« AnteriorContinuar »
knows not of, and which ought to admire abilities so unselfishly exerted.* No one living has conferred such important favors upon the whole class of American authors, prose and poetical; and should he be withdrawn from the sphere which he fills with peculiar advantages, there is scarcely a considerable writer, from one end of the States to the other, who would not feel that he had sustained the loss of an invaluable ally. And it is not only his personal exertions that have thus been disinterestedly given to American letters, but his purse has ever been freely open for the promotion of the same class of interests. Many a struggling young adventurer in the fields of authorship, has owed to his generous hand the means of prosecuting and attaining his favorite aims. But the grace of such acts consists in their secrecy, and as the author of them has never divulged them, we cannot venture to refer to such as have transpired to us from other sources. The younger, less-favored class of American authors will never have a warmer friend, or, to use an old word, without the invidious sense which of old it may have borne, a more liberal patron, than he of whom we write.
The boast of heraldry, and the pomp of power, alike have vanished from an era of republican maxims; yet the rational interest of the one, and the substantial value of the other, have survived the change of forms, and sentiments, and institutions. Nowhere are genealogies explored and esteemed more than among the descendants of the Puritans; and New England, we believe, is the only community which exhibits a society, and a periodical journal, devoted to the single purpose of tracing and recording pedigrees. It is wise, and it is natural; and like all of Nature's wisdom,' it finds its vindication equally in the instincts of the feelings, and in the conclusions of lengthened observation. Struck by an historic name, awaking associations with the fame of judges, governors, and other worthies of the republic, we made application to a member of the family for some details upon
the subject. He has politely responded to our call, with a greater profusion of lore than we shall at present communicate to the public. The family of Griswold — which has included many
persons in the annals of the colony, and of the state of Connecticut — is descended from George Griswold, called, in his epitaph, Armiger, of Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, England, and for several years, during the life of his father, Francis Griswold, described as of Lyme Regis, in Dorsetshire, where he was married. Of the ancestors of George Griswold, several had been in Parliament, and one, Philip Griswold (A.D. 1391–1460,) was honorably distinguished in arms in the reigns of the Fifth and Sixth Henries. The sons of George Griswold, with a single exception, emigrated to New-England. Edward, whose name appears for some reason to have been changed from Francis, was one of the first settlers of Windsor, in the year 1630. Matthew also established himself originally in the same place, but after marrying a daughter of the first Henry Wolcott, he bought and occupied the place known as Black Hall, in Lyme, then Saybrook. Others of the family advanced farther into the interior, and are represented by the descendants of the settlers of Norwich, Killingworth (a corruption of Kenilworth), Griswold, and other towns of which they were the founders. Rufus Wilmot Griswold is of the ninth generation from George Griswold, of Kenilworth, in England; and on the mother's side is descended in the eighth degree from Thomas Mayhew, the first Governor of Martha's Vineyard. He was born in Rutland county, Vermont, on the 15th of February, 1815.
*The writers of the country have not been unwilling to display their regard for him in ways the most suitable and graceful. BAYARD TAYLOR dedicates to him his first book, "Ximena and other Poems,' as “an expression of gratitude for the kind encouragement he has shown the author.' The Rev. JAMES Watson inscribes to him a volume of · Discourses, as the first fruits of a mental and moral culture for which the author is chiefly indebted to him. The lamented Mrs. Osgood addressed to him the splendid edition of her works, as a Souvenir of admiration for his genius, of respect for his generous character, and of gratitude for his valuable literary counsels; and we might quote perhaps a dozen similar tributes, from C. F. HOFFMAN, W. H.C. HOSMER, and other authors, illustrating the same feelings and opinions.
Much of the early life of Dr. Griswold was spent in voyaging about the wolrd ; and before he was twenty years of age he had seen the most interesting portions of his own country and of southern and central Europe. Relinquishing travel, which had grown distasteful from indulgence, he suddenly married, and entered upon the fascinating but dangerous career of a man of letters by profession. Quodcunque amat, valde amat, is the character of his temperament, and he pursued this exciting occupation with earnest and enthusiastic assiduity. He had studied divinity, and has professed at all times to regard it as his vocation ; but once a mortgage, always a mortgage,' is as applicable to the liens of authorship as to those of debts; and after nine or ten years passed chiefly in journalism and literary creation, it is not probable that he will ever wholly abandon the press for the pulpit.* There is no well-authenticated instance, we believe, on record, of a man who, for his own or his father's sin, has once been • dipped in ink' of printers, either curing himself or being cured radically of that tetter of the love of approbation which the dusky immersion always leaves behind it.
Dr. Griswold's first habits of writing were formed under the suggestive culture of an elder brother, Mr. Heman Griswold, a highly accomplished and much respected merchant of Troy, in whose house he passed the winter of 1830. From that period, his fifteenth year, he has been a practised writer ; though he considers himself as having produced nothing, before twenty-two, which he would now be willing to acknowledge. For a short time he turned his attention to politics, and conducted a political journal in the country. After this he was associated with the Honorable Horace Greeley in editing the NewYorker,' and with Park Benjamin and Epes Sargent in the Brother Jonathan' and the New-World;' enterprises eminently successful, which influenced in various respects, and in an important degree, the character of the literary and newspaper press. In 1842-3 he was the editor of .Graham's Magazine;' and by the attraction of his name and the liberal policy which he induced Mr. Graham to adopt, was
* MR. E. P. WHIPPLE, probably the most thoroughly accomplished of all our critics, observes in a recent sketch of Dr. Griswold: “His acquirements in theology are very extensive. In his doctrinal notions he is inflexibly orthodox, and entertains some dogmas of peculiar grimness. Those who have never disputed with him on fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, can hardly form a conception of his innate force of character. On these subjects he is a sort of cross between DesCARTES and John Calvin. In theology he is all muscle and bone. His sermons are his finest compositions, and he delivers them from the pulpit with taste and eloquence.?
enabled to bring into its list of contributors a better corps of writers, perhaps, than has ever before or since been boasted by such a work. Among these were Richard H. Dana, Esq., Washington Allston, J. F. Cooper, Bryant, Longfellow, Hoffman, Willis, and others. While he was editor, the circulation of the Magazine increased from seventeen thousand to twenty-nine thousand.
He has published a large number of volumes anonymously. One of these is a collection of his verses, and two others constitute a novel. He has also brought out anonymously, partly or entirely written by himself, six or eight works on history and biography, which, though they have satisfied the critics and the publishers, appear, from being unacknowledged, not to have satisfied their author. He has printed, at sundry times, seven discourses on subjects of history and philosophy, and a volume of sermons. In reviews, magazines and newspapers has written largely ; enough to fill a dozen octavo volumes." In 1844 he published • Curiosities of American Literature.' We are indebted to him, moreover, for an edition of the prose works of Milton, preceded by an eloquent and valuable Life,' published in 1846. This was the first modern reprint of Milton's prose, and was a voluntary contribution by the editor to the fortunes of a worthy and interesting man of genius, the Rev. Herman Hooker, D.D., then struggling to establish himself as a publisher.
Dr. Griswold's position as a man of letters, however, is chiefly owing to his biographies and literary histories and disquisitions, in the Poets and Poetry of America,' 1842; the Poets and Poetry of England in the Nineteenth Century,' 1844; the “Prose-Writers of America,' 1846,' and the • Female Poets of America,' 1848.
For the difficult office of determining and representing and pourtraying the respective merits of the authors of America, in which he has risen to an easy supremacy, and which now by common consent has been delegated to his hands, he undoubtedly has many rare qualifications. The mental attribute which he possesses in the most distinguishing degree, and to which his success is largely owing, is judgment. To say that he excels by that attribute is to award perhaps the highest praise that could be bestowed. The loftiest and rarest quality of the mind is judgment. It is above invention; it is beyond eloquence; it is more than logic. In every employment and every condition of life, private and public, deliberative and executive, the ascendancy of judgment over talent, wit, passion, imagination, learning, is evinced at once by the rarity of the endowment, and by the superiority which it is certain to confer upon its possessor. As a comparative critic, his opinions are always entitled to weight. Sensitive to the finest indications of literary promise ; apt to detect essential merit, under whatever guise of oddity or affectation or bad taste; acute in perception, and comprehensive in sympathy; he always holds aloft, firmly and steadily, the scale of just decision, and reports the result without prepossession and without timidity. He possesses a rapid and sure coup d'æil. He surveys the merits of a volume with a scrutiny as piercing as it is brief, and arrives promptly at a result which will commonly be found to stand the test of prolonged examination. His sagacity has been so often displayed and approved, that there is probably no one among us whose opinion on a question of literary merit would have greater influence with the judicious minds of the country. His shrewdness in prognosticating the popular taste is not less acute, and his perception of what is likely to be successful is as accurate as his appreciation of what is really meritorious.
The literary abilities displayed in the original portion of these works are entitled to very high rank, and are undoubtedly the sufficient cause of their popularity and permanence. Dr. Griswold's style is fresh, brilliant, delicate, perhaps over-delicate, but never feeble, and rarely morbid. With unerring accuracy, he always indicates the strong points of his subject; yet he indicates rather than seizes them. The outlines of truth are always traced with nicety and precision; yet are they traced rather than channeled. His coloring is refined, soft, suggestive; dealing in half tints, or mixed hues, more usually than in simple and contrasted colors. His perceptions are keenly intelligent, and full of vitality and vividness; but they are too mercurial, fugitive and hasty; they want fixity, persistency and prolongation. He touches some rich element of truth or beauty, but he does not linger upon it to develope and unfold its deep and full resources; he merely touches it, and is off in search of some remote conception, which he will strike and bound away from, like a glancing sunbeam. A discussion by him, therefore, is a series of gentle and delightful flashes, not a steady and prolonged blaze. The fault lies more in the school than in the performer. If he uses water-colors rather than oils, it is because the style is in mode, and not because the genius of the artist could not glow upon canvass as well as glitter upon paper.
But moral qualities of a very unusual and very elevated sort were needed for an undertaking like the one which we speak of, and it is here that Dr. Griswold's character rises to excellence. From partiality, from prejudice, from the bias of anger and the warp of affection, his nature seems to be wholly free. A writer so void of literary jealousy never was created upon the earth. He comes to his work, too, without
any of those inveterate predilections or antipathies of taste which most men, as highly educated, contract. His views are not moulded in the forms of any systems, classes, or modes of criticism. His candor, sincerity, and utter fearlessness in avowing his genuine convictions are of inestimable value ; and there is not only a perfect honesty in his mind, but a thorough freedom even from unintended predispositions and unconscious obliquities. Even where he cannot enjoy he appreciates, and he points out and expounds for the participation of others that which perhaps to himself may afford no pleasure. With some of the people in these volumes his relations are those of affectionate intimacy; with others they are decidedly hostile; yet cavil itself might be defied to show an instance in which he has over-valued the merits of a friend or done unfairness to the titles of an enemy.
But while we affirm that the author of these volumes has displayed in them remarkable qualities of mind and accomplishment, we admit at the same time that what he has yet done is not worthy of the
capacity which he certainly possesses. Our settled judgment is, that Dr.
Griswold is a man of very superior and uncommon talents, and that he is destined to achieve much that shall be far beyond the line of his heretofore endeavors. We consider ourselves to be accurately acquainted with his nature; we have seen him closely at sundry times, and in various emergencies; with a severe, rather than a partial eye, we have explored and measured a character which interested our scrutiny. We are satisfied that neither the public nor Dr. Griswold himself has formed a just and adequate appreciation of the original and commanding abilities which he has. If opinion has fallen below his performances, they again are below his powers. His own great infirmity — if so interesting a peculiarity may thus be called - consists in a want of mental self-reliance; an absence of deep, broad confidence, in his own inherent and inborn strength. And that perhaps has betrayed the judgment of the public; for the latter is usually not disposed to take a man at a higher rate than he asks for himself. The community recognises him as an acute, searching, and correct critic;. as a profound bibliographer and annalist; and as master of a bright, pointed, and discursive style, light enough to lend grace to the airiest topics, and vigorous enough to dash at the weightiest. Dr. Griswold is more than all that. He is a man of genius ; abounding in the resources of inventive thought; gifted, evidently and copiously, with the vision and the faculty divine,' which give to the world more than they gain from it, and glorify all that they perceive.
There is a class of minds, whose dynamical condition is not quite accordant with their statical condition; who, in what they do, never perfectly represent what they are. Studied in themselves, they interest and impress; followed in their works, they disappoint. Endowed, unmistakably, with the characteristics of superiority, whenever they put themselves in action, some unlucky element mixes itself up with the operation, some trick of weakness displays itself, some false bias, some fatal affinity comes athwart the effort, to make it miscarry, and the movement which commenced from genius concludes in commonplace. The fault lies rather in the temperament than in the talent.
In Dr. Griswold's case, the misfortune, hitherto, has been that his interest in literary subjects has been so irritable, and his energy sprang with such instantness to seize every scheme which flashed before him, that the strong and firm capacities of his intellectual being have not had opportunity calmly and consistently to develop themselves. But within and beneath the volatile curiosity which is engrossed by externality, and almost entirely detached from it, is a deep, subtle, intenselyvital sensibility, which is a fund of creative affluence, and which, when fully worked out by the owner, will yield magnificent results. Separated from the electrical excitability of the upper and outer surface of the character, there lies a large substratum, whose action possesses a galvanic power and exhaustlessness. Hitherto, he seems not to have been able to master, and get the management and use of his genius. With the power, he possesses much of the impatience of that nervous temparament, which, when controlled, is inspiration and energy, but when unsubjected, is distraction and weakness. Time, which sometimes