« AnteriorContinuar »
4. Letter from the Secretary of War, transmitting the information, in relation to the amo’int deemed necessary in the execution and completion of each work of Internal Improvement, specified in the Report made on the 4th of March, 1828. (April 29, 1828.)
5. Speech of the Hon. William Smith, of South-Carolina, in the Senate of the United States, on the bill making appropriation for Internal Improvements, delivered on the 11th of April, 1828.
VIII. THE ROMAN ORATORS,
IX. GEORGIA CONTROVERSY,
X. THE TARIFF,
2. Report of a Committee of the Citizens of Boston and vicinity,
ART. I.--A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher
Columbus. By WASHINGTON IRVING. 3 vols. 8vo. NewYork. 1828.
IN the natural progress of things, this country seems to be fairly arrived at a new era. The educated citizens of the United States are gradually addicting themselves more and more to literary pursuits, and the talents which have hitherto so honourably distinguished them in every undertaking in which they have seriously engaged, will, we confidently believe, become no less illustrious in the department of letters, than in arts, in commerce, and in arms.
Among the writers who have hitherto been celebrated for their successful exertions, who have been increasing the reputation of our country while weaving a chaplet for their own brows, no one has been more generally, nor more deservedly popular in the United States, than Washington Irving.
His earliest publications were remarkable for their vivacity, their graphic delineations of persons and of character, their racy humour, the delicacy and truth of their reflections, and the freedom, yet correctness of their style. His later productions have, we think, lost in ease and vigour, all that they have gained in the more polished structure of their sentences, and in the works published since his residence in Europe, there is, apparently, more restraint, more effort to be correct, and, consequently, more tameness, than in those of his earlier years. He no longer laughs with the hearty and cordial glee of inborn cheerfulness. In his later works, it is only when he reverts to his native land, to the scenes of his youth, to the traditions which beguiled and enkindled his awakening imagination, that we can discover the felicitous graces of his earlier writings, and the charms of his playful and interesting narratives. VOL. II.-NO. 3.
Nor can we wonder at this difference. In these domestic legends, he feels himself in full possession of his subject, revisits in fancy old and familiar scenes, recalls well remembered incidents, and moves with the certainty and confidence, with the buoyant step and firmness of one perfectly assured of his acquaintance with the ground on which he treads, while in treating of European topics and manners, his imagination is comparatively shackled, his mind oppressed with the constant apprehension of error, with the fear of trespassing unwittingly on some “ bienséance,” on some fact or opinion moral, political, topographical or mythical, (for each country has its fables) and he must, therefore, write with reserve and diffidence. It has, in consequence, happened, that his first publications continue to be more read, and are universally more popular than those which have succeeded them. The authentic history of Diedrich Knickerbocker may be considered among the permanent monuments of our literature. If the design has not the merit of originality, the outline has been filled up with so many diversified and fanciful details, 'ornamented with so many amusing, even if sometimes grotesque illustrations, as have sufficed to render the perusal of it delightful to all classes of society.
Within the last two years, Mr. Irving, like the great author of Waverly, has directed his attention to new objects, and leaving the pleasant regions of fancy and of fiction, has undertaken to record the life and fortunes of one of those extraordinary men, whose genius may be said to have changed the current of human affairs, and extended the limits of human knowledge, enterprise
We rejoice in this determination—we rejoice that the fine talents of Mr. Irving have not been exclusively devoted to temporary subjects, to publications which, even if they possess a momentary popularity, may not secure him a substantial and enduring fame. He has now connected his literary fortunes with a name of great celebrity and of peculiar interest in the Western hemisphere, and we trust he will diffuse widely his own reputation, while making more familiar and more accurately known the life and adventurous voyages of Christopher Columbus.
Through our journals it is generally known that within a few years past, Don Martin Fernandez de Navarrete, one of the few names that now adorn the literature of Spain, had been permitted to withdraw from the recesses, where by a cautious and jealous cabinet they had long been concealed, and to publish to the world, some of the original documents relating to the early
discoveries of the Spaniards. Among these were an abstract of the original journal kept by Columbus on his first voyage, and many of his letters.
In the winter of 1825–6, Mr. Irving was invited to Madrid by Mr. Everett, the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to the Court of Spain, for the purpose of translating some of these valuable papers, if, upon examination he should deem it expedient.
He soon discovered that these documents furnished rather “a mass of materials for history, than a history itself,"'* and encouraged by the many sources of original and authentic information which were opened to him at Madrid, and by the belief that an ample and complete account of the life and voyages of Columbus, “was a desideratum in literature,” he engaged in this work as one “more agreeable to himself, and more acceptable to his country, than the translations he had contemplated.”
In this change of purpose, we believe the public has been generally gratified. And even after the many accounts we already possess, from the pens of able and eloquent historians, of the discoveries of Columbus, we doubt not that this narrative will be considered as more full, more authentic, more satisfactory than any which has preceded it. The style of this work is chaste and elegant, occasionally elevated and eloquent, the narrative connected, well sustained, and unabated in its interest ; the reflections candid and judicious, and the materials collected with diligence, and furnished him almost by fortunate casualties.
The subject is, indeed, worthy of the labours of the most distinguished scholars. History, perhaps, records no one man whose actions have exerted so decided and permanent an influence on the condition of the human race; whose discoveries have given rise to such extraordinary and magnificent events. Even at the present day, we see imperfectly the still increasing effects of this wonderful enterprise. Nor, when we look to its future and remote consequences, can we delineate the scenes that rise in visionary grandeur on the excited mind.
Neither was this one of those fortunate discoveries over which chance may claim her dominion. It was no wandering mariner driven by gales, or swept by currents on an unknown or unlooked-for shore; no adventurer roaming abroad through curiosity or love of spoil, whose success the historian is called upon to commemorate. Columbus had formed in his own mind, through years of observation, reflection and study, a theory of
History of Columbus, preface, p. 6.
the general structure of the surface of the earth; one which, though darkly prefigured in the speculations of ancient science, though mingled occasionally in the dreams of poets and philosophers, was, at the close of the fifteenth century, discredited and ridiculed, and even considered as a religious heresy. He, went a suppliant from court to court, from nation to nation, soliciting the paltry means which were necessary to put to the test his magnificent predictions, his simple yet sublime hypothesis. When at last, in despite of her counsellors, in despite even of her colleague on the throne, Isabella, of Castile, furnished three small vessels, scarcely calculated for a coasting voyage along a tranquil shore, Columbus, abandoning the track of all preceding navigators, quitting the shores and home of civilized man, turned his prow over the wide expanse of unnavigated waters, over the “ocean sea,” as it is termed in his commission, traversed those waves whence it was predicted there could be no return, dragged along a trembling and reluctant crew over billows which no keel before had ploughed, where even the favouring breeze that bore them onwards, became a cause of alarm, as threatening to fulfil each inauspicious prediction, until after a daring and unprecedented voyage, after thirty-three days and nights of anxious and painful vigilance, amidst murmurs and apprehensions, and almost amidst mutiny, he landed his astonished followers on the fair and fertile shores of this western continent.
This was the splendid triumph of science and of couragema proud trophy to the sagacity and persevering energy of the human understanding-an enterprise which, in the fable-loving days of antiquity, would have caused temples and altars to rise on the summits of each ocean cliff, and have filled heaven with a new race of heroes and demigods. Even if some errors mingled in the calculations of Columbus, if the circumference of the earth greatly exceeded his estimates, if he did not reach, as he expected, those golden realms of Cathay or of Cipango, on which bis glowing imagination had so long been accustomed to dwell, his principles were just, and he, at least, proved that the great
ocean sea, was not a boundless and interminable waste, but a belt of waters, separating the continent of Europe from other lands equally well calculated for the support, the enjoyment and the abode of man.
The gradual improvements in the art of navigation during the two centuries that preceded this voyage of Columbus, certainly facilitated the adventures of the seaman. The discovery of the mariner's compass had released the navigator from the shore, and the improvements of the astrolabe, the precursor of the