Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

Wiley & Putnam's Library

Of late we have vainly tried to avail ourselves of the entertainments afforded by this series. Book after book flies off into the country before we have time to take note of them. Our judgment is forestalled before it can be offered.

Yet the volumes above-named deserve that a mark should be made upon our annals to signify their value.

The journey of Mr. “Titmarsh,” though amusing enough, is too flippant in its fun—too much in the Theodore Hook style, to suit our fancy.1 Always to show the vulgar side of things, and point out grease-spots on the robe of beauty, is a way of moving us to laughter, which, even when successful, half disgusts us with the cause of mirth, and more than half with ourselves. Few objects are so serenely pure, so solidly majestic, that they may not be made to look coarse, tawdry, and plebeian, if placed in a certain light and sickened by a certain atmosphere. We do not thank the imagination that cast this light on Constantinople, or invented the voyage of the Jewish Rabbis, with all the accompanying fever-dream of uncleanness.

“Typee” would seem, also, to be the record of imaginary adventures by some one who had visited those regions. But it is a very entertaining and pleasing narrative, and the Happy Valley of the gentle cannibals compares very well with the best contrivances of the learned Dr. Johnson to produce similar impressions.2 Of the power of this writer to make pretty and spirited pictures as well of his quick and arch manner generally, a happy specimen may be seen in the account of the savage climbing the cocoa-tree, p. 273, vol. 2d.3 Many of the observations and narratives we suppose to be strictly correct. Is the

____________________
1
Theodore Edward Hook (1788–1841), English novelist, dramatist, and wit.
2
Samuel Johnson (1709–84), English lexicographer, scholar, critic, and poet, published A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775.
3
This passage appears in Typee, ed. Harrison Hayford et al. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), p. 214.

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