The Literati of New York Part V 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. V.
SOME HONEST OPINIONS AT RANDOM RESPECTING THEIR AUTORIAL MERITS, WITH OCCASIONAL WORDS OF PERSONALITY.
BY EDGAR A. POE.
September 1846 — Godey’s Lady’s Book
FRANCES S. OSGOOD.
Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood, for the last two or three years, has been rapidly attaining distinction — and this, evidently, with no effort at attaining it. She seems, in fact, to have no object in view beyond that of giving voice to the feelings or to the fancies of the moment. “Necessity,” says the proverb, “is the mother of Invention;” and the invention of Mrs. O., at least, springs plainly from necessity — from the necessity of invention. Not to write poetry — not to think it, dream it, act it, and be it, is entirely out of her power.
It may be questioned whether, with more method, more industry, more definite purpose, more ambition, Mrs. Osgood would have made a more decided impression on the public mind. She might, upon the whole, have written better poems, but the chances are that she would have failed in conveying so vivid and so just an idea of her powers as poet. The warm abandonnement of her style — that charm which now so captivates — is but a portion and a consequence of her unworldly nature, of her disregard of mere fame; but it affords us glimpses (which we could not otherwise have obtained) of a capacity for accomplishing what she has not accomplished and in all probability never will. But in the world of poetry there is already more than enough of this uncongenial ambition and presence.
Mrs. Osgood has taken no care whatever of her literary fame. A great number of her finest compositions, both in verse and prose, have been written anonymously, and are now lying perdus about the country in out-of-the-way nooks and corners. Many a goodly reputation has been reared upon a far more unstable basis than her unclaimed and uncollected “fugitive pieces.”
Her first volume, I believe, was published six or seven years ago, by Edward Churton, of London, during the poet’s residence in that city. I have now lying before me a second edition of it, dated 1842 — a most beautifully printed book, dedicated to the Reverend Hobart Caunter. It contains a number of what the Bostonians call “juvenile” poems, written when Mrs. O. (then Miss Locke) could not have been more than thirteen, and evincing a very unusual precocity. The leading piece is “Elfrida, a Dramatic Poem,” but in many respects well entitled to the appellation “Drama.” I allude chiefly to the passionate expression of particular portions, to delineation of character, and to occasional scenic effect; in construction, (that is to say, plot,) in general conduct and plausibility, the play fails — comparatively, of course, for the hand of genius is evinced throughout.
The story is the well-known one of Edgar, Elfrida and Earl Athelwood. The king, hearing of Elfrida’s extraordinary beauty, commissions his favorite, Athelwood, to visit her and ascertain if report speaks truly of her charms. The earl, becoming himself enamored, represents the lady as anything but beautiful and agreeable, and the king is satisfied. Athelwood soon afterwards woos and weds Elfrida, giving her wealth as his reason to Edgar. The true state of the case, however, is betrayed by an enemy, and the monarch resolves to visit the earl at his castle and so judge for himself. Hearing of this resolve, Athelwood, in despair, confesses his duplicity to his wife, and entreats her to render null as far as possible the effect of her charms by dressing with unusual plainness. This the wife promises to do, but, fired with ambition and resentment at the wrong done her, arrays herself in her most magnificent and becoming costume. The king is captivated, and the result (a somewhat immoral one, although in keeping with the ordinary idea of poetical justice) is the destruction of Athelwood and the elevation of Elfrida to the throne.
These incidents are especially well adapted to dramatic purposes, and with more of that art which Mrs. Osgood does not possess, she might have woven them into a tragedy which the world would not have willingly let die. As it is, she has merely succeeded in showing what she might, should, and could have done, but unhappily did not. The character of Elfrida is the bright point of the play. Her beauty and consciousness of it, her indignation and uncompromising ambition, are depicted with power.
The English collection of which I speak was entitled “A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England.” It met with a really cordial reception in Great Britain — was favorably noticed by the “Literary Gazette,” “Times,” “Monthly Chronicle,” “Atlas,” and especially by the “Court Journal,” the “Court and Ladies’ Magazine,” “La Belle Assemblée,” and other similar works circulating very extensively among the aristocracy. Mr. Osgood’s merits as an artist had already introduced his wife into distinguished society, (she was petted in especial by Mrs. Norton and Rogers,) but her beautiful volume had at once an evidently favorable effect upon his fortunes. His pictures were all placed in a more advantageous light by her poetical and conversational grace.
As the “Wreath of Wild Flowers” has had comparatively little circulation in this country, I may be pardoned for making one or two other extracts. “The Dying Rosebud’s Lament,” although by no means one of the best poems included, will very well serve to show the earlier and more characteristic manner of the poetess.
“Ah me! — ah, woe is me!
That I should perish now,
With the dear sunlight just let in
Upon my balmy brow!
“My leaves, instinct with glowing life,
Were quivering to unclose;
My happy heart with love was rife —
I was almost a rose.
“Nerved by a hope, warm, rich, intense,
Already I had risen
Above my cage’s curving fence —
My green and graceful prison.
My pouting lips, by Zephyr pressed,
Were just prepared to part
And whisper to the wooing wind
The rapture of my heart.
“In new-born fancies reveling,
My mossy cell half riven,
Each thrilling leaflet seemed a wing
To bear me into Heaven.
“How oft, while yet an infant flower,
My crimson cheek I’ve laid
Against the green bars of my bower,
Impatient of the shade!
“And pressing up and peeping through
Its small but precious vistas,
Sighed for the lovely light and dew
That blessed my elder sisters.
“I saw the sweet breeze rippling o’er
Their leaves that loved the play,
Though the light thief stole all their store
Of dew-drop gems away.
“I thought how happy I should be
Such diamond wreaths to wear,
And frolic with a rose’s glee
With sunbeam, bird and air.
“Ah me! — ah, woe is me, that I,
Ere yet my leaves unclose,
With all my wealth of sweets, must die
Before I am a rose!”
Every true poet must here appreciate the exceeding delicacy of expression, the richness of fancy, the nice appositeness of the overt and insinuated meaning. The passages I have italicized have seldom, in their peculiar and very graceful way, been equaled — never surpassed.
I cannot speak of the poems of Mrs. Osgood without a strong propensity to ring the changes upon the indefinite word “grace” and its derivatives. It seems, indeed, the one key-phrase unlocking the cryptograph of her power — of the effect she produces. And yet the effect is scarcely more a secret than the key. Grace, perhaps, may be most satisfactorily defined as a term applied, in despair, to that class of the impressions of beauty which admit neither of analysis nor of comprehension. It is this irresoluble charm — in grace — that Mrs. Osgood excels any poetess of her country — or, indeed, of any country under the sun. Nor is she more graceful herself than appreciative of the graceful, under whatever guise it is presented to her consideration. The sentiment, the perception, and the keenest enjoyment of grace, render themselves manifest in innumerable instances, as well throughout her prose as her poetry. A fine example is to be found in “A Letter to an Absent Friend, on seeing Celeste for the first time in the Wept-of-Wish-ton-Wish,” included in the “Wild Flowers from New England.” Celeste has been often described — the effect of her dancing, I mean — but assuredly never has she been brought so fully to the eye of the mind as in the verses which follow: —
“She comes — the spirit of the dance!
And but for those large, eloquent eyes,
Where passion speaks in every glance,
She’d seem a wanderer from the skies.
“So light that, gazing breathless there,
Lest the celestial dream should go,
You’d think the music in the air
Waved the fair vision to and fro!
“Or that the melody’s sweet flow
Within the radiant creature played,
And those soft wreathing arms of snow
And white sylph feet the music made.
“Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,
Now motionless, with lifted face,
And small hands on her bosom crossed.
“And now with flashing eyes she springs —
Her whole bright figure raised in air,
As if her soul had spread its wings
And poised her one will instant there!
“She spoke not — but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.”
Messrs. Clark & Austin, of New York, have lately issued another, but still a very imperfect, collection of “Poems, by Frances S. Osgood.” In general, it embraces by no means the best of her works, although some of her best (“The Spirit of Poetry,” for example), are included. “The Daughter of Herodias,” one of her longest compositions, a very noble poem — quite as good as anything written by Mrs. Hemans — is omitted. The volume contains a number of the least meritorious pieces in the “Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England,” and also more than enough of a class of allegorical or emblematical verses — a kind of writing which, through an odd perversity, the fair authoress at one time much affected, but which no poet can admit to be poetry at all. These jeux d’esprit (for what else shall we call them?) afforded her, however, a fine opportunity for the display of ingenuity and an epigrammatism in which she especially excels.
Of this latter quality, in its better phase — that is to say, existing apart from the allegory — I must be permitted to give two exquisite specimens: —
“Oh, fragile and fair as the delicate chalices
Wrought with so rare and so subtle a skill,
Bright relics that tell of the pomp of those palaces
Venice, the sea-goddess, glories in still!
“Whose exquisite texture, transparent and tender,
A pure blush alone from the ruby wine takes,
Yet, ah, if some false hand, profaning its splendor,
Dares but to taint it with poison, it breaks.
“So when Love poured through thy pure heart his lightning,
On thy pale cheek the soft rose-hues awoke —
So when wild Passion, that timid heart frightening,
Poisoned the treasure, it trembled and broke!”
“Oh, they never can know that heart of thine,
Who dare accuse thee of flirtation;
They might as well say that the stars, which shine
In the light of their joy o’er creation,
Are flirting with every wild wave in which lies
One beam of the glory that kindles the skies.
“Smile on, then, undimmed in your beauty and grace!
Too well e’er to doubt, love, we know you;
And shed from your heaven the light of your face,
Where the waves chase each other below you —
For none can e’er deem it your shame or your sin
That each wave holds your star-image smiling within.”
“Lenore,” independently of its mere epigrammatism, well exemplifies the poet’s usual turn of thought, her exactitude and facility at illustration. The versification (except in the first quatrain, which puts me in mind of Moore), is defective. The first two lines of the third are even rough. The rhythm is dactylic, but the dactyls are all false — e. g.:
“So when Love | poured through thy | pure heart his | lightning,
On thy pale | cheek the soft | rose-hues a | woke.”
Here the necessarily long syllables, love, through, heart, pale, soft, and hues, should be short, and the rhythm halts because they are not so. “To Sarah” is the better poem in every respect; — the compliment in the two last lines is exquisitely pointed. Both these pieces appeared originally in “The Broadway Journal” (which has been honored by many of Mrs. Osgood’s very finest compositions;) the last, “To Sarah,” is not included in the volume lately published by Messrs. Clark & Austin.
What is really new in this volume shows a marked change in the themes, in the manner, in the whole character of the poetess. We see less of vivacity, less of fancy; more of tenderness, earnestness, even passion, and of the true imagination as distinguished from its subordinate fancy: the one prevalent and predominating trait, grace, alone distinctly remains. In illustration of these points I feel tempted to copy some seven or eight of the later poems, but the deep interest of my subject has already led me too far, and I am by no means writing a review. I must refer, however, to two brief songs as best exemplifying what I have said. They were quoted, about five months ago, in a notice of the works of the poetess — a notice by myself, published in this magazine; — the one commences, “She loves him yet,” the other, “Yes, lower to the level.” These pieces serve also to show the marked improvement of the writer in versification. The first-named is not only rhythmically perfect, but evinces much originality in its structure; the last, although in rhythm not so novel, is more forcible, better balanced, and more thoroughly sustained — in these respects I have seldom seen anything so good. In terse energy of expression this poem is unsurpassed.
My extracts are already extended to a greater length than I had designed or than comports with the plan of these papers, yet I cannot forbear making another. Its music, simplicity and genuine earnestness, will find their way to the hearts of all who read it.
“A MOTHER’S PRAYER IN ILLNESS.
“Yes, take them first, my Father; let my doves
Fold their white wings in Heaven, safe on Thy breast,
Ere I am called away! I dare not leave
Their young hearts here — their innocent, thoughtless hearts!
Ah, how the shadowy train of future ills
Comes sweeping down life’s vista as I gaze!
My May, my careless, ardent-tempered May,
My frank and frolic child, in whose blue eyes
Wild joy and passionate woe alternate rise;
Whose cheek the morning in her soul illumes;
Whose little loving heart a word, a glance,
Can sway to grief or glee; who leaves her play,
And puts up her sweet mouth and dimpled arms
Each moment for a kiss, and softly asks
With her clear, flute-like voice,’ Do you love me?’
Ah, let me stay — ah, let me still be by,
To answer her and meet her warm caress!
For, I away, how oft in this rough world
That earnest question will be asked in vain!
How oft that eager, passionate, petted heart,
Will shrink abashed and chilled, to learn at length
The hateful withering lesson of distrust!
Ah, let her nestle still upon this breast,
In which each shade that dims her darling face
Is felt and answered, as the lake reflects
The clouds that cross yon smiling heaven. And thou,
My modest Ellen — tender, thoughtful, true,
Thy soul attuned to all sweet harmonies —
My pure, proud, noble Ellen, with thy gifts
Of genius, grace and loveliness, half hidden
‘Neath the soft veil of innate modesty,
How will the world’s wild discord reach thy heart
To startle and appal! Thy generous scorn
Of all things base and mean; thy quick, keen taste,
Dainty and delicate; thy instinctive fear
Of those unworthy of a soul so pure;
Thy rare, unchildlike dignity of mien —
All, they will all bring pain to thee, my child.
And, oh! if even their grace and goodness meet
Cold looks and careless greetings, how will all
The latent evil yet undisciplined
In their young, timid souls, forgiveness find —
Forgiveness and forbearance, and soft chidings,
Which I, their mother, learned of Love to give?
Ah, let me stay — albeit my heart is weary,
Weary and worn, tired of its own sad beat
That finds no echo in this busy world
Which cannot pause to answer — tired alike
Of joy and sorrow, of the day and night.
Ah, take them first, my Father, and then me!
And for their sakes — for their sweet sakes, my Father,
Let me find rest beside them, at thy feet!”
Mrs. Osgood has done far more in prose than in poetry, but then her prose is merely poetry in disguise. Of pure prose, of prose proper, she has, perhaps, never written a line in her life. Her usual magazine articles are a class by themselves. She begins with a desperate effort at being sedate — that is to say, sufficiently prosaic and matter-of-fact for the purpose of a legend or an essay, but in a few sentences we behold uprising the leaven of the unrighteousness of the muse; then, after some flourishes and futile attempts at repression, a scrap of verse renders itself manifest; then another and another; — then comes a poem outright, and then another and another and another, with little odd batches of prose in between, until at length the mask is thrown fairly off and far away, and the whole article — sings.
I shall say nothing farther, then, of Mrs. Osgood’s prose.
Her character is daguerreotyped in her works — reading the one we know the other. She is ardent, sensitive, impulsive; the very soul of truth and honor; a worshipper of the beautiful, with a heart so radically artless as to seem abundant in art — universally respected, admired and beloved. In person she is about the medium height, slender even to fragility, graceful whether in action or repose; complexion usually pale; hair very black and glossy; eyes of a clear, luminous gray, large, and with a singular capacity of expression. In no respect can she be termed beautiful, (as the world understands the epithet,) but the question, “Is it really possible that she is not so?” is very frequently asked, and most frequently by those who most intimately know her. Her husband is still occupied with his profession. They have two children — the Ellen and May of the poem.
LYDIA M. CHILD.
Mrs. Child has acquired a just celebrity by many compositions of high merit, the most noticeable of which are “Hobomok,” “Philothea,” and a “History of the Condition of Women.” “Philothea,” in especial, is written with great vigor, and, as a classical romance, is not far inferior to the “Anacharsis” of Barthelemi; — its style is a model for purity, chastity and ease. Some of her magazine papers are distinguished for graceful and brilliant imagination — a quality rarely noticed in our countrywomen. She continues to write a great deal for the monthlies and other journals, and invariably writes well. Poetry she has not often attempted, but I make no doubt that in this she would excel. It seems, indeed, the legitimate province of her fervid and fanciful nature. I quote one of her shorter compositions, as well to instance (from the subject) her intense appreciation of genius in others as to exemplify the force of her poetic expression: —
“MARIUS AMID THE RUINS OF CARTHAGE.
“Pillars are fallen at thy feet,
Fanes quiver in the air,
A prostrate city is thy seat,
And thou alone art there.
“No change comes o’er thy noble brow,
Though ruin is around thee;
Thine eyebeam burns as proudly now
As when the laurel crowned thee.
“It cannot bend thy lofty soul
Though friends and fame depart —
The car of Fate may o’er thee roll
Nor crush thy Roman heart.
“And genius hath electric power
Which earth can never tame;
Bright suns may scorch and dark clouds lower,
Its flash is still the same.
“The dreams we loved in early life
May melt like mist away;
High thoughts may seem, ‘mid passion’s strife,
Like Carthage in decay;
“And proud hopes in the human heart
May be to ruin hurled,
Like mouldering monuments of art
Heaped on a sleeping world:
“Yet there is something will not die
Where life hath once been fair;
Some towering thoughts still rear on high,
s Some Roman lingers there.”
Mrs. Child, casually observed, has nothing particularly striking in her personal appearance. One would pass her in the street a dozen times without notice. She is low in stature and slightly framed. Her complexion is florid; eyes and hair are dark; features in general diminutive. The expression of her countenance, when animated, is highly intellectual. Her dress is usually plain, not even neat — anything but fashionable. Her bearing needs excitement to impress it with life and dignity. She is of that order of beings who are themselves only on “great occasions.” Her husband is still living. She has no children. I need scarcely add that she has always been distinguished for her energetic and active philanthropy.
Miss Bogart has been for many years before the public as a writer of poems and tales (principally the former) for the periodicals, having made her debût as a contributor to the original “New York Mirror.” Doctor Griswold, in a foot-note appended to one of her poems quoted in his “Poets and Poetry,” speaks of the “volume” from which he quotes; but Miss Bogart has not yet collected her writings in volume form. Her fugitive pieces have usually been signed “Estelle.” They are noticeable for nerve, dignity and finish. Perhaps the four stanzas entitled “He came too Late,” and introduced into Dr. Griswold’s compilation, are the most favorable specimen of her manner. Had he not quoted them I should have copied them here.
Miss Bogart is a member of one of the oldest families in the state. An interesting sketch of her progenitors is to be found in Thompson’s “History of Long Island.” She is about the medium height, straight and slender; black hair and eyes; countenance full of vivacity and intelligence. She converses with fluency and spirit, enunciates distinctly, and exhibits interest in whatever is addressed to her — a rare quality in good talkers; has a keen appreciation of genius and of natural scenery; is cheerful and fond of society.
CATHERINE M. SEDGWICK.
Miss Sedgwick is not only one of our most celebrated and most meritorious writers, but attained reputation at a period when American reputation in letters was regarded as a phenomenon; and thus, like Irving, Cooper, Paulding, Bryant, Halleck, and one or two others, she is indebted, certainly, for some portion of the esteem in which she was and is held, to that patriotic pride and gratitude to which I have already alluded, and for which we must make reasonable allowance in estimating the absolute merit of our literary pioneers.
Her earliest published work of any length was “A New England Tale,” designed in the first place as a religious tract, but expanding itself into a volume of considerable size. Its success — partially owing, perhaps, to the influence of the parties for whom or at whose instigation it was written — encouraged the author to attempt a novel of somewhat greater elaborateness as well as length, and “Redwood” was soon announced, establishing her at once as the first female prose writer of her country. It was reprinted in England, and translated, I believe, into French and Italian. “Hope Leslie” next appeared — also a novel — and was more favorably received even than its predecessors. Afterwards came “Clarence,” not quite so successful, and then “The Linwoods,” which took rank in the public esteem with “Hope Leslie.” These are all of her longer prose fictions, but she has written numerous shorter ones of great merit — such as “The Rich Poor Man and the Poor Rich Man,” “Live and Let Live,” (both in volume form,) with various articles for the magazines and annuals, to which she is still an industrious contributor. About ten years since she published a compilation of several of her fugitive prose pieces, under the title “Tales and Sketches,” and a short time ago a series of “Letters from Abroad” — not the least popular or least meritorious of her compositions.
Miss Sedgwick has now and then been nicknamed “the Miss Edgeworth of America;” but she has done nothing to bring down upon her the vengeance of so equivocal a title. That she has thoroughly studied and profoundly admired Miss Edgeworth may, indeed, be gleaned from her works — but what woman has not? Of imitation there is not the slightest perceptible taint. In both authors we observe the same tone of thoughtful morality, but here all resemblance ceases. In the Englishwoman there is far more of a certain Scotch prudence, in the American more of warmth, tenderness, sympathy for the weaknesses of her sex. Miss Edgeworth is the more acute, the more inventive and the more rigid. Miss Sedgwick is the more womanly.
All her stories are full of interest. The “New England Tale” and “Hope Leslie” are especially so, but upon the whole I am best pleased with “The Linwoods.” Its prevailing features are ease, purity of style, pathos, and verisimilitude. To plot it has little pretension. The scene is in America, and, as the sub-title indicates, “Sixty years since.” This, by-the-by, is taken from “Waverley.” The adventures of the family of a Mr. Linwood, a resident of New York, form the principal theme. The character of this gentleman is happily drawn, although there is an antagonism between the initial and concluding touches — the end has forgotten the beginning, like the government of Trinculo. Mr. L. has two children, Herbert and Isabella. Being himself a Tory, the boyish impulses of his son in favor of the revolutionists are watched with anxiety and vexation; and on the breaking out of the war, Herbert, positively refusing to drink the king’s health, is expelled from home by his father — an event on which hinges the main interest of the narrative. Isabella is the heroine proper, full of generous impulses, beautiful, intellectual, spirituelle — indeed, a most fascinating creature. But the family of a Widow Lee throws quite a charm over all the book — a matronly, pious and devoted mother, yielding up her son to the cause of her country — the son gallant, chivalrous, yet thoughtful; a daughter, gentle, loving, melancholy, and susceptible of light impressions. This daughter, Bessie Lee, is one of the most effective personations to be found in our fictitious literature, and may lay claims to the distinction of originality — no slight distinction where character is concerned. It is the old story, to be sure, of a meek and trusting heart broken by treachery and abandonment, but in the narration of Miss Sedgwick it breaks upon us with all the freshness of novel emotion. Deserted by her lover, an accomplished and aristocratical coxcomb, the spirits of the gentle girl sink gradually from trust to simple hope, from hope to anxiety, from anxiety to doubt, from doubt to melancholy, and from melancholy to madness. The gradation is depicted in a masterly manner. She escapes from her home in New England and endeavors to make her way alone to New York, with the object of restoring to him who had abandoned her, some tokens he had given her of his love — an act which her disordered fancy assures her will effect in her own person a disenthralment from passion. Her piety, her madness and her beauty, stand her in stead of the lion of Una, and she reaches the city in safety. In that portion of the narrative which embodies this journey are some passages which no mind unimbued with the purest spirit of poetry could have conceived, and they have often made me wonder why Miss Sedgwick has never written a poem.
I have already alluded to her usual excellence of style; but she has a very peculiar fault — that of discrepancy between the words and character of the speaker — the fault, indeed, more properly belongs to the depicting of character itself.
For example, at page 38, vol. 1, of “The Linwoods:” —
“ ’No more of my contempt for the Yankees, Hal, an’ thou lovest me,” replied Jasper. “You remember Æsop’s advice to Crœsus at the Persian court?'[[“]]
“ ’No, I am sure I do not. You have the most provoking way of resting the lever by which you bring out your own knowledge, on your friend’s ignorance.’ ”
Now all this is pointed, (although the last sentence would have been improved by letting the words “on your friend’s ignorance” come immediately after “resting,”) but it is by no means the language of schoolboys — and such are the speakers.
Again, at page 226, vol. 1, of the same novel: —
“ ’Now, out on you, you lazy, slavish loons!’ cried Rose. ‘Cannot you see these men are raised up to fight for freedom for more than themselves? If the chain be broken at one end, the links will fall apart sooner or later. When you see the sun on the mountain top, you may be sure it will shine into the deepest valleys before long.’ ”
Who would suppose this graceful eloquence to proceed from the mouth of a negro woman? Yet such is Rose.
Again, at page 24, vol. 1, same novel: —
“ ’True, I never saw her; but I tell you, young lad, that there is such a thing as seeing the shadow of things far distant and past, and never seeing the realities, though they it be that cast the shadows.’ ”
Here the speaker is an old woman who, a few sentences before, has been boasting of her proficiency in “tellin’ fortins.”
I might object, too, very decidedly to the vulgarity of such a phrase as “I put in my oar,” (meaning, “I joined in the conversation,”) when proceeding from the mouth of so well-bred a personage as Miss Isabella Linwood. These are, certainly, most remarkable inadvertences.
As the author of many books — of several absolutely bound volumes in the ordinary “novel” form of auld lang syne, Miss Sedgwick has a certain adventitious hold upon the attention of the public, a species of tenure that has nothing to do with literature proper — a very decided advantage, in short, over her more modern rivals whom fashion and the growing influence of the want of an international copyright law have condemned to the external insignificance of the yellow-backed pamphleteering.
We must permit, however, neither this advantage nor the more obvious one of her having been one of our pioneers, to bias the critical judgment as it makes estimate of her abilities in comparison with those of her present cotemporaries. She has neither the vigor of Mrs. Stephens nor the vivacious grace of Miss Chubbuck, nor the pure style of Mrs. Embury, nor the classic imagination of Mrs. Child, nor the naturalness of Mrs. Annan, nor the thoughtful and suggestive originality of Miss Fuller; but in many of the qualities mentioned she excels, and in no one of them is she particularly deficient. She is an author of marked talent, but by no means of such decided genius as would entitle her to that precedence among our female writers which, under the circumstances to which I have alluded, seems to be yielded her by the voice of the public.
Strictly speaking, Miss Sedgwick is not one of the literati of New York city, but she passes here about half or rather more than half her time. Her home is Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her family is one of the first in America. Her father, Theodore Sedgwick the elder, was an eminent jurist and descended from one of Cromwell’s major-generals. Many of her relatives have distinguished themselves in various ways.
She is about the medium height, perhaps a little below it. Her forehead is an unusually fine one; nose of a slightly Roman curve; eyes dark and piercing; mouth well-formed and remarkably pleasant in its expression. The portrait in “Graham’s Magazine” is by no means a likeness, and, although the hair is represented as curled, (Miss Sedgwick at present wears a cap — at least most usually,) gives her the air of being much older than she is.
Her manners are those of a high-bred woman, but her ordinary manner vacillates, in a singular way, between cordiality and a reserve amounting to hauteur.
LEWIS GAYLORD CLARK.
Mr. Clark is known principally as the twin brother of the late Willis Gaylord Clark, the poet, of Philadelphia, with whom he has often been confounded from similarity both of person and of name. He is known, also, within a more limited circle, as one of the editors of “The Knickerbocker Magazine,” and it is in this latter capacity that I must be considered as placing him among literary people. He writes little himself, the editorial scraps which usually appear in fine type at the end of “The Knickerbocker” being the joint composition of a great variety of gentlemen (most of them possessing shrewdness and talent) connected with diverse journals about the city of New York. It is only in some such manner, as might be supposed, that so amusing and so heterogeneous a medley of chit-chat could be put together. Were a little more pains taken in elevating the tone of this “Editors’ Table,” (which its best friends are forced to admit is at present a little Boweryish,) I should have no hesitation in commending it in general as a very creditable and very entertaining specimen of what may be termed easy writing and hard reading.
It is not, of course, to be understood from anything I have here said, that Mr. Clark does not occasionally contribute editorial matter to the magazine. His compositions, however, are far from numerous, and are always to be distinguished by their style, which is more “easily to be imagined than described.” It has its merit, beyond doubt, but I shall not undertake to say that either “vigor,” “force” or “impressiveness” is the precise term by which that merit should be designated. Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems, and — I forgive him.
“The Knickerbocker” has been long established, and seems to have in it some important elements of success. Its title, for a merely local one, is unquestionably good. Its contributors have usually been men of eminence. Washington Irving was at one period regularly engaged. Paulding, Bryant, Neal, and several others of nearly equal note have also at various times furnished articles, although none of these gentlemen, I believe, continue their communications. In general, the contributed matter has been praiseworthy; the printing, paper, and so forth, have been excellent, and there certainly has been no lack of exertion in the way of what is termed “putting the work before the eye of the public;” still some incomprehensible incubus has seemed always to sit heavily upon it, and it has never succeeded in attaining position among intelligent or educated readers. On account of the manner in which it is necessarily edited, the work is deficient in that absolutely indispensable element, individuality. As the editor has no precise character, the magazine, as a matter of course, can have none. When I say “no precise character,” I mean that Mr. C., as a literary man, has about him no determinateness, no distinctiveness, no saliency of point; — an apple, in fact, or a pumpkin, has more angles. He is as smooth as oil or a sermon from Doctor Hawks; he is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing.
What is the precise circulation of “The Knickerbocker” at present I am unable to say; it has been variously stated at from eight to eighteen hundred subscribers. The former estimate is no doubt too low, and the latter, I presume, is far too high. There are, perhaps, some fifteen hundred copies printed.
At the period of his brother’s decease, Mr. Lewis G. Clark bore to him a striking resemblance, but within the last year or two there has been much alteration in the person of the editor of the “Knickerbocker.” He is now, perhaps, forty-two or three, but still good-looking. His forehead is, phrenologically, bad — round and what is termed “bullety.” The mouth, however, is much better, although the smile is too constant and lacks expression; the teeth are white and regular. His hair and whiskers are dark, the latter meeting voluminously beneath the chin. In height Mr. C. is about five feet ten or eleven, and in the street might be regarded as quite a “personable man;” in society I have never had the pleasure of meeting him. He is married, I believe.
ANNE C. LYNCH.
Miss Anne Charlotte Lynch has written little; — her compositions are even too few to be collected in volume form. Her prose has been, for the most part, anonymous — critical papers in “The New York Mirror” and elsewhere, with unacknowledged contributions to the annuals, especially “The Gift,” and “The Diadem,” both of Philadelphia. Her “Diary of a Recluse,” published in the former work, is, perhaps, the best specimen of her prose manner and ability. I remember, also, a fair critique on Fanny Kemble’s poems; — this appeared in “The Democratic Review.”
In poetry, however, she has done better, and given evidence of at least unusual talent. Some of her compositions in this way are of merit, and one or two of excellence. In the former class I place her “Bones in the Desert,” published in “The Opal” for 1846, her “Farewell to Ole Bull,” first printed in “The Tribune,” and one or two of her sonnets — not forgetting some graceful and touching lines on the death of Mrs. Willis. In the latter class I place two noble poems, “The Ideal” and “The Ideal Found.” These should be considered as one, for each is by itself imperfect. In modulation and vigor of rhythm, in dignity and elevation of sentiment, in metaphorical appositeness and accuracy, and in energy of expression, I really do not know where to point out anything American much superior to them. Their ideality is not so manifest as their passion, but I think it an unusual indication of taste in Miss Lynch, or (more strictly) of an intuitive sense of poetry’s true nature, that this passion is just sufficiently subdued to lie within the compass of the poetic art, within the limits of the beautiful. A step farther and it might have passed them. Mere passion, however exciting, prosaically excites; it is in its very essence homely, and delights in homeliness: but the triumph over passion, as so finely depicted in the two poems mentioned, is one of the purest and most idealizing manifestations of moral beauty.
In character Miss Lynch is enthusiastic, chivalric, self-sacrificing, “equal to any Fate,” capable of even martyrdom in whatever should seem to her a holy cause — a most exemplary daughter. She has her hobbies, however, (of which a very indefinite idea of “duty” is one,) and is, of course, readily imposed upon by any artful person who perceives and takes advantage of this most amiable failing.
In person she is rather above the usual height, somewhat slender, with dark hair and eyes — the whole countenance at times full of intelligent expression. Her demeanor is dignified, graceful, and noticeable for repose. She goes much into literary society.
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