Page images
PDF
EPUB

that of the most original genius, that no man can devote much attention to a particular author without being modified by that preference. Browning's admiration of Alfieri and Donne has condensed his thoughts and cramped his style ; Carlyle suffers also from his excessive partiality for Richter. Our readers must not think these remarks, however dull, altogether misplaced ; they will enable him the more clearly to judge why the writings of Cooper, admirable as they are, are not more extensively popular with his countrymen. They are written more for an English audience than for an American. The Anglo-Saxons on the other side the Atlantic have a thousand years upon their brow, and they have become artificialized just to that extent, which renders the wild scenes of nature so vividly brought before them by Cooper, refreshing to the highest degree of pleasure; it is appealing to the instinct of contrast.

Gray beautifully illustrates this in one of his poetical fragments, when he says:

“So the wretch that long was tost
On the thorny bed of Pain,
At length regains his vigor lost,
He lives—he breathes again :
The humblest flow'ret of the vale:
The lowest note that swells the gale;
The common earth—the air—the skies,
To him are opening Paradise.”

The true secret of delight lies in the antagonism of Human Nature. The artificial creates a love for the natural, its opposite; just as men love women-strength loves fragility—fragility yearns for strength—the low adores the lofty; the idea of sublimity is a contrast ! it requires humility to feel awe. Grandeur is the result of a physical or intellectual contradiction ; equals can never admire equals—a sympathy is destruction to sublimity; these are not paradoxes, but facts; and facts based upon human observations. The smaller the man, the greater the mountain—and it arises from the egotism of our common nature; every man, however small or however great, makes himself the standard of excellence, and we affirm, in all reverence, that if we look deeply and unshrinkingly into our own souls, we shall be more and more convinced of the fact, that every man's idea of God is founded upon himself, magnified to the utmost extent of that particular man's arithmetical or intellectual vision. In proportion to the spectrum will be the figure thrown upon the canvas; in a manner, God is the spectre of the Brocken, depending upon various accidents of the elements. It was a favorite remark of Coleridge, that if any man would faithfully and clearly write down his definition of the Supreme Being, he would unhesitatingly give him his own character. He illustrated this position with many instances of men, whose religious opinions we well knew, and in every instance he presented us with a key to the man's whole character.

This undeviating coherency is forcibly exemplified in many authors, and especially in that of “the Spy."

Mark, too, how wonderfully the pride and restlessness of the man are shown in the creations of his fancy. The family likeness is too strong to admit of a doubt. As we have remarked before, this does not invariably ignore the existence of genius, it

merely throws it out of its universality: we use this word as in contrast to the term Idiosyncratic.

We have sometimes heard Cooper called a prose Wordsworth of the Woods : and in a certain sense it is true—for we recognise in three fourths of his stories that pervading impress of forest scenery which is his peculiar charm.

This, doubtless, is the reason why so many complain of the monotony of these writers. The success of Sir Walter Scott lies in his variety; here Cooper fails. This tendency to one tune is a mistake, so far as the public is concerned. To be popular, an author must be various ; truly a difficult problem to solve, since there is no guide who can find the trail. This is one of those points in which experience is fatal as to detail, benefiting only by the broad bold fact, that it cannot invent an originality ; like Poets, they must be born, not made.

In “the Pilot” we observe the nationality of the author in an undue predominance : indeed this remark applies to all he has published, where the two countries come into conflict.

The character of Long Tom Coffin, admirable as it is, seems more English than American ; it is founded more on Dibdin's Songs than the transatlantic Sailor. This was turned to good account by some English Playwright when the novel first appeared ; for he reversed the action, and making Tom Coffin an English Seaman, and Boroughcliffe an American Volunteer, coolly transferred the scene of action to the shores of the New World. With this slight alteration, the British public highly enjoyed the Drama.

We well remember one night when Cooke as Long Tom, and Reeve as Boroughcliffe, were convulsing the audience, that some Americans gave vent to their indignation, and loudly protested against Reeve's outrageous caricature; after a few involuntary ebullitions their patriotism cooled, and they endured the rest with praiseworthy and smiling composure.

There are so many stirring scenes in this novel that it carries the reader through without much effort ; but, after the excitement of the first perusal is over, we cannot help noticing the serious defects that stare us in the face. There is a needless obscurity in the character of Paul Jones, from whom the novel derives its name; it seems to us that any man conversant with the coasting trade would have done, and that a fine character has been brought to do porter's work. His skill in conducting the vessel out of its difficulties, and his knowledge of the shoals and the rocks, are certainly truly marvellous, reminding us somewhat of the Irish Pilot, who, boarding a ship in the mouth of a harbor, was asked by the Captain if he was sure he knew all the rocks ?

“Oh! to be sure I do," said Paddy. “I know every rock about ; that's a fact.”

“ You are the very man for me,” exclaimed the delighted captain, and forthwith engaged him to pilot the ship to her moorings. Soon after, to his indignation and dismay, the vessel went bump upon a rock, and remained fast. He cried out in his wrath

“ Why, you lying villain, you said you knew every rock in the harbor !"

“To be sure I do,” coolly replied the pilot, and this is one of them !"

Paul Jones, the bold-brave Admiral, ought, we consider, not to have been introduced by the author, if he could find nothing

better for him to do than to conduct the ship out of soundings. Probably this artistic error arose from that same overweening national prejudice, which is so great a defect in Mr. Cooper's novels. Had he done justice to the capabilities and career of Paul Jones, he would of necessity have overshadowed the American actors, and consequently the hero would have been a Scotchman. A great author should never suffer the smaller to control the greater ; and, in a work of art, truth should reign, and not prejudice. Pursuing this plan, History itself might be altered to suit national feeling. A certain patriotic leaning is perhaps unavoidable, and we can readily sympathize with its exhibition ; but it should never distort, much less destroy the truth.

We shall not enter into the improbabilities of the plot, but endeavor to illustrate Mr. Cooper's genius by bringing before the reader the scene where the old sailor perishes suicidally in the vessel. It is so powerfully drawn—so vividly brought before us—that we do not stop to inquire how far it is correct in point of character. The great difference between a passion and a monomania lies in the pursuit of the object, and the overvaluing of it. . In one sense every passion may be termed a' monomania, but, though the line of demarcation varies in different individuals, it is, nevertheless, very plainly defined.

A monomania is a passion carried to an unnatural extent. Love is natural, but when this passion for an object carries us beyond reason it becomes a monomania. Judged by this rule, Long Tom Coffin is a monomaniac, for no rational being would destroy himself because a favorite ship was sinking. Still with even this serious drawback, the genius of a fine writer is visible throughout the following extract.

« PreviousContinue »