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nor faction, and where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.
Such was the death of the man whom Hume and his contemporaries delight to hold up to the world as a deceiver and a canting hypocrite. Let the world do him more justice
Carlyle says, L
“I have asked myself if anywhere in modern European history, or even in ancient Asiatic, there was found a man practicing this mean world's affairs with a heart more filled by the idea of the Highest ? Bathed in the eternal splendors, it is so he walks our dim earth. This man is one of few. He is projected with a terrible force out of the eternities, and in the times and their arenas there is nothing that can withstand him.”
ART. IV.-1. Napoleon and his Marshalls. By J. T. HEADLEy. 2 vols. New-York. 1847.
2. Washington and his Generals. By J. T. HEADLEY. 2 vols. New-York. 1847.
As the noblest animals undergo a longer period of gestation and have fewest offspring at a birth, as the progeny of man is more excellent than the innumerous spawn of the insect world,—so is it with genius and its progeny. Moreover, it does not produce abortions nor monstrosities; it ever travails with perfection, and the worlds of fancy and of reality deck its bed with their sweets. Obliquing from these truths, and glancing with keen foresight upon the tendency of crowds to swarm for the sight of a Tom Thumb, or any other novelty or deformity, Mr. Headley has exhibited his shrewdness in the choice of subjects and the mode of treating them; and has betrayed the low grade of his genius by its wonderful fecundity. Naturally prone to the marvelous and stirring as all men are, our countrymen are now, and have been for a few years past, foaming with excitement growing out of the Oregon question and the Mexican war. Their minds have, therefore, been a most inviting soil to a class of writers who, with a single eye to the business nature of the transaction, have flooded the country with books that are expected to swim into profitable notice and demand upon the flood of appetite and passion evoked by these topics. The principle upon which they rely for success is the ardent love of evervarying action—the intense interest that always attends the exhibition of physical energy; a principle which governs the mass of mankind, to the detriment of those more perfect and valuable qualities, experience and mental or moral beauty. These last do not possess the requisite element of popularity; consequently they have no value, and in proportion as the former prevails they must recede, just as the genuine lustre of the diamond fades away beside the gross glare of a candle. And thus the inestimable productions of Marshall, and Irving, and Prescott, of Longfellow, and Dana, and Bryant—for which a taste had been created—are thrust aside and become tasteless and insipid, while the pungent and frivolous brood of these scribblers at once provokes and vitiates the palate. The taste of the people which had been educated up to a love for sound writers, and an appreciation of their elevated themes, has been depraved, despoiled, thrown backward upon its primitive rudeness by crude and unprincipled dabsters who remorselessly sacrifice the perfections of sacred art at the altar of admiration; who weakly surrender the freedom of reason to the tyranny of instinct. One of the earliest developments of our nature, and one of its least noble attributes, is that principle which disposes us to love the extravagant, the grotesque, the wonderful, and the frightful. Ignorance annihilates the difference of age, and thus we observe that this taste exists to an equal degree in the gray-headed negro, the gigantic boor, and the puny child; that it flourishes best where the reasoning faculties are rudest, or where the passions and affections are least cultivated. Most persons have witnessed the combined terror and delight with which individuals of this class coweringly hover around the narrator of legends of ghosts and goblins,
at his uncouth paintings of fiends, demons, and witches; and eagerly swallowing chronicles of murderers and highwaymen, with the depending stories of hauntings and hangings, of indelible bloodspots and creaking gibbets. To delight in such stories, we say, is characteristic of the extremes of youth or ignorance, or both. And it is no less indicative of a nation's childhood or ignorance than of man's, when its individual members demand and maintain writers whose productions are of a character analogous with these legends. For we hold that a morbid relish for these stories is the next step to a belief in them; and that the members of a community whose taste is so depraved are not far in advance of the West Indian negro who trembles at the mention of Obi; or of the Irish peasant whose fears have peo
pled with frightful habitants every bog and rock, every hill and valley, of his unhappy land. Without doubt, the writings of Mr. Headley are godsends to this class of our countrymen; and also to those, their brethren, who pore over books of shipwreck and miraculous escapes; who have a revolting fondness for “last dying speeches” and “confessions;” and for the stirring records of highwaymen, pirates, and murderers. His books contain just enough of blood and carnage, of the tap of the drum, the blast of the trumpet, and the trappings of military glory; they abound to the due amount in a raw admiration of merely physical exploits, and require the economical outlay of thought that is exactly necessary to recommend them to the reading mob. Perhaps, after all, something is gained, some improvement indicated, one step more made upward upon the ladder of advancement, when the confirmed devourer of the unfriendly aliment just alluded to is induced to take up our author. And if the gain be small, the improvement impalpable, the step a slight one—what then Cold water, we know, if thrown upon intensely hot glass will shiver it to atoms; when, if it be first raised to the temperature of the metal, it may be applied with impunity. So, the full blaze of the sun upon the eyes of the new-born babe will destroy sight, while a gradual exposure would enable them to defy the mid-day beam. Whether by intuition or design, through a necessitous instinct, or by philosophical forecast, Mr. Headley has adopted this principle; and his writings are ingeniously calculated for the capacities of the crudest mind. And the man or boy who has gloated over the deeds of pirates, and been stimulated by legends of murderers, “et id genus omne,” will here find nothing to shock his taste; his critical and discriminating powers will still remain undisturbed. From what has been said it may be gathered that we do not place any very high estimate upon Mr. Headley's qualifications as an author; or, at least, that we have a mean opinion of the soundness and tendencies of his productions generally. We do, indeed, seriously and honestly believe that they are suited to produce and foster many evil results: that their tendency is to awaken the ferocious impulses of the most excitable portion of an excitable nation; to throw men back in the world, and undo the silent and perfect work of revelation and refinement: that setting up the warlike character of its people as the highest mark of a nation's greatness and prosperity, the noblest passion to which they minister is a phrensied admiration of the grossly physical: that they cultivate the same spirit that would prefer a practiced wrestler, or an invincible boxer, before the most accomplished logician, the most profound statesman, the most rapt poet; that would judge of man by his dimensions in cubic feet, or by his gross weight of brawn and muscles, rather than by his intellect or genius; or, to particularize, that would rank Ben Caunt above John Milton or Edmund Burke.
Notwithstanding the feeble disclaimer in the Preface to Napoleon and his Marshalls, vol. i., pp. 2, 3, such is the tendency and teaching of Mr. Headley's numerous books. And if we read him aright by the evidence which his productions furnish, these results have their spring in a stubborn necessity of his nature, of which they are the characteristic growth. We are inclined to believe that, waited upon by
“A gentle Husher, vanity by name,”
he is one of that class who know no medium—who have no temperate conservatisms—who are ever in extremes; whose reason and judgment are unable to keep pace with their passions or impulses, and whose minds are competent to grasp easy generals, but are utterly unequal to the task of classifying intricate or involved details. Thus, his praise runs into adulation; his censure into abuse. He never loves but he adores; his dislike scarcely stops short of abhorrence; and, to use a homely expression, “his geese are all swans.” Owing to the peculiar organization of his mind, he is unable to contemplate more than one object at a time, and the last one upon which it employs itself is its darling one. Therefore, the individuals he illustrates are each his clients as they successively engage his attention, and he feels committed to defend them with all the ingenuity he can command; and if it be necessary to pluck the late favorite in order to adorn the present one, he is hindered by no scruples. Blind to those modest virtues which—rare, delicate, and priceless as the diamond—go to make up the highest style of man, he is also unobservant of those minor vices and petty passions which tarnish and debase him. Or, if he be gifted with the power to discern these priceless qualities, he yet lacks the fine sympathy whereby to appreciate them; and is not warmed by that generous indignation which has the courage to assault error at whatever odds or however minute. Unendowed with the genius to originate, or the hand to execute, those powerful touches which give harmony and beauty to a picture, he is forced to deal in startling outlines, obvious generals, rash, hasty, and discordant details. Such being some of the peculiarities of his mind, we are not surprised at his treatment of the characters that he attempts to illustrate; and we have a key to the unstinted praise or blame which he showers upon the one that for the time being occupies his attention, and which makes
“Every man with him seem God or devil.”
By some process he has at length come to be infatuated with a confused notion of glory, and all his faculties are directed to its sole contemplation. Like a man who, having ventured to stare upon the sun, finds upon withdrawing his gaze that all nature is a blank, and that, whether opened or shut, his eyes serve only as media by which goblin suns dance and gleam athwart his mind, so is it with him: he has looked so long and fixedly upon his dazzling ideal, that his perceptions can entertain no other image. Or, like the beautiful Saracen who only knew her Christian lover's name, and traversed Europe crying, “Gilbert, Gilbert" so his tongue can utter no other sentiment than, “Glory, glory !” The same process which has thus contracted his faculties till they are subservient to the one idea of glory, has also served to mislead him in his conceptions of what it is; and he often sets up a phantasm of his own imagination and worships it as the true divinity. In his numerous visions of the goddess she has ever appeared robed in garments of reddest hue, her face flushed, her eyes blood-shot, her lineaments distorted with fury, while her bare right arm shakes a falchion dripping with human gore, and which she menacingly holds over the world.” Such is his goddess, which, we dare aver, is no true divinity, but the “empty seeming” of enchantment, the imposture of incantation. This is the lying feigning of that noble influence which lit up Shakspeare's path, and shall for ever illuminate his name and consecrate his memory; which is seated far above the din of arms and the clangor of physical force; which annihilates time and space—drawing together in imperishable unity Homer, and Chaucer, and the bard of Avon, Spenser and Virgil, Dante and Milton; and which sanctifies the names of Grecian, Roman, and English sages and patriots.
It is plain that Mr. Headley is solicitous to rank as an historian,
* Since writing the above our attention has been directed to a striking confirmation of this observation. It occurs in our author's description of Murat, who, he says, “invested battle with a sort of glory in itself;” and whom he describes as bursting through the ranks of his foes at the battle of Mount Tabor, “covered with his own blood and those (?) of his enemies, and his arm red to the elbow that grasped his dripping sword.” This passage is rendered doubly revolting by the repetition of Murat's insanely profane remark, that, while he was thus wet with blood, “he thought of Christ and his transfiguration on that same spot nearly two thousand years before, and it gave him tenfold courage and strength.”