Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, during the years 1838. 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. By Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Commander of the Expedition. In five volumes, and an Atlas. Volume V Wiley and Putnam.
Military History of the Irish Nation : comprising a Memoir of the Irish Brigade in the Service of France ; with an Appendix of Official Papers relative to the Brigade, from the Archives at Paris. By the late Matthew O'Conor, Esq., Barris- ter-at-law Bodges and Smith, Dublin.
Remains of the Most Reverend Charles Dickinson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Meath ; being a Selection from his Sermons and Tracts. With a Biographical Sketch, by the Rev. John West, D.D., Vicar of St. Anne's Dublin, and Domestic Chaplain to
the Archbishop of Dublin Fellows. NATURAL Hurroay, The Note-book of a Naturalist. By E. P. Thompson Bata and Elder.
WILKES'S NARRATIVE OF THE UNITED. STATES EXPLORING EXPEDITION: FOURTH NOTICE.
HUMBOLDT was among the first to separate the "personal narrative" from the observations in 'science and natural history made during a voyage. The arrangement has been adopted in publishing the results of the more recent voyages of discovery made under the auspices of the French Government ; it has been adopted in some of our English voyages of discovery—as, for example, that of the Beagle ; and now by the first American exploring expedition. Even in the ease of a single traveller, this mode of publication is probably more plausible in theory than ad- vantageous in practice. The first business of a traveller is to add to the number of known facts—to collect materials which may be added to the store already possessed, and then be theorized about by himself and others. Two disadvantages are induced by separating the record of scientific observations from the narrative of personal adventures. In the first place, the circumstances under which the observations were made are less present to the reader's mind, and their exact value less susceptible of an accurate 'estimate. In the second place, the natural wish of an in- quiring mind to give completeness to its views presents an almost irre- sistible temptation to add the observations of others, received at second- hand, to the traveller's own ; thus diminishing the value of his scientific record by rendering it no longer a record of actual experiences. The experiments and observations of the traveller, by being detached from his personal adventures, lose that originality or freshness which is their highest charm, and which constitutes great part of their value : the per- sonal narrative, weeded of all his most strenuous efforts ofithought, is apt to become trivial. There is another serious evil occasioned by this arranlosia. , even in the case of a single traveller—its natural tendency to enco diffuse- ness and repetition. It is impossible to avoid in the personal narrative all notice of the writer's principal occupations ; and hence it is apt to become in great part a vague and unsatisfactory statement of what is more minutely detailed in the scientific part of the work. On the other hand, in giving the results of experiments and observations, it is necessary to make allow- ance for disturbing circumstances; and hence the personal adventures come to be repeated in that portion of the publication from which they were meant to be excluded. The too frequent result of this attempt by travellers to introduce more method into their accounts of what they have seen, done, and suffered, is, that all their stories are told twice or even oftener. The evil reaches its height in the case of exploring expeditions. One gentleman prepares the narrative ; others, the geological, zoological, ethnological, philological, and all the other logical or illogical treatises. One expedition gives birth to a dozen independent works, the authors of which are all equally bent upon making each his own publication as complete in itself as possible • and the results of the voyage—important or otherwise—remain a sealed book to the public, simply because of the im- measurable bulk into which they are worked in consequence of this subdivision of labour.
The publications to which the American Exploring Expedition threatens to give birth will, to all appearance, furnish the reading public with an minent example of the bad effects of this kind of arrangement. The Narrative of Commander Wilkes is spun out to the enormous length of five huge imperial octavos, containing among them little short of 2,500 pages ; and the constant references to the volumes of the philologist, the hydrographer, the botanist, the naturalist in general, and other scientific attaches, are calculated to make the most voracious book-worm look for- ward with apprehension to the pieces de resistance that are to be placed before him. And the worst of it is, that the lengthy Narrative will not serve as a substitute for any one of the coming volumes. Commander Wilkes has availed himself of the power of referring to them, only to make his book less scrupulously exact, not to make it briefer. This is in part owing to the vicious nature of the arrangement adopted. An exploring expedition has no personal adventures apart from its more or less suc- cessful operaticns, unless all the scandal of the mess-rooms and shore- going frolics are recorded. The author of the narrative has nothing worth knowing to tell, except what must be reprinted by one or other of his scientific coadjutors ; and the way left him to make a distinction be- tween his work and theirs is to be more vague in his statements. Bat, though the plan of the work accounts in some measure for its literary defects, they cannot be altogether explained away in this manner.:The lengthy and commonplace political essays on the SouthAmerican Stites and New South Wales, which occupy so considerable a space in the first two volumes, indicate in the author that irreclaimable propensity to mul- tiply superfluous words and details, that is the besetting sin of all Ame- rican composition, from the annual messages of the President to the novels of Cooper. Commander Wilkes, moreover, appears to be one of those persons who can delineate nothing as a whole; • he can only catalogue items. The radical faults of his mind impart themselves to his style, and his book seems in reading even longer than it is. His language is often strange and uncouth to Cisatlantic apprehensions, which have not been rendered familiar with such infinitives as "to loan," or past participles
as " dove," to say nothing of the repetition of unmeaning expletives such as "quite" in every page.
After these remarks, it is needless to add that we estimate the literary merits of Commander Wilkes's Narrative at a rather low standard. Its
matter, though of very unequal value, is decidedly superior to the workmanship. The contents of the work may be arranged under three divisions. In the first may be reckoned all that relates to the South American States, New South Wales, and New Zealand, and the attempts made by the expedition to reach a high Southern latitude; in the second, the surveying-operations of the squadron among the islands of the Pacific, and on the coasts of Oregon and California' in the third, all that occurred from the time the expedition reached the Phillippines to the termination of the voyage. With regard to the first division, mature reflection has but confirmed us in the judgment passed upon it in previous notices. The politico-statistical chapters are desultory, trite, and inaccurate; the operations in the high Southern latitudes have every appearance of having been a dash made, with very inadequate means, from no more respectable motive than a wish to anticipate Sir James Ross. The third division participates to a great degree in the prolix triviality of the poli- tical essays in the first ; and the observations have, moreover, the appear- ance of being made with more haste and less care—as if by men tired of their five-years task and anxious to wind it up. But the second divi- sion contains much really valuable matter.
The operations of the Expedition in the Pacific have added much to the extent and still more to the accuracy of the geography of that region. Unluckily, the constant references to the yet unpublished hydrogra- phical and other memoirs prevent us from reposing the entire confidence in the accuracy of the author's statements that could be wished. The compre- hensive spirit, however, in which each separate survey was devised, the skill with which the detailed operations were combined, and the energy with which the work was carried through, afford good reason to believe that the results may be depended on. We have no doubt that when the hydrographical memoir appears, merchants, whalers, and navigators will find they are indebted for valuable corrections and additions to the pre- viously existing charts of that part of the Pacific Ocean which lies within the Panmotu group of islands, (East of Tahiti,) New Zealand; the Ladrone, and the Sandwich Islands. The interiors of the four most important islands of the Sandwich group have been more thoroughly explored than by any previous visiters. The region between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific has been traversed from the parallel of Van- couver's Island to that of San Francisco. Natural pluenomena, the tra- ditions and peculiarities of savage tribes, the consequences of the islanders being brought into contact with the Missionaries and other Buropean visiters, have everywhefe been carefully noted. Extensive mid systematic observations on the currents and varying- depths of the ocean are combined in the last chapter of the work with the migrations of the whale, in a really scientific spirit, that at once affords a new view of the economy of nature and valuable information for adventurers in an important industrial pursuit.
Commander Wilkes's notices of the Natives, the Missionaries, and the European adventurers who trade to or have settled on the islands, are particularly valuable. They are the impressions of a naturally shrewd man biassed by no preconceived theory. He takes the traders and settlers he meets with exactly for what they are—neither for the pioneers of civilization they proclaim themselves, nor for the disseminaters of vice that the Missionaries would represent them. Their individual characters are not unfrequently traoed with graphic felicity. Of the Missionaries Commander Wilkes was evidently predisposed to think favourably. As is generally the case with the most estimable members of his profession, he combines a strong religious sentiment with a love of discipline. The worthy Commander is moreover a pretty zealous Protestant. From the guarded way, too, in which he always speaks of the American Mission- aries, (with the English he uses less reserve,) one is led to suspect that the itEssionary section of public opinion in the United States is even more domineering and vindictive than in England. From these premises, the reader will be prepared to learn that full justice is done to the Missionaries whenever they are found to merit praise. But the honest and independent spirit of the seaman is at times too much for all these biases ; and his narrative fully confirms the suspicion which late events have excited in this country, that abuses have crept into the Missions, which can only be effectually checked by such a powerful lay public opinion as the ex- tension of colonization can alone create. His estimate of the Natives is equally characterized by strong healthy common sense. To a greater degree than any previous writer, with the exception of Mr. Jerningham Wakefield, he appears sensible of their good and bad qualities. No two minds can be more differently constituted than those of the gentlemen now brought into conjunctiim,—the one full of youthful sentiment, "though controlled by a judgment beyond his years ; the other, that of a 'dry matter-of-fact disciplinarian. When characters so different form the same judgment, there is strong presumption of its correctness. The observations of Commander Wilkes on the state of society 'among the Natives lead to the conclusion that the general decrease in the numbers of the Natives of the Pacific, though perhaps accelerated by European intercourse, did not originate with it. There are causes at work where Europeans have rarely or never come, producing the same effect, and competent ultimately to extirpate the lace. There are circumstances to be gleaned in earlier voyages showing that both in numbers and intelligence the inhabitants of many islands have been retrograding. It is not the intercourse with Europeans that has deprived the inhabitants of Easter Island of their canoes, or rendered the present generation unable to construct fines and images like those which La Perouse found among them. Along certain lines in the Pacific we meet with populations possessed of developed religions and priest- hoods; as we diverge from these lines, we find populations possessing 'tali vague traditions, that show them to be the descendants of those 'who- hart- such religions and superstitionts Everything about the inha-
bitants of the Pacific suggests the notion that they are the descendants of emigrants from people once more advanced in civilization, who, in the more limited and monotonous sphere to which they have migrated, are retrograding in the arts of life and even in the power of self-preservation, The more frequent admixture of Europeans may either accelerate or prevent their extirpation, according as it is guided. At three different points of the Archipelago this admixture has become permanent, under very different auspices. In New Zealand, it is assuming, in despite of every obstruction, the form of English colonization and the establishment of an English government. In Tahiti, the inhabitants have been sub- jected to a French conquest. In the Sandwich Islands, the energetic talents of Dr. Judd have established such a government as the punier English Missionaries and residents in New Zealand dreamed of—a go- vernment by Europeans in the name of Native chiefs. The three experi- ments are fairly in progress : time will show which is best adapted to preserve the Native race from extinction, or, if that may not be, which can impart to them the greatest amount of happiness while the process of absorbing them by intermarriages into the nobler and more civilized race is in progress. The Narrative of Commander Wilkes contains valu- able materials for one period of this transition,, available for its future historian.