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IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW .

No. XXII.—JUNE, 1856.

ART. 1.-SLICK'S HIGH LIFE IN NEW YORK. High Life in New York. By Jonathan Slick, Esq., of

Weathersfield, Coun. A Series of Letters to Mr. Zephariah Slick, Justice of the Peace, and Deacon of the Church, over to Weathersfield, in the State of Connecticut. New York : Bance and Brother, 1856.

THERE are two classes of readers from whom the work before us has but a small chance of welcome. Those, who, confiding in the strength of their mental digestion, prefer taking their utile" unmixed, and who hold in utter contempt, minds weak enough to relish the addition of the "dulce," probably consider, that Judge Haliburton has retrograded sadly in giving to the world a series of mere humorous sketches. According to their views, he for the first time, “really promised something great" in his English in America,* and no doubt had his present work been of a similar cast, instead of being so lamentably mirthful, they might have been inclined to forgive and forget in the sober political historian, the trivial varieties of Sam Slick. But, fortunately for Judge Haliburton, and indeed it may

be for society at large, the possessors of intellects so far exalted, are decidedly in the minority. The public appetite is in general pleased with variety, and evinces a repugnance to iatellectual dyspepsia, which must be very discouraging to those lofty-minded beings, who, forgetful of the days when James's Powder was rendered grateful to their juvenile palates, by the addition of raspberry jam, deny the utility of humour, as a vehicle for wholesome truth. The opposition of the class of enemies to humorous writing, is founded on the

See IRISH QUARTERLY Review, Vol. I. p. 523.
VOL. VI.-NO. XXII.

7

belief, that vulgarity and wit are synonymous, and that mirth is incompatible with "gentility.

gentility.” To all of this dreary creed, the very title, High Life in New York, is of course conclu. sive; it satisfies them at once hat the book must be

dreadfully low," and consequently it is returned unread to the highly genteel circulating library, with a request, that Mrs. Gore's latest novel, and the last work on Crotchet collars, may be sent op the moment they come in. There is one re. flection however which cannot fail to infuse comfort into the soul of Judge Haliburton, and cheer him in his banishment from the reading tables of these worthy people-Shakspere is undergoing a similar sentence in company with a distinguished circle of malefactors, convicted of Vulgarity at the bar of Ultra-Refinement. Against one or two of the more modern culprits, Dickens in particular, there is a second charge, to wit, that they did remove, crush, drive into obscurity, and totally eclipse, the Eau Sucrée School of novelists, whose works had for a long time formed an intellectual repast, both grateful and suitable to minds of delicate organization. In them were to be found no dull descriptions of every day life, in coarse every day language, no character was open to the objection Mr. Partridge brought against Garrick's acting.* No hero held a lower position in society than a Viscount, or at least an amiable cutthroat, who, to make up for the laxity of his murals, expressed himself like a Chesterfield, and had the manners of any polished gentleman, say, George the Fourth, and who, when it became a necessary to abduct the heroine (Lady De' &c. &c.) performed that duty with engaging suavity, and removed her to his private dungeon to be kept till called for in the third volume, when the hero had satisfactorily proved himself to be the son and heir of the Marquis. It is easy to understand that persons who admire this style, as emphatically the genteel, may feel a sublime contempt for works of fiction, in which the characters, many of them drawn from low life, are represented as speaking and acting just as people in their position might be expected to speak and act, and in which dialogues given in the dull monotony of the vernacular, and unrelieved by scraps

“ He the best actor,” cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer, “Why I could act as well as he myself; I am sure if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did." Tom Jones, Book 16. Chapter 5.

of French, Italian, or any foreign language, have often a tendency to produce laughter, and other external symptoms of enjoyment; but it is by no means easy to comprehend what are their notions of vulgarity, so gutta-percha-like in its own elasticity, and extensive in its application, does that word become, when used by them in reference to anything which is unfortunate enough not to meet their approbation * They seem to forget that vulgarity is a quality, not inherent, but altogether dependent on circumstances, and that words and phrases, which may be vulgar in some positions, are not necessarily always so. For instance, it would be undeniably vulgar for an author in describing the parting between Mr. William Styles, and John Noakes, to say, " they wet their whistles, and then bolted ;" but he might represent either of those gentlemen as using the same figurative expressions in his own account of the effecting event, without violating propriety, in any sense of the word, more than the author of Adela, or the Outlaw of Oxfordskire does, when he makes his heroine dismiss her lover, with the assurance that “poverty and contempt she could endure with him, but a father's anger, a parent's wrath she cannot, will not, &c.” Of course there are many expressions in use among the lower orders, which no circumstances could render fit to appear in print, but vulgarity is altogether too weak a word to express the offence of any man, who would so far forget his duty to society, as to introduce such as these into his writings. In short propriety, as well in representing naturally, as in avoiding what is of itself offensive, is perhaps the surest guide the Novelist can have. As long as he keeps this landmark in view, he will steer clear of vulgarity or coarseness, even though bis Styles's and Noakes's speak with all the idiomatic terseness of their class; unless indeed the objection be deemed a valid one, which those, whose refinement is of extra delicacy, have to the appearance on any terms whatever, of such characters in a picture of life; but as the prototypes are to be found in the original, it is probable that most persons will be content to join us in lamenting that at the outset, the organization of society was not entrusted to people, who would have no doubt, given us a world of ladies and gentlemen. As we have already stated ; it is to be feared that the title under which the subject of the present notice is published, will

Sir Walter Scott used to say,

“nothing is vulgar that is not vicious.'

be damnatory in the eyes of this class, that designates as vulgar everything outside the Drawing roon door; yet, if our recommendation have any weight, we would suggest a perusal however slight, if it were only for the purpose of correcting a mistake, to which the devotees of sublimated gen. tility, are of all people, most prone, namely, that the humour of our transatlantic cousins never shows itself in any other form than those facetious anecdotes usually charged upon American papers, of men so tall, that they are obliged to climb a ladder to comb their own hair, or of ghosts of such preternatural brightness as to rendersmoked glass indispensable io all who may wish to contemplate them. As to our utilit. arian friends, deference to their lofty, though prejudiced minds, renders it impossible for us to recommend a work of such levity as Judge Haliburton's, on any other grounds than that many of the sketches of domestic life contained in its pages, may add something to their stock of “useful knowledge" concerning Social America. It is true, that the tendency of humour is to place its object in a state of inferiority, so as to cause laughter, but it does not follow that the inferiority is necessarily such as to excite the feeling of contempt; to delineate harmless peculiarities and good-natured simplicity, is just as much the province of humour, as to expose the less amiable failings; no doubt the pleasure we derive from the consideration of the clearness of those two great parallels in fiction, My Uncle Toby, and Mr. Pickwick, arises in a great measure from a sort of self-congratulation, at being unencumbered with their excess of simple benevolence, but the mind that could DESPISE those worthy creatures, must be of a very unloving and unloveable cast; when humor takes this turn, the inferiority does not pervade the whole conception; it is then merely a lowering of one part to throw another into relief, as the wood engraver reduces the surface of the block, where the lines traced on it are meant to be subordinate. There would be nothing humorous in Uncle Toby's widely extended philanthropy and tenderness of heart, unaccompanied by his bashfulness and childlike enthusiasm about the art of war, or in the intense bonhomie of Mr. Pickwick, were it not for the little traits of credulity, pompous simplicity, and occasional quickness of temper which render that dear man such a delightful study. Nor is it essential that the part of the conception thus thrown into relief should be of an amiable

nature; our admiration for Falstaff, with all his wit and philosophy, is of a much less kindly description than that inspired by Uncle Toby, vet, in spite of his sensibility and cowardice, we are far from feeling contempt for him as we do for Dogberry. In fact this species of humour represents certain qualities in a ludicrous light, not so much thus to excite laughter, as to supply a foil for others, which would, of themselves, excite admiration rather than laughter; and hence arises that incongruity which forms the essence of the humorous. Of a far different nature is the incongruity which causes our enjoyment of humour, when it has for its object, the peculiarities of a nation, or class, of which we ourselves are not members, it then springs from our mentally contrasting the manners, habits, dialect, or whatever the immediate subject may be, with our own. But this is not all; there is nothing humorous in the idea of a party of Cannibal Islanders dining off a grilled enemy, although the contrast between such a repast and a European family dinner, is about as great as can be well conceived; there must be also a certain amount of that unusual combination of circumstances, incidents, or objects, which would render the representation humorous, ir respectively of its origin or locale, or in other words, what, speaking metaphysically, we might call an internal incongruity. The latter is of course just as perceptible to an individual of the particular class or nation, and our enjoyment of it proceeds from a feeling of temporary superiority to, or a sort of contempt for the object humorously treated. We may here remark, that this contempt is by no means identical with the feeling which our dictionaries, explain by the words “scorn;" certain words such as “pleasure," pain," " delight,” "congruity," acquire a conventional meaning in metaphysics, from being always used in their most abstracted sense, and perhaps, one of the greatest difficulties the student in that science has to encounter, is the training his mind to use that conventional meaning, and forget for the time being, the more ordinary one.

To return to our more immediate subject, as we of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland have an additional source of enjoyment in Judge Haliburton's High Life in New York; the work itself, being a collection of American sketches, may be considered as doing double duty; first, as a work illustrative of the manners, the domestic life, and the various

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