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There is much beauty in the poem of Mr. Gallagher. George D. Prentice, the wittiest editor of the West, is also one of the most brilliant poets. We should like to give his lines on the “ Birthday of Washington."
There is a fine piece, which we are vexed not to find room for, by a poetess whose name is new to us ; “ The Green Hills of my Fatherland,” by Mrs. Laura M. Thurston.
It is all good, except the “ filling the green silentness with melody and mirth,” which is an impossibility.
5. — De la Littérature et des Hommes de Lettres des Etats-Unis
d'Amérique. Par Eugene A. Vail, Citoyen des EtatsUnis. A Paris : Librairie de Charles Gosselin. 1841.
8vo. It is pleasant to see a volume of the goodly size and appearance of the one before us, containing a summary sketch of the literature and the literary men of this country, and intended to gratify the curiosity or to guide the researches of that portion of the reading public in France, who wish to know what is doing in the Transatlantic world of mind. It should contain sufficient evidence, that we are doing something else on this side of the water besides raising cotton and tobacco, or buying wines and silks, in which two relations, probably, more than in any others, our existence is generally known to the subjects of Louis Philippe.
Such a publication may prepare the way towards paying off a debt, which has already acquired some magnitude, - a debt reckoned not in francs or dollars, but in the means of intellectual nourishment and gratification. Some acquaintance with French literature is now esteemed among us, not merely as an elegant accomplishment, but as a necessary part of the education of both sexes. The poets and the historians, the novelists and the philosophers of France, are here read and appreciated by a much larger circle than is conversant with the literature of any other country in Europe, of course excepting England. The range of books and authors comes down to the present day, new French publications now making their appearance quite regularly on the counters of our booksellers. It has been Mr. Vail's intention to present a show-bill of American wares in return, which, in point of number and variety, at least, offers no meagre aspect. He briefly enumerates and characterizes the principal literary productions of this
country in chapters devoted respectively to history, the science of government and philosophy, religion and morals, miscellaneous letters, jurisprudence and the sciences, oratory and fiction, and works of fancy and the imagination. His list contains the names of about two hundred authors, of more or less note, beside some Indian orators not addicted to writing, and some clergymen and men of science, who have distinguished themselves in their respective callings, though they have contributed little or nothing directly to the press. He has thus accumulated good proofs of literary activity, although his catalogue is far from being complete, as may be inferred from one fact mentioned by him, that in a single year, 1834, the American press sent forth two hundred and fifty one separate publications.
The contents of Mr. Vail's work, on the whole, hardly satisfy the expectations created by its title. It contains little more than a catalogue raisonné of men and books, a few facts in the career of the former being incidentally mentioned, and the notices of the latter being accompanied with brief translated extracts, which serve still further to indicate the character of the original. These extracts fill a large portion of the volume, and are generally selected with good taste, and translated with commendable spirit and fidelity. There are also introductory remarks of a general nature on the various subjects treated, written in a fanciful and pleasing style, though not betokening much thought or severe labor. The writer hardly attempts to give any comprehensive views of American literature as a whole, or of the influences under which it is produced, or to judge of it in comparison with the productions of other countries. The criticism, if it can be called such, is wholly laudatory, the writer's object being only to present the favorable side of his subject, and thereby to tempt others to examine and discriminate for themselves.
Lectures on the History of Literature, Ancient and Modern.
From the German of FREDERIC Schlegel. New York:
The services rendered to literature by the two illustrious brothers, Augustus William and Frederic Schlegel, are known wherever literature exists. Their most important works in the department of criticism have been well translated into English, and have excited universal admiration. In truth, philosophical criticism can hardly be said to have existed before their labors commenced. The universality of their attainments enabled them to form their judgments upon the most comprehensive inductions. They have seized the spirit of literature, as it has manifested itself at the remotest ages and among the most widely differing nations ; and their works, therefore, are of universal application. The Dramatic Lectures of Augustus William, translated by Mr. Black, are known to every scholar; the Lectures on History, by Frederic Schlegel, translated by Mr. Robinson, are remarkable for a far-reaching grasp of mind, and an immense range of historical information. The death of their most distinguished author, a few years ago, was felt as a heavy loss all over the literary world. His brother, having exhausted the world of European literature, has for years past, devoted his brilliant talents to Oriental learning, and is now editing, in magnificent style, an interminable Sanscrit Epic, the Ramayana, of which he says, in his preface,
Destinatum mibi erat in animo, reliquos vitæ annos, dummodo suppeterent, huic operi perficiendo impendere. ..... Numero versuum Rameis Iliadem et Odysseam inter se conjunctas nisi superat, minimum æquat.” Such are the gigantic labors of the great scholars of Germany.
The work before us is, in point of extent, one of the smallest productions of Frederic Schlegel. In sixteen lectures, it embraces comprehensive views of European literature, from the Homeric poems, down to the latest writers of Germany. These views are not hasty or superficial ; they are the learning of a life of intense literary activity condensed into the narrowest compass ; they are full of profound thought, on all the great topics that come up in so wide a range of literary discussion, forcibly and sometimes most eloquently expressed. He takes up one literature after another, the Greek, the Roman, the Gothic, the German of the Middle Ages, the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Modern German ; and upon them all he speaks with a fulness of knowledge, a clearness of judgment, a delicacy of taste, and an elegance of expression, which, in a writer of any other name or nation, would be absolutely marvellous.
The American publishers have done well in bringing out this work. The volume is neatly printed, though the sheets have not been corrected with the requisite care. The only thing to be particularly objected to, however, is the absurdly written preface, in which Ďr. Johnson is called “ the talented author of Rasselas," and Mr. Lockhart, “ the talented translator.” And how can a human being deliberately pen such pompous commonplaces as this sentence : “ Whatever may be
urged against the indiscriminate dissemination of learning, it is at least certain, that, until the natural bent and instinct of the human mind, which is directly opposed to that of the subordinate orders of created beings, be radically changed, no surer antidote can be found than that which is supplied by mental discipline and education, for the correction of those debasing evils attendant on ignorance and stupid insensibility.” One might ask this learned author, what sort of insensibility that is, which is not “ stupid.” Several pages of such rigmarole the publishers have had the bad taste to prefix to one of the most admirable productions of modern genius. It may not do much harm, but the incongruity is highly offensive. In another edition we hope they will omit this deformity.
7. — The Clouds of Aristophanes; with Noles. By C. C. Fel
Ton, Eliot Professor of Greek Literature in Harvard
Both as a master of style, and as the model in that strange and inimitable thing, the earlier Greek comedy, Aristophanes has always secured high regard ; and even Christian Fathers nursed their tastes by familiarity with his terse Attic. But as initiating us into the mysteries of private life at the most interesting age of Athenian history ; as revealing to us the workings of the democratical system, after the death of Pericles and during the war with Sparta, when the citizens were crowded together within the walls ; he possesses an historical value which puts him by the side of Thucydides, but which only the present age has learned to appreciate. Among the comedies of Aristophanes the “ Clouds,” which Mr. Felton has brought in the present valuable edition before American students, deserves a high rank on account of its object, the skill with which it is managed, and the distinguished person who is made the butt of the poet's ridicule. Its object is to satirize the sophists who were trying to get the education of the Athenian youths into their hands ; who taught systems of philosophy leading to Atheism, overthrew morals, and gave to their scholars an art of persuasive rhetoric, which polluted the courts and deceived the Assembly. The evil influences of the sophists are shown in the instance of an old country gentleman, who puts himself to school in order to learn a way of escaping payment of his debts ; and who, after finding himself too old to become a proficient, persuades his son, a fashionable young
man devoted to horses, to take his place. The son imbibes the sophistical system with a vengeance, and pays back the price of instruction to his father in the shape of a sound beating ; which he maintains his right to do according to the axioms of his masters. The charm is now broken; the father, seeing the bad results of his own evil desire to cheat his creditors, and of the immoral instructions of the sophists, sets fire to the school where such lessons are taught. So far all is well ; and if Gorgias, Protagoras, or even Prodicus had been the specimen of a sophist master, posterity would have found no fault with the comic poet.
But when Socrates occupies this place, - Socrates, whose mind was formed and life passed in laying bare the falsehoods of the sophists ; who more than any one else upheld the principles of morals ; who despised rhetoric ; who encouraged no one to engage in political life until he had learned how to govern himself, — when, we say, Socrates, who was at the opposite pole from the sophists, is made one of their number ; the first question that every one asks is, How can the poet have been so deceived ? The answer, as correctly given by Mr. Felton in his excellent preface, is, that Socrates in some singular traits of character had a comic side, and that the men of his time could not understand him altogether. The small things with which he often began his conversations must have appeared very ridiculous to one who did not or could not see the high moral end which he wished to reach. The fact too, that Critias and Alcibiades, young men of high family and detestable inorals, sought his society in order to become political leaders, must have spread his fame in the same way as that of the sophists was propagated. And as for the poet, he was a thorough conservative, and, like many such men now, may have felt an indiscriminate dislike to every thing new ; philosophy, therefore, and sophistry were both bad, because they began to exist at Athens together. Because faith in the divinities, as well as public morals, began to decay as philosophy began to grow, this must be the cause of such lamentable results. We suspect then, that Aristophanes had a like bigotry in his conservatism, which blinded him to the difference between Socrates and the sophists ; let us be permitted to add, that we have found something of the same blind and narrow spirit in his commentator Mr. Mitchell, who seems to throw himself into the arms of Aristophanes with the faith of a lover, as though the comic poet could never overdraw or turn aside from the truth.
Mr. Felton's valuable preface is followed by the text of the play as William Dindorf has given it in his “Poetæ Scenici."