Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

1842.] Washburn's Judicial History of Massachusetts. 499

one of marked and uncommon excellence. It is fresh and vigorous, not formed by studying any particular model, and has none of the stiffness which comes from imitation; but it is eminently correct and careful. His language is very pure, his words are uniformly well chosen, and his periods are moulded with great grace and skill. It is also a very perspicuous style, through which his thoughts shine like natural objects seen through the purest plate-glass. He has no affectations or prettinesses of phrases, and none of those abrupt transitions, or of that studied inversion and uncouth abruptness, by which attention is often attempted to be secured to what is feeble or commonplace. It is characterized by that same unerring good taste, which presides over all the movements of his mind.

We feel that we have hardly done justice to Mr. Hawthorne's claims in this brief notice, and that they deserve an extended analysis and criticism ; but we have not done this, partly on account of our former attempt to do justice to his merits, and partly because his writings have now become so well known, and are so justly appreciated, by all discerning minds, that they do not need our commendation. He is not an author to create a sensation, or have a tumultuous popularity. works are not stimulating or impassioned, and they minister nothing to a feverish love of excitement. Their tranquil beauty and softened tints, which do not win the notice of the restless many, only endear them the more to the thoughtsul few. We commend them for their truth and healthiness of feeling, and their moral dignity, no less than for their literary merit. The pulse of genius beats vigorously through them, and the glow of life is in them. It is the voice of a man who has seen and thought for himself, which addresses us ; and the treasures which he offers to us are the harvests of much observation and deep reflection on man, and life, and the human heart.

His

7. Sketches of the Judicial History of Massachusetts, from 1630, to the Revolution, in 1775. By Emory Wash

Boston. C. C. Little & James Brown. 1840. 8vo.

BURN

pp. 400.

This work has evidently been a labor of love, and we trust that Mr. Washburn has found his own reward in the prosecution of his inquiries ; because, from the nature of bis subject,

he can otherwise hope for no adequate return for the time and toil he has expended in them. Few, even of the legal profession itself, have any curiosity to trace its history to its early sources; and, out of the pale of the profession, none but a professed antiquary will duly appreciate the disinterested zeal with which Mr. Washburn has gathered up the scattered fragments of the past, and combined them into a connected form. He has done the State good service by his book. It is a conscientious and judicious compilation from original sources, both in print and in manuscript, written in a good style, and, we should judge, with great accuracy of statement and carefulness of detail. It contains a number of brief and comprehensive biographical notices of distinguished ante-revolutionary judges and lawyers, and curious sketches of the primitive forms of administering justice in the earlier days of the Commonwealth, when law was “in the gristle, and not hardened into the bone of manhood." The work becomes doubly honorable to Mr. Washburn in the view of those who know that he is not a mere legal student, but is engaged in an arduous and extensive practice, which, with most men, would be a sufficient excuse to themselves for “ daffing aside” all the curious and unprofitable learning of their profession as mere surplusage, and that he has given inuch valuable time to the State in a legislative capacity.

8. — Chapters on Churchyards. By Caroline Southey, Au

thoress of " Solitary Hours,” &c. &c. New York : Wiley & Putnam. 1842.

The author of this work (we cannot subscribe to the authority of the title-page, and say authoress) is better known to the world of readers by her maiden name of Caroline Bowles. She is now the wife of Robert Southey. The title of the book is not exactly an index to its contents, for the greater part of it has nothing in particular to do with churchyards, except that the pervading tone is melancholy, and many of the narratives have a tragical termination. The larger portion of it is occupied with three desultory narratives, called “ Broad Summerford,” “ Andrew Cleaves,” and the “Grave of the Broken Heart." We have read it with a good deal of pleasure. The writer is evidently a person of strong and correct religious feeling, well-regulated sensibility, expansive benevolence, and a decided poetical temperament. She has suffered a good

deal, we should judge, from the sort of sick-room atmosphere which is breathed round many of its pages, and from the serious and melancholy tone of sentiment which pervades it. There is truth and spirit in her sketches of character ; and her descriptions of visible objects are uncommonly fresh and picturesque. The picture of the parsonage at Broad Summerford, and of the persons and occupations of its inmates, is a very beautiful piece of still life. Portions of the story of Andrew Cleaves are told with a good deal of tragic. power, and the character of the stern father is vigorously and consistently drawn. The fate of Blanche D'Albi is very touchingly and beautifully told. The lively and spirited sketches of the vil. lage congregation, in the third chapter, especially of Farmer Buckwheat and his family, show that her power is not confined to the plaintive and the tender, but that she has a delicate appreciation of the ludicrous, and a ready facility in the expression of it. The prominent defect of the work is, that the staple of her thoughts is spun out too fine. There are too many words. The same idea is repeated in a variety of forms. The style is sometimes careless and slipshod. We should judge that much of it had originally been written for magazines, where the main object was to cover as much space as could honestly be done. The last story, in particular, might be very advantageously condensed.

The moral tone of the book deserves unqualified praise, and it is so full of sensibility to every thing beautiful, and of sympathy with every thing good, that we close it with a feeling ihat the writer must be a very delightful person, and one whose society must be valued by her friends as no common privilege.

9. - Conjectures and Researches concerning the Love, Mad

ness, and Imprisonment of Torquato Tasso. By RichARD HENRY WIlde. New York : Alexander V. Blake. 1842. 2 vols. 16mo. pp. 234 and 270.

An air of elegant scholarship and refined literary taste pervades these volumes, which makes it difficult to consider them with the ordinary strictness of censorship. The subject alone commends itself strongly to all who have the least tincture of Italian lore. And Mr. Wilde's ingenious researches, eloquent remarks, and spirited and faithful translations, impart no small attractions to the work for the English reader. The mysterious story of Tasso's life, into which love, jealousy, and madNO. 115.

64

VOL. LIV.

ness enter as springs of action, and which opens glimpses of a tale of romantic interest, of a princess wooed and won by the daring passion of a vassal poet, (who breathed the secret to his Muse alone, and for that half-unwitting disclosure incurred the lasting coldness of the high-born lady, the slow but implacable resentment of her haughty brother, and the cruel punishment with which the offence was visited,)- the protracted imprisonment, the imputed insanity, and the touching verse and prose in which the bard proclaimed his sorrows, and hinted at their cause, — this strange and moving history has excited the interest and curiosity of nearly three centuries, and is still as imperfectly known as at first. The clouds which hang over it only provoke more eager inquiry, tinted, as they are, with the most gorgeous hues of love and poetry. The copious materials which exist, and which seem at first sight to promise the entire solution of the mysteries, but, when more closely examined, only multiply questions, contradictions, and doubts, and draw still more closely the veil, perpetually incite one to fresh efforts to thread the maze. Documents affording more precise information undoubtedly exist, but they are lodged in secret archives, with doors doubly locked and barred by Italian pride, jealous of the honor of great-grandmothers. The whole matter is one of the most curious and interesting subjects in literary history, and the skilful treatment of it must be agreeable to readers in all countries and at all times.

Mr. Wilde has endeavoured to make the poet tell his own story, and, from the vast collection of his letters and minor poems, to cull out and piece together those personal allusions and statements, which may throw light on the principal incidents in his life. “Enough, it is imagined, may be gathered from his own pen to afford grounds of satisfactory belief, or at least of plausible conjecture.' The correctness of this method, so far at least as the poems are concerned, obviously depends on the assumption, that bards are disposed to rhyme about themselves, and to tell their own stories with no greater admixture of fiction, than can be easily detected and separated by a scrutinizing observer, who has some means of collateral information. We question the justice of such a postulate. Poetry is acknowledged " cloud-land,” and he must be a seer or diviner of no ordinary powers, who can distinguish the dim outlines of truth under those vast and magnificent wreaths and foldings. He was a poet himself, who affirmed, that " what we call imagination is little more than strong feelings and vivid recollections,” and we will not admit that there is any thing more than poetical truth in the statement. In the first sonnet of Tasso translated by Mr. Wilde, the bard exclaims,

" True were the loves and transports which I sung,

And over which I wept in varied rhyme.” The translator supposes, that literal truth is here spoken of, while we hold, that the bard intended only a sort of poetical verity. That was a true affection, which Othello felt for Desdemona, but it was by no means an actual one ; for the noble Moor himself, and the Venetian senator's daughter, are only figments of the poet's brain. In the lines quoted, Tasso may have spoken in his own person, or he may have identified himsell with some ideal character, and affirmed the reality of sorrows quite as imaginary as Desdemona's passion for the Moor. Unquestionably a true poet's song grows out of his own inmost feelings, and rests upon the incidents of his actual life ; but these feelings and incidents are moralized by him “into a thousand similes.” The truth, in his hands, becomes a riddle, of which he only holds the key. To maintain, that others can see the fact under the fiction as well as himself, is to believe that he writes prose instead of poetry. Shakspeare's sonnets were probably dictated by some proroinent incidents affecting his internal life, and contain the history of his feelings; but no one has succeeded in reading that history so clearly as to remove any part of the blank in the poet's biography, — that blank, which is so wide, that, in posterity's view, the matchless bard seems almost to want personality, to be a mere embodiment of the dramatic muse.

But the interest of Mr. Wilde's volumes does not depend wholly, or even in great part, on his success in the investigation. He leads us along a path so green and flowery, that we care not where the journey may end, or whether it comes to any definite termination. The work contains much elegant disquisition, and the comparison and criticism of the poet's various biographers are no less entertaining than instructive. Much ingenuity is shown in comparing and weighing the different branches of evidence, and many collateral facts are established, that form agreeable additions to literary history. Translations from the poet fill a considerable portion of the book, and appear to us to possess very remarkable merit. Tasso's letters are rendered into very graceful and flowing English, in which hardly a trace of their foreign origin can be discerned. A number of the sonnets and amatory stanzas are translated in verse, in a manner that shows a fine perception of the delicate beauties of the original, and great power of preserving them in smooth and elegantly finished rhymes. This is high praise ; but we believe that the two following sonnets, taken almost at random from a number possessing equal beauty, will be found to sustain the commendation in the opinion of our readers.

« AnteriorContinuar »