he would realize from the arrangement more than from the orders of his liberal patrons. This prurient impatience is no doubt the secret of the process by which the Macaulays, the Dickenses, and the Thackerays are compelled, as authors, to hold converse with the world. They must deliver their work by immediate and unrevised instalinents. No waiting until the ninth year for them. The feuilletonir literature of France is an instance to the same effect. As the author of Tristram Shandy gives a consequence to his hero, eren before he becomes baby born, so would the public do in regard to each literary offspring of (listinguished birth. All England reads the reports of parliamentary speeches while the orator is still upon his legs. In Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk is described the luxurious privilege of sitting in a publisher's back parlour, and perusing the successive sheets of some keenly expected work, ere it issues from the hands of the binder. It is this very privilege for which our public are vehemently contending, and, by their outside pressure, they will certainly gain their point at last. If our friends Putnam & Co. are desirous of doubling the result of their pecuniary speculation, we advise them to publish the remainder of Irving's Washington on this plan. A weekly or tri-weekly sheet, comprising sixteen pages of it, would probably rival the circulation of larper's Magazine, or of the London Illustrated News. Such is the irresistible tendency of the day. And it will go further yet. The time, we predict, will come, when the master-minds of this world will be constrained to sit, each in their telegraphic centres, and communicate their thoughts along the wires to thie north, south, east and west of their own country, if not of the whole world. Should this to any one seem an extravagant supposition, let him compare the two or three columns of telegraphic despatches which now appear in almost every daily paper in Vew York, with the two or three little sentences with which this mode of intellectual intercourse a few years ago commenced. The expansion of newspaper literature never made more rapid advances than this. If the public are so cager for the immediate reception of news and facts, they will soon demand, and they do even now demand, enlightened and satisfactory contemporaneous commentaries on those news and facts. And thus the reign of telegraphic authorship has begun.

But to go back to the category, considerably less advanced, indeed, in which writers with Mr. Irving's attractions find themselves. This demand of the public for rapid instalments of authorship, has its advantages and disadvantages. Doubtless it is highly encouraging and exciting to the writer, and taxes the utmost stretch of his powers, while it appeals to every grateful, ambitious, and generous motive within him, to maintain the high and exacting standard imposed upon him by an admiring public. But then, on the other hand, it deprives him of that repose of spirit, and that

absolute command of materials and of time, which seem essential to the most perfect literary results. It is hardly possible, under such circumstances, to provide for symmetrical proportion, for necessary correction, for leisurely modification, for a growth, slow, like nature's, in most of her great creations. Surprises and embroglios, in short, must be apt to occur, such as evidently are found to involve author, publisher, and reader at the close of these three most engaging volumes. On one horn of the alternative here pointed out, we see, for instance, Macaulay and Irving; on the other, Prescott and Motley.

Our advice and earnest wishes, therefore, would run to this effect, that Mr. Irving should be encouraged, both by his publishers and the country at large, to go on indulging “his owu sweet will” among the extant memorials of the revolution, until not a scrap worthy of being preserved, shall escape his loving industry, or at least his “elective affinity.” No matter whether the task requires six or ten volumes for its completion. When at length, however, it shall have been executed, we would have the model biography proper of George Washington condensed from it, either into two or three volumes, according as should be judged expedient. The result, we are confident, would go far to satisfy the desires, and gratify the tastes of many coming generations.

We believe that every American has within his mind a certain beau-ideal conception of Washington, which no biographer can perfectly represent. As there was a reserve in the living hero's manners, so there is an undeveloped depth in his historical and traditional character.. We feel that, like the corps-de-reserve of an army, there was that within him which was not brought out into life and action. Accordingly, one is apt to say, after every eulogy and every biography, however detailed, however analytical, however finely descriptive, “Ah, it is all very well, but the real Washington went something beyond it. You cannot make objective the subjective image in my soul.” This we said within ourselves when closing Guizot's fine essay on the great man, which seizes, with a penetrating and comprehensive sagacity, and with some originality of comment, the most characteristic points involved in the biography and compilations by Mr. Sparks. Now, we feel persuaded that Mr. Irving's biography, if reduced and condensed, as above suggested, will approximate much nearer than any other yet executed to this undefinable conception of the American mind. But to the best expression of this effect, the abbreviation recommended seems to be necessary. There must not be too much collateral portraiture. The attention should not be diverted from the dominical picture by a confusing crowd of illustrative concomitants, even though they be the best of their kind.

Yet, even such an approximative work, we venture to imagine, ought not to affect the popularity, extinguish the claims, or super

sede the use of Sparks's Life of Washington, the only performance that can fairly be considered a rival of Irving's. The indefatigable researches of Mr. Sparks may be said to have introduced a new era into the biography of Washington. All who had preceded him in the same direction, including even the voluminous Marshall, were to the last degree jejune an barren in facts relating personally to the hero. Enduring will be Mr. Sparks's praise for supplying this void, and particularly for illustrating his work from the magnificent compilations of Washington's letters and other writings, which the biographer himself had the merit, at vast labour and expense, of ushering into the world. Well may Mr. Irving have confessed his obligations to the same collection, since perhaps one half of his new matter has been derived from that very source.

Ilis researches have, indeed, extended over wider and very valuable fields; but we are happy to transcribe here his generous testimonial to Mr. Sparks's labours, as equally honourable to both parties, appearing as it does after the somewhat rude though effectually repelled assault of a foreign titled historian. “I have made frequent use," he says, " of Washington's writings,' as published by Mr. Sparks ; a careful collection of inany of them, with the originals, having convinced me of the general correctness of the collection, and of the safety with which it may be relied upon for historical purposes; and I ain happy to hear this testimony to the essential accuracy of one* whom I consider among the greatest benefactors to our national literature, and to whose writings and researches I acknowledge myself largely indebted throughout my work.”

We should have been pleased if Mir. Irving had stated in his preface the specific grounds of his new undertaking, pointed out the deficiences of his predecessors, described the new materials he has employed, and indicated the precise needs and demands of the public in regard to the subject of his work. As his modesty may have declined the task, we trust that some particulars of it will be found to have been executed in the course of the present article. But how valuablo would have been a critical sketch from Mr. Irving's hand, of the most considerable biographers of Washington!

We proceed, therefore, to remark, that on the wholc, the present age will, at all events, transmit to posterity two distinct biographies of Washington, of equal authority, and with similar claims, but each possessing a distinct, appropriate, and specific value. Readers, whose leisure and tastes dispose them to the luxury of a protracted and diversified study of the subject, will be amply provided for by Mr. Irving; whilst that very numerous class, who can only afford the perusal of a more conipact and limited per

* We have sometimes thought that a splendid literary monument to our chieftain's fame might consist in a Catalogue Raisonnée of every sort of tribute that has been paid him.


formance, may enjoy a satisfactory and a similarly authentic impression of the hero's character from the work of Mr. Sparks. Thus, a literary Stuart, and a literary IIoudon have both been employed on the same great sitter. In the production of the one, we may indeed behold all possible grace of illustrative colouring and magic variety of delicate shadowing; but not from that of the other are absent those exact outlines, and that perfect truth of expression, which faithfully convey to us a presentment of the living man.* Meanwhile, the most laborious students of revolutionary history may expatiate at large in the eleven additional volumes which Mr. Sparks has filled with the writings of Washington.

We now proceed to communicate a few less general impressions and criticisms that have been suggested by attentive perusals of the work before us.

It opens, as already intimated, with a very elaborate and recherché genealogy of the family of Washington, traced through various changes of name and fortune, even back to the age succeeding the Norman conquest. Deference would thus seem to be paid to European, rather than to American habits and prejudices. We can perceive in such an extended and minute inquiry, little beyond the gratification of a refined curiosity. With a slight stretch of fancy, indeed, we may recognise here and there, among the numerous remote ancestors of Washington, certain qualities which were also exhibited by the hero himself

. But upon the different or opposite qualities, known or unknown, which characterized many others of his progenitors, the author of course does not dwell. Moreover, it doth not appear how many fine qualities descended from the two hundred or more mothers and grandmothers, along whose veins certainly flowed no Washington blood. We would willingly believe our hero to have been as much indebted to his immediate mother as to the whole line of Wessyngtons and Washingtons down. No just conclusion, therefore, can be drawn from aii induction so incomplete. We might as well be pointed to certain great and good qualities that have appeared in individual Englishmen of the past. We can only perceive a curious coincidence in the fact relied upon by Mr. Irving, that an indirect ancestor of Washington defended to the death one of the cities of Charles the First. Indeed, if he had happened to be found fighting on the other side, we should have considered him a still fairer precursor of his descendant's hatred of tyranny. Besides, would it not, on the whole, rather diminish than enhance our impression of the greatness and originality of any man's character, to be convinced that he was indebted to one of his remote progenitors for

* We have always considered the style of Mr. Sparks as worthy of his subject; serene, simple, elevated, clear, and full.

one quality, to another for another, and so on, through a long process of physical transmission? We love to think of Webster or Calhoun, as our own independent, unborrowed Webster or Calhoun, instead of a contribution from the phenomena and wealth of the past. We are, somehow, such practical believers in an immediately superintending Providence, and in the conscious interference of creative energy in the current of human affairs, conjoined with the general capacities of our divinely imaged, though sinful race, that we prefer to contemplato a great man per se, as a sort of salient specialty, a direct and original gift of God. And our larger admiration would rather be lavished on the man who was not indebted to his ancestors for any prominent attributes, but who, by his force of character, broke through the chain of mere hereditary influences, whatever they might be. Still, we have no doubt, that families, as well as nations and races, are possessed of certain common characteristics that distinguish them from others. We, therefore, willingly surrendered ourselves to the pleasing speculations awakened by Mr. Irving's opening chapter. So far as it appears, the family of the Washingtons have played an honourable purt along the less prominent ranges of history. No stain, within our knowledge, seems to have rested on a single bearer of the name. That our Washington belonged to such a family, is a fact of gratifying interest. It confirms a general, moral, and historical truth. But let it not go for more than it is worth. Let it not conflict with the sturdy republican theory, that each man, after all, must stand, for a true estimate of his character, on his own individual foundation. So that we can accept, only with certain limits and qualifications the apparently generous doctrine of the author in the following concluding paragraph, with which he apologises, as it were, for flying in the face of our national tastes and prejudices as to long-drawn heraldries and genealogies: “We have entered,"

6 with soine minuteness into this genealogical detail, tracing the famiiy step by step through the pages of historical documents for upwards of six centuries; and we have been tempted to do so by the documentary proofs it gives of the lineal and enduring worth of the race. We have shown that, for many generations, and through a variety of eventful scenes, it has maintained an equality of fortune and respectability, and whenever brought to the test, has acquitted itself with honour and loyalty. Hereditary rank may be an illusion; but hereditary virtue is a higher patent of innate nobleness, beyond all the blazoning of the Herald's College."

Now, we allow that hereditary virtue, if such an attribute be possible, and if the very expression be not a paradox, is a higher patent of nobility than hereditary rank; but hereditary virtue, also, is equally liable to issue in an illusion; and the true Ämerican theory, coincident also with the purest dictates of philosophy, we

he says,

« ElőzőTovább »