Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Literat [part 05]” (Text-D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 3:56-72


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­ [page 87:]

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­ 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 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 ­[page 88:] 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, ­[page 89:]

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, ­[page 90:] 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 — ­[page 91:]

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! ­[page 92:]

 

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 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.

 

And, pressing up and peeping through

Its small but precious vistas,

Sighed for the lovely light and dew

That blessed my elder sisters. ­ [page 93:]

 

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 — 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, ­[page 94:]

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, ­ [page 95:]

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 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.”

“The Unexpected Declaration” is, perhaps, even a finer specimen ­[page 96:] 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,” “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 ­[page 97:] 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 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 ­[page 98:] 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. 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 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 ­[page 99:] 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 — 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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

­ LYDIA M. CHILD.

MRS. CHILD has acquired a just celebrity by many compositions of high merit, the most noticeable of which are “Hobomok,” “Philothea,” and a “History of the Condition of Women.” “Philothea,” in especial, is written with great vigor, and, as a classical romance, is not far inferior to the “Anacharsis” of Barthelemi; — its style is a model for purity, chastity and ease. Some of her magazine papers are distinguished for graceful and brilliant imagination — a quality rarely noticed in our countrywomen. ­[page 100:] She continues to write a great deal for the monthlies and other journals, and invariably writes well. Poetry she has not often attempted, but I make no doubt that in this she would excel. It seems, indeed, the legitimate province of her fervid and fanciful nature. I quote one of her shorter compositions, as well to instance (from the subject) her intense appreciation of genius in others as to exemplify the force of her poetic expression: —

MARIUS AMID THE RUINS OF CARTHAGE.

Pillars are fallen at thy feet,

Fanes quiver in the air,

A prostrate city is thy seat,

And thou alone art there[[.]]

 

No change comes o’er thy noble brow,

Though ruin is around thee;

Thine eyebeam burns as proudly now

As when the laurel crowned thee.

 

It cannot bend thy lofty soul

Though friends and fame depart —

The car of Fate may o’er thee roll

Nor crush thy Roman heart.

 

And genius hath electric power

Which earth can never tame;

Bright suns may scorch and dark clouds lower,

Its flash is still the same.

 

The dreams we loved in early life

May melt like mist away;

High thoughts may seem, ‘mid passion’s strife,

Like Carthage in decay;

 

And proud hopes in the human heart

May be to ruin hurled,

Like mouldering monuments of art

Heaped on a sleeping world;

 

Yet there is something will not die

Where life hath once been fair;

Some towering thoughts still rear on high,

Some Roman lingers there.

Mrs. Child, casually observed, has nothing particularly striking in her personal appearance. One would pass her in the street a dozen times without notice. She is low in stature and slightly framed. Her complexion is florid; eyes and hair are dark; features in general diminutive. The expression of her countenance, when animated, is highly intellectual. Her dress is usually plain, not even neat — anything but fashionable. Her bearing needs excitement ­[page 101:] to impress it with life and dignity. She is of that order of beings who are themselves only on “great occasions.” Her husband is still living. She has no children. I need scarcely add that she has always been distinguished for her energetic and active philanthropy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

­ THOMAS DUNN BROWN [[ENGLISH]].

I HAVE seen one or two scraps of verse with this gentleman’s nom de plume* 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.

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. ­[page 102:] 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 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 ­[page 103:] 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 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,

—— Men call me cruel;

I am not: — I am just ­ [page 104:]

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.

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­ ELIZABETH BOGART.

MISS BOGART has been for many years before the public as a writer of poems and tales (principally the former) for the periodicals, having made her debût as a contributor to the original “New York Mirror.” Doctor Griswold, in a foot-note appended to one of her poems quoted in his “Poets and Poetry,” speaks of the “volume” from which he quotes; but Miss Bogart has not yet collected her writings in volume form. Her fugitive pieces have usually been signed “Estelle.” They are noticeable for nerve, dignity and finish. Perhaps the four stanzas entitled “He came too Late,” and introduced into Dr. Griswold’s volume, are the most favorable specimen of her manner. Had he not quoted them I should have copied them here.

Miss Bogart is a member of one of the oldest families in the State. An interesting sketch of her progenitors is to be found in Thompson’s “History of Long Island.” She is about the medium height, straight and slender; black hair and eyes; countenance full of vivacity and intelligence. She converses with fluency and spirit, enunciates distinctly, and exhibits interest in whatever is addressed to her — a rare quality in good talkers; has a keen appreciation of genius and of natural scenery; is cheerful and fond of society. ­[page 105:]

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­ CATHERINE M. SEDGWICK.

MISS SEDGWICK is not only one of our most celebrated and most meritorious writers, but attained reputation at a period when American reputation in letters was regarded as a phenomenon; and thus, like Irving, Cooper, Paulding, Bryant, Halleck, and one or two others, she is indebted, certainly, for some portion of the esteem in which she was and is held, to that patriotic pride and gratitude to which I have already alluded, and for which we must make reasonable allowance in estimating the absolute merit of our literary pioneers.

Her earliest published work of any length was “A New England Tale,” designed in the first place as a religious tract, but expanding itself into a volume of considerable size. Its success — partially owing, perhaps, to the influence of the parties for whom or at whose instigation it was written — encouraged the author to attempt a novel of somewhat greater elaborateness as well as length, and “Redwood” was soon announced, establishing her at once as the first female prose writer of her country. It was reprinted in England, and translated, I believe, into French and Italian.  “Hope Leslie” next appeared — also a novel — and was more favorably received even than its predecessors. Afterwards came “Clarence,” not quite so successful, and then “The Linwoods,” which took rank in the public esteem with “Hope Leslie.” These are all of her longer prose fictions, but she has written numerous shorter ones of great merit — such as “The Rich Poor Man and the Poor Rich Man,” “Live and Let Live,” (both in volume form,) with various articles for the magazines and annuals, to which she is still an industrious contributor. About ten years since she published a compilation of several of her fugitive prose pieces, under the title “Tales and Sketches,” and a short time ago a series of “Letters from Abroad” — not the least popular or least meritorious of her compositions.

Miss Sedgwick has now and then been nicknamed “the Miss Edgeworth of America;” but she has done nothing to bring down upon her the vengeance of so equivocal a title. That she has ­[page 106:] thoroughly studied and profoundly admired Miss Edgeworth may, indeed, be gleaned from her works — but what woman has not? Of imitation there is not the slightest perceptible taint. In both authors we observe the same tone of thoughtful morality, but here all resemblance ceases. In the Englishwoman there is far more of a certain Scotch prudence, in the American more of warmth, tenderness, sympathy for the weaknesses of her sex. Miss Edgeworth is the more acute, the more inventive, and the more rigid. Miss Sedgwick is the more womanly.

All her stories are full of interest. The “New England Tale” and “Hope Leslie” are especially so, but upon the whole I am best pleased with “The Linwoods.” Its prevailing features are ease, purity of style, pathos, and verisimilitude. To plot it has little pretension. The scene is in America, and, as the sub-title indicates, “Sixty years since.” This, by-the-by, is taken from “Waverley.” The adventures of the family of a Mr. Linwood, a resident of New York, form the principal theme. The character of this gentleman is happily drawn, although there is an antagonism between the initial and concluding touches — the end has forgotten the beginning, like the government of Trinculo. Mr. L. has two children, Herbert and Isabella. Being himself a Tory, the boyish impulses of his son in favor of the revolutionists are watched with anxiety and vexation; and on the breaking out of the war, Herbert, positively refusing to drink the king’s health, is expelled from home by his father — an event on which hinges the main interest of the narrative. Isabella is the heroine proper, full of generous impulses, beautiful, intellectual, spirituelle — indeed, a most fascinating creature. But the family of a Widow Lee throws quite a charm over all the book — a matronly, pious and devoted mother, yielding up her son to the cause of her country — the son gallant, chivalrous, yet thoughtful; a daughter, gentle, loving, melancholy, and susceptible of light impressions. This daughter, Bessie Lee, is one of the most effective personations to be found in our fictitious literature, and may lay claims to the distinction of originality — no slight distinction where character is concerned. It is the old story, to be sure, of a meek and trusting heart broken by treachery and abandonment, but in the narration of Miss Sedgwick it breaks upon us with all the freshness ­[page 107:] of novel emotion. Deserted by her lover, an accomplished and aristocratical coxcomb, the spirits of the gentle girl sink gradually from trust to simple hope, from hope to anxiety, from anxiety to doubt, from doubt to melancholy, and from melancholy to madness. The gradation is depicted in a masterly manner. She escapes from her home in New England and endeavors to make her way alone to New York, with the object of restoring to him who had abandoned her, some tokens he had given her of his love — an act which her disordered fancy assures her will effect in her own person a disenthralment from passion. Her piety, her madness, and her beauty, stand her in stead of the lion of Una, and she reaches the city in safety. In that portion of the narrative which embodies this journey are some passages which no mind unimbued with the purest spirit of poetry could have conceived, and they have often made me wonder why Miss Sedgwick has never written a poem.

I have already alluded to her usual excellence of style; but she has a very peculiar fault — that of discrepancy between the words and character of the speaker — the fault, indeed, more properly belongs to the depicting of character itself.

For example, at page 38, vol. 1, of “The Linwoods:” —

“No more of my contempt for the Yankees, Hal, an’ thou lovest me,” replied Jasper. “You remember Æsop’s advice to CrÅ“sus at the Persian court?”

“No, I am sure I do not. You have the most provoking way of resting the lever by which you bring out your own knowledge, on your friend’s ignorance.”

Now all this is pointed, (although the last sentence would have been improved by letting the words “on your friend’s ignorance” come immediately after “resting,”) but it is by no means the language of schoolboys — and such are the speakers.

Again, at page 226, vol. 1, of the same novel: —

“Now, out on you, you lazy, slavish loons!” cried Rose. “Cannot you see these men are raised up to fight for freedom for more than themselves? If the chain be broken at one end, the links will fall apart sooner or later. When you see the sun on the mountain top, you may be sure it will shine into the deepest valleys before long.’ “

Who would suppose this graceful eloquence to proceed from the mouth of a negro woman? Yet such is Rose. ­[page 108:]

Again, at page 24, vol. 1, same novel: —

“True, I never saw her; but I tell you, young lad, that there is such a thing as seeing the shadow of things far distant and past, and never seeing the realities, though they it be that cast the shadows.’’

Here the speaker is an old woman who, a few sentences before, has been boasting of her proficiency in “tellin’ fortins.”

I might object, too, very decidedly to the vulgarity of such a phrase as “I put in my oar,” (meaning, “I joined in the conversation,”) when proceeding from the mouth of so well-bred a personage as Miss Isabella Linwood. These are, certainly, most remarkable inadvertences.

As the author of many books — of several absolutely bound volumes in the ordinary “novel” form of auld lang syne, Miss Sedgwick has a certain adventitious hold upon the attention of the public, a species of tenure that has nothing to do with literature proper — a very decided advantage, in short, over her more modern rivals whom fashion and the growing influence of the want of an international copyright law have condemned to the external insignificance of the yellow-backed pamphleteering.

We must permit, however, neither this advantage nor the more obvious one of her having been one of our pioneers, to bias the critical judgment as it makes estimate of her abilities in comparison with those of her present cotemporaries. She has neither the vigor of Mrs. Stephens nor the vivacious grace of Miss Chubbuck, nor the pure style of Mrs. Embury, nor the classic imagination of Mrs. Child, nor the naturalness of Mrs. Annan, nor the thoughtful and suggestive originality of Miss Fuller; but in many of the qualities mentioned she excels, and in no one of them is she particularly deficient. She is an author of marked talent, but by no means of such decided genius as would entitle her to that precedence among our female writers which, under the circumstances to which I have alluded, seems to be yielded her by the voice of the public.

Strictly speaking, Miss Sedgwick is not one of the literati of New York city, but she passes here about half or rather more than half her time. Her home is Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her family is one of the first in America. Her father, Theodore Sedgwick the elder, was an eminent jurist and descended from one of ­[page 109:] Cromwell’s major-generals. Many of her relatives have distinguished themselves in various ways.

She is about the medium height, perhaps a little below it. Her forehead is an unusually fine one; nose of a slightly Roman curve; eyes dark and piercing; mouth well formed and remarkably pleasant in its expression. The portrait in “Graham’s Magazine” is by no means a likeness, and, although the hair is represented as curled, (Miss Sedgwick at present wears a cap — at least most usually,) gives her the air of being much older than she is.

Her manners are those of a high-bred woman, but her ordinary manner vacillates, in a singular way, between cordiality and a reserve amounting to hauteur.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

­ LEWIS GAYLORD CLARK.

MR. CLARK is known principally as the twin brother of the late Willis Gaylord Clark, the poet, of Philadelphia, with whom he has often been confounded from similarity both of person and of name. He is known, also, within a more limited circle, as one of the editors of “The Knickerbocker Magazine,” and it is in this latter capacity that I must be considered as placing him among literary people. He writes little himself, the editorial scraps which usually appear in fine type at the end of “The Knickerbocker” being the joint composition of a great variety of gentlemen (most of them possessing shrewdness and talent,) connected with diverse journals about the city of New York. It is only in some such manner, as might be supposed, that so amusing and so heterogeneous a medley of chit-chat could be put together. Were a little more pains taken in elevating the tone of this “Editors’ Table,” (which its best friends are forced to admit is at present a little Boweryish,) I should have no hesitation in commending it in general as a very creditable and very entertaining specimen of what may be termed easy writing and hard reading.

It is not, of course, to be understood from anything I have here said, that Mr. Clark does not occasionally contribute editorial matter to the magazine. His compositions, however, are far from numerous, and are always to be distinguished by their style, ­[page 110:] which is more “easily to be imagined than described.” It has its merit, beyond doubt, but I shall not undertake to say that either “vigor,” “force” or “impressiveness” is the precise term by which that merit should be designated. Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems, and — I forgive him.

“The Knickerbocker” has been long established, and seems to have in it some important elements of success. Its title, for a merely local one, is unquestionably good. Its contributors have usually been men of eminence. Washington Irving was at one period regularly engaged. Paulding, Bryant, Neal, and several others of nearly equal note have also at various times furnished articles, although none of these gentlemen, I believe, continue their communications. In general, the contributed matter has been praiseworthy; the printing, paper, and so forth, have been excellent, and there certainly has been no lack of exertion in the way of what is termed “putting the work before the eye of the public;” still some incomprehensible incubus has seemed always to sit heavily upon it, and it has never succeeded in attaining position among intelligent or educated readers. On account of the manner in which it is necessarily edited, the work is deficient in that absolutely indispensable element, individuality.  As the editor has no precise character, the magazine, as a matter of course, can have none. When I say “no precise character,” I mean that Mr. C., as a literary man, has about him no determinateness, no distinctiveness, no saliency of point; — an apple, in fact, or a pumpkin, has more angles. He is as smooth as oil or a sermon from Doctor Hawks; he is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing.

What is the precise circulation of “The Knickerbocker” at present I am unable to say; it has been variously stated at from eight to eighteen hundred subscribers. The former estimate is no doubt too low, and the latter, I presume, is far too high. There are, perhaps, some fifteen hundred copies printed.

At the period of his brother’s decease, Mr. Lewis G. Clark bore to him a striking resemblance, but within the last year or two there has been much alteration in the person of the editor of the “Knickerbocker.” He is now, perhaps, forty-two or three, but ­[page 111:] still good-looking. His forehead is, phrenologically, bad — round and what is termed “bullety.” The mouth, however, is much better, although the smile is too constant and lacks expression; the teeth are white and regular. His hair and whiskers are dark, the latter meeting voluminously beneath the chin. In height Mr. C. is about five feet ten or eleven, and in the street might be regarded as quite a “personable man;” in society I have never had the pleasure of meeting him. He is married, I believe.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

­ ANNE C. LYNCH.

MISS ANNE CHARLOTTE LYNCH has written little; — her compositions are even too few to be collected in volume form.  Her prose has been, for the most part, anonymous — critical papers in “The New York Mirror” and elsewhere, with unacknowledged contributions to the annuals, especially “The Gift,” and “The Diadem,” both of Philadelphia. Her “Diary of a Recluse,” published in the former work, is, perhaps, the best specimen of her prose manner and ability. I remember, also, a fair critique on Fanny Kemble’s poems; — this appeared in “The Democratic Review.”

In poetry, however, she has done better, and given evidence of at least unusual talent. Some of her compositions in this way are of merit, and one or two of excellence. In the former class I place her “Bones in the Desert,” published in “The Opal “ for 1846, her “Farewell to Ole Bull,” first printed in “The Tribune,” and one or two of her sonnets — not forgetting some graceful and touching lines on the death of Mrs. Willis. In the latter class I place two noble poems, “The Ideal” and “The Ideal Found.” These should be considered as one, for each is by itself imperfect. In modulation and vigor of rhythm, in dignity and elevation of sentiment, in metaphorical appositeness and accuracy, and in energy of expression, I really do not know where to point out anything American much superior to them. Their ideality is not so manifest as their passion, but I think it an unusual indication of taste in Miss Lynch, or (more strictly) of an intuitive sense of poetry’s true nature, that this passion is just sufficiently subdued ­[page 112:] to lie within the compass of the poetic art, within the limits of the beautiful. A step farther and it might have passed them. Mere passion, however exciting, prosaically excites; it is in its very essence homely, and delights in homeliness: but the triumph over passion, as so finely depicted in the two poems mentioned, is one of the purest and most idealizing manifestations of moral beauty.

In character Miss Lynch is enthusiastic, chivalric, self-sacrificing, “equal to any fate,” capable of even martyrdom in whatever should seem to her a holy cause — a most exemplary daughter. She has her hobbies, however, (of which a very indefinite idea of “duty” is one,) and is, of course, readily imposed upon by any artful person who perceives and takes advantage of this most amiable failing.

In person she is rather above the usual height, somewhat slender, with dark hair and eyes — the whole countenance at times full of intelligent expression. Her demeanor is dignified, graceful, and noticeable for repose.  She goes much into literary society.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 101:]

­ *  Thomas Dunn English.


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Notes:

The entry for Mrs. Osgood is substantially revised from that printed in “The Literati” of 1846. The revised version was first printed in the Southern Literary Messenger for August 1849. Interestingly, the references to the number of years, such as in the first sentence, have been changed by one year from those given in Godey’s, suggesting that the revision was made in 1847. Most of the manuscript of this later version of the entry survives in several fragments, probably intended for Poe’s proposed “Literary America” of 1848. The Griswold text omits, from page 95, quotations of Mrs. Osgood’s poems “The Music Box” and “If He Can”; from page 96, a quotation from “The Unexpected Declaration”; and from page 98, quotations from “She Loves Him Yet” and a poem beginning “Yes, lower to the level.” All of these quotations are given in the manuscript. It is reasonable to presume that Griswold cut out these long quotations for the sake of shortening the entry. One sentence in the Griswold version which does not appear in the original is on page 98, reading, “It is not only rhythmically perfect, but it evinces much originality in its structure.” Whether Griswold added it or had a text revised by Poe is a matter of conjecture.


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[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - The Literat [part 05] (Text-D)