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ÅRT. 1. The Backwoodsman. A Poem. By J. K. PAULDING. 12mo. pp. 198.
Philadelphia. M. Thomas. 1818. VHAT, in the revolution of ages, the much-calumniated term, but one we do
Muse of America will compete with not hesitate to use, because in its true ber predecessors of Greece, Rome, and sense it applies to a feeling, the source England, must be the conviction not less and spring of all that exalts and ennobles of reason than of patriotism. The pro- the character of a nation. Among the gress of society in the western world is many excellencies of the constitution, visibly preparing the way for a more sub- we would select, as the one conferring lime and perfect developement of mental upon it its highest value, and most indipower than has yet been beheld, and we cative of the wisdom of its framers, the may confidently anticipate the period, provision made for its gradual and temwhen the eyes of Europe will be turned perate amendment. The recognition of with astonishment on the superior culti- the principle on which this provision is vation by her ancient colonies of the founded, appears to us one of the firmest bigher qualities of genius, as she now bulwarks of American liberty-the surest gazes in wonder on their advance in the safeguard against the evils of anarchy on useful arts, and, in one particular of un- the one hand, and on the other, the more speakable importance, begins to perceive destructive effects of despotism. More their present superiority. The spirit and than other branches of knowledgemeinfluence of her political institutions seem chanics, astronomy, mathematics, &c.to hold out to America the promise of a why the science of legislation and governliterature richer and more abundant than ment should remain stationary, we prothat of any nation either of ancient or fess our inability to discover. At present, modern times. The fabric of her laws the United States afford the single and and government, beautiful as it is, will, admirable example of a people already no doubt, yet receive considerable im- powerful in numbers and wealth, flourishprovement from the increasing intelli, ing, and in a manner unparalleled in the gence of her citizens, and their expe history of mankind, under a government rience of the advantages of innovation, a more positively popular than that of any VOL. IV.No. IIJ.
of the ancient republics, adequate to reignty) of the people subief, even in th:
disease. every purpose of domestic improvement tionable diminution. or foreign defence, of which the bighest It is not our intention to enter at preas well as the least consequential stations sent into the discussion of this important are open to every member of the com- and very interesting topic. To some of munity, administered-mand, surely, this our readers it may appear that we have is not the least of its merits-at an ex- digressed from the subject in hand, and it pense to the state that clearly proves how may perhaps seem somewbat strange to slender is the cost of all the legitimate commence a critique on a poem, with rebusiness of a nation, and whose proceed- marks upon political topics. A more atings are necessarily concordant with the tentive examination, however, will, we opinions and feelings of the country. In think, show that we have not erred so America and this can be predicated of widely as might be imagined. Our object no other part of the world--the law is was to show, that, for a considerable pesovereign, and, from the head of the re- riod at least, much of the spare time of public' to the most obscure and indigent the people on this side of the Atlantic individual, every citizen is bound to ren- will be devoted to politics, and that the der to its dictates respect and implicit literary talents of the country will natuobedience. Yet does not this supremacy rally follow the bent of the national taste, of the law affect in the remotest degree and devote themselves to subjects engrossthe indefeisible sovereignty of the Peo- ing universal attention. The justness of
In truth, it is only as the recorded our sentiments in this respect is not, cerexpression of their will, that it operates; tainly, contravened by facts. The litethe direction of that will it obeys with rature of America is chiefly political, the undeviating fidelity of a river to its though a few poems may be mentioned, bed, and whenever the majority of the that deserve to be better known than they nation decides upon altering its course, are at present. Among them we would it flows, per necessitatem, in a new chan- particularly select Trumbull's “ M Finnel.
gal," and a portion of the works of The consciousness of their possession the late R. T. Paine. Mr. Pierpont's of this power to alter and meliorate the “ Airs of Palestine," display great richconstitution, must, we humbly conceive, ness of fancy, and a melodious facility of act upon the people as a perpetual stimu- versification, that frequently reminds us lus to look into, and examine with deep of Pope and Campbell. Still these are to attention and scrutinizing interest, the be cited rather as exceptions to the genecomponent parts of the constitution. It ral rule, honourable, indeed, to their auis a subject deserving, above any other, thors, and the country in which they were the study of each and all. More, much produced, but nevertheless confirming, by more than is generally supposed, of the the small proportion they bear to the body prosperity and happiness of a people de- of ber literature, the opinions we enterpends on the powers of its government, tain concerning some of the causes of the as well as the manner in which those slow advances of poetry in America. The powers are exercised; and the expe- mind of the nation is too busily engaged rience of history which too frequently in other objects, objects most intimately exhibits the degrading picture of the sa- connected with its highest interests, to crifice of a nation's welfare to the pas- feel any very urgent sympatlıy in the efsions or caprices of a few individuals- forts of mere imagination, and it seems warrants us in observing, that, from the probable, that a considerable period will moment the public functionaries are suf- elapse before the Muse of Columbia will fered to assume the power of actiug in- meet with that warmth of encouragament dependently of those to whom they owe indispensibly necessary to the production their stations, the liberty (i. e. the sove- of strains that will place her upon the
same eminence with the Muse of Europe. stand equally high. If the one had their At the present moment the national taste Numa, Fabricius, and Cincinnatus, the Jeans another way, and prose has the ad- other may be justly proud of their Washvantage of verse. An eloquent essay on ington, Hamilton, and Adams. The pasome important legal or political topic, rallel, we conceive, might be carried a a well-written pamphlet on a mechanical good deal farther; but it was not our insubject, or an able disquisition on an tention to enter into a minute investiga-, agricultural or commercial question, tion of the character of either people, would, we think, excite an interest very and we mentioned the Romans chiefly, to considerably beyond what a poem of equal show that causes of pretty nearly the merit would have a chance of creating. same nature as prevented their cultivation America, we take it, is a country rather of poetry, exist, and in all probability of business and strenuous hardy exertion, will for a long time exist, in America, than a land of elegance and imagination. and keep dormant, or direct through other Her sons are too seriously engaged in the channels those talents which, in different stern and laborious cares of real life, to circumstances, might have shone with no have leisure to wander through the bow. inconsiderable lustre in the field of poetry. ers of fiction. They are a good deal like Undismayed, however, by the compawhat, in the earlier period of the Repub- rative indifference of his countrymen to fic, we can imagine the Romans would the efforts of their native muse, the dishave been, had the Romans, instead of tinguished author, whose last work now an agricultural and martial, been a com- lies before us, has ventured upon the pubmercial and peaceful people. Good sense lication of a poem which, though unquesand a certain clear-headedness are equal- tionably unequal in its composition, is cally the characteristics of each ;-a disincli- culated to make a livelier impression on pation, not to say aversion, to works of the mind and feelings of the country than mere taste and fancy-a steady and ha- any, perhaps, that has yet issued from bitual attachment to the useful rather the American press; and the favourable than the ornamental -a quick and accu- reception it has already met with from rate perception of the proper objects of the pablic might, on the first view, seen public or individual policy, and an un- to contradict, in some measure at least, relaxing perseverance in their cultivation our assertions respecting the coldness of them—these we conceive to be fea- with which that public has hitherto treated tures belonging not more to the Roman its indigenous poetry. On this point we than to the American character. Nor shall presently have occasion to say a are these the only points in which the few words, but at the moment shall contwo nations may be compared together. tent ourselves with observing, that Mr. Fortitude and magnanimity-the patient Paulding's case is a peculiar one, and and unmurmuring endurance of unfore- attended with circumstances of a much seen evils, and a liberality of soul that, more favourable description than could satisfied with success, disdains to insult a be reasonably expected by any general vanquished foe-are not more the attri- candidate for poetical fame. butes of the Roman than the American peo
This eminent individual has been long ple. Above all the nations of antiquity, the and deservedly regarded by his country. Romans were distinguished by their sa- men as one of the principal ornaments of cred and unswerving regard to the duties
American literature. As one of the auof religion and morality; and all the great thors of “ Salmagundi,” his name will men that adorn the early periods of their long continue to hold a high place among history, were as conspicuous for their piety those who have devoted their talents to saand private virtue as for their public ta- tirical composition. The lively wit of that lents. In these respects, also, we think most amusing book, the facility, and, not init cannot be disputed that the Americans frequently, the elegance of the verse, united with the fine influence of moral and pa- in a large portion of the reading public. triotic sentiment which breathes through. The tide of emigration from the eastern to out its pages, were accepted, and even the western sections of the union, is flowwelcomed, as rich offerings on the shrine ing with a force and constancy not exof the American muses. That work may ceeded by that which is annually pouring justly be said to hold a medium rank be- into the States the superfluous population tween the productions (inimitable in their of Europe. In one respect, America is way) of Butler and the effusions of Prior; perhaps more completely in possession of and surely this is praise of no mean va- the substantial advantages of literature Jue. Mr. Paulding's next production was than any country we could name. ID " John BULL AND BROTHER JONATHAN,” other lands we may find brighter pames a humorous volume, in which the progress in the field of learning and the Belles of the colonies, from their first settlement Lettres; the few are cultivated and poto their establishment as independent and lished, but the mass is gross and ignosovereign states, is related in a style of rant; the lights of intelligence burn broad caricature, of which the works of within a narrow and restricted sphere, Smollet present the first and finest exam- and though their radiance be powerful, ples. But the last, and, in our opinion, their influence is feeble. In America, the best of Mr. Paulding's prose works, is on the contrary, the stream of knowledge the “ LETTERS FROM THE SOUTH,” (a cri. flows in channels broad, deep, and innutique on which will be found in this Ma- merable, a common and universal blessgazine for January, 1818, p. 233.) In ing; and the result is, a spirit of intellithis interesting production, the various gence in the great body of her people, that powers of the author are seen to the best is not to be found among any other nation advantage. Satire and pathos-worldly of the globe. In America, the advantaknowledge combined with generous sen- ges of education are open to all, and by timent-a spirit of pure and elevated pa. all are they partaken.
But few are triotism, which, however, does not induce deeply learned, and ignorance is the lot him to dissemble, nor prevent him from of as few. Every citizen can read and lashing, the faults of his countrymen—a write; and where this is the case, we fine and unaffected sensibility to the need not lament that polite literature, or charms of external nature and a flow of the abstrusenesses of metaphysics are relanguage vivacious, ardent, and occasion- garded with comparative indifference and ally almost poetical, render this, to us at coldness. Thus it was a thing to be ex. least, by far the most attractive of Mr. pected, that a poem like “ THE BACKPaulding's works. If in the poem now WOODSMAN,” the scene of which is laid in before us, there be found many passages regions to which so many thousands of an of distinguished and superior merit, still enterprising and intelligent population we consider it our duty to say, that its are directing their views, and in which beauties are neither so considerable nor the principal character is of the same decontinuous as to ensure it that high and scription with themselves, coming too lasting esteem we could wish to see from an individual not more celebrated awarded to every production of so emi- for the strength of his talents, than the arpent a name. As a poem made to sell, dour of his patriotism, should find a very the author judged visely, perhaps, in the considerable number of readers even choice of his subject. The cultivation in a country where poetry is the and rapid improvement of the western department of literature that will, in territory, has of late excited considerable all probability, be the last cultivated. interest in all classes; and the adventures of But while we would give all due praise to a back-settler, and his rise from indigence Mr. Paulding for the sagacity he has to comparative wealth, could scarcely evinced in the scheme of his poem, we fail to create a lively feeling of curiosity must, without reservation, enter our protest against his taste. Poetry seeks her ed to the epic strain—tant pis our moresources in the marvellous and magnifi- dern Evanders, not we, must answer for cent, the pathetic and the beautiful; and, it. whether it be in her paintings from ani- The following are the author's reasons mate or inanimate nature, her fire is for sending forth his poem in its present damped, and her pencil languishes in the state, to the eyes of his countrymen. portraiture of ordinary forms and charac
« That the author may not be charged ter. Her business is not with the multi- with having failed in what he did not attude, but the individual. She delights in tempt, it may be as well, perhaps, to state the superlative and aristocratic.
the extent of the design of the following She
poem. His object was to indicate to the subsists by inequality, and has nothing to youthful writers of his native country, the do with republicanism, but to eulogize its rich poetic resources with which it abounds,
as well as to call their attention home, for spirit as displayed in characters whose su
the means of attaining to novelty of subject, perior worth and abilities place them as if not to originality in style or sentiment. highly above their political equals as a sul. Ths story was merely assumed as affording tapahove his slaves. Now, the hero of Mr. greater variety of scenery, as well as more
an easy and natural way of introducing a Paulding, it strikes us, and in the compo- diversity of character ; and whether the sition we think it struck him also, is a per- writer shall ever attempt to complete his son about as little adapted to shine in a po regular plan, will principally depend on the
original intention in the construction of a etical garb or capacity as can well be ima- reception given to this experiment. Some gined. Mr. P.'s “Backwoodsman" is the reasons, of no consequence to the public, fac-simile of all other backwoodsmen; induce bim to state that the present work
was begun more than five years ago, so far and we bave been enabled to trace in his
as the intention, and the preparation of character po such superior attributes and some scanty materials, may be said to conenergies as would exalt him above his stitute a beginning. In three or four in
stances, some descriptions of natural scenebrethren of the wilderness. Courage, ry have been borrowed from former publifortitude, enterprize, and perseverance, cations of the author, as being more proare the qualities not more of one than all; perly adapted to a work of this nature. and in the virtues of piety and tempe- Now this we conceive to be a very inrance,
the last a virtue as much of neces- sufficient apology, betraying the writer's sity as inclination, Basil is but the equal consciousness of all the objections we of his compeers. Positively, he is some have urged against his plan, and containthing--nothing comparatively—an excel- ing a full admission that the state of solent husband, a good father, patient of ciety in America, however admirable in Jabour and fatigue, pious, and of sound other respects, and superior to what we morals, he is a worthy member of society, find it in other countries, does not, at prebut a quaker would not quarrel with his sent, furnish materials either sufficiently heroism.
abundant or various for the higher spe. Nor are the occupations of Basil of a cies of poetry. In truth, it is this very loftier description than his personal cha- superiority that militates against its poetic racter. Hewing trees, digging, delving, capabilities-and while in a political point ploughing, sowing, and reaping, are doubt- of view, nothing can be more gratifying less, all of them, respectable avocations, than the happy independence enjoyed by but make no very splendid figure in he. all classes of the American people, the roic song: but if we will make the trump reasons are too obvious to require illustraof fame resound with the adventures and ting at great length, why this political exploits of backwoodsmen and rustics, blessing is hostile to poetry aiming at the turn farmers into beroes, and ploughmen development of sublime or striking chainto princes, how are we to act? We racter. The social scheme is too plain can only relate what they do, and if what and level for the muse. There can be they do happens to be not altogether suit- no contrast where all is uniform. Where