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THE PRICAL LIBRARY
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1836,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
THE critics have been very much perplexed to know the design and connection of the ninth eclogue of Virgil. Some of the lines are exquisite; but, like a heap of flowers, they seem to be thrown together without order or sequence. I think I know the secret; and I have discovered it by being in somewhat of a similar condition to that of the great poet. The case was, that he had on his note-book a collection of splendid fragments; lines, which he had laid by, partly translated and partly original, to be worked into some of his more elaborate poems; but not finding a convenient place for them, and believing that they were too good to be thrown away, he was driven to the awkward expedient of telling the story of a poet, turned from his home, who sung these lines and those; this fragment and that; and thus he found a string to tie his discordant flowers together. Such was the expedient which Virgil invented, to introduce unity into the midst of variety.
Will poor John Oldbug violate the laws of modesty, if he should hint a comparison between himself and the first of poets? The resemblance, after all, is only in an
accidental circumstance. For nearly thirty years, the writer of these volumes has been the anonymous correspondent of diverse newspapers, reviews, medleys, and magazines. He has written a great many pieces, which have always been read and admired by one reader at least; and to him, it must be confessed, they seemed too good to be lost. Some of them were the production of juvenile vivacity; some the reflections of more sober age. All of them were the random strokes of one, who was a volunteer in the literary corps. My object was to collect these forsaken plants, scattered along the past path of my life, and present them to the reader's mercy, in one basket of summer fruit.
In doing this, I have attempted to weave my fragments into something of a uniform piece; and herein I suppose myself to resemble Virgil in the fore-mentioned eclogue. It would be vanity indeed, to pretend that my tessalated pavement is as beautiful as his; but I trust it is no great arrogance to claim for it as much art in union of design, as is found in his patchwork song.
It has always seemed to me one of the most enviable powers in an author, to hang the solidities of wisdom behind a gauze work of sportive figures, wrought by fancy, and, through the medium of the reader's fancy, making their way more effectually to the heart. This is not so easy a task as some imagine. I will find you twenty men, who will write systems of metaphysics, over which the world shall yawn, and doze, and sleep, and pronounce their authors oracles of wisdom; for one that can trifle like Shakspeare, and teach the truest philosophy, even when he seems to trifle most. The influence
of literature on youthful minds is immense; and the fault of the Butlers, the Congreves, the Swifts, the Fieldings, the Smollets, the Sterns of the writing world, is not that they surrounded the fruits of their principles with the richest blossoms of their wit; but it was, too often, that their principles were wrong. What a world should we have had, had genius poured its combined power in one good direction!
In these volumes, I have attempted a difficult task; and if I shall be pronounced to have failed, I shall neither be grieved nor surprised. I have attempted to remember, in every page, that I am an American; and to write to the wants and manners of just such a people as those among whom I was born. I have always blamed our authors, for forgetting the woods, the vales, the hills and streams, the manners and minds, among which their earliest impressions were received, and their first and most innocent hours were passed. A sprig of whiteweed, raised in our own soil, should be more sweet than the marjoram of Idalian bowers; and the screaking of the night-hawk's wings, as he stoops in our evening sky, should make better melody in our ears than the softest warblings of a foreign nightingale. If I have sometimes verged to too much homeliness and simplicity, my only apology is, in the language of Scripture-I dwell among mine own people.
There is one species of writing, which vast numbers of readers do not understand enough to see its object, or relish its beauty. I allude to that kind of instruction which comes from picturing; MORAL PICTURING, where the lesson is not direct but oblique. I was once sitting
by an evening fire, with a young lady of respectable talents, and fond of books, who was reading the Spectator. She broke out into an expression of astonishment— What a silly book the Spectator is! "Let me see," said I. "What is the passage which appears so foolish?" She was reading the 475th number; a pretended letter from a young lady to the author, of this import. "Now, Sir, the thing is this: Mr. Shapely is the prettiest gentleman about town. He is very tall, but not too tall, neither. He dances like an angel. His mouth is made, I don't know how, but it is the prettiest mouth I ever saw in my life. He is always laughing, for he has an infinite deal of wit. If you did but see how he rolls his stockings! " &c. This was the folly. I asked the lady if it was not an admirable imitation of just the manner in which such a character would write. The question seemed to open a new world to her thoughts; and she was obliged to confess that what she had censured as folly, was one of the most exquisite efforts of genius.
What I have done in these pages I pretend not to say; I only know what I have endeavored. Go, little book, and if thou art found innocently amusing, or sometimes instructive-live; but if critics condemn, and the world ratifies their sentence, DIE; and thy humbled sire will drop no tear on thy grave, though for thee there should be no resurrection.