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XVII.

AMERICAN PROSE WRITERS.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE.

In spite of her apparent barrenness at the late Exhibition-a barrenness which probably resulted mainly from the actual riches of that vast country, its prodigious territory, and its still growing youth-in spite of our susceptibilities—and in spite of her own-America is a great nation, and the Americans are a great people; and if that Fair of the World had been a book fair, as at Leipsic, I suspect that we should have seen our kinsfolk over the water cutting a very good figure with their literary ware.

Certain it is, that when a people, hardly seventy years old, who have still living amongst them men that remember when their republic was a province, can claim for themselves such divines as Dr. Channing, and my friend Professor Norton, the friend of Mrs. Hemans; such an historian as Mr. Prescott; and such an orator as Daniel Webster, they have good right to be proud of their sons of the soil.

To say nothing of these ornaments of our common language, or of the naturalists Wilson and Audubon -are they American ?--they are worth fighting for; or of the travellers, Dana, Stephens, and Willis, who

are certainly transatlantic; or of the fair writers, Mrs. Sigourney and Miss Sedgwick, both my friends; or of the poor Margaret Fuller, drowned so deplorably only the other day, with her husband and her infant, on her own shores (her Italian husband said only the day before leaving Florence that it had been predicted to him that he should die at sea); or of the great historian of Spanish literature, Mr. Ticknor (another friend!); or of a class of writers in which New England is rich-orator-writers, whose eloquence, first addressed to large audiences, is at once diffused and preserved by the press-witness the orations of Mr. Sumner, and the lectures of Mr. Whipple and Mr. Giles; to say nothing of these volumes, which will bear a competition with any of their class in the elder country, let us look at the living novelists, and see if they be of an ordinary stamp.

The author of the "Sketch-book" is almost as much a classic with us as in his own country. That book, indeed, and one or two that succeeded it, were so purely English in style and feeling, that when their success-their immense and deserved success-induced the reprint of some drolleries which had for subject New York in its Dutch state, it was difficult to believe that they were by the same author. Since then, Mr Washington Irving, having, happily for literature, filled a diplomatic post in Spain, has put forth other works, half Spanish, half Moorish, equally full of local colour and local history, books as good as history, that almost make us live in the Alhambra, and increase our sympathy with the tasteful and chivalrous people who planned its halls and gardens. Then he returned home; and there he has done for the back-woods and

the prairies what he before did for the manor-house of England and the palace of Granada. Few, very few, can show a long succession of volumes so pure, so graceful, and so varied as Mr. Irving. To my poor cottage, rich only in printed paper, people often come to borrow books for themselves or their children. Sometimes they make their own selection; sometimes, much against my will, they leave the choice to me; and in either case I know no works that are oftener lent than those that bear the pseudonym of Geoffrey Crayon.

Then Mr. Cooper! original and natural as his own Pioneers; adventurous as Paul Jones; hardy as Long Tom; persevering and indomitable as that Leatherstocking whom he has conducted through fifteen volumes without once varying from the admirable portrait which he originally designed. They say that he does not value our praise-that he has no appreciation for his appreciators. But I do not choose to believe such a scandal. It can only be a "they say." He is too richly gifted to be wanting in sympathy even with his own admirers; and if he have an odd manner of showing that sympathy, why it must pass as "Pretty Fanny's way." Since these light words were written, I grieve to say that Mr. Cooper is dead. I trust his gifted daughter will become his biographer. Few lives would be more interesting.

Next comes one with whom my saucy pen must take no freedom-one good and grave, and pure and holy-whose works, by their high aim and their fine execution, claim the respect of all. Little known by name, the excellently selected reprints of my friend Mr. Chambers have made Mr. Ware's letters from

Palmyra and from Rome familiar to all who seek to unite the excitement of an early Christian story, a tale of persecution and of martyrdom, with a style and detail so full of calm and sober learning, that they seem literally saturated with classical lore. So entire is the feeling of scholarship pervading these two books, in one of which Zenobia appears in her beautiful Palmyra a powerful Queen, in the other dragged through the streets of Rome a miserable captive, that we seem to be reading a translation from the Latin. There is not a trace of modern habits or modes of thinking; and if Mr. Ware had been possessed by the monomania of Macpherson or of Chatterton, it would have rested with himself to produce these letters as a close and literal version of manuscripts of the third century.

Another talented romancer is Dr. Bird, whose two works on the conquest of Mexico have great merit, although hidden behind the mask of most unpromising titles (one of them is called, I think, "Abdallah the Moor; or, the Infidel's Doom "). I never met with any one who had read them but myself, to whom that particular subject has an unfailing interest. His "Nick of the Woods," a striking but very painful Indian novel, and his description of those wonderful American caves, in which truth leaves fiction far behind, are generally known and duly appreciated.

These excellent writers have been long before the public; but a new star has lately sprung into light in the Western horizon, who, in a totally different manner-and nothing is more remarkable amongst all these American novelists than their utter difference from each other-will hardly fail to cast a bright

illumination over both hemispheres. It is hardly two years since Mr. Hawthorne, until then known only by one or two of those little volumes which the sagacious hold as promises of future excellence, put forth that singular book, "The Scarlet Letter;" à-propos to which, Dr. Holmes, who so well knows the value of words, uses this significant expression :

"I snatch the book along whose burning leaves
His scarlet web our wild romancer weaves."

And it is the very word. "We do snatch the book;" and until we have got to the end, very few of us, I apprehend, have sufficient strength of will to lay it down.

The story is of the early days of New England; those days when, as Mr. Whittier has shown in his clever mystification, called "Margaret Smith's Journal," the Pilgrim Fathers, just escaped from persecution in Europe, persecuted those who presumed to follow their example, and to exercise liberty of thought and worship in the new home of freedom. Lamentable inconsistency of human action! Nothing but the strongest historical evidence could make us believe that they who had cast away fortune and country, and every worldly good for conscience sake, should visit with fire and faggot the peaceful Quaker and poor demented creatures accused of witchcraft, and driven by the accusation into the confession, perhaps into a diseased craving for the power and the crime. But so it is. Oppression makes oppression; persecution propagates persecution. There is no end to the evil when once engendered.

The

Scarlet Letter" is not, however, a story of

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