Comment on New Books
History and Biography. Joan of Arc, by Lord Ronald Gower, F. S. A. (Imported by Scribners.) Recent English lives of Joan of Arc are not lacking, but they are neither so numerous nor so important as to render superfluous another essay in the same field. The materials which have been placed at the disposition of the Maid’s historians within a generation are not only voluminous, but are, even without considering the distance of time, extraordinarily clear and definite in character. One need only refer to the great work of Quicherat, supplemented by Fabre, not to mention others of less note, and Wallon’s invaluable, though, truth to tell, rather heavy biography. Lord Ronald Gower has made a diligent study or these authorities. He has a very genuine enthusiasm for his subject, and though in the matter of literary style he is somewhat of an amateur, he has produced a readable, well-proportioned, and trustworthy record of one of the most inspired and inspiring lives in all history. He is, however, a careful and sympathetic narrator of facts rather than a student of the profoundly interesting historical, religions, and psychological problems connected therewith. The volume — a handsome one in its typography and make-up-is well illustrated by etchings and photo-etchings of places memorable in the history of the Maid. —The French Revolution, by Charles Edward Mallet. University Extension Manuals. (Scribners.) An admirable handbook, so well arranged and well written that the enforced limitation in space does not lead to baldness of style, nor to any want of lucidity and precision in the narrative. After setting forth the political and economic condition of eighteenth-century France, and explaining the immediate causes of the Revolution, the writer traces the course of public affairs from the meeting of the States-General to the establishment of the Directory, incidentally giving clearly outlined sketches of the principal actors therein. The book is eminently fair and temperate in tone, and seeks neither to belittle the evils of the Ancien Régime, nor to palliate the enormities of the Terror. The author does not attempt to tell for the hundredth time what may be called the story of the French Revolution,— some knowledge of which is taken for granted on the part of the reader, — but to summarize in an easily accessible form information and suggestions to be found in the more important and philosophic histories and commentaries, to the study of which this little volume will, we think, often prove an incentive.—Napoleon, Warrior and Ruler, and the Military Supremacy of Revolutionary France, by William O’Connor Morris. Heroes of the Nations Series. (Putnams.) Mr. Morris believes that the most trustworthy judgments which have been pronounced on Napoleon were those formed by the writers who flourished between 1830 and 1860, and in reading the earlier portion of his book one finds a revival of the feeling existing when Thiers began his History, and his hero’s second funeral made its progress from St. Helena to Paris. But the writer, with all his hearty admiration for his subject, is a conscientious historian, and midway in his task he begins, at first reluctantly, and later with more emphasis, to admit the existence of such shadows in the picture he is giving us as will, we think, by their contrast somewhat confuse the unsophisticated reader. Of course a biography of this length of so crowded a life can be but an outline sketch; but the author can condense skillfully, and his rapid but intelligent survey of the Napoleonic campaigns is very well done, though some of his conclusions in regard to the battle of Waterloo may be open to question. Special mention should be made of the clear impression given throughout the work of the mutual attitude of Napoleon and his powerful, constant, and neverconquered enemy. The unmilitary aspects of the Emperor’s career are more slightly treated, and his private life is but briefly glanced at. However little we may share the writer’s enthusiasm, we must own that it has helped to make his book one of the most spirited and interesting volumes of the series to which it belongs. We must utter a mild protest against the version given of the famous words spoken at the battle of the Pyramids. Napoleon never made so inadequate a use of a rhetorical opportunity as “forty generations ” would have been. — The Story of Poland, by W. R. Morfill. The Story of the Nations Series. (Putnams.) A book not only excellent in itself, but having a special value in view of the superficial and fragmentary knowledge of its subject which prevails even amongst tolerably well-informed readers. The author, whose work, we need not say, bears marks of thorough and accurate scholarship, traces the whole course of Polish history, dwelling upon the more striking and noteworthy episodes, and passing rapidly over less important details. That the country which held in the seventeenth century the position of the great power of eastern Europe should, before the close of the eighteenth, have disappeared from the commonwealth of nations is to many a hard matter to understand. To these readers the picture here given of the social condition of Poland — its oligarchic nobles, intolerant priesthood, alien middle class, and enslaved peasantry—will show that disintegration and decay were at work even when the body politic seemed most vigorous. An interesting and suggestive chapter is devoted to Polish literature. — A fourth edition appears of Dr. Henry Charles Lea’s masterly work on Superstition and Force. In this study the learned author treats of The Wager of Law, The Wager of Battle, The Ordeal and Torture. It would be a most melancholy commentary on human infirmity were it not so historical, not to say antiquarian, in its character. But as physiologists tell us of processes in the human frame which are the survivals of earlier stages of development, so Dr. Lea is able to point out traces in contemporaneous law of these abandoned processes of human society. —The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph, by Henry M. Field. (Scribners.) When the transatlantic cable was first known to be a success, Dr. Field set forth in a modest volume the history of his brother’s achievement. Now, twenty-seven years later, the death of Cyrus W. Field gives occasion for a fuller account of the enterprise. The story has never been allowed to grow unfamiliar, and Dr. Field’s excellent new presentation of it ought to fix it more permanently than ever in men’s minds. It is a story the world cannot afford to give up in days when deeds of high emprise become more and more limited to the stock exchange. Dr. Field does not slight the part finance played in the undertaking, nor does he fail to give a vivid impression of that yet greater factor of success, the overpowering will which brought men and the elements at length into the service of the world. A spirit of fairness to all, no less than of stanch brotherly loyalty, marks the book.
Poetry and the Drama. The Dread Voyage, Poems, by William Wilfred Campbell. (Toronto, William Briggs.) Thoreau’s saying that “ the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation ” is comforting in comparison with the poem which gives this volume its title ; yet Mr. Campbell’s nearness to nature in some of his verses, the lyrical grace of others, and again their vigor, leave one quite without a feeling of despair regarding his book. There is something too much of strenuousness in thought and phrase to give the volume any quality of repose. Such, however, could not have been Mr. Campbell’s purpose; else he would never have chosen the subject of one of the longer poems, Unabsolved. It is the dying confession of a man of one of the expeditions for Franklin’s relief, who, at the farthest northern point, alone saw signs of the lost explorers, and out of cowardice did not tell his leader. The dramatic possibilities in the story of the rest of that man’s life are not hard to see, and Mr. Campbell, but tor some blunders in the structure of his narrative, makes excellent use of them. It is in the far north, by the way, that Mr. Campbell’s verse seems most at home. And why should we not have a Boreal Muse ? — Ranch Verses, by William Lawrence Chittenden. (Putnams.) “Larry” Chittenden, as the book’s cover invites us to call him, has apparently not always been a ranchman, for the joys and disappointments of the East have tempted him into verse quite as often as the mysteries of “ cow-punching.” Nevertheless a hearty Western spirit gives the book such individuality as it has. It might have had more, if mere facility, rather than poetic power, were not clearly the writer’s gift.
—Songs and Sonnets, and Other Poems, by Maurice Francis Egan. (McClurg.) It is usually hard to separate a new book of verse from the mass of its kind, to point out any really distinguishing quality. Mr. Egan’s volume is not a collection of religious poems, yet what one will remember about it is the clear note of devout Roman Catholicism, the genuine religious feeling, which rings through the book. It is grateful now and then to find a volume, failing even of rare poetic value, yet possessing something which belongs peculiarly to itself. — In the Shade of Ygdrasil, by Frederick Peterson, M. D. (Putnams.) One does not learn from this book that Ygdrasil, in Norse mythology, is the ash-tree which binds together heaven, earth, and hell ; nor do the verses convince one that their writer has spent most of his life under the tree’s branches. The light that has fallen on his page, through whatever leaves it came, wavers from strength to weakness. Some of the verses would not be at all out of place in a work of the higher order; but by their side are lines which drag Dr. Peterson’s little volume to a level not far removed from the average. — Horatian Echoes, Translations of the Odes of Horace, by John Osborne Sargent. (Houghton.) The combination of a little Latin and less poetry sets many persons translating Horace. Thorough scholarship and skill in verse separate the few good translations from the many, and among the few are certainly some of Mr. Sargent’s. Fortunately, he made no grave attempts to reproduce the Latin rhythms. It would have been better if he had never departed from the simplest forms. Prior could beg of his Chloe, —
For thou art a girl as much brighter than her,
As he was a poet sublimer than me; ”
but the very sublimest of writers of English light verse have had a struggle to keep their dactyls and anapests from leading them into either stumbling or sing-song. Mr. Sargent in general chose the least ambitious of English measures, and translated with accuracy and melody. A lifelong lover of Horace does a good work in leaving behind him such a book as Mr. Sargent’s. It is by the help of such books — if the graceful conclusion of the translator’s introductory verses may be turned against himself — that
The Roman Eagles never flew.”
— Barberine, and Other Comedies, by Alfred de Musset. (Chicago, Charles H. Sergel & Co.) The trail of the FrenchEnglish Dictionary is upon these six comedies rendered into English. The translation is none too careful ; the printing is not careful enough. But the translator has the better of the printer in that his name is not given. — Mr. Punch’s Pocket Ibsen. A Collection of some of the Master’s best known Dramas, condensed, revised, and slightly rearranged for the Benefit of the Earnest Student, by F. Anstey. (Macmillan.) Punch has had nothing so deliciously funny as this satire since the first series of Mr. Burnand’s Happy Thoughts. Mr. Anstey has condensed a year’s criticism of Ibsen in this little volume. It is, to be sure, insular criticism ; and after all the fun has been poked at the Scandinavian philosopher, the one who laughs hardest will still return to the problems in art and philosophy which Ibsen propounds. But what quintessence of wit is there here, in place of the dreary diatribes against the Ibsen school !
Art and Illustrations. The Genesis of Art Form, by George Lansing Raymond. (Putnams.) “ Classify and conquer ” is the author’s heroic motto. In living up to it he shows how all art, music, poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture are merely coördinated expressions of the same principles. His pages, in consequence, have a peculiarly variegated look. Opening the book at one place, for example, the reader takes in at a glance parts of the music and the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a Vitruvian scroll, and a section of an ornamented doorway from Khorsbad, Chaldea ; going back a page, he finds a bit of The Passing of Arthur, and, a page ahead, a landscape by Turner. Keats generalized and conquered in the field on which Dr. Raymend is engaged when he said, “ Beauty is truth, truth beauty; but the conqueror by classification could never add, “ That is all yc know on earth, and all ye need to know. -We again call attention to the even excellence of the successive numbers of L’Art (Macmillan) as seen in the fortnightly issues of the past three months. A group of Van Ostade’s pictures illustrative of Holland ; abundant examples of the art in the Paris Salon of 1893 ; engravings and etchings after Singleton and Sir Joshua Reynolds (The Ladies Waldegrave); architectural drawings ; studies in charcoal ; notes on the Madrid exhibition ; a paper on Poussin ; notes on books, music, and the drama, — these are some of the contents which make the periodical both a record of contemporary art and an historical review.Modern Painting, by George Moore. (Scribners.) One of the best things Mr. Moore says in this book is that “ the criticism of a creative artist never amounts to more than an ingenious defense of his own work.”One may then know the nature of a man’s creative work from his criticism ? A novelist of Mr. Moore’s vein — he is better known as novelist than painter — would naturally be expected to say many of the things Mr. Moore says about art. The burden of them is an arraignment of England, especially in contrast with France, as a horrid, Philistine land, dominated in artistic matters by a bourgeois royalty and a commercial Academy. There may be more truth in all this than many a loyal Briton would care to admit. Certain it is that Mr. Moore, being confident of his ground, defends it boldly and amusingly, if with a spirit perhaps too aggressively Gallic. In many technical criticisms of individual pictures and men he speaks particularly to artists ; yet whether a person who cares for pictures is perfectly sure or not of his idée plastique, or even his values, he must find Mr. Moore’s remarks definitely suggestive. — Picture and Text, by Henry James. (Harpers.) Mr. James says the pages of the Harper periodicals “have again and again, as it were, illustrated the illustration.” This little book carries the process a step farther, and illustrates the illustrator, for it is in the main a collection of Mr. James’s happy analyses of the work of several such artists as Abbey and Du Maurier. To these reprinted papers is added another, After the Play, which illustrates neither picture nor text, but is merely a clever talk of clever people about the theatre.
Literature and Literary History. The dainty edition of The Works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, in twelve volumes (J. M. Dent & Co., London), has reached the halfway house in Villette, which occupies two of the little volumes. Each has a photogravure frontispiece, and each, also, in view of the rather free use of French which Miss Brontë allowed herself to employ in a story whose scene was laid in Belgium, has an appendix with translations of the French phrases, a somewhat superfluous aid to the reader’s pleasure. The old-fashioned air of these pretty books is very becoming to them.— The History of Early English Literature, by Stopford A. Brooke. (Macmillan.) The title of this work defines it, for it is the history of a literature, not of a language. Its sub-title gives its scope : Being the History of English Poetry from its Beginnings to the Accession of King Ælfred. Mr. Brooke expresses his hope that it is also the beginning of a history by him of all English poetry. By translating many of the poems, instead of writing about them, Mr. Brooke tries to show what they are, rather than what they are like. If the specialist in philology feels defrauded by treatment of this sort, he may comfort himself with the thought that his labors have made it possible, and that, thanks to them, hundreds may read Mr. Brooke’s work for one that would care to master the philologist’s. — There is a break of five hundred years between the point at which Mr. Brooke drops English literature and that at which Bernhard Ten Brink, in the first part of his second volume, takes it up. Ten years ago his first volume appeared in English. This new division of his History of English Literature, translated by William Clarke Robinson, Ph. D. (Holt), has to do with Wyclif, Chaucer, the Earliest Drama, and the Renaissance. Though there is more of the description of works, and less of the works themselves, than in Mr. Brooke’s volume, it is also a history of thoughts rather than of words, and brings its aid to the English and American students who seek to know something of the real life of their early ancestors. Before his death Ten Brink brought his work in German up to the time of Queen Elizabeth’s accession. —Outlines of English Literature, by William Renton. (Scribners.) One feels like saying with Miss Emily Dickinson,
To go and interfere ; ”
for, like her heaven, which now “ is mapped and charted too,” English letters receive austerely mathematical treatment in this new University Extension Manual. The diagrams with which the author seeks to illuminate his classifications of literature fairly make one’s head swim. There are cubes, triangles, intersecting circles, a cycloid, and some isopathic lines, — to which the reader’s attention is especially called, — all as inexorable as Euclid. In a Scheme of Historical Succession in American literature, one finds as the step leading on to Humor, represented by Leland, the division Realism tending to Humor, represented by Motley, Twain, and Howells ! Such a grouping of names would lead one to think the author capable of almost anything but the really judicious analysis of individual writers which the book also contains. Is the cause of University Extension best served, however, by teaching the learners to believe that literature is a thing to be classified like a collection of birds’ eggs, and by showing how one man, at least, can twist every book into a diagram ?