Recent Literature

A JOURNEY from Egypt to Palestine1 by the way of the Sinaitic peninsula has been converted by Doctor Bartlett into a study of the exodus and wandering of the Israelites. As a record of careful personal examination of geography and topography, and of painstaking reading and collection of the multitudinous labors of previous students, the volume is an unusual honor to American literature, and worthy of even grateful admiration. It is a weighty book, a book calling for serious attention,— for nothing less, and nothing beside. There is no humor, no rhetoric or poetry or sentiment, and no entertainment for the lightminded reader. The style, always simple and sometimes careless, makes claims to nothing beyond clearness and abundance of statement; but one finds this a positive merit in a work which was obviously intended to give as much important information as possible in a moderate space. On this subject of biblical history, and indeed on all subjects treated by American writers, we have had only too many rhetorical exercises. The publisher’s part of the volume is in its way as commendable as the author’s. The engravings and the maps are alike admirably wrought, judiciously selected, and full of information.

The book is orthodox. It accepts in full the time-honored, natural understanding of the scriptural narrative. Doctor Bartlett knows perfectly the theories of Brugsch, Mariette, Be Lesseps, Colenso, and others who would remove the supernatural of the exodus by diminishing, for instance, the numbers of the flying Hebrews, and by leading them through easier passages than that of the Red Sea. But, although he is respectful and courteous to these innovators, he declines to accept their suggestions. He has no doubts as to the magnitude and marvelousness of the flight. He is not interested in explaining away the plagues. He " Can almost hear the choking voice” with which Pharaoh pleads, “And bless me also !" He sees “ the hosts converging from all Goshen to Rameses” and the vast march setting forth on the day established. He is sure that if you believe in the wondrous story at all you must believe in it as a prodigy ; and, as to the question of numbers, he observes with perfect truth that one million is as unmanageable as two. All this he holds firmly and states candidly, meanwhile indulging in no condemnation of those who plead for an interpretation founded on “ natural causes,” and honoring himself by a fair and urbane consideration of their suggestion.

Only when he reaches the shore of the Red Sea does a rationalistic spirit win partial possession of him, and lead him to argue for shoal passages temporarily laid bare by the action of “ a strong east wind " and the receding of the tide. It seems to us a defect in an otherwise logical chain of statement and reasoning. Doctor Bartlett has here recoiled from the Philistines, and entangled himself between the sea and the Egyptians. In this whole drama of the exodus,— in the gathering and the flight and the wandering,—we must believe in the miraculous, or we cannot believe all, if at all. How could two millions of peopled well in the little land of Goshen, unless they were densely settled agriculturists, and even to some extent citizens of large towns? How could a population of husbandmen and burghers suddenly become nomads, fitted to struggle with the problem of life in a desert? As for the passage of the Red Sea, abbreviate the transit as much as you will, sweep the broken and winding miles of bottom with wind and ebb as dry as you please, how can you lead more than two millions of souls, with “very much cattle, ’ from shore to shore in the watches of a morning ? Experience proves that a hundred thousand disciplined soldiers would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pass such a defile in so brief a time. In all these matters rationalism is a failure; the only candid and tenable explanation is miracle; you must cling to that, or you must deny. Unless, indeed, one is willing to admit that the flight took form in successive migrations; tribe following tribe at considerable intervals of time, possibly of months or years; the final horde alone being harassed by the bated wrath and pursuit of a tottering monarchy ; and then the whole drama condensed into one picturesque scene by a narrative careless of particulars. In this hypothesis, especially if one may also suppose clerical errors in the enumeration, there is something which really satisfies the rationalistic spirit. Short of it, or of some other theory as bold, there is nothing for that spirit but revolt.

This plea for “natural causes” at the Suez crossing is the only logical error of Doctor Bartlett in his commentary. Everywhere else he has the judicial candor and clearness to say, “You cannot pass without miracle.” Ritter’s once popular theory that the exudations of the tamarisk were the manna of the wilderness he rejects with civil positiveness, observing that the Hebrews needed at least one thousand tons of this food daily, while the present annual product of the peninsula in tamarisk manna is never above six hundred pounds. It is evidently a matter of interest to him that the desert abounds in quails; but he wisely forbears to dwell upon it as a point of practical importance. How, indeed, should any supposable natural flights of birds avail toward the feeding of two millions of Hebrews, besides a “ mixed multitude ” ? The question of water — whence obtained in sufficient quantity — he does not discuss; and, with his reliance upon the supernatural, he has no need so to do. If he were a commentator of the rationalistic sort, it would be one of his most serious difficulties. The present water supply of that arid land is obviously insufficient to carry through it an ordinary caravan. Here and there a wady shows a rivulet, and from the flanks of the mountains burst occasional copious springs, but the mass of the desert is a region of thirst. Bitter wells and sandy deposits of rain-water are objects of anxious search to even the well-equipped tourist. The dryness of the Sinaitic peninsula calls for little less of faith in miraculous interposition than its barrenness.

The main interest of the book resides in its character as an itinerary of the exodus. Of course there is little of either topography or geography which is absolutely new to the veteran biblical student. Too many zealous and learned travelers had preceded the author to leave him much chance for discovery. He is too thoroughly versed, also, in the literature of his subject to give us, as findings of his own, the facts which had been noted by others. Indeed, his chiefest service is as a compendiast, comparer, and judge. He has read everything, assimilated everything, and produced an important digest. It should be said, moreover, that his good sense and coolness of temper have given us as much cause for gratitude as his industry. As he has no audacities of doubt, so he has none of credulity. Of the men with Asiatic faces (tomb No. 35 at Thebes) who are making bricks under an Egyptian task-master, he says, “ It is unnecessary to regard these men as Hebrews to get the force of the illustration.” Of the famine mentioned in the tomb of Baba, and identified by Brugsch with the “seven lean years,” he simply remarks, “ I leave it on his authority.” Near Wady Hebeibeh he comes upon the curious, or perhaps not so very curious, remains noted by Palmer and Drake. Here, extending over miles of desert, are small circles of stone, with abundance of charcoal and other traces of fire, indicating temporary dwellings of an unknown antiquity; here, too, are numbers of small mounds, unexamined as yet, but which bear the appearance of burialplaces. Arab tradition relates that these are the mementoes of a great caravan of pilgrims, who, while seeking the waters of Sin Hudherah, got lost in the desert of Tih, and were never heard of again. The topographical definiteness of the story and the fragile nature of the relics would seem to indicate a modern catastrophe, — if, indeed, there was a catastrophe at all, &emdash and not merely a transitory presence of charcoal burners. The enthusiastic Palmer leaps to the inference that here he has found an encampment of the Israelites, and the graves of the lustful victims of Kibroth Hattavah. Doctor Bartlett’s biblical feeling leads him to admit that “ these suggestions certainly deserve most respectful consideration ; but his cool temper and judicial brain force him to add, “ The conclusion must probably await further inquiries.” No doubt of it, and it seems a commonplace thing enough to say; and yet from these simple words many a scriptural expositor might derive a valuable lesson, — not to mention a few secular historians, ethnologists, and philologists. One of the greatest of truths is that a very large percentage of what ordinarily passes for truth needs “ further inquiries.”

The book does not end with the Wilderness. It goes on through the south country, that half-desert region on the southern border of Canaan, where the Hebrews dwelt for thirty - seven years, and whence they eventually moved eastward to “ compass Mount Seir ” and advance upon the promised land through the Hauran and the valley of the Jordan. The author does not follow them in this route, but pushes northward from Beersheba to hilly Judea, pausing long, of course, in Jerusalem. Then comes a trip to Jericho and the Dead Sea ; then a brief personal study of the line of Joshua’s march; then an examination of some of the many battle-fields of Palestine. The concludiug chapters treat of Nazareth, Gennesaret, the Sea of Galilee, the coast of Tyre, Beijroot, and Constantinople, with a paragraph or two, less than one could desire, concerning the American missionaries and their beautiful labors. Such is an imperfect summary, and a perhaps still more unsatisfactory judgment, of a laborious, reasonable, and truly valuable volume. It reminds one of the renowned work of Doctor Robinson, — far inferior to it, no doubt, as an original study of topography, but equal, if not sometimes superior, as an examination and digest of written authority. In fine, it is a book of high aim and solid merit, which will be accepted with satisfaction by all who share its literal understanding of the biblical narrative, while it will win the respect of every fair-minded opponent. Protest, indeed, there will be, and protest neither ignorant nor witless. The scholars who hold that Hebrew history should be subjected to the same rules of evidence and interpretation as other history will marvel that a keen reasoner could read so widely in the surmises and inferences of German and French inquirers with so little result. They will be reminded, perchance, of the quatrain of Omar Khayyam : —

“ Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and held great argument
About it and about, but evermore
Came out by the same hole wherein I went.”2

But the critic will admit that this persistent return to the time-honored view is a necessity for one who rules to believe in inspiration ; and his protest will be measured, fair-minded, and courteous, or it will be very unlike the work from which he is impelled to dissent.

— We think that hardly a pleasanter book will be given to the public this summer than Mr. Burroughs’s Locusts and Wild Honey,3 nor any that will more immediately associate itself with the aspects of nature in the reader’s mind. It is from nature, directly, and is wisely compact of observation and comment not too literary in tone. Is it going to Rain? and Birds and Birds are the two essays in which we fancy the author has had his say most nearly in accordance with his own ideal; but all the papers are charming, — simple in manner, very honest in matter, and of wholesome and happy mood. The first essay, on Bees, rests a little more on alien knowledge than the others ; that called Sharp Eyes, which treats of the quick senses of the wild things, the least so. In Birds and Birds, Mr. Burroughs turns his sympathetic reading of other poetic naturalists to constant advantage in the comparison of our own birds with those of Europe. Speckled Trout, A Bed of Boughs, and The Halcyon in Canada have more the interest of woodsy adventure, and are less characteristic without being less original: indeed, this writer rarely fails to widen and deepen, from sources of his own, your acquaintance with whatever subject he treats. We have not read anything better in its way than the paper on Strawberries. In this, again, Mr. Burroughs is at his very best, and as you read, the perfume and flavor of the fruit he celebrates with such honest delight are in your senses.

The little book is a microcosm of outdoors, and is a benefaction equally to those who can go into the country and to those to whom it will bring the country. It is a book, too, that the mature lover of good literature will find his children glad to share with him, — a fact which ought always to be mentioned, for the sake of the book and the sake of the children ; its matter and its robust and healthful spirit are something with which they can thoroughly sympathize.

— The Harpers have republished, uniform with their elegant new edition of Macaulay’s England, the history 4 on which Motley’s brilliant fame was founded, and we have now in convenient and very attractive shape a work which had hitherto wanted the charm of agreeable paper, print, and binding. It is a work which no student of history, no one with the modest ambition to be generally well read, can yet afford to be without. It is the destiny of histories to be superseded, but we may be sure that the heroic annals of a simple, patient, and indomitable people will never be rewritten with more generous ardor, more hearty and magnetic sympathy. Motley recognized that it was a people whom he was celebrating, and if he had been content to keep this fact constantly in view, and had labored less upon the figure of William the Silent, he would not have fatigued himself and his reader as he now sometimes does. In the end he does not make you feel that Will iam expressed more or less than the average national qualities. He was enduring, devoted, unfortunate, and prosperous through disaster, as his countrymen all were; and if he encouraged them in defeat, they equally encouraged him, and paid with their persons for his bad luck in battle. Motley’s faults are never so conspicuous as when he struggles to shape into something statuesque and dramatic the plain, somewhat dull and unimpressive masses of William’s constancy and goodness.

Motley was of the historians who paint history rather than philosophize it; he thought justly rather than subtly, and he felt even better than he thought. But he rescued from forgetfulness the struggles and sorrows of a people by whose martyrdom the whole world profited, and even when his books are no longer read his name will remain connected with that thrilling and touching story, He hated oppression and cruelty and bigotry ; and we are glad to have his indignation instead of the analytic calm, which may be all very well when there is no longer any tyranny in the world.

— We have seldom read a more touching story than that which presents itself in these letters of Mary Wollstonecraft to Imlay.5 In their passionate tenderness and passionate appeal to the man whose answers are unknown, they have the effect of the modern dramatic monologue, in which one person, occupying the stage, transacts the affair with people off the scene who are never seen or heard. It is a tragic monologue, beginning with a rapturous faith in the lover, whom Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideals forbade her to make her husband, and falling. through fear and doubt of his constancy, to the heroic despair with which she at last confronts the fact that he has abandoned her. It follows his wandering about over Europe wherever Imlay’s erratic fortunes led him; and the letters are now written from Paris, in the first separation after their union ; now from Havre, where they have been briefly reunited; now from places in England, on her way to or from London, whither she goes to join him ; now from Norway and Sweden, whither she has followed him. They are the letters of a wife, though she was not Imlay’s wife, and they concern themselves little with the great public events of that stormy time, though they are mostly written during the height of the Terror; they are simply the expression of a loving heart and a generous soul lavishing themselves in vain on an unstable and unworthy object. She reproaches him, and blames herself for reproaching him ; she loses her trust in him, and struggles with self-upbraiding to regain it. But all the same she breaks her heart, and suffers for her mistaken theory of faithful love without marriage. One cannot blame her, but one cannot regret that her suffering was signal, for she had tried to make herself a law against the law that holds society together.

In the interesting memoir with which the letters are introduced her enmity to marriage is accounted for by her knowledge of many unhappy marriages; and in her strong but ill - regulated mind it was not necessary that the preference for concubinage should be logical. The editor strives to show that perhaps marriage was not possible to her and Imlay in France, at that disordered time, and that Imlay, in speaking of her as his wife, legally recognized her as such; but there is no pretension to marriage in her letters; she herself knew her relation to Imlay, and that she had in vain given herself to him, without the Sanction of law.

Of Imlay little is told that was not already known. He was an American, who had served as captain during our Revolution, and then had gone to France upon one of those mercantile enterprises in which his adventurous and not very prosperous life was spent. He must have been a man of uncommon qualities to attract a mature woman like Mary Wollstonecraft (she was thirty-five when they met), but he seems to have been of a restless and fickle nature, ill fitted to bear the stress of her exacting and sometimes censorious devotion; and when he deserted her it was for another and unworthier love. He promised to provide for their daughter, but he never did so, and Fannie Imlay died in her young girlhood, without having known any father’s care except that of her mother’s husband, Godwin. Mary Wollstonecraft’s marriage was not announced for some time after the fact, and marriage was apparently regarded as an idle convention by Godwin and herself. However the truth is glossed or blinked, it is certain that their daughter, Mary Godwin, eloped with Shelley, whose deserted wife was living, and that she was ready to live with him as her mother had lived with Imlay.

In this volume there are two lovely and interesting portraits of Mary Wollstonecraft: one a pensive and tender young face, and the other the beautiful older face into which it ripened. The fascination of their looks is a light on the letters, and adds a charm as of personal presence to their simple passion and pathos, —none the less simple because touched here and there a little with the artificial rhetoric of a very rhetorical time. One feels that Mary Wollstonecraft is sincere in spite of the rhetoric, as one feels that she was pure in spite of her error.

— Mr. Bacon has mainly allowed the life of Mrs. Gould 6 to tell itself in passages from her letters, diaries, and printed writings; and in these passages a charming surprise awaits those who know her name only in connection with the noble charity to which she gave all that she had and all that she was. She had not only a great and tender heart, and a mind wise to plan and perform good works, but a spirit quick to every impression of novelty, a lively sense of humor, an intense sympathy with the beautiful, and that gift of appreciation which is a quality of refined American women in such degree as to seem almost exclusively theirs. She made Italy her own at once ; she knew it and felt it instantly and intimately; and though almost from the moment she set foot on Italian soil, in the tragic valleys of the Vaudois, she felt her dedication to a purpose of beneficence and reform in Italy, she never took it too seriously to be won by the loveliness with which that gifted land entreats all gentle strangers. Without this tenderness for Italian character we doubt if she could have successfully carried out the work in which she died, but which she lived long enough to see fairly and prosperously begun. She had the courage, the inspiration, during the existence of the political power of the papacy at Rome to found her school for the American and Protestant education of the children of the poor ; and she had the heroism to defend it against prejudice and authority, till she had based it on its present footing, where indeed it still appeals to the charity of the Protestant world for help, but where its usefulness and success are evident in the lives of the little ones reclaimed from superstition, poverty, and idleness. She wore her generous, ardent life out in the cause; she literally died for it. The touching and heroic story of toil and self-sacrifice is simply told here, and its consolations and compensations are not forgotten; she had love and gratitude in unstinted measure for her labors. It is a story which every one will be the better for reading, and we heartily commend it to those who despair of individual effort, and would know how much one will and one life may accomplish for good.

— The author of The New Puritan,'7 when he offers his book primarily to the descendants of its subject, takes the edge off the only criticism one feels inclined to make; for family veneration may justify the claims made for Robert Pike that his position in the community of his day was isolated and in advance of the age in which he lived. The materials for a life were too scanty to permit a personal biography, and the author has accordingly projected the character of his ancestor mainly from the events in which he bore a part. The very meagreness of detail respecting Pike leads us to think that we have in him an illustration of many men of his day, Puritans who had been educated in the close school of frontier life, and met the exigencies of life in the same resolute, common-sense, and independent way. In the altercation with Wheelwright, Pike had certainly the advantage of opposing a contentious and restless man, and the decision of the commission appointed to adjust the difficulties between them, as well as Wheelwright’s acquiescence in the decision, justify us, in the absence of full details, in according some measure of blame to Pike, some measure of praise to Wheelwright.

In one instance, and that the most important, Robert Pike deserves all the credit which his biographer gives him. Not only was his attitude regarding the persecutions for witchcraft manly and courageous, but his paper, which Upham had already printed, arguing against the persecutions, is a remarkable document, which ought to have pricked the bubble at the time. We wonder much if Judge Sewall had sight of it. It seems impossible that this conscientious judge should have seen it and not have been convinced by its cogent reasoning. Pike admitted the existence of witchcraft, but presented a close chain of logic to prove the immense danger of prosecuting persons for witchcraft. His argument, although less learned, covers much the same ground as Sir George Mackenzie’s A Treatise on Witchcraft, reprinted in The Witches of Renfrewshire,8 and is more compact and forcible. Altogether, while this book contains no new contribution to history, and possibly exaggerates the solitariness of Robert Pike’s position, it is of value for its grouping of events in the life of a sturdy New Englander, who belonged to the rank and the of the colony, and represented tendencies often in opposition to the government, but in the line of Puritan thought.

  1. From Egypt to Palestine. Through Sinai, the Wilderness, and the South Country. By S. C. BARTLETT, D. D., LL. D.,President of Dartmouth College, and lately Professor in the Chicago Theological Seminary. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1879.
  2. Locusts and Wild Honey. By JOHN BURROUGHS, Author of Wake Robin, Winter Sunshine, and Birds and Poets. Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.
  3. The Rise of the Dutch Republic. A History. By JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY, D. C. L., LL. D. In three volumes. New York : Harper arid Brothers. 1879.
  4. Mary Wollstonecraft. Letters to Imlay. With Prefatory Memoir by C. KEGAN PAUL. London : C Kegun Paul & Co. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1879
  5. A Life Worth Living. Memorials of Emily Bliss Gould, of Rome. By LEONARD WOOLSEY BACON. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co. 1879.
  6. The New Puritan: New England Two HundredYears Ago. Some Account, of the Life of Robert Pike, the Puritan, who defended the Quakers, resisted Clerical Domination, and opposed the Witchcraft Persecution. By JAMES S. PIKE. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1879.