Page images

heart is the philanthropist; the skin is the decency of life; and the robes in which the form is clothed are the changing fashions and popular impressions of the time.

With this rough view of the question, it is evident that it requires a peculiar combination to faithfully anatomize this curious and elaborate physique.

We have before alluded to the besetting sins of the principal writers of history: the pomposity and infidelity of Gibbon; the passionless, dry detailism of Hallam; the local prejudice and half-philosophy of Robertson; the brilliant poetical distortions of Michelet; the artful undercurrent of Guizot; the Romanist bigotry of Lingard; the brilliant special pleading of Macaulay; the metaphysical elaboration of Macintosh ; the strong individuality of Carlyle ; the patient research of Sharon Turner; the want of earnestness, and scepticism of Hume. This list comprises the principal men who have tried their hands on this difficult branch of literature, and is a strong evidence of the difficulty of success.

Now, the American writer has brought to his task patience-learning-an earnest desire to elicit the truth—a clear and picturesque style—a wish to acquaint the reader with all the prominent circumstances of the case--and a thorough knowledge of the importance of throwing himself into the prevailing opinions, feelings, and customs of the times described.

These are strong points in his favor, and we feel assured the verdict of posterity will be, that although he is inferior to some of his fellow-laborers in that individual force which

constitutes genius, he is far more qualified to present to the public the aggregate result of his various labors.

We shall not discuss his volume of " Biographical and Critical Essays," as we here treat of him only as the greatest historian America has produced, and one who is fully equal to sustain an honorable comparison with his European breth

We predict that when he chooses a more extended survey of the biography of the human family he will not be found wanting.


[ocr errors]


THERE is a calm classical dignity about Mr. Bryant's muse, which in the


of many is considered as an equivalent for that fire and energy which is so fascinating to the lovers of poetry. The tone of his productions is elevated, but not stirring. We assent to his reflections : we do not feel with him. There is nothing rapid and breathless in his flights: they are equable and sustained. There is an air of Grecian elegance about his writings, which convinces us he never abandons himself to the impulses of the Pytho

At times, this amounts to a severity which chills his readers, and impresses them with the idea that he is moralizing in verse, and not throwing off the rushing thoughts that crowd his brain in the first bold snatches of sound. There is more of the cultivation of the poet than of the nature or instinct; indeed, occasionally, the determination to compose is painfully apparent; it seems the effort of his will, and not a revelation of his hidden spirit.

It is not, however, for the reader or the critic to deter


mine in what shape or manner a poet is to write. We ought to allow thankfully the gifted one to develope himself according to his own taste. There would be an end to individuality if we were to insist upon an author's putting himself into this or that character. We cheerfully admit that the man of mind ought to choose his own circle to discourse in ; nevertheless, there is implanted in every reader's breast, however faintly, a predisposition for the more exciting kinds of composition, more especially in its poetical spirit. This constitutes the cause of that popularity which ever and anon attends an author who seizes vigorously on the most salient points of human attention. This was pre-eminently the case with Byron. Every being has a certain love of the romantic implanted in him, which at once responds to the poet's appeal. It is the sound of a trumpet to the war-horse. Who ever heard military music without feeling somewhat of the soldier's spirit roused within, however apparently peacefully-disposed and gentle in everyday life?

What Mr. Bryant gains as a philosopher, he loses as a poet. Not that a poet should not be a philosopher, for indeed he cannot be one without, but because he makes the secondary the ascendant. Poetry includes philosophy, but it should be hidden by the poetical glow, as the color of blooming health hides the white skin of the fair maiden's cheek. This substitution of the lower for the higher faculty is very apparent in the fine poem called the “ Ages.” This is the longest and most ambitious of Mr. Bryant's attempts. The subject is admirably fitted for the display of


What more susceptible of poetical thought and expression than a



rapid review of the history of the world? The theme is a half-inspiration of itself. Mr. Bryant, however, looks with the eye of a philosopher on the varying phases of humanity, and although we read with an attentive pleasure, we do not feel that delight which we know the subject is so admirably calculated to afford. We miss those vigorous, golden passages, which compel us to pause, and read again out of the mere enthusiasm of admiration.

We quote a few stanzas as illustrations of the manner in which our poet treats the scenes presented to his imagination.

The first we offer is a very striking one :

“ Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth
In her fair page; see, every season brings
New change, to her, of everlasting youth:
Still the green soil, with joyous living things,
Swarms, the wide air is full of joyous wings,
And myriads, still, are happy in the sleep
Of ocean’s azure gulfs, and where he flings

The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep
In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep.”

The critic will observe a very awkward “doth keep.” A poet of Mr. Bryant's great powers of versification should not have sat down under this verbal defect, small as it is. We are more exacting from him, because he is one of the few American poets who have attained a classical polish.

The opening to the panorama of the past is admirably introduced :

« PreviousContinue »