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Even a comparatively terse writer like Prescott, in composing Brown's biography only sixty years ago, shows traces of the earlier period. Instead of stating simply that his hero was a born Quaker, he says of him : “He was descended from a highly respectable family, whose parents were of that estimable sect who came over with William Penn, to seek an asylum where they might worship their Creator unmolested, in the meek and humble spirit of their own faith.” Prescott justly criticises Brown for saying, “I was fraught with the apprehension that my life was endangered ;” or “his brain seemed to swell beyond its continent;” or “I drew every bolt that appended to it,” or “on recovering from deliquium, you found it where it had been dropped ;" or for resorting to the circumlocution of saying, “ by a common apparatus that lay beside my head I could produce a light,” when he really meant that he had a tinderbox. The criticism is fair enough, yet Prescott himself presently takes us half way back to the florid vocabulary of that period, when, instead of merely saying that his hero was fond of reading, he tells us that“ from his earliest childhood Brown gave evidence of studious propensities, being frequently noticed by his father on his return from school poring over some heavy toine.” If the tome in question was Johnson's dictionary, as it may have been, it would explain both Brown's phraseology and the milder amplifications of his biographer. Nothing is more difficult to tell, in the fictitious literature of even a generation or two ago, where a faithful delineation ends and where caricature begins. The four-story signatures of Micawber's letters, as represented by Dickens, go but little beyond the similar courtesies employed in a gentlewoman's letters in the days of Anna Seward. All we can say is that within a century, for some cause or other, English speech has grown very much simpler, and human happiness has increased in proportion.
In the preface to his second novel (Edgar Huntly) Brown announces it as his primary purpose to be American in theme, "to exhibit a series of adventures growing out of our own country,” adding “ That the field of investigation opened to us by our own country should differ essentially from those which exist in Europe may be readily conceived." He protests against “puerile superstition and exploded manners, Gothic castles and chimeras," and
adds : “ The incidents of Indian hostility and the perils of the western wilderness are far more suitable.” All this is admirable, but unfortunately the inherited thoughts and methods of the period hung round him to cloy his style, even after his aim was emancipated. It is to be remembered that almost all his imaginative work was done in early life, before the age of thirty and before his powers became mature. Yet with all his drawbacks he had achieved his end, and had laid the foundation for American fiction.
With all his inflation of style, he was undoubtedly, in his way, a careful observer. The proof of this is that he has preserved for us many minor points of life and manners which make the Philadelphia of a century ago now more familiar to us than is any other American city of that period. He gives us the roving Indian; the newly arrived French musician with violin and monkey; the onestory farm-houses, where boarders are entertained at a dollar a week; the gray cougar amid caves of limestone. We learn from him “ the dangers and toils of a midnight journey in a stage coach in America. The roads are knee deep in mire, winding through crags and pits, while the wheels groan and totter and the curtain and roof admit the wet at a thousand seams." We learn the proper costume for a youth of good fortune and family, — “nankeen coat striped with green, a white silk waistcoat elegantly needle-wrought, cassimere pantaloons, stockings of variegated silk, and shoes that in their softness vie with satin." When dressing himself, this favored youth ties his flowing locks with a black ribbon. We find from him that “ stage boats” then crossed twice a day from New York to Staten Island, and we discover also with some surprise that negroes were freely admitted to ride in stages in Pennsylvania, although they were liable, half a century later, to be ejected from street-cars. We learn also that there were negro free schools in Philadelphia. All this was before 1801.
It has been common to say that Brown had no literary skill, but it would be truer to say that he had no sense of literary construction. So far as skill is tested by the power to pique curiosity, Brown had it; his chapters almost always end at a point of especial interest, and the next chapter, postponing the solution, often
diverts the interest in a wholly new direction. But literary structure there is none : the plots are always cumulative and even oppressive; narrative is enclosed in narrative ; new characters and complications come and go, while important personages disappear altogether, and are perhaps fished up with difficulty, as with a hook and line, on the very last page. There is also a total lack of humor, and only such efforts at vivacity as this: "Move on, my quill! wait not for my guidance. Reanimated with thy master's spirit, all airy light. A heyday rapture! A mounting impulse sways him ; lifts him from the earth.” There is so much of monotony in the general method, that one novel seems to stand for all; and the same modes of solution reappear so often
somnambulism, ventriloquism, yellow fever, forged letters, concealed money, secret closets
that it not only gives a sense of puerility, but makes it very difficult to recall, as to any particular passage, from which book it came.
THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
ADVENTURE WITH A GRAY COUGAR
WHILE thus occupied with these reflections, my eyes were fixed upon the opposite steeps. The tops of the trees, waving to and fro in the wildest commotion, and their trunks, occasionally bending to the blast, which, in these lofty regions, blew with a violence unknown in the tracts below, exhibited an awful spectacle. At length, my attention was attracted by the trunk which lay across the gulf, and which I had converted into a bridge. I perceived that it had already somewhat swerved from its original position, that every blast broke or loosened some of the fibres by which its roots were connected with the opposite bank, and that, if the storm did not speedily abate, there was imminent danger of its being torn from the rock and precipitated into the chasm. Thus my retreat would be cut off, and the evils from which I was endeavouring to rescue another would be experienced by myself.
I did not just then reflect that Clithero had found access to this hill by other means, and that the avenue by which he came would be equally commodious to me. I believed my destiny to hang upon the expedition with which I should recross this gulf. The moments that were spent in these deliberations were critical, and I shuddered to observe that the trunk was held in its place by one or two fibres which were already stretched almost to breaking.
To pass along the trunk, rendered slippery by the wet and unsteadfast by the wind, was imminently dangerous. To maintain my hold, in passing, in defiance of the whirlwind, required the most vigorous exertions. For this end it was necessary to discommode myself of my cloak, and of the volume which I carried in the pocket of my cloak. I believed there was no reason to dread their being destroyed or purloined, if left, for a few hours or a day, in this recess. If left beside a stone, under shelter of this cliff, they would, no doubt, remain unmolested till the disappearance of the storm should permit me to revisit this spot in the afternoon or on the morrow.
Just as I had disposed of these encumbrances and had risen from my seat, my attention was again called to the opposite steep, by the most unwelcome object that, at this time, could possibly
occur. Something was perceived moving among the bushes and rocks, which, for a time, I hoped was no more than a raccoon or opossum, but which presently appeared to be a panther. His gray coat, extended claws, fiery eyes, and a cry which he at that moment uttered, and which, by its resemblance to the human voice, is peculiarly terrific, denoted him to be the most ferocious and untamable of that detested race.1
The industry of our hunters has nearly banished animals of prey from these precincts. The fastnesses of Norwalk, however, could not but afford refuge to some of them. Of late I had met them so rarely, that my fears were seldom alive, and I trod, without caution, the ruggedest and most solitary haunts. Still, however, I had seldom been unfurnished in my rambles with the means of defence.
My temper never delighted in carnage and blood. I found no pleasure in plunging into bogs, wading through rivulets, and penetrating thickets, for the sake of dispatching woodcocks and squirrels. To watch their gambols and fittings, and invite them to my hand, was my darling amusement when loitering among the woods and the rocks. It was much otherwise, however, with regard to rattlesnakes and panthers. Those I thought it no breach of duty to exterminate wherever they could be found. These judicious and sanguinary spoilers were equally the enemies of man and of the harmless race that sported in the trees, and many of their skins are still preserved by me as trophies of my juvenile prowess.
As hunting was never my trade or sport, I never loaded myself with fowling-piece or rifle. Assiduous exercise had made me master of a weapon of much easier carriage, and, within a moderate distance, more destructive and unerring. This was the tomahawk. With this I have often severed an oak-branch, and cut the sinews of a catamount, at the distance of sixty feet.
The unfrequency with which I had lately encountered this foe, and the encumbrance of provision, made me neglect, on this occasion, to bring with me my usual arms. The beast that was now
i The gray cougar.
This animal has all the essential characteristics of a tiger. Though somewhat inferior in size and strength, these are such as to make him equally formidable to man. — Author's Note.