« PreviousContinue »
Whose bell, just glistening from the font and forge,
“ Child of the soil, whom fortune sends to range
Where man and nature, faith and customs, change,
pp. 12, 13.
These are vigorous and striking lines, which no living poet certainly need be ashamed to own. The deep and holy sentiment which pervades the latter portion of them may suffice to convince those of their error who have hitherto regarded Dr. Holmes only as a rhyming Momus. There are many. felicities of expression in them which show great mastery of style, and perfect familiarity with the well of English undefiled. This, indeed, is one of the characteristic merits of our bard. His diction is uniformly terse, precise, and vigor. ous, never cheating the ear with sound that veils an ambiguity of meaning, nor violating by a hair's breadth the established usages of language. His words ring clear and shrill, like good coin tried on the counter. He has entire command of Anglo-Saxon phraseology, and the most familiar turns of speech, without ever sinking into baldness or vulgarity ; and he often adapts colloquial expressions to his purpose with a felicity of setting which reminds one of Dean Świst. To illustrate and confirm this praise, we quote from the lighter and more satirical portion of the poem. There is much good sense, as well as pungent wit, in the following passage, and no one will deny its applicability to the race of whom it is spoken. “ Be firm ! one constant element in luck
Is genuine, solid, old Teutonic pluck ;
But only crowbars loose the bulldog's grip;
Drags down the bellowing monarch of the fields ! 6 Yet in opinions look not always back;
Your wake is nothing, mind the coming track ;
Don't be " consistent,” but be simply true.
Just in the focus of a nervous race,
And with new notions, let me change the rule, -
“ Choose well your set; our feeble nature seeks
The aid of clubs, the countenance of cliques ;
“ If the wild filly, Progress,' thou wouldst ride,
Have young companions ever at thy side ;
If we did not respect the author's privilege of copyright, we should end by transferring the whole poem to our pages. But we have quoted enough to excite the curiosity of our readers to see the remainder, and to give some idea of the variety and productiveness of the poet's resources. He has shown much versatility of power, and we hope, on greeting him again, to find that he has been wandering in some of the higher walks of poesy. Let him not seek excuse for keeping his wings folded, on the ground that his daily pursuits confine him to the prosaic side of life. He gives a laughing sketch, indeed, of the incongruity between the subjects of thought that are commended to him by his profession, and these furtive offerings to the Muse. But Esculapius was the favorite son of Apollo, and the two deities were often worshipped at the same shrine. They will not quarrel with each other, if our author's homage is divided between them ; nor can he be said to abandon the healing art who worships also the god of the silver bow, the slayer of the Python, and the author of the oracular responses given at Delphi. There are golden hours of leisure even in the practice of a successful physician, and these at least may be consecrated to more ambitious uses.
Art. VIII. - The Library of American Biography. Con
ducted by JARED SPARKS. Vol. XXI. The Life of Stephen Decatur, a Commodore in the Navy of the United States. By ALEXANDER Slidell MACKENZIE, U. S. N. Boston: Little & Brown. 1846. 12mo. pp. 443. MR. SPARKS's Library of American Biography, now extending to twenty-one volumes, is about the largest, as it is certainly one of the most valuable, of the collateral aids for the study of American history which have yet been published. We here use the word history in its broadest signification, including under it not merely the annals of political events, but the progress of science, invention, literature, and all the great interests of a country. The lives of forty-nine individuals have already been written for this Library, seventeen of whom belong to the Colonial period, eighteen to the history of the Revolution, and fourteen have earned a distinguished name by literary or scientific effort. Many of these lives are made up entirely from unpublished documents, manuscripts have been consulted in part for most of them, and the few that are founded entirely upon printed books present a summary of information so full, trustworthy, and compact, as materially to diminish the labor and research of the historical inquirer. Mr. Sparks is more thoroughly acquainted, perhaps, with the sources of American history than any other individual in the country, and he has used his advantages as an editor with remarkable skill and taste. The literary execution of these volumes is of a high character, several of the biographies being from the editor's own pen, and most of the others are by writers who had previously acquired an honorable name in the world of letters. For the American reader, particularly, the work abounds with interesting and instructive matter, and no library of any considerable extent on this side of the Atlantic can be deemed complete without it.
On a former occasion, * we gave a list of the persons whose biographies had then been inserted in the Library. To that catalogue may now be added the names of Roger Williams, Timothy Dwight, Count Pulaski, Count Rumford, General Z. M. Pike, Samuel Gorton, Dr. Ezra Stiles,
* See N. A. Review for January, 1845; page 247. VOL. LXIV. - No. 134.
John Fitch, Anne Hutchinson, John Ribault, Sebastian Rale, Colonel William Palfrey, General Charles Lee, Governor Joseph Reed, Leonard Calvert, Samuel Ward, Thomas Posey, and General Greene ; and the volume now before us contains a memoir of Stephen Decatur, written by Commander Mackenzie, the distinguished author of A Year in Spain. In the list of writers of the lives here mentioned, we find the names of the editor of the series, of Professors Renwick, Kingsley, Reed, and Gammell, Dr. W. B. Sprague, Dr. Convers Francis, J. G. Palfrey, Colonel Henry Whiting, Rev. George E. Ellis, Rev. G. W. Burnap, James Hall, J. M. Mackie, Charles Whittlesey, and George W. Greene. Most of these were already well known to the public in other departments of literary endeavour. There are materials enough for continuing this Library to at least twice its present length, and we hope the patience of the editor and the encouragement afforded by the public may suffice to give it this extension.
We come now to consider more particularly the contents of the last volume of the series. Commodore Decatur's name is much the brightest on our list of naval heroes. He was the preux chevalier of the service, a man without fear and without reproach, as much distinguished for high and chivalrous feeling as for an enterprising spirit and a romantic valor. In the story of the engagements before Tripoli, he appears more like a knight of the olden time fighting against the infidels than like a modern naval commander. His gallantry and personal prowess made him the boast of the navy, while through his amiable disposition and generous heart he became the idol of his subordinate officers and seamen. He won distinction very early, and every step in his subsequent career added to the purity and brightness of his fame. But from this high eulogy we must except the concluding act of his life, and several deeds of a similar character earlier in his career; he perished a victim to that miserable " code of honor,” the prevalence of which, especially in the army and navy, still outrages every feeling of humanity, justice, and Christian duty. It is bitter for an American to reflect, that, on the tombs both of the greatest statesman and of the most illustrious naval commander whom this country has to boast of, the most appropriate inscription would be, -- " Abner died as a fool dieth." No consideration of delicacy to the living