Joseph Lyon Miller.

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Vivian Grey is a flippant, trashy performance, on the whole,
though exhibiting occasional traces of wit and satire, indica-
tive of natural powers in the author, that might have been
better directed. It is, however, an unfinished tale. ^^ The
Young Duke," though more fortunate in this respect, is in
others in no wise superior to its elder brother. Its author
somewhere on the title-page is pleased to announce it as a
moral work. We should h& well pleased to have his defini-
tion of moral. He surely cannot understand it in that sense,
in which it is employed in conjunction with religious^ as form-
ing what a lawyer would term part and parcel of the same
character, — that sense in which by some, we fear, it is used
as a substitute for, and as equivalent to, religiotu. No ; it
certainly must be, that he uses it in the sense of its classical
derivation, as merely meaning that which relates to fiumnerf,
good, bad, or indifferent, as the case may be ; the same
sense in which we charitably suppose that Marmontel appli-
ed it to his celebrated " Tales," with such an obvious con-
tradiction to its first mentioned and now established English
meaning, that some one proposed that an im should be placed
before the word in the list of errata.

In this sense "The Young Duke" may be amoraltHe^
but the manners which it exhibits, and into the imitation of
which the work as far as it has power is likely to lead, are
those of vice and prodigality, not the less deserving of repro-
bation because associated with gayety, splendor, and fashion.

In the style of the work, though sometimes spirited, there
is a superabundance of affectation, pertness, and forced and
flashy attempts at wit and humor.

" jEugene ilram." This work m truth we have not read.

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1609.] LU^uty #/ SOed NohU. 461

Witb tb6 real histoij of Eiagend wt are aequalnt^d, a« Well
as with bis oated trial and defence ; and the ttcquaintfltfoe \^
any thing but favorable to his being made the hero of a work
of fiction intended for promiscuous circulation amdtig the
icnorant, the susceptible^ and the imaginative. Besides,
the book is from the^pen of the author of '^ Pelbam/' of
" Devereux," and of " Paul Clifford,'* works, of which the
tendency is, to bring into repute, if possible, folly add vice,
and even crime, — works from the perusal of whioh w^ arose
with much the same feeling as we have escaped from low,
disreputable, and impure company, into which we had un-
williiigly been brought by accidental circumstances, — with
a sense of contamination, a feeling as if our mind had been
soiled by the contact of the grossness and vice atxHind usi.
This, too, is but the first reprint of the work in this country i
and allowing it to be different from its brethren and better
than they, still its reputation has not yet been settled by
the voice of the public, and it therefore ought not yet to find
a place in such a collection.

This last reason is also applicable to ** The Smugglers ''
and to ^' Philip Augustus," the former said to be the work of
a Mr. Banim, the author of several Irish tales, and the lattef
by the author of ^' De L'Orme," whose name we do not
recollect ever to have heard. Banim is a Writer of some
graphic power, though of no extraordinary kind ; and the
scenes ot bis stories, amid the tumults, party feuds, and in*'
aurrections of Ireland, though they may be true enough in
tbeir resemblance to tbe reality, yet embrace much that vA
not particularly gratifying to the reader, and to which the
mind returns with neither pleasure nor profit.

Tbe author of " De L'Orroe '* is a writer of a more pleasing
oast, and more fortunate in the selection of his topics, and,
as we tbink, in his manner of handling them ; yet we cannot
but cbobt bis claims to be thus singled out from among a
Borober of writers, who may serve to amuse the weary mind
in its boiirs of relaxation ; at least a longer time should be
albwed to pass over bis work, and the sanction of tbe public
should be more unequivocally expressed on its merits, than
in tbe mere pufi of a newspaper, the value of \thich is very

*^ Tbe Dutchman's Fireside " also makes its appearance
in th0 nambirr. This toa is « neiw work, and on Ibe whole,

VOL. I. NO. VI. 59

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4fii Library of Select Nawels. [Jane,

a tolerably pleasing one, though of no great pretensions,
especially to such a place. Of the reprints of older works,
we notice ^'^Anastasius," " Evelina/' ** Caleb Williams,"
and "De Vere.''

The reputation of ^^ Anastasius " is high, and though it is
not in all respects a work pleasing to our particular taste, yet
we should not refuse it a place in the " Library." " Eve-
lina," if our recollection serves us aright, is a well written
work, and a good specimen of its class. To '< De Vere " we
should willingly grant admission.

'^ Caleb Williams " and most of Godwin's writings, unless
'it he '' Cloudesly" (the last), have created considerable sen*
sation in the world of letters, and still preserve a sort of
reputation which has occasioned the present selection, though
it does not seem fortunate. In truth, we have never been
much disposed to admire Godwin's novels. There is, in-
deed, in them much of power and energy, but there is too
much concentration of it upon some particular trait of char-
acter, generally not pleasing, so that the delineation gives to
the pnncipal personage the appearance of laboring under
some infirmity of intellect, some strong delusion of mind,
that has an induence upon his whole being and actions to
such a degree, as to constitute him an insane person, a fnono"
maniac according to French classification. The company of
such a person in real life cannot be pleasing to any one, and
in the artificial life of fiction must be in the same manner
disagreeable in proportion to the fidelity of- the delineation.
We may admire the skill and power of expression that be-
long to the author, but the character leaves a painful im-
pression upon the mind. We have fancied, too, that in these
works we have noticed a tendency to the doctrine of Fatal-
ism ; this would constitute a serious objection to them. For
such reasons we have no wish that the duration of them
should be prolonged ; to be forgotten, if it were possible,
would be the best fate that can fall to the author of '' Politi-
cal Justice " ; yet if one of his works were to be taken as a
representative of the number, our recollections of them woidd
make us prefer ^< St. Leon." .| -

We do not now recollect the other works entering into the
composition of this ^^ Library," as far as published, hut trust
that enough has been said to substantiate our general opin-
ion as first expressed. The whole amounts merely to an

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less.] Wirfs BritUh Spy. 468

attempt to put upon tbe public, under the name of ieUci\
anj thing that novelty or any kind of attraction may render
likely to command a profitable sale ; and those who wish for
a good selection from this species of literature, would do
more wisely to make it for themselves, or under the guid-
ance of some judicious literary friend, than to take upon trust
the Messrs. Harper's selection.

A Library of Novels might be made, which would be
worth possessing ; but it requires no small taste to select
from the multitude of these productions, which the last and
the present age has sent forth, those which are really deserv-
ing of the distinction ; and we should wish to have the re-
sponsibility of some name favorably known in taste and
letters as a warrant for the goodness of the choice, ere we
should be willing to trust to it.

Art. V. — Th^ Letters of the British Spy. By William
Wirt, Es^. Tenth Edition, revised and corrected.
To which is prefixed a Biographical Sketch of the Au-
thor. New York. J. & J. Harper. 1832. 12mo.
pp. 260.

It is not incumbent upon us to say much of the reprint of
a popular work, which has been long before the public ; of
ODe which, like that of '^ The British Spy," has reached a
tenth edition in less than thirty years from its first appearance.
We should not feel bound to do it in this case, if it were not
for the " Biographical Sketch " with which the work is intro-
duced, and which forms a large portion of the volume.

Whether the biography of living men, who fill an import-
ant place in society, ought to be brought before the public,
is at least very questionable. Its propriety may well be
doubted, both as a matter of good taste and of good ten-
dency. What mankind are most curious to know concerning
those who have reached an eminent rank, is that which
oftentimes it is unbecoming to relate. Tbe forming period
of life, frequently a period of great indiscretion, folly, or per-
verseness, we are always curious to become acquainted with,
that we may learn the tendencies of character, the reaohings
of intellect, the disturbing influences of the passions, and all
the seal, restlessness, conflicts, victories, and defeats incident

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4m mre^ Btum Sn- [iwe,

t^ youtbt This dm ia most oiisei be toM miy in % mj
imperfect naanner, though it is no less instructive than inter*'
esting, if faithfully narrated. Then, again, in manhood and
ladvancing yenrs many things occur in the lives of distin*
gviished men which are of doubtful interpretation, and which
^re regarded as good or ill according either to the prejudices
of those who think themselves oompeteot to form a judg«
ment, qr to the amount of evidence upon which such a judg-
fn^nt is founded, There are other objections to the biogra*
phy of living men, among which we place the following, in
the words pf th^ author of the ^^ Biographical Sketch " of
Mr. Wirt

^' Biography has a delicate office while her subjects are yet
living, as she may be accased of flattery on the one hand, and,
on the other, may be thought to misplace and mistime the iuk*
partial censure, which she, no less than History, owes to truth,
when, like the Egyptian tribunal, she sits in judgment on the
dead. With regard to the subject himself, the mind most coo-
acious of integrity, and the most happy in deserved success,
may naturally shrink from that scrupulous analysis which is
necessary to a full delineation of it. It is as naturally averse
to the relation of many things, trivial in themselves, but char-
acteristic, and which, on that account, are eagerly sought when
the actors are no more, though till then they may fail to excite
euvfosity or interest in the public. Contemporary actors have
their sensibilities also ; a consideration which, in tracing the
competitions and conflicts through which an individual has
wrought hi9 way to honor and influence, may require many
^ketches to be withheld, much of the coloring softened, and
much of what may be called the material action suppressed*"
pp. 9, 10.

The objections here set forth, in-addition to those which vre
have made and others which mi^ht be mentioned, are valid
objections, though they are as bttle applicable, perhaps, to
the instance before us, as they well can be to any prominent
public man. Yet this, perhaps, is no reason for making an
exoeption in favor of an individual. There still adheres to
the work the evil of precedent, of contributing something to
fashion, which pervades every thing,— «* a fashion, which, in
the case under consideration, we should be very 9wxy to
find prevalent. No doubt it is an agreeable thii% to distior
guisbed men to find their great and good deeds well sp<dcen
pf^ whether profewonai Qr patciotio. Bui tber^ are^ various

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188S0 Wirfi Brituh Spy. 4M

w«f f of doiog ibis ivitbout the set purpoee c^ fonnal deline«r
tioos of character, filled up with particular and chronological
details, and touching upon subjects and controversies which
have little to do with the literary and moral worth of the
aubject of them.

Such were some of our thoughts on this subject before we
read the '* Biographical Sketch " of the author of '< The Brit-
ish Spy/' which is very creditable to the writer, and very
just to Mr. Wirt, who, we have no doubt, would be one of
the last men to invite exaggerated praise. But there are
always men before the public who have an appetite for eulo*

gr, which is not easily cloyed ; men who remind us of
icero, when he sued so earnestly for the promised history
of his consulship, of which he might enjoy the reading and
the circulation during his life, as an evidence of the estima*
tion in which he was held by the best of his countrymen.
He was desirous that Lucceius, the historian, should give an
account of the conspiracy, separate from the general history
of events, particularly in order to soothe bis impatience by
greater despatch, but not without a desire of appearing in
his full prominence as the eloquent, moral, patriotic hero,
in confounding Catiline and his minions. This he foresaw
would redound more to his glory, if it were singled out as a
subject by itself. But having, as be acknowledged, gone
beyond the boundaries of modesty, in the boldness of impor*
tunity he overleaps those of shame, beseeching bis friend, as
occasion might require, to sacrifice to afifection the supreme
law of history, by conceding to him something more than
truth would justify.* *< Most unworthy of your wisdom and
virtue, Marcus TuUius 1 " exclaims one of the commenta-
tors. '^ How forgetful have you become of that noble senti-
ment of yours, ^ True ^lory takes root and flourishes ; every
thing factitious is transitory, and like the tender flower soon
withers/ "

Such biographical sketches as that prefixed to the volume
before us would do much to disarm us of our prejudices
against historical accounts of the living. It contains a well
written relation of facts, connected and interspersed with
judicious remarks and speculations. Mr. Wirt was bom at
^ladensbui^, in Maryland, on the 8th of November, 1773.

* Cioeronis £pist. ad FamiliareSi lib. v. fipist 12.

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466 Wire$ BniUh Spy. [June,

When eight years of age he lost his mother, who was a Ger*
man, his father, a Swiss, having died some time before. But
according to the usual course of Providence the place of his
natural guardians was in a great measure supplied. He was
brought up under good moral and religious influences, and
such literary advantages as gave an impetus to his mind
which carried him forward in a successful course of study till
he was fifteen years of age, when the grammar school, at
which he excelled, was broken up, and by a seeming accident
he found a patron and friend to whom he ascribed much of
his improvement in that critical period of life. He was em-
ployed under the roof of Mr. Edwards as an instructor of his
son and nephews. Thus he was undergoing the best of all
discipline in bis classical studies, while he enjoyed the ben-
efit of a small library, and the counsels and encouragement
of a judicious and respected friend. After remaining in this
situation for less than two years, he passed the winter of
1789, 1790, in Georgia, returned in the following spring,
pursued the study of law, was admitted to practise in the
autumn of i7&2, ^^ removed to Culpeper Court-house, in
Virginia, and commenced his professional career there, being
at the time only twenty years of age." We cannot proceed
to trace the history of Mr. Wirt's progress in his profession,
of his domestic affiiirs, of the marks of public confidence he
has received, and of the public offices he has sustained, in
<' the Ancient Dominion " ; and of his still more public sta-
tion, as a distinguished functionary in the government of the
Union, it is needless for us to speak.

" The British Spy " was written in 1803. In the Ad-
vertisement to the present edition, the publishers say, that,
^^ having become possessed of a copy which has passed
through the hands of the author, they eagerly embrace an
opportunity of submitting a correct edition of that work to
the patronage of the public. These letters were originally
inserted in a daily journal [" The Virginia Argus "J, and
they appeared with all the imperfections to which such a
mode of publication is unavoidably liable. In the present
edition a variety of errors have been corrected." It is in
general, so far as we have noticed, correct ; but the publish-
ers did not probably find in the ^' copy which has passed
through the hands of the author," " Eucalian's flood," p.l90.

This work excited great attention when it first appeared in

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1882.] Wires British Spy. 467

1803, and none the less on account of its doubtful origin. It
was not long, however, before it was ascribed to its true au-
thor. The thin disguise which the " Letters " wore, pur-
porting to be written during a tour through the United States,
tind supposed to have been addressed to Sheridan, was soon
stript off, and our countrymen were quick to acknowledge
and claim the author as their own. Books of native origin
were then few, compared with the present proli6c period,
and a writer of such talents could not long he concealed even
if he wished to be unknown. These Letters are still in great
favor, though not faultless in their style. The fresh descrip-
tions of local scenery are not impaired by time ; the delinea-
tions of character, drawn by a faithful hand, and proceeding
from a keen observer, have become even more interesting,
since they have ceased to be the portraits of living men ; the
philosophical speculations are entitled to the same respect as
they were thirty years ago; and the pure moral and re-
ligious spirit which breathes through the whole is such as we
like to recur to, and identify with the youth as well as ad-
yancement of one who now fills so large a space in public
estimation. It would be out of place to give an analysis of
this work, as if it appeared for the first time ; but there are
one or two passages to which we may recur, as of somewhat
peculiar interest at the present period. The fourth Letter
was occasioned by a visit to *^ the site of the Indian town
Powhatan, the metropolis of the dominions of Pocahuntas's
fether"; and the author's descriptions of the relation be-
tween the whites and Indians, and his reflections upon it,
are couched in a strain of noble eloquence dictated, we verily
believe, by genuine emotion.

'* The people, here, affect to wonder that the Indians are so
very unsusceptible of civilization ; or, in other words, that they
so obstinately refuse to adopt the manners of the white men.
Go, Virginians ; erase, from the Indian nation, the tradition of
their wrongs ; make them forget, if you can, that once this
charming country was theirs ; that over these fields and through
these forests their beloved forefathers, once, in careless gayety,
pursued their sports and hunted their game ; that every return-
ing da^ found them the sole, the peaceful, the happy proprie-
tors of this extensive and beautiful domain. Make them forget,
too, if you can, that in the midst of all this innocence, simpli-
^ty, and blias— the white man came j and lo 1 — the animated

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468 mti'B Brttith Spy. [Jood,

chase, the feai^, the danee, the song of fearless, thoHgbtlese
joy were over ; that ever since, they have been made to drink
of the bitter cup of humiliation ; treated like dogs ; their lives,
their liberties, the sport of the white men ; their country and
the graves of their fathers torn from them, in cruel succession:
until, driven from river to river, from forest to forest, and
through a period of two hundred years, rolled back^ nation
upon nation, they find themselves fugitives, vagrants, and stran-
gers in their own country, and look forward to the certain
period when their descendants will be totally extinguished by
wars, driven at the point of the bayonet into the western ocean,
or reduced to a fate still more deplorable and horrid, the con-
dition of slaves. Go, administer the cup of oblivion to recoK
lections and anticipations like these, and then you will cease
to complain that the Indian refuses to be civilized. But untH
then, surely it is nothing wonderful that a nation, even yet
bleeding afresh from the memory of ancient wrongs, perpetu^
ally agonized by new outrages, and goaded into desperation
and madness at the prospect of the certain ruin which awaits
their descendants, should hate the authors of their miseries, of
their desolation, their destruction ; should hate their manners,
hate their color, their language, their name, and every thing
that belongs to them. No : never, until time shall wear out
the history of their sorrows and their sulBTerings, will the Indian
be brought to love the white man, and to imitate his man^


" Were I a president of the United States, I would glory in
going to the Indians, throwing myself on my knees before them,
and saying to them, ' Indians, friends, brothers, O ! forgive
my countrymen ! Deeply have our forefathers wronged you ;
and they have forced us to continue the wrong. Reflect, broth-
ers ; it was not our fault that we were born in your country ;
but now we have no other home ; we have no where else to rest
our feet. Will you not, then, permit us to remain 1 Can you
not forgive even us, innocent as we are ? If you can, 1 come
to our bosoms ; be, indeed, oar brothers ; and since there is
room enough for us all, give us a home in your land, and let os
be children of the same affectionate family.' I believe that a
magnanimity of sentiment like this, followed up by a corre-
spondent greatness of conduct on the part of the people of the
United States, would go further to bury the tomahawk and
produce a fraternization with the Indians, than all the presents,
treaties, and missionaries that can be employed ; dashed and
defeated as these latter means always are, by a claim of rights
on tke paf t of the white people whieb the Indian* know to be

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ISaS.] H^moirs of Oberlm. 469

iklse and baseless. Let me not be told that the Indians are
too dark and fierce to be affected by generous and noble senti-
ments. I will not belie?e it. Magnanimity can never be lost
on a nation which has produced an Alknomok, a Logan, and a
Pocahuntas." pp. 164 - 168.

His descriptions of persons (of their mental qualities) are
in general remarkably discriminating. That of the late Presi-
dent Monroe, with whom he was intimately acquainted,
comes, as far as we are competent to judge, very near the
truth. It must have seemed to mauy, in 1803, to have indi-
cated no small degree of boldness in the prophetic spirit of
the author, to predict that the then Governor of Virginia
might become President of the United States. " It would
be matter of no surprise to me," he says, " if before his
death, the world should see him at the head of the American

Since we have hinted at prophetical gifts, we cannot for*
bear adverting to a prediction less definite, indeed, than that
noticed above, but not without meaning, contained in a jour-
nal, with the recollection of which are associated some of our
fondest remembrances of the past : ** From this specimen of
the talents of the British Spy, we form high expectations of
the author." *

Abt. VI. — Memoirs of John Frederic Oberlik, Pastor
of Waldbach, in the Ban dela Roche. From the Third
London Edition. With an Introduction by the American
Editor. Cambridge. 1832. H'dliard & Brown. IGmo.
pp. 301.

It is true, we believe, that plain matters of fact may fire-
quently afiford more interesting and impressive exhibitions of
character, than the best tales of fiction with all their advan-
tages of romantic narrative and skilful combinations of events.
The delightful story of the pastor of Waldbach in the Ban de
la Roche furnishes a very happy illustration of this truth. It
makes a book, which must be a favorite with every one who
has the true love of moral beauty. It is a story of entire
and hearty devotedness to the godlike work of doing good ;

* Monthly Anthology. VoLLp.5ia— An. laOi

TOL. I. NO. TI. 60

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470 . Manoin of Oberli$u [Juna,

and we thiDk a man has just cause to suspect himself of some
wrong bias, if be can read it without experiencing that affect-
ing and refreshing influence, which is breathed over the soul
by the example of unostentatious, persevering, and energetio
usefulness. Chaucer's admired description of the Good
Parson^ '^rich in holy thought and work," is here fioelj

John Frederic Oberlin was certainly an extraordinary

Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 48 of 54)