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The reflections suggested by the scene commencing:
Alas! the very path I trace, are, also, something more than merely natural, and are richly ideal; especially the cause assigned for the early death ; and “the fragrant bough”
That drops its blossoms o'er me now. The two concluding stanzas are remarkable examples of common fancies rejuvenated, and etherealized by grace of expression, and melody of rhythm.
The “light lovely shapes" in the third stanza (however beautiful in themselves), are defective, when viewed in reference to the “ birds” of the stanza preceding. The topic . " birds” is dismissed in the one paragraph, to be resumed in the other.
“ Drops,” in the last line of the fourth stanza, is improperly used in an active sense. To drop is a neuter verb. An apple drops; we let the apple fall.
The repetition (" seemed," " seem," "seems,") in the sixth and seventh stanzas, is ungraceful; so also that of “ heart," in the last line of the seventh, and the first of the eighth. The words “ breathed” and “whispered,” in the second line of the fifth stanza, have a force too nearly identical. “Neath," just below, is an awkward contraction. All contractions are awkward. It is no paradox, that the more prosaic the construction of verse, the better. Inversions should be dismissed. The most forcible lines are the most direct. Mrs. Welby owes three-fourths of her power (so far as style is concerned), to her freedom from these vulgar, and particularly English errors--elision and inversion. O'er is, however, too often used by her in place of over, and 'twas for it
We see instances here. The only inversions, strictly speaking, are
The moon within our casement beams, and—“ Amid the shadows deep."
The versification throughout, is unusually good. Nothing can excel
And birds and streams with liquid lull
And sealed them on thy lips, my love,
or the whole of the concluding stanza, if we leave out of view the unpleasant repetition of " And,” at the commencement of the third and fifth lines, Thy white hand trained” (see stanza the fourth) involves four consonants, that unite with difficulty-ndtrand the harshness is rendered more apparent, by the employment of the spondee,“ hand trained,” in place of an iambus.“ Melody," is a feeble termination of the third stanza's last line. The syllable dy is not full enough to sustain the rhyme. All these endings, liberty, property, happily, and the like, however justified by authority, are grossly objectionable. Upon the whole, there are some poets in America (Bryant and Sprague, for example), who equal Mrs. Welby in the negative merits of that limited versification which they chiefly affect----the iambic pentameter-but none equal her in the richer and positive merits of rhythmical variety, conception--invention. They, in the old routine, rarely err. She often surprises, and always delights, by novel, rich and accurate combination of the ancient musical expressions.
I BLUSH to see, in the Literary World, an invidious notice of BAYARD TAYLOR'S “ Rhymes of Travel.” What makes the matter worse, the critique is from the pen of one who, although undeservedly, holds, himself, some position as a poet :—and what makes the matter worst, the attack is anonymous, and (while ostensibly commending) most zealously endeavors to damn the young writer “with faint praise.” In his whole life, the author of the criticism never published a poem, long or short, which could compare, either in the higher merits, or in the minor morals of the Muse, with the worst of Mr. Taylor's compositions.
Observe the generalizing, disingenuous, patronizing tone:
It is the empty charlatan, to whom all things are alike impossible, who attempts everything. He can do one thing as well as another; for he can really do nothing. . Mr. Taylor's volume, as we have intimated, is an advance upon his previous publication. We could have wished, indeed, something more of restraint in the rhetoric, but, &c., &c., &c.
The concluding sentence, here, is an excellent example of one of the most ingeniously malignant of critical ruses—that of con
demning an author, in especial, for what the world, in general feel to be his principal merit. In fact, the “rhetoric" of Mr. Taylor, in the sense intended by the critic, is Mr. Taylor's distinguishing excellence. He is, unquestionably, the most terse, glowing, and vigorous of all our poets, young or old—in point, I mean, of expression. His sonorous, well-balanced rhythm puts me often in mind of Campbell (in spite of our anonymous friend's implied sneer at mere jingling of rhymes, brilliant and successful for the moment,”) and his rhetoric in general is of the highest order :-By “rhetoric" I intend the mode generally in which Thought is presented. Where shall we find more magnificent passages than these?
First queenly Asia, from the fallen thrones
Of twice three thousand years,
Who longs for mortal tears,
And dimned her crown of gold,
From Tyre to Indus rolled.
Whose only glory streams
Which sunless winter dreams.
And the wild serpent's hiss
And waste Persepolis.
That shade the Lion-land,
The fetters on her hand.
The mighty Theban years,
Interpreted her tears. I copy these passages first, because the critic in question has copied them, without the slightest appreciation of their grandeur --for they are grand; and secondly, to put the question of "rhetoric” at rest. No artist who reads them will deny that they are the perfection of skill in their way. But thirdly, I wish to call attention to the glowing imagination evinced in the lines italicized. My very soul revolts at such efforts, (as the one I refer to,) to depreciate such poems as Mr. Taylor's. Is there no honor-no chivalry left in the land! Are our most deserving writers to be forever sneered down, or booted down, or damned down with faint praise, by a set of men who possess little other ability than that which assures temporary success to them, in common with Swaim's Panacea or Morrison's pills ? The fact is, some person should write, at once, a Magazine paper exposing-ruthlessly exposing, the dessous de cartes of our literary affairs. He should show how and why it is that the ubiquitous quack in letters can always "succeed," while genius, (which implies self-respect, with a scorn of creeping and crawling,) must inevitably succumb. He should point out the “easy arts” by which any one, base enough to do it, can get himself placed at the very head of American Letters by an article in that magnanimous journal, “The Review." He should explain, too, how readily the same work can be induced (as in the case of Simms,) to villify, and vilify personally, any one not a Northerner, for a trifling “consideration.” In fact, our criticism needs a thorough regeneration, and must have it.
HENRY B. HIRST.
Mr. Henry B. Hirst, of Philadelphia, haš, undoubtedly, some merit as a poet. His sense of beauty is keen, although indiscriminative; and his versification would be unusually effective but for the spirit of hyperism, or exaggeration, which seems to be the ruling feature of the man. He is always sure to overdo a good thing; and, in especial, he insists upon rhythmical effects until they cease to have any effect at all—or until they give to his compositions an air of mere oddity. His principal defect, however, is a want of constructive ability ;-he can never put together a story intelligibly. His chief sin is imitativeness.
He never writes anything which does not immediately put us in mind of something that we have seen better written before. Not to do him injustice, however, I here quote two stanzas from a little poem of his, called "The Owl." The passages italicized are highly imaginative :
• When twilight fades and evening falls
Alike on tree and tower,
Walks round each slumbering bower :
And all is still in sleep,
Flies from the donjon keep.
And the nightingale is still,
Is hushed upon the hill ;
As the lord of the night goes by,
But like a lady's sigh.
No one, save a poet at heart, could have conceived these images; and they are embodied with much skill. In the “ pattering step,” &c., we have an admirable "echo of sound to sense,” and the title, “ lord of the night," applied to the owl, does Mr. Hirst infinite credit--if the idea be original with Mr. Hirst. Upon the whole, the poems of this author are eloquent (or perhaps elocutionary) rather than poetic-but he has poetical merit, beyond a doubt-merit which his enemies need not attempt to smother by any mere ridicule thrown upon the man.
To my face, and in the presence of my friends, Mr. H. has always made a point of praising my own poetical efforts ; and, for this reason, I should forgive him, perhaps, the amiable weakness of abusing them anonymously. In a late number of “The Philadelphia Saturday Courier," he does me the honor of attributing to my pen a ballad called “ Ulalume,” which has been going the rounds of the press, sometimes with my name to it; sometimes with Mr. Willis's, and sometimes with no name at all. Mr. Hirst insists upon it that I wrote it, and it is just possible that he knows more about the matter than I do myself. Speaking of a particular passage, he says:
We have spoken of the mystical appearance of Astarte as a fine touch of Art. This is borrowed, and from the first canto of Hirst's Endymion-[The reader will observe that the anonymous critic has no personal acquaintance whatever with Mr. Hirst, but takes care to call him “Hirst" simply, just as we say " Homer."]---from Hirst's “ Endymion," published years since in “The Southern Literary Messenger":