The Dial/Volume 15/Number 171/Briefs on New Books

Briefs on New Books.

Studies of the Greek Poets.The two volumes of "Studies of the Greek Poets," by the late J. A. Symonds, have just been reissued in a stately third edition (Macmillan), with a few changes from earlier forms of the text. Of these changes, the only one at all noteworthy is the new chapter upon the recently discovered mimes of Herondas, which includes long translated passages. The chapters have been arranged in a better chronological order than before, some further translations have been inserted, and an occasional footnote appended. In one of these foot-notes, the author gives his reasons for not re-casting more fully the text of the work. "Owing to the way in which they were first composed, it is impossible to avoid a certain amount of repetition without a laborious re-casting and re-writing of all the chapters. That would involve a thorough-going change of style, and would deprive the work of the one quality it claims—youthfulness." We think it best, on the whole, that such a revision should not have been attempted, for the "youthfulness" of the work—that is, its spirit of generous enthusiasm for its subject—is the very quality that has made it the most useful, if not the most important, of the author's many books. For young readers, whether students of Greek or not, these chapters offer the best introduction in our language to the study of Greek literature; and in these days, when the value of that study is questioned more than ever before, such books are capable of doing a world of good. We do not know, either, that the author's riper judgment could have given better form to the general conclusions resulting from the study of Greek thought as expressed in Greek poetry. Such a passage as the following, for example, is wholly admirable: "We must imitate the Greeks, not by trying to reproduce their bygone modes of life and feeling, but by approximating to their free and fearless attitude of mind. While frankly recognizing that much of their liberty would for us be license, and that the moral progress of the race depends on holding with a firm grasp what the Greeks had hardly apprehended, we ought still to emulate their spirit by cheerfully accepting the world as we find it, acknowledging the value of each human impulse, and aiming after virtues that depend on self-regulation rather than on total abstinence and mortification. To do this in the midst of our conventionalities and prejudices, our interminglement of unproved expectations and unrefuted terrors, is no doubt hard. Yet if we fail of this, we lose the best the Greeks can teach us." A book so sane in its essential doctrine may well be pardoned a few outbursts of florid rhetoric and a certain amount of exuberant verbosity. It is doubtless open to much minor criticism, as, for example, in the passage which speaks of Moliere's "courtly and polished treatment of disgusting subjects" a comment that does not come with good grace from one who censures Hallam for precisely the same sort of comment upon Marlowe; but criticism of this sort we are willing to forego, contenting ourselves with an emphatic protest against the publication of such a work without an index.

A diagrammatic treatment of English Literature.Mr. William Renton's "Outlines of English Literature" (Scribner) is a "University Extension Manual," and, as such, hardly appears to fulfil its purpose. As an introduction to the subject it would be found confusing, although it has much suggestiveness for readers who already know the history of our literature. Its defect, as far as beginners are concerned, is found in its insistence upon a rather obscure system of philosophical classification and criticism. It professes to deal with types, schools, and epochs rather than with individuals, but the interest of the beginner is only to be awakened by an extremely individual method of treatment. He is told, for example, that Marlowe's chief discovery was "that in the universal and a posteriori, not the exceptional and the a priori, is to be found the true source of human interest and interpretation"—from which statement he is not likely to learn much. Mr. Renton makes use of many ingenious formulas and diagrams in illustration of his subject. The formula for Shakespeare, for example, is this: (s + p) S + (v + h ) T, which, being interpreted, means "spontaneity and pregnancy of Suggestion combined with variety and harmony of Treatment." When the scientific treatment of literature culminates in such pseudo-mathematical forms of expression, it is time to call a halt. The variety and ingenuity of the author's diagrams—for he makes much use of the graphic method, as well as of the algebraical—defy any attempt at mere description. One of the less complicated of the figures gives us the abstraction Nature as a centre, and groups about it, at quadrant intervals, the four other abstractions, Will, Soul, Sense, and Spirit. The names of eight nineteenth century poets link together the circles representing these abstractions; thus, Byron is the poet of Nature and Will, Shelley of Nature and Soul, Keats of Nature and Sense, Wordsworth of Nature and Spirit. In an outer circle, Spirit is linked with Will by Mr. Roden Noel (whose name had to be dragged in for the sake of diagrammatic symmetry), Will with Soul by Browning, Soul with Sense by Mr. Swinburne, and Sense with Spirit by Tennyson. The description of such a diagram is its best reductio ad absurdam. The structure of literature is too organic to admit of being thus mechanically explained. The author seems to be fairly accurate as to historical fact and sane as to criticism, although we do not agree with him in making Balzac inferior to Thackeray, in singling out Mr. Swinburne's "Tristram of Lyonesse" as one of the poet's most remarkable works, or in a. number of other and minor matters. And it is at least amusing to be told that Berkeley, in "The Querist," "anticipated the Political Economy of Smith and Ruskin." Mr. Ruskin would not thank the author for that.

A condensed history of the Italian Republics..Sismondi's "Républiques Italiennes,", in ten volumes, albeit a work which fascinates, is some what formidable to one who is seeking a general knowledge of the Italian city republics of the middle ages. Miss Duffy has done well to give us a portion of all this in a single volume, in her "Tuscan Republics and Genoa" (Putnam). Considering the length of centuries that she deals with, and the lack of unity involved in a history of five states—Genoa, Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Siena,—she has produced a very successful narrative. She truly emphasizes the fact that communal institutions here did not come down from the Roman time, but sprang up amid the confusion and neglect of the Germanic settlements and the early feudal period. Florence, as is right, gets the largest treatment, and the narrative is well handled as it passes from consuls to podestas, podestas to Signoria, and as the power is snatched by popolani from grandi, only to be handed over to Medici patrons and tyrants. It is a pity there is much slovenly writing in the volume, for a good book is worth making slowly. Such writing as, "In other places, notable in Lombardy," "conferred sole possession to the property," "Pisa's wealth and outlaying interests," "a change came over the government," is not creditable. An interpreter is needed for such sentences as, "Florence owed its final great prosperity to its position midway between the Mediterranean coast and Rome" (a map will not elucidate it), or "Henry IV. had conferred on Lucca the privilege of trading freely throughout his dominions, and this fact explains the passionate jealousy of Pisa, which, desirous of expanding inland, found an insurmountable obstacle to this aspiration of its neighbor." One would wish to have seen a fuller account of Siena and some recognition of Arezzo in a Tuscan history.

More portraits of women of the French Court."Women of the Valois Court" (Scribner} is the initial volume of a fresh sub-series by the indefatigable M. Imbert de Saint-Amand. The volumes differ from their predecessors in that their interest is still more largely personal, each one containing a series of detached historical portraits. In the number before us, for instance, there are portraits, pictorial as well as verbal, of Marguerite of Angouleme and Catherine de' Medici, and, subordinately, of Diane de Poitiers, Marguerite of Valois, Marie Stuart, and others. The author's style is as showy and vivacious as ever, and he has interwoven in his own narrative the usual proportion of quotations from the authorities, and from diaries and letters, of the period. Balzac's opinion of Catherine is sufficiently striking. Nothing, not even Saint Bartholomew's, gives him pause in his enthusiasm for his heroine. In his eyes, "the figure of Catherine de' Medici appears like that of a great king. The calumnies once dispelled by facts, recovered with difficulty from the falsities and contradictions of pamphlets and anecdotes,—everything can be explained to the honor of this extraordinary woman, who had none of the weaknesses of her sex, who lived chastely in the midst of the amours of the most licentious court of Europe, and who, in spite of her meagre purse, was able to build admirable monuments, as if to repair the losses occasioned by the demolitions of the Calvinists, who inflicted as many wounds on art as on the body politic." The extracts in the volume, brought thus together in compact and accessible form, are of great value to the student. The book is withal full of romantic interest, and is more readable than the general run of books that profess to be nothing else.

A guide to reading and making verse.In "Orthometry" (Putnam), Mr. R. F. Brewer has attempted a fuller treatment of the art of versification than is to be found in the popular treatises on that subject. While the preface shows a tendency to encourage verse-making, as unnecessary as it is undesirable, the work may be regarded as useful in so far as it tends to cultivate an intelligent taste for good poetry. The rhyming dictionary at the end is a new feature, which will undoubtedly commend itself to those having a use for such aids. A specially interesting chapter is that on "Poetic Trifles," in which are included the various imitations of foreign verse in English. The discussion of the sonnet, too, though failing to bring out fully the spiritual nature of this difficult verse form, is more accurate than might be expected from the following sentence: "The form of the sonnet is of Italian origin, and came into use in the fifteenth [sic] century, towards the end of which its construction was perfected, and its utmost melodious sweetness attained in the verse of Petrarch and Dante." In the chapter on Alliteration there are several misleading statements, such as calling "Piers the Plowman" an "Old English" poem. In the bibliography one is surprised not to find Mr. F. B. Gummere's admirable "Handbook of Poetics," now in its third edition. In spite of these and other shortcomings, which can be readily corrected in a later issue, this work may be recommended as a satisfactory treatment of the mechanics of verse.

Beautiful reprint of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.The public has already heard more or less of the translation of the Old Testament writings, undertaken sometime since by a group of the most eminent European and American Semitic scholars, and already well under way. The projectors of this great enterprise have also included in their plans the publication of the complete Hebrew text of the Old Testament, in a series of volumes to be the exact counterparts of those making up the English edition. There will be twenty of these parts altogether, and, through the generosity of an unnamed friend of the enterprise, they are offered to subscribers at a very low price. Part the first, containing the text of the book of Job, edited by Professor Siegfried, of Jena, has just been issued, and, in its Leipzig typography, is a very beautiful piece of work. The text is printed in colors by a new process, the invention of Professor Haupt, the general editor of the series. Interpolations and parallel compositions are thus distinguished from the primitive portions of the text, a feature which those who use the book will not be slow to appreciate. The text has been left unpointed except in ambiguous cases. The Johns Hopkins Press is the American agent for this work, and will receive subscriptions for the whole work or for the separate parts as issued.

Narrative of a Polish adventurer.Volume 17 of "The Adventure Series" (Macmillan) contains a reprint of Nicholson's translation (1790) of Count de Benyowsky's "Memoirs and Travels in Siberia, Kamchatka, Japan, the Liukiu Islands, and Formosa." The book is edited by Captain Pasfield Oliver, who, in his exhaustive Introduction, devotes himself to the rather unusual editorial task of picking holes in his author's narrative and impugning his veracity. Benyowsky was a Polish adventurer of the eighteenth century, one of those "plausible, amusing, and good-looking, but wholly unprincipled, Don Juans," says Captain Oliver, "who would fight under any leader where plunder was to be gained." He was taken prisoner by the Russians in 1769, but escaped shortly after and made his way to Kamchatka, from whence he sailed on his zig-zagging voyage in Behring Sea, the Sea of Ochotsk, and the North Pacific, arriving at Macao, after a series of remarkable "adventures" which form the basis of his narrative, in 1771. Judging from internal evidence, and from discrepancies pointed out by the diligent and skeptical editor, the Count was almost as gifted a liar as Münchausen. Certainly he was a more plausible one, for his story has provoked much learned discussion. The "Memoir" is something of a literary curiosity, and it may still be read with interest. There are several plates, including a portrait of the author.