Recent Literature

IT seems to us that Messrs. Fields and Whipple have performed very acceptably a task of uncommon difficulties. It would have been much easier to make a much smaller or a much larger collection of verse than their Family Library of British Poetry;1 but to produce a volume of dimensions so generous that nothing of the first value could be left out, and yet in which there should he no suspicion of padding with second-rate material, required in the editors not only a love of the best poetry, but a knowledge of what poetry is best loved. To speak within certain limits, the average reader of such a volume has the right to find his favorite poem in it ; lor if popularity is not an immediate test of merit, it is unquestionably one of tiie best final tests, and the poem which most men in successive generations have liked is pretty sure to he a great poem. We fancy that it is upon some such general principle as this that the editors have proceeded. The favorite poems, we believe, are all here; but in a royal octavo of nearly a thousand pages, they have been able to give vastly more, even in drawing from the works of some three hundred poets. The book is, indeed, fairly representative of British poetry, and whoever reads it will hardly fail of a just idea of our poetic literature, if he is able to make his own criticisms and comparisons. To these the editors have chosen almost entirely to leave him. The volume is thoroughly indexed by titles of poems, first liites, and authors’ names; but nothing biographical, beyond the date of each poet’s birth and death, appears to have entered into their scheme, and nothing critical beyond the brief and infrequent notes attached to some of the poems, mainly in the way of explanation. We could wish that these were even more infrequent by at least one note; that, namely, in which Lord Macaulay is superfluously permitted to assert the literal impassibility of The Deserted Village. There is a good introduction, not long, and very properly not entering into any subtleties of comment, in which the editors explain their design, and promise for a forthcoming Library of British l’rose t general sketch of English literature.

Their work here has beeu almost confined to selection, and it has been admirably well done, with naturally curious results, on which the lover of poetry will like to dwell at greater length than we can now. It is interesting to observe, and it ought to be instructive for all intending heirs of fame to see, how such poets as Gray and Goldsmith, who wrote sparingly, are here almost wholly reproduced ; and how in other cases certain rather long poems, like Pope’s Rape of the Lock and Keats’s St. Agnes' Eve, are of so perfect and exemplary a beauty that they must be quoted entire. The inferior dramatists are represented by the best passages from their plays; Shakespeare, on this side, is so vast that the editors must content themselves with his songs and sonnets, and some extracts from his poems. Of Spenser there seems rather more than enough; of Chaucer not quite enough, especially of the humorous side of his genius. The selection from Ben Jonson is delightful, and so is that from Beaumont and Fletcher; Milton and Dryden are as satisfactory. Cowper has a space authorized rather by his excellent humanity than the excellence of his poetry ; and Burns has room far beyond his inspiration. There is not enough of Leigh Hunt, who was a poet of exquisite quality. Campbell, Moore, Coleridge, Montgomery, Blake, and Shelley are fitly represented. There is the best of Wordsworth, but much less than is quoted would have showu how tedious he could be. Byron is well managed ; Browning presents peculiar difficulties, frankly evaded ; Tennyson is not adequately shown in the selections.

It is easier to make these running criticisms than to justify them ; they will doubtless not justify themselves to the sense of many readers, and we must defend them only by our own feeling. As far as they are adverse, they imply simply that a work of this scope must be open to censure. Its faults do not characterize it, for it is a collection not only eminently satisfactory in general, but in far the greater number of particulars. The reader may confidently go to it for the whole or part of every great or famous English poem.

— Quite the best poem in Mr. Whittier’s new volume 2 is, we think, the ballad of the Witch of Wen ham Lake. In this we have the poet on his own ground, with a story, sweet and native, to tell. he tells it as no one else could : simply, picturesquely, with a sort of tremor of intense feeling in its music. Our readers cannot have forgotten it, nor the faint glimmer of archness in the young girl’s character which gives its finest effect to the tale. Mr. Whittier has more than once realized the grim witch time in his verse, but we cauuot recollect that he has ever brought it so vividly and pathetically to mind, while losing none of the lovecharm proper to this particular theme. He seems to feel with a passionate keenness the infernal ugliness of the superstition which makes the blackest page in our colonial annals, and no one else lias enforced it so poignantly. Sunset on the Bearcamp, Seeking the Waterfall, and June on the Merriinae are poems in which the characteristic New England landscape brightens and breathes again; and the Vision of Echard is a piece full of the poet’s high and consoling religiousness. The new volume contains also his beautiful tribute to William Francis Bartlett, and his Centennial Hymn. The Two Angels is again a hymn of courageous and loving faith, which finds expression in other poems. It is scarcely too exeg'Gtic, hat its danger is in that direction. Otherwise, this beloved poet’s art, like that of Longfellow’s, mellows from year to year; and ripening late after a long growth, in which some crude flavors mingled, his poetry has now a richness as uticloying as it is unstinted. This little book represents it at its best.

We are glad to recognize the mechanical beauty of the volume. The Riverside printing is known, and we do not speak of that, but of the binding and tlie whole exterior of the book, in which there is an elegance, a very uncommon in American books.

— Mr. Stanley, in the double title of his latest hook,3 lias happily characterized the narrative, which is in the main a frank, Straightforward record of his journey, with hits of bravura here and there. We should he sorry to miss these passages, which at first seem to he a writing-master’s flourishes, hut finally strike one as intimations of the genuineness of the writer’s autograph. Apart from the interest which these two volumes must long excite by their pioneer character, they are the magnificent achievement of an American newspaper reporter. We know very well that the newspaper correspondent, especially of the English press, has left his mark in current literature ; Dr. Russell has been followed hv Forbes, and the advance in art shown by this succession hints :it a probable fixed profession of newspaper correspondence; hut while Dickens may be taken as showing what cockney reporting may come to, we chuckle behind our hands at the figure Stanley will cut in literary history, as the ripest product ol American newspaper reporting life. We do not believe that his career will lead to a school. There is something too isolated, too spectacular, in it. No matter in what direction some other daring reporter may attack Africa, Stanley’s journey will be princeps because primus. The results of his journey, valuable as they are in the illustration of geography, must always be subordinate to the achievement, and the achievement draws its power from the central figure of this narrative. The civilization of Europe and America may require a new continent for the manifestation of its force, ■mul subsequent material conquests may lessen the, value of Mr. Stanley’s narrative as a contribution to African geography and ethnography, but

“ virum . . , cano ”

can never cease to be the prelude to the most popular and worthy poems, and we do not see how young hearts can help beating quicker when they take these volumes from the shelf, generations hence, even if the library containing them overlooks the waters of Victoria Nyanza,

A great traveler is a man of genius, and no one can read Stanley’s jouniev without conceding this quality to him. He has by no means a genius for writing, but his genius for finding his way and for overcoming or dodging obstacles is unmistakable. No defects of narrative can conceal this splendid faculty for going where he set out to go; nor can any presumably inadequate prepartition blind one to the instinct which this traveler possesses for finding out what he wants to know. Undoubtedly other and older travelers have been better equipped in point of learning, yet one hesitates after all to concede to closet study of geographical problems a superiority over that training of eye and nerve and mother wit which formed Stanley’s chief outfit for his work. He tells us that before making the journey he read largely in the literature of African travel, but the sort of knowledge which he thus acquired, though helped by his previous experience, would bear little examination beside the solid work of trained students. It was the preliminary reading of a reporter who has a special task set him; when he gets into the field he relies instinctively on his eyes and ears, and makes his reading wholly subordinate. The qualities which go to make up a good reporter were present in Stanley, or were developed as rapidly as occasion demanded. The fertility of resources, the concentration of mind, the power of seizing opportunities, the unflinching fidelity, — these were of inestimable value in the gigantic task set this reporter. There were, besides, certain qualities which are pretty likely to attach to successful reporters,—great good-humor, patience, self-confidence, and a recklessness of consequences which is almost fatalism. Indeed, it is within bounds to say that Stanley’s high spirits carried him through, he has been charged with boasting and undue self-assertion, but we doubt if a thoroughly modest man could have crossed Africa. Something more was needed to nerve himself and to inspire courage in his followers.

The portraits prefacing the two volumes, showing Stanley before he crossed Africa, and Stanley after he crossed, tell as plainly as wood-engravings can the effect upon him of his terrible experience,—an effect heightened by making the second portrait in profile. It is a pity that we could not have had similar pictures of the Wangwana, but the change in them was one not so easily represented by pictures. The reader scarcely needs to be told by Stanley how marked a change was wrought in these fellows by the fierce ordeal through which they passd ; their transformation from a disorderly crowd into a compact, obedient, and courageous following is not the least interesting feature of the narrative, and the reaction which came upon them when their journey was completed is pathetic in the extreme.

It is difficult for the reader to realize to dimself the time occupied in the journev; he is furnished with datesand distances, but the stirring nature of the journey obliterates these marks, and when, for instance, he is told : “ A month ago we descended the Upper Mowa Tails; it is still in sight of me, being only three miles off. Three miles in thirty days, and four persons drowned even in this short distance!” he is sharply reminded that he himself galloped over the fifty pages covering the mouth with feverish haste.

The exhaustion produced in the reader’s mind by the succession of perils and escapes enables him to understand more clearly the half-despairing, half ferocious feeling with which Stanley and his followers encountered the next of the long series ; for, however captious people may be as to certain details, it is quite impossible to withstand the cumulative argument for honesty which Stanley’s narrative contains. No one could simulate the candor which marks the work, and all the generous qualities which accompany a truthful nature arc illustrated in so many various, often uueon-eiotH ways, that one cannot escape the conviction that the hook is a faithful report. Either Stanley tells the truth always, or he is a consummate artist in invention, and the latter hypothesis cannot be sustained even when one brings the most incredulous mind to the task of reading the book. So we accept the whole story, including Mtesa’s conversion, and especially we accept unhesitatingly Stanley’s statement as to his dealings with the barbarians.

We have not undertaken to give a resume of the work. It has been more to our mind to call attention to some of the personal features, for we repeat that the book has its greatest value as an exhibition of human character aud endurance. It is the story of a great achievement, and a man who achieves is worth a continent of rivers, lakes, aud mountains. It is all the more human since the man who in this case achieved has a secondary interest as an exponent of a class of Americans who have hardly had justice done them in literature.

— H. H.’s Bits of Travel at Home 4 is a book made up of a series of sketches, descriptive of certain parts of natural scenery in California, Colorado, and New England Some of the papers have already appeared in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere. Whether their effect is not somewhat dimmed by publication together, while at the same time a good deal of similar material is added, is a fair question. The little hook is so full of raptures over all manner of wild flowers, over sunsets and mountains, and is generally so intense, to use a word that just defines it, that many readers will probably feel cloyed before they have gone half through it, and will sigh for some soberer narrative. It is well that this danger is partly met by the introduction of a brief account of New England grave-yards and snow-storms between the descriptions of the eternal sunshine of th ■ less arid parts of the country, hut even this precaution is not wholly satisfactory.

H. H.’s perfervid accounts of wonderful landscapes are perhaps chiefly wearisome by their great number. Putting landscapes down on paper is a Very difficult thing to do, and to reconstruct them, with the certainty of doing it wrong, is even more difficult; but H. H.’s fluency certainly gives the reader all the material for his fancy that he can want. It is a dangerous thing to do, too, even when it is done so cleverly as it is here, for, next to the plagiarisms from guide-books, are not the raptures over the Bcenerv what we first skip in the letters from our friends who are abroad ? We are lucky to have friends cm any part of the surface of the earth who can write like H. H., but even her books, which read very much like the talk or the letters of a bright woman, lack at times the qualities that make real literature.

Her accounts of the people she met are always clever and entertaining, and it. is pleasant to find so bold and imperturbably cheerful a traveler setting down her experience in strange parts. By her enthusiasm over wild flowers and clouds she addresses a limited public, hut this public will be sure to find great pleasure in her book, and other readers will find many detached passages of interest about regions which are not by any menus well known. Even the familiar New England scenery is set in a new light by her skilled peu.

— The readers of The Atlantic will remember some papers, printed here in 1874, which related the pathetic experiences of a family of cultivated English people, who left their pleasant home in France, at the close of the German war, and went to seek their fortunes in the backwoods of Canada. These papers have been collected and republished in a volume5 which, if not quite unique in its interest, belongs to a class oi books only too rare. It is a very touching record; and though the reader is able to make his criticism that the enterprise of those whose misfortunes it narrates seems to have been heedlessly and unadvisedly undertaken, it is none the less touching on that account; he cannot help sympathizing with their sufferings and privations, and admiring their heroic courage and endurance. The transition from the pretty country house near Calais, where the officer’s widow was living with her children, to a log-cabin in the depths of the Muskoka wilderness is hastily sketched, but the sketch is full of heart-breaking suggestion ; and there are few things in literature more moving than the picture of that first Christmas in the “ Hush.” They were people who were not only willing to work hard, but cheerfully tu idealize away the wretchedness of their lot; and they had generous hopes of an unselfish prosperity. But they had no money, and they had not the unfitness for better things which would have been their best qualification for success in their venture; and they are now, tlie reader will he glad to know, all out of the hush, though the historian of their sojourn there sends this little hook into the world from a sick-room, in which she lies hopelessly broken in health by her toils and sufferings. The settlement of every new country has involved disaster like theirs ; but it is curious to read, in oar much telegraphed and railroaded times, of miseries within a second or forty-eight hours of us that belong to the age of the Pilgrims in New England, and of the first pioneers in the West. It may ho that in the chapter called A Wedding in Muskoka the contrasts in the life of the K-family are more poignantly suggested than elsewhere in the book, but it abounds in passages of vivid appeal to the sympathetic imagination, and not the least appealing are those in which the sadness of their fate is carried off with cheerfulness and even merriment. Where the writer, at the end of one of her chap tors, has the fortitude to address a sonnet to the pines of Muskoka, it is almost too much.

We commend this book most cordially. When the elders of the family have read it, they will like to read it aloud to their children ; for it is the story of misfortune met and endured in the best spirit.

— The qualities which made Miss Jewett’s Deephaven so agreeable could not fail to appear in any book which she might write for children, and Play Days6 is characterised by the same temper of gentleness and good-breeding which gave distinction to the earlier book. We are old-fashioned enough to like good breeding, with all that the homely, significant word intends, and we like its mark in Play Days because it is so genuine and native. It is, we hasten to say, not modeled upon the type which we recognize instantly in the literature which young English masters and misses receive with apparent docility. There is not a governess in the book. There is no lad there either, — that singular being whom Chauncy Wright so well described as"a boy with a man’s band on his head.” There is no slang introduced for ihe purpose of shocking the governess or older sister, and giving the boy who uses it the reputation of an abandoned swearer and awful example ; in effect, that conventional goodbreeding which is founded on class distinction, and not on Christian democracy, is refreshingly absent from Play Days. The element which we find there is conspicuous also by its contrast with the noisy, ungrammatical, and boisterous type of young America which gets recognition enough in books for young people. The suggestions are of home life and the sweet sanctity of a protected childhood. Even the pathetic and lovely story of Nancy’s Doll makes the misery of poverty to be but the dark background on which to sketch one or two golden figures; and The Best China Sancer, which conies as near as any to the conventional type of moral talcs, is relieved by a grotesque humor and a charity which never fails. There is a refinement in the book which is very grateful, as we have said, but it does not take the form of a disagreeable fastidiousness. The humor is always spontaneous and simple, and not above a child’s enjoyment; The Shipwrecked Buttons shows this in a very charming manner, and is the cleverest story in the book, from the originality of the frame-work, in which a number of little stories are set. There is a facility of writing which possibly misleads the author, for while all the stories are written with apparent ease, the writer does not always distinguish between what is essential to the story and what is mere graceful decoration. If Miss Jewett always had a story to tell, her charm of manner would add to the agreeableness of the story; but her interest in writing sometimes leads her to forget that children want a story, and will he indifferent to many graces which please a writer. A more positive story would add greatly to the pleasure which Miss Jewett’s book gives, and we trust that she will cultivate the power of invention. She needs the development of that side of a story-teller’s gift to make her work singularly good; it is too good now uot to ho better.

— The story of Nelly’s Silver Mine 7 comes as a grateful relief from the literature for the young which deals with the more barbaric side of Western frontier life. Mr. March, an asthmatic clergyman, is promised relief and final restoration in Colorado, whither he goes with his wife and twin children, a boy and a girl of about twelve years. He even takes a deacon of his church with him, an old farmer accompanied by his wife, hut we can promise the reader that so clerical a foundation is not followed by any verv serious superstructure. The deacon and his wife serve for a few mild jokes, and to illustrate one effect of the Colorado climate, and then return to the East. The Marches change their residence once, and the journey to the now country, with the incidents of settling and removal to a mining district, offers an opportunity to describe Colorado scenery which is well used. The hook presumably gives the young reader a truthful glimpse of a new country, although without very minute detail of life. What we especially like in it, and what seems to interest the writer most, is the characterization of a few types of border life, less swag gering and riotous than usually find their way into print. The two Swedes, the old assurer, the driver “ Long Billy,” are sufficiently native to the scene and fresh to the ordinary reader, while the red-shirted, longlocked crowd of miners appear only in a sketchy background. There surely can he no objection to introducing children to wellbred people in Colorado, and t Vie exceptional character of the State may well justify such pictures, yet see how near we come to an apology for the hook’s freedom from sensationalism! The title seems at first a misnomer: the mine indeed appears to be found by Nelly at one time, but judiciously proves nearly worthless, — a conclusion for which we tender our best thanks to the au thor, who might by a few strokes of her pen have filled the pockets of the worthy March family with silver, and so have vulgarized her story and made it a book to be shunned bv all wise parents. She has doue better than reward the patient little Nelly with material wealth; she has shown the expansion of a gentle character, and the reader discovers at the end that a pretty moral lies hidden in the title,—a moral which is not obtruded, but pervades the book as a delicate perfume. We heartily commend the hook for its healthy spirit, its lively narrative of adventure, and its freedom from most of the faults of books for children. If it were worth while, it would be easy to show the influence upon so skilled a writer as H. H., when entering this field, of the conventionalism which almost unfailingly shows itself in books for young people.

—Ferns and their next of kin are the most highly developed of the flowerless plants. It is believed by many that in the branching lines which indicate the ancestry of plants this group immediately preceded the pines and the tropical eycads. In that period of geologic time, these allies constituted no small part of the vegetation ; in fact, even now, upon many islands in the tropics, tree-ferns are a conspicuous element of thescenery. Many of the living species are doubtless the direct descendants of those whose remains are now found fossilized in the coal-measures. On account of their instructive family history, ferns have received much attention from geologists and botanists; and what we may call the recent genealogy is pretty well made out. Hut far more interesting than any study of these systems of arrangement, or the determination of the relationships dependent upon descent, has been, and is still, the investigation of the life history of any single fern or club-moss. The must important features respecting their mode of growth were made out early in the present century, but absolutely nothing in regard to their reproduction was discovered until 1848. And even as late as 1873 an entirely fresh contribution to the life history of ferns was made by one of our American botanists, Dr. Fa flow. From every point of view, ferns and their kindred present innumerable attractions to the naturalist. In the temperate zones, our ferns arc dwarfed. In the struggle for existence, they have had to contend against extremes of temperature, against occasional droughts and frequent drownings. The stem of the fern at the North is not a columnar trunk, crowned with a canopy of immense fronds; on the contrary, it is a subterranean, root-like body, hiding for its very life. During our summer, it ventures to deck itself with a few’ sprays of foliage, as if they were a hit of finery kept as an heirloom, a reminder of their high descent. It is no wonder that these delicate traceries of tissue have attracted many collectors who care nothing for any scientific aspect in which the fern may be viewed. The ferns in several European countries have been accurately figured and described for amateurs, but we have had no similar work in America. This deficiency is now in a fair way to Le supplied. Professor Eaton, an accredited authority in fern-lore (or, as it is commonly called, pteridology), has undertaken to describe in popular language all the ferns of this country.8 he has begun, in the numbers before us, by giving a somewhat detailed scientific diagnosis of the species under consideration. This is followed by references to the literature. Then is given, in clearest unteehnical terms, a very minute description of the species and of its varieties, together wiili such interesting facts as may hear upon the distribution of the plant, its possible uses, and the like.

The plates are chromo-lithographs, from drawings by Mr. J. H. Emerton. The sketches are faithful, and the minute figures are exceedingly instructive. The identification of doubtful varieties of puzzling species is rendered, by these plates, comparatively simple. It is as easy for a collector of ferns to identify his, or we may say her, specimens by comparing them with Mr. Emerton’s drawings as it is to match patterns at a dry-goods store. Now, we believe that, although this work will serve a good purpose in matching fern patterns, so to speak, it will, in every instance where it is used, subserve a far nobler end. No person can attentively examine, under proper guidance, even for a short time, so complex and so beautiful a natural object as a fern without being attracted to more serious studies in the same direction. The work before us will amply suffice for the needs of amateur collectors, and its high character will render it of authority to professional botanists.

  1. The Family Library of British Poetry, from Chaucer to the Present Time. Edited by JAMES T. FIELDS and EDWIN P. WHIPPLE. Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1878
  2. The Vision of Echard, and other Poems. By JHON GREENLEAF WHITTIER, Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1878.
  3. Through the Dark Continent : or, The Sources of he Nils, around the Great Lakes of Equatorial Affica, and down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocecn. By HENRY M. STANLEY. With ten maps and one hundred and fifty wood-ruts. In two volumes. New York : Harper and Brothers, Publishers. 1878 [Bold only by subscription. Agents for Boston, George M. Smith & Co.]
  4. Bits of Travel al Home. By H. H., author of tits of Travel, Bits of Talk about Home Matters, Bits of Talk for Young Folks, Verses by H. H. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1878.
  5. Letters from Muskoka. By an Emigrant Lady, London Richard Bentley and Son. 1878.
  6. Play Days, A Book of Stories tor Children. BY SARAH O. JEWETT, author of Deephavcn. Boson: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1878.
  7. Nelly’s Silver Mine. A Story of Colorado Life By H. H. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1878.
  8. Ferns of North America. By PROP. D. C. HATON, of Yale College. Salem, Mass. : S. E. Casino, Naturalists’ Agency.