Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 3, April 1836, 2:326-336


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The Culprit Fay, and other Poems by Joseph Rodman Drake. New York: George Dearborn.

Alnwick Castle, with other Poems, by Fitz-Greene Halleck. New York: George Dearborn.

Before entering upon the detailed notice which we propose of the volumes before us, we wish to speak a few words in regard to the present state of American criticism.

It must be visible to all who meddle with literary matters, that of late years a thorough revolution has been effected in the censorship of our press. That this revolution is infinitely for the worse we believe. There was a time, it is true, when we cringed to foreign opinion — let us even say when we paid most servile deference to British critical dicta. That an American book could, by any possibility, be worthy perusal, was an idea by no means extensively prevalent in the land; and if we were induced to read at all the productions of our native writers, it was only after repeated assurances from England that such productions were not altogether contemptible. But there was, at all events, a shadow of excuse, and a slight basis of reason for a subserviency so grotesque. Even now, perhaps, it would not be far wrong to assert that such basis of reason may still exist. Let us grant that in many of the abstract sciences — that even in Theology, in Medicine, in Law, in Oratory, in the Mechanical Arts, we have no competitors whatever, still nothing but the most egregious national vanity would assign us a place, in the matter of Polite Literature, upon a level with the elder and riper climes of Europe, the earliest steps of whose children are among the groves of magnificently endowed Academies, and whose innumerable men of leisure, and of consequent learning, drink daily from those august fountains of inspiration which burst around them everywhere from out the tombs of their immortal dead, and from out their hoary and trophied monuments of chivalry and song. In paying then, as a nation, a respectful and not undue deference to a supremacy rarely questioned but by prejudice or ignorance, we should, of course, be doing nothing more than acting in a rational manner. The excess of our subserviency was blamable — but, as we have before said, this very excess might have found a shadow of excuse in the strict justice, if properly regulated, of the principle from which it issued. Not so, however, with our present follies. We are becoming boisterous and arrogant in the pride of a too speedily assumed literary freedom. We throw off, with the most presumptuous and unmeaning hauteur, all deference whatever to foreign opinion — we forget, in the puerile inflation of vanity, that the world is the true theatre of the biblical histrio — we get up a hue and cry about the necessity of encouraging native writers of merit — we blindly fancy that we can accomplish this by indiscriminate puffing of good, bad, and indifferent, without taking the trouble to consider that what we choose to denominate encouragement is thus, by its general application, rendered precisely the reverse. In a word, so far from being ashamed of the many disgraceful literary failures to which our own inordinate vanities and misapplied patriotism have lately given birth, and so far from deeply lamenting that these daily puerilities are of home manufacture, we adhere pertinaciously to our original blindly conceived idea, and thus often find ourselves involved in the gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better, because, sure enough, its stupidity is American.*

Deeply lamenting this unjustifiable state of public feeling, it has been our constant endeavor, since assuming the Editorial duties of this Journal, to stem, with what little abilities we possess, a current so disastrously undermining the health and prosperity of our literature.

We have seen our efforts applauded by men whose applauses we value. From all quarters we have received abundant private as well as public testimonials in favor of our Critical Notices, and, until very lately, have heard from no respectable source one word impugning their integrity or candor. In looking over, however, a number of the New York Commercial Advertiser, we meet with the following paragraph.

The last number of the Southern Literary Messenger is very readable and respectable. The contributions to the Messenger are much better than the original matter. The critical department of this work — much as it would seem to boast itself of impartiality and discernment, — is in our opinion decidedly quacky. There is in it a great assumption of acumen, which is completely unsustained. Many a work has been slashingly condemned therein, of which the critic himself could not write a page, were he to die for it. This affectation of eccentric sternness in criticism, without the power to back one’s suit withal, so far from deserving praise, as some suppose, merits the strongest reprehension. — [Philadelphia Gazette.

We are entirely of opinion with the Philadelphia Gazette in relation to the Southern Literary Messenger, and take this occasion to express our total dissent from the numerous and lavish encomiums we have seen bestowed upon its critical notices. Some few of them have been judicious, fair and candid; bestowing praise and censure with judgement and impartiality; but by far the greater number of those we have read, have been flippant, unjust, untenable and uncritical. The duty of the critic is to act as judge, not as enemy, of the writer whom he reviews; a distinction of which the Zoilus of the Messenger seems not to be aware. It is possible to review a book sincerely, without bestowing opprobrious epithets upon the writer, to condemn with courtesy, if not with kindness. The critic of the Messenger has been eulogized for his scorching and scarifying abilities, and he thinks it incumbent upon him to keep up his reputation in that line, by sneers, sarcasm and downright abuse; by straining his vision with microscopic intensity in search of faults, and shutting his eyes, with all his might to beauties. Moreover, we have detected him, more than once, in blunders quite as gross as those on which it was his pleasure to descant.*

In the paragraph from the Philadelphia Gazette, (which is edited by Mr. Willis Gaylord Clark, one of the editors of the Knickerbocker) we find nothing at which we have any desire to take exception. Mr. C. has a right to think us quacky if he pleases, and we do not remember having assumed for a moment that we could write a single line of the works we have reviewed. But there is something equivocal, to say the least, in the remarks of Col. Stone. He acknowledges that “some of our notices have been judicious, fair, and candid bestowing praise and censure with judgment and impartiality.” This being the case, how can he reconcile his total dissent from the public verdict in our favor, with the dictates of justice? We are accused too of bestowing “opprobrious epithets” upon writers whom we review and in the paragraphs so accusing us are called nothing less than “flippant, unjust and uncritical.”

But there is another point of which we disapprove. While in our reviews we have at all times been particularly careful not to deal in generalities, and have never, if we remember aright, advanced in any single instance an unsupported assertion, our accuser has forgotten to give us any better evidence of our flippancy, injustice, personality, and gross blundering, than the solitary dictum of Col. Stone. We call upon the Colonel for assistance in this dilemma. We wish to be shown our blunders that we may correct them — to be made aware of our flippancy that we may avoid it hereafter — and above all to have our personalities pointed out that we may proceed forthwith with a repentant spirit, to make the amende honorable. In default of this aid from the Editor of the Commercial we shall take it for granted that we are neither blunderers, flippant, personal, nor unjust.

Who will deny that in regard to individual poems no definitive opinions can exist, so long as to Poetry in the abstract we attach no definitive idea? Yet it is a common thing to hear our critics, day after day, pronounce, with a positive air, laudatory or condemnatory sentences, en masse, upon material works of whose merits or demerits they have, in the first place, virtually confessed an utter ignorance, in confessing it ignorance of all determinate principles by which to regulate a decision. Poetry has never been defined to the satisfaction of all parties. Perhaps, in the present condition of language it never will be. Words cannot hem it in. Its intangible and purely spiritual nature refuses to be bound down within the widest horizon of mere sounds. But it is not, therefore, misunderstood — at least, not by all men is it misunderstood. Very far from it, if indeed, there be any one circle of thought distinctly and palpably marked out from amid the jarring and tumultuous chaos of human intelligence, it is that evergreen and radiant Paradise which the true poet knows, and knows alone, as the limited realm of his authority — as the circumscribed Eden of his dreams. But a definition is a thing of words — a conception of ideas. And thus while we readily believe that Poesy, the term, it will be troublesome, if not impossible to define — still, with its image vividly existing in the world, we apprehend no difficulty in so describing Poesy, the Sentiment, as to imbue even the most obtuse intellect with a comprehension of it sufficiently distinct for all the purposes of practical analysis.

To look upwards from any existence, material or immaterial to its design, is, perhaps, the most direct, and the most unerring method of attaining a just notion of the nature of the existence itself. Nor is the principle at fault when we turn our eyes from Nature even to Natures God. We find certain faculties, implanted within us, and arrive at a more plausible conception of the character and attributes of those faculties, by considering, with what finite judgment we possess, the intention of the Deity in so implanting them within us, than by any actual investigation of their powers, or any speculative deductions from their visible and material effects. Thus, for example, we discover in all men a disposition to look with reverence upon superiority, whether real or supposititious. In some, this disposition is to be recognized with difficulty, and, in very peculiar cases, we are occasionally even led to doubt its existence altogether, until circumstances beyond the common routine bring it accidentally into development. In others again it forms a prominent and distinctive feature of character, and is rendered palpably evident in its excesses. But in all human beings it is, in a greater or less degree, finally perceptible. It has been, therefore, justly considered a primitive sentiment. Phrenologists call it Veneration. It is, indeed, the instinct given to man by God as security for his own worship. And although, preserving its nature, it becomes perverted from its principal purpose, and although swerving from that purpose, it serves to modify the relations of human society — the relations of father and child, of master and slave, of the ruler and the ruled — its primitive essence is nevertheless the same, and by a reference to primal causes, may at any moment be determined.

Very nearly akin to this feeling, and liable to the same analysis, is the Faculty of Ideality — which is the sentiment of Poesy. This sentiment is the sense of the beautiful, of the sublime, and of the mystical.* Thence spring immediately admiration of the fair flowers, the fairer forests, the bright valleys and rivers and mountains of the Earth — and love of the gleaming stars and other burning glories of Heaven — and, mingled up inextricably with this love and this admiration of Heaven and of Earth, the unconquerable desire — to know. Poesy is the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness here, and the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter.† Imagination is its soul.* With the passions of mankind — although it may modify them greatly — although it may exalt, or inflame, or purify, or control them — it would require little ingenuity to prove that it has no inevitable, and indeed no necessary co-existence. We have hitherto spoken of poetry in the abstract: we come now to speak of it in its everyday acceptation — that is to say, of the practical result arising from the sentiment we have considered.

And now it appears evident, that since Poetry, in this new sense, is the practical result, expressed in language, of this Poetic Sentiment in certain individuals, the only proper method of testing the merits of a poem is by measuring its capabilities of exciting the Poetic Sentiments in others. And to this end we have many aids — in observation, in experience, in ethical analysis, and in the dictates of common sense. Hence the Poeta nascitur, which is indisputably true if we consider the Poetic Sentiment, becomes the merest of absurdities when we regard it in reference to the practical result. We do not hesitate to say that a man highly endowed with the powers of Causality — that is to say, a man of metaphysical acumen — will, even with a very deficient share of Ideality, compose a finer poem (if we test it, as we should, by its measure of exciting the Poetic Sentiment) than one who, without such metaphysical acumen, shall be gifted, in the most extraordinary degree, with the faculty of Ideality. For a poem is not the Poetic faculty, but the means of exciting it in mankind. Now these means the metaphysician may discover by analysis of their effects in other cases than his own, without even conceiving the nature of these effects — thus arriving at a result which the unaided Ideality of his competitor would be utterly unable, except by accident, to attain. It is more than possible that the man who, of all writers, living or dead, has been most successful in writing the purest of all poems — that is to say, poems which excite more purely, most exclusively, and most powerfully the imaginative faculties in men — owed his extraordinary and almost magical preeminence rather to metaphysical than poetical powers. We allude to the author of Christabel, of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and of Love — to Coleridge — whose head, if we mistake not its character, gave no great phrenological tokens of Ideality, while the organs of Causality and Comparison were most singularly developed.

Perhaps at this particular moment there are no American poems held in so high estimation by our countrymen, as the poems of Drake, and of Halleck. The exertions of Mr. George Dearborn have no doubt a far greater share in creating this feeling than the lovers of literature for its own sake and spiritual uses would be willing to admit. We have indeed seldom seen more beautiful volumes than the volumes now before us. But an adventitious interest of a loftier nature — the interest of the living in the memory of the beloved dead — attaches itself to the few literary remains of Drake. The poems which are now given to us with his name are nineteen in number; and whether all, or whether even the best of his writings, it is our present purpose to speak of these alone, since upon this edition his poetical reputation to all time will most probably depend.

It is only lately that we have read The Culprit Fay. This is a poem of six hundred and forty irregular lines, generally iambic, and divided into thirty-six stanzas, of unequal length. The scene of the narrative, as we ascertain from the single line,

The moon looks down on old Cronest,

is principally in the vicinity of West Point on the Hudson. The plot is as follows. An Ouphe, one of the race of Fairies, has “broken his vestal vow,”

He has loved an earthly maid

And left for her his woodland shade;

He has lain upon her lip of dew,

And sunned him in her eye of blue, Fann’d her cheek with his wing of air,

Play’d with the ringlets of her hair,

And, nestling on her snowy breast,

Forgot the lily-kings behest —

in short, he has broken Fairy-law in becoming enamored of a mortal. The result of this misdemeanor we could not express so well as the poet, and will therefore make use of the language put into the mouth of the Fairy-King who reprimands the criminal.

Fairy! Fairy! list and mark,

Thou hast broke thine elfin chain,

Thy flame-wood lamp is quench’d and dark

And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain.

The Ouphe being in this predicament, it has become necessary that his case and crime should be investigated by a jury of his fellows, and to this end the “shadowy tribes of air” are summoned by the “sentry elve” who has been awakened by the “wood-tick” — are summoned we say to the “elfin-court” at midnight to hear the doom of the Culprit Fay.

“Had a stain been found on the earthly fair,” whose blandishments so bewildered the little Ouphe, his punishment would have been severe indeed. In such case he would have been (as we learn from the Fairy judge’s exposition of the criminal code,)

Tied to the hornet’s shardy wings;

Tossed on the pricks of nettles’ stings;

Or seven long ages doomed to dwell

With the lazy worm in the walnut shell;

Or every night to writhe and bleed

Beneath the tread of the centipede,

Or bound in a cobweb dungeon dim

His jailer a spider huge and grim,

Amid the carrion bodies to lie

Of the worm and the bug and the murdered fly —

Fortunately, however, for the Culprit, his mistress is proved to be of “sinless mind” and under such redeeming circumstances the sentence is, mildly, as follows —

Thou shalt seek the beach of sand

Where the water bounds the elfin land,

Thou shalt watch the oozy brine

Till the sturgeon leaps in the bright moonshine,

Then dart the glistening arch below,

* * * * * *

And catch a drop from his silver bow.

If the spray-bead be won

The stain of thy wing is washed away,

But another errand must be done

Ere thy crime be lost for aye;

Thy flame-wood lamp is quenched and dark,

Thou must re-illume its spark.

Mount thy steed and spur him high

To the heaven’s blue canopy,

And when thou seest a shooting star

Follow it fast and follow it far

The last faint spark of its burning train

Shall light the elfin lamp again.

Upon this sin, and upon this sentence, depends the web of the narrative, which is now occupied with the elfin difficulties overcome by the Ouphe in washing away the stain of his wing, and re-illuming his flame-wood lamp. His soiled pinion having lost its power, he is under the necessity of wending his way on foot from the Elfin court upon Cronest to the river beach at its base. His path is encumbered at every step with “bog and briar,” with “brook and mire,” with “beds of tangled fern,” with “groves of night-shade,” and with the minor evils of ant and snake. Happily, however, a spotted toad coming in sight, our adventurer jumps upon her back, and “bridling her mouth with a silk-weed twist” bounds merrily along

Till the mountain’s magic verge is past

And the beach of sand is reached at last.

Alighting now from his “courser-toad” the Ouphe folds his wings around his bosom, springs on a rock, breathes a prayer, throws his arms above his head,

Then tosses a tiny curve in air

And plunges in the waters blue.

Here, however, a host of difficulties await him by far too multitudinous to enumerate. We will content ourselves with simply stating the names of his most respectable assailants. These are the “spirits of the wave” dressed in “snail-plate armor” and aided by the “mailed shrimp,” the “prickly prong,” the “blood-red leech,” the “stony star-fish,” the “jellied quarl,” the “soldier-crab,” and the “lancing squab.” But the hopes of our hero are high, and his limbs are strong, so

He spreads his arms like the swallow’s wing,

And throws his feet with a frog-like fling.

All however, is to no purpose.

On his thigh the leech has fixed his hold,

The quarl’s long arms are round him roll’d,

The prickly prong has pierced his skin,

And the squab has thrown his javelin,

The gritty star has rubb’d him raw,

And the crab has struck with his giant claw;

He bawls with rage, and he shrieks with pain

He strikes around but his blows are vain —

So then,

He turns him round and flies amain

With hurry and dash to the beach again.

Arrived safely on land our Fairy friend now gathers the dew from the “sorrel-leaf and henbane-bud” and bathing therewith his wounds, finally ties them up with cobweb. Thus recruited, he

—— treads the fatal shore

As fresh and vigorous as before.

At length espying a “purple-muscle shell” upon the beach, he determines to use it as a boat and thus evade the animosity of the water spirits whose powers extend not above the wave. Making a “sculler’s notch” in the stern, and providing himself with an oar of the bootle-blade, the Ouphe a second time ventures upon the deep. His perils are now diminished, but still great. The imps of the river heave the billows up before the prow of the boat, dash the surges against her side, and strike against her keel. The quarl uprears “his island-back” in her path, and the scallop, floating in the rear of the vessel, spatters it all over with water. Our adventurer, however, bails it out with the colen bell (which he has luckily provided for the purpose of catching the drop from the silver bow of the sturgeon,) and keeping his little bark warily trimmed, holds on his course undiscomfited.

The object of his first adventure is at length discovered in a “brownbacked sturgeon,” who

Like the heaven-shot javelin

Springs above the waters blue,

And, instant as the star-fall light

Plunges him in the deep again,

But leaves an arch of silver bright,

The rainbow of the moony main.

From this rainbow our Ouphe succeeds in catching, by means of his colen bell cup, a “droplet of the sparkling dew.” One half of his task is accordingly done —

His wings are pure, for the gem is won.

On his return to land, the ripples divide before him, while the water-spirits, so rancorous before, are obsequiously attentive to his comfort. Having tarried a moment on the beach to breathe a prayer, he “spreads his wings of gilded blue” and takes his way to the elfin court — there resting until the cricket, at two in the morning, rouses him up for the second portion of his penance.

His equipments are now an “acorn-helmet,” a “thistle-down plume,” a corslet of the “wild-bee’s” skin, a cloak of the “wings of butterflies,” a shield of the “shell of the lady-bug,” for lance “the sting of a wasp,” for sword a “blade of grass,” for horse “a fire-fly,” and for spurs a couple of “cockle seed.” Thus accoutred,

Away like a glance of thought he flies

To skim the heavens and follow far

The fiery trail of the rocket-star.

In the Heavens he has new dangers to encounter. The “shapes of air” have begun their work — a “drizzly mist” is cast around him — “storm, darkness, sleet and shade” assail him — “shadowy hands” twitch at his bridle-rein — “flame-shot tongues” play around him — “fiendish eyes” glare upon him — and

Yells of rage and shrieks of fear

Come screaming on his startled ear.

Still our adventurer is nothing daunted.

He thrusts before, and he strikes behind,

Till he pierces the cloudy bodies through

And gashes the shadowy limbs of wind.

and the Elfin makes no stop, until he reaches the “bank of the milky way.” He there checks his courser, and watches “for the glimpse of the planet shoot.” While thus engaged, however, an unexpected adventure befalls him. He is approached by a company of the “sylphs of Heaven attired in sunset’s crimson pall.” They dance around him, and “skip before him on the plain.” One receiving his “wasp-sting lance,” and another taking his bridle-rein,

With warblings wild they lead him on,

To where, through clouds of amber seen,

Studded with stars resplendent shone

The palace of the sylphid queen.

A glowing description of the queen’s beauty follows: and as the form of an earthly Fay had never been seen before in the bowers of light, she is represented as falling desperately in love at first sight with our adventurous Ouphe. He returns the compliment in some measure, of course; but, although “his heart bent fitfully,” the “earthly form imprinted there” was a security against a too vivid impression. He declines, consequently, the invitation of the queen to remain with her and amuse himself by “lying within the fleecy drift,” “hanging upon the rainbow’s rim,” having his “brow adorned with all the jewels of the sky,” “sitting within the Pleiad ring,” “resting upon Orion’s belt” “riding upon the lightning’s gleam,” “dancing upon the orbed moon,” and “swimming within the milky way.”

Lady, he cries, I have sworn to-night

On the word of a fairy knight

To do my sentence task aright

The queen, therefore, contents herself with bidding the Fay an affectionate farewell — having first directed him carefully to that particular portion of the sky where a star is about to fall. He reaches this point in safety, and in despite of the “fiends of the cloud,” who “bellow very loud,” succeeds finally in catching a “glimmering spark” with which he returns triumphantly to Fairy-land. The poem closes with an Io Paean chaunted by the elves in honor of these glorious adventures.

It is more than probable that from ten readers of the Culprit Fay, nine would immediately pronounce it a poem betokening the most extraordinary powers of imagination, and of these nine, perhaps five or six, poets themselves, and fully impressed with the truth of what we have already assumed, that Ideality is indeed the soul of the Poetic Sentiment, would feel embarrassed between a half-consciousness that they ought to admire the production, and a wonder that they do not. This embarrassment would then arise from an indistinct conception of the results in which Ideality is rendered manifest. Of these results some few are seen in the Culprit Fay, but the greater part of it is utterly destitute of any evidence of imagination whatever. The general character of the poem will, we think, be sufficiently understood by any one who may have taken the trouble to read our foregoing compendium of the narrative. It will be there seen that what is so frequently termed the imaginative power of this story, lies especially — we should have rather said is thought to lie — in the passages we have quoted, or in others of a precisely similar nature. These passages embody, principally, mere specifications of qualities, of habiliments, of punishments, of occupations, of circumstances, &c., which the poet has believed in unison with the size, firstly, and secondly with the nature of his Fairies. To all which may be added specifications of other animal existences (such as the toad, the beetle, the lance-fly, the fire-fly and the like) supposed also to be in accordance. An example will best illustrate our meaning upon this point —

He put his acorn helmet on;

It was plumed of the silk of the thistle down:

The corslet plate that guarded his breast

Was once the wild bee’s golden vest;

His cloak of a thousand mingled dyes,

Was formed of the wings of butterflies;

His shield was the shell of a lady-bug queen,

Studs of gold on a ground of green;*

And the quivering lance which he brandished bright

Was the sting of a wasp he had slain in fight.

We shall now be understood. Were any of the admirers of the Culprit Fay asked their opinion of these lines, they would most probably speak in high terms of the imagination they display. Yet let the most stolid and the most confessedly unpoetical of these admirers only try the experiment, and he will find, possibly to his extreme surprise, that he himself will have no difficulty whatever in substituting for the equipments of the Fairy, as assigned by the poet, other equipments equally comfortable, no doubt, and equally in unison with the preconceived size, character, and other qualities of the equipped. Why we could accoutre him as well ourselves — let us see.

His blue-bell helmet, we have heard

Was plumed with the down of the hummingbird,

The corslet on his bosom bold

Was once the locust’s coat of gold,

His cloak, of a thousand mingled hues,

Was the velvet violet, wet with dews,

His target was, the crescent shell

Of the small sea Sidrophel,

And a glittering beam from a maiden’s eye

Was the lance which he proudly wav’d on high.

The truth is, that the only requisite for writing verses of this nature, ad libitum is a tolerable acquaintance with the qualities of the objects to be detailed, and a very moderate endowment of the faculty of Comparison — which is the chief constituent of Fancy or the powers of combination. A thousand such lines may be composed without exercising in the least degree the Poetic Sentiment, which is Ideality, Imagination, or the creative ability. And, as we have before said, the greater portion of the Culprit Fay is occupied with these, or similiar things, and upon such, depends very nearly, if not altogether, its reputation. We select another example —

But oh! how fair the shape that lay

Beneath a rainbow bending bright,

She seem’d to the entranced Fay

The loveliest of the forms of light,

Her mantle was the purple rolled

At twilight in the west afar;

T’was tied with threads of dawning gold,

And button’d with a sparkling star.

Her face was like the lily roon

That veils the vestal planet’s hue,

Her eyes, two beamlets from the moon

Set floating in the welkin blue.

Her hair is like the sunny beam,

And the diamond gems which round it gleam

Are the pure drops of dewy even,

That neer have left their native heaven.

Here again the faculty of Comparison is alone exercised, and no mind possessing the faculty in any ordinary degree would find a difficulty in substituting for the materials employed by the poet other materials equally as good. But viewed as mere efforts of the Fancy and without reference to Ideality, the lines just quoted are much worse than those which were taken earlier. A congruity was observable in the accoutrements of the Ouphe, and we had no trouble in forming a distinct conception of his appearance when so accoutred. But the most vivid powers of Comparison can attach no definitive idea to even “the loveliest form of light,” when habited in a mantle of “rolled purple tied with threads of dawn and buttoned with a star,” and sitting at the same time under a rainbow with “beamlet” eyes and a visage of “lily roon.”

But if these things evince no Ideality in their author, do they not excite it in others? — if so, we must conclude, that without being himself imbued with the Poetic Sentiment, he has still succeeded in writing a fine poem — a supposition as we have before endeavored to show, not altogether paradoxical. Most assuredly we think not. In the case of a great majority of readers the only sentiment aroused by compositions of this order is a species of vague wonder at the writer’s ingenuity, and it is this indeterminate sense of wonder which passes but too frequently current for the proper influence of the Poetic power. For our own part we plead guilty to a predominant sense of the ludicrous while occupied in the perusal of the poem before us — a sense whose promptings we sincerely and honestly endeavored to quell, perhaps not altogether successfully, while penning our compend of the narrative. That a feeling of this nature is utterly at war with the Poetic Sentiment will not be disputed by those who comprehend the character of the sentiment itself. This character is finely shadowed out in that popular although vague idea so prevalent throughout all time, that a species of melancholy is inseparably connected with the higher manifestations of the beautiful. But with the numerous and seriously-adduced incongruities of the Culprit Fay, we find it generally impossible to connect other ideas than those of the ridiculous. We are bidden, in the first place, and in a tone of sentiment and language adapted to the loftiest breathings of the Muse, to imagine a race of Fairies in the vicinity of West Point. We are told, with a grave air, of their camp, of their king, and especially of their sentry, who is a wood-tick. We are informed that an Ouphe of about an inch in height has committed a deadly sin in falling in love with a mortal maiden, who may, very possibly, be six feet in her stockings. The consequence to the Ouphe is — what? Why, that he has “dyed his wings,” “broken his elfin chain,” and “quenched his flame-wood lamp.” And he is therefore sentenced to what? To catch a spark from the tail of a falling star, and a drop of water from the belly of a sturgeon. What are his equipments for the first adventure? An acorn-helmet, a thistle-down plume, a butterfly cloak, a lady-bug shield, cockle-seed spurs, and a fire-fly horse. How does he ride to the second? On the back of a bullfrog. What are his opponents in the one? “Drizzle-mists,” “sulphur and smoke,” “shadowy hands and flame-shot tongues.” What in the other? “Mailed shrimps,” “prickly prongs,” “blood-red leeches,” “jellied quarls,” “stony star fishes,” “lancing squabs” and “soldier crabs.” Is that all? No — Although only an inch high he is in imminent danger of seduction from a “sylphid queen,” dressed in a mantle of “rolled purple,” “tied with threads of dawning gold,” “buttoned with a sparkling star,” and sitting under a rainbow with “beamlet eyes” and a countenance of “lily roon.” In our account of all this matter we have had reference to the book — and to the book alone. It will be difficult to prove us guilty in any degree of distortion or exaggeration. Yet such are the puerilities we daily find ourselves called upon to admire, as among the loftiest efforts of the human mind, and which not to assign a rank with the proud trophies of the matured and vigorous genius of England, is to prove ourselves at once a fool; a maligner, and no patriot.*

As an instance of what may be termed the sublimely ridiculous we quote the following lines —

With sweeping tail and quivering fin,

Through the wave the sturgeon flew,

And like the heaven-shot javelin,

He sprung above the waters blue.

Instant as the star-fall light,

He plunged into the deep again,

But left an arch of silver bright

The rainbow of the moony main.

It was a strange and lovely sight

To see the puny goblin there,

He seemed an angel form of light

With azure wing and sunny hair,

Throned on a cloud of purple fair

Circled with blue and edged with white

And sitting at the fall of even

Beneath the bow of summer heaven.

The [lines of the last verse], if considered without their context, have a certain air of dignity, elegance, and chastity of thought. If however we apply the context, we are immediately overwhelmed with the grotesque. It is impossible to read without laughing, such expressions as “It was a strange and lovely sight” — “He seemed an angel form of light” — “And sitting at the fall of even, beneath the bow of summer heaven” to a Fairy — a goblin — an Ouphe — half an inch high, dressed in an acorn helmet and butterfly-cloak, and sitting on the water in a muscleshell, with a “brown-backed sturgeon” turning somersets over his head.

In a world where evil is a mere consequence of good, and good a mere consequence of evil — in short where all of which we have any conception is good or bad only by comparison — we have never yet been fully able to appreciate the validity of that decision which would debar the critic from enforcing upon his readers the merits or demerits of a work with another. It seems to us that an adage has had more to do with this popular feeling than any just reason founded upon common sense. Thinking thus, we shall have no scruple in illustrating our opinion in regard to what is not Ideality or the Poetic Power, by an example of what is.*

We have already given the description of the Sylphid Queen in the Culprit Fay. In the Queen Mab of Shelley a Fairy is thus introduced —

Those who had looked upon the sight

Passing all human glory,

Saw not the yellow moon,

Saw not the mortal scene,

Heard not the night wind’s rush,

Heard not an earthly sound,

Saw but the fairy pageant,

Heard but the heavenly strains

That filled the lonely dwelling —

and thus described —

The Fairy’s frame was slight, yon fibrous cloud

That catches but the faintest tinge of even,

And which the straining eye can hardly seize

When melting into eastern twilight’s shadow,

Were scarce so thin, so slight; but the fair star

That gems the glittering coronet of morn,

Sheds not a light so mild, so powerful,

As that which, bursting from the Fairy’s form,

Spread a purpureal halo round the scene,

Yet with an undulating motion,

Swayed to her outline gracefully.

In these exquisite lines the Faculty of mere Comparison is but little exercised — that of Ideality in a wonderful degree. It is probable that in a similar case the poet we are now reviewing would have formed the face of the Fairy of the “fibrous cloud,” her arms of the “pale tinge of even,” her eyes of the “fair stars,” and her body of the “twilight shadow.” Having so done, his admirers would have congratulated him upon his imagination, not, taking the trouble to think that they themselves could at any moment imagine a Fairy of materials equally as good, and conveying an equally distinct idea. Their mistake would be precisely analogous to that of many a schoolboy who admires the imagination displayed in Jack the Giant-Killer, and is finally rejoiced at; discovering his own imagination to surpass that of the author, since the monsters destroyed by Jack are only about forty feet in height, and he himself has no trouble in imagining some of one hundred and forty. It will, be seen that the Fairy of Shelley is not a mere compound of incongruous natural objects, inartificially put together, and unaccompanied by any moral sentiment — but a being, in the illustration of whose nature some physical elements are used collaterally as adjuncts, while the main conception springs immediately or thus apparently springs, from the brain of the poet, enveloped in the moral sentiments of grace, of color, of motion — of the beautiful, of the mystical, of the august — in short of the ideal.*

It is by no means our intention to deny that in the Culprit Fay are passages of a different order from those to which we have objected — passages evincing a degree of imagination not to be discovered in the plot, conception, or general execution of the poem. The opening stanza will afford us a tolerable example.

’Tis the middle watch of a summer’s night —

The earth is dark but the heavens are bright

Naught is seen in the vault on high

But the moon, and the stars, and the cloudless sky,

And the flood which rolls its milky hue

A river of light on the welkin blue.

The moon looks down on old Cronest,

She mellows the shades of his shaggy breast,

And seems his huge gray form to throw

In a silver cone on the wave below,

His sides are broken by spots of shade,

By the walnut bow and the cedar made,

And through their clustering branches dark

Glimmers and dies the fire-fly’s spark —

Like starry twinkles that momently break

Through the rifts of the gathering tempest rack.

There is Ideality in these lines — but except in the case of the [second and the fourteenth lines] — it is Ideality not of a high order. We have, it is true, a collection of natural objects, each individually of great beauty, and, if actually seen as in nature, capable of exciting in any mind, through the means of the Poetic Sentiment more or less inherent in all, a certain sense of the beautiful. But to view such natural objects as they exist, and to behold them through the medium of words, are different things. Let us pursue the idea that such a collection as we have here will produce, of necessity, the Poetic Sentiment, and we may as well make up our minds to believe that a catalogue of such expressions as moon, sky, trees, rivers, mountains, &c., shall be capable of exciting it, — it is merely an extension of the principle. But in the line “the earth is dark, but the heavens are bright” besides the simple mention of the “dark earth” “and the bright heaven,” we have, directly, the moral sentiment of the brightness of the sky compensating for the darkness of the earth — and thus, indirectly, of the happiness of a future state compensating for the miseries of the present. All this is effected by the simple introduction of the word but between the “dark earth” and the “bright heaven” — this introduction, however, was prompted by the Poetic Sentiment, and by the Poetic Sentiment alone. The case is analogous in the expression “glimmers and dies,” where the imagination is exalted by the moral sentiment of beauty heightened in dissolution.

In one or two shorter passages of the Culprit Fay the poet will recognize the purely ideal, and be able at a glance to distinguish it from that baser alloy upon which we have descanted. We give them without farther comment.

The winds are whist, and the owl is still,

The bat in the shelvy rock is hid

And naught is heard on the lonely hill

But the cricket’s chirp and the answer shrill

Of the gauze-winged katydid;

And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill

Who mourns unseen, and ceaseless sings

Ever a note of wail and wo —

Up to the vaulted firmament

His path the fire-fly courser bent,

And at every gallop on the wind

He flung a glittering spark behind.

He blessed the force of the charmed line

And he banned the water-goblins’ spite,

For he saw around in the sweet moonshine,

Their little wee faces above the brine,

Griggling and laughing with all their might

At the piteous hap of the Fairy wight.

The poem “To a Friend” consists of fourteen Spenserian stanzas. They are fine spirited verses, and probably were not supposed by their author to be more. Stanza the fourth, although beginning nobly, concludes with that very common exemplification of the bathos, the illustrating natural objects of beauty or grandeur by references to the tinsel of artificiality.

Oh! for a seat on Appalachia’s brow,

That I might scan the glorious prospects round,

Wild waving woods, and rolling floods below,

Smooth level glades and fields with grain embrowned,

High heaving hills, with tufted forests crowned,

Rearing their tall tops to the heaven’s blue dome,

And emerald isles, like banners green un-wound,

Floating along the take, while round them roam

Bright helms of billowy blue, and plumes of dancing foam.

In the Extracts from Leon are passages not often surpassed in vigor of passionate thought and expression — and which induce us to believe not only that their author would have succeeded better in prose romance than in poetry, but that his attention would have naturally fallen into the former direction, had the Destroyer only spared him a little longer.

This poem contains also lines of far greater poetic power than any to be found in the Culprit Fay. For example —

The stars have lit in heaven their lamps of gold,

The vewless dew falls lightly on the world;

The gentle air that softly sweeps the leaves

A strain of faint unearthly music weaves:

As when the harp of heaven remotely plays,

Or sygnets wail — or song of sorrowing fays

That float amid the moonshine glimmerings pale,

On wings of woven air in some enchanted vale.*

Niagara is objectionable in many respects, and in none more so than in its frequent inversions of language, and the artificial character of its versification. The invocation,

Roar, raging torrent! and thou, mighty river,

Pour thy white foam on the valley below!

Frown ye dark mountains, &c.

is ludicrous — and nothing more. In general, all such invocations have an air of the burlesque. In the present instance we may fancy the majestic Niagara replying, “Most assuredly I will roar, whether, worm! thou tellest me or not.”

The American Flag commences with a collection of those bald conceits, which we have already shown to have no dependence whatever upon the Poetic Power — springing altogether from Comparison.

When Freedom from her mountain height

Unfurled her standard to the air,

She tore the azure robe of night

And set the stars of glory there.

She mingled with its gorgeous dyes

The milky baldric of the skies,

And striped its pure celestrial white

With streakings of the morning light;

Then from his mansion in the sun

She called her eagle bearer down

And gave into his mighty hand

The symbol of her chosen land.

Let us reduce all this to plain English, and we have — what? Why, a flag, consisting of the “azure robe of night,” “set with stars of glory,” interspersed with “streaks of morning light,” relieved with a few pieces of “milky way,” and the whole carried by an “eagle bearer,” that is to say, an eagle ensign, who bears aloft this “symbol of our chosen land” in his “mighty hand,” by which we are to understand his claw. In the second stanza, “the thunder-drum of Heaven” is bathetic and grotesque in the highest degree — a commingling of the most sublime music of Heaven with the most utterly contemptible and common-place of Earth. The two concluding verses are in a better spirit, and might almost be supposed to be from a different hand. The images contained in the lines

When Death careering on the gale

Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,

And frighted waves rush wildly back,

Before the broadsides reeling rack,

are of the highest order of Ideality. The deficiencies of the whole poem may be best estimated by reading it in connection with “Scots wha hae,” with the “Mariners of England,” or with “Hohenlinden.” It is indebted for its high and most undeserved reputation to our patriotism — not to our judgment.

The remaining poems in Mr. Dearborn’s edition of Drake, are three Songs; Lines in an Album; Lines to a Lady; Lines on leaving New Rochelle; Hope; A Fragment; To ——; To Eva; To a Lady; To Sarah; and Bronx. These are all poems of little compass, and with the exception of Bronx and a portion of the Fragment, they have no character distinctive from the mass of our current poetical literature. Bronx, however, is in our opinion, not only the best of the writings of Drake, but altogether a lofty and beautiful poem, upon which his admirers would do better to found a hope of the writer’s ultimate reputation than upon the niaiseries of the Culprit Fay. In the Fragment is to be found the finest individual passage in the volume before us, and we quote it as a proper finale to our review.

Yes! thou art lovelier now than ever,

How sweet’t would be when all the air

In moonlight swims along thy river

To couch upon the grass, and hear

Niagra’s everlasting voice

Far in the deep blue west away,

That dreamy and poetic noise

We mark not in the glare of day,

Oh! how unlike its torrent-cry,

When o’er the brink the tide is driven,

As if the vast and sheeted sky

In thunder fell from Heaven.


Halleck’s poetical powers appear to us essentially inferior, upon the whole, to those of his friend Drake. He has written nothing at all comparable to Bronx. By the hackneyed phrase, sportive elegance, we might possibly designate at once the general character of his writings and the very loftiest praise to which he is justly entitled.

Alnwick Castle is an irregular poem of one hundred and twenty-eight lines — was written, as we are informed, in October 1822 — and is descriptive of a seat of the Duke of Northumberland, in Northumberlandshire, England. The effect of the first stanza is materially impaired by a defect in its grammatical arrangement. The fine lines,

Home of the Percy’s high-born race,

Home of their beautiful and brave,

Alike their birth and burial place,

Their cradle and their grave!

are of the nature of an invocation, and thus require a continuation of the address to the “Home, &c.” We are consequently disappointed when the stanza proceeds with —

Still sternly o’er the castle gate

Their house’s Lion stands in state

As in his proud departed hours;

And warriors frown in stone on high,

And feudal banners “flout the sky”

Above his princely towers.

The objects of allusion here vary, in an awkward manner, from the castle to the lion, and from the Lion to the towers. By writing the verses thus the difficulty would be remedied.

Still sternly o’er the castle gate

Thy house’s Lion stands in state,

As in his proud departed hours;

And warriors frown in stone on high,

And feudal banners “flout the sky”

Above thy princely towers.

The second stanza, without evincing in any measure the loftier powers of a poet, has that quiet air of grace, both in thought and expression, which seems to be the prevailing feature of the Muse of Halleck.

A gentle hill its side inclines,

Lovely in England’s fadeless green,

To meet the quiet stream which winds

Through this romantic scene

As silently and sweetly still,

As when, at evening, on that hill,

While summer’s wind blew soft and low,

Seated by gallant Hotspur’s side

His Katherine was a happy bride

A thousand years ago.

There are one or two brief passages in the poem evincing a degree of rich imagination not elsewhere perceptible throughout the book. For example —

Gaze on the Abbey’s ruined pile:

Does not the succoring Ivy keeping,

Her watch around it seem to smile

As o’er a lov’d one sleeping?


One solitary turret gray

Still tells in melancholy glory

The legend of the Cheviot day.

The commencement of the fourth stanza is of the highest order of Poetry, and partakes, in a happy manner, of that quaintness of expression so effective an adjunct to Ideality, when employed by the Shelleys, the Coleridges and the Tennysons, but so frequently debased, and rendered ridiculous, by the herd of brainless imitators.

Wild roses by the abbey towers

Are gay in their young bud and bloom:

They were born of a race of funeral flowers,

That garlanded in long-gone hours,

A Templar’s knightly tomb.

The tone employed in the concluding portions of Alnwick Castle, is, we sincerely think, reprehensible, and unworthy of Halleck. No true poet can unite in any manner the low burlesque with the ideal, and not be conscious of incongruity and of a profanation. Such verses as

Men in the coal and cattle line

From Tevoit’s bard and hero land,

From royal Berwick’s beach of sand,

From Wooler, Morpeth, Hexham, and Newcastle upon Tyne.

may lay claim to oddity — but no more. These things are the defects and not the beauties of Don Juan. They are totally out of keeping with the graceful and delicate manner of the initial portions of Alnwick Castle, and serve no better purpose than to deprive the entire poem of all unity of effect. If a poet must be farcical, let him be just that, and nothing else. To be drolly sentimental is bad enough, as we have just seen in certain passages of the Culprit Fay, but to be sentimentally droll is a thing intolerable to men, and Gods, and columns.

Marco Bozzaris appears to have much lyrical without any high order of ideal beauty. Force is its prevailing character- a force, however, consisting more in a well ordered and sonorous arrangement of this metre, and a judicious disposal of what may be called the circumstances of the poem, than in the true material of lyric vigor. We are introduced, first, to the Turk who dreams, at midnight, in his guarded tent,

of the hour

When Greece her knee in suppliance bent,

Should tremble at his power —

He is represented as revelling in the visions of ambition.

In dreams through camp and court he bore

The trophies of a conqueror;

In dreams his song of triumph heard;

Then wore his monarch’s signet ring;

Then pressed that monarch’s throne — a king;

As wild his thoughts and gay of wing

As Eden’s garden bird.

In direct contrast to this we have Bozzaris watchful in the forest, and ranging his band of Suliotes on the ground, and amid the memories of Plataea. An hour elapses, and the Turk awakes from his visions of false glory — to die. But Bozzaris dies — to awake. He dies in the flush of victory to awake, in death, to an ultimate certainty of Freedom. Then follows an invocation to death. His terrors under ordinary circumstances are contrasted with the glories of the dissolution of Bozzaris, in which the approach of the Destroyer is

welcome as the cry

That told the Indian isles were nigh

To the world-seeking Genoese,

When the land-wind from woods of palm,

And orange groves and fields of balm,

Blew o’er the Haytian seas.

The poem closes with the poetical apotheosis of Marco Bozzaris as

One of the few, the immortal names

That are not born to die.

It will be seen that these arrangements of the subject are skillfully contrived — perhaps they are a little too evident, and we are enabled too readily by the perusal of one passage, to anticipate the succeeding. The rhythm is highly artificial. The stanzas are well adapted for vigorous expression — the fifth will afford a just specimen of the versification of the whole poem.

Come to the bridal Chamber, Death!

Come to the mother’s when she feels

For the first time her first born’s breath;

Come when the blessed seals

That close the pestilence are broke,

And crowded cities wail its stroke,

Come in consumption’s ghastly form,

The earthquake shock, the ocean storm;

Come when the heart beats high and warm,

With banquet song and dance, and wine;

And thou art terrible — the tear,

The groan, the knell, the pall, the bier,

And all we know, or dream, or fear

Of agony, are thine.

Granting, however, to Marco Bozzaris, the minor excellences we have pointed out we should be doing our conscience great wrong in calling it, upon the whole, any more than a very ordinary matter. It is surpassed, even as a lyric, by a multitude of foreign and by many American compositions of a similar character. To Ideality it has few pretensions, and the finest portion of the poem is probably to be found in the verses we have quoted elsewhere —

Thy grasp is welcome as the hand

Of brother in a foreign land,

Thy summons welcome as the cry

That told the Indian isles were nigh

To the world-seeking Genoese,

When the land-wind from woods of palm

And orange groves, and fields of balm

Blew o’er the Haytian seas.

The verses entitled Burns consist of thirty-eight quatrains — the three first lines of each quatrain being of four feet, the fourth of three. This poem has many of the traits of Alnwick Castle, and bears also a strong resemblance to some of the writings of Wordsworth. Its chief merits, and indeed the chief merit, so we think, of all the poems of Halleck is the merit of expression. In the brief extracts from Burns which follow, our readers will recognize the peculiar character of which we speak.

Wild Rose of Alloway! my thanks:

Thou mind’st me of that autumn noon

When first we met upon “the banks

And braes o’bonny Doon”

Like thine, beneath the thorn-tree’s bough,

My sunny hour was glad and brief —

We’ve crossed the winter sea, and thou

Art withered — flower and leaf,

There have been loftier themes than his,

And longer scrolls and louder lyres

And lays lit up with Poesy’s

Purer and holier fires.

And when he breathes his master-lay

Of Alloways witch-haunted wall

All passions in our frames of clay

Come thronging at his call.

Such graves as his are pilgrim-shrines,

Shrines to no code or creed confined —

The Delphian vales, the Palastines,

The Meccas of the mind.

They linger by the Doon’s low trees,

And pastoral Nith, and wooded Ayr,

And round thy Sepulchres, Dumfries!

The Poet’s tomb is there.

Wyoming is composed of nine Spenserian stanzas. With some unusual excellences, it has some of the worst faults of Halleck. The lines which follow are of great beauty.

I then but dreamed: thou art before me now,

In life — a vision of the brain no more,

I’ve stood upon the wooded mountain’s brow,

That beetles high thy love! valley o’er;

And now, where winds thy river’s greenest shore,

Within a bower of sycamores am laid;

And winds as soft and sweet as ever bore

The fragrance of wild flowers through sun and shade

Are singing in the trees, whose low boughs press my head.

The poem, however, is disfigured with the mere burlesque of some portions of Alnwick Castle — with such things as

he would look particularly droll

In his Iberian boot and Spanish plume;


A girl of sweet sixteen

Love-darting eyes and tresses like the morn

Without a shoe or stocking — hoeing corn,

mingled up in a pitiable manner with images of real beauty.

The Field of the Grounded Arms contains twenty-four quatrains, without rhyme, and, we think, of a disagreeable [page 336:] versification. In this poem are to be observed some of the finest passages of Halleck. For example —

Strangers! your eyes are on that valley fixed

Intently, as we gaze on vacancy,

When the mind’s wings o’erspread

The spirit world of dreams.

and again —

O’er sleepless seas of grass whose waves are flowers.

Red-Jacket has much power of expression with little evidence of poetical ability. Its humor is very fine, and does not interfere, in any great degree, with the general tone of the poem.

A Sketch should have been omitted from the edition as altogether unworthy of its author.

The remaining pieces in the volume are Twilight, Psalm cxxxvii; To * * * *; Love; Domestic Happiness; Magdalen; From the Italian; Woman; Connecticut; Music; On the Death of Lieut. William Howard Allen; A Poet’s Daughter; and On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake. Of the majority of these we deem it unnecessary to say more than that they partake, in a more or less degree, of the general character observable in the poems of Halleck. The Poet’s Daughter appears to us a particularly happy specimen of that general character, and we doubt whether it be not the favorite of its author. We are glad to see the vulgarity of

I’m busy in the cotton trade

And sugar line,

omitted in the present edition. The eleventh stanza is certainly not English as it stands — and besides it is altogether unintelligible. What is the meaning of this?

But her who asks, though first among

The good, the beautiful, the young

The birthright of a spell more strong

Than these have brought her.

The Lines on the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake, we prefer to any of the writings of Halleck. It has that rare merit in composition of this kind — the union of tender sentiment and simplicity. This poem consists merely of six quatrains, and we quote them in full.

Green be the turf above thee,

Friend of my better days!

None knew thee but to love thee,

Nor named thee but to praise.

Tears fell when thou wert dying

From eyes unused to weep,

And long, where thou art lying,

Will tears the cold turf steep.

When hearts whose truth was proven,

Like thine are laid in earth,

There should a wreath be woven

To tell the world their worth.

And I, who woke each morrow

To clasp thy hand in mine,

Who shared thy joy and sorrow,

Whose weal and woe were thine —

It should be mine to braid it

Around thy faded brow,

But I’ve in vain essayed it,

And feel I cannot now.

While memory bids me weep thee,

Nor thoughts nor words are free,

The grief is fixed too deeply,

That mourns a man like thee.

If we are to judge from the subject of these verses, [column 2:] they are a work of some care and reflection. Yet they abound in faults. In the line,

Tears fell when thou wert dying;

wert is not English.

Will tears the cold turf steep,

is an exceedingly rough verse. The metonymy involved in

There should a wreath be woven

To tell the world their worth,

is unjust. The quatrain beginning,

And I who woke each morrow,

is ungrammatical in its construction when viewed in connection with the quatrain which immediately follows. “Weep thee” and “deeply” are inaccurate rhymes — and the whole of the first quatrain,

Green be the turf, &c.

although beautiful, bears too close a resemblance to the still more beautiful lines of William Wordsworth,

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love.

As a versifier Halleck is by no means equal to his friend, all of whose poems evince an ear finely attuned to the delicacies of melody. We seldom meet with more inharmonious lines than those, generally, of the author of Alnwick Castle. At every step such verses occur as,

And the monk’s hymn and minstrel’s song —

True as the steel of their tried blades —

For him the joy of her young years —

Where the Bard-peasant first drew breath —

And withered my life’s leaf like thine —

in which the proper course of the rhythm would demand an accent upon syllables too unimportant to sustain it. Not infrequently, too, we meet with lines such as this,

Like torn branch from death’s leafless tree,

in which the multiplicity of consonants renders the pronunciation of the words at all, a matter of no inconsiderable difficulty.

But we must bring our notice to a close. It will be seen that while we are willing to admire in many respects the poems before us, we feel obliged to dissent materially from that public opinion (perhaps not fairly ascertained) which would assign them a very brilliant rank in the empire of Poesy. That we have among us poets of the loftiest order we believe — but we do not believe that these poets are Drake and Halleck.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???, column ?:]

* This charge of indiscriminant puffing will, of course, only apply to the general character of our criticism — there are some noble exceptions. We wish also especially to discriminate between those notices of new works which are intended merely to call public attention to them, and deliberate criticism on the works themselves.

* In addition to these things we observe, in the New York Mirror, what follows: “Those who have read the Notices of American books in a certain Southern Monthly, which is striving to gain notoriety by the loudness of its abuse, may find amusement in the sketch on another page, entitled “The Successful Novel.” The Southern Literary Messenger knows by experience what it is to write a successless novel.” We have, in this case, only to deny, flatly, the assertion of the Mirror. The Editor of the Messenger never in his life wrote or published, or attempted to publish, a novel either successful or successless.

* We separate the sublime and the mystical — for, despite of high authorities, we are firmly convinced that the latter may exist, in the most vivid degree, without giving rise to the sense of the former.

† The consciousness of this truth was by no mortal more fully than by Shelley, although he has only once especially alluded to it. In his Hymn to intellectual Beauty we find these lines.

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped

Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,

And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing

Hopes of high talk with the departed dead:

I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed:

I was not heard: I saw them not.

When musing deeply on the lot

Of life at that sweet time when birds are wooing

All vital things that wake to bring

News of buds and blossoming,

Sudden thy shadow fell on me —

I shrieked and clasped my hands in ecstasy!

I vow’d that I would dedicate my powers

To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?

With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now

I call the phantoms of a thousand hours

Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision’d bowers

Of studious zeal or love’s delight

Outwatch’d with me the envious night:

They know that never joy illum’d my brow,

Unlink’d with hope that thou wouldst free,

This world from its dark slavery,

That thou, O awful Loveliness,

Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.

‡ Imagination is, possibly in man, a lesser degree of the creative power in God. What the Deity imagines, is, but was not before. What man imagines, is, but was also. The mind of man cannot imagine what is not. This latter point may be demonstrated. — See Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle, par M. Le Baron de Biefield, 1767.

* Chestnut color, or more slack,

Gold upon a ground of black.

Ben Jonson.

* A review of Drake’s poems, emanating from one of our proudest Universities, does not scruple to make use of the following language in relation to the Culprit Fay. “It is, to say the least, an elegant production, the purest specimen of Ideality we have ever met with, sustaining in each incident a most bewitching interest. Its very title is enough,” &c. &c. We quote these expressions as a fair specimen of the general unphilosophical and adulatory tenor of our criticism.

* As examples of entire poems of the purest ideality, we would cite the Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus, the Inferno of Dante, Cervantes’ Destruction of Numantia, the Comus of Milton, Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, the Auncient Mariner, the Christabel, and the Kubla Khan of Coleridge, and most especially the Sensitive Plant of Shelley, and the Nightingale of Keats. We have seen American poems evincing the faculty in the highest degree.

* Among things, which not only in our opinion, but in the opinion of far wiser and better men, are to be ranked with the mere prettinesses of the Muse, are the positive similes so abundant in the writing of antiquity, and so much insisted upon by the critics of the reign of Queen Anne.

* The expression “woven air,” much insisted upon by the friends of Drake, seems to be accredited to him as original. It is to be found in many English writers — and can be traced back to Apuleius, who calls fine drapery ventum textilem.




[S:0 — SLM, 1836] — Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore — Works — Criticism — Criticial Notices (April 1836)