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signs of putting forth their blossoms." Here we are
tautologically informed that improvement is a conse
quence of embellishment, and supererogatorily told
that the rule holds good only where the embellishment
is not accompanied by destruction. Upon the " each
orchard were " it is needless to comment.

At page 30, vol i., is something similar, where
Strides is represented as " never doing anything that
required a particle more than the exertion and strength
that were absolutely necessary to effect his object."
Did Mr. C. ever hear of any labor that required more
exertion than was necessary ? He means to say that
Strides exerted himself no further than was necessary,
that 's all.

At page 59, vol. i., we find this sentence : "He
was advancing by the only road that was ever travelled
by the stranger as he approached the hut; or, he
came up the valley." This is merely a vagueness of
speech. " Or " is intended to imply " that is to say."
The whole would be clearer thus : "He was advan
cing by the valley, the only road travelled by a stranger
approaching the hut." We have here sixteen words,
instead of Mr. Cooper's twenty-five.

At page 8, vol. ii., is an unpardonable awkwardness,
36



J. Fenimore Cooper

although an awkwardness strictly grammatical. " I
was a favorite, I believe, with, certainly was much
petted by, both." Upon this we need make no further
observation. It speaks for itself.

We are aware, however, that there is a certain air
of unfairness in thus quoting detached passages for an
imadversion of this kind ; for, however strictly at ran
dom our quotations may really be, we have, of course,
no means of proving the fact to our readers ; and there
are no authors from whose works individual inaccurate
sentences may not be culled. But we mean to say that
Mr. Cooper, no doubt through haste or neglect, is re
markably and especially inaccurate, as a general rule ;
and, by the way of demonstrating this assertion, we
will dismiss our extracts at random and discuss some
entire page of his composition. More than this: we
will endeavor to select that particular page upon which
it might naturally be supposed he would bestow the
most careful attention. The reader will say at once:
" Let this be his first page the first page of his pref
ace." This page, then, shall be taken, of course.

" The history of the borders is filled with legends of
the sufferings of isolated families, during the troubled
scenes of colonial warfare. Those which we now offer
to the reader are distinctive in many of their lead
ing facts, if not rigidly true in the details. The first
alone is necessary to the legitimate objects of fiction."

37



J. Fenimore Cooper

" Abounds with legends," would be better than " is
filled with legends " ; for it is clear that if the history
were filled with legends, it would be all legend and no
history. The word " of," too, occurs, in the first sen
tence, with an unpleasant frequency. The " those "
commencing the second sentence grammatically refers
to the noun " scenes " immediately preceding, but is
intended for " legends." The adjective " distinc
tive " is vaguely and altogether improperly employed.
Mr. C., we believe, means to say, merely, that although
the details of his legend may not be strictly true, facts
similar to his leading ones have actually occurred. By
use of the word " distinctive," however, he has con
trived to convey a meaning nearly converse. In saying
that his legend is " distinctive " in many of the leading
facts, he has said what he clearly did not wish to say ;
viz., that his legend contained facts which distin
guished it from all other legends; in other words,
facts never before discussed in other legends, and be
longing peculiarly to his own. That Mr. C. did mean
what we suppose, is rendered evident by the third
sentence : " The first alone is necessary to the legiti
mate objects of fiction." This third sentence itself,
however, is very badly constructed. " The first " can
refer, grammatically, only to " facts " ; but no such
reference is intended. If we ask the question, What
is meant by " the first " ? what " alone is necessary
to the legitimate objects of fiction " ? the natural

38



J. Fenimore Cooper

reply is " that facts similar to the leading ones have
actually happened." The circumstance is alone to
be cared for this consideration " alone is necessary
to the legitimate objects of fiction."

" One of the misfortunes of a nation is to hear
nothing besides its own praises." This is the fourth
sentence, and is by no means lucid. The design is
to say that individuals composing a nation, and living
altogether within the national bounds, hear from each
other only praises of the nation, and that this is a mis
fortune to the individuals, since it misleads them in
regard to the actual condition of the nation. Here it
will be seen that, to convey the intended idea, we have
been forced to make distinction between the nation
and its individual members; for it is evident that a
nation is considered as such only in reference to other
nations; and thus as a nation, it hears very much
" besides its own praises " ; that is to say, it hears
the detractions of other rival nations. In endeavoring
to compel his meaning within the compass of a brief
sentence, Mr. Cooper has completely sacrificed its in
telligibility.

The fifth sentence runs thus : " Although the
American Revolution was probably as just an effort
as was ever made by a people to resist the first inroads
of oppression, the cause had its evil aspects, as well as
all other human struggles."

The American Revolution is here improperly called

39



J. Fenimore Cooper

an " effort." The effort was the cause, of which the
Revolution was the result. A rebellion is an " effort "
to effect a revolution. An " inroad of oppression "
involves an untrue metaphor; for "inroad" apper
tains to aggression, to attack, to active assault. " The
cause had its evil aspects as well as all other human
struggles " implies that the cause had not only its
evil aspects, but had, also, all other human struggles.
If the words must be retained at all, they should be
thus arranged : " The cause, like [or as well as] all
other human struggles, had its evil aspects " ; or better
thus : " The cause had its evil aspect, as have all
human struggles." " Other " is superfluous.

The sixth sentence is thus written : " We have been
so much accustomed to hear everything extolled, of
late years, that could be dragged into the remotest
connection with that great event, and the principles
which led to it, that there is danger of overlooking
truth in a pseudo patriotism." The " of late years,"
here, should follow the " accustomed," or precede the
" we have been " ; and the Greek " pseudo " is
objectionable, since its exact equivalent is to be found
in the English " false." " Spurious " would be better,
perhaps, than either.

Inadvertences such as these sadly disfigure the style
of The Hutted Knoll / and every true friend of its
author must regret his inattention to the minor morals
of the Muse. But these " minor morals," it may be

40



J. Fenimore Cooper

said, are trifles at best. Perhaps so. At all events,
we should never have thought of dwelling so pertina
ciously upon the unessential demerits of Wyandotte f
could we have discovered any more momentous upon
which to comment.






R. H. Home 1

R. H. HORNE, the author of the Orion,
has of late years acquired a high and ex
tensive home reputation, although, as yet,
he is only partially known in America. He will be re
membered, however, as the author of a very well-
written introduction to Black's translation of Schlegel's
Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature f and as a
contributor with Wordsworth, Hunt, Miss Barrett,
and others, to " Chaucer Modernized." He is the
author, also, of Cosmo de Medici, of The Death of
Marlowe f and, especially, of Gregory the Seventh, a
fine tragedy, prefaced with an " Essay on Tragic Influ
ence." Orion was originally advertised to be sold for
a farthing; and at this price three large editions
were actually sold. The fourth edition (a specimen
of which now lies before us) was issued at a shilling,
and also sold. A fifth is promised at half a crown;
this likewise, with even a sixth at a crown, may be

1 Orion t An Epic Poem in Three Books. By R. H. Home. Fourth Edition.
London: Published by J. Miller.



R. H. Home



disposed of, partly through the intrinsic merit of the
work itself, but chiefly through the ingenious novelty
of the original price.

We have been among the earliest readers of Mr.
Home, among the most earnest admirers of his high
genius ; x for a man of high, of the highest genius, he
unquestionably is. With an eager wish to do justice to
his Gregory the Seventh, we have never yet found
exactly that opportunity we desired. Meantime, we
looked with curiosity for what the British critics
would say of a work which, in the boldness of its con
ception, and in the fresh originality of its manage
ment, would necessarily fall beyond the routine of
their customary verbiage. We saw nothing, however,
that either could or should be understood; nothing,
certainly, that was worth understanding. The tra
gedy itself was, unhappily, not devoid of the ruling
cant of the day, and its critics (that cant incarnate)
took their cue from some of its infected passages,
and proceeded forthwith to rhapsody and aesthetics,
by way of giving a common-sense public an intelligent
idea of the book. By the " cant of the day " we
mean the disgusting practice of putting on the airs
of an owl, and endeavoring to look miraculously wise ;
the affectation of second sight, of a species of ecstatic
prescience, of an intensely bathetic penetration into
all sorts of mysteries, psychological ones in especial;
an Orphic, an ostrich affectation, which buries its

43



R. H. Home



head in balderdash, and, seeing nothing itself, fancies,
therefore, that its preposterous carcass is not a visible
object of derision for the world at large.

Of Orion itself, we have, as yet, seen few notices in
the British periodicals, and these few are merely repe
titions of the old jargon. All that has been said, for
example, might be summed up in some such para
graph as this :

"Orion is the earnest outpouring of the oneness of
the psychological Man. It has the individuality of
the true Singleness. It is not to be regarded as a
Poem, but as a Work, as a multiple Theogony, as
a manifestation of the Works and the Days. It is a
pinion in the Progress, a wheel in the Movement that
moveth ever and goeth always, a mirror of Self-
Inspection, held up by the Seer of the Age essential,
of the Age in esse / for the Seers of the Ages possible,
in posse. We hail a brother in the work."

Of the mere opinions of the donkeys who bray thus,
of their mere dogmas and doctrines, literary, aestheti-
cal, or what not, we know little, and, upon our honor,
we wish to know less. Occupied, Laputacally, in their
great work of a progress that never progresses, we
take it for granted, also, that they care as little about
ours. But whatever the opinions of these people may
be, however portentous the " Idea " which they have
been so long threatening to " evolve," we still think
it clear that they take a very roundabout way of



R. H. Home



evolving it. The use of language is in the promul
gation of thought. If a man, if an Orphicist, or a
Seer, or whatever else he may choose to call himself,
while the rest of the world calls him an ass, if this
gentleman have an idea which he does not understand
himself, the best thing he can do is to say nothing
about it ; for, of course, he can entertain no hope that
what he, the Seer, cannot comprehend should be com
prehended by the mass of common humanity; but if
he have an idea which is actually intelligible to himself,
and if he sincerely wishes to render it intelligible to
others, we then hold it as indisputable that he should
employ those forms of speech which are the best
adapted to further his object. He should speak to
the people in that people's ordinary tongue. He
should arrange words such as are habitually employed
for the several preliminary and introductory ideas to
be conveyed he should arrange them in collocations
such as those in which we are accustomed to see those
words arranged.

But to all this the Orphicist thus replies : " I am a
Seer. My Idea, the idea which by providence I am
especially commissioned to evolve, is one so vast, so
novel, that ordinary words, in ordinary collocations,
will be insufficient for its comfortable evolution."
Very true. We grant the vastness of the idea it is
manifested in the sucking of the thumb; but, then,
if ordinary language be insufficient, ordinary language

45



R. H. Home



which men understand, a fortiori will be insufficient
that inordinate language which no man has ever
understood, and which any well-educated baboon
would blush in being accused of understanding. The
" Seer," therefore, has no other resource but to oblige
mankind by holding his tongue, suffering his Idea to
remain quietly " unevolved," until some mesmeric
mode of intercommunication shall be invented, whereby
the antipodal brains of the Seer and of the man of
Common Sense shall be brought into the necessary
rapport. Meantime we earnestly ask if bread-and-
butter be the vast Idea in question, if bread-and-
butter be any portion of this vast idea ? for we have
often observed that when a Seer has to speak of even
so usual a thing as bread-and-butter, he can never
be induced to mention it outright. He will, if you
choose, say anything and everything but bread-and-
butter. He will consent to hint at buckwheat cake.
He may even accommodate you so far as to insinuate
oatmeal porridge; but, if bread-and-butter be really
the matter intended, we never yet met the Orphicist
who could get out the three individual words " bread-
and-butter."

We have already said that Gregory the Seventh was
unhappily infected with the customary cant of the
day, the cant of the muddle-pates who dishonor a
profound and ennobling philosophy by styling them
selves transcendentalists. In fact, there are few highly

46



R. H. Home



sensitive or imaginative intellects for which the vor
tex of mysticism, in any shape, has not an almost
irresistible influence, on account of the shadowy con
fines which separate the unknown from the sublime.
Mr. Home, then, is, in some measure, infected. The
success of his previous works has led him to attempt,
zealously, the production of a poem which should be
worthy his high powers. We have no doubt that he
revolved carefully in mind a variety of august con
ceptions, and from these thoughtfully selected what
his judgment rather than what his impulses desig
nated as the noblest and the best. In a word, he has
weakly yielded his own poetic sentiment of the poetic ;
yielded it, in some degree, to the pertinacious opinion
and talk of a certain junto by which he is surrounded,
a junto of dreamers whose absolute intellect may,
perhaps, compare with his own very much after the
fashion of an ant-hill with the Andes. By this talk,
by its continuity rather than by any other quality it
possessed, he has been badgered into the attempt at
commingling the obstinate oils and waters of poetry
and of truth. He has been so far blinded as to
permit himself to imagine that a maudlin philosophy
(granting it to be worth enforcing) could be enforced
by poetic imagery, and illustrated by the jingling of
rhythm ; or, more unpardonably, he has been induced
to believe that a poem, whose single object is the
creation of beauty, the novel collocation of old forms

47



R. H. Home



of the beautiful and of the sublime, could be advanced
by the abstractions of a maudlin philosophy.

But the question is not even this. It is not whether
it be not possible to introduce didacticism, with effect,
into a poem, or possible to introduce poetical images
and measures, with effect, into a didactic essay. To
do either the one or the other would be merely to sur
mount a difficulty, would be simply a feat of literary
sleight of hand. But the true question is, whether
the author who shall attempt either feat will not be
laboring at a disadvantage, will not be guilty of a fruit
less and wasteful expenditure of energy. In minor
poetical efforts, we may not so imperatively demand an
adherence to the true poetical thesis. We permit tri
fling to some extent in a work which we consider a trifle
at best. Although we agree, for example, with Cole
ridge, that poetry and passion are discordant, yet we are
willing to permit Tennyson to bring, to the intense pas
sion which prompted his Locksley Hall, the aid of that
terseness and pungency which are derivable from
rhythm and from rhyme. The effect he produces, how
ever, is a purely passionate, and not, unless in detached
passages of this magnificent philippic, a properly poetic,
effect. His Oenone, on the other hand, exalts the
soul not into passion, but into a conception of pure
beauty, which in its elevation, its calm and intense
rapture, has in it a foreshadowing of the future and
spiritual life, and as far transcends earthly passion as

48



R. H. Home



the holy radiance of the sun does the glimmering and
feeble phosphorescence of the glowworm. His Morte
d f Arthur is in the same majestic vein. The Sensitive
Plant of Shelley is in the same sublime spirit. Nor,
if the passionate poems of Byron excite more intensely
a greater number of readers than either the Oenone
or the Sensitive Plant, does this indisputable fact prove
anything more than that the majority of mankind are
more susceptible of the impulses of passion than of
the impressions of beauty. Readers do exist, how
ever, and always will exist, who, to hearts of madden
ing fervor, unite, in perfection, the sentiment of the
beautiful, that divine sixth sense which is yet so
faintly understood; that sense which phrenology has
attempted to embody in its organ of ideality; that
sense which is the basis of all Cousin's dreams; that
sense which speaks of God through his purest, if not
his sole, attribute; which proves, and which alone
proves His existence.

To readers such as these, and only to such as these,
must be left the decision of what the true poesy is.
And these, with no hesitation, will decide that the
origin of poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder beauty
than earth supplies ; that poetry itself is the imperfect
effort to quench this immortal thirst by novel com
binations of beautiful forms (collections of forms),
physical or spiritual, and that this thirst when even
partially allayed, this sentiment when even feebly

VOL. VIII. 4.



R. H. Home



meeting response, produces emotion to which all other
human emotions are vapid and insignificant.

We shall now be fully understood. If, with Cole
ridge, who, however erring at times, was precisely
the mind fitted to decide a question such as this; if,
with him, we reject passion from the true, from the
pure poetry ; if we reject even passion ; if we discard as
feeble, as unworthy the high spirituality of the theme
(which has its origin in a sense of the Godhead) ; if
we dismiss even the nearly divine emotion of human
love, that emotion which, merely to name, causes the
pen to tremble, with how much greater reason shall
we dismiss all else ? And yet there are men who
would mingle with the august theme the merest
questions of expediency, the cant topics of the day,
the doggerel aesthetics of the time ; who would trammel
the soul in its flight to an ideal Helusion, by the
quirks and quibbles of chopped logic. There are men
who do this ; lately there are a set of men who make
a practice of doing this, and who defend it on the score
of the advancement of what they suppose to be truth.
Truth is, in its own essence, sublime, but her loftiest
sublimity, as derived from man's clouded and erratic
reason, is valueless, is pulseless, is utterly ineffective
when brought into comparison with the unerring sense
of which we speak; yet grant this truth to be all
which its seekers and worshippers pretend, they forget
that it is not truth per se, which is made their thesis,



R. H. Home



but an argumentation, often maudlin and pedantic,
always shallow and unsatisfactory (as from the mere
inadaptation of the vehicle it must be), by which this
truth, in casual and indeterminate glimpses, is, or is
not, rendered manifest.

We have said that, in minor poetical efforts, we
may tolerate some deflection from the true poetical
thesis; but when a man of the highest powers sets
himself seriously to the task of constructing what
shall be most worthy of those powers, we expect
that he shall so choose his theme as to render it cer
tain that he labor not at disadvantage. We regret
to see any trivial or partial imperfection of detail;
but we grieve deeply when we detect any radical error
of conception.

In setting about Orion, Mr. Home proposed to him
self (in accordance with the views of his junto) to
" elaborate a morality " ; he ostensibly proposed this
to himself; for, in the depths of his heart we know
that he wished all juntos and all moralities in Erebus.
In accordance with the notions of this set, however,
he felt a species of shamefacedness in not making
the enforcement of some certain dogmas or doctrines
(questionable or unquestionable) about progress the
obvious or apparent object of his poem. This shame
facedness is the cue to the concluding sentence of the
preface : " Meantime, the design of this poem of Orion
is far from being intended as a mere echo or reflection



R. H. Home



of the past, and is, in itself, and in other respects, a
novel experiment upon the mind of a nation." Mr.
Home conceived, in fact, that to compose a poem
merely for that poem's sake, and to acknowledge such
to be his purpose, would be to subject himself to the
charge of imbecility, of triviality, of deficiency in
the true dignity and force ; but had he listened to the
dictates of his own soul, he could not have failed to
perceive at once that under the sun there exists no
work more intrinsically noble than this very poem
written solely for the poem's sake.

But let us regard Of ion as it is. It has an under and
an upper current of meaning; in other words, it is an
allegory. But the poet's sense of fitness (which, under
no circumstances of mere conventional opinion could
be more than half subdued) has so far softened this
allegory as to keep it, generally, well subject to the
ostensible narrative. The purport of the moral con
veyed is by no means clear, showing conclusively that
the heart of the poet was not with it. It vacillates.
At one time a certain set of opinions predominate, then
another. We may generalize the subject, however,
by calling it a homily against supineness or apathy
in the cause of human progress, and in favor of ener
getic action for the good of the race. This is precisely
the idea of the present school of canters. How feebly
the case is made out in the poem, how insufficient has
been all Mr. Home's poetical rhetoric in convincing

52



R. H. Home



even himself, may be gleaned from the unusual bom
bast, rigmarole, and mystification of the concluding
paragraph, in which he has thought it necessary to say
something very profound, by way of putting the sting
to his epigram, the point to his moral. The words
put us much in mind of the " nonsense verses " of
Du Bartas.

And thus, in the end, each soul may to itself,
With truth before it as its polar guide,
Become both Time and Nature, whose fixt paths
Are spiral, and when lost will find new stars,
And in the universal Movement join:

The upper current of the theme is based upon the
various Greek fables about Orion. The author, in
his brief preface, speaks about " writing from an old
Greek fable," but his story is, more properly, a very
judicious selection and modification of a great variety
of Greek and Roman fables concerning Orion and other
personages with whom these fables bring Orion in
collision. And here we have only to object that the
really magnificent abilities of Mr. Home might have
been better employed in an entirely original concep
tion. The story he tells is beautiful indeed, and nil
tetigit, certainly, quod non ornavit / but our memories,
our classic recollections are continually at war with
his claims to regard, and we too often find ourselves
rather speculating upon what he might have done
than admiring what he has really accomplished.

S3



R. H. Home



The narrative, as our poet has arranged it, runs


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Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 3 of 23)