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the author of "Wieland" mentioned, ecent works of English criticism, in lection with the most popular names ie same department of literature, as a
of acknowledged originality and ge—in England, we say, where it seems ifest that a foreign novelist of only in>r abilities would very soon be forgot
jf ever heard of at all; we do not, ed, at once take it for granted that
author was one of the chief spirits his age, but we do look upon him lesemng a respectful consideration;
we strongly feel, so soon as actual nination has prepared us to assent to that has been said in his praise elsere, that his memory should be intrusto hands that shall tenderly and symletically build up a permanent record us life. The Life of Brown, which his nate friend, Mr. William Dunlap, has n us, is undoubtedly much nearer in at to what we could desire ; yet symiv and good intentions alone will not ice to make a good biographer. The in interest and the patient research of Dunlap should have been added to talents of Mr. Prescott as a narrator, his usually discriminating judgment in lets of taste. We do not complain, ertheless, because both these authors e fallen short of perfection. We should e been content with considerably less a this. But in Mr. Prescott's biograthere are one or two particulars in *ct to which we must be permitted to ress, with all due deference, some det of dissatisfaction.
fa are surprised at the contempt with ch this biographer speaks of the agency n> to ventriloquism in "Wieland."*
annee ot haste and indifference which per nihil work—however it may excuse literary C'j—ought certainly to have afforded a serious euon to its insertion in Bo popular and permai«teriesof biographies.
"The key to the whole of this mysterious *7 which controls the circumstances of the T i»—ventriloquism! ventriloquism exerted for *rjr purpose by a human fiend, from no motives avenge or hatred, but pure diabolical malice, » be would make us believe, and the author •» willing to adopt this absurd version of it, as •re practical joke! The reader who has been pi with this feast of horrors, is tempted to ■J* away the book in disgust, at finding himself •upe of mien paltry jugglery, which, whatever ■*• oe given to the term ventriloquism, is alto'"' incompetent to the various phenomena of »' ui aonod with which the story is so plentiy«euoned."-ij/c o/'C. B-Brown, pp. 141,142.
We are not ignorant of the many low and degrading associations connected with the word, (a word, indeed, that is nowhere found in Brown's own pages,) nor how easy a matter it is by a little misrepresentation of the author's use of this instrumentality, in the development of his plot, to throw ridicule upon the whole story. Whatever was the design of the biographer, he has certainly brought about this last result in the most perfect manner. He has committed the error of representing the novelist as keeping up, all the way through his work, a constant excitement of mystery and wonder—of machinery seemingly supernatural, or, at all events, of the highest order of the unaccountable —a continual belief of some great agency altogether beyond the reach of ordinary experience—all of which proves in the end to be only the low tricks of a miserable juggler. How many will be caught reading a book of which they have received such intimations?
Viewed in its true light, the case is quite different—unless we greatly misapprehend. The whole destiny of the Wielands is made to rest upon the character of Wieland himself. All the calamities that follow, unspeakable as they are, the author very plainly attempted to attach entirely to the uneducated and ungovemed religious passion of the main actor in these events; and he has, beyond question, succeeded. The mistake of supposing the chief agency to be devolved on Garwin, could hardly be made, we think, by one who had given these volumes a thorough, continuous reading. Especial pains seem to have been taken to show how insignificant and how purposeless are the instrumentality of Carwin, and his tricks: nay, the very necessities of the fiction required this agency to be as mean and contemptible as possible. It was absolutely necessary that "confirmations strong as holy writ " should be formed out of "trifles light as air." When it was the main purpose to make out a religious frenzy more powerful than the strongest promptings of reason and the tenderest ties of affection, ought the impulse which sets that frenzy in motion to be sublime, and, to all ordinary minds at least, irresistible? or ought it to be altogether too weak and insufficient to have any influence over a man in his right mind? What is the issue? It matters very little to assert that the alleged means by which Carwin produces, indirectly, such tremendous effects, "is altogether incompetent to the various phenomena of sight and sound" which are narrated, when it is known, in the first place, that some of the most wonderful and important of these phenomena are left (precisely according to Mr. Prescott's wish) without an attempt at explanation; and secondly, that as to all the occurrences which are accounted for by ventriloquism, the main efficacy of that power, as well as the appearances to which it gives rise, are all derived chiefly from the mind acted on rather than from the more ostensible agent and agency. Pleyel, indeed, hears a feigned conversation, in which the voice of Clara is so nearly imitated as to produce a perfect illusion. Here there is nothing that wears the least tinge of a supernatural character. Here all the responsibility rests on the ventriloquist and his art. The illusion depended not at all, for its efficacy, on the mind of Pleyel. He credits the evidence of one of his senses, just as he would do in any other case—and is duped, without himself conspiring with his enemies. But the case of Wieland, we shall attempt to show, was considerably different.
Coleridge asserts, in his oracular way, that Othello was not impelled to the murder of his wife by the passion of jealousy; but that the proofs of the guilt of Desdemona, so far as he was able to judge of them, amounted to a certainty; and that the conduct of a husband, acting under the certainty of the falsehood of his wife, must be referred to some other impulse than jealousy. Now, there is a striking similarity—in certain particulars, though there is abundant diversity in others— between the catastrophe of Othello and that of " Wieland," as well as in the means by which, in each case, the catastrophe is brought about. There is, indeed, nothing that looks in the least like imitation: it is evident that the resemblance in question is purely accidental. Both the dramatist and the novelist drew from the same common fountain—Nature. Othello, as we understand the drama, goaded on into a persuasion which only a mind susceptible of the deepest and most bitter jealousy
could have adopted on such trivial grounds, strangles his wife, out of revenge. Vfieland, led on by a series of occurrences, most unimportant in themselves, and respecting which he takes no pains to ascertain any other cause than the supernatural one which his impassioned mind firs; sug gests—nay, without even suspending bis judgment until something more than bb first vague impression should be furnishec', as a ground of decision—becomes so fully confirmed in his religious frenzy, that sacrificed his wife out of obedience to sense of duty. Now Coleridge the few trivial circumstances and chant that work such a madness in the brain Othello, as very sufficient reasons for mi ducing that fatal persuasion, and vents al his wrath, of course, upon Iago. But Mr Prescott has none of that reverential feel ing for his subject, which led the critic <i Shakspeare to adopt any conclusion however absurd, rather than admit hi fallibility. He regards the means by whicj the fatal frenzy of Wieland is wrought u] to its highest pitch, as inadequate, unim portant, contemptible; and stops not V look a little further for the justification o his author in the character of Wielam himself, but permits all his indignation ti rest on the novelist, who has served u] such a "feast of horrors," without th least palliating circumstance to be fl^ fered in his defence. Coleridge is certain)] wrong—yet he is consistent with hitnseli We think Mr. Prescott was equally wrong yet not with just the same consbtenc] A novelist who had made such a wofn mistake as he attributes to Brown, coui not, by any possibility, deserve from hi pen a biography of even two hundrn duodecimo pages. But for the weigl which will always attach to an opinio coming from so distinguished a sourc< we should have taken much less pains t point out an error so evident, that fei could have ever adopted it, if recommend ed by any name less influential than ihf of the author of the three most populs histories of modern times.
The author of " Wieland" had, evidwl ly, a deep and (for one of his years uncommon knowledge of man. This knowl edge is the basis on which all real genii) must rest. Brown seems, to be sure, t have had comparatively little acquaintanc rith individuals and classes of men.' His itercourse with society was, undoubtedly, lainly confined within the limits of a articular circle, in his native city. In his at years, however, he saw more of men i different regions, and became more imiliar with their various customs and eculiarities. But a profound knowledge 'man by no means requires a great titude of observation—certainly does not ?pend on it alone. We find in the novels 'our author but few practical remarks on en and manners; yet when such do cur, they are usually just and felicitous. is chief power lay in tracing out from if deep, hidden springs of the human ul—from the region of motives, and ipnlses, and purposes—a connected and nsistent series of actions and events Bring on to momentous issues. The circumstances in which a mind like :eland's is made to spring up and come maturity, are as adequate as wc are k to conceive. In the first place, it is ident that from no quarter of the world old such a mind originate so naturally as >m Germany. And then to trace his
ri to a family of high and noble blood, to an individual of ardent poetical nperament, whose love had wrought his nporal ruin, was equally suitable and propriate. But above all, the morose i solitary habits of his father, his deep utieism, and his mysterious and terrible i. have a fit relation to the singular icg. who was to bring such overwhelm: calamities on those who were embosomin tranquillity, and plenty, and social ppiness. The mother of Wieland ought necessity to be a disciple of Count tfendorf. Clara inherited the qualities the maternal side, with only the iter traits of the Wielands. Her brother tiered, up in his nature all the leading iracteristics of his paternal ancestors, ih only a modifying tinge from the igion of his mother. So far, all is ■fectly natural, and the conception truly t.
I"he gradual progress of Wieland's mind j that extraordinary state, which consti«s the most impressive feature of the lole story, is admirably portrayed, and : means by which it is effected are, in r opinion, every way unexceptionable. * mysterious and dreadful death of the
father could not but have a large place in the memory and imagination of one who was just old enough, at the time of its occurrence, to understand all its realities, and yet just enough a child to mingle with his knowledge of the facts every wild and wonderful conception. That violent end is, to the last, a mystery unexplained. It should be so. The novelist had a right to make this demand upon our credulity, and the necessities of his story compelled him to do it. Any attempt at an explanation of this occurrence would have appeared feeble at the close of such exciting scenes as those which follow, and to have preceded them would entirely defeat the purpose for which it was introduced. Yet this was an event equally known to Clara—one which she had equally witnessed at an ago susceptible of all the strange emotions which it would be likely to excite in the mind of her brother. It was an incident well known to all the other characters of the tale. That strange calamity was, indeed, an adequate cause for marvel and even for awe; and this was the full extent to which it influenced the mind of any but Wieland.
The voices subsequently heard, too, were accounted for by all the rest, in any other way than as being supernatural. To Wieland, unimportant as in reality they were, they afforded sufficient food for the nurturing and maturing of his frenzy. Once completely involved in these toils, every movement, however trivial, and every attempt at extrication, only binds and entangles him the more. Pleyel is brought under the same external influences—he wonders, and knows not how to satisfy his judgment. He credits a mysterious announcement of what he was already confident must be true, yet he wisely suspends his judgment of the character of that announcement, until some further grounds of decision are afforded. Wieland makes up his mind at once, while everything is vague and uncertain, according to the promptings of a judgment already disturbed with passion. Clara hears mysterious voices in her closet—and she is frightened. Wieland hears, or fancies that he hears, (for the author leaves us to infer that this is mere fancy, and that the mind of the bewildered man has now arrived at that state in which internal and external impulses are easily confounded,) a voice demanding of him the sacrifice of his wife, as a proof of his disinterested piety —and he obeys!
Carwin is a character in whom we at first feel much interest; for we do indeed expect to find in him the key to all these mysteries. Yet it is hardly possible that the reader should ever suppose him to have been introduced as the immediate cause of any supernatural phenomena. We have already begun to suspect that the incidents which produce so great an effect upon Wieland, and so little upon all the rest, have some degree of mysteriousness, indeed, but no very great actual importance. For we see very plainly that we are conversing with real men and women of this world, and that we are not introduced to the island of Prospero; that in such an every-day state of things as has been all along described, no reasonable author could introduce an order of events depending on unheard-of laws, and on unnatural agencies. No sane writer of fiction would be very likely to introduce a Caliban into the family of an ordinary country gentleman like Squire Western, or a Mephistopheles among the quiet and simple inhabitants of "sweet Auburn." Yet, though no reader could justly form any expectation of finding in Carwin a character that should be the author of supernatural events, in a manner strictly accordant with his own nature, we have no doubt that a majority of readers feel more dissatisfaction with the author's development of this personage than with anything else in the tale. This was the most critical part of the whole writing.* The manner in which the author extricates himself from this difficulty, and acquits himself of this
* It has not escaped our notice that the author (in his Advertisement) speaks of Carwin as the "principal person." This may seem a conclusive testimony against our opinion of the purpose which this character was intended to serve. Cut we must be allowed to doubt that the author means anything more by these words than we have already admitted. It is indeed the character on which the whole, in a certain way, depends, and the one which unquestionably gave the author most pains and perplexity in unfolding. So, also, he speaks of the narrative being told "by the lady whose story it contains"—although no one will pretend trmt
the work is very much Tike an autobiography. Both these expressions seem to be used in rather a loose manner, to avoid the repetition of names, and not for the sake of explaining a story which is not yet told.
task, will afford a tolerably sure test of hipowers.
It cannot be too firmly settled in evert mind, that there is a Providence which overrules all events; that crime has itown terrible and inevitable consequences that the error and folly which lead 10 the same results as crime are equally fatal z their outward effects, and render mti equally responsible for those effects. Mar der committed in a drunken frolic U r,c excusable; the strangling and robbrr which the Thug believes it to be his poe tive duty to perform, and for the omis^r of which he dreads a terrible retributka render him as amenable to justice as tbsame deeds would any other criminal, isc the infanticide religiously perpetrated« the banks of the Ganges is no less hein:;because induced by the religious passw: No action is performed without some mtive. Even the madman has an irralima motive. Coleridge has taken rather a at gular position, in one of his works, wh^r* he descants upon a "self-determined will.' A man may do this or that—according U our metaphysician—without molire, wcr it only to show that the thing can be did without motive! The same author ha elsewhere descanted at some length npo Irish bulls. It is in this region of Dt: tives, if we mistake not, that authors ■: fiction are most usually assailable, in a controversies respecting naturalness :c consistency. The providential laws »•" violated, when innocence is suffered to l1 involved in a series of intolerable calam ties, brought about by an innocent ag>:-n: that is, such a thing is impossible. B« that the guilt of one should be tr cause of calamities to another, or to man others, is nothing impossible—nay it comparatively common. Now the probk for our author to solve was no less thu this: To make Wieland the delib«rs agent of a most horrible deed, under sense of duty. Those who deny that ti human will acts under the restraint of ai superior law, will need no further reas* for such an action than, simply, tb.3t willed it. The common sense of ert reader, nevertheless, tells him that, in I ordinary states of mind, the phenomen and the conditions we have mentioned I incompatible—that, to be rendered poi ble, there must be some intervening ■ tire, depending for its efficacy on a diseased state of the mind. The mental malady of Wieland, we have already seen, would have come to that stage which rendered the act possible, through the operation of only some very trivial incident, so soon as it was possible for him to credit the reality of a direct, sensuous intercourse with the Deity. It is to confirm this faith that Carwin is introduced. The motive on the part of Carwin, however, must not have been pure malignity—else the design of the author would have been entirely frustrated, by removing the whole enormity of the murder, and the whole weight of the reader's horror, upon this inferior agent. Now we conceive that this part of the fiction is admirably managed so as to secure all the ends intended. Carwin carries on a complicated system of deceit, into which guilt—of another and different character, in respect to which we feel Sttfe indignation, but abundant loathing— has betrayed him. He never once suspected any serious consequence could follow. And therefore, while the part he iias played has a sufficient motive, and falls short of the highest degree of guilt, It nevertheless serves the purpose for which he was introduced on the stage. We despise the man—we look upon him as a degraded, insignificant creature. The whole weight of all the dreadful mystery i» left to rest upon Wieland; and the chief responsibility of the calamities in which his family are overwhelmed is not transferred from their immediate cause.
The excessive dislike and detestation of Clara towards Carwin has, doubtless, contributed to mislead some readers respecting the real magnitude of the agency which he exerts. This horror is perfectly natural—exaggerated as it nevertheless is. The remembrance of that scene, in which Carwin comes forth from the closet at midnight, avowing a fiendish purpose, must awaken no very gentle emotions in the mind of such a woman as the sister of Wieland. Nor could she forget the base heartlessness of the deceitful calumny that had for so long a time alienated Pleyel from his attachment, and induced him to impute to her one of the most infamous of crimes. But even had Carwin been only, as he pretends, the innocent yet careless occasion of the calamity that annihilated
the whole family of her brother, her feelings could hardly have been less violent against him than they were. For all these reasons combined, therefore, it is very plain that the reader who enters into entire sympathy with the emotions of the narrator, and does not form an estimate of things from the facts she communicates, entirely independent of her personal feelings, does injustice to the author. He has exactly followed nature in the words which Clara is made to use, but, of course, he expects the reader to bear in mind by whom they are spoken. On certain particulars, as her own expressions plainly show, she is totally unfit for a dispassionate judgment.
Some parts of the closing scenes of Wieland's life are unsurpassed by any passage which we remember in the most celebrated novelists. The tumultuous]}- shifting clouds of madness that chase through his soul in that last hour, and the final moments of sanity, more terrible than all, excite the mind to a feeling of almost supernatural awe. A more vivid, burning impression than that which these powerful passages leave on the mind, is inconceivable. We detect here, very plainly, the workings of a genius kindred to that which gave birth to the tragedy of Macbeth, and to the wild, frantic energies of the Moor of Venice.
We know of few novels that are fuller of moral meaning than "Wieland." It seems to us impossible for any one to read it without receiving some very valuable lessons, such as cannot very soon be forgotten. The dangers of fanaticism, of false notions of the Deity, of a too ready credence of supernatural interpositions, are here effectively exhibited. That direct intercourse of the senses with the Supreme Being is impossible; that an uncontrolled and irregular flow of the religious feelings is unwise and pernicious; and that duty never can require of a man any other sacrifice than a renunciation of his attachment to evil; are truths proved and illustrated on almost every page. And if there is a little excess of tragedy in the events here portrayed, even this fault turns to some good account, by adding to the force and permanence of the impression made by the moral lessons connected therewith.
On one who reads for critical purposes