Text: Unknown [ed. J. A. Harrison], “Review of The Dream and Other Poems,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 100-105


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[page 100:]

THE DREAM, AND OTHER POEMS. BY THE HON. MRS. NORTON. CAREY AND HART, PHILADELPHIA, 1841.

[Text: Graham’s Magazine, January, 1841.]

HEMANS, Baillie, Landon, and, loveliest of all, Norton! — what a glorious constellation for one language! France with her gayety; Italy with her splendid genius; even Greece with her passionate enthusiasm, cannot rival such a galaxy. And this glory, too, belongs wholIy to the present century; for though the harp of England has often been struck by female hands, it has heretofore only seldom given forth the rare, deep, prolonged harmony which now rolls from its chords.

Mrs. Norton is unquestionably — since the death of Mrs. Hemans — the Queen of English song. In many respects she resembles that gifted poetess; in some she is strikingly dissimilar, The same pathos, the same sweetness, the same fancy, characterize both; but in all that distinguishes the practised author, rather than the poetess, Mrs. Hemans has the advantage of her successor. Thus, the one is sometimes faulty in the rhythm; the other never. Mrs. Norton will now and then be betrayed into a carelessness of diction; Mrs. Hemans was rarely, if ever, guilty of such solecisms. Such expressions, for instance, as the “harbouring” land, the “guiding” hand, the “pausing” heart, the “haunting” shade, and others of like character, taken at random from the volume before us, though not strictly improper, yet, as they are plainly expletive, and weaken, instead of strengthening a sentence, are [page 101:] never to be found in the poems of Mrs. Hemans, or of any one “learned in the craft.”

But if Mrs. Norton is less correct than Mrs. Hemans, she is, on the other hand, more nervous, more passionate, and at times more lofty. No one can read “The Dream” without being struck by the truth of the remark that Mrs. Norton is the Byron of our female poets. There are passages in some of her poems of greater power than any passages of like length in Mrs. Hemans’ writings, though at the same time there are a far greater number of inferior lines in the poetry of Mrs. Norton than in that of her gifted sister. In short, the one is the more equal, the other is the more daring. One is the more skilful writer; the other shows glimpses of a bolder genius. There is less prettiness, and not so much sameness, in Mrs. Norton as in Mrs. Hemans. The former is not yet, perhaps, the equal of the latter, but she possesses the power to be so, if her rich fancy and deep feeling, now scarcely known to herself, should ever be brought so completely under her control as were the talents of Mrs. Hemans.

If Mrs. Norton had written nothing before, this volume would have established her claim to be the first of living poetesses; but who that is familiar with the world of song can forget the many gems — rich, and beautiful, and rare — with which she has spangled beforetime her starry crown ? The world has taken more care of her glory than she has herself, and the random pieces she has poured forth so divinely at intervals, and which hitherto she has made no effort to preserve, have found their way into the hearts of all who can be touched by the mournful or the beautiful, until her name is cherished alike in the humble cottage and the princely hall. And now she has come forth [page 102:] in more stately guise, not as a new author among strangers, but as one long tried and known, one endeared to us by old association, one whose melancholy music is, as it were, a part of our very being.

“The Dream” is the longest poem in the volume before us; but as it makes no pretension to be considered a story, and has really no plot, we shall not judge it by the ordinary rule of criticism. We shall consider it only as a string of pearls, loosely joined together by the simplest contrivance, the idea of a dream, narrated by a daughter to her mother; and judging it in this way, we give it unqualified praise. That its merit is unequal, is, in our eyes, no objection to its beauty; for h ave not all poets skimmed the ground as well as soared to heaven? Yes! “The Dream” is unequal, but so is “Lalla Rookh,” so is “Marmion,” so are all the tales of Byron, and so — to ascend a step higher — is “Comus,” or “Hamlet,” or even the “Iliad.”

But Mrs. Norton, like her gifted sister, possesses one quality which distinguishes her above all other writers in this or in any tongue — we mean in giving utterance to what is emphatically the poetry of woman. In this they resemble no contemporary, unless it is Miss Landon. Women have written poetry before; but if it had been shown to a stranger, he could not have told from which sex it sprung. It is not so with the poetry of these two gifted females. Every line betrays the woman — each verse breathes the tender, the melting, the peculiar eloquence of the sex.

Scarcely a page, moreover, occurs in the writings of either which does not bear testimony to woman’s sufferings and worth. Yes ! while it is the fashion to sneer at the purity of woman’s heart, and while a pack [page 103:] of literary debauchees are libelling our mothers and our

sisters unopposed, from the ranks of that insulted sex have risen up defenders of its innocence, to shame the heartless slanderers to silence. Hear in what eloquent numbers Mrs. Norton vindicates her sex: —

[Quotation.]

Aye! who? Not woman, we can answer for it. God bless her who has written this. The wretches who would rob the sex of their purity of heart and their uncomplaining endurance of suffering, deserve to die, uncheered by woman’s nurture, unwept by woman’s tenderness. Such beings are not men: they are scarcely even brutes: they are aliquid monstri, monsters in part. But again: —

[Quotation.]

“The Dream,” as a whole, is the finest piece in the volume before us. It abounds with glorious passages, of which we can only give two more examples, — the one, impassioned, nervous, and stirring as a trumpet; the other sweet and low, and musical as the rustle of an angel’s wing. Few authors can boast such a varied power.

[Quotation.]

What force! what passion! Never has Mrs. Hemans written thus — few indeed have done so except Byron.

We must pass “The Dream” with a single other quotation. It is on the evening hour, and is sweet as a moonlit landscape or a child’s dream of heaven.

[Quotation.]

There is, in reading these poems, an abiding sense of the desolation that has fallen on the heart of the writer — [page 104:] a desolation which only adds to the mournful music of her lyre, like the approach of death fabled to give music to the swan. We have studiously avoided, heretofore, touching upon this subject, as we would not, by awakening pity, blind the judgment of the public; but we cannot avoid the remark that every page of this volume bears evidence that the heart of the authoress, like that of Rachel, will not be comforted. The arrow has entered deep into her soul. Like Mrs. Hemans, unfortunate in her domestic life, -for the miscreant who would still believe her guilty is an insult to humanity, — she “seeks, as the stricken deer, to weep in silence and loneliness.” Hers is a hard lot: deserted by the one who has sworn to love her, and maligned by the unfeeling world, she has not even the consolation of weeping with her children, and finding some relief in their caresses for her broken heart. Hear her once more — we have almost wept as we read — hear her, when gazing in the twilight at the pictures of her absent children.

[Quotation.]

And then, with what a burst of eloquence she carries out the idea!

[Quotation.]

But we must close this article. There are many exquisite shorter pieces in the volume; besides “The Dream” and “Twilight,” “The Creole Girl,” “The Child of Earth,” “I Cannot Love thee,” “The Visionary Portrait,” “The Banner of the Covenanters,” “Weep not for him that Dieth,” and several of the Sonnets may be instanced as among the finest. Let us, in conclusion, commend the poems of Mrs. Norton to our fair countrywomen as those of a mind [page 105:] of high order. Less egotism, a more extended scope of feeling, and greater attention to the rules of her art will place her foremost among the female poets of England.

 


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Notes:

Although Harrision collected the present review as being by Poe, that attribution is generally dismsed today. T. O. Mabbott considered it too early to be by Poe.

 

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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Dream and Other Poems)