Page images

ferred, indeed, the ante-penultimate tristich as the finale of the poem.

The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author's self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cipher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter a cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension-at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions. And thus he who has written very little, may in that little either conceal his spirit or convey quite an erroneous idea of it-of his acquirements, talents, temper, manner, tenor and depth (or shallowness) of thought-in a word, of his character, of himself. But this is impossible with him who has written much. Of such a person we get, from his books, not merely a just, but the most just representation. Bulwer, the individual, personal man, in a green velvet waistcoat and amber gloves, is not by any means the veritable Sir Edward Lytton, who is discoverable only in “ Ernest Maltravers," where his soul is deliberately and nakedly set forth. And who would ever know Dickens by looking at him or talking with him, or doing anything with him except reading his “ Curiosity Shop ?” What poet, in especial, but must feel at least the better portion of himself more fairly represented in even his commonest sonnet, (earnestly written,) than in his most elaborate or most intimate personalities?

I put all this as a general proposition, to which Miss Fuller affords a marked exception—to this extent, that her personal character and her printed book are merely one and the same thing. We get access to her soul as directly from the one as from the other—no more readily from this than from that-easily from either. Her acts are bookish, and her books are less thoughts than acts. Her literary and her conversational manner are identical. Here is a passage from her “ Summer on the Lakes :"

The rapids enchanted me far beyond what I expected; they are so swift that they cease to seem so you can think only of their beauty. The fountain beyond the Moss islands I discovered for myself, and thought it for some time an accidental beauty which it would not do to leave, lest I might never see it again. After I found it permanent, I returned many times to watch the play of its crest. In the little waterfall beyond, Nature seems, as she often does, to have made a study for some larger design. She delights in this—a sketch within a sketch—a dream within a dream. Wherever we see it, the lines of the great buttress in the fragment of stone, the hues of the

waterfall, copied in the flowers that star its bordering mosses, we are delighted; for all the lineaments become fluent, and we mould the scene in congenial thought with its genius.

Now all this is precisely as Miss Fuller would speak it. She is perpetually saying just such things in just such words. To get the conversational woman in the mind's eye, all that is needed is to imagine her reciting the paragraph just quoted : but first let us have the personal woman. She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility, capacity for affection, for love-when moved by a slight smile, it becomes even beautiful in the intensity of this expression ; but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer. Imagine, now, a person of this description looking you at one moment earnestly in the face, at the next seeming to look only within her own spirit or at the wall; moving nervously every now and then in her chair ; speaking in a high key, but musically, deliberately, (not hurriedly or loudly,) with a delicious distinctness of enunciation-speaking, I say, the paragraph in question, and emphasizing the words which I have italicized, not by impulsion of the breath, (as is usual,) but by drawing them out as long as possible, nearly closing her eyes the while--imagine all this, and we have both the woman and the authoress before us.


MR. Lawson has published, I believe, only “Giordano," a tragedy, and two volumes entitled “Tales and Sketches by a Cosmopolite.” The former was condemned (to use a gentle word) some years ago at the Park Theatre; and never was condemnation more religiously deserved. The latter are in so much more tolerable than the former, that they contain one non-execrable thing—“ The Dapper Gentleman's Story”-in manner, as in title, an imitation of one of Irving's “ Tales of a Traveller.”

I mention Mr. L., however, not on account of his literary labors, but because, although a Scotchman, he has always professed to have greatly at heart the welfare of American letters. He is much in the society of authors and booksellers, converses fluently, tells a good story, is of social habits, and, with no taste whatever, is quite enthusiastic on all topics appertaining to Taste.


Mrs. KIRKLAND'S “New Home," published under the nom de plume of “ Mary Clavers," wrought an undoubted sensation. The cause lay not so much in picturesque description, in racy humor, or in animated individual portraiture, as in truth and novelty. The west at the time was a field comparatively untrodden by the sketcher or the novelist. In certain works, to be sure, we had obtained brief glimpses of character strange to us sojourners in the civilized east, but to Mrs. Kirkland alone we were indebted for our acquaintance with the home and home-life of the backwoodsman. With a fidelity and vigor that prove her pictures to be taken from the very life, she has represented "scenes" that could have occurred only as and where she has described them. She has placed before us the veritable settlers of the forest, with all their peculiarities, national and individual; their free and fearless spirit; their homely utilitarian views; their shrewd out-looking for self-interest; their thrifty care and inventions multiform; their coarseness of manner, united with real delicacy and substantial kindness when their sympathies are called into action—in a word, with all the characteristics of the Yankee, in a region where the salient points of character are unsmoothed by contact with society. So lifelike were her reprensentations that they have been appropriated as individual portraits by many who have been disposed to plead, trumpet-tongued, against what they supposed to be “ the deep damnation of their taking-off.”

“ Forest Life" succeeded “A New Home," and was read with equal interest. It gives us, perhaps, more of the philosophy of western life, but has the same freshness, freedom, piquancy. Of course, a truthful picture of pioneer habits could never be given in any grave history or essay so well as in the form of narration,

where each character is permitted to develope itself; narration, therefore, was very properly adopted by Mrs. Kirkland in both the books just mentioned, and even more entirely in her later volume, “ Western Clearings." This is the title of a collection of tales, illustrative, in general, of Western manners, customs, ideas, “ The Land Fever” is a story of the wild days when the madness of speculation in land was at its height. It is a richly characteristic sketch, as is also “ The Ball at Thram's Huddle.” Only those who have had the fortune to visit or live in the "back settlements” can enjoy such pictures to the full. “Chances and Changes” and "Love vs. Aristocracy” are more regularly constructed tales, with the “universal passion” as the moving power, but colored with the glowing hues of the west. “The Bee Tree” exhibits a striking but too numerous class among the settlers, and explains, also, the depth of the bitterness that grows out of an unprosperous

condition in that “ Paradise of the Poor.” “ Ambuscades” and “ HalfLengths from Life," I remember as two piquant sketches to which an annual, a year or two ago, was indebted for a most unusual sale among the conscious and pen-dreading denizens of the west. “Half-Lengths" turns on the trying subject of caste. “The Schoolmaster's Progress” is full of truth and humor. The western pedagogue, the stiff, solitary nondescript figure in the drama of a new settlement, occupying a middle position between “our folks" and “company," and "boarding round,” is irresistibly amusing, and cannot fail to be recognised as the representative of a class. The occupation, indeed, always seems to mould those engaged in it—they all soon, like Master Horner, learn to “know well what belongs to the pedagogical character, and that facial solemnity stands high on the list of indispensable qualifications.” The spelling-school, also, is a “new country" feature which we owe Mrs. Kirkland many thanks for recording. The incidents of “ An Embroidered Fact” are singular and picturesque, but not particularly illustrative of the “ Clearings.” The same may be said of “ Bitter Fruits from Chance-Sown Seeds;" but this abounds in capital touches of character: all the horrors of the tale are brought about through suspicion of pride, an accusation as destructive at the west as that of witchcraft in olden times, or the cry of mad dog in modern.

In the way of absolute books, Mrs. Kirkland, I believe, has achieved nothing beyond the three volumes specified, (with another lately issued by Wiley and Putnam,) but she is a very constaut contributor to the magazines. Unquestionably, she is one of our best writers, has a province of her own, and in that province has few equals. Her most noticeable trait is a certain freshness of style, seemingly drawn, as her subjects in general, from the west. In the second place is to be observed a species of wit, approximating humor, and so interspersed with pure fun, that “ wit," after all, is nothing like a definition of it. To give an example“Old Thoughts on the New Year” commences with a quotation from Tasso's “ Aminta :"

Il mondo invecchia

E invecchiando intristisce; and the following is given as a "free translation:"

The world is growing older

And wiser day by day;
Everybody knows beforehand

What you're going to say.
We used to laugh and frolic-

Now we must behave:
Poor old Fun is dead and buried

Pride dug his grave. This, if I am not mistaken, is the only specimen of poetry as yet given by Mrs. Kirkland to the world. She has afforded us no means of judging in respect to her inventive powers, although fancy, and even imagination, are apparent in everything she does. Her perceptive faculties enable her to describe with great verisimilitude. Her mere style is admirable, lucid, terse, full of variety, faultlessly pure, and yet bold—so bold as to appear heedless of the ordinary decora of composition. In even her most reckless sentences, however, she betrays the woman of refinement, of accomplishment, of unusually thorough education. There are a great many points in which her general manner resembles that of Willis, whom she evidently admires. Indeed, it would not be difficult to pick out from her works an occasional Willisism, not less palpable than happy. For example

Peaches were like little green velvet buttons when George was first mistaken for Doctor Beaseley, and before they were ripe he, &c.

« PreviousContinue »