We took up this work with eager expectation. Knowing the extraordinary endowments of its author, we looked for an uncommon book, and we were not disappointed. It is indeed an uncommon book, not at all like an ordinary journal of travel. It is impossible to give an analysis of its contents, and we shall attempt nothing more than to record the impression which a careful reading of the work left on our minds.
It is a work of varied interest, rich in fine observation, profound reflection and striking anecdote. It breathes throughout a spirit of perfect benignity and love—generous, humane, and free from prejudices of every kind. In regard to all things and persons that come under her notice—especially the character of the native Indians, of whom she has collected many fine stories before unknown to us,—it would be difficult to find a writer so liberal, just and discriminating. To a class of readers who can sympathize with her in feeling and taste, and appreciate her philosophic and poetic insight, she has furnished a rare intellectual entertainment. She has imparted a new and classic interest to the uncultivated regions which surround our Northwestern waters.
Miss Fuller’s book is in a high degree subjective. It is not so much a description of the beautiful lake scenery in the midst of which she passed the summer months, looking upon all things with the eye of a poet and artist, as a record of her own impressions and of the recollections they called up. Accordingly, amidst scenes so novel and striking she writes not from without, but from within. It is not that she overlooks the nature which smiles or frowns around her. She often gives us descriptions of such beauty as to show that she has an eye and a heart for everything lovely or grand in the external creation. But evidently she is much more occupied with what is passing in her own soul, than with the objective realities which present themselves to the senses.
We do not make these remarks by way of complaint. We like to have travellers, as all others, give free expression to what presses upon their own minds and hearts. In that way we get sincere and earnest books. We notice this subjective tendency of the writer as a peculiar excellence. It gives to her work its most remarkable characteristic. We can never anticipate what she will say, from knowing her point of view and the objects which surround her. She throws her own being into the outward world and gives it a new character. Niagara, Superior, the log cabin, the savage chief, are not to her what they are to another person. Forest, lake, prairie, the beauty and fragrance of flowers, the music of birds, have all a significance and a language to which the mood of her own mind gives a peculiar interpretation. It is always interesting to observe the workings of such a mind in unwonted scenes. And this writer gives full utterance, if not to the natural impressions winch external objects produce, at least to the secondary results of the reflection they excite.
This reflective tendency often draws into her journal things quite unlooked for and most remote from her field of observation—things connected by no apparent link of association with the objects which seem to fill her eye and mind. These underground associations, unintelligible to those who are not in the secret of her thoughts, sometimes give an air of pedantry to her remarks. We are persuaded that she has a mind too noble to wish to display her rich stores of knowledge for the sake of display, and therefore we find it difficult to account for the introduction of so many allusions to classic antiquity, to Europe and its arts, manners and literature. It appears often strained, unnatural, out of place. Tales also unexpectedly appear — such, for instance, as the German story of the “Seeress of Prevorst”—which have no connexion with the scenes she visited, except the accidental fact that they occurred in the course of her reading or were called up from the depths of her memory by some mysterious association. Such portions of her work might have been written as well at Boston, Rome, or Constantinople, as on the shores of our Western waters.
There is often a certain stiffness, an unnaturalness, in the style of the work. We are unable to suppose that it proceeds from defective taste in a person of so fine a culture. It results perhaps from over-carefulness and severity in a mind unwilling to trust to natural and simple impressions, and allow them to utter themselves in their own way. She does not let her thought or emotion write itself out. We cannot help feeling that the intellect is too predominant—that she is too conscious of style—that she writes under the constraint of an artistic view, in conformity with some ideal that is not congenial with her nature and does not allow it free action. She seems to be afraid of the simple utterance of a first impression or thought, as if it had not weight or firmness enough to go out of her hands without elaborate refining and re-coinage. Accordingly we find something cold, stately, almost statuesque, in her language. It has not the warmth of life which her heart would give it, if she would yield herself trustingly to its impulses with less of intellectual criticism. It reminds us sometimes of Coleridge, sometimes of Walter Savage Landor; yet we see no marks of imitation. It seems to us rather, that in aiming to be classical she loses sight of nature, or too sternly represses its genuine instincts in obedience to some law which she has prescribed to herself. The beautiful flower must not bloom out spontaneously with its own shape and hue; it must be fashioned into some preordained form and its colors be retouched, before it is fit for exhibition. We make these remarks with diffidence, for we mistrust our taste and judgment when we find ourselves presuming to criticize a writer whose mind is so full of manifold forms of beauty and grace. *