« PreviousContinue »
She is responsible for
selecting those of enduring value. three volumes of verse, all of which have been read. Mrs. Amelia B. Welby, a young poetess of the west, has considerable force of expression, delicacy of fancy, and the poetic feeling in large measure. Mrs. Elizabeth Hall has acquired much reputation by her dramatic poem of Miriam," which we noticed at length in a previous number of this Journal. * Elizabeth F. Ellett, Anne Peyre Dinnies (author of that noble expression of high feeling," The Wife"), Emma C. Embury, Lucy Hooper, Lucretia and Margaret Davidson, receive the due honors of Mr. Griswold's pen and scissors. He makes numerous selections from the female poets.
We wish that we had space to do some justice to the quick, teeming fancy of Willis, a quality which he exercises in the service both of sentiment and humor. But we have noticed his poems at length in a former number of this Journal, † to which we must refer our readers for an estimate of his powers. Pierpont has displayed much lyrical enthusiasm and forcible expression, which are worthy of more than a passing tribute. Drake's delicate creation, "The Culprit Fay," and his stirring lyric on "The American Flag," deserve commemoration. Hillhouse has written much which will not be forgotten. "Hadad" is a chaste and beautiful production, evincing skill and taste in composition, and pure and melodious in its tone. The sunset-tinted haziness," through which the fine humanity and suggestive imagination of Lowell are seen, would delay the course of any critic who was not in desperate haste. Mr. Griswold has hardly done him justice in the selections contained in this volume. There are many
excellent thoughts and imaginations scattered over the compositions of Brainard, Pike, Dawes, Wilde, Ware, Wilcox, Neal, Peabody, Sands, Lunt, Clarke, and others in Mr. Griswold's collection, which if the reader cannot discover himself, he will be assisted in his search by the editor's kindly and genial notices. Had we room for extracts, we might select many pieces of merit from the writings of American poets of the second class; but time and space are particularly inexorable to reviewers, and we must pause.
We can hardly conceive, that a reasonable being should
* See North American Review, Vol. XLV. p. 312.
+ Ibid., Vol. XLIII. p. 384.
look with coldness or dislike upon any efforts to establish a national literature, of which poetry is such an important element. The man, whose heart is capable of any patriotic emotion, who feels his pulse quicken when the idea of his country is brought home to him, must desire that country to possess a voice more majestic than the roar of party, and more potent than the whine of sects, a voice which should breathe energy and awaken hope wherever its kindling tones are heard. The life of our native land, the inner spirit which animates its institutions, the new ideas and principles, of which it is the representative,these every patriot must wish to behold reflected from the broad mirror of a comprehensive and soul-animating literature. The true vitality of a nation is not seen in the triumphs of its industry, the extent of its conquests, or the reach of its empire; but in its intellectual dominion. Posterity passes over statistical tables of trade and population, to search for the records of the mind and heart. It is of little moment how many millions of men were included at any time under the name of one people, if they have left no intellectual testimonials of their mode and manner of existence, no "footprints on the sands of time." The heart refuses to glow at the most astounding array of figures. A nation lives only through its literature, and its mental life is immortal. The capricious tyranny of Dionysius might well inspire fear in those whose lives and fortunes were subject to his passions and whims; but it can exercise no control over us. It died with the feeble arm of him who wielded it. But the power of Plato passed not away with his corporeal frame. Homer still sings, Socrates still speaks, to us. Greece yet lives in her literature, more real to our minds, nearer to our affections, than many European kingdoms. The true monarchs of a country are those whose sway is over thought and emotion. They are
"The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns."
America abounds in the material of poetry. Its history, its scenery, the structure of its social life, the thoughts which pervade its political forms, the meaning which underlies its hot contests, are all capable of being exhibited in a poetical aspect. Carlyle, in speaking of the settlement of Plymouth
by the Pilgrims, remarks, that, if we had the open sense of the Greeks, we should have "found a poem here; one of nature's own poems, such as she writes in broad facts over great continents." If we have a literature, it should be a national literature; no feeble or sonorous echo of Germany or England, but essentially American in its tone and object. No matter how meritorious a composition may be, as long as any foreign nation can say that it has done the same thing better, so long shall we be spoken of with contempt, or in a spirit of benevolent patronage. We begin to sicken of the custom, now so common, of presenting even our best poems to the attention of foreigners, with a deprecating, apologetic air; as if their acceptance of the offering, with a few soft and silky compliments, would be an act of kindness demanding our warmest acknowledgments. If the Quarterly Review or Blackwood's Magazine speaks well of an American production, we think that we can praise it ourselves, without incurring the reproach of bad taste. The folly we yearly practise, of flying into a passion with some inferior English writer, who caricatures our faults, and tells dull jokes about his tour through the land, has only the effect to exalt an insignificant scribbler into notoriety, and give a nominal value to his recorded impertinence. If the mind and heart of the country had its due expression, if its life had taken form in a literature worthy of itself, we should pay little regard to the childish tattling of a pert coxcomb who was discontented with our taverns, or the execrations of some bluff sea-captain who was shocked with our manners. The uneasy sense we have of something in our national existence, which has not yet been fitly expressed, gives poignancy to the least ridicule launched at faults and follies which lie on the superficies of our life. Every person feels, that a book, which condemns the country for its peculiarities of manners and customs, does not pierce into the heart of the matter, and is essentially worthless. If Bishop Berkeley, when he visited Malebranche, had paid exclusive attention to the habitation, raiment, and manners of the man, and neglected the conversation of the metaphysician, and, when he returned to England, had entertained Pope, Swift, Gay, and Arbuthnot with satirical descriptions of the "complement extern" of his eccentric host, he would have acted just as wisely as many an English tourist, with whose malicious pleasantry on
our habits of chewing, spitting, and eating, we are silly enough to quarrel. To the United States, in reference to the popgun shots of foreign tourists, might be addressed the warning which Peter Plymley thundered against Bonaparte, in reference to the Anti-Jacobin jests of Canning: Tremble, oh! thou land of many spitters and voters, "for a pleasant man has come out against thee, and thou shalt be laid low by a joker of jokes, and he shall talk his pleasant talk to thee, and thou shalt be no more!"
In order that America may take its due rank in the commonwealth of nations, a literature is needed which shall be the exponent of its higher life. We live in times of turbulence and change. There is a general dissatisfaction, manifesting itself often in rude contests and ruder speech, with the gulf which separates principles from actions. Men are struggling to realize dim ideals of right and truth, and each failure adds to the desperate earnestness of their efforts. Beneath all the shrewdness and selfishness of the American character, there is a smouldering enthusiasm which flames out at the first touch of fire, sometimes at the hot and hasty words of party, and sometimes at the bidding of great thoughts and unselfish principles. The heart of the nation is easily stirred to its depths; but those who rouse its fiery impulses into action are often men compounded of ignorance and wickedness, and wholly unfitted to guide the passions which they are able to excite. There is no country in the world which has nobler ideas embodied in more worthless shapes. All our factions, fanaticisms, reforms, parties, creeds, ridiculous or dangerous though they often appear, are founded on some aspiration or reality which deserves a better form and expression. There is a mighty power in great speech. If the sources of what we call our fooleries and faults were rightly addressed, they would echo more majestic and kindling truths. We want a poetry which shall speak in clear, loud tones to the people; a poetry which shall make us more in love with our native land, by converting its ennobling scenery into the images of lofty thoughts; which shall give visible form and life to the abstract ideas of our written constitutions; which shall confer upon virtue all the strength of principle and all the energy of passion; which shall disentangle freedom from cant and senseless hyperbole, and render it a thing of such loveliness and grandeur
as to justify all self-sacrifice; which shall make us love man by the new consecrations it sheds on his life and destiny; which shall force through the thin partitions of conventionalism and expediency; vindicate the majesty of reason; give new power to the voice of conscience, and new vitality to human affection; soften and elevate passion; guide enthusiasm in a right direction; and speak out in the high language of men to a nation of men.
A. P. Peabody
ART. II. Lowell Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity. By JOHN GORHAM PALFREY. With a Discourse on the Life and Character of John Lowell, Jr. By EDWARD EVERETT. Boston James Munroe and Company. 1843. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 367 and 444.
To the late John Lowell, Jr., we are indebted, not only for the most munificent private endowment for literary or philanthropic purposes ever made in New England, but yet more for the conception of an entirely new institution, occupying at once the highest and the broadest ground, listing in its administration the best and most cultivated minds in the community, and bringing the results of their learning and acumen within the reach of multitudes who could enjoy them in no other way. The Lowell Institute is a free University,-a University for the people, -designed to embrace every department of literary, scientific, and ethical culture, to develope and cherish original thought and laborious research on the widest range of subjects, and then to give to genius or application its best reward, in an enlarged utterance, and in the power of the highest usefulness to the greatest number.
The first series of lectures published in behalf of the Institute ought, of course, to contain Mr. Everett's beautiful biography of its founder. From this we learn, that the bequest, by which he has made his fellow-citizens so largely his debtors, was in entire harmony with his whole life and spirit. He belonged to that class of liberal-minded merchants, whose generous love of arts and letters has left its traces in the foundation of nearly every professorship in our