Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England and Poems” [Text-02], Godey's Lady's Book, vol. XXXII, no. 3, March 1846, pp. 134-139


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A WREATH OF WILD FLOWERS FROM NEW ENGLAND. By Frances Sargent Osgood. Second Edition. London: Edward Churton, Cavendish Square. 1842.

POEMS. By Frances Sargent Osgood. New York: Clark & Austin. 1846.

FOR the last five or six years the name of Frances S. Osgood has been a household word with the readers of our magazines; and perhaps no one of their contributors has been so universally popular. She has written for these works quite as much prose as poetry — but then the prose has been poetry itself. Mrs. Osgood was born a poetess only — it is not in her nature to be anything else. Her personal, not less than her literary character and existence are one perpetual poem.

With the carelessness which seems a portion of such character, she has done herself gross injustice by failing to take proper care of the children of her delicate fancy, by suffering them to run wild, unheeded and forgotten by herself, so that many of them are perhaps irrecoverably lost.

The “Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England” was, we believe, the first collection of her poems. It was published in London during the author's residence in that city, and was received with very unequivocal marks of approbation, both by the public and the critics. There was that about the volume, that inexpressible grace of thought and manner, which never fails to find ready echo in the hearts of the aristocracy and refinement of Great Britain; and it was here especially that Mrs. Osgood found welcome. “The London Court Journal,” “La Belle Assemblee,” “The London Court and Ladies’ Magazine,” “The New Monthly,” “The London Monthly Chronicle,” “The Despatch,” “The Atlas,” “The Literary Gazette,” and other similar journals, were lavish in their approbation, and the fair American authoress grew at once into high favour with the fashionable literati and the literary fashionables of England.

Indeed, the reception which Mrs. Osgood met in that country of conventionalities, in that hot-bed of literary prejudice, was not more indicative of her real merit than remarkable for its strong contrast with the treatment there ordinarily vouchsafed to American authorship. In her case, if in none other since the days of Irving and Cooper, there seemed to exist a disposition among the critics to be pleased with the intrinsically pleasurable without reference to the trans-Atlantic origin of the pleasure. Nor, in the notices with which the papers of the day abounded, was there observable any of that mere praise, for praise sake, with which the British Aristarchuses sometimes condescend to insult us. In general, the criticisms were discriminative, and gave evidence of the truth of intention

“We have been long familiar,” says the high authority of the “Literary Gazette,” “with the name of our fair author, and felt assured that when she launched forth her beautiful thoughts in the shape of a volume, we should find much to amuse the mind and amend the heart. Our expectations have been fulfilled, and we have here a delightful gathering of the sweetest of wild flowers, all looking as fresh and beautiful as if they had grown in the richest of English pasture in place of having been

‘Nursed by the cataract.”

True, the wreath might have been improved with a tattle 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 poems included in the edition thus spoken of, were chiefly the compositions of the author's earliest youth, and were, indeed, justly chargeable with that careless abandonment of manner which the Gazette rebukes — an abandonment which, although it may be adduced as a fault in a poem considered absolutely, is, nevertheless, so usually an indication of the vigour, the wealth — in a word — of the genius of the poet.

The comments of “The Times” were somewhat different in tone, and although marked in commendation, appeared to be written with some reluctance. Its passages of more decided praise had all the air of being extorted. “Among these poems,” it said, “are many displaying much nervousness of thought, much delicacy of feeling and much sprightliness. The author has touched upon all subjects, ‘from gay to grave, from lively to severe,’ and affords us a very good specimen that Brother Jonathan possesses a little more civilization [page 135:] and refinement than Mrs. Trollope would give him credit for. There are many of the shorter pieces which would do no discredit to the works of our best poets.”

The “Court Journal” more emphatically says — “Her wreath is one of violets, sweet-scented, pure and modest; so lovely, that the hand that wove it should not neglect additionally to enrich it by turning her love and kindness to things of larger beauty. Some of the smaller lyrics in the volume are perfectly beautiful” — “beautiful in their chaste and exquisite simplicity, and the perfect elegance of their composition.”

The volume here referred to has not been reprinted in this country, and is, therefore, comparatively little known to American readers. It opens with “Elfrida, a Dramatic Poem, in five acts,” the subject being the deception practiced upon Edgar, King of England, by Athelwood, who, when commissioned by the monarch to ascertain personally the truth or falsehood of the reports touching Elfrida's beauty, becomes himself enamoured, and, representing her to Edgar as uncouth and disagreeable, finally woos and weds her in his own person — giving her great wealth as his reason to the king. The theme is an unusually fine one, and Mrs. Osgood, with her deep feeling and exquisite taste, could not fail to do much with it. Her artistic skill, however, seems to have been, at the period of composing this play, insufficient for the construction of a true drama, and accordingly, as a drama, we find “Elfrida “ faulty in the extreme. Its situations are ultra-romantic, or improbable, and its incidents inconsequential, seldom furthering the business of the play. The character of Elfrida, however, is portrayed with great force, and, viewing the work as a “dramatic poem,” in accordance with its title, it may be said to have unquestionable merit. We cull a few passages at random.

“I saw her on her bridal day, my liege,

In all the pomp and splendour of her charms;

So regal in her loveliness — so proud!

Her brown and braided hair was lighted up

With flashing gems, as is the night with stars.

Her cheek at first might seem a thought too pale;

Her dark rich eyes too wild and strangely sad;

But, at a whisper from her young kinswoman,

Lo! to that cheek a gleam of rosy fire,

Like summer lightning, came, and to her eye

A smile that mocked the diamond on her brow.

Her bosom heaved beneath its gorgeous vest

Of broidered silk; then with impatient air

She bit her lip — her arched and glowing lip —

And straight grew calm again — as still and pale,

And mute as sculptured marble.”

  * * * * * * * *  

“Oh, fair Elfrida, thou hast cost me dear,

And were it not that danger's self is sweet

When brav’d for thee, I could have cursed these eyes

That saw thee beautiful, and this fond heart

That felt thee pure and therefore worshiped thee.”

  * * * * * * * * *  

In the depicting the impassioned ambition of Elfrida, the authoress seems especially at home; and upon this character she has evidently put forth [column 2:] her strength. There is a fine feeling blending of the poetry of passion and the passion of poetry in the lines which follow:

“Why, even now he bends

In courtly reverence to some mincing dame,

Haply the star of Edgar's festival;

While I, with this high heart and queenly form,

Pine in neglect and solitude. Shall it be?

Shall I not rend my fetters and be free?

Ay! — be the cooing turtle-dove content,

Safe in own loved nest; — the eagle soars

On restless plumes to meet the imperial sun.

And Edgar is my day-star, in whose light

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

Why wedded I with Athelwood? For this?

To pace, day after day, the same dull round

With some half-dozen maidens for my train?

No! Even at the altar when I stood —

My hand in his, his gaze upon my cheek —

I did forget his presence and the scene.

A gorgeous vision rose before mine eyes

Of power and pomp and regal pageantry;

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

I smiled, and turning, met — a husband's kiss!

But still I smiled, for in my guilty soul

I blessed him as the being by whose means

I should be brought within my idol's sphere —

My haughty, glorious, brave, impassioned Edgar!

Well I remember when these wondering eyes

Beheld him first — I was a maiden then,

A dreaming child — but from that thrilling hour,

I’ve been a queen in visions!”

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!”

Edgar says —

“Name not the felon knave to me, Elfrida;

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

Thou lov'st him not? Oh, say thou cost not love him!”

The answer of Elfrida, at this point, is profoundly true to nature, and would alone suffice to assure us of the dramatic talent which Mrs. Osgood has so long permitted to lie perdu

When but a child I saw thee in my dream.”

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.

The dénouement of the drama is comparatively feeble, and its moral of very equivocal tendency, indeed — but we do not hold it the office of either poetry or of the drama to inculcate truth or virtue, unless incidentally. An old adage avows that “there is a time for all things,” and another should [page 136:] be invented forthwith (is it not discoverable in Tupper?) to the effect that everything should be accomplished by the means best adapted to its accomplishment. The object of poetry in general, is beauty — the object of the drama, which has nothing to do with poetry, unless through the introduction of a poetical character, is the portraiture of nature in human action and earthly incident. But, as the landscape of the artist (who deserves the name) must be superior in its “composition,” in its arrangement of forms and colours, to any landscape actually existing, so the drama, while never losing sight of nature's general intention, should surpass nature herself in its combination of events with character — rejecting all that is not in itself dramatically picturesque or in full consonance with the effect or impression upon the audience which is intended by the dramatist. Now, the conveying of what is absurdly termed, “a moral,” is a thing entirely apart from these considerations, and should be left to the essayist and the preacher. Those who uphold the value, in a moral point of view, of such absurdities as “George Barnwell,” seem to us strangely paradoxical in their demands and expectations. “George Barnwell” is applauded for its “moral” — that is to say, for the impressiveness with which it conveys the truth that dissipation leads to crime and crime to punishment; but we are at a loss to understand how this truth, or how any truth can be conveyed by that which is in itself confessedly a lie. Does the fact that a dramatist invented a ,fiction that one George Barnwell was hung for robbing his uncle, tend to prove in any way that every man who robs his uncle will actually be hung? It is not in the power of any fiction to inculcate any truth. The truthfulness, the indispensable truthfulness of the drama, has reference only to the fidelity with which it should depict nature, so far as regards her points, first, and secondly, her general intention. Her arrangement or combination of points may be improved — that is to say, a greater number of striking points than are ever seen closely conjoined in reality, may, for artistical purposes be gathered into the action of a drama — provided always that there be no absolute controversion of nature's general intention. But all this is very different from the inculcation of truth. The drama, in a word, must be truthful without conveying the true — just as the brain, although the seat of sensation, is nearly, if not altogether, insensible itself.

We repeat, that Mrs. Osgood in “Elfrida “ has given evidence of unusual dramatic power, although she has as unquestionably failed in writing a good play. The great tragic element, passion, breathes in every line of her composition, and had she but the art, or the patience to model or to control it, she might, if she thought proper, be eminently successful as a playwright.

We are justified in these opinions by what we see, not only in “Elfrida,” but in “Woman's Trust, a Dramatic Sketch,” included, also, in the English edition.

The “Miscellaneous Poems” of the volume — some of them written at a very early age — are, of course, various in character and in merit. Their prevailing traits are grace, delicacy, and passionate expression; and these are, in general, the predominant features of the poetess. In the first-named quality — in grace — Mrs. Osgood is unrivaled. About everything she writes we perceive this indescribable and incomprehensible charm — a charm of which the elements are, perhaps, a vivid fancy and a keen sense of the proportionate. A thorough relish for grace in itself — as evinced, for instance, in a wave, in a curl, in the petal of a flower, in the motion of a child or of a dancer — is readily perceptible in the soul of the poetess. In fact, whatever be her theme, she immediately extorts from it and expresses its whole principle of grace. Fanny Ellsler has been lauded ad ininitum, but we look in vain for anything written in her praise which at the same time so distinctly and vividly depicts her to the eye and evinces so thorough an appreciation of her merit, as the half-dozen quatrains which follow. They are taken from a poem entitled, “Letter to an Absent Friend.”

“She comes! the spirit of the dance!

And but for those large eloquent eyes,

Where passion speaks in every glance,

She’d seem a wanderer from the skies.

“So light, that, gazing breathless there,

Lest the celestial dream should go,

You’d think the music in the air

Waved the fair vision to and fro.

Or that the melody's sweet f low

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 given 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 nothing forced or artificial, no hardly-sustained enthusiasm. The poetess speaks because she feels, and what she feels — but what she feels is felt only by the truly poetical.

The little poem commencing “Your heart is a music-box, dearest,” is no doubt already familiar to many of our readers, but we must quote it here in farther exemplification of the trait to which we allude. [page 137:]

“Your heart is a music-box, dearest,

With exquisite tunes at command,

Of melody sweetest and clearest

If tried by a delicate hand;

But its workmanship, love, is so fine,

At a single rude touch it would break:

Then, oh, be the magic key mine

Its fairy-like whispers to wake!

And there's one little tune it can play

That I fancy all others above —

You learned it of Cupid one day —

It begins with and ends with ‘I love, I love,’

It begins with and ends with ‘I love!’ ”

The melody and harmony of this little bifou are absolutely perfect, and there is in it a rich tint of that epigrammatism which we had almost forgotten to mention as one of our poet's idiosyncrasies. Some of the intentional epigrams interspersed throughout these volumes are the happiest we have ever met. Here is one which, while replete with the rarest and richest “spirit of point,” is yet something more than pointed. We have never believed, hitherto, that anything of true dignity could be imparted to this species of composition.


“Lov'st thou the music of the sea?

Call'st 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.”

“The Boy Painter,” with the motto, “My mother's kiss made me a painter,” quoted from the “Life of Benjamin West,” may be cited as a happy exemplification of all the characteristics we have specified.

“A little heart where slept the germ, as yet in night concealed,

Of power and glory since to be (how radiantly!) revealed,

Alone, beside a cradle bed, was beating fast and warm,

Where, beautiful in slumber, lay a baby's dimpled form.

“The infant smiled in sleep, and, lo! a little ardent hand,

Ere fled the smile, had snatched a pen and paper from the stand,

And traced the cradle and the babe, as if by magic spell;

How soft, beneath that tiny touch, the fairy features fell!

“How fondly o’er the playful sketch he bends — the enraptured boy —

Unmindful of his precious charge, so deep his dream of joy!

’Tis broken by a stealing step — his mother caught the prize,

And kissed away the cloud of doubt that filled his timid eyes. [column 2:]

Oh, blessed love! how mighty thou to sway the human heart!

A subtle yet a holy thing and conqueror thou art!

His sister's smile awoke the germ, his mother's kiss the flower,

And a world's tears the fruit embalm in many a classic bower.”

It is remarkable that “The Boy Painter,” which is especially “correct,” in the French sense — that is to say, especially perfect in the minor morals of composition — is included among the “Juvenile Rhymes” of the volume. Many of the best pieces are here found.

In lines of badinage, or, more properly, of archness or espieglerie Mrs. Osgood seems particularly at home. We have seldom seen anything better in this way than the song entitled


“Let me see him once more

For a moment or two;

Let him tell me himself

Of his purpose, dear, do!

Let him gaze in these eyes

While he lays out his plan

To escape me, and then

He may go — if he can!

“Let me see him once more;

Let me give him one smile

Let me breathe but one word

Of endearment the while:

I ask but that moment —

My life on the man!

Does he think to forget me?

He may if he can! “

“The Unexpected Declaration” is, perhaps, even a finer specimen of the same manner. It is one of that class of poems which Mrs. Osgood has made emphatically her own province. Had we seen it without her name, we should not have had the slightest difficulty in ascribing it to her; for there is no other poet — in America, certainly — who can do anything of a similar kind with anything like a similar skill.


“ ‘Azure-eyed Eloise! beauty is thine;

Passion kneels to thee and calls thee divine;

Minstrels awaken the lute with thy name;

Poets have gladdened the world with thy fame;

Painters half holy thy loved image keep;

Beautiful Eloise, why do you weep?’

“Still bows the lady her light tresses low —

Fast the warm tears from her veiled eyes flow.

“ ‘Sunny-haired Eloise! wealth is shine own;

Rich is thy silken robe, bright is thy zone;

Proudly the jewel illumines thy way;

Clear rubies rival thy ruddy lips’ play;

Diamonds like star-drops thy silken braids deck;

Pearls waste their snow on thy lovelier neck;

Luxury softens thy pillow for sleep —

Angels watch over it — why do you weep?”

“Still bows the lady her light tresses low —

Faster the tears from her veiled eyes flow.  [page 138:]

“ ‘Gifted and worshipped one! genius and grace

Play in each motion and beam in thy face.

When from thy rosy lip rises the song,

Hearts that adore thee the echo prolong.

Ne’er in the festival shone an eye brighter;

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

One only spirit thou'st failed to bring down —

Exquisite Eloise! why do you frown?”

“Swift o’er her forehead a dark shadow stole,

Sent from the tempest of pride in her soul.

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

Charmed with the magic of mind in thy face;

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

The strength of the stoic, is conquered at length.

Lo, at thy feet see him kneeling the while!

Eloise — Eloise, why do you smile!’

“The hand was withdrawn from her happy blue eyes;

She gazed on her lover in laughing surprise;

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

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

Had we seen only “The Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England,” we should have been forced, in speaking of Mrs. Osgood's merits, to confine our observations to those salient points on which we have already commented, and which, indeed, constitute her poetical character; or, if we spoke at all of that noblest of all attributes of genius — imagination — we should have contented ourselves with quoting one or two passages such as the following, which we take from “A Sketch” in 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 and tree,

And bade us think, like it, the sweet season

From one bright shelter to another fled.

First from the maple waved her emerald pinions,

But lingered still upon the oak and elm,

Till, frightened by rude breezes even from them,

With mournful sigh, she moaned her sad farewell.”

We might also have made some extracts from a “Fragment of a Fairy Romance,” included likewise in the “Juvenile Rhymes,” and decidedly one of the most meritorious poems in the collection; but we should have regarded these things rather as accidents or exceptions, and have made up our mind that our authoress is deficient in ideality. The volume lately published, however, by Messrs. Clark & Austin, gives an entirely different complexion to our estimate of her abilities. A few additional years, with their inevitably attendant sorrow, seem to have stirred up the depths of her soul with those of her heart, and we now see at once the whole power of the poet. “The Spirit of Poetry,” “To Sybil,” “The Birth of the Callitriche,” and “The Child and its Angel Playmate,” are specimens of imaginative poetry which would do honour to the noblest poets of the day; while the pieces entitled “ She Loves him [column 2:] Yet,” “ Aspirations,” “Lenore,” “The World-worn Lyre,” and a song beginning “Yes, Lower to the Level,” breathe a passionate sadness, of which, from any indication afforded by the earlier volume, it would have been difficult to believe the author susceptible. And yet the selections in the later edition have been either hastily or injudiciously made, for a great many of Mrs. Osgood's very finest poems (“The Daughter of Herodias,” for example) are omitted. We presume, however, that “The Daughter of Herodias” and some other of the best of the omitted pieces, will be included in Dr. Griswold's seventh edition of the “Poets and Poetry of America.”

From “The Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England,” we have not scrupled to make copious extracts in the course of this notice, for the reason that the volume is comparatively unknown to the readers of this magazine; but, as the later volume is, by this time, widely circulated in America, we must content ourselves with quoting from it only a couple of the shorter poems. We select those which differ most essentially in character and manner from the composition already cited.


“She loves him yet!

I know by the blush that rises

Beneath the curls

That shadow her soul-lit cheek.

She loves him yet!

Through all Love's sweet disguises

In timid girls

A blush will be sure to speak.

“But deeper signs

Than the radiant blush of beauty

The maiden finds

Whenever his name is heard:

Her young heart thrills,

Forgetting herself, her duty;

Her dark eye fills,

And her pulse with hope is stirred.

“She loves him yet!

The flower the false one gave her

When last he came,

Is still with her wild tears wet

She’ll ne’er forget

However his faith may waver.

Through grief and shame,

Believe it, she loves him yet!

“His favorite songs

She will sing — she heeds no other.

With all her wrongs

Her life on his love is set.

Ah, doubt no more —

She never can wed another.

Till life be o’er,

She loves — she will love him yet!”

There is a terse energy of expression about this little song which very forcibly impresses us, and the skill of its versification is remarkable. But even more noticeable, for these same qualities, is the noble poem which follows. [page 139:]

“Yes, lower to the level

Of those who laud thee now!

Go, join the joyous revel,

And pledge the heartless vow!

Go, dim the soul-born beauty

That lights that lofty brow!

Fill, fill the bowl — let burning wine

Drown in thy soul love's dream divine!

“Yet when the laugh is lightest,

When wildest flies the jest,

When gleams the goblet brightest,

And proudest heaves thy breast,

And thou art madly pledging

Each gay and jovial guest —

A ghost shall glide amidst the flowers,

The shade of love's departed hours!

“And thou shalt shrink in sadness

From all the splendour there,

And curse the revel's gladness,

And hate the banquet's glare,

And pine, 'mid passion's madness,

For true love's purer air,

And feel thou ‘dst give their wildest glee

For one unsullied sigh from me.

“Yet deem not this my prayer, love,

Ah, no! if I could keep

Thy altered heart from care, love,

And charm its griefs to sleep,

Mine only should despair, love,

I, I alone would weep —

I, I alone would mourn the flowers

That bloom in love's deserted bowers.” [column 2:]

So far we have spoken nearly altogether of the merits of Mrs. Osgood. Her defects are by no means numerous, and are chiefly of a negative character. The epigrammatism of her conclusions gives to her poems, as wholes, the air of being more skilfully constructed than they really are. They will not bear examination, except at points or in detail. Her imagery is often mixed — indeed, it is rarely otherwise. Her versification is sometimes exceedingly good, sometimes uncouth, through the too frequent introduction of harsh consonants, and the employment of such words as “thou’dst” for “thou wouldst,” with other unnecessary contractions, inversions, and obsolete expressions.

Comparing her with American poetesses, we should not venture to speak of her as the equal of Mrs. Maria Brooks in imagination and vigour, nor of Mrs. Amelia Welby in passionate tenderness and rhythmical skill, but there is no other cis-Atlantic poetess to whom we consider her, even at these points, inferior. In fancy, as contradistinguished from imagination proper, in delicacy of taste, in refinement generally, in naïveté, in point, and, above all, in that inexpressible charm of charms which, for want of a better term or a more sufficient analysis than at present exists, we are accustomed to designate as grace, she is absolutely without a rival, we think, either in our own country or in England.





[S:0 - GLB, 1846] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England and Poems [Text-02]