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Dr. Griswold, in summing up his comments on
Bryant, has the following significant objections:
" His genius is not versatile ; he has related no history ;
he has not sung of the passion of love; he has not
described artificial life. Still the tenderness and feeling
in The Death of the Flowers, Rizpah, The Indian
Girl's Lament , and other pieces, show that he might
have excelled in delineations of the gentler passions
had he made them his study."

Now, in describing no artificial life, in relating no
history, in not singing the passion of love, the poet


William Cullen Bryant

has merely shown himself the profound artist, has
merely evinced a proper consciousness that such are
not the legitimate themes of poetry. That they are not,
I have repeatedly shown, or attempted to show, and
to go over the demonstration now would be foreign to
the gossiping and desultory nature of the present
article. What Dr. Griswold means by " the gentler
passions " is, I presume, not very clear to himself,
but it is possible that he employs the phrase in conse
quence of the gentle, unpassionate emotion induced
by the poems of which he quotes the titles. It is
precisely this " unpassionate emotion " which is the
limit of the true poetical art. Passion proper and
poesy are discordant. Poetry, in elevating, tran
quillizes the soul. With the heart it has nothing to
do. For a fuller explanation of these views I refer
the reader to an analysis of a poem by Mrs. Welby,
an analysis contained in an article called Marginalia,
and published about a year ago in The Democratic


The editor of The Poets and Poetry of America
thinks the literary precocity of Bryant remarkable.
" There are few recorded more remarkable," he says.
The first edition of The Embargo was in 1808, and
the poet was born in 1794; he was more than thirteen,
then, when the satire was printed; although it is re
ported to have been written a year earlier. I quote a
few lines :


William Cullen Bryant

Oh, might some patriot rise, the gloom dispel,
Chase Error's mist and break the magic spell!
But vain the wish; for, hark! the murmuring meed
Of hoarse applause from yonder shed proceed.
Enter and view the thronging concourse there,
Intent with gaping mouth and stupid stare ;
While in the midst their supple leader stands,
Harangues aloud, and flourishes his hands,
To adulation tunes his servile throat,
And sues successful for each blockhead's vote.

This is a fair specimen of the whole, both as regards
its satirical and rhythmical power. A satire is, of
course, no poem. I have known boys of an earlier
age do better things, although the case is rare. All
depends upon the course of education. Bryant's
father " was familiar with the best English literature,
and perceiving in his son indications of superior
genius, attended carefully to his instruction, taught
him the art of composition, and guided his literary
taste." This being understood, the marvel of such
verse as I have quoted ceases at once, even admitting
it to be thoroughly the boy's own work; but it is
difficult to make any such admission. The father
must have suggested, revised, retouched.

The longest poem of Bryant is The Ages thirty-five
Spenserian stanzas. It is the one improper theme of
its author. The design is, " from a survey of the past
ages of the world, and of the successive advances of
mankind in knowledge and virtue, to justify and


William Cullen Bryant

confirm the hopes of the philanthropist for the future
destinies of the human race." All this would have
been more rationally, because more effectually, ac
complished in prose. Dismissing it as a poem (which
in its general tendency it is not), one might com
mend the force of its argumentation but for the
radical error of deducing a hope of progression from
the cycles of physical nature.

The sixth stanza is a specimen of noble versifica
tion (within the narrow limits of the iambic penta
meter) :

Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth

In her fair page ; see, every season brings

New change to her of everlasting youth ;

Still the green soil with joyous living things

Swarms ; the wide air is full of joyous wings ;

And myriads still are happy in the sleep

Of Ocean's azure gulfs, and where he flings

The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep

In his complacent arms the earth, the air, the deep.

The cadences here at "page," "swarms," and
" surge " cannot be surpassed. There are compara
tively few consonants. Liquids and the softer vowels
abound, and the partial line after the pause at " surge,"
with the stately march of the succeeding Alexandrine,
is one of the finest conceivable finales.

The poem, in general, has unity, completeness. Its
tone of calm, elevated, and hopeful contemplation is


William Cullen Bryant

well sustained throughout. There is an occasional
quaint grace of expression, as in

Nurse of full streams, and lifter up of proud
Sky-mingling mountains that overlook the cloud!

or of antithetical and rhythmical force combined, as in

The shock that hurled

To dust, in many fragments dashed and strown,
The throne whose roots were in another world,
And whose far-stretching shadow awed our own.

But we look in vain for anything more worthy

Thanatopsts is the poem by which its author is best
known, but is by no means his best poem. It owes
the extent of its celebrity to its nearly absolute free
dom from defect, in the ordinary understanding of
the term. I mean to say that its negative merit recom
mends it to the public attention. It is a thoughtful,
well-phrased, well-constructed, well-versified poem.
The concluding thought is exceedingly noble, and has
done wonders for the success of the whole composition.

The Waterfowl is very beautiful, but, like Thana*
topsist owes a great deal to its completeness and
pointed termination.

Oh, Fairest of the Rural Maids ! will strike every
poet as the truest poem written by Bryant. It is
richly ideal.

June is sweet, and perfectly well modulated in its

William Cullen Bryant

rhythm, and inexpressibly pathetic. It serves well to
illustrate my previous remarks about the passion in
its connection with poetry. In June there is, very
properly, nothing of the intense passion of gnef, but
the subdued sorrow which comes up, as if perforce, to
the surface of the poet's gay sayings about his grave,
we find thrilling us to the soul, while there is yet a
spiritual elevation in the thrill.

And what if cheerful shouts at noon

Come, from the village sent,
Or songs of maids, beneath the moon

With fairy laughter blent ?
And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight

Of my low monument ?
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.

I know, I know I should not see

The season's glorious show,
Nor would its brightness shine for me,

Nor its wild music flow;
But if around my place of sleep
The friends I love should come to weep,

They might not haste to go :
Soft airs, and song, and light, and bloom,
Should keep them lingering by my tomb.

The thoughts here belong to the highest class of
poetry, the imaginative-natural, and are of themselves
sufficient to stamp their author a man of genius.


William Cullen Bryant

I copy at random a few passages of similar cast,
inducing a similar conviction :

The great heavens

Seem to stoop down upon the scene in love,
A nearer vault, and of a tenderer blue
Than that which bends above the eastern hills.

Till twilight blushed, and lovers walked and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes,
From instruments of unremembered form,
Gave the soft winds a voice.

Breezes of the South

That toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie hawk, that, poised on high,
Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not.

On the breast of Earth
I lie, and listen to her mighty voice,
A voice of many tones sent up from streams
That wander through the gloom, from woods unseen
Swayed by the sweeping of the tides of air ;
From rocky chasms where darkness dwells all day,
And hollows of the great invisible hills,
And sands that edge the ocean, stretching far
Into the night a melancholy sound!

All the green herbs

Are stirring in his breath ; a thousand flowers,
By the road side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other.

VOL. VIII. 20.

William Cullen Bryant

[There is a fine " echo of sound to sense " in " the
borders of the brook," etc.; and in the same poem
from which these lines are taken ( The Summer Wind)
may be found two other equally happy examples, e,g,t

For me, I lie

Languidly In the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness.

And again:

All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing.

I resume the imaginative extracts.]

Paths, homes, graves, ruins from the lowest glen
To where lif e shrinks from the fierce Alpine air.

And the blue gentian flower that in the breeze
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.

A shoot of that old vine that made
The nations silent in the shade.

But 'neath yon crimson tree,
Lover to listening maid might breathe his flame,
Nor mark, within its roseate canopy,

Her flush of maiden shame.

The mountains that infold,

In their wild sweep, the colored landscape round,
Seem groups of giant kings in purple and gold

That guard the enchanted ground.


William Cullen Bryant

[This latter passage is especially beautiful. Happily
to endow inanimate nature with sentience and a ca
pability of action, is one of the severest tests of the

There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,
The desert and illimitable air,

Lone, wandering, but not lost.

Pleasant shall be thy way, where meekly bows

The shutting flower, and darkling waters pass

And 'twixt the overshadowing branches and the grass.

Sweet odors in the sea air, sweet and strange,
Shall tell the home-sick mariner of the shore,
And, listening to thy murmur, he shall deem
He hears the rustling leaf and running stream.

In a sonnet, To , are some richly imaginative

lines. We quote the whole :

Ay, thou art for the grave ; thy glances shine

Too brightly to shine long : another spring
Shall deck her for men's eyes, but not for thine,

Sealed in a sleep which knows no waking.
The fields for thee have no medicinal leaf,

And the vexed ore no mineral of power;
And they who love thee wait in anxious grief

Till the slow plague shall bring the fatal hour.
Glide softly to thy rest, then : death should come

Gently to one of gentle mould like thee,


William Cullen Bryant

As light winds wandering through groves of bloom

Detach the delicate blossom from the tree.
Close thy sweet eyes calmly and without pain,
And we will trust in God to see thee yet again.

The happiest finale to these brief extracts will be the
magnificent conclusion of Thanatopsis,

So live that, when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one that draws the drapery of his couch
About, him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

In the minor morals of the Muse Mr. Bryant excels.
In versification (as far as he goes) he is unsurpassed
in America unless, indeed, by Mr. Sprague. Mr.
Longfellow is not so thorough a versifier within Mr.
Bryant's limits, but a far better one, upon the whole,
on account of his greater range. Mr. B., however, is
by no means always accurate, or defensible, for ac
curate is not the term. His lines are occasionally
unpronounceable through excess of harsh consonants,
as in

As if they loved to breast the breeze that sweeps the cool
clear sky.


William Cullen Bryant

Now and then he gets out of his depth in attempting
anapaestic rhythm, of which he makes sad havoc, as in

And Rizpah, once the loveliest of all

That bloomed and smiled in the court of Saul.

Not unfrequently, too, even his pentameters are in
excusably rough, as in

Kind influence. Lo ! their orbs burn more bright,

which can only be read metrically by drawing out
" influence " into three marked syllables, shortening
the long monosyllable " Lo ! " and lengthening the
short one " their."

Mr. Bryant is not devoid of mannerisms, one of the
most noticeable of which is his use of the epithet " old "
preceded by some other adjective, e, gj

In all that proud old world beyond the deep ; . . .
There is a tale about these gray old rocks; . . .
The wide old woods resounded with her song; . . .
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven,

etc., etc., etc. These duplicates occur so frequently
as to excite a smile upon each repetition.

Of merely grammatical errors the poet is rarely
guilty. Faulty constructions are more frequently
chargeable to him. In The Massacre of Scio we read:

Till the last link of slavery's chain
Is shivered, to be worn no more.


William Cullen Bryant

What shall be worn no more ? The chain, of course,
but the link is implied. It will be understood that I
pick these flaws only with difficulty from the poems of
Bryant. He is, in the " minor morals," the most gen
erally correct of our poets.

He is now fifty-two years of age. In height, he is,
perhaps, five feet nine. His frame is rather robust.
His features are large but thin. His countenance is
sallow, nearly bloodless. His eyes are piercing gray,
deep set, with large projecting eyebrows. His mouth
is wide and massive, the expression of the smile hard,
cold, even sardonic. The forehead is broad, with
prominent organs of ideality; a good deal bald; the
hair thin and grayish, as are also the whiskers, which
he wears in a simple style. His bearing is quite dis
tinguished, full of the aristocracy of intellect. In gen
eral, he looks in better health than before his last visit
to England. He seems active, physically and morally
energetic. His dress is plain to the extreme of sim
plicity, although of late there is a certain degree of
Anglicism about it.

In character no man stands more loftily than Bryant.
The peculiarly melancholy expression of his counte
nance has caused him to be accused of harshness, or
coldness of heart. Never was there a greater mistake.
His soul is charity itself, in all respects generous and
noble. His manners are undoubtedly reserved.

Of late days he has nearly, if not altogether aban-

William Cullen Bryant

doned literary pursuits, although still editing, with un
abated vigor, the New York Evening Post He is
married (Mrs. Bryant still living), has two daughters
(one of them Mrs. Parke Godwin), and is residing for
the present at Vice-Chancellor McCown's, near the
junction of Warren and Church streets.

The Literati

[In 1846, Mr. Poe published in The Lady's Boot a. scries of
six articles, entitled " The Literati of New York City," in
which he professed to give some " honest opinions at
random respecting their authorial merits, with occasional
words of personality." The series was introduced by
the following paragraphs, and the personal sketches were
given in the order in which they are here reprinted,
from " George Bush " to " Richard Adams Locke." The
other notices of American and foreign writers were contri
buted by Mr. Poe to various journals, chiefly in the last
four or five years of his life.]

a criticism on Bryant I was at some pains in
pointing out the distinction between the
popular " opinion " of the merits of con
temporary authors and that held and expressed of
them in private literary society. The former species
of " opinion " can be called " opinion " only by cour
tesy. It is the public's own, just as we consider a book
our own when we have bought it. In general, this


The Literati

opinion is adopted from the journals of the day, and I
have endeavored to show that the cases are rare indeed
in which these journals express any other sentiment
about books than such as may be attributed directly or
indirectly to the authors of the books. The most
" popular," the most " successful " writers among us
(for a brief period, at least) are, ninety-nine times out
of a hundred, persons of mere address, perseverance,
effrontery in a word, busybodies, toadies, quacks.
These people easily succeed in boring editors (whose
attention is too often entirely engrossed by politics or
other " business " matter) into the admission of favor
able notices written or caused to be written by inter
ested parties, or, at least, into the admission of some
notice where, under ordinary circumstances, no notice
would be given at all. In this way ephemeral " re
putations " are manufactured, which, for the most
part, serve all the purposes designed; that is to say,
the putting money into the purse of the quack and the
quack's publisher; for there never was a quack who
could be brought to comprehend the value of mere
fame. Now, men of genius will not resort to these
manoeuvres, because genius involves in its very es
sence a scorn of chicanery; and thus for a time the
quacks always get the advantage of them, both in re
spect to pecuniary profit and what appears to be public

There is another point of view too. Your literary

The Literati

quacks court, in especial, the personal acquaintance of
those " connected with the press." Now these latter,
even when penning a voluntary, that is to say, an un-
instigated notice of the book of an acquaintance, feel
as if writing not so much for the eye of the public as
for the eye of the acquaintance, and the notice is fash
ioned accordingly. The bad points of the work are
slurred over, and the good ones brought out into the
best light, all this through a feeling akin to that which
makes it unpleasant to speak ill of one to one's face.
In the case of men of genius, editors, as a general rule,
have no such delicacy, for the simple reason that, as
a general rule, they have no acquaintance with these
men of genius, a class proverbial for shunning society.
But the very editors who hesitate at saying in print
an ill word of an author personally known, are usually
the most frank in speaking about him privately. In
literary society, they seem bent upon avenging the
wrongs self-inflicted upon their own consciences.
Here, accordingly, the quack is treated as he deserves,
even a little more harshly than he deserves, by way of
striking a balance. True merit, on the same principle,
is apt to be slightly overrated; but, upon the whole,
there is a close approximation to absolute honesty of
opinion; and this honesty is further secured by the
mere trouble to which it puts one in conversation to
model one's countenance to a falsehood. We place
on paper without hesitation a tissue of flatteries to

The Literati

which in society we could not give utterance, for our
lives, without either blushing or laughing outright.

For these reasons there exists a very remarkable
discrepancy between the apparent public opinion of any
given author's merits and the opinion which is ex
pressed of him orally by those who are best qualified
to judge. For example, Mr. Hawthorne, the author of
Twice ^Told Tales > is scarcely recognized by the press
or by the public, and when noticed at all, is noticed
merely to be damned by faint praise. Now, my own
opinion of him is, that, although his walk is limited,
and he is fairly to be charged with mannerism, treating
all subjects in a similar tone of dreamy innuendo, yet in
this walk he evinces extraordinary genius, having no
rival either in America or elsewhere ; and this opinion
I have never heard gainsaid by any one literary per
son in the country. That this opinion, however, is a
spoken and not a written one, is referable to the facts,
first, that Mr. Hawthorne is a poor man, and, second,
that he is not an ubiquitous quack.

Again, of Mr. Longfellow, who, although a little
quacky per se, has, through his social and literary
position as a man of property and a professor at Har
vard, a whole legion of active quacks at his control,
of him what is the apparent popular opinion ? Of
course, that he is a poetical phenomenon, as entirely
without fault as is the luxurious paper upon which his
poems are invariably borne to the public eye. In

The Literati

private society he is regarded with one voice as a poet of
far more than usual ability, a skilful artist, and a well-
read man, but as less remarkable in either capacity than
as a determined imitator and a dexterous adapter of
the ideas of other people. For years I have conversed
with no literary person who did not entertain precisely
these ideas of Professor L. ; and, in fact, on all literary
topics there is in society a seemingly wonderful coinci
dence of opinion. The author accustomed to seclu
sion, and mingling for the first time with those who
have been associated with him only through their
works, is astonished and delighted at finding com
mon to all whom he meets conclusions which he had
blindly fancied were attained by himself alone and in
opposition to the judgment of mankind.

In the series of papers which I now propose, my de
sign is, in giving my own unbiassed opinion of the
literati (male and female) of New York, to give at the
same time very closely, if not with absolute accuracy,
that of conversational society in literary circles. It
must be expected, of course, that, in innumerable par
ticulars, I shall differ from the voice, that is to say,
from what appears to be the voice of the public; but
this is a matter of no consequence whatever.

New York literature may be taken as a fair repre
sentation of that of the country at large. The city itself
is the focus of American letters. Its authors include,
perhaps, one fourth of all in America, and the influence

The Literati

they exert on their brethren, if seemingly silent, is
none the less extensive and decisive. As I shall have
to speak of many individuals, my limits will not per
mit me to speak of them otherwise than in brief ; but
this brevity will be merely consistent with the design,
which is that of simple opinion, with little of either
argument or detail. With one or two exceptions, I am
well acquainted with every author to be introduced,
and I shall avail myself of the acquaintance to convey,
generally, some idea of the personal appearance of all
who, in this regard, would be likely to interest my
readers. As any precise order or arrangement seems
unnecessary and may be inconvenient, I shall maintain
none. It will be understood that, without reference to
supposed merit or demerit, each individual is intro
duced absolutely at random.


The Rev. George Bush is Professor of Hebrew
in the University of New York, and has long been
distinguished for the extent and variety of his
attainments in Oriental literature; indeed, as an
Oriental linguist, it is probable that he has no equal
among us. He has published a great deal, and his
books have always the good fortune to attract attention
throughout the civilized world. His Treatise on the
Millennium is, perhaps, that of his earlier compositions

The Literati

by which he is most extensively as well as most
favorably known. Of late days he has created a sin
gular commotion in the realm of theology by his
Anastasis / or the Doctrine of the Resurrection / in
which it is shown that the Doctrine of the Resurrection
of the Body is not sanctioned by Reason or Revelation.
This work has been zealously attacked, and as zealously
defended by the professor and his friends. There can
be no doubt that, up to this period, the Bushites have
had the best of the battle. The Anastasis is lucidly, suc
cinctly, vigorously, and logically written, and proves, in
my opinion, everything that it attempts, provided we ad
mit the imaginary axioms from which it starts; and
this is as much as can be well said of any theological
disquisition under the sun. It might be hinted, too, in
reference as well to Professor Bush as to his opponents,
" que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne
partie de ce qu'elles avancent, mais non pas en ce
qu'elles nient." A subsequent work on The Soul, by
the author of Anastasis, has made nearly as much noise
as the Anastasis itself.

Taylor, who wrote so ingeniously The Natural His*
tory of Enthusiasm, might have derived many a valua
ble hint from the study of Professor Bush. No man is

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