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ON THE LITERATURE OF THE MONTH.
The Barrister. This is the age of luxurious publications. When we looks at the works produced with all the embellishments which the press could afford to give but a century ago, we may well be surprised at the contrast. In the days of our fathers a few rough copper-plates, with designs stolen from foreign pictures, and the work performed by Dutch engravers, made all the decoration of our most showy volumes. Pope's Homer, brought out in the most pompous style of the time, exhibited a series of engravings which would now do no' honour to a school-book. The engravings to Hume's“History of England”--the most popular book of its day—are now curiosities from the total want of likeness in the portraits, and the total want of skill in the execution. About fifty years ago, the sudden improvement produced in British engraving, by some of the leading publishers of prints, the creation of a Shakspeare Gallery, and the taste excited among the fashionable world, by the early works of the late Richard Westall, of all poets of the pencil the most graceful, animated, and poetic, inspired a new elegance into the art of book engraving. The noble folio editions of Milton, Shakspeare, and, above all, of the Bible, gave a striking evidence of the ability of England in the fine arts. We come now to a nearer period, and unquestionably one in which elegance is more national; for it is only when taste is so far diffused as to model the slighter works of a country, that we can pronounce it to have attained its natural extent. The Milton and Shakspeare of Boydell were works for princes, and which princes might command in any country of Europe. But our little annualsthose delicate and transient publications, soliciting the attention of all classes of society, even to the humblest, yet soliciting it by the most exquisite embellishments of the pencil and the graver give evidence of a taste for elegance, and a passion for beauty, singularly diffused among the people.
The Doctor. “ Finden's Tableaux." This is a remarkably beautiful volume, executed under the superintendence of one of the most admirable engravers of the age.
The burin of William Finden has no superior in the clearness, force, and finish which mark the genuine artist. The volume consists of sketches of national character, costumes, and scenes illustrative of the women of England, Spain, Italy, &c., twelve in number. The conception is excellent, and the execution in general free, vivid, and vigorous. To add to the attraction of this very handsome volume, Miss Mitford and some of her literary friends have written stories in prose, and illustrations in verse. If Miss Mitford is a mannerist, her mannerism has point and originality, and it is no slight praise to say that her pen deserves to share popularity with the embellishments
of her pages.
The Colonel. “ Gems of Beauty.” Since time has rather drawn the veil over Miss Baillie's Plays on the Passions, Lady Blessington here determines to unveil them again. With Parris for her designer, she illustrates the passions in a series of popular poems. Parris is an artist
who has already established a strong claim on public attention. First known to the world as the painter of the panorama of London-a colossal display, worthy of the colossal building in which it still allures the eyes, and opens the purses of the sight-seeing public-he suddenly turned his powers to the delineation of female beauty. No artist gives a more glowing conception of that most glowing period of life-the girlhood of English loveliness; the wild innocence, the natural animation, and the unchecked
graces of youth, are the habitual creation of his pencil. He is the painter of the teens-from fifteen to twenty he reigns alone.
The Rector. “ The Naval Keepsake.” This is one of those works which promise to be perpetual. It contains the Life of Nelson, written by one of his own glorious profession. By whom indeed can the life of a sailor be written, as it ought to be, but by a sailor ? It is true that we have landsmen in succession writing the life of Nelson, yet without knowing the stem from the stern of a ship; as we have others writing the campaigns of Wellington, “who the division of a battle know no more than a spinster.” Of couse, if experience be anything, the man who has never seen a rope handled, or a musket fired in earnest, must produce a performance worthier of a milliner's apprentice than of an historian. Luckily, Colonel Gurwood, a gallant soldier, has at last rescued the exploits of Wellington from being mangled by this succession of holiday-mongers; and the gallant officer who here assumes the designation of the “Old Sailor” will do as much for the maltreated and mutilated honours of Nelson.
The Colonel. Both soldier and sailor have a right to exclaim against the intrusion of non-professional writers. Military men who have been in the field, or even those whose duties have not extended beyond the routine of a regiment, know how utterly impossible it is for civilians to give the true conception of military matters either at home or abroad. The civilian may compile gazettes, paste newspaper paragraphs, hunt out dispatches, and strain their facts through the filter of his brains; but, however astonished he may be by the discovery, every man who has ever seen service will tell him that he knows nothing, and can know nothing, about it. He has perhaps been present at a review in Hyde Park, or a yeomanry inspection in the country, has seen the javelin-men march before the sheriff, or perhaps has been lucky enough to find a militia regiment on parade. Still, with all those helps, he is no wiser than before, and has no more conception of the true nature of a campaign, of the diversities of actual encounter, of the movement of troops, or even of the appearance of armies in the field, than he has of what may be doing at this moment in the Georgium Sidus. I can assure him, from experience, that the work of a civilian on such subjects is instantly detected. Its inadequacy is felt at once; it wants the true touch, it is found to be cold, dry, and unreal. His bear dances, it is true, but it is a bear after all.
The Doctor. And how much worse must all this be in a naval narrative? The landsman there totters at every step, for there all is the peculiarity of a profession of which the landsman can have no knowledge whatever. The sight of the militia regiment may indeed have told him the difference between the butt end of a musket and the bayonet ; but even this advance in knowledge will not avail him in his sea descriptions. He should be assured that nothing is less like a line-of-battle-ship than a Thames wherry, or a barge on the Wye; and that any attempt to aid his conjecture, by imagining guns in the barge, or loading the wherry with marines, will only plunge him in more profound ignorance. For not merely a new science is called into action on board a ship of war, but every movement of life, every impulse of the mind, and almost every action of the human frame, is modified by the necessary habits of life at sea. The sailor on his deck is a different man even from the sailor on shore. The civilian can of course tell no more than he knows, and of Jack and his officer he knows no more than of the satellites of Jupiter, or the mountains of the moon.
The Rector. The “ Life of Nelson” is admirably written. It follows the hero with a vividness worthy of the subject, through his whole career, describes with the skill of science the extraordinary talent by which this great tactician out-manæuvred all the masters of tactics, and dwells with the animation of a kindred spirit on the incomparable gallantry with which he outfought every enemy of his country. Yet the volume is not all panegyric. It discusses Nelson's few frailties with a sense of justice, and marks those deficiencies of character in which the hero failed of excellence. But its narrative of Nelson's martial exploits is full of picturesque power. The history is singularly simple, and yet in all its simplicity it impresses on the reader from its commencement, that there was something about Nelson which did not belong to other men, and which even in the midshipman characterised the mind that, in the great admiral, was to lead the British fleet from victory to victory, until it swept the last enemy's ship from the ocean.
Nelson's final hours were among the grandest in the records of heroism. The last hours singularly try the character of every man. “ Fears of the great and follies of the wise" then unexpectedly display themselves; the disguise of a long life is thrown off; and the man is developed to posterity. If it is to be said that Nelson died in the vigour of life, it is also to be remembered that he entered into the battle of Trafalgar with a palpable conviction that he never would survive the day. On taking leave of Captain Blackwood in the morning, he told him that he should never speak to him again. The remonstrances of his friends against his wearing the coat with his various orders embroidered on it, as likely to make him a mark for the enemy, were answered with, “In honour I gained them, in honour I will die with them.” His parting prayer, which he wrote in the morning, with the enemy's fleet in sight, was calm, eloquent, and sublime. Having disposed of those high concerns, he resumed the great commander again, and gave his orders with that clearness of conception and confidence of victory which argued at once the man of consummate genius and valour. His conjectures of the result had almost the exactness of prediction. When Blackwood, to his question, how many prizes would be taken, answered, that, from the evident intention of the French and Spaniards to fight, there might be fourteen, Nelson replied, “I shall not be satisfied with anything short of twenty”—and twenty were taken. When all the arrangements were made, he said, “ I shall now amuse the fleet with a signal. Don't you think there is one yet wanting ?” He had scarcely spoken when his last signal flew up-a signal which, as his biographer justly states, never can be forgotten as long as the English navy and English language exist—“England expects every man to do his duty.” The shout with which it was received throughout the fleet was universal. “Now,” said Nelson, “I can do no more; we must trust to the Great Disposer of all events, and the justice of our cause. I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty.”
This volume ought to be in the hands not merely of every sailor, but of every gentleman of England : it ought to be a class-book in every school, and be in the hands of every boy that is yet to be taught how to honour and to serve his country.
The Barrister. The “ Forget Me Not.” This is the sixteenth year since this work has come into existence, and it has been growing, year by year, in interest and beauty. While younger rivals are contending for the patronage of the world by breadth of page and pomp of binding, the “Forget Me Not” adheres to its original plan, and successfully labours to sustain its original rank by the spirit of its authorship, and the remarkable beauty of its engravings. The line which those classes of publication take is palpably different, and for a different purpose. Quartos and folios are evidently for the boudoir or the drawing-room. The smaller tomes are for the toilet or the pocket, for the recess in the library, or for those delicate little bookcases which are opened and shut with invisible keys, and which contain the first thoughts of female correspondence and the selections of maiden authorship too timid to meet the day.
The Doctor. Among a crowd of spirited and graceful tales and poems, the preface-and it is an intelligent and well-written one-directs our attention to two poems, as the work of strangers to our country, though well-known ornaments of their own-two American ladies. One of those poems is on a topic which we should scarcely have expected to find unpopular in America—the expulsion of the Indians from the east of the Mississippi. The poem is an appeal from the mountains, woods, and forests against the exclusion of their old Indian possessors, finishing with the appearance of a phantom.
“ A plume of feathers on his head,
Then raised his hand on high,
The vengeance of the sky;
Gazed with despairing ray ;
Fled mournfully away." The Colonel. All this is poetical ; but it is difficult to feel much regret for the change which puts civilized men in the place of savagesthe English language in the place of barbarian jargons—and the laws of civilized life in the place of habitual rapine and furious slaughter. Let no injustice be done-let the savages be paid for their lands, which they are willing enough to sell, and then let them be sent into the wilderness, which is the only fit spot for them. I cannot join in the clamour against the American governments on those points. They have attempted to civilize the Indian, and where they have reconciled him to a settled life they have suffered him to remain; where they have not succeeded, they have sent him away, from a due consideration of their own safety, and even from mercy to the Indian himself. The neighbourhood of European life alternately corrupts the savage by the opportunities of intoxication, and stimulates him to violence by the opportunities of plunder. On the other hand, the tribes sent into the wilderness resume their original pursuits, become hardy and healthful, hunt the bear and the buffalo, and, instead of dying of famine and disease, increase and multiply, and become men and warriors again. The
Forget Me Not" is, on the whole, a beautiful little volume, happily composed, strikingly embellished, and doing honour alike to its editor and its publishers.
The Rector. “ The Oriental Annual.” To every man who has travelled in the East, its recollections will be attended with mingled pain and pleasure. The hospitality and kindness of its social life bring back to his memory hours that can never return, and the splendours of its sky, the vastness of its landscape, and the superb style of its architecture, come on him like a brilliant dream among the harsh realities of Europe. To such, the works of the lamented artist whose pencil embellishes this volume must be the source of strong sympathy. Daniell devoted himself to India, his taste revelled among her mountains and valleys, her floods and forests, her fortresses and temples. He made the landscape of India known and popular among us, and exhibited perhaps the most extraordinary degree of talent and labour that ever was exercised upon the illustration of a foreign country. The residence of the editor, Mr. Caunter, in India, has largely qualified him to explain and expand the conceptions of the late artist; and the result is the production of a series of volumes which we believe the public to have received with all the favour due to their elegance and ornament.
The Colonel. “ A Home Tour, by Sir George Head.” Sir George is the brother of that dashing horsemau who tamed the wild cavalry of South America a few years ago, rode naked through plains a thousand miles ahead, like a Centaur, swam cataracts like a salmon, scaled mountains like a hawk, and has finally settled down into the Governorship of Upper Canada, where, by his intelligence and vigour, he has performed the still more extraordinary achievement of keeping that bustIing colony in quiet, turning its Radicalism into Toryism, and, in spite of the example of Mr. Papineau and his brother Radicals of the lower province, keeping Canada for the British Crown. For this he has been rewarded with a baronetage, and he deserves it. The writer of the present volume, an evident sharer in his brother's vivacity, continues to gyrate through the borders of England, and from time to time gives the world a sketch of the whims and oddities that are sure to be caught on the wing by an eccentric traveller. His present volume gives us lively sketches of the pastimes, passions, and politics of that little world, the Isle of Man of all possible islands the smallest, yet large enough to have its prejudices, its rivalries, its complaints, and its combustions. The work, on the whole, is as minute and busy as if it was the history of a beehive.
The Doctor. “ The Children of the Nobility.” This volume seems