’s case, it often incapacitated her from revising her opinions. Apparently, mesmerism never ceased to be for her the promising science which it ceased to be for everybody else thirty years ago; yet having gone thus far,’she stopped, and would not admit that spiritualism, not more recondite and obscure in its operation, had any claims upon her attention. Her narrow-mindedness, as we have hinted, made her judge everything and every one from herself; and too often by their personal relation to her, though she was eminently unselfish. But this again is only saving that she was a woman. Certainly such charm as her autobiography has is from its intense womanliness; and the sex and its champions may well take courage from the fact that a woman so powerful in the promotion of great public interests was as nervously womanish as the most refined and accomplished lady-invalid who ever shrieked at a mouse. It is both amusing and pathetic to read of her early struggles to get her political economy tales published ; how she toiled till midnight writing them, and then cried till morning over her hard failure to find a publisher for them. In other things she was not womanish, however womanly. She had no personal vanity, and the scorn she heaps upon coquettes of both sexes — especially literary coquettes — is delicious.
She came in mature years to despise much of her early work, and she always recognized how low a rank it must have in imaginative writing; yet she lays down as a fact verified from her own experience that no one could create a plot, but must necessarily draw the design of fiction from actual life. She was indeed not a poet at all, and knew it; yet her self-confidence is so great that she does not hesitate to assume as true of all fiction what is so absurdly untrue of all but one class of it; and her habits of composition— never copying or revising — she pronounces the best. Her book abounds in evidence of her inability to look beyond herself for psychological facts, which curiously contrasts with the generosity and nobility of her sympathies. Every good cause had her good wishes, and if possible her good deeds; her life at Ambleside, where her judgments seemed to grow daily sharper and severer, was full of benevolence to all about her. Delightful as she found her seclusion— she says that she remembers no evening of those which she had so keenly enjoyed during her London life as charming as her quiet evenings at Ambleside — it doubtless did much to narrow and harden her personal judgments ; the autobiography written in that seclusion is infinitely harsher than the earlier London diary (given by Mrs. Chapman in the Memorials) in which she recorded her impressions of people. Yet whenever anything largely or deeply concerning the race appealed to her it met an heroically cordial response ; one of the last great acts of her great life was to take a lion’s share in the movement for the repeal of the atrocious Contagious Diseases act.
Miss Martineau’s autobiography closes many years before her death, which in writing its last pages she constantly expected, and occupies the whole of the first volume and a quarter of the second; the rest is devoted to what Mrs. Chapman calls Memorial'— letters, diaries, conversations, etc. — relating to her. These are arranged in chapters, somewhat too Emersonianly entitled, and prefaced each with an expansive quotation of poetry or philosophy. The effect after the stern simplicity of the autobiography is curious, and one cannot help wishing with all one’s heart that Mrs. Chapman had been a little less Orphic. Her name is associated with the history of the antislavery cause, to which she so nobly lent herself in its hour of need, and it would be neither generous nor just to judge her by these chapters, in which she must almost necessarily write with a fervency which is not favorable to good literature, while it does honor to her loyal friendship and her heart. They are of course interesting and they are not wanting in perception and judgment; but the simple truth is that they are out of taste.
— This volume2 is a translation of seventeen out of twenty-two literarv fragments, ranging in date from 1837 to 1876, but most of them quite recent, collected and given to the world by the great French novelist three years before she passed away. The American edition is prefaced by a reprint of an excellent biographical and critical article which appeared in The New York Tribune at the time of her death ; and the translation, although some what stiff and labored at first, gains in elegance as it goes on, and presents, perhaps, as fair a reflection as we may hope to see in a foreign tongue of the author’s distinguished and inimitable prose.
With two striking exceptions, by much the most interesting fragments in the Impressions et Souvenirs are those in which Madame Dudevant records her feelings — they can hardly be called her views — about the political situation of France from 1871 to 1876. Dejection, humility, patience under deserved chastisement, a sickening apprehension bravely controlled, a trembling hope conscientiously cherished, — this is what we read everywhere between the writer’s always earnest, yet sometimes abrupt and inconsequent lines. Listen to a few sentences taken almost at random : “ They say that I am not suited to the present times ; that I must suffer from the change that has taken place within the last ten years in the progress of ideas. What does not one suffer in the contemplation of reality ? But we should never yield to a fruitless sorrow. Reflection, after laying us low, ought to raise us again. . . . And every joy which is exclusively our own is incomplete. There is no true happiness of a small number. The happiness of all is necessary, as a corollary to our domestic happiness. It is essential, too, for the security of existence. Ah well, — the security of the future ! That future is dark.” “ This was all foreseen. I foresaw it as well as any one else. I beheld the storm rising. I looked on like all others who gave their earnest attention at the evident approach of the cataclysm. Is it any consolation to us when we see the patient writhing that we understand the nature of the disease? No, no; we cannot isolate ourselves, we cannot break the bonds of consanguinity, we cannot curse or despise our race. The people, you say, the people ! That is you and I, beyond denial. There are not two races. The distinction of class only proves the illusiveness of relative inequalities.” . . . “ I do not inquire where are my friends and where my enemies. They remain wherever the storm has thrown them. Those who have deserved my affection, yet cannot see with my eyes, I hold none the less dear. The inconsiderate blame of those who forsake me does not make me consider them my enemies. All friendship unjustly withdrawn remains intact in the heart that has not deserved such an outrage. That heart is above self-love. It can wait for the revival of justice and affection.” . . . “This wounded being, pale and bleeding, which is called France, still holds in its shriveled hands a skirt of the starry coat of the future, whilst thou [Germany] enfoldest thyself in a sullied flag. Past greatness holds no place in the history of man. It is all over with kings who impose upon the people. It is all over with the people imposed upon if they consent to their degradation. This is why we are so ill, and why my heart is broken. It is not with a feeling of contempt that I behold our misery. I am unwilling to believe that this holy country, this cherished nation, whose every chord, harmonious or discordant, I feel vibrate within myself; for whose good qualities, and defects even, I have an affection ; whose responsibilities, good or bad, I consent to accept rather than extricate myself through disdain,— I am unwilling to believe that my country and my nation are death-struck. I feel it in my hours of deep dejection, but I love,— so I live, Frenchmen, let us love one another, or we are lost! Let us ask no one what he was, or what he wished yesterday. Then every one was mistaken. Let us find out what we wish today.”
We have alluded to two chapters in this volume which possess a more personal in terest than the rest. They are the seventh (of the translation), —entitled Spiritual Belief, — and the last. In the former, the writer rises on the night of the first great frost, in the dreary autumn of 1871, kindles a fire and sits down beside it, and looks back steadfastly along the erratic line of her spiritual experience. With a certain lowly and solemn candor she reviews her faultful, tempestuous life, and at the end of her vigil she is at peace. She searches — to use her own figure — for the chain which bound her childhood to her God, and, loosely as it hung, widely as it dragged in after time, she finds it unbroken, feels it drawing still. We will not sever from its connection the nobly devout ascription with which this chapter ends. The seventeenth, entitled Between Two Clouds, describes, as she alone could describe, a winter day in the woods with the son and the grandchildren who loved her so devotedly and made her last days, after all, so simply happy.
There may be those, constitutionally intolerant of what is rather vaguely called the French spirit, who will succeed in reading unmoved Madame Dudevant’s broken lamentations over the agony of France. But it seems impossible that the severest censor of her life and opinions can receive the more intimate confidences of her last book, can follow her searching self-examination, or recognize the wonderful sanity and sweetness of her domestic side, and not catch beside her recent grave the echo of an ancient, but never reversed, and not irrelevant verdict, — quia multum amavit.
— In his two volumes3 Mr. Horne has published a number of the letters of Mrs. Browning, which will be found interesting by the numerous admirers of that lady’s poems, as well as by the student of English literature during this century. The letters are by no means masterpieces of epistolary art; the greater number are written with the most rapid pen and on matters of business, — literary business, it is true, but yet business for all that; while the most interesting ones are those composed entirely or in good part about trilling matters, the news of the day, or things of really general concern. But there are many treating of important questions, while all show well her intelligence shining through her unattractive methods of expression, and her lofty character in its full generosity and quick enthusiasm. The work she was concerned in logetker with Mr. Horne was of various kinds. At one time she was translating Queen Annelida and False Areite and the Complaint of Annelida in the now rare Chaucer Modernized, with Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, and Robert Bell, as well as Mr. Horne, for her fellow-workers ; at another time she was helping Mr. Horne in the composition of his New Spirit of the Age, a series of critical essays on contemporary authors. How much she contributed to this was hitherto not even conjectured. The paper on William Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt was in good part, and that on Walter Savage Landor wholly, written by Miss Barrett, and she was of continual service with regard to others of the men criticised. Her letters at this time are full of suggestions and hints, which are still true to-day and will be for a long time. Here, for instance, are some interesting remarks on Barry Cornwall : “ His lyrical poems are most exquisite, — like an embodied music. In the melodies of words he is learned, and in the causes of tears not uninstructed. . . . His fault is felt only in a continuous reading, when we become aware of a certain Sameness, a one-tonedness, which is not the tone of a trumpet. It is a more effeminate instrument. In my own private opinion, Barry Cornwall has done a good deal with all his genius, and perhaps as a consequence of his genius, to emasculate the poetry of the passing age. To talk of ‘fair things’ when he had to speak of women, and of ‘laughing flowers’ when his business was with a full-blown daisy [dame, or dairymaid] is the fashion of his school. His care has not been to use the most expressive, but the prettiest word. His muse has held her Pandemonium too much in the cavity of his ear. Still, that this arises from a too exquisite sense of beauty as a means as well as an object is evident.” This is good criticism, and there are many passages in the letters of no less importance. We have moreover Mrs. Browning’s part of the correspondence concerning a projected dramatic poem to be written by Mr. Horne and her self, which never saw the light. The other letters are on miscellaneous matters, but all are well worth reading.
In addition to this good service he has done in the way of literary history, Mr. Horne adds a number of his reminiscences of different men well known to fame; the account of the theatrical performances before the Queen, in which Dickens, Douglas Jerrold, Mark Lemon, Horne, and others took part for the benefit of the Guild of Literature and Art, being Very full and amusing.
— Travelers who write are sometimes terribly encumbered by the notion that they must be profound. Mr. Benjamin Robbins Curtis is refreshingly free from that mistake, and has accordingly succeeded in writing a graphic, easily read account of his journey around the world,4 which also contains a very fair proportion of information. Mr. Curtis is a Harvard graduate, and it is a little amusing to see how keenly he kept himself on the lookout for other Harvard graduates and Massachusetts men generally, even in regions the most unlikely to yield products so rare. His good faith also leads him to impart various reflections which an enemy might colorably fasten upon as trite; and his “ dottings ” in Rome, Paris, and London are so slight as to leave that part of the route almost a veritable air line. But the desirable thing in a hook of travel is a new point of view; and Mr. Curtis’s simplicity and straightforwardness, his very inexperience even, constitute a kind of originality. He never wearies his reader. The book is well illustrated with heliotypes, and has already deservedly passed to a third edition.
— In an ingenuous preface which enables us to apprehend the stand-point from which he desires that his labors may be viewed, Professor von Holst tells us that among foreign authors there is but one whom, to some extent, he can consider as a predecessor, namely, De Tocquevillc. His translators also express a confidence that Professor von Holst’s volume5 will excite a degree of interest not inferior to that produced by the Democracy in America. But the books of the two authors are very different; except that each is the work of an intelligent and careful foreign observer after an actual visit to the United States, there is little reason for comparing them. M. de Tocqneville wrote to describe the political and social life of the United States for readers whom he assumed to be wholly ignorant of the institutions of the country, and to whom, accordingly, it was necessary to explain everything, and especially the complex organization of the state and national governments blended in one system, and the diversities arising from original distinctions of character in different parts of the country. Professor von Holst, on the contrary, appears to assume that his readers are already acquainted with De Tocqueville’s book, or have otherwise become possessed of the kind of information it contains ; and also that they have learned the succession of the presidents and the principal events in the political history of the country; he proceeds at once to review this history with a freedom of criticism for which his independent position gives him an admirable opportunity. He has carefully explored the sources of information, and manifests an intimate knowledge of the original authorities. The particular distinction which he claims for his work is the “soberness of mind” with which it is written. He tells us that while some European critics have been of opinion that his judgment of the American system of government and its working is an almost unqualified condemnation, “he claims to feel” with our people, and declares that he first arrived at the understanding of the proper manner of treating the subject when he became conscious that the United States furnish “ only an act of the one great drama, the history of Western civilization;” “the players in it, the principal ones as well as the great mass, neither demi-gods nor devils, but men, struggling under many short-comings, but with great energy, their way onward, not with startling leaps, hut advancing step by step, just as all the rest of the great nations of the earth have had to do.”
We should find it difficult to make a statement of the author’s position better than this, if we made one at once concise and clear. The careful reader will see, however, that even this position leaves blank some deficiencies, from the author’s own account of his manner of dealing with his subjects. Such a reader would foresee some of the blemishes of the book, which are to ho regretted in a philosophical history. With a holy horror, satisfactory and amusing at once, of " doctrinaires ” and “doclrinairism,”—which leads to some admirable illustrations of the folly of the spread-eagle rhapsodies of the Columbia school of the beginning of the last century, — and with an acknowledgment on paper, all along, that it was better to do what you could, even if that were imperfect, than to aim at the perfect, where the perfect was impossible, Professor von Holst has, at the bottom of his soul, a contempt for the cowardice which in any event accepted a constitution or law for the immediate emergency, in preference to elaborating one from the original principles of political and social economy. It is really curious that what we call “ Anglo-Saxon common sense ’’ or “Anglo-Saxon practicality ” should be a commodity so little known among Germans, who might be supposed to sympathize with Angles or with Saxons, that even in those unusual instances, like this, where a German scholar understands what these habits are, he understands them as a demi-god understands disease, or as a saint understands sin. Professor von Holst tries hard to approve of make-shifts, but in his heart he derides them.
For our own uses, however, the book is all the more valuable because the critic is strict, and perhaps we may say unloving. There is quite honey enough in De Tocqueville and in Laboulaye to make them palatable; there is so much that the few medicines which they administer are quite too much diluted. The real student of our history, who wants to learn from the past how to avoid the follies and dangers of the future, will learn more from Professor von Holst than from both of them.
It must be confessed that the make-shift habit, as we have ventured to call it, has so impressed itself on the minds of our people that we have only too few students who want to learn from the past how to avoid the follies and dangers of the future. No question was ever better argued than the tariff question was, in the years between 1820 and 1833. But the reader of our newspapers to-day would hardly know that the question of protection had then been carefully argued on its principles. So the Nebraska discussion of 1850 was a repetition, even to the jokes and satires, of the Missouri discussion of 1820. But a new generation was unconscious of this, and went iuto it as if there were no history and no one had trodden on these hot embers before. This habit will diminish the number of readers of Professor von Holst’s book. But those who will read will find by far the most intelligent guide which we have yet had to the history of the politics of the nation.
If John Quincy Adams had spent most of his life in America instead of living in Europe for the first half of it, this remark would not be true. For, with all his personal prejudices, his diary, from the year 1817 to the period of his death, is a better guide to our political history than could have been hoped for. But the first volumes of his diary; with one short exception, relate largely to European affairs. Through most of the struggles recorded in this volume Professor von Holst could have no help from the diary, and the later volumes of it were published too late to serve him in this edition.
The history does not follow slavishly the order of time. The subject is divided, after the introduction, into Nullification, The Embargo, The Slavery Question, The Economic Contrast between Free and Slave States, and The Panama Congress. This volume is confined to State Sovereignty and Slavery, and does not come down later than 1833. No praise can be too loud for the diligence and accuracy with which the author has collected his authorities. He is specially careful and pitiless where statesmen have tried to “ cover their tracks,’’ or where their biographers have done so for them. The most diligent of our home students and the old statesmen of keenest memory will, as we believe, tiud new revelations here, due to the German assiduity and to some, rare system of study which lets no authority slip unnoticed. In fact, these powers are specially necessary to the man who seeks to elucidate American history, for our own people, as we have said, are careless about it. The journal which " keeps up the record ” is thrown by as dull. The statesman who is “ careful about his record ” is set down as an old fogy. Indeed, as one reads the newspapers, he is every day reminded of that lazy reporter who, as a speech went by, unnoticed by his pencil, in a financial debate, yawned and asked his neighbor, “ Who is this Hamilton that he is talking about? ” All this results in the greatest difficulty even in finding the materials for history. If a bold sou or grandson publishes his ancestors’ papers, people are slow to buy, and there he unused no small collection of materials of the first value. Thus the Rufus King papers tire still unpublished. The Jefferson letters have been published only in the interest of party. The older newspapers were edited quite as much to conceal as to disclose the truth, which may be said, perhaps, of the partisan newspapers of all times. Professor von Holst’s success in working out the springs of movement in the midst of such difficulties is remarkable.
Readers in Europe should remember what to readers in America is a thing of course, that as the author’s plan contemplates only the political history of the “ United-States,” the political history of the separate States will not be found in this volume. Readers in America, therefore, will not look here for the most essential and fundamental parts of our political history. But readers in Europe will, and will not find them. Still, no words can ever explain to readers in Europe why these things are not there; nor will wild horses drag them from their search. The truth remains, however, that to the government of the United-States (“ United-States ” with a hyphen, not " states which are united”) is intrusted but a small part of the policy or politics of this country. Professor von Holst regrets this ; all writers from the Old World regret it. None the less is it true, and all Americans rejoice that it is true.
For instance, the great question of the relations of the church to the state, the critical question of all European politics to-day, from England to Constantinople, is here not a matter of federal but of state, politics. The relation of the state to pauperism, which upset the French government in 1848 and may upset it again, is a matter not of federal hut of state politics. The relation of individual work to the work of corporations, the most difficult social question of to-day, is a state matter, and does not come into federal politics. All the adjustment of suffrage has been completely changed since the Revolution. Suffrage was then based on property in any State. It is now given to all tax-paying men in every State. Not a word of this change will he found in the history of the federal government. These are but a few illustrations which show what no students in the Old World can be made to understand, that most of the questions of social order which arc really central and essential do not with us legitimately come into the purview of a book on national politics.
Almost any German writer to-day writes under the glamour and in the enthusiasm of the new German union. It is natural, therefore, that such a writer should do as Professor von Holst does : should exaggerate the importance of national politics, and forget the day-by-day, matter-of-fact, essential, and life-giving business of the political growth of the several States.
— Wenderholme1 is, we believe, Mr. Hamertou’s first story for adults, and it is a strange mixture of ability and absurdity. It is constructed in the loosest possible manner, but the characterization is very good, and some of the conversations are excellent. It professes to be a study of Yorkshire life and character, but the representative natives who talk dialect, the middle-class mill owners, like the Ogdens, who develop into millionaires in the course of the story, are not half as well depicted as the people of gentler breeding, the poverty-stricken Prigleys at the parsonage, with their patrician sympathies and their cruelly outraged tastes, and Colonel Stanburne, the commander of the militia, and his high-born wife, Lady Helena. These last are admirable. Colonel Stanburne is that very rare personage in fiction, a living gentleman — manly, kindhearted, unintellectual, thorough-bred, lavish— lapsing into pecuniary ruin more through courtesy to others than indulgence to himself. His wife is a high-spirited creature, a great deal more clever, conscious, and cautious than he, wiser, but not so sweetnatured, an exceedingly real woman, both in her pitiless anger at the discovery of her husband’s folly and her sudden and deep repentance for her severity. The story of the quarrel and reconciliation of these two, and that of the death at Avignon of Philip Stanburiie’s young lady-love and the subsequent tender friendship between the lover and the father, are the most powerful and pathetic episodes in the book, although the author signally fails in his attempt to invest Philip Stanburne with a gloomy and romantic charm. The account of Isaac Ogden’s intemperance and of his drunken abuse of little Jacob is a great deal too realistic and distressing. These personages are named somewhat at hap-hazard, but so it is that they come and go in the pages of Mr. Hamerton’s novel. The book has no plot whatever ; and furthermore the author has a quite singular incapacity for telling what is called a straight story, one that shall be consistent and credible in little things. His narrative is like a sewing-machine that skips stitches. For example, we are told how old Mrs. Ogden went to call at the Prigley parsonage, had a severe fall on the threshold, and was taken up insensible. The case was alarming enough for the Prigleys to send off not only for a doctor but for Mrs. Ogden’s sons, who lived at a considerable distance and were not acquainted at the parsonage. Yet the very same afternoon and in the very next paragraph we have them all, including the old lady to whom the accident befell, sitting around a hilarious tea-table and full of voluble admiration at the quantity and quality of Mrs. Prigley’s silver plate. At the crisis of the story — if it have a crisis — Wenderholme Hall, the seat of Colonel Stanburne, takes fire, and the circumstances are fully and conscientiously recorded in four chapters entitled respectively, Fireworks, More Fireworks, The Fire, and The Progress of the Fire. The occasion is a great féte. The Hall is crowded with guests. Colonel Stanburne and a friend, rambling in the rear of the house, observe that it is burning, and without giving any alarm proceed directly to the nursery where the colonel’s only child is presumed to be asleep. This was perhaps natural. But when they find the room in flames and the ceiling already fallen in, and are compelled to retrace their steps, it seems as if they might at least have given the other occupants of the house a hint of their danger. Not they ! A suitable time had not yet arrived. Colonel Stanburne went instead to the drawing-room and politely requested some diamonded dowagers to move, mounted upon their sofa and took down his daughter’s portrait, and then proceeded, still entirely mum, to search for an eligible place to deposit it among the out-buildings. He cannot satisfy himself however, short of his mother’s cottage, which stands at some distance in the park. One can understand why Madam Stanburne, who was elderly, may have preferred her quiet parlor to the scene of revelry at the Hall proper ; but it does seem inhospitable in the colonel’s wife, Lady Helena, to have been sitting there, nonchalantly watching the slumbers of her child, who is safe, of course; for all Mr. Hamerton’s catastrophes end thus, —as one should say “Boo ! ” from behind a door.
But the feature of the book which is really most remarkable is the extraordinary deliberation and diffuseness of Mr. Hamerton’s style. Hear about Mr. Prigley’s wornout shirts : “ By a most unfortunate coincidence, Mr. Prigley discovered about the same time that his shirts, although apparently very sound and handsome shirts indeed, had become deplorably weak in the tissue, for if, in dressing himself in a hurry, his hand did not just happen to hit the orifice of the sleeve, it passed through the fabric of the shirt itself, and that with so little difficulty that he was scarcely aware of any impediment, while if once the hem were severed, the immediate consequence, was a rent more than a foot long!” (The italics are ours.) And here is a careful description of a smile : “ Mrs. Ogden might have gone very far into family matters if her sou had not perceived, or imagined that he perceived something like a smile on Colonel Stanburne’s face. In point of fact, the colonel did not precisely smile, but there was a general relaxation of the muscles of his physiognomy from their first expression of severity, betraying a tendency to humor.” In order, however, perfectly to appreciate this leisurely manner, the reader should turn back to the preface (since no one ever read the preface to a novel first), where he will learn that Mr. Hamerton, when he projected this his first novel, held a conversation with a London publisher, who told him that the taste of the English public required a novel to he three volumes long, and he adds: “ The practical consequence of this was that, when the present volume was written, commercial reasons prevailed, as they unhappily so often do prevail, over artistic ones, and the book was made far longer than, as a work of art, it ought to have been. The present edition, though greatly abridged, is not by any means, from the author’s point of view, a mutilated edition. On the contrary it rather resembles a building of moderate dimensions from which excrescences have been removed. The architect has been careful to preserve everything essential, and equally careful to take away everything which had been added merely for the sake of size.”
The present four hundred and thirty pages are therefore a concentrated extract prepared expressly for the American market. Our surprise that so affluent, so æsthetic, and so independent a gentleman, as we are assured by the earnest reiteration of all the newspapers that Mr. Hamerton is, should ever have been influenced by secondary and sordid motives is lost in our vain endeavor to imagine what the hook can have been in its first unpruned luxuriance.
Enough has been said, we think, to advise the reader that in Wemlerholme he will find both entertainment and exasperation. But we do not think that the fame of Mr. Hamerton’s first novel is likely to eclipse that of the truly charming and suggestive, though sometimes tedious volumes of reflection and description which we are accustomed to receive from his pen.
— It is doubtless possible that a dull book should be written about Greece, but on the other hand there is so much that is fascinating and little known in the subject that any one who really describes what he sees in that country is pretty sure to have an interested audience. Mr. Mahaffy is a good Greek scholar, and he has the gift of writing clearly and pleasantly, so that his book6 is entertaining reading. He not only gives an account of the country in its present condition, he also shows what, was its state in the past, making entertaining comparisons between the different periods. What he saw with his own eyes in his trip made in the spring of 1875 he puts before his reader very agreeably. His remarks about modern Greek society are clever and perhaps to a considerable extent true. His illustrations from ancient Greek literature are generally of value; though it is no doubt in matters of geography that he is most nearly accurate, What is disappointing in the book is the abundance of petty errors and of unwise comment. Thus, in speaking of the decorations of old Greek tombs, he at some length compares the feeling they show with that of Tennyson’s In Memoriam, as if the analogy could ever be anything but fanciful, or of the slightest use to the student. Mr. Mahaffy sniffs at “the exceeding dryness and minute detail ” of a great number of German books on Greek arts and antiquities, but surely anything is better than his superficial discussion of “ world-problems;” and his sneer comes with very bad grace from a man who speaks of the “ rich and sensuous beauty ” of the Dying Gladiator, while two pages further on ho says of Praxiteles that he “did not disguise the use of very unworthy human models to produce his famous, or perhaps infamous, ideal which is best, known in the Venus de Medici, but more perfectly represented in the Venus of the Capitol.” It is certainly something new in art criticism to go back of the merits of a statue to blame the morals or manners of the sculptor’s models.
In another part of the book Mr. Mahaffy discusses the absence of landscape-painting in ancient Greece, which would he more in place if this branch of art were not of so recent appearance. It is hardly profitable to spend much time wondering why the Greeks were not in every respect like ourselves, nor is it necessary to apologize for the points in which they differ from us. But in Social Life in Ancient Greece he showed how harshly it was possible to judge a different civilization, and in this volume he shows the same great intolerance of those faults which we think are not ours. Thus, apropos of the battle of Marathon, he makes the bold statement that the courage of the Greeks was not “of the first order,” but all his testimony shows only that they were not thoroughly drilled according to our notions. It is hard to understand how that battle could have been fought, and much more won, by men of little courage. It certainly requires a good deal of that quality to make such a statement.
As the reader will see, Mr. Maliaffy’s book is one of uneven merit. So far as his rambles are concerned, he is entertaining and instructive; it is his studies that he should have taken in hand before giving the world the result of so much crude thinking and careless observation. More care would have saved him from numberless errors, another one of which was saying that Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn was written about a Greek vase. The reader who seeks only a book of travels will bo pleased ; any one else will be grievously disappointed.
— The present volume7 contains the substance of a series of lectures delivered in 1875-76 by Mr. Birks as Knightsbridge Professor at Cambridge, England. Professor Birks tells ns plainly in his preface that he believes the principles of Mr. Spencer and his school to be “ radically unsound, full of logical inconsistency and contradiction, and flatly opposed to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and even the very existence of moral science.” But the reader with whose instincts and wishes such a conclusion is already in harmony must not suppose that he is about to he led by any short or flowery path to its intelligent acceptance. The whole treatise is so closely reasoned, even to the analysis of those problems in dynamics by which the earlier and later theories of the universe are alike illustrated, that it is only by dint of unremitting attention to many complex and laborious trains of argument that one may hold himself fairly entitled to the encouraging result of Professor Birks’s inquiry. It may be permitted, however, to attempt, in a brief abstract, giving some idea of the Cambridge doctor’s conclusions and the scope of his reasoning.
He first addresses himself to that doctrine of the unknowable which Herbert Spencer states thus : “ The widest, deepest, and most certain of all intuitions is that the power which the universe manifests to us is wholIv inscrutable.” This doctrine he declares to be the logical result of the well-known views of Sir William Hamilton and Dean Mansel about the inconceivable character of the divine morality, and for its refutation he frankly avails himself of the lucid and forcible arguments of Mr. Mill in the first volume of his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. Professor Birks takes pains to tell us that he deeply regrets some expressions used by Mr. Mill in this part of his work,—referring probably to the latter’s Promethean defiance of a God who could sentence him to hell for not believing in the identity of divine and human morality. Yet it is undoubtedly by virtue of that one gallant heart-throb, however Strangely it breaks the continuity of a dispassionate logic, that Mr. Mill’s argument remains fresh in the memory of all readers and can never be cited in vain.
Proceeding in Chapter II. to discuss Ultimate Ideas in Physics, Professor Birks clearly shows Mr. Spencer’s inconsistency in resting his whole elaborate scheme of natural philosophy on those very final notions of space, time, matter, motion, and force, which he had previously shown to be equally inconceivable with “the power which the universe manifests,” in other words with ultimate ideas in theology. Chapters III. and IV. are devoted to the Relativity of Knowledge, the doctrine that we can know nothing of things in themselves, but only the effect which they produce upon us, — the modifications of our own consciousness. Hamilton, Spencer, and Mill all hold this doctrine in some shape, although “ the two first,” our author affirms, “mitigate the original fault by admissions opposed to their common premises, but agreeing with truth and common sense ; while Mr. Mill, more logically consistent, is thereby led by his false premise still deeper into error.”
Against these and all other idealists, of whatever name or degree, he calmly sets up the homely proposition, so unfashionable in modern philosophy, that we do really “perceive, see, touch, hear, taste outward material objects, the things themselves. A sensible impression is an effect which suggests and proves at once, a real thing without us, a real cause.” Knowledge is not, as the dualists affirm, twofold, made up of the sense of an ego and a non-ego, — a selfperceiving, and a something perceived ; but knowledge is one thing, and consciousness is another, a subsequent and a consequent thing. “ As he grows he gathers much, and learns the use of I and me.” The difference is that between scire and conscire.
“ Our knowledge of mind is later in order of time than our knowledge of matter, but when once reached, it is the result of a larger and fuller induction. The certainty comes later, but once attained is more full and complete. And the double reality of matter and mind points upward to the Supreme Reality, the God of the spirits of all flesh, who,” adds Professor Birks, without a thought apparently of Matthew Arnold, “ is also the author and architect of the material universe.”
Having thus disposed of the negative principle of physical fatalism, namely, that theology must be discarded as an unreal and impossible science, he addresses himself to its two most important positive tenets : that physics is the sole science, and material phenomena the only field of thought in which knowledge is attainable; and that psychology and all social, political, and moral philosophy are only branches of physics. Under the first head he institutes patient inquiry into the grounds of the doctrines universally accepted by the modern fatalists or materialists, of the indestructibility of matter, the continuity of motion, the conservation of force, and the interchangeability of force and motion. Nowhere, perhaps, is he more fascinating and satisfactory than where he exposes the fallacy of the arguments whereby the Spencerians assume to prove the indestructibility of matter. “Matter as knowable is declared to be not the unseen reality, but the sensible appearance or phenomenal matter alone. Phenomenal matter it appears from daily and hourly experience appears and disappears, perishes and is new - created continually. Yet we are told that the indestructibility of matter has become one of the commonplaces of science. The cloud vanishes, the star sets, the drop evaporates, the ship melts into the yeast of waves, the candle is burnt away. The substance may last in another form, but the phenomenon or appearauce is gone. . . . Now by the theory, of matter the Noumenon we know nothing, and therefore cannot know that it is indestructible. Of matter the Phenomenon we may know much, and one main thing is that it both may be and continually is destroyed. For an appearance is destroyed and perishes when it ceases to appear.”As a matter of fact, he says a little farther on, “it is in the region of the noumenon and not the phenomenon, of the falsely called unknowable and not of the falsely called sole-knowable, of things and not sensations, of atoms and not surfaces, of localized forces and not of outward appearances, in that very region which the theory hands over to nescience and eternal darkness, that the chief discoveries of modern physics have their native home. The progress of astronomy was halting and slow so long as the mind was confined to the phenomena or to the simple registering of the heavenly motions. It was when Newton passed from contemplation of the motions to that of the forces by which they are caused and the laws of their variation, that the greatest step of advance was made in the progress of physical science which has ever occurred from the beginning of time.”
Equally summary, and perhaps a trifle less respectful, is our author’s treatment of the doctrines of the persistence of force and the continuity of motion as expounded in Mr. Spencer’s First Principles. “ They resolve themselves,” he affirms, after twenty pages of minute discussion, “ into a paradox of this amazing kind. The power which the universe manifests is utterly inscrutable. To Suppose that we can know anything concerning it, or fitly ascribe to it personality, will, goodness, wisdom, is one of the countless impieties of the pious. But this we may know concerning it: that it is truly represented by a finite straight line of definite length, which is made up of as many parts as there are pairs of atoms in the universe, and of which every part varies perpetually by laws mainly unknown to us, while the finite length of the total remains the same forevermore. The golden calf was a respectable idol compared with this philosophical substitute for the true and supreme reality.” At the close of the chapter on the Transformation of Force and Motion, while admitting a probable view of the atomic forces in actual operation which agrees with the general conception of the nebular theory, he earnestly declares this view to be “wholly opposed to the doctrine of a fixed amount either of potential energy or of collective motion, and to the singular hypotheses of a series of alternate evolutions and dissolutions, reaching onward through all eternity.”
The chapter on the Laws of Attraction and Repulsion closes Professor Birks’s discussion of physics as constituting the only field of thought whose knowledge is attainable. Here he briefly reviews the various hypotheses which have been proposed since the days of Newton with a view to supplement the law of universal gravitation by others which shall in like manner bring into order the immense accumulation of recently discovered facts in physics. Of such hypotheses he distinguishes twelve, including one of his own proposed in a treatise on Matter and Ether, All of these, he says, “ fulfill at least the first condition of a physical theory, and admit of being theoretically unfolded so that the results of this development may he compared with those of actual experiment.”But the doctrine laid down by Mr. Spencer in the First Principles he characterizes as “ a physical theory composed simply of abstract, metaphysical terms that may be applied indifferently to a thousand varying hypotheses;” one which is “ not only vague but self-contradictory,” and instead of traveling beyond Newton’s great discovery, leads backward into a region of “mere nebulosity and confusion.”
The remaining chapters of Professor Birks’s discussion — on Choice and Will in Physical Laws, on Evolution, on Heterogeneity, on Force and Life, and on Natural Selection — may be summed up as containing a most energetic and effective protest against the view that psychology is a branch of physics, and mind a function of matter, and that the material universe can possibly contain any inherent power of differentiation and development. He shows how the element of choice or will if denied to a designing and overruling power reappears in those very fluctuating forms of matter by which the modern fatalist seeks to replace the conception of such a power. It cannot be abolished. “If there be two kinds of physical substance, matter and ether, there must be three laws at least to determine their mutual action. . . . But if one of these were necessary, it would exclude the two others. Necessity, like the Turk, admits no rival near the throne. Each atom would have to choose not only whether it should be born, and whether it should be matter or ether, but which of these different laws of force it should forever obey. . . . The notion that each atom fixed for itself at some time or other its own place, or that it was fixed for it by some other atom of more commanding genius, is certainly a pseudidea, and really unthinkable. In the weighty words of Newton, ‘ Blind necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things.’ ”
The arguments which Professor Birks employs against the Spencerian theory of differentiation, and the Darwinian hypothesis of natural selection and the survival of the fittest, are more familiar if not more forcible than the greater part of his metaphysical reasoning. His temper is everywhere excellent, and his style perfectly adapted to the gravity and general abstruseness of his subject. It is compact and clear, only at the rarest intervals rising even into appropriate eloquence or lapsing into enlivening sarcasm. And his reader, whether convinced by him or no, must needs allow that not only by profound sympathy with the reverent and orderly spirit of the great physical philosopher, but by a thorough mastery of the most difficult details of his subject, he is justified in adopting and emphasizing the noble words of Sir Isaac Newton: —
“ The main business of natural philosophy is to argue from phenomena without feigning hypotheses, and to deduce causes from effects till we come to the very first cause which is certainly not mechanical. And not only to resolve the mechanism of the world, but chiefly to resolve these aud suchlike questions. What is there in space almost empty of matter? And whence is it that the sun and planets gravitate to each other without dense matter between them ? Whence is it that nature doeth nothing in vain? And whence arises all that order and beauty which are in the world ? . . . How come the bodies of animals to he contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts? Was the eye contrived without skill in optics aud the ear without a knowledge of sounds? How do the motions of the body follow from the will, and whence are the instincts of animals ? . . . And these things being rightly dispatched, does it not appear from the phenomena that there is a Being, incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who, in infinite space, as it were iu his sensorium, sees the things intimately in themselves and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself ? And though every true step in this philosophy brings us not immediately to the knowledge of the first cause, yet it brings us nearer to it, and on that account it is to be highly valued.”
FRENCH AND German.8
Critics often institute a comparison between Balzac aud Shakespeare in respect of the great number and variety of characters which both authors have inspired with life in their writings. To some readers the resemblance may seem to be a bit of injustice to the English poet; since, however, at the best it expresses no real relation between the two writers, but merely the extent of certain persons’ admiration for the novelist, even those who set Shakespeare infinitely above every man who ever put pen to paper have no cause for wrath. But yet, whether the comparison is a reasonable one or not, there is one singular point of likeness between the two men, and that is the little information we have about the lives of both. Until this correspondence appeared,9almost the only thing known about Balzac was that he was a tremendous worker, that he wrote in a white dressing-gown, and believed firmly in the reality of his imaginings ; and similar disconnected things which only aroused a curiosity that there was no way of satisfying. He was the contemporary of many men still living, and yet there is more known of a large number of inferior men of eminence who lived two hundred years ago than there is of him. This fact shows us how possible it is for a man to elude the observation of his companions, even when they admire him, and may explain to some extent our ignorance of Shakespeare.
It is not likely that more will ever be told us about Balzac than we can now gather from the material open to us, and this correspondence offers perhaps the fullest light on his life, insufficient though it be in some respects. The letters, which are arranged in chronological order, begin with those he wrote from Paris to his sister Laure, afterwards Madame Surville. He had gone to the metropolis to try to make his fortune with his pen, having evidently wrung a reluctant consent to this step from his parents, who wanted to establish him in some surer occupation. To make the failure less conspicuous in case he should not succeed, it was given out that he had gone to make a visit to some relatives in another town, He had no intention of failing, however, and the youth of twenty plunged into various kinds of literary work, his plans filling these early letters. He seems to have set his heart, especially on a play, Cromwell, which never saw the liglit. For some time he found the mere struggle for existence severe, for he had but a small allowance from home, and he earned almost nothing although he wrote incessantly. In order to fill his purse he tried other devices : he undertook to edit a scries of French classics, of which only Molière and La Fontaine appeared; and then he tried his hand at publishing, but his ill success was complete, and his failure, coupled with similar losses a few years later, left him burdened with heavy debts for the rest of his life. The books that he published must have been few in number, for copies are now mentioned by their owners as curiosities, and their owners say they bear on their title-page the name of Honoré Balzac as publisher, without the de, for assuming which particule without any right beyond his own wishes, Balzac was abused by Sainte-Beuve in a celebrated article. From about 1830 until the end of his life we find these debts referred to in almost every letter. They swallowed up his earnings and drove him to continual desperate work. Just at the last he seems to have seen his way clear before him, but his strength had all been wasted ib the fierce struggle for independence, and he has but a brief moment, with shattered health, to rest from work before he dies.
These letters are interesting reading, but they do not attract us by that charm which is generally so great in the letters of men of genius, by that abundance of easy writing which so closely resembles informal talk. They were not written with the intention of merely entertaining the person who should receive them; on the contrary, they are almost without exception what it is easy to imagine would be the letters of a man who held a pen in his hand often for eighteen hours a day, and who only wrote anything in addition when he had sometiling very urgent to say, and was anxious to say it in the speediest way. He makes only brief references to contemporary literature ; he throws no light on his own methods of composition, except so far as he states how many hours he is obliged to sit at his desk in order to get his task finished; hut this task might have been engraving of the most ordinary kind, or tracing through tissue-paper, so far as these letters are concerned. At times he rejoices in some work done; he has a glow of pride at the excellence of one or another of his books, but it is of the simplest kind, as if he had no time to do more than mention his satisfaction. What these letters, in spite of their brevity, show of Balzac’s character is, on the whole, agreeable. He seems honest, to have had a manly detestation of the condition of dependence upon others, and to have had many simple tastes. He frequently sighed for a quiet family life; while his whole nature was of a sort that yearned for wealth and luxury, he denied himself continually in order to clear himself honorably of his heavy load of debt. His style of writing was often as cumbersome in his letters as in his novels, his humor as ponderous as a mill wheel, especially in his early letters to his sister, who had done him a kindness by correcting him; but again at times the reader comes across really charming sentences, full of delightful simplicity and feeling. Here is one of the few references to contemporary literature; it is from a letter to his admirer and follower, Charles de Bernard: “The Germans have no more an exclusive right to the moon than we have to the sun, or than the Scotch have to the Ossianie mists. Who can boast that he is an inventor ? I did not really draw my inspiration from Hoffman [as Bernard had charged in a criticism of the Peau de Chagrin], whom I had never read until I had thought out my work; but there is something more serious in this charge. We lack patriotism, and we destroy our nationality and our literary supremacy by demolishing one another. Have the English ever said that Parisina was Racine’s Phèdre, and do they go throwing at one another’s heads foreign literatures in order to crush their own ? No. Let us imitate them.” The remainder of this letter shows a characteristic side of Balzac; he says: “ This, sir, is not a personal question, because I hope that the second edition of my book will teach the public the immensity, the novelty of the enterprise, under the weight of which I shall, perhaps, succumb, or which I shall ill perform, it may be, but which I venture to undertake.” Another letter, written at about the same time, 1831, contains this: “ As for writing, I cannot do it; my fatigue is too great. You do not know how much I owed in 1828. I had only my pen to live by and a hundred and twenty thousand francs to pay. In a few months I shall have paid everything, ... but for six months yet I have to endure all the horrors of poverty; but I see my way through them. I have sought no one’s aid, I have not stretched out my hand for a single farthing ; I have hidden my sorrows and my wounds. ... I have still six arduous months to endure, which are all the harder because, if Napoleon grew weary of war, I can confess that the contest with misfortune begins to tire me.” Subsequent letters contain mention of even greater difficulties. At one time, to avoid legal complications, he writes to a friend asking if he may take refuge at his house, and that his presence there may be kept a secret; more than once he hid under a false name. But his spirit is always unbroken, he utters almost no complaint. It is seldom, if ever, that he breaks out more warmly than in a letter written in October, 1836, — the year of his second failure, — to Madame Hanska, the lady he married just before his death, when completely broken down by overwork: “ What a long and sad adieu I have hidden to those lost years which have disappeared forever? They gave me neither complete happiness nor utter wretchedness. They' made me live, frozen on one side, burned on the other; and now I feel myself kept alive by nothing except a sense of duty. I entered into this garret, where I now am, with the certainty that I should die of overwork.
. For more than a month, now, I get up at midnight and go to bed at six in the evening, and have dieted myself most rigidly with the smallest amount necessary to sustain life, in order that my brain may not be weakened by the process of digestion. . . . That you may know how far my courage goes, I must tell you that I wrote Le Secret des Ruggieri in a single night. Think of that when you read it; La Vielle Fille in three nights. La Perle Brisée was done in a few hours of moral and physical anguish; it is my Brienne, my Champaubert, my Montmirail. . . . What kills me is correcting. The first part of L’Enfant Maudit cost me more than many volumes ; I wanted to raise the first part to the height of La Perle Brisée, and to make out of it a sort of little poem of melancholy with which no fault could he found; that took a dozen nights. ... I am obliged to surpass myself in the midst of protests, of business troubles, of the most cruel money complications, and in the completest solitude, void of all consolation.”
Surely it is only a very remarkable man who could undertake and carry through so desperate a struggle with fate as this; the physical strength alone that it required was something enormous. It is no wonder that writing for fifteen or eighteen hours a day at last told on him and broke him down in really the prime of intellectual life. When he saw his way out of his money difficulties he put the superfluous energy which could be spared from writing into collecting brica-brac. These last letters, written at about the time of his marriage with Madame Hanska, are more touching than any. They are full of the most exact details about his future hours, with occasional reference to his wretched health, but there are passages to be found which go further than this. He writes, for instance, as follows to Madame Carraud, who had for many years been a good friend of his. The passage loses infinitely in the translation: “ I shall not speak to you of your letter; it gave me as much admiration as sorrow. That is all I can say ; but it has secured for you a sincere friend in the person of my wife, to whom for a long time I have confided everything, and who for a long time has known you through the greatness of your soul, which I had told her of, and by my gratitude for the treasures of your hospitality to me. I have drawn you so well, and your letter has so well completed your portrait, that you are an old acquaintance of hers. So with one assent, with the same feeling, we offer you a pleasant little room in our house at Paris in order that you may regard it as especially your own. And what shall I say ? You are the only person to whom we make this offer, and you ought to accept or you would deserve misfortune ; for, remember, I visited you with the sainte bonhomie de l'amitié when you were happy and prosperous and I was battling with every wind, with high equinoctial tides, over head and ears in debt! I have sweet and tender stores of gratitude. . . . Come from time to time to see us, to breathe the air, the art, the elegance of Paris, to meet interesting people, and to find two hearts that love you: one because you were so kind and gentle a friend, the other because you have been that for me. You will he happy for a few days every three months. You will come oftener if you wish, but you will come, that is agreed.
“ I did the same thing long since. I used to get new strength for the struggle at Saint-Cyr, at Angoulême, at Trapesle ; I had there the sight of what I wanted. You will know how pleasant that is; you will learn for yourself what you have been, without knowing it, to me, a wearied, unappreciated man, toiling for so long in physical and moral misery. When I think of what you are, how you struggle with adversity, I, who have so often had to contend with that rude enemy, will tell you that I am ashamed of my good fortuue when I think how unhappy you are; but we are both above these pettinesses of the heart. We can tell one another that good and had fortune are but façons d’être in which great souls feel keenly that they are living; for the one requires as much philosophy as the other ; and that ill fortune with good friends is perhaps more endurable than envied good fortune.” The whole letter — and there is still more earnest gratitude in it — breathes the genuine kindness of a kind man who does not forget his old friends, and its place would hardly be in a publisher’s collection if it were not that any means of learning about Balzac can be justly used since the material is so scanty. This letter, dated March 17, 1850, was written just three months before Balzac’s death, and it is the last which contains any traces of his good health in it. Those that follow forebode the speedy end.
In conclusion it is but right to say that most readers will be disappointed if they expect to find very much about Balzac or his life in this correspondence. The letters are often too urgent business notes to throw side light on anything else, but again those written to Madame Hanska especially, and to this same Madame Carraud, show well how kind and hearty a man he was, and they serve to make even sadder the already sad story of his life. Literature, it is true, seems from these letters as if it were with him almost a manual trade, but it was an honorable sense of duty that made it this, and not his pleasure. Had he been less unlucky he might perhaps have written as well without the terrible spur that was forever urging him on, and his life could hardly have failed to he a more joyous one; but it is not to be forgotten that his ill luck was not his own choice, though it may have been the natural result of his sanguine disposition. But alongside of his zeal in his work there are great sides of his character, his true manliness and his tenderness, which frequently inspire the letters, and make them most valuable revelations of the attractive character of one of the greatest of modern men. It would be hard to find a more touching picture than that which these volumes give us of a man full of affection, balked of all enjoyment of it just at the time it seemed to be smiling upon him. He makes no conscious dissection of himself or of his manner of work, but he shows clearly how lofty was the nature which observed the world and recorded its observations in his great series of novels. Whatever faults may mar them, he was better than they were, and it was by no means in respect of genius alone that he was a rare man. It is another example of the great difference between a man’s genius and his character: one is what the man is, the other is the demon which possesses him.
D. Appleton & Co., New York: The Theory of Art, and Some Objections to Utilitarianism. ByGuy D. Daly, M. D.
Authors’ Publishing Company, New York : Christian. Conception and Experience. By Rev. William I. Gill, A. M.
Catalogue of Charities conducted by Women, as reported to the Woman’s Centennial Executive Committee of the United States International Exhibition. 1876.
Henry Holt & Co., New York: Early and Late Papers hitherto uncollected. By William Makepeace Thackeray. —Lorley and Reinhard. By Berthold Auerbach. Translated by Charles T. Brooks. — Ancient Spanish Ballads. Historical and Romantic. Translated by J. G. Lockhart. With a Biographical Notice. New Edition. — Russia. By D. Mackenzie Wallace, M. A., Member of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.
Hurd and Houghton, New York : Essays in Ancient History and Antiquities. By Thomas De Quincey.— Alexander Hamilton. A Historical Study. By the Honorable George Shea.
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- Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography. By MARIA WESTON CHAPMAN. In two volumes. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1877.↩
- Impressions and Reminiscences. By GEORGE SAND. Boston: William F, Gill & Co. 1876.↩
- Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Addressed to Richard Hengist Horne, author of Orion, Gregory VII., Cosmo de Medici, etc. With Comments on Contemporaries. Edited by S. R. TowsSHEND MAYES. TWO volumes. London: Richard Bentley & Son. 1877.↩
- Dottings Round the Circle. By BENJAMIN ROBBINS CURTIS. Boston: Janes R. Osgood & Co. 1876.↩
- The Constitutional and Political History of theUnited States. By DR. H. voN HOLST, Professor at the University of Freiburg. Translated from the German by JOHN J. LALOR and ALFRED B. MASON 1750-1833. Chicago : Callaghan & Co. 1876.↩
- Wenderholme : A Story of Lancashire and Yorkshire. By PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTONBoston. Roberts Brothers. 1876.↩
- Rambles and Studies in Ancient Greece. By J. P. MAHAFFY Author or of Prolegomena to Ancient History, Social Life in Greece, etc. London : Macmillan & Co. 1876.↩
- Modern Physical Fatalism and the Doctrineof Evolution: including an Examination of Mr. Herbert Spencer’s First Principles. By THOMAS RAWSON BIRKS, M. A. Professor of Moral Philosophy, Cambridge. London : Macmillan & Co. 1876.↩
- All books mentioned under this head are to be had at Sehoenhof and Moeller’s, 40 Winter St', Boston, Mass.↩
- Correspondance de H. de Balzac. 1819-1850. Two vols, Paris: Levy. 1877.↩