MR. TYLER’S History of American Literature 1 has externally all the appearance of a serious work. It is in two volumes, octavo, bound and lettered on the back, and stands by itself with apparent ease. There seems to be no difficulty in one’s putting it on his shelf beside A History of French Literature, say, and finding it look just as serene and dignified. And yet, — and yet the incredulous reader, especially after noting the dates on the back and seeing that the two volumes bring the history of that literature only as far as 1765, is half disposed to leave the volumes unopened, lest they should prove to be backgammon boards or lunchboxes. To take an interest in American literature previous to 1765 seems to him very like the Marchioness’s delectation over orange-peel and water, requiring a very hard make-believe.
Nevertheless the stoutest incredulity must give way before the evident sincerity of the writer, and long before the first volume is finished he who came to scoff remains to pray for a third and fourth volume. It is not enough to say that Mr. Tyler is sincere ; it is his positive enthusiasm which takes his readers captive, and it is the same element, we suspect, which enabled him to give to his subject that unwearied devotion which has transformed a possible solemn duty, respectably accomplished, into a labor of love, unquestionably successful. For certainly such a history might easily have been made dull, and we should all have said that the fault was in the subject; now we are almost persuaded by Mr. Tyler to say that the success is due to the inherent charm of the subject; but we stop short of such a bold assertion, and give the credit where it belongs, to a writer who has touched the apparently leafless boughs of our early literature and made them green and fruitful and pleasant to the eye.
The most conspicuous merit in these volumes is the ability with which the author has made the writings of our first century and a half a vivid exponent of the life which was gathering in the nation. Literature as an art could better be studied through the masterpieces of other nations, but literature as an expression of intellectual life finds abundant material in the exercises of the young colonies. Mr. Tyler has a clear and just conception of this office in literature, and his work is a consistent study of forces which in our earlier days produced results of inestimable value in any analysis of our national life. “There is hut one thing,” he forcibly says to the reader at the outset, — “ there is but one thing more interesting than the intellectual history of a man, and that is the intellectual history of a nation.” He brings thus to his task a belief in the nation, and a conception of the nation as a moral organism capable of growth, which makes it possible for him to discover tendencies and lines of development in what otherwise would have seemed mere fragments and desultory bits of literature. The hook is in this respect, whether consciously or not, built upon a belief which has already been nobly presented iu Mr. Mulford’s The Nation. The reader who recognizes the value of Mr. Mulford’s book will be the quickest to perceive the cohesive strength of Mr. Tyler’s history.
The plan of the work, as well in what it excludes as in what it includes, can best be stated by Mr. Tyler himself in his preface : “ It is my purpose to write the history of American literature from the earliest English settlements in this country down to the present time. . . . Unity and completeness have been aimed at in the present volumes, which, together, may be described as a history of the rise of American literature at the several isolated colonial centres, where at first each had its peculiar literary accent; of the growth of this sporadic colonial literature in copiousness, range, flexibility, in elegance and force, and especially in tendency toward a common national accent; until, finally, in 1765, after all the years of our minority and of our filial obedience had been lived, the scattered voices of the thirteen colonies were for the first time brought together and blended in one great and resolute utterance, — an utterance expressive of criticism upon the parental control wielded over us by England, of dissent from that, control, and at last of resistance to it; an utterance which meant, among other things, that the thirteen colonies were no longer thirteen colonies, but a single nation only, with all its great hopes and great fears in common, with its ideas, its determinations, its literature, in common, likewise. ... I have not undertaken to give an indiscriminate dictionary of all Americans who ever wrote anything, or a complete bibliographical account of all American books that were ever written. It is our literary history only that I have undertaken to give, — that is, the history of those writings in the English language, produced by Americans, which have some noteworthy value as literature, and some real significance in the literary unfolding of the American mind.”
In the execution of this plan Mr. Tyler has first thoroughly mastered his material, and then, ordering it, in a natural method, has presented it to the reader in a form wholly his own, and every way suited to the subject. The work of our early writers has not been taken on trust, but everywhere there is evidence of patient, attentive reading; and if Mr. Tyler has now and then found our early books more lively than we had supposed, why, his readers can hardly blame him severely, since he has thus cajoled them into an admiration which their own efforts would have made fatiguing. We rub our eyes a little, and wonder if the extracts he gives us quite justify the somewhat highly colored terms which he applies; but it is easier to yield to his warm enthusiasm, and be borne along to the next stage. The skill with which illustrative passages are woven into the text is admirable, and the books touched upon really seem to exhibit themselves, so deftly do they open before us at their best pages and disclose their brightest thoughts. Mr. Tyler’s method is to outline the subject directly before him in its historic relations, and then proceed with vignettes of the writers belonging to a group. Such personal incidents as help to explain the man are given, his work is placed, and here and there a passage read aloud to us as the sketch goes on. With an unflagging interest each successive name is presented by the host, as if it were the one most worth considering, and by happy, sometimes epigrammatic, phrases the literary character is hit off, rather than painfully analyzed and dismembered. These felicitous touches abound in the book: “ the science of God and man as seen through the dun goggles of John Calvin;” Nathaniel Ward “was one of those unhappy persons with the brain of a radical and the temperament of a conservative ; ” “ most readers nowadays, who may find themselves by chance near this huge book [George Fox digged out of his Burrows] will gaze down into it for a moment as into some vast tank into which have poured the drippings of a furious religious combat in the olden time, — theological nicknames, blunt-headed words of pious abuse, devout scurrilities, the rancid vocabulary of Puritan billingsgate, that diction of hearty and expressive dislike which Roger Williams himself pleasantly described as ‘ sharp Scripture language;’” Samuel Sewall “ rises into this rhythmical and triumphant passage, which in its quaint melody of learned phrase, and in a gentle humor that lurks and loses itself in the stiff folds of its own solemnity, has a suggestion of the quality of Sir Thomas Browne ; ” the almanac, “ the very quack, clown, pack-horse, and pariah of modern literature; ” “ We see a person whose intellectual endowments were quite remarkable, but inflated and perverted by egotism; himself imposed upon by his own moral affectations; completely surrendered to spiritual artifice; Stretched, every instant of his life, on the rack of ostentatious exertion, intellectual and religious, — and all this partly for vanity’s sake, partly for conscience’ sake, in deference to a dreadful system of ascetic and pharisaic formalism, in which his nature was hopelessly enmeshed.” This last quotation is from the admirable chapter on “the literary behemoth of New England in our colonial era,” Cotton Mather, and illustrates as well as any short passage can Mr. Tyler’s faculty for packing his judgment into a sentence, at the risk of a little excess of picturesque phrase. It would be easy to pick out a good many happy hits, but after all the impression made upon the reader is not, as might be supposed, of ambitious smartness. The characterizations are clever, but they serve oftener as the gathering up of the writer’s judgment after he has given abundant illustration, than as rough-and-ready sketches. Indeed, the thoroughness with which the work is done is apparent in those marks of a good workman which give one a grateful sense of finish in composition,—the footnote references and the appeal to the best authorities. We do not feel it necessary always to agree with Mr. Tyler; as we have intimated, his enthusiasm and devotion, while they do not impair his sense of justice, have led him to bear on harder in his praise sometimes than a cooler retrospect deems quite fair in the larger measures of literature. He do s not make geese swans, but He does not suffer us to overlook such native beauty of plumage as his geese may have, half hidden from the unsympathetic eye.
In taking account, also, of the forces at work in New England literature, there was a capital chance for a fresh chapter, which he seems to have overlooked; we mean that almost unbroken series of election sermous, forming, by virtue of the succession, a class by themselves, and illustrating well that theological oversight of government which was significant in our New England history, and has not yet disappeared. We miss, too, an account of John Davenport, who was entitled to more than the brief mention given to him. William Strachey’s Historic of Travaile into Virginia Britannia was worth noting under that writer’s name, and Anthony Thacher’s Narrative is too fine a piece of English to he left out of the reckoning. We should have called more attention, in fact, to the pure style which marks much of the writing of the early Puritans, and it would be no great stretch of prerogative to take into a history of our literature the tender letters of John Winthrop, as preserved for us in his descendant’s life of him. Among the accessories of literature, also, a capital chapter might have been made by Mr. Tyler — and no one would have done it better — out of the libraries and bookstores of the early days.
But it is only because we have so much that we want a little more. It is hardly likely that this work will be done again, so well has the field now been covered. Mr. Tyler’s own interested and hearty speech has so been mingled with the literary deeds of our fathers that it will be difficult to make a study of their work without taking him along as a guide ; a more generous and catholic companion it would be impossible to find.
— The introductory account of her work, which Mr. Stowe gives in the new edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,2 is a literary history whose frankness and simplicity will appeal to every one. But only the exterior causes, the mechanical occasion, of any work of genius can be given even by the author,and Mrs. Stowe can hut tell us that the accumulated facts of hearsay and observation concerning slavery weighed upon her heart, till one day, as she sat at the communion-table in church, the final scene of the book so vividly presented itself to her that she could scarcely keep back her tears and sobs, and she hastened home to put it in writing. The mysterious force beneath the sudden impulse she humbly believes to have been the divine love and justice moving her to self-devotion in a holy cause ; and indeed, as one reads the wonderful book now, it seems less a work of art than of spirit. The art is most admirable: it is very true and very high, —the highest that can be known to fiction ; but it has fearful lapses, in which the jarring and grating of the bare facts set the teeth on edge : there are false colors in character; there are errors of taste; but there is never any lapse of its wise humanity, never any flickering of its clear light, never any error of heart or of purpose.
That a book so generous to the South should have roused that section to such fury is sufficient evidence of its truth and of the Southern consciousness of guilt; but Mrs. Stowe tells us that this fury amazed her, and that it was the indignation of the abolitionists she had dreaded, because she feared that she had softened the tints in her picture of slavery too much. Its effect upon the world at large she finds indescribable; she can only touch here and there upon a few typical facts, and the best representation of this is the interesting bibliography of Mr. Bullen, showing how the book was translated into Armenian, Bohemian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Hungarian, Illyrian, Polish, Portuguese, Romaic, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Swedish, Wallachian, and Welsh. Thirtyfive editions were published in English; there were thirteen French translations and two dramatizations; thirteen German versions; in Spanish six ; in Welsh three; in Russian three ; in Italian, Polish, Dutch, Servian, and Wallachian, each two. It was reviewed in all the critical periodicals of the world. Yet these figures, striking as they are, faintly indicate its unparalleled popularity,— a renown that will probably forever remain unique. Wherever there was a mind to think and a heart to feel, it appealed with a depth and a force which none but those who remember slavery as an actuality can understand. Mrs. Stowe gives a few of the innumerable letters she received iu response to it. One of these is from Dickens, who was “ charmed ” — an odd word to use — by her book, and recognized its power, but thought she tried to prove too much for the negroes us a race ; another is a note, discreditably brief, cold, and dry, from Macaulay; there is a generous and fervent thanksgiving from Kingsley; and there are letters from Lord Carlisle and the Earl of Shaftesbury, noble, humble, and devout, which are the best of the English letters given. There is one from Jenny Lind, and one from Fredrika Bremer; and Mrs. Stowe reproduces the preface for one of the Freach versions by George Sand, an exceedingly just and sympathetic criticism of the work. The world was touched to kindred by a fiction which was truer than any history ever written, and which was so simple in mood, of such unconscious art, that it impressed the reader not as a narration of alien experience, but as a fact of his own knowledge. Perhaps the sweetest and most touching testimony to its influence is given by Mrs. Leonowens, concerning a lady of the Siamese court, who freed her slaves after reading the book, and thereafter, to express her sympathy and affection for the author, always called herself Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Almost a generation has passed since the fame of this book filled the world. The fame is a little dimmed, but the book is as great as ever, its hold upon the reader is as intense. But with his abhorrence of slavery, which it rouses in all its old fervor, is mixed a profound gratitude that all that guilt and suffering are now past. It is a book which we can commend to two classes of polite despairers: to those who lament that we have no American novel, and to those who sorrow over our present political corruption and decay. Here is an American novel as great in its way as Longfellow’s Evangeline or Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, and probably greater, upon the whole, than any other novel of our time. This ought to comfort the down-hearted friend of our literature, and our political doubter may reflect, upon reading it, that whatever be our present sin and shame, they are virtue and honor compared with the degradation in which we lay when slavery had so perverted the national mind and heart that the one no longer found it wrong, and the other no longer felt it bad. We may be in an evil way, but are not in so evil a way as that; and whatever adversity may be in store for us, we can never again suffer the prosperity of a free state based upon slavery. We may be a fraud, but we are no longer an open lie.
— The poetry of Mrs. Whitman,3 now first collected at the close of her long and beautiful and honored life, reflects in some measure the poetic moods of the different generations which she outlived. It seems to us that she cannot honestly be called a woman of genius; but she had all the keen sympathy and the quick impressibility of genius, and whatever she wrote has the charm of a graceful mind, a ready feeling, and a generous womanly nature. Her work often frankly confesses its literary inspiration, which is most direct in the poems responding to the dark genius of Poe, to which she was drawn not only by æsthetic sympathy, but by her love for the man. A number of pieces in the present volume relate to that unhappy passion; but they are not of the best, as he was certainly not the best of her masters. She here and there finds her own voice, and is then at her best, as in the descriptive piece, A Still Day in Autumn, with which her book opens. The few poems about the war are of good quality; and the sonnets on slavery addressed to Mrs. Browning thrill with a genuine emotion. But after the descriptive pieces we find the following, upon the whole, the most impressive. It is a real cry from the soul of a woman,— a cry of rejection and reproach, which utters the sense of every spirit unsatisfied by the half-facts of skeptical knowledge: —
“ The words ‘ vital force,’‘instinct,’' soul,’ are only expressions of our ignorance.”— BUCHNER.
He numbed and drowsy with its ceaseless boom,
I hear, as in a dream, the monody
Of life’s tumultuous, ever-ebbing sea ;
The iron tramp of armies hurrying by
Forever and forever but to die ;
The tragedies of time, the dreary years,
The frantic carnival of hopes and fears,
The wild waltz-music wailing through the gloom,
The slow death-agonies, the yawning tomb,
The loved ones lost forever to our sight,
In the wide waste of chaos and old night ;
Earth’s long, long dream of martyrdom and pain ;
No God in heaven to rend the welded chain
Of endless evolution !
And mole-eyed “ Science,”gloating over bones,
The skulls of monkeys and the Age of Stones,
Blinks at the golden lamps that light the hall
Of dusty death, and answers : “It is all.”
But Mrs. Whitman’s poems seem generally written from an impulse which, however genuine, is not strong enough to carry them to any vivid or deep effect. We find ourselves beginning them, but not always reading them through. They are full of bright and Charming fancies, and they are often peculiarly fortunate in phrase; and it should be enough that we get from them a sense of her own character, — serenely loving, pure, and high. An interesting and very fitting memoir introduces the collection of her poems.
1 Poems. By SARAH HELEN WHITMAN Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.
— Mr. McKnight’s book of sonnets4 is not one that will lend itself readily to the perusal of the reader who wishes to be amused, or sensuously moved. These sonnets deal in a high seriousness with very solemn questions. They are addressed to the reader’s conscience, his moods of selfblame and of aspiration, and every word is of a strenuous earnestness, that asks little help of imagery or rhetoric. Here is one that exemplifies the manner and matter of most, though we ought to say that it is one of the best for clearness and directness : —
Though it continue long, unless, indeed,
Through self-deception to it thou accede.
Of that beware ! Thy lasting hurt 't will be.
For if in willfulness thou yield the key
That opes the soul for Truth to enter in
Unto her enemy, how can she win
Thenceforth an entrance? Oh, watch jealously
If veiled desire persuasively entreat
Thy reason for the form of an assent
To give some fair or subtile argument
Admittance into Truth’s peculiar seat!
Lest treason to the truth, within thy soul,
Deliver it to falsehood’s hard control.”
One may say that this is old truth, and often discovered before ; and one may say as much of very many things in Mr. McKnight’s sonnet; but whatever form presents the truth anew gives it fresh effect, and enforces its claim with authentic power. We therefore wish Mr. McKnight’s book well, and we can commend it sincerely to thoughtful and meditative people as a volume which they can hardly open anywhere without the pleasure that comes from the expression of a gentle, courageous, and lucid mind.
— We do not think Mr. Gilder has given us in his present volume5 anything quite so good as the best in his New Day ; but he has rid himself of much, though not all, of the mysticism which darkened that. The opening ode, “ I am the spirit of the morning sea,” is the finest poem here ; it is bright and glad; it is really what it calls itself in that first line, and it has some passages of vivid descriptive effect, like —
Fills the white air with silence like a tune,”
which paints that kind of night to the soul and to the eye ; but of the closing ode, which gives its name to the book, we make nothing. There is A Midsummer Song, very pretty and very musical indeed; and there are some good sonnets, among which this one about the sonnet we find exceedingly well thought and faultlessly said : —
That murmurs of the far-off murmuring sea ;
A precious jewel carved most curiously ;
It is a little picture painted well.
What is a sonnet ? ’T is the tear that fell
From a great poet’s hidden ecstasy ;
A two edged-sword, a star, a song, —ah me !
Sometimes a heavy-tolling funeral bell.
This was the flame that shook with Dante’s breath,
The solemn organ whereon Milton played,
And the clear glass where Shakespeare’s shadow
A sea this is, — beware who ventureth !
For like a fiord the narrow floor is laid
Deep as mid-ocean to sheer mountain walls.”
— The time is past, fortunately, when one feels the obligations of prophecy in regard to any new poet; and nothing is more out of fashion than to hail precocious verses as the earnest of great future performance. We are able, therefore, to like the sweet and simple poems of the Goodale children,6 for the proper childish charm that is in them, and need not burden ourselves with praise of what they are to do hereafter. They are two little girls, one of fifteen and the other of twelve years, whose lives have been spent on a farm in the Berkshire hills, and who sing of the seasons, of the birds, and of the flowers, the things they have known and loved, from an impulse that seems quite their own, and not borrowed from their reading. Their poems have grace and tenderness, and are surprisingly good iu their technique. They cannot, of course, add to the reader’s stock of ideas and emotions; and he can Say, if he chooses, that there is more than enough in the volume to show their range and quality ; but he cannot very well help being touched and pleased with them. There are pretty and naïve passages, here and there, where the child triumphs over the poet, which will more especially go to fathers’ and mothers’ hearts; and the younger of the two minstrels has a spirit of fun in her, akin to that in the book of Miss Lucy Bull, of Hartford. She has, also, a peculiarly fine sense of harmony in her verse, which has a freer and more joyous movement than her elder sister’s. But we do not mean to suggest any invidious comparison, or to do other than accept as graciously as they are offered these really lovely and appealingly pretty little bursts of song.
— A Masque of Poets7 is a much more considerable and interesting volume than would ever be believed without reading it. Invited poetry is not apt to be radiantly inspired, and there is something puerile in the idea of “ speaking a piece” in the dark, and requesting your audience to guess your name, akin to performing in those mild household games where the company are asked to divine a whole person from an exhibited eye or finger. For our own part, moreover, we confess to a strong sympathy with good old Joseph de Maistre in his skepticism about things excessively premeditated. It will be remembered that when he learned that the infant American republic had resolved to build itself a capital city on the Potomac, and call its name Washington, he prophesied immediately and roundly that no such city would ever be built, or if it were it would not be on the Potomac, or if there it would not be called Washington. Nevertheless the city, as we know, was built, after a certain ambitious and unequal fashion; and the poets have masqueraded, — some of them, — and much of their poetizing is really excellent. There are a half dozen spirited ballads, most of them national in theme, of which Running the Blockade is the best. There are twice as many more or less melodious little love songs, — two or three of which are fairly exquisite. There is a fine Swinburnian study called The Marshes of Glynn, in which the poet has almost bettered, in some passages, his master’s instruction ; while the novelette in verse, with which the volume closes, is an admirable specimen of its class, — with a good plot, much wit, some feeling, and capital versification in the style and metre of Don Juan.
The reader is politely requested to return to the publishers of the Masque his guesses about the authorship of the different poems; but from this we beg to be excused. The only pleasure which any well-regulated mind can derive from a conundrum consists in having it answered the instant after it is propounded, and, since we cannot have that, we must be content with such delectation as the poems themselves can afford. Here is — to our thinking—the sweetest of the love songs, on which the reader may, if he will, exercise his curiosity :
The old, old Love that we know of yore!
We see him stand by the open door,
With his great eyes sad, and his bosom swelling.
He fain would lie, as ho lay before ;
Love comes back to his vacant dwelling, —
The old, old Love which we knew of yore!
That sweet forgotten, forbidden Lore !
E’en as we doubt, in our heart once more,
With a rush of tears to our eyelids welling,
Love comes back to his vacant dwelling !
— Among the greater minds of our day, not one has been so mocked and misapprehended by lesser minds as Matthew Arnold. He has also the misfortune to excite sharp animosity in some minds of unusual acumen, like Mr. Mallock’s. But if anybody doubts the reality, or would closely limit the extent, of his influence, let him re-read carefully the earlier poems of his recently published complete edition,8 and note the number of short passages and sin gle thoughts — crystalline in the quaint sobriety of their expression, sometimes, as Shakespeare’s own — which have already passed into frequent and almost proverbial use among thoughtful men : “ Who saw life steadily and saw it whole.” “France, famed in all great arts, in none supreme.” “ Fate gave what chance shall not control, his sad lucidity of soul.”
Crowd as we will its neutral space,
Is but a quiet watershed,
Whence equally the seas of life and death are fed.
Because our spirits have forgot,
In action’s dizzying eddy whirled,
The something which infects the world.”
Nearly all these familiar lines date thirty years back, or thereabouts, and have thus made good their verity through one generation of time. The low but earnest voice has found hearing and answer; the fastidious thinker has had a silent following ; and though the least of that little sect shall not presume to say “ fit audience, though few,” we may freely congratulate the world upon this minor point, — that in a time of tawdry and tasteless verbal fashions, one poet has successfully preserved the tradition of a high simplicity of speech. On purely literary ground, this is his great achievement. We have seen sported by contemporary writers, both in prose and verse, one mode of expression as overcharged with meaningless ornament as the gowns of the second empire, — a mode which Ruskin and Swinburne have made imposing, and almost every writer else revolting, — and another precisely and affectedly archaic, which has been charming in Mr. William Morris, and in his imitators generally absurd ; but, since Landor’s death, we have looked to Arnold alone for those pure and severe graces of diction over which time and fashion possess absolutely no power. Even in his measures, Mr. Arnold is usually rigidly simple; although he now and then makes masterly use of some of the more difficult graces of English versification, especially that marshaling of a few long syllables — virtually monosyllabic feet — at the end of a stanza, which always gives majesty to the movement of a strain, and seems a privilege peculiar to the non-Latin tongues. For example : —
Melt into open, moonlit sea;
The soft Mediterranean breaks
At my feet, free.”
And again: —
And faint the city gleams;
Rare the lone pastoral huts. Marvel not thou !
The solemn peaks but to the stars are known,
But to the stars and the cold lunar beams ;
Alone the sun arises, and alone
Spring the great streams.”
Which last stanza is good for much beside its sound.
Matthew Arnold is so decidedly a didactic poet that the question will not long be waived whether, on the whole, his thought has been on a level with his style; his moral and spiritual with his literary teaching. A clamorous chorus of those who read him little will at once return, for the benefit of those who do not read him at all, an emphatic no. They will denounce his habitual pensiveness as pitiable and unmanly, his piercing, probing skepticism as far likelier to kill than cure the soul submitted to its action ; they will find his temper haughty, his smiles bitter, his charity small. And let it be owned at once that, to the superficial reader of his poems, there seems some ground for such a criticism. But the more patient and intimate student who, lured by a certain matchless candor even in Mr. Arnold’s most sombre utterances, goes on to penetrate the full depth of his meaning finds there no fierceness save that of an agonized search for truth, no bitterness except in the passing pangs inevitably born of the reiterated disappointment of high and strenuous endeavor. The poet knows external nature so perfectly, his discernment of the phenomenal is so exquisitely clear, how should he rest without an equally trustworthy vision of the real? The whole body of his verse breathes the spirit of the Psalmist’s cry; “ Lord, thou desirest truth in the inward parts!” He has been called an apostle of doubt; yet certitude has been his passion, if sometimes a hopeless one.
Of the lesser and more secular passions, and especially of that one which gives all its fire and color to so large a proportion of human poetry, the traces are slight indeed in Arnold’s lofty lines, — whether in the mild, pellucid rhymes to Marguerite, or the yet more reserved but always reverent appeals to Fausta. But he will dive into the deepest seas, and thread the blackest caverns, ere he will relinquish the discovery, if such may be, of a sound basis for spiritual hope. Only for those who mimic a faith which they have ceased to feel, who prophesy deceits and cry peace when there is none, he has no tolerance. To disingenuousuesa he cannot be kind, and he Scorns to disguise his scorn of spiritual sycophancy : —
But a dead time’s exploded dream ;
My melancholy, sciolists say,
Is a past mode, an outworn theme, —
As if the world had ever had
A faith, or sciolists been sad ! ”
Tell me, can you find indeed
Nothing sure, no moral plan
Clear prescribed, without your creed ?
Without that, all ’s dark for men.
That, or nothing, I believe,—
For God’s sake, believe it, then ! ”
Better men fared thus before thee ;
Fired their ringing shot, and passed,
Hotly charged,— and sank at last.
Let the victors when they come,
When the forts of folly fall, Find thy body by the wall! ”
The Pis-Aller and the lyric of forlorn hope, from which our last quotations come, mark the utmost bitterness of the poet’s darkest hour. He recovers presently, seldom to lose again the tone of sad and steadfast suavity most habitual to him; natural to him also in common with some of the world’s choicest spirits, — Marcus Aurelius, Virgil, à Kempis, Sainte - Beuve,— but which in the English language can hardly find grander expression than in some of the stanzas of the Grande Chartreuse, as this:—
“ Our fathers watered with their tears The sea of time whereon we sail ; Their voices were in all men’s ears, Who came within their puissant hail Still the same ocean round us raves, But we stand mute and watch the waves.”
Matthew Arnold’s whole symphony of verso is certainly a minor one, yet his compass of tone is wonderfully wide, and among his manifold modulations there are echoes of the best poetry of every age of the world. Goethe himself wrote nothing more unaffectedly Greek than the dramatic fragments in the present volume, and the songs of the Strayed Reveller and Callicles. In his treatment of Arthurian legend he is barely eclipsed by Tennyson. Before Jordan or Morris, he wrung from the Scandinavian mythology in his Balder Dead some part of the mystery of its unfathomable human tenderness. There are such Virgilian and Horatian touches in Sohrab and Rustum and Oberman as carry us straight back to the last years of Rome and the first of our era; and the whole of the consummate lines in Switzerland, beginning, “ Yes, in the sea of life en-isled,” are but a development of that memorable passage in the “Christian strain forlorn,” so saturated with the tears of generations of mankind, “ Nor think it hard that thou shouldst be forsaken of a friend, as knowing that we must all at the end be separated from one another.”
And in attempting to measure Mr. Arnold’s moral force, it is quite necessary to insist upon the variety and authenticity of his purely poetical achievements, because no man of our generation can be held to have won, in early middle life, a better right than he to indue his laurels, fold his hands, and sit down upon the slopes of Parnassus as a professional poet. And yet poetry is with him a long-past mode of expression, flung away as a thing to be forgotten by one who would press forward to work lying before. Tho dainty-seeming singer, stilt haunted by his old dream of ultimate truth, has fought for years in the arid arena of theological strife, and given and taken heavy blows, only to stand up wounded at the last, and simply confess before the world that the adventure of wresting their secrets from the heavens is vain. But his wounds were far from mortal, and his tireless activity has taken vet another turn. Now we have him back agaïn among the simple “ humanities,” in the quiet garb of his limpid prose, and reasoning only of the lesser things which may be surely known; yet true to the undeviatiug purpose of his life, pleading for the highest standard and the most unflinching devotion, and repeating in these narrower precincts the old watchwords of his most audacious days, — simplicity, sincerity, “ Truth in the in ward parts.”
Let no petulant freaks or constitutional languors of manner blind us to the fact that this is the outline of a brave, constant, and disinterested mental career. Certain excellent persons will never be let from drawing grievous comparisons between Matthew Arnold and his father, — that positive, effective, beaming, fructifying spirit, which brought help to so many youthful souls during its too brief earthly day. The contrast in the temper of the men is doubtless wide, and how tenderly and hopelessly the younger worships the elder’s memory, and with what touching humility the son celebrates the father’s greatness where he himself is small, and his victories where he has been worsted, may he read of all men in the beautiful lines, written fifteen years after Thomas Arnold’s death, and entitled Rugby Chapel.
Yet we are unable to rid ourselves of a fancy that to the departed soul it may all look otherwise. Good soldiership vindicates itself as well in the retreat as in the charge, though less exultantly ; and there is room for late and lonely gleanings where the full sheaves have been gathered in. There may be a law in the world of spirits whereby doubt follows assurance no less inevitably than twilight follows daylight, or the refluent succeeds the advancing wave, — a law correspondent with that which ordains that when a gallant oak is laid low in the natural forest, earth shall not grow in its place another oak, but a more flexile creature, and fill the spaces which once resounded to the oak’s great wrestlings against the storm with the tremulous and mournful murmur only of the dark,aspiring pine.
— Messrs. Henry Holt & Co. have lately published, in excellent form, two books of permanent value : Boswell’s Life of Johnson,9 and Johnson’s lives of six principal English poets.10 We do not see why the former of these should not become the generally accepted edition of Boswell’s work. The connoisseur, the student of the period, the man who values himself upon his gentlemanly library, will always want the book complete; but for those who wish merely to know Johnson and his friends, this is certainly sufficient. Nothing of that most wholesome and human presence is perceptibly lost, nor is any figure lacking in that great and charming company of which it was the centre. Whoever has prepared this edition may pride himself upon having performed his task very satisfactorily, and upon having obliged a large and intelligent class of readers.
Mr. Matthew Arnold is the editor of the selected lives, which he prefaces with a characteristically admirable essay, pointing out in extremely interesting terms their singular worth as an expression of the period in which modern English prose was forming, and in which poetry and the criticism of poetry were necessarily less fine and less satisfactory than the poetry that came before and since, and the criticism that has come since. If Johnson was unable to appreciate poetic poets like Milton, and, in degree, Gray, as well as he appreciated prosaic poets like Dryden, Swift, Addison, and Pope, that was because he was the true prophet of an age of prose; and, forewarned of this, the reader gets the great good of his thoroughly literary mood and mind, and escapes the harm of his secular disqualification. The purely historical passages are written with unsurpassed splendor and vigor, and one can skip the critical passages if one likes; though there is much that is instructive, and very much that is amusing, in even the aesthetic limitations of the eighteenth century. Mr. Arnold has introduced the six lives with the sketch of Johnson’s own life, written by Macaulay for the Encyclopædia Britannica, and the American publishers have done well to add to them Macaulay’s and Carlyle’s famous reviews of Croker’s Boswell. The result is a range and variety of English criticism not to be elsewhere found in the same compass : the delicate, subtle, conscious sense of beauty and goodness of Arnold; the hard and somewhat vulgar brilliancy but thorough knowledge of Macaulay ; the antic fashion and the prophetic insight of Carlyle; and, above all, the profound good sense marred by violent prejudice, and the clear morality unmarred by anything, of Johnson himself. It is a great book.
— In the life of Bernard Palissy,11 which was disclosed to the world, at least to the Anglo-Saxon world, only twenty-five years ago by Professor Motley, literature became possessed of a character, which, if it had been invented instead of discovered, would have made the writer immortal. An experience so full and pathetic; a mental stature so robust and masterful ; a moral embodiment so consistent with itself, so loyal to its conditions of life, so modest yet dignified and fearless in its attitude, — and all this set in the midst of the terrible and picturesque accessories of the sixteenth century in France, — constitute a figure of romance in which nature may claim that she has conquered art with her own weapons; for art can add nothing to it, can subtract nothing from it, without destroying its perfect symmetry. It is already ideal; all the elements needed for dramatic effect are present, and the coolest and most imaginative chronicler has but to use the materials at hand, and set them down in honest order, barely, without any decorations of rhetoric or gauds of imagination, to find that he has pictured a hero indeed. The invention of Cervantes could not have conceived the like. A Huguenot Don Quixote, who vanquished his windmill, who in all his situations was a true knight never dismayed; a gaunt, grave figure, contending without rest against innumerable obstacles, battling with giants, carried by force of will to final success in all his undertakings, and dying in the Bastile, a martyr for his faith, eighty years old, — this is the paladin of the later chivalry ; not a potter merely, nor merely, as he modestly termed himself, “ worker in earth and inventor of rustic figurines,” but chemist, painter, physician, sanitary engineer, naturalist, and philosopher, in all these capacities wise beyond his time, and learned beyond the doctors. “ My only book,”said he, “ has been the sky and the earth, which arc open to all, and to all it is given to know and to read this beautiful book.” His revelations were not accepted in his time by the alchemic doctors who occupied the high places of science, but it has been reserved for later days to justify his conclusions and to wonder at his wisdom.
The story of the sixteen weary years of poverty and privation, amidst which he experimented incessantly with his enamels, failing ever, but ever rekindled by the divine spark, and renewing his fruitless search ; tearing up his floors, stripping his roof, and destroying his furniture to keep alive his furnace fires ; enduring the bitter complaints of his household and the taunts of his neighbors; laboring without sympathy or companionship ; misunderstood, distrusted, till at last, with no reassuring burst of success, but by processes of gradual revelation, he finally solved the difficulties of the art, and became famous, —this story is familiar enough, but acquires new interest and detail in Professor Morley’s historical setting. Amidst the dark scenery of feuds, intrigues, and massacres, religious persecutions and royal follies, this solitary figure is revealed to us, passing through crowded avenues of art, science, and literature, “remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,” obtaining his late reward only after three centuries of oblivion. The more unfamiliar part of his career is his invitation addressed to the learned doctors of France to come to his workshop in the Tuileries, there to discuss with him his discoveries in geology, metallurgy, and natural history ; the sessions of the little academy thus curiously improvised, and the publication in his own quaint manner of the results of his researches, are among the treasures of history.
- A History of American Literature. T. 1607-1676; II. 1677-1765. By MOSES COIT TYLER, Professor of English Literature in the University of Michigan New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1878.↩
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin ; or, Life Among the Louly. By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. New Edition, with Illustrations, and a Bibliography of the Work by GEORGE BULLEN, Esq., F. S. A., Keeper of the Deparfment of Printed Books, British Museum. Together with an Introductory Account of the Work. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1870.↩
- Life and Death. Sonnets by GEORGE MCKNIGHT. New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1878.↩
- The Poet and his Master, and other Poems. By RICHARD WATSON GILDER. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1878.↩
- Apple-Blossoms. Verses of Two Children. By ELAINE GOODALE and DORA READ GOODALE. New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1878.↩
- A Masque of Poets. No Name Serics. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1878.↩
- 2 Poems. By MATTHEW ARNOLD. New and Comlete Edition. New York : Macmillan & Co. 1878.↩
- The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. Including the Tour to the Hebrides. By JAMES ROSWELL. The original Text, relieved from Passages of obsolete Interest. New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1878.↩
- Johnson’s chief Lives of the Poets. Being those of Milton, Dryden, Swift, Addison, Pope, Gray. And Macaulay’s Life of Johnson. With a Preface by MATTHEW ARNOLD. TO which are appended Macaulay’s and Boswell’s Essays on Life of Johnson, New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1878.↩
- The Life of Bernard Palissy of Saintes. By HENRY MORLEY. London, Paris, and New York: Cassell, Petter and Galpin,↩
- This interesting figure, spared from the massacre of St. Bartholomew, solely because the secrets of his art resided in him alone, and because he was indispensable to the civilization of his epoch, is to most of us only dimly known as the artist who discovered for France what Luca della Robbia discovered for Italy, the white enamel by which pottery, compact of various clays and modeled in forms of art, became the faïence of the Renaissance. His only apparent bequest to posterity consists in certain traditions of a ware in which such creatures as lizards, beetles, butterflies, lobsters, tortoises, and crabs are seen in their natural shapes and vivid colors, forming a composition with leafage and rich decorations upon vases and plates exquisitely modeled. His more monumental and less familiar achievements were the decorations in painted and enameled tiles which he prepared for the Chapel of the Château d’ Ecouen, and the Passion of our Lord, which he represented in pottery with sixteen pictures set up in the sacristy. Much of tins more architectural work is lost, but of the details furnished for Catherine of Medicis, and for the chàteaux of Nesle, Reux, and others, there remain a few precious statuettes, groups, vases, cups, plates, corbels, and rustic basins, — some decorated with fruit, shells, fishes, and reptiles, and others presenting, in delicate bas-relief, subjects from mythology and holy writ. His colors were bright tints of yellow, blue, or gray; he used also green, violet, and rich autumnal browns, but rarely, if ever, red or orange.↩
- The new edition of Palissy the Potter is somewhat condensed from the first editions, and presents in a crown octavo volume of 320 pages, somewhat too closely printed, a form of biography rather more accessible to the general public. We cannot but regret, however, that in a work so full of diligent research no acknowledgment of authorities is given, except where, in referring to the quarto edition of the works of Palissy, by MM. Farejas de St. Fond and Gobet, published in 1777, he controverts their arguments that in the curious contemporary dissertation on the Ignorance of Doctors they had discovered the lost first book of Palissy.↩