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and to rail in good set terms at the caprice of fortune, which, after all his toils and dangers, had not recompensed him with either wealth or honors. He wrote his chronicle when very old. He was induced to write by a wish to vindicate to himself and his companions their share in the renown of the Conquest, which was likely to be absorbed by the great reputation of their leader; and he was further stimulated to continue his narrative by a desire to correct the errors and inaccuracies of Gomara, whose work he did not meet with till he had begun his own. His chronicle is quite a remarkable book, as will appear from Mr. Prescott's own observations upon it.
“ Bernal Diaz, the untutored child of nature, is a most true and literal copyist of nature. He transfers the scenes of real life by a sort of daguerreotype process, if I may so say, to his pages. He is among chroniclers what De Foe is among novelists. He introduces us into the heart of the camp, we huddle round the bivouac with the soldiers, loiter with them on their wearisome marches, listen to their stories, their murmurs of discontent, their plans of conquest, their hopes, their triumphs, their disappointments. All the picturesque scenes and romantic inci. dents of the campaign are reflected in his page as in a mirror. The lapse of fifty years has had no power over the spirit of the veteran. The fire of youth glows in every line of his rude history; and, as he calls up the scenes of the past, the remembrance of the brave companions who are gone gives, it may be, a warmer coloring to the picture, than if it had been made at an earlier period. Time, and reflection, and the apprehensions for the future, which might steal over the evening of life, have no power over the settled opinions of his earlier days. He has no misgivings as to the right of conquest, or as to the justice of the severities inflicted on the natives. He is still the soldier of the Cross ; and those who fell by his side in the fight were martyrs for the faith. Where are now my companions ? 'he asks; they have fallen in battle, or been devoured by the cannibal, or been thrown to fatten the wild beasts in their cages! they whose remains should rather have been gathered under monuments emblazoned with their achievements, which deserve to be commemorated in letters of gold; for they died in the service of God and of his Majesty, and to give light to those who sat in darkness, — and also to acquire that wealth which most men covet.' The last motive — thus tardily and incidentally express
ed - may be thought by some to furnish a better key than either of the preceding to the conduct of the Conquerors. It is, at all
events, a specimen of that naïveté which gives an irresistible charm to the old chronicler; and which, in spite of himself, unlocks his bosom, as it were, and lays it open to the eye of the reader.
“It may seem extraordinary, that, after so long an interval, the incidents of his campaigns should have been so freshly remembered. But we must consider, that they were of the most strange and romantic character, well fitted to make an impression on a young and susceptible imagination. They had probably been rehearsed by the veteran again and again to his family and friends, until every passage of the war was as familiar to his mind as the tale of Troy' to the Greek rhapsodist, or the interminable adventures of Sir Lancelot or Sir Gawain to the Norman minstrel. The throwing of his narrative into the form of chronicle was but repeating it once more.
The literary merits of the work are of a very humble order; as might be expected from the condition of the writer. He has not even the art to conceal his own vulgar vanity, which breaks out with a truly comic ostentation in every page of the narrative. And yet we should have charity for this, when we find that it is attended with no disposition to depreciate the merits of others, and that its display may be referred in part to the singular simplicity of the man. He honestly confesses his infirmity;
. though, indeed, to excuse it. When my chronicle was finished,' he says, “I submitted it to two licentiates, who were desirous of reading the story, and for whom I felt all the respect which an ignorant man naturally feels for a scholar. I besought them, at the same time, to make no change or correction in the manuscript, as all there was set down in good faith. When they had read the work, they much commended me for my wonderful memory. The language, they said, was good old Castilian, without
any of the flourishes and finicalities so much affected by our fine writers. But they remarked, that it would have been as well, if I had not praised myself and my comrades so liberally, but had left that to others. To this I answered, that it was common for neighbours and kindred to speak kindly of one another; and, if we did not speak well of ourselves, who would ? Who else witnessed our exploits and our battles, - unless, indeed, the clouds in the sky, and the birds that were flying over our heads ??
“ Notwithstanding the liberal encomiums passed by the licentiates on our author's style, it is of a very homely texture ; abounding in colloquial barbarisms, and seasoned occasionally by the piquant sallies of the camp. It has the merit, however, of clearly conveying the writer's thoughts, and is well suited to
their simple character. His narrative is put together with even less skill than is usual among his craft, and abounds in digressions and repetitions, such as vulgar gossips are apt to use in telling their stories. But it is superfluous to criticize a work by the rules of art, which was written manifestly in total ignorance of those rules; and which, however we may criticize it, will be read and re-read by the scholar and the school-boy, while the compositions of more classic chroniclers sleep undisturbed on their shelves.
“ In what, then, lies the charm of the work? In that spirit of truth which pervades it ; which shows us situations as they were, and sentiments as they really existed in the heart of the writer. It is this which imparts a living interest to his story ; and which is more frequently found in the productions of the untutored penman solely intent upon facts, than in those of the ripe and fastidious scholar occupied with the mode of expressing them.
“ It was by a mere chance that this inimitable chronicle was rescued from the oblivion into which so many works of higher pretensions have fallen in the Peninsula. For more than sixty years after its composition, the manuscript lay concealed in the obscurity of a private library, when it was put into the hands of Father Alonso Remon, Chronicler General of the Order of Mercy. He had the sagacity to discover, under its rude exterior, its high value in illustrating the history of the Conquest. He obtained a license for the publication of the work, and under his auspices it appeared at Madrid in 1632, — the edition used in the preparation of these volumes.” — Vol. 11. pp. 478– 480.
The above extract is from a part of Mr. Prescott's book which we commend to the particular attention of his readers, some of whom might, but for this timely caution, skip over it in their impatience to follow the course of the narrative, and others be repelled by the finer type in which it is printed. We refer to his admirable biographical sketches, and elaborate criticisms of his principal authorities. These we have found among the most attractive portions of the work. They supply that information, which a reader of any curiosity desires to obtain, respecting the authors whom he finds constantly referred to, and the books which are relied upon as original authorities. Mr. Prescott has evidently prepared them with great care, and, in point of literary merit, they are not inferior to any portion of the text. Some of them, as, for instance, those devoted to Boturini and Sahagun, contain curious
literary anecdotes ; and others, as those upon Las Casas, Solís, and that upon Bernal Diaz, from which we have just quoted, are written with such taste, elegance, and discrimination, as show Mr. Prescott to be as well qualified to excel in literary biography and criticism as in history. He has also appended to his text a copious array of notes, which are devoted to criticism, to citations for corroborating the text, or to explanations of statements made therein, and which never depart from the legitimate province of notes. As the substance of the text is very frequently repeated in the notes, he has, in such cases, deemed it proper to retain them in the original Spanish. In the second part of the Appendix, will be found a variety of curious original documents. The whole work is aptly terminated by a full and correct Index, without which any book dealing in facts is as defective as a pitcher without a handle, or a town-meeting without a moderator.
We deem it unnecessary to make any detailed observations upon the style in which this work is written, since it has essentially the same qualities as those which throw an unvarying charm over the pages of the history of Ferdinand and Isabella. Mr. Prescott is not a mannerist in his style, and does not deal in elaborate, antithetical, nicely balanced periods. His sentences are not cast in the same artificial mould, nor is there a perpetual recurrence of the same turns
expression, as in the writings of Johnson or Gibbon ; nor have they that satin-like smoothness and gloss, for which Robertson is so remarkable. The dignified simplicity of his style is still further removed from any thing like pertness, smartness, or affectation ; from tawdry gum-flowers of rhetoric, and brass-gilt ornaments ; from those fantastic tricks with language, which bear the same relation to good writing that vaulting and tumbling do to walking. It is perspicuous, , flexible, and natural ; sometimes betraying a want of high finish, but always manly, always correct, never feeble, and never inflated. He does not darkly insinuate statements, or leave his reâder to infer facts. Indeed, it may be said of his style, that it has no marked character at all. Without ever offending the mind or the ear, it has nothing that attracts observation to it, simply as a style. It is a transparent medium, through which we see the form and movement of the writer's mind. In this respect, we may compare it with the manners
of a well-bred gentleman, which have nothing so peculiar as to awaken attention, and which, from their very ease and simplicity, enable the essential qualities of the understanding and character to be more clearly discerned.
We have thus endeavoured to express our sense of the merits of Mr. Prescott's work. The reader, who has accompanied us thus far in our remarks, may be inclined to ask, if we have no alloy of censure to mingle with the fine gold of our praise ; if our commendation is to be not only ample, but unmeasured. We admit, that we have written our notice in a friendly spirit, and that we took up the book with a prepossession in its favor,— with that wish to be pleased, which is as effectual in securing its object as the wish to please. Unquestionably, the book, like every other work of man's device, affords some scope for the indulgence of a spirit of minute and peevish criticism. To all the views and opinions which it contains, we are not inclined to give an unqualified assent. Upon some of them, we do not feel competent to pronounce a judgment. We have sometimes found a simple statement of a fact, where we should have preferred the addition of an indignant comment. Many of the sentences would have fallen with a richer music upon the ear, with some changes in their structure and rhythm. But in looking upon the work as a whole, and from the proper point of view, every thing else is lost and forgotten in the general blaze of its merits. And, if we do not deceive ourselves, such would have been our judgment, had it been put into our hands as a translation from one of the manuscripts of the Mexican gentleman, so often quoted in its pages, with nine consonants in his name, or dropped down from the clouds upon our table. It is a noble work ; judiciously planned, and admirably executed ; rich with the spoils of learning easily and gracefully worn ; imbued everywhere with a conscientious love of the truth, and controlled by that unerring good sense, without which genius leads astray with its false lights, and learning encumbers with its heavy panoply. It will win the literary voluptuary to its pages by the attractiveness of its subject and the flowing ease of its style ; and the historical student will do honor to the extent and variety of the research which it displays, and to the thoroughness with which its investigations have been conducted. We can confidently predict for it an extensive and permanent popularity. It is not destined, after No. 122.