The Literati of New York Part IV 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. IV.
SOME HONEST OPINIONS AT RANDOM RESPECTING THEIR AUTORIAL MERITS, WITH OCCASIONAL WORDS OF PERSONALITY.
BY EDGAR A. POE.
August 1846 — Godey’s Lady’s Book
SARAH MARGARET FULLER.
Miss Fuller was at one time editor, or one of the editors of “The Dial,” to which she contributed many of the most forcible, and certainly some of the most peculiar papers. She is known, too, by “Summer on the Lakes,” a remarkable assemblage of sketches, issued in 1844 by Little & Brown, of Boston. More lately she has published “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” a work which has occasioned much discussion, having had the good fortune to be warmly abused and chivalrously defended. At present, she is assistant editor of “The New York Tribune,” or rather a salaried contributor to that journal, for which she has furnished a great variety of matter, chiefly critical notices of new books, etc. etc., her articles being designated by an asterisk. Two of the best of them were a review of Professor Longfellow’s late magnificent edition of his own works, (with a portrait,) and an appeal to the public in behalf of her friend Harro Harring. The review did her infinite credit; it was frank, candid, independent — in even ludicrous contrast to the usual mere glorifications of the day, giving honor only where honor was due, yet evincing the most thorough capacity to appreciate and the most sincere intention to place in the fairest light the real and idiosyncratic merits of the poet.
In my opinion it is one of the very few reviews of Longfellow’s poems, ever published in America, of which the critics have not had abundant reason to be ashamed. Mr. Longfellow is entitled to a certain and very distinguished rank among the poets of his country, but that country is disgraced by the evident toadyism which would award to his social position and influence, to his fine paper and large type, to his morocco binding and gilt edges, to his flattering portrait of himself, and to the illustrations of his poems by Huntingdon, that amount of indiscriminate approbation which neither could nor would have been given to the poems themselves.
The defence of Harro Harring, or rather the Philippic against those who were doing him wrong, was one of the most eloquent and well-put articles I have ever yet seen in a newspaper.
“Woman in the Nineteenth Century” is a book which few women in the country could have written, and no woman in the country would have published, with the exception of Miss Fuller. In the way of independence, of unmitigated radicalism, it is one of the “Curiosities of American Literature,” and Doctor Griswold should include it in his book. I need scarcely say that the essay is nervous, forcible, thoughtful, suggestive, brilliant, and to a certain extent scholar-like — for all that Miss Fuller produces is entitled to these epithets — but I must say that the conclusions reached are only in part my own. Not that they are too bold, by any means — too novel, too startling, or too dangerous in their consequences, but that in their attainment too many premises have been distorted and too many analogical inferences left altogether out of sight. I mean to say that the intention of the Deity as regards sexual differences — an intention which can be distinctly comprehended only by throwing the exterior (more sensitive) portions of the mental retina casually over the wide field of universal analogy — I mean to say that this intention has not been sufficiently considered. Miss Fuller has erred, too, through her own excessive objectiveness. She judges woman by the heart and intellect of Miss Fuller, but there are not more than one or two dozen Miss Fullers on the whole face of the earth. Holding these opinions in regard to “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” I still feel myself called upon to disavow the silly, condemnatory criticism of the work which appeared in one of the earlier numbers of “The Broadway Journal.” That article was not written by myself, and was written by my associate Mr. Briggs.
The most favorable estimate of Miss Fuller’s genius (for high genius she unquestionably possesses) is to be obtained, perhaps, from her contributions to “The Dial,” and from her “Summer on the Lakes.” Many of the descriptions in this volume are unrivalled for graphicality, (why is there not such a word?) for the force with which they convey the true by the novel or unexpected, by the introduction of touches which other artists would be sure to omit as irrelevant to the subject. This faculty, too, springs from her subjectiveness, which leads her to paint a scene less by its features than by its effects.
Here, for example, is a portion of her account of Niagara: —
“Daily these proportions widened and towered more and more upon my sight, and I got at last a proper foreground for these sublime distances. Before coming away, I think I really saw the full wonder of the scene. After awhile it so drew me into itself as to inspire an undefined dread, such as I never knew before, such as may be felt when death is about to usher us into a new existence. The perpetual trampling of the waters seized my senses. I felt that no other sound, however near, could be heard, and would start and look behind me for a foe. I realized the identity of that mood of nature in which these waters were poured down with such absorbing force, with that in which the Indian was shaped on the same soil. For continually upon my mind came, unsought and unwelcome, images, such as had never haunted it before, of naked savages stealing behind me with uplifted tomahawks. Again and again this illusion recurred, and even after I had thought it over and tried to shake it off, I could not help starting and looking behind me. What I liked best was to sit on Table Rock close to the great fall; there all power of observing details, all separate consciousness was quite lost.”
The truthfulness of the passages italicized will be felt by all; the feelings described are, perhaps, experienced by every (imaginative) person who visits the fall; but most persons, through predominant subjectiveness, would scarcely be conscious of the feelings, or, at best, would never think of employing them in an attempt to convey to others an impression of the scene. Hence so many desperate failures to convey it on the part of ordinary tourists. Mr. William W. Lord, to be sure, in his poem “Niagara,” is sufficiently objective; he describes not the fall, but very properly the effect of the fall upon him. He says that it made him think of his own greatness, of his own superiority, and so forth, and so forth; and it is only when we come to think that the thought of Mr. Lord’s greatness is quite idiosyncratic, confined exclusively to Mr. Lord, that we are in condition to understand how, in despite of his objectiveness, he has failed to convey an idea of anything beyond one Mr. William W. Lord.
From the essay entitled “Philip Van Artevelde,” I copy a paragraph which will serve at once to exemplify Miss Fuller’s more earnest (declamatory) style, and to show the tenor of her prospective speculations: —
“At Chicago I read again ‘Philip Van Artevelde,’ and certain passages in it will always be in my mind associated with the deep sound of the lake, as heard in the night. I used to read a short time at night, and then open the blind to look out. The moon would be full upon the lake, and the calm breath, pure light, and the deep voice, harmonized well with the thought of the Flemish hero. When will this country have such a man ? It is what she needs — no thin Idealist, no coarse Realist, but a man whose eye reads the heavens while his feet step firmly on the ground and his hands are strong and dextrous in the use of human instruments. A man, religious, virtuous and — sagacious; a man of universal sympathies, but self-possessed; a man who knows the region of emotion, though he is not its slave; a man to whom this world is no mere spectacle or fleeting shadow, but a great, solemn game, to be played with good heed, for its stakes are of eternal value, yet who, if his own play be true, heeds not what he loses by the falsehood of others. A man who lives from the past, yet knows that its honey can but moderately avail him; whose comprehensive eye scans the present, neither infatuated by its golden lures nor chilled by its many ventures; who possesses prescience, as the wise man must, but not so far as to be driven mad to-day by the gift which discerns to-morrow. When there is such a man for America, the thought which urges her on will be expressed.”
From what I have quoted a general conception of the prose style of the authoress may be gathered. Her manner, however, is infinitely varied. It is always forcible — but I am not sure that it is always anything else, unless I say picturesque. It rather indicates than evinces scholarship. Perhaps only the scholastic, or, more properly, those accustomed to look narrowly at the structure of phrases, would be willing to acquit her of ignorance of grammar — would be willing to attribute her slovenliness to disregard of the shell in anxiety for the kernel; or to waywardness, or to affectation, or to blind reverence for Carlyle — would be able to detect, in her strange and continual inaccuracies, a capacity for the accurate.
“I cannot sympathize with such an apprehension: the spectacle is capable to swallow up all such objects.”
“It is fearful, too, to know, as you look, that whatever has been swallowed by the cataract, is like to rise suddenly to light.”
“I took our mutual friends to see her.”
“It was always obvious that they had nothing in common between them.”
“The Indian cannot be looked at truly except by a poetic eye.”
“McKenney’s Tour to the Lakes gives some facts not to be met with elsewhere.”
“There is that mixture of culture and rudeness in the aspect of things as gives a feeling of freedom,” etc. etc. etc.
These are merely a few, a very few instances, taken at random from among a multitude of wilful murders committed by Miss Fuller on the American of President Polk. She uses, too, the word “ignore,” a vulgarity adopted only of late days (and to no good purpose, since there is no necessity for it) from the barbarisms of the law, and makes no scruple of giving the Yankee interpretation to the verbs “witness” and “realize,” to say nothing of “use,” as in the sentence, “I used to read a short time at night.” It will not do to say, in defence of such words, that in such senses they may be found in certain dictionaries — in that of Bolles’, for instance; — some kind of “authority” may be found for any kind of vulgarity under the sun.
In spite of these things, however, and of her frequent unjustifiable Carlyleisms, (such as that of writing sentences which are no sentences, since, to be parsed, reference must be had to sentences preceding,) the style of Miss Fuller is one of the very best with which I am acquainted. In general effect, I know no style which surpasses it. It is singularly piquant, vivid, terse, bold, luminous — leaving details out of sight, it is everything that a style need be.
I believe that Miss Fuller has written much poetry, although she has published little. That little is tainted with the affectation of the transcendentalists, (I used this term, of course, in the sense which the public of late days seem resolved to give it,) but is brimful of the poetic sentiment. Here, for example, is something in Coleridge’s manner, of which the author of “Genevieve” might have had no reason to be ashamed: —
“A maiden sat beneath a tree;
Tear-bedewed her pale cheeks be,
And she sigheth heavily.
“From forth the wood into the light
A hunter strides with carol light,
And a glance so bold and bright.
“He careless stopped and eyed the maid:
‘Why weepest thou?’ he gently said;
‘I love thee well, be not afraid.’
“He takes her hand and leads her on —
She should have waited there alone,
For he was not her chosen one.
“He leans her head upon his breast —
She knew ’twas not her home of rest,
But, ah, she had been sore distrest.
“The sacred stars looked sadly down;
The parting moon appeared to frown,
To see thus dimmed the diamond crown.
“Then from the thicket starts a deer —
The huntsman, seizing on his spear
Cries, ‘Maiden, wait thou for me here.’
“She sees him vanish into night —
She starts from sleep in deep affright,
For it was not her own true knight.
“Though but in dream Gunhilda failed —
Though but a fancied ill assailed —
Though she but fancied fault bewailed —
“Yet thought of day makes dream of night;
She is not worthy of the knight;
The inmost altar burns not bright.
“If loneliness thou canst not bear —
Cannot the dragon’s venom dare —
Of the pure meed thou shoulds’t despair.
“Now sadder that lone maiden sighs;
Far bitterer tears profane her eyes;
Crushed in the dust her heart’s flower lies.”
To show the evident carelessness with which this poem was constructed, I have italicized an identical rhyme (of about the same force in versification as an identical proposition in logic) and two grammatical improprieties. To lean is a neuter verb, and “seizing on” is not properly to be called a pleonasm, merely because it is — nothing at all. The concluding line is difficult of pronunciation through excess of consonants. I should have preferred, indeed, the ante-penultimate tristich as the finale of the poem.
The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author’s self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cypher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter a cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension — at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions. And thus he who has written very little, may in that little either conceal his spirit or convey quite an erroneous idea of it — of his acquirements, talents, temper, manner, tenor and depth (or shallowness) of thought — in a word, of his character, of himself. But this is impossible with him who has written much. Of such a person we get, from his books, not merely a just, but the most just representation. Bulwer, the individual, personal man, in a green velvet waistcoat and amber gloves, is not by any means the veritable Sir Edward Lytton, who is discoverable only in “Ernest Maltravers,” where his soul is deliberately and nakedly set forth. And who would ever know Dickens by looking at him or talking with him, or doing anything with him except reading his “Curiosity Shop?” What poet, in especial, but must feel at least the better portion of himself more fairly represented in even his commonest sonnet, (earnestly written) than in his most elaborate or most intimate personalities?
I put all this as a general proposition, to which Miss Fuller affords a marked exception — to this extent, that her personal character and her printed book are merely one and the same thing. We get access to her soul as directly from the one as from the other — no more readily from this than from that — easily from either. Her acts are bookish, and her books are less thoughts than acts. Her literary and her conversational manner are identical. Here is a passage from her “Summer on the Lakes:” —
“The rapids enchanted me far beyond what I expected; they are so swift that they cease to seem so — you can think only of their beauty. The fountain beyond the Moss islands I discovered for myself, and thought it for some time an accidental beauty which it would not do to leave, lest I might never see it again. After I found it permanent, I returned many times to watch the play of its crest. In the little waterfall beyond, Nature seems, as she often does, to have made a study for some larger design. She delights in this — a sketch within a sketch — a dream within a dream. Wherever we see it, the lines of the great buttress in the fragment of stone, the hues of the waterfall, copied in the flowers that star its bordering mosses, we are delighted; for all the lineaments become fluent, and we mould the scene in congenial thought with its genius.”
Now all this is precisely as Miss Fuller would speak it. She is perpetually saying just such things in just such words. To get the conversational woman in the mind’s eye, all that is needed is to imagine her reciting the paragraph just quoted: but first let us have the personal woman. She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility, capacity for affection, for love — when moved by a slight smile, it becomes even beautiful in the intensity of this expression; but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer. Imagine, now, a person of this description looking you at one moment earnestly in the face, at the next seeming to look only within her own spirit or at the wall; moving nervously every now and then in her chair; speaking in a high key, but musically, deliberately, (not hurriedly or loudly,) with a delicious distinctness of enunciation — speaking, I say, the paragraph in question, and emphasizing the words which I have italicized, not by impulsion of the breath, (as is usual,) but by drawing them out as long as possible, nearly closing her eyes the while — imagine all this, and we have both the woman and the authoress before us.
Mr. Lawson has himself made little effort in the field of literary labor, but is distinguished for his zeal and liberality in the good cause. He is by birth a Scotchman, but few men have more ardently at heart the welfare of American letters.
His works, so far as published in volume form, are few. I know only of “Giordano, a tragedy,” and two volumes entitled “Tales and Sketches by a Cosmopolite.” The former was performed some years ago, (at the Park, I believe,) and with no great success. The latter were more popular. One of them, “The Dapper Gentleman’s Story,” is a very clever imitation of the manner of Irving, and has “gone the rounds of the press.”
Mr. Lawson is of social habits and warm sympathies. He is enthusiastic, especially in matters of art or taste; converses fluently, tells a capital story, and is generally respected and beloved.
CAROLINE M. KIRKLAND.
Mrs. Kirkland’s “New Home,” published under the nom de plume of “Mary Clavers,” wrought an undoubted sensation. The cause lay not so much in picturesque description, in racy humor, or in animated individual portraiture, as in truth and novelty. The west at the time was a field comparatively untrodden by the sketcher or the novelist. In certain works, to be sure, we had obtained brief glimpses of character strange to us sojourners in the civilized east, but to Mrs. Kirkland alone we were indebted for our acquaintance with the home and home-life of the backwoodsman. With a fidelity and vigor that prove her pictures to be taken from the very life, she has represented “scenes” that could have occurred only as and where she has described them. She has placed before us the veritable settlers of the forest, with all their peculiarities, national and individual; their free and fearless spirit; their homely utilitarian views; their shrewd out-looking for self-interest; their thrifty care and inventions multiform; their coarseness of manner, united with real delicacy and substantial kindness when their sympathies are called into action — in a word, with all the characteristics of the Yankee, in a region where the salient points of character are unsmoothed by contact with society. So life-like were her representations that they have been appropriated as individual portraits by many who have been disposed to plead, trumpet-tongued, against what they supposed to be “the deep damnation of their taking-off.”
“Forest Life” succeeded “A New Home,” and was read with equal interest. It gives us, perhaps, more of the philosophy of western life, but has the same freshness, freedom, piquancy. Of course, a truthful picture of pioneer habits could never be given in any grave history or essay so well as in the form of narration, where each character is permitted to develop itself; narration, therefore, was very properly adopted by Mrs. Kirkland in both the books just mentioned, and even more entirely in her later volume, “Western Clearings.” This is the title of a collection of tales, illustrative, in general, of Western manners, customs, ideas. “The Land Fever” is a story of the wild days when the madness of speculation in land was at its height. It is a richly characteristic sketch, as is also “The Ball at Thram’s Huddle.” Only those who have had the fortune to visit or live in the “back settlements” can enjoy such pictures to the full. “Chances and Changes” and “Love vs. Aristocracy” are more regularly constructed tales, with the “universal passion” as the moving power, but colored with the glowing hues of the west. “The Bee Tree” exhibits a striking but too numerous class among the settlers, and explains, also, the depth of the bitterness that grows out of an unprosperous condition in that “Paradise of the Poor.” “Ambuscades” and “Half-Lengths from Life” I remember two piquant sketches to which an annual, a year or two ago, was indebted for a most unusual sale among the conscious and pen-dreading denizens of the west. “Half-Lengths” turns on the trying subject of caste. “The Schoolmaster’s Progress” is full of truth and humor. The western pedagogue, the stiff, solitary nondescript figure in the drama of a new settlement, occupying a middle position between “our folks” and “company,” and “boarding round,” is irresistibly amusing, and cannot fail to be recognised as the representative of a class. The occupation, indeed, always seems to mould those engaged in it — they all soon, like Master Horner, learn to “know well what belongs to the pedagogical character, and that facial solemnity stands high on the list of indispensable qualifications.” The spelling-school, also, is a “new country” feature which we owe Mrs. Kirkland many thanks for recording. The incidents of “An Embroidered Fact” are singular and picturesque, but not particularly illustrative of the “Clearings.” The same may be said of “Bitter Fruits from Chance-Sown Seeds;” but this abounds in capital touches of character: all the horrors of the tale are brought about through suspicion of pride, an accusation as destructive at the west as that of witchcraft in olden times, or the cry of mad dog in modern.
In the way of absolute books, Mrs. Kirkland, I believe, has achieved nothing beyond the three volumes specified, (with another lately issued by Wiley and Putnam,) but she is a very constant contributor to the magazines. Unquestionably, she is one of our best writers, has a province of her own, and in that province has few equals. Her most noticeable trait is a certain freshness of style, seemingly drawn, as her subjects in general, from the west. In the second place is to be observed a species of wit, approximating humor, and so interspersed with pure fun, that “wit,” after all, is nothing like a definition of it. To give an example — “Old Thoughts on the New Year” commences with a quotation from Tasso’s “Aminta” —
“Il mondo invecchia
E invecchiando intristisce;”
and the following is given as a “free translation” —
“The world is growing older
And wiser day by day;
Everybody knows beforehand
What you’re going to say.
We used to laugh and frolic —
Now we must behave:
Poor old Fun is dead and buried —
Pride dug his grave.”
This, if I am not mistaken, is the only specimen of poetry as yet given by Mrs. Kirkland to the world. She has afforded us no means of judging in respect to her inventive powers, although fancy, and even imagination, are apparent in everything she does. Her perceptive faculties enable her to describe with great verisimilitude. Her mere style is admirable, lucid, terse, full of variety, faultlessly pure, and yet bold — so bold as to appear heedless of the ordinary decora of composition. In even her most reckless sentences, however, she betrays the woman of refinement, of accomplishment, of unusually thorough education. There are a great many points in which her general manner resembles that of Willis, whom she evidently admires. Indeed, it would not be difficult to pick out from her works an occasional Willisism, not less palpable than happy. For example —
“Peaches were like little green velvet buttons when George was first mistaken for Doctor Beaseley, and before they were ripe he,” etc.
And again —
“Mr. Hammond is fortunately settled in our neighborhood, for the present at least; and he has the neatest little cottage in the world, standing, too, under a very tall oak, which bends kindly over it, looking like the Princess Glumdalclitch inclining her ear to the box which contained her pet Gulliver.”
Mrs. Kirkland’s personal manner is an echo of her literary one. She is frank, cordial, yet sufficiently dignified — even bold, yet especially ladylike; converses with remarkable accuracy as well as fluency; is brilliantly witty, and now and then not a little sarcastic, but a general amiability prevails.
She is rather above the medium height; eyes and hair dark; features somewhat small, with no marked characteristics, but the whole countenance beams with benevolence and intellect.
PROSPER M. WETMORE.
General Wetmore occupied some years ago quite a conspicuous position among the littérateurs of New York city. His name was seen very frequently in “The Mirror” and in other similar journals, in connection with brief poems and occasional prose compositions. His only publication in volume form, I believe, is “The Battle of Lexington and other Poems,” a collection of considerable merit, and one which met a very cordial reception from the press.
Much of this cordiality, however, is attributable to the personal popularity of the man, to his facility in making acquaintances and his tact in converting them into unwavering friends.
General Wetmore has an exhaustless fund of vitality. His energy, activity and indefatigability are proverbial, not less than his peculiar sociability. These qualities give him unusual influence among his fellow-citizens, and have constituted him (as precisely the same traits have constituted his friend General Morris) one of a standing committee for the regulation of a certain class of city affairs — such, for instance, as the getting up a complimentary benefit, or a public demonstration of respect for some deceased worthy, or a ball and dinner to Mr. Irving or Mr. Dickens.
Mr. Wetmore is not only a general, but Naval Officer of the Port of New York, Member of the Board of Trade, one of the Council of the Art Union, one of the Corresponding Committee of the Historical Society, and of more other committees than I can just now remember. His manners are recherchés, courteous — a little in the old school way. He is sensitive, punctilious; speaks well, roundly, fluently, plausibly, and is skilled in pouring oil upon the waters of stormy debate.
He is, perhaps, fifty years of age, but has a youthful look; is about five feet eight in height, slender, neat, with an air of military compactness; looks especially well on horseback.
EMMA C. EMBURY.
Mrs. Embury is one of the most noted, and certainly one of the most meritorious of our female littérateurs. She has been many years before the public — her earliest compositions, I believe, having been contributed to the “New York Mirror” under the nom de plume “Ianthe.” They attracted very general attention at the time of their appearance and materially aided the paper. They were subsequently, with some other pieces, published in volume form, with the title “Guido and other Poems.” The book has been long out of print. Of late days its author has written but little poetry — that little, however, has at least indicated a poetic capacity of no common order.
Yet as a poetess she is comparatively unknown, her reputation in this regard having been quite overshadowed by that which she has acquired as a writer of tales. In this latter capacity she has, upon the whole, no equal among her sex in America — certainly no superior. She is not so vigorous as Mrs. Stephens, nor so vivacious as Miss Chubbuck, nor so caustic as Miss Leslie, nor so dignified as Miss Sedgwick, nor so graceful, fanciful and spirituelle as Mrs. Osgood, but is deficient in none of the qualities for which these ladies are noted, and in certain particulars surpasses them all. Her subjects are fresh, if not always vividly original, and she manages them with more skill than is usually exhibited by our magazinists. She has also much imagination and sensibility, while her style is pure, earnest, and devoid of verbiage and exaggeration. I make a point of reading all tales to which I see the name of Mrs. Embury appended. The story by which she has attained most reputation is “Constance Latimer, the Blind Girl.”
Mrs. E. is a daughter of Doctor Manly, an eminent physician of New York city. At an early age she married a gentleman of some wealth and of education, as well as of tastes akin to her own. She is noted for her domestic virtues no less than for literary talents and acquirements.
She is about the medium height; complexion, eyes, and hair light; arched eyebrows; Grecian nose; the mouth a fine one and indicative of firmness; the whole countenance pleasing, intellectual and expressive. The portrait in “Graham’s Magazine” for January, 1843, has no resemblance to her whatever.
Mr. Sargent is well known to the public as the author of “Velasco, a Tragedy,” “The Light of the Light-house, with other Poems,” one or two short nouvelettes, and numerous contributions to the periodicals. He was also the editor of “Sargent’s Magazine,” a monthly work, which had the misfortune of falling between two stools, never having been able to make up its mind whether to be popular with the three or dignified with the five dollar journals. It was a “happy medium” between the two classes, and met the fate of all happy media in dying, as well through lack of foes as of friends. In medio tutissimus ibis is the worst advice in the world for the editor of a magazine. Its observance proved the downfall of Mr. Lowell and his really meritorious “Pioneer.”
“Velasco” has received some words of commendation from the author of “Ion,” and I am ashamed to say, owes most of its home appreciation to this circumstance. Mr. Talfourd’s play has, itself, little truly dramatic, with much picturesque and more poetical value; its author, nevertheless, is better entitled to respect as a dramatist than as a critic of dramas. “Velasco,” compared with American tragedies generally, is a good tragedy — indeed, an excellent one, but, positively considered, its merits are very inconsiderable. It has many of the traits of Mrs. Mowatt’s “Fashion,” to which, in its mode of construction, its scenic effects, and several other points, it bears as close a resemblance as, in the nature of things, it could very well bear. It is by no means improbable, however, that Mrs. Mowatt received some assistance from Mr. Sargent in the composition of her comedy, or at least was guided by his advice in many particulars of technicality.
“Shells and Sea Weeds,” a series of brief poems, recording the incidents of a voyage to Cuba, is, I think, the best work in verse of its author, and evinces a fine fancy, with keen appreciation of the beautiful in natural scenery. Mr. Sargent is fond of sea pieces, and paints them with skill, flooding them with that warmth and geniality which are their character and their due. “A Life on the Ocean Wave” has attained great popularity, but is by no means so good as the less lyrical compositions, “A Calm,” “The Gale,” “Tropical Weather,” and “A Night Storm at Sea.”
“The Light of the Light-house” is a spirited poem, with many musical and fanciful passages, well expressed. For example —
“But, oh, Aurora’s crimson light,
That makes the watch-fire dim,
Is not a more transporting sight
Than Ellen is to him.
He pineth not for fields and brooks,
Wild flowers and singing birds,
For summer smileth in her looks
And singeth in her words.”
There is something of the Dibdin spirit throughout the poem, and, indeed, throughout all the sea poems of Mr. Sargent — a little too much of it, perhaps.
His prose is not quite so meritorious as his poetry. He writes “easily,” and is apt at burlesque and sarcasm — both rather broad than original. Mr. Sargent has an excellent memory for good hits and no little dexterity in their application. To those who meddle little with books, some of his satirical papers must appear brilliant. In a word, he is one of the most prominent members of a very extensive American family — the men of industry, talent and tact.
In stature he is short — not more than five feet five — but well proportioned. His face is a fine one; the features regular and expressive. His demeanor is very gentlemanly. Unmarried, and about thirty years of age.
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