Page images
PDF
EPUB

a novel and a comedy, and a romance and a tragedy. We think, however, the difference very wide ; being no less than between action and narration. The dramatist includes the novelist and the romancist. The latter may eke out his shortcomings by description, as a man in an equivocal position may explain the ambiguity away, and stultify to a certain extent the evidence of the spectator's senses. But in a dramatist all must be plain and palpable; there is no interpreter save the spectator, and he is incapable of being corrupted by any partisanship beyond his own feelings. It is this which renders a dramatist so rare a production in all ages, more especially our own, while novelists are as plentiful as oysters.

The whole mystery lies in a nutshell. There are tendencies in the human heart which require a certain pabulum to satisfy, and it shows a considerable knowledge of our common nature to select that particular one. A very popular author must necessarily be a man of great sagacity. A keen instinct is indispensable for a great dramatist, although mere playwrights may be made out of a clever selecter of theatrical situations. It not unfrequently occurs that a good acting play is far from a natural representation, and sometimes it may be diametrically opposed to nature. Whenever a dramatic action is startling the poet has failed in his legitimate result. A true dramatist works to a point; and although every scene should have a certain unexpectedness in it, so as to keep the interest alive and create an appetite for the denouement, yet the climax should be artistically reached by the natural process of human passion, and not vaulted into at a bound, like a mountebank's trick.

We have made this passing allusion to action, as represented or narrated, in order to remark that Mr. Cooper is not a dramatic writer, even in the narrative; and, as a proof, we may adduce that while most of Scott's stories have been dramatized, we are not aware of any of the American's being presented in that shape to the public except the Pilot.

We feel a strong conviction that a great success might be attained by a writer who combined dramatic action with romantic description : so that the mind would be filled with the idea, and the heart with the feeling.

We are anxious to avoid much quotation, but a certain portion is indispensable to justify ourselves to the public. Many of our opinions will, no doubt, be considered as either those of the partisan or the foe. We wish to avoid all onesidedness, and to carry the greatest truth-speakingness into effect. No man of genius need fear criticism, however boldly uttered ; it is the charlatan alone who fears the truth. Ithuriel's spear is fatal only to the loathsome toad. To return, however, to our quotation. That Mr. Cooper can write simple and touching English is too well known to need proof. We give the following, therefore, merely as a picture of quiet pathos, producing its effects by the subdued tone of the narrative. This death scene is admirably in keeping with the whole life of Natty Bumppo.

“And such a stone you would have at your grave ?

« «I! no, no, I have no son but Hard-Heart, and it is little that an Indian knows of White fashions and usages. Besides, I am his debtor already, seeing it is so little I have done since I have lived

in his tribe. The rifle might bring the value of such a thing—but then I know it will give the boy pleasure to hang the piece in his hall, for many is the deer and the bird that he has seen it destroy. No, no, the gun must be sent to him whose name is graven on the lock !

6. But there is one who would gladly prove his affection in the way you wish ; he, who owes you not only his deliverance from so many dangers, but who inherits a heavy debt of gratitude from his ancestors. The stone shall be put at the head of your grave.

“The old man extended his emaciated hand, and gave the other a squeeze of thanks.

“• I thought you might be willing to do it, but I was backward in asking the favor,' he said, “ seeing that you are not of my kin. Put no boastful words on the same, but just the name, the age, and the time of the death, with something from the holy book; no more, no more. My name will then not be altogether lost on ’arth; I need no more.'

“ Middleton intimated his assent, and then followed a pause, that was only broken by distant and broken sentences from the dying man. He appeared now to have closed his account with the world, and to await merely for the final summons to quit it. Middleton and Hard-Heart placed themselves on the opposite sides of his seat, and watched with melancholy solicitude the variations of his countenance. For two hours there was no very sensible alteration. The expression of his faded and time-worn features was that of a calm and dignified repose. From time to time he spoke, uttering some brief sentence in the way of advice, or asking some simple questions concerning those in whose fortunes he still took a friendly interest. During the whole of that solemn and anxious period each individual of the tribe kept his place in the most self-restrained patience. When the old man spoke, all bent their heads to listen; and when his words were uttered, they seemed to ponder on their wisdom and usefulness.

“ As the flame drew nigher to the socket, his voice was hushed, and there were moments when his attendants doubted whether he still belonged to the living. Middleton, who watched each wavering expression of his weather-beaten visage with the interest of a keen observer of human nature, softened by the tenderness of personal regard, fancied he could read the workings of the old man's soul in the strong lineaments of his countenance. Perhaps what the enlightened soldier took for the delusion of mistaken opinion did actually occur, for who has returned from that unknown world to explain by what forms and in what manner he was introduced into its awful precincts! Without pretending to explain what must ever be a mystery to the quick, we shall simply relate facts as they occurred.

“ The trapper had remained nearly motionless for an hour. His eyes, alone, had occasionally opened and shut. When opened, his gaze seemed fastened on the clouds which hung around the western horizon, reflecting the bright colors, and giving form and loveliness to the glorious tints of an American sunset. The hourthe calm beauty of the season—the occasion, all conspired to fill the spectators with solemn awe. Suddenly, while musing on the remarkable position in which he was placed, Middleton felt the hand which he held grasp his own with incredible power, and the old man, supported on either side by his friends, rose upright to his feet. For a single moment he looked about him, as if to invite all in his presence to listen (the lingering remnant of human frailty), and then, with a fine military elevation of his head, and with a voice that might be heard in every part of that numerous assembly, he pronounced the emphatic word — Here!

“A movement so entirely unexpected, and the air of grandeur and humility which were so remarkably united in the mien of the trapper, together with the clear and uncommon force of his utterrance, produced a short period of confusion in the faculties of all present. When Middleton and Hard-Heart, who had each involuntarily extended a hand to support the form of the old man, turned to him again, they found that the subject of their interest was removed for ever beyond the necessity of their care. They mournfully placed the body in its seat, and Le Balafré arose to announce the termination of the scene to the tribe. The voice of the old Indian seemed a sort of echo from that invisible world to which the meek spirit of the trapper had just departed.

“* A valiant, a just, and a wise warrior has gone on the path which will lead him to the blessed grounds of his people!' he said.

When the voice of the Wahcondah called him, he was ready to answer. Go, my children; remember the just chief of the Palefaces, and clear your own tracks from briers !

“The grave was made beneath the shade of some noble oaks. It has been carefully watched to the present hour by the Pawnees of the Loup, and is often shown to the traveller and the trader as a spot where a just White man sleeps. In due time the stone was placed at its head, with the simple inscription which the trapper had himself requested. The only liberty taken by Middleton was to add, May no wanton hand ever disturb his remains !

The result of a long and attentive consideration of Mr. Cooper's works is, that he is without doubt a man of a shrewd and vigorous intellect, self-willed and opinionated, quick and vindictive in his feelings, but with a kind and generous heart; somewhat too fond, perhaps, of brooding over wrongs which, after all, may be only imaginary, and requiring more deference from the world than it is apt to pay to a Living Author.

« PreviousContinue »