« السابقةمتابعة »
illustration. But the fiction must partake of all the usual elements of fiction ; must delineate society at large,--take in all its aspects,—not suffering any but that one to preponderate which gives tone and colour to the whole-in which the whole people share alike, and in which they must all sympathize,—the eager, earnest, excitable nature, all impulse and enthusiasm, which declares itself in every movement of the national will and intellect. Such a people has little hụmor. They are too serious for it. They have no time for it. They are in action-neither given to dallying or trifling with the subject,-never loitering, never playing by the way. The goal is ever before their eyes, and their march is ever onward. Forming their ideas from our literature rather than our progress, European writers speak lightly of our imagination. Our imagination is perhaps one of the most marvellous of our national developments, but it displays itself in action rather than in contemplation. The necessities of the nation impels it in a direction remote from literature. It is exhausted in physical and mechanical discoveries,-in a constant conflict with external nature,—in the fierce struggles of the politician,-in extravagant metaphor, and still more extravagant conception. How daring are all our schemes of wealth, conquest, aggrandizement. How remarkable our discoveries in science. How impetuous are we in the prosecution of them-how impatient of delay-how little despondinghow little given to hesitancy and doubt. But for the wondrous resources of imagination which we possess, we had been nothing. A plodding, dull and cautious race, without great hope and audacity,—would have never traversed our forests with steam, and ascended with fire-driven barges the rapids of our mighty rivers. We may not have written a great poem, but our history itself is one of the most magnificent of epics; and our progress to independence and strength, a mighty marvel, worthy to be chronicled in the same page which records the glorious conception of Christopher Columbus.
Of such a people you may make a thousand stories, but you cannot make them ridiculous. Undoubtedly, the American mind, forever strained and forever straining at conquest or effect, hangs ever on the verge equally of the absurd and the sublime. Our vanity, which hurries us forward to frequent impropriety, is the natural folly of every young and ambitious people. It is the modification, which necessity and our own colonial condition affected in that character,
which, in the Englishman, receives and deserves the name of arrogance. This quality in the American, which is so annoying to the amour propre of John Ox, is at the bottom of all those practices which are really ridiculous in our national deportment,—which prompts us to shows beyond our resources, and a pretension which, in truth, mocks our actual condition. It is the natural impulse of a people setting up for themselves, and now rising for the first time into the high er forms of social organization. This "high life below stairs," is undoubtedly good matter for farce and satire wherever it occurs,—but it is also no less a proof that civilization is making advances. However ludicrous in its simple aspect, it is yet a sign of social progress,-not to be disregarded or held in contempt,thorigh properly deserving of rebuke,by those who see in it the manifestations of a love of approbation,—the secret (par parenthese) of all our amiability,—a desire for improvement and for fame, which, working together, will be always likely to realize their object. The topics of scornful satire which our daily progress suggests to the spectator, are numerous enough. There are vices to be scourged, we have made fearful progress in the last ten years ;-follies to be censured,-phrenzies to be chastened and prevented ;-but really, after all, there is little material for the humorist. The American people, vain and seeking praise, are particularly sensitive to ridicule,-constantly on the watch to escape it, and, however rash in politics, or in enterprize, singularly cautious of their bearing in all that concerns society. Where they err in this respect, they do so from ignorance. But they soon learn; and one solecism in good manners, of which they are almost as soon conscious as their neighbors, saves them from a second. If their absurdities be in politics, it is still not so easy to laugh at those who rule successtully even while they blunder. The very idea of a whole nation mingling with the subject matter, however ridiculous, seems to invest it with a sort of dignity, which is apt to blunt the severities of satire, and to disarm wit and humor of half their powers. The very vanity of the nation, which, with all your power, you have utterly failed to subdue, and in which your unconcealed fears acknowledge the rival and competitor, has in it something which is wondrously imposing. With all its blunders, and follies, and extravagancies, you must respect that genius which baffles your own. You may hate and mock, as the English did, when
the sans culottes of France, in the first desperate ebullition of their liberties, threw down the gauntlet to the whole world of European despotism,--but whether you would or no, you must still respect and fear. From its masses, so circumstanced in power, so striving, with such rare energy, and struggling with success against such rare difficulties, you may more easily gather stuff for the tragic than the comic, as Dickens found in his cruise among us for materials. Never did poor author strive harder, and with so little profit, to make a humorous volume from his slender stock. You may show such a people up to detestation, but not to ridicule; it is easier to misunderstand than pourtray them. Even the excesses and the extravagancies of party, afford little for the humorous. Cutting sarcasm may confound the demagogue, but you cannot with propriety laugh at him or his victims. The picture, best or worst, in all its phases, is too serious, if not too terrible, for laughter. A great, blinded, struggling people, seeking the right-toiling day and night in its attainment, and misled by those in whom they confide,-is a picture to wound, to awe, to confound,—to make one sad, to make one weep, but hardly, with any propriety, to make one laugh. And, whatever there is of the ludicrous in the picture of a simple, ignorant man, in his cellar, striving to be a politician after the fashion of his ward,—cobbling shoes and discussing principles together,--still, the craving of his soul commands such respect, that the thoughtful mind must needs humor his appetite. Besides, there is truth in the philosophy which teaches, that where the soul of man honestly seeks the truth, the truth, such as will suit his condition and endowment, must infallibly come to compensate his search.
Let us not be misunderstood. Though we protest against that artist who proposes a national picture out of what is simply ridiculous or loathsome in our society, we are yet fully of the opinion that rare works may be fashioned out of our domestic materials—the even current of every-day lifeits small hopes, its petty distresses, its low wants, its humiliating denials. The skilful genius, who shall be patient enough in the search, will be at no loss for such materials, particularly in a city of such resources and such necessities as NewYork. Nor need the inquiry be one of much difficulty' or delay. We regard the American people as being more easily delineated by the moral artist, than any of the European nations. They have fewer reserves. Their characteristics 44
VOL. VI.- NO. 12.
lie more upon the surface. They think aloud. They act in communities, and their usual recklessness of impulse as effectually betrays the inner nature, as frequent potations of new wine might do. In this particular, they are as prompt and impetuous as the Irishman; and the circumstances of their condition, being one of singular progress and prosperity, render them--in spite of their English origin-as little heedful of the future and of consequences, as ever was any, the wretchedest sans-potato from green Erin. Vain, audacious, good-natured, bold,--not so frank as forward,---not so • wise as ready,--the American is a compound of qualities easy to be traced to their sources, easy to be analyzed in their properties, and of a quality and strength amply to reward the ingenuity which would enter upon the honest delineation of his moral nature. But, hopefully to undertake such a task, the analyst must overlook the narrow prejudices and small barriers opposed by his own local connection with castes and parties. He must not suffer his personal moods to interfere with those which belong to him as an artist. The satirist may scourge a popular vice, but he is never the person to draw a national picture; and the author who shall ask who is whig and who democrat, among the persons who sit to him for portraits, will most probably place a deformity upon his canvas, which truth, nature, and all parties, must equally repudiate.
Art. III.—The Heretic. Translated from the Russian of
Lajétchnikoff. By Thomas B. Shaw, A. B., of Cambridge, Adjunct Professor of English Literature in the Imperial Lyceum of Tsàrskoë Seló. New-York: Published by Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff-street. 1844.
Any work from the Russian is, for us, a curiosity. It was but yesterday that the Russians and their language were justly regarded as barbarous ; and that a journey into Russia might have been fitly designated a peregrinatio ad partes ignotas. A short half century back, the Russians stood in exactly the same relation to the rest of Europe, that the Macedonians did to the Greeks anterior to the rule of Philip. To this day the literature of Russia remains a sealed volume for the most of us; and even its existence is recognized with an almost incredulous assent. It is, indeed, of very recent origin ; for, though we do find the names of Russian writers, such as Yaroslaf and Nestor, as far back as the eleventh century, yet, we believe, the first that obtained any reputation beyond the limits of Muscovy, was a poet of the most euphonious cognomen of Moushkin Poushkin. Within the last fifty years, however, Russian literature has displayed considerable and unexpected energy. A catalogue, respectable in numbers, though grotesque in sound, might easily be drawn up, including such mellifluous vocables as, Bogdanovitch, Katchenoffski, Shishkoff, Bronikowski, Batinshkoff, Timkowski, etc., and lastly, our present author, Lajétchni. koff. But, as we pretend to have no acquaintance with any but the last of these, beyond their names; and as such strange and uncouth appellatives are not sufficiently attractive to induce us to dwell upon them, we will turn from our catalogue to the novel before us, which, through the instrumentality of Mr. Shaw, we have had an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with.
If any Russian work would be a great novelty to us, in America, a Russian novel is peculiarly so. The very idea of any thing so light, so airy, so fanciful, and so delicate, proceeding from a people whom many still regard as living upon candle ends and train oil, while they bury their rough bodies and shock heads in the scarcely more shaggy skins of their own bears, is enough to conjure up the most singular anticipations. We accordingly took up the Heretic of La