Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

De Leon

BY MARY E. HEWITT.

and suffering, yet turns in longing hope to the bright Morning Star of Faith, which is to usher it into a PRESENT CONDITION OF LETTERS. cloudless and glorious world, " where the wicked

LETTER II.
cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
South Carolina.

To William GILMORE SIMMs, Esq.
E. D.

My Dear Sir :--My former letter, " on the Present Condition of Letters," exhibited, in a very hurried and imperfect manner, the most obvious symptom of the times. I endeavored to call atten

tion to the fact, that we are now rolling and rockGOD BLESS THE MARINER.

ing in the calm which intervenes between one revolution and another-having thought that by so doing I might best prepare the minds of those who

might honor me with a reading, for any subsequent God's blessing on the Mariner !

remarks on the great topic, which I am attempting A venturous life leads he

to illustrate. The tendency of my observations What reck the landsmen of their toil,

on the previous occasion would point to the inWho dwell upon the sea ?

ference, that the literature of the day is rather He hath piped the loud "ay! ay sir !"

trimming its sails to catch the first breath of the O'er the voices of the main,

breeze that is springing up, than contenting iiself 'Till his deep tones have the hoarseness

with spreading its canvass to receive the espiring Of the rising hurricane.

winds of the storm that has swept by. There is,

necessarily, much of both dispositions in our preBut pleasant as the sound of waves

sent literary navigation, (if I may be permitted Upon the sunlit strand,

thus to continue the metaphor ;) and our onward Are its ever glad responses

progress, so far as the vessel does make way, must To the greetings of the land.

assuredly be attributed to the impetus derived from

the former revolution. It would be magnifying God bless the hardy mariner!

germs into full grown plants, and mistaking antici. A homely garb wears he,

pations for realities, to suppose that, as yet, there And he goeth with a rolling gait,

is any inherent strength, or vital energy in the new like a ship upon the sea.

spirit, which has revealed to us its speedy advent. His seamed and honest visage

It should also be remembered, that authors natoThe sun and wind have tanned,

rally occupy very different positions, both with An hard as iron gauntlet

respect to the past and the future, according to the Is his broad and sinewy hand.

hoor of their nativity, and the features of their

horoscope—which “ in the vernacular means," (as But oh! a spirit looketh

Touchstone says,) according to the times in which From out his clear, blue eye,

their tastes may have been respectively formed With a truthful, childlike earnestness,

and matured, and according to the determinate imLike an angel from the sky.

press which may have been given to these by their

individual psychological organizations. We are A venturous life the sailor leads

acquainted with gentlemen for whose profound Between the sky, and sea

learning, extensive reading, and refined critical But when the hour of dread is past,

acumen we have both the deepest veneration, who, A merrier who, than he ?

to this day, will scarcely recognize Byron and On the burning, broad equator

Shelley as great poets—but the habitudes of their

minds were fixed at a time when Pope and the He hath woved the cooling gale,

school of Pope were sole lords of the ascendant. And amid the polar ice-fields

They live with a former age, they associate with He hath spread the frozen sail.

the ancestors of our present literature, their eanons And where the mad waves onward,

of taste have been framed on standards, which are Like a leaguered army swept ;

altogether incommensurable with those now reUndimmed through all, his compass lamp

quired. Thus with our authors, the number of Iis flame hath brightly kept.

their lustres, and the atmosphere which they have

habitually breathed, will impress upon them characHe knew that by the rudder bands

teristics, not to be accounted for by any dissimiStood one well skilled to save;

larity of genius, nor by any original peculiarities of For a strong hand is the Steersman's mind alone. And when we apply to them the trile

That hath brought him o'er the wave. 'maxim,

Pectoribus mores tot sunt, quot in orbe figuræ.

for such deficiency, and might recall the oft celewe have the philosophical exposition at hand, to brated glories of the age of Pericles, and the too render the reasons apparent. Hence, in some of much lauded Siècle Lruis Quatorze. But, though our writers the spirit of the past will manifest itself the stars, which formed this bright cluster, may almost exclusively; in others it will so overlay the have been only of the second and third magnitudes, tender shoots of the new vegetation as almost to they shone with such intense and concentrated conceal them; while in none will the younger ver- splendor' as might well deceive the ordinary gaze, dure as yet predominate. This is, indeed, only the and may still dazzle even the professed measurer of expression under a different form, of the opinion the literary heavens. Byron, Moore, Wordsworth, already expressed, that our literature is, at the pre- Coleridge, Shelley, Campbell, Rogers, Southey, sent moment, nearly stationary, although antici- Scott, (multis nominibus venerandus :) Fox, Sheripating a new birth, of which it gives evidence, and dan, Pitt, Erskine, Lyndhurst, Romilly, Brougham, for which it is preparing the way.

Porson, Parr, Maltby, Tate, Blomfield, Hermann, But, at the same time that I illustrated this pecu- Wolf, Heyne, Niebuhr, Goëthé, the Schlegelsliar position of Letters, I disclosed, as I might, the but this enumeration of eminent names is becomgrand cause to which the phenomena around us ing tedious--such men as these were then scatmight be reasonably attributed. I discovered, as 1 tered with no grudging hand over the earth. That thought, the secret of its late rapid development in such excess of light should intèrmit its radiance the widely extended influences of the French Revo- was but natural. The fountains, whence these lution-and I found that the soil, then rudely but cressets were fed, if not exhausted, refused to supdeeply ploughed up, had since, by constant crops, ply the same sustenance as at first, and we havo lost much of its original vigor, and capacity for been at length left in the twilight, to content oursupplying our requirements, especially as our cir- selves with meteoric showers until the dawning of comstances have been materially altered. Our the expected day. political, social and intellectual condition is in ad- But the human intellect can not be entirely idle, rance of our literature—we belong to a new age, either in the individual or in the masses :—least of our literature only echoes the voices of a former all can it be so in civilized countries during an generation, although, if we listen curiously, the enlightened age. Accordingly, if names, such as notes of the summer-birds which herald the new those mentioned above are denied to us now, there harvest may be distinguished among the multiplied is no- lack of authors to usurp the thrones that have melodies of our familiar choristers.

been vacated. Augustulus is brought in immeYou must have perceived at orce, that I only diate succession to the seat of Augustus; and an sketched, roughly but boldly, the broad outlines of Augustulan age of literature has been given to us a very vast investigation, and that much was want- as the legitimate tail-piece and appendage to the Auing to complete the picture, in color, lineaments, gustan. We are fairly overrun with petly authorexpression, tone and finish, and still more to im- ship. The plague of locusts with which Egypt press upon others its true character and just pro- was afflicted is nothing to be compared to the plague portions. My unskilful limning was designed as a of authors with which we are visited. Scribimus mere sciagraphy--it was as rude, but intended to indocji doctique. When the son is below the horibe as significant as the stiff Egyptian figures in the zon and the moon in conjunction, the lesser stars magnificent work of Rossellini. I left the filling come out and surprise us by their brilliancy-darkop and coloring purposely to others, being myself ness adds a charm to them which at other times more anxious in these letters to give the hint than they would not have. There is no where such an to develop the idea-to sow the seed than to reap abundance of weeds as in a neglected field. If the crop-to make my hasty epistles suggestive to the soil be rich their number and loxuriance will other minds than to perfect, and throw into artistic be multiplied. And similar will be the consequence forms the expression of my views. For this rea- if the legitimate crop shonld fail, in a regularly son, though my former letter discussed topics to planted and cultivated field, either from inattention which whole chapters might have been profitably to it, or from any defect of the season.

Hence we devoted, I shall not retrace my steps further than find infinite writers, of very questionable calibre, I have already done, but proceed onwards, and take occupying the places abdicated by the great men up another branch of the same inquiry into the of the last generation, and which we should be glad actual condition of our present literature.

to see again in possession of those of equal powers. The constellation of literary stars, which culmi- But, until such men shall arise, we must be content nated in our heavens, after the storm and convul- to leave the wide and fertile plains, once covered sions of the French Revolution, and in consequence with rich and luxuriant grain, in the hands of those of its fecundating energies, was one of unusual who claim by mere occupancy, and not by any brilliancy. If Bentham was not Bacon, La Place actual conquest of the soil. All that we can do and Herschel no equivalent of Newton, and Byron is to note the dissimilarities between themselves no equal of Shakspeare, yet their number atoned 'and those whom they have succeeded, since, in

this way, we may either discover analogies to di- they are infinitely preferred. It is quantity, not rect us to particular eras in the history of the past quality-spice, and not flavor wbich are now refor instruction; or we may find indications of quired by all classes, from the coal-heaver to the change that promise a more glorious harvest than dundy, from the fish-wife to the fashionable belle. that which of late we have been reaping.

The unequalled rapidity with which the modern The latter, we think, may be readily detected. steam press throws out fresh works, and new imWe have already displayed the disintegration now pressions of old ones is truly amazing. Yet it can taking place in all the forms of intellectual develop- scarcely keep pace with this morbid voracity, proment, and from this we have inferred the necessity duced by a diseased stomach, which, after a long and the certainty of an early revolution in letters, fast, is at length brought to the acquaintance of and a prospective advance in their condition. This, beef. Moreover, the press in ministering to this however, was merely a passing inference: it did consuming plague stimulates the appetite to renot follow, because a change was in progress, that newed and greater rapacity. The gullet of that the change must be necessarily for the better. In respectable gentleman, “the reading publie” bas logic this would be a non sequitur; yet we have no dilated into “an antre vast," and illimitable as the reluctance in adopting the conclusion as a simple throat of the Dragon of Wantley, proposition, and proving its truth by other arguments. There is in the literary world itself a

Which eat the church steeple

With all the good people, &c. vague consciousness of present insufficiency, which in the absence of other signs might encourage the It receives every thing-sermons and novels, thehope of future improvement. It would be indeli- ology and scandal, tracts and trials, history and cate to quote from private letters in confirmation of fashions-nothing comes amiss to it. It is omniro. this position with regard to the United States, and rous not simply with reference to species and I know that your own correspondence must have genera, but to cubic feet and pounds avoirdupois. already assured you of the fact. As yet this con- Gargantua, who unconsciously swallowed in a letsciousness is only an undeveloped sentiment, par- tuce leaf, while eating salad, a monk“ with pastotaking very inuch of the character of an instinct, ral staff and scalloped shoon,” had no such gorge derived we know not how or whence, certainly not as our friend, the public. Every thing is introduced the genuine offspring of reflection, although it be into the universal recipient—the various ingresuch that reason would not disavow it. But that dients of the strange olla podrida are thrown in in which is now indefinite and imperfectly recognized, the utmost hurly burly and confusion-and without will gradually work its way into clearer light and the slightest mastication into the all-receiving stofull recognition, through the superincumbent mass mach. The discordant materials lie there, scarcely of bold habitudes, and stereotyped impressions, fermenting, but neutralizing or volatilizing each which now check its growth and preclude its easy other. We may hope, indeed, for repletion and development. Another confirmation of this faith consequent dyspepsia at some future time, and then in brighter days is furnished by the strong literary the patient may probably be reclaimed to a more tendency, which indubitably exists at this moment wholesome diet. But whatever this singular glutin the most cultivated nations. There is an anxious tony may prove in regard to the taste of our geneyearning after intellectual enjoyments and the grati- ration, it certainly affords sufficient evidence of fication of literary tastes. There is, moreover, a the existence of a very strong literary appetite. much keener sympathy with literature and literary That appetite is diseased—it is the symptom and men than has been ordinary in by-gone times. If the consequence of fever and delirium—but these the learned and the unlearned now write, smitten disorders will pass away, and men will return to 3 with an extraordinary and irresistible itch for scrib- healthy state, and again have a just relish for litebling, the multitude of readers has been increased rature, and a discriminating appreciation of it. Ia in an equally remarkable and unreasonable propor- the mean time, we are glad to recognize in the tion. The amount of reading got through with in malady the auspices which predict so favorable : these days is incalculable. Mrs. Chapone's maxim, future. that a good man should be read three times-lhe It might be interesting to tarry for a while by ter pure

lecto libello of Horace-could never have the way side, and examine into the causes which been designed for our day, or at any rate for our have produced this notable eagerness after literary meridian. Men do not now read, but they devour-gratifications; to show how the great authors prothey have a most hyper-Brobdignagian throat duced a multitude of readers, while the praise and for the engorgement of all literary novelties. They profit, bestowed upon them by these readers, led to are in no wise choice in respect of their food : the a rapid augmentation of the literary corps, and merest crudities are as welcome as the rarest and ibis, in its turn, tended to create greater variety, most delicate viands; and, indeed, if the former be and required more speedy modes of publication only highly seasoned with ginger, pepper, mustard than had thitherto been usual, while all conspired and the like irritating and exciting condiments,' to render books cheap, and this again tended to the

increase of readers,—thus' reciprocally generating structure, and determines what ornaments, and and regenerating each other in a manner, which what proportions ought to be changed. But here those may elucidate, who can discover the exact he stops-he goes no further-he never accomrelationship of Ægisthus to Agamemnon, or of the plishes what he has designed—he seldom even colMiltonic Death to his father Lucifer.

lects his materials-he criticises, but he will not In following-laxis habenis—this very tempting or can not stop the smallest gap, much less repair topic of modern literary taste, I had nearly for- or replace the edifice. The true reason of this gotten the point from which my declination com- failure, of this short-coming, (if I may venture menced, and have consequently reason to rejoice upon the dangerous experiment of borrowing a that I adopted the epistolary form for the commu- word from our Methodist brethren,) indubitably is, nication of my views. An occasional digression, that his own views have not yet attained definite 2 momentary forgetfulness, even a partial contra- shape-he is conscious of much to be developed, diction, or subsequent correction of a former error much to be added, much to be altered, but his conmight be overlooked or pardoned in a letter, when sciousness does not migrate into action, nor prono such compassionate mercy could be expected duce in him that fixed knowledge and creative vigor for an essay. I shall, therefore, return without which would enable him to achieve that of which any compunction of conscience, to the point when now he only dreams. There is still wanting to I wandered, not exactly into a digression, but into him the vital and vivifying energy—the pectus ditoo prolix expression.

vinius—which would impel him to its accomplishI remarked that there were certain signs, visiblement, and which genius would soon experienceabove our horizon, which might create a reasonable were it not that his hour has not yet come. hope of a brighter future. One of these is to be The utmost that has hitherto been attempted has found in that increased literary fervor of the mass, been a barren and futile effort to anticipate the which I have just alluded to. Another may pos- execution of that of which time is the principal sibly be perceived in their greediness for novelties, cause, if not the sole parent. A great man may though it may be doubted whether this is not rather exert a wonderful influence npon his age--he may that morbid thirst for stimulating drinks, which is effect mighty and beneficial changes in old institumanifested fully as often in a mind distempered by tions, or may introduce new systems and subvert constant excitement, as in a body corrupted by: antiquated fallacies. But he requires iwo powerhabitual intoxication. And, if we should deter- ful auxiliaries for his ministers—imes and circummine sach to be the significance of this phenome- stances. He can not produce any great result non, we must interpret analogously the many para- without his lot has fallen upon times suitable for doxical views and extravagant fancies of our re- the dissemination of his views, so that those whoin cent literature, and its constant and uneasy strain- he addresses may be a fit audience for their receping after effect. But we may notice a dissatisfac- tion; and he must have favorable circumstances tion in the most eminent authors each in his own combining together to render their adoption pracdepartment—with all that his predecessors have ticable and expedient, before they can become transmitted to him. Much of this, doubtless, will firmly rooted, and bear any mature or perennial and may be attributed to that perverse love of con- fruit. Whoever, ignorant of this universal law of tradistinction which characterizes all the children the human career, endeavors to anticipate-(how of Adam, and that hope of establishing a claim to serviceable would be the antique word prevent, for originality by attacking received notions, and oblit- such anticipation acts as a retardation and reserating old landmarks. But this explanation is traint)—whoever, I say, anticipates the due season not co-extensive with the phenomena to be ac- for renovating a falling system, or substituting a counted for—there is more still left behind to de- new one in place of the old, will surely fail, and mand further interpretation. In this I see the neither attain the accomplishment of his desires, early indications of an effort to project themselves nor achieve any thing to merit that they should beyond the beaten circle within which they have have been realized. Man and the world act and been tethered. Although seeing their models in react upon each other in such a potent but mystetheir precursors, drawing their inspiration from rious way, that the great man is produced for the them, and frequently adhering to a servile imita- times, and exists only when the crisis requires it. tion of them, recent authors evince a strong dispo- Nec deus intersit, &c., may be a precept in drasition 10 give some proof, however slight, of that matic composition, but it should be converted into independence after which they sigh. Each con- an affirmation to asseverate one of the laws of huvinced, rather by an unrecognized instinct than a manity. It would seem as if the highest finish conscious scrutiny, of the ruinous condition of those and perfection could not be given to a man even of temples, in which he, in common with others, has boundless intellect, but by the very times which been worshipping, laiks of rebuilding; or at least demand that he should display his powers under repairing them, points out the corrections to be some definite and peculiar type for their benefit. made in the ground plan, suggests additions to the 'It is shrewdly hinted by Carlyle that this is the era

BY J. STRONG RICE.

of Bobissimus Quidam, Esq.-we may hope that dire its arrival, or ensure its success ? Certainly this day is passing away, but it has not yet gone. there must be. I should agree with you in your We could not, if what I have just said be true, conclusion. I might think it requisite to restrain any have expected hitherto for any great success on general inference by sundry limitations, but I should the part of those who have indicated their dissat- most heartily assent to the faith you would thus isfaction with existing systems. What would have advocate. But I must not now discuss this point, been their fate if they had made any deliberate, there are other topics to be previously examined : though premature attempt, to do the work which and, moreover, after having written you this long the future has reserved for the past, may be learnt and rambling epistle, I have reason to fear that you from the fortune of those who have in former days may consider “my line upon line and precept upon fallen victims to the same error. They were thrown precept, here a little and there a liule," as having rudely as a wreck upon the strand,—they tried to swollen to most 'dropsical proportions. I must, usurp the office of Time--to snatch the sceptre therefore, secure your attentive ear on some other from his grasp—to supplant in the exercise of his occasion, by bringing my letter to an abrupt close, most holy functions the universal arbiter of change, and assuring you that and the old God has passed them ruthlessly by, and

I remain, toy dear sir, relates little of their struggles, their aspirations,

With much esteem and regard, or their existence to a future age. Who knows

Your obliged and obd't servant, any thing of Cesalpini, Telesio, or Patrizzi? but

George FREDERICK HOLMES. who has not been familiar from boyhood with the

Orangeburgh, s. C. venerated name of Bacon ?

These random reflections may possibly explain many of the phenomena of our literature, and illustrate its present condition. They will explain,

TO MARY. in some degree, its feverish restlessness-its spasmodic activity-its expansiveness, frequently grutesque-its conscious insufficiency-its unavailing effort at original development—and the scantiness

I'll ever be thy friend, Mary, of its matured fruits. They may serve, at any

And ever love thy smile, rate, to remove any discouragement, which might

And never will offend, Mary, otherwise arise, from observing, that, in the at

• Thy artlessness with guile. tempts hitherto made to regenerate particular de

I'll ever be sincere, Mary, partments of literature and science, nothing satis

In what I say to thee, factory has been achieved. We may even assume

And never cause a tear, Mary, this as an evidence that something will be accom

To leave thy deep blue e'e. plished before long. We are moving towards a definite goal; impelled along, blindly, it is true, I sometimes think you might, Mary, at present, and coerced by unseen influences of Have flown here from the sky, which, for the most part, we are unconscious. It So holy is the light, Mary, is useless as yet to run, when we do not know

Of thy cerulean eye. where we must run to : for the goal, though fixed, is still invisible--it is still below the horizon. We

And when my sleep is sweet, Mary, must float with the stream for awhile, for we have

I sometimes think I see no magnet at hand, and we know not the points of A host of spirits meet, Mary, the compass. But, as there is a current, it must

Of face and form like thee. flow into some ocean or inland sea-thither is our

I see them in the light, Mary, destination. When we discover our bearings, we

On fleecy clouds they ride, may use helm, oar and sail-steam, too, if it be

Their zephyr steeds to sight, Mary, liketh us—but, until then, we can only note the coun

Are viewless as they glide. try through which we pass, and the stray flowers that wave over our rivulet, or prepare ourselves for With coronal and wreath, Mary, the reception of fuller knowledge, and for its due

Of sweetest summer flowers appreciation and employment after it has been

They strew thy path and breathe, Mary, imparted.

* Long life and rosy hours." You may ask me, my dear sir, if we are to recognize this brightening prospect for literature, It gives me very joy, Mary, and can we do nothing to facilitate or hasten its

To know thee Heaven's child, approach. Is there no mode of preparing man

I have been when a boy, Mary, kind for a redintegration of letters, and of modify

But never have beguiled. ing the characteristics of the times so as to expe- New Haven, Conn.

« AnteriorContinuar »