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JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY.
SCARCELY any author ever became more suddenly distinguished than John Lothrop Motley. Before the appearance of his great historical work, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, he was, though favorably known, comparatively unknown. That work, from its research, its style, its power, its earnest spirit, its breadth of design and successful execution, placed its author at once in the rank of eminent historians. Published simultaneously in England and America, it was commended with equal warmth in the leading critical journals of both countries; and, though but three years issued, it has passed through five editions, and amply vindicated the laudations of the critics.
Mr. Motley was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1814, and was graduated at Harvard College in 1831. Soon afterwards he went to Europe, and spent several years in Germany, studying its literature and acquiring the large learning of its universities. On his return to the United States in 1835, he applied himself to the study of the law, and was admitted to the Boston bar. In 1836, he was married to Miss Benjamin, a sister of the well-known author, Park Benjamin, and for several years resided in Boston and its vicinity. Having ample means, he did not practise bis uncongenial profession, but gave his time and talents to the pursuits of letters. At this time he wrote several papers for the leading periodicals, and published anonymously two novels,—Morton's Hope, and Merrymount. Early in 1841, during the brief administration of General Harrison, Mr. Webster, who had been long an intimate friend of the father, gave the son, for whom he also cherished a cordial regard, the post of Secretary of Legation to Russia, Colonel Todd being the minister. Here he interested himself in the history of Russia, and wrote for the “North American Review" a leading article on “ Peter the Great," which was much admired. But in less than two years he resigned his place and came home.
In 1851, he again visited Europe, and there resided in various cities,-chiefly Paris and Dresden,-engaged in the accomplishment of his noble historical work, which was published in 1856. He had not been home a year after it was published, when he resolved to write a second similar work, commencing where the first leaves off; and, not able to obtain the necessary documents in our libraries, he went again to Europe, where he is now (1859) residing with his family in its affluent capitals,-affluent in books and manuscripts,—engaged in writing the new history, which we doubt not will fully sustain his present reputation.
1 Of Motley's History, the “North American Review,” July, 1856, thus speaks : -“This is one of the most important contributions to historical literature that have been made in this country. It is characterized througbout by a spirit of great fairness and moderation, indulging in no violent invective or extravagant praise, even where the narrative might furnish a fair excuse for the one or the other; while at the same time it is neither cold nor heartless. . . . On the contrary, a genuine sympathy with liberty and a spirit of humanity pervade it, and it is evident that the author rejoices heartily in the successes of the patriots. In short, it is a work that every American may be proud to own as written by his countryman.”
THE SIEGE OF LEYDEN.
Meantime, the besieged city was at its last gasp. The burghers had been in a state of uncertainty for many days; being aware that the fleet had set forth for their relief, but knowing full well the thousand obstacles which it had to surmount. They had guessed its progress by the illumination from the blazing villages; they had heard its salvos of artillery on its arrival at North Aa; but since then, all had been dark and mournful again, hope and fear, in sickening alternation, distracting every breast. They knew that the wind was unfavorable, and at the dawn of each day every eye was turned wistfully to the vanes of the steeples. So long as the easterly breeze prevailed, they felt, as they anxiously stood on towers and housetops, that they must look in vain for the welcome ocean. Yet, while thus patiently waiting, they were literally starving; for even the misery endured at Harlem had not reached that depth and intensity of agony to which Leyden was now reduced. Bread, malt-cake, horse-flesh, had entirely disappeared ; dogs, cats, rats, and other vermin, were esteemed luxuries. A small number of cows, kept as long as possible, for their milk, still remained; but a few were killed from day to day, and distributed in minute proportions, hardly sufficient to support life among the famishing population. Starving wretches swarmed daily around the shambles where these cattle were slaughtered, contending for any morsel which might fall, and lapping eagerly the blood as it ran along the pavement; while the hides, chopped and boiled, were greedily devoured. Women and children, all day long, were seen searching gutters and dunghills for morsels of food, which they disputed fiercely with the famishing dogs. The green leaves were stripped from the trees, every living herb was converted into human food; but these expedients could not avert starvation. The daily mortality was frightful : infants starved to death on the maternal breasts which famine had parched and withered; mothers dropped dead in the streets, with their dead children in their arms. In many a house the watchmen, in their rounds, found a whole family of corpses,-father, mother, children, side by side; for a disorder called the plague, naturally engendered of hardship and famine, now came, as if in kindness, to abridge the agony of the people. The pestilence stalked at noonday through the city, and the doomed inhabitants fell like grass beneath its scythe. From six thousand to eight thcusand human beings sank before this scourge alone; yet the people resolutely held out,—women and men mutually encouraging each other to resist the entrance of their foreign foe,-an evil more horrible than pest or famine.
Leyden was sublime in its despair. A few murmurs were, however, occasionally heard at the steadfastness of the magistrates, and a dead body was placed at the door of the burgomaster, as a silent witness against his inflexibility. A party of the more fainthearted even assailed the heroic Adrian Van der Werf with threats and reproaches as he passed through the streets. А crowd had gathered around him as he reached a triangular place in the centre of the town, into which many of the principal streets emptied themselves, and upon one side of which stood the church of Saint Pancras. There stood the burgomaster, a tall, haggard, imposing figure, with dark visage and a tranquil but commanding eye. He waved his broad-leaved felt hat for silence, and then exclaimed, in language which has been almost literally preserved, “What would ye, my friends? Why do ye murmur that we do not break our vows and surrender the city to the Spaniards ?-a fate more horrible than the agony which she now endures. I tell you I have made an oath to hold the city; and may God give me strength to keep my oath! I can die but once, whether by your hands, the enemy's, or by the hand of God. My own fate is indifferent to me; not so that of the city intrusted to my care. I know that we shall starve if not soon relieved; but starvation is preferable to the dishonored death which is the only alternative. Your menaces move me not; my life is at your disposal; here is my sword, plunge it into my breast, and divide my flesh among you. Take my body to appease your hunger, but expect no surrender so long as I remain alive." * * *
On the 28th of September, a dove flew into the city, bringing a letter from Admiral Boisot. In this despatch, the position of the fleet at North Aa was described in encouraging terms, and the inhabitants were assured that, in a very few days at furthest, the long-expected relief would enter their gates. The tempest came to their relief. A violent equinoctial gale, on the night of the 1st and 2d of October, came storming from the northwest, shifting after a few hours full eight points, and then blowing still more violently from the southwest. The waters of the North Sea were piled in vast masses upon the southern coast of Holland, and then dashed furiously landward, the ocean rising over the earth and sweeping with unrestrained power across the ruined dykes. In the course of twenty-four hours, the fleet at North Aa, instead of nine inches, had more than two feet of water. * * * On it went, sweeping over the broad waters which lay between Zoeterwoude and Zwieten; as they approached some shallows which led into the great mere, the Zealanders dashed into the sea, and with sheer strength shouldered every vessel through. * * * On again the fleet of Boisot still went, and, overcoming every obstacle, entered the city on the morning of the 31 of October. Leyden was relieved.
RUFUS WILMOT GRISWOLD, 1815–1857.
If any one deserves a place and an honorable mention in these pages, it is Rufus Wilmot Griswold, not only for his learning and literary achievements, which will place him on the level of many of our best authors, but because ho has done more than any other man to make American writers known and honored both at home and abroad. He was born in Benson, Rutland County, Vermont, on the 15th of February, 1815. Much of his early life was spent in voyaging about the world; and before he was twenty years of age he bad seen the most interesting portions of his own country and of Southern and Central Europe. Relinquishing travel, he studied divinity, and was married shortly after he was licensed to preach. But literature had more powerful attractions for him than theology, and he entered the career of a man of letters by profession. He was associated with IIorace Greeley in editing “ The New-Yorker," and with Park Benjamin and Epes Sargent in “ The Brother Jonathan,” and “The New World,” enterprises which were eminently successful. In 1842-43 he was editor of “Graham's Magazine," and by the attraction of his name and of the corps of eminent writers' whom he induced to aid him, he gave to the Magazine a richly-deserved popularity, and increased the list of subscribers from serenteen thousand to twenty-nine thousand.
Besides a number of volumes published anonymously, Dr. Griswold has given us, under his name, a volume of Poems; another of Sermons ; The Biographical Annual for 1842; The Curiosities of American Literature ; A Life of Hilton, prefixed to an edition of his prose works published by Rev. Herman Hooker, D.D.,2 Philadelphia, and The Poets and Poetry of England in the Nineteenth Century. But what have given to Rev. Dr. Griswold his richly-merited fame are his works on American Literature,— The Poets and Poetry of America, 1842; The Prose Writers of America, 1846; and The Female Poets of America, 1848. These works are of a very high order of merit. The selections show a fine taste and sound judgment, while his criticisms are discriminating and just.
Dr. Griswold's other works are, A Memoir of Edgar A. Poe, prefixed to his works, 1850; Scenes in the Life of the Saviour by the Poets and Painters ; The Sacred Poets of England and America, 1849; and The Republican Court, or American Society in the Days of Washington, This is a sumptuously-printed and richly-illustrated work, and contains a mass of curious information relatire to the early days of the Republic, not to be found elsewhere.
But his incessant literary labors proved too much for a constitution naturally feeble, and he died in New York, on the 27th of August, 1857, at the early age of forty-two.
Among them were Dana, Allston, Cooper, Bryant, Longfellow, IIoffman, and Willis.
2 Dr. Hooker is one of our best thinkers and writers, and, besides contributing to many reviews and religious magazines, has written The Portion of the Soul, published in 1835; Popular Infidelity, 1835; and The Use of Adversity, and the Prorisions of Consolation, 1846,-all works of great value.