« AnteriorContinuar »
of our Boston readers. But the laws of fermentation and combination once in a while enable him to throw together half a dozen bold and striking figures, that really make a splendid sentence, just as every hundredth shake of a kaleidoscope may present a figure of perfect symmetry and surpassing beauty. We are tempted to quote, as a striking and by no means an exaggerated specimen of his style of delineation, the introductory paragraph of his sketch of Robert Hall.
“ Robert Hall was the facile princeps of English descent (dissent ?). And though his merits have been enshrined and embla. zoned in the criticism of Foster, Dugald Stewart, Southey, and John Scott, as well as of Mackintosh and Parr, we may yet, gleaning after them in a field so rich, find a few stray ears. Following in their wake, we may, perchance, pick up a few floating fragments from the wreck of such an argosie. As a preacher, he enjoys the traditional fame of having outstripped all his contemporaries. Some sturdy sons of the Scottish Establishment continued, indeed, long to stand up for the superiority of Chalmers ; but their voice, if not drowned, was overwhelmed by the general verdict of public opinion. We believe, however, that, in the mere force of immediate impression, the Scottish preacher had the advantage. The rapidity of Hall's delivery, the ease with which finished sentences succeeded each other like a shower of pearls, the elevation of the sentiment, the purity of the compo sition, the earnestness of the manner, the piercing coruscations of the eye, - all these taken together, - produced the effect of thrilling every bosom, and enchaining every countenance. But there lacked the struggle and the agony, the prophetic fury, the insana vis, the wild and mystic glance, 'seeing the invisible,' and (when the highest point of his oratory was reached) the 'torrent rapture' of our countryman, taking the reason prisoner,' and hurrying the whole being as before a whirlwind. In listening to Hall, you felt as under the influence of the 'cup which cheers, but not inebriates.' Hearing Chalmers was like tasting of the "insane root.' Hall's oratory might be compared to a low but thrilling air ; Chalmers's to a loud and barbaric melody. Hall's excitement was fitful, varying with the state of his health and feelings; that of Chalmers was constant and screwed up to a prodigious pitch, as if by the force of frenzy. Hall's inspiration was elegant and Grecian : you said of Chalmers, 'He hath a demon, if he be not full of the God.'” - pp. 74, 75.
Gilfillan has a genius for comparisons. There are no two men so unlike, that he cannot put them in juxtaposition; and there are certain names which, like constant terms in mathematical calculation, he brings forward in his estimate of almost every literary character in his catalogue. Burke and Horsley, for some inscrutable reason, have the precedence among these common measures, and are both named in connection with authors who can never have reminded any other living man of either of them. We were going to give a list of the men with whom he compares Robert Hall, but find that it would occupy too much room ; for we have counted forty, without scanning the last few pages very closely. We should do him injustice not to quote a few of his boldest and most original parallels. Thus, – “ Percy Bysshe Shelley, of all the modern poets, with the exception of Coleridge in his youth, reminds us most of Israel's prophets.” He terms " Moses Stuart, of Andover University," a Polyphemus, — why, we know not, unless it be on account of his single-eyed devotion to the science of Scriptural exegesis. In considering Channing's position with reference to American literature, he is a reminded more of Dr. Johnson than of any other writer.” In his sketch of “the preachers of the day,” he styles George Croly “the Burke of theology," leaving us in some doubt whether he likens him to the great orator of that name, or to the individual of our own day who has rendered the same name illustrious by his liberal contributions to anatomical science.
In a paper which has “ Ralph Waldo Emerson " for its caption, our author gives us a sketch of the literary men of America. Here the absurdities of his style and manner are heightened by a palpable ignorance of his subject, the absence of which is the one redeeming trait of the residue of his work. We quote the following paragraph as a choice morceau of cockney criticism, unparalleled for its impertinence, flippancy, and absurdity.
“ Ere estimating the writer Emerson, we must permit ourselves a glance, however cursory, at the state of American literature. Its inferiority has long been deplored with a bitterness proportioned to the height of the expectations which had been excited. It had been imagined, that, far as the Andes transcend the Alps, minds were to appear in the western hemisphere, so far transcending our Shakspeares and Miltons. Many excellent reasons were given why nature should bear such a progeny; but
the Mighty Mother continued obstinately deaf to all those attempts to argue her into productiveness. Not a few, indeed, there were whom the puff of a coterie lifted, for a season, out of their place, to sink into obscurity again. Dropsies' were, now and then, taken for divinities.'' Mocking-birds, approaching the perfection of the mimetic art, abounded, and were mistaken for the eagles of Jove. For every native product of Britain, there was a substitute in America, resembling the original, as the gilded and lettered back of a draught-board does a princely volume. For Byron there was a Bryant; for Coleridge a Dana; for Wordsworth a Percival ; for Addison a Washington Irving. Those writers, and many others, had varied talents and accomplishments, nay, genius; but it was timid and tottering as a child learning to walk, and sometimes reminded you of a person described by Robert Hall, 'who appeared to go about apologizing to every body for the unpardonable presumption of being in the world. It did not dare to draw its inspiration from its own woods, because they were not sung; from its own rivers, because, though the light of God's face shown (shone?] on them, that of the 'poet's dream' had not yet consecrated their waters ; from its own skies, because, though they pillowed the Andes, they folded over no St. Paul's and no Westminster Abbey ; from its own sun, because, though the very sun of Homer and Shakspeare, he went down to their eyes amid the waves of the forest, and not amid those of the Atlantic Sea. It lived on borrowed force. It fed on alms. It was the reverse of a republican genius. It had not even auda. city or literary licentiousness; not even the power of extravagance or the life of convulsion. Sometimes it selected for its models writers inferior to its own capabilities, because they were British, and you were reminded of the prophet stretching himself, eye to eye, and foot to foot, upon the child of the Shunamite. Still it has numbered the following great names in its intellectual heraldry ;- Edwards, Dwight, Brockden Brown, Cooper, John Neal, Moses Stuart, Daniel Webster, Channing, and Emer. son.” — pp. 328, 329.
Our readers are welcome to a hearty laugh over this extract ; but they would hardly have patience with us, should we offer them a word of commentary on a text which so luculently expounds both itself and its author. Nor would the merits of the book have induced us to dignify it even by our critical ban. We have seen fit to notice it, because in the American reprint it is widely circulated and much read, and because its rich and attractive table of contents, and the unique and happy design of combining within a narrow compass portraitures of the leading English writers of the present generation, have undoubtedly led many to take the author's brass for gold, and his paste for diamonds.
Art. II. — Report on the Census of the Iroquois Indians
in the State of New York, taken by Order of the Legislature in 1845. By HENRY R. SCHOOLCRAFT. Legislative Document. Albany. 1846. 8vo. pp. 285.
We have had a great many speculations on the subject of the red men. Where there is ample room and range for conjecture, it most naturally takes a wide scope, -as water, that is not confined to a channel, spreads out broadly, and is often shallow in proportion. No topic connected with the history of man is less circumscribed; it is almost a tabula rasa ; scarcely a fence or a bound is seen to check the range of the speculations we have alluded to. They can expand at will, and most of them have taken advantage of this unbounded latitude. The truth is, there is a great gulf between the post-diluvian main stock of mankind and this branch found in the western hemisphere. Here we advance on the modern side less than four centuries, when we stand on its brink. A few vague traditions, like slender promontories, shoot forward into the shadows beyond. Those who move out on them, in the hope of reaching the other side, are much like the insect which crawls to the tip of a slender blade of grass growing on the western shore of the Southern Pacific, as if in hopes of reaching the Asiatic shore. On the other hand, if we take our stand among the descendants of Shein, Ham, and Japhet, we are only told that they were scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. This declaration must be received in all its length and breadth ; still, the gulf is not narrowed one tittle. We can only rest in the conviction, that there are ways past our finding out, and that the way whereby the red men came is one of those ways. We cannot carry forward the chain one link. We can trace it back four hundred years, leaving a vast hiatus of a thousand years. What has been thus sundered no man can expect to join together.
But though we abstain from presumptuous and bootless speculations of this kind, still there is much to be done with respect to the aborigines, which is clearly within our power. We have dispossessed them, so far as our convenience has urged us, of their domains. Their history has fallen into our hands; it is our duty, not so much to them as to the world, to preserve it. The Indians will find little compensation for such wrongs as they have suffered in the record that faithfully perpetuates their remembrance. The debt is not due to them; they do not claim it. They looked little to the past, and reckon as litile upon the future. A cloud was constantly behind them, that shut out that past from view ; and no light seemed to be before them. But they have left vestiges which we are expected to gather up. They are subjects of profound interest, as they enable us to study the character of a race that stands so wonderfully apart from the rest of mankind.
Among those who have been busy in this antiquarian work, few will hereafter be more prominent than Mr. Schoolcraft, whose name is prefixed to the volume before us. We do not hesitate to say, that he has done more to bring it to profitable issues than any other man. Others may have spent more time among the Indians; we do not count time in this case as any thing, unless it has been spent with zeal, intelligence, and good advantages. Traders have passed their lives among them, become flesh of their flesh, and had opportunities of observing them under the most familiar aspects. But such men are proof that one may have eyes, and see not, and understandings, yet understand not. They generally divide the aborigines into two classes, — those who hunt, and those who do not ; just as they divide all animals into two tribes, – those which are fur-bearing, and those which are Dot. This is pretty much the extent of their knowledge of the men of the forest and the beasts of the forest. Mr. Schoolcraft, on the contrary, observed with the eye of a philosopher. He has regarded the Indians as a study in all their phases, and has felt that it was only by continued and close observation that he could form any safe opinions of their character and manners. It is not every man that walks through a forest, who comprehends all its botanical distinctions ; probably not one in a thousand understands any of them. It is so, though not in the same degree, that observations on