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Have you read the new book—" Kavanagh”? Perhaps you “don't like” Longfellow; you are not familiar with him; and, as an Herculean friend of ours does, you condemn each and all of his works, the moment that you see their coming announced by the publisher. That same huge friend laughs at us because we have fallen in love with this successor of " Evangeline.” And when we tell him of its beauties, and picturesqueness, and truths, he only curls his lip and says “ Booh !" or, perhaps, “ Bah !” and then turns up his little nose and solemnly thinks that we are “ very green !” But all that is nothing. We form the same opinion of him that he does of us ; to wit, “ You are no judge, if-," &c. And there we are balanced ; yet not exactly balanced, for we have read the book and he has not ; but he has heard a “member of the bar" read a few pages from it, and our big friend has an awful reverence for the law and its limbs.
Nevertheless we are in love with “ Kavanagh.” We have wandered through its fascinations for the ninety-ninth time, and its fragrance continues to linger about us. It is a pleasant companion for any leisure hour; and so, in our opinion, is everything that comes from the pen of its author. Mr. Longfellow is our particular favorite. We regard him as the most accomplished, the most thoughtful, the most elaborate, the most chaste of American Poets. Bryant, and Dana, and Halleck, and Willis, and Emerson have, each, their own admirable peculiarities, and, also, their mutual resemblances. But Longfellow stands by himself, peculiar and ever distinct. No one of his brotherhood resembles him, and he resembles no one of them. In his literature, he seems to us more of an Oriental than an Ameri. can; and turning from other poets and coming suddenly upon his
* Kavanagh, a Tale. By HENRY Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1849. 12mo. pp. 188. VOL. XIV.
lyrics, is like passing from a wild, though, perhaps, beautiful country, into an enchanting vale of the East,
“ margined by fruits of gold
But Mr. Longfellow is a doomed man; doomed by that spiteful army of anonymous critics, whose sensibilities are too dull to discover any good in any thing, and who always judge his books by what they are not, rather than by what they are. These are famishing bull-dogs, skulking about every literary gateway, to growl and snap at each visitor, whether he be a gentleman or a rogue. A Connecticut clergyman, laying aside his sackcloth, chops out a burlesque on “ Evangeline,” for the New Englander. Some penny-a-liner, in New York, for the promise of a warm breakfast, journalizes an elaborate tirade on “ Hyperion.” Some literary coxcomb, because he is tired of "the ladies," and has nothing else to do, turns up his nose and tosses his perfumed handkerchief at the morality of Longfellow's Poems; and another displays his pedantry to the readers of the Whig Review, by professing that his muckrake has discovered in “ Kavanagh,” an imitation of Richter's mystic novels, or of Dickens, or of Lamartine's “Les Confidences,”—a work which some people are so independent as to consider exceedingly vain and self-glorifying.
But, despite the critics, we always find, in every thing that Longfellow writes, a severe intellectual beauty. To us, his expression is ever a melodious sweetness ; his spirit is ever hopeful, and wise, and religious. He dips his pen in man's pathetic nature, and a response comes up from the heart, as he whispers to us its secrets, and portrays its mysterious workings. His command, also, over every style of language and every variety of rythm, even to the much abused and “ inexorable hexameter," is complete. Whatever he undertakes, he finishes like a workman. Not a litile, however, of that perfection which characterizes his writings, is owing, doubtless, to his peculiar education. His mind was disciplined in Europe. In 1825, and at the age of eighteen, he took his bachelor's degree at Bowdoin College, and, immediately leaving America, spent the four following years in traveling over the European continent; lingering awhile to study at Gottingen. On his return, he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages at Brunswick. In 1835, he resigned this post, and again crossed the waters, going into Sweden and Denmark to acquire a knowledge of the languages and literature of Northern Europe. After an absence of nearly two years, he reached home, and accepted a professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard College, which he holds at the present time. .
These foreign experiences and acquirements have given to Long
fellow's poetry, and to his prose also, a rich and deep colorịng. And
With such thoughts we take up “ Kavanagh,” the latest of Mr. Longfellow's works. With such thoughts we always delight to follow the pen that told us the unique story of The Skeleton in Armor, that traced the stirring Psalm of Life, that has nobly sung Excelsior ! and chanted the Voices of the Night, and has measured the music of Evangeline, and has pictured the Footsteps of Angels, and that “ smile of God” —
« Maiden : 'with the meek, brown eyes,
In whose orbs a shadow lies,
Like the dusk in evening skies !" But, really, we did not intend these semicritical eulogies, when we took up our pen. It is the theme and the hour that has provoked them.“ What hour ?" did you ask? A sensible question, my good sir; for, since, according to the Wiseman, there is a time for every thing, there is a time for reading “ Kavanagh ;" and a place also. “ Kavanagh” is a gentle book, if we may so speak; and you must read it not where the glaring heat is reflected to your cheek by the brick walls and the dust of the metropolis, where the clamorous din of a busy world fills you with confusion, where the glorious sun, in his setting, “ drops down a chimney, or is split in two by a barber's pole." Read it in the cool of the day, as you lie in a sequestered spot under the trees; where the mingled harmonies of nature and of pastoral life come indistinctly to your ear,—the musical laugh of a brook that tumbles down the 'glen hard by ; the whisper of green leaves overhead ; the trill of a forest bird ; the lowing of distant cattle ; the faintly-heard clatter of a country wagon, traveling the distant road ; and the sound of flails from far-off farms, “beating the triumphal march of Ceres through the land.” Or read it at the gathering of these still summer twilights,
“ When the hours of day are number'd,
And the voices of the night
To a holy, calm delight."