Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 5, March, 1858

Part 5 out of 5


We suppose our readers will agree with us in looking with eager delight
to the promise of a national school of music. Every nation must create
its own song. The passionate music of Italy electrifies our cooler
blood, but it does not adequately express all our feelings nor in any
way represent our character. We also find many of the compositions of
Germany so purely intellectual that they do not touch us until we have
_learned_ to like them. If we ever have a school of music, it will be in
harmony with our rapidly developing characteristics. But it must grow
up on our own soil; exotics never flourish long under strange skies. We
think that many things point to this country as the place where music
will achieve new triumphs. We are not bound by old traditions, we have
few prejudices to unlearn, and we are able to see merit in more than
one school. The same audience that becomes almost intoxicated with the
excitement of the Italian opera will listen with the fullest, serenest
pleasure to the majestic symphonies of Beethoven or to the sublime
choruses of Handel. The devotees of the various European schools have
none of this catholicity. A very accomplished Italian musician used
frankly to say, that a symphony always put him to sleep; and as for the
songs of Franz and other recent German composers, he would rather
hear the filing of saws with an accompaniment of wet fingers on a
window-pane. The Germans, on the other hand, have an equal contempt for
Italian music. For them, Donizetti is melodramatic, Bellini puerile
and silly, and even Rossini (who has written as many melodies as any
composer, save Mozart) is only fit to compose for hand-organs. The
American musical public can and do render to both schools the justice
they deny each other,--and this because we appreciate the aim and
direction of both. The tendency of modern German music is more and more
in what we might call a mathematical direction; the Teutonic listener
examines the structure of a movement as he would a geometrical
proposition; he notices the connection and dependence of the several
parts, and at the end, if he like it, he thinks Q.E.D.; his pleasure is
quiet, but sincere. The Italian, on the other hand, makes everything
subordinate to feeling; for him the music must sparkle with pleasure,
burn with passion, or lighten with rage; borne upon the tide of emotion,
the under-current of harmony is a matter of little moment; there may be
symmetry of structure, and learning in the treatment of themes; if so,
well; if not, their absence is not noticed as an essential defect.

For lyrical purposes the Italian style will always take the precedence,
because music must primarily be addressed to the feelings. But it may
happen, if ever we have great composers here in America, that to the
instinctive grace and beauty of this Southern school the magnificent
orchestral effects of the North may be added, and thereby a grander
and more perfect whole be produced. At least, we can continue to be
eclectic, and in due time we may develope music which, like Corinthian
brass, shall contain the valuable qualities of all the elements we

* * * * *


_Biography of Elisha Kent Kane_. By WILLIAM ELDER. Philadelphia: Childs
& Peterson.

If Dr. Kane's character had not been free from any taint of imposture
and vainglory, and if his reputation had not been of that kind which can
be submitted the austerest tests without being materially lessened, he
would have suffered much in having so frank and truthful a biographer as
Dr. Elder. Nobody could have been selected for the task who would have
worse performed the business of puffing, or the work of recognizing and
celebrating lofty traits of character and vigorous mental endowments
better. He is a friendly biographer,--and well he may be; for he
declares that his researches into Dr. Kane's private correspondence and
papers revealed not a line which, if published, would injure his fame.
It is, of course, impossible for so genuine a man as Dr. Elder to
refrain from hearty eulogium where not to praise is the sign of a
cynical rather than a critical spirit; but his panegyric has the
raciness and sincerity which proceed from the generous recognition of
merit, and never indicates that ominous falseness of feeling which the
simplest reader instinctively detects in the formal constructer of
complimentary sentences. Throughout the book, the biographer writes in
the spirit of that sound maxim which declares it to be as base to refuse
praise where it is due, as to give praise where it is not due; and we
think that few readers will be inclined to quarrel with him for the
quickness and depth of his sympathies with his hero, except that small
class of "knowing" minds who, mistaking disbelief in human probity for
acuteness of intellect, find a mischievous satisfaction in depressing
heroes into coxcombs, and resolving noble actions into ignoble motives.

We have been especially interested in the account given of Dr. Kane's
boyhood and early life. As a boy, he had too much force, originality,
and decided bias of nature to be what is called a "good boy,"--one of
those unfortunate children whose weakness of individuality passes for
moral excellence, and who give their guardians so little trouble in
the early development and so much trouble in the maturity of their
mediocrity. He would not learn what he did not like, and what he felt
would be of no use to him. He kept his memory free from all intellectual
information which could not be transmuted into intellectual ability. The
same daring, confidence, enterprise, and passion for action, which in
after life made him an explorer, were first expressed in that love of
mischief which vexes the hearts of parents and calls into exercise the
pedagogue's ferule. All arbitrary authority found him a resolute little
rebel. Dr. Elder furnishes some amusing instances of his audacity and
determination. Though smaller than other boys of his age, he possessed
"the clear advantage of that energy of nerve and that sort of twill in
the muscular texture which give tight little fellows more size than they
measure and more weight than they weigh." At school he had under his
charge a brother, two years younger than himself, who was once called up
by the master to be whipped. This disturbed Elisha's notions of justice
and his conceptions of the duties of a guardian, and, springing from his
seat, he exclaimed, "Don't whip him, he's such a little fellow!--whip
me!" The master, interpreting this to be mutiny, which really was
intended for fair compromise, answered, "I'll whip you, too, Sir!"
Strung for endurance, the sense of injustice changed his mood to
defiance, and such fight as he was able to make quickly converted the
discipline into a fracas, and Elisha left the school with marks which
required explanation.

In his eighteenth year he was prostrated by a disease which developed
into inflammation of the lining membrane of the heart, from which he
never recovered. The verdict of the physician was ever in his mind: "You
may fall at any time as suddenly as from [by] a musket-shot." His life
was afterwards, indeed, like the life of a soldier constantly under
fire. Instead of making him a valetudinary, this continual liability to
death aided to make him a hero. He acted in the spirit of his father's
advice,--"If you must die, die in harness." Dr. Elder proves that his
existence was prolonged by the hardihood which made him careless of
death. "The current of his life shows convincingly that incessant toil
and exposure was [were] a sound hygienic policy in his case. Naturally
his physical constitution was a case of coil springs, compacted till
they quivered with their own mobility; nervous disease had added its
irritability, and mental energy electrified them. It was doing or dying,
with him. And it was not a tyrant selfishness, a wild ambition, that
ruled his life, but a rare concurrence of mental aptitude, moral
impulse, and bodily necessity, that kept him incessant in adventure."
Nothing could damp this ardor. He contracted the peculiar disease of
every country and climate he visited, and was frequently on what seemed
his death-bed; but no experience of physical misery had any influence
in blunting his intellectual curiosity or impairing the energies of his
will. One of those elastic natures "who ever with a frolic welcome take
the thunder or the sunshine," his whole existence was wedded to action,
and he was always ready to suffer everything, if he could thereby do

We have no space to follow Dr. Elder in his minute and interesting
account of a life so short, yet so crowded with events, as that in which
the character of Dr. Kane was formed, manifested, and matured. The
character itself--so gentle and so persistent, so full at once of
self-reliance and reliance on Providence, so tender in affection and so
indomitable in fortitude--is now one of the moral possessions of the
country, worth more to it than any new invention which increases
its industrial productiveness or any new province which adds to its
territorial dominion. That must be a low view of utility which excludes
such a character from its list of useful things; for the great interest
of every nation is, to cherish and value whatever tends to prevent its
forces of intelligence and conscience from being weakened by idleness or
withheld by timidity and self-distrust; and certainly the example of Dr.
Kane will exert this wholesome influence, by the unmistakable directness
with which it gives the lie to that lazy or cowardly skepticism of the
powers of the will, which furnishes the excuse for thousands to slink
away from duty on the plea of inability to perform it. To the young men
of the country we especially commend this biography, in the full belief
that it will stimulate and stir to effort many a sensitive youth who
feels within himself the capacity to emulate the spirit which prompted
Dr. Kane's actions, if he cannot hope to rival their splendor and

_Beatrice Cenci_: A Historical Novel of the Sixteenth Century, by F.D.
GUERRAZZI. Translated from the Italian by Luigi Monti, A.M., Instructor
of Italian at Harvard University, Cambridge. New York: Rudd & Carleton,
310 Broadway. 1858. Two vols. in one. pp. 270 and 202.

Three contemporary Italians, Mariotti, (Gallenga,) Mazzini, and Ruffini,
have afforded extraordinary examples of entire mastery over the English
language in original composition, and Mr. Monti has attained an almost
equal success in the translation before us. We have remarked,
in reading it, a few solecisms and one or two trifling
mistranslations,--but none of them such as either to affect the
essential integrity of the version or to render it difficult for the
least intelligent reader to make out clearly the sense of the original.
We should not have alluded to them at all, had we not thought that they
redounded rather to the credit of the translator; for they seem to prove
that the work is entirely his own, and has not been subjected to that
supervision which any one of Mr. Monti's numerous friends would have
been glad to offer.

Guerrazzi, the author of the book, played a conspicuous part during the
Italian Revolution of 1848-9. An advocate, we believe, by profession,
he was one of the chiefs of the moderate liberal party in Tuscany, who,
after the breaking out of the Revolution, wished to avoid any sudden
overturn by carrying out such reforms as public sentiment demanded by
means of the existing powers and forms of government. As head of the
ministry called to inaugurate and administer the new Constitution
granted and sworn to by the Grand Duke, he became involuntarily the
Regent and in fact the Dictator of Tuscany, after the Grand Duke's
treacherous flight to Santo Stefano. There is no evidence that he abused
his power, or that he assumed any responsibilities not forced upon him
by the necessities of his position. Indeed, the best proof that he
did not is, that, after the Grand Duke had been forced again on his
unwilling subjects by the bayonets of his Austrian cousins, it was found
impossible to obtain Guerrazzi's conviction on a charge of high treason,
and that in a city garrisoned by Austrian soldiers and still under
martial law. He was, however, incarcerated for several years before
being brought to trial, and finally sentenced to fifteen years'
imprisonment. But even this was such an outrage on public opinion that
it was commuted to banishment. He is now living in exile near Genoa,
and enjoying those blessings of constitutional government which he had
desired to confer on his own country, and which we fervently hope may
survive the misguided assaults of a fanatic liberalism, and continue to
make Sardinia the centre of Italian hope, as it is the van of Italian

His "Beatrice Cenci" was written during his imprisonment; and there is
something fitting in the circumstance, that the work of an exile should
be translated by a countryman also driven from his native land in
consequence of his devotion to the idea of liberal and constitutional
government, and, like the author, sustaining himself unrepiningly by a
dignified and useful industry. It was also peculiarly fitting that the
translation should have appeared just at the moment when the genius of
Miss Hosmer had renewed the interest of her countrymen in the story of
Beatrice, and deepened their compassion for her undeserved misfortunes
by a statue so full of pathos and power.

Guerrazzi belongs to the extreme left of the school of historical
novelists. He is almost always at high pressure, and, in spite of
a certain force of thought and expression, is tinged decidedly and
sometimes unpleasantly with sentimentalism. He is so little of
an artist, that the story-teller is subordinated in him to the
propagandist, and his work is not so near his heart us the desire to
make a strong argument against the temporal power of the Papacy. He
interrupts his narrative too often with reflection and disquisition,
shows too much that fondness for the striking which is fatal to the
classic in expression, and rushes out of his way at a highly-colored
simile as certainly as a bull at scarlet. His characters talk much, and
yet develope themselves rather circumstantially than psychologically.

Yet, in spite of these defects, Guerrazzi has succeeded in so
intensifying the high lights and deep shadows of passion, pathos,
and horror in the story, as to make a very effective picture, of the
Caravaggio school. There is a curious parallel between the chapter where
Count Cenci is imprisoned in the cavern, and those scenes in Webster's
"Duchess of Malfy" where the Duchess is tortured by her brothers. The
resemblance is interesting on many accounts, and serves to confirm us in
a belief we have long entertained that Webster's peculiar power has been
overrated, and that the tendency to heap one nightmare horror on another
is something characteristic rather of the childhood than the maturity
of genius. There is no modern story which renews for us the woes of the
house of Tantalus so awfully as this of the Cenci, and it cannot fail
to be of absorbing interest, especially to those unfamiliar with its
ghastly details. Whether the theory which Guerrazzi assumes in order to
render probable the innocence of the Cenci be tenable or not we shall
not stop to discuss; it is enough that it serves to heighten the romance
and complicate the plot in a very effective manner.

We cannot leave the book without saying how much we were charmed with
the little episode of the old curate and his maid, and his ass Marco.
It seems to us that Guerrazzi in this chapter has come nearer to the
simplicity of nature than in any other part of the book, and we augur
favorably from it for his future escape from the perils of a too
ambitious style to the serenity of truer artistic development.

Of Mr. Monti's translation we can speak in high terms of commendation.
Success in writing a foreign language is a rare thing, and he has shown
a remarkable command of idiomatic expression. His familiarity with the
habits and proverbial phrases of his native country gives him, we
think, an advantage over any English translator, which more than
counterbalances the trifling inaccuracies of phraseology that here and
there betray the foreigner, and amount to nothing more than an accent,
which is not without its merit of piquancy. In one respect we think he
has acted with great discretion, namely, in now and then curtailing
the reflections which Guerrazzi has interpolated upon the story to
the manifest detriment of its interest and consecutiveness. If Signor
Guerrazzi should profit by these silent criticisms, it would be to his
advantage as an author.

_The Elements of Drawing; in three Letters to Beginners._ By JOHN BUSKIN.
With Illustrations drawn by the Author. 12mo. London. 1857.

The art of drawing may be called the art of learning to see,--and into
this art there is no guide to be compared with Mr. Ruskin. His own
admirable powers of sight and of expression have been cultivated by
long, patient, and laborious study.

He has learned not only how to see, but what to see, and how best to
represent what he sees. A teacher of the most advanced students of Art
and Nature, he offers himself now as a teacher of beginners; and this
little book of his contains a course of instruction admirably adapted
not only to teach drawing, but also to teach the object and end for
which it is worth while to learn to draw. "I would rather teach
drawing," says Mr. Ruskin, in his Preface, "that my pupils may learn to
love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn
to draw." And no one can study Mr. Ruskin's hook without gaining a
profounder sense of the infinite beauty and variety of Nature, and of
the unfathomable stores of her freely lavished riches,--or without
acquiring clearer perceptions of this beauty, and of its relations to
the Divine government and order of the world.

Mr. Ruskin's book is essentially a practical one. His long experience as
teacher of drawing in the Working-Men's College has given him knowledge
of and sympathy with the perplexities and difficulties of beginners.
It is a book for children of twelve or fourteen years old; and it is
especially fitted for circulation in district and school libraries. All
teachers of schools, in which drawing forms a part of the course, will
find invaluable hints and directions in it. In every case, the
English edition--which is easily obtainable, and at a very moderate
price--should be procured, not merely for the sake of the original
illustrations, but also as a mark of respect and gratitude to the

In an Appendix containing many wise and genial directions with regard to
"Things to be studied" is a passage concerning Books, which we quote for
its coincidence of opinion with our own views expressed in the January
Number, and for the sake of enforcing its recommendations.

"I cannot, of course, suggest the choice of your library to you; every
several mind needs different books; but there are some books which
we all need; and assuredly, if you read Homer,[A] Plato, Aeschylus,
Herodotus Dante,[B] Shakspeare, and Spenser, as much as you ought, you
will not require wide enlargement of shelves to right and left of them
for purposes of perpetual study. Among modern books, avoid generally
magazine and review literature,[C] Sometimes it may contain a useful
abridgment or a wholesome piece of criticism; but the chances are ten to
one it will either waste your time or mislead you.... Avoid especially
that class of literature which has a knowing tone; it is the most
poisonous of all. Every good book, or piece of book, is full of
admiration and awe; it may contain firm assertion or stern satire, but
it never sneers coldly nor asserts haughtily, and it always leads you to
reverence or love something with your whole heart.... A common book will
often give you much amusement, but it is only a noble book which will
give you dear friends. Remember, also, that it is of less importance to
you, in your earlier years, that the books you read should be clever,
than that they should be right; I do not mean oppressively or
repulsively instructive, but that the thoughts they express should be
just, and the feelings they excite generous. It is not necessary for
you to read the wittiest or the most suggestive books; it is better,
in general, to hear what is already known and may be simply said....
Certainly at present, and perhaps through all your life, your teachers
are wisest when they make you content in quiet virtue, and that
literature and art are best for you which point out, in common life and
familiar things, the objects for hopeful Labor and for humble love." pp.

[Footnote A: Chapman's, if not the original.]

[Footnote B: Cary's or Cayley's, if not the original. I do not know
which are the best translations of Plato. Herodotus and Aeschylus can
only be read in the original. It may seem strange that I name books like
these for "beginners"; but all the greatest books contain food for all
ages; and an intelligent and rightly bred youth or girl ought to enjoy
much, even in Plato, by the time they are fifteen or sixteen.]

[Footnote C: _The Atlantic Monthly_ was not in existence when Mr.
Ruskin wrote this condemnation of magazines. The saving word for it is


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