A WREATH OF WILD FLOWERS FROM NEW ENGLAND. By Frances Sargent Osgood.
Second Edition. London: Edward Churton, Cavendish Square. 1842.
POEMS. By Frances Sargent Osgood. New York: Clark & Austin. 1846.
FOR the last five or six years the name of Frances S. Osgood has been a household word with the readers of our magazines; and perhaps no one of their contributors has been so universally popular. She has written for these works quite as much prose as poetry — but then the prose has been poetry itself. Mrs. Osgood was born a poetess only — it is not in her nature to be anything else. Her personal, not less than her literary character and existence are one perpetual poem.
With the carelessness which seems a portion of such character, she has done herself gross injustice by failing to take proper care of the children of her delicate fancy, by suffering them to run wild, unheeded and forgotten by herself, so that many of them are perhaps irrecoverably lost.
The "Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England" was, we believe, the first collection of her poems. It was published in London during the author's residence in that city, and was received with very unequivocal marks of approbation, both by the public and the critics. There was that about the volume, 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. "The London Court Journal," "La Belle Assemblee," "The London Court and Ladies' Magazine," "The New Monthly," "The London Monthly Chronicle," "The Despatch," "The Atlas," "The Literary Gazette," and other similar journals, were lavish in their approbation, and the fair American authoress grew at once into high favour with the fashionable literati and the literary fashionables of England.
Indeed, the reception which Mrs. Osgood met in that country of conventionalities, in that hot-bed of literary prejudice, was not more indicative of her real merit than remarkable for its strong contrast with the treatment there ordinarily vouchsafed to American authorship. In her case, if in none other since the days of Irving and Cooper, there seemed to exist a disposition among the critics to be pleased with the intrinsically pleasurable without reference to the trans-Atlantic origin of the pleasure. Nor, in the notices with which the papers of the day abounded, was there observable any of that mere praise, for praise sake, with which the British Aristarchuses sometimes condescend to insult us. In general, the criticisms were discriminative, and gave evidence of the truth of intention
"We have been long familiar," says the high authority
of the "Literary Gazette," "with the name of our fair author, and felt
assured that when she launched forth her beautiful thoughts in the shape
of a volume, we should find much to amuse the mind and amend the heart.
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
The poems included in the edition thus spoken of, were chiefly the compositions of the author's earliest youth, and were, indeed, justly chargeable with that careless abandonment of manner which the Gazette rebukes — an abandonment which, although it may be adduced as a fault in a poem considered absolutely, is, nevertheless, so usually an indication of the vigour, the wealth — in a word — of the genius of the poet.
The comments of "The Times" were somewhat different
in tone, and although marked in commendation, appeared to be written with
some reluctance. Its passages of more decided praise had all the air of
being extorted. "Among these poems," it said, "are many displaying much
nervousness of thought, much delicacy of feeling and much sprightliness.
The author has touched upon all subjects, 'from gay to grave, from lively
to severe,' and affords us a very good specimen that Brother Jonathan possesses
a little more civilization
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."
The volume here referred to has not been reprinted
in this country, and is, therefore, comparatively little known to American
readers. It opens with "Elfrida, a Dramatic Poem, in five acts," the subject
being the deception practiced upon Edgar, King of England, by Athelwood,
who, when commissioned by the monarch to ascertain personally the truth
or falsehood of the reports touching Elfrida's beauty, becomes himself
enamoured, and, representing her to Edgar as uncouth and disagreeable,
finally woos and weds her in his own person — giving her great wealth as
his reason to the king. The theme is an unusually fine one, and Mrs. Osgood,
with her deep feeling and exquisite taste, could not fail to do much with
it. Her artistic skill, however, seems to have been, at the period of composing
this play, insufficient for the construction of a true drama, and accordingly,
as a drama, we find "Elfrida " faulty in the extreme. Its situations
are ultra-romantic, or improbable, and its incidents inconsequential, seldom
furthering the business of the play. The character of Elfrida, however,
is portrayed with great force, and, viewing the work as a "dramatic poem,"
in accordance with its title, it may be said to have unquestionable merit.
We cull a few passages at random.
|"I saw her on her bridal day, my liege,
In all the pomp and splendour of her charms;
So regal in her loveliness — so proud !
Her brown and braided hair was lighted up
With flashing gems, as is the night with stars.
Her cheek at first might seem a thought too pale;
Her dark rich eyes too wild and strangely sad;
But, at a whisper from her young kinswoman,
Lo ! to that cheek a gleam of rosy fire,
Like summer lightning, came, and to her eye
A smile that mocked the diamond on her brow.
Her bosom heaved beneath its gorgeous vest
Of broidered silk j then with impatient air
She bit her lip — her arched and glowing lip —
And straight grew calm again — as still and pale,
And mute as sculptured marble.''
* * * * * * * * *
"Oh, fair Elfrida, thou hast cost me dear,
And were it not that danger's self is sweet
When brav'd for thee, I could have cursed these eyes
That saw thee beautiful, and this fond heart
That felt thee pure and therefore worshiped thee.''
* * * * * * * * * * *
"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 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 ?
To pace, day after day, the same dull round
With some half-dozen maidens for my train ?
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 !''
|"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 !
|"Name not the felon knave to me, Elfrida;
My soul is flamed whene'er I think of him.
Thou lov'st him not? Oh, say thou cost not love him !''
The dénouement of the drama is comparatively
feeble, and its moral of very equivocal tendency, indeed — but we do not
hold it the office of either poetry or of the drama to inculcate truth
or virtue, unless incidentally. An old adage avows that "there is a time
for all things," and another should
We repeat, that Mrs. Osgood in "Elfrida " has given evidence of unusual dramatic power, although she has as unquestionably failed in writing a good play. The great tragic element, passion, breathes in every line of her composition, and had she but the art, or the patience to model or to control it, she might, if she thought proper, be eminently successful as a playwright.
We are justified in these opinions by what we see, not only in "Elfrida," but in "Woman's Trust, a Dramatic Sketch," included, also, in the English edition.
The "Miscellaneous Poems" of the volume — some of
them written at a very early age — are, of course, various in character
and in merit. Their prevailing traits are grace, delicacy, and passionate
expression; and these are, in general, the predominant features of the
poetess. In the first-named quality — in grace — Mrs. Osgood is unrivaled.
About everything she writes we perceive this indescribable and incomprehensible
charm — a charm of which the elements are, perhaps, a vivid fancy and a
keen sense of the proportionate. A thorough relish for grace in itself
— as evinced, for instance, in a wave, in a curl, in the petal of a flower,
in the motion of a child or of a dancer — is readily perceptible in the
soul of the poetess. In fact, whatever be her theme, she immediately extorts
from it and expresses its whole principle of grace. Fanny Ellsler has been
lauded ad ininitum, but we look in vain for anything written in
her praise which at the same time so distinctly and vividly depicts her
to the eye and evinces so thorough an appreciation of her merit, as the
half-dozen quatrains which follow. They are taken from a poem entitled,
"Letter to an Absent Friend."
|"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,
"Or that the melody's sweet f low
"Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
"And now, with flashing eyes, she springs,
"She spoke not; but so richly fraught
The little poem commencing "Your heart is a music-box,
dearest," is no doubt already familiar to many of our readers, but we must
quote it here in farther exemplification of the trait to which we allude.
|"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,'
It begins with and ends with 'I love!' ''
"Lov'st thou the music of the sea ?
|"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,
|"A little heart where slept the germ, as yet
in night concealed,
Of power and glory since to be (how radiantly!) revealed,
Alone, beside a cradle bed, was beating fast and warm,
Where, beautiful in slumber, lay a baby's dimpled form.
"The infant smiled in sleep, and, lo! a little ardent hand,
"How fondly o'er the playful sketch he bends — the enraptured boy —
Oh, blessed love ! how mighty thou to sway the human heart !
In lines of badinage, or, more properly, of archness or espieglerie Mrs. Osgood seems particularly at home. We have seldom seen anything better in this way than the song entitled
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, and then
He may go — if he can !
"Let me see him once more;
" 'Azure-eyed Eloise! beauty is thine;
Still bows the lady her light tresses low —
" 'Sunny-haired Eloise ! wealth is shine own;
"Still bows the lady her light tresses low —
" 'Gifted and worshipped one ! genius and grace
"Swift o'er her forehead a dark shadow stole,
" 'Touched by thy sweetness, in love with thy grace,
"The hand was withdrawn from her happy blue eyes;
|"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 and tree,
And bade us think, 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.''
From "The Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England," we have not scrupled to make copious extracts in the course of this notice, for the reason that the volume is comparatively unknown to the readers of this magazine; but, as the later volume is, by this time, widely circulated in America, we must content ourselves with quoting from it only a couple of the shorter poems. We select those which differ most essentially in character and manner from the composition already cited.
"She loves him yet !
"But deeper signs
"She loves him yet !
"His favorite songs
| "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-born 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,
"And thou shalt shrink in sadness
"Yet deem not this my prayer, love,
So far we have spoken nearly altogether of the merits of Mrs. Osgood. Her defects are by no means numerous, and are chiefly of a negative character. The epigrammatism of her conclusions gives to her poems, as wholes, the air of being more skilfully constructed than they really are. They will not bear examination, except at points or in detail. Her imagery is often mixed — indeed, it is rarely otherwise. Her versification is sometimes exceedingly good, sometimes uncouth, through the too frequent introduction of harsh consonants, and the employment of such words as "thou'dst" for "thou wouldst," with other unnecessary contractions, inversions, and obsolete expressions.
Comparing her with American poetesses, we should not venture to speak of her as the equal of Mrs. Maria Brooks in imagination and vigour, nor of Mrs. Amelia Welby in passionate tenderness and rhythmical skill, but there is no other cis-Atlantic poetess to whom we consider her, even at these points, inferior. In fancy, as contradistinguished from imagination proper, in delicacy of taste, in refinement generally, in naïveté, in point, and, above all, in that inexpressible charm of charms which, for want of a better term or a more sufficient analysis than at present exists, we are accustomed to designate as grace, she is absolutely without a rival, we think, either in our own country or in England.
[The running heading on even numbered pages is "GODEY'S MAGAZINE AND LADY'S BOOK," and on odd numbered pages is "LITERARY CRITICISM." Page 134 has no page heading.]
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