The Golden Hour. By Moncure D. Conway. Author of “The Rejected Stone.” Impera parendo. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
No ready of The Rejected Stone will require our testimony to the vigor and seasonableness of Mr. Conway’s new book. The general characteristics of The Golden Hour are like those of its predecessor. It is not a developed unity, appealing to the minority who have time and inclination to follow the process of an exhaustive argument. It is a brilliant piece of literary mosaic that will tempt the most indolent to read, and the most thoughtless to think. Since the first series of the Biglow Papers we have had nothing equal to the present volume in keenness of satire and raciness of illustration. It is refreshing to meet a man to whom great events have yielded all their inspiration—a Virginian who fights for freedom with the pluck and hearty earnestness with which the “misguided” leaders of his State battle for slavery.
We cannot resist quoting from a book which speaks for itself far better than we can speak of it. Here rings the key-note of the volume:
“The Rebellion of slavery should at once have been followed by our only logical reply—the abolition of slavery."
Suppose that, in reply to that bomb which fell into Fort Sumter, our President had seized the pen instead of the sword, and written such a proclamation as this:
“ ‘Slavery, from being a domestic institution in certain States, with which the government had nothing to do, having become the common foe of all the States, with which the government has everything to do, it is hereby declared that all slaves in this country are free, and they are hereby justified in whatever measures they may find necessary to maintain their freedom. Loyal masters are assured that they shall be properly compensated for losses resulting form this decree.’
“Every rebel owning a slave, or living within miles of one, would, as it were by the wand of an enchanter, have remained spell-bound at his fireside, where he ought to be. There could have been no war.”
On turning the page we come upon a specimen of delicately trenchant satire, directed to men who profess to find nothing constitutional but the protection and nourishment of slavery, even while it strikes as the nation’s life. The author, during a residence of some years in Washington, discovered a clause in the Constitution which ran as follows:
“Art.--, Sec.—Any legislation on the part of Congress liable to the charge of being morally right shall be held prima facie unconstitutional; this, however, shall not invalidate such legislation, if it can be proved that its moral character is simply a coincidence.”
From the chapter on Military Necessity we take this conclusive logic:
“The war power—the power unsealed by military necessity—is not dependent in its action upon the absolute indispensableness of the measures it proposes. It is justified in that it secures any advantage greater than the price paid . . . . Thus no advantage could be so small but it would, by martial law, justify the destruction of slavery. If, by abolishing the unmitigated curse of this land the life of one solider could be saved, we should be the murderers of that solider if we did not abolish it.”
We conclude our citations with an example of the felicitous illustration which abounds in the Golden Hour:
“In a play called The Vampyre, the voracious sucker in human shape, who draws the life out of fair virgins whilst they sleep, is repeatedly slain; but in dying he always makes a pathetic request to have his corpse put at some certain place—a place where the moonlight will, he knows, fall upon it. Now, this moonshine—which is a compromise between day and night—is a fair symbol of that which never fails to resuscitate Democracy. No matter how dead you may fancy it, you have only to heed its last dying request for a compromise, and under that moonshine its resuscitation is inevitable.”
We regret to agree with Mr. Conway that our delay in dealing with slavery has already provided sufficient “moonshine” to start the Vampyre with a thrill of life. Too many precious moments in this golden hour of the nation’s opportunity have already passed. It is sad to believe that there have been instants when energetic action of the Executive would have been sustained by a greater majority of the people than would support it to-day. We cannot forget that the time has been when Bennett’s Herald clamored for emancipation, and lesser ministers at the altar of slavery burned incense to the proclamation of Fremont. Crises in the conflict have been upon us when multitudes of men, respecting the honesty of the President, unwilling to put themselves in advance of his declared policy, have waited eagerly for a redeeming word which was not spoken. There have been times when a vast majority of those timid citizens who never declare themselves for any cause till its first difficulties are over, who live in fear of the meanest aspects of public opinion, were ready to join the President in adding Liberty to the rallying cry of Union and Victory! It is not yet too late; but every moment of delay adds to the difficulty, and while we are questioning and doubting, the golden hour of the nation’s recovery may pass forever.
We need hardly say that Mr. Conway enters the hustle of parties, politics, and interests, from a purer region. Fully aware that prosperity and union can only come through emancipation, he is not Yankee enough to call right strategy, and an opportunity for justice a chance for speculation. And as history tells us that men have never given their highest thought and ripest action to save taxes or grow cotton, but only to realize an idea, this unpractical view of the subject is perhaps pardonable. Those who wait for an evidence that shall equal certitude of the complete pecuniary and moral success of emancipation will, we apprehend, never be gratified. In all higher matters men are compelled to act on imperfect knowledge. God never gives demonstration to those who have no faith in principle. A cloud of difficulties may be raised about all Christian truths and all righteous deeds, and no man may sit in his closet and speculate himself clear of doubt. But that reasonable amount of evidence which is necessary to guide our actions in this world is denied to no one—and such evidence is condensed with vivid effect throughout Mr. Conway’s book.
The Golden Hour is issued in the best style of Ticknor and Field’s publications, a dress which its literary merit eminently deserves. But we hope that editions in cheaper form may likewise appear, for the books should be sown broadcast among the people of this land.