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Memorns of Vipoca, Principal Agent of the French Police until 1827. Written by himself. Translated from the French.' I vol. pp. 496. Philadelphia : CAREY AND Hart.
The French booksellers, beyond all others, deserve the appellation of a peculiar people. We wish we might add, that they are • zealous of good works,'—but such is not the fact. They infect a vast number of undiscriminating bibliomanes with a passion for the adventurous and the wonderful, insomuch that it pervades all classes of society. In a greater or less degree, they influence all hearts, from the humble laborer or postillion who inay have been an inferior soldier under Napoleon, to the legal officer who surveys with earnestness the delinquents brought by the arm of the law into his judicial presence, and while he listens to their history, feels his blood coursing more warmly beneath the ermine. Ardent in their fancies, and mercurial in their temperament, the French love to hear of chances disastrous, and events almost incredible; of heroic occurrences, military or civil: of liaisons and éclaircisements-of astounding histories, personal and general; in short, of all that panoramic description, which, to them, throws over the world the romantic exaggerations of life. They are by no means particular, either, as to the mode by which these excitements are ministered to them,—whether by the tainted wit of a Rabelais, or the thrilling pages of a Rosseau or a Hugo-from the eloquent thunders of a Massillon or a Talma, or the broad fun of a Vaudeville. Excitement, they must have,—and, in general, they care but little about choosing its kind. They seem to be equally prepared for delight or dole—for smiles or tears. Ubiquitous in sympathy, they will kindle with the same emotions over the pages of some domestic narration, that they would experience if walking in spirit with Chateaubriand along the banks of the Jordan, or over the desolate fields of Jerusalem.
Among a people thus constituted, it cannot be wondered at, that the Memoirs of Vidocq should have created an extreme sensation. An agent of the French police, in such a capital as Paris,-where Vice is robed in almost supernatural brilliancy, and where its punishment shows doubly dismal,—what contrasts of life must be daily commended to his eyes !—from the exuberant splendor of profligacy, to the painful ennui of a hospital or the darkness of a prison,-from the café, the hotel, or the lighted garden, to the desperate anguish in a gaming 'hell,' — the suicide's plunge into the Seine from a bridge, or quay-the moody struggles of lunacy—the icy horrors of the Morgue ! These are the scenes of daily existence in that vast city,-illustrating, with arguments too forcible for pleasure, that Romance is but the skeleton of Reality, and that Truth is indeed stranger than Fiction.
It is mainly owing to this keen appetite of the French for the marvellous and the transcendental, that their booksellers have been forced into the custom of searching high and low for their intellectual aliment. From the memoirs of court mistresses and the intrigues of the nobility, down to the stews of the Marais, do they pursue this mental marketing ; and their authors usually eke forth a nearly exact proportion of the vrai and the vraisemblable. Relationship, and the respect that should be claimed for the posthumous memory of kindred, are often, as in the case of Diderot's memoirs by his daughter, completely lost sight of in the absorbing desire to make disclosures, and produce a book. Nothing takes better than these surprising works, however apochryphal portions of them may be. If they are marked by mendacity, it is no bar to their success,—for the closest scrutiny is not seldom eluded, and the most cautious savants imposed upon. It is not long, since one M. Douville received a gold medal, valued at one thousand francs, from the Société Géographique of Paris, for a large volume of Travels in Africa ;-a work which was all a lie,' respecting a country that the author had never seen! The deception was overlooked entirely by the Parisian literati ; and the discovery was reserved to be commenced in London, that the book was pure fiction, and the author a grocer in South America, at the time he professed to have been wandering through the villages of Ethiopia, and surveying the tributaries of the Niger!
The Memoirs of Vidocq, though they surpass romance, in variety and interest, are generally acknowledged to be true. Most of his work remains uncontradicted, and as it treats much of the living, in terms no wise complimentary, this circumstance is an evidence of its verity. We venture to say that no single novel ever furnished such a mass of extraordinary incidents—such tales of the sad and glad—the wild and wonderful. The Agent was himself a criminal, whose life, from youth upward, abounded in strange eras ; and when he became principal of the French police, he was thrown into daily contact with persons who were tenfold more the children of iniquity than he had ever been, and whose history was far more curious and varied than his own. What with the adventures of all, the work is replete with fascination. Splendid vicissitudes-marvellous escapes, plots, stratagems, and anecdotes—are recorded on almost every page.
When Vidocq retired from the police agency, he possessed a property of no mean value. He owned an extensive paper manufactory at St. Maudé, which he lost with all his other effects at the gaming-table. In 1829, he was in the St. Pelagie prison for debt. His subsequent history is unwritten. That which he has published, is replete with moral warnings ; and though the • Memoirs' are sometimes too much like the Newgate Calendar-exhibiting, moreover, many instances of careless and unidiomatic translation,—yet they are always interesting, and often beautiful and even eloquent in diction. The ends of such a work, beyond all cavil, are to a certain extent salutary. They show that the path of Crime is ever hedged about with thorns, and that there is no safety but in honesty and virtue.
THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEI : By the author of Pelham,'' Eugene Aram,' etc. Two vols. 12mo. New-York: HARPER AND BROTHERS.
This latest production of the author of Pelham is destined, we believe, to take rank with the best of his works. As the volumes have not yet been published, we must content ourselves with such a reference to them as may convey a partial foretaste of their contents. We may say, indeed, that the romance-reading public have a feast in store for them of no ordinary description; but in justice to the grand intellectual purveyors, under whose auspices it is got up,' we must leave the guests to partake of the banquet, when the board shall be duly spread-serving up in the meanwhile, however, a few dainties from side-tables.
Judging from the frequent alterations—and always for the better which we remark in Mr. Bulwer's hand-writing, in the leaves of the English copy,—which we have been permitted by the publishers to peruse, it might be supposed that, penned in haste, it must therefore be unfinished and inferior. No such inference would be drawn from the volumes themselves, which, though doubtless written bastily in Na. ples, and transmitted to England for publication, still bear the rich and elaborate finish of the author. The truth and nature of the local descriptive portions sufficiently evince that the Last Days of Pompeii' was written upon or near the spot where the ancient city sleeps in adamant; and a thorough knowledge of the history and events of that remote period, and an admirable management of the unities of time and place, will strike the reader as prominent characteristics of the work. The characters, too, and pictures of scenery, are drawn with the easy and powerful hand of a master. Indeed, in no one of the Pelham novels is there a more perfect portraiture than that of the lovely heroine, or the dark-hearted, wily Egyptian. Without giving a clue to the dénouement—for which the judicious novel-reader will thank us—we may advert to a few features of the work, as affording a slight touch of its quality. The light and graceful conversation in the opening scene at Pompeii, between two young Pompean cits, is interlarded with those terse, sententious sentences and flowing periods, so peculiar to the full mind of the writer. During many of the early pages, an architectural correctness in the description of the dwellings of Pompeii seems something too minute, and the dialogues between Glaucus and Claudius a little tedious. In the occasional verse that is introduced, there is much of feeling and poetic beauty. The song of the Thessalian flower-girl-an exceedingly interesting character, by the way—is eminently tender and touching. The scene at the Temple of Isis, between the Egyptian Arbaces and Apocides, will impress the reader as a near approach to the great power of Scott in similar pictures. The flash-house in Pompeii, and the discourse of the gentlemen of the classic ring, bear, in their spirit, a resemblance to some of the easy dialogues of Paul Clifford. The pencil that drew the more touching scenes of Eugene Aram, is visible in the annexed extract, which introduces two lovers in a course of wooing,' and hints at the vicissitudes which are afterwards described with such thrilling interest :
“Meanwhile, Glaucus sought the house of the beautiful Neapolitan. He found Ione sitting amidst her attendants who were at work around her. Her harp stood at her side, for lone herself was unusually idle, perhaps, unusually thoughtful, that day. He thought her even more beautiful by the morning light, and in her simple robe, than amidst the blazing lamps, and decorated with the costly jewels of the previous night ;--not the less so from a certain paleness that overspread her transparent hues, not the less so from the blush that mounted over them when he approached. Accustomed to flatter, flattery died upon his lips when he addressed Ione. He felt it beneath her to utter the homage which every look conveyed. They spoke of Greece ; this was a theme on which lone loved rather to listen, than to converse ; it was a theme on which the Greek could have been eloquent for ever. He described to her the silver groves that yet clad the banks of llyssus, and the temples, already despoiled of half their glories—but how beau. tiful in decay! He looked back on the melancholy city of Harmodius the free, and Pericles the magnificent, from the height of that distant memory, in which all the ruder and darker shades were mellowed into light. He had seen the land of poetry chiefly in the poetical age of early youth; and the associations of patriotism were blended with those of the flush and spring of life. And lone listened to him, absorbed and mute ; dearer were those accents, and those descriptions, than all the prodigal adulation of her numberless adorers. Was it a sin to lovo her countrymen ? she loved Athens, in him—the gods of her race, the land of her dreams, spoke to her in his voice! From that time they daily saw each other. At the cool of the evening they made excursions on the placid sea. By night they met again in Ione's porticos and halls. Their love was sudden, but it was strong; it filled all the sources of their life. Heart-brain-sense-imagination, all were its ministers and priests. As you take some obstacle from two objects that have a mutual attraction—they met, and united at once; their wonder was, that they had lived separate so long. and it was natural that they should so love. Young, beautiful, and gifted—of the sa.ne birth, and the same souls ; there was poetry in their very union. They imagined the heavens smiled upon their affection. As the persecuted seek refuge at the shrine, so they recognized in the altar of their love an asylum from the sorrows of earth; they covered it with flowers—they knew not of the serpents that lay coiled behind.”
The occasional episodes, embodying beautiful and apposite similes, deep thought, various learning, and an acurate knowledge of human character and action, are no less prominent in this than in the other works of our author. We select an example or two. After a description of the arts of the Egyptian Arbaces in pouring the • leprous distilment of slander and suspicion into the ears of the beautiful Ione concerning her lover, the author reniarks :
“ It is not without interest to observe in those remote times, and under a social system so widely different from the modern—the same small causes that ruffle and interrupt the course of life,' which operate so commonly at this day; the same inventive jealousy, the same cunning slander, the same crafty and fabric cated retailings of petty gossip which so often now suffice to break the ties of the truest love, and counteract the tenor of circumstances most apparently propitious. When the bark sails on over the smoothest wave, the fable tells us of the diminu. tive fish that can cling to the keel and arrest its progress :-so is it ever with the great passions of mankind—and we should paint life but ill if, even in times the most prodigal of romance, and of the romance of which we most largely avail ourselves, we did not also delineate the mechanism of those trivial and household springs of mischief which we see every day at work in our chambers and at our hearths. It is in these, the lesser intrigues, of life, that we mostly find ourselves at home with the past.”
To this charming digression, we add the following, taken from a description of the heroine :
“No one ever possessed superior intellectual qualities without knowing them. The alliteration of modesty and merit is pretty enough, but where merit is great, the veil of that modesty you admire never disguises its extent from its possessor. It is the proud consciousness of certain qualities that it cannot reveal to the everyday world, that gives to genius that shy, and reserved, and troubled air, which puzzles and flatters you when you encounter it. Do not deceive yourself, vain worldling, by the thought that the embarrassed manner of yon great man is a sign that he does not know his superiority to you !-that which you take for modesty is but the struggle of self-esteem. He knows but too oppressively how immeasurably greater he is than you, and is only disconcerted, because, in the places you encounter him, he finds himself suddenly descended to your level. He has not conversation-he has not thoughts-he has not intercourse with such as you—it is your littleness that disconcerts him, not his own!"
In the descriptions of scenery, and the exhibition of human affections and passions, the Last days of Pompeii' will compare favorably with any previous work from the pen of the writer. Its plot, too, is without intricacy, and the tendency of the details towards it natural. With this brief notice—which it is but justice to say affords neither a synopsis nor a review, but a foretaste, merely, of the contents—we take leave of the work for the present.
THE RELIGIOUS SOUVENIR : A Christmas, New-Year's and Birth-Day Present, for
MDcccxxxv. Edited by G. T. BedDLL, D. D., Rector of Saint Andrew's Church, Philadelphia. pp. 272. Philadelphia : KEY AND BIDDLE.
This well-known annual comes to us in the beautiful raiment of blue and gold; and on looking over its pages, we find the interior equal in matter and embellishments to the fair outside. Some of the engravings are elegant specimens of art; and it gives us pleasure to add, that they are from original designs by native artists. The vignette title-page—The Destruction of Sodom, Frederick and Ellen, etc., are of this kind, and reflect great credit upon the gifted gentlemen who have been concerned in their preparation. The claims of the Souvenir in this regard, are greatly superior to those of the Token. heartily wearied of seeing the stale pictures imported from abroad, and pictures too, of no special merit, re-produced in our annuals,—and are glad to see the publishers of the Religious Souvenir foremost in discarding them. Let us give our own genius play, and we shall have small necessity for vamping up the uninteresting plates of foreign artists. We hope that in each of our annuals the proportion of original engravings will be continually increased, until they shall hold sole dominion in these pleasant books. We have scenes and subjects enough, and noble ones too, for the pencil and the burin ;-why not present them ? All the embellishments in the volume before us are well done, with the exception, perhaps, of the Christian Indian,' which to our eye, needs perspective and breadth.
The matter of the Religious Souvenir seems to have been prepared and selected with care and taste. The articles rom rs. Miss Gould, Dr. Tyng, and others, are generally excellent. The