« НазадПродовжити »
it position had it not been that Harvey Birch was boldly conceived, and well managed in the main, and came so very near what was wanted, that, in the absence of
any thing better on this side of the Atlantic, the Spy received a remarkable and quite sufficient share of public consideration. But had Mr. Cooper produced nothing better than the Spy, his reputation would have been much more ephemeral than it has been. It is to his next work that he is entitled to the position, and let people say what they will, it is a clever position that he holds as a novelist. Upon Leatherstocking hangs Mr. Cooper's reputation, and Leatherstocking is sufficiently original to give a reputation that Mr. Cooper may be proud of. Mr. Cooper felt, no doubt, when he finished the Pioneers, that Leatherstocking was “ a hit;" and in the
“ four novels that he has since founded upon different periods of Leatherstocking's life, he has shown very satisfactorily his estimate of the kind of merit upon which the fame of a writer of fiction must ultimately rest. By the way, we could not help thinking, when we saw the five “ Leatherstocking Tales," so labelled at a bookseller's, of the three hundred and sixty-five ways that the French have of dressing eggs.
Mr. Kennedy, whose works we have placed at the head of this article, has been eminently successful in the character of Horse-Shoe Robinson, in portraying the free yeoman soldier of America - shrewd, generous and brave — the mirror of truth and honesty - devoted in his friendships, and having no mistress but his country — mirthful and quaint withal, even in the midst of danger, and wanting no one requisite to form the beau ideal of such a character as it was the purpose of the author to describe. In Mr. Kennedy's other works, it is easy to see the existence of the power which he has so efficiently exercised in the production of Horse-Shoe Robinson; but if his career as a novelist is run — and he is now known to the country by the important position that he holds in congress, and the agency that he has in the political affairs of the day - if he ceases to deal in literary fiction, HorseShoe Robinson has assured to him a position both gratifying and honorable among the novelists of his country. It is to this work that our attention has, on this occasion, been particularly attracted, because, applying to it the standard that we have explained, we find its popularity accounted for ; and we have been led to notice all the productions of the author in the form of the present review, because of the
opportunity that is thus afforded of expressing our general views in regard to this species of literature. The first work that placed Mr. Kennedy before the public as a novelist was Swallow Barn. He was already known at home as a popular writer through the medium of minor productions in the daily press, and contributions to a periodical of local interest, called the “Red Book,” in the style of the “Salmagundi" of Irving; and he had gained considerable reputation from a pamphlet signed “ Mephistophiles,” in which he reviewed, in an able, caustic, and effective manner, the free-trade report of Mr. Cambreleng, then chairman of the committee of commerce of the house of representatives the place, by the way, now filled by Mr. Kennedy himself. In this pamphlet he advocated the protective system, and so managed the mass of statistical details which formed his weapons of controversy, as to produce an argument of interest even to the general reader, on a subject which, important as it undoubtedly is, is rarely looked to for literary amusement. When Mr. Kennedy published Swallow Barn, therefore, his sobriquet of Mack Littleton served no purpose of concealment, and he was recognised at once as having fairly entered upon the career of authorship. Swallow Barn is a collection of sketches of scenery and manners in the Old Dominion, connected by a slight plot barely sufficient to give to the book the character of a novel. The style is graceful and polished, and is of the Irving school, towards which, at this time, Mr. Kennedy had evidently a predilection that his subsequent productions show that he has overcome. Indeed, Swallow Barn and Bracebridge Hall belong to the same category. The subjects, however, that they respectively describe, are so different, that the similarity does not extend beyond the general idea of the author taking advantage of a visit to a friend in the country to describe what he sees around him. The distinguishing feature of Swallow Barn is its pure Americanism; and there are certain American institutions, and modes of thought and feeling, which bave never been so well described. We have particular reference to the relation of the master and slave, and the condition of the colored people in Virginia; and on this account especially we commend Swallow Barn to our reader's attention as exhibiting, in its true colors, a state of things that can never be bettered by all the efforts of all the abolitionists in the Union. The story of Abe, and the negro mother, for
power and pathos, are not surpassed by any thing that has yet appeared in the literature of our country. As a collection of sketches Swallow Barn is highly creditable to Mr. Kennedy. It possesses, however, too litile of the character of a novel to be the subject of particular criticism. One of the cleverest and most interesting parts of the work is the history of the famous captain, John Smith, which, though dragged neck and heels into the second volume, for no conceivable purpose save to eke out quantity, is a romance in itself, which, in the hands of Mr. Kennedy, loses nothing of its importance.
Horse-Shoe Robinson followed Swallow Barn after a brief interval, and is a regular novel, built up of plot, incident, scenery, and character. The plot we do not like, nor is it altogether original — the heroine being, unknown to the reader, the wife of the hero from the beginning, and doing a great many things, unaccountable enough in an unmarried lady, but to which you are in a degree reconciled when you find out the privileges that matrimony has given her. The incidents are generally striking and well connected; many of them are founded upon facts, and there is a vraisemblance about the whole of them which shows the thorough acquaintance of the author with the temper of the times of which he writes. The descriptions of scenery are eminently graphic, but they are too much in detail, and perhaps there are too many of them. In this respect there is too much of Swallow Barn in Horse-Shoe Robinson, and what was a merit in the former, clogs the narrative and intercepts the interest in the latter. Dealing, as he has done, with historical events, Mr. Kennedy is critically accurate in these matters. It is said that Scott rode the distance which Fitz James travels after the fight with Roderick Dhu, to be certain that he had not made the king of Scotland perform an impossibility. Whether Mr. Kennedy took the same pains to ensure accuracy we do not know, but we feel, in reading Horse-Shoe Robinson, as confident, as regards its historical facts, as though we got them from Ramsay or Chalmers. With regard to the characters of the novel, they are cleverly drawn, and perform properly their appropriate duties in the development of the plot; but, with the exception of Horse-Shoe, there is not one on which our memory rests as if we cared to shake hands again after our travelling in company was over. But HorseShoe is the soul of the novel — an admirable conception,
admirably executed — taking hold at once of the reader's mind, and concentrating in the rude, yet kindly soldier, all one's sympathies and affections. Clever as the work is in other respects, it is to the character of Horse-Shoe that it is indebted for its hold upon the public, and it is the Carolina blacksmith that will hereafter prove and vindicate the merit of the Maryland novelist. In Swallow Barn, description, rather than development of character through conversation, being the object, the dialogues are generally sprightly and well-turned; but in Horse Shoe Robinson, the necessity of making the individuals introduced tell much of the story, and exhibit their motives and peculiarities in speech, has involved the author at times in discussions that are unnecessarily long, and delay rather than advance the plot.
Mr. Kennedy's next work was Rob of the Bowl, the incidents of which belong to a very early period in the history of Maryland. The fault of this novel lies in the confusion that is caused by the number of characters introduced-characters that are not of the class used by the writers of fiction merely to fill up, but characters that are most of them of sufficient note and distinction to be worthy of detailed elaboration. It was said of a late popular opera, that it had material enough in it for a dozen modern operas, and so it may be said of the characters that Mr. Kennedy has collected together in Rob of the Bowl; there are enough of them for many novels. The consequence of this profusion is, that the book leaves no very distinct impression on the mind. You lay it down with regret, and when your mind reviews it you recollect in it scenes of exquisite finish-gay and sparkling- fit for the canvas — such, for instance, as the admirable one between Dauntrees and the landlady — but you perceive the want of a powerful interest connected with any particular individual. Rob of the Bowl has few of the faults of Horse-Shoe Robinson. If it has its own faults, they are peculiar to it. There are no wire-drawn conversations, no unnecessary elaborations in describing natural objects; a free off-hand style is the character of the work; and if it does not hold fast on the public, it is because the rule we have mentioned has not been adhered to, and there is no one individual around whom the interest is so closely concentrated as to make him familiar ever after to the memory of the reader. The book wants a Horse-Shoe.
We have referred to the profusion of strongly marked characters scat
tered through this novel, the elaboration of almost any one of which would have supplied the desideratum. First and foremost of these, is one hardly more than sketched, though boldly sketched it is the proud, brave, impetuous, and generous Talbot the soul of honor and courage one of the master spirits of the colony and marked in its history. Then there is Dauntrees, better worked out, but sketchy still, an original where one would hardly look for originality a sort of melting together of Harry Percy and fat Jack. Then there is the Lord Proprietary; then Arnold de la Grange, of whom we have but a glimpse, but an original of great capabilities. There is the landlady too, and the mountebank and bis man, and Ganet Weasel, and the old priest, and the conspirators, and the village tailor — all capable of being made to stand out prominently from the general current of the narrative, and made resting-places for memory, but which, used as they there are, remind us of a brilliant picture, abounding in lights but wanting a concentration of effect.
Of Mr. Kennedy's three novels, we prefer Swallow Barn, taken as a whole ; and we find a reason for our preference in what we infer to be the causes of the difference between it and the others. Mr. Kennedy, although a novel writer, can hardly be called a novelist; that is, he is not a book-maker by profession. He is mixed up with many things besides the production of literary fiction. As a member of the legislature of Maryland, year after year, proscribed at last because of his activity in promoting works of internal improvement that were not popular at the particular time – a lawyer in active practice, identifying himself with the exciting controversy that was carried on with reference to a tariff, before the compromise act ended it—then a member of congress, left out with a change in parties to be again elected to the seat he now holds—it is very plain that Mr. Kennedy has had scant time to study, frame, and perfect the novels, which, during this busy life, he has given to the public; and consequently, Swallow Barn, which required no labor of this sort, which was but a collection of sketches without a plot - just such a collection as could be made at intervals and for relaxation sake, is, as a whole, the best of his productions ; but were Mr. Kennedy freed from other occupations, to devote himself to novel writing as a business, we know no author on this side of the Atlantic who possesses superior