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In nothing he has written in his poems or in his Idle Man, the general title of the collection of tales, is there any thing that transgresses good taste,
or ordinary morality, as understood by the better class of our Protestant countrymen. They are both marked by a certain moral aim, a certain religiousness, and, so far as words go, express a reverence for and belief in Christianity. Yet we feel when reading them that the author has never been really elevated above the natural order, and that the sphere in which he lives and moves lies far below the supernatural into which Divine grace elevates us, and in which are the secret springs of the Christian's life. The only sanctity we recognize in his works is forensic and imputed, not infused and intrinsic. Hence they fail to express the higher order of beauty, and to produce the effect we have always the right to demand of all productions claiming to be artistic. The supernatural in The Buccaneer is terrible, but neither beautiful nor sublime, - for it is infernal, not celestial ; demoniacal, not divine. And bad as Mat Lee was, we should have been better satisfied, since supernatural agency was to be introduced, if it had been introduced to save and not to destroy. As it is, the Spectre-Horse is simply terrible, and affects us as unfavorably as the diablerie of Hoffman.
Speaking in general terms of Mr. Dana's poems, and especially of The Idle Man, we are obliged to say, that the author, beyond the exquisite beauty of his style and diction, seldom attains to the truly beautiful. His Edward and Mary is a very sweet love story, pleasantly and delicately told, but it is only a story of ordinary human love, which in no respect rises above the natural order, and is as much within the reach of the gentile as the Christian. But the rest are, for the most part, dark, gloomy, and morbid. They are terrible, rather than beautiful, and recall too vividly the general effect of the novels of Godwin and Charles Brockden Brown. We do not mean to say Mr. Dana copies or imitates these writers, nor imply any thing against his originality both of style and thought, but he writes with the same morbid spirit that they do, and leaves on his reader a painful and unhealthy impression. His Paul Felton is a powerfully written story, but it is fearful. It displays in the most masterly manner the workings of a richly endowed mind, left to its own solitary musings, strong passions, and deep affections without steady principle, and grown morbid ; but scarcely any thing in the world would induce us to give it a second read
The author in it is true to our morbid or fallen nature
placed in the circumstances he imagines, and subjected to Satanic influences ; but he must pardon us if we intimate, that, let the case stand with him now as it may, when he wrote the story of Paul Felton, he did not at all understand the philosophy of the case he so powerfully and fearfully sketched. His hero wanted two things, the infused habits of grace, and an enlightened conscience. The errors and defects of Paul did not arise from the solitude in which he was brought up, nor from his mingling so little in general society. Had the boy been baptized, had he been well instructed in Christian doctrine, and been under the direction of a wise master of spiritual life, the circumstances in which he was placed and his manner of life would have favored enjoyment and the growth of virtue. But as it was, he had nothing of the grace by which the Christian lives, and the little knowledge of Christianity he had was just enough to give him a scrupulous conscience in matters not of moment, and a lax one in all else.
Paul Felton is the conception of a Calvinist, and is an admirable illustration of Calvinism in real life. Calvinists have no adequate instruction in Christian duty. A few minor things they are taught, and if in regard to these they keep tolerably clear of sin, they are satisfied with themselves, and have no trouble of conscience, however grossly they may sin in matters of real spiritual magnitude. This is the case with the great majority of them. They satisfy themselves, and maintain their self-complacency on matters of little consequence, and leave the rest to take care of itself. They can without remorse destroy the widow's house, if they do not forget to make long prayers. If they “pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, they can with a self-approving conscience pass over the weightier things of the law, judgment, and mercy, and faith.” But when one of them fails in small matters, his conscience takes the alarm ; he is filled with scruples ; he becomes morbid, he grows mad, and plunges into the most fearful crimes and hideous sins. The basis of this character is pride and spiritual ignorance, oftenest met with in persons of good natural parts, respectable literary and scientific attainments, but unaccompanied by proper spiritual or ghostly direction. Such was Paul Felton, the jealous and tyrannical husband, the leaguer with the Devil, the murderer of his wife and of himself, yet a man of tender conscience, persuading himself that he is in all acting in accordance with conscience, and under the dictates of a superior power.
Mr. Dana in stories of this sort offends Christian morality, not indeed because he paints great crimes, but because he paints them in unchristian colors, from the point of view of mere nature, without directing the mind to their remedy. The saints relate to us crimes of the deepest die, but they do it with inward sanctity of their own, and so as not only to inspire horror for the deeds, but a love for God and heroic virtue. Mr. Dana gives us, in contrast with his bold sketches or finished details of crime and sin, no glimpses of the justice and mercy of God, no gleams of hope in the Divine charity, no heroic sanctity to which the mind and heart, sickened with the disgusting views of sin and iniquity, can turn and find relief and refreshment. The effect on the reader of all the kind of writing he here gives us is bad, enervating, and tends rather to fit one to be a villain and a desperado, than to recall bim from error and sin, and to fix his affections on the true and the holy. In meditating on the passion of our Lord, it is more wholesome to dwell on the ineffable love, the infinite mercy of God manifested in it, than even on our own sins for which our Lord suffered on the cross : for love to God is a nobler affection than simple hatred of sin. The sinner not unfrequently loathes the sin he continues to commit, but not loathing it because opposed to the Divine charity, or to the possession of God as his supreme good, he is rather the worse than the better for the loathing ; because the loathing only drives him deeper and deeper into iniquity, in the vain hope of curing, or at least of concealing itself. Finally, we see now and then a recognition in Mr. Dana's writings of the prevalent and fashionable doctrine of the purifying and ennobling influence of mere human love. This doctrine, however disguised, is nothing but the pander to lust. We know that woman's love, a mere natural sentiment, is half deified, and represented as thaumaturgic ; but we have no more confidence in either woman's or man's love as a principle of virtue than we have in any other natural sentiment, nor half so much. Marriage may sometimes reform the rake of his rakishness, as avarice will sometimes cure a man of intemperance and sloth, but it does not elevate him into the sphere of virtue. The fact is, nature is never sufficient, and always does and must disappoint those who rely on it. It must be elevated by grace, and charity must enter, pervade, and rule the domestic circle, or the domestic affections themselves can do nothing for real virtue. The state, and the family, as well as individual virtue, must have a truly religious basis, be based in NEW SERIES. VOL. IV. NO. IV.
Christianity, and sustained by supernatural grace, or they are no better than castles in the air.
But we have extended our remarks to an unreasonable length, and must close. We have given Mr. Dana's works themselves a very inadequate review, and the author may feel that, in common justice, we should have entered more into detail. But our purpose has not been a regular criticism of bis writings, but to discuss with some depth and clearness the subject they very naturally suggested, and that not for bis sake, but for the sake of our young Catholic aspirants to literary and artistic excellence. As a writer Mr. Dana is morbid, and wants that mental serenity and that buoyancy of spirit which only the Catholic faith and fidelity to the Catholic Church can give. We see in his writings the absence of the operations of Catholicily on the mind and heart, and the presence of much Puritanic pride and scrupulosity. But we see at the same time a writer of great intellectual power, of true genius, and for the most part, so far as the form goes, of cultivated, pure, and delicate taste. His style may be studied as a model, and is among the very best specimens of pure English that has been written by one born and trained on this side of the Atlantic, and is rather that of an Englishman than of an American. His relative rank as a poet we stated in the brief notice of his works in our Review for last January, and though his works are not by any means all we could wish them, few if any American productions of the sort are more creditable to our literature.
Art. IV. - Cuba and the Cubans, comprising a History of
the Island of Cuba, its present Social, Political, and Domestic Condition ; also, its Relation to England and the United States. By the Author of “Letters from Cuba." With an Appendix, containing important Statistical Information, and a Reply to Señor Saco on Annexation, translated from the Spanish. New York : Hueston. 1850. 12mo.
This book, whose author, very much to our satisfaction, is unknown to us, may contain some valuable information on the subject of which it treats; but it has evidently been written for the purpose of promoting a democratic revolution in Cuba, and of persuading our citizens to lend their aid in wresting that noble island from the Spanish Crown, and annexing it as a State to the American Union. This is sufficient to condemn it and its author in the minds of all honorable men, and especially in the mind of every American citizen who retains some respect for international rights, and some regard for the honor of his country.
A considerable portion of our countrymen have long coveted the possession of Cuba, and our government, pretending that there was danger of its falling into the hands of Great Britain, went so far a few years since, we believe, as to make overtures to the Court of Madrid for its purchase. But these overtures, of course, were not listened to, and the pretence proved so utterly unfounded, that the government has been obliged to abandon it. Still, the desire for the acquisition of the island has continued, and many persons have thought that it could be effected by inducing and aiding the native Cubans to revolt from Spain, establish themselves as an independent republic, and then apply for admission into the American Union. In accordance with a plan of this sort, a military expedition was set on foot within our territories in 1849, to assist the Cuban patriots, or pretended Cuban patriots, to revolutionize the island. This expedition was prevented for the time being from embarking by the intervention of the Federal government ; but it has been renewed during the present year, and this time, successfully eluding the vigilance of the government, it actually effected a landing in small force, and, after a smart engagement, took possession of Cardenas, committed several murders, made the governor of the town a prisoner, burnt his palace, and robbed the public treasury. But meeting a determined resistance, and not finding the native Cubans as ready to flock to its piratical standard as it was expected they would be, it abandoned Cardenas, after holding possession of it for eight hours, and effected its escape, or return, to the territories of the United States, apparently for reinforcements, in order speedily to renew the attempt in stronger force, and with a better prospect of final success.
As to the character of such an expedition against a power with whom we are at peace, or of the attempt to wrest from a friendly power one of its provinces and annex it to the Union, no matter under what pretext, there can be but one opinion among honorable men, and since its failure, the American press