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and better by far, Christopher North (no bad judge), in Blackwood, declares, than the Yankee stories of Judge Haliburton.
The author, Mr. James Russell Lowell, Professor of Belles Lettres in Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is already well known in this country as an American poet of high reputation; and to a few persons well informed in Western literature and literary gossip, he is also known as a satirist of genuine excellence, and as a star in the Boston literary coterie,-nicknamed by jealous New-Yorkers the Mutual Admiration Society.
In one character, however, that of a writer of humorous poetry, he has yet to be introduced to the British public. His title to fame in this rests upon two volumes, The Fable for Critics, a witty but goodnatured criticism upon his American contemporaries, written after the manner of Hunt's amusing work, and certainly quite as clever as that production; and The Biglow Papers, which, after being republished three or four times in the United States, are now, for the first time, brought out in this country. The work had previously been very highly spoken of here by some eminent literary personages, when John Bright drew public attention to it by quoting from its pages in the House of Commons. An immediate demandarising from this notice has induced the editor to publish an English edition ; and, in order to a clear understanding of the aim and
method of these Papers, he has thought it advisable to prefix a brief explanation.
A quarter of a century ago the modern antislavery movement, as it is called, aiming at such a revolution in the public sentiment of the United States as shall overthrow the system of American slavery, was commenced by Wm. Lloyd. Garrison, of Boston. At the outset, as might have been expected, it met with numerous difficulties, and effected but little change in the public sentiment; but with time it gathered strength, its high moral purpose commending it more and more to the sound judgment and humane instincts of the people of the Free States. To this noble cause Mr. Lowell has always given his heartiest sympathy, aiding by his pen and his influence the efforts of the anti-slavery body. Latterly, he has allied himself, in his various humorous and satirical writings, to the Republican party, the principal aim of which is to check the growth of slave power, and put a stop to the extension of slavery into new territories. This great body of Northern politicians has sprung out of the numerous smaller political parties, which are ever starting into a mushroom existence from the peculiar form of Government, diverse interests, and quadrennial scramble after office which so peculiarly characterise the “Home Affairs ” of the United States.
The Southern States of America cherish slavery, not merely as a vast investment of personal wealth, but also
as a source of political power under a clause of the Federal Constitution, whereby the representation of slaveholders in the National Congress is based, in part, upon the number of their slaves. To increase their power in the Federal Government, therefore, as well as to insure the perpetuity of slavery, by extending the system from the old worn-out lands which it has impoverished, and where, in the course of time, it would perish from inanition, to virgin soil, it is and ever has been their policy to acquire new territory, to be cut
in due season, into new slave states; and this they call “extending the area of Freedom !” It was this policy which led to the conquest of Texas, a province of Mexico where slavery had been abolished, and the subsequent annexation of Texas to the Union. A still further acquisition of Mexican territory was then demanded, and a pretext for a war with that Government was sought and found. The war was opposed, not only by the Abolitionists, but by the Whig partythen the great opposition party of the country, as the Republican is now as a war for the extension of slavery, wicked, irrational, and disgraceful in a free country.
It was at this period, and in antagonism to this war, and the principle of slavery which accompanied it, that The Biglow Papers were written. They at first appeared in the newspapers of the day, where they attracted immediate attention, exerting considerable influence upon the people, as was the case with the famous Letters of Major Jack Downing, the humor of which, by the way, is very meagre when compared with the present collection. On one occasion, the election of a Governor for the State of Massachusetts was decided by a few of these witty Biglow verses appearing in a local journal. They favored the return of a Mr. Briggs; the laugh was turned against his opponents, and he was chosen as Governor.*
The principal characters introduced are Hosea Biglow and his father, Ezekiel Biglow, both common-sense but home-spun farmers of New England; Birdofredum Sawin, a volunteer in the Mexican army; and the Reverend Homer Wilbur, an elderly gentleman, “with infinite faculty of sermonizing, muscularized by long practice”- -a modern Parson Adams.
The “notices of an independent press” at the end are not the least amusing part of the book, and exhibit admirable examples of the various styles of Western newspaper criticism. The critique from The WorldHarmonic-Æolian-Attachment is perfect in its way.
As an exponent of the tone of thought and dialect of New England, in which phraseology these papers are written, the work is, perhaps, the best that has ever been published.
The editor of the present edition has added here and
* See page 52.