Library of Choice Reading.



UNDINE AND SINTRAM: from the German of FRIEDRICH DE LA MOTTE FOQUE. 1845. (No. III. of Wiley & Putnam’s Library of Choice Reading.)

  No tale ever found more universal acceptance than Undine. It is one of those writings, so rare in literature, where some lines have really been transcribed from the innermost life of the writer. Generally, we write, as we live, indolently and superficially: we feel that the time has not come for revelation; and we do not find within ourselves the power to hasten it, so we only strew with rushes a path for a future procession.

  But, in Undine, there is that subtle interweaving of the divine with the natural and human, that penetration of the clods of earth by the rays of a distant sun, of which all developed natures are conscious, though they seldom speak of it, unless in the strict communion of love, or the aspirations of prayer.—For even poets and artists have been timid about trusting those precious flowers to the outward air, and their experiences appear on the canvas, in the verse, as under a thick veil.

  In La Motte Fouque’s mind, too, this record marks a period of peculiar illumination, perhaps the crisis of his mental career. For he has written nothing else that compares with it. His other works are interesting from their chivalric nobleness and purity of sentiment, but show neither the plastic beauty of form, nor deep poetic sense we find in Undine.

  This little tale is a harmonious expression of the two-fold life of Man; it has the frolic and whimsical grace of childhood with the pathetic energy of experience. It would win and touch the worldling, while it embodies the thought of the Sage.

  Outward nature lies around gently; it does not call the attention, but influences the course of action and of thought, as it does in the life of a child. The beauty comes and goes, as it does upon our eyes, according as we want it—according as we have power to see it. It is an ideal beauty, “the light that never shone on sea or land” till the soul of man reflected it there.

  Sintram, the other tale, is only passable either in invention or execution. But we rejoice to see Undine in a shape that makes it accessible to all the youth of the land.

  This library is put up in beautiful style, as well as offered at a very cheap rate. We are pleased to see such good paper and print, for we think the habit of reading ill-printed, dingy books deteriorates not only the eye-sight but the taste. Books, if good for any thing, deserve a cleanly dress. To degrade them, even outwardly, has the same tendency as the use of tobacco, to pollute and vulgarize all the habits of life.


  THE AMBER WITCH is a fine specimen of literary ingenuity. Perhaps it is more like a genuine diary, for its hard outline and the want of roundness in the forms. The picture of the girl is sweet, and the tone preserved about her truly natural and paternal.


  EOTHEN is not well worthy of the excessive praise that has been bestowed upon it. The writer keeps close to his experience and thus sometimes makes a good observation, such as this, “I can hardly tell why it is, but there is a longing for the East, very commonly felt by proud-hearted people, when goaded by sorrow.” But generally the ‘brilliant’ remarks are flashy and flimsy also. Some mean prejudices are evinced; the writer has little pictorial power. The charm of the book is its strong individuality. We always enjoy the flavor of character; and, no doubt, in these days of mass meetings and etiquettes it requires a great share of vitality and clearness for a man to give us this enjoyment. Yet more is wanting to impart permanent value to a book and no more will be found in Eothen.—The book has been compared with Anastasius; but in that book, as in his Architecture, Hope showed a masterly mind; that is, he showed himself a mind that seizes instinctively, not merely on what is salient, but what is leading. On any topic he touches, he gives you a lead. Here is no such power! Yet such passages as the following are entertaining and interesting, too.*

  In the Ottoman dominions there is scarcely any hereditary influence, except that which belongs to the family of the Sultan, and wealth, too, is a highly volatile blessing, not easily transmitted to the descendants of the owner. From these causes it results, that the people standing in the place of nobles and gentry, are official personages, and though many (indeed the greater number) of these potentiates are humbly born and bred, you will seldom, I think, find them wanting in that polished smoothness of manner, and those well undulating tones which belong to the best Osmanlees. The truth is, that most of the men in authority have risen from their humble stations by the arts of the courtier, and they preserve in their high estate, those gentle powers of fascination to which they owe their success. Yet unless you can contrive to learn a little of the language, you will be rather bored by your visits of ceremony; the intervention of your interpreter, or Dragoman as he is called, is fatal to the spirit of conversation. I think I should mislead you, if I were to attempt to give the substance of any particular conversation with Orientals. A traveler may write and say that, “the Pasha of So-and-So was particularly interested in the vast progress which has been made in the application of steam, and appeared to understand the structure of our machinery—that he remarked upon the gigantic results of our manufacturing industry—showed that he possessed considerable knowledge of our Indian affairs, and of the constitution of the Company, and expressed a lively admiration of the many sterling qualities for which the people of England are distinguished.” But the heap of common-places thus quietly attributed to the Pasha, will be founded perhaps on some such talking as this:

  Pasha.—The Englishman is welcome; most blessed among hours is this, the hour of his coming.

  Dragoman (to the Traveler).—The Pasha pays you his compliments.

  Traveler.—Give him my best compliments in return, and say I’m delighted to have the honor of seeing him.

  Dragoman (to the Pasha).—His Lordship, this Englishman, Lord of London, Scorner of Ireland, Suppressor of France, has quitted his governments, and left his enemies to breathe for a moment, and has crossed the broad waters in strict disguise, with a small but eternally faithful retinue of followers, in order that he might look upon the bright countenance of the Pasha among Pashas—the Pasha of the everlasting Pashalik of Karagholookoldour.

  Traveler (to his Dragoman).—What on earth have you been saying about London? The Pasha will be taking me for a mere cockney. Have not I told you always to say, that I am from a branch of the family of Mudcombe Park, and that I am to be a magistrate for the county of Bedfordshire, only I’m not qualified, and that I should have been a Deputy-Lieutenant, if it had not been for the extraordinary conduct of Lord Mountpromise, and that I was a candidate for Goldborough at the last election, and that I should have won easy, if my committee had not been bought. I wish to heaven that if you do say any thing about me, you’d tell the simple truth.

  Dragoman—[is silent].

  Pasha.—What says the friendly Lord of London? Is there aught that I can grant him within the Pashalik of Karagholookoldour?

  Dragoman (growing sulky and literal).—This friendly Englishman—this branch of Mudcombe—this head-purveyor of Goldborough—this possible policeman of Bedfordshire is recounting his achievements, and the number of his titles.

  Pasha.—The end of his honors is more distant than the ends of the Earth, and the catalogue of his glorious deeds is brighter than the firmament of Heaven!

  Dragoman (to the Traveler)—The Pasha congratulates your Excellency.

  Traveler.—About Goldborough? The deuce he does!—but I want to get at his views in relations to the present state of the Ottoman Empire; tell him the Houses of Parliament have met, and that there has been a Speech from the throne, pledging England to preserve the integrity of the Sultan’s dominions.

  Dragoman (to the Pasha).—This branch of Mudcombe, this possible policeman of Bedfordshire, informs your Highness that in England the talking houses have met, and that the integrity of the Sultan’s dominions has been assured for ever and ever, by a speech from the velvet chair.

  Pasha.—Wonderful chair! Wonderful houses! whirr! whirr! all by wheels—whiz! whiz! all by steam!—wonderful chair! wonderful houses! wonderful people!—whirr! whirr! all by wheels—whiz! whiz! all by steam!

  Traveler (to the Dragoman).—What does the Pasha mean by the whizzing? he does not mean to say, does he, that our Government will ever abandon their pledge to the Sultan?

  Dragoman.—No, your Excellency; but he says the English talk by wheels and by steam.

  Traveler.—That’s an exaggeration; but say that the English really have carried machinery to great perfection; tell the Pasha (he’ll be struck with that), that whenever we have any disturbances to put down, even at two or three hundred miles from London, we can send troops by the thousand, to the scene of action, in a few hours.

  Dragoman (recovering his temper and freedom of speech).—His Excellency, this Lord of Mudcombe, observes to your Highness, that whenever the Irish, or the French, or the Indians rebel against the English, whole armies of soldiers, and brigades of artillery, are dropped into a mighty chasm called Euston Square, and in the biting of a cartridge they arise up again in Manchester, or Dublin, or Paris, or Delhi, and utterly exterminate the enemies of England from the face of the earth.

  Pasha.—I know it—I know all—the particulars have been faithfully related to me, and my mind comprehends locomotives. The armies of the English ride upon the vapors of boiling cauldrons, and their horses are flaming coals!—whirr! whirr! all by wheels!—whiz! whiz! all by steam!

  Traveler (to his Dragoman).—I wish to have the opinion of an unprejudiced Ottoman gentleman, as to the prospects of our English commerce and manufactures; just ask the Pasha to give me his views on the subject.

  Pasha (after having received the communication of the Dragoman)—The ships of the English swarm like flies; their printed calicoes cover the whole earth, and by the side of their swords the blades of Damascus are blades of grass. All India is but an item in the Ledger-books of the Merchants, whose lumber-rooms are filled with ancient thrones!—whirr! whirr! all by wheels!—whiz! whiz! all by steam!

  Dragoman.—The Pasha compliments the cutlery of England, and also the East India Company.

  Traveler.—The Pasha’s right about the cutlery (I tried my scimitar with the common officers’ swords belonging to our fellows at Malta, and they cut it like the leaf of a Novel). Well, (to the Dragoman), tell the Pasha I am exceedingly gratified to find that he entertains such a high opinion of our manufacturing energy; but I should like him to know, though, that we have got something in England besides that. These foreigners are always fancying that we have nothing but ships, and railways, and East India Companies; do just tell the Pasha that our rural districts deserve his attention, and then even within the last two hundred years, there has been an evident improvement in the culture of the turnip, and if he does not take any interest about that, at all events you can explain that we have our virtues in the country—that the British yeoman is still, thank God! the British yeoman:—Oh! and by the by, whilst you are about it, you may as well say that we are a truth-telling people, and, like the Osmanlees, are faithful of our promises.

  Pasha (after hearing the Dragoman).—It is true, it is true:—through all Feringhistan the English are foremost and best; for the Russians are drilled swine, and the Germans are sleeping babes, and the Italians are servants of Songs, and the French are the sons of Newspapers, and the Greeks they are weavers of lies, but the English and the Osmanlees are brothers together in righteousness; for the Osmanlees believe in one only, and cleave to the Koran, and destroy idols; so do the English worship one God, and abominate graven images, and tell the truth, and believe in a book, and though they drink the juice of the grape, yet to say that they worship their prophet as God, or to say that they are eaters of pork, these are lies,—lies born of Greeks, and nursed by Jews!

  Dragoman.—The Pasha compliments the English.

  Traveler (rising).—Well, I’ve had enough of this. Tell the Pasha I am greatly obliged to him for his hospitality, and still more for his kindness in furnishing me with horses, and say that now I must be off.

  Pasha (after hearing the Dragoman, and standing up on his Divan)—Proud are the sires, and blessed are the dams of the horses that shall carry his Excellency to the end of his prosperous journey.—May the saddle beneath him glide down to the gates of the happy city, like a boat swimming on the third river of Paradise.—May he sleep the sleep of a child, when his friends are around him, and the while that his enemies are abroad, may his eyes flame red through the darkness—more red than the eyes of ten tigers!—Farewell!

  Dragoman.—The Pasha wishes your Excellency a pleasant journey.

  So ends the visit.

    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

  Oh! let me be charitable to all who write, and to all who lecture, and to all who preach, since even I, a layman not forced to write at all, can hardly avoid chiming in with some tuneful cant! I have had the heart to talk about the pernicious effects of the Greek holidays, to which I owe some of my most beautiful visions! I will let the words stand. As an humbling proof that I am subject to that immutable law which compels a man with a pen in his hand to be uttering every now and then some sentiment not his own. It seems as though the power of expressing regrets and desires by written symbols were coupled with a condition that the writer should from time to time express the regrets and desires of other people—as though, like a French peasant under the old regimé, one were bound to perform a certain amount of work upon the public highways. I rebel as stoutly as I can against this horrible corvée—I try not to deceive you—I try to set down the thoughts which are fresh within me, and not to pretend any wishes, or griefs, which I do not really feel; but no sooner do I cease from watchfulness in this regard, than my right hand is, as it were, seized by some false demon, and even now, you see, I have been forced to put down such words and sentences as I ought to have written if really and truly I had wished to disturb the Saints’ days of the beautiful Smyrniotes!

  Which, Heaven forbid! for as you move through the narrow streets of the city, at these times of festival, the transom-shaped windows suspended over your head, on either side, are filled with the beautiful descendants of the old Ionian race; all (even yonder Empress that sits throned at the widow of that humblest mud cottage) are attired with seeming magnificence; their classic heads are crowned with scarlet, and loaded with jewels, or coins of gold—the whole wealth of the wearers;*—their features are touched with a savage pencil, which hardens the outline of eyes and eyebrows and lends an unnatural fire to the stern, grave looks, with which they pierce your brain. Endure their fiery eyes as best you may, and ride on slowly and reverently, for facing you from the side of the transom, that looks long-wise through the street, you see the one glorious shape transcendent in its beauty; you see the massive braid of hair as it catches a touch of light on its jetty surface and the broad, calm, angry brow—the large black eyes, deep set, and self-relying like the eyes of a conqueror, with their rich shadows of thought lying darkly around them,—you see the thin fiery nostril, and the bold line of the chin and throat disclosing all the fierceness, and all the pride, passion, and power, that can live along with the rare womanly beauty of those sweetly turned lips. But then there is a terrible stillness in this breathing image; it seems like the stillness of a savage that sits intent, and brooding day by day, upon some one fearful scheme of vengeance, but yet more like it seems to the stillness of an Immortal, whose will must be known, an obeyed without sign or speech. Bow down!—Bow down, and adore the young Persephone, transcendent Queen of Shades!
* A Greek woman wears her whole fortune upon her person, in the shape of jewels, or gold coins; I believe that this mode of treatment is adopted in great measure for safety’s sake. It has the advantage of enabling a suitor to reckon, as well as to admire the objects of his affection.

*    *    *    *    *    *


  The course of the Jordan is from the North to the South, and in that direction, with very little of devious winding, it carries the shining waters of Galilee straight down into the solitude of the Dead Sea. Speaking roughly, the river in that meridian is a boundary between the people living under roofs, and the tented tribes that wander on the farther side. And so, as I went down in my way from Tiberias towards Jerusalem, along the Western bank of the stream, my thinking all propended to the ancient world of herdsmen, and warriors, that lay so close over my bridle hand.

  If a man, and an Englishman, be not born of his mother with a natural Chiffney-bit in his mouth, there comes to him a time for loathing the wearisome ways of society—a time for not liking tamed people—a time for not dancing quadrilles—not sitting in pews—a time for pretending that Milton, and Shelley, and all sorts of mere dead people, were greater in death than the first living Lord of the Treasury—a time, in short, for scoffing and railing—for speaking lightly of the very opera, and all our most cherished institutions. It is from nineteen, to two or three and twenty perhaps, that this war of the man against men is like to be waged most sullenly. You are yet in this smiling England, but you find yourself wending away to the dark sides of her mountains,—climbing the dizzy crags,—exulting in the fellowship of mists and clouds, and watching the storms how they gather, or proving the mettle of your mare upon the broad and dreary downs, because that you feel congenially with the yet unparceled earth. A little while you are free, and unlabelled, like the ground that you compass, but Civilization is coming, and coming; you, and your much-loved waste lands will be surely inclosed, and sooner, or later, you will be brought down to a state of utter usefulness—the ground will be curiously sliced into acres, and roods, and perches, and you, for all you sit so smartly in your saddle, you will be caught—you will be taken up from travel, as a cult from grass, to be trained, and tired, and marched, and run. All this in time, but first come Continental tours, and the moody longing for Eastern travel; the downs and the moors of England can hold you no longer; with larger stride you burst away from these slips and patches of free land—you thread your path through the crowds of Europe, and at last on the banks of Jordan, you joyfully know that you are upon the very frontier of all accustomed respectabilities. There, on the other side of the river (you can swim it with one arm), there reigns the people that will be like to put you to death for not being a vagrant, for not being a robber, for not being armed, and houseless. There is comfort in that—health, comfort, and strength to one who is dying from very weariness of that poor, dear, middle-aged, deserving, accomplished, pedantic, and pains-taking governess Europe.

“Library of Choice Reading.” New-York Daily Tribune, 4 April 1845, p. 1.