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self-denial of a sound literary consdence. The
author impresses us, as we read, like one who
drives a mettled steed with a firm hand, checking
all paces which might display a greater grace or
swiftness, and careful lest any slower creature be
injured on his way. Even where we partly dissent
from his estimates, as in the cases of Buchanan and



Morris, the intention of fairness is so evident that,
contrasting it with the tone of those critics who
seem afraid to praise lest praise should implj aooie
possible inferiority in themselves, we are easily
reconciled to his generosity. The feeling of die
poet expresses itsdf only in his iq>preciation of
good qualities ; for offenses, he applies a calm, sci-
entific treatment, which so carries with it its owm
justification that the subject may feel, but cannot
resent or retaliate.

Mr. Stedman's style, clear, compact and vigofons,
is adjusted by a true artistic sense to his largie oit-
ical method. It is purposely less brilliant, in ekfaer
a rhetorical or an imaginative character, than be
might easily have made it Even so admirable a
genius and so ripe a scholar as Mr. Lowell cannal
always resist the temptation of accepting those fine
suggestions which rather sparkle over the sart^e
of a theme than inevitably bdong to it^ — diazmiag
the reader, indeed, but leading him a little aade
from the direct line of thought That style secsks
to us best which displays the subject in the dearest
possible light, without calling special attention to
itself; for it conceals the introversion of even tbe
most spontaneous, self-forgetting author, whom yet
we remember with double gratitude at tbe end of
his task. In no respect, let us here remark, banre
many of the present generation of authors made a
greater mistake, than in assuming that individnafity
in style is the result of oonsdous eflbrt

The qualities whidi Mr. Stedman has ^l^iHtnJ
in his " Victorian Poets " ought not to be rare ; bnt
they are so, in our day. For the past twenty jears,
the bulk of that which has been offered to tbe pab»
lie as literary criticism in England and Amenoa—
with the exception of three or four distingmsbed
names in either country — may readily be
under these three heads : First, the lofty, i
izing tone, as of those who always assume their 1
infinite superiority to the authors whom they «
to notice ; secondly, the mechanical treatment of a
class whidi possesses culture without vital, creadve
power, and thus discourages through its lack id
genuine sympathy with aspiration ; and lastlj, tbe
« gushing," impressible souls, to whcnn everything
new and unexpected seems equally great Tbcfe
has probably been no time, in the whole coarse of
the intellectual development of our race, when dear,
healthy, liberal canons of judgment were mote
needed by the reading public Mr. Stedman has
slightly touched upon this point in regard to tbe
singular vagaries of English taste, in its estintate of
American authors. It was not within the scope of
his work to do more than notice such a
enon ; and we suspect that his own quiet <
will accomplish much more in the way of a
to the true, undiangeable ideals, than any 1
of polemical writing.

We have preferred to dwell upon the spiril wbicb
informs the volume, rather than upon tbe s ep aiate
divisions of its theme, since many of the latter are
already known to the readers of this roagarine. Bat
we may add, that the essays upon Tennjrso^ te
Brownings, Arnold, and Surinbarne, are snrc^ smr



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complete, impartial, and discriminative, than any
English critic of our time would be likely to write.
The breadth of the Atlantic may not be equivalent
to posterity, but it certainly removes a writer from
the atmosphere in which a thousand present and
personal interests float, and are breathed as invisible
spores. The references to American literature are
perhaps as frequent and significant as Mr. Sted-
man's plan allowed ; yet, in view of an action and
reaction which are not yet balanced as they ought
to be, we should be glad if the contrast which is
merely hinted had been further developed. When
Mr. Stedman says : ** After a dose examination of the
minor poets of Britain, during the last fifteen years, I
have formed, most unexpectedly, the belief that an
antHology could be culled from the miscellaneous
poetry of the United StsUes, equally lasting and
attractive with any selected from that of Great
Britain ; " and adds, shortly afterward : " I believe
that the day is not fiir distant when the fine and
sensitive lyrical feeling of America will swell into
floods of creative song," — we are tempted to regret
his enforced omission of the links which connect the
literary development of the two countries.

The leading poets of the Victorian era are treated
at satisfactory length, and, in spite of the author's
semi-apology, with even less of technical criticism
than would be justified by the special qualities
whidi separate them from their predecessors.
They are not, however, allowed to stand isolated in
their time; they are attached to the past and the
probable fixture, and their art is not removed firom
its place in the total development of the race. This
breadth of view is the secret of Mr. Stedman's
impartiality. In the tingle instance where we have
discovered a bit of exaggeration (page 15) : <* The
truth is, that our schoolgirls and spinsters wander
down the lane with Darwin, Huxley and Spencer
under their arms ; or, if they carry Tennyson, Long-
fellow and Morris, read them in the light of spec-
trum analysis, or test them by the economics of
Mill and Bain," — the frutlt unconsciously corrects
itself, four pages later, where the author says : <* In
the earlier periods, when poets composed empir-
ically, the rarest minds welcomed and honored their
productions in the same spirit But now, if they
work in this way, as many still are fiun, it must be
for the tender heart of women or the delight of
youth, since the fitter audience of thinkers, the most
elevated and eager spirits, no longer find sustenance
in such empty magician's food." We think, also,
that Mr. Stedman somewhat overesthnates the
power of recent scientific development to benvmb
the activity of the aesthetic element in man. Mr.
Huxley's shallow impertinence in regard to poetry
has not yet, so frtr as we know, found an echo;
and it is not likely that a taste inherent in the
nature of man, and inseparate frx>m his progress,
can be even temporarily discouraged. The extent
to which imaginative art depends upon, or is modi-
fied by, the (acts or speculations of science, is still
an unsettled question ; even Goethe, in whom both
elements existed, found it safest to hold them so
widely apart — at least, during his best productive



period — that there was rarely an inter-reflection.
Meanwhile, we heartily agree with Mr. Stedman
that the result, in spite of all transitional struggles,
will be " a fr^sh inspiration, expressing itself in new
symbols, new imagery and beauty, suggested by the
fuUer truth."

Mr. Stedman's views in regard to the intellectual
characteristics of our day, and the signs of a coming
reaction imoi the present extreme of technical
refinement, are both new and striking, and deserve
a careful consideration. Some of these views may
have been presented before, but only as scattered
hints or speculations ; no previous writer has given
a clear, compact, and intelligent survey of the whole
field. Each single figure is thus projected against
the same broad background, and casts a shadow,
more or less distinct, beyond its present achieve-
ment This feature distinguishes the "Victorian
Poets " fix>m all other essays in contemporary crit-
icism, and places its author in the foremost rank
of writers, beside Mr. Lowell and Mr. Matthew
Arnold. If he lacks the humor and dazzling afflu-
ence of illustration of the former, or the exquisitely
molded style of the latter, he possesses qualities of
equal value in the serene, judicial temper of his
intellect, and the conscientious severity which ena-
bles an author to subordinate himself to his theme.

AnderMn'a ** NotM Mythology." *

We should like Prof. Anderson's Mythology bet-
ter, had he contented himself with telling his tales
of the old Norse gods and heroes, and assumed a
less aggressive attitude toward the civilizations of
Rome and Greece, which, indeed, he understands
less thoroughly, and of which he is therefore a very
unsafe interpreter. The M3rthology of the Norse-
men, as the most complete expression of the Gothic
mind and genius, is *' its own excuse for being,"
and has no need of conquering its ground in the
interest of modem readers from any previously
existing system of mjrths and legends. To be
constantly drawing disparaging parallels between
Gothic and Roman gods, and to exalt the former at
the expense of the latter, is about as rational as to
quarrel with the cypress or the m3rrtle because it is'
not a pine. They can well aflbid to grow peace-
fully side by side in the all-embracing, cosmopolitan
atmosphere of our modem culture, and their intrin-
sic differences will add to the scientific and ethno-
logical value of each, rather than detract from it.

Prof. Anderson is himself a sturdy Goth,* and, in
the blind, warlike ardor with which he attacks <' the
fratricide Romulus " and all his rapacious race, fur-
nishes, perhaps unconsciously, an illustration of
the inbom limitations of the Gothic mind, as well as
of its indomitable strength, energy, and other char-
acteristic virtues. His inability to comprehend that



* None Mytholoffv : or. The Rdinon Qi Our Fore&thcis.
Containing aU the Myths of the Eddas. Systematized and
Intapt«ted, with an Introductiao, VoaU>ulary, and Index. By
R. El. Anderson,^ A. M., Professor of the Soindinavian Lan*
guarei at tfie University of Wisconsin. Author of " America
not Discovered by Columbus," " Den Norske Maakag,*' etc
Chicago: S. C Griggs & Co. London: Triiboer & Co.



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293



CULTURE AND PROGRESS.



serenely joyous spirit which animated antique
paganism, is strikingly exemplified where, for
instance, he undertakes to discuss from a Gothic
point of view the objections to the nude art of the
Greeks.

«* We Goths," he says, ** are, and have for ages
been a chaste race. We abhor the loathsome nudity
of Greek art We do not want nude figures, — at
least, not unless they embody some very sublime
thought"

But it is the very sublimity of ancient art which
constitutes its first claim to our attention ; for the
human form has a grandetir of its own, quite apart
fipm the changeful beauty with whidi the animating
spirit may invest it, and it is this simple perfection
and majesty of physical manhood and womanhood
which the Greeks have embodied in their sculptured
gods and heroes. To judge these, then, according
to our modem standard of morality, is about as
absurd as it would be to blame the Athenians be-
cause they did not wear trowsers and fur-brimmed
caps of Northern pattern. How much of the well-
draped chastity of the Scandinavian gods may be
due to climatic influences, is a question which we
do not propose to discuss here, but which we sub-
mit to the author's consideration.

It may, perhaps, be unfair to censure a man like
Prof. Anderson, — who has undertaken an impor-
tant work, and whose love for his subject is visible
in every line he writes, — ^because he has allowed
his enthusiasm to carry him somewhat further than
a cool-headed reader can comfortably follow him.
It is this very enthusiasm to which we owe the
book, which fills it like an invigorating, all-per-
vading atmosphere. In itself, enthusiasm is a most
delightful literary quality, and, even with the disad-
vantages which, in the present case, it entails, we
should be sorry to say anjrthing to dampen or sup-
press it Nevertheless, we cannot rid ourselves of
the impression that the author, prompted by his
laudable zeal, has claimed too much for his beloved
Norse Mythology. It would in no way have detract-
ed from its value, if, for instance, he had refrained
from stating that the Odinic myths are entirely
pure, and that there is no single incident to be found
in them which could shock the sense of propriety
of refined readers. Two or three incidents occur
to us which would effectually contradict this broad
assertion.

In justice to the author, it must be added that the
criticisms we have so far made, only apply to the
first 115 pages of his book. As soon as he enters
upon his specific task of recounting the exploits of
the gods, his aggressive tone changes into one of
fresh and spirited narration, and he seldom fails to
fulfill the requirements of the most exacting critic
He is thoroughly versed in the Norse Saga litera-
ture, as well as in the writings of Munch, Keyser,
Vigfiisson, and all the modem authorities on Norse
subjects, and he selects judiciously his proofs and
quotations from the vast abundance of material
which the researches of his Norwegian, Icelandic,
and German predecessors have supplied. The im-
portance of this labor can hardly be overestimated;



for a complete Northem Mythology has, to our
knowledge, never before been published in the Eng-
lish language, a circumstance which must always
remain a matter of wonder, when we consider the
nearness of our kinship to those Norse marauders,
who, after the Danish and the Norman invasion,
mingled their blood with that of Anglo-Saxon
England. English and French travelers, like Beam-
ish and Xavier Marmier, few of whom have been
scholars, have, from time to time, published hasty
and superficial compilations of Northem myths and
history ; and William and Mary Howitt have, with
their usual dilettanteism, concocted their miscella-
neous knowledge, gathered from desultory reading
of Northem authors, into a two- volume book, which
has the sole merit of being written with a good
intention, but is equally innocent of scholarship and
literary excellence. Of course. Prof. Anderson's
work is incomparably superior to the already exist-
ing books of this order, and supplies, as the sa3ang
is, an unexpressed, but nevertheless long-felt need.
His analysis of the myths of the elder and younger
Eddas is clear and comprehensible, and quite on a
level with the similar researches of the latest inter-
preters. He has certainly an enviable advantage in
being a successor instead of a predecessor of the
eminent Sophus Bugge, whose keen, critical sagacity
has opened a broad pathway for the daylight to break
in upon the dim chaotic wonder- world which has long
lain slumbering under the misty similes and meta-
phors of the Eddas ; but Prof. Anderson is himself
ever ready to recognize this advantage, and gives
due credit to Bugge whenever he has occasion to
quote him, or to profit by his scholarly insight

We have said that the principal charm of this
remarkable book consists in a certain hot-headed
zeal and eamestness, an invincible Hterary prowess
which brooks no delay and carries all hinderances
before it It is a book of thoroughly masculine
fiber, and as much of a Saga as we could possibly
hope for in these unepic and hypercritical times.
The chapters on die Eddaic Cosmogony, and on
" Norse Mythology as Material for tfaeUse of Poets,
Painters, and Sculptors," are fine specimens of vivid
and entertaining narration, while showing with equal
force the blind suxlor of the author's partisanship.
To our mind, it involves a great error to suppose
that any really strong and healthy art can blossom
out from a mythology which is no longer an organic
part of any nation's consciousness^ — ^which, except
for its historical and ethnological value, is and must
be irrevocably dead.

The incorporation of Greek myths into our poetic
literature was no mere artifice bf poets in want of
material for their song, but the inevitable result
of four centuries absorbed in humanistic studies.
Modem Germanic and Anglo-Saxon culture stands
no longer on a national basis, although we fully
agree with Prof. Anderson that it is very desirable
that it should; but Ae plan he proposes — Aat
poets, painters, and sculptors should substitute
Gothic for Greek myths— would show on the very
face of it, its artificial character, and accordingly fieul
to accomi^sh any lasting good. A poet is not a



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CULTURE AND PROGRESS.



293



reformer and the instructor of his age; he merely
utters in mdodions words the voiceless sensation
which trembles through the nation's nerves. He
must therefore choose his similes, his meter,
and, in fact, the whole material of his song from
that life which is, at least, sufficiently familiar
to appeal to his reader's heart, and (b awaken a
responsive vibration in his bosom. No one who
has watched the progress of modem lyrical song
(and all our modem poetry is in the deepest sense
l3rrical) can have failed to notice the gradual disap-
pearance of the mythical element ; and we should
do misdiief instead of good if we were to interfere
forcibly with this healthy development As long,
however, as enlightened readers derive their earliest
culture from classical sources, Jupiter and Venus
and Cupid will maintain their places in our song,
and no hasty attempt to dethrone them is likely
to succeed. As poetic symbols, they have a definite
meaning to the present generation, while Odin,
Freya, and Balder are now little more than sounds,
which it would take at least a century to domesti-
cate in our language.

Again, whether the heroes of the Northern
myths are adapted as subjects for plastic art, is a
subject worthy of serious consideration. That they
are eminently picturesque, and therefore excellent
themes for the painter, no one will question ; but that
serene repose, and that phjrsical equilibrium, whidi
are the primary conditions of sculpture, are almost
directly opposed to the spirit of the Gothic civili-
zation.

We hope that we have already eiqu-essed with
sufficient emphasis our appreciation of the great
amount of solid and valuable labor whidi is to be
found in the present volume ; and, if we have dwelt
upon what we conceived to be its deficiencies rather
than its ezcellenoes, we do not wish thereby to
indicate that the former predominate over the latter.
Prof^ Anderson, we understand, is yet a young man,
and has but recently made his dihut in literature.
Even his errors are of a warm-blooded, masculine
kind, and show a startling fertility of mind, which
will make them, in the e3res of the great majority of
readers, far preferable to cool and timid correctness.

Plagg'a ** Birds and Season* of New England.**

Onb of the most appreciative, unaffected, and, we
might say, "old-fashioned" writers upon natural
and rural themes that New England has produced is
Wilson Flagg, whose second book is now before
us (J. R. Osgood & Co.). Some hasty readers
mig^t be more than half disposed to add the epi-
thets slow and commonplace, but, on further exami-
nation, they would see that these words do not
apply. Trae, our author's pages are in a low key ;
and, if they are not uniformly fresh and graphic, on
the other hand, they have few of the current literary
vices of flippancy, smartness, and headiness ; while
there is throughout his book a sweet dignity, a bloom
of simple, unsophisticated manhood and a healthful
objectiveness, that are traly refreshing. Mr. Flagg
does not belong to the Thoreau school of writers



and observers of nature. Undoubtedly a little of
their alertness and penetration would heighten and
improve his flavor ; but then we have not to lament
in him their asceticisms, their intdlectual somer-
saults, and their interminable preaching. He is a
careful and loving observer of the birds and seasons,
and neither seeks in his discourses about them to
startle by the novelty of his focts or the antithesb
of his style. Indeed, he is quite old-fieishioned, as
we have intimated. Many of his dissertations upon
the beauties of Nature— upon flowers, morning, the
seasons, the songs of birds, etc., read not a little like
the pieces in the school Readers of thirty years ago ;
yet there is a quiet charm and truthfulness about
them that is undeniable. He reminds us of St
Pierre and White of Selborae, more than of any
modem author.

His book is a large one, containing nearly 500
pages, but the chapters are all short and on a great
variety of subjects. Some of his titles are most
suggestive, and set the fancy playing without further
words, as " Rocks," "Water Scenery," "The HaunU
of Flowers," " Picturesque Animak," "Old Roads,"
"Simples and Simplers," « The Music of Birds,"
"Angling," "Birds of the Garden and Orchard,"
" Birds of the Night," " Oouds," " Ruins," etc., etc.
In some of his essays, notably those upon the sea-
sons, March, April, May, etc, he does not get quite
as dose to his subject as we like; there are not
enough characteristic touches to keep up the inter-
est Indeed, to write upon the many phases of our
brilliant and many-colored year, and know what to
say and what to leave unsaid, is the most difficult
of tasks. Each month has its own physiognomy ;
and to bring that out in a few bold strokes, to
seize upon and disentangle the master forms and
impressions, is what Mr. Flagg has not done so
well as he has done certain other things. His July,
August, September, etc., pieces are a little vague and
ineffectual ; but his chapters upon " The Field and
Garden," "Simjdes and Simplers," "The Flight of
the Wood-Nymphs," "Old Houses," "Old Roads,"
and kindred themes, are most excellent Especially
felicitous is that part of the first-named piece in
which he describes his visit to the garden of an old
lady who had invited him to see her flowers. With
the most thoughtful courtesy, and the most ready and
cheerful botany, he found something to praise even
in the weeds which the old lady apologized for, and
which her duties as housekeeper had left her no time
to keep down — the burdock, rag-weed, the gill, the
sandwort, the euphobia, etc— and pointed out so
many beauties of form and color in these interlopers
that his hostess felt prouder of her garden than
ever.

Mr. Flagg has been long known as a writer upon
our birds, and has done much to popularize the sci-
ence of ornithology in this country. He has some-
thing to say about nearly all our birds, with some
good-tempered allusions to the hair-splitting, or
rather feather-splitting of recent classifiers. Of the
Meadow- Lark he says : " This bird is no longer, as
formerly, a Lark. Originally an Alanda, he has
since been an Oriolus, an Icterus, a Cadcus, and a



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294



CULTURE AND PROGRESS,



Sturnus. He has shuffled off all his former iden-
tities, and is now a Stumella magna." Speaking
of the introduction into thb country of the English
House Sparrow, he finds consolation in the thought
that, " since our people are resolutely bent on the
destruction of our native birds, it may be fortunate
that there exists a foreign spedes of such a char-
acter that, like the white-weed and the witch-grass,
after being once introduced, they cannot by any
possible human efforts be extirpated. When all
our native species are gone, we may be happy to
hear the immusical chatter of the House Sparrow,
and gladly watch them and protect them, as we
should, if all the human race had perished but our
single self, welcome the society of orang-outangs."

In such passages our author shows more spright-
liness than is habitual with him.

The most valuable part of Mr. Flagg*s contribu-
tion to ornithology is in his treatment of the songs
of our conunon birds, and his success in transcrib-
ing them upon the gamut Evidently a musician
himself, he brings a skilled ear to the task of report-
ing the music of field and grove. Certain species
of songsters, he says, have a themes and the song of
every individual of that species is a fantasia con-
structed upon this theme. The Song-Sparrow and
Robin are good examples of this class. The Bobo-
link, on the other hand, has no theme. '* Birds,"
he says, '< do not dwell steadily upon one note at
any time. They are constantly sliding and quaver-
ing, and their songs are full of pointed notes."

Our author contents himself with the bird in the
bush, and uses neither gun nor glass. It is owing
to this fieict, we think, that he mistakes the Wood-
thrush for the Hermit-thrush. At least, the song
which he describes and then ascribes to the Hermit,



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 50 of 163)