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5. Friends and Fortune; a Moral Tale ; by ANNA HARRIET DRURY. New-York: D. Appleton & Co. 1849.
OUR lady novelists will need to be on the alert. Here is a new competitor for the laurels and no insignificant one. Of Miss Drury we hear for the first time; but if we augur rightly from her debút, she will make herself heard with more effect hereafter. Her present story is a moral one, but she does not rely solely upon her morals, though these are unexceptionable. She draws a character with vigor— paints a landscape with purity—describes a scene with energy and spirit, and gives us a group in action with a quite dramatic effect. The story is a simple one, and commences with an error on the part of her heroine, who is, in other respects, a very comely and pleasant personage. A great heiress is left an orphan. She discovers the court paid to her fortune, the sycophancy which it inspires, and the heartless baseness of which, through her fortune, she is likely to become the victim. She longs to be loved for her own sake, but discovers, up to opening of the story, that her worshippers are more intent upon the decorations of the altar, than the goddess to whom they offer adoration. She naturally becomes suspicious of the homage of which the motive appears so base and selfish, and, naturally desirous of human sympathy, and genuine affection, her heart is made to recoil back upon itself in hopelessness and utter disgust. She determines upon an experiment. She has some relations who have never seen her, and who reside in the ancient neighborhood which her father loved. She has returned from the continent, and is at once earnestly appealed to by these relations to come and make her abode among them. Are these like all the rest ? Are they so selfish in their objects, thinking rather of her fortune than herself. She longs to be among them, and to dwell in the places of which her father has spoken fondly to her infant ears. But how can she believe the propositions of her kindred 4 She is young, and there are sons of the family to be provided for in marriage. She determines upon the bold experiment of going among them disguised as a protégé, or humble friend of an old maid, who is really a dependant upon herself? This is the great error which she commits, and it results in placing her in sundry awkward situations, for the details of which we must refer the reader to the book itself. She does not reflect upon the impropriety, not to say baseness, of penetrating in disguise, and as a spy, the family which invites her to its hospitality, as a daughter and a sister. The old maid, an excellent creature by the way—reluctantly consents to become the heiress with the condition of the dependent. The scheme, baiting the moral impropriety, is admirably managed, and the parties fall into their new characters without difficulty and with complete success. The family which they enter, with two exceptions, is entirely selfish—vain, insolent, and calculating. The object is to make the heiress a prize for one of the sons. The old maid is accordingly feted and prized beyond measure. The heiress is neglected, treated with insolence and rudeness, and made to understand that neither beauty, nor grace, nor talent, all of which she possesses—is of any avail against the supposed fortune, though in the possession of a weak-minded old maid, who is ugly and ungraceful. The dandy favorite of the managing mother yields himself at the shrine of the supposed heiress, and overwhelms her with constant devotions— finally makes her an offer of his hand and heart, unable to resist the tender impression of her charms. The true heroine makes a conquest also. One of the sons is a student—a shy, fond, imaginative being—a poet—full of warmth and awkwardness. In drawing this character, our author somewhat oversteps the modesty of nature, and makes him a little too awkward, so much so, as almost to make him stupid. This is a too frequent fault. The exaggeration is unfavorable to the portraiture, and to the effect of the story. Suffice it, however, that the student—shy, sensitive, and almost despised by his family— as lacking the exterior which society is most apt to value—becomes enamored of the supposed poor dependant—waits on her, watches her, and, with his devotions, compensates for the neglect of all the rest. His passion is returned, and, after numerous scenes, full of variety and interest, the story concludes happily and with full satisfaction to all parties, with probably two exceptions, that of the ancient damsel, and the youthful but selfish dandy. The good spinster, though in some measure conscious of the heartlessness of her lover, is yet somewhat touched by the novel suit which he has addressed to her heart. She had never before been held sufficiently an object of attraction, to receive these attentions, and that homage of the other sex, which, it is, perhaps, the instinct of her own to desire. She is not, therefore, above the feeling of disappointment, when, at the catastrophe, which disrobes her of fortune, the faithless gallant takes to his heels, disappearing without a word, from the scene in which he plays a figure most ridiculous. It is one of the faults of our author, that she has yielded too little sympathy to the ancient maiden, who has so perilled her own pride and sensibilities, to oblige her favorite. We can give no details of this story, and prefer infinitely to commend it to those who desire equal amusement and pleasure. For a domestic story—one in which all the action is in ordinary social life-it is one of the most racy and agreeable which has been for a long time written. This class of writings, in fiction, belongs, by the way, almost entirely to the gentler sex. Male writers are usually quite awkward in their management,
6. Kavanagh; a Tale; by HENRY WADsworth LoNGFELLow.
The mighty purpose never is o'ertook
Boston : Ticknor, Read & Fields. 1849.
MR. LoNGFELLow has a high reputation as a writer, and in some degree deserves it. He is a careful writer in the first place,—and in this respect he differs from the great body of American authors, who are very apt to write with their spurs on, and over their portmanteaus. He is a writer of exquisite delicacy, a sweet moral tone, delicate in his fancies, and very graceful in expression. As a poet, his successes have chiefly been derived from his ballads, which required little action or invention, and were the embodiments of sentiment chiefly, rather than passion. His school is the sentimental. He lacks passion. His invention is small, and the dramatic element is one in which he can neither dive nor soar. His prose consists of gentle and fanciful descriptions, to which a certain quaintness, borrowed mostly from the Germans, adds a considerable charm. He pursues a pretty thought very happily and seldom hunts it down. A choice and delicate conceit will afford him the materials for a chapter, in the perusal of which, if we are conscious of no excitement, or provocation to thought, we are at least secure from offence and annoyance. Mr. Longfellow's tastes are sufficient securities for the reader, while his limpid style, and gentle narrative, commend him particularly to that class of persons, who prefer the gratification of their tastes, to any appeal to the passions. The work before us dees not differ from the previous prose writings of the author. It is of the same slender staple—with few thoughts, few incidents—unimportant action and a rather cold interest; but marked by his usual felicity and smoothness of style, the play of a gentle fancy, and a pleasant sentiment. Kavanagh must depend for its attractions on these agencies wholly. It is a bald village story, in which love appears somewhat of the school girl fashion and philosophy, -which seems to have fed on bread and butter all its life. Some of the scenes are prettily delineated, and the village priest and schoolmaster, are no doubt tolerable portraits, with, we suspect, some one or more elements of the character omitted. It is in his musings, and didactic passages, T
where philosophy and fancy seem to meet on the confines of thought,
that our author is mostly successful. He feels that this is properly his region and addresses himself to it with creditable pains-taking. Sometimes he succeeds excellently well in his fancies, and the quaint forms into which he throws his sentiments. But he too frequently and unprofitably labors to adapt the remote to the present—to illustrate the com
monplace with the foreign, and to make the familiar seem original by extravagance of comparison. His failures are sometimes sufficiently amusing. The ringing of a Sabbath bellis likened to the explosion of a brazen mortar (which the bell really is)—“bombarding the village with bursting shells of sound.” The striking of the clock, reminds him “of Jael driving the nail into the head of Sisera, &c.” This straining after fine comparisons for ordinary things, must commonly result in such absurdities. Sometimes our author has better success—though still too much on stilts—as when he describes the setting sun stretching “his celestial rods of light across the level landscape, and like the Hebrew in Egypt, smiting rivers, brooks, and ponds till they become as blood.” But this ambitious sort of composition, scarcely repays by its occasional successes with the startled reader, for the labor which it demands from the author. We turn to a book of Mr. Cooper, a writer of very different order, and who takes no pains in the search after metaphor and illustration, and in the page under our hand—(the work is the Sea-Lions, just published)—we find one of those unforced comparisons which, however rudely expressed, are more grateful to the reader, because they occur unpremeditatedly, and without design, on the part of the author, than any of the more ambitious figures of Mr. Longfellow. He speaks of the departure of wealth and power from Italy “leaving in their train a thousand fruits, that would seem to be the more savory as the stem on which they grew, would appear to be approaching its decay.” Here the propriety and beauty of the figure needs nothing but a corresponding grace and simplicity of expression to surpass most of the labored poetical efforts in Kavanagh. But we should be doing injustice to Mr. Longfellow not to admit the beauty and felicity of many of his passages. Some of his apothegms are marked by a delightful fancy, and much of his criticisms, on literature and society in America, is just and forcible. It is his invention that lacks. Nothing can be more bald than Kavanagh as a story; and for its design as little may be said. The author seems to have begun his book without fairly grasping his purpose. His moral is at once slight and commonplace.
7. Child of the Sea, and other Poems; by Mrs. S. ANNA Lewis, author of “Records of the Heart,” &c. New-York: George P. Putnam. 1848.
THESE are very tolerable verses, and, in so speaking, we necessarily declare their condemnation. In poetry, the merely tolerable is the most intolerable matter in the world. We have little with which to find fault, and just as little with which to feel. The whole is a dead level, of regular flat versification, commonplace thoughts and fancies, and stories told a thousand times, and in much better style, and in much finer spirit. Would you have an example? Here is a sonnet about the poet, which is about as fair a specimen as the volume contains. One would think that the subject would inspire the very best powers of the writer, herself ambitious of the title—ray, claiming it. Yet was there ever such a bald piece of platitude as the following 4
“Ye airy habitants of fashion's mart!
If this benevolent minstrel had properly set about mending the poet's breeches,
“Where they lack'd the needful stitches,”
instead of singing about them in this most pitiful manner, her charity would have been recognized, and she would have been spared the shame of these wretched verses. Here we should have paused, suffering the good woman to have found her way to as many readers as might be attained by the fine type, the clear white paper, and the excellent style with which Mr. Putnam has honored the poetry which we cannot honor, but for an impertinence of which she is guilty in relation to the South. That a bad poet should also be a bad philosopher, we can very well understand; but that a bad poet should have the insolence to set up for both poet and philosopher, is past all bearing. At page 168 there is a silly paragraph entitled “Lament for La Vega’’—not the famous plain of Grenada, be it remembered,—but the Mexican General who surrendered to the sabre of Captain May at Resaca de la Palma. The sympathies of the Yankee family,–having exterminated all their own Indians by the shortest possible processes, with the help of Capt. Church and others, and at five shillings per scalp, is now forever bewailing the condition of the copper-colored who are permitted to survive in the South. Here good Mrs. Lewis tunes her pipes in behalf of the faithless and ungrateful