« PreviousContinue »
histories of Pizarro and Napoleon, very clearly. But the powers they offended were different. The Spaniard outraged humanity ; the Corsican, liberty. The recoil was equally crushing. There also appears a sort of poetical fitness in the punishments awarded to each. The outrager of humanity lost his life ; the violator of liberty his freedom. One was killed; the other was a captive. A celebrated poet has observed, that the history of the world is a game of chess which has not yet been played out. What is termed a revolution is merely a change in the phase of the game. Many may consider this the view of a Fatalist, but we do not see why this word should be used when there is the better word Necessity. Fatalism, in human progress, is Calvinism in religion : it paralyses effort. Under one aspect, inaction is as good as energy. But this is only one aspect. It has, however, the counterbalancing virtue of fortitude.
No sane man ever believed that Calvinism in religion, and Necessity in politics, meant stagnation of thought and action. This would be a living death ; a complete and suicidal solecism.
The true light by which history ought to be read, is the certainty of every fact producing its kind. What we sow, we reap. Tyranny is the parent of anarchy, which, in its turn, begets another despotism. Throw human freedom down, and in proportion to the force of the overthrow will be the violence of the rebound. Action and reaction revolve constantly, and produce events which constitute the life of humanity.
It would be a curious study to consider the world dramatically. To take an age, and treat it as an act, carrying out Shakspeare's maxim :
“ All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely play
How differently would the actions of men then appear ! With what greater tolerance should we regard the doers of evil, while recognising the part played by each, and the necessity for every word and deed! The master-passion of an age could be easily detected, and the vibration of the human pendulum seen and accounted for. The life of the human race treated in this manner would, however, require a man of first-rate intellect. He must be the Shakspeare of facts. A fact is nothing apart from its cause. It is a dead body. Motive is the life of a fact. The largest collection of them in the world would be but hieroglyphics, the key to which is lost; a jumble of conjurors' signs, without the magical power. But when the skeleton is filled up with flesh and muscles, a nervous system added, and the whole garbed in the satiny robe of skin, we perceive the beauty of the living form.
We do not wish to be fanciful in a critical matter, but we think we shall better explain our theory of history by carrying out this metaphor, than by a lengthened analysis.
The skeleton of history is undoubtedly the facts themselves ; the flesh is the common element which composes the masses of mankind; the muscles are the men of action; the nervous system is the sympathies and intelligence of the educated classes ; the brain is composed of the thinking men ; the
heart is the philanthropist; the skin is the decency of life; and the robes in which the form is clothed are the changing fashions and popular impressions of the time.
With this rough view of the question, it is evident that it requires a peculiar combination to faithfully anatomize this curious and elaborate physique.
We have before alluded to the besetting sins of the principal writers of history: the pomposity and infidelity of Gibbon; the passionless, dry detailism of Hallam; the local prejudice and half-philosophy of Robertson; the brilliant poetical distortions of Michelet; the artful undercurrent of Guizot; the Romanist bigotry of Lingard; the brilliant special pleading of Macaulay ; the metaphysical elaboration of Macintosh ; the strong individuality of Carlyle; the patient research of Sharon Turner; the want of earnestness, and scepticism of Hume. This list comprises the principal men who have tried their hands on this difficult branch of literature, and is a strong evidence of the difficulty of success.
Now, the American writer has brought to his task patience-learning—an earnest desire to elicit the truth—a clear and picturesque style—a wish to acquaint the reader with all the prominent circumstances of the case—and a thorough knowledge of the importance of throwing himself into the prevailing opinions, feelings, and customs of the times described.
These are strong points in his favor, and we feel assured the verdict of posterity will be, that although he is inferior to some of his fellow-laborers in that individual force which
constitutes genius, he is far more qualified to present to the public the aggregate result of his various labors.
We shall not discuss his volume of “Biographical and Critical Essays,” as we here treat of him only as the greatest historian America has produced, and one who is fully equal to sustain an honorable comparison with his European brethren. We predict that when he chooses a more extended survey of the biography of the human family he will not be found wanting.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
THERE is a calm classical dignity about Mr. Bryant's muse, which in the eyes of many is considered as an equivalent for that fire and energy which is so fascinating to the lovers of poetry. The tone of his productions is elevated, but not stirring. We assent to his reflections : we do not feel with him. There is nothing rapid and breathless in his flights: they are equable and sustained. There is an air of Grecian elegance about his writings, which convinces us he never abandons himself to the impulses of the Pythoness. At times, this amounts to a severity which chills his readers, and impresses them with the idea that he is moralizing in verse, and not throwing off the rushing thoughts that crowd his brain in the first bold snatches of sound. There is more of the cultivation of the poet than of the nature or instinct ; indeed, occasionally, the determination to compose is painfully apparent; it seems the effort of his will, and not a revelation of his hidden spirit.
It is not, however, for the reader or the critic to deter