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And on the plain they led Bucephalus.
The multitudes stood hushed, in breathless awe,
Lo! a speck --
P. B. THE NOVELS OF MISS SEDGWIC K. * .
“ I SHOULD as soon think of galloping through paradise as down one of Miss Sedgwick's pages,” was the reply of a reader of the Linwoods, on being accused of making slow progress in the book. And the expression does beautiful justice to that characteristic gracefulness, which, having relations we cannot define with the heart, compels us to linger over the creations of this author. We feel, while under her spell, like the child of the German tale, listening to the story of nature from the little tenant of the woods; we “would hear more and more, and for ever.”
It is not Miss Sedgwick's great gift to contrive the incidents of a story. It is, however, true, that she does not give us the old hackneyed routine. But in avoiding this, her drama wants a regular beginning, middle, and end; it is often improbable, and sometimes inconsistent; and we never read one of her stories without smiling at a certain spirit of adventure, which always comes out somewhere in the conduct of her young girls ; two or three of whom, in this story of the Linwoods, she sends across a river at midnight, in a thunder-storm, for no better reason than that one of them wants to be with her lover a little while longer; and, although the despatch of the flight, one would think, would be considered the all-important particular of an escape from prison! The reader of her works will recall, in this connexion, Hope Leslie's voyage over the harbor with an Indian boatman ; and the midnight walk of Miss Clarence, alone, upon Trenton Falls ; and some other adventuresome movements. But let the incidents be granted, and Miss Sedgwick puts such charming people into them, and makes them talk and act so characteristically, and with such ideal propriety, that, in our sympathy with their just and natural feelings, we forget they are in improbable situations.
Moreover, this defect, if it is one, is connected with what is to NewEnglanders the chief charm of her books. This innocently free action grows out of her complete New-Englandism. She has embodied, as no other of our writers has, the spirit of her native soil ; a spirit evolved so inevitably out of the elements of human nature, as it has been pecularly nurtured and inwardly restrained in this section of our country, that we are sure it could not be seized and expressed
+ The Linwoods: or, Sixty Years since in America. By the author of Redwood, Hope Leslie, &c. New-York: Harper & Brothers. Home: by the same author. Boston : J. Munroe and Company.
- we had almost said it cannot be believed in, by those who live where Custom has laid down her “frosty weight” of conventional etiquette; or where a general laxity of moral principle leaves the passions to flourish, till they seem to be all that is natural in human nature. We have often imagined with what delighted wonder such authors as those of Pelham, and Almacks, Vivian Grey, and Godolphin, — or even those of De Vere, Belinda, and Discipline, would read of Magawisca and Hope Leslie. With still more amazement may we suppose that an Italian, a Spaniard, or a Frenchman, would take up such a book as Redwood, and look into the family of the Lenoxes, and listen to Sister Susan's tale of the Soul, from the lips of living experience. And who but a New-Englander could believe in Aunt Debby and her moral influence ? or realize that Elliot Lee's manly independence, and persevering enaction of principle, are but a specimen of the early life and general career of almost all our professional men — those who have given the tone to our society? What people but our own are so happy as to know that there is no reason in their political condition, or the prevailing sentiment, to prevent every mechanic in the United States from being such a dignified housekeeper, refined father, and high-toned citizen, as William Barclay ; and having even such a paradise as his home? Yet we know, that so far as any interference of rules and customs would operate among us, “the course of true love may run smooth," and the farıner's son wed the wealthy and far-descended, and the latter feel honored thereby; that there are Hope Leslies to be found, not merely in our castles in the air, but on our terra firma ; that Ellen Bruce is still more common; that almost every town might furnish a Jane Elton; and that where such dreams of beauty are embodied among us as Bessie Lee — and sometimes there are — should they become, like her, the victims of imagination, — just so unharmed might they pass through our land, and find, in Yankee blacksmiths, a refinement which, springing from a deeper source than “high breeding," might put to shame, in the efficiency of its protection, the worn-out mock-chivalry of fashionable Europe. For we do have refined blacksmiths, and philosophic shoe workers, – he of the New England Tale was a portrait from life! as well as whole-hearted, independent, faithful servitors, like Martha, and Kisel, and black Rose. In fact, it is -- though, perhaps, the bright side — yet a real and broad side of Yankee character, which is set forth by Miss Sedgwick; and some remarks on this character are a necessary preliminary of adequately expressing our thoughts on the peculiar merits of her works.
Self-government is the strong foundation on which is erected the New-England character. Our Puritanic ancestry, who left their country before the party was corrupted there, were thrown, with all their strong religious habits of thought and feeling, into the immediate communion with the God of nature, in his severer manifestations of rock-bound coast, dark forest, and wintry weather. They therefore escaped that reaction of their artificial austerity, which took place in the court of Cromwell ; and were sustained in their habits of self-denial by the obvious necessity of their situation. Their children also were thrown into the arms of the rough nurse Labor, who taught them their own powers by calling them into exercise, and thus added a deep self-respect and consciousness of power to that reverence for God which was the first principle of their fathers.
In a country where no convenience, no comfort, no human influence, could come from the past, but every thing was to be cut out of the mountain of circumstance by the spirit of the present, — not without hands — but by means of them, the exigencies of society were found to be more potent than the fabled magic of Prospero, to destroy the old Sycorax of our nature, make a bond-servant of its Caliban, and set free its “ delicate Ariel,” to sing, as in the play —
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” &c.
Indeed, the intellectual refinement of no country in the world might be half so aptly represented by the "tricksy spirit,” as that of New-England. Nowhere else is genius so completely denied every thing sensual and coarse to feed on. If we must admit that the uncompromising Puritanism of our ancestors — unrelieved in New-England as it was in the old country — by even the traditions of a more outward and sense-alluring worship, — has entailed heavy evils on the uneducated class, in not having afforded proper scope to mirthfulness and fancy, by means of innocent and exhilarating public amusements ; yet we must gratefully remember that the same influence has restrained, and probably not too much, the license and frivolity of the more favored by fortune ; and intellectual power and beauty have flourished, in the pure unsensual atmosphere, and been embodied in master-pieces of sculpture and painting ; and in some specimens of elegant literature, - no line of which their authors “dying need wish to blot.” In proof of this, if any is asked for — let us look to facts. It was here that Greenough, acknowledged to be second to no living artist of his line, elaborated that inward power which has a fixed for ever” the very poetry of Christianity, in those imperishable groups - the Chanting Cherubs, and the Child introduced into Heaven by an Infant Angel ; and in a smaller work, not generally known, which he calls the Genius of Love. This beautiful head has been sometimes mistaken for the impersonation of Piety, so sacred and chaste is the sentiment it expresses. For ourselves, we felt at the first moment that it was not Piety. It wanted that wrapt upward gaze which contemplates a superior nature. We
saw immediately that it was Love for a human being, —but a love, holy, self-governed, and far-reaching ; a love which looked upon the infinite relations of its object, but felt there were no elenyents of being within it which itself did not experience ; a love which was serious, for its thought followed its beloved one through the long line of human experience, which necessarily involves much and severe suffering, — but not serious to absolute sadness, for that line was felt to be curved into a circle, and to come back again into the lover's heart, where wells up for ever the deep fountain of faith in the Ultimate Good, from that consciousness of its own nipotence and eternity, which is Love's only repose.
In New-England, too, was Alston bred, if not born; who is no less a poet-painter than Greenough is a poet-sculptor. Here first that beautiful spirit learned itself, and here it has brought out in lines of Grecian grace, and in coloring which Italian art might envy, shapings in feminine form of the very soul of the North, and landscapes where the ideal of man's spirit meets Nature in combinations so new and rare of her fairest forms, that the meeting is solemnized by the presence of Beauty in herself. Nor is it all that he has so mingled the Gothic and the classic, in his embodiments of Spencer, Milton, Shakspeare, and Dante, that we know not which is the predominating element: but in his vision of Jacob; his singing Miriam ; his Elijah, wrapping himself in his mantle, after he had looked upon the whirlwind, the fire, and the earthquake, and is listening to the still small voice of God in his soul, — he has christianized the Hebrew Muse. Alston, too, is a poet by word as well as with the pencil. His latest poems have been literally an accompaniment of words to his painted music.
Speaking of poets, New-England may boast of what she has done. Here has dwelt Bryant, the still waters of whose soul, with their mirrored pictures, always remind us of those lines of Shelly
“Sweet views, which in our world above
Can never well be seen,
of that fair forest green.
Within Elysium air,
A silence sleeping there."
And here has been unfolded the mysterious, melancholy, and gorgeous genius of Percival; the dignified dramatic power of Hillhouse; the chromatic muse of Halleck; and the wild and gloomy, but spiritual, imagination of Dana. In prose, (to pass by the graver writings on Divinity and Politics,) we have had the mercurial wit of Dennie