Atlantic Monthly, Volume 14, No. 84, October, 1864 - A Magazine Of Literature, Art, And Politics
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

There are sometimes fictitious writers who sweep across the land in a great wave of popularity and then pass away,—as Frederika Bremer twenty years ago,—and leave no visible impression behind. But Harriet Prescott's fame rests on a foundation of sure superiorities, so far as she possesses it; and no one has impaired or can impair it, except herself. If it has not grown as was at first anticipated, it has been her own doing, and "Azarian" has come none too soon to give a better augury for the future. There is no literary laurel too high for her to grasp, if her own will, and favoring circumstances, shall enable her to choose only noble and innocent themes, and to use canvas firm and pure enough for the rare colors she employs.

The Wrong of Slavery, the Right of Emancipation, and the Future of the African Race in the United States. By Robert Dale Owen. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co. 12mo.

"Book, Sir, book! It's the title!" This is the reputed saying of Longman, the publisher, when asked for the key to bookselling. It is a pity that Mr. Owen's book has so cumbrous a name to carry; for everything else about it is compact and portable. Few American works on statistics or political economy possess either brevity or an index, and this combines both treasures. "In this small volume, which a busy man may read in a few hours," the author condenses an immense deal,—and it is a blessed sign, if a man who has been in Congress can still be so economical of words. If his brother Congressmen would only imitate his precious example, what a blessed hope! How gladly would one subscribe for the "Congressional Globe," with the assurance that it would henceforth be the only tedious book in his library, that all the chaff would hereafter be safely winnowed into that, and all the sense put into comfortable little duo-decimos like this!

Mr. Owen's opportunities, as Chairman of the American Freedmen's Commission, have been very great, and he has used them well. The history of slavery and the slave-trade,—the practical consequences of both,—the constitutionality of emancipation,—the present condition of the freed slaves, and their probable future,—all this ground is comprehended within two hundred and fifty pages. The points last named have, of course, the most immediate value, and his treatment of these is exceedingly manly and sensible. He shows conclusively that the whole demeanor of the freed slaves has done them infinite credit, and that the key to their successful management is simply to treat them with justice. That this justice includes equal rights of citizenship he fully asserts, and states the gist of the matter in one of the most telling paragraphs of the book. "God, who made the liberation of the negro the condition under which alone we could succeed in this war, has now, in His providence, brought about a position of things under which it would seem that a full recognition of that negro's rights as a citizen becomes indispensable to stability of government in peace." For, as Mr. Owen shows, even if under any other circumstances we might excuse ourselves for delaying the recognition of the freedman's right to suffrage, because of his ignorance and inexperience, yet it would be utterly disastrous to do so now, when two-thirds of the white population will remain disloyal, even when conquered. We cannot safely reorganize a republican government on the basis of one-sixth of its population, and shall be absolutely compelled to avail ourselves of that additional three-sixths which is loyal and black. Fortunately, as a matter of fact, there are no obstacles to the citizenship of the Southern negro greater than those in the way of the average foreign immigrant. The emancipated negro is at least as industrious and thrifty as the Celt, takes more pride in self-support, is far more eager for education, and has fewer vices. It is impossible to name any standard of requisites for the full rights of citizenship which will give a vote to the Celt and exclude the negro.

Much as has been written on this point, Mr. Owen has yet some astonishing facts to contribute. He shows, for instance, by the official statements, that, amidst the great distress produced in the city of St. Louis at the beginning of the war, by the gathering of white and black refugees from all parts of the State, when ten thousand persons received public aid, only two out of that whole vast number were of negro blood. These two were all who applied, one being lame, the other bedridden, and both women. He shows, upon similar authority, that the free colored people of Louisiana, under serious civil disabilities, are, on the average, richer, by seven and a half per cent., than the people of the Northern States. Their average wealth in 1860 was five hundred and twenty dollars, while the average wealth in the loyal Free States is only four hundred and eighty-four dollars. Such facts show how utterly gratuitous is the frequent assumption that the emancipated slave does not sufficiently know the value of a dollar.

Upon some disputed points Mr. Owen does not, perhaps, make his facts quite cover his inferences, as, for instance, on the vexed question of the vigor and vitality of the mulatto, upon which the more extended observations of the last three years have as yet shed little light. It is the same with the whole obscure problem of amalgamation; indeed, he slips into an absolute contradiction, in pronouncing judgment rather too hastily here. "I believe," he says, "that the effect of general emancipation will be to discourage amalgamation. It is rare in Canada." (p. 219.) But, however it may be in Canada, he has already admitted, four pages before, that "the proportion of mulattoes among the free colored is much greater than among the slaves," which is, doubt less, true, except, perhaps, in a few large cities of the South. It is a subject of common remark that the Southern colored regiments are generally of far darker complexion than those recruited at the North, and this is inexplicable except on the supposition that freedom, even more than slavery, tends thus far to amalgamation. What further step in reasoning this suggests, it is, fortunately, not needful to inquire; like all other mysteries of human destiny, this will safely work itself out. It is not for nothing that the black man thrives in contact with the white, while the red man dies; and there certainly are practical anxieties enough to last us for a month or two, without borrowing any from the remoter future.

Enoch Arden, etc. By ALFRED TENNYSON, D.C.L., Poet-Laureate. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

In his new volume Tennyson has thrown out some verses, graceful, defiant, triumphant, and yet a little touched with sadness, in which he assails the thieves who have stolen his seed of poetry, and made the flower so common that the people call it—as, indeed, they did when first it blossomed—a weed. It may be for the reason here indicated that he has chosen for his later poems a form—that of the Idyl—the versification, construction, and use of which he has made his own by a delicate and yet indisputable stamp of sovereignty: whatever may be the reason, let us be thankful for the choice. He has worked in no field of whose resources he was more completely master, or which has yielded him more full and varied development of his rare genius. The work of his riper years, with the results of his fidelity in discipline, his generous culture, his catholic and earnest intercourse with men, and his clear and thoughtful observation lying ready for his use, he has crowned the green glory of his past with a chaplet that will grow more sure of permanence with the scrutiny of every succeeding year. In his "Idyls of the King" we recognized the best moral qualities of many of his previous works; and in "Enoch Arden," which gives the title to his last volume, he has turned the full light of his perfected genius on the simple scenes of domestic joy and sorrow.

We have always deemed it one of the greatest of Tennyson's great and good qualities, that he is unfaltering in the tribute of honor which he pays to the sterling virtues and to the beauty and heroism which he rejoices to point us to in the daily walk of the humblest life. A blameless character, pure desire, manly ambition, a fervent faith, and a strong will, resting on the firm innermost foundation of a Christian spirit, are as real to him in the fisherman as in the peerless prince. The temptations, the strength, and the temper of the hero are so common to both, and so clearly brought out in each, that we feel the Man in the Prince, and the high aim of the Prince in the true Man. There is the "grand, heroic soul" in Enoch as in Arthur,—

"Who reverenced his conscience as his king; Whose glory was redressing human wrong; Who spoke no slander, no, nor listened to it; Who loved one only, and who clave to her."

Our poet never strays from Nature; which has for him two sides,—the old duality, which is also forever,—the real and the ideal. To the one he brings the most patient fidelity of study; the other he reflects in every part of his poems in glowing imagery. "Enoch Arden" contains scenes which a Pre-Raphaelite might draw from,—as that "cup-like hollow in the down" which held the hazel-wood, with the children nutting through its reluctant boughs, or the fireside of Philip, on which Enoch looked and was desolate. On the other hand, no poet has so planted our literature with gorgeous gardens from which generations of lesser laborers will be enriched and prospered. The figures in which Tennyson uses Nature are not, moreover, strained or artificial; they do not distort or cover the inner meaning, but bloom from it, revealing its beauty and its sweetness. All bear the mark of loving thought,—now so delicate that its very faintness thrills and holds us, now strong and spirited and solemn.

In this latest poem we find also the old surpassing skill of language, a skill dependent on the faculty of penetrating to the inmost significance both of words and of things, so that there is no waste, and so that single words in single sentences stamp on the brain the substance of long experiences. Witness this: Enoch lies sick, distant from home and wife and children; here is one word crowded with pathos, telling of the weary loss of livelihood, the burden slowly growing more intolerably irksome to the bold and careful worker wrestling with pain, and to the fragile mother of the new-born babe:—

"Another hand crept, too, across his trade, Taking her bread and theirs."

See, again, how one line woven in the context shows where the tears came. Enoch, wrecked, solitary, almost hopeless, found that

"A phantom made of many phantoms moved Before him, haunting him,—or he himself Moved, haunting people, things, and places known Far in a darker isle beyond the line: The babes, their babble, Annie, the small house, The climbing street, the mill, the leafy lanes, The peacock-yewtree and the lonely Hall, The horse he drove, the boat he sold, the chill November dawns and dewy glooming of the downs, The gentle shower, the smell of dying leaves, And the low moan of leaden-colored seas."

We know of no more perfect rendering of an unlearned and trustful faith in God than this which Tennyson puts in the mouth of Enoch as he departs on the voyage from which he never returns to his wife:—

"If you fear, Cast all your fears on God: that anchor holds. Is He not yonder in those uttermost Parts of the morning? if I flee to these, Can I go from Him? And the sea is His, The sea is His: He made it."

In the repetition in the last line one can almost hear the sob welling up from the heart of the strong sailor, as he speaks of God to one beloved, in time of trial,—the feeling of bitterness in parting starting with the impulse of the stronger faith.

In "Enoch Arden," as in "In Memoriam," Tennyson shows the sweet and sure sympathy which informs him of all the ways of grief. In its sacred experiences, where the slightest variance from the simplicity of actual feeling would jostle all, he holds his way unquestioned.

It is a test, unembarrassed and complete, of genius, this treatment of grief, the emotion which least of all brooks exaggeration or sentimentalism. It is the test of human purity, too, and the hand must be very tender and very clean which leaves thus exact and clear the picture of the crowning phase of human life. If "In Memoriam" has appropriated to itself, by its sublime supremacy, a phrase which, though in daily use, is never heard without suggesting the poem, Tennyson shows in "Enoch Arden" that he understands the sad and perfect reign of grief in the life of the sailor and of the sailor's wife struck with a great sorrow for the loss of the latest born, as well as in the broad and varied range of his own cultured nature.

Coupled with the knowledge of grief is this of prayer,—"that mystery when God in man is one with man-in-God,"—which is said when Enoch had resolved to surrender his Annie rather than to break in upon her happiness:—

"His resolve Upbore him, and firm faith, and evermore Prayer, from a living source within the will, And beating up through all the bitter world, Like fountains of sweet water in the sea, Kept him a living soul."

And so we close the poem, which touches us again more than we deemed possible, till each renewal of the reading stirs again the depths of passionate sympathy. A pure manhood among the poets, a heart simple as the simplest, an imperial fancy, whose lofty supremacy none can question, a high faith, and a spirit possessed with the sublimest and most universal of Christ's truths, a tender and strong humanity, not bounded by a vague and misty sentiment, but pervading life in all its forms, and with these great skill and patience and beauty in expression,—these are the riper qualities to which "Enoch Arden" testifies. They are qualities whose attainment and retention are singularly rare, and whose value we cannot easily overrate.

And thus much having been said of "Enoch Arden," we find no space for consideration of the other poems contained in the new volume. "Aylmer's Field" is in some respects, perhaps, more remarkable than the poem which precedes it, since the poet never loses sight of England, in its course, nor the old familiar scenes, but tugs at the fetid roots of shallow aristocracy with the relentless clutch of one of God's noblemen laboring for the right.

Shut in these few pages we find the substance of a three-volume novel; and while the mind sways slowly to the music of its "sculptured lines," the lives of men move on from birth to death, leaving their meaning stamped in rhythmic beauty on our heart and brain.

Nor must we forget, while contemplating the two principal poems in the volume,—finished heroic lessons of the poet's mature life,—the songs, singing themselves like summer ripples on the strand, which are their melodious companions. Among them we dare to mention "In the Valley of Cauteretz,"—

"Sweeter thy voice, though every sound is sweet."


[A] Madame Recamier, with a Sketch of the History of Society in France. By Madame M——. London. 1862.

[B] Causeries de Lundi.

[C] Coppet et Weimar: Madame de Stael et la Grande Duchesse Louise.

[D] Madame de Chateaubriand.

[E] This term designated a larger class of young men than that to which it is now confined. It took in the articled clerks of merchants and bankers, the George Barnwells of the day.

[F] Since writing this article, we have been informed that the object of our funeral oration is not definitively dead, but only moribund. So much the better: we shall have an opportunity of granting the request made to Walter by one of the children in the wood, and "kill him two times." The Abbe de Vertot, having a siege to write, and not receiving the materials in time, composed the whole from his invention. Shortly after its completion, the expected documents arrived, when he threw them aside, exclaiming, "You are of no use to me now: I have carried the town."

[G] Cornhill Magazine, June, 1864, Vol. IX. p. 654.

[H] Gates was an Englishman, and has a damaged reputation. Lee was another, who has no reputation at all. Conway was an Irishman, and the same is true of him. But these men all did something to forfeit esteem. Jones never did. Montgomery died in the full flush of his deserved honors. He was Irish by birth.

[I] Not bound to the Baltic, as Mr. Thackeray supposes. Cf. Beatson's Naval Memoirs, Vol. IV. pp. 550-553.

[J] The bad character that is commonly given to the Athenian polity by the enemies of popular government is by no means deserved if we can trust the definition of that polity by Pericles, as reported by Thucydides, and translated by that eminent scholar and great historian, Mr. Grote. "We live under a constitution," says Pericles, in the famous funeral speech, "such as noway to envy the laws of our neighbors,—ourselves an example to others, rather than mere imitators. It is called a democracy, since its permanent aim tends toward the Many and not toward the Few: in regard to private matters and disputes, the laws deal equally with every man: while looking to public affairs and to claims of individual influence, every man's chance of advancement is determined, not by party favor, but by real worth, according as his reputation stands in his own particular department: nor does poverty, or obscure station, keep him back, if he really has the means of benefiting the city." This wellnigh makes a political Arcadia of Athens. Yet there is no good reason, after making due allowance for the imperfection of human action, when compared with the theory of a given polity, for doubting the correctness of the picture.

[K] One of our English Friends, a man of well-earned eminence, says that "extracts from the contemporary literature of America seem to show, that, if the result of the Presidential election of 1860 had been different, separation would have come, not from the South, but from the North." (See Essays on Fiction, by Nassau W. Senior, p. 397.) Mr. Senior is mistaken, as much so as when he says that "a total abstinence from novel-reading pervades New England," where there is more novel-reading than in any other community of the same numbers in the world. With the exception of "the old Abolitionists," there were not five hundred disunionists in all the Free States in 1860; and the Abolitionists would neither fight nor vote, and, though possessed of eminent abilities, they had no influence. If Mr. Senior were right, we do not see how the South could be blamed for what it has done; for, if we could secede because of Mr. Lincoln's defeat, it follows that the South could secede because of his election.


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