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M. H. Gardiner.
ART. XI.-1. The Wilderness, or Braddock's Times. A Tale of the West. 2 vols. 12mo. New York. 1823. 2. The Spectre of the Forest, or Annals of the Housatonic. A New England Romance. 2 vols. 12mo. New York. 1823.
IT has been a question seriously agitated among our cisatlantic literati, even at so late a period as since the publication of this journal, whether America did or did not afford sufficient materials for a new and peculiar historical romance; yet now, so prolific are we in this species of production, that the reader who keeps pace with the outpourings of the press, and studies all the wonderful works, that are daily coming forth with the lofty pretensions of American novels, must have some industry and a great deal of patriotism. There are those among us, perhaps, who may be curious to know what constitutes the Americanism of an American novel. Many persons have doubtless been so far deluded as to imagine, that the peculiarities of such a work are mere fac similes of the peculiarities of the country, and consist in strong graphic delineations of its bold and beautiful scenery, and of its men and manners, as they really exist, or have at some time existed. They might look to see, perhaps, from the hand of a master, something of our lakes, rivers, and cataracts; something of our autumnal woods and skies, so beautiful and peculiar; something of our rich and rapid summer vegetation, outstripping the tardy growth of more equal climes; or the sudden desolation of our winter tempests. And in regard to the human beings who animate the soil, they would possibly expect to find the familiar manners, habits, and dialects of those immediately about them.
It is with the honest view of correcting such erroneous impressions, that we have taken leave to refer to the works named at the head of our article, as containing all the elements of an American novel, so far as we have been able to digest them from the mass of writings, (always making exceptions enough to prove the rule,) which have appeared under that lofty appellation. By casting an eye over these pages, it will be seen at a glance, that the art of writing an American novel, is neither more nor less, than the art of describing under
VOL. XIX.-NO. 44.
American names such scenes as are in no respect American, peopling them with adventurers from all quarters of the globe, except America, with a native or two here and there, acting as no American ever acts, and talking a language which, on the other side of the water, may pass for American, simply because it is not English. Thus the chief dramatis persona of the Wilderness are a Scotch Irishman, (by which we mean an Irishman who talks Scotch,) and his wife, with their sons and daughters; an American Irishman, (by which we mean an Irishman born in America,) with an Irish Irishman, (by which we mean Paddy himself,) for his servant; a sort of mad Indian, who turns out to be a Frenchified Scotchman; together with General Washington, and a few other mere nondescripts. The plot is carried on by means of the wars of the last century between the French and English settlers of our western wilderness, and the loves of General Washington, who plays the double part of Romeo among the ladies, and Alexander the Great among the Indians, with signal
That we may not be astonished at the Scotch Irishman, we are informed in the outset, that the Presbyterians of Ulster are little more or less than Lowlanders in manners and dialect. Of this class is Gilbert Frazier, who marries Miss Nelly M'Clean, and comforts her, as they are taking their last look at the promontory of Inishowen, on their way to America, by half whispering and half singing in her ear' the following exquisite specimen of Scotch Irish poetry, translated into what passes, we suppose, for American English.
'We need not grieve now, our friends to leave now,
But first a lady in Pennsylvania,
My dear, remember thou art to be.'
Arrived in America, Gilbert sets himself down on the Juniata. Thence he is soon routed by the Indians, who make prisoners of the whole settlement. Some are burnt, and others run the gauntlet. Gilbert was selected for the latter exercise; a favor for which he found he was indebted to a French officer, who had enlisted in the Indian service, and who had taken a fancy to Mrs Nelly Frazier, as a fit attend ant on his wife, then lying at the royal wigwam of Queen
Aliquippa. This good lady dies in the act of giving birth to the heroine of the piece, and her husband thereupon runs mad into the woods.
Gilbert meanwhile had built him a log cabin, not far from the wigwam, at the junction of Turtle Creek with the Monongahela; and there brought up, or to speak more appropriately, raised, the Frenchman's daughter as his own, in company with Miss Nancy and Messieurs Paddy and Archy Frazier. In process of time Paddy providentially breaks a leg, by which means the reader is made acquainted with Tonnaleuka, a very remarkable Indian, supposed to be a prophet, and also somewhat of a chirurgeon. In this latter capacity he first introduces himself to the family, and afterwards, being conversant with all arts, sciences, and tongues, becomes the tutor of the little Maria, who is thus educated as a first rate heroine.
Being provided with a heroine, the next thing to be furnished is a suitable hero. For this purpose, the American Irish gentleman, Mr Charles Adderly, whose father emigrated from the same part of the Emerald Isle as did Gilbert Frazier, leads an expedition of the Ohio Company into the wilderness, and establishes himself near the present site of Pittsburgh. Here he has a desperate fight with the Indians, and slays one of their chief warriors in single combat; but is taken prisoner, and rescued from death only by the sudden arrival of Tonnaleuka with a special mandate from Maneto in favorem vita. The next step is to conduct him to Frazier's cottage, and there, of course, the hero and the heroine fall in love. However, let it not be imagined that this little arrangement became a settled thing between the parties, with any undue precipitancy on the part of the heroine. So far from it the hero might not to this day have been relieved from the torture of suspense, or the horror of despair, had not the father of the warrior, whom he slew in battle, pitched upon the fortunate moment when he was in the act of declaring himself in due form at the feet of his mistress, to pop at him from behind a bush, break his right arm with the ball, throw him upon his back, grapple his throat with one hand, and brandish the fatal tomahawk over his head with the other, and then hold him a talk of some length in choice Indian. This he does, doubtless, with the benevolent view of giving Mr Paddy
Frazier, who was hidden all the while behind another bush, rifle in hand, full leisure to get a good aim; whereby the reader is agreeably surprised with finding
'The man recovered of the bite,
for just as the tomahawk was in the act of descending, a bullet from Paddy's rifle pierces the savage's brain. Upon this the heroine swoons, recovers, falls into the hero's arms, or rather arm, since he had but one whole one left, and pours out her heart upon the spot.
But it is high time to introduce another hero, who acts a most conspicuous part in the progress of the tale. Upon Mr Adderly's return to Philadelphia, for the purpose of giving an account of himself to the Ohio Company, the Governor of Virginia despatches Mr George Washington, who is spoken of as a very respectable looking young man,' on an embassy to the French governor at Fort Le Bouf, to demand an explanation of the recent outrages committed by his people, or by the Indians at their instigation, against the British settlers. Not long after, as the heroine and Miss Nancy Frazier were one day sitting under a tree together, as romantically as possible, Miss Nancy listening, and Miss Maria reading, 'with a tenderness and pathos of manner, which showed that her whole soul was enwrapt with the delightful strains in which the poet of the Seasons has told his sweetest tale.'
Maria had just pronounced the following exquisite lines;
"He saw her charming, but he saw not half
When Nancy, happening to direct her attention a little to one side, perceived a white man' (the reader should bear it in mind that Washington was a white man) 'leaning against a tree, scarce two yards distant. She immediately started to her feet in surprise, crying out—
"Oh, Maria, here is a white stranger."
'Maria arose, considerably startled, and the stranger approached, with mildness, benevolence, and admiration strongly expressed in his countenance.
"Ladies!" said he, "I must ask pardon for my delay in addressing you. But how could I interrupt the noble exercise, the refined enjoyment in which I found you engaged! And in such a place too-so unexpectedly! I have traversed the wilderness nearly two hundred miles without seeing a white woman; and
here to discover such as you, and so employed! Ladies-forgive me, if I say my delight is equal to my astonishment!" Vol. I. p. 217.
After the mutual astonishment of the white man and the two white women had in some measure subsided, the former is introduced into Frazier's house, where we have an opportunity of seeing him partake of cakes and metheglin,' entirely against his own inclination, and merely to gratify the ladies. Such was the natural gallantry of Washington's disposition !
'When he was seated with Maria and Nancy in Gilbert's little parlor, and some light refreshment placed before him, until a more substantial meal could be prepared, Maria observing that he scarcely tasted any thing—
"Mr Washington," said she, "I should have expected that traversing the woods would have quickened the appetite more than it seems to have done with you. I wish you would use [?] some of this fare. It is indeed rustic, but you will make allowance for it, being the produce of the Wilderness."
"I shall eat, since it will gratify you," he replied," although I confess I have no appetite just now. Yet think not, Miss Frazier, that it is because these cakes and that metheglin are disagreeable to my taste, that I use them sparingly. No, the choicest viands of city luxury could not be more grateful to me. Ah! I feel, believe me I do, that the very heart of the Wilderness can produce attractions equal, nay, let me say superior, to any I have yet met with in society."
"Sir," said Maria, "there must be a refinement in society, arising from a thousand opportunities and advantages enabling the people to cultivate it, that we do not possess here; nor can it be expected that we should. What means, what instructions, what examples, either to infuse and culture taste, or afford the means of its gratification, can we enjoy among nations of savages, whose only object is to prowl the Wilderness, in search of prey, or alas! too frequently, in search of revenge."
"And yet," said Washington, "in this very Wilderness, it appears, forgive me for saying it Miss Frazier, but it is truth; that you have been taught both to relish and discriminate with a truer taste, and sounder judgment, the refinements of life, than the majority of even those women in society, who have had the advantages of the best tuition. I have met with none of them who could have read with more apparent feeling and enjoyment, than you did to day, the delightful tale of the lovely, the modest Lavinia, who, like yourself, was the child of seclusion; and who, like yourself, possessed as much, perhaps more real taste and refinement, than if she had been brought up in courts. I must confess, Miss Frazier,