The Literati of New York Part II by Edgar Allan Poe
The Literati of New York City Part I
The Literati of New York City Part II
The Literati of New York City Part III
The Literati of New York City Part IV
The Literati of New York City Part V
The Literati of New York City Part VI
THE LITERATI OF NEW YORK CITY. — NO. II.
SOME HONEST OPINIONS AT RANDOM RESPECTING THEIR AUTORIAL MERITS, WITH OCCASIONAL WORDS OF PERSONALITY.
BY EDGAR A. POE.
June 1846 — Godey’s Lady’s Book
ANNA CORA MOWATT.
Mrs. Mowatt is in some respects a remarkable woman, and has undoubtedly wrought a deeper impression upon the public than any one of her sex in America.
She became first known through her recitations. To these she drew large and discriminating audiences in Boston, New York, and elsewhere to the north and east. Her subjects were much in the usual way of these exhibitions, including comic as well as serious pieces, chiefly in verse. In her selections she evinced no very refined taste, but was probably influenced by the elocutionary rather than by the literary value of her programmes. She read well; her voice was melodious; her youth and general appearance excited interest, but, upon the whole, she produced no great effect, and the enterprise may be termed unsuccessful, although the press, as is its wont, spoke in the most sonorous tones of her success.
It was during these recitations that her name, prefixed to occasional tales, sketches and brief poems in the magazines, first attracted an attention that, but for the recitations, it might not have attracted.
Her sketches and tales may be said to be cleverly written. They are lively, easy, conventional, scintillating with a species of sarcastic wit, which might be termed good were it in any respect original. In point of style — that is to say, of mere English, they are very respectable. One of the best of her prose papers is entitled “Ennui and its Antidote,” published in “The Columbian Magazine” for June, 1845. The subject, however, is an exceedingly hackneyed one.
In looking carefully over her poems, I find no one entitled to commendation as a whole; in very few of them do I observe even noticeable passages, and I confess that I am surprised and disappointed at this result of my inquiry; nor can I make up my mind that there is not much latent poetical power in Mrs. Mowatt. From some lines addressed to Isabel M——, I copy the opening stanza as the most favourable specimen which I have seen of her verse.
“Forever vanished from thy cheek
Is life’s unfolding rose —
Forever quenched the flashing smile
That conscious beauty knows!
Thine orbs are lustrous with a light
Which ne’er illumes the eye
Till heaven is bursting on the sight
And earth is fleeting by.”
In this there is much force, and the idea in the concluding quatrain is so well put as to have the air of originality. Indeed, I am not sure that the thought of the last two lines is not original; — at all events it is exceedingly natural and impressive. I say “natural,” because, in any imagined ascent from the orb we inhabit, when heaven should “burst on the sight” — in other words, when the attraction of the planet should be superseded by that of another sphere, then instantly would the “earth” have the appearance of “fleeting by.” The versification, also, is much better here than is usual with the poetess. In general she is rough, through excess of harsh consonants. The whole poem is of higher merit than any which I can find with her name attached; but there is little of the spirit of poesy in anything she writes. She evinces more feeling than ideality.
Her first decided success was with her comedy, “Fashion,” although much of this success itself is referable to the interest felt in her as a beautiful woman and an authoress.
The play is not without merit. It may be commended especially for its simplicity of plot. What the Spanish playwrights mean by dramas of intrigue, are the worst acting dramas in the world; the intellect of an audience can never safely be fatigued by complexity. The necessity for verbose explanation, however, on the part of Trueman, at the close of the play, is in this regard a serious defect. A dénouement should in all cases be taken up with action — with nothing else. Whatever cannot be explained by such action should be communicated at the opening of the story.
In the plot, however estimable for simplicity, there is of course not a particle of originality, of invention. Had it, indeed, been designed as a burlesque upon the arrant conventionality of stage incidents in general, it might have been received as a palpable hit. There is not an event, a character, a jest, which is not a well-understood thing, a matter of course, a stage-property time out of mind. The general tone is adopted from “The School for Scandal,” to which, indeed, the whole composition bears just such an affinity as the shell of a locust to the locust that tenants it — as the spectrum of a Congreve rocket to the Congreve rocket itself. In the management of her imitation, nevertheless, Mrs.; Mowatt has, I think, evinced a sense of theatrical effect or point which may lead her, at no very distant day, to compose an exceedingly taking, although it can never much aid her in composing a very meritorious drama. “Fashion,” in a word, owes what it had of success to its being the work of a lovely woman who had already excited interest, and to the very commonplaceness or spirit of conventionality which rendered it readily comprehensible and appreciable by the public proper. It was much indebted, too, to the carpets, the ottomans, the chandeliers and the conservatories, which gained so decided a popularity for that despicable mass of inanity, the “London Assurance” of Bourcicault.
Since “Fashion,” Mrs. Mowatt has published one or two brief novels in pamphlet form, but they have no particular merit, although they afford glimpses (I cannot help thinking) of a genius as yet unrevealed, except in her capacity of actress.
In this capacity, if she be but true to herself, she will assuredly win a very enviable distinction. She has done well, wonderfully well, both in tragedy and comedy; but if she knew her own strength she would confine herself nearly altogether to the depicting (in letters not less than on the stage) the more gentle sentiments and the most profound passions. Her sympathy with the latter is evidently intense. In the utterance of the truly generous, of the really noble, of the unaffectedly passionate, we see her bosom heave, her cheek grow pale, her limbs tremble, her lip quiver, and nature’s own tear rush impetuously to the eye. It is this freshness of the heart which will provide for her the greenest laurels. It is this enthusiasm, this well of deep feeling, which should be made to prove for her an inexhaustible source of fame. As an actress, it is to her a mine of wealth worth all the dawdling instruction in the world. Mrs. Mowatt, on her first appearance as Pauline, was quite as able to give lessons in stage routine to any actor or actress in America as was any actor or actress to give lessons to her. Now, at least, she should throw all “support” to the winds, trust proudly to her own sense of art, her own rich and natural elocution, her beauty, which is unusual, her grace, which is queenly, and be assured that these qualities, as she now possesses them, are all sufficient to render her a great actress, when considered simply as the means by which the end of natural acting is to be attained, as the mere instruments by which she may effectively and unimpededly lay bare to the audience the movements of her own passionate heart.
Indeed, the great charm of her manner is its naturalness. She looks, speaks and moves with a well-controlled impulsiveness, as different as can be conceived from the customary rant and cant, the hack conventionality of the stage. Her voice is rich and voluminous, and although by no means powerful, is so well managed as to seem so. Her utterance is singularly distinct, its sole blemish being an occasional Anglicism of accent, adopted probably from her instructor, Mr. Crisp. Her reading could scarcely be improved. Her action is distinguished by an ease and self-possession which would do credit to a veteran. Her step is the perfection of grace. Often have I watched her for hours with the closest scrutiny, yet never for an instant did I observe her in an attitude of the least awkwardness or even constraint, while many of her seemingly impulsive gestures spoke in loud terms of the woman of genius, of the poet imbued with the profoundest sentiment of the beautiful in motion.
Her figure is slight, even fragile. Her face is a remarkably fine one, and of that precise character best adapted to the stage. The forehead is, perhaps, the least prepossessing feature, although it is by no means an unintellectual one. Hair light auburn, in rich profusion, and always arranged with exquisite taste. The eyes are gray, brilliant and expressive, without being full. The nose is well-formed, with the Roman curve, and indicative of energy. This quality is also shown in the somewhat excessive prominence of the chin. The mouth is large, with brilliant and even teeth and flexible lips, capable of the most instantaneous and effective variations of expression. A more radiantly beautiful smile it is quite impossible to conceive.
GEORGE B. CHEEVER.
The Reverend George B. Cheever created at one time something of an excitement by the publication of a little brochure entitled “Deacon Giles’ Distillery.” He is much better known, however, as the editor of “The Commonplace Book of American Poetry,” a work which has at least the merit of not belying its title, and is exceedingly commonplace. I am ashamed to say that for several years this compilation afforded to Europeans the only material from which it was possible to form an estimate of the poetical ability of Americans. The selections appear to me exceedingly injudicious, and have all a marked leaning to the didactic. Dr. Cheever is not without a certain sort of negative ability as critic, but works of this character should be undertaken by poets or not at all. The verses which I have seen attributed to him are undeniably médiocres.
His principal publications, in addition to those mentioned above, are “God’s Hand in America,” “Wanderings of a Pilgrim under the Shadow of Mont Blanc,” “Wanderings of a Pilgrim under the Shadow of Jungfrau,” and, lately, a “Defence of Capital Punishment.” This “Defence” is at many points well reasoned, and as a clear resumé of all that has been already said on its own side of the question, may be considered as commendable. Its premises, however, (as well as those of all reasoners pro or con on this vexed topic,) are admitted only very partially by the world at large — a fact of which the author affects to be ignorant. Neither does he make the slightest attempt at bringing forward one novel argument. Any man of ordinary invention might have adduced and maintained a dozen.
The two series of “Wanderings” are, perhaps, the best works of their writer. They are what is called “eloquent;” a little too much in that way, perhaps, but nevertheless entertaining.
Dr. Cheever is rather small in stature, and his countenance is vivacious; in other respects there is nothing very observable about his personal appearance. He has been recently married.
Doctor Charles Anthon is the well-known Jay-professor of the Greek and Latin languages in Columbia College, New York, and Rector of the Grammar School. If not absolutely the best, he is at least generally considered the best classicist in America. In England and in Europe at large, his scholastic acquirements are more sincerely respected than those of any of our countrymen. His additions to Lemprière are there justly regarded as evincing a nice perception of method and accurate as well as extensive erudition, but his “Classical Dictionary” has superseded the work of the Frenchman altogether. Most of Professor Anthon’s publications have been adopted as text-books at Oxford and Cambridge — an honour to be properly understood only by those acquainted with the many high requisites for attaining it. As a commentator (if not exactly as a critic) he may rank with any of his day, and has evinced powers very unusual in men who devote their lives to classical lore. His accuracy is very remarkable; in this particular he is always to be relied upon. The trait manifests itself even in his MS., which is a model of neatness and symmetry, exceeding in these respects anything of the kind with which I am acquainted. It is somewhat too neat, perhaps, and too regular, as well as diminutive, to be called beautiful; it might be mistaken at any time, however, for very elaborate copper-plate engraving
But his chirography, although fully in keeping so far as precision is concerned with his mental character, is, in its entire freedom from flourish or superfluity, as much out of keeping with his verbal style. In his notes to the Classics he is singularly Ciceronian — if, indeed, not positively Johnsonese.
An attempt was made not long ago to prepossess the public against his “Classical Dictionary,” the most important of his works, by getting up a hue and cry of plagiarism — in the case of all similar books the most preposterous accusation in the world, although, from its very preposterousness, one not easily rebutted. Obviously, the design in any such compilation is, in the first place, to make a useful school-book or book of reference, and the scholar who should be weak enough to neglect this indispensable point for the mere purpose of winning credit with a few bookish men for originality, would deserve to be dubbed, by the public at least, a dunce. There are very few points of classical scholarship which are not the common property of “the learned” throughout the world, and in composing any book of reference recourse is unscrupulously and even necessarily had in all cases to similar books which have preceded. In availing themselves of these latter, however, it is the practice of quacks to paraphrase page after page, rearranging the order of paragraphs, making a slight alteration in point of fact here and there, but preserving the spirit of the whole, its information, erudition, etc. etc., while everything is so completely re-written as to leave no room for a direct charge of plagiarism; and this is considered and lauded as originality. Now, he who, in availing himself of the labours of his predecessors (and it is clear that all scholars must avail themselves of such labours) — he who shall copy verbatim the passages to be desired without attempt at palming off their spirit as original with himself, is certainly no plagiarist, even if he fail to make direct acknowledgment of indebtedness — is unquestionably less of the plagiarist than the disingenuous and contemptible quack who wriggles himself, as above explained, into a reputation for originality, a reputation quite out of place in a case of this kind — the public, of course, never caring a straw whether he be original or not. These attacks upon the New York professor are to be attributed to a clique of pedants in and about Boston, gentlemen envious of his success, and whose own compilations are noticeable only for the singular patience and ingenuity with which their dovetailing chicanery is concealed from the public eye.
Doctor Anthon is, perhaps, forty-eight years of age; about five feet eight inches in height; rather stout; fair complexion; hair light and inclined to curl; forehead remarkably broad and high; eye gray, clear and penetrating; mouth well-formed, with excellent teeth — the lips having great flexibility and consequent power of expression; the smile particularly pleasing. His address in general is bold, frank, cordial, full of bonhommie. His whole air is distinigué in the best understanding of the term — that is to say, he would impress any one at first sight with the idea of his being no ordinary man. He has qualities, indeed, which would have insured him eminent success in almost any pursuit; and there are times in which his friends are half disposed to regret his exclusive devotion to classical literature. He was one of the originators of the late “New York Review,” his associates in the conduct and proprietorship being Dr. F. L. Hawks and Professor R. C. Henry. By far the most valuable papers, however, were those of Doctor A.
The Reverend Ralph Hoyt is known chiefly — at least to the world of letters — by “The Chaunt of Life and other Poems, with Sketches and Essays.” The publication of this work, however, was never completed, only a portion of the poems having appeared, and none of the essays or sketches. It is to be hoped that we shall yet have these latter.
Of the poems issued, one, entitled “Old,” had so many peculiar excellences that I copied the whole of it, although quite long, in “The Broadway Journal.” It will remind every reader of Durand’s fine picture, “An Old Man’s Recollections,” although between poem and painting there is no more than a very admissible similarity.
I quote a stanza from “Old” (the opening one) by way of bringing the piece to the remembrance of any one who may have forgotten it.
“By the wayside, on a mossy stone,
Sat a hoary pilgrim sadly musing;
Oft I marked him sitting there alone,
All the landscape like a page perusing;
By the wayside on a mossy stone.”
The quaintness aimed at here is, so far as a single stanza is concerned, to be defended as a legitimate effect, conferring high pleasure on a numerous and cultivated class of minds. Mr. Hoyt, however, in his continuous and uniform repetition of the first line in the last of each stanza of twenty-five, has by much exceeded the proper limits of the quaint and impinged upon the ludicrous. The poem, nevertheless, abounds in lofty merit, and has, in especial, some passages of rich imagination and exquisite pathos. For example —
“Seemed it pitiful he should sit there,
No one sympathizing, no one heeding,
None to love him for his thin gray hair.
“One sweet spirit broke the silent spell —
Ah, to me her name was always Heaven!
She besought him all his grief to tell —
(I was then thirteen and she eleven)
One sweet spirit broke the silent spell.
“ ’Angel,’ said he, sadly, ‘I am old;
Earthly hope no longer hath a morrow:
Why I sit here thou shalt soon be told” [[‘]] —
(Then his eye betrayed a pearl of sorrow —
Down it rolled —)
‘Angel,’ said he, sadly, ‘I am old!’ ”
It must be confessed that some portions of “Old” (which is by far the best of the collection) remind us forcibly of the “Old Man” of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
“Pröemus” is the concluding poem of the volume, and itself concludes with an exceedingly vigorous stanza, putting me not a little in mind of Campbell in his best days.
“O’er all the silent sky
A dark and scowling frown —
But darker scowled each eye
When all resolved to die —
When (night of dread renown!)
A thousand stars went down.”
Mr. Hoyt is about forty years of age, of the medium height, pale complexion, dark hair and eyes. His countenance expresses sensibility and benevolence. He converses slowly and with perfect deliberation. He is married.
GULIAN C. VERPLANCK.
Mr. Verplanck has acquired reputation — at least his literary reputation — less from what he has done than from what he has given indication of ability to do. His best, if not his principal works, have been addresses, orations and contributions to the reviews. His scholarship is more than respectable, and his taste and acumen are not to be disputed.
His legal acquirements, it is admitted, are very considerable. When in Congress he was noted as the most industrious man in that assembly, and acted as a walking register or volume of reference, ever at the service of that class of legislators who are too lofty-minded to burden their memories with mere business particulars or matters of fact. Of late years the energy of his character appears to have abated, and many of his friends go so far as to accuse him of indolence.
His family is quite influential — one of the few old Dutch ones retaining their social position.
Mr. Verplanck is short in stature, not more than five feet five inches in height, and compactly or stoutly built. The head is square, massive, and covered with thick, bushy and grizzly hair; the cheeks are ruddy; lips red and full, indicating a relish for good cheer; nose short and straight; eyebrows much arched; eyes dark blue, with what seems, to a casual glance, a sleepy expression — but they gather light and fire as we examine them.
He must be sixty, but a vigorous constitution gives promise of a ripe and healthful old age. He is active; walks firmly, with a short, quick step. His manner is affable, or (more accurately) sociable. He converses well, although with no great fluency, and has his hobbies of talk; is especially fond of old English literature. Altogether, his person, intellect, tastes and general peculiarities, bear a very striking resemblance to those of the late Nicholas Biddle.
Mr. Hunt is the editor and proprietor of the well-known “Merchants’ Magazine,” one of the most useful of our monthly journals, and decidedly the best “property” of any work of its class. In its establishment he evinced many remarkable traits of character. He was entirely without means, and even much in debt and otherwise embarrassed, when, by one of those intuitive perceptions which belong only to genius, but which are usually attributed to “good luck,” the “happy” idea entered his head of getting up a magazine devoted to the interests of the influential class of merchants. The chief happiness of this idea, however, (which no doubt had been entertained and discarded by a hundred projectors before Mr. H.,) consisted in the method by which he proposed to carry it into operation. Neglecting the hackneyed modes of advertising largely, circulating flashy prospectuses and sending out numerous “agents,” who, in general, merely serve the purpose of boring people into a very temporary support of the work in whose behalf they are employed, he took the whole matter resolutely into his own hands; called personally, in the first place, upon his immediate mercantile friends; explained to them, frankly and succinctly, his object; put the value and necessity of the contemplated publication in the best light — as he well knew how to do — and in this manner obtained to head his subscription list a good many of the most eminent business men in New York. Armed with their names and with recommendatory letters from many of them, he now pushed on to the other chief cities of the Union, and thus, in less time than is taken by ordinary men to make a preparatory flourish of trumpets, succeeded in building up for himself a permanent fortune and for the public a journal of immense interest and value. In the whole proceeding he evinced a tact, a knowledge of mankind and a self-dependence which are the staple of even greater achievements than the establishment of a five dollar magazine. In the subsequent conduct of the work he gave evidence of equal ability. Having without aid put the magazine upon a satisfactory footing as regards its circulation, he also without aid undertook its editorial and business conduct — from the first germ of the conception to the present moment having kept the whole undertaking within his own hands. His subscribers and regular contributors are now among the most intelligent and influential in America; the journal is regarded as absolute authority in mercantile matters, circulates extensively not only in this country but in Europe, and even in regions more remote, affording its worthy and enterprising projector a large income, which no one knows better than himself how to put to good use.
The strong points, the marked peculiarities of Mr. Hunt could not have failed in arresting the attention of all observers of character; and Mr. Willis in especial has made him the subject of repeated comment. I copy what follows from the “New York Mirror.”
“Hunt has been glorified in the ‘Hong-Kong Gazette,’ is regularly complimented by the English mercantile authorities, has every bank in the world for an eager subscriber, every consul, every ship-owner and navigator; is filed away as authority in every library, and thought of in half the countries of the world as early as No. 3 in their enumeration of distinguished Americans, yet who seeks to do him honour in the city he does honour to? The ‘Merchants’ Magazine,’ though a prodigy of perseverance and industry, is not an accidental development of Hunt’s energies. He has always been singularly sagacious and original in devising new works and good ones. He was the founder of the first ‘Ladies’ Magazine,’* of the first children’s periodical; he started the ‘American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge[[,]]’ compiled the best known collection of American anecdotes, and is an indefatigable writer — the author, among other things, of ‘Letters About the Hudson.’
“Hunt was a playfellow of ours in round-jacket days, and we have always looked at him with a reminiscent interest. His luminous, eager eyes, as he goes along the street, keenly bent on his errand, would impress any observer with an idea of his genius and determination, and we think it quite time his earnest head was in the engraver’s hand and his daily passing by a mark for the digito monstrari. Few more worthy or more valuable citizens are among us.”
Much of Mr. Hunt’s character is included in what I have already said and quoted. He is “earnest,” “eager,” combining in a very singular manner general coolness and occasional excitability. He is a true friend, and the enemy of no man. His heart is full of the warmest sympathies and charities. No one in New York is more universally popular.
He is about five feet eight inches in height, well proportioned; complexion dark-florid; forehead capacious; chin massive and projecting, indicative (according to Lavater and general experience) of that energy which is, in fact, the chief point of his character; hair light brown, very fine, of a weblike texture, worn long and floating about the face; eyes of wonderful brilliancy and intensity of expression; the whole countenance beaming with sensibility and intelligence. He is married, and about thirty-eight years of age.
During his twelve years’ imprisonment, Maroncelli composed a number of poetical works, some of which were committed to paper, others lost for the want of it. In this country he has published a volume entitled “Additions to the Memoirs of Silvio Pellico,” containing numerous anecdotes of the captivity not recorded in Pellico’s work, and an “Essay on the Classic and Romantic Schools,” the author proposing to divide them anew and designate them by novel distinctions. There is at least some scholarship and some originality in this essay. It is also brief. Maroncelli regards it as the best of his compositions. It is strongly tinctured with transcendentalism. The volume contains, likewise, some poems, of which the “Psalm of Life” and the “Psalm of the Dawn” have never been translated into English. “Winds of the Wakened Spring,” one of the pieces included, has been happily rendered by Mr. Halleck, and is the most favourable specimen that could have been selected. These “Additions” accompanied a Boston version of “My Prisons, by Silvio Pellico.”
Maroncelli is now about fifty years old, and bears on his person the marks of long suffering; he has lost a leg; his hair and beard became gray many years ago; just now he is suffering from severe illness, and from this it can scarcely be expected that he will recover.
In figure he is short and slight. His forehead is rather low, but broad. His eyes are light blue and weak. The nose and mouth are large. His features in general have all the Italian mobility; their expression is animated and full of intelligence. He speaks hurriedly and gesticulates to excess. He is irritable, frank, generous, chivalrous, warmly attached to his friends, and expecting from them equal devotion. His love of country is unbounded, and he is quite enthusiastic in his endeavours to circulate in America the literature of Italy.
Personally, Mr. Osborn is little known as an author, either to the public or in literary society, but he has made a great many “sensations” anonymously or with a nom de plume. I am not sure that he has published anything with his own name.
One of his earliest works — if not his earliest — was “The Adventures of Jeremy Levis, by Himself,” in one volume, a kind of medley of fact, fiction, satire, criticism and novel philosophy. lt is a dashing, reckless brochure, brimful of talent and audacity. Of course it was covertly admired by the few and loudly condemned by all of the many who can fairly be said to have seen it at all. It had no great circulation. There was something wrong, I fancy, in the mode of its issue.
“Jeremy Levis” was followed by “The Dream of Alla-Ad-Deen, from the romance of ‘Anastasia,’ by Charles Erskine White, D.D.” This is a thin pamphlet of thirty-two pages, each page containing about a hundred and forty words — the whole equal to four pages of this magazine. Alla-Ad-Deen is the son of Alladdin, of “wonderful lamp” memory, and the story is in the “Vision of Mirza” or “Rasselas” way. The design is to reconcile us to death and evil, on the somewhat unphilosophical ground that comparatively we are of little importance in the scale of creation. The author himself supposes this scale to be infinite, and thus his argument proves too much; for if evil should be regarded by man as of no consequence because, “comparatively,” he is of none, it must be regarded as of no consequence by the angels for a similar reason — and so on in a never-ending ascent. In other words, the only thing proved is the rather bullish proposition that evil is no evil at all. I do not find that the “Dream” elicited any attention. It would have been more appropriately published in one of our magazines.
Next in order came, I believe, “The Confessions of a Poet, by Himself.” This was in two volumes, of the ordinary novel form, but printed very openly. It made much noise in the literary world, and no little curiosity was excited in regard to its author, who was generally supposed to be John Neal. There were some grounds for this supposition, the tone and matter of the narrative bearing much resemblance to those of “Errata” and “Seventy-Six,” especially in the points of boldness and vigour. The “Confessions,” however, far surpassed any production of Mr. Neal’s in a certain air of cultivation (if not exactly of scholarship) which pervaded it, as well as in the management of its construction — a particular in which the author of “The Battle of Niagara” invariably fails; there is no precision, no finish about anything he does — always an excessive force but little of refined art. Mr. N. seems to be deficient in a sense of completeness. He begins well, vigorously, startlingly, and proceeds by fits, quite at random, now prosing, now exciting vivid interest, but his conclusions are sure to be hurried and indistinct, so that the reader perceives a falling off, and closes the book with dissatisfaction. He has done nothing which, as a whole, is even respectable, and “The Confessions” are quite remarkable for their artistic unity and perfection. But in higher regards they are to be commended. I do not think, indeed, that a better book of its kind has been written in America. To be sure, it is not precisely the work to place in the hands of a lady, but its scenes of passion are intensely wrought, its incidents are striking and original, its sentiments audacious and suggestive at least, if not at all times tenable. In a word, it is that rare thing, a fiction of power without rudeness. Its spirit, in general, resembles that of “Miserrimus” and “Martin Faber.”
Partly on account of what most persons would term their licentiousness, partly, also, on account of the prevalent idea that Mr. Neal (who was never very popular with the press) had written them, “The Confessions,” by the newspapers, were most unscrupulously misrepresented and abused. The “Commercial Advertiser” of New York was, it appears, foremost in condemnation, and Mr. Osborn thought proper to avenge his wrongs by the publication of a bulky satirical poem, leveled at the critics in general, but more especially at Colonel Stone, the editor of the “Commercial.” This satire (which was published in exquisite style as regards print and paper,) was entitled “The Vision of Rubeta.” Owing to the high price necessarily set upon the book, no great many copies were sold, but the few that got into circulation made quite a hubbub, and with reason, for the satire was not only bitter but personal in the last degree. It was, moreover, very censurably indecent — filthy is, perhaps, the more appropriate word. The press, without exception, or nearly so, condemned it in loud terms, without taking the trouble to investigate its pretensions as a literary work. But as “The Confessions of a Poet” was one of the best novels of its kind ever written in this country, so “The Vision of Rubeta” was decidedly the best satire. For its vulgarity and gross personality there is no defence, but its mordacity cannot be gainsaid. In calling it, however, the best American satire, I do not intend any excessive commendation — for it is, in fact, the only satire composed by an American. Trumbull’s clumsy work is nothing at all, and then we have Halleck’s “Croakers,” which is very feeble — but what is there besides ? “The Vision” is our best satire, and still a sadly deficient one. It was bold enough and bitter enough, and well constructed and decently versified, but it failed in sarcasm because its malignity was permitted to render itself evident. The author is never very severe because he is never sufficiently cool. We laugh not so much at the objects of his satire as we do at himself for getting into so great a passion. But, perhaps, under no circumstances is wit the forte of Mr. Osborn. He has few equals at downright invective.
The “Vision” was succeeded by “Arthur Carryl and other Poems,” including an additional canto of the satire, and several happy although not in all cases accurate or comprehensive imitations in English of the Greek and Roman metres. “Arthur Carryl” is a fragment, in the manner of “Don Juan.” I do not think it especially meritorious. It has, however, a truth-telling and discriminative preface, and its notes are well worthy perusal. Some opinions embraced in these latter on the topic of versification I have examined in an article called “Marginalia” published lately in “The Democratic Review.”
I am not aware that since “Arthur Carryl” Mr. Osborn has written anything more than a “Treatise on Oil Painting,” issued not long ago by Messrs. Wiley and Putnam. This work is highly spoken of by those well qualified to judge, but is, I believe, principally a compilation or compendium.
In personal character, Mr. O. is one of the most remarkable men I ever yet had the pleasure of meeting. He is undoubtedly one of “Nature’s own noblemen,” full of generosity, courage, honour — chivalrous in every respect, but, unhappily, carrying his ideas of chivalry, or rather of independence, to the point of Quixotism, if not of absolute insanity. He has no doubt been misapprehended, and therefore wronged by the world; but he should not fail to remember that the source of the wrong lay in his own idiosyncrasy — one altogether unintelligible and unappreciable by the mass of mankind.
He is a member of one of the oldest and most influential, formerly one of the wealthiest families in New York. His acquirements and accomplishments are many and unusual. As poet, painter and musician, he has succeeded nearly equally well, and absolutely succeeded as each. His scholarship is extensive. In the French and Italian languages he is quite at home, and in everything he is thorough and accurate. His critical abilities are to be highly respected, although he is apt to swear somewhat too roundly by Johnson and Pope. Imagination is not Mr. Osborn’s forte.
He is about thirty-two or three — certainly not more than thirty-five years of age. In person he is well made, probably five feet ten or eleven, muscular and active. Hair, eyes and complexion, rather light; fine teeth; the whole expression of the countenance manly, frank, and prepossessing in the highest degree.
The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 270, column 2:
* At this point Mr. Willis is, perhaps, in error.
The Literati of New York by Edgar Allan Poe
The Literati of New York City Part I
The Literati of New York City Part II
The Literati of New York City Part III
The Literati of New York City Part IV
The Literati of New York City Part V
The Literati of New York City Part VI