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many and the Netherlands have passed through political fortunes that would in ancient times have crushed out all traces of civilization; yet there has been in those countries a constant growth in all the elements of individual and social well-being, because no change of master or form of tyranny has been able to subdue the wealth-creating spirit of industry and enterprise, or to suppress the birth of genius and the onward march of intellect.
But hitherto the world has seen only aristocracies ; and that of mind, though more free and noble than any other, is still to a certain degree exclusive. Its prizes are not for all sincere and meritorious aspirants. Of the honors that many seek many must fail, whether for lack of native power or of adequate opportunity. But when moral greatness is the object of universal admiration and desire, then, and not till then, shall we witness a truly republican condition of society ; for of moral excellence, of eminent goodness, no seeker can fail. A more than human teacher declared, “ In my Father's house are many mansions,” – yea, an open and honored place for all that enter in. It is a civilization founded on moral culture, on the life of the affections, that must yet be the great levelling principle in human society, equalizing all conditions of life, ennobling all lawful avocations, encircling with its zone of the kindest sympathies the loftiest and the lowliest dwellings.
There is hope for the speedy advent of this millenial condition of society in the fact, that the several principles of greatness that have been revered in successive ages have supplanted one another, each with more and more rapid footsteps than the preceding. For the first half of the world's history we trace no higher principle than brute force. The ascendency of the military spirit marks the next two thousand years. But the reverence of birth, of wealth, of intellect, have succeeded each other by much shorter intervals; and moral greatness is even now, we trust, fast winning the ascendency. In abounding irreverence and skepticism we may yet discern the dayspring of a brighter era. With the accumulated power and awakened energy of Christendom, concentrated, as it is beginning to be, on moral objects and for philanthropic ends, years may do the work which centuries have done. Christian benevolence already belts the globe. Art lends its firewings ; science its eagle vision ; wisdom its age-gathered
treasury. We will hope, then, that an early posterity may witness the entire supremacy of faith, truth, and love.
One topic more, and we have done. In the attempt to trace the uninterrupted progress of mankind, the Dark Ages, unfortunately so called, are always a stumblingblock; and our work would be incomplete, did we not offer a few hints towards the interpretation of their phenomena. We regard these ages as the most progressive period of the world's history. To make this clear, we will ask our readers to look with us for a moment at the vaunted civilization of the Augustan era, which was rotten to the very core, its literature grossly licentious, its domestic forms and manners vile, — its whole basis and framework utterly vicious and depraved. Forms of impurity, that have no longer a name, were practised without disguise, sanctioned by the most venerable examples, surrounded with all the fascinations which art, taste, and song could bestow. Virtue was a mere forensic word, — goodness a forensic idea, connected with a man's allegiance to the state, his courage in war, or fidelity in public trusts. There were no words to describe, no standards to measure, what we call personal worth, private character, home virtue. Causeless divorce and foul lusts deformed the households of those deemed Rome's best men. Justice, too, had left the Roman courts, once inflexible in their integrity; and the forensic monuments of the age under review only indicate an overwhelming mass of private fraud and wrong, sustained by the forms of law and endorsed by its mercenary ministers. Nor ought we, in the moral portraiture of this era, to omit its favorite amusements, the mortal conflicts of gladiators and doomed men with savage beasts, which were frequented, not by the populace alone, but by the rank, wealth, beauty, fashion, refinement of the Imperial City ; were given as public entertainments by the most illustrious and the best men, in seeking or acknowledging the favor of the people ; had grouped around themselves associations of the highest dignity and glory ; and were deemed essential portions of the public administration.
Christendom sank into the Dark Ages (so called) with these corruptions still clinging to its skirts. It emerged from them with the germ of almost every social idea and institution that now blesses the world. The providence of God, in the destruction of the western empire, annihilated this festering mass of sin, with which Christianity could not have contracted alliance without stain, and left Europe for a season without literature or art, without established manners or customs, to recommence under higher and Christian auspices the organization of domestic and social life. And these ages have seemed dark, because during their lapse the foundations of almost every department of human society had to be laid anew, and were laid so deep as to elude the eye of the superficial observer. But during these ages, so often vilified, the homes of Europe grew into being, with the fair sisterhood of virtues which alone can make them blessed ; and the arts, supposed by many to have been slumbering, because they were no longer busy about the shrines of vile divinities, were employed in carrying domestic architecture rapidly forward towards its present standard of refinement, comfort, and beauty. The marriage contract, with the numberless rights and interests dependent upon it, was placed upon its present firm tenure. At the same time, the barbarous code of ancient warfare was greatly modified by the insusion of sentiments of justice and humanity, unknown to any earlier age. The rights of enemies were defined and held sacred. The foe that surrendered was spared ; and the lives, and often the effects, of the unarmed and helpless were held sacred. The mock fight of the tournament, rude indeed, but seldom fatal, took the place of the bloody sports of the old world. The institutions of chivalry, which bear date in these ages, embody many of the highest and most worthy principles, such as delicate respect for female character and virtue, kindness to the sick and helpless, hospitality to the stranger, courtesy to the brave, forbearance to the fallen. Hospitals, too, were everywhere established, and many munificent public charities, still existing, were founded. Of many of the monasteries of those times the Good Samaritan might have been prior, without losing character. Vast contributions, too, were going forth from Christendom for the redemption from the piratical states of Barbary of poor and unknown captives, whose only claim was, that they were brother-men and fellow-Christians.
We have said these things, only to indicate, not to complete, a course of argument by which our theory of the unintermitted progress of humanity may be relieved of the chief historical difficulty that seems to lie in its way. It is a theory which we embrace with the whole heart, and earnestly commend to our readers. And if mankind be thus passing ever onward to a nobler state and a higher destiny, let the race have our favoring efforts, our sincere godspeed, - our voice and arm ever on the side of justice, freedom, progress, and humanity.
Art. V. - Wiley and Putnam's Library of American Books.
Nos. IV., IX., and XII. 1. The Wigwam and the Cabin. By W. GILMORE Simms, Author of The Yemassee, Guy Rivers, &c. First and Second Series. New York. 1845-6. 12mo. 2. Views and Reviews in American History, Literature, and Fiction. By W. GILMORE SIMMs. First Series. New York. 1845. 12mo. pp. 238.
The author of The Yemassee, Guy Rivers, Life of Marion, and a good many other things of that sort, is a writer of great pretensions and some local reputation. We remember to have read, in some one of the numerous journals which have been illustrated by his genius, an amusing explanation from his pen, addressed to persons who had applied to him for information, of the difference between author and publisher, the object of it being evidently to tell the public that he was often written to by persons who, being anxious to get his works, very naturally fancied that he was the proper person to obtain them from, and to let the applicants know that the trade part of the book business was in quite different hands. We were struck by the ingenuity of the announcement, and grateful for the information thus condescendingly imparted. We availed ourselves of it to procure some of the volumes, which we proceeded forthwith to read and inwardly digest. Both of these processes were attended with no ordinary difficulties; but we believe we were uncommonly successful at last.
The author of these novels means to be understood as setting up for an original, patriotic, native American writer; but we are convinced that every judicious reader will set him down as uncommonly deficient in the first elements of originality. He has put on the cast-off garments of the British novelists, merely endeavouring to give them an American fit ; and, like those fine gentlemen who make up their wardrobes from the second-hand clothing shops, or from the “unparalleled ” establishment of Oak Hall, there is in his literary outfits a decided touch of the shabby genteel. The outward form of his novels is that of their English models ; the current phrases of sentiment and description, worn threadbare in the circulating libraries, and out at the elbows, are the robes wherewith he covers imperfectly the nakedness of his invention. The obligato tone of sentimentality wearisomely drones through the soft passages of the thousand times repeated plot of love. To borrow a metaphor from one of the unhappy experiences of domestic life, the tender lines are so old that they are spoiled ; they have been kept too long, and the hungriest guest at the intellectual banquet” finds it nauseating to swallow them.
The style of Mr. Simms - we mean (for, like other great writers, he designates himself by the titles of his chief productions, rarely condescending to the comparative vulgarity of using a proper name), we mean the style of the author of The Yemassee and Guy Rivers - is deficient in grace, picturesqueness, and point. It shows a mind seldom able to seize the characteristic features of the object he undertakes to describe, and of course his descriptions generally fail of arresting the reader's attention by any beauty or felicity of touch. His characters are vaguely conceived, and either faintly or coarsely drawn. The dramatic parts are but bungling imitations of nature, with little sprightliness or wit, and laboring under a heavy load of words.
This author, as if to carry out more completely the contradiction between his statements of principle and his practice in the matter of originality, published a poem, a few years ago, in palpable imitation of Don Juan, — a dull travesty of a most reprehensible model. To read canto after canto of Byron's original, in wbich vulgar sarcasm and licentiousness were redeemed only here and there by a passage of poetic beauty, was a depressing task in the days of its novelty and freshness; but a pointless revival of its forced wit, its painful grimaces, its affected versification, its stingless satire, without one touch of its poetic beauty or one drop of its poignant wickedness in the stale mixture, the heolocrasia of