Page images
PDF
EPUB

ance.

The damage is done, and the apology does not remedy the griev

For this and other reasons, we are led to prefer, in this kind of writing, the second general method to which we have alluded. It consists in a variety of points-principally in avoiding, as may easily be done, that directness of expression which we have noticed in Sheppard Lee, and thus leaving much to the imagination-in writing as if the author were firmly impressed with the truth, yet astonished at the immensity of the wonders he relates, and for which, professedly, he neither claims nor anticipates credence—in minuteness of detail, especially upon points which bave no immediate bearing upon the general story--this minuteness not being at variance with indirectness of expression-in short, by making use of the infinity of arts which give verisimilitude to a narration—and by leaving the result as a wonder not to be accounted for. It will be found that bizzarreries thus conducted, are usually far more effective than those otherwise managed. The attention of the author, who does not depend upon explaining away his incredibilities, is directed to giving them the character and the luminousness of truth, and thus are brought about, unwittingly, some of the most vivid creations of human intellect. The reader, too, readily perceives and falls in with the writer's humor, and suffers himself to be borne on thereby. On the other hand, what difficulty, or inconvenience, or danger can there be in leaving us uninformed of the important facts that a certain hero did not actually discover the elixir vitæ, could not really make himself really invisible, and was not either a ghost in good earnest, or a bona fide wandering Jew?

CORNELIUS MATHEWS.

“WAKONDAH” is the composition of Mr. Cornelius Mathews, one of the editors of the Monthly Magazine, " Arcturus." In the December number of the journal, the poem was originally set forth by its author, very much avec l'air d'un homme qui sauve sa patrie.To be sure, it was not what is usually termed the leading article of the month. It did not occupy that post of honor which, hitherto, has been so modestly filled by “ Puffer Hopkins.” But it took precedence of some exceedingly beautiful stanzas by Professor Longfellow, and stood second only to a very serious account of a supper which, however well it might have suited the taste of an Ariel, would scarcely have feasted the Anakim, or satisfied the appetite of a Grandgousier.

Grandgousier. The supper was, or might have been, a good thing. The poem which succeeded it is not; nor can we imagine what has induced Messrs. Curry & Co. to be at the trouble of its republication. We are vexed with these gentlemen for having thrust this affair the second time before us. They have placed us in a predicament we dislike. In the pages of " Arcturus” the poem did not come necessarily under the eye of the Magazine critic. There is a tacitly-understood courtesy about these matters--a courtesy upon which we need not comment. The contributed papers in any one journal of the class of “ Arcturus” are not considered as debateable by any one other. General propositions, under the editorial head, are rightly made the subject of discussion; but in speaking of “Wakondah," for example, in the pages of our own Magazine, we should have felt as if making an occasion. Now, upon our first perusal of the poem in question, we were both astonished and grieved that we could say, honestly, very little in its praise :—astonished, for by some means, not just now altogether intelligible to ourselves, we had become imbued with the idea of high poetical talent in Mr. Mathews :—grieved, because, under the circumstances of his position as

* Wakondah ; The Master of Life. A Poem. George L. Curry & Co.: New York

editor of one of the very best journals in the country, we had been sincerely anxious to think well of his abilities. Moreover, we felt that to speak ill of them, under any circumstances whatever, would be to subject ourselves to the charge of envy or jealousy, on the part of those who do not personally know us. We, therefore, rejoiced that “Wakondah” was not a topic we were called upon to discuss. But the poem is republished, and placed upon our table, and these very " circumstances of position" which restrained us in the first place, render it a positive duty that we speak distinctly in the second.

And very distinctly shall we speak. In fact, this effusion is a dilemma whose horns goad us into frankness and candor—"c'est un malheur,” to use the words of Victor Hugo,

" d'où on ne pourrait se tirer par des periphrases, par des quemadmodums et des verumenimveros.” If we mention it at all, we are forced to employ the language of that region where, as Addison has it, “they sell the best fish and speak the plainest English.” “Wakondah," then, from beginning to end, is trash. With the trivial exceptions which we shall designate, it has no merit whatever ; while its faults, more numerous than the leaves of Valombrosa, are of that rampant class which, if any schoolboy could be found so uninformed as to commit them, any schoolboy should be remorselessly flogged for committing.

The story, or as the epics have it, the argument, although brief, is by no means particularly easy of comprehension. The design seems to be based upon a passage in Mr. Irving's “ Astoria." He tells us that the Indians who inhabit the Chippewyan range of mountains, call it the “Crest of the World,” and “think that Wakondah, or the Master of Life, as they designate the Supreme Being, has his residence among these aerial heights." Upon this hint Mr. Mathews has proceeded. He introduces us to Wakondah standing in person upon a mountain-top. He describes his appearance, and thinks that a Chinook would be frightened to behold it. He causes the “ Master of Life” to make a speech, which is addressed, generally, to things at large, and particularly to the neighboring Woods, Cataracts, Rivers, Pinnacles, Steeps, and Lakes-not to mention an Earthquake. But all these (and, we think, judiciously) turn a deaf ear to the oration, which, to be Were it pos

plain, is scarcely equal to a second-rate Piankitank stump speech. In fact, it is a barefaced attempt at animal magnetism, and the mountains, &c., do no more than show its potency in resigning themselves to sleep, as they do.

Then shone Wakondah's dreadful eyes. -then he becomes very indignant, and accordingly launches forth into speech the second—with which the delinquents are afflicted, with occasional brief interruptions from the poet, in proper person, until the conclusion of the poem.

The subject of the two orations we shall be permitted to sum up compendiously in the one term “rigmarole.” But we do not mean to say that our compendium is not an improvement, and a very considerable one, upon the speeches themselves—which, taken altogether, are the queerest, and the most rhetorical, not to say the most miscellaneous orations we ever remember to have listened to outside of an Arkansas House of Delegates. In saying this we mean what we say. We intend no joke. sible, we would quote the whole poem in support of our opinion. But as this is not possible, and, moreover, as we presume Mr. Mathews has not been so negligent as to omit securing his valuable property by a copyright, we must be contented with a few extracts here and there at random, with a few comments equally so. But we have already hinted that there were really one or two words to be said of this effusion in the way of commendation, and these one or two words might as well be said now as hereafter. The poem thus commences

The moon ascends the vaulted sky to-night;

With a slow motion full of pomp ascends,

But, mightier than the moon that o'er it bends,
A form is dwelling on the mountain height
That boldly intercepts the struggling light

With darkness nobler than the planet's fire,

A gloom and dreadful grandeur that aspire

To match the cheerful Heaven's far-shining might. If we were to shut our eyes to the repetition of "might," (which, in its various inflections, is a pet word with our author, and lugged in upon all occasions,) and to the obvious imitation of Longfellow's Hymn to the Night, in the second line of this stanza, we should be justified in calling it good. The “darkness nobler than the planet's fire" is certainly good. The general conception of the colossal figure on the mountain summit, relieved against the full moon, would be unquestionably grand were it not for the bullish phraseology by which the conception is rendered, in a great measure, abortive. The moon is described as “ ascending,” and its “motion " is referred to, while we have the standing figure continuously intercepting its light. That the orb would soon pass from behind the figure, is a physical fact which the purpose of the poet required to be left out of sight, and which scarcely any other language than that which he has actually employed would have succeeded in forcing upon the reader's attention. With all these defects, however, the passage, especially as an opening passage, is one of high merit. Looking carefully for something else to be commended, we find at length the lines

Lo! where our foe up through these vales ascends,

Fresh from the embraces of the swelling sea,

A glorious, white and shining Deity.
Upon our strength his deep blue eye he bends,
With threatenings full of thought and steadfast ends ;

While desolation from his nostril breathes

His glittering rage he scornfully unsheathes

And to the startled air its splendor lends. This again, however, is worth only qualified commendation. The first six lines preserve the personification (that of a ship) sufficiently well; but, in the seventh and eighth, the author suffers the image to slide into that of a warrior unsheathing his sword. Still there is force in these concluding verses, and we begin to fancy that this is saying a very great deal for the author of “Puffer Hopkins."

The best stanza in the poem (there are thirty-four in all) is the thirty-third.

No cloud was on the moon, yet on his brow

A deepening shadow fell, and on his knees

That shook like tempest-stricken mountain trees
His heavy head descended sad and low
Like a high city smitten by the blow

Which secret earthquakes strike and topling falls

With all its arches, towers, and cathedrals

In swift and unconjectured overthrow. This is, positively, not bad. The first line italicized is bold and vigorous, both in thought and expression; and the four last (although by no means original) convey a striking picture. But

« PreviousContinue »