Page images


the business of the piece is to provide him suitably. is the problem to be solved in thousands of English romances, including the Porter novels and the more splendid examples of the Edgeworth and Scott romances.

It is curious how sleepy and foolish we are, that these tales will so take us. Again and again we have been caught in that old foolish trap; then, as before, to feel indignant to have been duped and dragged after a foolish boy and girl, to see them at last married and portioned, and the reader instantly turned out of doors, like a beggar that has followed a gay procession into a castle. Had one noble thought opening the chambers of the intellect, one sentiment from the heart of God been spoken by them, the reader had been made a participator of their triumph; he too had been an invited and eternal guest; but this reward granted them is property, all-excluding property, a little cake baked for them to eat and for none other, nay, a preference and cosseting which is rude and insulting to all but the minion.

Excepting in the stories of Edgeworth and Scott, whose talent knew how to give to the book a thousand adventititious graces, the novels of costume are all one, and there is but one standard English novel, like the one orthodox sermon, which with slight variation is repeated every Sunday from so many pulpits.

But the other novel, of which Wilhelm Meister is the best specimen, the novel of character, treats the reader with more respect; a castle and a wife are not the indispensable conclusion, but the development of character being the problem, the reader is made a partaker of the whole prosperity. Every thing good in such a story remains with the reader, when the book is closed.

A noble book was Wilhelm Meister. It gave the hint of a cultivated society which we found nowhere else. It was founded on power to do what was necessary, each person finding it an indispensable qualification of membership, that he could do something useful, as in mechanics or agriculture or other indispensable art; then a probity, a justice, was to be its element, symbolized by the insisting that each property should be cleared of privilege, and should pay its full tax to the State. Then, a perception of beauty was the equally indispensable element of the association, by which

each was so dignified and all were so dignified; then each was to obey his genius to the length of abandonment. They watched each candidate vigilantly, without his knowing that he was observed, and when he had given proof that he was a faithful man, then all doors, all houses, all relations were open to him; high behavior fraternized with high behavior, without question of heraldry and the only power recognised is the force of character.

The novels of Fashion of D'Israeli, Mrs. Gore, Mr. Ward, belong to the class of novels of costume, because the aim is a purely external success.

Of the tales of fashionable life, by far the most agreeable and the most efficient, was Vivian Grey. Young men were and still are the readers and victims. Byron ruled for a time, but Vivian, with no tithe of Byron's genius, rules longer. One can distinguish at sight the Vivians in all companies. They would quiz their father, and mother, and lover, and friend. They discuss sun and planets, liberty and fate, love and death, over the soup. They never sleep, go nowhere, stay nowhere, eat nothing, and know nobody, but are up to anything, though it were the Genesis of nature, or the last Cataclasm,- Festuslike, Faust-like, Jove-like; and could write an Iliad any rainy morning, if fame were not such a bore. Men, women, though the greatest and fairest, are stupid things; but a rifle, and a mild pleasant gunpowder, a spaniel, and a cheroot, are themes for Olympus. I fear it was in part the influence of such pictures on living society, which made the style of manners, of which we have so many pictures, as, for example, in the following account of the English fashionist. "His highest triumph is to appear with the most wooden manners, as little polished as will suffice to avoid castigation, nay, to contrive even his civilities, so that they may appear as near as may be to affronts; instead of a noble high-bred ease, to have the courage to offend against every restraint of decorum, to invert the relation in which our sex stand to women, so that they appear the attacking, and he the passive or defensive party."

We must here check our gossip in mid volley, and adjourn the rest of our critical chapter to a more convenient

[blocks in formation]


Monday, Dec. 8, Latitude 39° 30′, Longitude 68° 30′. AYE, old Ocean! heave, heave on! restless like meaner things, journeying from shore to shore; ever commercing with the skies; spreading thy lap to receive the storms which thine own exhalations bred in heaven; type of thy great Author, who takes but what he gave; - heave, heave on! Though strange to me and to my fellow travellers, the hens, who turn their little red-rimmed eyes inquiringly upon the green field not their own, "nunc alieni imperii," yet, I doubt not, thou hast thy kind side. The winds, the windborne birds, and ships the winged bird-like messengers of man, sweep familiarly across thy bosom. For me, I trust thee not, not yet. Pardon, good sea, but "confidence is a plant of slow growth."

Jan. 23. A short voyage, whose very monotony was to me a variety, brought me on the evening of the 22d December to anchor, in the beautiful bay which makes the harbor of St. Johns, Porto Rico. The Moro or Castle shoots its white perpendicular rock a hundred feet or more up from the Ocean, and we pass so close under its walls, as to be able to measure their height pretty nearly, by seeing the royal heads of the ship about on a level with the battlements. On rounding this majestic fortress, you come in full view of the town, which slopes upward from the water. The city looked gloomy and tomb-like from the deck, the houses low, chiefly of dead wall, stained with dirty yellow white. On entering the gate, however, the city smelt like an orange, and I was astonished at the lively face put upon the whole, by the sight of the motley population all astir in their business or sport. Here stood a whiskered soldado on guard, and close by, his comrades stretched in a lazy group on the ground; a muleteer driving his patient animal with panniers laden with charcoal or grass; here sat negro women at their stalls, laden with plantains, eggplants, taiotas, and what not; everybody in the street, and everybody chattering. There are no wheeled carriages in St. Johns, and the horses are little meek creatures, about half the size of ours, so that the public streets, under this mild sky, are used for the same purposes as our parlors and kitchens.

Almost all social intercourse and many domestic operations, which we should be shocked at exposing to the public gaze, are here carried on in the street, and with a freedom that seems to say, You are welcome to look and listen. Multitudes of naked children are playing in the dirt, or crawling about the doors. Observe too that the rain is the only scavenger in St. Johns, yet the air is usually sweet and cordial.

When my new friend, Mr. M., led me into his house, had I not known it to be the mansion of a wealthy merchant, and seen it to be like those near it, I might have taken it for the county jail, so strange to me were the heavy gateways, the long passages, and spacious brick-floored, roughtimbered chambers, which are so well suited to the climate, and which soon please the taste. This house, and generally those of the rich, are extensive buildings, running from one street to another, cut into square, lofty, rough-finished rooms and long passages, and enclosing a court yard, whilst servants seem to have lodges here and there in different quarters. The extent and details of the mansion have throughout an air of baronial state. All the floors and stairs are of brick or stone. The style of building is adapted to the warmth of the climate, and to security from vermin. For this reason, they use no carpets, nor any furniture which cannot be often moved; so that the interior of the houses, even of the wealthy, never wears the look of fixedness and comfort, which belong to northern homes. But from their balconies the gentry look out upon a country which looks to me like nothing but Allston's landscapes, so warm and softly shadowed, smooth waters, and darkbrowed hills.

The climate puts every body into good humor, and the courtesy of the citizens, black, white, and dark-mixed, whether it lies in the Spanish they speak, which is the most complimentary of all tongues, or in their own breeding, is a sort of welcome for which you feel grateful. I am partial to the negroes. They do not look poor and blasted as in our cold region, but strut about the streets like kings and queens of the land. They carry bundles on their heads large enough to load a small truck withal, yet they bear themselves so loftily under their baggage, that I mean to have this kind of truckage introduced into our seminaries for young ladies, when I come home, as a callisthenic

exercise, to teach what so few ever learn, the accomplishment of a handsome walk. Then they talk with so lively an air, so much gesticulation and clatter, that a sober northerner finds his faculties somewhat taxed to meet the excitement of the conversation.

In the city there is no peace. We are kept awake half the night by a negro ball, with its endless ya, ya, whilst those evenings which lack this diversion are supplied with lesser melodies of guitar, or songs of children, begging guirlandas. We have just been throwing coppers to little girls, who sung at our door, in pretty Spanish, a ditty whose burden was something like

May you go to Heaven,

May you go to Heaven,

And, after, enjoy your kingdom there.

Of the beauty of the climate and country, I fear I cannot give a New England man a conception. Here have I been now a full month, and have not seen a stormy nor an unpleasant day. Except two or three, all have been delightful, with a steady sun and refreshing breezes. I go to bed with the same certainty of my fine morning, as of my waking or breakfast, and no plan of business or sport ever refers at all to the weather, and no mention of such a thing is made when friends meet, so that I soon left off my Yankee salutation, "A charming day, Sir." It is strange how the vegetation finds moisture enough to keep it good. It is all green and fresh, yet there has been no rainy day for two months, and the showers that have now and then dropped would be swallowed as nothing by our thirsty farms. The dews are very heavy, but they are dried in an hour or two. Nature in these latitudes seems to have a better constitution than with us: she does more and craves less. Every morning I am up, like Bunker-hill monument, "to meet the sun in his coming." I bestride my poney, and we brush with hasty step the dews away. I ride to the tops of hills that overlook the country, and there feast my eyes with the carpet landscape rolled out beneath my feet. You see below you thousands of acres of cane-fields,

"And vast savannahs where the wandering eye,
Unfixed, is in a verdant ocean lost,"

« PreviousContinue »