« PreviousContinue »
to doubt strongly of the long existence of the general union.' He seems to have had just then the very rare visitation of a fit of interest in political matters. The grave debates in the Senate,' he says, shortly afterwards, 'occupied my mind as intensely for three weeks as ever did a dramatic representation.' But this fit was too alien from his natural disposition to last. He refused to stand for New York City on the Jackson ticket,' or even to give a vote. The more I see of political life here,' he says, “the more I am disgusted with it. There is such coarseness and vulgarity and dirty tricks mingled with the roughand-tumble contest. I want no part or parcel in such warfares.' He gave himself up with increased zest to his only favourite occupations—the perpetration of long rambling journeys, and the composition of books there anent. Already in the first months of his return he had performed a tour, gigantic by comparison with his European wanderings, over the western parts of the Union, including many hundred miles of ride through the regions beyond the Mississippi ; adventures subsequently turned to account in his “Tour on the Prairies,' • Astoria,' and the • Adventures of Captain Bonneville.'
In 1835, Washington Irving established himself at a cottage on the Hudson, close to the legendary “Sleepy Hollow' and among the favourite scenes of his youth. This dwelling—an old mansion of the Van Tassel family, at first called Wolfert's Roost,' afterwards christened by the fancy name of “Sunnyside,' was well known in ‘after years as the resort of almost every distinguished visitor from Europe to America. “Here,' says one of his biographers, 'he passed his summers, and his winters he spent in New York, in the streets of which Knickerbocker omnibuses rattled by Knickerbocker Halls, where Knickerbocker clubs held festivals, and at whose wharves magnificent ships and steamers, coming and going every day, also bore that immortal name. His bachelor home was enlivened by the presence and attentions of nephews and nieces in abundance, and here he continued his literary labours, but scarcely with the success of former years, and, unfortunately, under the pressure of similar pecuniary wants with those which had urged him on in the more elastic period of youth. For the genius of speculation was always besetting him, and his gains, whenever he made any, were pretty sure to be locked up in unproductive land purchases,' or some equally unprofitable investment. I cannot afford any more to travel,' he writes in 1838; and about the same period the old despondency regarding literary success, thinking “the vein had entirely deserted him,' was apt to beset his solitary hours. In one respect, however, he was fortunate. Very few
literary literary men, as sensitive as himself, have had so little to endure from hostile criticism, or from personal or party spite. His own inoffensive and genial nature, as well as his established reputation, seem to have secured him this unusual exemption in his own country as well as in England. We hardly trace in the pages of his American life any record of this kind of annoyance, except some very insignificant attacks on the ground of too great fondness for England, and one furious onslaught from a jealous North Carolinian for having observed, incidentally, that the Virginians retain peculiarities characteristic of the times of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh,'-historical associations of which he deemed that his own State had the monopoly. '
In 1842, Daniel Webster, under the presidency of Tyler, obtained for Washington Irving a nomination as American Minister to Spain : an unexpected but not ungrateful honour, as, like other men, he seems to have found the fascinations of that country, when once he had become familiar with it, irresistible. He remained there three years, during which he witnessed many a strange revolution in the politics of the Peninsula, including the downfall of Espartero and the triumph of Maria Christina over the Constitutional party, the rise and the fall of Narvaez; of all which very graphic accounts are given in his correspondence contained in these volumes. The consumption of ministers in this country,' he says, “is appalling. To carry on a negotiation with such transient functionaries is like bargaining at the windows of a railway car: before you can get a reply to a proposition, the other party is out of sight.' But it was scarcely a happy period of his life. He missed alike the domestic enjoyments of Sunnyside, and the sparkling society and agreeable flatteries of London and Paris. Spanish politics suited him no better than American :
"I am wearied,' he writes, and at times heart-sick of the wretched politics of this country, where there is so much intrigue, falsehood, profligacy, and crime, and so little of high honour and pure patriotism in political affairs. The last ten or twelve years of my life have shown me so much of the dark side of human nature, that I begin to have painful doubts of my fellow-men, and look back with regret to the confiding period of my literary career, when, poor as a rat, but rich in dreams, I beheld the world through the medium of my imagination, and was apt to believe men as good as I wished them to be."
But these melancholy fits were counteracted by a full appreciation of what no man estimated better than himself—the rich substitute which Memory affords in advanced life for decayed Imagination :
I am now,' he says, at sixty-two, at that time of life when the mind has a stock of recollections on which to employ itself; and Vol. 114.–No. 227.
though these may sometimes be of a melancholy nature, yet it is a “sweet-souled melancholy,” mellowed and softened by the operation of time, and has no bitterness in it. My life has been a chequered one, crowded with incidents and personages, and full of shifting scenes and sudden transitions. All these I can summon up and cause to pass before me, and in this way can pass hours together in a kind of reverie. When I was young my imagination was always in the advance, picturing out the future, and building castles in the air : now memory comes in the place of imagination, and I look back over the region I have travelled. Thank God! the same plastic feeling which used to deck all the future with the hues of fairy-land, throws a soft colouring on the past, until the very roughest places, through which I struggled with many a heart-ache, lose all their asperity in the distance. .... Here my sixty-second birthday finds me in fine health, in the full enjoyment of all my faculties, with my sensibilities still fresh, and in such buxom activity that, on my return yesterday from the Prado, I caught myself bounding up stairs threc steps at a time, to the astonishment of the porter, and checked myself, recollecting that it was not the pace befitting a minister and a man of my years. If I could only retain such health and good spirits, I should be content to live on to the age of Methuselah. – Vol. iii., p. 307-8.
In consequence (we fancy) of the accession of President Polk and the Democratic party to power, he gave up his appointment in 1846, and Romulus M. Sanders, of North Carolina, reigned in his stead. In August that year he paid his last fleeting visit to England, and in September bade adieu for ever to European scenes.'
With his return to his native country from Spain the present volumes end. The adventurous portion of his life had ceased. His later years were chiefly spent in executing the task of collecting and republishing his various works, and in the production of his 'Life of Washington,' which has no doubt its merits, but is not one of those compositions by which he will be ultimately remembered. He enjoyed to a very advanced age his quiet domestic happiness at Sunnyside, dying in 1859. His countrymen honoured him in life, and are justly proud of the more cosmopolitan honours which he achieved in the general world of literature. We do not quarrel with Mr. Rufus William Griswold, author of The Prose Writers of America,' when he reminds us that · Irving's subjects are as three American and two Spanish to one English ; the periods of his residence in America, Spain, and England, in the years of his literary activity, bear to each other about the same proportion; and the productions which have won for him the most reputation, even in Europe, are not only such as had no models in the literature of the Old World, but such as could only have been written by one intimately acquainted with the peculiar life and manners by which they were suggested;' nor even for informing us that his style has the ease and purity and more than the grace and polish of Franklin ; without the intensity of Brown, the compactness of Calhoun, or the strength and splendour of Webster. But, leaving these special causes of admiration to his countrymen, and withdrawing, for our part, any claim to appropriate him on the ground of his intense fondness for the domestic life, the society, the traditions, the classical writers of our little England, we will assert for him rather a modest place in that great Parthenon of literary renown which will one day arise when the political distinctions which now divide the great British race are forgotten, or become of secondary import, in comparison with that pervading unity of language, usages, and associations which fuses it all in one.
ART. VI.-1. Incidents in my Life. By D. D. Home. London,
1863. 2. The History of the Supernatural. By William Howitt.
2 vols. London, 1863. SPIRIT-RAPPING is unquestionably one of the great facts
of our time; we mean as regards the rapping, not necessarily as regards the spirits. That Mr. Home and his fellowrappers can call spirits from the vasty deep,' we no more doubt than that Owen Glendower possessed a similar faculty ; but whether the said spirits come when they are called, we are inclined, with Hotspur, to put in the form of a query. Not that we profess absolute unbelief; our state of mind rather approaches to that 'honest doubt' which theologians of advanced views are never weary of telling us, after Tennyson, contains more faith than half the creeds. If this pretty saying of the laureate be anything more than an epigrammatic paradox, we may boast of having a very respectable share of that faith which rappers tell us is indispensable to all who would presume to criticise their performances. In virtue of this faith, which is at the same time doubt, a “becoming,' as a Hegelian would say, compounded of being' and 'not-being,' we profess for the present a sceptical suspension of all judgment, thereby correcting the teaching of one Hume by that of another; for the family name of Daniel the medium is identical with that of David the sceptic, and was originally, as the said David informs us, spelt in the same way, as it is still pronounced. The Southern reader will N 2
have to bear in mind this caution, framed after the example of the Prologue to the “Rovers :'
Though the nice ear the erring sight belie,
For u twice dotted is pronounced like i.' Our scepticism seems the natural result of the extraordinary and conflicting features which Mr. Home's autobiography exhibits. By all the rules of a priori reasoning, by every internal test that has hitherto been proposed to distinguish true miracles from false, the book, by its own witness of itself, would be pronounced utterly incredible. If exceeding silliness in many of the stories narrated ; if the absence of all apparent purpose, beyond the gratification of a morbid curiosity; if modes of exhibition similar to those usually adopted by charlatans; if manifestations not merely marvellous to the intellect, but revolting to the moral feelings—if features such as these form a reasonable a priori presumption against a narrative of apparently supernatural occurrences, such presumptions undoubtedly exist and press with no light weight against the narrative before us. But, on the other hand, we are bound, in justice to Mr. Home, to admit that this internal evidence against his statements has to be weighed against a very respectable amount of external evidence in their favour; that his own character, so far as we have been able to ascertain, offers no ground for suspecting his integrity; and that the authorities whom he brings forward, both as vouchers for his own trustworthiness and as eye-witnesses of the marvels which he exhibits, are such as would probably be sufficient to ensure belief in any story less intrinsically incredible.
It will, perhaps, be said, that we are not competent to determine on a priori grounds what the character of such supernatural manifestations ought to be, and that therefore the internal improbabilities of the narrative form no valid reason for rejecting it. We grant that such improbabilities are not the only evidence admissible in the case; that they furnish, not certainties, but only presumptions, and but one class of presumptions, to be taken into account along with other evidence for or against. We admit, also, that such presumptions may be overcome by evidence on the other side. But we must assert, also, that the improbabilities in this case are of such a kind as to require an enormous amount of evidence to overcome them; that a large amount of the evidence procurable must, to the vast majority of mankind, that is to say, to all who are not themselves mediums, necessarily be at second-hand, and contain hypotheses mingled with its facts; and that the interests at stake are not of such a kind as imperatively to require us to make up our minds