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LITERARY RECORD. MEMOIRS OF AARON BURR. — The HARPERS have issued the first volume of the Life of Aaron Burr, from the pen of MATHEW L. Davis, Esq., a gentleman who was his intimate associate for upward of forty years, and whose materials were ample, both for purposes of history, and the excitement of interest. An extensive correspondence with females -- preserved with care by the veteran roué -- was, however, very properly destroyed by his biographer, although such a course was strenuously opposed by Burr, when living. Doubtless it were well to preserve in history a memory of the redeeming virtues of the illustrious, or rather notorious, deceased; but to gloss over the deeds which have rendered his name a reproach, is what we hope never to see attempted by one calling himself an American. In one respect, atl east, Aaron Burr must be considered as having
-'fallen into a pit of ink, And the wide sea hath drops too few
To wash bim clean again. An admirable portrait, from the pencil of VANDERLYN, engraved by PARKER, faces the title-page.
The Young DISCIPLE. — Messrs. WilliAM MARSHALL AND COMPANY, Philadelphia, and D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, New-York, have given to the public a volume of some three hundred and fifty pages, containing "The Young Disciple, or a Memoir of AnzoNETTA R. PETERS,' a young girl born in this city, whose growth in piety and early death are made subservient to the inculcation of valuable religious lessons. The Rev. John A. CLARK, an eloquent, sound, and deservedly popular clergyman, of Philadelphia, is the author. "The Young Disciple' cannot fail to be morally and religiously useful, and we commend it, with pleasure, to the favorable suffrages of the public.
The Family Of NAIADES. - Messrs. CAREY, LEA AND BLANCHARD have issued a beautiful volume, entitled ' A Synopsis of the Family of Naïades, by Isaac LEA, Member of the American Philosophical Society,' etc. The work was undertaken, says the author, purely with the view and in the hope of clearing away the difficulties which had incumbered one of the most interesting families of the Mollusca. Tables are given containing three hundred recent species, as admitted, twenty-two doubtful, and twentytwo fossil - in all, three hundred and forty-four. The volume evinces diligent study and research, against many obstacles. A plate containing two delicately-colored prints of the Unis Spinosus, ornaments the volume.
HIEROGLYPHICAL BIBLE. — The Brothers HARPER have published a beautiful volume, which they entitle 'A New Hieroglyphical Bible; with Devotional Pieces for Youth.' It contains four hundred wood-cuts, of which it is sufficient praise to say that they are by Adams. A delightful task, and a useful, will it be for many a fond father to read and explain the varied pages of this pretty book to his delighted children. In addition to the scripture passages, picture-enforced, each page contains an appropriate hymn. It is ere this in the hands of thousands of masters and misses in the United States.
The New-York Book. — This volume, after the manner, in externals, of the poems of DRAKE and Halleck, by the same publisher, will prove an appropriate gift for the present season of souvenirs and friendship-tokens. It is a compilation from the poetical writings of natives of the state of New York, which, for the most part, have hitherto been circulated solely in newspapers and periodicals. The selections have been made with discrimination, and the work is tastefully presented.
USEFUL ANNUALS FOR JUVENILES. – Parents and guardians who may wish to blend useful instruction with entertainment in their selections for the young, at this gift-teeming season, will find in "The Casket of Gems, and the handsomely-bound volume of Parley's Magazine, both liberally embellished with wood engravings, appropriate volumes for their purpose. Published by CHARLES S. Francis, Broadway.
FINE WRITING. READ BEFORE THE 'TUSCULAN SENATE,' SUPERVISORS OF 'THE PORTICO.' MR. MARIGOLD: I am much gratified by finding that you have commenced a series of disquisitions upon the subject of fine writing, and are endeavoring to awaken your readers to a right apprehension of the principles by which it is characterized, since no speculations appear to me more likely to be useful, at the present time, in this community. Although I partake of none of that spirit of prejudice and calumny which has too often appeared in those travellers from my country who have paid a visit to your's, yet I cannot but perceive a wide distinction between the taste of those countries in Europe, which have grown old in the cultivation of science, and that which is prevalent among us. With a view, therefore, to furnish you some aid in the prosecution of your laudable undertaking, allow me, instead of controverting your principles, to carry forward and complete your speculations, upon this topic, by the following'observations, which occurred to my mind, upon the perusal of your last article.
You justly remark, that one of the greatest difficulties in elegant writing, as well as one of the principal circumstances by which an author will display his skill and capacity, lies in the judicious use of figurative language, and more especially in the management of his metaphors, which are the chief instruments made use of by the imagination to shadow forth our conceptions, and give to airy nothings' a local habitation' and visible form. It has been remarked by that able critic, Dr. Blair, that the golden rule by which the accuracy of metaphors may be tested, is to suppose the painter attempting to exhibit upon canvass the pictures which are presented in them, and if they will sustain this touchstone, they must be licensable. Thus, when an able minister is said to be a pillar of the state, a righteous man is declared to stand securely upon the rock of his integrity, or be supported by the arm of the Almighty — when Cardinal Woolsey, in Henry the Eighth, asserts that his ‘high-blown pride at length broke under him, and left him to the mercy of that rude stream upon which he had ventured for many summers,' or when Satan, in Milton's Paradise Lost — for the same rule applies to comparison and all figures — is compared to the sun, which, new-risen, looks through the horizontal misty air, shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon in dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds on half the nations – in all these cases, the painter might readily follow the writers in the pictures they draw to the fancy. This rule, therefore, prescribed by the critic, is excellent, and an infallible guide to us, vol. IX.
when our metaphors or figures present the images of objects which address themselves to our outward vision. But this rule will not serve our turn, when our images relate to objects of the other senses, or to the invisible sentiments and operations of the mind. When Ossian asserts that the music of Caryl was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul,' or when one prophet declares that, in the afflictions with which Jerusalem was visited, the Almighty had given her “wormwood and gall to drink,' and another, 'I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,' the images or ideas presented to the mind, beautiful and sublime as they are, could not be delineated upon canvass, although they awaken strong and agreeable emotions. But, nevertheless, although it is allowed that the fine writer could not always be accompanied by the painter, throughout his whole tract of thought, but would find this rule fail him in many of his brightest conceptions, yet it is not to be denied, that his images, if rightly delineated, can always present a distinct object to the intellectual eye, if not to the corporeal. From this maxim there is no exception : it is to the writer of inestimable value, and if scrupulously observed, will banish from all kinds of composition that obscurity and confusion which so often interfere with the successful communication of thought, and occasion one of the greatest blemishes in the performance of genius. Had Shakspeare been apprized of this infallible criterion of accurate imagery, we should never have heard him speak of taking up arms against a sea of troubles ;' of a way of life falling into the sere, the yellow leaf;' • of the hope being drunk in which Macbeth dressed himself;' of the same hero's • bathing in reeking wounds ;' of an 'ocean overpeering his list, and eating the flats with impetuous haste ;' of having a tomb of orphans' tears wept upon Cranmer's bones, when he had run his course ;' and of a thousand other instances, in which this consummate master of nature, and pride of the dramatic muse, has mingled colors in his images, which, however beautiful or sublime, when separately taken, throw obscurity and confusion into his conceptions, and lie as a dead fly upon the ointment of his most exquisite passages. Into this fault men are most apt to be betrayed, who are endowed with the richest imagination, and the greatest fertility of invention ; and it never fails to give a more pungent zest to works among readers of crude and unconcocted taste. It is, however, to be as much deprecated in fine writing, as a confused and incongruous mixture of colors in the productions of the painter. How strikingly this blemish is displayed to us in that sentence of Lord Bacon : Public envy is an ostracism, which eclipses the fame of men when they grow too great.' Here, although the idea is very successfully conveyed, yet the metaphors are dark, and incompatible with each other; for how could the mode of suffrage among the Greeks denominated ostracism, be said to eclipse any object which implies the obscuration of any planet by an interposing orb? This confused and undistinguishing mixture of figures, is one of the most prevailing and blighting deformities in the recent performances of American genius.
As to the next points upon this subject to which you have alluded, when figurative language begins to be advantageous in writing; and when it becomes injurious, no critic has, as yet, appeared able to furnish precise and definite prescriptions. Here the treatise of Quintilian, of Dionysius, of Cicero, of Blair, and all other modern coadjutors, fail us. You have before remarked, with Cicero, that the employment of metaphors originates, in the outset of verbal and written correspondence among men, in absolute necessity and the sterility of language, as mankind would be unable to express the thoughts and feelings of the mind, except by an appeal to the analogies of physical nature. Hence the terms apprehend, imagine, abstract, which denote operations of the mind, are derived from those of external nature. And hence the Indian chief, in negotiating a treaty of peace with a neighboring tribe or nation with whom he had waged war, designates the termination of hostilities by the emblems of burying the hatchet, and the commencement of amicable relations by planting the tree of peace. In this case, no doubt, the negotiator is led to resort to these terms of pacification, partly by his incompetency to express the abstract ideas of terminating war and commencing a friendly intercourse in simple and plain language, and partly by that unaccountable pleasure which the imagination enjoys in tracing the analogies between moral and physical nature. Passing now from this state of penury in speech, in which our nomenclature is incompetent to the designation of the objects presented to the understanding, we confine our attention solely to figurative language as an ornament, or luxury, in our intellectual and literary life and enjoyment. How far are figures justly regarded as a beauty and advantage in composition, and when do they degenerate into a deformity ?
As language is the vehicle of thought, and figures give form and decoration to that vehicle, in order to a right decision of the aforementioned queries, we must ascertain the principles upon which that vehicle is best constructed, and the degree of embellishment which will recommend it to a highly cultured taste. This similitude between speech and a vehicle of transportation, serves to suggest to us our first rule, in reference to the use of that ornament which is derived from images of fancy, viz. : that they serve more successfully to enforce and recommend the ideas. As the great purpose of a vehicle is to convey passengers, every principle of its construction, every decoration by which it is embellished, ought to be adapted to its convenience and facility of movement; and those which would tend to impede its progress, or lesson its accommodation to its uses, would become an injury instead of benefit. So is it in the ornaments which are allowed in writing or speaking. When we wish to compliment a statesman, who has distinguished himself in the councils of his country, and we say that he is one of the pillars of the republic, or brightest lights of her senate, certainly we have couched our encomiums in much more striking and impressive phraseology, than if we had gone out in pursuit of plain terms which conveyed the ideas, in the one case, that he distinguished himself in supporting the government, and, in the other, that he was remarkably able in communicating information and instruction to the senate. The fact is, that, independently of the considerations that these metaphors have abridged our discourse, and delighted the mind by the play of fancy in tracing the resemblance between the statesman and a pillar that supports an edifice, and a bright light illuminating a scene, language, in its very organization, has neglected to supply us with words sufficiently numerous to express moral conceptions, or intellectual archetypes, without a resort to the convenience of figures. Figurative language, during the progress of man in improvement, has become so thoroughly incorporated into the most finished nomenclature, that it could not be dispensed with by any effort or contrivance of art. In testing its propriety or beauty, then, the simple inquiry is, does it recommend and improve the thought, render it more clear when perspicuity is needed, more strong when vigor is demanded, more beautiful when beauty is desirable, or more touching when pathos is required? Let it ever be remembered, the great object of attention and solicitude in good writing, and that without which all other things are trifling, is the thoughts and figures of speech are useful only as they contribute to set these off to advantage. These are to writing what fine features and just proportions are to the human body. And as no superfluity or gaudy decorations in dress would recommend ugly features or a deformed person, so trivial, false, or worthless matter can never be rendered important or interesting to the intelligent part of mankind, by sparkling figures or the most imposing artifices of style. Our really valuable thoughts when unadorned are adorned the most. At all events, simple, chaste, and frugal ornaments in our writing, as in our apparel, are more truly delightful to a correct taste, than all the flounces and furbelows, the embroideries and jewelries, in the world. This maxim of rhetoric, upon which we are now insisting, cannot be too sedulously brought to view, or too vehemently urged upon wielders of the pen, in the present state of polite literature. The rage for decoration is epidemical, and most fatal to the fame of those who constitute the republic of letters. After nations have attained to full perfection in fine writing, there seems to be a natural tendency toward excessive refinement and meretricious ornaments.* Truth and nature may be regarded as a noble flock furnishing the richest fleece to mankind, but when a series of good writers have exhausted their fleece in weaving the fabrics of genius, their successors are tempted to have recourse to swine for a supply of materials; and we know, beside, that in this attempt, as in the rude dramas called moralities, in the middle ages, there is great cry and little wool; it is also liable to the objection, that no skill in the workmanship or adjustment in machinery can ever give it the beauty and perfection of that raw material which nature has appropriated to the purpose of clothing her favored offspring. Too many writers of the present day, instead of attempting to rival their predecessors in endeavoring to fabricate the genuine fleece derived from this flock of truth and nature into new and more exquisite form, are engaged in shearing the swine. In this labor they can obtain, at best, nothing more than erroneous principles of science, worthless paradoxes, unnatural fictions, tinsel poetry and prose, and unnumbered crudities.