HotFreeBooks.com
Atlantic Monthly Vol. 6, No. 33, July, 1860
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

CHAPTER XIV.

FAMILY SECRETS.

It was commonly understood in the town of Rockland that Dudley Venner had had a great deal of trouble with that daughter of his, so handsome, yet so peculiar, about whom there were so many strange stories. There was no end to the tales that were told of her extraordinary doings. Yet her name was never coupled with that of any youth or man, until this cousin had provoked remark by his visit; and even then it was rather in the shape of wondering conjectures whether he would dare to make love to her, than in any pretended knowledge of their relations to each other, that the public tongue exercised its village-prerogative of tattle.

The more common version of the trouble at the mansion-house was this:—Elsie was not exactly in her right mind. Her temper was singular, her tastes were anomalous, her habits were lawless, her antipathies were many and intense, and she was liable to explosions of ungovernable anger. Some said that was not the worst of it. At nearly fifteen years old, when she was growing fast, and in an irritable state of mind and body, she had had a governess placed over her for whom she had conceived an aversion. It was whispered among a few who knew more of the family secrets than others, that, worried and exasperated by the presence and jealous oversight of this person, Elsie had attempted to get finally rid of her by unlawful means, such as young girls have been known to employ in their straits, and to which the sex at all ages has a certain instinctive tendency, in preference to more palpable instruments for the righting of its wrongs. At any rate, this governess had been taken suddenly ill, and the Doctor had been sent for at midnight. Old Sophy had taken her master into a room apart, and said a few words to him which turned him as white as a sheet. As soon as he recovered himself, he sent Sophy out, called in the old Doctor, and gave him some few hints, on which he acted at once, and had the satisfaction of seeing his patient out of danger before he left in the morning. It is proper to say, that, during the following days, the most thorough search was made in every nook and cranny of those parts of the house which Elsie chiefly haunted, but nothing was found which might be accused of having been the intentional cause of the probably accidental sudden illness of the governess. From this time forward her father was never easy. Should he keep her apart, or shut her up, for fear of risk to others, and so lose every chance of restoring her mind to its healthy tone by kindly influences and intercourse with wholesome natures? There was no proof, only presumption, as to the agency of Elsie in the matter referred to. But the doubt was worse, perhaps, than certainty would have been,—for then he would have known what to do.

He took the old Doctor as his adviser. The shrewd old man listened to the father's story, his explanations of possibilities, of probabilities, of dangers, of hopes. When he had got through, the Doctor looked him in the face steadily, as if he were saying, Is that all?

The father's eyes fell. That was not all. There was something at the bottom of his soul which he could not bear to speak of,—nay, which, as often as it reared itself through the dark waves of unworded consciousness into the breathing air of thought, he trod down as the ruined angels tread down a lost soul trying to come up out of the seething sea of torture. Only this one daughter! No! God never would have ordained such a thing. There was nothing ever heard of like it; it could not be; she was ill,—she would outgrow all these singularities; he had had an aunt who was peculiar; he had heard that hysteric girls showed the strangest forms of moral obliquity for a time, but came right at last. She would change all at once, when her health got more firmly settled in the course of her growth. Are there not rough buds that open into sweet flowers? Are there not fruits, which, while unripe, are not to be tasted or endured, that mature into the richest taste and fragrance? In God's good time she would come to her true nature; her eyes would lose that frightful, cold glitter; her lips would not feel so cold when she pressed them mechanically against his cheek; and that faint birth-mark, her mother swooned when she first saw, would fade wholly out,—it was less marked, surely, now than it used to be!

So Dudley Venner felt, and would have thought, if he had let his thoughts breathe the air of his soul. But the Doctor read through words and thoughts and all into the father's consciousness. There are states of mind that may be shared by two persons in presence of each other, which remain not only unworded, but unthoughted, if such a word may be coined for our special need. Such a mutually interpenetrative consciousness there was between the father and the old physician. By a common impulse, both of them rose in a mechanical way and went to the western window, where each started, as he saw the other's look directed towards the white stone that stood in the midst of the small plot of green turf.

The Doctor had, for a moment, forgotten himself, but he looked up at the clouds, which were angry, and said, as if speaking of the weather, "It is dark now, but we hope it will clear up by-and-by. There are a great many more clouds than rains, and more rains than strokes of lightning, and more strokes of lightning than there are people killed. We must let this girl of ours have her way, as far as it is safe. Send away this woman she hates, quietly. Get her a foreigner for a governess, if you can,—one that can dance and sing and will teach her. In the house old Sophy will watch her best. Out of it you must trust her, I am afraid,—for she will not be followed round, and she is in less danger than you think. If she wanders at night, find her, if you can; the woods are not absolutely safe. If she will be friendly with any young people, have them to see her,—young men, especially. She will not love any one easily, perhaps not at all; yet love would be more like to bring her right than anything else. If any young person seems in danger of falling in love with her, send him to me for counsel."

Dry, hard advice, but given from a kind heart, with a moist eye, and in tones that tried to be cheerful and were full of sympathy. This advice was the key to the more than indulgent treatment which, as we have seen, the girl had received from her father and all about her. The old Doctor often came in, in the kindest, most natural sort of way, got into pleasant relations with Elsie by always treating her in the same easy manner as at the great party, encouraging all her harmless fancies, and rarely reminding her that he was a professional adviser, except when she came out of her own accord, as in the talk they had at the party, telling him of some wild trick she had been playing.

"Let her go to the girls' school, by all means," said the Doctor, when she had begun to talk about it. "Possibly she may take to some of the girls or of the teachers. Anything to interest her. Friendship, love, religion,—whatever will set her nature at work. We must have headway on, or there will be no piloting her. Action first of all, and then we will see what to do with it."

So, when Cousin Richard came along, the Doctor, though he did not like his looks any too well, told her father to encourage his staying for a time. If she liked him, it was good; if she only tolerated him, it was better than nothing.

"You know something about that nephew of yours, during these last years, I suppose?" the Doctor said. "Looks as if he had seen life. Has a scar that was made by a sword-cut, and a white spot on the side of his neck that looks like a bulletmark. I think he has been what folks call a 'hard customer.'"

Dudley Venner owned that he had heard little or nothing of him of late years. He had invited himself, and of course it would not be decent not to receive him as a relative. He thought Elsie rather liked having him about the house for a while. She was very capricious,—acted as if she fancied him one day and disliked him the next. He did not know,—but (he said in a low voice) he had a suspicion that this nephew of his was disposed to take a serious liking to Elsie. What should he do about it, if it turned out so?

The Doctor lifted his eyebrows a little. He thought there was no fear. Elsie was naturally what they call a man-hater, and there was very little danger of any sudden passion springing up between two such young persons. Let him stay awhile; it gives her something to think about.—So he stayed awhile, as we have seen.

The more Mr. Richard became acquainted with the family,—that is, with the two persons of whom it consisted,—the more favorably the idea of a permanent residence in the mansion-house seemed to impress him. The estate was large,—hundreds of acres, with woodlands and meadows of great value. The father and daughter had been living quietly, and there could not be a doubt that the property which came through the Dudleys must have largely increased of late years. It was evident enough that they had an abundant income, from the way in which Elsie's caprices were indulged. She had horses and carriages to suit herself; she sent to the great city for everything she wanted in the way of dress. Even her diamonds—and the young man knew something about these gems—must be of considerable value; and yet she wore them carelessly, as it pleased her fancy. She had precious old laces, too, almost worth their weight in diamonds,—laces which had been snatched from altars in ancient Spanish cathedrals during the wars, and which it would not be safe to leave a duchess alone with for ten minutes. The old house was fat with the deposits of rich generations which had gone before. The famous "golden" fireset was a purchase of one of the family who had been in France during the Revolution, and must have come from a princely palace, if not from one of the royal residences. As for silver, the iron closet which had been made in the dining-room wall was running over with it: tea-kettles, coffee-pots, heavy-lidded tankards, chafing-dishes, punch-bowls, all that all the Dudleys had ever used, from the caudle-cup that used to be handed round the young mother's chamber, and the porringer from which children scooped their bread-and-milk with spoons as solid as ingots, to that ominous vessel, on the upper shelf, far back in the dark, with a spout like a slender italic S, out of which the sick and dying, all along the last century, and since, had taken the last drops that passed their lips. Without being much of a scholar, Dick could see well enough, too, that the books in the library had been ordered from the great London houses, whose imprint they bore, by persons that knew what was best and meant to have it. A man does not require much learning to feel pretty sure, when he takes one of those solid, smooth, velvet-leaved quartos, say a Baskerville Addison, for instance, bound in red morocco, with a margin of gold, as rich as the embroidery of a prince's collar, as Vandyck drew it,—he need not know much to feel pretty sure that a score or two of shelves full of such books mean that it took a long purse, as well as a literary taste, to bring them together.

To all these attractions the mind of this thoughtful young gentleman may be said to have been fully open. He did not disguise from himself, however, that there were a number of drawbacks in the way of his becoming established as the heir of the Dudley mansion-house and fortune. In the first place, Cousin Elsie was, unquestionably, very piquant, very handsome, game as a hawk, and hard to please, which made her worth trying for. But then there was something about Cousin Elsie,—(the small, white scars began stinging, as he said this to himself, and he pushed his sleeve up to look at them,)—there was something about Cousin Elsie he couldn't make out. What was the matter with her eyes, that they sucked your life out of you in that strange way? What did she always wear a necklace for? Had she some such love-token on her neck as the old Don's revolver had left on his? How safe would anybody feel to live with her? Besides, her father would last forever, if he was left to himself. And he may take it into his head to marry again. That would be pleasant!

So talked Cousin Richard to himself, in the calm of the night and in the tranquillity of his own soul. There was much to be said on both sides. It was a balance to be struck after the two columns were added up. He struck the balance, and came to the conclusion that he would fall in love with Elsie Venner.

The intelligent reader will not confound this matured and serious intention of falling in love with the young lady with that mere impulse of the moment before mentioned as an instance of making love. On the contrary, the moment Mr. Richard had made up his mind that he should fall in love with Elsie, he began to be more reserved with her, and to try to make friends in other quarters. Sensible men, you know, care very little what a girl's present fancy is. The question is: Who manages her, and how can you get at that person or those persons? Her foolish little sentiments are all very well in their way; but business is business, and we can't stop for such trifles. The old political wire-pullers never go near the man they want to gain, if they can help it; they find out who his intimates and managers are, and work through them. Always handle any positively electrical body, whether it is charged with passion, or power, with some non-conductor between you and it, not with your naked hands.—The above were some of the young gentleman's working axioms; and he proceeded to act in accordance with them.

He began by paying his court more assiduously to his uncle. It was not very hard to ingratiate himself in that quarter; for his manners were insinuating, and his precocious experience of life made him entertaining. The old neglected billiard-room was soon put in order, and Dick, who was a magnificent player, had a series of games with his uncle, in which, singularly enough, he was beaten, though his antagonist had been out of play for years. He evinced a profound interest in the family history, insisted on having the details of its early alliances, and professed a great pride of race, which he had inherited from his father, who, though he had allied himself with the daughter of an alien race, had yet chosen one with the real azure blood in her veins, as proud as if she had Castile and Aragon for her dower and the Cid for her grandpapa. He also asked a great deal of advice, such as inexperienced young persons are in need of, and listened to it with great reverence.

It is not very strange that Uncle Dudley took a kinder view of his nephew than the Judge, who thought he could read a questionable history in his face,—or the old Doctor, who knew men's temperaments and organizations pretty well, and had his prejudices about races, and could tell an old sword-cut and a bullet-mark in two seconds from a scar got by falling against the fender, or a mark left by king's evil. He could not be expected to share our own prejudices; for he had heard nothing of the wild youth's adventures, or his scamper over the Pampas at short notice. So, then, "Richard Venner, Esquire, guest of Dudley Venner, Esquire, at his elegant mansion," prolonged his visit until his presence became something like a matter of habit, and the neighbors settled it beyond doubt that the fine old house would be illuminated before long for a grand marriage.

He had done pretty well with the father: the next thing was to gain over the nurse. Old Sophy was as cunning as a red fox or a gray woodchuck. She had nothing in the world to do but to watch Elsie; she had nothing to care for but this girl and her father. She had never liked Dick too well; for he used to make faces at her and tease her when he was a boy, and now he was a man there was something about him—she could not tell what—that made her suspicious of him. It was no small matter to get her over to his side.

The jet-black Africans know that gold never looks so well as on the foil of their dark skins. Dick found in his trunk a string of gold beads, such as are manufactured in some of our cities, which he had brought from the gold region of Chili,—so he said,—for the express purpose of giving them to old Sophy. These Africans, too, have a perfect passion for gay-colored clothing; being condemned by Nature, as it were, to a perpetual mourning-suit, they love to enliven it with all sorts of variegated stuffs of sprightly patterns, aflame with red and yellow. The considerate young man had remembered this, too, and brought home for Sophy some handkerchiefs of rainbow hue, which had been strangely overlooked till now, at the bottom of one of his trunks. Old Sophy took his gifts, but kept her black eyes open and watched every movement of the young people all the more closely. It was through her that the father had always known most of the actions and tendencies of his daughter.

In the mean time the strange adventure on The Mountain had brought the young master into new relations with Elsie. She had saved him in the extremity of peril by the exercise of some mysterious power. He was grateful, and yet shuddered at the recollection of the whole scene. In his dreams he was pursued by the glare of cold glittering eyes,—whether they were in the head of a woman or of a reptile he could not always tell, the images had so run together. But he could not help seeing that the eyes of the young girl had been often, very often, turned upon him when he had been looking away, and fell as his own glance met them. Helen Darley told him very plainly that this girl was thinking about him more than about her book. Dick Venner found she was getting more constant in her attendance at school. He learned, on inquiry, that there was a new master, a handsome young man. The handsome young man would not have liked the look that came over Dick's face when he heard this fact mentioned.

In short, everything was getting tangled up together, and there would be no chance of disentangling the threads in this chapter.



ON THE FORMATION OF GALLERIES OF ART.

It is barely fifty years since England refused the gift of the pictures that now constitute the Dulwich Gallery. So rapidly, however, did public opinion and taste become enlightened, that twenty-five years afterwards Parliament voted seventy-three thousand pounds for the purchase of thirty-eight pictures collected by Mr. Angerstein. This was the commencement of their National Gallery. In 1790 but three national galleries existed in Europe,—those of Dresden, Florence, and Amsterdam. The Louvre was then first originated by a decree of the Constituent Assembly of France. England now spends with open hand on schools of design, the accumulation of treasures of art of every epoch and character, and whatever tends to elevate the taste and enlarge the means of the artistic education of her people,—perceiving, with far-sighted wisdom, that, through improved manufacture and riper civilization, eventually a tenfold return will result to her treasury. The nations of Europe exult over a new acquisition to their galleries, though its cost may have exceeded a hundred thousand dollars.

We are in that stage of indifference and neglect that one of our wealthiest cities recently refused to accept the donation of a gallery of some three hundred pictures, collected with taste and discrimination by a generous lover of art, because it did not wish to be put to the expense of finding wall-room for them. But this spirit is departing, and now our slowness or reluctance is rather the result of a want of knowledge and critical judgment than of a want of feeling for art.

To stimulate this feeling, it is requisite that our public should have free access to galleries in which shall be exhibited in chronological series specimens of the art of all nations and schools, arranged according to their motives and the special influences that attended their development. After this manner a mental and artistic history of the world may be spread out like a chart before the student, while the artist with equal facility can trace up to their origin the varied methods, styles, and excellences of each prominent epoch. A gallery of art is a perpetual feast of the most intense and refined enjoyment to every one capable of entering into its phases of thought and execution, analyzing its external and internal being, and tracing the mysterious transformations of spirit into form. It has been well said, that a complete gallery, on a broad foundation, in which all tastes, styles, and methods harmoniously mingle, is a court of final appeal of one phase of civilization against another, from an examination of which we can sum up their respective qualities and merits, drawing therefrom for our own edification as from a perpetual wellspring of inspiration and knowledge. But if we sit in judgment upon the great departed, they likewise sit in judgment upon us. And it is precisely where such means of testing artistic growth best exist that modern art is at once most humble and most aspiring: conscious of its own power and in many respects superior technical advantages, both it and the public are still content to go to the past for instruction, and each to seek to rise above the transitory bias of fashion or local passions to a standard of taste that will abide world-wide comparison and criticism.

An edifice for a gallery or museum of art should be fire-proof, sufficiently isolated for light and effective ornamentation, and constructed so as to admit of indefinite extension. Its chief feature should be the suitable accommodation and exhibition of its contents. But provision should be made for its becoming eventually in architectural effect consistent with its object. The skeleton of such a building need not be costly. Its chief expense would be in its ultimate adornment with marble facings, richly colored stones, sculpture or frescoes, according to a design which should enforce strict purity of taste and conformity to its motive. This gradual completion, as happened to the mediaeval monuments of Europe, could be extended through many generations, which would thus be linked with one another in a common object of artistic and patriotic pride gradually growing up among them, as a national monument, with its foundations deeply laid in a unity of feeling and those desirable associations of love and veneration which in older civilizations so delightfully harmonize the past with the present. Each epoch of artists would be instructed by the skill of its predecessor, and stimulated to connect its name permanently with so glorious a shrine. Wealth, as in the days of democratic Greece and Italy, would be lavished upon the completion of a temple of art destined to endure as long as material can defy time, a monument of the people's taste and munificence. There would be born among them the spirit of those Athenians who said to Phidias, when he asked if he should use ivory or marble for the statue of their protecting goddess, "Use that material which is most worthy of our city."

Until recently, no attention has been paid, even in Europe, to historical sequence and special motives in the arrangement of galleries. As in the Pitti Gallery, pictures were generally hung so as to conform to the symmetry of the rooms,—various styles, schools, and epochs being intermixed. As the progress of ideas is of more importance to note than the variations of styles or the degree of technical merit, the chief attention in selection and position should be given to lucidly exhibiting the varied phases of artistic thought among the diverse races and widely separated eras and inspirations which gave them being. The mechanism of art is, however, go intimately interwoven with the idea, that by giving precedence to the latter we most readily arrive at the best arrangement of the former. Each cycle of civilization should have its special department, Paganism and Christianity being kept apart, and not, as in the Florentine Gallery, intermixed,—presenting a strange jumble of classical statuary and modern paintings in anachronistic disorder, to the loss of the finest properties of each to the eye, and the destruction of that unity of motive and harmonious association so essential to the proper exhibition of art. For it is essential that every variety of artistic development should be associated solely with those objects or conditions most in keeping with its inspirations. In this way we quickest come to an understanding of its originating idea, and sympathize with its feeling, tracing its progress from infancy to maturity and decay, and comparing it as a whole with corresponding or rival varieties of artistic development. This systematized variety of one great unity is of the highest importance in placing the spectator in affinity with art as a whole and with its diversities of character, and in giving him sound stand-points of comparison and criticism. In this way, as in the Louvre, feeling and thought are readily transported from one epoch of civilization to another, grasping the motives and execution of each with pleasurable accuracy. We perceive that no conventional standard of criticism, founded upon the opinions or fashions of one age, is applicable to all. To rightly comprehend each, we must broadly survey the entire ground of art, and make ourselves for the time members, as it were, of the political and social conditions of life that give origin to the objects of our investigations. This philosophical mode of viewing art does not exclude an aesthetic point of view, but rather heightens that and makes it more intelligible. Paganism would be subdivided into the various national forms that illustrated its rise and fall. Egypt, India, China, Assyria, Greece, Etruria, and Rome, would stand each by itself as a component part of a great whole: so with Christianity, in such shapes as have already taken foothold in history, the Latin, Byzantine, Lombard, Mediaeval, Renaissant, and Protestant art, subdivided into its diversified schools or leading ideas, all graphically arranged so as to demonstrate, amid the infinite varieties of humanity, a divine unity of origin and design, linking together mankind in one common family.

Beside statuary and paintings, an institution of this nature should contain specimens of every kind of industry in which art is the primary inspiration, to illustrate the qualities and degrees of social refinement in nations and eras. This would include every variety of ornamental art in which invention and skill are conspicuous, as well as those works more directly inspired by higher motives and intended as a joy forever. Architecture and objects not transportable could be represented by casts or photographs. Models, drawings, and engravings also come within its scope; and there should be attached to the parent gallery a library of reference and a lecture- and reading-room.

Connected with it there might be schools of design for improvement in ornamental manufacture, the development of architecture, and whatever aids to refine and give beauty to social life, including a simple academic system for the elementary branches of drawing and coloring, upon a scientific basis of accumulated knowledge and experience, providing models and other advantages not readily accessible to private resources, but leaving individual genius free to follow its own promptings upon a well-laid technical foundation. As soon as the young artist has acquired the grammar of his profession, he should be sent forth to study directly from Nature and to mature his invention unfettered by authoritative academic system, which more frequently fosters conventionalism and imposes trammels upon talent than endows it with strength and freedom.

Such is a brief sketch of institutions feasible amongst us from humble beginnings by individual enterprise. Once founded and their value demonstrated, the countenance of the state may be hopefully invoked. Their very existence would become an incentive to munificent gifts. Individuals owning fine works of art would grow ambitious to have their memories associated with patriotic enterprise. Art invokes liberality and evokes fraternity. The sentiment, that there is a common property in the productions of genius, making possession a trust for the public welfare, will increase among those by whose taste and wealth they have been accumulated. Masterpieces will cease to be regarded as the selfish acquisitions of covetous amateurs, but, like spoken truth, will become the inalienable birthright of the people,—finding their way freely and generously, through the magnetic influences of public spirit and pertinent examples, to those depositories where they can most efficaciously perform their mission of truth and beauty to the world. Then the people themselves will begin to take pride in their artistic wealth, to honor artists as they now do soldiers and statesmen, and to value the more highly those virtues which are interwoven with all noble effort.

In 1823, when the National Gallery of England was founded, the English were nearly as dead to art as we are now. A few amateurs alone cultivated it, but there was no general sympathy with nor knowledge of it. Yet by 1837, in donations alone, the gallery had received one hundred and thirty-seven pictures. Since that period gifts have increased tenfold in value and numbers. Connected with it, and a part of that noble, comprehensive, and munificent system of art-education which the British government has inculcated, are the British and Kensington Museums. Schools of design, with every appliance for the growth of art, have rapidly sprung into existence. Private enterprise and research have correspondingly increased. British agents, with unstinted means, are everywhere ransacking the earth in quest of everything that can add to the value and utility of their national and private collections. A keen regard for all that concerns art, a desire for its national development, an enlightened standard of criticism, and with it the most eloquent art-literature of any tongue, have all recently sprung into existence in our motherland. All honor to those generous spirits that have produced this,—and honor to the nation that so wisely expends its wealth! A noble example for America! England also throws open to the competition of the world plans for her public buildings and monuments. Mistakes and defects there have been, but an honest desire for amendment and to promote the intellectual growth of the nation now characterizes her pioneers in this cause. And what progress! Between 1823 and 1850, in the Museum alone, there have been expended $10,000,000. Within twelve years, $450,000 have been expended on the National Gallery for pictures, and yet its largest accession of treasures is by gifts and bequests. Lately, beside the Pisani Veronese bought for $70,000, eight other paintings have been purchased at a cost of $50,000. In 1858, $36,000 were given for the choice of twenty, of the early Italian schools, from the Lombardi Gallery at Florence,—not masterpieces, but simply characteristic specimens, more or less restored. The average cost of late acquisitions has been about $6,000 each. In 1858, there were 823,000 visitors to both branches of the National Gallery. Who can estimate not alone the pleasure and instruction afforded by such an institution to its million of annual visitors, but the ideas and inspiration thence born, destined to grow and fructify to the glory and good of the nation? At present there are seventy-seven schools of art in England, attended by 68,000 students. In 1859, they and kindred institutions received a public grant of nearly $450,000. The appropriation for the British Museum alone, for 1860, is L77,452.

To the Louvre Louis XVIII. added one hundred and eleven pictures, at a cost of about $132,000; Charles X., twenty-four, at $12,000; Louis Philippe, fifty-three, at $14,500; and Napoleon III., thus far, thirty paintings, costing $200,000, one of which, the Murillo, cost $125,000. Russia is following in the same path. Italy, Greece, and Egypt, by stringent regulations, are making it yearly more difficult for any precious work to leave their shores. If, therefore, America is ever to follow in the same path, she must soon bestir herself, or she will have nothing but barren fields to glean from.



DARWIN ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

Novelties are enticing to most people: to us they are simply annoying. We cling to a long-accepted theory, just as we cling to an old suit of clothes. A new theory, like a new pair of breeches, ("The Atlantic" still affects the older type of nether garment,) is sure to have hard-fitting places; or even when no particular fault can be found with the article, it oppresses with a sense of general discomfort. New notions and new styles worry us, till we get well used to them, which is only by slow degrees.

Wherefore, in Galileo's time, we might have helped to proscribe, or to burn—had he been stubborn enough to warrant cremation—even the great pioneer of inductive research; although, when we had fairly recovered our composure, and had leisurely excogitated the matter, we might have come to conclude that the new doctrine was better than the old one, after all, at least for those who had nothing to unlearn.

Such being our habitual state of mind, it may well be believed that the perusal of the new book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" left an uncomfortable impression, in spite of its plausible and winning ways. We were not wholly unprepared for it, as many of our contemporaries seem to have been. The scientific reading in which we indulge as a relaxation from severer studies had raised dim forebodings. Investigations about the succession of species in time, and their actual geographical distribution over the earth's surface, were leading up from all sides and in various ways to the question of their origin. Now and then we encountered a sentence, like Professor Owen's "axiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things," which haunted us like an apparition. For, dim as our conception must needs be as to what such oracular and grandiloquent phrases might really mean, we felt confident that they presaged no good to old beliefs. Foreseeing, yet deprecating, the coming time of trouble, we still hoped, that, with some repairs and make-shifts, the old views might last out our days. Apres nous le deluge. Still, not to lag behind the rest of the world, we read the book in which the new theory is promulgated. We took it up, like our neighbors, and, as was natural, in a somewhat captious frame of mind.

Well, we found no cause of quarrel with the first chapter. Here the author takes us directly to the barn-yard and the kitchen-garden. Like an honorable rural member of our General Court, who sat silent until, near the close of a long session, a bill requiring all swine at large to wear pokes was introduced, when he claimed the privilege of addressing the house, on the proper ground that he had been "brought up among the pigs, and knew all about them,"—so we were brought up among cows and cabbages; and the lowing of cattle, the cackling of hens, and the cooing of pigeons were sounds native and pleasant to our ears. So "Variation under Domestication" dealt with familiar subjects in a natural way, and gently introduced "Variation under Nature," which seemed likely enough. Then follows "Struggle for Existence,"—a principle which we experimentally know to be true and cogent,—bringing the comfortable assurance, that man, even upon Leviathan Hobbes's theory of society, is no worse than the rest of creation, since all Nature is at war, one species with another, and the nearer kindred the more internecine,—bringing in thousand-fold confirmation and extension of the Malthusian doctrine, that population tends far to outrun means of subsistence throughout the animal and vegetable world, and has to be kept down by sharp preventive checks; so that not more than one of a hundred or a thousand of the individuals whose existence is so wonderfully and so sedulously provided for ever comes to anything, under ordinary circumstances; so the lucky and the strong must prevail, and the weaker and ill-favored must perish;—and then follows, as naturally as one sheep follows another, the chapter on "Natural Selection," Darwin's cheval de bataille, which is very much the Napoleonic doctrine, that Providence favors the strongest battalions,—that, since many more individuals are born than can possibly survive, those individuals and those variations which possess any advantage, however slight, over the rest, are in the long run sure to survive, to propagate, and to occupy the limited field, to the exclusion or destruction of the weaker brethren. All this we pondered, and could not much object to. In fact, we began to contract a liking for a system which at the outset illustrates the advantages of good breeding, and which makes the most "of every creature's best."

Could we "let by-gones be by-gones," and, beginning now, go on improving and diversifying for the future by natural selection,—could we even take up the theory at the introduction of the actually existing species, we should be well content, and so perhaps would most naturalists be. It is by no means difficult to believe that varieties are incipient or possible species, when we see what trouble naturalists, especially botanists, have to distinguish between them,—one regarding as a true species what another regards as a variety; when the progress of knowledge increases, rather than diminishes, the number of doubtful instances; and when there is less agreement than ever among naturalists as to what the basis is in Nature upon which our idea of species reposes, or how the word is practically to be defined. Indeed, when we consider the endless disputes of naturalists and ethnologists over the human races, as to whether they belong to one species or to more, and if to more, whether to three, or five, or fifty, we can hardly help fancying that both may be right,—or rather, that the uni-humanitarians would have been right several thousand years ago, and the multi-humanitarians will be a few thousand years later; while at present the safe thing to say is, that, probably, there is some truth on both sides. "Natural selection," Darwin remarks, "leads to divergence of character; for more living brings can be supported on the same area the more they diverge in structure, habits, and constitution," (a principle which, by the way, is paralleled and illustrated by the diversification of human labor,) and also leads to much extinction of intermediate or unimproved forms. Now, though this divergence may "steadily tend to increase," yet this is evidently a slow process in Nature, and liable to much counteraction wherever man does not interpose, and so not likely to work much harm for the future. And if natural selection, with artificial to help it, will produce better animals and better men than the present, and fit them better to "the conditions of existence," why, let it work, say we, to the top of its bent. There is still room enough for improvement. Only let us hope that it always works for good: if not, the divergent lines on Darwin's diagram of transmutation made easy ominously show what small deviations from the straight path may come to in the end.

The prospect of the future, accordingly, is on the whole pleasant and encouraging. It is only the backward glance, the gaze up the long vista of the past, that reveals anything alarming. Here the lines converge as they recede into the geological ages, and point to conclusions which, upon the theory, are inevitable, but by no means welcome. The very first step backwards makes the Negro and the Hottentot our blood-relations;—not that reason or Scripture objects to that, though pride may. The next suggests a closer association of our ancestors of the olden time with "our poor relations" of the quadrumanous family than we like to acknowledge. Fortunately, however,—even if we must account for him scientifically,—man with his two feet stands upon a foundation of his own. Intermediate links between the Bimana and the Quadrumana are lacking altogether; so that, put the genealogy of the brutes upon what footing you will, the four-handed races will not serve for our forerunners;—at least, not until some monkey, live or fossil, is producible with great toes, instead of thumbs, upon his nether extremities; or until some lucky geologist turns up the bones of his ancestor and prototype in France or England, who was so busy "napping the chuckie-stanes" and chipping out flint knives and arrow-heads in the time of the drift, very many ages ago,—before the British Channel existed, says Lyell[1],—and until these men of the olden time are shown to have worn their great-toes in a divergent and thumb-like fashion. That would be evidence indeed: but until some testimony of the sort is produced, we must needs believe in the separate and special creation of man, however it may have been with the lower animals and with plants.

No doubt, the full development and symmetry of Darwin's hypothesis strongly suggest the evolution of the human no less than the lower animal races out of some simple primordial animal,—that all are equally "lineal descendants of sense few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited." But, as the author speaks disrespectfully of spontaneous generation, and accepts a supernatural beginning of life on earth, in some form or forms of being which included potentially all that have since existed and are yet to be, he is thereby not warranted to extend his inferences beyond the evidence or the fair probability. There seems as great likelihood that one special origination should be followed by another upon fitting occasion, (such as the introduction of man,) as that one form should be transmuted into another upon fitting occasion, as, for instance, in the succession of species which differ from each other only in some details. To compare small things with great in a homely illustration: man alters from time to time his instruments or machines, as new circumstances or conditions may require and his wit suggest. Minor alterations and improvements he adds to the machine he possesses: he adapts a new rig or a new rudder to an old boat: this answers to variation. If boats could engender, the variations would doubtless be propagated, like those of domestic cattle. In course of time the old ones would be worn out or wrecked; the best sorts would be chosen for each particular use, and further improved upon, and so the primordial boat be developed into the scow, the skiff, the sloop, and other species of water-craft,—the very diversification, as well as the successive improvements, entailing the disappearance of many intermediate forms, less adapted to any one particular purpose; wherefore these go slowly out of use, and become extinct species: this is natural selection. Now let a great and important advance be made, like that of steam-navigation: here, though the engine might be added to the old vessel, yet the wiser and therefore the actual way is to make a new vessel on a modified plan: this may answer to specific creation. Anyhow, the one does not necessarily exclude the other. Variation and natural selection may play their part, and so may specific creation also. Why not?

[Footnote 1: Vide Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1859, and London Athenaeum, passim. It appears to be conceded that these "celts" or stone knives are artificial productions, and of the age of the mammoth, the fossil rhinoceros, etc.]

This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,—and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual striving after "the unattained and dim,"—these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls "the mystery of mysteries," the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, "the delirious yet divine desire to know," stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,—in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,—thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes. Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,—which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,—which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,—and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,—the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.

It will raise the question, how the diverse sorts of plants and animals came to be as they are and where they are, and will allow that the whole inquiry transcends its powers only when all endeavors have failed. Granting the origin to be supernatural, or miraculous even, will not arrest the inquiry. All real origination, the philosophers will say, is supernatural; their very question is, whether we have yet gone back to the origin, and can affirm that the present forms of plants and animals are the primordial, the miraculously created ones. And even if they admit that, they will still inquire into the order of the phenomena, into the form of the miracle. You might as well expect the child to grow up content with what it is told about the advent of its infant brother. Indeed, to learn that the new-comer is the gift of God, far from lulling inquiry, only stimulates speculation as to how the precious gift was bestowed. That questioning child is father to the man,—is philosopher in short-clothes.

Since, then, questions about the origin of species will be raised, and have been raised,—and since the theorizings, however different in particulars, all proceed upon the notion that one species of plant or animal is somehow derived from another, that the different sorts which now flourish are lineal (or unlineal) descendants of other and earlier sorts,—it now concerns us to ask, What are the grounds in Nature, the admitted facts, which suggest hypotheses of derivation, in some shape or other? Reasons there must be, and plausible ones, for the persistent recurrence of theories upon this genetic basis. A study of Darwin's book, and a general glance at the present state of the natural sciences, enable us to gather the following as perhaps the most suggestive and influential. We can only enumerate them here, without much indication of their particular bearing. There is,—

1. The general fact of variability;—the patent fact, that all species vary more or less; that domesticated plants and animals, being in conditions favorable to the production and preservation of varieties, are apt to vary widely; and that by interbreeding, any variety may be fixed into a race, that is, into a variety which comes true from seed. Many such races, it is allowed, differ from each other in structure and appearance as widely as do many admitted species; and it is practically very difficult, perhaps impossible, to draw a clear line between races and species. Witness the human races, for instance.

Wild species also vary, perhaps about as widely as those of domestication, though in different ways. Some of them appear to vary little, others moderately, others immoderately, to the great bewilderment of systematic botanists and zoologists, and their increasing disagreement as to whether various forms shall be held to be original species or marked varieties. Moreover, the degree to which the descendants of the same stock, varying in different directions, may at length diverge is unknown. All we know is, that varieties are themselves variable, and that very diverse forms have been educed from one stock.

2. Species of the same genus are not distinguished from each other by equal amounts of difference. There is diversity in this respect analogous to that of the varieties of a polymorphous species, some of them slight, others extreme. And in large genera the unequal resemblance shows itself in the clustering of the species around several types or central species, like satellites around their respective planets. Obviously suggestive this of the hypothesis that they were satellites, not thrown off by revolution, like the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and our own solitary moon, but gradually and peacefully detached by divergent variation. That such closely related species may be only varieties of higher grade, earlier origin, or more favored evolution, is not a very violent supposition. Anyhow, it was a supposition sure to be made.

3. The actual geographical distribution of species upon the earth's surface tends to suggest the same notion. For, as a general thing, all or most of the species of a peculiar genus or other type are grouped in the same country, or occupy continuous, proximate, or accessible areas. So well does this rule hold, so general is the implication that kindred species are or were associated geographically, that most trustworthy naturalists, quite free from hypotheses of transmutation, are constantly inferring former geographical continuity between parts of the world now widely disjoined, in order to account thereby for the generic similarities among their inhabitants. Yet no scientific explanation has been offered to account for the geographical association of kindred species, except the hypothesis of a common origin.

4. Here the fact of the antiquity of creation, and in particular of the present kinds of the earth's inhabitants, or of a large part of them, comes in to rebut the objection, that there has not been time enough for any marked diversification of living things through divergent variation,—not time enough for varieties to have diverged into what we call species.

So long as the existing species of plants and animals were thought to have originated a few thousand years ago and without predecessors, there was no room for a theory of derivation of one sort from another, nor time enough even to account for the establishment of the races which are generally believed to have diverged from a common stock. Not that five or six thousand years was a short allowance for this; but because some of our familiar domesticated varieties of grain, of fowls, and of other animals, were pictured and mummified by the old Egyptians more than half that number of years ago, if not much earlier. Indeed, perhaps the strongest argument for the original plurality of human species was drawn from the identification of some of the present races of men upon these early historical monuments and records.

But this very extension of the current chronology, if we may rely upon the archaeologists, removes the difficulty by opening up a longer vista. So does the discovery in Europe of remains and implements of pre-historic races of men to whom the use of metals was unknown,—men of the stone age, as the Scandinavian archaeologists designate them. And now, "axes and knives of flint, evidently wrought by human skill, are found in beds of the drift at Amiens, (also in other places, both in France and England,) associated with the bones of extinct species of animals." These implements, indeed, were noticed twenty years ago; at a place in Suffolk they have been exhumed from time to time for more than a century; but the full confirmation, the recognition of the age of the deposit in which the implements occur, their abundance, and the appreciation of their bearings upon most interesting questions, belong to the present time. To complete the connection of these primitive people with the fossil ages, the French geologists, we are told, have now "found these axes in Picardy associated with remains of Elephas primigenius, Rhinoceros tichorhinus, Equus fossilis, and an extinct species of Bos."[1] In plain language, these workers in flint lived in the time of the mammoth, of a rhinoceros now extinct, and along with horses and cattle unlike any now existing,—specifically different, as naturalists say, from those with which man is now associated. Their connection with existing human races may perhaps be traced through the intervening people of the stone age, who were succeeded by the people of the bronze age, and these by workers in iron.[2] Now, various evidence carries back the existence of many of the present lower species of animals, and probably of a larger number of plants, to the same drift period. All agree that this was very many thousand years ago. Agassiz tells us that the same species of polyps which are now building coral walls around the present peninsula of Florida actually made that peninsula, and have been building there for centuries which must be reckoned by thousands.

[Footnote 1: See Correspondence of M. Nickles, in American Journal of Science and Arts, for March, 1860.]

[Footnote 2: See Morlet, Some General Views on Archaeology, in American Journal of Science and Arts, for January, 1860, translated from Bulletin de la Societe Vaudoise, 1859.]

5. The overlapping of existing and extinct species, and the seemingly gradual transition of the life of the drift period into that of the present, may be turned to the same account. Mammoths, mastodons, and Irish elks, now extinct, must have lived down to human, if not almost to historic times. Perhaps the last dodo did not long outlive his huge New Zealand kindred. The auroch, once the companion of mammoths, still survives, but apparently owes his present and precarious existence to man's care. Now, nothing that we know of forbids the hypothesis that some new species have been independently and supernaturally created within the period which other species have survived. It may even be believed that man was created in the days of the mammoth, became extinct, and was recreated at a later date. But why not say the same of the auroch, contemporary both of the old man and of the new? Still it is more natural, if not inevitable, to infer, that, if the aurochs of that olden time were the ancestors of the aurochs of the Lithuanian forests, so likewise were the men of that age—if men they were—the ancestors of the present human races. Then, whoever concludes that these primitive makers of rude flint axes and knives were the ancestors of the better workmen of the succeeding stone age, and these again of the succeeding artificers in brass and iron, will also be likely to suppose that the Equus and Bos of that time were the remote progenitors of our own horses and cattle. In all candor we must at least concede that such considerations suggest a genetic descent from the drift period down to the present, and allow time enough—if time is of any account—for variation and natural selection to work out some appreciable results in the way of divergence into races or even into so-called species. Whatever might have been thought, when geological time was supposed to be separated from the present era by a clear line, it is certain that a gradual replacement of old forms by new ones is strongly suggestive of some mode of origination which may still be operative. When species, like individuals, were found to die out one by one, and apparently to come in one by one, a theory for what Owen sonorously calls "the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things" could not be far off.

That all such theories should take the form of a derivation of the new from the old seems to be inevitable, perhaps from our inability to conceive of any other line of secondary causes, in this connection. Owen himself is apparently in travail with some transmutation theory of his own conceiving, which may yet see the light, although Darwin's came first to the birth. Different as the two theories will probably be in particulars, they cannot fail to exhibit that fundamental resemblance in this respect which betokens a community of origin, a common foundation on the general facts and the obvious suggestions of modern science. Indeed,—to turn the point of a taking simile directed against Darwin,—the difference between the Darwinian and the Owenian hypotheses may, after all, be only that between homoeopathic and heroic doses of the same drug.

If theories of derivation could only stop here, content with explaining the diversification and succession of species between the tertiary period and the present time, through natural agencies or secondary causes still in operation, we fancy they would not be generally or violently objected to by the savans of the present day. But it is hard, if not impossible, to find a stopping-place. Some of the facts or accepted conclusions already referred to, and several others, of a more general character, which must be taken into the account, impel the theory onward with accumulated force. Vires (not to say virus) acquirit eundo. The theory hitches on wonderfully well to Lyell's uniformitarian theory in geology,—that the thing that has been is the thing that is and shall be,—that the natural operations now going on will account for all geological changes in a quiet and easy way, only give them time enough, so connecting the present and the proximate with the farthest past by almost imperceptible gradations,—a view which finds large and increasing, if not general, acceptance in physical geology, and of which Darwin's theory is the natural complement.

So the Darwinian theory, once getting a foothold, marches boldly on, follows the supposed near ancestors of our present species farther and yet farther back into the dim past, and ends with an analogical inference which "makes the whole world kin." As we said at the beginning, this upshot discomposes us. Several features of the theory have an uncanny look. They may prove to be innocent: but their first aspect is suspicious, and high authorities pronounce the whole thing to be positively mischievous.

In this dilemma we are going to take advice. Following the bent of our prejudices, and hoping to fortify these by new and strong arguments, we are going now to read the principal reviews which undertake to demolish the theory;—with what result our readers shall be duly informed.

Meanwhile, we call attention to the fact, that the Appletons have just brought out a second and revised edition of Mr. Darwin's book, with numerous corrections, important additions, and a preface, all prepared by the author for this edition, in advance of a new English edition.



VANITY (1).

(ON A PICTURE OF HERODIAS'S DAUGHTER BY LUINI.)

Alas, Salome! Could'st thou know How great man is,—how great thou art,— What destined worlds of weal or woe Lurk in the shallowest human heart,—

From thee thy vanities would drop, Like lusts in noble anger spurned By one who finds, beyond all hope, The passion of his youth returned.

Ah, sun-bright face, whose brittle smile Is cold as sunbeams flashed on ice! Ah, lips how sweet, yet hard the while! Ah, soul too barren even for vice!

Mirror of Vanity! Those eyes No beam the less around them shed, Albeit in that red scarf there lies The Dancer's meed,—the Prophet's head.

VANITY (2.)

I. False and Fair! Beware, beware! There is a Tale that stabs at thee! The Arab Seer! he stripped thee bare Long since! He knew thee, Vanity! By day a mincing foot is thine: Thou runnest along the spider's line:— Ay, but heavy sounds thy tread By night, among the uncoffined dead!

II. Fair and Foul! Thy mate, the Ghoul, Beats, bat-like, at thy golden gate! Around the graves the night-winds howl: "Arise!" they cry, "thy feast doth wait!" Dainty fingers thine, and nice, With thy bodkin picking rice!—

Ay, but when the night's o'erhead, Limb from limb they rend the dead!



REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.



Popular Astronomy. A Concise Elementary Treatise on the Sun, Planets, Satellites, and Comets. By O.M. MITCHELL, Director of the Cincinnati and Dudley Observatories. New York. 1860.

In this volume Professor Mitchell gives a very clear, and, in the general plan pursued, a very good account of the methods and results of investigation in modern astronomy. He has explained with great fulness the laws of motion of the heavenly bodies, and has thus aimed at giving more than the collection of disconnected facts which frequently form the staple of elementary works on astronomy.

In doing this, however, he has fallen into errors so numerous, and occasionally so grave, that they are difficult to be accounted for, except on the supposition that some portions of the work were written in great haste. Passing over a few mere oversights, such as a statement from which it would follow that a transit of Venus occurred every eight years, mistakes of dates, etc., we cite the following.

On page 114, speaking of Kepler's third law, the author says, "And even those extraordinary objects, the revolving double stars, are subject to the same controlling law." Since Kepler's third law expresses a relationship between the motions of three bodies, two of which revolve around a third much larger than either, it is a logical impossibility that a system of only two bodies should conform to this law.

On page 182, it is stated, that Newton's proving, that, if a body revolved in an elliptical orbit with the sun as a focus, the force of gravitation toward the sun would always be in the inverse ratio of the square of its distance, "was equivalent to proving, that, if a body in space, free to move, received a single impulse, and at the same moment was attracted to a fixed centre by a force which diminished as the square of the distance at which it operated increased, such a body, thus deflected from its rectilinear path, would describe an ellipse," etc. Not only does this deduction, being made in the logical form,

If A is B, X is Y; but X is Y; therefore A is B,

not follow at all, but it is absolutely not true. The body under the circumstances might describe an hyperbola as welt as an ellipse, as Professor Mitchell himself subsequently remarks.

The author's explanation of the manner in which the attraction of the sun changes the position of the moon's orbit is entirely at fault. He supposes the line of nodes of the moon's orbit perpendicular to the line joining the centres of the earth and sun, and the moon to start from her ascending node toward the sun, and says that in this case the effect of the sun's attraction will be to diminish the inclination of the moon's orbit during the first half of the revolution, and thus cause the node to retrograde; and to increase it during the second half, and thus cause the nodes to retrograde. But the real effect of the sun's attraction, in the case supposed, would be to diminish the inclination during the first quarter of its revolution, to increase it during the second, to diminish it again during the third, and increase it again during the fourth, as shown by Newton a century and a half ago.

In Chapter XV. we find the greatest number of errors. Take, for example, the following computation of the diminution of gravity at the surface of the sun in consequence of the centrifugal force,—part of the data being, that a pound at the earth's surface will weigh twenty-eight pounds at the sun's surface, and that the centrifugal force at the earth's equator is 1/289 of gravity.

"Now, if the sun rotated in the same time as the earth, and their diameters were equal, the centrifugal force on the equators of the two orbs would be equal. But the sun's radius is about 111 times that of the earth, and if the period of rotation were the same, the centrifugal force at the sun's equator would be greater than that at the earth's in the ratio of (111)^2 to 1, or, more exactly, in the ratio of 12,342.27 to 1. But the sun rotates on its axis much slower than the earth, requiring more than 25 days for one revolution. This will reduce the above in the ratio of 1 to (25)^2, or 1 to 625; so that we shall have the earth's equatorial centrifugal force (1/289) x 12,342.27 / 625 = 12,342.27/180,605 = 0.07 nearly for the sun's equatorial centrifugal force. Hence the weight before obtained, 28 pounds, must be reduced seven hundredths of its whole value, and we thus obtain 28 - 0.196 = 27.804 pounds as the true weight of one pound transported from the earth's equator to that of the sun."

In this calculation we have three errors, the effect of one of which would be to increase the true answer 111 times, of another 28 times, and of a third to diminish it 10 times; so that the final result is more than 300 times too great. If this result were correct, Leverrier would have no need of looking for intermercurial planets to account for the motion of the perihelion of Mercury; he would find a sufficient cause in the ellipticity of the sun.

Considered from a scientific point of view, some of the gravest errors into which the author has fallen are the suppositions, that the perihelia and nodes of the planetary orbits move uniformly, and that they can ever become exactly circular. At the end of about twenty-four thousand years the eccentricity of the earth's orbit will be smaller than at any other time during the next two hundred thousand, at least; but it will begin to increase again long before the orbit becomes circular. Astronomers have long known that the eccentricity of Mercury's orbit will never be much greater or much less than it is now; and moreover, instead of diminishing, as stated by Professor Mitchell, it is increasing, and has been increasing for the last hundred thousand years.

Finally, the chapter closes with an attempt to state the principle known to mathematicians as "the law of the conservation of areas," which statement is entirely unlike the correct one in nearly every particular.

It will be observed that we have criticized this work from a scientific rather than from a popular point of view. As questions of popular interest, it is perhaps of very little importance whether the earth's orbit will or will not become circular in the course of millions of years, or in what the principle of areas consists or does not consist. But if such facts or principles are to be stated at all, we have a right to see them stated correctly. However, in the first nine chapters, which part of the book will be most read, few mistakes of any importance occur, and the method pursued by Newton in deducing the law of gravitation is explained in the author's most felicitous style.

* * * * *

El Fureidis. By the Author of "The Lamplighter" and "Mabel Vaughan." Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 16mo.

That large army of readers whose mere number gave celebrity at once to the authoress of "The Lamplighter" will at first be disappointed with what they may call the location of this new romance by Miss Cummins. The scene is laid in Syria, instead of New England, and the "village" known to New Yorkers as Boston gives way to "El Fureidis," a village in the valley of Lebanon. But while so swift a transition from the West to the East may disappoint that "Expectation" which Fletcher tells us "sits i' the air," and which we all know is not to be balked with impunity, there can be no doubt, that, in shifting the scene, the authoress has enabled us to judge her essential talent with more accuracy. Possessing none of the elements which are thought essential to the production of a sensation, "The Lamplighter" forced itself into notice as a "sensation book." The writer was innocent of all the grave literary crimes implied in such a distinction. The first hundred and fifty pages were as simple, and as true to ordinary nature, as the daisies and buttercups of the common fields; the remaining two hundred pages repeated the stereotyped traditions and customary hearsays which make up the capital of every professional story-teller. The book began in the spirit of Jane Austen, and ended in that of Jane Porter.

In "El Fureidis" everything really native to the sentiment and experience of Miss Cummins is exhibited in its last perfection, with the addition of a positive, though not creative, faculty of imagination. Feeling a strong attraction for all that related to the East, through an accidental connection with friends who in conversation discoursed of its peculiarities and wonders, she was led to an extensive and thorough study of the numerous eminent scholars and travellers who have recorded their experience and researches in Syria and Damascus. Gradually she obtained a vivid internal vision of the scenery, and a practical acquaintance with the details of life, of those far-off Eastern lands. On this imaginative reproduction of the external characteristics of the Orient she projected her own standards of excellence and ideals of character; and the result is the present romance, the most elaborate and the most pleasing expression of her genius.

There is hardly anything in the work which can rightfully be called plot. The incidents are not combined, but happen. A shy, sensitive, fastidious, high-minded, and somewhat melancholy and dissatisfied Englishman, by the name of Meredith, travelling from Beyrout to Lebanon, falls in love with a Christian maiden by the name of Havilah. She rejects him, on the ground, that, however blessed with all human virtues, he is deficient in Christian graces. One of those rare women who combine the most exquisite sensuous beauty with the beauty of holiness, she cannot consent to marry, unless souls are joined, as well as hands. Meredith, in the course of the somewhat rambling narrative, "experiences religion," and the heroine then feels for him that affection which she did not feel even in those moments when he recklessly risked his life to save hers. In regard to characterization, Meredith, the hero, is throughout a mere name, without personality; but the authoress has succeeded in transforming Havilah from an abstract proposition into an individual existence. Her Bedouin lover, the wild, fierce, passionate Arab boy, Abdoul, with his vehement wrath and no less vehement love, passing from a frustrated design to assassinate Meredith, whom he considered the accepted lover of Havilah, to an abject prostration of his whole being, corporeal and mental, at the feet of his mistress, saluting them with "a devouring storm of kisses," is by far the most intense and successful effort at characterization in the whole volume. The conclusion of the story, which results in the acceptance by Meredith of the conditions enforced by the celestial purity of the heroine, will be far less satisfactory to the majority of readers than if Havilah had been represented as possessed of sufficient spiritual power to convert her passionate Arab lover into a being fit to be a Christian husband. By all the accredited rules of the logic of passion, Abdoul deserved her, rather than Meredith. Leaving, however, all those considerations which relate to the management of the story as connected with the impulses of the characters, great praise cannot be denied to the authoress for her conception and development of the character of Havilah. Virgin innocence has rarely been more happily combined with intellectual culture, and the reader follows the course of her thoughts—and so vital are her thoughts that they cause all the real events of the story—with a tranquil delight in her beautiful simplicity and intelligent affectionateness, compared with which the pleasure derived from the ordinary stimulants of romance is poor and tame. At least two-thirds of the volume are devoted to descriptions of Eastern scenery, habits, customs, manners, and men, and these are generally excellent. Altogether, the book will add to the reputation of the authoress.

* * * * *

Life and Times of General Sam. Dale, the Mississippi Partisan. By J.F.H. CLAIBORNE. Illustrated by John M'Lenan. New York: Harper & Brothers.

The adventures of General Dale, Mr. Claiborne tells us, were taken from his own lips by the author and two friends, and from the notes of all three a memoir was compiled, but the MSS. were lost in the Mississippi. We regret that Dale's own words were thus lost; for the stories of the hardy partisan are not improved by his biographer's well-meant efforts to tell them in more graceful language. Mr. Claiborne's cheap eloquence is perhaps suited to the unfastidious taste of a lower latitude; but we prefer those stories, too few in number, in which the homely words of Dale are preserved.

Dale does not appear to have done anything to warrant this "attempt on his life," being no more remarkable than hundreds of others. He saw several distinguished men; but of his anecdotes about them we can only quote the old opinion, that the good stories are not new, and the new are not good. As there is nothing particularly interesting in the subject, so there is no peculiar charm thrown around it by the manner in which Mr. Claiborne has executed his task. A noticeable and very comic feature is presented in the praises which he has interpolated, when ever any acquaintance of his is referred to. We readily acquiesce, when we are told that Mr. A is a model citizen, and that Mr. B is alike unsurpassed in public and private life; but the latter statement becomes less intensely gratifying when we learn the fact that Mr. C also has no superior, and that there are no better or abler men than D, E, F, or G. We were aware that Mississippi was uncommonly fortunate in having meritorious sons, but not that so singularly exact an equality existed among them. Are they all best? It is like the case of the volunteer regiment in which they were all Major-Generals. Occasional eminence we can easily believe, but a table-land of merit is more than we are prepared for; and we are strongly led to suspect that praise so lavishly given may be cheaply won.

* * * * *

The Money-King and Other Poems. By JOHN G. SAXE. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 16mo.

We regret having overlooked this pleasant volume so long. In a previous collection of poems, which has run through fifteen editions, Mr. Saxe fully established his popularity; and the present volume, which is better than its predecessor, has in it all the elements of a similar success. The two longest poems, "The Money-King" and "The Press," have been put to the severe test of repeated delivery before lyceum audiences in different parts of the country; and a poet is sure to learn by such a method of publication, what he may not learn by an appearance in print, the real judgment of the miscellaneous public on his performance. He may doubt the justice of the praise or the censure of the professional critic; but it is hard for him to resist the fact of failure, when it comes to him palpably in the satire that scowls in an ominous stare and the irony that lurks in an audible yawn,—hard for him to question the reality of triumph, when teeth flash at every gleam of his wit and eyes moisten at every touch of his sentiment. Having tried each of these poems before more than a hundred audiences, Mr. Saxe has fairly earned the right to face critics fearlessly; and, indeed, the poems themselves so abound in sense, shrewdness, sagacity, and fancy, in sayings so pithy and wit so sparkling, are so lull of humor and good-humor, and flow on their rhythmic and rhyming way with so much of the easy abandonment of vivacious conversation, that few critics will desire to reverse the favorable decisions of the audiences they have enlivened.

Among the miscellaneous poems, there are many which, in brilliancy, in keen, good-natured satire, in facility and variety of versification, in ingenious fancy, in joyousness of spirit and pure love of fun, excel the longer poems to which we have just referred. We have found the great majority of them exceedingly exhilarating reading, and, if our limits admitted an extended examination, we feel sure that the result of the analysis would be the eliciting of unexpected merits rather than the detection of hidden defects.

* * * * *

Say and Seal. By the Author of "Wide, Wide World," and the Author of "Dollars and Cents." In Two Volumes. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.

Another story from "Elizabeth Wetherell" is a welcome addition to our scanty stock of American, novels. Our real American novels may be counted on our fingers, while the tales that claim the name may be weighed by the ton. At the present time, we count Hawthorne among our novelists, and Mrs. Stowe, and perhaps Curtis, since his "Trumps"; but as for our thousand and one unrivalled authors, "whose matchless knowledge of the human heart and wonderful powers of delineation place them far above Dickens or Thackeray," they are all, from Sylvanus Cobb, Junior, down to Ned Buntline and Gilmore Simms, beneath serious notice, and may be left to the easy verdict of the readers of the cheap magazines and illustrated newspapers, in whose columns they have gained a world-wide obscurity. Miss Warner's books have always a genuine flavor of originality, and an acute, living appreciation of Yankee character, that give them a right to rank, unchallenged, as real and valuable novels. In their simplicity, their freshness, their quiet humor and not less quiet fun, their frequent narrowness and stiffness, and their deep and true religious sentiment, they have the real essence of the New England character.

In every novel there are three principal elements,—the Hero, the Heroine, the Villain,—all three gracefully blending, in the Plot. We cannot especially congratulate our authors upon their Hero. In a favorite farce, the slightly bewildered Mr. Lullaby observes musingly, "Brown? Brown? That name sounds familiar! I must have heard that name before! I'll swear I've heard that name before!" We have a dim consciousness of having met "Mr. Linden" before, albeit under a different name. A certain Mr. Humphreys, whom we remember of old, strongly resembles him: so does one Mr. Guy Carleton. We were very well pleased with our old friend Humphreys, (or Carleton,) and would by no means hint at any reluctance to meet him again; but a new novel, by its very announcement, implies a new hero,—and if we come upon a plain family-party, when fondly hoping for an introduction to some distinguished stranger, we may be excused for thinking ourselves hardly treated. Is it so infallible a sign of superiority, moreover, to speak constantly in riddles? This Sphinx-like style is eminently characteristic of Mr. Linden. Then again, our authors have been too ambitious. They laboriously assert Mr. Linden to be a marvel of learning,—a man of vast and curious literary attainments: but all that their hero does to maintain this reputation and vindicate their opinion is to quote trite passages of poetry, which are all very well, but which every gentleman of ordinary cultivation is expected to know, and which no gentleman of ordinary cultivation is expected to quote,—things that are remembered only to be avoided as utterly threadbare. One unfortunate instance may be found at the beginning of the second volume. Mr. Linden's acquirements are to receive peculiar lustre from a triumph over no ordinary competitor,—over the intelligent and well-read Doctor Harrison. Naturally, we expect something recondite, and are by no means satisfied with the trite

"Cupid and my Campaspe played At cards for kisses," etc.

Mr. Linden might as well have astonished the company by such a transcendent proof of erudition as

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women," etc.

Or, passing "from grave to gay, from lively to severe," (for novelty in quotations we find to be contagious,) have recounted the wildly erratic history "of that false matron known in nursery rhyme, Insidious Morey," or quoted

"How doth the little busy bee."

After which he might have soared into unapproachable heights of surpassing literary erudition, by informing his awe-struck hearers that the latter poem was written by Doctor Watts! The fact is, any attempt to give the novelist's characters a learning which the novelist does not possess is always hazardous.

The Heroine, Miss Faith Derrick, is a pretty, but not remarkably original creation, who taxes our magnanimity sorely at times by her blind admiration of her lover when he is peculiarly absurd, but whose dumb rejection of Doctor Harrison, though a trifle theatrical, is really charming. Faith is better than Linden: Linden is "superbe, magnifique"; but Faith is "pretty good."

But the conception of the Villain is very fine. In Doctor Harrison we hail a new development of that indispensable character. Of course, the gentlemanly, good-humored Doctor is not to be considered a villain in the ordinary acceptation of the word; he is only a technical villain,—a villain of eminent respectability. It is almost unnecessary to add, that he is immeasurably more attractive than the real hero, Mr. Linden.

We regret to say that the conception is not carried out so well as it deserves to be. Doctor Harrison descends to some low business, quite unworthy of him, such as tampering with the mails. This is not only mortifying, but entirely unnecessary; inasmuch as Doctor Harrison has a subordinate villain to do all the low villany, in the person of Squire Deacon, who shoots at Mr. Linden from behind a hedge (!), and is never called to account therefor,—a strange remissness on the part of everybody, which seems to have no recommendation except that it leaves him free to do this very work of robbing the mails, and which, by his failure to do it, is left utterly unexplained and profoundly mysterious. All this is very bad. The Doctor's meanness is utterly inconsistent; and the bare thought of a sober and uncommonly awkward Yankee, like Squire Deacon, deliberately making two separate attempts at assassination, is unspeakably ludicrous. Moreover, we are hopelessly unable to see the need of having the unfortunate Mr. Linden shot at all. Everything was going on very well before, as nearly as we could see, and nothing appears to come of it, after all,—not even the condign punishment of the incongruous and never-to-be-sufficiently-marvelled-at assassin, who is suspected by several people, and yet remains as unharmed as if murder on the highway were altogether too common an occurrence in New England to excite more than a moment's thought.

This leads us to speak of the Plot; and we are constrained to say that a more inartistic, unfinished piece of work we cannot remember. There is a lamentable waste of capital on Squire Deacon's sportsmanlike propensities. Why not have something come of them? We are not anxious to have the man hanged, or even indicted; but we did expect a magnanimous pardon to be extended to him by Mr. Linden; and although that gentleman was altogether too magnanimous before, we should have acquiesced mildly. And what becomes of Mrs. Derrick? There we are in earnest; for Mrs. Derrick is an especial favorite with us. It seems as if our authors had become bewildered, and, finding themselves fairly at a loss what to do with their characters, who drift helplessly along through a great part of the second volume, had seized desperately on the hero and heroine, determined to save them at least, and, having borne them to a place of refuge, had concluded to let the others look after themselves.

What redeems the novel, and gives it its peculiar and exquisite charm, is the execution of certain detached passages. We have never seen the drollery of a genuine Yankee to more advantage than in "Say and Seal." An occasional specimen we venture to quote.

On Mr. Linden's first appearance at Mrs. Derrick's house, where he is known only as the new teacher, nobody knows and nobody dares ask his name; and recourse is accordingly had to the diplomacy of the "help."

"'Child,' said Mrs. Derrick, 'what on earth is his name?'

"'Mother, how should I know? I didn't ask him.'

"'But the thing is,' said Mrs. Derrick, 'I did know; the Committee told me all about him. And of course he thinks I know,—and I don't,—no more than I do my great-grandmother's name, which I never did remember yet.'

"'Mother, shall I go and ask him, or wait till after supper?'

"'Oh, you sha'n't go,' said her mother. 'Wait till after supper, and we'll send Cindy. He won't care about his name till he gets his tea, I'll warrant... Faith, don't you think he liked his supper?'

"'I should think he would, after having no dinner,' said Faith.

"'There's Cindy, this minute! Run and tell her to go right away, and find out what his name is,—tell her I want to know,—you can put it in good words.'

"Cindy presently came back, and handed a card to Faith.

"'It's easy done,' said Cindy. 'I jest asked him if he'd any objections towards tellin' his name,—and he kinder opened his eyes at me, and said, "No." Then I said, says I, "Mis' Derrick do' know, and she'd like ter." "Miss Derrick!" says he, and he took out his pencil and writ that. But I'd like ter know what he cleans his pencil with,' said Cindy, in conclusion, for I'm free to confess I never see brass shine so in my born days.'"

Cindy's "free confessions" are an important feature of the book.

In Chapter VI, Squire Deacon and his sister hold a brief Yankee dialogue, of which this is a sample:—

"'Sam! what are you bothering yourself about Mr. Linden for?'

"'How long since you was made a trustee?' said the Squire, beginning his sentence with an untranslatable sort of grunt, and ending it in his teacup.

"'I've been your trustee ever since you was up to anything,' said his sister. 'Come, Sam,—don't you begin now! What's made you so crusty?'

"'It a'n't the worst thing to be crusty,' said the Squire. 'Shows a man's more'n half baked, anyhow.'

"'Well, what has he done?'

"'Sure enough!' said the Squire, 'what has he done? That's just what I can't find out.'

"'What do you want to find out for? What ails him?'

"'Suppose he hasn't done nothin'. Is that the sort o' man to teach litteratur in Pattaquasset?'

"'Now, Sam Deacon, what do you expect to do by all this fuss you're making?' said his sister, judicially.

"'What's the use of cross-examining a man at that rate? When I do anything, you'll know it.'"

The characters are all invested with reality by skilfully introduced anecdotes, or by personal traits carelessly and happily sketched. But it is a costly expedient to give this reality, when our authors bring in pet names, and other "love-lispings," which are sacred in privacy and painfully ridiculous when exposed to the curious light. Many of us readers find all this mawkish and silly, and others of us are pained that to such scrutiny should be exposed the dearest secrets of affection, and are not anxious to have them exposed to our own gaze. It is too trying a confidence, too high an honor, to be otherwise than unwelcome. With this criticism we close our notice of "Say and Seal," in which we have been sparing neither of praise nor blame, earnestly thanking the authors for a book that is worth finding fault with.

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