The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 101/Reviews and Literary Notices
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Snow-Bound: a Winter Idyl. By John G. Whittier. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
What Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" has long been to Old England, Whittier's "Snow-Bound" will always be to New England. Both poems have the flavor of native soil in them. Neither of them is a reminder of anything else, but each is individual and special in those qualities which interest and charm the reader. If "The Deserted Village" had never been written, Whittier would have composed his "Snow-Bound," no doubt; and the latter only recalls the former on account of that genuine home-atmosphere which surrounds both these exquisite productions. After a perusal of this new American idyl, no competent critic will contend that we lack proper themes for poetry in our own land. The "Snow-Bound" will be a sufficient reminder to all cavillers, at home or abroad, that the American Muse need not travel far away for poetic situations.
Whittier has been most fortunate in the subject-matter of this new poem. Every page has beauties on it so easy to discern, that the common as well as the cultured mind will at once feel them without an effort. We have only space for a few passages from the earlier portion of the idyl.
"The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east: we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
"Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,—
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
"Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag wavering to and fro
Crossed and recrossed the wingéd snow:
And ere the early bed-time came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
"So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without the sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines
Of Nature's geometric signs,
In starry flake, and pellicle,
All day the hoary meteor fell;
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant splendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle.
"A prompt, decisive man, no breath
Our father wasted: 'Boys, a path!'
Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy
Count such a summons less than joy?)
Our buskins on our feet we drew;
With mittened hands, and caps drawn low,
To guard our necks and ears from snow,
We cut the solid whiteness through.
And, where the drift was deepest, made
A tunnel walled and overlaid
With dazzling crystal: we had read
Of rare Aladdin's wondrous cave,
And to our own his name we gave,
With many a wish the luck were ours
To test his lamp's supernal powers.
"We reached the barn with merry din,
And roused the prisoned brutes within.
The old horse thrust his long head out,
And grave with wonder gazed about;
The cock his lusty greeting said,
And forth his speckled harem led;
The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked,
And mild reproach of hunger looked;
The hornéd patriarch of the sheep,
Like Egypt's Amun roused from sleep,
Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
And emphasized with stamp of foot."
Lives of Boulton and Watt. Principally from the original Soho MSS. Comprising also a History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine. By Samuel Smiles. London: John Murray.
The author of this book is an enthusiast in biography. He has given the best years of his life to the task of recording the struggles and successes of men who have labored for the good of their kind; and his own name will always be honorably mentioned in connection with Stephenson, Watt, Flaxman, and others, of whom he has written so well. Of all his published books, next to "Self-Help," this volume, lately issued, is his most interesting one. James Watt, with his nervous sensibility, his headaches, his pecuniary embarrassments, and his gloomy temperament, has never till now been revealed precisely as he lived and struggled. The extensive collection of Soho documents to which Mr. Smiles had access has enabled him to add so much that is new and valuable to the story of his hero's career, that hereafter this biography must take the first place as a record of the great inventor.
As a tribute to Boulton, so many years the friend, partner, and consoler of Watt, the book is deeply interesting. Fighting many a hard battle for his timid, shrinking associate, Boulton stands forth a noble representative of strength, courage, and perseverance. Never was partnership more admirably conducted; never was success more richly earned. Mr. Smiles is neither a Macaulay nor a Motley, but he is so honest and earnest in every work he undertakes, he rarely fails to make a book deeply instructive and entertaining.
Winifred Bertram and the World she lived in. By the Author of the Schönberg-Cotta Family. New York: M. W. Dodd.
The previous works of this prolific author have proved by their popularity that they meet a genuine demand. Such a fact can no more be reached by literary criticism, than can the popularity of Tupper's poetry. It is no reproach to a book which actually finds readers to say that it is not high art. Winifred Bertram has this advantage over her predecessors, that she takes part in no theological controversies except those of the present day, and therefore seems more real and truthful than the others. In regard to present issues, however, the book deals in the usual proportion of rather one-sided dialogues, and of arguments studiously debilitated in order to be knocked down by other arguments. Yet there is much that is lovely and touching in the characters delineated; there is a good deal of practical sense and sweet human charity; and the different heroes and heroines show some human variety in their action, although in conversation they all preach very much alike. Indeed, the book is overhung with rather an oppressive weight of clergyman; and when the loveliest of the saints is at last wedded to the youngest of the divines, she throws an awful shade over clerical connubiality by invariably addressing him as "Mr. Bertram." In this respect, at least, the fashionable novels hold out brighter hopes to the heart of woman.