Essays and Reviews
by Terry Whalen
Mr. Burrough's latest book, Fresh Fields, which is wholly
given up to English scenes and topics, one turns with
interest to one of his earlier works, Winter Sunshine,
which contains, in "An October Abroad," his
first impressions of the old country. Here, in notes
on "Mellow England" and "English Characteristics,"
we have the strong, eminently healthy and exact rendering
of the spirit of English life which has given the author
his well deserved reputation as a keen-eyed observer.
I know of no writer who has so truly and finely marked
the distinction between the English and the American.
difference in favour of the greater 'cuteness, wide-awakeness,
and enterprise of the American, is simply a difference
expressive of our greater forwardness. We are a forward
people and the god we worship is smartness. In one of
the worst tendencies of the age, namely, an impudent,
superficial, journalistic, intellectuality and glibness,
America, in her polite and literary circles, no doubt,
leads all other nations. English books and newspapers
show more homely veracity, more singleness of purpose,
in short, more character than ours. The great
charm of such a man as Darwin, for instance, is his
simple manliness and transparent good faith, and the
absence in him of that finical, self-complacent smartness
which is the bane of our literature."
very homeliness and peculiar air of London are in these
pages. They are full of the riper and healthier life
of the mother land.
is a mellow country and the English people are a mellow
people..We are pitched several degrees higher in this
country. By contrast, things here are loud, sharp, and
garish..Our goings out and comings in as a nation are
anything but silent. Do we not occasionally give the
door an extra slam, just for effect?"
truth and accuracy and a wholesome flavor combined with
a lucid style, this writer is admirable.
the whole range of things a traveller notices in England,
he hits off everything with charming felicity of expression
and a frankness and vigour, that make one believe he
has appropriated a large share of English heartiness
to add to his Yankee keenness; so that you will say,
"Well, if you cannot go to England, read Burroughs."
But there are other papers in this volume; and among
them some of the most delightful essays, to my mind,
that their author has written "Autumn Tides,"
"The Apple," "The Exhilerations of the
Road," are exquisite prose idyls-translations into
limpid and manly English of some of the many lines of
the poetry of nature, which we all may follow, but few
can read, and fewer still sing.
Wake Robin, another of these dainty volumes,
is entirely given up to the birds. "The Return
of the Birds," "Birds-Nests," "The
Invitation," "The Bluebird," are essays
which treat of them alone, and fill one with a longing
to become at least an amateur ornithologist; so sweet
and racy is the air of the woods flowing through them.
And one reading will not exhaust these books. Mr. Burroughs
is an author to whom you will turn back with pleasure
and increased profit. There is more thought than at
first appears in these easily-written sentences. One
cannot but think that the purpose of Wake Robin
will be realized.
is mainly a book about the Birds, or more properly an
invitation to the study of Ornithology, and the purpose
of the author will be carried out in proportion as it
awakens and stimulates the interest of the reader in
this branch of Natural History.
written less in the spirit of exact science than with
the freedom of love and old acquaintance, yet I have
in no instance taken liberties with facts, or allowed
my imagination to influence me to the extent of giving
a false impression or a wrong coloring."
is the beauty of Burroughs, and one of the chief charms
of all his work: he in no instance takes liberties with
the facts. But more than other writers, he invests every-day
facts of nature with much of their beauty and loveliness,
whose inexpressible influence must always be the despair
and delight of poets.
"awaken and stimulate" the love of nature
until it becomes a constant and powerful influence in
us, is no less the privilege of the Poet than that higher
duty of his-to be the "friend and aider of those
who would live in the spirit," to appeal to the
soul with the glory of speech, in the strength of convincing
and impregnating truth. The distinction of these aims
is superficial; one is only the development of the other.
From a higher and rarer air you will often turn to the
rich, warm breath of the meadow-lands for ease and rest.
Of those who have been most successful in reproducing
such an atmosphere in their writings, Mr. Burroughs
is among the first. With all Thoreau's love of woods
and streams, he has the literary instinct, which Thoreau
lacked. As an author Thoreau was scarcely more than
an amateur; as a man he was the unique hermit of Walden.
Of the life of the author of Wake Robin, on the
other hand, we know very little, but we are all sure
that we find his books among the most delightful and
wholesome of our day. They are masterpieces in their
own sphere-the sphere of the loveliness and delicacy
and sweetness of nature.
English, or rather Scotch, edition is an example of
the really cheap literature; the finest paper and the
clearest print at a small cost. Their form, too, is
exactly what one would choose for Burroughs-a volume
to be carried in the pocket with knife and string and
a day's lunch.
Sunshine," University Monthly, May 1885