« 上一頁繼續 »
yet remain deficient in some of the most important articles of their professional education. With the exception of the one who mistook a fixed star for a light-house, the gentlemen to whom we have alluded were, in all respects save one, good seamen; and our friend whose acquaintance with the Pleiades was so doubtful, had done the country service. If these things occurred when our navy was small, and our officers were kept in almost constant service, they may much more readily occur now, that a large portion of their time is spent on shore. It is therefore peculiarly necessary that their want of actual experience should be supplied, as far as books can teach it, by a complete acquaintance with the theory of their profession.
This has been the object of Mr. Maury's book. It is strictly practical throughout. There is no attempt at dissertation or flourish. The general principles, are laid down in the fewest possible words. Every thing not directly in point is thrown aside. Having explained the first principles, he proceeds to demonstrate the problems of geometry, on which the more advanced rules depend, and then explains, with a remarkable combination of simplicity and brevity, the best modes of working the necessary problems. It is marvelous how much he has compressed into the small compass of his book. Any one who has found from experience how much more difficult it is to condense than to be diffuse, will be convinced that the author's labour has been much greater than, at first sight, appears to be the case. For the sake of ready reference, each separate principle, or problem, has its number; and whenever, in the subsequent part of the book, a rule depending upon either is referred to, the number is annexed : so that though the student may have forgotten what has gone before, he can readily trace back each conclusion to the axiom on which it has been built, and has no excuse, if he be willing to acquiesce in the truth of any thing, without knowing the steps by which the fact has been demonstrated. If, to the mere beginner, it should be found that the author has compressed too much, that objection cannot apply to the book in the character of a manual for use at sea. The principal nov
The principal novelty in the work is the diagram, on its first page, intended to show by mere inspection the solution of every problem which can occur in right angled plane trigonometry, and of course in loxodromic sailing. If it is not new, we at least have never seen it before, and if, as we believe, the invention of the author, it displays considerable ingenuity. If fifness to the intended end constitute beauty, this diagram is beautiful.
In concluding this noticę, we cannot refrain from an expression of the hope that Mr. Maury will be remembered by the department. Promotion, except in his turn, is of course out of
the question. But there are stations and duties, apart from the ordinary business of a midshipman, for which Mr. Maury must be peculiarly fitted, and to which some additional pay is appended. The establishment of a national observatory will, it is believed, soon afford the department this opportunity. In the mean time, it cannot be doubted that it will seize the first occasion to secure, for the country's sake, the services of an officer of our author's scientific attainments, in the duties for which he is so competent, while, at the same time, it will reward merit, and encourage others by the example of its success.
ART. VI.-AMERICAN LYRIC POETRY.
1. Alnwick Castle, with other Poems. By Firz GREENE
HALLECK. 8vo. pp. 96. New York: George Dearborn. 1836. 2. The Culprit Fay, and other Poems. By Joseph RODMAN
DRAKE. 8vo. pp. 84. New York: George Dearborn. 1836.
The condition of society in the United States is of such a character as to forbid the hope that writings, purely imaginative, particularly those of a higher and more refined caste, will derive from the public an encouragement sufficient to promote their increase, for many years.
The numberless projects which absorb the faculties of our countrymen, having for their ends objects of utility, and arising from a restless spirit of enterprise, and an unquenchàble thirst of gain, are inconsistent with the attainment of that mental discipline which alone can appreciate the sublime and the beautiful, and lead man to the contemplation of things which partake not of the profitable realities of life.
To repress the wanderings of fancy, and to deaden the aspirations of genius, which, under other circumstances, would have been abandoned to their natural inclinations, is the inevitable result of this universal prevalence of utilitarian doctrines; and if in a society thus organised, an individual may sometimes arise, who escapes the contagion that surrounds him, and uninfluenced by the earth-born propensities which govern his fellows, gives way to the impulses of a poetical imagination, it is no contradiction of the general truth, that man's character receives its impress from external circumstances; but is merely an exceplion, which shows that nature is sometimes too strong to be overcome by the corruptions of example.
The character of every mind is peculiar to itself. As the physical formations of no two individuals bear an exact resemblance to each other, so the moral constitutions of all are in some respects different. Thus the bent of some may lead them to the cultivation of philosophical science, while that of others may direct them to the practice of the mechanic arts; and the state of almost every civilised society is favourable to these pursuits, because they may be applied both to the gratification of literary and luxurious, and the promotion of utilitarian objects.
But the man who is gifted with a vivid imagination; whose every word and thought stamps him a predestined poet, and whose divine inspirations need but the slightest encouragement to confirm the endowments of nature, and effect their full development, is too often forced, by the constitution of society and the influence of circumstances, from the path which his Creator seems to have marked for him.
“Quale i fioretti, dal notturno gelo
Si drizzan tutti aperti in loro stelo;" The excitements of commerce; the gamblings of the stock exchange, and the rage' for land speculations, combine themselves into one vast whirlpool, and the money-loving citizens of the republic, “democrats” and “whigs”—“ heroes, patriots, and statesmen,” are drawn headlong into its vortex.
If, then, the poetical literature of America has not assumed as high a rank in the scale of merit, as that of some nations of the other hemisphere, we have before us sufficient to prove that it is owing to no deficiency of those materials which are necessary to the formation of a true poet, but is the natural effect of the causes we assign for it. These causes will con tinue to exist so long as the country shall open such vast resources, and hold out such great rewards to the spirit of speculation and enterprise.
Such being the state of society in America, and such the control which it must naturally exercise over the characters and pursuits of her citizens, let us turn for a moment to the early settlement of the country, and observe how the poetry of that day accorded with the simple habits of our ancestors.
It has been said by an eminent writer, that the lyric is the first style of poetry adopted at the commencement of a nation's literature. Experience has taught us the truth of this remark, and the reasons for it are obvious. A first essay at poetical composition is always prompted by the impulses of the heart; never by ambition or the desire of pecuniary gain. The early days of the American colonies offered but little encouragement to the exercise of a dramatic talent, and the majestic pace of
the epic was still less in accordance with the spirit of the times and the manners of the people. These, like history, must represent the true character of man, as it existed in past ages, and historical writings cannot be produced without historical events for subjects. In the infancy of nations there is no past for the contemplation of the historian, unless he shall look for it beyond the limits of his own country; and the ripeness of a literature being in a great measure proportioned to its age, this but rarely happens.
But the lyric being that species of verse which is distinguished by predominance of feeling, and by which the poet directly expresses the emotions of his heart, it is natural that this should be the character of his first compositions. Accordingly, we find that the ode was the earliest species of poetry ever adopted. So far back as the days of King David, it was the medium of thanksgiving to the Almighty for his benefactions to man, and was also employed to offer up petitions for aid, in times of trouble and distress. Many of these odes were composed by David himself, and were collected by the Jewish sanhedrim in the book of Psalms.
A chief reason, however, which influences the early poet in the selection of the lyric style, is the unlimited freedom which it possesses ; for the lyric writer, inspired with the beauty and fascination of his subject, and borne away by the force of excitement, may neglect grammatical niceties, and ordinary methods of expression, and disdain the strictness of rule, though he cannot disregard the dictates of reason.
But few attempts have been made by our poets at epic composition, and the only efforts of any importance as to length, of which we have a knowledge, are the productions of Barlow and Ernmons. As it does not come properly within our province to discuss their characters, we will merely remark, en passant, that the COLUMBIAD—when we consider the nature of the subject, and that its publication followed so closely the times of which it treats-is a respectable composition. The FREDONIAD, a palpable and decided failure.
The poetry of the United States, being yet in its infancy, is principally, therefore, of the lyric style. Of the song, a species of lyrical composition which is often set to music, great. numbers exist of purely American origin, the best of which, we venture to assert, may challenge a comparison with some of the celebrated productions of the English lyre. The great latitude of subject which the song admits, and the comparative freedom from that restraint which binds the poet in epic or dramatic writing, may make it appear, at first sight, an easy species of composition; and the error is not unnatural. But in the words of Buckingham,
“Though nothing seems more easy, yet no part
Of poetry requires a nicer art.” For the verses should be natural, graceful, and harmoniousthe sweetness of poetry and music should be skilfully combined-grossness and vulgarity studiously avoided, and the feeling of the poet expressed in language of purity and virtue. The feeling represented should itself be poetical—the imagery which accompanies it, beautiful—and the expression, refined and eloquent. To combine all the qualities which are necessary to constitute a lyric poem of the first merit, requires genius of no common order; and though its exhibition is of rare occurrence—wonderfully so, when we consider the immense number of lyrical writings that are constantly showered upon the world—we trust we shall be able to show, before we have concluded, that American poets have appeared, although few in number, who may justly claim a share of the divine attribute.
We were speaking of the simple habits of our ancestors, and the consequent character of their attempts at poetical composition, when we were led into a short digression by some reflections upon the nature of lyric poetry. By glancing at these early productions, and comparing them with those of the present day, we may observe the great revolution which has taken place in our poetical literature.
According to Mr. Kettell, the first essay of the kind on this side of the Atlantic, was a description of New England, in Latin hexameter; the author was a clergyman-by name, William Morell. This poem has been preserved in the Memoirs of the Historical Society of Massachusetts, in which colony it was written, in the year 1623. The first poetical production in the English language, however, was a version of the Psalms of David, published in 1640; and the book in which it was contained was the first ever printed in the United States. The metrical translation which hade previously been used was not considered sufficiently faithful to the original; it was, therefore, deemed expedient to prepare a more literal version, and the most eminent divines of the country were employed upon the work. It seems to have been the object of the translators to adhere as closely to the Hebrew original as the nature of their task would admit; and the reader will perceive, from the following specimen of their labours, that they neither failed in their endeavours to give a faithful paraphrase, nor in their adherence to the laws of metre. How much of the royal psalmist's poetic fire they may have caught, will admit of more question.