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MELLICHAMPE: A LEGEND OF THE SANTEE. By the Author of Guy Rivers. New
York: HARPER AND BROTHERS.
We have lost no time in reading this historical romance -- experience having taught us that any work by Mr. Simms must be of a nature to give pleasure, however obnoxious it may be to criticism. That all his works are open to censure, in some respects, is neither untrue nor strange. Mr. Simms is yet a young man, and has time to learn both how to avoid defects and to improve upon merits. He is a man of decided genius, and of very great industry; but genius and industry must be aided by experience, and derive benefit from criticism; and the surest evidence that they exist, is furnished by the very fact that they do take benefit therefrom.
In the case of Mr. Simms, this evidence is neither wanting nor doubtful. The faults of Guy Rivers — and abounding with fine points, and with the tokens of genius and talent as that work is, its faults are many and great — have been gradually disappearing from each successive novel by the same author, except, perhaps, the
Partisan,' in which there are manifest tokens of haste, and defects, the unavoidable consequence of haste; but in 'Mellichampe,' this retrogression is amply and nobly redeemed. As a story, it is to the full as interesting and exciting as either the 'Yemmassee' or 'Guy Rivers': the style is more correct, equal, and elegant, than in those or any others of Mr. Simms' writings, except some two or three of his short tales, published in the annuals — and the principal personages are delineated with more knowledge, and a more delicate perception of the lights and shades which are invariably found coexisting in human character. Like its immediate predecessor, of which it is a continuation, 'Mellichampe' is based, as we have before observed, upon incidents drawn from the revolutionary history of South Carolina. Major Singleton, the hero of the 'Partisan,' together with General Marion, and one or two subordinate characters, are made to rëappear in the volumes before us, although their actions relate to a subsequent period of the revolution, and are in nowise connected with those narrated in the former work. The plot is so complicated and laden with details, that it would be a difficult matter for us to give the reader a correct outline of it, within our allotted limits. We will, however, attempt to furnish a general view.
Mellichampe, the hero of the narrative, from whom the story derives its title, is the son of an active and strenuous supporter of the whig cause in South Carolina, who has been killed in a skirmish by a refugee officer, Captain Barsfield, and his property confiscated. The son becomes a partisan under Marion, and is, at the opening of the narrative, outlying in the skirts of a forest, with his faithful attendant, Jack Witherspoon, or Thumbscrew, as he is familiarly termed. After an unimportant conversation, the scene shifts to the mansion of Mr. Berkeley, a rich planter, whose daughter, Janet Berkeley, is betrothed to Mellichampe. Barsfield, who has been despatched with a detachment of troops and stores to assist the tories in rising in
that vicinity, arrives, and quarters himself on Mr. Berkeley. While here, he is attacked by an American force, under Col. Singleton, and when on the point of being dislodged, is succored by Tarleton, with his legion, who, after a skirmish in which Mellichampe is dangerously wounded and taken prisoner, compel the partisans to retreat. Tarleton, however, makes but a short stay, and hurries on in pursuit of Marion, leaving Barsfield in command. Mellichampe gradually becomes convalescent, and a plot is devised by Barsfield to procure his death, while escaping from his guards. The scheme is frustrated by the interposition of Singleton, with his troop, at the very crisis when the soldiers of Barsfield are pursuing the prisoner. The British, taken at a disadvantage, are defeated, their commander killed, and Mellichampe restored to liberty. The work closes with an affecting description of the death of Jack Witherspoon, the faithful attendant and friend of Mellichampe.
This, it must be confessed, is but a general and meagre sketch of the main plot. In the course of the narrative, many digressions occur, all of them, as well as the underplot, detailing the numerous wiles and stratagems made use of by Blonay, the half-breed, to circumvent and kill Bill Humphries, and avenge the murder of his mother. The description of the haunt of Marion, in the centre of a swamp, and of the habits of the partisans in general, is exceedingly graphic. The vacillating yet gentlemanly and liberal character of Colonel Berkeley is well contrasted with the noble independence and patriotic zeal of his daughter, whose devotion to the cause of freedom is of that self sacrificing cast which marked the characters of South Carolina's high-bred daughters, during the darkest period of our revolutionary history. She is, indeed, a beautiful creation, uniting the grace and gentleness of female tenderness, with the firmness of principle and resolution of conduct, required by her situation. Blonay and Witherspoon are perfect in their kind; as much so as Cooper's Leatherstocking, although of a class not requiring so deep an insight into the wondrous and diverse workings of human feelings and passions. The hero, Mellichampe, is a personage of but little interest, and that little not the most prepossessing. If it were not a thing of every day's occurrence to see women attach themselves to men of inferior mind and less pure hearts, we should say that Janet's love for Mellichampe was not in keeping; but experience tells us that it is.
The story of Mellichampe' never flags from want of incidents; they are literally crowded into the narrative, from the commencement to the close. Many of these are almost entirely disconnected with the main plot, and tend, as we think, to distract the attention of the reader. We cannot approve Mr. Simms' plan of using the same characters in two or three consecutive productions. That the same personages have been made to figure in different works proceeding from the pens of distinguished authors, we admit; but each narrative in such efforts, has been kept entirely disconnected in its details, and the plot perfect. We like not to find the heroes of one romance introduced in secondary capacities, to aid the fortunes of some new-found hero of a later date; and we think that the saving of labor, by taking a personage with whose character the reader is already familiar, and introducing him in a new narrative, more than counterbalanced by the disadvantage of losing just that amount of interest in the reading public which would be felt in the character and actions of a stranger, albeit a man of straw. Novelty is of itself attractive; and we think the author would have done better, had all his personages been new to us. We have another objection to advance against the present volumes, and it is one to which most of the productions of our author lie open. There is too much of sanguinary conflict in them: the reader wearies of fightings and skirmishes, and perils 'i' the imminent deadly breach.' As we are in the mood of blemish-finding, we may as well remark also, that, to our perception, there seems a strong family likeness in the
stories of the 'Partisan' and 'Mellichampe.' We do not speak, now, of the similarity of the descriptions of scenes which have a strong resemblance to each other, and must therefore be depicted in colors nearly alike, but of events. In Mr. Berkeley, we see a slightly altered picture of Colonel Walton, the one being a little more tinged with toryism than the other. The skirmishes around the mansion of each, in the different narratives, bear the same general resemblance; while Janet Berkeley and Katharine Walton are as much alike as any two heroines of romance can well be, making allowance for a slightly different course of events. Mellichampe and Singleton, likewise are marked by the same traces of similarity. We make these remarks neither in a captious nor querulous spirit. With all these objections, we repeat, we consider ‘Mellichampe,' as a whole, the best of all our author's works. Mr. Simms has but to pursue the path he has chosen, and to walk therein with the care and circumspection which are due to his fame, to stand in the front rank of native writers.
The Fairy Book. Illustrated with Wood Cuts by Adams. In two vols. 12 mo.
pp. 300. New-York: HARPER AND BROTHERS.
The collection of tales here submitted to the American public, has been taken, with some slight omissions and additions, from the 'Magazin des Fees,' or Fairy Tales, by Perrault, Fenelon, and Mesdames Le Prince de Beaumont, and D'Aulnoy, lately published at Paris. A great portion of the work, which was believed not before to have existed in an English dress, has been expressly translated for it. In external character and embellishment, the original has been closely followed, although several new and beautiful designs by CHAPMAN have been introduced. All the cuts are beautifully executed by Adams, and nothing seems to have been neglected, which it was thought would render it more worthy of approbation. The moral import of many of these tales is too well known to require commendation; and it may confidently be asserted, that the tenor of the others, not so familiar to the public, is in nowise inferior. In a collection of this sort, it was doubtless found impossible to attend solely to the novelty of the stories introduced, for by that means some of the most popular and approved must have been omitted, and the regrets of young readers for the absence of their wellknown friends, have somewhat impaired the pleasure of being introduced to a newer set of acquaintances. There is sufficient novelty, however, to attract their attention, and render this effort to increase their pleasure and improvement decidedly successful.
The antiquity of fictitious writings mounts up to the earliest authentic records of history. In one form or another, they have successively been the favorites of every nation and of every age. Varied in form, and modified by the particular genius of each people, they have solaced the sufferings, added to the enjoyments, or contributed to the instruction of mankind. The fables of Pilpay and Esop were early made con. ducive to the moral education of multitudes. Simple in their structure, and of easy application, they taught without arrogance, and were listened to without weariness.
As nations became more advanced in luxury and wealth, leisure was afforded for the production and perusal of more complicated works. Thence originated the Ionian and Milesian Tales of Greece, the loss of which (if they were, as is supposed, characterized by an undue licentiousness of description) is far from being a subject of regret.
Among the Romans, a people simple and bold, owing their greatness and power to their warlike achievements, we find few traces of this species of writing, until nearly the decline of their empire, when the progress of luxury for a while favored the growth of fiction. But few remains survive, and those are not importanı enough to merit a particular notice. When wreck and ruin overwhelmed the Western Empire, the liberal arts and sciences, if they did not wholly perish, lay silent and affrighted under the tremendous avalanche of violence, rapine, and barbarism, by which they were crushed down. This was not always to continue, and fictitious literature was soon to emerge in a changed but a more gorgeous form. The spirit of chivalry, a spirit composed of martial daring, devotion to the sex, and strongly-marked religious feeling, gave rise to the romantic species of fiction, so termed from the language (that of the Provençal Troubadours) in which it was originally composed.
To this extravagant species succeeded the Astrea of D'Urfé, the Grand Cyrus, the Clelia and Cleopatra of Madame Scuderi, the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney, and others like unto them, which may be considered as forming the second stage of the romance. The heroism and gallantry, the moral and virtuous turn of the chivalrous romance, were still preserved, but the dragons, the necromancers, and the enchanted castles, were banished, and some small resemblance to human nature was introduced.
Almost immediately subsequent to this variety of prose fiction, succeeded the Fairy Tale, a vehicle so delightful for the conveyance of morality, which has ever been so fascinating to the young, and which, if appearances are to be trusted, still promises long so to continue. No apology is necessary for giving a detailed account of this particular class of narrative; a class to which attention is more especially called by the nature of the work now presented to the public.
In the earlier period of society, man, circumscribed in his views, and possessing but a limited knowledge of the operations of nature, was particularly disposed to attribute every event to the direct agency of some superior being; each incident was ascribed to some local agent - the evil to a malicious, the good to a benevolent power. The varying phenomena of the natural world were considered as the acts of various and distinct natures. Hence originated the inferior divinities of the ancients, their Genii, Nymphs, and Dryads; hence their deities of earth, air, and ocean, to each of whom was assigned a separate office in the economy of the universe. To these creations of an excited imagination and unrestrained fancy, the fairy-world owed its birth. But even these beings were of directly different characters, as they chanced to origi. nate either in the warm and glowing conceptions of the Orientals, or in the stern and gloomy imaginations of our Scandinavian ancestors. The soft and delicious climate of the East, its varieties of the richest vegetable productions, the habit of luxurious and indolent repose, and the effect of its despotic government, all aided in the production of those aërial beings termed Peris, since rendered so familiar by the beautiful poem of Moore. Beneficence and beauty were their characteristics; they lived in the sun or the rainbow, subsisting on the odors of flowers, while their existence, though not eternal, was of undefined duration. The fairies of the North were beings of a far different nature, endowed with supernatural power and wisdom. They were malevolent and revengeful in disposition, and disagreeable in person. They inhabited the bleak regions of the North, its heath-clad mountains, chill lakes, and piny solitudes, and were long in our mother-land the objects of popular belief.
The Peris were first introduced by the Crusaders and by the Moors of Grenada, to the acquaintance of the western world. Their reception was such as was due to their gentle and graceful natures ; under their mild and humanizing influence, the stern monsters of the North, their savage relatives, lost a portion of their fierceness, and became fitting subjects of poetry and fiction, where, according to the fancy of the author, they participated more or less largely of the Oriental or Gothic character.
This notion was preserved throughout the middle ages. They act a conspicuous part in the Fabliaux of the Trouveurs. The story of Melusina, written about the
close of the fourteenth century, is in all respects a complete fairy tale; and in the Nights of Straparola, translated from the Italian into the French in 1585, we find not only examples of this mode of composition, but outlines of the best-known and most popular fairy tales. This work is rather curious as illustrating the transmission or progress of fiction, than for any intrinsic merit of its own.
The immediate precursor and prototype of the French fairy tales was the Pentamerone of Signor Basile, written in the Neapolitan tongue, and published in 1672. This work contains the original of the 'Discreet Princess,'(the first fairy tale that ever appeared in France,) told with some very unimportant variations. It was succeeded by a volume written by Perrault, which appeared in 1697, containing, with other pieces, the 'Sleeping Beauty,' Riquet with the Tuft,'' Hop-o'my-thumb,' and 'Blue Beard,' the original hero of which last was said to have been 'Giles Marquis de Laval,' a general in the reigns of Charles VI. and VII., distinguished by his military genius and intrepidity, and possessed of princely revenues, but addicted to magic, and infamous by the murder of his wives, and by his extraordinary debaucheries. The tales of Perrault,' says Dunlop,' are the best of the kind ever given to the world; they are chiefly distinguished for their simplicity, for the naïve and familiar style in which they are written, and for an appearance of implicit belief on the part of the narrator, which perhaps gives us additional pleasure from our knowledge of the profound attainments of the author, and his advanced age at the period of their composition.'
The success of Perrault and his express recommendation directed the attention of several ladies of fashion to this walk of literature, and large additions were made to the stock of fairy tales. The three most eminent in this department, were the Countess D'Aulnoy, Madame Murat, and Mademoiselle De la Force. Of the first, the wife of the Count D’Aulnoy, Gorton observes: 'She wrote with the negligent air of a woman of quality, but not without spirit or vivacity. At the same period with these ladies, who were nearly contemporary, a crowd of less celebrated authors appeared. Among these we find Madame Leveque, author of the 'Invisible Prince,' Madame Villaneuve, to whom Dunlop assigns the authorship of Beauty and the Beast,' and the Count de Caylus, who, leaving his antiquarian researches, has related his stories with a simplicity, naïveté, and sarcastic exposure of character, hardly to be expected from one of his grave pursuits. The most eminent men of France disdained not to contribute to these collections, as appears from the names of Fenelon, Rousseau, Duclos, and the painter Coypel.
It is thus that in France, about the conclusion of the reign of Louis XIV., we find the golden age of fairy fiction. Despotism has ever been fertile in similar works. Fables, parables, and tales, have been the instruments of conveying sentiments, the open avowal of which would be both obnoxious to punishment and unprofitable to their authors. To this circumstance, combined with the high intellectual refinement of the French at that period, are we to ascribe their success. A similar coincidence of circumstances not having occurred elsewhere, at least in modern times, other nations must be content to avail themselves of those stories in which the literature of France so abounds.
It would be an interesting inquiry to examine the various purposes to which fictitious narrative has been applied. From the earliest periods it has been made available for moral or political purposes. The gravest statesmen, lawgivers, and philosophers, have not disdained its aid; and history, both sacred and profane, abounds in instances of its application. Jotham's 'Fable of the Trees' is the oldest extant; and Addison observes, “as beautiful as any which have been made since that time.' Nathan's ‘Fable of the Poor Man and his Lamb,' and Menenius Agrippa's ' Apologue of the Belly and Limbs,' are also well known and striking cases in illustration.