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THE BOOKS OF THE PAST YEAR.
“ Books!"--The word is an incantation thousand ways—the eye explores every in itself; a divining syllable that conjures nook and cranny where a book is to be up a multitude of images of Beauty, and found—and a few books, inexhaustible in Thought, and Power and Pleasure, in their their kind, constitute the Penates of the loftiest and purest shapes. Books, truly, poor scholar. Dermody learned Greek at are the apostles of knowledge; and even in the book-stalls, where he was discovered, in this
age when they are more numerous than rags and in want, by some passing Mecænas, ever they were before—when every village who, encouraging his genius, drew out that has its COLLINS and its FIELDING at least felicitous spirit of Poetry which was ultiand chronicles of Action and Character mately quenched in his own wild excesses. accumulate upon us faster than leaves in Bloomfield used to hide his books—the the budding spring, that throws from her scanty volumes he purchased with savings vernal lap such myriads of fresh hues— garnered up by severe privations—under when production increases so rapidly as to his work-board, and used to read all the suggest a hint of satiety—even in this pro- night through. The springs of literature lific age,
the lover of literature wearies not are at the feet of the student, tread where of the delight that “ grows by that it feeds he will, in solitude or in crowds, and whe
ther he be steeped in penury, or surrounded The author of a recent allegory entitled by riches. Nor can the fruits of his re“ Adventures in the Moon,” has put forward search be taken from him. They are a pleasant fancy upon literature, in which indestructible. “ Persecution,” exclaimed he imagines our satellite to be the depository Tasso in prison, “ cannot make me forget of all things that are lost upon earth-in- what I have acquired. They may prohibit cluding even reputation—and amongst the the light of heaven, and the common alirest those unfortunate books that, conceived ment of life; but they cannot deprive me of in the vanity of men's ambition, are finally my knowledge.” To the Book-worshipperconsigned to oblivion, and packed up in a being quite as imaginative and enthusiastic shelves in a commodious library prepared as the Fire-worshipper-books are always for their accommodation by Luna, the be ccessible, and the Faith is so strong within nignant patroness of all human follies and him that he has no need to trouble himself failures. It may be readily believed that about the outward Forms. But it is with the library must be tolerably extensive, books as it is with more sacred things. and, although it would not exactly suit the Those who are the least moved in the spirit purposes of a circulating library, seeing are the most scrupulous about appearances. that the volumes of which it is composed They get up a library, as other people go must have ceased to circulate before they to church, for the sake of the example, and got there, yet it is to a miracle the sort of for the credit of their reputation. The rich library which would crown the happiness man must have his library. It is a part of of such retired and wealthy burgesses as his stock in character. It is as unavoidable the old gentleman in the “ Clandestine an appendage of his country-house as his Marriage,” who so provokingly teazes Lord conservatory, his clumps of evergreens, his Ogleby by taking him over his grounds of orange alleys, his pond, his artificial vistas, a morning to “shew him his improvements.” and manufactured ruins. The quality of To people who never read, but who possess his books is not the point; number, binding, that enviable measure of substance which the munificence of the display, are the enables them to command all the luxuries essentials. His shelves rival the condemned of life, a library is more indispensable than archives of the Moon—the Botany Bay of to those who read by a condition of their the publishers. nature as imperative as their physical ap Now it is not our intention, in looking petites. Where the Passion exists, no back upon the Books of 1836, to inquire hindrances can intercept its gratification. what portion of them may by this time The want of a library is supplied in a have evaporated into air, and found their
way in shadowy resuscitation to that forlorn and the “ History of Russia," published in resting-place from whence no mortal hand “Lardner's Cyclopædia,” were the only vomay ever snatch them—where there are no lumes legitimately entitled to take permasecond editions, real or pretended, to cheer nent rank as histories. The former is the desponding authors, or stimulate the compiled with great care and industry, and reluctant public—where there are no venal possesses the advantage of extending its critics to exalt false pretension, and decry utility beyond the province of narrative real excellence and where stern Truth record, by embracing a variety of separate presides over an appellate jurisdiction whose details upon the social condition of the decrees are irreversible. We propose no- people and the productions of the soil. In thing more than a hasty gathering of the latter, the History of Russia may be reminiscences, which, like the imagerial said to be presented to the English reader points-in Mnemonics, will help to light up for the first time : for, with the exception the chain of associations, kindling along the of Tooke's disjointed and singularly incoralmost countless links of a year's reading. rect book, there is no other work upon the The retrospect is abundantly diversified, subject in our language. The third volume not only in matter, but in degrees of merit, is yet wanted to complete this publication. and is replete with instruction. What a Mr. Stebbing's “History of the Reformation" multitude of pens have been employed in is too diffuse in its materials to claim a these productions; what reams of paper place for its author amongst the historians have been blotted, torn, burned, and en who have confined themselves to the affairs grossed, in their preparation; what an end- of nations; but, considered as a wide view of less variety of gestures, shrugs, grimaces, the events connected with the establishment and hems! and pshaws ! have been ex of the Reformed Faith, it will be found pended over the sheets, as they grew into worthy of the attention of general readers, MSS. under the quickening labours of the who have neither learning nor leisure authors; what hours have been stolen from enough to dip into the original sources for sleep, and prayer, and champaign, and themselves. Of the historical narratives, domestic duty, pleasure, pain, and the one of the most prominent is Mr. James's whole round of business and enjoyment, “Life of the Black Prince,” tediously elabofor the busy solitude of invention ; how rated, crowded with the minute results of a many temptations have been resisted, how somewhat extended research, but incommany cares have been combated, how many plete in design, and deficient in clearness of compunctions of pride have been sacrificed, arrangement and purity of style. Carr's to enable the writers of these books to dwell “Manual of Roman Antiquities” (apparently in the delusions of their imagination, and indebted in a considerable degree to Adam's to make unto themselves, for a brief season, “Roman Antiquities”) ought to be noted as a a sort of beatitude, which is utterly incom- useful key to the student of the classics ; prehensible to everybody else. A curious and a translation, from the German, of chapter might be put together on the habits Hase's “ Public and Private Life of the of authors, who being, by universał con- Greeks,” which was published about the sent, the most eccentric, unmanageable, same time, ought to be classed along with ambiguous, hare-brained, and self-willed it, for the sake of its utility, although it class of people, furnish, of course, the most does not come within the range of English extraordinary instances of the curious and works. Admiral Napier's “ Account of the wonderful in natural history. But that War in Portugal,” in which he was a leaddoes not come within the scope of our pre- ing actor, hardly deserves a place in our sent purpose : some day or another, perhaps, enumeration. But it is a remarkable book we may make an anthology of the ways of for many reasons. It is distinguished by a authors; we have now to do only with their blunt, sailor-like frankness, by the truth books.
and fearlessness of its matter, and the abThere were not more than two or three sence of that spirit of display which might works published within the year that pro- be excused in a man who had come home perly fall into the division of History; crowned with triumphs, and who sat down although there were several that might be to record them in the heat of excitement considered as contributions to historical produced by the ingratitude of the Governknowledge. The “History of China," pub- ment he served. And here ends our hislished in the “Edinburgh Cabinet Library," torical retrospect, which, considering the
character of our national literature, is ex to at least thirty in number, there are ceedingly meagre and contemptible. some that will descend to the next genera
A benison as pure as unsunned snow, and tion, who, if the world progresses as it has as sweet as the south breathing over a bed done hitherto, will be harder of belief than of still more aromatic flowers than violets, ourselves. These may be briefly catalogued. rest upon the Old Times! The genial, A work on the Chinese, by Mr. Davis, who kindly, unsophisticated Old Times, when went out with Lord Amherst, and who posthe houses were roofed with pancakes, and sessed excellent opportunities for forming the streets were paved with gold! There is an accurate opinion upon the habits and something more than the mere fabulous El character of the people, is full of informaDorado in that nursery legend, good reader. tion of a very valuable kind, and may It is an allegory that carries with it a safely be referred to as an authority. He palpable allusion to that felicitous credulity was not one of those gentlemen who peeped which in former times represented the body into the Canton market, dined with a Hong of the age; when men believed honestly in merchant, landed at Whampoa, stared at the plenteousness of the land, and always the female smugglers, and conceived himself looked at the sunny side of things; when capable all at once of illuminating the they eschewed the shadow of doubt, and world upon the mysteries of a country that took every matter for granted that was is guarded at all points with as much recommended by its qualities of the mar- jealousy as the seraglio at Constantinople. vellous or the magnificent. That was the He saw the Chinese face to face, was time for books of travels! What wonderful licensed amongst them, as far as any licence voyages men made in those days to the could carry and protect him, had time and Coast of Guinea and the Highlands of means for observation, and profited by them. Scotland! And what stories they brought Another work developing extensive knowhome! The Anthropophagi were beggared ledge, and acute criticism, and worthy of perin description by the tribes that were seen manent fame, is Mr. Strang's “Germany." in the West Indies; and people in those In this publication we obtain a complete happy days never troubled themselves view of the German character, free from about settling disputed points in geography, such metaphysical refinements as obscure for they never had any disputes on the sub- the laboured analyses of Madame de Staël, ject, and they did not care a pin's point and the jargon that has latterly mystified whether the Leeward Islands ought to be the English public upon all matters concalled Windward, or the Windward Lee- cerning intellectual Germany. Mr. Strang's ward, or neither the one nor the other. It opinions are founded upon patient investiwas a succession of agreeable tales with our gation. They are not always correct, and forefathers, who, flying from discussion, sometimes they betray a weakness of judgbasked in the pleasant light of their own ment in reference to individuals that can be easy faith, like the noble company in Boc- referable only to personal feelings, or those caccio escaped from the plague, and in- accidents of intercourse that sometimes padulging in dreams of soothing tranquillity. ralyse the judgment. Nor is the treatment We have suffered a “sea-change.” Our of the whole as lucid and systematic as travellers
for the most part very nearly as could be desired. But the work is of deentertaining, and infinitely more artificial— cided importance from the magnitude of its can hardly see the sights they are so deeply grasp, and the variety, novelty and general engrossed in themselves; and that which excellence of its matter.
The most prothey permit their readers to see is seen found publication, however, of this class through a medium that colours it inevit- that was issued within the year, is Mr. ably with the idiosyncracy of the writer. Laing's admirable work on Norway, a Thus a modern book of travels in Africa country of whose institutions and resources presents us with an Africa of the author's we were comparatively ignorant. In these own; he spreads himself over Africa until volumes, the social policy of Norway, its he covers it, and we are compelled to look agriculture, its legal tenures, its laws, cus-. through him (it is true he is transparent toms, and costume, are opened up with an enough) before we can catch a glimpse of amount of ability, a closeness of thought, the land. But amidst the mass of books and an accuracy in the accumulation and of this kind, including tours, travels, and employment of facts, that can hardly be descriptions, which in the last year amounted estimated too highly. It unquestionably
ranks beyond all its contemporaries for the Regent Street : “ The Continent in 1835," soundness of its views, and the certainty by Professor Hoppus, fragmentary, desultory and fulness of its statements. The rest of and valueless, except for scraps of opinion on the books of travels or notes of stunted ob- religious subjects : “A Summer in Spain," servation might be dismissed, without any a very light affair: and“ Evenings Abroad," great loss of enjoyment, as the magicians on written in a poetical spirit, by a Lady. the stage sometimes dismiss their imps, by From these average and indifferent publicaa significant wave of the rod, and an ominous tions, must be exempted Mr. King's very darkling of the features. But we must, in clever and picturesque “ Account of Captain courtesy, venture a little into particulars. Back's Expedition to the Arctic Ocean,”. Mrs. Trollope's “ Paris and the Parisians," to which expedition he was surgeon and a book like a flamingo blazing upon us as if naturalist. This is one of the most satisit would set us on fire, full of a false bril- factory works of the kind we have ever liancy, affected, and impudent in proportion: read. But, perhaps, the most useful book, Mr. Power's “Recollections of America,” a after all, connected with the subject of very pleasant, superficial, and descriptive travels, which the year produced, is the book, with hardly any real life in it: “ Hand Book for the Continent,” the fullest, Cooper's “Excursions in Switzerland," quite most correct, most explanatory, and most unworthy of his name, and little better tasteful guide-book extant. than a series of exhausted landscapes and A variety of works that belong to no worn-out ruminations : Mr. Willis's “Ink- distinct class, but that may be safely indilings of Adventure,” all vanity and gossip: cated in the aggregate by the irresponsible Mr. MʻGregor's “Note Book,” light, trivial, designation of the Miscellaneous, found and common-place, but enlivened by a very their way into print during the year; how agreeable tone of individuality: Lieutenant much farther they got, must be determined Slidell's “American in England," which may by a journey to the Moon. For example, be useful to anybody who is deficient in a there was Mr. Bulwer's “ Monarchy of the knowledge of such facts as that the streets Middle Classes,” a book that takes great of London are lighted with gas, and that pains to go round and round an obvious English hotels are remarkably comfortable, truth that might be exemplified and estabbut monstrously expensive: the “ Spain lished in a single page of plain reason ; Revisited,” by the same author, is something “ The Tamar and Tavy,” by Mrs. Bray, a better, the mere externals having been worn description of the scenery and antiquities of out in the first visit, and soberer matters the neighbourhood where she lives, with a forming the contents of the second : Mr. very wife-like account of her husband d; Rankin's “ White Man's Grave," a veritable “ Random Recollections of the House of attempt to prove that Sierra Leone is a Lords,” and “ The Great Metropolis,” both most salubrious spot; perhaps one of the written by a Mr. Grant, a reporter, full of most incomprehensible statements on re the most unaccountable mistakes, feeble in cord, except that of the Blind Traveller, style, and distinguished by compound fracwho assures us in his voyage of circumna- tures of truth and the English language ; vigation, that he actually went to Sierra “The Courtand Camp of Don Carlos," by Mr. Leone for the benefit of his health! Honan, a strong partisan view of the war Madrid in 1835, exhibiting a variety of in Spain ; “ The Correspondence of Lady details concerning the social life of the Mary Wortley Montagu,” edited by Lord Spaniards, but written in a very loose way, Wharncliffe, but throwing scarcely any and betraying a spirit of book-making: new light upon the biography or character “Greece," by Sir Granville Temple, just the of her Ladyship; and two or three Consort of book that might be anticipated from fessions of the Lives of Ministers, both a gentleman travelling at his ease, and High Church and Dissenting, produced by going back, at his ease also, upon his clas- the discussions on the Church question and sical recollections: “Baptists in America," the Voluntary principle. Throughout the a work dedicated chiefly to an account of a whole of these there is not a single book of mission that had for its object a union be- pure literature. The only work that will tween the English and American Baptists, carry the reader out of the turmoil of the and explaining the particulars of a schism world is that satirical, philosophical “ Jouron the Slave question : “A Saunter in Bel- ney to the Moon,” to which we have algium,” traversing ground as familiar as luded. It is evidently written by one
whose mind teenis with the lore and the found. It has long been a question of some impressions of other times.
difficulty with people who take a pleasure glance, condensed as it is, affords sufficient in speculating upon causes and effects in justification of a doubt whether our increase productions of the imagination, whether the in quantity has brought with it equivalent Annuals have been serviceable or injurious advantages of a substantial kind. We sus to the interests of true taste and the cultipect that three or four books of the reign vation of literature. Putting aside the geof the first George would weigh down the neral question, which would tempt us conwhole of our miscellaneous gathering for siderably out of our way, we think that
there can be no hesitation in deciding the In a period so replete with publications, point in so far as poetry is concerned. The we look for works which relate to literary kind of verse which is demanded by the history; for it is a natural inference that Annuals, and which alone would be adapted an age which patronises books so largely to their pages, must, of necessity, be brief should manifest a proportionate curiosity and obvious, and dedicated to subjects of a to acquire some information about authors. temporary nature. The chief requisites We are not so rich, however, in this re for such verse are elegance and sweetness, spect as might be anticipated. The Me- brilliant fancy, and a sort of picturesque moirs of Mirabeau, of Don Manuel de use of words, incommunicable in descripGodoy, of Talleyrand (translations), of tion; requisites that lie on the surface, and Sir William Temple, of Shaftesbury, Davy, that in themselves evince little more than Mrs. Hemans, and Lucien Buonaparte, are a certain degree of tact in the choice of mathe principal biographies of the year. terials, and skill in their treatment. The Amongst the minor, Dr. Dibdin's “ Re. extensive circulation of the Annuals, which miniscences” and “Sir Nathaniel Wraxall's not only afforded a ready vent for this Memoirs” are entitled to be remembered, agreeable trifling, but encouraged its proalthough they are more of a gossiping than duction beyond all former precedent, may a solid character. In “ Lardner's Cyclo- be said to have given a transient popularity pædia,” some biographies of no great merit to a species of poetry, which, however fehave appeared : those of Alfred, St. Co- licitous it might appear in private circles, lumba, and John Heywood, are the most ought never to have been admitted to that striking. The “ Lives of Strafford and universal influence which may be said to Eliot,” by Mr. Forster, are too much over- give its impress to the age. To its conspread by the temperament of the writer to tinuous issue in the Annuals this result take a permanent hold on attention. Mr. may be attributed ; and, to take the past Benson Hill's “ Reminiscences" is the only year as an exemplar, the effects have been repertory of mere personal anecdote and as general as they have been decisive. broad fun in the collection.
Throughout the whole twelve months we But the region of Poetry is the least cannot recal a single poem that is likely to successfully occupied of all. The few be remembered in twelve months hence; brief snatches of verse that have appeared nor can we imagine by what process the accomplish no higher destiny than that of majority of them obtained, an audience, if, filling a niche in the newspapers of the day, indeed, they were read beyond the immeand being dismissed for ever to the shades. diate coterie of friends. 66 Tales in Verse, Gleams of a good spirit and regenerated by Mary Howitt; is a sweet, moral volume power break upon us now and then, but with very slight pretensions in the way of there is no sustained enthusiasm, no vigour, poetry; "The Althorp Picture Gallery,” no originality. The predominant charac- by a Lady, and “Hella," by Mrs. George teristic of these pieces is grace of expression, Lenox Conyngham, betray desire without which, for verse of a fugitive description, is power; Geoffrey Rudel, or the Pilgrim admitted, by good-natured convention, as of Love," by John Graham, contains some an acceptable substitute for loftier attri- passages of great beauty, but it is exceedingly butes. Indeed the public are so little ac- unequal ; “ The Schoolboy,” by Thomas customed to see the dead level of modern Maude, is a work exhibiting natural feelpoetry disturbed by a high order of genius, ings thrown into very unaffected verse; that even criticism itself has fallen into a “ The Birth-day,” by Caroline Bowles, a habit of being content with mediocrity, very charming and inartificial production ; because, we suppose, nothing better can be and “ The Vale of Lanherne," by Henry