Page images

had they been only half as long. There is, however, a want of condensation in most of his productions.

As a proof of success in the difficult department of sonnet writing, we shall quote one on

[ocr errors][merged small]

“ Tuscan, that wanderest through the realms of gloom,

With thoughtful pace, and sad majestic eyes,
Stern thoughts and awful from thy soul arise,
Like Farinata from his fiery tomb.
Thy sacred song is like the trump of doom!
Yet in thy heart what human sympathies,
What soft compassion glows, as in the skies
The tender stars their clouded lamps relume!
Methinks I see thee stand, with pallid cheeks,
By Fra Hilario, in his diocese,

the convent walls, in golden streaks,
The ascending sunbeams mark the day's decrease.
And as he asks what there the stranger seeks,
Thy voice along the cloister whispers, “ Peace !'

As up

Our limits will not allow us to bestow any space upon Kavanagh.” Although in prose, there is too much poetry in Longfellow's mind to take him into the lower region of art, without a constant return to the loftier realms. Its popularity renders quotation needless. We shall, therefore, content ourselves by stating that it displays powers of observation and skill in writing of the peculiarities of New England life, we did not give our author credit for.

We conclude this attempt to examine the works of a popular

poet by the opinion that his great want is self-reliance. He is too apt to consult poetical precedents, instead of boldly chalking out a path for himself. His very studies have been against him. When a poet trusts to another for his thoughts he will soon lose his individuality. We do not say this has actually happened to Mr. Longfellow, but we see many evidences of a tendency to indulge in that fatal habit, which we think in his case springs more from indolence than want of power. Let him resolutely think and write for himself, retaining his force, elegance, and purity of diction, but throwing from him his undue elaboration and diffusiveness of execution : let him care less for what others have written, and more of what he ought and can write, and boldly throwing away artificial supports, soar unaided into an element of his own: let him scorn another's balloon, and boldly take to his own wings, and then America will have reason to consider as one of her best poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.



MR. PRESCOTT seems to us to combine many of the qualities requisite to make a popular historian. Less philosophical than Hume, he is more graphic and interesting; and the charm of his narrative so far exceeds the cold and dispassionate style of Hallam, as to give him a decided advantage over that classical and condensed historian. We must not, however, forget that the subjects treated of by Mr. Prescott are his own selection, and the most attractive on record. The unbaring to the eyes of the old world the other half so long buried in the western waters, is undoubtedly the greatest marvel in the history of the world. It is almost tantamount to some adventurous spirit reaching the moon and leading his companions to explore its mysterious recesses. It may be doubted if curiosity is not the controlling passion of the large majority of human kind, and mystery is the greatest provocative to its exercise existing. The discovery of America roused the known world into an activity unparalleled in history. Had a new planet suddenly swung alongside our earth, and courted millions by the easiest of conveyances to land and trace its wonders, not more astonishment could have



been manifested. It was the absorbing topic, and even now the desire to be mentally present at that time exists in full force. Every one seems anxious to accompany the daring few who unsealed the wonders of the new world, and we venture to say never has the true nature of a historian for those exciting times been better developed than in the author now under notice. Every passage is based on a fact, while it reads as

There is the dignity of truth and the chivalric exciting spirit of adventure harmoniously blended. Nor is he less successful in tracing with the eye of a shrewd observer the progress of those changes which in time affect the stability of states. Every nation, like every individual, has its birth, manhood, and death ; but just as a nation exceeds a man in amount, so do its processes work with a proportionable slowness. There is nothing in one generation to show how far the shadow of decay has crept over the vast complexity of interests which constitutes a nation. We see not in a single year the stealing change in a human being, but a decade is unmistakable. In like manner the journalist lives and dies, and has no tangible mark to show how far the day has advanced in the life of his own country, or in those around him ; but the historian, looking back from the eminence of Time, beholds the ascent and the decline. But it not alone requires the philosophical eye to see this, but it also requires other qualities to make this apparent to others. If the writer treats this in a dry, technical manner, the lesson is lost to the world; it only exists as a book of reference to the scholar or the antiquary; it buries itself in its own dust, and rots


in the sepulchre of its own research. But when a man comes who has the power, he bids the dead Lazarus of a life of labor come forth and talk to the masses of mankind. A first-rate historian requires powers seldom found in one

A deficiency of any of these qualities is more apparent and deteriorates the whole, more than the absence of any single faculty in the poet, the philosopher, or the novelist. A poet may be of first-rate excellence without the possession of a philosophical mind: he may be unapproached as a lyrical writer. The philosopher may be great, and yet altogether destitute of poetical imagination. The metaphysician may be a pioneer into a new world of thought, and yet be devoid of imagination or command of language. It is only a great dramatist, like Shakspeare or Schiller, who enjoys so large a combination of opposite qualities. In like manner, the great historian is in the world of fact what the dramatist is in the world of fiction. He requires a philosophical mind; a keen insight into human nature; a patient investigation of conflicting testimonies ; a power of judging from the context, and in seizing upon the most probable fact, out of the very instinct which always accompanies a large and accurate knowledge of human nature; and above all, he must possess the Promethean spark of imagination to put all this into coherent life and motion, when he has gathered the dead materials of the past. He must satisfactorily answer the question, “ Can these dry bones live ?

A great merit in Mr. Prescott is the total absence he displays of all onesidedness. He is less subjective than any prominent historian we are aequainted with. This is a rare

« PreviousContinue »