Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 1, December 1835, 2:43-46


[page 43, column 2:]


The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow; a Tradition of Pennsylvania. By the author of Calavar and the Infidel. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea. Blanchard.

By The Gladiator, by Calavar, and by the Infidel, Dr. Bird has risen, in a comparatively short space of time, to a very enviable reputation; and we have heard it asserted that his last novel ‘The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow,’ will not fail to place his name in the very first rank of American writers of fiction. Without venturing to subscribe implicitly to this latter supposition, we still think very highly of him who has written Calavar. Of this last mentioned work, and of the Infidel, we have already given our opinion, although not altogether as fully as we could have desired: and we regret that circumstances beyond our control have prevented us from noticing the Hawks of Hawk-Hollow until so late a day as the present.

Had this novel reached us some years ago, with the title of, ‘The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow: A Romance by the author of Waverley,’ we should not perhaps have engaged in its perusal with as much genuine eagerness, or with so dogged a determination to be pleased with it at all events, as we have actually done upon receiving it with its proper title, and under really existing circumstances. But having read the book through, as undoubtedly we should have done, if only for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, and for the sake of certain pleasantly mirthful, or pleasantly mournful recollections connected with Ivanhoe, with the Antiquary, with Kenilworth, and above all with that most pure, perfect, and radiant gem of fictitious literature the Bride of Lammermuir — having, we say, on this account, and for the sake of these recollections read the novel from beginning to end, from Aleph to Tau, we should have pronounced our opinion of its merits somewhat in the following manner.

“It is unnecessary to tell us that this novel is written by Sir Walter Scott; and we are really glad to find that he has at length ventured to turn his attention to American incidents, scenery, and manners. We repeat that it was a mere act of supererogation to place the words ‘By the author of Waverley’ in the title page. The book speaks for itself. The style vulgarly so called — the manner properly so called — the handling of the subject to speak pictorially, or graphically, or as a German would say plastically — in a word the general air, the tout ensemble, the prevailing character of the story, all proclaim, in words which one who runs may read, that these volumes were indited ‘By the author of Waverley.’ ” Having said thus much, we should resume our critique as follows.

“The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow is, however, by no means in the best manner of its illustrious author. To speak plainly it is a positive failure, and must take its place by the side of the Redgauntlets, the Monasteries, the Pirates, and the Saint Ronan's Wells.”

All this we should perhaps have been induced to say had the book been offered to us for perusal some few years ago, with the supposititious title, and under the supposititious circumstances aforesaid. But alas! for our critical independency, the case is very different indeed. There can be no mistake or misconception in the present instance, such as we have so fancifully imagined. The title page (here we have it) is clear, explanatory, and not to be misunderstood. The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow, [page 44:] A Tradition of Pennsylvania, that is to say novel, is written, so we are assured, not by the author of Waverley, but by the author of that very fine romance Calavar — not by Sir Walter Scott, Baronet, but by Robert M. Bird, M. D. Now Robert M. Bird is an American.

We will endeavour to give an outline of the story. In a little valley bordering upon the Delaware, and called Hawk-Hollow from a colony of hawks who time out of mind had maintained possession of a blasted tree at its embouchure, resided, some fifty years ago, one Gilbert, an English emigrant. He had seven sons, all of whom displayed in early life a spirit of desperate and reckless adventure, and a love of the wild life of the woods and mountains. Oran was the name of the eldest, and at the same time the most savage and intractable of the seven. The disposition thus evinced obtained for these young desperadoes the sobriquet of the Hawks of Hawk-Hollow. Gilbert, the father, falls heir to a rich estate in England, and after making a vain attempt to settle in that country and educate his children as gentlemen, returns at length to the valley of Hawk-Hollow, so much more congenial to the temper and habits of his sons. A fine but fantastic manor-house is erected, and the family acquire consideration in the land. In the meantime Mr. Gilbert's first wife dying, he weds another, who bears him a daughter, Jessie. At the opening of the tale, however, a Captain Loring resides upon the estate, and in the mansion of the Gilberts, holding them as the agent or tenant of a certain Col. Falconer, who is a second edition of Falkland in Caleb Williams, — and who has managed to possess himself of the property at Hawk-Hollow, upon its confiscation on account of the tory principles and conduct of the Hawks.

During the happier days of the Gilberts, the life of this Falconer was preserved by three of them, upon a certain occasion of imminent peril. He however, being badly wounded, they convey him to their father's house, and Jessie, their sister, attends him in the character of nurse. She loves him. He returns her love with gratitude and perhaps some little actual affection, not however sufficient to banish from his mind the charms or the wealth of a lady of whom he had been previously enamored — the daughter of a gentleman who had succored and patronised him at a time when he needed aid, and who discarded him upon perceiving the growing intimacy between his child and his protegé. Grateful however for the kindness and evident affection of Jessie, and intoxicated with her beauty, he marries her in a moment of madness and passion — prevailing upon her to keep the marriage a secret for a short time. At this critical juncture, Falconer, who has already risen to honors and consideration in the world, as an officer of the Colonial army, receives overtures of reconciliation both from his old patron and his daughter. His former flame is rekindled in his bosom. He puts off from day to day the publication of his marriage with Jessie, and, finally, goaded by love and ambition, and encouraged by the accidental death of the regimental chaplain who married him, as well as by that of the only witness to the ceremony, he flies from Jessie who is about to become a mother, and leaving herself and friends under the impression that the rite of marriage had been a mere mockery for the [column 2:] purpose of seduction, throws himself at once into the arms of his first love, and at length espouses her, a short time before the decease of Jessie, who dies in bringing a son into the world.

The wrath of the brothers of Jessie, has doomed this child to destruction — but their mother, at this same period giving birth to a still-born infant, an exchange is brought about through the instrumentality of an old nurse Elsie Bell, who plays an anomalous part in the story, being half witch, and half gentlewoman. The effect of this exchange is that the still-born child of Mrs. Gilbert is buried as the offspring of Jessie, while her real offspring, is sent to the West Indies, to be nurtured and educated by a sister of Mr. Gilbert. The boy thus sent was called Hyland, after one of the Hawks who perished in the rescue of Col. Falconer.

Such are the events which, at the opening of the story, have broken up the family of the Gilberts, and effected their ruin.

The sons no longer hunted with the young men of the county, but went, as in their war expeditions, alone: and when others thrust themselves into their company they quarrelled with them, so that they began to be universally feared and detested. To crown all, as soon as the Revolution burst out they went over to the enemy: and, being distributed among the wild and murderous bands of savages forming on the north-western frontiers, they soon obtained a dreadful notoriety for their deeds of daring and cruelty. Of course this remarkable defection of the sons, caused the unlucky father to be suspected and watched. He was accused at last of aiding and abetting them in their treasonable practices, and soon, either from timidity or a consciousness of guilt, he fled, seeking refuge within the royal lines. This was sufficient for his ruin: for, after the usual legal preliminaries, he was formally outlawed, as his sons had been before, and his property confiscated. He died soon afterwards, either at New York, or Jamaica.”

Hyland, the son of Falconer by Jessie, but the supposed youngest brother of the Hawks, returns after many years, to his native country with the intention of accepting a British commission; but seeing more closely, and with his own eyes, the true principles which actuated the colonists, he finally relinquishes that design. In the meantime visiting the Hawk-Hollow under the assumed name of Herman Hunter, and in the character of a painter, he becomes enamored of Catherine, the daughter of Captain Loring. The attachment is mutual, although the lady is already betrothed to Henry, the son of Col. Falconer, a rather gentlemanly, although a very dissipated and good-for nothing personage. Difficulties thicken of course. Miss Harriet Falconer, a copy in many respects of Di Ver non, becomes, for some very trivial reason, a violent enemy of Herman Hunter, and even goes so far as to suspect him of being connected with the outlawed Hawks of the Hollow. Captain Loring, on the other hand, is his firm friend — a circumstance which restores matters to a more proper equilibrium, and much flirtation is consequently carried on, in and about the old mansion house and pleasure grounds of the Gilberts. In the meantime an attempt is made, by some unknown assassin, upon the life of Col. Falconer, at New York; and the county is thrown into a panic, by the rumor that Oran, the eldest brother of the Hawks, is not dead, as was supposed, but in existence near the Hollow with a desperate band of refugees, and ready to pounce upon [page 45:] the neighboring village of Hillborough. Miss Harriet Falconer busies herself in a very unlady-like manner to ferret out the assassin of her father. Plot and counterplot follow in rapid succession. New characters appear upon the scene. A tall disciple of Roscius called Sterling, is, among others, very conspicuous, thrusting his nose into every adventure, and assuming by turns, although in a very slovenly way, the character of a Methodist preacher, of a pedlar, of a Quaker, and of a French dancing master. Elsie Bell, the old witch, prophecies, predicates, and prognosticates; and in short matters begin to assume a very serious and inexplicable aspect. Hyland Gilbert alias Herman Hunter, the painter, is drawn into an involuntary connection with his supposed brother Oran, the refugee, and some circumstances coming to light not very much to his credit, he is obliged to flee from the mansion of the gallant Captain — not, however, until he has declared his passion for the daughter, into the ear of the daughter herself. Through the instigation of Harriet Falconer, the day is at length fixed for the marriage of her brother Henry with Catherine Loring. Accident delays the ceremony until night, when, just as the lady is hesitating whether she shall say yes, or no, the tall gentleman ycleped Sterling who has managed, no one knows how, to install himself as major-domo, chief fiddler, and master of ceremonies at the wedding, takes the liberty of knocking the bridegroom on the head with his violin, while Oran, the refugee, jumps in at one window with a gang of his followers, and Hyland Gilbert, alias Herman Hunter, the painter, popping in at another, carries off the bride at a back door nemine contradicente. The bird being flown, the hue and cry is presently raised, and the whole county starts in pursuit. But the affair ends very lamely. Precisely at the moment when Hyland Gilbert, alias Herman Hunter, the painter, has carried his mistress beyond any prospect of danger from pursuit, he suddenly takes it into his head, to change his mind in relation to the entire business, and so, turning back as he came, very deliberately carries the lady home again. He himself, however, being caught, is sentenced to be hung — all which is exceedingly just. But to be serious.

The crime with which the young man is charged, is the murder of Henry Falconer, who fell by a pistol shot in an affray during the pursuit. The criminal is lodged in jail at Hillborough — is tried — and, chiefly through the instrumentality of Col. Falconer, is in danger of being found guilty. But Elsie Bell now makes her appearance, and matters assume a new aspect. She reveals to Col. Falconer the exchange of the two infants — a fact with which he had been hitherto unacquainted — and consequently astounds him with the information that he is seeking the death of his own son. A new turn is also given to the evidence in the case of the murder by the death-bed confession of Sterling, who owns that he himself shot the deceased Henry Falconer, and also attempted the assassination of the Colonel. The prisoner is acquitted by acclamation. Col. Falconer, is shot by mistake while visiting his son in prison. Harriet dies of grief at the exposure of her father's villainy, and of her own consequent illegitimacy. Hyland Gilbert and Catherine are united. Oran, the refugee, who fired the shot by which Col. Falconer was accidentally killed, being hotly pursued, and dangerously wounded, escapes, finally, [column 2:] to his fastnesses in the mountains, where, after a lapse of many years, his bones and his rifle are identified. Thus ends the Hawks of Hawk-Hollow.

We have already spoken of the character of Elsie Bell. That of Harriet Falconer, is forced, unnatural, and overstrained. Catherine Loring, however, is one of the sweetest creations ever emanating from the fancy of poet, or of painter. Truly feminine in thought, in manner, and in action, she is altogether a conception of which Dr. Bird has great reason to be proud. Phoebe, the waiting maid, (we have not thought it worth while to mention her in our outline,) is a mere excrescence, and, like some other personages in the tale, introduced for no imaginable purpose. Of the male dramatis personae some are good — some admirable — some execrable. Among the good, we may mention Captain Caliver of the Dragoons. Captain Loring is a chef d’oeuvre. His oddities, his infirmities, his enthusiasm, his petulancy, his warm-heartedness, and his mutability of disposition, altogether make up a character which we may be permitted to consider original, inasmuch as we have never seen its prototype either in print, or in actual existence. It is however true to itself, and to propriety, and although at times verging upon the outre, is highly creditable to the genius of its author. Oran, the refugee, is well — but not excellently drawn. The hero Hyland, with whom we were much interested in the beginning of the book, proves inconsistent with himself in the end; and although to be inconsistent with one's self, is not always to be false to Nature-still, in the present instance, Hyland Gilbert in prison, and in difficulty, and Herman Hunter, in the opening of the novel, possess none of the same traits, and are not, in point of fact, identical. Sterling is a mere mountebank, without even the merit of being an original one: and his death-bed repentance is too ludicrously ill-managed, and altogether too manifestly out of place, to be mentioned any farther. Squire Schlachtenschlager, the Magistrate, is the best personification of a little brief authority in the person of a Dutchman, which it has ever been our good fortune to encounter.

In regard to that purely mechanical portion of Dr. Bird's novel, which it would now be fashionable to denominate its style, we have very few observations to make. In general it is faultless. Occasionally we meet with a sentence ill-constructed — an inartificial adaptation of the end to the beginning of a paragraph — a circumlocutory mode of saying what might have been better said, if said with brevity-now and then with a pleonasm, as for example. “And if he wore a mask in his commerce with men, it was like that iron one of the Bastile, which when put on, was put on for life, and was at the same time of iron,” — not unfrequently with a bull proper, videlicet. “As he spoke there came into the den, eight men attired like the two first who were included in the number.” But we repeat that upon the whole the style of the novel — if that may be called its style, which style is not — is at least equal to that of any American writer whatsoever.

In the style properly so called — that is to say in the prevailing tone and manner which give character and individuality to the book, we cannot bring ourselves to think that Dr. Bird has been equally fortunate. His subject appears always ready to fly away from him. He dallies with it continually — hovers incessantly round [page 46:] it, and about it — and not until driven to exertion by the necessity of bringing his volumes to a close, does he finally grasp it with any appearance of energy or good will. The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow is composed with great inequality of manner — at times forcible and manly — at times sinking into the merest childishness and imbecility. Some portions of the book, we surmise, were either not written by Dr. Bird, or were written by him in moments of the most utter mental exhaustion. On the other hand, the reader will not be disappointed, if he looks to find in the novel many — very many well sustained passages of great eloquence and beauty. We open the book at random, and one presents itself immediately to our notice. If Dr. Bird has a general manner at all — a question which we confess ourselves unable to decide — the passage which we are about to quote is a very fair, although perhaps rather too favorable specimen of that manner.

Thus whiling away the fatigue of climbing over rocks, and creeping through thickets with a gay rattle of discourse, the black-eyed maiden dragged her companion along until they reached a place where the stream was contracted by the projection on the one bank of a huge mass of slaty rock, and on the other, by the protrusion of the roots of a gigantic plane-tree-the sycamore or button-wood of vulgar speech. Above them, and beyond the crag, the channel of the rivulet widened into a pool; and there was a plot of green turf betwixt the water and the hill, on the farther bank, whereon fairies, if such had ever made their way to the world of Twilight, might have loved to gambol under the light of the moon. A hill shut up the glen at its upper extremity; and it was hemmed in on the left, by the rocky and woody declivity over which the maidens had already passed. Over this, and just behind a black rounded shoulder that it thrust into the glen, a broad ray from the evening sun shot across the stream, and fell in a rich yellow flood over the vacant plot. There was something almost Arcadian in this little solitude; and if instead of two well-bred maidens perched upon the roots of the sycamore, on seats chosen with a due regard to the claims of their dresses, there had been a batch of country girls romping in the water, a passing Actaeon might have dreamed of the piny Gargaphy, its running well fons tenui perlucidus unda — and the bright creatures of the mythic day that once animated the waters of that solitary grot. But the fairy and the wood-nymph are alike unknown in America. Poetic illusion has not yet consecrated her glens and fountains; her forests nod in uninvaded gloom, her rivers roll in unsanctified silence, and even her ridgy mountains lift up their blue tops in unphantomed solitude. Association sleeps, or it reverts only to the vague mysteries of speculation. Perhaps

A restless Indian queen,

Pale Marian with the braided hair,

may wander at night by some highly favored spring; perhaps some tall and tawny hunter

In vestments for the chase arrayed,

may yet hunt the hart over certain distinguished ridges, or urge his barken canoe over some cypress-fringed pool; but all other places are left to the fancies of the utilitarian. A Greek would have invented a God to dwell under the watery arch of Niagara; an American is satisfied with a paper-mill clapped just above it.”

Of the songs and other poetic pieces interspersed throughout the book, and sometimes not aptly or gracefully introduced, we have a very high opinion. Some of them are of rare merit and beauty. If Dr. Bird can always write thus, and we see no reason for [column 2:] supposing the contrary, he should at once, in the language of one with whom he is no doubt well acquainted,

Turn bard, and drop the play-wright and the novelist.

In evidence that we say nothing more than what is absolutely just; we insert here the little poem of The Whippoorwill.

Sleep, sleep! be thine the sleep that throws

Elysium o’er the soul's repose,

Without a dream, save such as wind

Like midnight angels, through the mind;

While I am watching on the hill

I, and the wailing whippoorwill.

Oh whippoorwill, oh whippoorwill!

Sleep, sleep! and once again I’ll tell

The oft pronounced yet vain farewell:

Such should his word, oh maiden, be

Who lifts the fated eye to thee;

Such should it be, before the chain

That wraps his spirit, binds his brain.

Oh whippoorwill, oh whippoorwill!

Sleep, sleep! the ship hath left the shore,

The steed awaits his lord no more;

His lord still madly lingers by,

The fatal maid lie cannot fly —

And thrids the wood, and climbs the hill —

He and the wailing whippoorwill.

Oh whippoorwill, oh whippoorwill!

Sleep, sleep! the morrow hastens on;

Then shall the wailing slave be gone,

Flitting the hill-top far for fear

The sounds of joy may reach his car;

The sounds of joy! — the hollow knell

Pealed from the mocking chapel bell.

Oh whippoorwill, oh whippoorwill!

In conclusion: The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow, if it add a single bay to the already green wreath of Dr. Bird's popular reputation, will not, at all events, among men whose decisions are entitled to consideration, advance the high opinion previously entertained of his abilities. It has no pretensions to originality of manner, or of style — for we insist upon the distinction — and very few to originality of matter. It is, in many respects, a bad imitation of Sir Walter Scott. Some of its characters, and one or two of its incidents, have seldom been surpassed, for force, fidelity to nature, and power of exciting interest in the reader. It is altogether more worthy of its author in its scenes of hurry, of tumult, and confusion, than in those of a more quiet and philosophical nature. Like Calavar and The Infidel, it excels in the drama of action and passion, and fails in the drama of colloquy. It is inferior, as a whole, to the Infidel, and vastly inferior to Calavar.






[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (September 1835)