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headlong writer, in his hot haste to profit by his popularity. His powers are exhausted in the effort to lavish romantic phrases and plethoric particles upon physical and comparatively unimportant performances, while history is deliberately shorn of its strength, and led about like a monkey in a raree-show, to tickle the mob and pick up its pence. The truth is, that Washington's mission to the French was one of great difficulty; involving the most momentous results, and requiring judgment, delicacy, and dignity, firmness, endurance, and moral as well as physical courage, in its performance. He was not merely to carry a bare message, in defiance of “winter's cold or summer's heat.” It was not for this that he was selected to encounter difficulties and distress, to hold an undeviating way “across rivers and morasses, over mountains, through fearful gorges, and amid tribes of Indians." The infant colony of Virginia contained scores of men who would have successfully encountered all this. But Washington was chosen by those in authority for these, heightened by other and rarer, qualifications. They had observed in the vigorous man of twenty-one unflinching patriotism, dignity above his years, cool judgment, strict integrity, strong military propensities, and a thorough acquaintance with Indian character. It is true that the ostensible purport of his mission was to demand of the officer commanding the French forces, “by what authority he presumed to invade the king's dominions, and what were his designs.” But he was also especially instructed to observe the country through which he passed, and to note its capacity for civil or military possession; to conciliate and confirm the friendship of the Indians; to discover the force of the French then upon the Ohio, as well as the reinforcements that were expected; to ascertain the number and position of their forts, with the force in each, and the character of their equipments; and to penetrate, by his own observation, their designs for the future, as well as their present condition and advancement. Such was the intricate and delicate nature of his commission; and although the difficulties by the way were numerous and imposing, although his sufferings and privations were extreme, Washington seems to have held them cheap when compared with what he endured after he had reached his destination and opened his conference with the French; who spared no wiles nor expense in their attempts to decoy the Indians from their engagements with him, and also to consume his time in fruitless negotiations. In his report to Governor Dinwiddie, he says of his feelings at this time :-"I cannot say that ever in my life I suffered so much anxiety as I did in this affair.”
Occasionally, too, in his travail after intensity, Mr. Headley affects the intensely imaginative vein; he would add poet to his other titles. And yet we assert, without fear of serious contradiction, that a purely poetical thought cannot be found in the volumes which stand as the text of this paper; for, however promising may be the opening of a passage, whatever be the intrinsic worth or beauty of a thought, it is ever mangled and deformed in the delivery. For instance, in his sketch of Arnold-in which, as in that of Greene, he exhibits more ability and a juster appreciation of character than appears elsewhere in the collection-he thus discourseth of the Dead River :-“This river receives its name from the silence and tranquillity of its current. It moves like the waters of oblivion through the dark and motionless forest, interrupted only at long intervals by slight falls." Were the late Wm. Hazlitt Mr. Headley's critic, he would scarcely deem it necessary to assure us that his allegory would bite no one ;--it being disarmed of its potency by the ludicrous and unwearying struggles of the real with the ideal. Meantime he would not fail to admire the new geographical teaching that is evolved, namely, that the current of the river of oblivion “is interrupted at long intervals by slight falls.” So unfortunate is Mr. Headley with “figures,” we cannot refrain from expressing our surprise at his constant use of them. His treatment of these unfortunates reminds us of those unhappy wretches chronicled in the Arabian Night's Entertainments, who, while they were yet men and retained human appetites and desires, were doomed by the cruel enchantress, their mistress, to assume the shape of beasts and birds, and to be for ever subject to her capricious violence.
This poetical “cacæthes” is also exhibited in his numerous descriptions. In these—which are his proudest performances, his poverty is made painfully apparent by the sparsity of ideas, the continual repetition of identical figures and modes of thought, and by a uniform and unvarying general treatment. Thus, in the sketch illustrating Greene's character, there are descriptions of three battles--at Guilford, at Hobkirk's Hill, and at Eutaw Springs. The narration of these three events is confined within thirty consecutive pages, and yet in that short space the instances of his poetical presumption and poverty are almost numberless. In each of these descriptions there is an effort to depict the stillness and solitariness of the scene, as contrasting with, and preparatory to, the whirl and noise of battle. In each there is a forest, which is described as silent and slumberous save when the air or curling smoke stirs the tree-tops. Then, too, there is in each a tedious
prattle about sunrise, and dew-drops, and foliage, and a loquacious lisping of the phrases, "floating banners," "martial music," "lines of light,” and “ blessed mornings ;” proving that the writer's aim has been to gratify the senses with vain tinklings and empty nothings, and to supply a rudder to his paragraphs, like Butler's grand mithridate for verses. While he is thus straining after general effect he is heedless of details, and disfigures his paintings by the introduction of violent contradictions; as in his bifold account of the appearance of the troops engaged in the battle at Eutaw. He says :-“With the exception of the officers, there were few bright uniforms to be seen. Whole ranks were barefoot and in rags, and hundreds were stark naked, with nothing but tufts of moss on their shoulders and hips, to keep the muskets and cartridge boxes from chafing their skins.” And yet on the ensuing page, when the lights and shadows were to be so disposed as to harmonize with the ensuing delineation of the battle, this tattered array is described in language usually appropriated to a gay and brilliant procession :—“With streaming banners and glittering bayonets the American columns came steadily on.”
Another blemish, too gross to pass unobserved, and that has been severely commented upon by critics, is our author's constantly recurring repetitions. He has himself noticed this fault, as is common with men of his mold, only to extenuate it. In the Preface to“ Washington and his Generals," he says:
“I have avoided repetition as much as possible,
have chosen in some places to let this fault remain, in order to secure an object I could not reach without it. In going over the same scenes, and frequently over the same battles, it is not only inevitable, but necessary to a clear narrative. Besides, the intense words of our language are easily exhausted ; and one is often compelled, in describing thrilling scenes, to choose between a weak sentence and the repetition of strong words, and perhaps of similar comparisons. Repetition has been a standing charge against my Napoleon and his Marshalls ;' yet if I were to rewrite it a thousand times I could not avoid it, without making half the scenes tame and common-place.”
Now, it is not only “in going over the same scenes,” nor in descriptions of the same battles and of thrilling occurrences, that this defect is most frequently and offensively obtruded. The repetitions which destroy his character for artistical finish and for dignity of style, and which lie against the fecundity of his inventive powers, and the vigor of his intellect, are repetitions of common-place ideas, of cant words, of tinkling and intemperate phrases, of arbitrary modes of expression, of heated and stereotyped epithets, and
of identical thoughts. They are not sanctioned nor excused by the difficulty of the case; the subject does not force them upon the author, but, contrariwise, they are foisted by him upon it. They are either useless, or serve only to eke out a barren sentence; to supply the place of studious, and so irksome, thought, and to make up the due amount of verbiage. Furthermore, while this passage is a truthful exemplification of our author's custom of pushing his crude notions heedlessly forward, and of his determination to make all things revolve around and bow down to him as their centre, it also furnishes us with a characteristic specimen of his fallacious reasoning. For the unwitting confession which it contains of the author's sterility, is tortured into an argument against the copiousness of our noble English tongue :-“The intense words of our language are easily exhausted !” At the risk of provoking a smile for our earnestness, we do most indignantly deny that our sonorous, million-hued language, is deficient in words of intensest meaning; and that any dexterous trickery is necessary in order to express the most intricate or the most delicate, the most eloquent, the most subtil, or the most sublime ideas by it.
The mighty masters who have "struck its golden lyre,"--Shakspeare, Milton, Chaucer, Spenser, Dryden, Wordsworth, and our own Bryant, among poets; Burke, Sheridan, Fox, Wyndham, Erskine, Chatham, Webster, Clay, and Henry, among orators; and also the revered translators of our English Bible--all prove its unequaled scope, its unsurpassed power. Throwing all others out of the count, Shakspeare alone has touched its chords to every tonenow breathing from it soft music, as of whispering winds and leaves; and now rolling off symphonies like "rattling peals of thunder.” Every shade of passion or of feeling, from the first gnawings of the “she-wolf,” avarice, to its “hunger-mad” satiety; from the earliest stings of the viper, envy, to its final poison of crime; from stubborn hate to devouring rage and glutted revenge ; from tender, lear-compelling, dewy sorrow, to grinding anguish; from broken-heartedness to phrensy; from love's faint flush to the burning fever of jealousy-whatever of intensity the mind of man can conceive, or his language utter, this emperor of poets has “embalmed to a life beyond life” in our magnificent and copious English.
We have already affirmed that Mr. Headley's writings tend to exalt the sensual or merely physical part of our nature over the spiritual and intellectual; that with him the mind must ever cringe before the red right hand. And that this is no fanciful charge his delineation of the character of Washington is standing evidence. This de
scription of Washington is but a new combination of his materials for the article, hero; the same as had been formerly used in delineating Murat or Napoleon. Thus of Washington's boyhood, he gives no other account than that he loved to leap and wrestle ; that he was pre-eminent in all athletic sports; that he was used to marshall his playmates in mimic battle; and that he had a predilection for the sea. No word of his manly probity while luis years were yet tender; of his ardent love and his respectful consideration for his mother; of his precocious conscientiousness, industry, and precision; or of the early strength of his character for integrity and judgment, as was shown by the deference paid to him by his playmates, who were accustomed to refer all their disputes to his arbitrament. So also of his youth and early manhood; the barren text of this gentleman gives no syllable in illustration of the rare judgment, the self-denying patriotism, and the transcendent merit, which attracted the attention of the colonial government, and resulted in his employment upon the most important and difficult undertakings; nothing of the warmth of his affections, the steadiness of his friendship, the sensibility of his honor, or the purity of his motives; naught in relation to his public spirit, or his comprehensive views of public policy; nothing of that singular combination of dignity, probity, wisdom, virtue, and conduct, which inspired all his companions with reverence and love for him, and which, when he was not yet twenty-four years old, created the conviction among all classes of men-so that it was matter of public observation even from the pulpit—that he was "destined by Providence to perform some signal service to his country.” Naught of all this, but in its stead we have a labored detail of his adventures in proof that he was bold, courageous, adventurous, and able to endure great fatigue and suffering: we are told that he
spent a good deal of his spare time in duck shooting, and was considered a capital shot; that he was a youth of strong and terrible passions ;” and that, “in a letter home, describing his first battle, he said, 'I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.'” Clutching eagerly at this fiction of the gossiping author of the Castle of Otranto-to one of whose heroes the expression seems more congenial than to Washington—and hailing it as a lucky provocative for the palates of his readers, our author improves upon the text of his noble original by remarking, as if with a patronizing caress, “There spoke the bold young warrior, to whom the raitle of musketry and thunder of artillery are the music that his stern soul loves.” Equally false and anjust is the assertion that Washington " was a youth of strong