« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
be able to feed its population. And the progress of civilisation, while it tends to increase the latter ratio, by new processes of cultivation, reclaiming unproductive soils, etc., also by its saving and prolonging human life, tends still more swiftly to increase the former, and consequently hastens this disastrous consummation. Population in ancient times was continually checked by pestilences and famines; but who can say what its increase will be when cholera, yellow fever, and other epidemics shall have been as completely stamped out as leprosy in Europe, and when means of communication shall have made it as easy to relieve a starving Persia as to re-victual a surrendered Paris ?
We must refer our readers to the book itself for the counter-considerations Mr. Greg offers: one alone we think he has not taken sufficiently into account. That is, the food supply derivable from the sea. This is at present scarcely touched. It would be an exceeding understatement of the case to say that all the fisheries of the world are to the entire product of the sea no more than the casual plucking of ears of wheat through a fence to a wheat-field that covers half a county. For when we have reminded our readers that the sea has twice the area of the land, and that it is everywhere productive of animal life, we have not begun to state the case. The land produces food only upon the surface a plane, we may say, of a foot in thickness: the sea produces animal life (to say nothing of marine vegetation) to a depth of two miles or more that is, on more than 10,000 such planes. Here is a supply that, if we can find means to avail ourselves of it, will put off the starvation-epoch to a future so remote that we need not be melancholy about it.
The paper headed “Non-Survival of the Fittest,” is very full of interest. Mr. Greg (following Wallace and others) shows that whereas the tendency among animals and savages is continually to improve the race by the constant elimination of the weak, the imperfect, the stupid, and all who can not successfully hold their own in the struggle for subsistence, that of modern society is to deteriorate the race by preserving, caring for, and even favoring the propagation of, these imperfect specimens of humanity. The physical aspect of this tendency we have already glanced at; but there is also the moral aspect. Those who postpone or renounce marriage are usually of the prudent, the self-denying, and the devoted; while those who recklessly rush into it at an early age, and have a numerous progeny inheriting the defects of their parents, are the foolish, the reckless, the thriftless, whose influence will, pro tanto, be retroactive upon that civilisation whose provisions have made their existence possible.
Another interesting problem is treated under the head of “Human Development.” The progressive improvement of the race can only result from the development of individuals; and this, to be normal and healthy, should be symmetrical in three directions: in "body, spirit, and soul,” that is, in physical organisation, and in the intellectual and emotional faculties. And yet these symmetrically developed individuals are not those who promote the advance. The perfection of physical development, such as seen in some savages, or in professional athletes and acrobats, is found in connection with rudimentary or un
developed mental and spiritual faculties. The grandest intellects usually attend either a feeble frame, or are accompanied with a cold, unspiritual, unenthusiastic temperament. Ardent spiritual natures are often frail in body, usually undeveloped in intellect. Philanthropists, to whom if to any mankind should look, one would think, for help and guidance, are, as Mr. Greg says, “generally weak, wanting in commanding talents, and even in common-sense. . . . A great portion of existing evils may be traced to benevolent interferences for their removal ; and it may be said, with little exaggeration, that in this world a large part of the business of the wise is to counteract the efforts of the good.”
And yet without these imperfectly, or abnormally developed natures no great advance is made ; and in proportion as the race ap: proaches its perfect development, will the leaders, instigators, and guides of the advance diminish in numbers.
We have not left ourselves space to touch upon his last three chapters, “ The Significance of Life," “De Profundis," and “Elsewhere," in which still profounder and momentous problems are treated than in those we have reviewed ; but we shall have done enough if we have drawn our readers' interest to a work which we consider as having few if any superiors, among recent books, in depth and suggestiveness of thought, breadth of views, and the peculiar charm which springs from maturity of intellect.
W. H. B.
The Snow Man. By George Sand. Translated by Virginia Vaughan.
Boston : Roberts Brothers. It is unnecessary to speak of the reputation of “George Sand" as an author. It is well known, and has been long brightening, gradually yet steadily, from a somewhat gusty and overcast morning to the effulgence of broad day. American readers, however, have been somewhat slower than their European brethren in recognising her obvious merits, and it may not be amiss to recall to their notice one of the finest of her romances. The plot is ingenious in construction, and reminds us of no other, unless it be of Hamlet, in the incident where Christian tries to entrap the conscience of his uncle into acknowledgment of guilt by enacting a play before him. The machinery of the plot is well managed to avoid tediousness, and contrives at once to arrest the interest and fix it to the end.
The first scene opens upon a highly picturesque old castle in the centre of a frozen lake in Sweden, in which country the principal events of the story take place. A haunted atmosphere pervades this castle, and in the management of this we note a distinguishing feature of the book. Usually, such an atmosphere is feverishly exciting to the imagination ever too prone to its extreme indulgence, superstition — and consequently unhealthy in its effect on the mind. Such sketches as Poe's “ghoul-haunted woodland” or Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights may serve to illustrate the effect, in the hands of some intense and dramatic writers. In those of George Sand it but adds a pleasurable thrill to the interest; for though in a haunted castle,
we feel assured that its ghostly terrors can not live long in the powerful vitality of such sunshiny natures as those of Christian Goffrede and M. Goeffle. We are consequently only baffled slightly by a mystery whose unraveling we hopefully expect, not oppressed by something forever to be unexplained. The way in which we are stimulated rather than excited, our nerves keenly yet not painfully wrought upon by all this, is no small part of the writer's wonderful art ; and the gradual unfolding of the long-hidden truth, ending in the discovery of the true Baron of Waldemera in that Figaro of fortune, Christian, is very fine. The style is picturesque and bold, all the descriptions being very effective - indeed, so much so that many are stamped in our memories like glowing paintings. One especially charming - that of the first appearance of Margaret in her fairy sleigh, by Swedish moonlight seems to affect every reader with like vivid emotions of pleasure. The conversations are sprightly, and yet marked by an utter absence of straining for effect, so simply and naturally do they grow out of the matter in hand. The characters are distinguished by the same unconsciousness and simplicity. Christian is like no other hero that we can recall in the whole realm of fiction. Born a Swede, educated in Italy, a wanderer in France and Germany – he unites the grace and versatility of the South to the hardy vigor, the power of endurance and inflexible will of the North. He accommodates himself to the vicissitudes of fortune with the insouciance of Beaumarchais' Figaro, and extracts the sweet uses of adversity with the happy spirit, almost with the glee of a child. Yet beneath this light and cheerful surface lurks a fund of indomitable pride and resolve, exalted to greatness by the purifying influences of a feeling heart and sensitive conscience. Fond of gaiety and luxury, this power enables him voluntarily to accept privation and endure it with courage.
Determined to share the indefatigable toils and illpaid labors of the devotees of science, having had his thoughts turned in their direction by one of the strange accidents of life that made him an exile from the country of his adoption, he sets out on his solitary wanderings. He has discovered through a curious incident that he can exhibit marionettes, or puppets, successfully, and that this will afford him at once means of existence and time to devote to the grave studies he purposes. The stage he carries about is also an effectual disguise; and former aristocratic prejudices are perhaps not quite dead within him, although his deference to them shakes not a whit his resolve. In alternate exhibitions and studies he wanders back to his native country. The fact of its being so is however unknown to him. Providence for so he considers what men too frequently call “chance," - brings him to the very inheritance of which he had been fraudulently despoiled by his villainous uncle, “the Snow Man," and by a chain of suspicious circumstances, artfully enough linked together, reveals to him the truth.
In all these circumstances his conduct interests and attracts us more and more. Such a mixture of fire and coolness, straightforward truthfulness and subtle tact, tender-heartedness and stern resolve to punish, may perhaps adorn the pages of fiction elsewhere, but we cannot recall any other character in which these diverse elements are so ingeniously and naturally wrought together. One lays down the book with the conviction of being defrauded in not having had the pleasure of the hero's personal acquaintance; for that just such a person lived we feel convinced. M. Goeffle, the lawyer, is just a degree or two less attractive in his way, but this is saying much for him. Margaret, the heroine, depicted with most delicate and dainty touches, is yet a “creature not too good for human nature's daily food.” She reminds us of Miranda in her childish innocence, and of Imogen in her faithful devotion and fearlessness in encountering peril for the one beloved. The aunt, a cold, scheming female politician, only assailable through vanity; Olga, the frivolous and world-spoiled young Russian; Karine, the seeress, who recalls 10 us Norna in The Pirate, and yet is very unlike her, being far more gentle and feminine - make a pleasing variety among the female characters. The description of the Swedish feasts and festivities, the fine philosophical distinctions as to their resemblances and contrasts with those of other nations, the conversations abounding in wit and fancy, are all deserving of full and intelligent appreciation. The drawing of the “Snow Man," which gives the book its title, is perhaps the only thing that gives an air of unrealism to the plot. He is so much the wicked Baron of the fairy tale; the scientific horror of the black diamond - his crystallised dead wife — is such a monstrous improbability, that it hardly suits the vraisemblance of all the rest. Yet the strongest effects of the book would be weakened without him, and his name, given him on account of his pallid complexion and icy heart, which seems ill to suit his black iniquities, is so connected in the mind with the purity of the Dalecarlian landscape, that it seems derisively to mark him out in darker contrast to its dazzling whiteness.
The winding up of the narrative is well adapted to leave us in that agreeable state of satisfaction in which we pursued its thread. There is no stage effect of seeing all the characters with joined hands smirk happily at us before the curtain falls. The denouement is plainly enough indicated, and yet not stupidly forced upon us. Justice is satisfied, the future of the Waldemera estates under their new and rightful Baron hinted at. “The rest is silence," and so best for the imagination.
L. W. B.
Clifford Troup. By Maria Jourdan Westmoreland. New York :
Carleton & Co. 1873. WERE we to give our readers to suppose that we have read this book in the conscientious way in which we usually proceed, we should be guilty of a suppression of the truth : we have read as much of it, consecutively, as we could possibly bring ourselves to read, and have glanced through the remainder to make sure that what we have read was a fair sample of the whole. If any of our readers have more patience and dogged perseverance than we, and can get through the whole, we congratulate them ; though that a human creature can be found who will voluntarily achieve a task so dismally unremunerative, seems to us scarcely credible.
It is one of the minor misfortunes of our people, that persons without
even the first qualification for literary work — and by first qualification we do not mean originality of thought, delicacy of taste, faculty of observation, power of expression, all of which are quite out of question here, but a decent knowledge of some one language in which to write — will insist upon obtruding themselves on the public as authors, charged with a mission to instruct, to delight, to exhort or to reprove. It is one of the greater misfortunes that reviewers and the public will make a prodigious cackling over every wind-egg thus produced, as if, whether for good or evil, its contents were of importance to mankind. The only way to deal with such abortions is to drop them into the gulf of silence, with the unuttered hope that at some time or other the author may have grace to be thankful for the charity of oblivion.
If the author of Clifford Troup has intelligent and candid friends, the greatest kindness they can do her will be to advise her to renounce literary ambition, and abandon all attempts in a calling for which she seems to have no natural and no acquired qualification. If she feels called upon to guide mankind in the paths of virtue and honor, she can do it - and we assume does it — much better by setting a bright domestic example, than by any number of pages laden with precepts or eulogies of maidenly purity, matronly honor, or conjugal tenderness and fidelity.
W. H. B.
The Hemlock Swamp. By Elsie Leigh Whittlesey. Philadelphia :
Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger. 1873. If this book were the production of a young writer, we should be disposed to speak of it as promising, rather than exhibiting, talent. There is fluency in the narrative, there are occasional touches of nature, and some quite effective bits of description, which, under the circumstances mentioned, we should look upon as indicating powers to be developed, as to the discerning eye the form and hues of the butterfly are to be detected in the caterpillar.
But from the string of works placed after the author's name on the title-page, we must conclude that - unless she be a miracle of precocious productiveness — she has already reached the development of her powers, and will probably produce nothing very greatly better than the book before us.
There are two children, Eveleen and Archie, whose young life is made wretched by a crafty and overbearing step-mother. Archie finally runs away, and, except for one thrilling moment, appears no more in the story. Simon, a brother of the obnoxious step-mother, and a kind of mitigated Uriah Heep, makes love to Eveleen — ineffectually, of course. The murder of a person who has nothing to do with the story, is most violently and unnecessarily drawn in. Eveleen leaves her home and goes to live with an aunt in the South, and the first part of the story comes to an end. The rest of the book seems to have been made up of sketches of persons the author has — or has not — met, at the Springs and elsewhere, rather clumsily tacked on to the main narrative with a thread of absurd improbabilities.
It is a book of which the best that can be said is that the feeling in it is good and generous; and the worst, that the time spent in read