Atlantic Monthly, Vol. IV, No. 26, December, 1859
Author: Various
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But the system of Gothic decorations, "which," says Mr. Ruskin, "took eight hundred years to mature, gathering its power by undivided inheritance of traditional method," is not an easy thing to revive under new and difficult conditions. A single example of what has been attempted in this way in the Oxford Museum must suffice to show the spirit which pervades its construction. The lower arcade upon the central court is supported by thirty-three piers and thirty shafts; the upper arcade by thirty-three piers and ninety-five shafts. "The shafts have been carefully selected, under the direction of the Professor of Geology, from quarries which furnish examples of many of the most important rocks of the British Islands. On the lower arcade are placed, on the west side, the granitic series; on the east, the metamorphic; on the north, calcareous rocks, chiefly from Ireland; on the south, the marbles of England." The capitals and bases are to represent different groups of plants and animals, illustrating the various geological epochs, and the natural orders of existence. Thus, the column of sienite from Charnwood Forest has a capital of the cocoa palm; the red granite of Ross, in Mull, is crowned with a capital of lilies; the beautiful marble of Marychurch has an exquisitely sculptured capital of ferns;—and so through all the range of the arcades, new designs, studied directly from Nature, and combining art with science, have been executed by the workmen employed on the building.

To complete the beauty of the court, massive corbels have been thrown out from the piers, upon which statues of the greatest and most famous men in science are to be, or are already, placed. These shafts and capitals and statues have been, in great part, the gift of individuals interested in the progress and successful completion of such a building. The Queen presented five of the statues; and her example has been followed by many of the graduates of the University and lovers of Art in England.

Mr. Ruskin ends his second letter in the little book before us with these words: "Although I doubt not that lovelier and juster expressions of the Gothic principle will be ultimately arrived at by us than any which are possible in the Oxford Museum, its builders will never lose their claim to our chief gratitude, as the first guides in a right direction; and the building itself, the first exponent of recovered truth, will only be the more venerated, the more it is excelled."

Such is the way in which Oxford, having a Museum to build, sets to work. She lays down a large and generous plan, and erects a building worthy of her ancient fame, worthy to increase the love and honor in which she is held,—a building that adds a new beauty to her old beauties of hall and chapel, of quadrangle and cloister. She does not mistake parsimony for economy; she does not neglect to regard the duty that lies upon her, as the guardian and instructress of youth, to set before their eyes models of fair proportion, noble structures which shall exercise at once an influence to refine the taste and the sentiment and to enlarge the intellect. She acknowledges the claims of the future as well as of the present, and does not erect that which the future, however it may advance in constructive power, will regard as base, mean, or ugly. She recognizes the value to herself, as well as to her sons, of all those associations which, through the power of her adorned and munificent architecture, shall bind them to her in ties of closer tenderness, and of strong, though most delicate feeling. Her building is to have an aspect that shall correspond to the nobility of its function,—that shall impress the student, as he walks along the hard and dry paths of science, with some sense, faint though it be, of the beauty of that learning which is furnished with so goodly an abode. The influence of a fine building, complete in all its parts, is one which cannot be estimated in money, cannot be investigated by any practical process, but which is nevertheless as strong and precious as it is secret, as constant as it is unobserved.

It would seem that there could be no country in the world where buildings of the noblest kind would be more desired than in America, for there is none in which they are so much needed. But such is not the case. As men who have lived long in darkness become so accustomed to the want of light as not to feel its absence, so the absoluteness of the want of fine buildings in America prevents that want from being generally felt. Heirs of the intellectual wealth of the past, we have no inheritance of the great works of its hands. No material heirlooms have been transmitted to us. We are cut off from any share in the monuments on which the labor, the affection, and the possessions of former generations were expended. The precious and enlarging associations connected with such works, which bind successive generations of men together with ties of memory and reverence, stimulating the imagination to new conceptions, and nerving the will to large efforts, have nothing to cling to here. The land is barren and naked; and, moreover, no effort is made to relieve the future from the want which the present feels so keenly. With wealth ample enough for undertakings of any magnitude,—with intelligence, more boasted than real, but still sufficient for the conception of improvement, we exhibit in our civilization neither the taste nor the capacity for any noble works of Art. The value of beauty is disregarded, and the cultivation of the sense of beauty is treated as of little worth, compared with the culture of what are styled the practical faculties. Our wealth is spent in the erection of extravagant stores and shops,—in the decoration of oyster-saloons, hotels, and steamboats,—in the lavish and selfish adornment of drawing-rooms and chambers. In the whole breadth of the continent there is not a single building of such beauty as to be an object of national pride, and few which will have any value in future times, except as historic records of the poverty of sentiment and the deficiency of character of the men of this generation.

Our oldest and best endowed University has, like Oxford, lately engaged in the erection of a Museum, which, though more limited in its general object, has yet a scope of such large and generous proportion as to make it a work of even more than national interest. It is undertaken on such a scale as to fit it not merely for present needs, but for the increasing wants of later times. The State has contributed to it from the public treasury, and private citizens have given their contributions liberally towards its support. The building has been rapidly carried forward, and the portion undertaken is now near completion. How does it compare with the Oxford Museum? What provision has been made that in its outward aspect it shall correspond with the worth and grandeur of the collections it is to hold and the studies that are to be carried on within it? What patient thought, what stores of imagination, what happy adaptations do its walls reveal? These questions are easily answered. Convenience of internal arrangement has been sought without regard to external beauty, without consideration of the claims of Art. The architect has, we must suppose, been obliged to conform his plans to the most frugal estimates; but we cannot help thinking, that, generous as the State has been, it would have been more worthy of her, had no such necessity existed. The building for the Museum is one which can never excite high admiration, never touch any chord of poetic sentiment, never arouse in the student within its walls any feeling save that of mere convenience and utility. Its bare, shadowless walls, unadorned by carven columns or memorial statues, will stand incapable of affording support for those associations which endear every human work of worth, covering it with praise and remembrance, as the ivy clings to the stone, adding beauty to beauty,—associations which make men proud of their ancestors and desirous to equal them in achievement The University at Cambridge, just entering on the second quarter of its third century, has not a single building that is beautiful, perhaps we might say none that is not positively ugly; and we almost despair of a future when our people shall become enlightened and magnanimous enough to appreciate noble architecture at its true worth, as the expression of the greatness of national character, as an enduring record of faith and of truth, and as an essential instrument in any system of education that professes to be complete.

1.Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter; being Reminiscences of MESHACH BROWNING, a Maryland Hunter; roughly written down by Himself. Revised and illustrated by E. STABLER. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co. 1859. pp. x., 400.

2. Ten Years of Preacher-Life; Chapters from an Autobiography. By WILLIAM HENRY MILBURN. New York: Derby & Jackson. 1859. pp. 363.

BENVENUTO CELLINI was right in his dictum about autobiographies; and so was Dr. Kitchener, in his about hares. First catch your perfectly sincere and unconscious man. He is even more uncommon than a genius of the first order. Most men dress themselves for their autobiographies, as Machiavelli used to do for reading the classics, in their best clothes; they receive us, as it were, in a parlor chilling and awkward from its unfamiliarity with man, and keep us carefully away from the kitchen-chimney-corner, where they would feel at home, and would not look on a lapse into nature as the unpardonable sin. But what do we want of a hospitality that makes strangers of us, or of confidences that keep us at arm's-length? Better the tavern and the newspaper; for in the one we can grumble, and from the other learn more of our neighbors than we care to know. John Smith's autobiography is commonly John Smith's design for an equestrian statue of himself,—very fine, certainly, and as much like him as like Marcus Aurelius. Saint Augustine, kneeling to confess, has an eye to the picturesque, and does it in pontificalibus, resolved that Domina Grundy shall think all the better of him. Rousseau cries, "I will bare my heart to you!" and, throwing open his waistcoat, makes us the confidants of his dirty linen. Montaigne, indeed, reports of himself with the impartiality of a naturalist, and Boswell, in his letters to Temple, shows a maudlin irretentiveness; but is not old Samuel Pepys, after all, the only man who spoke to himself of himself with perfect simplicity, frankness, and unconsciousness?—a creature unique as the dodo,—a solitary specimen, to show that it was possible for Nature to indulge in so odd a whimsey! An autobiography is good for nothing, unless the author tell us in it precisely what he meant not to tell. A man who can say what he thinks of another to his face is a disagreeable rarity; but one who could look his own Ego straight in the eye, and pronounce unbiased judgment, were worthy of Sir Thomas Browne's Museum. Had Cheiron written his autobiography, the consciousness of his equine crupper would have ridden him like a nightmare; should a mermaid write hers, she would sink the fish's tail, nor allow it to be put into the scales, in weighing her character. The mermaid, in truth, is the emblem of those who strive to see themselves;—her mirror is too small to reflect anything more than the mulier formosa supern.

We looked for a great prize in Meshach Browning's account of himself, and have been disappointed. Not that some very fair grains of wheat may not be had for the winnowing, but the proportion of chaff is disheartening. Meshach has been edited, and has not come out of that fiery furnace unscathed. Mr. Stabler has not let him come before us in his deerskin hunting-shirt, but has made him presentable by getting him into a black dress-coat, the uniform of perfect respectability and tiresomeness. He has corrected Meshach's style for him! He has made him write that unexceptionable English which neither gods nor men, but only columns, allow. (The kindness of an anonymous correspondent, however, enables us to assure him that lay, and not laid, is the preterite of lie.) One page of Meshach's own writing would have been worth all his bear-stories put together. Many men may shoot bears, but few can write like backwoodsmen. We shall expect an edition of "The Rivals" from Mr. Stabler, with Mrs. Malaprop's epitaphs revised by the "Aids to Composition." Luckily, Meshach himself will never know the wrong that has been done him. On the contrary, he probably pleases himself in finding that he is made to write President's English, and admires the new leaves and apples not his own. But, in his polishing, American letters have met as great a loss as American fiction did when the depositions of the survivors of Bunker's Hill, taken fifty years after the battle, were burned.

However, he who knows how to read with the ends of his fingers may yet find good meat in the book. An honest provincialism has escaped Mr. Stabler's weeding-hoe here and there, and we get a few glimpses, in spite of him, into log-cabin interiors when the inmates are not in their Sunday-clothes. We learn how much a sound stomach has to do with human felicity; that a bride may make her husband happy, though her whole outfit consist of two cups and saucers, two knives and forks, and two spoons; that a man may be hospitable in a cabin, twelve by fifteen, with only the forest for his larder; and that an American needs only an axe, a rifle, and nary red, for his start in life. Meshach Browning finds in his Paradise very much what our first parents found outside of theirs. At nineteen he is the husband of pretty Mary McMullen, and joint-proprietor with the rest of mankind of all-outdoors,—it being an eccentricity of McMullen pre to prefer a back to a front view of his sons-in-law. Meshach, who is sure of a comfortable fireside wherever there are trees, moves into the nearest bit of wilderness, builds a house with the timber felled to make a clearing, plants his acre or two, and forthwith shoots a bear, whose salted flesh will keep him and his wife alive till harvest. Thus in 1800 was a family founded, which fifty years later had increased to one hundred and twenty-two, of whom sixty-seven, as their progenitor says proudly, were "capable of bearing arms for the defence of their country,"—though, to be sure, the Harper's Ferry affair leaves us in some doubt as to the direction in which they would bear them. The community of which the Brownings, man and wife, became members at their marriage was a wholly self-subsistent one. The men wore deerskins procured by their own rifles and dressed and tailored by themselves,—while the women spun and wove both flax and wool. Powder and lead seem to have been the only things for which they were dependent on outsiders. Browning's father was an English soldier, who, escaping from Braddock's massacre, deserted and settled in the highlands of Western Maryland,—as a place, we suppose, equally safe from the provost-martial of the redcoat and the tomahawk of the red man. It is curious to think of the great contrast between father and son: the one a British soldier of the day of strictest powder and pigtail; the other, a man who never wore a hat, except in fine weather,—and in the house, of course, like the rest of his countrymen. In this case, we find the very purest American type (for Meshach has not a single Old-World notion) produced in a single generation. We ourselves have known a parallel instance in the children of a British soldier who deserted during the War of 1812; in tone of thought, accent, dialect, and physique they were unmistakably Yankee. If the backwoods Americanize men so fast, is it wonderful that two centuries of the Western Hemisphere should have produced a breed so unlike the parent Bull? It is time Bull began to reconcile himself to it.

One of the most amusing passages in Meshach's autobiography is that in which he relates his military experience as captain of a company of militia. The company appear to have gone into action only once, and that was on occasion of a muster when they undertook to lick their commander, with whom, for some reason or other, they were discontented. As well as we can make out, the result seems to have been, that the captain licked them; though our Caesar's Commentaries are naturally so confused on this topic, that we almost feel, after reading them, as if we had been through the fight ourselves.

The book should have been shorter by at least two-thirds,—for one bear-story is just like another, and Meshach's style of narrative is one that cannot bear the prosperity of print. However, we find much that is interesting in the volume, as in all records of real experience.

Mr. Milburn's account of himself we have also found very entertaining. In some respects it belongs on the same shelf with Meshach Browning's; for we think the best chapters in it are those which bring us into contact with Cartwright and other Methodist ministers, the frontiersmen and bushfighters of the Church, who do not bandy subtilties with Mephistopheles, nor consider that the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman, but go in for a rough-and-tumble fight with Satan and his imps, as with so many red Injuns undeserving of the rights and incapable of the amenities of civilized warfare. We confess a thorough liking for these Leatherstockings of the clergy, true apostolic successors of the heavy-handed fisherman, Peter. Their rough-and-ready gospel is just the thing for men who feel as if they could not get religion, unless from a preacher who can "whip" them as well as thunder doctrine at their ears.

We prefer those parts of Mr. Milburn's book in which he tells us what he saw (if we may say it of a blind man) to those in which he undertakes to tell us what he was. The history of the growth of his mind is not of vital importance to us, and we should be quite willing to have "returned unexperienced to our graves," like Grumio's fellow-servants. We think there is getting to be altogether too much unreserve in the world. We doubt if any man have the right to take mankind by the button and tell all about himself, unless, like Dante, he can symbolize his experience. Even Goethe we only half thank, especially when he kisses and tells, and prefer Shakspeare's indifference to the intimacy of the German. Silence about one's self is the most golden of all, as men commonly discover after babbling. Mr. Milburn, in one of his chapters, gives an account of his passage through what he is pleased to call neology and rationalism. He represents himself as having sounded the depths of German metaphysics, criticism, and aesthetics. But a man who is able to write a sentence in which Lessing's Works are spoken of as if the reading of them tended to make men "transcendentalists of the supra-nebulous order" no more deserves a scourging by angels for his devotion to German literature than Saint Jerome did for being a Ciceronian. No truly thorough course of study ever weakened or unsteadied any man's mind, for it is the surest way to make him think less of himself,—and we cannot help believing that the disease Mr. Milburn went through was nothing more nor less than sentimentalism, a complaint as common to a certain period of life as measles. But while we think him mistaken in his diagnosis, we cannot but commend the good sense and manliness of his course of treatment.

Bating the egotism unavoidable in a work of the sort, the style of Mr. Milburn's book is agreeable, and the anecdotes of various kinds with which it abounds render it very amusing. It is of particular interest as showing how much a blind man may accomplish both for himself and others, that the loss of sight may be borne with cheerfulness as well as resignation, and that the sufferer by such a calamity is sure of kindness and sympathy from his fellow-men.

A First Lesson in Natural History. By ACTAEA. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1859. pp. 82.

This is an altogether charming little book. Simple, clear, and methodical, the style leaves nothing to be desired, and suggests no wish that anything were away. An aunt called upon for more stories—and no wonder, when she tells them so well—resolves to play the Nered, and takes her little ones in fancy down among the slopes and dells of Ocean to watch the lovely growths and the strange creatures in which, through plant and mineral, or what seem such, Life is yearning upward toward the higher individuality of Volition. She tells us (for we seemed among her hearers as we read, and drew our stool nearer) all about the sea-anemones and corals, the coral-reefs, the jelly-fishes, star-fishes, and sea-urchins,—which last are not to be confounded with the buoys so frequently to be met with in our harbors. That the stories have the sanction of Agassiz is warrant of their scientific accuracy, while the feminine grace with which they are told is a science to be learned of no professor.

Since the fairies are all dead, it is pleasant to know that Pan can be brought to life again for children by the study of Nature. Now that the wonders of the invisible world are closed, the little ones can have no better set-off than in the beauty and marvel of God's visible creation. Here also are food for the imagination and material for poetry. Whatever teaches a child to observe teaches him to think, and strengthens memory, a faculty which in fitting conjunction is cumulative genius.

We dislike the science that is sometimes forced down youthful throats by the Mrs. Squeerses of polite learning, a vile compound of treacle and brimstone; but there is a vast difference between science as dead fact and science as living poetry,—the harvest of the child's own eyes, gathered on seashores and hillsides, in fields and lanes. We like the aim and tendency of this little book, because it is likely to draw children away from hooks, and to entice them into that admirably ventilated schoolroom of out-doors which will give them sound lungs and stomachs and muscular limbs. It teaches them, too, without their knowing it; which is the only true way; for they contrive to make their minds duck's-backs, under the assiduous watering-pot of instruction. The knowledge it gives them is real, and not merely a thing of terms and phrases. Moreover, the kind of it is suitable; a great thing; for we hold a Pascal in a pinafore to be as great an outrage as a learned pig.

We have found the generality of books written for children of late so thoroughly bad, as void of invention as they are full of vulgarisms in thought and language, that it is a downright pleasure to meet with one so fresh and graceful as this of Aectaea's. We hope she will follow it with a series, for she has shown herself qualified to do for science what Hawthorne has done for mythology.

Poems. By ASNE WHITNEY. New York: Appleton & Co. 1859.

This modest volume is a collection of Miss Whitney's previously printed poems, scattered about in forgotten newspapers, with perhaps as many more, which now appear in print for the first time. The uncommon merit of some of her early poems, especially "Bertha," "Hymn to the Sea," and "Lilian," (here most unpoetically called "Facts in Verse,") long ago awakened a desire in lovers of good poetry to know more of Miss Whitney and what she had written; and the desire is gratified by the publication of this book. We can hardly say that the new poems are better than the old; though some of them, as "The Ceyba and the Jaguey," "Undine," "Dominique," and "My Window," are marked by the same quick insight, the same force and dignity of expression, which charm us in the earlier verses. We still find "Lilian" the best of all, as it is the longest; there are in it passages of description as clear and vivid as the landscapes of Church and Turner, and touches of profound and glowing imagination; and the whole poem, in spite of its obscurity, affects the mind like a strain of high and mournful music. The Sonnets are all more or less harsh and unintelligible,—a criticism which applies to many of the other poems. Miss Whitney evidently despises foot-notes as utterly as Tennyson, and leaves much unexplained in her titles and in the poems themselves, which might help us to understand them, if we knew it. Obscurity of thought and a lack of facility in versification cause evident defects in her otherwise fine book; on the other hand, she is never flat and seldom feeble, but writes as one whose thoughts and feelings move on a high level, sustained by a familiarity with the strength and beauty, rather than the grace and tenderness of literature. Few of our countrywomen have written better poems, and her little book gives finer food for thought and fancy than many a more bulky volume. Is it ungracious to charge her with affectation? for this is the clinging curse of modern poetry, and one may trace it even in the noble idyls of the greatest English poet now alive. The Brownings overflow with it, and it is the chief characteristic of scores of the lesser poets of the day. If all who write verses could learn how sacred language is, how full of beauty is its austere simplicity, they would cease from their endless tricks of word-painting and the Florentine mosaics of speech. Miss Whitney offends less than many in this way, and has shown some of the rarer gifts of that indefinable being,—a true poet.

Sword and Gown. A Novel: by the Author of "Guy Livingstone." Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

This is rather a brilliant sketch than a carefully wrought and finely finished romance. The actors are drawn in bold outlines, which it does not appear to have been the purpose of the author to fill up in the delicate manner usually deemed necessary for the development of character in fiction. But they are so vigorously drawn, and the narration is so full of power, that few readers can resist the fascination of the story, in spite of the intrusive little digressions which everywhere appear, and which, jumping at random through passages of history, religion, art, politics, literature, as a circus-rider forsakes his steed to dash through the many-colored tissue screens that are invitingly held out to him, interfere quite seriously with its progress. It is certainly a book in which the interest is positive, and from which the attention is seldom allowed to wander; and is, so far, a success.

But there is also another relation in which it is to be considered. Without being much of a moralist, one may clearly perceive that its tone is unhealthy and its sentiment vicious. What it aims at we would not assume to decide; what it accomplishes is, to secure a sympathy for a reckless and dare-devil spirit which drives the hero through a tolerably long career of more than moderate iniquity, and leaves him impenitent at the end. It will hardly do to say that the object of the book is only to amuse. Dealing with the subjects it does, it must work good or evil. Its theme is this: An imperious beauty, whose heart has been seared in earliest youth, and whose passions are half supposed to be dead, is brought in contact, at a French watering-place, with a man whose life has been passed in wildest excesses, whose amatory exploits have echoed through Europe, and who knows no higher human motive of action than the prosecution of selfish and sensual enjoyment. His good qualities are dauntless personal courage, which, however, often sinks into brutal ferocity, and occasional touches of generous emotion towards his friends. The young girl's heart-strings are again set in tune, and made to quiver in harmony with those of the determined conqueror. Just as her soul is yielded, the intelligence that her lover has a living wife is imparted to her. Here a resemblance to a striking incident in "Jane Eyre" may be detected; but mark the difference in the result:—Jane Eyre, resolute in her righteous convictions, flies from a struggle which she perhaps feels herself incapable of sustaining; the present heroine consents to remain near her lover, on his promise of good behavior! What follows cannot be averted,—who would expect that it should be? The elopement which is planned, however, is prevented by the interference of a third party, and the lovers submit to their destiny of separation. They meet once again, but it is only when the hero, mortally wounded in a Crimean battle, lies expiring at Scutari. With the bitter agony of the dying farewell, the scene closes. The characters remain unchanged to the end. The Sword, though stained in many places with impurities, still glistens with a lustre that bewilders and confuses the senses. The Gown—which seems introduced at all only for the purpose of mockery, its representative being invested with all contemptible and unmanly attributes—still lies covered with the reproach that has been cast upon it.

The moral of such a book is not a good one. The author does his best, by various arts, to make the reader look kindly upon a guilty love, and to regard with admiration those who are animated by it, notwithstanding the hero is no better at the end than he was at the opening, and the heroine is rather worse. And such is his undeniable power, that with many readers he will be too likely to carry his point.

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Reynard the Fox, after the German Version of Goethe. By Thomas James Arnold, Esq.; with Illustrations from the Designs of Wilhelm von Kaulbach. New York. D. Appleton & Co. 8vo. pp. 226. $3.50.

The Eighteen Christian Centuries. By the Rev. James White, Author of a "History of France"; with a Copious Index. From the Second Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia. Parry & McMillan. 12mo. pp. 538. $1.25.

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Sword and Gown. By the Author of "Guy Livingstone." Boston. Ticknor & Fields. 16mo. pp. 308. 75 cts.

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Life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. By Alphonse de Lamartine. New York. Sheldon & Co. 18mo. pp. 275. 50 cts.

Loss and Gain; or, Margaret's Home. By Alice B. Haven. New York. D. Appleton & Co. 16mo. pp. 315. $1.00.

At Home and Abroad; a Sketch-Book of Life, Scenery, and Men. By Bayard Taylor. New York. G.P. Putnam. 12mo. pp. vi., 500. $1.25.


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