« PreviousContinue »
EULOGIES ON ADAMS AND JEFFERSON.
We had just taken up this repository of warm and splendid panegyric, and touched the margin in a few places with our critical pencil, when an inquisitive lad, to whom we are rather partial and indulgent in our old age, happening to cast his eye over our shoulder, and to notice the word eulogies in the running title, inquired what it meant. But seeming to catch a glimpse of the definition before we had time to answer, added, with great sim
, plicity, ‘A’nt a eulogy a kind of novel ?' We read on with our accustomed gravity, and the little querist vanished into the nursery; but as we turned over page after page,
, the question would return unbidden-A’nt a eulogy a kind of novel ?' This, in spite of all our strait-forward propensities, turned our musings into a new chaunel, and brought up a new question, What are some of the leading characteristics of a novel ? For how could we answer our little flax-hair, who might return at any moment, till this latter point was settled ? Here, as we found ourselves not quite so much at home as usual, we first thought of appealing to Johnson ; but as such an appeal would have betrayed rather more ignorance, than our pride
seemed just then willing to confess, we most philosophically leaned back in our elbow chair, and permitted the great Lexicographer to remain quietly upon the shelf.
If, however, it is essential to the legitimacy of a novel, that the hero should be free from all the infirmities of our common nature on the one hand, and be adorned with more than every human virtue and perfection on the other-if a novel must necessarily bristle with exclamation points, and call for tears whether there is any occasion for them or not, we do not see how we could honestly have told our Joseph, bad he returned and pressed his question, that a eulogy is not a kind of novel. Besides, in the case before us, it required little more than a simple narration of facts, to give an air of romance to the whole volume. In what degree these nineteen eulogies, or any of them, exhibit the other features of a novel which we have just hinted at, we may find occasion to inquire before we are through.
These laudatory funeral discourses are of very unequal length, the shortest containing but six pages, and the longest extending almost to fifty. In the time allowed for preparation, there was a still greater range., The first, that of Governor Tyler, was pronounced on the eleventh of July, and the last that of Mr. Wirt, on the nineteenth of October. The difference in the solid contents of these several orations, is not less apparent, though the ratio is not uniforınly in direct proportion to the superficies. Some of them were evidently written in haste, under that thrilling and intense excitement, which the simultaneous decease of Adams and Jefferson, on the first Jubilee of American Independence, was calculated to produce. These, for the most part, are rather fervid than in good taste. They contain more of declamation and
apostrophe, than of principles and their results. Others bear the marks of much thought, and bring together a surprising number of the most important incidents of our political history, for the last fifty years.
There is in this volume, some extravagant panegyric, expressed as is usual, in high sounding epithets, and wrought up now and then to the intensity of bombastic superlatives. But this is by no means a leading characacteristic of these eulogies. They are in general well written, and they contain some of the finest strains of eloquence which can be found, we had almost said, in the whole circle of our American literature. There is, as there needs must be, a great diversity in the productions, of so many men of divers gifts, tastes, and pursuits, though all writing upon the same subject. Thus Cushing, yielding himself up to the impulse of a glowing imagination, abounds in metaphor and ornament to a fault. Knapp is rich and happy in classical allusions, beyond any of his associates in the present selection; and few of them are happier in the choice of topics, or in force and beauty of illustration. Sergeant and Duer are cool, sensible, argumentative, patriotic, and impartial—not so exuberent in blossoms, as some others, but richer in fruitless dazzling, but safer guides-not so sparkling in foam at the brim, but having more depth beneath. Webster is strong, philosophic, logical. He moves among the great principles with which every statesman should be familiar, seizes the very points which ought to be taken, arranges his topics with admirable judgment, and is borne along by a deep current of good sense to the end. Wirt, if not his equal in strength and originality, is certainly a more polished writer; and judging from the specimens before us, a more finished classical scholar. Indeed,
however proud we may be of several of these eulogists, as natives of our own New-England, we feel constrained to award the palm in this splendid Olympic contest to Mr. Wirt. Rarely, indeed, have we met with so much good taste, with such affluence of thought, and such a classic elevation of style, such felicity of imagery, and beauty of illustration, in any similar production. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that Mr. Wirt had the advantage of all his cotemporaries in the time which was allowed him for preparation.
We should be glad to submit to the arbitrement of our readers, in copious extracts, the grounds of the critical judgment which we have thus freely pronounced upon the literary merits of these admired eulogies, could we do it without intrenching upon the space which we feel bound to reserve for graver topics. And contracted as our philological limits must be, we cannot willingly pass on, without presenting our patrons with a page or two of
a elegant extracts.'*
Before we do this, however, critical justice seems to demand a few examples of rhetorical transgression, and of the common place ore rotundo, which so much abounds in fourth-of-July orations. Let the following suffice : Glorious day'--'tremendous storm'-star spangled banner'—' glorious morn'-—' blanched by the snows of seventy winters'--tremendous convulsions '— halo of glory.'_That glorious orb wbich has for so many years given light to our footsteps, has set in death.'— Behold a people in tears over the funeral bier of their benefactor.' Query, what other bier could it be ? But these, to borrow a pet phrase ' of both ancient and modern en
* Extracts omitted.