« PreviousContinue »
warning ; and, after affording a week's topic of conversation, they are quietly and unanimously consigned to the receptacle of things that have been. To write a sensible book on America must be a difficult thing, if we may judge from the little that has been accomplished in this way ; and we are disposed to give credit to one, who, though his visit was limited and hasty, formed some just ideas, where most of his predecessors had none, of the strength and weakness, the faults and virtues, the glory and shame, of our people.
Art. X. - CRITICAL NOTICES.
1. - The Scholar, the Jurist, the Artist, the Philanthropist.
An Address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Har.
In this Address, which, as many of our readers will remember, was received with distinguished approbation by the intelligent audience before whom it was pronounced, Mr. Sumner has deviated from the beaten track of anniversary declamation, and imparted a personal interest to an occasion which has usually been devoted to topics of a more general character. Taking a happy advantage of the publication, after an interval of four years, of a catalogue of the members of the Fraternity which he addressed, he has reviewed the characters and services of four of its departed brothers, whose names are among the most honored on its illustrious roll. The titles of Scholar, Jurist, Artist, and Philanthropist suggest at once the names of Pickering, Story, Allston, and Channing. The Address is composed of four parts, one of which is assigned to each of these distinguished men.
The occasion being one of grateful and fraternal commemoration, the discourse is professedly eulogistic. “Let us praise famous men” is its motto, though not announced with the formal frankness of the son of Sirach. In productions of this class, we expect little criticism from the speaker, except that which tends to kindle the sympathy and heighten the admiration of his hearwould be equally uncharitable and absurd. We would have him give large measure, “pressed down and running over.” The speaker, who praises a brother among brothers, may fairly ex-ercise the prerogatives of brotherhood, which are limited in the matter of commendation only by the possibility, or at most the probability, of its truth. We exact of him nothing more than a qualified veracity, and relieve him from the irksome task of making those deductions which would deprive his labor of love of all its charm, though it might add to its historical value. While, however, this latitude is conceded on the score of quantity, the critic will be less indulgent in regard to quality. The encomiast, if he pleases, may exalt his hero to the skies; but it must be for the right thing. To use the illustration of the Roman satirist, none but a headlong flatterer would compliment a puny invalid by likening his gaunt neck to the brawn of Hercules.
To demand of an avowed panegyrist a perfectly accurate measurement of those merits which it is his business to extol
The kindly tone of good feeling which inspires this performance allures the reader to the same mood, and makes the act of criticism an ungracious office. And, indeed, though Mr. Sumner is very liberal and even exuberant in his praises, he has seldom, in the present case, transgressed the proper limits of his province. In a few instances, however, his admiration must be considered, after all allowances, as somewhat hyperbolical. The assertion, for example, that “ under the hands of Mr. Justice Story we behold the beginning of a new study, the science of Comparative Juris. prudence," unsupported, as Mr. Sumner has left it, by any proof, is to us quite extraordinary. No intelligent student in any profession can easily avoid breaking out of positive into comparative science; and no lawgiver or jurist of comprehensive views can confine himself to the study of a single system. The rudiments, at least, of comparative jurisprudence are found as far back as Grotius, and are somewhat developed in D'Aguesseau and Black. stone. Mr. Sumner has also, we think, rather strained his contrast between the judge and the jurist, in order to exalt the voca. tion of the latter. A judge of the first class must be a jurist, whether he bears the name or not, and we know no better educa. tion for the jurist's chair than the experience of the judge's bench. Again, when Mr. Sumner says of Dr. Channing, “it is probable that, since Washington and Franklin, no American has exerted an equal influence on his fellow-men,” we hesitate to adopt so broad a statement.
In regard to the quality of the commendation bestowed on the individuals eulogized in this Address, we see little to object to, and much to applaud. The respective claims of these eminent men are easily distinguished, and it is impossible to mistake the peculiar vocation of either. Mr. Sumner, we think, has been very successful in presenting a lively, and in the main a just character of each to the mind. Sometimes, indeed, his own views color his judgment of the men, and blend with his analysis of their pursuits and opinions. He does not always resist the temptation, natural to every biographer, and almost inevitable for the panegyrist, to use the characters which he describes as a medium for the transmission of his own light. The manner, for instance, in which Dr. Channing's views on certain great social questions are expounded, though far from unjust, has a strong savor of the address on the “ True Grandeur of Nations.” Manifesting a zeal and sincerity with which no one can fail to sympathize, the orator delights to exhibit the superiority of Christian mildness and benevolence over the ferocity of barbarous and civilized heathenism. His eagerness, however, to avail himself of every opening for an assault on the principle of force, as a part of the social machinery of the world, has sometimes, we think, an injurious effect upon his critical judgment. Mr. Allston, for example, is made to decry all battle-pieces” in the abstract; and this supposed aversion is used as the text for a short homily on the duty of artists to avoid those subjects. But if we are rightly informed, Mr. Sumner has here generalized into a moral sentiment what was a mere expression of professional contempt for such scenes of that class as are too barren to call out the highest powers of art. We suspect, moreover, that his pacific eye has dwelt too exclusively on the “ feminine” traits of Allston's genius. Force of character is a Christian no less than a masculine attribute, and may be necessary to the complete development of Christian excellence, which often demands courageous and energetic action, to fulfil a mild and benevolent intention. We do not believe that the “higher sentiments” are all of one gender, notwithstanding the washy criticism that has been vented of late about feminine traits of character and genius. Allston's Belshazzar's Feast, the last work of a genius which, according to Mr. Sumner, became more feminine with advancing years, is as bold and masculine in conception as it is delicate in execution.
In the notice of Mr. Pickering's attainments and tastes, a discussion of rather disproportionate length is introduced respecting the value of classical studies. Mr. Sumner is a man of too culti. vated a taste and too liberal a judgment, to join in the malignant cry of the vulgar detracters of such pursuits. Yet, while he freely and gratefully acknowledges the wholesome influence of ancient letters on the intellect, he shrinks from the moral effects of a class of writings which “ want the highest charm of purity, of righteousness, of elevated sentiments, of love to God and man.” He bestows very hard names on writers who are not used to such
treatment. “The torrent of Demosthenes, dark with self-love and the spirit of vengeance," has quenched the recollection of his patriotic fire. “Fitful philosophy” is about as appropriately ascribed to Tully as “intemperate eloquence," with which it is coupled. Mr. Sumner speaks with implied censure of “Homer's inspiring tale of blood," apparently not remembering the parting of Hector and Andromache, or the domestic beauty of the patriarchal scenes of the Odyssey; and the blame is extended even to “ the marvellous teachings of Socrates,” and “the mellifluous words of Plato.” This disparaging picture is concluded with these words : “Greek poetry has been likened to the song of the nightingale as she sits in the rich, symmetrical crown of the palm-tree, trilling her thick-warbled notes ; but even this is less sweet and tender than the music of the human heart.” There is no charitable foot. note here to inform us of the source from which the comparison is drawn. This nightingale, of course, is not Milton's, which trilled its thick-warbled notes in “ the olive-grove of Academe,” and whose song is not compared to Greek poetry. Nor do we clearly understand what is meant by the music of the human heart; but if the chords of that love which is stronger than death have power to breathe such music, the ear must be dull indeed which cannot detect it in the Alcestis and the Antigone.
Our remarks have been drawn out to an unseemly length, so that we have no room for a particular notice of the rhetorical execution of this Address. Its style is sometimes open to verbal criticism, and the metaphors and comparisons will not always bear too rigorous an analysis. But the Address has high merits. It is masculine (with Mr. Sumner's leave), genial, and ornate ; full of life, and seldom flagging ; sometimes eloquent, and always dignified. Its very extravagances grow out of noble and generous sympathies; and it is unsullied by an opinion or sentiment for which its author has reason to blush.
2.- Report of a Minority of the Special Committee of the Bos
ton Prison Discipline Society, appointed at the Annual Meeting, May 27, 1845. [By S. G. Howe.] Boston: W. D. Ticknor & Co. 1846. 8vo. pp. 90.
We expect, almost as a matter of course, to find the name of Dr. Howe connected with every liberal and benevolent enterprise of the day. He has done more for the education of the blind than any individual living, either in Europe or America ; and as a mere episode in his labors for this end, he has twice succeeded in what it is hardly too bold a figure to call the creation of a moral and intelligent soul within one of those dark and desolate tabernacles of flesh, from which, the windows of three of the senses being for ever closed and barred, it seemed as if wisdom was at every practicable entrance quite shut out. But his active philanthropy has not been limited to the accomplishment of these brilliant results, though they would have far surpassed the ambition, or even the most sanguine dreams, of De l'Epée or Sicard. Numerous other objects of benevolent enterprise have kindled his zeal, and profited largely by his unflagging exertions. Common schools, hospitals for the insane, asylums for the deaf and dumb, and prisons, have either been founded at his instance, or sustained by his efforts, or improved by his suggestions. In the Old and the New World he has richly earned his fame as one of the ablest and most efficient philanthropists of the age.
Whatever comes from the pen of such a person, especially if it relates to any of the noble purposes to which his life has been devoted, is entitled to immediate and respectful attention. In the pamphlet before us, he appears as the strenuous advocate of a system of prison discipline which has been received with great favor in Europe, though it has not been widely adopted in this country, and, except in two of the States, the great majority of voices is decidedly against it, and in favor of a rival system. It is quite unfortunate that the philanthropists of our day will quarrel very bitterly with each other about the respective merits of the several plans which are devised for carrying their benevolent intentions into effect. Here is a notable instance; the Philadelphia and the Auburn systems of prison discipline, as they are called, have both accomplished a vast amount of good ; the reformation effected by them has been so 'manifest, that this country, where they had their origin, has become the teacher of the civilized world as respects the proper mode of confining and managing criminals, and nearly all the great powers of Europe have recently sent commissioners hither to take lessons of us in this matter, and, if possible, to carry home with them some of our improvements. Formerly, our State prisons were loathsome and hideous dens, in which it was hard to say whether the physical or the moral nature of the convict suffered the greater degradation and wrong. Now our best managed institutions on either plan, that at Charlestown, for instance, and that at Philadelphia, command the respect and admiration of every intelligent and unprejudiced foreigner by whom they are visited. But the founders and supporters of the two systems are not willing to share the glory of this great reform. The Boston Prison Discipline Society,