Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 5, No. 31, May, 1860
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Somebody sick over there t' Haynes's. Guess th' old man's ailin' ag'in. Winder's haaef-way open in the chamber,—shouldn't wonder 'f he was dead and laid aout. Docterin' a'n't no use, when y' see the winders open like that. Wahl, money a'n't much to speak of to th' old man naow! He don't want but tew cents,—and old Widah Peake, she knows what he wants them for!"

Or again,—

"Measles raound pootty thick. Briggs's folks's' buried two children with 'em laaest week. Th' old Doctor, he'd h' ker'd 'em threugh. Struck in 'n' p'dooeed mot'f cation,—so they say."

This is only meant as a sample of the kind of way they used to think or talk, when the narrow sulky turned in at the gate of some house where there was a visit to be made.

Oh, that narrow sulky! What hopes, what fears, what comfort, what anguish, what despair, in the roll of its coming or its parting wheels! In the spring, when the old people get the coughs which give them a few shakes and their lives drop in pieces like the ashes of a burned thread which have kept the threadlike shape until they were stirred,—in the hot summer noons, when the strong man comes in from the fields, like the son of the Shunamite, crying, "My head, my head,"—in the dying autumn days, when youth and maiden lie fever-stricken in many a household, still-faced, dull-eyed, dark-flushed, dry-lipped, low-muttering in their daylight dreams, their fingers moving singly like those of slumbering harpers,—in the dead winter, when the white plague of the North has caged its wasted victims, shuddering as they think of the frozen soil which must be quarried like rock to receive them, if their perpetual convalescence should happen to be interfered with by any untoward accident,—at every season, the narrow sulky rolled round freighted with unmeasured burdens of joy and woe.

The Doctor drove along the southern foot of The Mountain. The "Dudley mansion" was near the eastern edge of this declivity, where it rose steepest, with baldest cliffs and densest patches of over-hanging wood. It seemed almost too steep to climb, but a practised eye could see from a distance the zigzag lines of the sheep-paths which scaled it like miniature Alpine roads. A few hundred feet up The Mountain's side was a dark, deep dell, unwooded, save for a few spindling, crazy—looking hackmatacks or native larches, with pallid green tufts sticking out fantastically all over them. It shelved so deeply, that, while the hemlock-tassels were swinging on the trees around its border, all would be still at its springy bottom, save that perhaps a single fern would wave slowly backward and forward like a sabre, with a twist as of a feathered oar,—and this, when not a breath could be felt, and every other stem and blade were motionless. There was an old story of one having perished here in the winter of '86, and his body having been found in the spring,—whence its common name of "Dead-Man's Hollow." Higher up there were huge cliffs with chasms, and, it was thought, concealed caves, where in old times they said that Tories lay hid,—some hinted not without occasional aid and comfort from the Dudleys then living in the mansion-house. Still higher and farther west lay the accursed ledge,—shunned by all, unless it were now and then a daring youth, or a wandering naturalist who ventured to its edge in the hope of securing some infantile Crotalus durissus, who had not yet cut his poison-teeth.

Long, long ago, in old Colonial times, the Honorable Thomas Dudley, Esquire, a man of note and name and great resources, allied by descent to the family of "Tom Dudley," as the early Governor is sometimes irreverently called by our most venerable, but still youthful antiquary,—and to the other public Dudleys, of course,—of all of whom he made small account, as being himself an English gentleman, with little taste for the splendors of provincial office,—early in the last century, Thomas Dudley had built this mansion. For several generations it had been dwelt in by descendants of the same name, but soon after the Revolution it passed by marriage into the hands of the Venners, by whom it had ever since been held and tenanted.

As the Doctor turned an angle in the road, all at once the stately old house rose before him. It was a skilfully managed effect, as it well might be, for it was no vulgar English architect who had planned the mansion and arranged its position and approach. The old house rose before the Doctor crowning a terraced garden, flanked at the left by a double avenue of tall elms. The flower-beds were edged with box, which diffused around it that dreamy balsamic odor, full of ante-natal reminiscences of a lost Paradise, dimly fragrant as might be the bdellium of ancient Havilah, the land compassed by the river Pison that went out of Eden. The garden was somewhat neglected, but not in disgrace,—and in the time of tulips and hyacinths, of roses, of "snowballs," of honeysuckles, of lilacs, of syringas, it was rich with blossoms.

From the front-windows of the mansion the eye reached a far blue mountain-summit,—no rounded heap, such as often shuts in a village-landscape, but a sharp peak, clean-angled as Ascutney from the Dartmouth green. A wide gap through miles of woods had opened this distant view, and showed more, perhaps, than all the labors of the architect and the landscape-gardener the large style of the early Dudleys.

The great stone chimney of the mansion-house was the centre from which all the artificial features of the scene appeared to flow. The roofs, the gables, the dormer-windows, the porches, the clustered offices in the rear, all seemed to crowd about the great chimney. To this central pillar the paths all converged. The single poplar behind the house,—Nature is jealous of proud chimneys, and always loves to put a poplar near one, so that it may fling a leaf or two down its black throat every autumn,—the one tall poplar behind the house seemed to nod and whisper to the grave square column, the elms to sway their branches towards it. And when the blue smoke rose from its summit, it seemed to be wafted away to join the azure haze which hung around the peak in the far distance, so that both should bathe in a common atmosphere.

Behind the house were clumps of lilacs with a century's growth upon them, and looking more like trees than like shrubs. Shaded by a group of these was the ancient well, of huge circuit, and with a low arch opening out of its wall about ten feet below the surface,—whether the door of a crypt for the concealment of treasure, or of a subterranean passage, or merely of a vault for keeping provisions cool in hot weather, opinions differed.

On looking at the house, it was plain that it was built with Old-World notions of strength and durability, and, so far as might be, with Old-World materials. The hinges of the doors stretched out like arms, instead of like hands, as we make them. The bolts were massive enough for a donjon-keep. The small window-panes were actually inclosed in the wood of the sashes, instead of being stuck to them with putty, as in our modern windows. The broad staircase was of easy ascent, and was guarded by quaintly turned and twisted balusters. The ceilings of the two rooms of state were moulded with medallion-portraits and rustic figures, such as may have been seen by many readers in the famous old Philipse house,—Washington's headquarters,—in the town of Yonkers. The fireplaces, worthy of the wide-throated central chimney, were bordered by pictured tiles, some of them with Scripture stories, some with Watteau-like figures,—tall damsels in slim waists and with spread enough of skirt for a modern ballroom, with bowing, reclining, or musical swains of what everybody calls the "conventional" sort,—that is, the swain adapted to genteel society rather than to a literal sheep-compelling existence.

The house was furnished, soon after it was completed, with many heavy articles made in London from a rare wood just then come into fashion, not so rare now, and commonly known as mahogany. Time had turned it very dark, and the stately bedsteads and tall cabinets and claw-footed chairs and tables were in keeping with the sober dignity of the ancient mansion. The old "hangings" were yet preserved in the chambers, faded, but still showing their rich patterns,—properly entitled to their name, for they were literally hung upon flat wooden frames like trellis-work, which again were secured to the naked partitions. There were portraits of different date on the walls of the various apartments, old painted coats-of-arms, bevel-edged mirrors, and in one sleeping-room a glass case of wax-work flowers and spangly symbols, with a legend signifying that E.M. (supposed to be Elizabeth Mascarene) wished not to be "forgot"

"When I am dead and lay'd in dust And all my bones are"——

Poor E.M.! Poor everybody that sighs for earthly remembrance in a planet with a core of fire and a crust of fossils!

Such was the Dudley mansion-house,—for it kept its ancient name in spite of the change in the line of descent. Its spacious apartments looked dreary and desolate; for here Dudley Venner and his daughter dwelt by themselves, with such servants only as their quiet mode of life required. He almost lived in his library, the western room on the ground-floor. Its window looked upon a small plat of green, in the midst of which was a single grave marked by a plain marble slab. Except this room, and the chamber where he slept, and the servants' wing, the rest of the house was all Elsie's. She was always a restless, wandering child from her early years, and would have her little bed moved from one chamber to another,—flitting round as the fancy took her. Sometimes she would drag a mat and a pillow into one of the great empty rooms, and, wrapping herself in a shawl, coil up and go to sleep in a corner. Nothing frightened her; the "haunted" chamber, with the torn hangings that flapped like wings when there was air stirring, was one of her favorite retreats.

She had been a very hard creature to manage. Her father could influence, but not govern her. Old Sophy, born of a slave mother in the house, could do more with her than anybody, knowing her by long instinctive study. The other servants were afraid of her. Her father had sent for governesses, but none of them ever stayed long. She made them nervous; one of them had a strange fit of sickness; not one of them ever came back to the house to see her. A young Spanish woman who taught her dancing succeeded best with her, for she had a passion for that exercise, and had mastered some of the most difficult dances.

Long before this period, she had manifested some most extraordinary singularities of taste or instinct. The extreme sensitiveness of her father on this point prevented any allusion to them; but there were stories floating round, some of them even getting into the papers,—without her name, of course,—which were of a kind to excite intense curiosity, if not more anxious feelings. This thing was certain, that at the age of twelve she was missed one night, and was found sleeping in the open air under a tree, like a wild creature. Very often she would wander off by day, always without a companion, bringing home with her a nest, a flower, or even a more questionable trophy of her ramble, such as showed that there was no place where she was afraid to venture. Once in a while she had stayed out over night, in which case the alarm was spread, and men went in search of her, but never successfully,—so that some said she hid herself in trees, and others that she had found one of the old Tory caves.

Some, of course, said she was a crazy girl, and ought to be sent to an Asylum. But old Dr. Kittredge had shaken his head, and told them to bear with her, and let her have her way as much as they could, but watch her, as far as possible, without making her suspicious of them. He visited her now and then, under the pretext of seeing her father on business, or of only making a friendly call.

* * * * *

The Doctor fastened his horse outside the gate, and walked up the garden-alley. He stopped suddenly with a start. A strange sound had jarred upon his ear. It was a sharp prolonged rattle, continuous, but rising and falling as if in rhythmical cadence. He moved softly towards the open window from which the sound seemed to proceed.

Elsie was alone in the room, dancing one of those wild Moorish fandangos, such as a matador hot from the Plaza de Toros of Seville or Madrid might love to lie and gaze at. She was a figure to look upon in silence. The dancing frenzy must have seized upon her while she was dressing; for she was in her bodice, bare-armed, her hair floating unbound far below the waist of her barred or banded skirt. She had caught up her castanets, and rattled them as she danced with a kind of passionate fierceness, her lithe body undulating with flexuous grace, her diamond eyes glittering, her round arms wreathing and unwinding, alive and vibrant to the tips of the slender fingers. Some passion seemed to exhaust itself in this dancing paroxysm; for all at once she reeled from the middle of the floor, and flung herself, as it were in a careless coil, upon a great tiger's-skin which was spread out in one corner of the apartment.

The old Doctor stood motionless, looking at her as she lay panting on the tawny, black-lined robe of the dead monster, which stretched out beneath her, its rude flattened outline recalling the Terror of the Jungle as he crouched for his fatal spring. In a few moments her head drooped upon her arm, and her glittering eyes closed,—she was sleeping. He stood looking at her still, steadily, thoughtfully, tenderly. Presently he lifted his hand to his forehead, as if recalling some fading remembrance of other years.

"Poor Catalina!"

This was all he said. He shook his head,—implying that his visit would be in vain to-day,—returned to his sulky, and rode away, as if in a dream.

* * * * *


The romance of "The Marble Faun" will be widely welcomed, not only for its intrinsic merits, but because it is a sign that its writer, after a silence of seven or eight years, has determined to resume his place in the ranks of authorship. In his preface he tells us, that in each of his previous publications he had unconsciously one person in his eye, whom he styles his "gentle reader." He meant it "for that one congenial friend, more comprehensive of his purposes, more appreciative of his. success, more indulgent of his short-comings, and, in all respects, closer and kinder than a brother,—that all-sympathizing critic, in short, whom an author never actually meets, but to whom he implicitly makes his appeal, whenever he is conscious of having done his best." He believes that this reader did once exist for him, and duly received the scrolls he flung "upon whatever wind was blowing, in the faith that they would find him out." "But," he questions, "is he extant now? In these many years since he last heard from me, may he not have deemed his earthly task accomplished, and have withdrawn to the paradise of gentle readers, wherever it may be, to the enjoyments of which his kindly charity on my behalf must surely have entitled him?" As we feel assured that Hawthorne's reputation has been steadily growing with the lapse of time, he has no cause to fear that the longevity of his gentle reader will not equal his own. As long as he writes, there will be readers enough to admire and appreciate.

The publication of this new romance seems to offer us a fitting occasion to attempt some description of the peculiarities of the genius of which it is the latest offspring, and to hazard some judgments on its predecessors. It is more than twenty-five years since Hawthorne began that remarkable series of stories and essays which are now collected in the volumes of "Twice-Told Tales," "The Snow Image and other Tales," and "Mosses from an Old Manse." From the first he was recognized by such readers as he chanced to find as a man of genius, yet for a long time he enjoyed, in his own words, the distinction of being "the obscurest man of letters in America." His readers were "gentle" rather than enthusiastic; their fine delight in his creations was a private perception of subtile excellences of thought and style, too refined and self-satisfying to be contagious; and the public was untouched, whilst the "gentle" reader was full of placid enjoyment. Indeed, we fear that this kind of reader is something of an Epicurean,—receives a new genius as a private blessing, sent by a benign Providence to quicken a new life in his somewhat jaded sense of intellectual pleasure; and after having received a fresh sensation, he is apt to be serenely indifferent whether the creator of it starve bodily or pine mentally from the lack of a cordial human shout of recognition.

There would appear, on a slight view of the matter, no reason for the little notice which Hawthorne's early productions received. The subjects were mostly drawn from the traditions and written records of New England, and gave the "beautiful strangeness" of imagination to objects, incidents, and characters which were familiar facts in the popular mind. The style, while it had a purity, sweetness, and grace which satisfied the most fastidious and exacting taste, had, at the same time, more than the simplicity and clearness of an ordinary school-book. But though the subjects and the style were thus popular, there was something in the shaping and informing spirit which failed to awaken interest, or awakened interest without exciting delight. Misanthropy, when it has its source in passion,—when it is fierce, bitter, fiery, and scornful,—when it vigorously echoes the aggressive discontent of the world, and furiously tramples on the institutions and the men luckily rather than rightfully in the ascendant,—this is always popular; but a misanthropy which springs from insight,—a misanthropy which is lounging, languid, sad, and depressing,—a misanthropy which remorselessly looks through cursing misanthropes and chirping men of the world with the same sure, detecting glance of reason,—a misanthropy which has no fanaticism, and which casts the same ominous doubt on subjectively morbid as on subjectively moral action,—a misanthropy which has no respect for impulses, but has a terrible perception of spiritual laws,—this is a misanthropy which can expect no wide recognition; and it would be vain to deny that traces of this kind of misanthropy are to be found in Hawthorne's earlier, and are not altogether absent from his later works. He had spiritual insight, but it did not penetrate to the sources of spiritual joy; and his deepest glimpses of truth were calculated rather to sadden than to inspire. A blandly cynical distrust of human nature was the result of his most piercing glances into the human soul. He had humor, and sometimes humor of a delicious kind; but this sunshine of the soul was but sunshine breaking through or lighting up a sombre and ominous cloud. There was also observable in his earlier stories a lack of vigor, as if the power of his nature had been impaired by the very process—which gave depth and excursiveness to his mental vision. Throughout, the impression is conveyed of a shy recluse, alternately bashful in disposition and bold in thought, gifted with original and various capacities, but capacities which seemed to have developed themselves in the shade, without sufficient energy of will or desire to force them, except fitfully, into the sunlight. Shakspeare calls moonlight the sunlight sick; and it is in some such moonlight of the mind that the genius of Hawthorne found its first expression. A mild melancholy, sometimes deepening into gloom, sometimes brightened into a "humorous sadness," characterized his early creations. Like his own Hepzibah Pyncheon, he appeared "to be walking in a dream"; or rather, the life and reality assumed by his emotions "made all outward occurrences unsubstantial, like the teasing phantasms of an unconscious slumber." Though dealing largely in description, and with the most accurate perceptions of outward objects, he still, to use again his own words, gives the impression of a man "chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value or import, unless they bear relation to something within his own mind." But that "something within his own mind" was often an unpleasant something, perhaps a ghastly occult perception of deformity and sin in what appeared outwardly fair and good; so that the reader felt a secret dissatisfaction with the disposition which directed the genius, even in the homage he awarded to the genius itself. As psychological portraits of morbid natures, his delineations of character might have given a purely intellectual satisfaction; but there was audible, to the delicate ear, a faint and muffled growl of personal discontent, which showed they were not mere exercises of penetrating imaginative analysis, but had in them the morbid vitality of a despondent mood.

Yet, after admitting these peculiarities, nobody who is now drawn to the "Twice-Told Tales," from his interest in the later romances of Hawthorne, can fail to wonder a little at the limited number of readers they attracted on their original publication. For many of these stories are at once a representation of early New-England life and a criticism on it. They have much of the deepest truth of history in them. "The Legends of the Province House," "The Gray Champion," "The Gentle Boy," "The Minister's Black Veil," "Endicott and the Red Cross," not to mention others, contain important matter which cannot be found in Bancroft or Grahame. They exhibit the inward struggles of New-England men and women with some of the darkest problems of existence, and have more vital import to thoughtful minds than the records of Indian or Revolutionary warfare. In the "Prophetic Pictures," "Fancy's Show-Box," "The Great Carbuncle," "The Haunted Mind," and "Edward Fane's Rose-Bud," there are flashes of moral insight, which light up, for the moment, the darkest recesses of the individual mind; and few sermons reach to the depth of thought and sentiment from which these seemingly airy sketches draw their sombre life. It is common, for instance, for religious moralists to insist on the great spiritual truth, that wicked thoughts and impulses, which circumstances prevent from passing into wicked acts, are still deeds in the sight of God; but the living truth subsides into a dead truism, as enforced by commonplace preachers. In "Fancy's Show-Box," Hawthorne seizes the prolific idea; and the respectable merchant and respected church-member, in the still hour of his own meditation, convicts himself of being a liar, cheat, thief, seducer, and murderer, as he casts his glance over the mental events which form his spiritual biography. Interspersed with serious histories and moralities like these, are others which embody the sweet and playful, though still thoughtful and slightly saturnine action of Hawthorne's mind,—like "The Seven Vagabonds," "Snow-Flakes," "The Lily's Quest," "Mr. Higgenbotham's Catastrophe," "Little Annie's Ramble," "Sights from a Steeple," "Sunday at Home," and "A Rill from the Town-Pump."

The "Mosses from an Old Manse" are intellectually and artistically an advance from the "Twice-Told Tales." The twenty-three stories and essays which make up the volumes are almost perfect of their kind. Each is complete in itself, and many might be expanded into long romances by the simple method of developing the possibilities of their shadowy types of character into appropriate incidents. In description, narration, allegory, humor, reason, fancy, subtilty, inventiveness, they exceed the best productions of Addison; but they want Addison's sensuous contentment and sweet and kindly spirit. Though the author denies that he has exhibited his own individual attributes in these "Mosses," though he professes not to be "one of those supremely hospitable people who serve up their own hearts delicately fried, with brain-sauce, as a titbit for their beloved public,"—yet it is none the less apparent that he has diffused through each tale and sketch the life of the mental mood to which it owed its existence, and that one individuality pervades and colors the whole collection. The defect of the serious stories is, that character is introduced, not as thinking, but as the illustration of thought. The persons are ghostly, with a sad lack of flesh and blood. They are phantasmal symbols of a reflective and imaginative analysis of human passions and aspirations. The dialogue, especially, is bookish, as though the personages knew their speech was to be printed, and were careful of the collocation and rhythm of their words. The author throughout is evidently more interested in his large, wide, deep, indolently serene, and lazily sure and critical view of the conflict of ideas and passions, than he is with the individuals who embody them. He shows moral insight without moral earnestness. He cannot contract his mind to the patient delineation of a moral individual, but attempts to use individuals in order to express the last results of patient moral perception. Young Goodman Brown and Roger Malvin are not persons; they are the mere, loose, personal expression of subtile thinking. "The Celestial Railroad," "The Procession of Life," "Earth's Holocaust," "The Bosom Serpent," indicate thought of a character equally deep, delicate, and comprehensive, but the characters are ghosts of men rather than substantial individualities. In the "Mosses from an Old Manse," we are really studying the phenomena of human nature, while, for the time, we beguile ourselves into the belief that we are following the fortunes of individual natures.

Up to this time the writings of Hawthorne conveyed the impression of a genius in which insight so dominated over impulse, that it was rather mentally and morally curious than mentally and morally impassioned. The quality evidently wanting to its full expression was intensity. In the romance of "The Scarlet Letter" he first made his genius efficient by penetrating it with passion. This book forced itself into attention by its inherent power; and the author's name, previously known only to a limited circle of readers, suddenly became a familiar word in the mouths of the great reading public of America and England. It may be said, that it "captivated" nobody, but took everybody captive. Its power could neither be denied nor resisted. There were growls of disapprobation from novel-readers, that Hester Prynne and the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale were subjected to cruel punishments unknown to the jurisprudence of fiction,—that the author was an inquisitor who put his victims on the rack,—and that neither amusement nor delight resulted from seeing the contortions and hearing the groans of these martyrs of sin; but the fact was no less plain that Hawthorne had for once compelled the most superficial lovers of romance to submit themselves to the magic of his genius. The readers of Dickens voted him, with three times three, to the presidency of their republic of letters; the readers of Hawthorne were caught by a coup d'etat, and fretfully submitted to a despot whom they could not depose.

The success of "The Scarlet Letter" is an example of the advantage which an author gains by the simple concentration of his powers on one absorbing subject. In the "Twice-Told Tales" and the "Mosses from an Old Manse" Hawthorne had exhibited a wider range of sight and insight than in "The Scarlet Letter." Indeed, in the little sketch of "Endicott and the Red Cross," written twenty years before, he had included in a few sentences the whole matter which he afterwards treated in his famous story. In describing the various inhabitants of an early New-England town, as far as they were representative, he touches incidentally on a "young woman, with no mean share of beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown, in the eyes of all the world and her own children. And even her own children knew what that initial signified. Sporting with her infamy, the lost and desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, with golden thread and the nicest art of needle-work; so that the capital A might have been thought to mean Admirable, or anything, rather than Adulteress." Here is the germ of the whole pathos and terror of "The Scarlet Letter"; but it is hardly noted in the throng of symbols, equally pertinent, in the few pages of the little sketch from which we have quoted.

Two characteristics of Hawthorne's genius stand plainly out, in the conduct and characterization of the romance of "The Scarlet Letter," which were less obviously prominent in his previous works. The first relates to his subordination of external incidents to inward events. Mr. James's "solitary horseman" does more in one chapter than Hawthorne's hero in twenty chapters; but then James deals with the arms of men, while Hawthorne deals with their souls. Hawthorne relies almost entirely for the interest of his story on what is felt and done within the minds of his characters. Even his most picturesque descriptions and narratives are only one-tenth matter to nine-tenths spirit. The results that follow from one external act of folly or crime are to him enough for an Iliad of woes. It might be supposed that his whole theory of Romantic Art was based on these tremendous lines of Wordsworth:—

"Action is momentary,— The motion of a muscle, this way or that: Suffering is long, obscure, and infinite."

The second characteristic of his genius is connected with the first. With his insight of individual souls he combines a far deeper insight of the spiritual laws which govern the strangest aberrations of individual souls. But it seems to us that his mental eye, keen-sighted and far-sighted as it is, overlooks the merciful modifications of the austere code whose pitiless action it so clearly discerns. In his long and patient brooding over the spiritual phenomena of Puritan life, it is apparent, to the least critical observer, that he has imbibed a deep personal antipathy to the Puritanic ideal of character; but it is no less apparent that his intellect and imagination have been strangely fascinated by the Puritanic idea of justice. His brain has been subtly infected by the Puritanic perception of Law, without being warmed by the Puritanic faith in Grace. Individually, he would much prefer to have been one of his own "Seven Vagabonds" rather than one of the austerest preachers of the primitive church of New England; but the austerest preacher of the primitive church of New England would have been more tender and considerate to a real Mr. Dimmesdale and a real Hester Prynne than this modern romancer has been to their typical representatives in the world of imagination. Throughout "The Scarlet Letter" we seem to be following the guidance of an author who is personally good-natured, but intellectually and morally relentless.

"The House of the Seven Gables," Hawthorne's next work, while it has less concentration of passion and tension of mind than "The Scarlet Letter," includes a wider range of observation, reflection, and character; and the morality, dreadful as fate, which hung like a black cloud over the personages of the previous story, is exhibited in more relief. Although the book has no imaginative creation equal to little Pearl, it still contains numerous examples of characterization at once delicate and deep. Clifford, especially, is a study in psychology, as well as a marvellously subtile delineation of enfeebled manhood. The general idea of the story is this,—"that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief"; and the mode in which this idea is carried out shows great force, fertility, and refinement of mind. A weird fancy, sporting with the facts detected by a keen observation, gives to every gable of the Seven Gables, every room in the House, every burdock growing rankly before the door, a symbolic significance. The queer mansion is haunted,—haunted with thoughts which every moment are liable to take ghostly shape. All the Pyncheons who have resided in it appear to have infected the very timbers and walls with the spiritual essence of their lives, and each seems ready to pass from a memory into a presence. The stern theory of the author regarding the hereditary transmission of family qualities, and the visiting of the sins of the fathers on the heads of their children, almost wins our reluctant assent through the pertinacity with which the generations of the Pyncheon race are made not merely to live in the blood and brain of their descendants, but to cling to their old abiding-place on earth, so that to inhabit the house is to breathe the Pyncheon soul and assimilate the Pyncheon individuality. The whole representation, masterly as it is, considered as an effort of intellectual and imaginative power, would still be morally bleak, were it not for the sunshine and warmth radiated from the character of Phoebe. In this delightful creation Hawthorne for once gives himself up to homely human nature, and has succeeded in delineating a New-England girl, cheerful, blooming, practical, affectionate, efficient, full of innocence and happiness, with all the "handiness" and native sagacity of her class, and so true and close to Nature that the process by which she is slightly idealized is completely hidden.

In this romance there is also more humor than in any of his other works. It peeps out, even in the most serious passages, in a kind of demure rebellion against the fanaticism of his remorseless intelligence. In the description of the Pyncheon poultry, which we think unexcelled by anything in Dickens for quaintly fanciful humor, the author seems to indulge in a sort of parody on his own doctrine of the hereditary transmission of family qualities. At any rate, that strutting chanticleer, with his two meagre wives and one wizened chicken, is a sly side fleer at the tragic aspect of the law of descent. Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon, her shop, and her customers, are so delightful, that the reader would willingly spare a good deal of Clifford and Judge Pyncheon and Holgrave, for more details of them and Phoebe. Uncle Venner, also, the old wood-sawyer, who boasts "that he has seen a good deal of the world, not only in people's kitchens and back-yards, but at the street-corners, and on the wharves, and in other places where his business" called him, and who, on the strength of this comprehensive experience, feels qualified to give the final decision in every case which tasks the resources of human wisdom, is a very much more humane and interesting gentleman than the Judge. Indeed, one cannot but regret that Hawthorne should be so economical of his undoubted stores of humor,—and that, in the two romances he has since written, humor, in the form of character, does not appear at all.

Before proceeding to the consideration of "The Blithedale Romance," it is necessary to say a few words on the seeming separation of Hawthorne's genius from his will. He has none of that ability which enabled Scott and enables Dickens to force their powers into action, and to make what was begun in drudgery soon assume the character of inspiration. Hawthorne cannot thus use his genius; his genius always uses him. This is so true, that he often succeeds better in what calls forth his personal antipathies than in what calls forth his personal sympathies. His life of General Pierce, for instance, is altogether destitute of life; yet in writing it he must have exerted himself to the utmost, as his object was to urge the claims of an old and dear friend to the Presidency of the Republic. The style, of course, is excellent, as it is impossible for Hawthorne to write bad English, but the genius of the man has deserted him. General Pierce, whom he loves, he draws so feebly, that one doubts, while reading the biography, if such a man exists; Hollingsworth, whom he hates, is so vividly characterized, that the doubt is, while we read the romance, whether such a man can possibly be fictitious.

Midway between such a work as the "Life of General Pierce" and "The Scarlet Letter" may be placed "The Wonder-Book" and "Tanglewood Tales." In these Hawthorne's genius distinctly appears, and appears in its most lovable, though not in its deepest form. These delicious stories, founded on the mythology of Greece, were written for children, but they delight men and women as well. Hawthorne never pleases grown people so much as when he writes with an eye to the enjoyment of little people.

Now "The Blithedale Romance" is far from being so pleasing a performance as "Tanglewood Tales," yet it very much better illustrates the operation, indicates the quality, and expresses the power, of the author's genius. His great books appear not so much created by him as through him. They have the character of revelations,—he, the instrument, being often troubled with the burden they impose on his mind. His profoundest glances into individual souls are like the marvels of clairvoyance. It would seem, that, in the production of such a work as "The Blithedale Romance," his mind had hit accidentally, as it were, on an idea or fact mysteriously related to some morbid sentiment in the inmost core of his nature, and connecting itself with numerous scattered observations of human life, lying unrelated in his imagination. In a sort of meditative dream, his intellect drifts in the direction to which the subject points, broods patiently over it, looks at it, looks into it, and at last looks through it to the law by which it is governed. Gradually, individual beings, definite in spiritual quality, but shadowy in substantial form, group themselves around this central conception, and by degrees assume an outward body and expression corresponding to their internal nature. On the depth and intensity of the mental mood, the force of the fascination it exerts over him, and the length of time it holds him captive, depend the solidity and substance of the individual characterizations. In this way Miles Coverdale, Hollingsworth, Westervelt, Zenobia, and Priscilla become real persons to the mind which has called them into being. He knows every secret and watches every motion of their souls, yet is, in a measure, independent of them, and pretends to no authority by which he can alter the destiny which consigns them to misery or happiness. They drift to their doom by the same law by which they drifted across the path of his vision. Individually, he abhors Hollingsworth, and would like to annihilate Westervelt, yet he allows the superb Zenobia to be their victim; and if his readers object that the effect of the whole representation is painful, he would doubtless agree with them, but profess his incapacity honestly to alter a sentence. He professes to tell the story as it was revealed to him; and the license in which a romancer might indulge is denied to a biographer of spirits. Show him a fallacy in his logic of passion and character, point out a false or defective step in his analysis, and he will gladly alter the whole to your satisfaction; but four human souls, such as he has described, being given, their mutual attractions and repulsions will end, he feels assured, in just such a catastrophe as he has stated.

Eight years have passed since "The Blithedale Romance" was written, and during nearly the whole of this period Hawthorne has resided abroad. "The Marble Faun," which must, on the whole, be considered the greatest of his works, proves that his genius has widened and deepened in this interval, without any alteration or modification of its characteristic merits and characteristic defects. The most obvious excellence of the work is the vivid truthfulness of its descriptions of Italian life, manners, and scenery; and, considered merely as a record of a tour in Italy, it is of great interest and attractiveness. The opinions on Art, and the special criticisms on the masterpieces of architecture, sculpture, and painting, also possess a value of their own. The story might have been told, and the characters fully represented, in one-third of the space devoted to them, yet description and narration are so artfully combined that each assists to give interest to the other. Hawthorne is one of those true observers who concentrate in observation every power of their minds. He has accurate sight and piercing insight. When he modifies either the form or the spirit of the objects he describes, he does it either by viewing them through the medium of an imagined mind or by obeying associations which they themselves suggest. We might quote from the descriptive portions of the work a hundred pages, at least, which would demonstrate how closely accurate observation is connected with the highest powers of the intellect and imagination.

The style of the book is perfect of its kind, and, if Hawthorne had written nothing else, would entitle him to rank among the great masters of English composition. Walter Savage Landor is reported to have said of an author whom he knew in his youth, "My friend wrote excellent English, a language now obsolete." Had "The Marble Faun" appeared before he uttered this sarcasm, the wit of the remark would have been pointless. Hawthorne not only writes English, but the sweetest, simplest, and clearest English that ever has been made the vehicle of equal depth, variety, and subtilty of thought and emotion. His mind is reflected in his style as a face is reflected in a mirror; and the latter does not give back its image with less appearance of effort than the former. His excellence consists not so much in using common words as in making common words express uncommon things. Swift, Addison, Goldsmith, not to mention others, wrote with as much simplicity; but the style of neither embodies an individuality so complex, passions so strange and intense, sentiments so fantastic and preternatural, thoughts so profound and delicate, and imaginations so remote from the recognized limits of the ideal, as find an orderly outlet in the pure English of Hawthorne. He has hardly a word to which Mrs. Trimmer would primly object, hardly a sentence which would call forth the frosty anathema of Blair, Hurd, Kames, or Whately, and yet he contrives to embody in his simple style qualities which would almost excuse the verbal extravagances of Carlyle.

In regard to the characterization and plot of "The Marble Faun," there is room for widely varying opinions. Hilda, Miriam, and Donatello will be generally received as superior in power and depth to any of Hawthorne's previous creations of character; Donatello, especially, must be considered one of the most original and exquisite conceptions in the whole range of romance; but the story in which they appear will seem to many an unsolved puzzle, and even the tolerant and interpretative "gentle reader" will be troubled with the unsatisfactory conclusion. It is justifiable for a romancer to sting the curiosity of his readers with a mystery, only on the implied obligation to explain it at last; but this story begins in mystery only to end in mist. The suggestive faculty is tormented rather than genially excited, and in the end is left a prey to doubts. The central idea of the story, the necessity of sin to convert such a creature as Donatello into a moral being, is also not happily illustrated in the leading event. When Donatello kills the wretch who malignantly dogs the steps of Miriam, all readers think that Donatello committed no sin at all; and the reason is, that Hawthorne has deprived the persecutor of Miriam of all human attributes, made him an allegorical representation of one of the most fiendish forms of unmixed evil, so that we welcome his destruction with something of the same feeling with which, in following the allegory of Spenser or Bunyan, we rejoice in the hero's victory over the Blatant Beast or Giant Despair. Conceding, however, that Donatello's act was murder, and not "justifiable homicide," we are still not sure that the author's conception of his nature and of the change caused in his nature by that act, are carried out with a felicity corresponding to the original conception.

In the first volume, and in the early part of the second, the author's hold on his design is comparatively firm, but it somewhat relaxes as he proceeds, and in the end it seems almost to escape from his grasp. Few can be satisfied with the concluding chapters, for the reason that nothing is really concluded. We are willing to follow the ingenious processes of Calhoun's deductive logic, because we are sure, that, however severely they task the faculty of attention, they will lead to some positive result; but Hawthorne's logic of events leaves us in the end bewildered in a labyrinth of guesses. The book is, on the whole, such a great book, that its defects are felt with all the more force.

In this rapid glance at some of the peculiarities of Hawthorne's genius, we have not, of course, been able to do full justice to the special merits of the works we have passed in review; but we trust that we have said nothing which would convey the impression that we do not place them among the most remarkable romances produced in an age in which romance-writing has called forth some of the highest powers of the human mind. In intellect and imagination, in the faculty of discerning spirits and detecting laws, we doubt if any living novelist is his equal; but his genius, in its creative action, has been heretofore attracted to the dark rather than the bright side of the interior life of humanity, and the geniality which evidently is in him has rarely found adequate expression. In the many works which he may still be expected to write, it is to be hoped that his mind will lose some of its sadness of tone without losing any of its subtilty and depth; but, in any event, it would be unjust to deny that he has already done enough to insure him a commanding position in American literature as long as American literature has an existence.

* * * * *


Le Prime Quattro Edizioni della Divina Commedia Letteralmente Ristampate per Cura di G.G. WARREN LORD VERNON. Londra: Presso Tommaso e Guglielmo Boone. MDCCCLVIII. 4to. pp. xxvi., 748.

The zeal with which the study of Dante has been followed by students in every country of Europe, during the last forty years, is one of the most illustrative facts of the moral as well as of the intellectual character of the period. The interest which has attracted men of the most different tempers and persuasions to this study is not due alone to the poetic or historic value of his works, however high we may place them in these respects, but also and especially to the circumstance that they present a complete and distinct view of the internal life and spiritual disposition of an age in which the questions which still chiefly concern men were for the first time positively stated, and which exhibited in its achievements and its efforts some of the highest qualities of human nature in a condition of vigor such as they have never since shown. Dante himself combined a power of imagination beyond that of any other poet with an intensity and directness of individual character not less extraordinary. The tendency of modern civilization is to diminish rather than to strengthen the originality and independence of individuals. Autocracy and democracy seem to have a like effect in reducing men to a uniform level of thought and effort. And thus during a time when these two principles have been brought into sharp conflict, it is not surprising that the most thoughtful students should turn to the works of a man who by actual experience, or by force of imagination, comprehended all the conditions of his own age, and exhibited in his life and in his writings an individualism of the noblest sort. The conservative and the reformer, the king and the radical, the priest and the heretic, the man of affairs and the man of letters, have taken their seats, side by side, on the scholars' benches, before the same teacher, and, after listening to his large discourse, have discussed among themselves the questions in religion, in philosophy, in morals, politics, or history, which his words suggested or explained.

The success which has attended these studies has been in some degree proportioned to the zeal with which they have been pursued. Dante is now better understood and more intelligently commented than ever before. Much remains to be done as regards the clearing up of some difficult points and the explanation of some dark passages,—and the obscurity in which Dante intentionally involved some portions of his writings is such as to leave little hope that their absolute meaning will ever be satisfactorily established. The history of the study of the poet, of the comments on his meaning or his text, of the formation of the commonly received text, and of the translations of the "Divina Commedia," affords much curious and entertaining matter to the lover of purely literary and bibliographic narrative, and incidentally illustrates the general character of each century since his death. As regards the settlement of the text, no single publication has ever appeared of equal value to that of the magnificent volume the title of which stands at the head of this notice. Lord Vernon has been known for many years as the most munificent fosterer of Dantesque publications. One after another, precious and costly books upon Dante have appeared, edited and printed at his expense, showing both a taste and a liberality as honorable as unusual.

The first four editions of the "Divina Commedia," of which this volume is a reprint, are all of excessive rarity. Although each is a document of the highest importance in determining the text, few of the editors of the poem have had the means of consulting more than one or two of them. The volumes are to be found united only in the Library of the British Museum, and it is but a few years that even that great collection has included them all. They were printed originally between 1470 and 1480 at Foligno, Jesi, Mantua, and Naples; and their chief value arises from the fact that they present the various readings of three, if not four, early and selected manuscripts. The doubt whether four manuscripts are represented by them is occasioned by the similarity between the editions of Foligno and Naples, which are of such a sort (for instance, correspondence in the most unlikely and odd misprints) as to prove that one must have served as the basis of the other. But at the same time there are such differences between them as indicate a separate revision of each, and possibly the consultation by their editors of different codices.

Unfortunately, there is no edition of the "Divina Commedia" which can claim any special authority,—none which has even in a small degree such authority as belongs to the first folio of Shakspeare's plays. The text, as now received, rests upon a comparison of manuscripts and early printed editions; and as affording to scholars the means of an independent critical judgment upon it, a knowledge of the readings of these earliest editions is indispensable. But reprints of old books are proverbially open to error. The reprint of the first folio Shakspeare is so full of mistakes as to be of comparatively little use. The character of the Italian language is such that inaccuracies are both easier and more dangerous than in English. Unless the reprint of the first four editions were literally correct, it would be of little value. To secure this correctness, so far as was possible, Lord Vernon engaged Mr. Panizzi, the chief librarian of the British Museum, to edit the volume. A more competent editor never lived. Mr. Panizzi is distinguished not more for his thorough and appreciative acquaintance with the poetic literature of his country than for the extent and accuracy of his bibliographical knowledge and the refinement of his bibliographic skill. There can be no doubt that the reprint is as exact as the most rigid critic could desire. It is a monument of patience and of unpretending labor, as well as of typographic beauty,—the work of the editor having been well seconded by that well-known disciple of Aldus, Mr. Charles Whittingham.

Nor is it only in essential variations that these four texts are important, but also in the illustration which their different spelling and their varying grammatical forms afford in regard to the language used by Dante. At the time when these editions appeared, the orthography of the Italian tongue was not yet established, and its grammatical inflections not in all cases definitely settled. Printing had not yet been long enough in use to fix a permanent form upon words. Moreover, the misprints themselves, which in these early editions are very numerous, often give hints as to the changes which they may have induced, or as to the misplacing of letters most likely to occur, and consequently most likely to lead to unobserved errors of the text.

The style of the printing in these first editions, and the aid it may give, or the difficulty it may occasion, are hardly to be understood without an extract. We open at Paradiso, xv. 70. Cacciaguida has just spoken to his descendant, and then follows, according to the Foligno, the following passage:—

Io mi uolfi abeatrice et quella udio pria chio parlaffi et arofemi un cenno che fece crefcer lali aluoler mio

Poi cominciai con leefftto elfenno come laprima equalita napparfe dun pefo per ciafchun di noi fi fenno

Pero chel fole che nallumo et arfe colcaldo et conlaluce et fi iguali che tutte fimiglianze fono fcarfe.

This looks different enough from the common text, that, for example, of the Florentine edition of 1844.

I' mi volsi a Beatrice, e quella udio Pria ch' io parlassi, ed arrisemi un cenno Che fece crescer l' ale al voler mio.

Poi cominciai cosi: L' affetto e il senno, Come la prima egualita v' apparse, D' un peso per ciascun di voi si fenno;

Perocche al Sol, che v' allumo ed arse Col caldo e con la luce, en si iguali, Che tutte simiglianze sono scarse.

"I turned to Beatrice, and she heard before I spoke, and smiled on me a sign which added wings to my desire. Then I began thus: Love and wisdom, as soon as the primal Equality has appeared to you, become of one weight in each one of you; since in that Sun, which illuminates and warms you with heat and light, they are so equal, that every comparison falls short."

The three other ancient texts are each quite as different from the modern one as that which we have given, nor is the passage one that affords example of unusual variations. It would have been easy to select many others varying much more than this, but our object is to show the general character of these first editions. The second line of the quotation offers a various reading which is supported by the arrossemi of the Jesi edition, and the arossemi of that of Naples, as well as by the text of the comment of Benvenuto da Imola, and some other early authorities. But even were the weight of evidence in its favor far greater than it is, it could never be received in place of the thoroughly Dantesque and exquisite expression, arrisemi un cenno, which is found in the Mantua edition. The napparse and the noi of the fifth and sixth lines and the nallumo of the seventh are plainly mistakes of the scribe, puzzled by the somewhat obscure meaning of the passage. Not one of the four editions before us gives us the right pronouns, but they are found in the Bartolinian codex, (as well as many others,) and they are established in the rare Aldine edition of 1502, the chief source of the modern text. In the eighth line, where we now read en si iguali, the four give us et or e si iguali, a reading from which it is difficult to extract a meaning, unless, with the Bartolinian, we omit the che in the preceding line, and suppose the pero chel to stand, not for perocche al, but for perocche il,—or, retaining the che, read the first words perocch' e il Sol, and take the clause as a parenthesis. The meaning, according to the first supposition, would be, "Love and wisdom are of one measure in you, (since the Sun [sc. the primal Equality] warmed and enlightened you,) and so equal that," etc. According to the second supposition, we should translate, "Since it [the primal Equality] is the sun which," etc. Benvenuto da Imola gives still a third reading, making the e si iguali into ee si iguale, or, in modern orthography, e si iguale; but, as this spoils the rhyme, it may be left out of account. There seems to us to be some ground for believing the second reading suggested above,

Perocch' e il Sol che v' allumo ed arse Con caldo e con la luce, e si iguali.

to be the true one, not only from its correspondence with most of the early copies, but from the rarity of the use of en by Dante. There is but one other passage in the poem where it is found (Purgatory, xvi. 121).

Such is an example, taken at random, of the doubts suggested and the illustration afforded by these editions in the study of the text. Of course such minute criticism is of interest only to those few who reckon Dante's words at their true worth. The common reader may be content with the text as he finds it in common editions, But Dante, more than any other author, stimulates his student to research as to his exact words; for no other author has been so choice in his selection of them. He is not only the greatest modern master of condensation in style, but he has the deepest insight into the value and force of separate words, the most delicate sense of appropriateness in position, and in the highest degree the poetic faculty of selecting the word most fitting for the thought and most characteristic in expression. It rarely happens that the place of a word of any importance is a matter of indifference in his verse, no regard being had to the rhythm; and every one sufficiently familiar with the language in which he wrote to be conscious of its indefinable powers will feel, though he may be unable to point out specifically, a marked distinction in the quality and combinations of the words in the different parts of the poem. The description of the entrance to Hell, in the third canto of the Inferno is, for instance, hardly more different from the description of the Terrestrial Paradise, (Purgatory, xxviii.,) in scenery and imagery, than it is in the vague but absolute qualities of language, in its rhythmical and verbal essence.

But, leaving these subtilties, let us look at some of the disputed passages of the poem, upon which the texts before us may give their evidence.

In the episode of Francesca da Rimini, Mr. Barlow has recently attempted to give currency to a various reading long known, but never accepted, in the line (Inferno, v. 102) in which Francesca expresses her horror at the manner of her death. She says, il modo ancor m' offende, "the manner still offends me." But for il modo Mr. Barlow would substitute il mondo, "the world still offends me,"—that is, as we suppose, by holding a false opinion of her conduct. Mr. Barlow's suggestions are always to be received with respect, but we cannot but think him wrong in proposing this change. The spirits in Hell are not supposed to be aware of what is passing upon earth; they are self-convicted, (Purgatory, xxvi. 85, 86,) and Francesca being doomed to eternal woe, the world could not do her wrong by taxing her with sin; while, further, the shudder at the method of her death, lasting even in torment, seems to us a far more imaginative conception than the one proposed in its stead. Our four texts read elmodo.

In the famous simile (Inferno, iii. 112-114) in which Dante compares the spirits falling from the bank of Acheron to the dead leaves fluttering from a bough in autumn, giving, as Mr. Ruskin says, "the most perfect image possible of their utter lightness, feebleness, passiveness, and scattering agony of despair," our common texts have

infin che il ramo Rende alla terra tutte le sue spoglie,

"Until the branch gives to the earth all its spoils"; but the texts of Jesi and Mantua, as well as those of the Bartolinian and the Aldus, and many other early authorities, here put the word Vede in place of Rende, giving a variation which for its poetic worth well deserves to be marked, if not to be introduced into the received text. "Until the branch sees all its spoils upon the earth" is a personification quite in Dante's manner. A confirmation of the value of this reading is given by the fact that Tasso preferred it to the more common one, and in his treatise on the "Art of Poetry" praises it as full of energy.

The value of this work of Lord Vernon's to the students of Dante, in enabling them to secure accuracy in their statements in regard to the early texts, has been illustrated to us by finding that Blanc, in his useful and excellent "Vocabolario Dantesco," has not unfrequently fallen into error through his inability to consult those first editions. For example, in the line, (Inferno, xviii. 43,) Percio a figuralo i piedi affissi, as it is commonly given, or, Percio a firgurarlo gli occhi affissi, as it appears in some editions, Blanc, who prefers the latter reading, states that gli occhi is found in "toutes les anciennes editions." But the truth is, that those of Foligno and Naples read ipedi, that of Jesi has in piedi, and that of Mantua i pie. The Aldine of 1502 is the earliest edition we have seen which has gli occhi.

In the episode of Ugolino, (Inferno, xxxiii.,) the verse which has given rise to more comment, perhaps than any other is that (the 26th) in which the Count says, according to the usual reading, that the narrow window in his tower had shown him many moons before he dreamed his evil dream: Piu lune gia, quand' i' feci il mal sonno, "Many moons already, when I had my ill slumber." But another reading, found in a majority of the early MSS. and editions, including those of Jesi and Mantua gives the variation, piu lume; while the editions of Foligno and Naples give lieve, which, affording no intelligible meaning, must be regarded as a mere misprint. In spite of the weight of early authority for lume, the reading lune is perhaps to be preferred, as giving in a word a brief expressive statement of a weary length of imprisonment,—while lume would only serve to fix the moment of the dream as having been between the first dawn and the full day. It is rare that the difference between an n and an m is of such marked effect.

In the sixth canto of Purgatory, verse 58, Virgil says, "Behold there a soul which a posta looks toward us." Such at least is the common reading, and the words a posta are explained as meaning fixedly. But this signification is somewhat forced, a posta, or apposta, being more properly used with the meaning of on purpose or deliberately,—and the first four editions supply a reading without this difficulty, and one which adds a new and significant feature to the description. They unite in the omission of the letter a. The passage then bears the meaning,—"But behold there a soul which, fixed, or placed, alone and all apart, looks toward us." This reading, beside being supported by the weight of ancient authority, finds confirmation, in the context, in the terms in which Sordello's aspect is described: "How lofty and disdainful didst thou stand! how slow and decorous in the moving of thy eyes!"

A curious example of the mistakes of the old copies is afforded in the charming description of the Terrestrial Paradise in the twenty-eighth canto of the Purgatory. Dante says, that the leaves on the trees, trembling in the soft air, were not so disturbed that the little birds in their tops ceased from any of their arts,—

che gli augelletti per le cime Lasciasser d' operare ogni lor arte.

The lines are so plain that a mistake is difficult in them; but, of our four editions, the Jesi is the only one which gives them correctly. Foligno and Naples read angeleti for augelletti, while Mantua gives us the astonishing word intelletti. Again, in line 98 of the same canto, all four read, exaltation dell' acqua, for the simple and correct esalazion dell' acqua. And in line 131, for Eunoe si chiama, Jesi supplies the curious word curioce si chiama.

These examples of error are not of great importance in themselves, and are easily corrected, but they serve to illustrate the great frequency of error in all the early texts of the "Divina Commedia," and the probability that many errors not so readily discovered may still exist in the text, making difficulties where none originally existed. They are of value, furthermore, in the wider range of critical studies, as illustrating in a striking way the liability to error which existed in all books so long as they were preserved only by the work of scribes. Here is a poem which was transmitted in manuscript for only about one hundred and fifty years, the first four printed editions of which show differences in almost every line. It is no exaggeration to say that the variations between the editions of Foligno, Jesi, and Mantua, in orthography, inflection, and other grammatical and dialectic forms, not to speak of the less frequent, though still numerous differences in the words themselves, greatly exceed, throughout the poem, the number of lines of which it is composed. Yet by a comparison of them one with another a consistent and generally satisfactory text has been formed. The bearing of this upon the views to be taken of the condition of the text of more ancient works, as, for instance, that of the Gospels, is plain.

The work before us is so full of matter interesting to the student of Dante, that we are tempted to go on with further illustrations of it, though well aware that there are few who have zeal or patience enough to continue the examination with us. But the number of those in America who are beginning to read the "Divina Commedia," as something more than a mere exercise in the Italian language, is increasing, and some of them, at least, will take pleasure with us in this inquiry concerning the words, that is, the thoughts of Dante. Why should the minute, but not fruitless criticism of texts be reserved for the ancient classic writers? The great poet of the Middle Ages deserves this work at our hands far more than any of the Latin poets, not excluding even his own master and guide.

The eleventh canto of the Paradiso is chiefly occupied with the noble narrative of the life of St. Francis. Reading it as we do, at such a distance from the time of the events which it records, and with feelings that have never been warmed into fervor by the facts or the legends concerning the Saint, it is hard for us to appreciate at its full worth the beauty of this canto, and its effect upon those who had seen and conversed with the first Franciscans. Not a century had yet passed since the death of St. Francis, and the order which he had founded kept his memory alive in every part of the Catholic world. A story which may be true or false, and it matters little which, tells us that Dante himself in his early manhood had proposed to enter its ranks. There is no doubt that its vows of poverty and chastity, its arduous but invigorating rule during its early days, appealed with strong force to his temperament and his imagination, as promising a withdrawal from those worldly temptations of which he was conscious, from that pressure of private and public affairs of which he was impatient. The contrast between the effects which the life of St. Francis and that of St. Dominic had upon the poet's mind is shown by the contrast in tone in which in successive cantos he tells of these two great pillars of the Church.

In lines 71 and 72, speaking of Poverty, the bride of the Saint, he says,—

Si che dove Maria rimase giuso, Ella con Cristo salse in sulia croce:

"So that whilst Mary remained below, she mounted the cross with Christ," Such is the common reading. Now in all four of the editions which are in Lord Vernon's reprint, in Benvenuto da Imola, in the Bartolinian codex, in the precious codex of Cortona, and in many other early manuscripts and editions, the word pianse is found in the place of salse; "She lamented upon the cross with Christ." The antithesis, though less direct, is not less striking, and the phrase seems to us to become simpler, more natural, and more touching. Yet this reading has found little favor with recent editors, and one of them goes so far as to say, "che non solo impoverisce, ma adultera l' idea."

Passing over other variations, some of them of importance, in this eleventh canto, we find the last verses standing in most modern editions,—

E vedra il coreggier che argomenta U' ben s' impingua, se non si vaneggia.

And the meaning is explained as being,—"And he who is girt with a leathern cord (i.e. the Dominican) will see what is meant by 'Where well they fatten, if they do not stray.'" But to this there are several objections. No other example of coreggier thus used is, we believe, to be found. Moreover, the introduction of a Dominican to learn this lesson is forced, for it was Dante himself who had had a doubt as to the meaning of these words, and it was for his instruction that the discourse in which they were explained was held. We prefer, therefore, the reading which is found in the editions of Jesi, Foligno, and Naples, (in part in that of Mantua,) and which is given by many other ancient texts: Vedrai or E vedrai il correger che argomenta: "Thou wilt see the reproof which 'Where well they fatten, if they do not stray,' conveys." This reading has been adopted by Mr. Cayley in his remarkable translation.

One more instance of the value of Lord Vernon's work, and we have done. The 106th, 107th, and 108th verses of the twenty-sixth canto of the Paradiso are among the most difficult of the poem, and have given rise to great variety of comment. In the edition of Florence of 1830, in those of Foscolo, and of Costa, and many others, they stand,—

Perch' io la veggio nel verace speglio Che fa di se pareglie l' altre cose E nulla face lui di se pareglio.

And they are explained by Bianchi as meaning, "Because I see it in that true mirror (i. e. God) which makes other things like to themselves, (that is, represents them as they are,) while nothing can represent Him like to Himself." Those who love the quarrels of commentators should look at the notes in the Variorum editions of Padua or Florence to see with what amusing asperity they have treated each other's solutions of the passage. Italian words of abuse have a sonorous quality which gives grandeur to a skirmish of critics. One is declared by his opponent to have ingarbugliato the clearest meaning; another guasta il sentimento and sproposita in grammatica; a third brings falso and assurdo to the charge, and, not satisfied with their force, adds blasfemo; a fourth declares that the third has contrived capovolgere la consegitenza; and so on;—from all which the reader, trying to find shelter from the pelting of hard words, discovers that the meaning is not clear even to the most confident of the critics. But, standing apart from the battle, and looking only at the text, and not at the bewildered comment, we find in the editions of Foligno, Jesi, and Naples, and in many other ancient texts, a reading which seems to us somewhat easier than the one commonly adopted. We copy the lines after the Foligno:—

Per chio laueggio neluerace speglio che fa dise pareglio alaltre cose et nulla face lui dise pareglio.

And we would translate them, "Because I see it in that true mirror who in Himself affords a likeness to [or of] all other things, while nothing gives back to Him a likeness of Himself." Here pareglio corresponds with the Provencal parelh and the later French pareil,—and the Provencal phrase rendre le parelha affords an example of similar application to that of the word in Dante.

With us in America, criticism is not rated as it deserves; it is little followed as a study, and the love for the great masters and poets of other times and other tongues than our own fails to stimulate the ardor of students to the thorough examination of their thoughts and words. No doubt, criticism, as it has too often been pursued, is of small worth, displaying itself in useless inquiries, and lavishing time and labor upon insoluble and uninteresting questions. But such is not its true end. Verbal criticism, rightly viewed, has a dignity which belongs to few other studies; for it deals with words as the symbols of thoughts,—with words, which are the most spiritual of the instruments of human power, the most marvellous of human possessions. It makes thought accurate, and perception fine. It adds truth to the creations of imagination by teaching the modes by which they may be best expressed, and it thus leads to fuller and more appreciative understanding and enjoyment of the noblest works of the past. There can, indeed, be no thorough culture without it.

To restore the balance of our lives, in these days of haste, novelty, and restlessness, there is a need of a larger infusion into them of pursuits which have no end of immediate publicity or instant return of tangible profit,—of pursuits which, while separating us from the intrusive world around us, should introduce us into the freer, tranquiller, and more spacious world of noble and everlasting thought. The greener and lonelier precincts of our minds are now trampled upon by the hurrying feet of daily events and transient interests. If we would keep that spiritual region unpolluted, we need to acquaint ourselves with some other literature than that of newspapers and magazines, and to entertain as familiars the men long dead, yet living in their works. As Americans, our birthrights in the past are imperfect; we are born into the present alone. But he who lives only in present things lives but half a life, and death comes to him as an impertinent interruption: by living also in the past we learn to value the present at its worth, to hold ourselves ready for its end. With Dante, taking him as a guide and companion in our privater moods, we may, even in the natural body, pass through the world of spirit.

It will be a good indication of the improvement in the intellectual disposition of our people, when the study of Dante becomes more general. Meanwhile, on the part of his few students in America, we would offer our thanks to Lord Vernon and to Mr. Panizzi for the aid which the liberality of the one and the skill and learning of the other have given to us, and for the honor they have done to the memory of our common Author and Leader.

Notes of Travel and Study in Italy. By CHARLES ELIOT NORTON. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1860. pp. x., 320.

There is, perhaps, no country with which we are so intimate as with Italy,—none of which we are always so willing to hear more. Poets and prosers have alike compared her to a beautiful woman; and while one finds nothing but loveliness in her, another shudders at her fatal fascination. She is the very Witch-Venus of the Middle Ages. Roger Ascham says, "I was once in Italy myself, but I thank God my abode there was but nine days; and yet I saw in that little time, in one city, more liberty to sin than ever I heard tell of in our noble city of London in nine years." He quotes triumphantly the proverb,—Inglese italianato, diavolo incarnato. A century later, the entertaining "Richard Lassels, Gent., who Travelled through Italy Five times as Tutor to several of the English Nobility and Gentry," and who is open to new engagements in that kind, declares, that, "For the Country itself, it seemed to me to be Nature's Darling, and the Eldest Sister of all other Countries; carrying away from them all the greatest blessings and favours, and receiving such gracious looks from the Sun and Heaven, that, if there be any fault in Italy, it is, that her Mother Nature hath cockered her too much, even to make her become Wanton." Plainly, our Tannhaeuser is but too ready to go back to the Venus-berg!

A new book on Italy seems a dangerous experiment. Has not all been told and told and told again? Is it not one chief charm of the land, that it is changeless without being Chinese? Did not Abbot Samson, in 1159, Scotti habitum induens, (which must have shown his massive calves to great advantage.) probably see much the same popular characteristics that Hawthorne saw seven hundred years later? Shall a man try to be entertaining after Montaigne, aesthetic after Winckelmann, wise after Goethe, or trenchant after Forsyth? Can he hope to bring back anything so useful as the fork, which honest Tom Coryate made prize of two centuries and a half ago, and put into the greasy fingers of Northern barbarians? Is not the "Descrittione" of Leandro Alberti still a competent itinerary? And can one hope to pick up a fresh Latin quotation, when Addison and Eustace have been before him with their scrap-baskets?

If there be anything which a person of even moderate accomplishments may be presumed to know, it is Italy. The only open question left seems to be, whether Shakespeare were the only man that could write his name who had never been there. We have read our share of Italian travels, both in prose and verse, but, as the nicely discriminating Dutchman found that "too moch brahndee was too moch, but too moch lager-beer was jost hright," so we are inclined to say that too much Italy is just what we want. After Des Brosses, we are ready for Henri Beyle, and Ampere, and Hillard, and About, and Gallenga, and Julia Kavanagh; "Corinne" only makes us hungry for George Sand. That no one can tell us anything new is as undeniable as the compensating fact that no one can tell us anything too old.

There are two kinds of travellers,—those who tell us what they went to see, and those who tell us what they saw. The latter class are the only ones whose journals are worth the sifting; and the value of their eyes depends on the amount of individual character they took with them, and of the previous culture that had sharpened and tutored the faculty of observation. In our conscious age the frankness and naivete of the elder voyagers is impossible, and we are weary of those humorous confidences on the subject of fleas with which we are favored by some modern travellers, whose motto should be (slightly altered) from Horace,—Flea-bit, et toto cantabitur orbe. A naturalist self-sacrificing enough may have this experience more cheaply at home.

The book before us is the record of a second residence in Italy, of about two years. This in itself is an advantage; since a renewed experience, after an interval of absence and distraction, enables us to distinguish what had merely interested us by its strangeness from what is permanently worthy of study and remembrance. In a second visit we know at least what we do not wish to see, and our first impressions have so defined themselves that they afford us a safer standard of comparison. To most travellers Italy is a land of pure vacation, a lotus-eating region, "in which it seemeth always afternoon." But Mr. Norton, whose book shows bow well his time had been employed at home, could not but spend it to good purpose abroad. The word "study" has a right to its place on his title-page, and his volume is worthy of a student. He shows himself to be one who, like Wordsworth, "does not much or oft delight in personal talk"; there is no gossip between the covers of his book, no impertinent self-obtrusion. Familiar with what has been written about Italy by others, he has known how to avoid the trite highways, and by going back to what was old has found topics that are really fresh and delightful. The Italy of the ancient Romans is a foreign country to us, and must always continue so; but the Italy of the Middle Ages is nearer, not so much in time, as because there is no impassable rift of religious faith, and consequently of ideas and motives, between us and it. Far enough away in the centuries to be picturesque, it is near enough in the sympathy of belief and thought to be thoroughly intelligible. The chapter on the Brotherhood of the Misericordia at Florence is remarkably interesting, and the coincidence which Mr. Norton points out in a note between the circumstances which led to its foundation and those in which a somewhat similar society originated in California so lately as 1859 is not only curious, but pleasant, as showing that there is a natural piety proper to man in all ages alike. In his account of the building of the Cathedral of Orvieto, and his notices of Rome as it was when Dante and Petrarch saw it, Mr. Norton has struck a rich vein, which we hope he will find time to work more thoroughly hereafter. By the essential fairness of his mind, his patience in investigation, and his sympathy with what is noble in character and morally influential in events, he seems to us peculiarly fitted for that middle ground occupied by the historical essayist, to whom literature is something cooerdinate with politics, and who finds a great book more eventful than a small battle.

But if, as a scholar and lover of Art, Mr. Norton naturally turns to the past, he does not fail to tell us whatever he finds worth knowing in the present. His tone of mind and habitual subjects of thought may be inferred from the character of the topics that interest him. The glimpses he gives us of the actual condition of the people of Italy, as indicated by their practical conception of the religious dogmas of their Church, by the quality of the cheap literature that is popular among them, of the tracts provided for their spiritual aliment by ecclesiastical authority, and of the caricatures produced in 1848-9, (as in his notice of "Don Pirlone,") are of special value, and show that he knows where to look for signs of what lies beneath the surface. His appreciation of the beautiful in Art has not been cultivated at the expense of his interest in the moral, political, and physical well-being of man. His touching sketch of the life of Letterato, the founder of Ragged Schools, shows that moral loveliness attracts his sympathy as much when embodied in a life of obscure usefulness as when it gleams in the saints and angels of Fra Angelico. A conscientious Protestant, he exposes the corruptions of the Established Church in Italy, not as an anti-Romanist, but because he sees that they are practically operative in the social and political degradation of the people. What good there is never escapes his attention, and we learn from him much that is new and interesting concerning public charities and private efforts for the elevation of the lower orders. The miles of statuary in the Vatican do not weary him so much that he cannot at night make the round of evening schools for the poor.

We have not read a pleasanter or more instructive book of Italian travel than this. Mr. Norton's range of interest is so wide that we are refreshed with continual variety of topic; and his style is pure, clear, and chaste, without any sacrifice of warmth or richness. It is always especially agreeable to us to encounter an American who is a scholar in the true sense of the word, in which sense it is never dissociated from gentleman. When, as in the present instance, scholarship is united with a deep and active interest in whatever concerns the practical well-being of men, we have one of the best results of our modern civilization. We are no lovers of dilettantism, but we see in these scholarly tastes and habits which do not seclude a man from the duties of real life and useful citizenship the only safeguard against the evils which the rapid heaping-up of wealth is sure to bring with it.

We do not always agree with Mr. Norton in his estimate of the comparative merit of different artists. We think he sometimes makes Mr. Ruskin's mistake of attributing to positive religious sentiment what is rather to be ascribed to the negative influence of circumstances and date. We cannot help thinking that the mere arrangement of their figures by such painters as Cima da Conegliano and Francesco Francia, the architectural regularity of their disposition, the sculpturesque dignity of their attitudes, and the consequent impression of simplicity and repose which they convey, have much to do with the religious effect they produce on the mind, as contrasted with the more dramatic and picturesque conceptions of later artists. When we look at John Bellino's "Gods come down to taste the Fruits of the Earth," we cannot think him essentially a more religious man than his great pupil who painted that truly divine countenance of Christ in "The Tribute-Money." At the same time we go along with Mr. Norton heartily, where, in the concluding pages of his book, with equal learning and eloquence, he points out the causes and traces the progress of the moral and artistic decline which came over Italy in the sixteenth century, and whose effect made the seventeenth almost a desert. This is one of the most striking passages in the volume, and the lesson of it is brought home to us with a force and fervor worthy of the theme. It also affords a good type of the quiet vigor of thought and the high moral purpose which are characteristic of the author.

1. An American Dictionary of the English Language, etc., etc. By NOAH WEBSTER, LL. D. Revised and enlarged by CHAUNCEY A. GOODRICH, Professor in Yale College. Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam. 1859. pp. ccxxxvi., 1512.

2. A Dictionary of the English Language. By JOSEPH E. WORCESTER, LL. D. Boston: Hickling, Swan, & Brewer. 1860. pp. lxviii,, 1786.

Since the famous Battle of the Books in St. James's Library, no literary controversy has been more sharply waged than that between the adherents of the rival Dictionaries of Doctors Worcester and Webster. The attack was begun thirty years ago, by Dr. Webster's publishers, when Dr. Worcester's "Comprehensive Dictionary" first appeared in print. On the publication of his "Universal and Critical Dictionary," in 1846, it was renewed, and, not to speak of occasional skirmishes during the interval, the appearance of Dr. Worcester's enlarged and finished work brought matters to the crisis of a pitched battle.

From this long conflict Dr. Worcester has unquestionably come off victorious. Dr. Webster seemed to assume that he had a kind of monopoly in the English language, and that whoever ventured to compile a dictionary was guilty of infringing his patent-right. He drew up a list of words, and triumphantly asked Dr. Worcester where he had found them, unless in his two quartos of 1828. Dr. Worcester replied by showing that most of the words were to be found in previous English dictionaries, and added, with sly humor, that he freely acknowledged Dr. Webster's exclusive property in the word "bridegoom," and others like it, which would be sought for vainly in any volumes but his own. Dr. Webster's attack was as unfair as the result of it was unfortunate for himself.

We have several reasons, which seem to us sufficient, for preferring Dr. Worcester's Dictionary; but we are not, on that account, disposed to underrate the remarkable merits of its rival. Dr. Webster was a man of vigorous mind, and endowed with a genuine faculty of independent thinking. He has hardly received justice at the hands of his countrymen, a large portion of whom have too hastily taken a few obstinate whimsies as the measure of his powers. Utterly fanciful as are many of his etymologies, we should be false to our duty as critics, if we did not acknowledge that Dr. Webster possessed in very large measure the chief qualities which go to the making of a great philologist. The very tendency to theorize, which led him to adopt those oddities of spelling by which he may be said to be chiefly known, united as it was to an understanding of uncommon breadth and clearness, would under more favorable auspices have given him a very eminent place among the philosophic students of language. His great mistake was in attempting to force his peculiar notions upon the world in his Dictionary, instead of confining them to his Preface, or putting them forward tentatively in a separate treatise. The importance which he attached to these trifles ought to have given him a hint that others might be as obstinate on the other side, and that the prejudices of taste have much tougher roots than those of opinion. We are inclined to think that many of the changes proposed by Dr. Webster will be adopted in the course of time. But it is a matter of little consequence, and the progress of such reforms is slow. Already two hundred years ago, James Howel (the author of Charles Lamb's favorite "Epistolae Ho-Elianae") advocated similar reforms, and, as far as the printers would let him, carried them out in practice. "The printer hath not bin so careful as he should have bin," he complains. He especially condemns the superfluous letters in many of our words, choosing to write don, com, and som, rather than done, come, and some. "Moreover," he says, "those words that have the Latin for their original, the author prefers that orthography rather than the French, whereby divers letters are spar'd: as Physic, Logic, Afric, not Physique, Logique, Afrique; favor, honor, labor, not favour, honour, labour, and very many more; as also he omits the Dutch k in most words; here you shall read peeple, not pe-ople, tresure, not tre-asure, toung, not ton-gue, &c.; Parlement, not Parliament; busines, witnes, sicknes, not businesse, witnesse, sicknesse; star, war, far, not starre, warre, farre; and multitudes of such words, wherein the two last letters may well be spar'd. Here you shall also read pity, piety, witty, not piti-e, pieti-e, witti-e, as strangers at first sight pronounce them, and abundance of such like words."

Howel gives a weak reason for making the changes he proposes, namely, that the language will thereby be simplified to foreigners. He hints at the true one when he says that "we do not speak as we write." Dr. Webster also, speaking of certain words ending in our, says, "What motive could induce them to write these words, and errour, honour, favour, inferiour, &c., in this manner, following neither the Latin nor the French, I cannot conceive." Had Dr. Webster's knowledge of the written English language been as great as it undoubtedly was of its linguistic relations, he would have seen that the spelling followed the accent. The third verse of the Prologue to the "Canterbury Tales" would have satisfied him:—

"And bathed every root in such licour";

and a little farther on,—

"Or swinken with his houdes and laboure."

In this respect the spelling of our older writers, where it can be depended on, and especially of reformers like Howel, is of value, as throwing some light on the question, how long the Norman pronunciation lingered in England. Warner, for instance, in his "Albion's England," spells creator and creature as they are spelt now, but gives the French accent to both; and we are inclined to think that the charge of speaking "right Chaucer," brought against the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth, referred rather to accent than diction.

The very title of Dr. Webster's Dictionary indicates a radical misapprehension as to the nature and office of such a work. He calls the result of his labors an "American Dictionary of the English Language," as if provincialism were a merit. He evidently thought that the business of a lexicographer was to regulate, not to record. Sometimes also his zeal as an etymologist misled him, as in his famous attempt to make the word bridegroom more conformable to its supposed Anglo-Saxon root and its modern Teutonic congeners. It never occurred to him that we were still as far as ever from the goal, and that it would be quite as inconvenient to explain that the termination goom was a derivation from the Anglo-Saxon guma as that it was a corruption of it; the point to be gained being, after all, that we should be able to find out the meaning of the English word bridegroom, having no pressing need of guma for conversational purposes. We have spoken of this word only because we have heard it brought up against Dr. Webster as often as anything else, and because the disproportionate antipathy produced by this and a few similar oddities shows, that, the primary object of all writing being the clear conveyance of meaning, and not only so, but its conveyance in the most winning way, a writer blunders who wilfully estranges the reader's eye or jars upon its habitual associations, and that a lexicographer blunders still more desperately, who, upon system, teaches to offend in that kind. And it is amusing in respect to this very word bridegoom, that the whimsey is not Dr. Webster's own, but that the bee was put into his bonnet by Horne Tooke.

Webster in these matters was a bit of a Hotspur. He thought to deal with language as the vehement Percy would have done with the Trent. The smug and silver stream was to be allowed no more wilful windings, but to run

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse