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the icy regions of doubt and unbelief, it turned to find delight in the weakest superstition. Mrs. Radcliffe and Monk Lewis sent the whole reading world trembling to its bed, where it lay sleepless and afraid to blow its candle out. This was bad enough, no doubt ; but any thing rather than Voltaire's water-gruel. There was, at least, one great step gained in the acknowledgment of the existence of such a natural phenomenon as the human heart. Now, humanity and Benthamism have become de haut ton, and have driven Shakspeare and the musical glasses out of fashionable conversation. Even the annuals, the last authorized asylum for elegant insipidity, where Lady Charlottes and Lords Fitzeverything, like attenuated French emigrants, still bandy the small-talk of the ancien régime, even these have become half conscious of the change in affairs, and begin to lisp timidly about new poor-laws and charitable soup.
The modern novel, even in France, to a great extent, has become the vehicle of a moral. Novels are now mostly laysermons, delivered in the form of dialogue, the edge of the cup being sweetened with a plot. They lecture where they once only amused. But while the design of the novel has been changed for the better, we do not think, that the execution has equally improved. An ordinary novelist of the present day writes, it is true, with an ease and brilliancy of style, that would have won a ten years' immortality a century ago. Novels and reviews, and the necessity of rapid writing which they have induced, while they have added to the vivacity, the piquancy, and the pertness of our language, have robbed it of much of its soberness, its dignity, and its weighty richness. We have herds of ready writers, but they are mostly of an ephemeral character. We are not now
. often reminded of the condensed beauty and sedate grace of Bacon, the massive eloquence of Milton, the profound gravity of Browne, or the golden luxuriance of our English Chrysostom, Taylor. The epigrammatic style - a style carried to perfection by the more brilliant French novelists of the present day — is as prevalent in prose now as it was in verse in the time of Pope. We have gained in sparkle while we have lost in depth. The modern style of writing is often clear only because it is shallow. We see the bottom easily, but the shining pebbles and yellow sand hardly supply the want of those pearls, which lie only beneath deeper and more silent waters, and which we must dive in order to bring up. The younger D’Israeli has a theory, (which Neal broached some twenty years before him,) that prose is the only natural vebicle for thought. We shall not here attempt to prove the contrary of this proposition, though we think it would be no very hard task. We have only to hope, that, if verse, which is necessarily more laborious, and which, while it makes our mother tongue search her coffers ” more narrowly, is also more compact and archlike, is to be superseded by prose, the latter will be of a more grave and sinewy strain than that with which the predominance of novel writing has infected us. We are tired of its wit, its glitter, and its pretty, dilettante philosophizing. To play in a masterly fashion on the octave fute may be a worthy attainment. It is pleasant to hear now and then its lively, chirping, grasshopper notes. But a whole orchestra of them would be intolerable. They would seem to send burning sparks into the chambers of our ears, and we should long for the cool refreshment of the heavier and deeper in
We have been enticed into these rather desultory remarks by the reflections naturally suggested by looking at Miss Bremer as an example of that change for the better, which has already begun to show itself in the novels of the day, and which is making silent but perceptible progress in other branches of literature. The novel has already become something more than a picture of manners, and it will not be long before the historian will cease to pile together a dry heap of facts, or to compose a panegyric on some favorite national cutthroat, and will write rather a history of men, looking at events from the higher level of a common humanity, and weighing the worth and nobleness of deeds by their tendency to advance and civilize mankind.
We would not have our remarks upon modern prose style considered as applying particularly to Miss Bremer. Though sometimes a little ambitious, sometimes deficient in those nicer delicacies of taste which distinguish her sex, often confused in her metaphors, and occasionally too willing to say a profound thing to be able to do so, she generally writes in a sweet, domestic, fireside style of great simplicity, and which gives our hearts the most convincing proof of her being a woman of genius, by leaving them happier and kinder than
she found them. In one respect, we think her superior to most of the contemporary novelists, her characters being universal, and not national. Whatever Swedish peculiarity there may be in their manners, there is none in their natures. They are not simply Swedes and Norwegians, but men and
We recognize them, after a moment's thought, as old acquaintances. They are as much at home in Boston as in Stockholm. Her children, too, and especially her little girls, are hitherto unequalled. In spite of the obstinate assertion of spinsterhood in the prefix to her name, we can hardly help believing that she has a nursery of her own. We know the particular footsteps of each of the little ones, as they hop about overhead. We hear familiar voices from the high chairs at the breakfast-table. We know by rote the exact weight of every one of their heads, and, when we hear a thump upon the staircase or the floor, we are sure beforehand whose voice will be raised to expostulate against destiny and the laws of gravitation. When they ask questions, we remember with a thrill the unanswerable philosophical theories and inextricable syllogisms, that have been propounded to us by the unbreeched Newtons and Leibnitzes of
While they are in the parlour, we shudder for the vases and the teapoys. . While they are out of it, we expect to hear crashes from the china-closet, or cries for assistance from impromptu difficulties, to get into which would seem to have demanded a week's forethought. When they levy a tribute of stories, we are reminded how often our stock of invention, and fairy-lore, and improvised doggerel, has been pumped dry by the little besieging army that scaled our knees. And Petrea's nose! It is a character by
a more distinct one than the indefatigable Mr. James has been able to souvenir, as the musicians say, out of Scott. Ovid's nose, or Herrick's, was not more individual. It takes rank without question with Bardolph's and Slawkenbergius's, and that false nose, so real in its unreality, of Sampson Carrasco's squire.
But it is not merely as a painter of character, though she does almost always give us the fresh flowers, and not a mere hortus siccus, with designating labels, that Miss Bremer claims our regard. In all her works, there is something to make us better. To read them brings us out of the jostling world, and seems gently to lead us back again to the dear
circle round the hearth of home; a circle the memory of which, be it bright or gloomy, accompanies the heart through life like a moving horizon, where the clouds still hang at a distance, as if they were made only to be turned into golden towers and pinnacles by the sun, and which keeps alive in us the purest and freshest of our ivspirations, the yet dewy, halfopened blossoms of hope and morning. If dear Sancho Panza blessed the man who invented sleep, so would we, with our whole hearts, bless those who invent thoughts and images for us, that make us children again, and set us chasing butterflies and binding weed nosegays again, in those old meadows, or listening to the history and the legend around the old woodfire, that flickered so pleasantly on the dear faces, which throng about us once more, as ruddy and as free from wrinkles, as they were then. And therefore bless Fredrika Bremer! And who more richly has earned a blessing, than she who can make bloom again those wilted roses of our spring, — who can make us feel that we have yet lost nothing, if we have not lost the angelic capability of being made children again? Those writers who teach us to trust in the buckler of the impenetrable sneer, may, for a while, win the praise of strength from our unsteady and anchorless minds ; but in our time of trial, we learn that their strength is but weakness, and that they only are truly mighty who give us back our homely faith.
With “ The Bondmaidi” begins our first knowledge of Miss Bremer as a poet. Though written in prose, it is a poem in the true meaning of that word. The plot of this little drama is very simple. The scene is laid in pagan times. Kumba and Feima are two bond-maidens of the Princess Frid, who is betrothed to King Dag, now absent on some warlike expedition. The spirit of Kumba is above her lot. She feels continually the want of some purer and more comprehensive dispensation than that of Walhalla, which offers nothing to the slave but an eternity of bondage, and confines its rewards to the highborn and the warrior. The kindness of her mistress is more galling to her than harshness would be, for she cannot but feel, that it is near akin to the kindness which would be shown to a favorite dog, or to any thing else which claimed care by being utterly dependent. Her chain is invisible, but only the more painful, being fastened around her spirit, and it weighs the more heavily from the very roses with which it is hidden. Even her unwilling belief in the religion of her fathers makes her the more eager to throw off its oppressive effect. That she was the slave of a princess, which would have made a less thoughtful and climbing nature happy, is to her only a greater misery. Sadly and truly she exclaims to Feima,
Why must a slave dwell in a king's palace, and learn to compare herself with the noble? Why must she learn to love the great, the beautiful, when her portion is with deformity and meanness? Why must she gain knowledge which must only teach her to despair ?” – pp. 14. Another element in Kumba's unhappiness is, that she also loves King Dag. The character of Feima is a complete foil to that of Kumba. Cheerful and loving, she bears through life that surest divining-rod for the most hidden springs of happiness — content. . She walks attended by a sunshine of her own, which seems to shield her from sympathy with anything but the sunshine of others. No two characters could be more opposed ; yet we know not which is sadder, — the contentment, or the pining anguish, of a slave. Frid is gentle and kind; but it is the easy gentleness and kindness of a prosperous heart, and she is too happy in her station and her love, to have her spirit ever darkened by the shadow of others' sorrows. The world comes rightly to her, and she dreams not that it can come otherwise to any. She knows that no change can make her bappier, and so it never occurs to her, that there may be some to whom a change would be from death to life. But she is naturally of a beautiful nature, and only needs what all need, the gentle ministry of sorrow, to raise her soul from negative to positive beauty.
Kumba, wrought upon by her love, her ambition, and a deep feeling of wrong, determines to murder Frid, and to this end obtains a poison from the witch Grimgerda, and administers it. Immediately after, she repents. But it is too late. Frid dies, just as the white sail of her betrothed comes in sight. The great interest of the drama arises from the prefigurement of Christianity in the longing soul of Kumba. To us, there is a great deal of tragic pathos in it. The whole story is pagan, yet in the forgiving spirit of Frid, the repentance of Kumba, and the humble content of Feima, we find the eternal truths of Christianity foreshadowed in the eternal wants of the human soul. Nor are the spirits, that