Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 10, No. 57, July, 1862
Part 5 out of 5
And some might say,--"Those ruder songs
Had freshness which the new have lost:
To spring the opening leaf belongs,
The chestnut-burrs await the frost."
When those I wrote, my locks were brown;
When these I write--ah, well-a-day!
The autumn thistle's silvery down
Is not the purple bloom of May!
Go, little book, whose pages hold
Those garnered years in loving trust;
How long before your blue and gold
Shall fade and whiten in the dust?
O sexton of the alcoved tomb,
Where souls in leathern cerements lie,
Tell me each living poet's doom!
How long before his book shall die?
It matters little, soon or late,
A day, a month, a year, an age,--
I read oblivion in its date,
And Finis on its title-page.
Before we sighed, our griefs were told;
Before we smiled, our joys were sung;
And all our passions shaped of old
In accents lost to mortal tongue.
In vain a fresher mould we seek:
Can all the varied phrases tell,
That Babel's wandering children speak,
How thrushes sing or lilacs smell?
Caged in the poet's lonely heart,
Love wastes unheard its tenderest tone;
The soul that sings must dwell apart,
Its inward melodies unknown.
Deal gently with us, ye who read!
Our largest hope is unfulfilled,--
The promise still outruns the deed,--
The tower, but not the spire, we build.
Our whitest pearl we never find;
Our ripest fruit we never reach;
The flowering moments of the mind
Drop half their petals in our speech.
These are my blossoms; if they wear
One streak of morn or evening's glow,
Accept them; but to me more fair
The buds of song that never blow.
* * * * *
THE CHILDREN'S CITIES.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "CHARLES AUCHESTER."
There was a certain king who had three sons, and who, loving them all
alike, desired to leave them to reign over his kingdom as brothers, and
not one above another.
His kingdom consisted of three beautiful cities, divided by valleys
covered with flowers and full of grass; but the cities lay so near each
other that from the walls of each you could see the walls of the other
two. The first city was called the city of Lessonland, the second the
city of Confection, and the third the city of Pastime.
The king, feeling himself very old and feeble, sent for the lawyers to
write his will for him, that his children might know how he wished them
to behave after he was dead. So the lawyers came to the palace and went
into the king's bed-room, where he lay in his golden bed, and the will
was drawn up as he desired.
One day, not long after the will was made, the king's fool was trying
to make a boat of a leaf to sail it upon the silver river. And the fool
thought the paper on which the will was written would make a better
boat,--for he could not read what was written; so he ran to the palace
quickly, and knowing where it was laid, he got the will and made a boat
of it and set it sailing upon the river, and away it floated out of
sight. And the worst of all was, that the king took such a fright, when
the will blew away, that he could speak no more when the lawyers came
back with the golden ink. And he never made another will, but died
without telling his sons what he wished them to do.
However, the king's sons, though they had little bodies, because they
were princes of the Kingdom of Children, were very good little
persons,--at least, they had not yet been naughty, and had never
quarrelled,--so that the child-people loved them almost as well as
they loved each other. The child-people were quite pleased that the
princes should rule over them; but they did not know how to arrange,
because there was no king's will, and by rights the eldest ought to
have the whole kingdom. But the eldest, whose name was Gentil, called
his brothers to him and said,--
"I am quite sure, though there is no will, that our royal papa built
the three cities that we might each have one to reign over, and not one
reign over all. Therefore I will have you both, dear brothers, choose a
city to govern over, and I will govern over the city you do not
And his brothers danced for joy; and the people too were pleased, for
they loved all the three princes. But there were not enough people in
the kingdom to fill more than one city quite full. Was not this very
odd? Gentil thought so; but, as he could not make out the reason, he
said to the child-people,--
"I will count you, and divide you into three parts, and each part shall
go to one city."
For, before the king had built the cities, the child-people had lived
in the green valleys, and slept on beds of flowers.
So Joujou, the second prince, chose the city of Pastime; and Bonbon,
the youngest prince, chose the city of Confection; and the city of
Lessonland was left for Prince Gentil, who took possession of it
And first let us see how the good Gentil got on in his city.
The city of Lessonland was built of books, all books, and only books.
The walls were books, set close like bricks, and the bridges over the
rivers (which were very blue) were built of books in arches, and there
were books to pave the roads and paths, and the doors of the houses
were books with golden letters on the outside. The palace of Prince
Gentil was built of the largest books, all bound in scarlet and green
and purple and blue and yellow. And inside the palace all the loveliest
pictures were hung upon the walls, and the handsomest maps; and in his
library were all the lesson-books and all the story-books in the world.
Directly Gentil began to reign, he said to himself,--
"What are all these books for? They must mean that we are to learn, and
to become very clever, in order to be good. I wish to be very clever,
and to make my people so; so I must set them a good example."
And he called all his child-people together, who would do anything for
the love of him, and he said,--
"If we mean to be of any use in the world, we must learn, learn, learn,
and read, read, read, and always be doing lessons."
And they said they would, to please him; and they all gathered together
in the palace council-chamber, and Gentil set them tasks, the same as
he set himself, and they all went home to learn them, while he learned
his in the palace.
Now let us see how Joujou is getting on. He was a good prince,
Joujou,--oh, so fond of fun! as you may believe, from his choosing the
city of Pastime. Oh, that city of Pastime! how unlike the city of dear,
dull Lessonland! The walls of the city of Pastime were beautiful
toy-bricks, painted all the colors of the rainbow; and the streets of
the city were filled with carriages just big enough for child-people
to drive in, and little gigs, and music-carts, and post-chaises, that
ran along by clock-work, and such rocking-horses! And there was not to
be found a book In the whole city, but the houses were crammed with
toys from the top to the bottom,--tops, hoops, balls, battle-doors,
bows and arrows, guns, peep-shows, drums and trumpets, marbles,
ninepins, tumblers, kites, and hundreds upon hundreds more, for there
you found every toy that ever was made in the world, besides thousands
of large wax dolls, all in different court-dresses. And directly Joujou
began to reign, he said to himself,--
"What are all these toys for? They must mean that we are to play
always, that we may be always happy. I wish to be very happy, and that
my people should be happy, always. Won't I set them an example?"
And Joujou blew a penny-trumpet, and got on the back of the largest
rocking-horse and rocked with all his might, and cried,--
"Child-people, you are to play always, for in all the city of Pastime
you see nothing else but toys!"
The child-people did not wait long; some jumped on rocking-horses, some
drove off in carriages, and some in gigs and music-carts. And organs
were played, and bells rang, and shuttlecocks and kites flew up the
blue sky, and there was laughter, laughter, in all the streets of
And now for little Bonbon, how is he getting on? He was a dear little
fat fellow,--but, oh, so fond of sweets! as you may believe, from his
choosing the city of Confection. And there were no books in Confection,
and no toys; but the walls were built of gingerbread, and the houses
were built of gingerbread, and the bridges of barley-sugar, that
glittered in the sun. And rivers ran with wine through the streets,
sweet wine, such as child-people love; and Christmas-trees grew along
the banks of the rivers, with candy and almonds and golden nuts on the
branches; and in every house the tables were made of sweet brown
chocolate, and there were great plum-cakes on the tables, and little
cakes, and all sorts of cakes. And when Bonbon began to reign he did
not think much about it, but began to eat directly, and called out,
with his mouth full,--
"Child-people, eat always! for in all the city of Confection there is
nothing but cakes and sweets."
And did not the child-people fall to, and eat directly, and eat on, and
Now by this time what has happened to Gentil? for we left him in the
city of Lessonland. All the first day he learned the lessons he had set
himself, and the people learned theirs too, and they all came to Gentil
in the evening to say them to the Prince. But by the time Gentil had
heard all the lessons, he was very, very tired,--so tired that he
tumbled asleep on the throne; and when the child-people saw their
prince was asleep, they thought they might as well go to sleep too. And
when Gentil awoke, the next morning, behold! there were all his people
asleep on the floor. And he looked at his watch and found it was very
late, and he woke up the people, crying, with a very loud voice,--
"It is very late, good people!"
And the people jumped up, and rubbed their eyes, and cried,--
"We have been learning always, and we can no longer see to read,--the
letters dance before our eyes."
And all the child-people groaned, and cried very bitterly behind their
books. Then Gentil said,--
"I will read to you, my people, and that will rest your eyes."
And he read them a delightful story about animals; but when he stopped
to show them a picture of a lion, the people were all asleep. Then
Gentil grew angry, and cried in a loud voice,--
"Wake up, idle people, and listen!"
But when the people woke up, they were stupid, and sat like cats and
sulked. So Gentil put the book away, and sent them home, giving them
each a long task for their rudeness. The child-people went away; but,
as they found only books out of doors, and only books at home, they
went to sleep without learning their tasks. And all the fifth day they
slept. But on the sixth day Gentil went out to see what they were
doing; and they began to throw their books about, and a book knocked
Prince Gentil on the head, and hurt him so much that he was obliged to
go to bed. And while he was in bed, the people began to fight, and to
throw the books at one another.
Now as for Joujou and his people, they began to play, and went on
playing, and did nothing else but play. And would you believe it?--they
got tired too. The first day and the second day nobody thought he ever
could be tired, amongst the rocking-horses and whips and marbles and
kites and dolls and carriages. But the third day everybody wanted to
ride at once, and the carriages were so full that they broke down, and
the rocking-horses rocked over, and wounded some little men; and the
little women snatched their dolls from one another, and the dolls were
broken. And on the fourth day the Prince Joujou cut a hole in the very
largest drum, and made the drummer angry; and the drummer threw a
drumstick at Joujou, and Prince Joujou told the drummer he should go
to prison. Then the drummer got on the top of the painted wall, and
shot arrows at the Prince, which did not hurt him much, because they
were toy-arrows, but which made Joujou very much afraid, for he did not
wish his people to hate him.
"What do you want?" he cried to the drummer. "Tell me what I can do to
please you. Shall we play at marbles, or balls, or knock down the
golden ninepins? Or shall we have Punch and Judy in the court of the
"Yes! yes!" cried the people, and the drummer jumped down from the
wall. "Yes! yes! Punch and Judy! We are tired of marbles, and balls,
and ninepins. But we sha'n't be tired of Punch and Judy!"
So the people gathered together in the court of the palace, and saw
Punch and Judy over and over again, all day long on the fifth day. And
they had it so often, that, when the sixth day came, they pulled down
the stage, and broke Punch to pieces, and burned Judy, and screamed out
that they were so hungry they did not know what to do. And the drummer
"Let us eat Prince Joujou!"
But the people loved him still; so they answered,--
"No! but we will go out of the city and invade the city of Confection,
and fight them, if they won't give us anything to eat!"
So out they went, with Joujou at their head; for Joujou, too, was
dreadfully hungry. And they crossed the green valley to the city of
Confection, and began to try and eat the gingerbread walls. But the
gingerbread was hard, because the walls had been built in ancient days;
and the people tried to get on the top of the walls, and when they had
eaten a few holes in the gingerbread, they climbed up by them to the
top. And there they saw a dreadful sight. All the people had eaten so
much that they were ill, or else so fat that they could not move. And
the people were lying about in the streets, and by the side of the
rivers of sweet wine, but, oh, so sick, that they could eat no more!
And Prince Bonbon, who had got into the largest Christmas-tree, had
eaten all the candy upon it, and grown so fat that he could not move,
but stuck up there among the branches. When the people of Pastime got
upon the walls, however, the people of Confection were very angry; and
one or two of those who could eat the most, and who still kept on
eating while they were sick, threw apples and cakes at the people of
Pastime, and shot Joujou with sugar-plums, which he picked up and ate,
while his people were eating down the plum-cakes, and drinking the wine
till they were tipsy.
As soon as Gentil heard what a dreadful noise his people were making,
he got up, though he still felt poorly, and went out into the streets.
The people were fighting, alas! worse than ever; and they were trying
to pull down the strong book-walls, that they might get out of the
city. A good many of them were wounded in the head, as well as Prince
Gentil, by the heavy books falling upon them; and Gentil was very
sorry for the people.
"If you want to go out, good people," he said, "I will open the gates
and go with you; but do not pull down the book-walls."
And they obeyed Gentil, because they loved him, and Gentil led them out
of the city. When they had crossed the first green valley, they found
the city of Pastime empty, not a creature in it! and broken toys in the
streets. At sight of the toys, the poor book-people cried for joy, and
wanted to stop and play. So Gentil left them in the city, and went on
alone across the next green valley. But the city of Confection was
crammed so full with sick child-people belonging to Bonbon, and with
Joujou's hungry ones, that Gentil could not get in at the gate. So he
wandered about in the green valleys, very unhappy, until he came to his
old father's palace. There he found the fool, sitting on the banks of
"O fool," said Gentil, "I wish I knew what my father meant us to do!"
And the fool tried to comfort Gentil; and they walked together by the
river where the fool had made the boat of the will, without knowing
what it was. They walked a long way, Gentil crying, and the fool trying
to comfort him, when suddenly the fool saw the boat he had made, lying
among some green rushes. And the fool ran to fetch it, and brought it
to show Gentil. And Gentil saw some writing on the boat, and knew it
was his father's writing. Then Gentil was glad indeed; he unfolded
the paper, and thereon he read these words,--for a good king's words
are not washed away by water:--
"My will and pleasure is, that my dearly beloved sons, Prince Gentil,
Prince Joujou, and Prince Bonbon, should all reign together over the
three cities which I have built. But there are only enough child-people
to fill one city; for I know that the child-people cannot live always
in one city. Therefore let the three princes, with Gentil, the eldest,
wearing the crown, lead all the child-people to the city of Lessonland
in the morning, that the bright sun may shine upon their lessons and
make them pleasant; and Gentil to set the tasks. And in the afternoon
let the three princes, with Joujou wearing the crown, lead all the
child-people to the city of Pastime, to play until the evening; and
Joujou to lead the games. And in the evening let the three princes,
with Bonbon wearing the crown, lead all the child-people to the city of
Confection, to drink sweet wine and pluck fruit off the Christmas-trees
until time for bed; and little Bonbon to cut the cake. And at time for
bed, let the child-people go forth into the green valleys and sleep
upon the beds of flowers: for in Child Country it is always spring."
This was the king's will, found at last; and Gentil, whose great long
lessons had made him wise, (though they had tired him too,) thought the
will the cleverest that was ever made. And he hastened to the city of
Confection, and knocked at the gate till they opened it; and he found
all the people sick by this time, and very pleased to see him, for they
thought him very wise. And Gentil read the will in a loud voice, and
the people clapped their hands and began to get better directly, and
Bonbon called to them to lift him down out of the tree where he had
stuck, and Joujou danced for joy.
So the king's will was obeyed. And in the morning the people learned
their lessons, and afterwards they played, and afterwards they enjoyed
their feasts. And at bed-time they slept upon the beds of flowers, in
the green valleys: for in Child Country it is always spring.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
1. VICTOR HUGO. _Les Miserables. Fantine_. New York: P. W.
2. _The Same_. Translated from the Original French, by CHARLES E.
WILBOUR. New York: G. W. Carleton. 8vo.
"FANTINE," the first of five novels under the general title of "Les
Miserables," has produced an impression all over Europe, and we already
hear of nine translations, It has evidently been "engineered" with
immense energy by the French publisher. Translations have appeared in
numerous languages almost simultaneously with its publication in Paris.
Every resource of bookselling ingenuity has been exhausted in order to
make every human being who can read think that the salvation of his
body and soul depends on his reading "Les Miserables." The glory and
the obloquy of the author have both been forced into aids to a system
of puffing at which Barnum himself would stare amazed, and confess
that he had never conceived of "a dodge" in which literary genius and
philanthropy could be allied with the grossest bookselling humbug. But
we trust, that, after our American showman has recovered from his
first shock of surprise, he will vindicate the claim of America to be
considered the "first nation on the face of the earth," by immediately
offering Dickens a hundred thousand dollars to superintend his
exhibition of dogs, and Florence Nightingale a half a million to appear
at his exhibition of babies.
The French bookseller also piqued the curiosity of the universal public
by a story that Victor Hugo wrote "Les Miserables" twenty-five years
ago, but, being bound to give a certain French publisher all his works
after his first celebrated novel, he would not delight the world with
this product of his genius until he had forced the said publisher into
a compliance with his terms. The publisher shrank aghast from the sum
which the author demanded, and this sum was yearly increased in amount,
as years rolled away and as Victor Hugo's reputation grew more
splendid. At last the publisher died, probably from vexation, and
Victor Hugo was free. Then he condescended to allow the present
publisher to issue "Les Miserables" on the payment of eighty thousand
dollars. It is not surprising, that, to get his money back, this
publisher has been compelled to resort to tricks which exceed
everything known in the whole history of literature.
"Fantine," therefore, comes before us, externally, as the most
desperate of bookselling speculations. The publisher, far from
drinking his wine out of the skull of his author, is in danger of
having neither wine nor ordinary cup, and is forced into the most
reckless _charlatanerie_ to save himself from utter ruin and
complete loss of the generous fluid. Internally, "Fantine" comes before
us as an attempt both to include and to supersede the Christian
religion. Wilkinson, in a preface to one of his books, stated that he
thought that "Christendom was not the error of which _Chapmandom_
was the correction,"--Chapman being then the English publisher of a
number of skeptical books. In the same way we may venture to affirm
that Christendom is not the beginning of which _Hugoism_ is the
complement and end. We think that the revelation made by the publisher
of "Les Miserables" sadly interferes with the revelation made by
Victor Hugo. Saint Paul may be inferior to Saint Hugo, but everybody
will admit that Saint Paul would not have hesitated a second in
deciding, in the publication of _his_ epistles, between the good
of mankind and his own remuneration. Saint Hugo confessedly waited
twenty-five years before he published his new gospel. The salvation of
Humanity had to be deferred until the French saviour received his
eighty thousand dollars. At last a bookselling Barnum appears, pays
the price, and a morality which utterly eclipses that of Saint Paul is
given to an expectant world.
This morality, sold for eighty thousand dollars, is represented by
Bishop Myriel. The character is drawn with great force, and is full
both of direct and subtle satire on the worldliness of ordinary
churchmen. The portion of the work in which it figures contains many
striking sayings. Thus, we are told, that, when the Bishop "had money,
his visits were to the poor; when he had none, he visited the rich."
"Ask not," he said, "the name of him who asks you for a bed; it is
especially he whose name is a burden to him who has need of an
asylum." This man, who embodies all the virtues, carries his goodness
so far as to receive into his house a criminal whom all honest houses
reject, and, when robbed by his infamous guest, saves the life of the
latter by telling the officers who had apprehended the thief that he
had given him the silver. This so works on the criminal's conscience,
that, like Peter Bell, he "becomes a good and pious man," starts a
manufactory, becomes rich, and uses his wealth for benevolent
purposes. Fantine, the heroine, after having been seduced by a
Parisian student, comes to work in his factory. She has a child that
she supports by her labor. This fact is discovered by some female
gossip, and she is dismissed from the factory as an immoral woman, and
descends to the lowest depths of prostitution,--still for the purpose
of supporting her child. Jean Valjean, the reformed criminal,
discovers her, is made aware that her debasement is the result of the
act of his foreman, and takes her, half dead with misery and sickness,
to his own house. Meanwhile he learns that an innocent person, by
being confounded with himself, is in danger of being punished for his
former deeds. He flies from the bedside of Fantine, appears before the
court, announces himself as the criminal, is arrested, but in the end
escapes from the officers who have him in charge. Fantine dies. Her
child is to be the heroine of Novel Number Two of "Les Miserables," and
will doubtless have as miserable an end as her mother. From this bare
abstract, the story does not seem to promise much pleasure to
novel-readers, yet it is all alive with the fiery genius of Victor
Hugo, and the whole representation is so intense and vivid that it is
impossible to escape from the fascination it exerts over the mind. Few
who take the book up will leave it until they have read it through. It
is morbid to a degree that no eminent English author, not even Lord
Byron, ever approached; but its morbid elements are so combined with
sentiments abstractly Christian that it is calculated to wield a more
pernicious influence than Byron ever exerted. Its tendency is to
weaken that abhorrence of crime which is the great shield of most of
the virtue which society possesses, and it does this by attempting to
prove that society itself is responsible for crimes it cannot
prevent, but can only punish. To legislators, to Magdalen societies,
to prison-reformers, it may suggest many useful hints; but, considered
as a passionate romance, appealing to the sympathies of the ordinary
readers of novels, it will do infinitely more harm than good. The
bigotries of virtue are better than the charities of vice. On the
whole, therefore, we think that Victor Hugo, when he stood out
twenty-five years for his price, did a service to the human race. The
great value of his new gospel consisted in its not being published. We
wish that another quarter of a century had elapsed before it found a
bookseller capable of venturing on so reckless a speculation.
* * * * *
_Christ the Spirit_: being an Attempt to state the Primitive View
of Christianity. By the Author of "Remarks on Alchemy and the
Alchemists," and "Swedenborg a Hermetic Philosopher." 2 vols. New York:
Tins remarkable work is said to be by Major-General Hitchcock, of the
United States Army, whose important services in the Mexican campaign
and in our war with the Florida Indians will always command for him the
grateful remembrance of his country. It presents many striking views,
and at first glance appears to sweep somewhat breezily through the
creeds and ceremonies of the external church. The danger, however,
may not be great. The work is written in a spirit of forbearance and
moral elevation that cannot fail to do good, if it is only to teach
theologians that bitter warfare is no way to convince the world of the
divinity of their opinions. The author affirms that he seeks to
reestablish Christianity upon, its true basis. In opposition to
existing churches, he places himself in the position of Saint Paul as
opposed to the Pharisees, and says, with him, "It is the spirit that
quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing,"--or again, with the Spirit of
Truth itself, he declares, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true
worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the
Father seeketh such to worship Him." General Hitchcock believes that
the New Testament was written by the Essene philosophers, a secret
society well known to the Jews as dividing the religious world of Judea
with the Pharisees and Sadducees. It was written for the instruction of
the novitiates, and in symbolism and allegories, according to the oath
by which they were solemnly bound. Whatever may be said of the truth of
this theory, the interpretations it gives rise to are exceedingly
interesting and instructive.
The law of Moses, which all the Jews regarded as divine, the Essenes
thought contained a twofold signification. They saw in it a letter and
a spirit. As a letter it was the Son of Man, because written by man; as
spirit it was the Son of God, because it proceeded from God. They held
that the Pharisees murdered the spirit through adhering to the letter;
and in the books which the Essenes themselves wrote--the Four
Gospels--they taught this doctrine. In Jesus Christ they personified
the law of Moses,--Christ representing in his double character both the
spirit and the letter of the Law; John the Baptist, the witness of the
spirit, representing the letter exclusively; the Virgin Mary the
"wisdom" constantly personified in the Old Testament. She is also the
Church, the bride of Christ, and that "invisible nature" symbolized in
all mythologies as divine. The Father is the Spirit of the Law and the
Spirit of Nature,--the infinite God from whom all life proceeds and in
whom it abides.
From this brief statement it will be seen that General Hitchcock takes
a view of Christianity widely different from that of theologians. Jesus
of Nazareth, as a person, he regards simply as a great teacher of this
sect of philosophers; and in the Christ of the New Testament, a being
endowed with supernatural powers, he sees a personification of the
Spirit of Truth. The literal history of a series of supernatural
events occurring in Judea two thousand years ago he transforms into
sublime teachings of the great truths inherent in human nature, and
which, wherever man is, are there forever reenacting the same
drama,--in the assumed history of Jesus, divinely portrayed,--not, if
rightly understood, as an actual history of any one man, but as a
symbolic narration, representing the spiritual life of all men.
Many grave reflections are forced upon us in contemplating a view so
original of a subject upon which apparently nothing more remained to be
said. It becomes not only the question, How will this work be received
by the religious world? but, How, in a true spirit of inquiry,
_ought_ it to be received? The theory of the author is peculiarly
simple, but in its simplicity lies an exceeding beauty. The idea that
the Scriptures are symbolical has always found adherents, but never
such an advocate. Swedenborg affirmed this truth, and invented a
formal mode of interpretation, upon which he wrote his multitudinous
octavos, themselves mystical volumes, and whose effect has been to
involve a subject already obscure in still deeper darkness, and to
transfer the adoration of a small portion of the Christian world from
the letter of the Scriptures to the letter of Swedenborg,--a
questionable benefit to his followers, in spite of the many important
truths which this great man advocated. The radical difference between
such a system and that which we are now considering is evident. Not
Swedenborg alone, but many others, through artificial systems of their
own, have sought to interpret the mysteries of the Bible; but it has
remained for the author of "Christ the Spirit" to attempt a discovery
of the key unlocking the symbolism of the New Testament, as it was
understood by the gospel writers themselves.
_The Pearl of Orr's Island._ A Story of the Coast of Maine. By
MRS. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, Author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "The
Minister's Wooing," etc. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 12mo.
Mrs. Stowe is never more in her element than in depicting
unsophisticated New-England life, especially in those localities where
there is a practical social equality among the different classes of
the population. "The Pearl of Orr's Island," the scene of which is
laid in one of those localities, is every way worthy of her genius.
Without deriving much interest from its plot, it fastens the pleased
attention of the reader by the freshness, clearness, and truth of its
representations, both of Nature and persons. The author transports us
at once to the place she has chosen as the scene of her story, makes us
as familiarly acquainted with all its surroundings as if we had been
born and bred there, introduces us to all the principal inhabitants in
a thoroughly "neighborly" way, and contrives to impress us with a
sense of the substantial reality of what she makes us mentally see,
even when an occasional improbability in the story almost wakes us up
to a perception that the whole is a delightful illusion.
This foundation of the story in palpable realities, which every Yankee
recognizes as true the moment they are presented to his eye, enables
the writer to develop the ideal character of Mara Lincoln, the heroine
of the book, without giving any sensible shock to the prosaic mind. In
the type of womanhood she embodies, she is almost identical with
Agnes, in the beautiful romance which Mrs. Stowe has lately contributed
to this magazine: the difference is in time and circumstance, and not
in essential nature. The Puritan maiden, with all her homely culture
and rough surroundings, is really as poetic a personage as any of
Spenser's exquisite individualizations of abstract feminine
excellence; perhaps more so, as the most austere and exalted
spiritualities of Christianity enter into the constitution of her
nature, and her soul moves in a sphere of religious experience compared
with which "fairy-land" is essentially low and earthy. She is an angel
as well as a woman; yet the height of her meditations does not
interfere with, but rather aids her performance of the homeliest human
duties; and the moral beauty of her nature lends a peculiar grace to
her humblest ministries to human affections and needs. The vivid
delineation of this character, from her childhood to her death, we
cannot but rank among Mrs. Stowe's best claims to be considered a woman
of true imaginative genius.
In the rest of the population of Orr's Island the reader cannot fail to
take a great interest, with but two exceptions. These are Moses, the
hero of the novel, and Sally Kittredge, who, in the end, marries him.
But "Cap'n" Kittredge and his wife, Miss Roxy and Miss Ruey, and
Zephaniah Pennel, are incomparably good. Each affords matter enough for
a long dissertation on New England and human character. Miss Roxy,
especially, is the typical old maid of Yankee-land, and is so
thoroughly lovable, in spite of her idiom, her crusty manners, and her
eccentricities, that the only wonder is that she should have been
allowed to remain single. But the same wonder is often expressed, in
actual life, in regard to old maids superior to Miss Roxy in
education, accomplishments, and beauty, and her equals in vital
self-sacrifice and tenderness of heart.
We have referred to Moses as a failure, but in this he is no worse than
Mrs. Stowe's other heroes. They are all unworthy of the women they
love; and the early death of Mara, in this novel, though very pathetic,
is felt by every male reader to be better than a long married life with
Moses. The latter is "made happy" in the end with Sally Kittredge. Mrs.
Stowe does not seem conscious of the intense and bitter irony of the
last scenes. She conveys the misanthropy of Swift without feeling or
In style, "The Pearl of Orr's Island" ranks with the best narratives in
American literature. Though different from the style of Irving and
Hawthorne, it shows an equal mastery of English in expressing, not only
facts, events, and thoughts, but their very spirit and atmosphere. It
is the exact mirror of the author's mind and character. It is fresh,
simple, fluent, vigorous, flexible, never dazzling away attention
from what it represents by the intrusion of verbal felicities which
are pleasing apart from the vivid conceptions they attempt to convey.
The uncritical reader is unconscious of its excellence because it is so
excellent,--that is, because it is so entirely subordinate to the
matter which it is the instrument of expressing. At times, however, the
singular interest of the things described must impress the dullest
reader with the fact that the author possesses uncommon powers of
description. The burial of James Lincoln, the adventure of little Mara
and Moses on the open sea, the night-visit which Mara makes to the
rendezvous of the outlaws, and the incidents which immediately precede
Mara's death, are pictured with such vividness, earnestness, and
fidelity, that nobody can fail to feel the strange magic communicated
to common words when they are the "nimble servitors" of genius and
passion. In conclusion we may say, that, in the combination of
accurate observation, strong sense, and delicate spiritual
perception,--in the union of humor and pathos, of shrewdness and
sentiment,--and in the power of seizing character in its vital inward
sources, and of portraying its outward peculiarities,--"The Pearl of
Orr's Island" does not yield to any book which Mrs. Stowe has
heretofore contributed to American literature.
* * * * *
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