Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Literati of New York [Part I],” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. IV, 1875, pp. 465-477


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[page 465, continued:]

LYDIA M. CHILD.

MRS. CHILD has acquired a just celebrity by many compositions of high merit, the most noticeable of which are “Hobomok,” “Philothea,” and a “History of the Condition of Women.” “Philothea,” in especial, is written with great vigour, and, as a classical romance, is not far inferior to the “Anacharsis” of Barthelemi; — its style is a model for purity, chastity and ease. Some of her magazine papers are distinguished for graceful and brilliant imagination — a quality rarely noticed in our countrywomen. She continues to write a great deal for the monthlies and other journals, and invariably writes well. Poetry she has not often attempted, [page 466:] but I make no doubt that in this she would excel. It seems, indeed, the legitimate province of her fervid and fanciful nature. I quote one of her shorter compositions, as well to instance (from the subject) her intense appreciation of genius in others as to exemplify the force of her poetic expression: —

“MARIUS AMID THE RUINS OF CARTHAGE.

“Pillars are fallen at thy feet,

Fanes quiver in the air,

A prostrate city is thy seat,

And thou alone art there.

“No change comes o’er thy noble brow,

Though ruin is around thee;

Thine eyebeam burns as proudly now

As when the laurel crowned thee.

“It cannot bend thy lofty soul

Though friends and fame depart —

The car of Fate may o’er thee roll

Nor crush thy Roman heart.

“And genius hath electric power

Which earth can never tame;

Bright suns may scorch and dark clouds lower,

Its flash is still the same.

“The dreams we loved in early life

May melt like mist away;

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

Like Carthage in decay;

“And proud hopes in the human heart

May be to ruin hurled,

Like mouldering monuments of art

Heaped on a sleeping world:

“Yet there is something will not die

Where life hath once been fair;

Some towering thoughts still rear on high,

s Some Roman lingers there.”

Mrs. Child, casually observed, has nothing particularly striking in her personal appearance. One would pass her [page 467:] in the street a dozen times without notice. She is low in stature and slightly framed. Her complexion is florid; eyes and hair are dark; features in general diminutive. The expression of her countenance, when animated, is highly intellectual. Her dress is usually plain, not even neat — anything but fashionable. Her bearing needs excitement to impress it with life and dignity. She is of that order of beings who are themselves only on “great occasions.” Her husband is still living. She has no children. I need scarcely add that she has always been distinguished for her energetic and active philanthropy.

 

THOMAS DUNN ENGLISH.

I HAVE seen one or two brief poems of considerable merit with the signature of Thomas Dunn English appended.  For example —

“AZTHENE.

“A sound melodious shook the breeze

When thy beloved name was heard:

Such was the music in the word

Its dainty rhythm the pulses stirred.

But passed forever joys like these.

There is no joy, no light, no day;

But black despair and night alway,

And thickening gloom:

And this, Azthene, is my doom.

“Was it for this, for weary years,

I strove among the sons of men,

And by the magic of my pen —

Just sorcery — walked the lion’s den

Of slander void of tears and fears —

And all for thee? For thee! — alas,

As is the image on a glass

So baseless seems,

Azthene, all my earthly dreams.”

I must confess, however, that I do not appreciate the “dainty rhythm” of such a word as “Azthene,” and, perhaps, [page 468:] there is a little taint of egotism in the passage about “the magic” of Mr. English’s pen. Let us be charitable, however, and set all this down under the head of “pure imagination” or invention — one of the first of poetical requisites. The inexcusable sin of Mr. E.  is imitation — if this be not too mild a term. Barry Cornwall and others of the bizarre school are his especial favourites. He has taken, too, most unwarrantable liberties, in the way of downright plagiarism, from a Philadelphian poet whose high merits have not been properly appreciated — Mr. Henry B. Hirst.

I place Mr. English, however, on my list of New York literati, not on account of his poetry, (which I presume he is not weak enough to estimate very highly), but on the score of his having edited for several months, “with the aid of numerous collabourators,” a monthly magazine called “The Aristidean.” This work, although professedly a “monthly,” was issued at irregular intervals, and was unfortunate, I fear, in not attaining at any period a very extensive circulation.

I learn that Mr. E.  is not without talent; but the fate of “The Aristidean” should indicate to him the necessity of applying himself to study. No spectacle can be more pitiable than that of a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind on topics of polite literature. The absurdity in such cases does not lie merely in the ignorance displayed by the would-be instructor, but in the transparency of the shifts by which he endeavours to keep this ignorance concealed. The editor of “The Aristidean,” for example, was not laughed at so much on account of writing “lay” for “lie,” etc. etc., and coupling nouns in the plural with verbs in the singular — as where he writes, above,

“—— so baseless seems,

Azthene, all my earthly dreams —”

he was not, I say, laughed at so much for his excusable deficiencies in English grammar (although an editor should certainly be able to write his own name) as that, in the hope [page 469:] of disguising such deficiency, he was perpetually lamenting the “typographical blunders” that “in the most unaccountable manner would creep into his work.” Nobody was so stupid as to suppose for a moment that there existed in New York a single proof-reader — or even a single printer’s devil — who would have permitted such errors to escape. By the excuses offered, therefore, the errors were only the more obviously nailed to the counter as Mr. English’s own.

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

I do not personally know Mr. English. He is, I believe, from Philadelphia, where he was formerly a doctor of medicine, and subsequently took up the profession of law; more latterly he joined the Tyler party and devoted his attention to politics. About his personal appearance there is nothing very observable. I cannot say whether he is married or not.

 

CATHERINE M. SEDGWICK.

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

Her earliest published work of any length was “A New England Tale,” designed in the first place as a religious tract, but expanding itself into a volume of considerable size. Its success — partially owing, perhaps, to the influence [page 470:] of the parties for whom or at whose instigation it was written — encouraged the author to attempt a novel of somewhat greater elaborateness as well as length, and “Redwood” was soon announced, establishing her at once as the first female prose writer of her country. It was reprinted in England, and translated, I believe, into French and Italian. “Hope Leslie” next appeared — also a novel — and was more favourably received even than its predecessors. Afterwards came “Clarence,” not quite so successful, and then “The Linwoods,” which took rank in the public esteem with “Hope Leslie.” These are all of her longer prose fictions, but she has written numerous shorter ones of great merit — such as “The Rich Poor Man and the Poor Rich Man,” “Live and Let Live,” (both in volume form), with various articles for the magazines and annuals, to which she is still an industrious contributor. About ten years since she published a compilation of several of her fugitive prose pieces, under the title “Tales and Sketches,” and a short time ago a series of “Letters from Abroad” — not the least popular or least meritorious of her compositions.

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

All her stories are full of interest. The “New England Tale” and “Hope Leslie” are especially so, but upon the whole I am best pleased with “The Linwoods.” Its prevailing features are ease, purity of style, pathos, and verisimilitude. To plot it has little pretension. The scene is in America, and, as the sub-title indicates, “Sixty years [page 471:] since.” This, by-the-by, is taken from “Waverley.” The adventures of the family of a Mr. Linwood, a resident of New York, form the principal theme. The character of this gentleman is happily drawn, although there is an antagonism between the initial and concluding touches — the end has forgotten the beginning, like the government of Trinculo. Mr. L. has two children, Herbert and Isabella. Being himself a Tory, the boyish impulses of his son in favour of the revolutionists are watched with anxiety and vexation; and on the breaking out of the war, Herbert, positively refusing to drink the king’s health, is expelled from home by his father — an event on which hinges the main interest of the narrative. Isabella is the heroine proper, full of generous impulses, beautiful, intellectual, spirituelle — indeed, a most fascinating creature. But the family of a Widow Lee throws quite a charm over all the book — a matronly, pious and devoted mother, yielding up her son to the cause of her country — the son gallant, chivalrous, yet thoughtful; a daughter, gentle, loving, melancholy, and susceptible of light impressions. This daughter, Bessie Lee, is one of the most effective personations to be found in our fictitious literature, and may lay claims to the distinction of originality — no slight distinction where character is concerned. It is the old story, to be sure, of a meek and trusting heart broken by treachery and abandonment, but in the narration of Miss Sedgwick it breaks upon us with all the freshness of novel emotion. Deserted by her lover, an accomplished and aristocratical coxcomb, the spirits of the gentle girl sink gradually from trust to simple hope, from hope to anxiety, from anxiety to doubt, from doubt to melancholy, and from melancholy to madness. The gradation is depicted in a masterly manner. She escapes from her home in New England and endeavours to make her way alone to New York, with the object of restoring to him who had abandoned her, some tokens he had given her of his love — an act which her disordered fancy assures her will effect in her own person a disenthralment from passion. Her piety, her madness and her beauty, stand her in stead of the lion of Una, and [page 472:] she reaches the city in safety. In that portion of the narrative which embodies this journey are some passages which no mind unimbued with the purest spirit of poetry could have conceived, and they have often made me wonder why Miss Sedgwick has never written a poem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I might object, too, very decidedly to the vulgarity of such a phrase as “I put in my oar,” (meaning, “I joined in [page 473:] the conversation,”) when proceeding from the mouth of so well-bred a personage as Miss Isabella Linwood. These are, certainly, most remarkable inadvertences.

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

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

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

She is about the medium height, perhaps a little below it. Her forehead is an unusually fine one; nose of a slightly Roman curve; eyes dark and piercing; mouth well-formed and remarkably pleasant in its expression. The portrait in [page 474:] “Graham’s Magazine” is by no means a likeness, and, although the hair is represented as curled, (Miss Sedgwick at present wears a cap — at least most usually), gives her the air of being much older than she is.

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

LEWIS GAYLORD CLARK.

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

It is not, of course, to be understood from anything I have here said, that Mr. Clark does not occasionally contribute editorial matter to the magazine. His compositions, however, are far from numerous, and are always to be distinguished by their style, which is more “easily to be imagined than described.” It has its merit, beyond doubt, but I shall [page 475:] not undertake to say that either “vigour,” “force” or “impressiveness” is the precise term by which that merit should be designated. Mr. Clark once did me the honour to review my poems, and — I forgive him.

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

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

At the period of his brother’s decease, Mr. Lewis G. Clark bore to him a striking resemblance, but within the last year or two there has been much alteration in the [page 476:] person of the editor of the “Knickerbocker.” He is now, perhaps, forty-two or three, but still good-looking. His forehead is, phrenologically, bad — round and what is termed “bullety.” The mouth, however, is much better, although the smile is too constant and lacks expression; the teeth are white and regular. His hair and whiskers are dark, the latter meeting voluminously beneath the chin. In height Mr. C. is about five feet ten or eleven, and in the street might be regarded as quite a “personable man;” in society I have never had the pleasure of meeting him. He is married, I believe.

 

ANNE C. LYNCH.

(MRS. BOTTA.}

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

In poetry, however, she has done better, and given evidence of at least unusual talent. Some of her compositions in this way are of merit, and one or two of excellence. In the former class I place her “Bones in the Desert,” published in “The Opal” for 1846, her “Farewell to Ole Bull,” first printed in “The Tribune,” and one or two of her sonnets — not forgetting some graceful and touching lines on the death of Mrs. Willis. In the latter class I place two noble poems, “The Ideal” and “The Ideal Found.” These should be considered as one, for each is by itself imperfect. In modulation and vigour of rhythm, in dignity and elevation of sentiment, in metaphorical appositeness and accuracy, and in energy of expression, I really do not know [page 477:] where to point out anything American much superior to them. Their ideality is not so manifest as their passion, but I think it an unusual indication of taste in Miss Lynch, or (more strictly) of an intuitive sense of poetry’s true nature, that this passion is just sufficiently subdued to lie within the compass of the poetic art, within the limits of the beautiful. A step farther and it might have passed them. Mere passion, however exciting, prosaically excites; it is in its very essence homely, and delights in homeliness: but the triumph over passion, as so finely depicted in the two poems mentioned, is one of the purest and most idealizing manifestations of moral beauty.

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

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

 


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Notes:

Ingram omits the notices Elizabeth Bogart, presumably as being authors too obscure for more modern interest. Thomas Dunn English was moved here from earlier in the sequence.

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[S:0 - JHI, 1874] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Preface (J. H. Ingram, 1874)