The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/Number 2/Literary Notices
Of course the reader understands the following notice to be written by a venerable practitioner, who carries a gold-headed cane, and does not believe in any medical authority later than Sydenham. Listen to him, then, and remember that if anything in the way of answer, or remonstrance, or controversial advertisement is sent to the head-quarters of this periodical, it will go directly into the basket, which, entering, a manuscript leaves all hope behind. The "old salts" of the "Atlantic" do not go for non-committal and neutrality, or any of that kind of nonsense. Our oracle with the gold stick must have the ground to himself, or keep his wisdom for another set of readers. A quarrel between "Senex" and "Fairplay" would be amusing, but expensive. We have no space for it; and the old gentleman, though he can use his cane smartly for one of his age, positively declines the game of single-stick. Hear him.
———The book mentioned above lies before us with its valves open, helpless as an oyster on its shell, inviting the critical pungent, the professional acid, and the judicial impaling trident. We will be merciful. This fat little literary mollusk is well-conditioned, of fair aspect, and seemingly good of its kind. Twenty-four thousand individuals,—we have its title-page as authority,—more or less lineal descendants of Solomon, have become the fortunate possessors of this plethoric guide to earthly immortality. They might have done worse; for the work is well printed, well arranged, and typographically creditable to the great publishing-house which honors Cincinnati by its intelligent enterprise. The purchasers have done very wisely in buying a book which will not hurt their eyes. Mr. Otis Clapp, bibliopolist, has the work, and will be pleased to supply it to an indefinite number of the family above referred to.
———Men live in the immediate neighborhood of a great menagerie, the doors of which are always open. The beasts of prey that come out are called diseases. They feed upon us, and between their teeth we must all pass sooner or later,—all but a few, who are otherwise taken care of. When these animals attack a man, most of them give him a scratch or a bite, and let him go. Some hold on a little while; some are carried about for weeks or months, until the carrier drops down, or they drop off. By and by one is sure to come along that drags down the strongest, and makes an end of him.
Most people know little or nothing of these beasts, until all at once they find themselves attacked by one of them. They are therefore liable to be frightened by those that are not dangerous, and careless with those that are destructive. They do not know what will soothe, and what will exasperate them. They do not even know the dens of many of them, though they are close to their own dwellings.
A physician is one that has lived among these beasts, and studied their aspects and habits. He knows them all well, and looks them in the face, and lays his hand on their backs daily. They seem, as it were, to know him, and to greet him with such risus sardonicus as they can muster. He knows that his friends and himself have all got to be eaten up at last by them, and his friends have the same belief. Yet they want him near them at all times, and with them when they are set upon by any of these their natural enemies. He goes, knowing pretty well what he can do and what he cannot.
He can talk to them in a quiet and sensible way about these terrible beings, concerning which they are so ignorant, and liable to harbor such foolish fancies. He can frighten away some of the lesser kind of animals with certain ill-smelling preparations he carries about him. Once in a while he can draw the teeth of some of the biggest, or throttle them. He can point out their dens, and so keep many from falling into their jaws.
This is a great deal to promise or perform, but it is not all that is expected of him. Sick people are very apt to be both fools and cowards. Many of them confess the fact in the frankest possible way. If you doubt it, ask the next dentist about the wisdom and courage of average manhood under the dispensation of a bad tooth. As a tooth is to a liver, so are the dentists' patients to the doctors', in the want of the two excellences above mentioned.
Those not over-wise human beings called patients are frequently a little unreasonable. They come with a small scratch, which Nature will heal very nicely in a few days, and insist on its being closed at once with some kind of joiner's glue. They want their little coughs cured, so that they may breathe at their ease, when they have no lungs left that are worth mentioning. They would have called in Luke the physician to John the Baptist, when his head was in the charger, and asked for a balsam that would cure cuts. This kind of thing cannot be done. But it is very profitable to lie about it, and say that it can be done. The people who make a business of this lying, and profiting by it, are called quacks.
———But as patients wish to believe in all manner of "cures," and as all doctors love to believe in the power of their remedies and as nothing is more open to self-deception than medical experience, the whole matter of therapeutics has always been made a great deal more of than the case would justify. It has been an inflated currency,—fifty pretences on paper, to one fact of true, ringing metal.
Many of the older books are full of absurd nostrums. A century ago, Huxham gave messes to his patients containing more than four hundred ingredients. Remedies were ordered that must have been suggested by the imagination; things odious, abominable, unmentionable; flesh of vipers, powder of dead men's bones, and other horrors, best mused in expressive silence. Go to the little book of Robert Boyle,—wise man, philosopher, revered of cures for the most formidable diseases, many of them of this fantastic character, that disease should seem to have been a thing that one could turn off at will, like gas or water in our houses. Only there were rather too many specifics in those days. For if one has "an excellent approved remedy" that never fails, it seems unnecessary to print a list of twenty others for the same purpose. This is wanton excess; it is gilding the golden pill, and throwing fresh perfume on the Mistura Assafœtidæ.
As the observation of nature has extended, and as mankind have approached the state of only semi-barbarism in which they now exist, there has been an improvement. The materia medica has been weeded; much that was worthless and revolting has been thrown overboard; simplicity has been introduced into prescriptions; and the whole business of drugging the sick has undergone a most salutary reform. The great fact has been practically recognized, that the movements of life in disease obey laws which, under the circumstances, are on the whole salutary, and only require a limited and occasional interference by any special disturbing agents. The list of specifics has been reduced to a very brief catalogue, and the delusion which had exaggerated the power of drugging for so many generations has been tempered down by sound and systematic observation.
Homœopathy came, and with one harlequin bound leaped out of its century backwards into the region of quagmires and fogs and mirages, from which true medical science was painfully emerging. All the trumpery of exploded pharmacopoeias was revived under new names. Even the domain of the loathsome has been recently invaded, and simpletons are told in the book before us to swallow serpents' poison; nay, it is said that the pediculis capitis is actually prescribed in infusion,—hunted down in his capillary forest, and transferred to the digestive organs of those he once fed upon.
It falsely alleged one axiom as the basis of existing medical practice, namely, Contraria contrariis curantur,—"Contraries are cured by contraries." No such principle was ever acted upon, exclusively, as the basis of medical practice. The man who does not admit it as one of the principles of practice would, on medical principles, refuse a drop of cold water to cool the tongue of Dives in fiery torments. The only unconditional principle ever recognized by medical science has been, that diseases are to be treated by the remedies that experience shows to be useful. The universal use of both cold and hot external and internal remedies in various inflammatory states puts the garrote at once on the babbling throat of the senseless assertion of the homœopathists, and stultifies for all time the nickname "allopathy."
It falsely alleged a second axiom, Similia similibus curantur,—"Like is cured by like,"—as the basis of its own practice; for it does not keep to any such rule, as every page of the book before us abundantly shows.
It subjected credulous mankind to the last of indignities, in forcing it to listen to that doctrine of infinitesimals and potencies which is at once the most epigrammatic of paradoxes, and the crowning exploit of pseudo-scientific audacity.
It proceeded to prove itself true by juggling statistics; some of the most famous of which, we may remark, are very well shown up by Professor Worthington Hooker, in a recent essay. And having done all these things, it sat down in the shadow of a brazen bust of its founder, and invited mankind to join in the Barmecide feast it had spread on the coffin of Science; who, however, proved not to have been buried in it,—indeed, not to have been buried at all.
Of course, it had, and has, a certain success. Its infinitesimal treatment being a nullity, patients are never hurt by drugs, when it is adhered to. It pleases the imagination. It is image-worship, relic-wearing, holy-water-sprinkling, transferred from the spiritual world to that of the body. Poets accept it; sensitive and spiritual women become sisters of charity in its service. It does not offend the palate, and so spares the nursery those scenes of single combat in which infants were wont to yield at length to the pressure of the spoon and the imminence of asphyxia. It gives the ignorant, who have such an inveterate itch for dabbling in physic, a book and a doll's medicine-chest, and lets them play doctors and doctresses without fear of having to call in the coroner. And just so long as unskilful and untaught people cannot tell coincidences from cause and effect in medical practice,—which to do, the wise and experienced know how difficult!—so long it will have plenty of "facts" to fall back upon. Who can blame a man for being satisfied with the argument, "I was ill, and am well,—great is Hahnemann!"? Only this argument serves all impostors and impositions. It is not of much value, but it is irresistible, and therefore quackery is immortal.
Homœopathy is one of its many phases; the most imaginative, the most elegant, and, it is fair to say, the least noxious in its direct agencies. "It is melancholy,"—we use the recent words of the world-honored physician of the Queen's household, Sir John Forbes,—"to be forced to make admissions in favor of a system so utterly false and despicable as Homœopathy." Yet we must own that it may have been indirectly useful, as the older farce of the weapon ointment certainly was, in teaching medical practitioners to place more reliance upon nature. Most scientific men see through its deceptions at a glance. It may be practised by shrewd men and by honest ones; rarely, it must be feared, by those who are both shrewd and honest. As a psychological experiment on the weakness of cultivated minds, it is the best trick of the century.
———Here the old gentleman took his cane and walked out to cool himself.
It is an old remark of Lessing, often repeated, but nevertheless true, that Frenchmen, as a general rule, are sadly deficient in the mental powers suited to objective observation, and therefore eminently disqualified for reliable reports of travels. Among the host of French writing travellers or travelling writers, on whatever foreign countries, there have always been very few who looked at foreign countries, nations, institutions, and achievements, with anything like fairness of judgment and capacity of understanding. For an average Frenchman, Molière's renowned juxtaposition of
"Paris, la cour, le monde, l'univers,"
is a gospel down to this day; and no country can so justly complain of being constantly misunderstood and misrepresented by French tourists as ours. The more difficult it is for a Frenchman not to glance through colored spectacles from the Palais Royal at whatever does not belong to "the Great Nation," the more praise those few of them deserve who give to the world correct and impartial impressions of travel and reliable ethnological works.
Such is the case with two works which we are glad to recommend to our readers. The first is
Norway, though a member of the European family, with a population once so influential in the world's history, is comparatively the least known of all civilized countries to the world at large, and what little we know of it is of a very recent date,—Stephens's and Leopold von Buch's works being not much more than a quarter of a century old, while Bayard Taylor's lively sketches in the "New York Tribune" are almost wet still, and not yet complete. The latter and M. Enault's book, when compared with each other, leave not the slightest doubt that each observes carefully and conscientiously in his own way, that both possess peculiar gifts for studying and describing correctly what there is worth studying and describing in this terra incognita, and that we can rely on both. Mr. Taylor is more picturesque, lively, fascinating, and drastic; M. Enault more thorough, quiet, and reserved in the expression of his opinions. The parts seem to be interchanged,—the Frenchman exhibiting more of the Anglo-Saxon, the American more of the French genius; but both confirm each other's statements admirably, and should be read side by side. If our readers wish to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the workings of the laws and institutions, with the statistical, economical, and geographical facts, the society and manners, the later history and future prospects of Norway, they will find here a work trustworthy in every respect.
This is no narrative of travel, though evidently written by one who has been for a considerable time an eyewitness of Indian affairs, and by a man of acute mind and quick and comprehensive perception, thoroughly versed in the history and condition of India. It is a treatise on all those topics bearing upon the present political, social, and commercial state of things there, beginning with the exposition of the English governmental institutions there existing, describing the country, its productions and resources, its various populations, its social relations, its agriculture, commerce, and wealth, and concluding with statistical and other documents in support of the author's statements. It gives a nearly systematical and complete picture of Indian affairs, enabling the reader to understand the present situation of the country and its foreign rulers, and to form a judgment on all corresponding topics. The style is classical, though somewhat concise and epigrammatic, giving proof everywhere of a mind that forms its own conclusions and takes independent, statesmanlike views. The author refrains from obtruding his own opinions on the reader, leaving things to speak for themselves. He is not ostensibly antagonistic to the English, as we should expect from a true Frenchman,—is no cordial hater of "perfide Albion." You cannot, from his book, with any show of reason, infer that he is a Jesuit, a French missionary, a merchant, a governmental employé, or a simple traveller; but you feel instinctively that he is wide-awake, shrewd, and reserved, and that you may trust his reports in the main. He refers, for proof of his statements, mostly to English documents, and does not try to preoccupy your mind. Particularly noteworthy is what he says of the political economy of India; he controverts effectively the prevailing opinion that it is the richest country in the world,—showing its real poverty, in spite of its great natural resources, and the almost hopeless task of improving these resources. For the American merchant this is a very readable book, warning him to refrain from too hastily investing his capital and enterprise in Indian commerce,—India being the most insecure of all countries for foreign commercial undertakings; and in general, there are so many entirely new and startling revelations in it, that, to any one interested in Indian matters, it well repays reading.
We cannot vouch that we have here a new, original history of this important epoch, based on an independent study of historical sources; but it is the very first history of the French Revolution we have known, not written in a partisan spirit, and bent on falsifying the facts in order to make political capital or to flatter national prejudices. It bears no evidence of any tendency whatever,—perhaps only because, with its more than five hundred pages, it is too short for that.
Michélet is too well known as a truly Republican historiographer and truly humane and noble writer, and the former volumes of this history have been too long before the public, to require for this volume a particular recommendation. It begins with the last décade of the sixteenth century, and concludes with the year 1626. We are no particular admirers of Michélet's historical style and method of delineation, but we acknowledge his sense of historical justice, his unprejudiced mind, and his Republicanism, even when treating a subject so delicate, and so dear to Frenchmen, as Henry IV. Doing justice to whatever was really admirable in the character of this much beloved king, he overthrows a good many superstitious ideas current concerning him even down to our days. He shows that the Utopian, though benevolent project, ascribed to Henry, of establishing an everlasting peace by revising the map of Europe and constituting a political equilibrium between the several European powers, never in fact existed in the king's mind, nor even in Sully's, whom he equally divests of much unfounded glory and fictitious greatness. No doubt, but for his fickleness and inconsistency, Henry could have done a good deal toward realizing such ideas and reforming European politics; but it is saying too much for Henry's influence on the popular opinions of Europe, to affirm, what Michélet gives us to understand, that he could have combined the nations of Europe against all their depraved rulers together.
This book contains a discussion between the author and M. de Lourdoueix, ex-editor of the "Gazette de France," written in the form of letters, on the various topics connected with the notion of Liberty. Girardin is, no doubt, the most genial of all living French writers on Socialism and Politics. He belongs neither to the fanatical school of Communists and Social Equalizers by force and "par ordre da Mufti," nor to the class of pliable tools of Imperial or Royal Autocracy. He is the only writer who, in the face of the prevailing restrictions upon the press in France, dares to speak out his whole mind, and to preach the Age of Reason in Politics and in the Social System. He is full of new ideas, which should, we think, be very attractive to American readers; and it is, indeed, strange that his writings are so little read and reviewed on this side of the ocean. His ideas on general education, on the total extinction of authority or government, on the abolition of public punishments of every kind, on the doing away with standing armies, war, and tyranny, and on making the State a great Assurance Company against all imaginable misfortunes and their consequences, are a fair index of the best philosophemes of the European mind since the last Revolution. We do not say that we approve every one of his issues and conclusions, but we insist most earnestly, that this book and similar ones, bearing testimony to what the political and social thinkers of the day in Europe are revolving in their minds, should be read and reviewed under the light of American institutions and ideas. The reader enjoys in the present book the great advantage of seeing the ideas of the Social Reformers discussed pro and contra,—M. Lourdoueix being their obstinate adversary.
This is not what is commonly called mémoires,—to wit, historical recollections modified by the subjective impressions of eyewitnesses to the past; it is rather a novel or romance in the form of mémoires, ridiculing the predominant bourgeoisie of the Old World, and sketching the whole life of a bourgeois, from infancy to green old age. For readers, who, through travel in Europe and acquaintance with French literature and tastes, are enabled to understand the many nice allusions contained in this novel, it is a very entertaining book.
1. Kraft und Stoff. By G. Büchner. Fourth edition. 1857.
2. Materie und Geist. By the same. 1857.
It is certainly a remarkable sign of the times, that a book treating of purely scientific matters,—physiological facts and ideas,—like the first of these, of which the second is the complement, should in a very few years have attained to its fourth edition in Germany. All those works on Natural Science, by Alexander von Humboldt, Oersted, Du Bois-Raymond, Cotta, Vogt, Moleschott, Büchner, Rossmässler, Ule, Müller, and others, which have appeared since the Revolution of 1848, uniting a more popular and intelligible style with a purely scientific treatment of the matter-of-fact, irrespective of the religious and political dogmas that conflict with the results of natural science, have met with decided success in Germany and France. They are extensively read and appreciated, even by the less educated and learned classes. Among these works, that of Büchner ranks high, and it is therefore strange that we have seen it hitherto reviewed in no American journal. This may serve us as an excuse for noticing this fourth edition, though it is little improved over the former ones. It exhibits the last results of the science of physiology, in a scientific, but rather popular method of exposition. There is quite a hive of new ideas and intuitions contained in it,—ideas conflicting, it is true, with many received dogmas, and irreconcilable with orthodoxy; but it is of no use to shut our eyes to these ideas, as though the danger threatening from this side could be averted by imitating the policy of the ostrich. They should be faced and examined; the danger is far greater from ignoring them. It is impossible that ideas, largely entertained and cultivated by a nation so expert in thinking, so versed in science and literature as the Germans, should have no interest for the great, intelligent American public. Natural Science may be said to form, at present, an integral portion of the religion of the Germans. It is, at least, a matter of ethnological and historical interest to learn in what regions of thought and speculation our German contemporaries are at home, and wherein they find their mental happiness and delight.
Two volumes of this interesting work are coming out at the same time,—one containing the second of the five parts into which the prose anthology is divided, with comical and humorous pieces from the sixteenth century, (for instance, extracts from "Fortunatus," the "Historia" of Dr. J. Faust, "Die Schildbürger," Desid, Erasmus's "Gespräche," etc.,)—the other containing a collection of poetry of the same kind, belonging to the present century, and forming part of the third volume, with pieces by Uhland, Eichendorff, Rückert, Sapphir, Wm. Müller, Immermann, Palten, Hoffmann, Kopisch, Heine, Lenau, Möricke, Grün, Wackernagel, and many others. The anthology is accompanied with biographical and historical notes, and explanations of provincialisms and such words as to the American reader of German would be likely to be otherwise unintelligible; so that he may thus, without too much trouble, satisfactorily enjoy this treasury of entertainment. The Germans may well be proud of such literary riches, in which England alone surpasses them.
This is one of the numerous imitations of the celebrated "Dorfgeschichten," by Berthold Auerbach. The latter introduced, in a time of literary poverty, a wide range of new subjects for epical treatment,—the life of German peasants, with their simple, healthy, vigorous natures undepraved by a spurious civilization. In painting these sinewy figures, full of a character of their own, he was very felicitous, had an enormous success, and drew a host of less gifted followers after him. Herr Ludwig is one of these. We shall not despair of his becoming, at some future time, a second Auerbach; but he is not one yet. There is, in this work, too much spreading out and extenuation of a material which, in itself not very rich and varied, requires great skill to mould into an epic form. But the author has a remarkable power of drawing true, lifelike characters, and developing them psychologically. It is refreshing to see that the German literary taste is becoming gradually more realistic, pure, and natural, turning its back on the romantic school of the French.
The name of Aubrey de Vere has for some years past been familiar to the lovers of poetry, as that of a scholarly and genial poet. His successive volumes have shown a steady growth in poetic power and elevation of spirit. While gaining a firmer mastery over the instruments of poetry he has struck from them a deeper, fuller, and more significant tone. In this his last volume, which has lately appeared, his verse is brought completely into the service of the Church. The "May Carols" are poems celebrating the Virgin Mary in her month of May. For that month, and for the Roman church, Mr. De Vere has done in this volume what Keble did for the festivals of the year, and the English church, in his "Christian Year." Catholicism in England has produced no poet since the days of Crashaw so sincere in his piety, so sweet in his melody, so pure in spirit as De Vere. And the volume is not for Roman Catholic readers alone. Others may be touched by its religious fervor, and charmed with its beauties of description or of feeling. It is full and redolent of spring. The sweetness of the May air flows through many of its verses,—of that season when
Trees, that from winter's gray eclipse
Of late but pushed their topmost plume,
Or felt with green-touched finger-tips
For spring, their perfect robes assume.
While, vague no more, the mountains stand
With quivering line or hazy hue;
But drawn with finer, firmer, hand,
And settling into deeper blue.
Mr. De Vere is an exquisite student of nature, with fine perceptions that have been finely cultivated. Take this picture of the lark:—
From his cold nest the skylark springs;
Sings, pauses, sings; shoots up anew;
Attains his topmost height, and sings
Quiescent in his vault of blue.
And here is a description of the later spring:—
Brow-bound with myrtle and with gold,
Spring, sacred now from blasts and blights,
Lifts in a firm, untrembling hold
Her chalice of fulfilled delights.
Confirmed around her queenly lip
The smile late wavering, on she moves;
And seems through deepening tides to step
Of steadier joys and larger loves.
The little volume contains many passages such as these. We have space to quote but one of the poems complete, to show the manner in which Mr. De Vere unites the real, the symbolic, and the external, with the spiritual. Like most of his poems, it is marked by artistic finish and grace, and many of the lines have a natural beauty of unsought alliteration and assonance.
When all the breathless woods aloof
Lie hushed in noontide's deep repose
The dove, sun-warmed on yonder roof,
With what a grave content she coos!
One note for her! Deep streams run smooth:
The ecstatic song of transience tells.
O, what a depth of loving truth
In thy divine contentment dwells!
All day with down-dropt lids I sat
In trance; the present scene foregone.
When Hesper rose, on Ararat,
Methought, not English hills, he shone.
Back to the Ark, the waters o'er,
The primal dove pursued her flight:
A branch of that blest tree she bore
Which feeds the Church with holy light.
I heard her rustling through the air
With sliding plume,—no sound beside,
Save the sea-sobbings everywhere,
And sighs of the subsiding tide.