« ПретходнаНастави »
"result in widening the boundaries, and so prolonging “the life of slavery. Believing that it is the manifest
destiny of the English race to occupy this whole con“ tinent, and to display there that practical under“standing in matters of government and colonization “ which no other race has given such proofs of pos"sessing since the Romans, I hated to see a noble hope
evaporated into a lying phrase to sweeten the foul “ breath of demagogues. Leaving the sin of it to God, “I believed, and still believe, that slavery is the “ Achilles-heel of our own polity, that it is a temporary “ and false supremacy of the white races, sure to “ destroy that supremacy at last, because an enslaved “ people always prove themselves of more enduring “ fibre than their enslavers, as not suffering from the “ social vices sure to be engendered by oppression in “ the governing class. Against these and many other
things I thought all honest men should protest. I was born and bred in the country, and the dialect was homely to me. I tried my first Biglow paper in
a newspaper, and found that it had a great run. So “ I wrote the others from time to time during the
year which followed, always very rapidly, and some“ times (as with · What Mr. Robinson thinks ') at one “sitting. When I came to collect them and publish “ them in a volume, I conceived my parson-editor, with “ his pedantry and verbosity, his amiable vanity and
superiority to the verses he was editing, as a fitting “ artistic background and foil. He gave me the
chance, too, of glancing obliquely at many things “ which were beyond the horizon of my other cha"racters.”
There are two American books, elder brethren of “ The Biglow Papers,” which it would be unjust in an Englishman not to mention while introducing their big younger brother to his own countrymen, -I mean, of course, “ Major Downing's Letters," and “ Sam Slick ;” both of which are full of rare humour, and treat of the most exciting political questions of their day in a method and from points of view of which are often reminded while reading the “ Biglow Papers." In fact, Mr. Lowell borrows his name from the Major's Letters ;—“ Zekel Bigelow, Broker and Banker of Wall Street, New York,” is
the friend who corrects the spelling, and certifies to the genuineness, of the honest Major's effusions, and is one of the raciest characters in the book. No one, I am sure, would be so ready as Mr. Lowell to acknowledge whatever obligations he may have to other men, and no one can do it more safely. For though he may owe a name or an idea to others, he seems to me to stand quite alone amongst Americans, and to be the only one who is beyond question entitled to take his place in the first rank, by the side of the great political satirists of ancient and modern Europe.
Greece had her Aristophanes; Rome her Juvenal; Spain has had her Cervantes; France her Rabelais, her Molière, her Voltaire ; Germany her Jean Paul, her Heine; England her Swift, her Thackeray; and America has her Lowell. By the side of all those great masters of satire, though kept somewhat in the rear by provincialism of style and subject, the author of the
Biglow Papers” holds his own place distinct from
1 See the English Edition of " Letters of Major Downing,” published by John Murray in 1835, pp. 22, 23; and Letters x. xi. xii. and xv.
each and all. The man who reads the book for the
first time, and is capable of understanding it, has received a new sensation. In Lowell the American mind has for the first time flowered out into thoroughly original genius.
There is an airy grace about the best pieces of Washington Irving, which has no parallel amongst English writers, however closely modelled may be his style upon that of the Addisonian age. There is much original power, which will perhaps be better appreciated at a future day, about Fenimore Cooper's delineations of the physical and spiritual border-land, between white and red, between civilization and savagery. There is dramatic power of a high order about Mr. Hawthorne, though mixed with a certain morbidness and bad taste, which debar him from ever attaining to the first rank. There is an originality of position about Mr. Emerson, in his resolute setting up of King Self against King Mob, which, coupled with a singular metallic glitter of style, and plenty of shrewd New England mother-wit, have made up together one of the best counterfeits of genius that
has been seen for many a day; so good, indeed, that most men are taken by it for the first quarter of an hour at the least. But for real unmistakable genius,—for that glorious fulness of power which knocks a man down at a blow for sheer admiration, and then makes him rush into the arms of the knocker-down, and swear eternal friendship with him for sheer delight; the “Biglow Papers” stand alone.
If I sought to describe their characteristics, I should say, the most exuberant and extravagant humour, coupled with strong, noble, Christian purpose, -a thorough scorn for all that is false and base, all the more withering because of the thorough geniality of the writer. Perhaps Jean Paul is of all the satirists I have named the one who at bottom presents mos affinity with Lowell, but the differences are marked. The intellectual sphere of the German is vaster, but though with certain aims before him, he rather floats and tumbles about like a porpoise at play than follows any direct perceptible course. With Lowell, on the contrary, every word tells, every laugh is a blow; as if the god Momus had turned out as Mars, and were