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It is the public who is to blame; and the man who attacks the press might as well run his head against a wall, or spring from Niagara. The true wisdom is not to heed it; nothing prolongs the barking of a cur at your heels so much as turning round to kick it, or to drive it away. Walk on unmoved, the dog will not bite, and the friends who are influenced by the barking are best got rid of, and belong to that class which Carlyle pronounces “the sham respectability of the world, but the real and true blackguards.” The “ gigmanity” of society is more ludicrous than potential ; great allowance should be made for the equivocal position of most of the prudes and censors of mankind. As weak wines make good vinegar, so do reformed wantons and quondam bankrupts become naturally the guardians of public morals, and the retailers of slander.
Mr. Cooper reaped the usual fruits of assaulting so manyheaded a monster as the Press; and it is said by those who know him best, that few things have done so much to sour his temper as this crusade. Cervantes must have had a similar adventure in his mind when he made Don Quixote attack the windmills. It has always appeared to us a capital illustration of a battle with the Newspapers.
While, however, we deprecate the commission of so great a folly as a legal prosecution, we think we have a perfect right to turn round and criticise the critics ; singular enough, they seem to consider this as a wonderful impertinence, and to resent it with additional bitterness.
We do not, however, intend here to enter into an elaborate essay upon the Despotism of the Press; we merely intend to offer a passing remark, as to the evil tendencies of the unlicensed abuse now so prevalent with the writers of the public Journals.
We have heard Mr. Wordsworth maintain, that the only plan to preserve the author's mind and morals in a pure, healthy state, was to adopt the rule he had unflinchingly observed through life,-never to read any review of himself, either of praise or censure, whatever might be the temptation. He went on to prove, that in time we became callous to public opinion, and consequently one great guard on the virtue of mankind was lost; if we make a point of reading criticisms, we feel at first stung into indignation, vindictive feelings are naturally aroused, our own peace of mind is wounded, and we either become the sport of every fool or knave who writes for the journals of the day, or grow callous to public opinion. We refer to that part of our volume which treats of this subject, for a fuller exposition of the present vicious system of Journalism. The comic part of this enormous abuse is admirably exposed by Dickens in “ Pickwick,” in his history of the war between the rival editors of Eatanswill.
The chief defect in Mr. Cooper's novels is the want of humor; we mean this in its broad Shakspearian sense, admitting that there is a racy, quiet shrewdness in many of the remarks of Natty Bumppo, which supplies the place.
The character of that simple-minded hunter is certainly the greatest effort of its author; and the Leather-Stocking Romances will undoubtedly remain permanently a part of the national literature.
Like Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Cooper has written too much, and has published too fast. The world is very quickwitted, and
not slow to proclaim when an author grows tedious; although the unwitting scribe, like the archbishop in Gil Blas, takes it very unkindly should the dreadful fact be even hinted.
While admitting that the Leather-Stocking Romances are Mr. Cooper's greatest efforts, we must object as critics to the elaboration of his making one man the hero of five distinct works of fiction, although we feel sure we have negatived the criticism as readers. There is something to be sure in habit, which may perhaps make us like what at first was only endured; but our feeling for Nathaniel Bumppo becomes in time an affection. This must necessarily imply a power which belongs only to genius; for the reiteration of an idea or a presence by a common-place writer, inevitably leads to disgust. A very small reflection will convince us of this fact.
Another proof of the hazard an author runs in reviving the character of any former work, is found in the infrequency of its occurrence. Every writer has a certain instinct which unmistakably counsels, however vaguely, the true path ; and we want no surer evidence of lack of genius—or in other words, the power to create that which appeals to the greater number of human minds--than the repeated failure of certain voluminous writers ; the only exception to be made in this rule is with a few authors whose idiosyncrasy is superior to their genius, as in the case of Donne, Browning, and in a lesser degree of Carlyle and Emerson.
What mannerism is in style, idiosyncrasy is in thought ; and betrays to the world a deficiency in that harmony of intellectual endowments which constitute true genius, just as regularity of feature is essential to a perfect face. This comparison admits of
a full development, and may make our idea clearer to the general reader than a technical analysis. We all know how frequently the most perfect classicality of feature exists without beauty : whereas in many irregular faces, there is as often found so charming an expression, that it is difficult to conceive any countenance more lovely. In like manner, an apparent union of inany qualities may exist without producing the great poet or novelist ; on the other hand, we sometimes observe a writer who wilfully avoids the true path, or else clouds over his course by a peculiarity artificially created. Now we think this applies in a considerable degree to Mr. Cooper, who has weakened his powers by narrowing his original impulses.
The works of a great mind should radiate from his inmost soul as from a centre whose circumference is lost in metaphysical truth, so lofty as to appear subtilized. In this case, the lowest intellect, as well as the highest, is carried to the full extent of its capacity of enjoyment or thought, and still the author is not exhausted. It is this which stamps Shakspeare as indisputably the first of Poets—the peasant and the philosopher are alike instructed and elevated. Every man, woman, and child, starts from one common point, viz. the heart. This is the centre of Shakspeare's nature; the extent of his kingdom is the Imagination. The inference is a logical deduction, that every reader of inferior mind, in proportion as he masters his author, becomes elevated into a superior nature. It is this peculiarity of the mind that always makes the student of One Book a dangerous antagonist : like the man who has devoted his attention to one weapon, he becomes invincible in that department. Imitation is so woven in all our natures, even in
that of the most original genius, that no man can devote much attention to a particular author without being modified by that preference. Browning's admiration of Alfieri and Donne has condensed his thoughts and cramped his style ; Carlyle suffers also from his excessive partiality for Richter. Our readers must not think these remarks, however dull, altogether misplaced ; they will enable him the more clearly to judge why the writings of Cooper, admirable as they are, are not more extensively popular with his countrymen. They are written more for an English audience than for an American. The Anglo-Saxons on the other side the Atlantic have a thousand years upon their brow, and they have become artificialized just to that extent, which renders the wild scenes of nature so vividly brought before them by Cooper, refreshing to the highest degree of pleasure; it is appealing to the instinct of contrast.
Gray beautifully illustrates this in one of his poetical fragments, when he says:
“ So the wretch that long was tost
The true secret of delight lies in the antagonism of Human Nature. The artificial creates a love for the natural, its opposite ; just as men love women-strength loves fragility-fragility