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A faint symphony to Heaven ascending-
Of a thought as weak as aspiration-
Of grace, magnificence and power
O'erwhelm this darkness that shuts out the skyAlexandrines, in the same metre, are encountered at every stepbut it is very clear from the points at which they are met, and at which the cosura is placed, that Mr. Lord has no idea of employing them as Alexandrines :— They are merely excessive, that is to say, defective Pentameters. In a word, judging by his rhythm, we might suppose that the poet could neither see, hear, nor make use of his fingers. We do not know, in America, a versifier so utterly wretched and comtemptible.
His most extraordinary sins, however, are in point of English. Here is his dedication, embodied in the very first page of the book :
“ To Professor Albert B. Dod, These Poems, the offspring of an Earnest (if ineffectual) Desire towards the True and Beautiful, which were hardly my own by Paternity, when they became his by Adoption, are inscribed, with all Reverence and Affection, by the Author."
What is anybody to make of all this? What is the meaning of a desire toward ?-and is it the “ True and Beautiful" or the “ Poems” which were hardly Mr. Lord's "own by paternity before they became his [Mr. Dod's] by adoption." At page 12, we read :
Think heedless one, or who with wanton step
Tramples the flowers. At page 75, within the compass of eleven lines, we have three of the grossest blunders :
Oh Thou for whom as in thyself Thou art,
With sudden light illuminated,
Looked down with brooding eye!
But ah! my heart, unduteous to my will,
Solicit joy, they murmur and lament.
And still and rapt as pictured Saint might be
Like saint-like seemed as her she did adore. At page 129, there is a similar error:
With half-closed eyes and ruffled feathers known
As them that fly not with the changing year.
And thou didst dwell therein so truly loved
And yet perceived not, &c.
But yet it may not cannot be
That thou at length hath sunk to rest. Invariably Mr. Lord writes didst did'st; couldst could'st, &c. The fact is he is absurdly ignorant of the commonest principles of grammar—and the only excuse we can make to our readers for annoying them with specifications in this respect is that, without the specifications, we should never have been believed.
But enough of this folly. We are heartily tired of the book, , and thoroughly disgusted with the impudence of the parties who have been aiding and abetting in thrusting it before the public. To the poet himself we have only to say—from any farther specimens of your stupidity, good Lord deliver us!
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
Mr. Bryant's position in the poetical world is, perhaps, better settled than that of any American. There is less difference of opinion about his rank; but, as usual, the agreement is more decided in private literary circles than in what appears to be the public expression of sentiment as gleaned from the press. I may as well observe here, too, that this coincidence of opinion in private circles is in all cases very noticeable when compared with the discrepancy of the apparent public opinion. In private it is quite a rare thing to find any strongly-marked disagreement_I mean, of course, about mere autorial merit. The author accustomed to seclusion, and mingling for the first time freely with the literary people about him, is invariably startled and delighted to find that the decisions of his own unbiased judgment-decisions to which he has refrained from giving voice on account of their broad contradiction to the decision of the press—are sustained and considered quite as matters of course by almost every person with whom he converses. The fact is, that when brought face to face with each other, we are constrained to a certain amount of honesty by the sheer trouble it causes us to mould the countenance to a lie. We put on paper with a grave air what we could not for our lives assert personally to a friend without either blushing or laughing outright. That the opinion of the press is not an honest opinion, that necessarily it is impossible that it should be an honest opinion, is never denied by the members of the
themselves. Individual presses, of course, are now and then honest, but I speak of the combined effect. Indeed, it would be difficult for those conversant with the modus operandi of public journals to deny the general falsity of impression conveyed. Let in America a book be published by an unknown, careless or uninfluential author; if he publishes it “
on his own account,” he will be confounded at finding that no notice of it is taken at all. If it has been entrusted to a publisher of caste, there will appear forth with in each of the leading business papers a variously-phrased critique to the extent of three or four lines, and to the effect that “ we have received, from the fertile press of So and So, a volume entitled This and That, which appears to be well worthy perusal, and which is ‘got up' in the customary neat style of the enterprising firm of So and
On the other hand, let our author have acquired influence, experience, or (what will stand him in good stead of either) effrontery, on the issue of his book he will obtain from his publisher a hundred copies (or more, as the case may be) “for distrit on among friends connected with the press.” Armed with these, he will call personally either at the office or (if he understands his game) at the private residence of every editor within his reach, enter into conversation, compliment the journalist, interest him, as if incidentally, in the subject of the book, and finally, watching an opportunity, beg leave to hand him “a volume which, quite opportunely, is on the very matter now under discussion.” If the editor seems sufficiently interested, the rest is left to fate; but if there is any lukewarmness, (usually indicated by a polite regret on the editor's part that he really has “no time to render the work that justice which its importance demands,") then our author is prepared to understand and to sympathize ; bas, luckily, a friend thoroughly conversant with the topic, and who (perhaps) could be persuaded to write some account of the volume-provided that the editor would be kind enough just to glance over the critique and amend it in accordance with his own particular views. Glad to fill half a column or so of his editorial space, and still more glad to get rid of his visitor, the journalist assents. The author retires, consults the friend, instructs him touching the strong points of the volume, and insinuating in some shape a quid pro quo, gets an elaborate critique written, (or, what is more usual and far more simple, writes it himself,) and his business in this individual quarter is accomplished. Nothing more than sheer impudence is requisite to accomplish it in all.
Now the effect of this system (for it has really grown to be such) is obvious. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, men of genius, too indolent and careless about worldly concerns to bestir themselves after this fashion, have also that pride of intellect which would prevent them, under any circumstances, from even insinuating, by the presentation of a book to a member of the press, a desire to have that book reviewed. They, consequently, and their
works, are utterly overwhelmed and extinguished in the flood of the apparent public adulation upon which in gilded barges are borne triumphant the ingenious toady and the diligent quack.
In general, the books of the toadies and quacks, not being read at all, are safe from any contradiction of this self-bestowed praise ; but now and then it happens that the excess of the laudation works out in part its own remedy. Men of leisure, hearing one of the toady works commended, look at it, read its preface and a few pages of its body, and throw it aside with disgust, wondering at the ill taste of the editors who extol it. But there is an iteration, and then a continuous reiteration of the panegyric, till these men of leisure begin to suspect themselves in the wrong, to fancy that there may really be something good lying perdu in the volume. In a fit of desperate curiosity they read it through critically, their indignation growing hotter at each succeeding page till it gets the better even of contempt. The result is, that reviews now appear in various quarters entirely at variance with the opinions so generally expressed, and which, but for these indignation reviews, would have passed universally current as the opinion of the public. It is in this manner that those gross seeming discrepancies arise which so often astonish us, but which vanish instantaneously in private society.
But although it may be said, in general, that Mr. Bryant's position is comparatively well settled, still for some time past there has been a growing tendency to under-estimate him. The new licentious “schools” of poetry—I do not now speak of the transcendentalists, who are the merest nobodies, fatiguing even themselves—but the Tennysonian and Barrettian schools, having, in their rashness of spirit, much in accordance with the whole spirit of the age, thrown into the shade necessarily all that seems akin to the conservatism of half a century ago. The conventionalities, even the most justifiable decora of composition, are regarded, per se, with a suspicious eye. When I say per se, I mean that, from finding them so long in connexion with conservatism of thought, we have come at last to dislike them, not merely as the outward visible signs of that conservatism, but as things evil in themselves. It is very clear that those accuracies and elegancies of style, and of general manner, which in the time of Pope were considered as