Text: Burton R. Pollin, “1845-1849 (Texts),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 369-384 (This material is protected by copyright)


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Texts of 1845-1849

1. May 1845 - 1: William Smith, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

2. May 1845 - 2: Francis Fauvel-Gouraud. Phreno-Mnemotechny.

3. September 1848 - 1: Estelle Anna Robinson Lewis. The Child of the Sea.

4. February 1849 - 1: Rufus W. Griswold, ed. The Female Poets of America.

5. March 1849 - 1: [James Russell Lowell]. A Fable for Critics.

6. August 1849 - 1: Edgar A. Poe. “Frances Sargent Osgood.”

1

A DICTIONARY OF GREEK AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES. Edited by William Smith, Ph D. and illustrated by numerous Engravings on wood. Third American Edition, Carefully Revised, and containing numerous Additional Articles relative to the Botany, Mineralogy, and Zoology of the Ancients. By Charles Anthon, LL. D., Professor of the Greek and Latin Languages in Columbia College, New-York, etc. New-York: Harper & Brothers.

Before the issue of this most important book, there were innumerable points of antiquarian investigation, (in respect very particularly to Greece and Rome,) concerning which information could be obtained only by dint of patient research among a large number of costly and practically inaccessible works. Mr. Smith’s object, therefore, was to examine the original sources, with such aid as could be derived from the best modern writers, and bring up the entire subject of Greek and Roman Antiquity to the present time to the present condition of philological learning. As the book was intended not merely for schools, but for universities and mature students, who might wish to extend research beyond the limits of any mere encyclopedic volume, the author gave numerous references to the sources of information, throughout, as well as to all commentatory works.

The alphabetical form has been very properly preferred to the systematic; and thus a complete account of each subject is given under one head — the whole embracing a full account of the Private and Public Life of the Greeks and Romans. The articles are, of course, the work of various hands — full reference to the writers, individually, the student of the Charlottesville University will recognize, with pleasure, Mr. George Long, at one time Professor of Ancient Languages in that institution, and unquestionably one of the best scholars and most philosophical teachers of his time. He has contributed, among other things, a series of articles on Roman Law-an exceedingly difficult subject admirably handled. The idea of the Dictionary originated, indeed, with Mr. Long.

Many of the Illustrations have been taken from originals in the British Museum — others from the Museo Borbonico, Museo Capitolino, Millin’s Peintures de Vases Antiques, Tischbein’s and D’Hancarville’s engravings from Sir William Hamilton’s Vases, and so forth.

The American edition, (of which we are now speaking,) has been prepared by Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman who, in point of discrimination, accuracy and erudition, has few, (if any,) equals, and no superior in the classical world. The Dictionary, as put forth by him, is very far superior to the English work. He has improved the arrangement of matter very materially, and added numerous excellent papers on the Botany, Mineralogy, and Zoology of the Ancients. He has also appended an Index Raisonne, classifying every thing; so that, retaining the form of a Dictionary, the book may still be made to answer all the purposes of a College text-book. It is scarcely necessary to mention that, by this truly comprehensive work, the meagre compilations of Potter and Adams, are completely overshadowed. The existence of the volume now before us, renders these imperfect treatises, indeed, considerably worse than useless. Information obtained from them, (even if correct,) will have the air of error from its simple incompleteness — an incompleteness to be appreciated only by reference to the more voluminous book. The mechanical execution of the Dictionary is every thing that could be desired.

2

PHRENO-MNEMOTECHNY; OR THE ART OF MEMORY. The Series of Lectures explanatory of the Principles of the System, delivered in New York and Philadelphia, in the beginning of 1844, by Francis Fauvel-Gouraud, D. E. S., of the University of France. Now first published without Alterations or Omissions, and with Considerable Additions in the Practical Applications of the System. New York and London: Wiley and Putnam.

This is a large octavo of some 700 pages, and beyond doubt, one of the most important and altogether extraordinary works which have been published within the last fifty years. The readers of the “Messenger” are probably well acquainted, by report, with M. Fauvel-Gouraud; and it is not impossible that some of them are inclined to entertain of his book no very exalted opinion. To these we say, M. Gouraud is himself a very peculiar man; his idiosyncrasies are marked. beyond those of any person we have yet met. And of men such as these, we must be wary how we adopt prejudices — for they radiate prejudices wherever they go The world always receives with distrust any thing which gives it a startling impulse — any thing which jostles its old conservative equanimity; and there is but little difference in the amount of the distrust, whether the jostling throw our minds probably into the right path, or obviously into the wrong. Now, not only is the proposition of M. Gouraud a startling one, from the immense importance of its consequences; but the mode in which he advances it, is startling from its extreme comprehensiveness — a comprehensiveness such as thoroughly exhausts the subject, and such as is never ventured on except by a Frenchman. And not only is he startling in his thesis, and in his mode of treating it, but, personally, he startles all who listen to him comprehendingly, with the, deep enthusiasm by which he is inspired — an enthusiasm which impels him to say things and to do things, (for the sake of getting the world by the ear,) from which ordinary men would shrink, but which this very enthusiasm induces him to regard, (and very properly, we think,) as a duty.

It will be understood at once, that M. Gouraud is of the class of men who accomplish great results by means of the very quality which excites prejudice, in the majority of mankind, during the accomplishment of these results. It is quite unnecessary to complain of the prejudice — it is inevitable; on the other hand, we should not permit ourselves to estimate it at more than its value, nor to mistake it for what it is not.

The book now published is made up of the previous Lectures of the author, with considerable additions, but no modifications. It bears about it, therefore, all the freshness of a viva voce disquisition, and independently of its proper merit as an exposition of the thesis, Mnemotechny, is singularly instructive as a storehouse of facts, and exceedingly entertaining from its anecdotary and gossiping spirit. Whatever opinion may be entertained of the theory as such, or of its availability, we feel sure that no one qualified to decide upon this remarkable production will fail to be astonished at the amount of erudition it manifests — at the patient industry by which this erudition is made available to the purposes of the treatise, or at the dexterity with which so much seemingly discordant material is wrought into a well-proportioned whole. For our own part, we do not hesitate to say that M. Gouraud has very thoroughly made out his case. His enthusiasm, and more especially the practical effect of his own system on his own intellect, while engaged so continuously in these investigations, have necessarily led him to overrate the facility with which his Art of Memory may be introduced, and even, perhaps, the extent to which its positive application may be made a matter of ordinary use, but that his principles are soundly based we distinctly perceive, — their full development must be trusted to Time.

M. Gouraud’s definition of Natural Memory runs thus: “By Natural Memory I understand the faculty of retaining the impression of any event or facts, or series of events and facts, without the assistance of systematic associations, which must be distinguished from natural associations, a concomitant feature of natural memory, properly so called.”

His definition of Artificial Memory is this: “By Artificial Memory we understand, simply the power of recollecting facts and events, by means of conditional associations, which must first be called for, in order, by their assistance, to get at the facts associated with them.”

The manner in which this definition is illustrated, will, to the philosophical, speak more effectually in favor of the accomplished author, than any random observations of our own.

“From this then,” he says, referring to a well-known anecdote told of Simonides, “ we see the origin attributed to mnemonics by the ancients. It was upon this principle, it is said, that Simonides founded the first regular system for aiding the memory, of which history makes mention. . . . But as we do not now-a-days appeal to mythological fables for the causes and explanations of facts pertaining to the understanding, but only to Logic and to Philosophy, if we interrogate either of them on this subject, they will answer nearly thus: — ‘Men in all ages of the world, probably, and especially in a state of civilization. have ever taken notice, as it happens to ourselves every day, that upon seeing, even at a great distance, the dwelling of a person of their acquaintance, this dwelling called to their mind immediately the person who occupied it, his family, his manners, his affairs, arid the relations which they sustained towards him. The view of a temple could not present itself to their eyes without causing them to think of the God to whom it was erected, or the idol who occupied the shrine of its sanctuary. A tree of familiar foliage could not present itself to their view without recalling to their minds the palatable and delicious fruit which it produced in its proper season. The sight of the sea had undoubtedly more than once carried the thoughts to the mournful picture of a storm — then the vessel beaten by the violence of the tempest; and, finally, the shipwreck amid whose horrors some dear friend had become the prey of the fathomless abyss. Hence, the thoughts were often, undoubtedly, carried back, by the affiliation of successive ideas, to other remembrances more or less associated with the objects before them; nor were they often stopped in their course, until the view of new objects suddenly awakened other and more vivid recollections.’ . . . . These facts, continually reproducing themselves to the observation, served soon to attract the attention of the first thinkers which the human species produced. And these argued, probably, after this sort: — ‘If it is constantly the case, that every time we see an object, to which is attached some souvenir, that object immediately recalls to our mind the souvenir so attached; it ought then naturally to follow, that if we should connect conditionally isolated souvenirs, or even a series of souvenirs, to a series of given objects, then while looking upon those objects, or even thinking of them, those souvenirs which have been so connected with them must present themselves naturally to our mind; perhaps even irresistibly, at least under certain circumstances.’ And the first practical essay which was first made upon this theory so logical and so simple, was, incontestibly, the origin of the Mnemonic Art.”

Proceeding from this point, M. Gouraud continues the history of Mnemotechny, giving detailed accounts of the schemes of Grey and Feinagle, with a catalogue of all authors who have written on the subject; and then with the heading, Egomet, commences a narrative and explanation of his own system, the vast superiority of which to all others is, to our minds at least, decidedly manifest. Yet of the system of Feinagle it was no less a man than that king of logicians, Lalande, who thus expressed himself:

“I have witnessed the extraordinary effects produced on the memory by the method of M. de Feinagle, and nothing appears to me more deserving of the serious attention of any man of learning.”

And, nevertheless, we have among us a set of “paragraphists,” who, without knowing what M. Gouraud proposes — without taking the trouble to enquire — make no scruple of indulging in boisterous expressions of contempt, not only for his peculiar system, but for the Art, generally, to which the wise Simonides devoted a life, and which has occupied the serious attention of such intellects as those of Herodotus, Cicero, Pliny, Quintilian, Aristotle, Addison, Hume, Priestly, Bacon and Locke!

M. Gouraud himself, or rather M. Gouraud’s memory, is the sole reply which should be brought to bear upon such opponents. To reason they turn a deaf ear; but facts, at least, are to them intelligible. The mnemonic feats of M. Gouraud are not miracles, only because miracles are not. Take a specific fact, for which we are prepared to vouch. The lecturer distributes among his audience fifty slips of paper, on which one hundred different persons write whatever they please, however absurd or inconsistent, scraps of verse, rows of figures, arbitrary arrangements of letters, or any thing supposed difficult to be remembered. He reads each slip twice, and returning all to the audience, repeats, in any order, and without the omission or misplacement of a syllable, every thing that has been written: — and this feat, incredible as it seems, is really trifling in comparison with many others which he not only readily performs, but readily instructs others to perform. It is by no means too much to say that the powers of memory, as aided by his system, are absolutely illimitable. We earnestly advise our readers to procure M. Gouraud’s extraordinary work and decide in the premises for themselves.

3

MRS. LEWIS’ POEMS.*

BY EDGAR A. POE.

Mrs. Lewis has, in a very short space of time, attained a high poetical reputation. She is one of the youngest of our poetesses; and it is only since the publication of her “Records of the Heart,” in 1844, that she can be said to have become known to the literary world: — although her “Ruins of Palenque” which appeared in the “New-World” sometime, we think, in 1840, made a most decided impression among a comparatively limited circle of readers. It was a composition of unquestionable merit, on a topic of infallible interest. In 1846, Mrs. Lewis published, in “The Democratic Review,” a poem called “The Broken Heart,” in three cantos, and subsequently has written many minor pieces for the “American” and “ Democratic” Reviews, and for various other periodical works. In all her writings we perceive a marked idiosyncrasy — so that we might recognize her hand immediately in any of her anonymous productions. Passion, enthusiasm, and abandon are her prevailing traits. In these particulars she puts us more in mind of Maria del Occidente than of any other American poetess.

There has been lately exhibited, at the Academy of Fine Arts in New York, a portrait of Mrs. Lewis, by Elliot, which is at the same time a forcible likeness and one of the most praiseworthy pictures ever painted. In fact, we have seen no thing better from Sir Thomas Lawrence; — it alone would suffice to place Elliot at the head of his profession in this country-we mean, of course, as a painter of portraits. This picture conveys a distinct idea of the personal authoress. She is, as we have already mentioned, quite young — probably not more than 25 or 26 — with dark and very expressive hazel eyes and chesnut [[chestnut]] hair, naturally curling — a poetical face, if ever one existed. Her form is finely turned — full, without being too much so, and slightly above the medium height. Her demeanour is noticeable for dignity, grace and repose. She goes little into society and resides at present in Brooklyn, N. Y. with her husband, S. D. Lewis, Esq., Counsellor at Law. We have thought that these succinct personal particulars of one, who will most probably, at no very distant day, occupy a high, if not the highest, position among American poetesses, might not prove uninteresting to our readers.

The “Records of the Heart” was received with unusual favor at the period of its issue. It consists, principally, of poems of length. The leading one is “Florence,” a tale of romantic passion, founded on an Italian tradition of great poetic capability and well managed by the fair authoress. It displays, however, somewhat less of polish and a good deal less of assured power than we see evinced in her “Child of the Sea.” We quote a brief passage, by way, merely, of instancing the general spirit and earnest movement of the verse:

Morn is abroad; the sun is up;

The dew fills high each lily’s cup.

Ten thousand flowerets springing there

Diffuse their incense through the air,

And, smiling, hail the morning beam;

The fawns plunge panting in the stream,

Or through the vale with light foot spring:

Insect and bird are on the wing

And all is bright, as when in May

Young Nature holds high holiday.

“Florence,” however, is more especially noticeable for the profusion of its original imagery — as for example:

The cypress in funereal gloom

Folds its dark arms above the tomb.

“Tenel” (pronounced Thanail,) Melpomene, (a glowing tribute to L. E. L.,) “The Last Hour of Sappho,” “Laone,” and “The Bride of Guayaquil,” are all poems of considerable length and of rare merit in various ways. Their conduct as narratives, is, perhaps, less remarkable than their general effect as poems proper. They leave invariably on the reader’s heart a sense of beauty and of sadness. In many of the shorter compositions which make up the volume of which we speak, “(Records of the Heart”) we are forced to recognize the truth and perfect appositeness of the title we are made to feel that it is here indeed the heart which records, rather than the fancy which invents. The passionate earnestness of the following lines will be acknowledged by every reader capable of appreciating that species of poetry of which the essentiality and inspiration is truth.

THE FORSAKEN.

It hath been said — for all who die

There is a tear;

Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh

O’er every bier: —

But in that hour of pain and dread

Who will draw near

Around my humble couch and shed

One farewell tear?

 

Who watch my life’s departing ray

In deep despair

And soothe my spirit on its way

With holy prayer?

What mourner round my bier will come

In “weeds of wo”

And follow me to my long home

Solemn and slow?

 

When lying on my clayey bed,

In icy sleep,

Who there by pure affection led

Will come and weep;

By the pale moon implant the rose

Upon my breast,

And bid it cheer my dark repose —

My lowly rest?

 

Could I but know when I am sleeping

Low in the ground

One faithful heart would there be keeping

Watch all night round,

As if some gem lay shrined beneath

That sod’s cold gloom,

‘Twould mitigate the pangs of death

And light the tomb.

 

Yes, in that hour if I could feel

From halls of glee

And Beauty’s presence one would steal

In secresy,

And come and sit and weep by me

In nights’ deep noon

Oh! I would ask of Memory

No other boon.

 

But ah! a lonelier fate is mine —

A deeper wo:

From all I love in youth’s sweet time

I soon must go —

Draw round me my cold robes of white,

In a dark spot,

To sleep through Death’s long dreamless night,

Lone and forgot.

We have read this little poem more than twenty times and always with increasing admiration. It is inexpressibly beautiful. No one of real feeling can peruse it without a strong inclination to tears. Its irresistible charm is its absolute truth — the unaffected naturalness of its thought. The sentiment which forms the basis of the composition is, perhaps, at once the most universal and the most passionate of sentiments. No human being exists, over the age of fifteen, who has not, in his heart of hearts, a ready echo for all here so pathetically expressed. The essential poetry of the ideas would only be impaired by “foreign ornament.” This is a case in which we should be repelled by the mere conventionalities of the Muse. We demand, for such thoughts, the most rigorous simplicity at all points. It will be observed that, strictly speaking, there is not an attempt at “imagery” in the whole poem. All is direct, terse, penetrating. In a word nothing could be better done. The versification, while in full keeping with the general character of simplicity, has in certain passages a vigorous, trenchant euphony which would confer honor on the most accomplished masters of the art. We refer, especially to the lines:

And follow me to my long home

Solemn and slow

and to the quatrain:

Could I but know when I am sleeping

Low in the ground

One faithful heart would there be keeping

Watch all night round.

The initial trochee here, in each instance, substituted for the iambus produces, so naturally as to seem accidentally, a very effective echo of sound to sense. The thought included in the line “And light the tomb,” should be dwelt upon to be appreciated in its full extent of beauty; and the verses which I have italicized in the last stanza are poetry — poetry in the purest sense of that much misused word. They have power — indisputable power; making us thrill with a sense of their weird magnificence as we read them.

In “The Child of the Sea,” Mrs. Lewis has accomplished a much more comprehensive at least, if not at all points a more commendable poem than any included in her “Records of the Heart.” One of its most distinguishing merits is the admirable conduct of its narrative — in which every incident has its proper position — where nothing is inconsequent or incoherent — and where, above all, the rich and vivid interest is never, for a single moment, permitted to flag. How few, even of the most accomplished and skilful of poets, are successful in the management of a story, when that story has to be told in verse. The difficulty is easily analyzed. In all mere narrations there are particulars of the dullest prose, which are inevitable and indispensable, but which serve no other purpose than to bind together the true interest of the incidents — in a word, explanatory passages which are yet to be “so done into verse” as not to let down the imagination from its pride of place. Absolutely to poetize these explanatory passages is beyond the reach of art, for prose, and that of the flattest kind, is their essentiality; but the skill of the artist should be sufficient to gloss them over so as to seem poetry amid the poetry by which they are surrounded. For this end a very consummate art is demanded. Here the tricks of phraseology — quaintnesses — and rhythmical effects, come opportunely into play. Of the species of skill required, Moore, in his “Alciphron,” has given us, upon the whole, the happiest exemplification: — but Mrs. Lewis has very admirably succeeded in her “Child of the Sea.” We are strongly tempted; by way of showing what we mean, to give here a digest of her narrative, with comments — but this would be doing the author injustice, in anticipating the interest of her work.

The poem, although widely differing in subject from any of Mrs. Lewis’ prior compositions, and far superior to any of them in general vigor, artistic skill, and assured certainty of purpose, is nevertheless easily recognizable as the production of the same mind which originated “ Florence” and “The Forsaken.” We perceive, throughout, the same passion, the same enthusiasm, and the same seemingly reckless abandon of thought and manner which we have already mentioned as characterizing the writer. We should have spoken also, of a fastidious yet most sensitive and almost voluptuous sense of Beauty. These are the general traits of “The Child of the Sea:” but undoubtedly the chief value of the poem, to ordinary readers, will be found to lie in the aggregation of its imaginative passages — its quotable points. We give a few of these at random: — the opening lines will be at once appreciated:

Where blooms the myrtle and the olive flings

Its aromatic breath upon the air;

Where the sad bird of night forever sings

Meet anthems for the Children of Despair.

Again:

Fresh blows the breeze on Tarick’s burnished bay;

The silent sea-mews bend them through the spray:

The Beauty-freighted barges bound afar

To the soft music of the gay guitar.

 

——— the oblivious world of sleep —

That rayless realm where Fancy never beams —

That Nothingness beyond the Land of Dreams.

 

Folded his arms across his sable vest,

As if to keep the heart within his breast.

————— he lingers by the streams,

Pondering on incommunicable themes.

 

Nor notes the fawn that tamely by him glides

The violets lifting up their azure eyes

Like timid virgins whom Love’s steps surprise.

 

And all is hushed — so still — so silent there

That one might hear an angel wing the air.

 

Adown the groves and dewy vales afar

Tinkles the serenader’s soft guitar.

 

——— her tender cares,

Her solemn sighs, her silent streaming tears,

Her more than woman’s soft solicitude

To soothe his spirit in its frantic mood.

 

Now by the crags — then by each pendant bough

Steadies his steps adown the mountain’s brow.

 

Sinks on his crimson couch, so long unsought,

 

And floats along the phantom stream of thought.

Ah, no! for there are times when the sick soul

Lies calm amid the storms that round it roll,

Indifferent to Fate or to what haven

By the terrific tempest it is driven.

 

The Dahlias, leaning from the golden vase,

Peer pensively upon her pallid face,

While the sweet songster o’er the oaken door

Looks through his grate and warbles “weep no more!”

 

——— lovely in her misery,

As jewel sparkling up through the dark sea.

 

Where hung the fiery moon and stars of blood,

And phantom ships rolled on the rolling flood.

 

My mind by grief was ripened ere its time,

And knowledge came spontaneous as a chime

That flows into the soul, unbid, unsought;

On Earth and Air and Heaven I fed my thought

On Ocean’s teachings — Aetna’s lava tears —

Ruins and wrecks and nameless sepulchres

 

Each morning brought to them untasted bliss.

No pangs — no sorrows came with varying years —

No cold distrust — no faithlessness — no tears

But hand in hand as Eve and Adam trod

Eden, they walked beneath the smile of God.

It will be understood, of course, that we quote these brief passages by no means as the best, or even as particularly excelling the rest of the poem, on an averaged estimate of merit, but simply with a view of exemplifying some of the author’s more obvious traits — those, especially, of vigorous rhythm, and forcible expression. In no case can the loftier qualities of a truly great poem be conveyed through the citation of its component portions, in detail, even when long extracts are given — how much less, then, by such mere points as we have selected. If we err not greatly, “The Child of the Sea” will confer immortality on its author.

4

THE FEMALE POETS OF AMERICA. By Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart.

This is a large volume, to match “The Poets and Poetry of America,” “The Prose Authors of America,” and “The Poets and Poetry of England” — previous compilations of Mr. Griswold — all of which have been eminently and justly successful. “Compilations,” however, is not precisely the word; for these works have indisputable claims upon public attention as critical summaries, at least, of literary merit and demerit. Their great and most obvious value, as affording data or material for criticism — as mere collections of the best specimens in each department and as records of fact, in relation not more to books than to their authors — has in some measure overshadowed the more important merit of the series: for these works have often, and in fact very generally, the positive merits of discriminative criticism, and of honesty always the more negative merit of strong common-sense. The best of the series is, beyond all question, “The Prose [column 2:] Authors of America.” This is a book of which any critic in the country might well have been proud, without reference to the mere industry and research manifested in its compilation. These are truly remarkable; — but the vigor of comment and force of style are not less so; while more independence and self-reliance are manifested than in any other of the series. There is not a weak paper in the book; and some of the articles are able in all respects. The truth is that Mr. Griswold’s intellect is more at home in Prose than Poetry. He is a better judge of fact than of fancy, not that he has not shown himself quite competent to the task undertaken in “The Poets and Poetry of America,” or of England, or in the work now especially before us. In this latter, he has done no less credit to himself than to the numerous lady-poets whom he discusses — and many of whom he now first introduces to the public. We are glad, for Mr. Griswold’s sake, as well as for the interests of our literature generally, to perceive that he has been at the pains of doing what Northern critics seem to be at great pains; never to do — that is to say, he has been at the trouble of doing justice, in great measure, to several poetesses who have not had the good fortune to be born in the North. The notices of the Misses Carey, of the Misses Fuller, of the sisters Mrs. Warfield and Mrs. Lee, of Mrs. Nichols, of Miss Welby, and of Miss Susan Archer Talley, reflect credit upon Mr. Griswold and show him to be a man not more of taste than — shall we say it? — of courage. Let our readers be assured that, (as matters are managed among the four or five different cliques who control our whole literature in controlling the larger portion of our critical journals,) it requires no small amount of courage, in an author whose subsistence lies in his pen, to hint, even, that any thing good, in a literary way, can, by any possibility, exist out of the limits of a certain narrow territory. We repeat that Mr. Griswold deserves our thanks, under such circumstances, for the cordiality with which he has recognized the poetical claims of the ladies mentioned above. He has not, however, done one or two of them that full justice which, ere long, the public will take upon itself the task of rendering them. We allude especially to the case of Miss Talley, (the “Susan” of our own Messenger.) Mr. Griswold praises her highly; and we would admit that it would be expecting of him too much, just at present, to hope for his avowing, of Miss Talley, what we think of her, and what one of our best known critics has distinctly avowed — that she ranks already with the best of American poetesses, and in time will surpass them all — that her demerits are those of inexperience and excessive sensibility, (betraying her, unconsciously, into imitation,) while her merits are those of unmistakeable genius. We are proud to be able to say, moreover, in respect to another of the ladies referred to above, that one of her poems is decidedly the noblest poem in the collection — although the most distinguished poetesses in the land have here included their most praiseworthy compositions. Our allusion is to Miss Alice Carey’s “Pictures of Memory.” Let our readers see it and judge for themselves. We speak deliberately: — in all the higher elements of poetry — in true imagination — in the power of exciting the only real poetical effect — elevation of the soul, in contradistinction from mere excitement of the intellect or heart — the poem in question is the noblest in the book.

“The Female Poets of America” includes ninety-five names — commencing with Ann Bradstreet, the contemporary of the once world-renowned Du Bartas — him of the “nonsense-verses” — the poet who was in the habit of styling the sun the “Grand Duke of Candles” — and ending with “Helen Irving” — a norm de plume of Miss Anna H. Phillips. Mr. Griswold gives most space to Mrs. Maria Brooks, (Maria del Occidente,) not, we hope and believe, merely because Southey has happened to commend her. The claims of this lady we have not yet examined so thoroughly as we could wish, and we will speak more fully of her hereafter, perhaps. In point of actual merit — that is to say of actual accomplishment, without reference to mere indications of the ability to accomplish — we would rank the first dozen or so in this order — (leaving out Mrs. Brooks for the present.) Mrs. Osgood — very decidedly first — then Mrs Welby, Miss Carey, (or the Misses Carey,) Miss Talley, Mrs. Whitman, Miss Lynch, Miss Frances Fuller, Miss Lucy Hooper, Mrs. Oakes Smith, Mrs. Ellet, Mrs. Hewitt, Miss Clarke, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Nichols, Mrs. Warfield, (with her sister, Mrs. Lee,) Mrs. Eames and Mrs. Sigourney. If Miss Lynch had as much imagination as energy of expression and artistic power, we would place her next to Mrs. Osgood. The next skilful merely, of those just mentioned, are Mrs. Osgood, Miss Lynch and Mrs. Sigourney. The most imaginative are Miss Carey, Mrs. Osgood, Miss Talley and Miss Fuller. The most accomplished are Mrs. Ellet, Mrs. Eames, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Whitman and Mrs Oakes Smith. The most popular are Mrs. Osgood, Mrs. Oakes Smith and Miss Hooper. The most glaring omissions are those of Mrs. C. F. Orne and Miss Mary Wells.

5

A FABLE FOR THE CRITICS. NEW-YORK: GEORGE P. PUTNAM.

What have we Americans accomplished in the way of Satire? “The Vision of Rubeta,” by Laughton Osborn, is probably our best composition of the kind: but, in saying this, we intend no excessive commendation. Trumbull’s clumsy and imitative work is scarcely worth mention — and then we have Halleck’s “Croakers,” local and ephemeral — but what is there besides? Park Benjamin has written a clever address, with the title “Infatuation,” and Holmes has an occasional scrap, piquant enough in its way — but we can think of nothing more that can be fairly called “satire.” Some matters we have produced, to be sure, which were excellent in the way of burlesque — (the Poems of William Ellery Channing, for example) — without meaning a syllable that was not utterly solemn and serious. Odes, ballads, songs, sonnets, epics and epigrams, possessed of this unintentional excellence, we should have no difficulty in designating by the dozen; but in the particular of direct and obvious satire, it cannot be denied that we are unaccountably deficient.

It has been suggested that this deficiency arises from the want of a suitable field for satirical display. In England, it is said, satire abounds, because the people there find a proper target in the aristocracy, whom they (the people) regard as a distinct race with whom they have little in common; relishing even the most virulent abuse of the upper classes with a gusto undiminished by any feeling that they (the people) have any concern in it. In Russia, or Austria, on the other hand, it is urged, satire is unknown; because there is danger in touching the aristocracy, and self-satire would be odious to the mass. In America, also, the people who write are, it is maintained, the people who read: — thus in satirizing the people we satirize only ourselves and are never in condition to sympathize with the satire.

All this is more verisimilar than true. It is forgotten that no individual considers himself as one of the mass. Each person, in his own estimate, is the pivot on which all the rest of the world spins round. We may abuse the people by wholesale, and yet with a clear conscience so far as regards any compunction for offending any one from among the multitude of which that “people” is composed. Every one of the crowd will cry “Encore! — give it to them, the vagabonds! — it serves them right.” It seems to us that, in America, we have refused to encourage satire — not because what we have had touches us too nearly — but because it has been too pointless to touch us at all. Its namby-pambyism has arisen, in part, from the general want, among our men of letters, of that minute polish — of that skill in details — which, in combination with natural sarcastic power, satire, more than any other form of literature, so imperatively demands. In part, also, we may attribute our failure to the colonial sin of imitation. We content ourselves — at this point not less supinely than at all others — with doing what not only has been done before, but what, however well done, has yet been done ad nauseam. We should not be able to endure infinite repetitions of even absolute excellence; but what is “McFingal” more than a faint echo of “Hudibras”? — and what is “The Vision of Rubeta” more than a vast gilded swill-trough overflowing with Dunciad and water? Although we are not all Archilochuses, however — although we have few pretensions to the ηχηεντες ιαμβοι although, in short, we are no satirists ourselves — there can be no question that we answer sufficiently well as subjects for satire.

“The Vision” is bold enough — if we leave out of sight its anonymous issue — and bitter enough, and witty enough, if we forget its pitiable punning on names and long enough (Heaven knows) and well construct and decently versified; but it fails in the principal element of all satire — sarcasm — because the intention to be sarcastic (as in the “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” and in all the more classical satires) is permitted to render itself manifest. The malevolence appears. The author is never very severe, because he is at no time particularly cool. We laugh not so much at his victims as at himself for letting them put him in such a passion. And where a deeper sentiment than mirth is excited — where it is pity or contempt that we are made to feel — the feeling is too often reflected, in its object, from the satirized to the satirist — with whom we sympathize in the discomfort of his animosity. Mr. Osborn has not many superiors in downright invective; but this is the awkward left arm of the satiric Muse. That satire alone is worth talking about which at least appears to be the genial, good-humored out pouring of irrepressible merriment.

“The Fable for the Critics,” just issued, has not the name of its author on the title-page; and but for some slight fore-knowledge of the literary opinions, likes, dislikes, whims, prejudices and crotchets of Mr. James Russell Lowell, we should have had much difficulty in attributing so very loose a brochure to him. The “ Fable” is essentially “loose” — ill-conceived and feebly executed, as well in detail as in general. Some good hits and some sparkling witticisms do not serve to compensate us for its rambling plot (if plot it can be called) and for the want of artistic finish so particularly noticeable throughout the work — especially in its versification. In Mr. Lowell’s prose efforts we have before observed a certain disjointedness, but never, until now, in his verse-and we confess some surprise at his putting forth so unpolished a performance. The author of “The Legend of Brittany” (which is decidedly the noblest poem, of the same length, written by an American) could not do a better thing than to take the advice of those who mean him well, in spite of his fanaticism, and leave prose, with satiric verse, to those who are better able to manage them; while he contents himself with that class of poetry for which, and for which alone, he seems to have an especial vocation-the poetry of sentiment. This, to be sure, is not the very loftiest order of verse; for it is far inferior to either that of the imagination or that of the passions — but it is the loftiest region in which Mr. Lowell can get his breath without difficulty.

Our primary objection to this “Fable for the Critics” has reference to a point which we have already touched in a general way. “The malevolence appears.” We laugh not so much at the author’s victims as at himself for letting them put him in such a passion. The very title of the book shows the want of a due sense in respect to the satiric essence, sarcasm. This “fable” — this severe lesson — is meant “for the Critics.” “Ah!” we say to ourselves at once — “we see how it is. Mr. L. is a poor-devil poet, and some critic has been reviewing him, and making him feel I very uncomfortable; whereupon, bearing in mind that Lord Byron, when similarly assailed, avenged his wrongs in a satire which he called ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ he (Mr. Lowell) imitative as usual has been endeavoring to get redress in a parallel manner — by a satire with a parallel title — ‘A Fable for the Critics.’ ”

All this the reader says to himself; and all this tells against Mr. L. in two ways — first, by suggesting unlucky comparisons between Byron and Lowell, and, secondly, by reminding us of the various criticisms, in which we have been amused (rather ill-naturedly) at seeing Mr. Lowell “used up.”

The title starts us on this train of thought and the satire sustains us in it. Every reader versed in our literary gossip, is at once put dessous des cartes as to the particular provocation which engendered the “Fable.” Miss Margaret Fuller, some time ago, in a silly and conceited piece of Transcendentalism which she called an “Essay on American Literature,” or something of that kind, had the consummate pleasantry, after selecting from the list of American poets, Cornelius Mathews and William Ellery Channing, for especial commendation, to speak of Longfellow as a booby and of Lowell as so wretched a poetaster “as to be disgusting even to his best friends.” All this Miss Fuller said, if not in our precise words, still in words quite as much to the purpose. Why she said it, Heaven only knows — unless it was because she was Margaret Fuller, and wished to be taken for nobody else. Messrs. Longfellow and Lowell, so pointedly picked out for abuse as the worst of our poets, are, upon the whole, perhaps, our best although Bryant, and one or two others are scarcely inferior. As for the two favorites, selected just as pointedly for laudation, by Miss F. — it is really difficult to think of them, in connexion with poetry, without laughing. Mr. Mathews once wrote some sonnets “On Man,” and Mr. Channing some lines on “A Tin Can,” or something of that kind — and if the former gentleman be not the very worst poet that ever existed on the face of the earth, it is only because he is not quite so bad as the latter. To speak algebraically: — Mr. M. is execrable, but Mr. C. is x plus 1-ecrable.

Mr. Lowell has obviously aimed his “Fable” at Miss Fuller’s head, in the first instance, with an eye to its ricochet-ing so as to knock down Mr. Mathews in the second. Miss F. is first introduced as Miss F——, rhyming to “cooler,” and afterwards as “Miranda;” while poor Mr. M. is brought in upon all occasions, head and shoulders; and now and then a sharp thing, although never very original, is said of them or at them; but all the true satiric effect wrought, is that produced by the satirist against himself. The reader is all the time smiling to think that so unsurpassable a — (what shall we call her? — we wish to be civil,) a transcendentalist as Miss Fuller, should, by such a criticism, have had the power to put a respectable poet in such a passion.

As for the plot or conduct of this Fable, the less we say of it the better. It is so weak — so flimsy — so ill put together — as to be not worth the trouble of understanding: — something, as usual, about Apollo and Daphne. Is there no originality on the face of the earth? Mr. Lowell’s total want of it is shown at all points — very especially in his Preface of rhyming verse written without distinction by lines or initial capitals, (a hackneyed matter, originating, we believe, with Frazer’s Magazine:) — very especially also, in his long continuations of some particular rhyme — a fashion introduced, if we remember aright, by Leigh Hunt, more than twenty-five years ago, in his “Feast of the Poets” — which, by the way, has been Mr. L’s model in many respects.

Although ill-temper has evidently engendered this “Fable,” it is by no means a satire throughout. Much of it is devoted to panegyric — but our readers would be quite puzzled to know the grounds of the author’s laudations, in many cases, unless made acquainted with a fact which we think it as well they should be informed of at once. Mr. Lowell is one of the most rabid of the Abolition fanatics; and no Southerner who does not wish to be insulted, and at the same time revolted by a bigotry the most obstinately blind and deaf, should ever touch a volume by this author.* His fanaticism about slavery is a mere local outbreak of the same innate wrong-headedness which, if he owned slaves, would manifest itself in atrocious ill-treatment of them, with murder of any abolitionist who should endeavor to set them free. A fanatic of Mr. L’s species, is simply a fanatic for the sake of fanaticism, and must be a fanatic in whatever circumstances you place him.

His prejudices on the topic of slavery break out every where in his present book. Mr. L. has not the common honesty to speak well, even in a literary sense, of any man who is not a ranting abolitionist. With the exception of Mr. Poe, (who has written some commendatory criticisms on his poems,) no Southerner is mentioned at all in this “Fable.” It is a fashion among Mr. Lowell’s set to affect a belief that there is no such thing as Southern Literature. Northerners — people who have really nothing to speak of as men of letters, — are cited by the dozen and lauded by this candid critic without stint, while Legard, Simms, Longstreet, and others of equal note are passed by in contemptuous silence. Mr. L. cannot carry his frail honesty of opinion even so far South as New York. All whom he praises are Bostonians. Other writers are barbarians and satirized accordingly — if mentioned at all.

To show the general manner of the Fable, we quote a portion of what he says about Mr. Poe:

Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge —

Three-fifths of him genius, and two-fifths sheer fudge;

Who talks like a book of iambs and pentameters,

In a way to make all men of common sense d — n metres;

Who has written some things far the best of their kind;

But somehow the heart seems squeezed out by the mind.*

We may observe here that profound ignorance on any particular topic is always sure to manifest itself by some allusion to “common sense” as an all-sufficient instructor. So far from Mr. P’s talking “like a book” on the topic at issue, his chief purpose has been to demonstrate that there exists no book on the subject worth talking about; and “common sense,” after all, has been the basis on which he relied, in contradistinction from the uncommon nonsense of Mr. L. and the small pedants.

And now let us see how far the unusual “common sense” of our satirist has availed him in the structure of his verse. First, by way of showing what his intention was, we quote three accidentally accurate lines:

But a boy | he could ne | ver be right | ly defined.

As I said | he was ne | ver precise | ly unkind.

But as Ci | cero says | he won’t say | this or that.

Here it is clearly seen that Mr. L. intends a line of four anapaests. (An anapaest is a foot composed of two short syllables followed by a long.) With this observation, we will now simply copy a few of the lines which constitute the body of the poem; asking any of our readers to read them if they can; that is to say, we place the question, without argument, on the broad basis of the very commonest “common sense.”

They’re all from one source, monthly, weekly, diurnal. . .

Disperse all one’s good and condense all one’s poor traits..

The one’s two-thirds Norseman, the other half Greek.,.

He has imitators in scores who omit. . .

Should suck milk, strong will-giving brave, such as runs. . .

Along the far rail-road the steam-snake glide white. . .

From the same runic type-fount and alphabet. . .

Earth has six truest patriots, four discoverers of ether. . .

Every cockboat that swims clears its fierce (pop) gundeck at him. . .

Is some of it pr ——— no,’tis not even prose. . .

O’er his principles when something else turns up trumps. . .

But a few silly (syllo I mean) gisms that squat ‘em. . .

Nos, we don’t want extra freezing in winter. . .

Plough, dig, sail, forge, build, carve, paint, make all things new. . .

But enough: — we have given a fair specimen of the general versification. It might have been better — but we are quite sure that it could not have been worse. So much for “common sense,” in Mr. Lowell’s understanding of the term. Mr. L. should not have meddled with the anapaestic rhythm: it is exceedingly awkward in the hands of one who knows nothing about it and who will persist in fancying that he can write it by ear. Very especially, he should have avoided this rhythm in satire, which, more than any other branch of Letters, is dependent upon seeming trifles for its effect. Two-thirds of the force of the “Dunciad” may be referred to its exquisite finish; and had “The Fable for the Critics” been, (what it is not,) the quintessence of the satiric spirit itself, it would nevertheless, in so slovenly a form, have failed. As it is, no failure was ever more complete or more pitiable. By the publication of a book at once so ambitious and so feeble-so malevolent in design and so harmless in execution — a work so roughly and clumsily yet so weakly constructed-so very different, in body and spirit, from anything that he has written before — Mr. Lowell has committed an irrevocable faux pas and lowered himself at least fifty per cent in the literary public opinion.

6

FRANCES SARGENT OSGOOD.

EDGAR A. POE.

Mrs. Osgood, for the last three or four years, has been rapidly attaining distinction; and this, evidently, with no effort at attaining it. She seems, in fact, to have no object in view beyond that of giving voice to the fancies or the feelings of the moment. “Necessity,” says the proverb, “is the mother of Invention;” and the invention of Mrs. O., at least, springs plainly from necessity — from the necessity of invention. Not to write poetry — not to act it, think it, dream it, and be it, is entirely out of her power.

It may be questioned whether with more industry, more method, more definite purpose, more ambition, Mrs. Osgood would have made a more decided impression on the public mind. She might, upon the whole, have written better poems; but the chances are that she would have failed in conveying so vivid and so just an idea of her powers as poet. The warm abandonnement of her style — that charm which now so captivates — is but a portion and a consequence of her unworldly nature — of her disregard of mere fame; but it affords us glimpses, which we could not otherwise have obtained, of a capacity for accomplishing what she has not accomplished, and in all probability never will. In the world of poetry, however, there is already more than enough of uncongenial ambition and pretence.

Mrs. Osgood has taken no care whatever of her literary fame. A great number of her finest compositions, both in verse and prose, have been written anonymously, and are now lying perdus about the country, in out-of-the way nooks and corners. Many a goodly reputation has been reared upon a far more unstable basis than her unclaimed and uncollected “fugitive pieces.”

Her first volume, I believe, was published, seven or eight years ago, by Edward Churton, of London, during the residence of the poetess in that city. I have now lying before me a second edition of it, dated 1842 — a beautifully printed book, dedicated to the Reverend Hobart Caunter. It contains a number of what the Bostonians call “juvenile” poems, written when Mrs. O., (then Miss Locke,) could not have been more than thirteen, and evincing unusual precocity. The leading piece is “Elfrida, a Dramatic Poem,” but in many respects well entitled to the appellation, “drama.” I allude chiefly to the passionate expression of particular portions, to delineation of character, and to occasional scenic effect: — in construction, or plot — in general conduct and plausibility, the play fails; comparatively, of course — for the hand of genius is evinced throughout.

The story is the well known one of Edgar, Elfrida, and Earl Athelwood. The king, hearing of Elfrida’s extraordinary beauty, commissions his favorite, Athelwood, to visit her and ascertain if report speaks truly of her charms. The earl, becoming himself enamored, represents the lady as anything but beautiful or agreeable. The king is satisfied. Athelwood soon afterward woos and weds Elfrida — giving Edgar to understand that the heiress’ wealth is the object. The true state of the case, however, is betrayed by an enemy; and the monarch resolves to visit the earl at his castle and to judge for himself. Hearing of this resolve, Athelwood, in despair, confesses to his wife his duplicity, and entreats her to render null as far as possible the effect of her charms by dressing with unusual plainness. This the wife promises to do; but, fired with ambition and resentment at the wrong done her, arrays herself in her most magnificent and becoming costume. The king is charmed, and the result is the destruction of Athelwood and the elevation of Elfrida to the throne.

These incidents are well adapted to dramatic purposes, and with more of that art which Mrs. Osgood does not possess, she might have woven them into a tragedy which the world would not willingly let die. As it is, she has merely succeeded in showing what she might, should and could have done, and yet, unhappily, did not.

The character of Elfrida is the bright point of the play. Her beauty and consciousness of it — her indignation and uncompromising ambition — are depicted with power. There is a fine blending of the poetry of passion and the passion of poetry, in the lines which follow:

——Why even now he bends

In courtly reverence to some mincing dame,

Haply the star of Edgar’s festival,

While I, with this high heart and queenly form,

Pine in neglect and solitude. Shall it be?

Shall I not rend my fetters and be free?

Ay! — be the cooing turtle-dove content,

Safe in her own loved nest! — the eagle soars

On restless plumes to meet the imperial sun.

And Edgar is my day-star in whose light

This heart’s proud wings shall yet be furled to rest.

Why wedded I with Athelwood? For this?

No! — even at the altar when I stood —

My hand in his, his gaze upon my cheek —

I did forget his presence and the scene;

A gorgeous vision rose before mine eyes

Of power and pomp and regal pageantry;

A king was at my feet and, as he knelt,

I smiled and, turning, met — a husband’s kiss.

But still I smiled —for in my guilty soul

I blessed him as the being by whose means

I should be brought within my idol’s sphere —

My haughty, glorious, brave, impassioned Edgar!

Well I remember when these wondering eyes

Beheld him first. I was a maiden then

A dreaming child — but from that thrilling hour

I’ve been a queen in visions!

Very similar, but even more glowing, is the love-inspired eloquence of Edgar.

Earth hath no language, love, befitting thee.

For its own children it hath pliant speech;

And mortals know to call a blossom fair,

A wavelet graceful, and a jewel rich;

But thou! — oh, teach me, sweet, the angel tongue

They talked in Heaven ere thou didst leave its bowers

To bloom below!

To this Elfrida replies:

If Athelwood should hear thee!

And to this, Edgar:

Name not the felon knave to me, Elfrida!

My soul is flame whene’er I think of him.

Thou lovest him not? — oh, say thou dost not love him!

The answer of Elfrida at this point is profoundly true to nature, and would alone suffice to assure any critic of Mrs. Osgood’s dramatic talent:

When but a child I saw thee in my dreams!

The woman’s soul here shrinks from the direct avowal of want of love for her husband, and flies to poetry and appeals to fate, by way of excusing that infidelity which is at once her glory and her shame.

In general, the “situations” of “Elfrida” are improbable or ultra-romantic, and its incidents unconsequential, seldom furthering the business of the play. The dénouement is feeble, and its moral of very equivocal tendency indeed — but I have already shown that it is the especial office neither of poetry nor of the drama, to inculcate truth, unless incidentally. Mrs. Osgood, however, although she has unquestionably failed in writing a good play, has, even in failing, given indication of dramatic power. The great tragic element, passion, breathes in every line of her composition, and had she but the art, or the patience, to model or control it, she might be eminently successful as a playwright. I am justified in these opinions not only by “Elfrida,” but by “Woman’s Trust, a Dramatic Sketch,” included, also, in the English edition.

A Masked Ball. Madelon and a Stranger in a Recess.

 

Mad. — Why hast thou led me here?

My friends may deem it strange — unmaidenly,

This lonely converse with an unknown mask.

Yet in thy voice there is a thrilling power

That makes me love to linger. It is like

The tone of one far distant — only his

Was gayer and more soft.

 

Strang.   Sweet Madelon!

Say thou wilt smile upon the passionate love

That thou alone canst waken! Let me hope!

 

Mad. — Hush! hush! I may not hear thee. Know’st thou not I am betrothed?

 

Strang. — Alas! too well I know;

But I could tell thee such a tale of him —

Thine early love — ‘twould fire those timid eyes

With lightning pride and anger — curl that lip —

That gentle lip to passionate contempt

For man’s light falsehood. Even now he bends —

Thy Rupert bends o’er one as fair as thou,

In fond affection. Even now his heart —

 

Mad. — Doth my eye flash? — doth my lip curl with scorn?

‘Tis scorn of thee, thou perjured stranger, not —

Oh, not of him, the generous and the true!

Hast thou e’er seen my Rupert? — hast thou met

Those proud and fearless eyes that never quailed,

As Falsehood quails, before another’s glance —

As thine even now are shrinking from mine own —

The spirit beauty of that open brow —

The noble head — the free and gallant step —

The lofty mien whose majesty is won

From inborn honor — hast thou seen all this?

And darest thou speak of faithlessness and him

In the same idle breath? Thou little know’st

The strong confiding of a woman’s heart,

When woman loves as — I do. Speak no more!

 

Strang. — Deluded girl! I tell thee he is false —

False as yon fleeting cloud!

 

Mad.   True as the sun!

 

Strang. — The very wind less wayward than his heart!

 

Mad. — The forest oak less firm! He loved me not

For the frail rose-hues and the fleeting light

Of youthful loveliness — ah, many a cheek

Of softer bloom, and many a dazzling eye

More rich than mine may win my wanderer’s gaze.

He loved me for my love, the deep, the fond —

For my unfaltering truth; he cannot find —

Rove where he will — a heart that beats for him

With such intense, absorbing tenderness —

Such idolizing constancy as mine.

Why should he change, then? — I am still the same.

 

Strang. — Sweet infidel! wilt thou have ruder proof?

Rememberest thou a little golden case

Thy Rupert wore, in which a gem was shrined?

A gem I would not barter for a world —

An angel face; its sunny wealth of hair

In radiant ripples bathed the graceful throat

And dimpled shoulders; round the rosy curve

Of the sweet mouth a smile seemed wandering ever;

While in the depths of azure fire that gleamed

Beneath the drooping lashes, slept a world

Of eloquent meaning, passionate yet pure —

Dreamy — subdued — but oh, how beautiful!

A look of timid, pleading tenderness

That should have been a talisman to charm

His restless heart for aye. Rememberest thou?

 

Mad. — (impatiently.) I do — I do remember — ‘twas my own.

He prized it as his life — I gave it him —

What of it! — speak!

 

Strang. — (showing a miniature,) Lady, behold that gift!

 

Mad — (clasping her hands) Merciful Heaven! is my Rupert dead?

(After a pause, during which she seems overwhelmed with agony)

How died he? — when? — oh, thou wast by his side

In that last hour and I was far away!

My blessed love! — give me that token! — speak!

What message sent he to his Madelon?

 

Strang. — (Supporting her and strongly agitated,)

He is not dead, dear lady! — grieve not thus!

 

Mad. — He is not false, sir stranger!

 

Strang.   For thy sake,

Would he were worthier! One other proof

I’ll give thee, loveliest! if thou lov’st him still,

I’ll not believe thee woman. Listen, then!

A faithful lover breathes not of his bliss

To other ears. Wilt hear a fable, lady?

Here the stranger details some incidents of the first wooing of Madelon by Rupert, and concludes with,

Lady, my task is o’er — dost doubt me still?

 

Mad.    Doubt thee, my Rupert! ah, I know thee now.

Fling by that hateful mask! — let me unclasp it!

No! thou wouldst not betray thy Madelon.

The “Miscellaneous Poems” of the volume — many of them written in childhood — are, of course, various in character and merit. “The Dying Rosebud’s Lament,” although by no means one of the best, will very well serve to show the earlier and most characteristic manner of the poetess:

Ah, me! — ah wo is me

That I should perish now,

With the dear sunlight just let in

Upon my balmy brow.

 

My leaves, instinct with glowing life,

Were quivering to unclose:

My happy heart with love was rife —

I was almost a rose.

 

Nerved by a hope, warm, rich, intense,

Already I had risen

Above my cage’s curving fence —

My green and graceful prison,

 

My pouting lips, by Zephyr pressed,

Were just prepared to part

And whisper to the wooing wind

The rapture of my heart.

 

In new-born fancies revelling,

My mossy cell half riven,

Each thrilling leaflet seemed a wing

To bear me into Heaven.

 

How oft, while yet an infant-flower,

My crimson cheek I’ve laid

Against the green bars of my bower,

Impatient of the shade.

 

And, pressing up and peeping through

Its small but precious vistas,

Sighed for the lovely light and dew

That blessed my elder sisters.

 

I saw the sweet breeze rippling o’er

Their leaves that loved the play,

Though the light thief stole all the store

Of dew-drop gems away.

 

I thought how happy I should be

Such diamond wreaths to wear,

And frolic with a rose’s glee

With sunbeam, bird and air.

Ah, me! — ah, wo is me, that I,

Ere yet my leaves unclose,

With all my wealth of sweets must die

Before I am a rose!

The poetical reader will agree with me that few things have ever been written (by any poet, at any age,) more delicately fanciful than the passages italicised — and yet they are the work of a girl not more than fourteen years of age. The clearness and force of expression, and the nice appositeness of the overt and insinuated meaning, are, when we consider the youth of the writer, even more remarkable than the fancy.

I cannot speak of Mrs. Osgood’s poems without a strong propensity to ring the changes upon the indefinite word “grace” and its derivatives. About every thing she writes we perceive this indescribable charm — of which, perhaps, the elements are a vivid fancy and a quick sense of the proportionate. Grace, however, may be most satisfactorily defined as “a term applied, in despair, to that class of the impressions of Beauty which admit of no analysis.” It is in this irresoluble effect that Mrs. Osgood excels any poetess of her country — and it is to this easily appreciable effect that her popularity is owing. Nor is she more graceful herself than a lover of the graceful, under whatever guise it is presented to her consideration. The sentiment renders itself manifest, in innumerable instances, as well throughout her prose as her poetry. Whatever be her theme, she at once extorts from it its whole essentiality of grace. Fanny Ellsler has been often lauded; true poets have sung her praises; but we look in vain for anything written about her, which so distinctly and vividly paints her to the eye as the half dozen quatrains which follow. They are to be found in the English volume:

She comes? — the spirit of the dance!

And but for those large, eloquent eyes,

Where Passion speaks in every glance,

She’d seem a wanderer from the skies.

 

So light that, gazing breathless there,

Lest the celestial dream should go,

You’d think the music in the air

Waved the fair vision to and fro,

 

Or think the melody’s sweet flow

Within the radiant creature played,

And those soft wreathing arms of snow

And white sylph feet the music made.

 

Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,

Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,

Now motionless, with lifted face,

And small hands on her bosom crossed.

 

And now with flashing eyes she springs —

Her whole bright figure raised in air,

As if her soul had spread its wings

And poised her one wild instant there!

 

She spoke not — but, so richly fraught

With language are her glance and smile,

That, when the curtain fell, I thought

She had been talking all the while.

This is, indeed, poetry — and of the most unquestionable kind — poetry truthful in the proper sense-that is to say, breathing of Nature. There is here nothing forced or artificial — no hardly sustained enthusiasm. The poetess speaks because she feels, and what she feels; but then what she feels is felt only by the truly poetical. The thought in the last line of the quatrain will not be so fully appreciated by the reader as it should be; for latterly it has been imitated, plagiarized, repeated ad infinitum: — but the other passages italicized have still left them all their original effect. The idea in the two last lines is exquisitely näive and natural; that in the two last lines of the second quatrain, beautiful beyond measure; that of the whole fifth quatrain, magnificent — unsurpassed in the entire compass of American poetry. It is instinct with the noblest poetical requisite — imagination. Of the same trait I find, to my surprise, one of the best exemplifications among the “Juvenile Rhymes.”

For Fancy is a fairy that can hear,

Ever, the melody of Nature’s voice

And see all lovely visions that she will.

She drew a picture of a beauteous bird

With plumes of radiant green and gold inwoven,

Banished from its beloved resting place,

And fluttering in vain hope from tree to tree,

And bade us think how, like it, the sweet season

From one bright shelter to another fled —

First from the maple waved her emerald pinions,

But lingered still upon the oak and elm,

Till, frightened by rude breezes even from them,

With mournful sigh she moaned her sad farewell.

The little poem called “The Music Box” has been as widely circulated as any of Mrs. Osgood’s compositions — but I will be pardoned for quoting it in farther exemplification of her ruling feature — grace:

Your heart is a music-box, dearest,

With exquisite tunes at command

Of melody sweetest and clearest

If tried by a delicate hand;

But its workmanship, love, is so fine,

At a single rude touch it would break;

Then oh, be the magic key mine

Its fairy-like whispers to wake!

And there’s one little tune it can play

That I fancy all others above —

You learned it of Cupid one day —

It begins with and ends with “I love — ” I love”

The melody and harmony of this jeu d’esprit are perfect, and there is in it a rich tint of that epigrammatism for which the poetess is noted. Some of the intentional epigrams interspersed through the works are peculiarly happy. Here is one which, while replete with the rarest “spirit of point,” is yet something more than pointed.

TO AN ATHEIST POET.

Lovest thou the music of the sea?

Callest thou the sunshine bright?

HIS voice is more than melody —

HIS smile is more than light.

Here, again, is something very similar:

Fanny shuts her smiling eyes,

Then, because she cannot see,

Thoughtless simpleton! she cries

 

“Ah! you can’t see me.”

Fanny’s like the sinner vain

Who, with spirit shut and dim,

Thinks, because he sees not Heaven,

Heaven beholds not him.

Is it not a little surprising, however, that a writer capable of so much precision and finish as the author of these epigrams must be, should have failed to see how much of force is lost in the inversion of “the sinner vain?” Why not have written “Fanny’s like the silly sinner?” — or, if “silly” be thought too jocose, “the blinded sinner?” The rhythm, at the same time, would thus be much improved by bringing the lines,

Fanny’s like the silly sinner,

Thinks because he sees not Heaven,

into exact equality.

In mingled epigram and espieglerie Mrs. Osgood is even more especially at home. I have seldom seen anything in this way more happily done than the song entitled “If He Can.”

Let me see him once more

For a moment or two;

Let him tell me himself

Of his purpose, dear, do!

Let him gaze in these eyes

While he lays out his plan

To escape me an then

He may go — if he can.

 

Let me see him once more!

Let me give him one smile!

Let me breathe but one word

Of endearment the while!

I ask but that moment-

My life on the man!

Does he think to forget me?

He may — if he can.

“The Unexpected Declaration” is, perhaps, even a finer specimen of the same manner. It is one of that class of compositions which Mrs. Osgood has made almost exclusively her own. Had I seen it without her name, I should have had no hesitation in ascribing it to her; for there is no other person — in America certainly — who does anything of a similar kind with anything like a similar piquancy:

“Azure-eyed Eloise! beauty is thine;

Passion kneels to thee and calls thee divine;

Minstrels awaken the lute with thy name;

Poets have gladdened the world with thy fame;

Painters half holy thy loved image keep;

Beautiful Eloise, why do you weep?”

 

Still bows the lady her light tresses low,

Fast the warm tears from her veiled eyes flow.

 

“Sunny-haired Eloise, wealth is thine own;

Rich is thy silken robe; bright is thy zone;

Proudly the jewel illumines thy way;

Clear rubies rival thy ruddy lips’ play;

Diamonds like star-drops thy silken l)raids deck

Pearls waste their snow or, thy lovelier neck;

Luxury softens thy pillow for sleep;

Angels watch over it;-why do you weep?”

 

Still bows the lady her light tresses low;

Faster the tears from her veiled eyes flow.

 

“Gifted and worshipped one! genius and grace

Play in each motion and beam in thy face.

When from thy rosy lip rises the song

Hearts that adore thee the echo prolong.

Ne’er in the festival shone an eye brighter —

Ne’er in the mazy dance fell a foot lighter —

One only spirit thou’st failed to bring down —

Exquisite Eloise! why do you frown?”

 

Swift o’er her forehead a dark shadow stole,

Sent from the tempest of pride in her soul.

 

“Touched by thy sweetness, in love with thy grace,

Charmed with the magic of mind in thy fae,

Bewitched by thy beauty, e’en his haughty strength —

The strength of the stoic is conquered at length,

Lo! at thy feet see him kneeling the while —

Eloise! Eloise! why do you smile?

 

The hand was withdrawn from her happy blue eyes;

She gazed on her lover in laughing surprise,

While the dimple and blush, stealing soft to her cheek,

Told the tale that her tongue was too timid to speak.

The point of all this, however, might have been sharpened, and the polish increased in lustre, by the application of the emory of brevity. From what the lover says much might well have been omitted; and I should have preferred leaving out altogether the autorial comments; for the story is fully told without them. The “‘Why do you weep?” “Why do you frown?” and “Why do you smile?” supply all the imagination requires; to supply more than it requires, oppresses and offends it. Nothing more deeply grieves it — or more vexes the true taste in general, than hyperism of any kind. In Germany, Wohlgeborn is a loftier title than Edelgeborn; and in Greece, the thrice-victorious at the Olympic games could claim a statue of the size of life, while he who had conquered but once was entitled only to a colossal one.

The English collection of which I speak was entitled “A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England.” It met with a really cordial reception in Great Britain — was favorably noticed by the “Literary Gazette,” “Times,” “Atlas,” “Monthly Chronicle;” and especially by the “Court Journal,” “The Court and Ladies’ Magazine,” “La Belle Assemblée,” and other similar works. “We have long been familiar,” says the high authority of the “Literary Gazette,” “with the name of our fair author. . . . . Our expectations have been fulfilled, and we have here a delightful gathering of the sweetest of wild flowers, all looking as fresh and beautiful as if they had grown in the richest of English pasture in place of having been ‘nursed by the cataract.’ True the wreath might have been improved with a little more care — a trifling attention or two paid to the formation of it. A stalk here and there that obtrudes itself between the bells of the flowers, might have become so interwoven as to have been concealed, and the whole have looked as if it had grown in that perfect and beautiful form. Though, after all, we are perhaps too chary; for in Nature every leaf is not ironed out to a form, nor propped up with a wiry precision, but blown and ruffled by the refreshing breezes, and looking as careless and easy and unaffected as a child that bounds along with its silken locks tossed to and fro just as the wind uplifts them. Page after page of this volume have we perused with a feeling of pleasure and admiration.” The “Court Journal” more emphatically says: — ” Her wreath is one of violets, sweet-scented, pure and modest; so lovely that the hand that wove it should not neglect additionally to enrich it by turning her love and kindness to things of larger beauty. Some of the smaller lyrics in the volume are perfectly beautiful — beautiful in their chaste and exquisite simplicity and the perfect elegance of their composition.” In fact, there was that about “The Wreaths of Wild Flowers” — that inexpressible grace of thought and manner — which never fails to find ready echo in the hearts of the aristocracy and refinement of Great Britain; — and it was here especially that Mrs. Osgood found welcome. Her husband’s merits as an artist had already introduced her into distinguished society, (she was petted, in especial, by Mrs. Norton and Rogers,) but the publication of her poems had at once an evidently favorable effect upon his fortunes. His pictures were placed in a most advantageous light by her poetical and conversational ability.

Messrs. Clarke and Austin, of New York, have lately issued another, but still a very incomplete collection of “Poems by Frances S. Osgood.” In general, it includes by no means the best of her works. “The Daughter of Herodias” — one of her longest compositions, and a very noble poem, putting me in mind of the best efforts of Mrs. Hemans — is omitted: — it is included, however, in the last edition of Doctor Griswold’s “Poets and Poetry of America.” In Messrs. C. and A.’s collection there occur, too, very many of those half sentimental, half allegorical compositions of which, at one period, the authoress seemed to be particularly fond — for the reason, perhaps, that they afforded her good opportunity for the exercise of her ingenuity and epigrammatic talent: — no poet, however, can admit them to be poetry at all. Still, the volume contains some pieces which enable us to take a new view of the powers of the writer. A few additional years, with their inevitable sorrow, appear to have stirred the depths of her heart. We see less of frivolity-less of vivacity — more of tenderness — earnestness — even passion — and far more of the true imagination as distinguished from its subordinate, fancy. The one prevalent trait, grace, alone distinctly remains. “The Spirit of Poetry,” “To Sybil,” “The Birth of the Callitriche,” and “The Child and its Angel-Playmate” would do honor to any of our poets. “She Loves Him Yet,” nevertheless, will serve, better than either of these poems, to show the alteration of manner referred to:

She loves him yet!

I know by the blush that rises

Beneath the curls

That shadow her soul-lit cheek.

She loves him yet!

Through all Love’s sweet disguises,

In timid girls,

A blush will be sure to speak.

 

But deeper signs

Than the radiant blush of beauty,

The maiden finds.

Whenever his name is heard

Her young heart thrills,

Forgetting herself — her duty —

Her dark eye fills,

And her pulse with hope is stirred.

 

She loves him yet!

The flower the false one gave her

When last he came

Is still with her wild tears wet.

She’ll ne’er forget

However his faith may waver.

Through grief and shame,

Believe it, she loves him yet!

 

His favorite songs

She will sing; — she heeds no other.

With all her wrongs

Her life on his love is set.

Ah, doubt no more!

She never can wed another.

Till life be o’er

She loves — she will love him yet!

The following stanzas are in a somewhat similar tone, but are more noticeable for their terse energy of expression:

Yes! lower to the level

Of those who laud thee now!

Go, join the joyous revel

And pledge the heartless vow!

Go, dim the soul-horn beauty

That lights that lofty brow!

Fill, fill the bowl! — let burning wine

Drown in thy soul Love’s dream divine!

 

Yet, when the laugh is lightest —

When wildest flies the jest —

When gleams the goblet brightest,

   And proudest heaves thy breast,

And thou art madly pledging

Each gay and jovial guest —

A ghost shall glide amid the flowers —

The shade of Love’s departed hours.

 

And thou shalt shrink in sadness

From all the splendor there,

And curse the revel’s gladness,

And hate the banquet’s glare,

And pine ‘mid passion’s madness,

For true love’s purer air,

And feel thou’dst give their wildest glee

For one unsullied sigh from me.

 

Yet deem not this my prayer, love!

Ah, no! if I could keep

Thy altered heart from care, love,

And charm its grief to sleep,

Mine only should despair, love,

I — I alone would weep —

I — I alone would mourn the flowers

That bloom in Love’s deserted bowers.

In not presenting to the public at one view all that she has written in verse, Mrs. Osgood has incurred the risk of losing that credit to which she is entitled on the score of versatility — of variety in invention and expression. There is scarcely a form of poetical composition in which she has not made experiment; and there is none in which she has not very happily succeeded. Her defects are chiefly negative and by no means numerous. Her versification is sometimes exceedingly good, but more frequently feeble through the use of harsh consonants, and such words as “thou’dst” for “thou wouldst,” with other unnecessary contractions, inversions, and obsolete expressions. Her imagery is often mixed; — indeed it is rarely otherwise. The epigrammatism of her conclusions gives to her poems, as wholes, the air of being more skilfully constructed than they really are. On the other hand, we look in vain throughout her works for an offence against the finer taste, or against decorum — for a low thought or a platitude. A happy refinement — an instinct of the pure and delicate — is one of her most noticeable excellences. She may be properly commended, too, for originality of poetic invention, whether in the conception of a theme or in the manner of treating it. Consequences of this trait, are her point and piquancy. Fancy and näiveté appear in all she writes. Regarding the loftier merits, I am forced to speak of her in more measured terms. She has occasional passages of true imagination — but scarcely the glowing, vigorous, and sustained ideality of Mrs. Maria Brooks — or even, in general, the less ethereal elevation of Mrs. Welby. In that indescribable something, however, which, for want of a more definite term, we are accustomed to call “grace” — that charm so magical, because at once so shadowy and so potent — that Will o’ the Wisp which, in its supreme development, may be said to involve nearly all that is valuable in poetry — she has, unquestionably, no rival among her country-women.

Of pure prose — of prose proper — she has, perhaps, never written a line in her life. Her usual Magazine papers are a class by themselves. She begins with a resolute effort at being sedate — that is to say, sufficiently prosaic and matter-of-fact for the purpose of a legend or an essay; but, after a few sentences, we behold uprising the leaven of the Muse; then, with a flourish and some vain attempts at repression, a scrap of verse renders itself manifest; then comes a little poem outright; then another and another and another, with impertinent patches of prose in between — until at length the mask is thrown fairly off and far away, and the whole article — sings.

Upon the whole, I have spoken of Mrs. Osgood so much in detail, less on account of what she has actually done than on account of what I perceive in her the ability to do.

In character, she is ardent and sensitive; a worshipper of beauty; universally admired, respected, and beloved. In person, she is about the medium height and slender; complexion usually pale; hair black and glossy; eyes a clear, luminous grey, large, and with great capacity for expression. In no respect can she be called “beautiful;” but the question “is it possible she is not so?” is very frequently asked, and by none more frequently than by those who most intimately know her.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???:]

*  The Child of the Sea and other Poems.  By S. Anna Lewis, author of “Records of the Heart,” etc., etc.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???:]

*  This “Fable for the Critics” — this literary satire — this benevolent jeu d’esprit is disgraced by such passages as the following:

Forty fathers of Freedom, of whom twenty bred

Their sons for the rice swamps at so much a head,

And their daughters for — faugh!

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???:]

*  We must do Mr. L. the justice to say that his book was in press before he could have seen Mr. Poe’s “Rationale of Verse” published in this Magazine for November and December last.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???:]

Note. — Some passages of the above article have appeared in some of our Magazines — in “Marginalia,” &c.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - BRP5S, 1997] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (1845-1849 (Texts))