Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), Critical Notices, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, September 1839, vol V, no. 3


Text: Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, September 1839,

[page 164:]


[[The first three reviews are not attributed to Poe]]

[page 165, continued:]

A Voice to Youth, Addressed to young Men and young Ladies. By Rev. J. M. Austin. Second Edition. Grosh and Hutchinson, Utica.

This is a truly valuable and well written work. The chapters which compose it were originally published in the “Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate,” during the years 1837 and 1838, [page 166:] and met with general approbation from a very large circle of readers. Messieurs Grosh and Hutchinson, for whom it was originally written, were induced by its popularity to re-publish it. The first edition (in book form) of 1500 copies, was exhausted in a few months — the present has an appendix, together with additions and amendments by the author.

The whole is divided into three parts — A Voice to youth, a Voice to young Men, and a Voice to young Ladies. We like every portion of the work, but would especially recommend the two Chapters on “Habits” — as well as those on “Reading” and “Self-Cultivation.”


Historical Sketches of Statesmen who flourished in the Time of George III, Second Series, By Henry Lord Brougham, F. R. S,, and Member of the National Institute of France. Two Volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

The first series of these Sketches excited a profound attention in all the better classes of readers. The epoch depicted, in the character of its leading men, was one of pre-eminent importance, either morally or politically considered; and the man who professed to depict it, was one who had very largely influenced both its moral and political condition. All people too had faith in the ability, and nearly all in the impartiality of the artist — who did not disappoint the expectations which had been formed. Few biographies have better chance of going down to posterity, or of going down with a richer freight of authenticity and truth, than these Sketches of the Statesmen of the Time of George III.

The Second Series is, to Americans, more fraught with interest than the first. We have here mementos of Charles Carroll, of Lafayette, and of Washington — portraits by a master-hand — a hand too which would have done its subjects justice had the sky fallen. We cannot conceive, indeed, what some of our daily papers have meant, or intended to mean, by the assertion that Lord Brougham has under-rated the talents of our First President. Surely the bitterness of some of their paragraphs is an ill repayment of so noble a panegyric as this!

“How grateful the relief which the friend of mankind, the lover of virtue, experiences when, turning from the contemplation of such a character, his eye rests upon the greatest man of our own or any age; — the only one upon whom an epithet so thoughtlessly lavished by men, to foster the crimes of their worst enemies, may be innocently and justly bestowed! In Washington we truly behold a marvellous contrast to almost every one of the endowments and the vices which we have been contemplating; and which are so well fitted to excite a mingled admiration, and sorrow, and abhorrence. With none of that brilliant genius which dazzles ordinary minds; with not even any remarkable quickness of apprehension; with knowledge less than almost all persons in the middle ranks, and many well educated of the humbler classes possess; this eminent person is presented to our observation clothed in attributes as modest, as unpretending, as little calculated to strike or to astonish, as if he had passed unknown through some secluded region of private life. But he had a judgment sure and sound; a steadiness of mind which never suffered any passion, or even any feeling to ruffle its calm; a strength of understanding which worked rather than forced its way through all obstacles — removing or avoiding rather than overleaping them. If profound sagacity, unshaken steadiness of purpose, the entire subjugation of all the passions which carry havoc through ordinary minds, and oftentimes lay waste the fairest prospects of greatness — nay, the discipline of those feelings which are wont to lull or to seduce genius, and to mar and to cloud over the aspect of virtue herself — joined with, or rather leading to the most absolute self-denial, the most habitual and exclusive devotion to principle — if these things can constitute a great character, without either quickness of apprehension, or resources of information, or inventive powers, or any brilliant quality that might dazzle the vulgar — then surely Washington was the greatest man that ever lived in this world uninspired by Divine wisdom, and unsustained by supernatural virtue.”

The personages included in the two volumes now before us are George IV. (with Sir John Leach and others;) Lord Eldon; Sir William Scott (Lord Stowell;) Dr. Lawrence; Sir Philip Francis; Mr. Home Tooke; Lord Castlereagh; Lord Liverpool; Mr. Tierney; Lord St. Vincent; Lord Nelson; Mr. Horner; Lord King; Mr. Ricardo; Mr. Curran; Charles Carroll; Neckar; Madame de Stael; the Mirabeau Family; Carnot; Lafayette; Talleyrand; Napoleon; and Washington.

Not the least interesting portion of the work is a hint, in the Introduction, that the writer is occupied in histories of the reigns of Harry V., and Elizabeth. The literary world will welcome them enthusiastically.

Whatever opinion may be entertained of the political or moral honesty of Lord Brougham, few men of intellect have been found to question his extraordinary powers of mind; his wide comprehension, and strong grasp of thought; his exceeding energy; his rude but commendable directness and Demosthemic vigor of expression. If he be, indeed, the sly knave his little enemies have painted him, it must be admitted that the undeniable qualities we have specified have an odd in accordance with his true character. He must be the most inconsistent human being upon the face of the earth. [page 167:] He must have an outward and visible spirit belying the invisible spirit within. He must be like the statue in Lucian with its surface of Parian marble, and its interior filled with rags. It appears to us, however, that his known deficiencies, as well as his known capacities, are precisely those of a chivalrous heart, not less than of a gigantic understanding.


Letters of Eliza Wilkinson, during the Invasion and Possession of Charleston, S. C, by the British in the Revolutionary War. Arranged from the Original Manuscript by Caroline Gilman. Samuel Colman, New York.

These Letters, twelve in number, and filling about a hundred openly-printed duodecimo pages, handsomely bound, are occupied in part with minute details of such atrocities on the part of the British during their sojourn in Charleston, as the quizzing of Mrs. Wilkinson and the pilfering of her shoe-buckles — the remainder being made up of the indignant comments of the lady. It is very true, as the preface to this volume assures us, that “few records exist of American women either before or during the war of the revolution, and that those perpetuated by history, although honorable, particularly to the Southern States, want the charm of personal narration” — but then we are well delivered from such charms of personal narration as we find here. The only supposable merit in the compilation is that dogged air of truth with which the fair authoress tells the lamentable story of her misadventures. We look in vain for the “useful information” about which some of our contemporaries have spoken; unless indeed it is in the passage where we are told that the letter-writer “was a young and beautiful widow; that her hand-writing is clear and feminine; and that the letters were copied by herself into a blank quarto book on which the extravagant sale-price marks one of the features of the times.” There are other extravagant sale-prices, however, besides that. In regard to the talk in the preface, about “gathering relics of past history,” and “floating down streams of time,” we should call it all fudge. The whole book is exceedingly silly, and we cannot conceive why Miss Caroline Gilman thought the public wanted to read it. As for Mrs. Wilkinson, she deserved to lose her shoe-buckles.


Birds and Flowers, and Other Country Things. By Mary Howitt. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

This a very beautiful little book — regard it as we will. Here we have good paper, good printing, good binding, well-executed wood-cuts from excellent drawings — and poems by Mary Howitt. We presume there are few of our readers who are not well acquainted with the character of the writings of this lady — with that sportive and quaint grace, which keeps dear of the absurd, by never employing itself upon subjects of a very exalted nature. It cannot be denied that our sweet poetess. Miss Gould, has drawn much of her inspiration from a study of the fair quakeress of whom we speak. The two styles are nearly identical — the choice of themes is one and the same thing in both writers. They appear to echo and re-echo each other. At the same time we must do Miss Gould the justice to say that she has greatly improved upon her model, by a more careful elaboration of materials, resulting in a polished epigrammatism, not always observable in the English poems, and admirably well suited to the nature and capacities of her Muse — at least so far as that Muse is shown in a proper light.

In a notice, elsewhere, of the writings of Miss Gould, we spoke at length of the leading traits of her general style, and commented upon certain occasional bursts of a far higher order of merit than appertained to her ordinary manner — flashings forth of a far brighter fire. It appeared to us, indeed, that her usual vein was the result rather of some affectation, than of true impulse — rather of some perversion of taste, through early prejudice or partiality, persisted in until matured into habit — than of the unbiassed promptings of the spirit. We had then never seen a collection of the poems of Miss H. Having seen them, we find our suspicions fully confirmed. But Miss G. should not consent to be in any degree an imitator — even of what is so well worthy imitation as the delightful poetry of Mary Howitt.


Tales of Shipwrecks and Other Disasters at Sea. By Thomas Bingley, Author of “Stories about Dogs,” etc. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

No subject in the world has so deep an interest for youth as that of the perils and disasters of the sea; and Mr. Bingley, who is well known for his abilities in telling stories to young people — not an [page 168:] easy thing to do cleverly — has here succeeded in making a capital volume on the spirit-stirring theme. We cannot say that the designs are well drawn — it would be positively against our conscience — but perhaps they will answer their purpose. The book, in every other respect, is worthy of commendation.


The American Flower- Garden Companion; Adapted to the Northern and Middle States. By Edward Sayers, Landscape and Ornamental Gardener, Second Edition — Revised, with Additions. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

It must be admitted that this is just such a book as the public have been long wanting — a concise, lucid, practical, sufficiently scientific, and cheap manual of Ornamental Horticulture. We are’ especially sure that there is not a young lady in the land who will not be eager to thank Mr. Sayers for putting her in possession of the work. She will here find a thousand difficulties removed; a thousand capital plans suggested; a thousand novel hints in regard to mere forms of beauty — to mere matters of arrangement and taste — hints evidently emanating from a graceful mind, and not to be met with in volumes of higher price, larger dimensions and greater pretence. We speak particularly of such things as the physique and morale of the location and position of plants, of the formation and situation of rock, of ornamental waters and bridges, and of the planning and management of trellisses and arbors. But the volume contains every thing essential to the flower-gardener. It is divided into four heads — The Arrangement of the Garden and Propagation of Plants; The Culture of Plants; The Green-House; and The Flower-Garden Miscellany. There is, also, a Glossary of Botanical Terms, and an Appendix, embracing Descriptive Lists of Annual and Biennial Flowers.


The American Fruit-Garden Companion. Being a Practical Treatise on the Propagation and Culture of Fruit; Adapted to the Northern and Middle States. By. E, Sayers, Gardener; Author of the American Flower-Garden Companion, etc. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

Here the design is to condense into the nrost convenient form, as a work of practical utility, remarks on the culture and management of the different kinds of fruit adapted to the Middle and Northern States. In the commencement of the volume several pages have been appropriated to the phytology of plants, with a view of familiarizing the inexperienced cultivator with some of the leading characteristics of trees. The subject is plainly and clearly handled. In the Nursery Department, which naturally follows the phytology, the author has given minute directions in regard to the propagation of fruit-trees from seed, and the various methods of grafting, budding, and bringing the tree into the proper size and state for the final planting in the garden or orchard. Here he has adhered to a system of raising fruit-trees from seed, in preference to the usual method of suckers. He considers that the young plants rob the parent and impoverish the soil. Mr. Sayers has given throughout, the results of a long practice, and no little scientific information.


The Bride of Fort Edward. Founded on an Incident of the Revolution. Samuel Colman, New York.

In looking over the preface of this little book, we fancied that we could perceive in it a certain air of thought really profound, disfigured by an attempt at over-profundity — and upon this idea we formed our anticipations of the book itself — not being altogether disappointed in the sequel. Our opinion, it will therefore be seen, is not fully in accordance with that of the press at large; so far as we have observed their notices.

The author, in apprising his readers that the “Bride of Foit Edward” is not, properly, a play, has drawn a just distinction between the hurried action, the crowded plot and the theatrical elevation, which the stage demands of the pure drama; and that merely dialogical form, in which he has chosen to convey the repose, the thought, and the sentiment of actual life. His particular object, as expressed by himself, will be found, upon examination, to justify the manner of his work. The story “is connected with a well-known crisis in our National History; nay, it is itself a portion of the historic record, and as such, even with many of its most trifling minutiae, is embedded in our earliest recollections. But it is rather in relation to the abstract truth it embodies — as exhibiting a law in the relation of the human mind to its invisible protector — the apparent sacrifice of the individual, in the grand movements for the race — it is in this light rather than as an historical exhibition” — that he claims for it the attention of the public.

This design is an excellent one, and is by no means badly executed; except in the point of being [page 169:] overdone — of being too obviously insisted upon, throughout — and of being carried to a transcendental extreme. We would be quite safe in saying that the writer is a passionate admirer of Coleridge — a man whose Jacob Behmen-ism makes, perhaps, as near an approach to the sublime of truth, as can possibly be made by utter unintelligibility and fustian. In all modifications of such minds as his, we are to look for more or less of a high spirit of poesy; and, feeling this, we were not disappointed in meeting with this spirit in the volume before us. Here is imagination of no common order.

Yet oftenest of that homeward path I think

Amid the deepening twilight slowly trod;

And I can hear the click of that old gate

As once again, amid the chirping yard,

I see the summer rooms open and dark,

And on the shady step the sister stand,

Her merry welcome in a mock reproach

Of Love's long childhood breathing.

I could think this was peace — so calmly there

The afternoon amid the valley sleeps.

——— How calm the night moves on; and yet

In the dark morrow that behind those hills

Lies sleeping now, who knows what horror lurks?

Yon mighty hunter in his silver vest,

That o’er those azure fields walks nightly now,

In his bright girdle wears the self-same gems

That on the watchers of old Babylon

Shone once, and to the soldier on her walls

Marked the swift hour, as they do now to me.

Having said thus much, however, we would not be misunderstood. Nothing less than a long apprenticeship to letters will give the author of the “Bride of Fort Edward” even a chance to be remembered or considered. His work, if we view it in its minor points, is radically deficient in all the ordinary and indispensable proprieties of literature. Generally speaking, it cannot be denied that his verse is any thing but verse, and that his prose stands sadly in need of a straight-jacket.


Charles Hartland, the Village Missionary. Revised and Prepared by William A. Alcott, Author of the “House I Live In,” etc. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

The simple design of this well-written little book is to convey moral and religious instruction, by exhibiting to the young, in pictures of every-day life, the excellence of virtue on the one hand, and the miseries of vice on the other. We are told, moreover, in the preface, that an attempt is made at showing “the importance and necessity of possessing the true missionary spirit, in all the ordinary concerns and relations of domestic life; and, above all, in the discharge of the responsible duties of a teacher.” The narrative has the undoubted merit of being true.


Solomon Seesaw. By J. P. Robertson, Senior Author of Letters on Paraguay. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

In spite of many assertions to the contrary, we have no hesitation in calling Solomon Seesaw a very lively, a very well-written, and altogether a very readable book. The outcry against it has no doubt been made by those who would not look into its pages on account of an exceedingly ill-founded yet customary prejudice — we allude to the prevalent idea that a writer who succeeds in matters-of-fact, can by no possibility succeed in matters of fiction. This opinion is not nearly so tenable as its converse — yet this converse is seldom insisted upon. The truth is, that a really good writer in any one department of literature, properly so called, will not be found to fail, essentially, in any one other to which he turns his attention, or in which he can be made to feel a sufficient interest. The popular voice, to be sure, has decided otherwise; but then, as the philosophical Chamfort well says — II y a à parier que toute idee publique, toute coiivention recue, est une sottise; car elk a ete convenue au plus grand nombre.

Solomon Seesaw, without making outrageous pretensions, is a very entertaining personage. There [page 170:] is a great deal of vivacity about him, and much of a hearty, up-and-down and straight-forward Roderick-Random kind of incident and humor. The book is a very good book to take up in a rainy day. Mr, Robertson is not by any means an ordinary writer. The Introductory Chapter to this |work is especially well-written. Here is an Extract which will speak for itself.

“Just so your move-about litterateur; and especially your foreign one. Let us suppose him to be in Glasgow; he hurries over breakfast, as fast as the bagman; like him, he looks at his watch every five minutes; he rings again and again for his tardily-brought toast and muffins; he scolds Boots for being so long with his boots; and he grudges himself the half hour required by the claims of appetite to allay the cravings of nature.

He brushes his coat and hat in a hurry; and out he sallies, with Boots junior as his companion and guide, to see the city of Glasgow; to remark upon its traffic, edifices, institutions, inhabitants, and upon the enormous strides which scientific industry is making in her multifarious walks. All these important points are jotted down in a journal, which, being revised and corrected, is, at a subsequent period, to be reluctantly given to the press.

Suppose your traveller to be a Frenchman, come across the Channel on a two months’ tour, with a small stock of English got up for the occasion, and alarmed at every moment that passes without a jot in his memorandum book.

He thus initiates his parley with Boots junior.

FRENCHMAN: — “Monsieur Boots, quelle rue — what street is dis?”

BOOTS: — “The Gorbals, sir.”

FRENCHMAN: — “De Gobbels; qu’est que ea, wat is dat?”

BOOTS: — “I dinna ken, sir.”

FRENCHMAN: — “Bête, stupid; no know do meaning of de street: remarquezca; il ne sait, peutetre, pourquoi on I’apelle “Boots.” Monsieur Boots : vy dey call you “Boots?”

BOOTS: — “Becuz a clean the boots, and gang messages.”

FRENCHMAN : — “Ah, well; he more adroit than I did not believe” (taking out his Glasgow guide.) “Were do University, Monsieur Boots?”

BOOTS: — “University, sir 1 — I dinna ken what you mean.”

FRENCHMAN: — “Bête : Ecossais: Ce gens-la sent vraiment stupides. L’Universite, jc dis; were de young gens taught to read Greek.”

BOOTS: — “Oo the College, ye mean?”

FRENCHMAN: — “Yes, yes, de College; go dere.”

BOOTS (to himself: — “I fancy this man's a scholar; bit, gif he is, he speaks a queer langidge„”

FRENCHMAN: — “Wat dat you say?”

BOOTS: — “Naething, sir. Here's the College.”

FRENCHMAN: — “Go in, done, and tell the professeur that one foreign gentleman wish to see de College of Glazcow.”

BOOTS (returning:) — “The maister says that he canna’ be fashed the noo; for he's hearing his class.”

FRENCHMAN: — “Voyez que ce sont des Betes que ces Ecossais-la.”

BOOTS: — “He says, gif ye’ll come the morn's mornin’ at nine o’clock, ye can see’d.”

FRENCHMAN: — “I vill not come to-morrow; to-morrow I go to Edinburg (remarquez.) Ce college n’a rien de respectable, pas meme son exterieur. On dit que les Ecossais ne comprendent pas le Grec. Aliens, Monsieur Boots, a la Bourse, we go Shange.”

Boots : — “‘Deed, sir, I think ye hae muckle need o’t; for it's a wat day; an’ ye’ve come out without an umbrella.”

FRENCHMAN: — “Wat de brute say? Pitoyable de moi; voyageur malheureux I Sirrah, sir Boots: I want see de Shange, where de people shange money, and read de papers, and shell sugar.”

BOOTS: — “Oo! that's the Exchinge, may be, ye mean?”

FRENCHMAN: — “Yes — yes — de Ekshynge; diable cette langue Anglaise. Chacun a sa fagon de parler, et de prononcer; le Dictionnaire dit, Ekshange; Boots dit, Ekschynge.”


Undine: A Miniature Romance; from the Gerinan of Baron de la Motte Fouque. Colman's Library of Romance, Edited by Granville Mellen, Samuel Colman, New York.

The re-publication of such a work as “Undine,” in the very teeth of our anti-iomantic national character, is an experiment well adapted to excite interest, and in the crisis caused by this experiment — for a crisis it is — it becomes the duty of every lover of literature for its own sake and spiritual uses, to speak out, and speak boldly, against the untenable prejudices which have so long and so unopposedly enthralled us. It becomes, we say, his plain duty to show, with what ability he may possess, the full value and capacity of that species of writing generally, which, as a people, we are too prone to discredit. It is incumbent upon him to make head, by all admissible means in his [page 171:] power, against that evil genius of mere matter-of-fact, whose grovelling and degrading assumptions are so happily set forth in the pert little query of Monsieur Casimir Peiier — “A quoi un poete est-il hon?” The high claims of Undine, and its extensive foreign reputation, render it especially desirable that he should make use of a careful analysis of the work itself — not less than of the traits of its class — with a view of impressing upon the public mind, at least his individual sense of its most exalted and extraordinary character. Feeling thus, we are grieved that our limits, as well as the late hour in which we take up the book, will scarcely permit us to speak of it otherwise than at random. The story runs very nearly in this manner.

Sir Huldbrand of Ringstetten, a knight of high descent, young, rich, valorous, and handsome, becomes slightly enamored, at a tournament, of a lady Bertalda, the adopted daughter of a German Duke. She, being entreated by the knight for one of her gloves, promises it upon condition of his exploring the recesses of a certain haunted forest. He consents, and is beset with a crowd of illusory and fantastic terrors, which, in the end, compel him to an extremity of the wood, where a long grassy peninsula, of great loveliness, juts out into the bosom of a vast lake. Of this peninsula, the sole inhabitants are an old fisherman and his wife, with their adopted daughter. Undine, a beautiful and fairy-like creature of eighteen, and of an extravagantly wild and perverse, yet amiable and artless temperament. The old couple had rejoiced, some years before, in a child of their own — who playing, one day, by the water's edge, fell in suddenly, and at once disappeared. In the depth of their grief for her loss, they were astonished and delighted, one summer's evening, with the appearance in their hut of the little Undine, who was dripping with water, and who could give no very distinct account of herself — her language being of a singular nature, and hej discourse turning upon such subjects as “golden castles” and “chrystal domes.” She had remained with the fisherman and his wife ever since, and they had come to look upon her as their own.

By these good people Sir Huldbrand is hospitably entertained. In the meantime, a brook, swollen by rains, renders the peninsula an island, and thoroughly cuts off his retreat. In the strict intercourse which ensues, the young man and maiden become lovers, and are finally wedded by a priest, who is opportunely cast away upon the coast. After the marriage, a new character seems to pervade Undine; and she at length explains to her husband, (who is alarmed at some hints which she lets fall,) the true history of her nature, and of her advent upon the island.

She is one of the race of water-spirits — a race who differ, personally, from mankind, only in a greater beauty, and in the circumstance of possessing no soul. The words of Undine, here divulging her secret to Huldbrand, will speak as briefly as we could do, and far more eloquently — “Both we, and the beings I have mentioned as inhabiting the other elements, vanish into air at death, and go out of existence, spirit and body, so that no vestige of us remains; and when you hereafter awake to a purer state of being, we shall remain where sand, and sparks, and wind and waves remain. We of course have no souls. The element moves us, and, again, is obedient to our will, while we live, though it scatters us like dust when we die; and as we have nothing to trouble us, we are as merry as nightingales, little gold-fishes, and other pretty children of nature. But all beings aspire to rise in the scale of existence higher than they are. It was therefore the wish of my father, who is a powerful water-prince in the Mediterranean Sea, that his only daughter should become possessed of a soul; although she should have to endure many of the sufferings of those who share that gift. Now the race to which I belong have no other means of obtaining a soul, than by forming, with air individual ofyour own, the most intimate union of love.”

Undine has an uncle, Kuhleborn, who is the spirit of a brook, the brook which had cut off the retreat of the knight. It was this uncle who had stolen the fisherman's daughter; who had brought Undine to the island, and who had, by machination in the haunted forest, forced Huldbrand upon the peninsula. The wedding having been accomplished, the brook is dried up; and the married pair, attended by the priest, make their way to the city where the tournament had been held, and where Bertalda and her friends were much alarmed at the long absence of the knight. This lady, who had loved him, and who is, in fact, the lost daughter of the fisherman (having been carried safely to a distant shore by Kuhleborn, and found and adopted by a Duke) this lady is sadly grieved at the marriage of the knight, but feels an unaccountable prepossession in favor of the bride, becomes her most intimate friend, and at length goes to live with her at the castle of Ringstetten — much in opposition to the wishes of the priest and of Kuhleborn. The disasters of the drama now commence. Huldbrand insensibly forgets his love for Undine, and recalls his passion for Bertalda. He is even petulant to his bride; who is aware of all, but utters no reproach. She entreats him, however, to be careful not to reproach her when they are crossing a brook, or in any excursion upon the water; as, in such case, her friends the water-spirits, who resent his behaviour, would have power to bear her away entirely, and for ever. In a passage down the Danube, however, with Undine and Bertalda, he forgets the caution, and upon a trifling occasion bitterly reproves his gentle bride — for whom he still feels a lingering affection. She is thus forced to leave him, and melts into the waters of the river.

Huldbrand returns with Bertalda to castle Ringstetten. His grief, at first violent, settles down at length into a tender melancholy, and finally is merged, although not altogether, in a growing passion for the fisherman's daughter. He sends for the priest; who obeys the summons in haste, but refuses [page 172:] to perform the marriage ceremony. He represents that lor many nights previous, Undine had appeared to him in a dream, imploring him with deep sighs, and saying — “Ah prevent him, dear father! I am still living! Ah! save his life! Ah! save his soul!” Huldbrand, however, rejects the advice of the priest, and sends to a neighboring monastery for a monk, who promises to do his bidding in a few days.

Meantime, the knight is borne, in a dream, as if on swans’ wings, to a certain spot in the Mediterranean Sea. Here he is held hovering over the water, which becomes perfectly transparent. He sees Undine weeping bitterly and in conversation with Kuhleborn. This conversation gives Huldbrand to know that Undine still lives, and still retains her soul, although separated for ever from her husband — and that, if he should again marry, it will be her fate and her duty to cause his death, in obedience to a law of the water-spit its. Kuhleborn is insisting upon this necessity. He tells Undine that the knight is about to wed — and reminds her of what she must do.

“I have not the power,” returned Undine with a smile. “Do you not remember 1 I have sealed up the fountain securely, not only against myself, but all of the same race.” [This is a fountain in the court-yard of Castle Ringstetten, which Undine had caused to be covered up, while she lived upon earth, on account of its affording Kuhleborn and other water-spirits who were ill disposed to the knight, the means of access to the castle.]

“Still, should he leave his castle,” said Kuhleborn, “or should he once allow the fountain to be uncovered, what then for doubtless he thinks there is no great murder in such trifles?”

“For that very reason,” said Undine, still smiling amid her tears, “for that very reason he is this moment hovering in spirit over the Mediterranean Sea, and dreaming of this voice of warning which our conversation affords him. It is for this that I have been studious in disposing the whole vision.”

Notwithstanding all this, however, Huldbrand weds Bertalda. She in the gaiety of her spirit, upon the night of the wedding, causes the fountain to be uncovered without the knowledge of the knight, who has never revealed his dream to her. She does this, partly on account of a fancied virtue in the water, and partly through an arrogant pleasure in undoing what the first wife had commanded to be done. Undine immediately ascends and accomplishes the destruction of the knight.

This is an exceedingly meagre outline of the leading events of the story; which, although brief, is crowded with incident. Beneath all, there runs a mystic or under-current of meaning, of the simplest and most easily intelligible, yet of the most richly philosophical character. From internal evidence afforded by the book itself, we gather that the author has deeply suffered from the ills of an ill-assorted marriage — and to the bitter reflections induced by these ills, we owe the conception and peculiar execution of “Undine.”

In the contrast between the artless, thoughtless, and careless character of Undine before possessing a soul, and her serious, enwrapped, and anxious, yet happy condition after possessing it — a condition which, with all its multiform cares and disquietudes, she still feels to be preferable to her original fate — M. Fouque has beautifully painted the difference between the heart unused to love, and the heart which has received its inspiration.

The jealousies which follow the marriage, arising from the conduct of Bertalda, are the natural troubles of love — but the persecutions of Kuhleborn and the other water-spirits, who take umbrage at Huldbrand's treatment of his wife, are meant to picture certain difficulties from the interference of relations in conjugal matters — difficulties which the author has himself experienced. The warning of Undine to Huldbrand — “reproach me not upon the waters, or we part for ever” — is meant to embody the truth that quarrels between man and wife, are seldom or never irremediable unless when taking place in the presence of third parties. The second wedding of the knight, with his gradual forgetfulness of Undine and Undine's intense grief beneath the waters — are dwelt upon so pathetically and so passionately — that there can be no doubt of the personal opinions of the author on the subject of such marriages — no doubt of his deep personal interest in the question. How thrillingly are these few and simple words made to convey his belief that the mere death of a beloved wife does not imply a final separation so complete as to justify an union with another — “The fisherman had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was a doubtful conclusion to his mind, that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly viewed as her death!” This is where the old man is endeavoring to dissuade the knight from wedding Bertalda.

We have no hesitation in saying that this portion of the design of the romance — the portion which conveys an under-current of meaning — does not afford the fairest field to the romanticist — does not appertain to the higher regions of ideality. Although, in this case, the plan is essentially distinct from Allegory, yet it has too close an affinity to that most indefensible species of writing — a species whose gross demerits we cannot now pause to examine. That M. Fouque was well aware of the disadvantage under which he labored — that he well knew the field he traversed not to be the fairest — and that a personal object alone induced him to choose it — we cannot and shall not doubt. For the hand of the master is visible in every line of his beautiful fable. “Undine” is a model of models, in regard to the high artistical talent which it evinces. We could write volumes in a detailed commentary upon its various beauties in this respect. Its unity is absolute — its keeping unbroken. Yet every minute point of the picture fills and satisfies the eye. Every thing is attended to, and nothing is out of time or out of place. [page 173:]

We say that some private and personal design to be fulfilled has thrown M. Fouque upon that objectionable under-current of meaning which he has so elaborately managed. Yet his high genius has nearly succeeded in turning the blemish into a beauty. At all events he has succeeded, in spite of a radical defect, in producing what we advisedly consider the finest romance in existence. We say this with a bitter kind of half-consciousness that only a very few will fully agree with us — yet these few are oar all in such matters. They will stand by us in a just opinion.

Were we to pick out points for admiration in Undine, we should pick out the greater portion of the story. We cannot say whether the novelty of its conception, or the loftiness of its ideality, or its intense pathos, or its rigorous simplicity, or that high artistical talent with which all are combined, is the parliculai to be chiefly admired. Addressing those who have read the book, we may call attention to the delicacy and grace of transition from subject to subject — a point which never fls to tests the power of the writer — as, for example, at page 128, when, for the purposes of the story, it becomes necessary that the knight, with Undine and Bertalda, shall proceed down the Danube. An ordinary novelist would have here tormented both himself and his readers, in his search for a sufficient motive for the voyage. But, in connexion with a fable such as Undine, how all-sufficient seems the simple motive assigned by Fouqué! — “In this grateful union of friendship and aifection winter came and passed away; and spring, with its foliage of tender green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded to gladden the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. The season was in harmony with their minds, and their minds imparted their own hues to the season. What wonder, then, that its storks mid swallows inspired them also with a disposition to travel!

Again, we might dwell upon the exquisite management of imagination, which is so visible in the passages where the brooks are water-spirits, and the water-spirits brooks — neither distinctly either. What can be more ethereally ideal than the frequent indeterminate glimpses caught of Kuhlebom — or than his singular and wild lapses into shower and foam? — or than the evanishing of the white wagoner and his white horses into the shrieking and devouring flood? — or than the gentle melting of the passionately-weeping bride into the chrystal waters of the Danube 1 What can be more divine than the character of the soul-less Undine? — what more august than her transition into the soul-possessing wife? What can be more intensely beautiful than the whole book? We calmly think — yet cannot help asserting with enthusiasm — that the whole wide range of fictitious literature embraces nothing comparable in loftiness of conception, or in felicity of execution, to those final passages of the volume before us which embody the uplifting of the stone from the fount by the order of Bertalda, the sorrowful and silent re-advent of Undine, and the rapturous death of Sir Huldbrand in the embraces of his spiritual wife.


Algic Researches; Comprising Inquiries respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians. First Series. Indian Tales and Legends. Two Volumes. By Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Author of a Narrative Journal of Travels to the Sources of the Mississippi ,- Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley; An Expedition to Itasca Lake, etc. Harper and Brothers, New York.

These volumes form the commencement of a singularly interesting and important work — a work which has been already too long delayed — and which could not be so well executed, perhaps, by any man living as by Mr. Schoolcraft. With a view of aiding in the formation of right opinions in regard to the origin and mental peculiarities of our aborigines, this gentleman has devoted many years and great labor, in discovering and fixing the comprehensive points of their national resemblance, as well as the concurring circumstances of their history, and traditions — also in detecting the affinities of their languages, and in unveiling the principles of their mythology. He well observes that the true period for such inquiry must be limited to the actual existence of the tribes themselves. Many of them are already extinct, with the languages they spoke — and one of the still-existing smaller races has lost the use of its vernacular tongue in adopting the English. It is indeed time that the record of facts should be completed by which the aborigines are to be judged. The interest of the subject requires no comment. Mr. S. has had the advantage of a long residence in the Indian country, and of official intercourse with the tribes. He has obtained new and authentic data; he has found materials for separate observations on the oral tales of the Indians, fictitious and historical; on their hieroglyphics, music and poetry; and on the grammatical structure of their languages, with their principles of combination, and the actual condition of their vocabulary. The present work embraces the first named topic only — the oral traditions. The other subjects will be hereafter discussed. The word “Algic,” adopted as a nominative for the series, is derived from “Alleghany” and “Atlantic,” and includes, in a generic sense, all that family of tribes who, about the year 1600, were found spread out along the Atlantic, between Pamlico Sound and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, extending northwest to the Missinipi of Hudson's Bay, and west to the Mississippi — this with some few local exceptions.

The work cannot be too emphatically urged upon public attention. [page 174:]

The Thugs or Phansigars of India; Comprising a History of the Rise and Progress of that Extraordinary Fraternity of Assassins; and a Description of the System which it pursues, and of the Measures which have been adopted by the Supreme Government of India for its Suppression. Compiled from Original and Authentic Documents published by Captain W. H. Sheman, Superintendent of Thug Police, Two Volumes. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia.

There exists, in India, and has there existed for nearly two hundred years, a secret fraternity of Assassins, called Thugs, and composed of many thousand individuals, united in the bonds of a most bloody and singular superstition — a fraternity -which practices the boldest robbery and the most atrocious murder as the ordinary means of subsistence — regarding them not as crime but as deeds of high merit, especially acceptable in the eyes of its tutelar Deity. The measures of the society have, moreover, been concerted and executed with a skill so consummate, that, until lately, all efforts have failed at putting it down. It has been long known that such a body actually flourished — but we have had hitherto very little of definite or accessible information respecting it. These volumes fully remedy the evil. They are a compilation from a work published in Calcutta, in 1836, entitled “Ramaseana, or a Vocabulary of the peculiar Language used by the Thugs, with an Introduction and Appendix, descriptive of the System pursued by that Fraternity, and of the Measures adopted by the Supreme Government of India for its Suppression.”


Continuation of the Diary Illustrative of the Times of George IV. Interspersed with Original Letters from the late Queen Caroline, the Princess Charlotte, and from Various Other Distinguished Persons, Edited by John Gait, Esq. Two Volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

The first portion of this Diary was rendered more notorious, and certainly of more consequence, than it would otherwise have been, by a variety of virulent attacks upon its general pretensions, and especially upon its credibility, by a legion of British reviewers, among whom Lord Brougham rendered himself not a little conspicuous. It may be well doubted, however, if any or if all of the Philippics by which the book has been assailed, have succeeded in overthrowing it, so far as regards the more essential matters of fact of which it takes cognizance. It may even be questioned whether, with some reservation. Queen Caroline is not here truly depicted; and we should by no means wonder if the work were hereafter gravely referred to as affording the clearest light in respect to her character.


Practical Lessons in Flower Painting, being a Series of Progressive Studies, principally from Nature. By James Ackerman. Thomas, Cowperthwaite and Co. Philadelphia.

The progressive exercises in this book are well arranged. We have, first, outlines and shaded portions of stems; then the various tints of green leaves; then the petals colored in gradation, and accompanied with the plainest instructions in regard to the mixing of the colors, etc. — then single flowers, with leaves and petals — and, in the last place, entire groups of exquisite loveliness. The work is in duplicate — each picture being given colored and uncolored. We heartily recommend it to public attention, as decidedly the best elementary book on Flower Painting to be met with in America. In saying this we make no exception in favor of imported English publications — for Mr. Ackerman's “Lessons” are much superior to the original ones of Andrews in point of delicate execution. The latter work was published by Tilt of Cheapside; and various attempts have been made in New York, and elsewhere, to get up a republication; all of which have failed, until this of Mr. Ackerman's. Mr. A. no doubt owes his success, in part, to his being the lithographer of his own flowers — that is to say, he draws them himself on stone, as well as colors them — the proper filling in of the shades in the drawing being an important point. There can be no question, however, that as regards meie coloring, also, better work is done at Mr. A.'s rooms (corner of Market and Seventh streets) than at any similar establishmest in this country.


Prepared Notices of “Marryatt's Diary,” of “Hyperion,” of the “Naval Foundling,” of “Jack Sheppard,” and of several other works, are unavoidably crowded out in this number.





[S:0 - BGM, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Critical Notices [Text-02]