Page images
PDF
EPUB

there is no longer either reason or wit in the query, “Who reads an American book ?”

I mean to say, of course, that Mr. Halleck, in the apparent public estimate, maintains a somewhat better position than that to which, on absolute grounds, he is entitled. There is something, too, in the bonhommie of certain of his compositionssomething altogether distinct from poetic merit—which has aided to establish him; and much, also, must be admitted on the score of his personal popularity, which is deservedly great. With all these allowances, however, there will still be found a large amount of poetical fame to which he is fairly entitled.

He has written very little, although he began at an early agewhen quite a boy, indeed. His “juvenile” works, however, have been kept very judiciously from the public eye. Attention was first called to him by his satires, signed “ Croaker” and “ Croaker & Co.,” published in “The New York Evening Post," in 1819. Of these the pieces with the signature “ Croaker & Co.” were the joint work of Halleck and his friend Drake. The political and personal features of these jeux d'esprit gave them a consequence and a notoriety to which they are entitled on no other account. They are not without a species of drollery, but are loosely and no doubt carelessly written.

Neither was "Fanny," which closely followed the “Croakers," constructed with any great deliberation. “It was printed," say the ordinary memoirs, “ within three weeks from its commencement;" but the truth is, that a couple of days would have been an ample allowance of time for

any
such composition.

If we except a certain gentlemanly ease and insouciance, with some fancy of illustration, there is really very little about this poem to be admired. There has been no positive avowal of its authorship, although there can be no doubt of its having been written by Halleck. He, I presume, does not esteem it very highly. It is a mere extravaganza, in close imitation of “ Don Juan

'-a vehicle for squibs at cotemporary persons and things.

Our poet, indeed, seems to bave been much impressed by “Don Juan," and attempts to engraft its farcicalities even upon the grace and delicacy of " Alnwick Castle," as, for example, in

Men in the coal and cattle line,

From Teviot's bard and hero land,
From royal Berwick's beach of sand,

From Wooler, Morpeth, Hexham, and

Newcastle upon Tyne. These things may lay claim to oddity, but no more. They are totally out of keeping with the tone of the sweet poem into which they are thus clumsily introduced, and serve no other purpose than to deprive it of all unity of effect. If a poet must be farcical, let him be just that; he can be nothing better at the same moment. To be drolly sentimental, or even sentimentally droll, is intolerable to men and gods and columns.

“ Alnwick Castle” is distinguished, in general, by that air of quiet grace, both in thought and expression, which is the prevailing feature of the muse of Halleck. Its second stanza is a good specimen of this manner. The commencement of the fourth belongs to a very high order of poetry.

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. This is gloriously imaginative, and the effect is singularly increased by the sudden transition from iambuses to anapæsts. The passage is, I think, the noblest to be found in Halleck, and I would be at a loss to discover its parallel in all American poetry.

“ Marco Bozzaris” has much lyrical, without any great amount of ideal beauty. Force is its prevailing feature—force resulting rather from well-ordered metre, vigorous rhythm, and a judicious disposal of the circumstances of the poem, than from any of the truer lyric material. I should do my conscience great wrong were I to speak of “Marco Bozzaris” as it is the fashion to speak of it, at least in print. Even as a lyric or ode it is surpassed by many American and a multitude of foreign compositions of a similar character.

“ Burns ” has numerous passages exemplifying its author's felicity of expression; as, for instance

Such graves as his are pilgrim shrines

Shrines to no code or creed confined-
The Delphian vales, the Palestines,

The Meccas of the mind

And, again,

There have been loftier themes than his,

And longer scrolls and louder lyres,
And lays lit up with Poesy's

Purer and holier fires. But to the sentiment involved in this last quatrain I feel disposed to yield an assent more thorough than might be expected. Burns, indeed, was the puppet of circumstance. As a poet, no person on the face of the earth has been more extravagantly, more absurdly overrated.

“ The Poet's Daughter” is one of the most characteristic works of Halleck, abounding in his most distinctive traits, grace, expression, repose, insouciance. The vulgarity of

I'm busy in the cotton trade

And sugar line, has, I rejoice to see, been omitted in the late editions. The eleventh stanza is certainly not English as it stands, and, besides, is quite 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” is, as a whole, one of the best poems of its author. Its simplicity and delicacy of sentiment will recommend it to all readers. It is, however, carelessly written, and the first quatrain,

Green be the turf above thee,

Friend of my better days
None knew thee but to love thee,

Nor named thee but to praise. although beautiful, bears too close a resemblance to the stili more beautiful lines of 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. In versification Mr. Halleck is much as usual, although in this regard Mr. Bryant has paid him numerous compliments. “Marco Bozzaris ” has certainly some vigor of rhythm, but its author, in short, writes carelessly, loosely, and, as a matter of course, seldom effectively, so far as the outworks of literature are concerned.

Of late days he has nearly given up the muses, and we recognise his existence as a poet chiefly by occasional translations from the Spanish or German.

Personally, he is a man to be admired, respected, but more especially beloved. His address has all the captivating bonhommie which is the leading feature of his poetry, and, indeed, of his whole moral nature. With his friends he is all ardor, enthusiasm and cordiality, but to the world at large he is reserved, shunning society, into which he is seduced only with difficulty, and upon rare occasions. The love of solitude seems to have become with him a passion.

He is a good modern linguist, and an excellent belles lettres scholar ; in general, has read a great deal, although very discursively. He is what the world calls ultra in most of his opinions, more particularly about literature and politics, and is fond of broaching and supporting paradoxes. He converses fluently, with animation and zeal; is choice and accurate in his language, exceedingly quick at repartee, and apt at anecdote. His manners are courteous, with dignity and a little tincture of Gallicism. His age is about fifty. In height he is probably five feet seven.

He has been stout, but may now be called well-proportioned. forehead is a noble one, broad, massive and intellectual, a little bald about the temples; eyes dark and brilliant, but not large ; nose Grecian ; chin prominent; mouth finely chiselled and full of expression, although the lips are thin ;-his smile is peculiarly sweet.

In "Graham's Magazine" for September, 1843, there appeared an engraving of Mr. Halleck from a painting by Inman. The likeness conveys a good general idea of the man, but is far too stout and youthful-looking for his appearance at present.

His usual pursuits have been commercial, but he is now the principal superintendent of the business of Mr. John Jacob Astor. He is unmarried.

ANN S. STEPHENS.

Mrs. STEPHENS has made no collection of her works, but has written much for the magazines, and well. Her compositions have been brief tales with occasional poems. She made her first "sensation" in obtaining a premium of four hundred dollars, offered for “the best prose story” by some one of our journals, her “ Mary Derwent” proving the successful article. The amount of the prize, however-a much larger one than it has been the custom to offer-had more to do with the éclât of the success than had the positive merit of the tale, although this is very considerable. She has subsequently written several better things“Malina Gray,” for example, "Alice Copley," and "The Two Dukes.” These are on serious subjects. In comic ones she has comparatively failed. She is fond of the bold, striking, trenchant -in a word, of the melo-dramatic; has a quick appreciation of the picturesque, and is not unskilful in delineations of character. She seizes adroitly on salient incidents and presents them with vividness to the eye, but in their combinations or adaptations she is by no means so thoroughly at home—that is to say, her plots are not so good as are their individual items. Her style is what the critics usually term “powerful,” but lacks real power through its verboseness and floridity. It is, in fact, generally turgid even bombastic-involved, needlessly parenthetical, and superabundant in epithets, although these latter are frequently well chosen. Her sentences are, also, for the most part too long; we forget their commencements ere we get at their terminations. Her faults, nevertheless, both in matter and manner, belong to the effervescence of high talent, if not exactly of genius.

Of Mrs. Stephens' poetry I have seen so very little that I feel myself scarcely in condition to speak of it.

She began her literary life, I believe, by editing “The Portland Magazine,” and has since been announced as editress of “ The Ladies' Companion,” a monthly journal published some years ago in New York, and also, at a later period, of “Graham's Magazine,” and subsequently, again, of “Peterson's National Maga

« PreviousContinue »