Text: Otis (???), Literary Reviews, Southern Literary Messenger, vol. III, no. 5, May 1836, 2:403-404


[page 403:]


The Martyr’s Triumph; Buried Valley; and other Poems. By Grenville Mellen. Boston, 300 pp.

We took up this book with the conviction that we should be pleased with its contents, and our highly wrought expectations have not in any degree been disappointed. It is as high praise as we are able to bestow upon it, that we have read most of its contents with the very associations around us, which are required for the perfect production of the impressions intended to be produced by the poet — and that we have, in each and all, still found those impressions strengthening and deepening upon our minds, as we perused the pages before us. “The Buried Valley,” in which is portrayed the “ell remembered tragedy of the avalanche, which, in 1826, buried a peaceful cottage situated at the foot of the White Mountains, with all its inhabitants, at midnlght, is not perhaps the best, though a most deeply interesting part of the volume. It is too unequal in its style, and at times too highly wrought, perhaps, as a picture. But the idea which it gives the reader of the [column 2:] wild and magnificent spot upon which this terrible catastrophe occurred is perfect, and the description of the circumstances and incidents of the scene most faithful.

The Scenery of the White Mountains of New Hampshire forms the inspiration of another poem also in this collection, which we boldly place beside any emanation from the most gifted of our poets. We allude to “Lines on an Eagle,” on pp. 130 and 131. We must be chary of our space, and can therefore give but a single stanza, in corroboration of our opinion.

Sail on, thou lone imperial bird, Of quenchless eye and tireless wing; How is thy distant coming heard, As the night-breezes round thee ring! Thy course was ‘gainst the burning sun, In his extremest glory — how! Is thy unequall’d daring done, Thou stoop’st to earth so lowly now!

The “Martyr’s Triumph” is a most splendid poem, and deserves all the praise it has received from reader and critic What can be more beautiful than the exordium?

Voice of the viewless spirit I that hast rung Through the still chambers of the human heart, Since our first parents in sweet Eden sung Their low lament in tears — thou voice, that art Around us and above us, sounding on With a perpetual echo, ‘tis on thee, The ministry sublime to wake and warn! — Full of that high and wondrous Deity, That call’d existence out from Chaos’ lonely sea!

And what more purely inspired than the following?

Thou wast from God when the green earth was young,

And man enchanted rov’d amid its flowers,

When faultless woman to his bosom clung,

Or led him through her paradise of bowers;

Where love’s low whispers from the Garden rose,

And both amid its bloom and beauty bent,

In the long luxury of their first repose!

When the whole earth was incense, and there went

Perpetual praise from altars to the firmament.

And these are but single “bricks from Babel.” Specimens, only, of the beauty and grace with which the poem abounds.

Were we looking for faults, doubtless we should be able to find them, for who is faultless? But that is not our aim. Yet would we suggest to the author that the use of the word duke in stanza six, is somewhat forced, — and though a sweet word in itself, is yet “like sweet bells jangled, harsh, and out of tune,” on account of its rarity, which induces the reader to note its strangeness rather than to admire its application. The whole book abounds with proofs of Mellen’s fine musical ear, and therefore docs it seem to us a fault that he should have suffered the compositor to do him the injustice of printing such a line as this.

“Before ill-starr-d Dunainane’a waving wood!”

But it is for the minor, or shorter pieces which the volume contains, that it is most highly to be valued. Mellen is delightful in his “occasional poems.” Take the following, addressed to one of the sweetest singers, whose strains, like angel-harmonies from heaven, ever floated upon the rapt ear of the poet, as a proof.


Music came down from Heaven to thee, A spirit of repose —

A fine, mysterious melody, [page 404:]

That ceaseless round thee flows; Should Joy’s fast waves dash o’er thy soul,

In free and reckless throng, What Music answers from the whole,

In thy resistless song!

Oh! Music came a boon to thee,

From yon harmonious spheres; An influence from eternity,

To charm us from our tears! Should Griefs dim phantoms then conspire

To tread thy heart along, Thou shalt but seize thy wavy lyre,

And whelm them all in song!

Yes, thine’s a blest inheritance, Siucc to thy lips ‘lis given,

To lure from its long sorrows hence The spirit pall’d and riven!

Go, unto none on earth but thee Such angel tones belong;

For thou wert born of melody, Thy soul was bath’d in song!

There are many such, as, for instance, “To Sub Rosa,” “Death of Julia,” “ The Eagle,” “The Bugle,” “ To Gabriella R, of Richmond,” &c &.C.

Mellen is distinguished for his lyric powers. His Odes are all very fine. That “To Music,” in the volume before us, is deserving of particular mention, as indeed are those “To Shakespeare,” “To Byron,” “To Lafayette,” and others, written on several public occasions.

The volume has but one general fault, and that is, its deficiency in the lighter and gayer strain, in which we have private proofs that Mellen certainly excels. It were to be regretted that the poet did not throw into his collection some touches of that delicate and graceful humor, which none can more happily hit off’ than himself. The general tone of the volume is grave, if not indeed severe — though relieved by many exquisite verses like those already alluded to, and of which the following may serve as another specimen.


Lady, if while that chord of thine,

So beautifully strung

To music that seem’d just divine,

Still sweetly round me rung,

I should essay a higher song

Than humblest minstrel may,

Shame o’er my lyre would breathe the wrong,

And lure my hand away.

Forgive me then if I forbear,

Where thou hast done so well,

class="pmline" Nor o’er my harp strings idly dare

What I should feebly tell.

‘Tis woman that alone can breathe

‘l nese holier fancies free —

Ah, then, be thine the fadeless wreath

I proudly yield to thee. O.

We may add to the critique of our friend O. that in looking over cursorily the poems of Mcllen, we have been especially taken with the following spirited lyric.


Sung at Plymouth, on the Anniversary of the landing of our Fathers, 22d Dec. 1820.

Wake your harp’s music! — louder — higher,

And pour your strains along,

And smite again each quiv’ring wire,

In all the pride of Song!

Shout like those godlike men of old,

Who daring storm and foe, [column 2:]

On this blessed soil their anthem roll’d,

Two hundred years ago!

From native shores by tempests driven,

They sought a purer sky,

And found beneath a wilder heaven,

The home of liberty!

An altar rose — and prayers — a ray

Broke on their night of wo —

The harbinger of Freedom’s day,

Two hundred years ago!

They clung around that symbol too,

Their refuge and their all;

And swore while skies and waves were blue,

That altar should not fall.

They stood upon the red man’s sod,

‘Neath heaven’s unpillar’d bow,

With home — a country — and a God,

Tico hundred years ago!

Oh! ‘twas a hard unyielding fate

That drove them to the seas,

And Persecution strove with Hate,

To darken her decrees:

But safe above each coral grave,

Each booming ship did go —

A God was on the western wave,

Two hundred years ago!

They knelt them on the desert sand,

By waters cold and rude,

Alone upon the dreary strand

Of Ocean’d solitude!

They look’d upon the high blue air,

And felt their spirits glow,

Resolved to live or perish there,

Two hundred years ago!

The Warrior’s red right arm was bar’d,

His eye flashed deep and wild;

Was there a foreign footstep dar’d

To seek his home and child 1

The dark chiefs yell’d alarm — and swore

The white man’s blood should flow,

And his hewn bones should bleach their shores

Two hundred years ago!

But lo! the warrior’s eye grew dim,

His arm was left alone;

The still black wilds which shelter’d him,

No longer were his own!

Time fled — and on this hallow’d ground

His highest pine lies low,

And cities swell where forests frown’d,

Two hundred years ago!

Oh! stay not to recount the tale,

Twas bloody — and ‘tis past;

The firmest cheek might well grow pale,

To hear it to the last.

The God of Heaven, who prospers us,

Could bid a nation grow,

And shield us from the red man’s curse,

Two hundred years ago!

Come then great shades of glorious men,

From your still glorious grave;

Look 011 your own proud land again,

Oh! bravest of the brave!

We call ye from each mould’ring tomb,

And each blue wave below.

To bless the world ye snatch’d from doom,

Two hundred years ago!

Then to your harps — yet louder — higher —

And pour your strains along,

And smile again each quiv’ring wire,

In all the pride of song!

Shout for those godlike men of old,

Who daring storm and foe,

On this bless’d soil their anthem roll’d,



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 404, column 1:]

* We have received this notice of Mellen’s Poems from a personal friend, in whose judgment we have implicit reliance — of count we cannot deviate from our rules by adopting the criticism as Editorial.






[S:0 - SLM, 1837] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - SLM Literary Reviews (May 1837)