« ElőzőTovább »
Art. XII.—CRITICAL NOTICES.
1. Narrative of the Untied States Exploring Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea; by W. F. Lynch, U. S. N., Commander of the Expedition. With maps and numerous illustrations. A new and corrected edition. Phila: Lea & Blanchard. 1849.
We have spoken elsewhere in these pages of the worthless publication, by which it was designed to forestal the report of the leading officer in this expedition. We are far from satisfied with the narrative of Lieutenant Lynch. He, too, has been unwisely ambitious of authorship, and has made his volume unnecessarily cumbrous and heavy, defeating his own desires in due degree with the earnestness of his efforts at their attainment . Had he been less ambitious—had he attached either more or less importance to the dignity of bookmaking—he would probably have been much more successful in making an agreeable, if not a very valuable volume. With a juster sense of what was due to authorship and to the public, the commonplaces of this volume,—its unnecessary superfluities,—its laborious declamation, would have been spared us. The same results might have ensued had he been totally indifferent to the matter. Had he made a simple professional report of what he had seen, done and suffered, we should have been just as wise as we are now, with less labor to himself and us. His book might reasonably have been abridged to one-half of its present dimensions.—The credit due toCapt . Lynch is nevertheless considerable, and we are proud of him, and pleased with him, as an honorably ambitious and well-performing officer. The conception of this enterprize,—the exploration of the Dead Sea, and the penetration of its secret and mysterious avenues,—seems to have been original with him. He appears to have brought the subject before the navy department, and was properly chosen to carry his own desire into effect. The enterprize, if scarcely likely to be productive to American trade or commerce, yet commends itself to the national imagination. It is a mere impertinence to limit the adventure of our people, and the republic, to those enterprizes and explorations which affect only the interests of trade. The national character has, we trust, numerous elements besides, which demand our consideration; and we, who receive and use, daily, the material philosophies which have been furnished us by the enterprise of other empires, must be expected to make our contribution, in turn, to the cause of art and science. It is quite proper, for example, that we should make some inquiries, and urge the discovery, if possible, of the missing British navigator, Franklin, since the discoveries which he and others have made, and might make, force upon all the nations that partake theirbenefits a large amountof obligation, which can be requited in no other way; and it is eminently proper, where our ships of war, our seamen and soldiers, are engaged in no stringent duties, that they should be honorably exercised in researches which raise the character of the nation in foreign eyes, increase our contributions to the general stock of human knowledge, and improve our officers and men, by elevating their standards of ambition, and teaching them to fix their attention upon those studies which illustrate and dignify their professions. That the American mind, taught in Christian schools, should naturally sympathize with an adventure which proposed to explore the region consecrated to every pious nature, by the birth, the sacred pilgrimage, the trials, the teachings, the passion and the bloody sacrifice of our Saviour, was a matter of course; and a moral use lay in the enterprize, which cannot lose by a comparison with any of the ordinary subjects upon which we peril our seamen and expend our capital. Besides, it was not unreasonable to suppose that the scientific discoveries made by such an expedition would greatly serve to complete the table of past acquisitions—to shed light upon the already known in this connection, and to minister to art and science, through a medium which would assist equally the footsteps of philosophy and faith. It is evident from this volume, which is meant simply as a popular publication, and does not include the official results of the expedition, that our explorers have acquired considerable and highly interesting information. The official report, which we may look for among the publications of the next Congress, will no doubt contribute gratefully to the studies of the geologist and naturalist. This volume itself, with all its faults of taste, and a too fond straining after sentiment and eloquence, will be found pleasing an J full of interest in its narration. Where Capt. Lynch keeps to his narrative and reports progress, simply, his account is pleasing enough. The incidents are neither very numerous nor very striking, but the situations are new, and the scene always an attractive one. That he should not have risen to the " height of his great argument"—that the subject is one which perhaps no human ability could well enable the writer to illustrate, with an effort that should satisfy expectation—is sufficiently apparent, if we only recal the marvellous history of the region. It is the history of this region, in the past, that must always render its present, barren to the explorer. The comparison of past and present makes us conscious of a sterility, a baldness and deficiency, in all that we see and hear, which leaves us disappointed in our anticipations. With the memory of all our Bible history fresh in our minds, the world's great fountains, its wondrous narratives, its mysterious prophecies, its throes and revolutions, its mighty names of heroes, poets, prophets, its terrible traditions, its holy atmosphere, its divine presence, the awful thunders which have rolled from the feet of Deity over its mighty mountains, the fiery bolts which have smitten them while he spake in anger, and the sublime history of the Saviour, at the catastrophe of a drama such as no world-history has ever shown before ;—these recollections raise up expectations which we vainly seek to realize. No doubt the traveller himself, standing on the very spot consecrated by these sublime and terrible traditions, feels, in some degree, the reality of the sentiment which fills his thought . But how should he transmit his impressions to us? By what language interpret, by what painting illustrate, the scenes which he beholds, so as to satisfy the vague yearning, the wild curiosity, which seems rather to draw its cravings from some intuitive and hidden fountains deep down in the human soul, than from mortal memories and mortal books of language. When he says—this is the Dead Sea, famous for a curse—this is Calvary, famous for a sacrifice—this is the garden of Gethsemane, famous for a treachery, what more can he say? No doubt the sentimentality of a writer like Lamartine, full of fancy, and capable of hanging a pearl even in an Ethiop's ear, would find a multitude of words when he pointed out to you such scenes; but the imagination, more sedate in the conviction of its weakness, no less than its strength, is not unwilling that the present, groping through such mysterious regions, so wondrous in the past, should conduct you with finger on its lips. Enough if it says Calvary, Gethsemane, Nazareth, and leaves the rest to your own thoughts and feelings. Capt. Lynch but too frequently strives to be eloquent in such situations. In this he commits the error common to most travellers. Washington Allston refused to attempt any picture in which the Saviour formed a figure. He felt truly, that any just appreciation of Jesus Christ as a Saviour of men and a divinity, rendered it impossible for man to do justice to the subject, and to do less was to be irreverent . But we forbear. Our purpose is not to censure Capt. Lynch for errors which are common to the tourist . We may forgive him many such errors in consideration of his honorable aims, his active intelligence, the prudence, circumspection, resolution, courage and resource, with which he managed the expedition, and conducted it everywhere in safety. He is an honor to the service, and his book, though not very creditable to him as an author, (which, by the way, he does not claim to be,) is highly honorable to him as an observing traveller and a gallant officer. ■
2. Narrative of the late Expedition to the Dead Sea; from a Diary by one of the Party. Edited by Edward P. Montague, attached to the U. S. Expedition ship Supply. With incidents and adventures from the time of the sailing of the Expedition, in November, 1847, till the return of the same, in December, 1848. Illustrated with a map of the Holy Land, handsomely colored. Phil. Carey & Hart . 1849.
The expedition of Lieut . Lynch, for the exploration of the Dead Sea, was an enterprise, the proper details of which, must naturally provoke eager anxiety among all classes of readers. They must not look to this volume for the satisfaction of their curiosity. It answers no expectations, sol. es no difficulties, affords no clues to science, and offers nothing to the student. At best, it is a good humored, unaffected narrative, by a subordinate, who tells us when there was a storm, how sail was taken in, how camels were rigged for travel, and what sort of weather prevailed day by day. It appeals neither to our sentiments, nor our desire for information—warms us to nothing and teaches nothing ;—and were it the only exponent of the expedition, it would provoke the reader to exclaim that a great cry had been made for very little wool. There is a more serious charge still against the writer of this volume. It is a selfish and ungenerous attempt to strip Captain Lynch of some of his laurels,—to anticipate him with the public—to forestall his market, and, seizing upon the moment of greatest public curiosity, to foist upon the reader an inferior, imperfect, and, so far as the value of the information conveyed, is the question—a very worthless performance. The publishers have done for this volume all that they could. It is very beautifully printed.
3. The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods; by J. T. Headley, author of " Washington and his Generals," &c. New-York: Baker & Scribner. 1849.
Mr. Headley is one of those light and lively sketchers, who, if he compels you to no deep reflections by his own profundity, at least embarrasses you by none of the impediments of heavy baggage. He travels post. He writes by express. He has a sort of telegraph at his finger's end, and his brain is so much electric fluid that is perpetually jerking and jumping along the wires. He claps his hands and you are off. He sees a lake, and he whips out his line and fly,as a trout fisher. Hark! a hound opens, and he gets his gun in readiness. In a moment, hit or miss, he blazes away in a fever of excitement, and as the deer bounds away in safety, he begins to moralize upon the length of his legs and the beauty of his antlers. Anon, a bird pipes up a merry carol, and he throws himself down to listen. It reminds him of his youth, and he meditates the flight of years and the vanities of life. The cry of his comrades startles him from his meditations, and he sings supper in full chorus with the rest . Thus he goes from morn to night and from night to morning. A mountain rises before him and he talks big about its majesty and sublimity. The river winds below, and he speaks of its serpentlike flow, glistening clear and sunnily throughout the plain. He launches into his boat, and he recollects and tells you of some glorious upset he has had or witnessed. He darts upon the silent shore, and its solitude reminds him that he is no longer in the crowded city, and that he has reason to be thankful for it . He makes an admirable cockney in the woods, and betrays himself at every instant; but he is so good natured, and so lively, so full of the neck or nothing temper, that goes forward, in devil-may-care fashion, no matter who pays the piper, that we slap him on the shoulder affectionately, even while we laugh at his absurdities, as we tolerate the shallowness of the stream in consideration of its transparency and liquid impetuous motion. His volume has little in it, but that is lively. It would be monotonous, for the incidents are few and of but one character, but that the author himself, with his pop, fizz, bang, sort of action and performance, is sufficiently full of transitions. The things that he sees, and which surprise him only, prove his cockney inexperience. They would surprise nobody accustomed to forest life. He should come South if he wants to see something of such a condition. Let him take the great back bone through Virginia and North-Carolina to Georgia. We should show him something to make him skip legitimately. His mountains are mere gopher hills to such as they might shjw him on the di. viding line between South and North Carolina. He talks of Cheney, who is the great hunter, par excellence, among the Manhattan cockneys, and gives an account of his woful fights with a wolf. We know hunters to the manner born—men, who, at seventy, are still on foot, day by day, over the mountain in pursuit of the bear, deer and panther—men covered from head to foot with scars received in conflict with these varmints, each with a chronicle to make the particular cockney hairs stand on the head of our author, "like quills upon the fretted porcupine." He has seen nothing. Our readers will be amused at one of his discoveries. He records, in italics, with as much wonder as holy horror, that fish will eat each other, and that one trout was used for baiting his brethren! Of his mercurial temperament, by which his philosophies change at almost every chapter, we have some amusing illustrations. At page 101, he is about to shoot at a duck, when his companion, a professional hunter, arrests his arm. "She has young ones." "I stood rebuked," says our benevolent author;—" Not only by my own feelings but by the Indian with me. I was shocked that this hunter, who had lived so many years on the spoils of the forest