Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

the countenances of her friends, that there was no fur

Original. ther remedy. But this seemed to have no effect upon

CRITICISM. her mind.

We hardly ever read a review or a literary criticism, In the latter part of the night it was evident that the in any form, but what the question again presents itself hand of death was upon her, and she was fully sensible to us, “Why is criticism so much respected—why so of it. But her composure and her expressions of con- much dreaded?" To detail its history would require fidence in God continued. While one was praying at more references than we have any recourse to; and her bed-side hé besought the Lord to mitigate her suf-would also, in its progress, engross learning, to which ferings, when she added in a strong voice, “or give me we make no claim. Its history we attempt not to prepatience to bear them. Thy will be done, O God.” sent; and yet we may, with a clever simplicity, guess, These remarks were made by her on several similar that it had no very large beginnings, nor any specific occasions.

pretensions in its commencement, but was only the When near her last she was asked, “Do you find word-of-mouth comment of some reader, who besides Jesus precious still ?” “O yes,” says she, “he is more the argument and the incident of a book, gave yet a than precious.” The morning of the day on which third look, and either did, or did not, "quite like the she died, being very pleasant, it was observed to her, way in which the thing was told,” &c. A neighbor, “This is a beautiful day on which to enter heaven.” perhaps, fancied differently, or for talk's sake took the “Yes,” said she, “and I shall soon be there.” “Yes," other side of the question. May be too, he was a little the person observed to her, "you will soon unite with witty, or, what should more provoke the derision of his your dear children and friends now in heaven.” “Oopponent, pretended to a wit which he had not, and yes,” said she, “I shall be no stranger in heaven.” yet succeeded in calling up the laugh of the by-standers And for the first time in her life, perhaps, she shouted, against the other. This was too bad—'twas unpassable "Glory, glory to God in the highest; blessed be the and unpardonable. The dispute, we see, has by this name of the Lord.” The names of several of her con-time got into second hands; and 'tis not now the book, nections, besides her children, were mentioned, as being but the superior cleverness of the two antagonists, who in heaven. She supplied several names omitted. make it their text in avenging each other, which is now

When the coldness of death extended almost over the stake—and which shall, perhaps, in the course of her whole system, she was asked if Jesus was still pre- discussion, elicit all the pedantry and all the egotism cious ? She answered, “Yes, indeed." These were of both. But the book, the unlucky book, shall be among the last, if not the last words she pronounced. lashed into an undeserved notoriety, or be, perhaps, She frequently endeavored, after her hands were as cold condemned to a premature oblivion, not for its own as ice, to unite them, but could not, while her soul was sins, but for the sins of its commentators. uplifted to God. And such was her end, at Longwood, Why, then, should not individuals assume to weigh near Louisville, Kentucky, the 5th of December, 1841. the merits of the commentator himself; especially as it

In her, death was divested of all its horrors. The regards his ability for the vocation assumed? And chamber in which she died seemed to be consecrated; even if he is found worthy of the office by mental sufand had it not been for the sufferings of the body, would ficiency, let us reflect how many other qualities and have appeared more like heaven than earth.

qualifications it shall yet require to constitute a critic. In this sketch many things are omitted which might Not only truth, but candor is wanted. And besides have been appropriately mentioned. The charities of thorough literary accomplishment, there should be taste the deceased have not been referred to. To the extent and tact; and to the addition of good will and good of her means, she clothed the naked and gave bread to humor, a yet further judgment and allowance of the the hungry. She sought, especially at Washington, position, age, desert, and opportunities of those "under the haunts of poverty, and administered relief to the the question:” and all these amenities for the author unfortunate-not to the vicious. A just discrimination should be held in check by an impartiality so fair, that was always observed in her charities. But these acts the balance should neither fall short nor exceed, by a were done in so private and unostentatious a manner, breath of concession, nor a hair's breadth of censure. that her nearest connections were only made acquaint- May be with all sufficient endowments for the office, ed with them by accident. The Scripture injunction we have yet seldom seen the critic who was practically in such things, not to let one hand know what the other what he might be. doeth, was strictly observed by her.

To refer, from across the water, to the earliest which The leading qualities of her character were, abiding we ever saw: “The Edinburg,” “Blackwood's," and affection, deep sincerity, and surpassing moral firmness. the “Quarterly." These giants in the art of criticism, Her mind was susceptible of high cultivation and of were notórious for opposition and partisanship. And great expansion.

what the one would, for that cause only, it would sometimes seem to us, that another would not. And tho

poor book, bepraised by the Hercules of the North, Mental pleasures never cloy; unlike those of the should but “defer its fate,” and be made succumb to body, they are increased by repetition, approved of by the Jupiter Tonans of the South-having its choice of reflection, and strengthened by enjoyment.

demolition. We allow that the public, in the mean.

[blocks in formation]

time, were amused and enriched from the archives of || an innate system of might over right. And by this belles-lettres and black-letter; that wit and acumen, vicious selfishness, the actors betraying others are also whetted up by opposition and spurred on by rivalship, self-betrayed. made a stirring show in the literary arena; that atten Whatever may be the stimulus in regard to closer tion was engrossed, and intellectuality was excited and interests, this matter of literary partisanship, in the outrewarded. But when the magazines of wrath were set, is often arbitrary and purely gratuitous. To the expended, when the giants themselves were getting ex- | fair and proper critic we would defer; but we cannot hausted, then also was their victim, the book, annihila- assume that every reader in his vivacity of dissent or ted and buried out of sight, under the more exciting of championship, is influenced by his own delighted or spectacle of the combat itself.

offended tastes. If he is neutral in these conditions of The critic claims to sit in judgment upon the merits a critic, perhaps it were better that he also preserved a of a composition, as such. And as it regards literary neutrality of opinion-or rather, we would say, of exproprieties in the peculiar sense of rules, terms, unities, | pression-and assuming to himself the pacific sanction suitableness of allusion, &c., we would accord to him of, “None so impertinent as an intermeddler," shall a supremacy of dictation. But in some other particu- leave the belligerents of the schools to fight out their lars, as choice of subject, the fable, method of treat own battles, in their own way. But if such an one ment, purpose, taste, tact, skill, &c., the reader may not will assume to dictate, we would hint that he is, not unfrequently claim equality of decision-equal right very modestly perhaps, making his own judgment, inof suffrage and opinion. And still further, as he would stead of his author's, the standard of the public liking. be faithful to the author and to himself, let him see the This is especially so as it regards subjects peculiarly of original work, (not always read,) and say whether the taste; for which, although there is a standard, yet few reviewer's ministration has been of fairness and truth, authors affect to reach it, and few readers are so hyperor of misrepresentation and prejudice.

critical as to demand a thorough and continued conThe action of right is always salutary, and such a formity to it in the book. right is vested in us. The proverb says, “Our soul's This being pretty nearly the state of the case, why our own;" which in reverence we suppose means, that is it that criticism is so much dreaded—so much feared ? under God, no man can fetter it. If we permit him, Certainly the book criticised is essentially what it was which is another matter, we betray the truth. We do before the critic took it in hand. No comment of his indeed“ sell our birth-right for a mess of pottage;" and shall either enhance or detract from its intrinsic merits. our posterity shall, in the meanness of their lineage, If he deals fairly, in condemning he but makes an exlike the descendants of Esau, for many a day bewail position of weaknesses and errors, which certainly were our apostasy.

better amended than left. Suppose that in the writer We would say that in accepting a critique, the review there have been errors of ignorance, not of imposition, of an author, we would hold the critic in abeyance to is it not a simple thing, if conviction have wrought its our decision of his own fairness, before we go all work, to acknowledge them-nobly and simply aclengths of opinion, or before we side with him at all. knowledge them, without all that suffering before the And for this purpose, let us by all means see the book public? Such apology is due them, as readers; but no itself, as well as the review of it.

more, no sacrifice of feeling for an unintentional fault. We are often good-humored enough to laugh with The author who makes this apology, gives earnest by the critic, may be at his wit; let us also be just enough this act of candor, that by-and-by at least, he will evolve to laugh at him, if in his jump of judgment he fall that measure of truth for his readers, which is in him, short of his aim, and expose himself to the hit intend- | and for which they shall yet have cause to thank him. ed for his author. Wit, we have said—but in sober-|| But if he lets a selfish vanity sink him, he must sink. ness we do not admit that wit is a fair weapon in the If the criticism is not just, many a reader will find case, albeit much of criticism is built upon it. Wit is it out. And although ridicule may have pointed its not only not truth, but it is often adverse to it, some-shaft, the laugh elicited shall be light and transient, times its direct contrary. And this makes the point of detracting not from the authority of individual opinion, our marvel, why this bugaboo criticism is held in so and involving neither our judgment, nor our sense of much dread, so unfair reverence. It is notorious that desert; but if unfairly urged, calling for our animadin all cases of popular interest or discussion, whether version and prompting defense. If the denouncing of politics, polemics, of civil or even of literary ques. shall be altogether unworthy, vile and vituperative, it tions, a party is formed; and the adherents on either carries, in its own character, its refutation along with side are not only warm and in earnest, but they it; and we have instantly a full conviction of the case, are often zealous to the measure of blinding them- and we see rather the reviewer's prejudice, than those selves to the merits of the cause at issuemand yet faults of the author which, we perceive, he is more than worse, of blinding themselves to their own fairness of disposed to aggravate. So that criticism is not, in all decision. And this error once allowed, gains force by instances, of so genuine authority, as may at first be the nature of the thing itself: the exciting and the supposed. A literary work, it is said, is the property stimulating of passion and party, over offended truth, of the public. If the author is too bashful to face the embroils a true judgment, and establishes as it were, Il public, he should never present himself in type.”

[blocks in formation]

Another instance we would notice, and it is the ex- | remains a question. In addition to the esprit du corps treme case—one in which the tender mercies of the which tends to keep them a unit, we also think they reviewer are indeed of cruelty and death. We mean have too good taste to sin much in this particular. those instances in which the effusions of youthful ge- They have been so notoriously warned by the strife of nius (which are necessarily confused, and the most so British reviewers, that discretion should adopt the quesin the fullest minds) are violated and heckled, torn uption where taste surrenders it; lest, in conflicting and butchered to death. What abomination is this— | houses, for the sake of each other, both should come what dullness, what insensibility! There is no literary to be doubted. legislation, at least in legal sense; nothing penal, even We have already hinted, that even amongst profesas it regards the property of literature. But the possed and allowed critics the case sometimes occurs, session of genius is somewhat more precious than this, where the poetical temperament is not at all accredited; and as such it should be guarded. The French Cousin | instances of reviewers, who prefer even a cold and bartells us, and he is good authority, that “genius is the ren rhetoric to the richest fullness of the mens divinor: possession of the world.” As such, then, should it be cases where they afford no cognizance of the “fine defended against individual hostility-its germs foster- | frenzy,” for the honestest of all reasons—because they ed, and guarded from the rude assault of envy or of cannot. This insufficiency, being of nature's parsidullness. We have in particular view the fate of the mony, should in their own case, like other dullness, be English Keats, a victim of this sort; and although we allowed the pass; but when in its ignorance it assumes know not the instances, yet are they too often alluded the authority of criticism, it should also, like other emto for us to doubt the fact, that his genius and life were pyricism, meet the public scoff-since, being referable both sacrificed, whilst he was yet very young, to the to opinion only, it is beyond the lash of a condign pun. horrors of public derision as the conceived result of a ishment. We have sometimes seen one of these selfbarbarous and denouncing critique. We have seen constituted judges take in hand the beautiful, soulbut one of his effusions—the Delphic Apollo—from breathing effusion of some youthful poet, and by miswhich, abrupt and irregular as it is, we should at once apprehension and misrepresentation, tear and mangle read him a poet born ; and that from its tone—uncom- and deform it out of all shape and comeliness, and then mon, wistful, earnest, vehement, and desiring as it is pronounce upon it the verdict suited to its debased conwe should say he was a poet, such an one as in all of dition. It would remind us of nothing so much as of time has seldom been.

some fair young stag, bounding on the hill-side, throwThe law of England provides that a peer of the ing up its antles, and snuffing in the purity and joy of realm shall be tried only by his peers; and so in the all around it—or else leaping away to some limpid realm of poesy should we say, that none of other clime, spring, quaffing and taking at every change a new inor other soul, should try the poet. The native consti- spiration of delight and of existence! But lo! he is tution, the gift, is what alone should constitute the seen-he is marked—the envious archer takes his aim, ability to do it. Mr. Channing has beautifully defended he draws the bow, the shaft has sped, and that fair Milton against the “ rules,” by saying that he “ violated young creature staggers first, then falls—in the midst none so great as those he obeyed.” The insufficiency of being yields up his life, with nature's struggling, of the critic in this walk of literature we have not un- tearful agony. Even after he has languished and died frequently noticed. Nor is it surprising that it should on the spot, the victim of butchery—the relentless be so. That what is so little tangible, so sublimated, sportsman, more insatiate than death, still pursues him so subtle, so much of fantasie in its tastes and essence, and says, “ Behold, what a vile carcase is there!" Such so evanescent of sense, so irresponsible to all common has sometimes been the martyrdom of genius; even tests as poetry, should be so little understood. So rare such was meted to Keats. indeed is the true poetical temperament, that being per But the style and treatment of this branch of litera. ceived and known only by its affinities, to the many the ture has undergone a great change in recent days. “ very language in which you would note it, is a strange Not only a necessary change, of conformity to the tongue.”

change of tone in popular compositions; but a change Criticism in its treatment, is, we know, sometimes in its own handling and treatment of its “subjects.” ultra, sometimes under—though it less rarely offends And criticism would seem, by general consent, to be us by the “too much," than it does by the too little of of a less stern and rigorous character; also would it praise. It sometimes temporizes rather than discrimi-impress us as being much less earnest, looser, and not nates its subject—and whilst the poor author is “ damn- so much in point now as formerly. In short, it gives ed with faint praise,” the reader (of the review only) us the idea of a test less to be dreaded and less respectis left with a very inadequate idea of how much may ed, than when only the discriminating, the great, the be found in the book itself. This, we think, is more tremendous wielded the pen. Their power was their often a device of deliberate intention, than are the in- intellectual superiority. But now the thing is comstances of condemnation as noticed above.

mon; every other reader is also a critic; may be for Our country is getting to be a literary country; and the pleasure of scribbling, may be for our good. Often though we cannot assert that there is as yet no party the thing is purely gratuitous, neither demanding nor spirit in the trade,” we are happy that the fact yet || deserving our thanks. We neither fear nor tremble;

[blocks in formation]

and it is not worth while to lose our temper-for || ter afford most capital hints and methods for the attainthough we have been interrupted and annoyed, yet as ment and culture of this power of the mind. Its expolittle harm has been done, our magnanimity, reversingsition and argument are lucid and cogent, and the disthe adage, takes the “deed for the will,” and so settlescussion is in itself a complete illustration of its subject the matter comfortably. The department, we do fear,|| matter. We think the book (not now at hand) is called is not as dignified as it has been.

the Evangelical Magazine, or some title of that import. But we hold our hand— for we have just now, while We suppose the piece alluded to is by the editor. But penning this article, seen three or four or five American who is he? Why, like the god of the Lama worship, criticisms, each of which, in different degrees, has de- || is he hidden away from his votaries ? Acquaintancelighted and satisfied us. One, professing to be a notice ship could exert none but a genuine influence in this of Longfellow's poetry and style, we should say affords, case-could it? at shprt, an exposition and analysis of the soul of poe We were also well pleased with a notice from the sie, of its claimings and methods, and of its proper | editor of the Methodist “Quarterly," for April, 1842; aliment. It also shows large acquaintance with its in which he commends to his brethren, and to students artistical laws of rhyme and rhythm, of euphony and for the ministry, a book which has hitherto been withmeasure, &c., as well as of its essentials of temper and held from them—a Classical Dictionary. The present of tone. One of its expositions, simply beautiful as it edition, a revision of Lempriere's, is expurgated of its is, should be engrossed as an apothegm of poetry, in offensive portions, and its fables pointed to a better siggold or adamant. It is questioning the propriety of nificancy. Heathen mythology being often the only promiscuous subjects, and rejecting utilitarian and even key to classical elucidation, must either be resorted to, didactic ones for the Muse; it decides, with the evidence or the access closed against the student who would take of all that ever wrote, that "beauty, in widest accepta-counsel or heed of the ancients; who would delectate tion, is alone the legitimate subject of poesie.The with their poets, or participate in the lore of their sages; rule must be considered, also, in its large admission of or even would he wander and muse amid their high “sublimity.” This explication, or rather the difficulty | places, this should be his most efficient guide-book. which it explains, had ever been a want and a puzzle | Edited by Anthon, it is of discreet authority—and is to us, in our judging of much poetry, of many poems | recommended by the editor of the Quarterly. This from gifted minds, which some how or other yet fell | short critique, in the freeness of its admissions, pleased short of the propriety, the unctuous efficiency of oth-us; the tact and keeping were in point to the book reers, less important, less elaborated, and from less talent-vised; as also to its specific object-the advancement ed sources. But now that the riddle is read to us, its of those addressed. very simplicity of explication would seem to rebuke Although we have contemned a partial and spurious our dullness, excepting upon the axiom, “that the veri- dictation, yet would we acknowledge the uses of a fair ties of nature are so direct of cause and effect, and so criticism, as being salutary both upon their subject well suited to their own purpose of condition, that we author, and the public. Such writings need not be were wiser perhaps in our research, if we would more mistaken. By their tone and tenor we shall soon disoften say to ourselves, "Not so fast,' and 'not so far.'”cern of what spirit they are; whether of benignity as

Another hardly less luajd and able critique is afforded affording aid and enlightenment to the literary Tyro, to the subject of Lowell's poetry. Much discrimina- or whether, disregarding justice and humanity, they ting guidance and admonition are propounded, and a obey the promptings of a ribald, invidious, and selfliberal and hearty allowance of encouragement bestow-seeking vanity. And many a reader, who should not ed_encouragement, that boon and guerdon of the po- be able to note the literary deficiencies of the author, etical temperament; and this without compromitting neither his grammatical commitments, his rhetorical the possibility of a conceited self-sufficiency. The violations, nor his classical inaccuracies, shall yet in the Tyro is put upon his studies, and his models of nature, review at once perceive that an unfair motive is at work, and his probation of industry, for the excellence that instigating to a false judgment of the matter in queshe may achieve. This is a generous and honest criti- tion-for the odiousness of ill-nature is of immediate cism, and we respect the writer in his vocation of critic. cognizance. Such a critic establishes his own charac

Another is styled a “Chat about Keats.” This also ter, at least; and we can only compare him to some betokens the true taste, the racy smack and relish of unclean reptile, which might itself escape detection, the pure Helicon.

but that betrayed by its abominable odor, it is at once These three reviews are all in Graham's Magazine obnoxious to the sense of all within its reach. for March, 1842. We have no clue to the authorship of either, excepting that to that upon Lowell, the initial C. is appended. We may have misread the letter; Evils are more to be dreaded from the suddenness perhaps it was G.Graham ?

of their attack, than from their magnitude, or duration. In a periodical, emanating from Newton Centre, In the storms of life, those that are foreseen are half Massachusetts, we have lately read a review touching overcome; but the tiffoon is a just cause of alarm to the subject of “Original Thinking,” in which, although the helmsman, pouncing on the vessel, as an eagle on the text book is not largely adverted to, yet does the wri-ll the prey.

[blocks in formation]

We follow Jesus in the way,

He gives us peace withinWe travel in a flowery way,

Because we're freed from sin.

Doubt rests upon thy mind—the sceptic's gloom

Like a dark mantle wraps thee in its folds,
While clouds obscure thy passage to the tomb,

And unbelief its cruel empire holds.
May Heaven avert thy doom, accept the prayer

Offered for thee on friendship's hallowed shrineMay not thy mind be left in darkness, where

No ray of hope can reach that soul of thine! May unbelief, in the last trying hour,

Yield to the power of truth's unerring sway, And thy poor soul feel mercy's gentle power, And on some angel wing be borne away!

S. B. T.

We have no will, or wish to roam,

Led by allurement strong,
But onward to our Father's home

By grace are borne along
Cleansed by our Savior from sin's stain

In mercy's living floodRestored by grace, we press amain, And hasten on to God.

« ForrigeFortsett »