BLTC Press Titles

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Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

The Bhagavad Gita


Observations on Doctor Stevens' history of Georgia

by William Bacon Stevens


This first book also contains a short notice of the Indians; which, from the minutiae introduced into it, would seem to be the result of contemporary observation, if not the offspring of imagination. "They lived," says our author,* "in their native wildness, amid the sublime solitudes of America; now hunting the timid deer—now paddling the birch canoe—now dancing at their simple festivals—now going forth, painted and plumed for battle—or now, gathered around their council fires, to the grave debates of chiefs and warriors." And he might have gone on—" now kissing their wives —now smacking their lips—now eating their dinner —and now going without—now snoring asleep— now yelling awake"—and so on in the same strain for ever, with equal appositeness and with equal propriety.

We will select from this first book besides, a sentence which contains a curious specimen of the metamorphosis of poetic beauty into prosaic nonsense. It occurs in a laboured parallel between Alaric (!) and De Soto, who should henceforth be doubtless considered notables in the history of Georgia.

"Like Alaric, who ravaged the Roman empire, De Soto came from a far country to waste and to destroy. The one poured his barbarian hordes from the Alpine hills* over the plains and valleys of Italy; the other, crossing the Atlantic with destruction at his prow, and terror at his helm, desolated the fairest portions of the sunny South."j

* Page 44.

Every one remembers the charming lines of Gray:—

"Fair laughs the mom, and soft the zephyr blows,
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;

Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm."

Doctor Stevens has borrowed the poet's beautiful line, and marred it in the borrowing. He has served it, to use Sheridan's expression, "as gypsies do stolen children, disfiguring them to make 'em pass for their own." In the verses we have quoted, prow and helm refer to a ship—" the gilded vessel." In our author's paragraph, they either mean the prow and helm of the man—Ferdinand de Soto— or else must be turned adrift without any meaning at all. There is not a ship anywhere within sight of them.

If Doctor Stevens had been a Welshman, we might have supposed he meant by De Soto's prow —his brow; helm being a poetical form for helmet. As it now stands, the sentence certainly has no meaning in English.

* The author probably means the Alps: which, as is well known, are among the loftiest mountains in Europet Page 25.

The propriety of occupying fifty-five octavo pages of a history of Georgia in what is strangely enough called Ante-colonial history—that is, no history at all—is somewhat problematical. It is, nevertheless, no small proof of talent, that a man should be able to write fifty-five octavo pages of a State's history, before there was any State, and consequently before there was any history.

But this consideration evidently did not enter into the question. The object being to make a book, fifty-five octavo pages on any subject whatever were not to be disregarded.

One of the most striking peculiarities of this book is the talent for Amplification it displays. True, not a single subject is made to appear more dignified or important; but—like stretched India rubber— tenuity of substance increases in exact proportion to extension of surface; and the sense is often lost in diffuseness of phraseology.

When tea is over diluted, the mixture is called slop; and when little sense is dressed up in very many and very big words, the composition is called twaddle. Thus twaddle is a sort of literary slop. But they differ in this—that slop is apt to produce repletion before satiety; while with twaddle, satiety precedes repletion. . Or to state it less abstractly,— a man may, on occasion, drink slop till he can hold no more, without being satiated; but that a man should not get enough of Doctor Stevens's history of Georgia, before he gets to the end of it, we conceive to be impossible.

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