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2. — Memorials of Mrs. Hemans; with Illustrations of her
Literary Character from her private Correspondence.
By Henry F. Chorley. 8vo. Tuis volume is an extension of a series of papers, printed not long since, in “The Athenæum.” They were read at the time with a deep interest, heightened by the recent death of the lamented poetess, in whose memory they were composed.
The time probably has not yet come, when a complete life of Mrs. Hemans can, with propriety, be written. The circles in which she moved are yet too unbroken; the persons with whom she was connected are still on the stage: too many chords of feeling would vibrate to the touch of the biographer's hand.
Mr. Chorley has given as minute a sketch of Mrs. Hemans's life, as he could do, with a proper regard to the feelings of her survivors. He has confined himself mostly to such details as have a bearing on her literary career exclusively, leaving the delicate circumstances of her domestic life hardly touched upon. He gives some interesting notices of her childhood and youth, and some valuable details of her family. But we cannot, on the whole, applaud the editor's part in this volume. His narrative is far enough from being either perspicuous or graceful. He feels bound to moralize and philosophize, at every breathing place; and his speculations and sentiment are not sufficiently ingenious or affecting, to pay for the trouble of reading them. A man or woman either, who sets a just value upon time, and thinks it proper for a book to have either freshness of style, or vigor of sentiment, or clearness of ideas, will assuredly skip over every one of Mr. Chorley's dissertations, and read nothing else than the mere facts and Mrs. Hemans's letters. It is a great pity that so much ink, paper, space, and time should be taken up with unmeaning words. It would be a good thing for some publisher to print “ Chorley's Memorials,” with the omission of every thing belonging to Chorley
The letters will be read with interest, by all who take an interest in Mrs. Hemans. They are written with entire simplicity, and without the slightest thought of publication. The propriety of giving such letters to the public, at least so soon after the author's death, may well be questioned. But setting that consideration aside, the greater part of the letters will give a very agreeable impression of Mrs. Hemans's private character, and to most people, quite a new view of her intellectual qualities. The sad and solemn strain of her poetry had not prepared us for the ease, vivacity, and wit, with which they abound. They are written in VOL. XLIV. NO. 94.
a gay, off-hand style, full of lively sallies and ludicrous images, and show any thing but a turn for sentimental melancholy. The familiar tone, and rapid manner with which they were thrown off, forbid our making them a measure of her intellectual ability; and yet we find in them occasionally a beautiful piece of criticism, or a profound reflection, that would appear well in an elaborate essay. The most agreeable letters of the whole collection are those in which she describes her visits to the Lake, and to Walter Scott. We doubt whether the character of Wordsworth and Scott have ever been more truly represented; the one, an amiable egotist, absorbed in his poetical reveries, or reading aloud his own works, or talking about Rydal and Grassmere, with which he has identified his poetical existence; and the other, never alluding to himself but once, and that in joke.
We have been rather unpleasantly affected with one or two things in these letters. Mrs. Hemans indulged herself, it seems, in ridiculing her visitors and correspondents; visitors who were drawn to her by reverence and love; and correspondents whose intense admiration of her works could only vent itself in grateful and sometimes extravagant epistles. There is no doubt that many of these people were troublesome enough, and their calls an importunate draft upon her time; there is no doubt that many of the letters she received were ridiculous and tasteless outpourings of boyish or girlish admiration. But a little reflection would have taught Mrs. Hemans that the love and veneration which a great poetess inspires, even in awkward and clownish spirits, is no fit subject for ridicule, and her good feelings should have repressed the lively sally, even in confidential intercourse with her friends.
Friends will sometimes print. There are many passages in the letters that must cut deep somewhere; there are many sarcastic descriptions, that must be excessively mortifying to somebody. We fancy that her American adınirers come in for a full share of ridicule, and we think it quite likely they had a full share in that “ Albumean persecution,” which she so humorously describes. Some of her American friends are men whose character and fame are the world's property; and of them she never speaks but with high and becoming respect. But such is not the case with far the greater part. This topic ought to be distinctly considered, because we Americans often make great mistakes that expose us to the derision of distinguished foreigners. Many enthusiastic spirits among us fancy that the great English authors, whose works they admire, are beings set apart and sanctified from vulgar life, and that the incense wafted across the Atlantic will be a grateful tribute to them in their Olympian abodes. They accordingly sit down to
their desks, and fill out sheet after sheet of foolscap with highflown panegyric, send it off, and get thoroughly laughed at for their pains. Such people, they are generally inexperienced young gentlemen, and sentimental young ladies, — make the universal Yankee nation appear in the eyes of Christendom to be a mighty generation of greenhorns. A little more self-respect, and a little less desire “to be kicked by the duke,” would save our countrymen from many a mortifying comment.
Mr. Chorley has done wrong in publishing such things as we have spoken of. It was imprudent, and in bad taste, to write them; but it is a treachery to the confidence of friendship to print them. Public opinion ought to frown the practice down, and set the seal of reprobation upon it; or all people who think they are distinguished or are going to be, must cease writing confidential letters. And then how dull and tiresome will everybody's correspondence become! How soon will the lively interchange of thought per mail die out; and what an alarming falling-off will take place in the revenues of the Post-office! The Cadmean invention will cease to supply the place of personal intercourse, and Mr. Kendall's occupation will be gone.
The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge, for the Year 1837. Boston ; published by Charles
; Bowen. 12mo. pp. 324.
We rise from the examination of some of the most distinguished almanacs of France, England, and Germany, with the conviction that our “ American Almanac" stands unsurpassed by any of this most valuable class of periodical publications. Its astronomical calculations, executed by a well-known enthusiast in the vigils of the astronomer, and in the tedious tasks of numerical calculation, are adapted by their generality and minuteness to the wants of the nicest observer, in every part of the United States, and place this department of the work far above that of all but the professedly astronomical almanac. In its meteorological and other miscellaneous information, it is admirably suited to the wants of the country; but, in the extent, the variety, and the correctness of its statistical information, it is without a rival. The statistical department in the other almanacs, consists of little more than a court calendar and annual register, with some general account of the population, &c. of different countries, repeated year after year, with only such changes as are absolutely required. In the American Almanac, on the contrary, the repetitions are only such as are necessary, while the whole subject is re-modelled each year by its laborious editor, the wonderful accuracy of whose information with respect to every point of lexicography, geography, and statistics we believe to be almost unequalled, unless it be in Germany, the land of living encyclopedias.
The principal source of interest in most almanacs, from those earliest known, nearly to the present day, consisted in the astrological prophecies which were artfully iningled with the astronomical predictions, in a way well fitted to impose upon the ignorant; who, seeing the one invariably fulfilled, must naturally have extended their credit to all, supposing them the results of one and the same occult science. This class of almanacs has been rapidly diminishing before the progress of knowledge; but it may possibly revive and flourish anew beneath the mystical influence of the fashionable philosophy just imported from Germany, which esteems a vague guess above a careful observation, and, dreaming about “ the things in heaven and earth,” believes in links of connexion which exist only in the fancy of the dizzy speculator. Adroitly trimming his sails to this favorable breeze, the Lilly of the nineteenth century may issue his oracles, derived, not from the study of the stars, but from the magnetical inspirations of some bed-ridden chambermaid.
Within a few years, the character of almanacs has, however, undergone a great change and improvement, and a vast variety of them are now pouring into the world their streams of useful information. In England, we see the Mechanic's Almanac, the Stationer's, the Gentleman's, the Lady's, the Medical, the Evangelical, the Family, the Parochial, the County Almanacs, &c.; and in this country, the Farmer's, the Comic, the Christian, &c., so that be a man of what trade, profession, or employment soever, whether whig or tory, grave or gay, worldly or religious, he is sure to find one calculated, not only for his meridian, but also for his exact position in the world of business, of letters, of fashion, or of morals.
The present volume of the American Almanac, “besides the usual register of the national and state governments, an American and foreign obituary, and chronicle of events, contains, among various other matters, a valuable treatise on the Use of Anthracite Coal,' an account of Public Libraries,' a · Statistical View of the Population of the United States,' a series of tables relating to the 'Cultivation, Manufacture, and Foreign Trade of Cotton,' and meteorological notices of Seasons and the Weather ; but the subject more especially
treated of under the Individual States, is that of Internal Improvement, particularly Canals and Rail-Roads.” – Pref
Under each of these heads is condensed much information interesting and valuable to the domestic economist, the scholar, the merchant, the statesman, and the patriot ; and the whole collection evinces the soundest discrimination and the most laborious investigation, and is as far as possible removed from the little arts, with which the ignorant and indolent book-maker is wont to gild over his inferior fabric of commonplaces.
We trust that the happy suggestion of the editor, with regard to the establishment of public libraries by the national government, will not be allowed to lie dormant in the pages of the Almanac, but that it may fall on good ground and spring up to the benefit of science and literature. We also hope that the want, alluded to by his scientific assistant, of an observatory, will not much longer be a disgrace to the country. We demand it of our merchants, to wipe off this disgrace, in discharge of the immense debt of gratitude due from commerce to her mother science. We demand it of our nation, whose very being, as a member of the civilized world, depends upon the labors of astronomy; of our government, all whose enlightened features and free institutions are the result of profound study into the history of the world, and of intimate acquaintance with the wisdom of ages ; to supply from her own breast the craving wants of American intellect, and erect on her territories the watch-towers of science and the citadels of literature. The fort and the frigate are not more valuable guards against the foreign invader, than is the public library, the never-dying teacher of the schoolmaster and the statesman, against the more imminent perils from the ambitious demagogue. The country owes it, therefore, to her children to provide these bulwarks of her liberties, and she might accomplish in a few years what would be the labor of centuries, if left to the disunited and precarious contributions of private liberality. We cannot, however, join in the complaints of many of our learned friends, in regard to the little which has been done by our men of wealth to aid the intellectual advancement of the country. We look upon all such murmuring, as ingratitude to the munificent founders and patrons of the colleges and libraries which are spread over the whole United States. A greater concentration of these liberal efforts would, undoubtedly, have hastened the advance of literature ; but we must not forget that the permanence of our political institutions depends less upon the brilliancy of our geniuses, than upon the intelligence of the middling classes ; so that our temple of science should rather