Page images

yesterday's debauch, was an experiment upon the patience of the much reading and long enduring public which could not possibly be successful. The author of The Yemassee has, however, written some well versified short pieces, though we cannot recall a single poem which is likely long to survive the occasion which brought it forth.

From these remarks upon the author's more ambitious efforts, we turn with pleasure to the collection of stories and sketches entitled The Wigwam and the Cabin. It forms part of Wiley and Putnam's Library of American Books; a series, by the by, which, with the exception of a few of the volumes, is not likely to do much honor to American literature. It is difficult to imagine what can have seduced those respectable publishers into printing, as one of the series, that indescribably stupid imitation of Dickens, entitled and called Big Abel and Little Manhattan, — a contribution to the patriotic native American literature, a good deal worse than the very worst things of The Yemassee and Guy Rivers. Surely, surely, this dismal trash cannot have been seriously chosen as a fit representative of American originality, in a "Library of American Books"; though it does very well to follow the silly and affected motto which some evil-disposed person has persuaded them to adopt from the Address of the American Copy-right Club. The Tales by Edgar A. Poe, and ✓ the lucubrations of Mr. J. T. Headly, — the former belonging to the forcible-feeble and the shallow-profound school, the latter rising into the region of the intensely fine and ambitiously picturesque, — are poor enough materials for an American Library.

Compared with either of these selected representatives of Dative American literature, The Wigwam and the Cabin is a collection of masterly efforts ; and judged by themselves, and without the magnifying effect of comparison with the infinitesimal smallness of the works in their neighbourhood, there is a degree of talent shown in these tales and sketches, which entitles them to a place in the not very high department of literature to which they belong. There is much in them that is characteristic, much that fixes attention and remains in the memory ; and something that gives us a real insight into the forms of life and the relations of society, which are the central point around which they turn. But for the heavy dissertations which preface some of the stories, as if they were set up at the

opening pages for the sake of warning off the trespassing reader, they would be interesting and attractive ; and he who has once fairly got over these stuinblingblocks at the threshold will go on with pleased attention to the end. These introductions betray the intense self-consciousness with which the writer worked out his plans ; and so far they interfere with the natural effect which such stories ought to produce, and would produce, were they simply and unaffectedly laid before the reader. In the first volume there are seven stories, all of which have merit. They are not gracefully written ; but being in a less ambitious style than the author's larger works, the literary faults and deficiencies are less observable, and tempered down to a less prominent and offeosive point. Either from a lack of original power to sustain with equable wing a long flight in the region of romance, or from a lack of sufficient culture to train bis native energies up to such highreaching aims, Guy Rivers seems equal only to the short and easy career of the magazine tale or story. And even in these stories we sometimes find a coarse passage which shows that he had not always the discernment to discriminate, amidst the materials that lay before him, between what should have been cast aside as refuse and what was fit to be used for the purposes of art. In the details of daily life, especially in the ruder forms under which it appears in the wilderness and on the frontiers of civilization, there is much which no skill can make poetical, much which no light of imagination can clothe with the radiance of artistic beauty, much which cannot, by any possible magic of literary genius, be raised out of the region of squalid, grovelling, repulsive vice and barbarism. This sadly unpoetic side of American life should not, indeed, be kept wholly out of sight in fictitious delineation ; but it cannot be brought prominently forward without violating the laws of ideal beauty, under which all the works of imagination must necessarily arrange themselves. In this respect, some of the pieces in The Wigwam and the Cabin are offences against good taste.

The first story in the collection is entitled Grayling, or Murder will out. The incidents are well selected and neatly arranged ; and the superstitions and circumstances of fact, which blend curiously together to bring about the conviction of the murderer, are ingeniously managed. The piece called The Two Camps contains vivid descriptions of border life

and Indian warfare. The character of the young chief, Lenatewa, is happily drawn ; and the incipient love between him and Lucy, the settler's fair daughter, which was arrested by the tragedy of the gallant Indian's death at the hands of the revengeful savage, Oloschottee, is well and truly told. The Last Wager is a story in which a more soaring manner is attempted, and therefore the attempt is followed by less success; but there are some vigorously wrought passages, as, for example, the game at cards on the dead body of the poisoned horse. The plot itself is in the highest degree improbable and absurd ; and we read a large part of it with an incredulous shrug, while we seem to see the spasms of an invention vainly racked to bring out some startling effect. On the other hand, The Arm-Chair of Tustenuggee is a well constructed and amusing story, founded on a not unpoetical legend of Indian superstition. The hen-pecked Indian, Conattee, is almost, if not quite, a novelty in literature. We never heard of or knew a copper-colored gentleman who was a victim to a matrimonial bane, which has usually been supposed to be one of the peculiarities of civilized domestic life, as the gallows is said to be an unfailing token of the presence or proximity of civilized institutions. But we know nothing in the psychological idiosyncrasy (we beg pardon of the philosophers for borrowing a couple of their polysyllabic technicalities for this once only), we know of nothing, we say, which can infallibly exempt the savage from this sort of training up in the paths of conjugal obedience. We must copy the description of this original and aboriginal scold.

“ One of the warriors was named Conattee, and a braver man and more fortunate hunter never lived. But he had a wife who was a greater scold than Xantippe. She was the wonder and the terror of the tribe, and quite as ugly as the one-eyed squaw of Tustenuggee, the gray

demon of Enoree. Her tongue was the signal for slinking,' among the bold hunters of Turkey-town; and when they heard it, now,' said the young women, who sympathized, as all proper young women will do, with the handsome husband of an ugly wife, now,' said they, we know that poor Conattee has come home. The return of the husband, particularly if he brought no game, was sure to be followed by a storm of that dry thunder,' so well known, which never failed to be heard at the farthest end of the village.”. 1st Ser., p. 121.

And now, for a warning, let her fate be told in the author's

own words. We must introduce the catastrophe of the unfortunate Macourah, for so was the Xantippe of the forests called, by some account of the adventure which befell her liege husband, Conattee. It happened, once upon a time, that he went on a hunting excursion with his handsome friend Selonee, on whom Macourah had sometimes cast an eye of favor. They had been separated, and Conattee having mysteriously disappeared, Selonee was compelled to return without him to the lodges. Suspicion fell upon the unlucky friend, and the copper-colored sages of the tribe shook their wise heads in grave debate, and finally condemned him to death. He was rescued from the already opened grave by Macourah's claiming him as a substitute for her lost Conattee. This seemed worse to the unhappy victim than the violent death which he was on the instant to suffer ; but the inexorable customs of his tribe forced him to choose the greater of two evils. This preliminary statement is necessary to explain the following adventure.

“It is now time to return to Conattee, and trace his progress from the moment when, plunging into the waters, he left the side of Selonee in pursuit of the wolf, whose dying struggles in the stream he had beheld. We are already acquainted with his success in extricating the animal from the water, and possessing him. self of its hide. He had not well done this, when he heard a rush. ing noise in the woods above him, and fancying that there was a prospect of other game at hand, and inflated with the hope of adding to his trophies, though without any weapon but his knife, Conattee hastened to the spot. When he reached it, however, he beheld nothing. A gigantic and singularly deformed pine-tree, crooked and most irregular in shape, lay prostrate along the ground, and formed such an intricate covering above it that Conattee deemed it possible that some beast of prey might have made its den among the recesses of its roots. With this thought, he crawled under the spreading limbs, and searched all their in. tricacies. Emerging from the search, which had been fruitless, he took a seat upon the trunk of the tree, and spreading out the wolf's hide before him, proceeded to pare away the particles of flesh which, in the haste with which he had performed the task of flaying him, had been suffered to adhere to the skin. But he had scarcely commenced the operation, when two gigantic limbs of the fallen tree upon which he sat curled over his thighs and bound him to the spot. Other limbs, to his great horror, while he strove to move, clasped his arms and covered his shoulders. He strove to cry aloud, but his jaws were grasped, before he could well open them, by other branches; and, with his eyes, which were suffered to peer through little openings in the bark, he could see his legs incrusted by like coverings with his other members. Still seeing, his own person yet escaped his sight. Not a part of it now remained visible to himself. A bed of green velvet-like moss rested on his lap. His knees shot out a thorny excrescence; and his hands, flattened to his thighs, were enveloped in as com. plete a casing of bark as covered the remainder of the tree around him. Even his knife and wolf skin, to his great surprise, suffered in like manner, — the bark having contracted them into one of those huge bulging knobs that so numerously deformed the tree. With all his thoughts and consciousness remaining, Conattee had yet lost every faculty of action. When he tried to scream aloud, his jaws felt the contraction of a pressure upon them which resisted all their efforts, while an oppressive thorn growing upon a wild vine that hung before his face was brought by every movement of himself or of the tree into his very mouth. The poor hunter immediately conceived his situation, he was in the power of Tustenuggee, the Gray Demon of Enoree. The tree upon which he sat was one of those magic trees which the tradition of his people entitled the Arm-chair of Tustenuggee.' In these traps for the unwary the wicked demon caught his victim, and exulted in his miseries. Here he sometimes remained until death released him; for it was not often that the power into whose clutches he had fallen suffered his prey to escape, through a sudden feeling of lenity and good-humor. The only hope of Conattee was that Selonee might suspect his condition; in which event, his rescue was simple and easy enough. It was only to hew off the limbs, or pare away the bark, and the victim was un. covered in his primitive integrity. But how improbable that this discovery should be made! He had no voice to declare his bond. age. He had no capacity for movement by which he might reveal the truth to his comrade's eyes ; and unless some divine instinct should counsel his friend to an experiment which he would scarcely think upon, of himself, the poor prisoner felt that he must die in the miserable bondage into which he had fallen. While these painful convictions were passing through his mind, he heard the distant shoutings of Selonee. In a little while he be held the youth anxiously seeking him in every quarter, following his trail at length to the very tree in which he was bound, crawling like himself beneath its branches, but not sitting like himself to be caught upon its trunk. Vainly did the poor fellow strive to utter but a few words, however faintly, apprising the youth of his condition. The effort died away in the most imperfect breathing,

« PreviousContinue »