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be appreciated, until he has wrought his subject ont into the entire fulness of its relations and conclusions. Like an architect, he cannot be fairly judged, until the keystones and cornices are all fitted in, and the roof compresses the four walls into a unity. These remarks are especially applicable to the three initial volumes of the “Life” before us. They conduct the hero not far beyond the middle of his career. They still leave him involved in the uncertain agony of alternate success and defeat. The splendid denouement of the story is still at a distance. Some of the most important portions of Washington's life and interesting developments of his character are as yet untold. The lion has not yet struggled ont from the incumbent earth, to pace in full majesty his appointed domain. The military career of Washington only severed his country, like a piece of amorphous metal, from its parent bar. It was his statesmanship and diplomacy that moulded it into the coin, and gave
it an enduring stamp. Who can dare to predict how these pregnant topics will be treated, even by the plastic pen of Irving?
We would gladly, therefore, have suspended our critical labour, until a complete possession of materials had placed us in a more satisfactory condition to perform it. But other considerations seemed to urge upon us a different decision. This Life of Washington, though not completed, has yet assumed a sufficiently substantive character, to claim the notice of a publication devoted to the record of contemporaneous literature. We know that the public do not and will not wait for the termination of the work, but that they read with avidity each successive volume as it issues from the press. Criticism, therefore, instead of lingering behind the rest of the world, which will not, in this case, tarry for her tardy conclusions, must herself mingle in the passing current, if she would fain hope to “pursue the triumph and partake the gale." In short, a right-placed deference for the author, a sense of justice to our readers, and a regard for the interests and pretensions of our journal, at once concur in extorting from us the present article, inadequate and premature, as in some respects it must nccessarily be.
The portion of the work, however, already executed, is sufficient, we apprehend, to justify us in one preliminary criticism, suggested by the form and title which the materials have been made to assume. One of the most important requisites of authorship, involving often no little skill, clearness, and definiteness of conception, is the adoption of a title precisely commensurate with the nature of the task to be performed. This requisite seems not to have been fully exercised by our admired author on the present occasion. His book is very much more, and promises, too, to be still very much more than “ The Life of George Washington." Now, it is most true that we, and as we believe, everybody else would rejoice to read whatever comes from the pen of Washington
Irving. We could scarcely imagine a happier literary prospect before us than to be able to sit down every inorning of our lives, and peruse a new sheet of commentaries from that pen on the history of the Ainerican revolution, or any other subject that it might choose to illustrate and adom. But when a distinct life of George Washington is promiseil or given to the world, the world, for various reasons, expects something in a diferent shape from what it here finds. It expects, indeed, everything immediately connected with the hero to be related with sufficient fulness of detail to place his whole character in the truest light. But it does not expect a copious history of the entire American revolution, nor innumerable digressions, however delightful, detailing the account of events only connected with Washington, by being contemporary with him, nor extended biographies and notices of individuals who happened to be his contemporaries or his coadjutors in the great work of his life.
That Mr. Irving has, in fact, been thins diverted from his original plan, is inanifest from an expression of his own, in a note prefixed to the third volume. Neither in the title, nor in the preface of his work, is there any intimation that the American revolution at large was to be the subject of his lucubrations. But the theme, as we are not sorry to say, grew under his hands, and he was tempted to wander from event to event, and from character to character, until the completion of the three volumes, contidently projected as a whole, and announced by the publishers, tines lim still only in "the middle of affairs." Accordingly, he now informs is that his object has been “to present a familiar and truthtiil picture of the revolution, and the personajes concerned in it," so that "the characters introduced inight speak for themselves, and have space in which to play their parts." Exceedingly pleased, as we are, at this recognition and confirmation by the author of the real nature of his performance, we only regret, for his publisher's sake, for his own, and for the reading public's, the too contracted misnomer selected at the outset.
Yet, it might be difficult now to devise a satisfactory substitute for it. The author's own language, in the note just quoted, would imply the proper title to be, A History of the American Revolution, especially as he there makes no allusion to Washington, as the main subject of the history, and speaks of his legitimate task as one much more comprehensive. But this title, on the other hand, would manifestly be inadequate, for we are really to have a complete and substantive biography of Washington, interwoven with these sketches of the revolution. The work opens with an account of the genealogy of Washington, as of its prominent and paramount subject; and the rise and progress of the revolution are brought in only quite incidentally, and subordinately to the commanding figure. Perhaps some such title as the “Life and
Times of George Washington,” though the author as well as ourselves may have been sick of its triteness and abuses, would have embraced as many points of the case, and eraled as many objections, as any that could be suggested. This, of course, would comprehend the revolution, and the various characters and events which it suited the author to describe, without burdening him with the necessity or responsiliility of furnishing a complete view of any other than the main subject. We presume that the oft adopted title of “Life and Times” never can be expected to signify nizore than just so much of the times as the memorialist pleases to elaborate.
A model life of Washington, as we beliere, does not require the various episodes and descriptions of characters which have been introduced by Mr. Irving. Would the work, for instance, have been less valuable as a biography, if the accounts of Indian tribes and traders before the revolution had been compacteci into a briefer notice? The liistory of the three expeditions of 1758, with which Washington had nothing at all to do, need not to have been expanded into a whole chapter, nor would the notice of Wolfe and of Wolfe's engagement at Quebec, clear and spirited as it is, but equally irrelevant with the three expeclitions, have required to occupy as much space as the account of Braddock's defeat, in which Washington was present. The ten pages detailing the battles of Concord and Lexington might well have been reduced into one or two, even had the author avoided the brevity of Mr. Sparks, who dismisses the whole by simply remarking that “the tragical day of Lexington and Concord had occurred."* The battle of Bunker Ilill, so well and minutely detailed † through a whole chapter, befits, in this respect, rather a history of the revolution than a life of Washington, who had not the slightest personal agency or influence in the event. So also in regard to the battle of Fort Moultrie; though its story has never been better told. The history of operations on the Canada frontier under the direction of Schuyler, might well have been compressed, since Washington liad scarcely a nominal connection with them, and was not responsible for them, as they belonged, by the unfortunate policy of the Congress, to an entirely separate command. The jealousies and rivalries between Schuyler and Gates, together with those in which other officers were involved, seem detailed beyond the fitting pro
* The conciseness of Mr. Spa:ks occasionally leaves something to be desired. Thus he notices, perbaps too transiently and incidentally even for his general plan, the event of Burgoyne's surrender. Ile says not a word of St. Clair's retreat from Ticonderoga, and not a word of Stark at Bennington. They were all of essential, however indirect, importance to Washington's wider strategy.
+ To perceive how happily Dr. Irving has availed himself of new historical materials, compare his account of the Bunker Éill battle with Marshall's.
portion for a mere life of Washington. The pathetic story of Miss McRea is most affectingly and beautifully given, but is liable, we think, to the same course of remark. So likewise as to the spirited narrative of events attendant on Burgoyne's invasion from Canada; it would be peculiarly appropriate and valuable in Memoirs of the Revolution, but is here the counter-extreme to Mr. Sparks's "mere mention.” The same remark is applicable to the long episode of the affair between Wilkinson and Gates. So far as Washington was involved, a few paragraphs would have sufficed. The accounts of the “Mischianza, &c., in Philadelphia might also have been omitted, although confessedly very interesting. General Lee seems to be one of the author's favourite characters for description, but we know not why, to the exclusion of so many other officers and leading spirits in the revolution. Most readers, we think, would have greatly preferred an abridged account of Lee and others, if the void could have been supplied by brief sketches of the eight brigadier generals appointed at the outbreak of the war.
John and Samuel Adains deserved some descriptive mention. How well the author could have struck off daguerreotype miniatures of all these, and more, is evident from his concluding notice of Governor Dinwiddie, vol. 1, p. 262. And to conclude these passing criticisms, which we willingly refrain from extending, we would have reduced, in a mere life of Washington, the account of events connected with the siege of Newport to a much briefer compass.
It may be said that Mr. Irving has anticipated and obviated these criticisms by the following conditions which he lays down in the preface to his work :
“In writing the biography of Washington, I am obliged to take glances over collateral history, as seen from his point of view, and influencing his plans, and to narrate distant transactions apparently disconnected with his concerns, but eventually bearing upon the great drama in which he was the principal actor."
But the question is, how far shall these incidental illustrations extend? If no assignable limit must be proposed, so long as materials exist for their introduction, then Mr. Irving has not fulfilled his own conditions, for it is evident he might, up to the point of his history already reached, have given us several more volumes
glances at collateral history," and narrated many other “transactions bearing upon the great drama.” But if the language in his preface means, as we presume it to do, that just so much of this collateral history and of these transactions should be given, as may adequately illustrate the complete character and sphere of Washington, then, we apprehend the preface does not
obviate, but vindicates our criticisms on this point. In the nature of things, we suppose, there must be some line of distinction between a life of George Washington, and a history of the American revolution; otherwise, Mr. George Bancroft would have been justified in giving to the revolutionary portion of his history the title of Life of Washington. If the line is drawn and maintained by Mr. Irving, we are unable to perceive it. It was well preserved by Dr. Ramsay, who devoted one volume to Washington, and three to the revolution. Both of Dr. Ramsay's works, by the way, possess very considerable merit, being executed in a fine historical spirit of impartiality and philosophic penetration. The Edinburgh Review, when reviewing Marshall's Life, mistakenly characterized Ramsay's as being only an abridgment of Marshall
. A slight inspection is sufficient to detect the groundlessness of the charge. Something, we suspect, had led the reviewer to confound Ramsay's Life with that of Dr. Bancroft, which, if we mistake not, was more open to the criticism.
But that we may happily appeal to the authority of Mr. Irving himself, as approving and justifying the principle we are insisting on, is apparent from his own remark at vol. 1, p. 327, where he says, " we do not profess, in this personal memoir, to enter into a wide scope of general history, but shall content ourselves with a glance," &c. So also, vol. 3, p. 478, he declines to do anything more than “ briefly note the issue” of certain military enterprises at the South, because they were “80 far under Washington's control.” Now, if the same rule of composition had been elsewhere employed ; if only the “issues" of military enterprises at the North, beyond Washington's control," had been briefly noted,” and the like principle rigidly adhered to in the treatment of every topic, no ground would have been presenter for these criticisms, and the "Life,” as originally contemplated, would have gracefully fallen within the manageable compass of three volumes.
Mr. Irving would probably have escaped these contradictory predicaments, and avoided some trouble, into which, if we may judge from the deprecatory language of the note prefixed to his third volume, it appears that he has fallen, had he adhered to the old-fashioned method of arriving fairly at the end of his work before the beginning of it was ushered into day. The insatiable rage of the modern public for serial and fragmentary literature seems in a manner to have victimized our excellent author. The reading world, not satisfied with beholding and enjoying the perfect creations of its greatest minds, demands, as it were, to be admitted behind the scenes—to grasp the conceptions of the master-workman as they come glowing from his brain—and to be flattered with the conciousness, that he is still toiling for them while they are revelling in the expanding productions of his hand. If Powers would build a gallery for shilling spectators over his studio,