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Current Literature

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1224, p. 346.

October 3, 1863

CURRENT LITERATURE.

Border and Bastille. By the Author of "Guy Livingstone." (1 vol. Tinsley Brothers.) "Guy Livingstone" admits, with the manly candour to be expected of him, that his "excursion" to America was, so far as its principal object was concerned, a "failure, absolute and complete." His admission cannot, unfortunately, be disputed; but it can be and should be generally regretted. For what more spirit-stirring can possibly be conceived than a description of a real, eye-witnessed campaign by the author of "Sword and Gown"? No pen can describe in fitter language than his all that pertains to the externals of war. He has the art of expressing in his periods either the steadiness of the "thin red line" or the stern advance of bristling bayonets, or the irresistible rush of an impetuous squadron, the ring of armed hoofs, the rattle of scabbards, the flash of sabres, the hoarse word of command, and "a low thunder of arms." It may be that he is a little too fond of accompanying his sword-thrusts with a "horrible blasphemy," until the expression raises a smile instead of creating a shiver; but, in spite of all that, there is no modern writer can more powerfully excite his reader's desire to dare "what man dare do," --no modern writer who can more successfully stir up in his reader all those evil and angry passions which it should be the labour of our lives to subdue. Bella, horrida bella, are fit theme for such a writer; and it is in a certain sense to be deplored that he should have been reduced to put upon record only the story of a not very extraordinary voyage across the Atlantic, of agreeable evenings with the ladies of Baltimore, of experiences in horsedealing, of drinking-parties and drunken Irishmen, of wanderings in search of a ford, of an inglorious capture, and of a dreary, though not harsh, imprisonment. As he did not succeed in joining the Confederate army, of course anything he has to say upon that subject is only worth so much more than what any other absentee has to say as he is superior in mental acumen to that other. Except as a matter of opinion founded upon hearsay, it is of course worth exactly nothing. He is, however, competent to speak as to public opinion in Baltimore, where he lingered a weary while before he could find a guide, and to which he appears to have returned ever and anon when foiled in his attempts to gain a footing in Virginia, and that he declares to be overwhelmingly in favour of the Secessionists. It is quite natural that he, being "one whose enmity to all purely republican institutions will endure to his life's end," and who considers himself to have been unjustly imprisoned by those amongst whom "purely republican institutions" prevail, should have strong opinions touching his captors and oppressors; and it will be easily believed that he does not express those opinions in the weakest terms and and the most temperate language. To speak truth, his narrative, from the time of his capture to the end of the volume, is not over creditable to the "cool Captain," or Major rather, for that appears to have been the title most commonly conferred upon him. Even heroes, even a great Emperor, as Louis Napoleon is witness, cannot always prevent a certain ludicrousness from attending their capture, but dignity may generally be maintained by the actual captive. This our author seems to have forgotten when he abuses the Judge-Advocate, threatens him on paper, and amuses himself during his captivity by "chaffing" the Federal sentries. It would have been better to omit such sentences as "officials are justified, I suppose, in avoiding all waste of time and trouble; perhaps it was more simple to lie to a subordinate than to risk the short discussion that an interview would have involved;" and "should the changes and chances of this mortal life ever bring me face to face with that jovial Judge on any neutral ground, by my faith and honour I will say in his ear five short words not hard to understand." Æquam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem is a good precept, which our author, though a scholar, appears either not to have remembered or wilfully to have ignored. He may have been outrageously treated, but that fact is not made out by his "pitiful story," nor does his behaviour under his trials excite much sympathy. Nevertheless, his "Jeremiad " may be read no small gratification, for in it one traces here and there the vigorous, slashing, savage style which characterises "Guy Livingstone."

Our Old Home. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2 vols. Smith and Elder.) Mr. Hawthorne has been justly said to be a man of genius, and it is almost impossible for a man of genius to fill two volumes uninterestingly. Although, therefore, in this collection of articles (intended, it may be presumed, chiefly for Americans) there is scarcely any subject new to Englishmen treated of, they are handled in a manner which makes them entertaining even to the native Briton. The first paper, which gives some account of Mr. Hawthorne's experience as American Consul at Liverpool, will be found by English readers the most novel and the most amusing. There is considerable humour in his description of the manner in which he was treated by his countrymen, who, after the usual American fashion, considered that he was in a manner their property; would each of them speak of him as "my Consul;" would, with that idea, visit him in large bodies, insist upon shaking hands with him severally, elect a spokesman to draw him out, and, having heard what he had to say for himself, retire contented (or discontented) with their "bargain." The other papers consist of dissertations, cynical and acrimonious in tone, upon the English character, English manners, English places, and English institutions--whence the title, "Our Old Home." To show how extremely bilious Mr. Hawthorne must have been when he penned his sketches it is unnecessary to do more than append the following quotation:--"I desire, above all things, to be courteous; but, since the plain truth must be told, the soil and climate of England produce feminine beauty as rarely (!!!) as they do delicate fruit; and, though admirable specimens of both are to be met with, they are the hothouse ameliorations of refined society, and apt, moreover, to relapse into the coarseness of the original stock. The men are manlike, but the women are not beautiful, though the female Bull be well enough adapted to the male." Mr. Hawthorne should really have his eyes examined by a good oculist; something must have happened to them since he wrote "Transformation," when he seemed to be a judge of the beautiful.

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