Atlantic Monthly Volume 7, No. 39, January, 1861
Part 5 out of 5
satisfaction that the ruin of the man is the safety of the state. But
when the victim is a so-called statesman, who has malversated the
highest trusts for selfish ends, who has abused constitutional forms
to the destruction of the spirit that gave them life and validity, who
could see nothing nobler in the tenure of high office than the means it
seemed to offer of prolonging it, who knows no art to conjure the spirit
of anarchy he has evoked but the shifts and evasions of a second-rate
attorney, and who has contrived to involve his country in the confusion
of principle and vacillation of judgment which have left him without
a party and without a friend,--for such a man we have no feeling but
contemptuous reprobation. Pan-urge in danger of shipwreck is but a
faint type of Mr. Buchanan in face of the present crisis; and that poor
fellow's craven abjuration of his "_former_ friend," Friar John, is
magnanimity itself, compared with his almost-ex-Excellency's treatment
of the Free States in his last Message to Congress. There are times
when mediocrity is a dangerous quality, and a man may drown himself as
effectually in milk-and-water as in Malmsey.
The question, whether we are a Government or an Indian Council, we do
not propose to discuss here; whether there be a right of secession
tempered by a right of coercion, like a despotism by assassination, and
whether it be expedient to put the latter in practice, we shall
not consider: for it is not always the part of wisdom to attempt a
settlement of what the progress of events will soon settle for us. Mr.
Buchanan seems to have no opinion, or, if he has one, it is a halting
between two, a bat-like cross of sparrow and mouse that gives timidity
its choice between flight and skulking. Nothing shocks our sense of the
fitness of things more than a fine occasion to which the man is wanting.
Fate gets her hook ready, but the eye is not there to clinch with it,
and so all goes at loose ends. Mr. Buchanan had one more chance offered
him of showing himself a common-place man, and he has done it full
justice. Even if they could have done nothing for the country, a few
manly sentences might have made a pleasing exception in his political
history, and rescued for him the fag-end of a reputation.
Mr. Buchanan, by his training in a system of politics without a parallel
for intrigue, personality, and partisanship, would have unfitted himself
for taking a statesmanlike view of anything, even if he had ever been
capable of it. His nature has been subdued to what it worked in. We
could not have expected from him a Message around which the spirit, the
intelligence, and the character of the country would have rallied. But
he might have saved himself from the evil fame of being the first of our
Presidents who could never forget himself into a feeling of the
dignity of the place he occupied. He has always seemed to consider the
Presidency as a retaining-fee paid him by the slavery-propagandists,
and his Message to the present Congress looks like the last juiceless
squeeze of the orange which the South is tossing contemptuously away.
Mr. Buchanan admits as real the assumed wrongs of the South Carolina
revolutionists, and even, if we understand him, allows that they are
great enough to justify revolution. But he advises the secessionists to
pause and try what can be done by negotiation. He sees in the internal
history of the country only a series of injuries inflicted by the
Free upon the Slave States; yet he affirms, that, so far as Federal
legislation is concerned, the rights of the South have never been
assailed, except in the single instance of the Missouri Compromise,
which gave to Slavery the unqualified possession of territory which the
Free States might till then have disputed. Yet that bargain, a losing
one as it was on the part of the Free States, having been annulled, can
hardly be reckoned a present grievance. South Carolina had quite as long
a list of intolerable oppressions to resent in 1832 as now, and not one
of them, as a ground of complaint, could be compared with the refusal
to pay the French-Spoliation claims of Massachusetts. The secession
movement then, as now, had its origin in the ambition of disappointed
politicians. If its present leaders are more numerous, none of them are
so able as Mr. Calhoun; and if it has now any other object than it had
then, it is to win by intimidation advantages that shall more than
compensate for its loss in the elections.
In 1832, General Jackson bluntly called the South Carolina doctrines
treason, and the country sustained him. That they are not characterized
in the same way now does not prove any difference in the thing, but only
in the times and the men. They are none the less treason because
James Buchanan is less than Andrew Jackson, but they are all the more
It has been the misfortune of the United States that the conduct of
their public affairs has passed more and more exclusively into the hands
of men who have looked on politics as a game to be played rather than
as a trust to be administered, and whose capital, whether of personal
consideration or of livelihood, has been staked on a turn of the cards.
A general skepticism has thus been induced, exceedingly dangerous
in times like these. The fatal doctrine of rotation in office has
transferred the loyalty of the numberless servants of the Government,
and of those dependent on or influenced by them, from the nation to
a party. For thousands of families every change in the National
Administration is as disastrous as revolution, and the Government has
thus lost that influence which the idea of permanence and stability
would exercise in a crisis like the present. At the present moment, the
whole body of office-holders at the South is changed from a conservative
to a disturbing element by a sense of the insecurity of their tenure.
Their allegiance having always been to the party in power at Washington,
and not to the Government of the Nation, they find it easy to transfer
it to the dominant faction at home.
The subservience on the question of Slavery, which has hitherto
characterized both the great parties of the country, has strengthened
the hands of the extremists at the South, and has enabled them to get
the control of public opinion there by fostering false notions of
Southern superiority and Northern want of principle. We have done so
much to make them believe in their importance to us, and given them so
little occasion even to suspect our importance to them, that we have
taught them to regard themselves as the natural rulers of the country,
and to look upon the Union as a favor granted to our weakness, whose
withdrawal would be our ruin. Accordingly, they have grown more and more
exacting, till at length the hack politicians of the Free States have
become so imbued with the notion of yielding, and so incapable of
believing in any principle of action higher than temporary expedients
to carry an election, or any object nobler than the mere possession of
office for its own sake, that Mr. Buchanan gravely proposes that the
Republican party should pacify South Carolina by surrendering the very
creed that called it into existence and holds it together, the only
fruit of its victory that made victory worth having. Worse than this,
when the Free States by overwhelming majorities have just expressed
their conviction, that slavery, as he creature of local law, can claim
no legitimate extension beyond the limits of that law, he asks their
consent to denationalize freedom and to nationalize slavery by an
amendment of the Federal Constitution, that shall make the local law of
the Slave States paramount throughout the Union. Mr. Buchanan would stay
the yellow fever by abolishing the quarantine hospital and planting a
good virulent case or two in every village in the land.
We do not underestimate the gravity of the present crisis, and we agree
that nothing should be done to exasperate it; but if the people of the
Free States have been taught anything by the repeated lessons of bitter
experience, it has been that submission is not the seed of conciliation,
but of contempt and encroachment. The wolf never goes for mutton to the
mastiff. It is quite time that it should be understood that freedom is
also an institution deserving some attention in a Model Republic, that
a decline in stocks is more tolerable and more transient than one in
public spirit, and that material prosperity was never known to abide
long in a country that had lost its political morality. The fault of the
Free States in the eyes of the South is not one that can be atoned for
by any yielding of special points here and there. Their offence is that
they are free, and that their habits and prepossessions are those of
Freedom. Their crime is the census of 1860. Their increase in numbers,
wealth, and power is a standing aggression. It would not be enough to
please the Southern States that we should stop asking them to abolish
slavery,--what they demand of us is nothing less than that we should
abolish the spirit of the age. Our very thoughts are a menace. It is not
the North, but the South, that forever agitates the question of Slavery.
The seeming prosperity of the cotton-growing States is based on a great
mistake and a great wrong; and it is no wonder that they are irritable
and scent accusation in the very air. It is the stars in their courses
that fight against their system, and there are those who propose to make
everything comfortable by Act of Congress.
It is almost incredible to what a pitch of absurdity the Slave-holding
party have been brought by the weak habit of concession which has been
the vice of the Free States. Senator Green of Missouri, whose own State
is rapidly gravitating toward free institutions, gravely proposes an
armed police along the whole Slave frontier for the arrest of fugitives.
Already the main employment of our navy is in striving to keep Africans
out, and now the whole army is to mount guard to keep them in. This is
but a trifle to the demands that will be made upon us, if we yield now
under the threats of a mob,--for men acting under passion or terror, or
both, are a mob, no matter what their numbers and intelligence.
A dissolution of the Union would be a terrible thing, but not so
terrible as an acquiescence in the theory that Property is the only
interest that binds men together in society, and that its protection
is the highest object of human government. Nothing could well be more
solemn than the thought of a disruption of our great and prosperous
Republic. Even if peaceful, the derangement consequent upon it would
cause incalculable suffering and disaster. Already the mere threat
of it, assisted by the efforts of interested persons, has caused a
commercial panic. But would it be wisdom in the Free States to put
themselves at the mercy of such a panic whenever the whim took South
Carolina to be discontented? That would be the inevitable result of a
craven spirit now. Let the Republican party be mild and forbearing,--for
the opportunity to be so is the best reward of victory, and taunts and
recriminations belong to boys; but, above all, let them be manly. The
moral taint of once submitting to be bullied is a scrofula that will
never out of the character.
We do not believe that the danger is so great as it appears. Rumor is
like one of those multiplying-mirrors that make a mob of shadows out
of one real object. The interests of three-fifths of the Slave-holding
States are diametrically opposed to secession; so are those of
five-sixths of the people of the seceding States, if they did but know
it. The difficulties in the way of organizing a new form of government
are great, almost insuperable; the expenses enormous. As the public
burdens grow heavier, the lesson of resistance and rebellion will find
its aptest scholars in the non-slave-owning majority who will be paying
taxes for the support of the very institution that has made and keeps
them poor. Men are not long in arriving at just notions of the value of
what they pay for, especially when it is for other people. Taxes are a
price that people are slowest to pay for a cat in a bag. If matters are
allowed to take their own course for a little longer, the inevitable
reaction is sure to set in. The Hartford Convention gave more uneasiness
to the Government and the country than the present movement in the
South, but the result of it was the ruin of the Federal Party, and not
of the Federal Union.
Even if the secessionists could accomplish their schemes, who would
be the losers? Not the Free States, certainly, with their variety of
resources and industry. The laws of trade cannot be changed, and the
same causes which have built up their agriculture, commerce, and
manufactures will not cease to be operative. The real wealth
and strength of states, other things being equal, depends upon
homogeneousness of population and variety of occupation, with a common
interest and common habits of thought. The cotton-growing States, with
their single staple, are at the mercy of chance. India, Australia, nay,
Africa herself, may cut the thread of their prosperity. Their population
consists of two hostile races, and their bone and muscle, instead
of being the partners, are the unwilling tools of their capital
and intellect. The logical consequence of this political theory is
despotism, which the necessity of coercing the subject race will make a
military one. Already South Carolina is discussing a standing army. If
history is not a lying gossip, the result of the system of labor will be
Jamaica, and that of the system of polity, Mexico. Instead of a stable
government, they will have a whirligig of _pronunciamientos_, or
stability will be purchased at a cost that will make it intolerable.
They have succeeded in establishing among themselves a fatal unanimity
on the question of Slavery,--fatal because it makes the office of spy
and informer honorable, makes the caprice of a mob the arbiter of
thought, speech, and action, and debases public opinion to a muddy
mixture of fear and prejudice. In peace, the majority of their
population will be always looked on as conspirators; in war, they would
It is time that the South should learn, if they do not begin to suspect
it already, that the difficulty of the Slavery question is slavery
itself,--nothing more, nothing less. It is time that the North should
learn that it has nothing left to compromise but the rest of its
self-respect. Nothing will satisfy the extremists at the South short of
a reduction of the Free States to a mere police for the protection of an
institution whose danger increases at an equal pace with its wealth.
It was the deliberate intention of Mr. Calhoun that the compact should
be broken the moment the absolute control of Government passed out of
the hands of the slaveholding clique. He was willing to wait till we
had stolen Texas and paid a hundred millions for Cuba; but if the game
seemed to be up, then secede at once. In a hasty moment, he started his
revolution, when there was a stronger man than he to confront him. South
Carolina was to all appearance as united then as now. But a few months
brought a reaction, and no one was more relieved than Mr. Calhoun that
matters stopped where they did. Whether the stirrers of the present
excitement, which finds vacillation in the Executive and connivance
In the Cabinet, will be wise enough to let it go out in the same way,
remains to be seen; but the greatest danger of disunion, would spring
from a want of self-possession and spirit in the Free States.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
_Collection of Rare and Original Documents and Relations concerning the
Discovery and Conquest of America, chiefly from the Spanish Archives_.
Published in the Original, with Translations, Illustrative Notos, Maps,
and Biographical Sketches. By K.G. SQUIER, M.A., F.S.A., etc., etc. New
York: Charles B. Norton. 1860.
No. I. Carta dirigida al Key de Espana, por el Licenciado Dr. Don DIEGO
GARCIA DE PALACIO, Oydor de la Real Audiencia de Guatemala, Ano 1576.
Being a Description of the Ancient Provinces of Guazacapan, Izalco,
Cuscatlan, and Chiquimula, in the Audiencia of Guatemala: with an
Account of the Languages, Customs, and Religion of their Aboriginal
Inhabitants, and a Description of the Ruins of Copan. Square 8vo. pp.
This tract is the first number of a series of Rare and Original
Documents, relating to the first settlement of America by the Spaniards,
which Mr. Squier proposes to edit and publish. The undertaking is one of
interest to all students of American history, and deserves a generous
encouragement from them. Its success must depend not on the usual
machinery of bookselling so much as on the ready support of individuals.
Mr. Squier's proposed collection resembles in its scope the well-known
"Recueil des Documents et Memoires Originaux" of M. Ternaux-Compans.
Familiar, by long residence and longer study, as few men are or ever
have been, with those portions of our continent of which the Spaniards
first took possession, acquainted with their antiquities and former
condition, and a curious investigator of their present state and
prospects, Mr. Squier is peculiarly fitted to select and edit--with
judgment such documents of historical interest as his unrivalled
opportunities have enabled him to collect.
The Letter of Palacio is now for the first time published in the
original, although it was largely used by Herrera in his "Historia
General." "To me," says Mr. Squier, "the relation has a special
interest. I have been over a great part of the ground that was traversed
by its author, and I am deeply impressed with the accuracy of his
descriptions.... His memoir will always stand as one of the best
illustrations of an interesting country, as it was at the period
immediately succeeding the Conquest." It appears, that, under an order
from the Crown, Palacio was deputed to visit a number of the Provinces
of Guatemala, and to report upon them, especially in respect to the
condition of their native inhabitants. The memoir now published relates
chiefly to the territory comprised in the present Republic of San
Salvador. It shows Palacio to have been an intelligent observer, and a
kindly, well-disposed man,--not free from the superstitions of his time
and race, but less credulous than many of his contemporaries. His
report is full of matter of value to the historical inquirer, and of
entertainment for the general reader. His stories of the manners of the
people, and his accounts of the animals of the district are brief, but
characteristic. But the most interesting part of his narrative is that
which relates to the wonderful ruins of Copan. It is a remarkable fact,
stated by Mr. Squier in his Prefatory Note, that these ruins do not
appear to have been noticed by any of the chroniclers of the country
down to the time of Fuentes, who wrote in 1689, more than one hundred
years after Palacio. It was not, indeed, until 1841, when Stephens
published his account of them, that an accurate description was given
to the world of these most interesting and most puzzling remains of a
forgotten people and an unknown antiquity. Even in Palacio's time, only
vague traditions existed regarding them. His account has a permanent
value from being the earliest known, and as proving that within fifty
years after the Spanish Conquest they presented very nearly the same
appearance as at present.
Mr. Squier has enriched Talacio's Letter with numerous and important
notes. He claims a lenient judgment of his translation, which is printed
side by side with the original, on account of the obscurities of the
manuscript, and the uncertainty as to the meaning of some of the
writer's expressions. But, allowing for these difficulties, we regret
that Mr. Squier did not bestow a little more pains on this part of his
work. He has fallen into some slight errors, which might easily have
been corrected, and he has, as we think, lost something of the spirit of
the original by too free a version. The book is one which in typographic
beauty would meet the demands of the most exacting bibliographer. We
regret the more that the pages are disfigured with misprints, many of
which are left uncorrected in the long list of _Errata_, while others
occur in the very list itself.
1. _Le Panlatinisme, Confederation Gallo-Latine et Celto-Gauloise,
Contre-Testament de Pierre le Grand et Contre-Panslavisme_. Paris:
Passard, Libraire-Editeur. 1860. 8vo. pp. 260.
2. _Testament de Pierre le Grand, ou Plan de Domination Europeenne
laisse par lui a ses Descendants et Successeurs au Trone de la Russie_.
Edition suivie de Notes et de Pieces Justificatives. Paris: Passard.
We seem to be living in an age of pamphleteers. More than ever, both in
France and Germany, are pamphlets the order of the day. In Paris
alone, the year 1860 has given birth to hundreds of these writings of
circumstance,--political squibs, visionary remodellings of European
states,--vying with each other for ephemeral celebrity. They fill the
windows of the book-shops, and are spread by scores along the stands
in the numerous galleries which the Parisian population throngs of
evenings. Those issued in the early part of the year have gradually
descended from the rank of new publications, and may be found on
every quay, spread out, for a few _centimes_, side by side with
old weather-beaten books, odd volumes, refuse of libraries, which
book-lovers daily finger through in the hope of finding some pearl, some
rarity, in the worthless mass.
Thus we have seen the interminable Rhine question discussed in its every
possible phase,--still more that of Italy. Between come the Druses, the
Orient, the Turks. Then Italy again, Garibaldi, Naples, the Pope.
To state in general terms the tendency of these rockets of literature,
or to arrive at the spirit which seems to pervade them, is not quite so
easy as it would seem. They are written by authors of all party-colors,
within certain impassable limits prescribed by the parental restrictions
of Government. Still it seems to be the old story of soothing; and many
a conclusion--as where England is smoothed down by a few flatteries and
told that her most natural ally is France, or where Germany is heartily
assured that she has nothing to fear, that all the changes proposed are
for the good of the Teutonic race--reminds us very strongly of that
widely known verse in child-literature,--
"Will you walk into my parlor," etc.
We have before us, however, a work which, from its size and from
the labor bestowed upon it, deserves to be ranked above the various
productions that have scarcely called forth more than a passing notice
in the daily press.
The pamphlet named at the head of this article, and which is but a
complement to the volume, is one of the numerous reconstructions and
rearrangements of European limits made in the quiet of the study. Were
it this alone, it would deserve but little attention. It is more. The
author bases his theories upon other than political reasons, having
labored hard to establish many debatable points of Ethnography in the
interesting notes appended to the work, and which form by far the most
remarkable part of it. So we have the question of Races discussed at
full length. There is certainly some philological legerdemain, as may be
seen from some of the convenient conclusions of the author concerning
the Celts and the Gauls. He is full of such paragraphs as this in his
"It has seemed to us proved, that the names,
Volces, Volsks, Bolgs, Belgs, Belgians, Welsh,
Welchs, Waels, Wuelchs or Walchs, Walls,
Walloons, Valais, Valois, Vlaks, Wallachians,
Galatians, Galtachs, Galls, Gaels or Caels,
Gaelic, Galot, Gallegos, Gaul, and even Ola,
Olatz, and Vallus, were but one and the same
word under different forms."
The point to be established at all hazards is, that the French,
Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Belgians, and even the English and
Greeks, form but one great family, of one hundred and fifteen million
individuals,--the Gallo-Roman. This Neo-Latin world the author would
wish combined in one grand confederation, like the States of America.
Hence his use of the term _Panlatinism_, in opposition to the so much
debated one of _Panslavism_. The merit of the work under consideration
is, that, though decidedly French in all its views, it condenses in
a few paragraphs the present mooted question of race. The idea of
Panslavism, or the uniting of eighty millions of Sclavonians under one
banner, was, in its origin, republican and federal, whatever it may
have become since. Few words have acquired more diametrically opposite
meanings, according as they were uttered by radical or conservative.
Hence the confusion, hence the many strange phrases to be met with in
the periodical press. The author of the present work has sought to throw
some light on this important point. Leaving aside his prophetic fears of
future shocks with American or Asiatic powers as visionary, we can say
for the work that it presents in a clear light the question of races
as referring to European politics. The notes are good, and no research
seems to have been spared by the writer to establish the position he
1. _Ancient Danish Ballads._ Translated from the Originals, by R.C.
ALEXANDER PRIOR, M.D. London: Williams & Norgate. Leipzig: R. Hartmann.
1860, 3 vols. pp. lx., 400, 468, 500.
2. _Edinburgh Papers._ By ROBERT CHAMBERS, F.R.S.E., etc., etc. _The
Romantic Scottish Ballads, their Epoch and Authorship._ W. & R.
Chambers: London and Edinburgh. 1859. pp. 40.
3. _The Romantic Scottish Ballads, and the Lady Wardlaw Heresy._ By
NORVAL CLYNE. Aberdeen: A. Brown & Co. 1859. pp. 49.
The expectations raised by the title of Dr. Prior's volumes are in a
great measure disappointed by their contents. The book is of value only
because it gives for the first time, in English, the substance of a
large number of Danish ballads, and points out the relations between
them and similar productions in other languages. Of the spirit and life
of these remarkable poems a person hitherto unfamiliar with them would
find but scanty indication in Dr. Prior's versions. He has merely done
them into English in a somewhat mechanical way, and one scarcely gets
a better notion of the more imaginative ones in his bald reproductions
than of the "Iliad" from the analysis of that poem in the "Epistolae
Obscurorum Virorum." It seems to require almost as peculiar powers to
translate an old ballad as to write a new one.
Dr. Prior complains of Jamieson, that his versions from the Danish are
done in a broad Scotch dialect, almost as unintelligible to ordinary
readers as the language of which they profess to give the meaning. But
if any one compare Jamieson's rendering of "The Buried Mother" with Dr.
Prior's, (Prior, vol. i. p. 368,) he will, we think, see cause to regret
that Jamieson did not do what Dr. Prior has attempted, and that he has
not left us a greater number of translations equally good. Jamieson's
fault was not so much his broad Scotch as his over-fondness for
archaisms, sometimes of mere spelling, which give rise to a needless
obscurity. We think that he was theoretically right; but he should not
have pushed his theory to the extent of puzzling the reader, where his
aim was to give only that air of strangeness which allures the fancy. As
respects ballads dealing with the supernatural, Jamieson's notion of
the duty of a translator was certainly the true one. There is something
almost ludicrous in a ghost talking the ordinary conversational language
of every-day life, which might, to be sure, serve very well for some
of Jung Stilling's spirits in bottle-green hunting-coats with brass
buttons, but hardly for the majesty of buried Denmark. Dr. Prior may
claim that his renderings are more literal; but it is the vice of
literal translation, that the phrases of one language, if exactly
reproduced in another, while they may have the same sense, convey a
wholly different impression to the imagination. It is to such cases that
the Italian proverb, _Tradutiore traditore_, applies. Dryden, citing
approvingly Denham's verses to Fanshawe,
"They but preserve his ashes, thou his flame,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame,"
says, with his usual pithiness, "Too faithfully is indeed pedantically."
In Dr. Prior's version of the "The Buried Mother" we find a case
precisely in point. The Stepmother says to the poor Orphans,--
"In blind-house shall ye lie all night."
Jamieson gives it,--
"Says, 'Ye sall ligg i' the mirk all night.'"
Now, the object in all translations of ballad-poetry being to reproduce
simple and downright phrases with equal simplicity and force, to give
us the same effects and not the same words, we vastly prefer Jamieson's
verse to Dr. Prior's, in spite of the affectation of _ligg_ for _lie_.
If _blind-house_ be the equivalent for _dark_ in the original, Dr.
Prior should have told us so in a note, giving us the stronger (because
simpler) English word in the text. He might as well write _hand-shoe_
for _glove_, in a translation from the German. Elsewhere Jamieson errs
in preferring _groff_ to _great_, and the more that _groff_ means more
properly _coarse_ than _large_.
The following couplet is also from Dr. Prior's translation of this
"They cried one evening till the sound
Their mother heard beneath the ground."
Jamieson has it,--
"'Twas lang i' the night, and the bairnies
Their mither she under the mools [mould]
Again, Dr. Prior gives us,--
"Her eldest daughter then she sped
To fetch Child Dyring out of bed";
instead of Jamieson's--
"Till her eldest dochter syne [then] said she,
'Ye bid Child Dyring come here to me.'"
And, still worse,--
"Out from their chest she stretch'd her bones
And rent her way through earth and stones";
where Jamieson is not only more literal, but more forcible,--
"Wi' her banes sae stark a bowt she gae
Hath riven both wall and marble gray."
The original is better than either,--
"She upward heaved her mighty bones
And rived both wall and gray marble-stones."
Jamieson had the true instinct of a translator, though his own verses
defy the stanchest reader; and, reasoning by analogy, Dr. Prior's
translations are so bad that he ought to be capable of very good
However, with all its defects, Dr. Prior's book is of value for the
information it gives. Under the dead ribs of his translations the reader
familiar with old ballads can create a life for himself, and can form
some conception of the spirit and strength of the originals.
Mr. Chambers's pamphlet is one that we should hardly have expected from
the editor of the best collection of ballads in the language before
that of Professor Child. Directly in the teeth of all probability, he
attributes the bulk of the _romantic_ Scottish ballads to Lady Wardlaw,
who wrote "Hardyknute." This is one of those theories (like that of Lord
Bacon being the author of Shakspeare's plays) which cannot be argued,
but which every one familiar with the subject challenges peremptorily.
Without going very deeply into the matter, Mr. Norval Clyne has put in
a clever plea in arrest of judgment. The truth is, that, in the present
state of our knowledge, "Hardyknute" could not pass muster as an antique
better than "Vortigern," or the poems of "Master Rowley"; and the notion
that Lady Wardlaw could have written "Sir Patrick Spens" will not hold
water better than a sieve, when we consider how hopelessly inferior are
the imitations of old ballads written by Scott, with fifty times her
familiarity with the originals, and a man of genius besides.
* * * * *
_Miss Gilbert's Career_. An American Story. By J.G. HOLLAND. New York:
There is scarcely a more hazardous experiment for any novelist than "a
novel with a purpose." If the moral does not run away with the story, it
is in most cases only because the author's lucky star has made the moral
too feeble, in spite of his efforts, to do that or anything else,--in
other words, because his book has fortunately defeated its own object.
That any clever girl will be kept from the perilous paths of authorship
by the warnings, however strongly inculcated, of any novel whatever, we
are not prepared to assert: we venture to say no one will be deterred by
the history of Miss Fanny Gilbert. If a woman's happiness is to be found
in love, and not in fame, the question nevertheless recurs,--What is she
to do before the love comes? Our author only shows that his heroine's
restless unhappiness was owing to her having to wait for her heart to be
awakened: to prove what he desires to prove, he should demonstrate that
it was owing to her having adopted authorship during the time of her
waiting. During that time, Miss Fanny Gilbert wrote novels, and was
unhappy: would she have been happy, if, in the interval, she had
chronicled small beer? And even admitting that her authorship caused her
unhappiness, we can scarcely believe Dr. Holland prepared to say, after
having allowed his heroine a real talent, as one condition of the
problem, that she ought to have concealed that talent in the decorous
napkin of silence.
What the moral loses the story gains. Our author has lost nothing of
that genuine love of Nature, of that quick perception of the comic
element in men and things, of that delightful freshness and liveliness,
which threw such a charm about the former writings of Timothy Titcomb.
No story can be pronounced a failure which has vivacity and interest;
and the volume before us adds to vivacity and interest vigorous sketches
of character and scenery, droll conversation and incidents, a frequent
and kindly humor, and, underlying all, a true, earnest purpose, which
claims not only approval for the author, but respect for the man.
Dr. Holland describes admirably whatever he has himself seen.
Unfortunately, he has not seen his hero or his heroine. About Arthur
Blague there is nothing real or distinctive. There is a life and reality
in many scenes of his experience; but the central figure of the group
stands conventional and inanimate,--the ordinary walking gentleman of
the stage,--the stereo-typed hero of the novel,--hero only by virtue of
his finally marrying the heroine. The one merit of the delineation--that
it is a portrait of a delicate Christian gentleman--is sadly marred by
the vulgar smartness of Arthur's repartees with the scampish New-Yorker.
A victory in such a contest was by no means necessary to vindicate the
hero's superiority; and if he so far forgot himself as to engage at all
in the degrading warfare, a defeat would have been more creditable. His
retorts are undeniably smart; but "smartness" is the attribute of a
"fellow," not of a "gentleman."
Miss Fanny Gilbert is a warm-hearted, high-spirited girl, clever and
ambitious, and disposed at first to look contemptuously on poor Arthur,
whose humble labors appear in most dingy and sordid colors, when
contrasted with the fair Fanny's gorgeous dreams. She is not a very
fascinating nor a very real heroine; but she is better than most of our
heroines, and some of her experiences are very pleasantly told.
Arthur's miserly employer is very good, and his shrewd friend Cheek is
capitally drawn. It was a peculiarly happy thought to make Cheek into
a railroad-conductor, and finally into a "gentlemanly and efficient"
superintendent. Nothing else would have suited his character half so
well. The business-like religionists, Moustache and Breastpin, are not
so good as the author meant to have them. The young bookseller is very
well done, and Dr. Gilbert very natural and lifelike. The story of the
Doctor's awakened interest in his daughter's success, and of his journey
to New York, is very well told. We like especially the lesson which
the triumphant authoress, in the full glory of her fame, receives,
on finding that her father sets a higher value on his son's least
achievement than on his daughter's highest success,--that, however a
woman may deserve a man's place, the world will never award it to her.
It would have been more effective, however, if Dr. Holland had not been
quite so anxious that no one should fail to perceive the moral,--if
he had had a little more confidence in his readers. But we can give
unqualified praise to the scene between Miss Gilbert and the little
crippled boy, which is one of the most beautiful and touching pictures
ever yet presented.
It is a real satisfaction to find a book which one may venture to
criticize fearlessly, knowing that it will bear the test,--especially
at present, when one needs be as chary of trying any book fairly as
Don Quixote was of proving his unlucky helmet. And an additional
satisfaction is caused by the fact, that the book, not only in origin,
but in essence, is American from cover to cover.
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