Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Introduction,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XV: Literati and Autography (1902), pp. 263-293


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[page 263, unnumbered:]

APPENDIX.

Below follow the “Literati” papers on C. F. Briggs, Thomas Dunn “Brown” (English),(1) James Lawson, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Mary E. Hewitt as they appear in Griswold, Vol. III. Poe’s own articles will be found in their proper places. — EDITOR.

CHARLES F. BRIGGS.

MR. BRIGGS is better known as Harry Franco, a nom de plume assumed since the publication, in the “Knickerbocker Magazine,” of his series of papers called “Adventures of Harry Franco.” He also wrote for “The Knickerbocker” some articles entitled “The Haunted Merchant,” which have been printed since as a novel, and from time to time subsequently has been a contributor to that journal. The two productions just mentioned have some merit. They depend for their effect upon the relation in a straightforward manner, just as one would talk, of the most commonplace events — a kind of writing which, to ordinary, and especially to indolent intellects, has a very observable charm. To cultivated or to active minds it is in an equal degree distasteful, even when claiming the merit of originality. Mr. Briggs’s manner, however, is an obvious imitation of Smollett, and, as usual with imitation, produces an unfavorable [page 264:] impression upon those conversant with the original. It is a common failing, also, with imitators, to out-Herod Herod in aping the peculiarities of the model, and too frequently the faults are more pertinaciously exaggerated than the merits. Thus, the author of “Harry Franco” carries the simplicity of Smollett to insipidity, and his picturesque low-life is made to degenerate into sheer vulgarity.

If Mr. Briggs has a forte, it is a Flemish fidelity that omits nothing, whether agreeable or disagreeable; but I cannot call this forte a virtue. He has also some humor, but nothing of an original character. Occasionally he has written good things. A magazine article, called “Dobbs and his Cantelope,” was quite easy and clever in its way; but the way is necessarily a small one. And I ought not to pass over without some allusion to it, his satirical novel of “Tom Pepper.” As a novel, it really has not the slightest pretensions. To a genuine artist in literature, he is as Plumbe to Sully. Plumbe’s daguerreotypes have more fidelity than any portrait ever put on canvass, but so Brigg’s sketches of E. A. Duyckinck (Tibbings) and the author of Puffer Hopkins (Ferocious) are as lifelike as any portraits in words that have ever been drawn. But the subjects are little and mean, pretending and vulgar. Mr. Briggs would not succeed in delineating a gentleman. And some letters of his in Hiram Fuller’s paper — perhaps for the reason that they run through a desert of stupidity — some letters of his, I say, under the apt signature of “Ferdinand Mendoza Pinto,” are decidedly clever as examples of caricature — absurd, of course, but sharply absurd, so that, with a knowledge of their design, one could hardly avoid occasional laughter. I once thought Mr. Briggs could cause [page 265:] laughter only by his efforts at a serious kind of writing.

In connexion with Mr. John Bisco, he was the originator of the late “Broadway Journal” — my editorial association with that work not having commenced until the sixth or seventh number, although I wrote for it occasionally from the first. Among the principal papers contributed by Mr. B., were those discussing the paintings at the proceding exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in New York. I may be permitted to say, that there was scarcely a point in his whole series of criticisms on this subject at which I did not radically disagree with him. Whatever taste he has in art is, like his taste in letters, Flemish. There is a portrait painter for whom he has an unlimited admiration. The unfortunate gentleman is Mr. Page.

Mr. Briggs’s is about five feet six inches in height, somewhat slightly framed, with a sharp, thin face, narrow forehead, nose sufficiently prominent, mouth rather pleasant in expression, eyes not so good, gray and small, although occasionally brilliant. In dress he is apt to affect the artist, felicitating himself especially upon his personal acquaintance with artists and his general connoisseurship. He walks with a quick, nervous step. His conversation has now and then the merit of humor, but he has a perfect mania for contradiction, and it is impossible to utter an uninterrupted sentence in his hearing. He has much warmth of feeling, and is not a person to be disliked, although very apt to irritate and annoy. Two of his most marked characteristics are vacillation of purpose and a passion for being mysterious. He [page 266:] has, apparently, travelled; has some knowledge of French; has been engaged in a variety of employments; and now, I believe, occupies a lawyer’s office in Nassau-street. He is from Cape Code or Nantucket, is married, and is the centre of a little circle of rather intellectual people, of which the Kirklands, Lowell, and some other notabilities are honorary members. He goes little into society, and seems about forty years of age.

————

­ THOMAS DUNN BROWN.

I HAVE seen one or two scraps of verse with this gentleman’s nom de plume(1) appended, which had considerable merit. For example:

[[“AZTHENE.”]]

A sound melodious shook the breeze

When thy beloved name was heard:

Such was the music in the word

Its dainty rhythm the pulses stirred

But passed forever joys like these.

There is no joy, no light, no day;

But black despair and night al-way

And thickening gloom:

And this, Azthene, is my doom.

 

Was it for this, for weary years,

I strove among the sons of men,

And by the magic of my pen

Just sorcery — walked the lion’s den

Of slander void of tears and fears —

And all for thee? For thee! — alas,

As is the image on a glass

So baseless seems,

Azthene, all my earthly dreams. [page 267:]

I must confess, however, that I do not appreciate the “dainty rhythm” of such a word as “Azthene,” and, perhaps, there is some taint of egotism in the passage about “the magic” of Mr. Brown’s pen. Let us be charitable, however, and set all this down under the head of the pure imagination or invention — the first of poetical requisites. The inexcusable sin of Mr. Brown is imitation — if this be not too mild a term. Barry Cornwall, for example, sings about a “dainty rhythm,” Mr. Brown forthwith, in B flat, hoots about it too. He has taken, however, his most unwarrantable liberties in the way of plagiarism, from Mr. Henry B. Hirst, of Philadelphia — a poet whose merits have not yet been properly estimated.

I place Mr. Brown, to be sure, on my list of literary people not on account of his poetry, (which I presume he himself is not weak enough to estimate very highly,) but on the score of his having edited, for several months, “with the aid of numerous collaborators,” a magazine called “The Aristidean.” This work, although professedly a “monthly,” was issued at irregular intervals, and was unfortunate, I fear, in not attaining at any period more than about fifty subscribers.

Mr. Brown has at least that amount of talent which would enable him to succeed in his father’s profession — that of a ferryman on the Schuylkill — but the fate of “The Aristidean” should indicate to him that, to prosper in any higher walk of life, he must apply himself to study. No spectacle can be more ludicrous than that of a man without the commonest school education, busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind on topics of polite literature. The absurdity, in such cases, does not lie merely in the ignorance displayed [page 268:] by the would-be instructor, but in the transparency of the shifts by which he endeavors to keep this ignorance concealed. The “editor of the Aristidean,” for example, was not the public laughing-stock throughout the five months of his magazine’s existence, so much on account of writing “lay” for “lie,” “went” for “gone,” “set” for “sit,” etc. etc., or for coupling nouns in the plural with verbs in the singular — as when he writes, above,

—— so baseless seems,

Azthene, all my earthly dreams

he was not, I say, laughed at so much on account of his excusable deficiencies in English grammar (although an editor should undoubtedly be able to write his own name) as on account of the pertinacity with which he exposes his weakness, in lamenting the “typographical blunders” which so unluckily would creep into his work. He should have reflected that there is not in all America a proof-reader so blind as to permit such errors to escape him. The rhyme, for instance, in the matter of the “dreams” that “seems,” would have distinctly shown even the most uneducated printers’ devil that he, the devil, had no right to meddle with so obviously an intentional peculiarity.

Were I writing merely for American readers, I should not, of course, have introduced Mr. Brown’s name in this book. With us, grotesqueries such as “The Aristidean” and its editor, are not altogether unparalleled, and are sufficiently well understood — but my purpose is to convey to foreigners some idea of a condition of literary affairs among us, which otherwise they might find it difficult to comprehend or to conceive. That Mr. Brown’s blunders are [page 269:] really such as I have described them — that I have not distorted their character or exaggerated their grossness in any respect — that there existed in New York, for some months, as conductor of a magazine that called itself the organ of the Tyler party, and was even mentioned, at times, by respectable papers, a man who obviously never went to school, and was so profoundly ignorant as not to know that he could not spell — are serious and positive facts — uncolored in the slightest degree — demonstrable, in a word, upon the spot, by reference to almost any editorial sentence upon any page of the magazine in question. But a single instance will suffice: — Mr. Hirst, in one of his poems, has the lines,

Oh Odin! ‘twas pleasure — ‘twas passion to see 

Her serfs sweep like wolves on a lambkin like me.

At page 200 of “The Aristidean” for September, 1845, Mr. Brown, commenting on the English of the passage says: — “This lambkin might have used better language than ‘like me’ — unless he intended it for a specimen of choice Choctaw, when it may, for all we know to the contrary, pass muster.”  It is needless, I presume, to proceed farther in a search for the most direct proof possible or conceivable, of the ignorance of Mr. Brown — who, in similar cases, invariably writes — “like I.”

In an editorial announcement on page 242 of the same “number,” he says: — “This and the three succeeding numbers brings the work up to January and with the two numbers previously published makes up a volume or half year of numbers.” But enough of this absurdity: — Mr. Brown had, for the motto on his magazine cover, the words of Richelieu, [page 270:]

—— Men call me cruel;

I am not: — I am just

Here the two monosyllables “an ass” should have been appended. They were no doubt omitted through “one of those d——d typographical blunders” which, through life, have been at once the bane and the antidote of Mr. Brown.

I make these remarks in no spirit of unkindness. Mr. B. is yet young — certainly not more than thirty-eight or nine — and might readily improve himself at points where he is most defective. No one of any generosity would think the worse of him for getting private instruction.

I do not personally know him. About his appearance there is nothing very remarkable — except that he exists in a perpetual state of vacillation between mustachio and goatee. In character, a windbeutel.

————

JAMES LAWSON.

MR. LAWSON has published, I believe, only “Giordano,” a tragedy, and two volumes entitled “Tales and Sketches by a Cosmopolite.” The former was condemned (to use a gentle word) some years ago at the Part Theatre; and never was condemnation more religiously deserved. The latter are in so much more tolerable than the former, that they contain one non-execrable thing — “The Dapper Gentleman’s Story” — in manner, as in title, an imitation of one of Irving’s “Tales of a Traveller.”

I mention Mr. L., however, not on account of his literary labors, but because, although a Scotchman, he [page 271:] has always professed to have greatly at heart the welfare of American letters. He is much in the society of authors and booksellers, converses fluently, tells a good story, is of social habits, and, with no taste what ever, is quite enthusiastic on all topics appertaining to Taste.

————

FRANCES SARGENT OSGOOD.

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 [page 272:] 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 [page 273:] 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, [page 274:]

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! [page 275:]

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. [page 276:]

 

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 — [page 277:]

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? [page 278:]

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 whispered 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. [page 279:]

 

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 everything 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 [page 280:] — 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. [page 281:]

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. The melody and harmony of this jeu [page 282:] 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. [page 283:]

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.”

“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.

The point of this poem, 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,” [page 284:] “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 [page 285:] 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 uncomplete [[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 Mrs. [[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,” [page 286:] “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. It is not only rhythmically perfect, but it evinces much originality in its structure. The verses commencing, “Yes, lower to the level,” are in a somewhat similar tone, but are more noticeable for their terse energy of expression.

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 excellencies. She may be properly commended, too, for originality of poetic invention, whether in the conception of a theme or in the [page 287:] 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 countrywomen.

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, sensitive, impulsive — [page 288:] the very soul of truth and honor; a worshipper of the beautiful, with a heart so radically artless as to seem abundant in art; universally admired, respected, and beloved. In person, she is about the medium height, slender even to fragility, graceful whether in action or repose; complexion usually pale; hair black and glossy; eyes a clear, luminous grey, large, and with singular capacity for expression.

————

MARY E. HEWITT.

I AM not aware that Mrs. Hewitt has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent. A collection of them was published, in an exquisitely tasteful form, by Ticknor & Co., of Boston. The leading piece, entitled “Songs of our Land,” although the largest, was by no means the most meritorious. In general, these compositions evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen appreciation of both moral and physical beauty. No one of them, perhaps, can be judiciously commended as a whole; but no one of them is without merit, and there are several which would do credit to any poet in the land. Still, even these latter are particularly rather than generally commendable. They lack unity, totality — ultimate effect, but abound in forcible passages. For example:

Shall I portray thee in thy glorious seeming,

Thou that the pharos of my darkness art? . . . . .

Like the blue lotos on its own clear river

Lie thy soft eyes, beloved, upon my soul. . . . . . [page 289:]

 

And there the slave, a slave no more,

Hung reverent up the chain he wore. . . . . .

 

Here ‘mid your wild and dark defile

O’erawed and wonder-whelmed I stand,

And ask — “Is this the fearful vale

That opens on the shadowy land?” . . . . .

 

Oh, friends! we would be treasured still,

Though Time’s cold hand should cast

His misty veil, in after years,

Over the idol Past,

Yet send to us some offering thought

O’er Memory’s ocean wide,

Pure as the Hindoo’s votive lamp

On Ganga’s sacred tide.

Mrs. Hewitt has warm partialities for the sea and all that concerns it. Many of her best poems turn upon sea adventures or have reference to a maritime life. Some portions of her “God bless the Mariner” are naïve and picturesque: e.g. —

God bless the happy mariner!

A homely garb wears he,

And he goeth with a rolling gait,

Like a ship before the sea.

He hath piped the loud “ay, ay, Sir!”

O’er the voices of the main

Till his deep tones have the hoarseness

Of the rising hurricane.

 

But oh, a spirit looketh

From out his clear blue eye,

With a truthful childlike earnestness,

Like an angel from the sky.

 

A venturous life the sailor leads

Between the sky and sea,

But, when the hour of dread is past,

A merrier who than he? [page 290:]

The tone of some quatrains entitled “Alone,” differs materially from that usual with Mrs. Hewitt. The idea is happy and well managed.

Mrs. Hewitt’s sonnets are upon the whole, her most praiseworthy compositions. One entitled “Hercules and Omphale” is noticeable for the vigor of its rhythm.

Reclined, enervate, on the couch of ease,

No more he pants for deeds of high emprize;

For Pleasure holds in soft voluptuous ties

Enthralled, great Jove-descended Hercules.

The hand that bound the Erymanthean boar,

Hesperia’s dragon slew with bold intent,

That from his quivering side in triumph rent

The skin the Cleonœan lion wore,

Holds forth the goblet — while the Lydian queen,

Robed like a nymph, her brow enwreathed with vine,

Lifts high the amphora brimmed with rosy wine,

And pours the draught the crownéd cup within.

And thus the soul, abased to sensual sway,

Its worth forsakes — its might foregoes for aye.

The unusual force of the line italicized, will be observed. This force arises first, from the directness, or colloquialism without vulgarity, of its expression: — (the relative pronoun “which” is very happily omitted between “skin” and “the”) — and, secondly, to the musical repetition of the vowel in “Cleonœ an,” together with the alliterative terminations in “Cleonœan “ and “lion.” The effect, also, is much aided by the sonorous conclusion “wore.”

Another and better instance of fine versification occurs in “Forgotten Heroes.”

And the peasant mother at her door,

To the babe that climbed her knee,

Sang aloud the land’s heroic songs —

Sang of Thermopylæ[page 291:]

Sang of Mycale — of Marathon —

Of proud Platæa’s day —

Till the wakened hills from peak to peak

Echoed the glorious lay.

Oh, god like name! — oh, god like deed!

Song-borne afar on every breeze,

Ye are sounds to thrill like a battle shout,

Leonidas! Miltiades!

The general intention here is a line of four iambuses alternating with a line of three; but, less through rhythmical skill than a musical ear, the poetess has been led into some exceedingly happy variations of the theme. For example; — in place of the ordinary iambus as the first foot of the first, of the second, and of the third line, a bastard iambus has been employed. These lines are thus scanned:

An4d th4e peas | a2nt moth | e2r at | he2r door |

To4 th4e babe | tha2t climbed | he2r knee |

Sa4ng al4oud | the2 land’s | he2ro | i2c songs |

The fourth line,

Sang o2f | The2rmo | py2læ,

is well varied by a trochee, instead of an iambus, in the first foot; and the variation expresses forcibly the enthusiasm excited by the topic of the supposed songs, “Thermophylæ”. The fifth line is scanned as the three first. The sixth is the general intention, and consists simply of iambuses. The seventh is like the three first and the fifth. The eighth is like the fourth; and here again the opening trochee is admirably adapted to the movement of the topic. The ninth is the general intention, and is formed of four iambuses. The [page 292:] tenth is an alternating line and yet has four iambuses, instead of the usual three; as has also the final line — and alternating one, too. A fuller volume is in this manner given to the close of the subject; and this volume is fully in keeping with the rising enthusiasm. The last line but one has two bastard iambuses, thus:

Ye4 ar4e sounds | to2 thrill | lik4e a4 bat | tl2e shout | .

Upon the whole, it may be said that the most skilful versifer could not have written lines better suited to the purposes of the poet. The errors of “Alone,” however, and of Mrs. Hewitt’s poems generally, show that we must regard the beauties pointed out above, merely in the light to which I have already alluded — that is to say, as occasional happiness to which the poetess is led by a musical ear.

I should be doing this lady injustice were I not to mention that, at times, she rises into a higher and purer region of poetry than might be supposed, or inferred, from any of the passages which I have hitherto quoted. The conclusion of her “Ocean Tide to the Rivulet” puts me in mind of the rich spirit of Horne’s noble epic, “Orion.”

Sadly the flowers their faded petals close

Where on thy banks they languidly repose,

Waiting in vain to hear thee onward press;

And pale Narcissus by thy margin side

Hath lingered for thy coming, drooped and died,

Pining for thee amid the loneliness.

 

Hasten, beloved! — here, ‘neath the o’erhanging rock!

Hark! from the deep, my anxious hope to mock,

They call me back unto my parent main.

Brighter than Thetis thou — and, ah, more fleet!

I hear the rushing of thy fair white feet!

Joy! joy! — my breast receives its own again! [page 293:]

The personifications here are well managed. The “Here! — ‘neath the o’erhanging rock!” has the high merit of being truthfully, by which I mean naturally, expressed, and imparts exceeding vigor to the whole stanza. The idea of the ebb-tide, conveyed in the second line italicized, is one of the happiest imaginable; and too much praise can scarcely be bestowed on the “rushing” of the “fair white feet.” The passage altogether is full of fancy, earnestness, and the truest poetic strength. Mrs. Hewitt has given many such indications of a fire which, with more earnest endeavor, might be readily fanned into flame.

In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent — sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly. In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 263:]

1.  “Brown” does not occur in Poe’s paper as printed in “Godey’s.” [[— ED.]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 266:]

1.  Thomas Dunn English. — GRISWOLDS NOTE.

 


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Notes:

None.


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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) (Introduction)