« PreviousContinue »
210 Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico. [Jan.
the gloss of novelty is worn off, to moulder away in booksellers' garrets, or to sleep, undisturbed, upon their highest shelves. It is not made of those destructible materials, which the stream of time bears off with it in its rapid flow. It will take its place among those enduring productions of the human mind, which age cannot stale, and custom cannot wither.
We cannot take a final leave of this work without a word of commendation upon the manner in which it has been brought out by the publishers. The page is sightly and well proportioned, the types are clear and distinct, and the paper is good. It is printed with singular accuracy. For much of its typographical elegance, and for all of its typographical correctness, it is indebted to the taste, skill, and industry of Messrs. Metcalf, Keith, and Nichols, of Cambridge, printers to the University, at whose foundery the stereotype plates were cast, a fact, which we are the more particular in mentioning, as we perceive that the usual announcement of it is omitted upon the reverse of the title-page. For the accuracy of the typography, they deserve great credit, as the notes swarm with numeral references, with proper names, and with quotations from foreign languages, particularly with obsolete forms of the Spanish; and every author knows how difficult it is to insure correctness in such cases. The cause of the omission which we have noticed we are at a loss to conjecture. We would respectfully suggest to the Messrs. Harper, whether it would not be more consonant, we will not say with generosity, but with that justice which renders to every man his due, to amend this matter in their next edition. We assure them, in an entirely friendly spirit, that the thing does not look well as it now stands.
ART. VII. 1. The Attaché; or Sam Slick in England.
By the Author of "The Clockmaker, or the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick," &c. New York: William H. Colyer. 1843. 8vo. pp. 76.
2. Change for the American Notes: in Letters from London to New York. By an American Lady. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1843. 8vo. pp. 88.
THE author of "The Attaché," understood to be one of the Nova Scotian judges, has acquired considerable reputation by the humorous sketches he has published under the pseudonym of Sam Slick. These sketches have been widely circulated both in England and America, and have been praised more than they deserve. They show a perception of the ludicrous, and sometimes a talent for witty description. Mr. Slick is designed by the author to be a representative of the common New England character. The keen pursuit of gain, the eagerness for driving a bargain, the resort to trickery and even downright fraud, which have been charged upon the Yankee, are drawn out at great length in the character of Mr. Samuel Slick, the pedler. That very apocryphal personage, the Yankee pedler, with his clocks and wooden nutmegs, is the most common object of the jeers and jokes of our Southern brethren, whose mythical and highly imaginative notions of the men of the North it seems quite impossible to correct. These myths have been taken up, apparently in good faith, by the provincial judge, and, with a still more poetical coloring, drawn from the gentleman's own lively fancy, presented in the person of Mr. Slick. No doubt, there is some foundation for these representations; something approaching a type, by the gross exaggeration of which these distorted and scarcely recognizable images are produced. The New England trader, pedler, or whatever he may be, is, doubtless, sharp at a bargain, and shrewd to turn his opportunities of gain to excellent account; but not more so than the corresponding classes of men elsewhere. Sam Slick is no proper representative of the Yankees. He is badly conceived; his character is an incongruous mixture of impossible eccentricities. His sayings are sometimes not destitute of wit; but his language is a ridiculous compound of provincial solecisms, extravagant figures, vulgarities drawn
from distant sources, which can never meet in an individual, and a still greater variety of vulgar expressions, which are simply and absolutely the coinage of the provincial writer's own brain. On this point we speak with some confidence. We can distinguish the real from the counterfeit Yankee, at the first sound of the voice, and by the turn of a single sentence; and we have no hesitation in declaring, that Sam Slick is not what he pretends to be; that there is no organic life in him; that he is an impostor, an impossibility, a nonentity.
A writer of genius, even if he write from imperfect knowledge, will, as it were, breathe the breath of life into his creations. Sam Slick is an awkward and highly infelicitous attempt to make a character, by heaping together, without discrimination, selection, arrangement, or taste, every vulgarity that a vulgar imagination can conceive, and every knavery that a man blinded by national and political prejudice can charge upon neighbours whom he dislikes. The true New England character has never yet been portrayed, with a mastery of the subject, in a work of fiction. It has capabilities, both of serious and humorous representation, that a poet, or novelist, familiar with it from his birth, and possessing the shaping power of imagination, might work out with the most striking effect. And in the terse peculiarities of the New England idiom, the grave, far-reaching sense of the Massachusetts farmer, the humorous, sly, and quaint expressions in which his thought is uttered, the delineator of manners, had he the discerning eye, might find the rich elements of varied character, almost wholly new to the world of letters. But the attempt will never be successfully made, until some native writer, of genius to create, and culture to represent, characters with the true national stamp, shall set aside foreign models, outlandish turns of expression, and the conventional manners displayed in novels that exhibit a society wholly unlike our own, in order to study the humors and peculiarities of American life. Mr. Cooper has made some bad attempts at American characters; his creations of this kind are only not quite so unhappy as that of Mr. Slick.
The author of this work is a Tory of the most violent description. A provincial always exaggerates the opinions, manners, and fashions of the parties at home, to whom he would fain assimilate himself. There is something belittling
in his condition, and in the influences to which he is subjected. He has not the lofty consciousness of belonging to a great nation, of being, among his fellow-subjects, a peer among equals. He has, on the contrary, an uncomfortable sense of inferiority; he shows an uneasy and restless effort to disguise the character which his birth has stamped ineffaceably upon him, and to assume another, which his allegiance to a distant sovereign prompts him to desire. All his standards of thought, action, manners, and dress are thousands of miles distant. The authorities he must obey are afar off; the rays of sovereignty fall only in feeble reflection upon him. The things he worships are the fancied grandeurs and glories of another hemisphere. But the great nation has affairs enough of its own to attend to at home. It can take but little note of the colonists, except to send them bad governors, and to mismanage their affairs. Hence springs up an irritating sense of neglect, a petty but not unnatural jealousy, like that felt by persons who, not being quite sure of their social position, torment themselves with imaginary, no less than real, grievances from those above them. The mind, under such circumstances, has no free, natural, and beautiful development. Its growth is stunted and distorted; it becomes a sickly plant, and can never bear sound and healthy fruit. In politics, men form their party attachments; but without the moulding and softening influences that work upon them at home, where the great business of administration is carried. on, political sentiments are violent and bigoted, and bear the same relation to those of similar appellation in the metropolis, that a travestie bears to the original work it burlesques. Toryism is terribly embittered by distance from the fountain head; and Radicalism puts on a manifold ferocity in remote and unfrequented wilds. The provincial Tory, who visits the mother country, is like a Tory of three hundred years ago returned to life. He finds, that his prejudices and predilections have no counterpart in the actual state of affairs. views are shockingly antiquated. A pernicious liberalism has insinuated itself into the principles even of the Tory leaders, whom he had looked up to in distant reverence from his remote provincial home. In short, whatever be his affinities or biases, he finds his guides widely different from what he had fondly dreamed. He is in a condition like that of the village belle, who apes the fashions of some great city, and,
in aping them, overacts the part, adopting all that is absurd and extravagant, and failing to acquire the grace and dignity with which they are worn in the proper circles.
All these remarks apply to the author of "Sam Slick." He must have found himself, while in England, immeasurably behind the age. He seems to have adopted the cast-off dogmas of the Toryism of former centuries; and he was as much misplaced in the England of the nineteenth century, as a contemporary of Rameses the First would have been, had he risen from the mummy-pit, and appeared at the court of the Ptolemies. It seems almost incredible, that a man of ordinary powers of observation and discernment can gravely repeat the antiquated political absurdities, which this writer appears to have treasured in his very soul, as the quintessence of all political wisdom. This is a striking example of what we have hinted at; the belittling effects of the colonial system on the intellects of colonists. A full and complete national existence is requisite to the formation of a manly, intellectual character. What great work of literature or art has the colonial mind ever produced? What free, creative action of genius can take place under the withering sense of inferiority, that a distant dependency of a great empire can never escape from? Any consciousness of nationality, however humble the nation may be, is preferable to the second-hand nationality of a colony of the mightiest empire that ever flourished. The intense national pride, which acts so forcibly in the United States, is something vastly better than the intellectual paralysis that deadens the energies of men in the British American provinces. A character is forming under the republican institutions of the United States, which, though some of its manifestations during the forming period are disagreeable and unpromising, will at least find a free and bold utterance in speech and action; will stamp itself on the literature of the world; will shape itself in the forms of art; will reconstruct the edifice of social life, and play a daring part on the theatre of the age. Its voice is already heard, vindicating to itself a place among the nationalities of the earth. The great minds it has formed are uttering their convictions in words of a fiery eloquence, which almost bring back the triumphs of the Rostrum and the Bema. Is there any thing like this in the British colonies? Can there be any thing like this, while they remain