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made to degenerate into sheer vulgarity.

If Mr. Briggs has a forte, it is a Flemish fidelity that
omits nothing, whether agreeable or disagreeable ; but
I cannot call this forte a virtue. He has also some
humor, but nothing of an original character. Oc
casionally he has written good things. A magazine
article, called Dobbs and his Cantelope, was quite

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easy and clever in its way ; but the way is necessarily
a small one. And I ought not to pass over without
some allusion to it, his sacred novel of Tom Pepper.
As a novel, it really has not the slightest pretensions.
To a genuine artist in literature, he is as Plumbe to
Sully. Plumbe's daguerreotypes have more fidelity
than any portrait ever put on canvas, and so Briggs's
sketches of E. A. Duyckinck (" Tibbings ") and the
author of Puffer Hopkins ("Ferocious") are as life-like
as any portraits in words that have ever been drawn.
But the subjects are little and mean, pretending and
vulgar. Mr. Briggs would not succeed in delineating a
gentleman. And some letters of his in Hiram Fuller's
paper, perhaps for the reason that they run through a
desert of stupidity, some letters of his, I say, under
the apt signature of " Ferdinand Mendoza Pinto," are
decidedly clever as examples of caricature ; absurd, of
course, but sharply absurd, so that, with a knowledge
of their design, one could hardly avoid occasional
laughter. I once thought Mr. Briggs could cause
laughter only by his efforts at a serious kind of
writing.

In connection with Mr. John Bisco, he was the
originator of the late Broadway Journal, my editorial
association with that work not having commenced
until the sixth or seventh number, although I wrote
for it occasionally from the first. Among the princi
pal papers contributed by Mr. B. were those discussing

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the paintings at the preceding exhibition of the Acad
emy of Fine Arts in New York. I may be permitted
to say that there was scarcely a point in his whole
series of criticisms on this subject at which I did not
radically disagree with him. Whatever taste he has
in art is, like his taste in letters, Flemish. There is a
portrait painter for whom he has an unlimited ad
miration. The unfortunate gentleman is Mr. Page.

Mr. Briggs is about five feet six inches in height,
somewhat slightly framed, with a sharp, thin face,
narrow forehead, nose sufficiently prominent, mouth
rather pleasant in expression, eyes not so good, gray
and small, although occasionally brilliant. In dress
he is apt to affect the artist, felicitating himself espe
cially upon his personal acquaintance with artists and
his general connoisseurship. He walks with a quick,
nervous step. His address is quite good, frank and
insinuating. His conversation has now and then the
merit of humor, and more frequently of a smartness,
allied to wit, but he has a perfect mania for contradic
tion, and it is sometimes impossible to utter an unin
terrupted sentence in his hearing. He has much
warmth of feeling, and is not a person to be disliked,
although very apt to irritate and annoy. Two of his
most marked characteristics are vacillation of pur
pose and a passion for being mysterious. He has,
apparently, travelled ; has some knowledge of French ;
has been engaged in a variety of employments, and

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now, I believe, occupies a lawyer's office in Nassau
Street. He is from Cape Cod or Nantucket, is married,
and is the centre of a little circle of rather intellectual
people, of which the Kirklands, Lowell, and some
other notabilities are honorary members. He goes
little into general society, and seems about forty years
of age.

WILLIAM KIRKLAND

Mr. William Kirkland, husband of the author
of A New Home, has written much for the maga
zines, but has made no collection of his works. A
series of Letters from Abroad have been among his
most popular compositions. He was in Europe for
some time, and is well acquainted with the French
language and literature, as also with the German.
He aided Dr. Turner in the late translation of Von
Raumer's America, published by the Langleys.
One of his best magazine papers appeared in the
Columbian, a review of the London Foreign Quart
terly for April, 1844. The arrogance, ignorance,
and self-glorification of the Quarterly, with its gross
injustice toward everything un-British, were severely
and palpably exposed, and its narrow malignity shown
to be especially malapropos in a journal exclusively
devoted to foreign concerns, and therefore presumably
imbued with something of a cosmopolitan spirit. An

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article on English and American Monthlies in
Godey's Magazine and one entitled Our English
Visitors, in the Columbian, have also been extensively
read and admired. A valuable essay on The Tyranny
of Public Opinion in the United States (published
in the Columbian for December, 1845), demon
strates the truth of Jefferson's assertion, that in this
country, which has set the world an example of physi
cal liberty, the inquisition of popular sentiment over
rules in practice the freedom asserted in theory by
the laws. The West, the Paradise of the Poor, and
The United States Census for 1630, the former in the
Democratic Review, the latter in Hunt's Merchants'
Magazine, with sundry essays in the daily papers,
complete the list of Mr. Kirkland's works. It will be
seen that he has written little, but that little is entitled
to respect for its simplicity and the evidence which
it affords of scholarship and diligent research. What
ever Mr. Kirkland does is done carefully. He is oc
casionally very caustic, but seldom without cause.
His style is vigorous, precise, and, notwithstand
ing his foreign acquirements, free from idiomatic
peculiarities.

Mr. Kirkland is beloved by all who know him; in
character mild, unassuming, benevolent, yet not with
out becoming energy at times ; in person rather short
and slight ; features indistinctive ; converses well and
zealously, although his hearing is defective.

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JOHN W. FRANCIS

Doctor Francis, although by no means a litterateur,
cannot well be omitted in an account of the New York
literati. In his capacity of physician and medical lec
turer, he is far too well known to need comment. He
was the pupil, friend, and partner of Hossack the
pupil of Abernethy connected in some manner with
everything that has been well said or done medicinally
in America. As a medical essayist he has always
commanded the highest respect and attention. Among
the points he has made at various times, I may men
tion his anatomy of drunkenness, his views of the
Asiatic cholera, his analysis of the Avon waters of
the state, his establishment of the comparative im
munity of the constitution from a second attack of
yellow fever, and his pathological propositions on the
changes wrought in the system by specific poisons
through their assimilation, propositions remarkably
sustained and enforced by recent discoveries of
Liebig.

In unprofessional letters Doctor Francis has also ac
complished much, although necessarily in a discursive
manner. His biography of Chancellor Livingston, his
horticultural discourse, his discourse at the opening of
the new hall of the New York Lyceum of Natural His
tory, are (each in its way) models of fine writing just
sufficiently toned down by an indomitable common

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sense. I had nearly forgotten to mention his admir
able sketch of the personal associations of Bishop
Berkley, of Newport.

Doctor Francis is one of the old spirits of the New
York Historical Society. His philanthropy, his active,
untiring beneficence, will forever render his name a
household word among the truly Christian of heart.
His professional services and his purse are always at
the command of the needy ; few of our wealthiest men
have ever contributed to the relief of distress so
bountifully; none certainly with greater readiness or
with warmer sympathy.

His person and manner are richly peculiar. He is
short and stout, probably five feet eight in height,
limbs of great muscularity and strength, the whole
frame indicating prodigious vitality and energy; the
latter is, in fact, the leading trait in his character.
His head is large, massive, the features in keeping;
complexion dark florid ; eyes piercingly bright ; mouth
exceedingly mobile and expressive; hair gray, and
worn in matted locks about the neck and shoulders;
eyebrows to correspond, jagged and ponderous. His
age is about fifty-eight. His general appearance is
such as to arrest attention.

His address is the most genial that can be conceived,
its bonhomie irresistible. He speaks in a loud, clear,
hearty tone, dogmatically, with his head thrown back
and his chest out ; never waits for an introduction to

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anybody; slaps a perfect stranger on the back and
calls him " Doctor " or " Learned Theban " ; pats
every lady on the head, and (if she be pretty and petite)
designates her by some such title as " My Pocket
Edition of the Lives of the Saints." His conversation
proper is a sort of Roman punch made up of tragedy,
comedy, and the broadest of all possible farce. He
has a natural felicitous flow of talk, always over-
swelling its boundaries and sweeping everything be
fore it, right and left. He is very earnest, intense,
emphatic ; thumps the table with his fist ; shocks the
nerves of the ladies. His forte, after all, is humor,
the richest conceivable, a compound of Swift, Rabelais,
and the clown in the pantomime. He is married.

ANNA CORA MOWATT

Mrs. Mowatt is in some respects a remarkable wo
man, and has undoubtedly wrought a deeper impression
upon the public than any one of her sex in America.

She became first known through her recitations.
To these she drew large and discriminating audiences
in Boston, New York, and elsewhere to the north and
east. Her subjects were much in the usual way of
these exhibitions, including comic as well as serious
pieces, chiefly in verse. In her selections she evinced
no very refined taste, but was probably influenced by
the elocutionary rather than by the literary value of

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her programmes. She read well ; her voice was me
lodious; her youth and general appearance excited
interest, but, upon the whole, she produced no great
effect, and the enterprise may be termed unsuccessful,
although the press, as is its wont, spoke in the most
sonorous tone of her success.

It was during these recitations that her name, pre
fixed to occasional tales, sketches, and brief poems
in the magazines, first attracted an attention that,
but for the recitations, it might not have attracted.

Her sketches and tales may be said to be cleverly
written. They are lively, easy, conventional, scintil
lating with a species of sarcastic wit which might be
termed good were it in any respect original. In point
of style, that is to say, of mere English, they are very
respectable. One of the best of her prose pieces is
entitled Ennui and Its Antidote, published in the
Columbian Magazine for June, 1845. The subject,
however, is an exceedingly hackneyed one.

In looking carefully over her poems, I find no one
entitled to commendation as a whole; in very few
of them do I observe even noticeable passages, and I
confess that I am surprised and disappointed at this
result of my inquiry; nor can I make up my mind
that there is not much latent poetical power in Mrs.

Mowatt. From some lines addressed to Isabel M ,

I copy the opening stanza as the most favorable speci
men which I have seen of her verse :

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Forever vanished from thy cheek

Is life's unfolding rose ;
Forever quenched the flashing smile

That conscious beauty knows !
Thine orbs are lustrous with a light

Which ne'er illumes the eye
Till heaven is bursting on the sight

And earth is fleeting by.

In this there is much force, and the idea in the con
cluding quatrain is so well put as to have the air of
originality. Indeed, I am not sure that the thought
of the last two lines is not original ; at all events it is
exceedingly natural and impressive. I say " natural,"
because, in any imagined ascent from the orb we in
habit, when heaven should " burst on the sight," in
other words, when the attraction of the planet should
be superseded by that of another sphere, then in
stantly would the " earth " have the appearance of
" fleeting by." The versification, also, is much better
here than is usual with the poetess. In general she
is rough, through excess of harsh consonants. The
whole poem is of higher merit than any which I can
find with her name attached ; but there is little of the
spirit of poesy in anything she writes. She evinces
more feeling than ideality.

Her first decided success was with her comedy,
Fashion, although much of this success itself is
referable to the interest felt in her as a beautiful
woman and an authoress.

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The play is not without merit. It may be com
mended especially for its simplicity of plot. What the
Spanish playwrights mean by dramas of intrigue are
the worst acting dramas in the world ; the intellect of
an audience can never safely be fatigued by com
plexity. The necessity for verbose explanation, how
ever, on the part of Trueman, at the close of the play,
is in this regard a serious defect. A denouement should
in all cases be taken up with action, with nothing
else. Whatever cannot be explained by such action
should be communicated at the opening of the story.

In the plot, however estimable for simplicity, there
is, of course, not a particle of originality of invention.
Had it, indeed, been designed as a burlesque upon the
arrant conventionality of stage incidents in general, it
might have been received as a palpable hit. There is
not an event, a character, a jest, which is not a well-
understood thing, a matter of course, a stage-property
time out of mind. The general tone is adopted from
The School for Scandal, to which, indeed, the whole
composition bears just such an affinity as the shell of
a locust to the locust that tenants it, as the spectrum
of a Congreve rocket to the Congreve rocket itself.
In the management of her imitation, nevertheless,
Mrs. Mowatt has, I think, evinced a sense of theatrical
effect or point which may lead her, at no very distant
day, to compose an exceedingly taking, although it can
never much aid her in composing a very meritorious,

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drama. Fashion, in a word, owes what it had of suc
cess to its being the work of a lovely woman who had
already excited interest, and to the very common-
placeness or spirit of conventionality which rendered
it readily comprehensible and appreciable by the public
proper. It was much indebted, too, to the carpets, the
ottomans, the chandeliers, and the conservatories,
which gained so decided a popularity for that despicable
mass of inanity, the London Assurance of Boucicault.

Since Fashion, Mrs. Mowatt has published one or
two brief novels in pamphlet form, but they have no
particular merit, although they afford glimpses (I can
not help thinking) of a genius as yet unrevealed, except
in her capacity of actress.

In this capacity, if she be but true to herself, she
will assuredly win a very enviable distinction. She
has done well, wonderfully well, both in tragedy and
comedy; but if she knew her own strength, she would
confine herself nearly altogether to the depicting (in
letters not less than on the stage) the more gentle
sentiments and the most profound passions. Her
sympathy with the latter is evidently intense. In the
utterance of the truly generous, of the really noble,
of the unaffectedly passionate, we see her bosom
heave, her cheek grow pale, her limbs tremble, her lip
quiver, and nature's own tear rush impetuously to the
eye. It is this freshness of the heart which will pro
vide for her the greenest laurels. It is this enthusiasm,

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this well of deep feeling, which should be made to
prove for her an inexhaustible source of fame. As an
actress, it is to her a mine of wealth worth all the
dawdling instruction in the world. Mrs. Mowatt, on
her first appearance as Pauline, was quite as able to
give lessons in stage routine to any actor or actress
in America as was any actor or actress to give les
sons to her. Now, at least, she should throw all
" support " to the winds, trust proudly to her own
sense of art, her own rich and natural elocution, her
beauty, which is unusual, her grace, which is queenly,
and be assured that these qualities, as she now possesses
them, are all sufficient to render her a great actress,
when considered simply as the means by which the
end of natural acting is to be attained, as the mere
instruments by which she may effectively and unim-
pededly lay bare to the audience the movements of
her own passionate heart.

Indeed, the great charm of her manner is its natural
ness. She looks, speaks, and moves with a well-con
trolled impulsiveness, as different as can be conceived
from the customary rant and cant, the hack conven
tionality of the stage. Her voice is rich and volum
inous, and although by no means powerful, is so well
managed as to seem so. Her utterance is singularly
distinct, its sole blemish being an occasional Anglicism
of accent, adopted probably from her instructor, Mr.
Crisp. Her reading could scarcely be improved. Her

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action is distinguished by an ease and self-possession
which would do credit to a veteran. Her step is the
perfection of grace. Often have I watched her for
hours with the closest scrutiny, yet never for an in
stant did I observe her in an attitude of the least
awkwardness or even constraint, while many of her
seemingly impulsive gestures spoke in loud terms of
the woman of genius, of the poet imbued with the
profoundest sentiment of the beautiful in motion.

Her figure is slight, even fragile. Her face is a re
markably fine one, and of that precise character best
adapted to the stage. The forehead is, perhaps, the
least prepossessing feature, although it is by no means
an unintellectual one. Hair light auburn, in rich pro
fusion, and always arranged with exquisite taste.
The eyes are gray, brilliant, and expressive, without
being full. The nose is well formed, with the Roman
curve, and indicative of energy. This quality is also
shown in the somewhat excessive prominence of the
chin. The mouth is large, with brilliant and even teeth
and flexible lips, capable of the most instantaneous
and effective variation of expression. A more radiantly
beautiful smile it is quite impossible to conceive.

GEORGE B. CHEEVER

The Reverend George B. Cheever created at one
time something of an excitement by the publication of a
little brochure entitled Deacon Giles* Distillery, He is

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much better known, however, as the editor of The
Commonplace Book of American Poetry, a work which
has at least the merit of not belying its title, and is
exceedingly commonplace. I am ashamed to say that
for several years this compilation afforded to Europeans
the only material from which it was possible to form
an estimate of the poetical ability of Americans. The
selections appear to me exceedingly injudicious, and
have all a marked leaning to the didactic. Dr. Cheever
is not without a certain sort of negative ability as
critic, but works of this character should be undertaken
by poets or not at all. The verses which I have seen
attributed to him are undeniably mediocres,

His principal publications, in addition to those men
tioned above, are God 's Hand in America, Wander**
ings of a Pilgrim under the Shadow of Mount Blanc,
Wanderings of a Pilgrim under the Shadow ofjungfrau f
and, lately, a Defence of Capital Punishment This
Defence is at many points well reasoned, and as a clear
resume of all that has been already said on its own side
of the question, may be considered as commendable.
Its premises, however, (as well as those of all reasoners
pro or con on this vexed topic,) are admitted only very
partially by the world at large, a fact of which the
author affects to be ignorant. Neither does he make
the slightest attempt at bringing forward one novel
argument. Any man of ordinary invention might
have adduced and maintained a dozen.

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The two series of Wanderings are, perhaps, the best
works of their writer. They are what is called " elo
quent " ; a little too much in that way, perhaps, but
nevertheless entertaining.

CHARLES ANTHON

Doctor Charles Anthon is the well-known Jay-Pro
fessor of the Greek and Latin languages in Columbia
College, New York, and Rector of the Grammar School.
If not absolutely the best, he is at least generally con
sidered the best, classicist in America. In England,
and in Europe at large, his scholastic acquirements are
more sincerely respected than those of any of our
countrymen. His additions to Lempriere are there
justly regarded as evincing a nice perception of method,
and accurate as well as extensive erudition, but his
Classical Dictionary has superseded the work of the
Frenchman altogether. Most of Professor Anthon's
publications have been adopted as text-books at Ox
ford and Cambridge, an honor to be properly under
stood only by those acquainted with the many high
requisites for attaining it. As a commentator (if not
exactly as a critic) he may rank with any of his day,
and has evinced powers very unusual in men who
devote their lives to classical lore. His accuracy is
very remarkable; in this particular he is always to
be relied upon. The trait manifests itself even in his

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MS., which is a model of neatness and symmetry,
exceeding in these respects anything of the kind with
which I am acquainted. It is somewhat too neat,
perhaps, and too regular, as well as diminutive, to be
called beautiful; it might be mistaken at any time,
however, for very elaborate copperplate engraving.

But his chirography, although fully in keeping, so
far as precision is concerned, with his mental char
acter, is, in its entire freedom from flourish or super
fluity, as much out of keeping with his verbal style.
In his notes to the classics he is singularly Ciceronian,
if, indeed, not positively Johnsonese.

An attempt was made not long ago to prepossess
the public against his Classical Dictionary, the most
important of his works, by getting up a hue and cry
of plagiarism, in the case of all similar books the
most preposterous accusation in the world, although,
from its very preposterousness, one not easily rebutted.
Obviously, the design in any such compilation is, in the
first place, to make a useful school-book or book of
reference, and the scholar who should be weak enough
to neglect this indispensable point for the mere pur
pose of winning credit with a few bookish men for
originality would deserve to be dubbed, by the
public at least, a dunce. There are very few points
of classical scholarship which are not the common
property of " the learned " throughout the world, and
in composing any book of reference recourse is un-



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scrupulously and even necessarily had in all cases to
similar books which have preceded. In availing
themselves of these latter, however, it is the practice
of quacks to paraphrase page after page, rearranging
the order of paragraphs, making a slight alteration in
point of fact here and there, but preserving the spirit of
the whole, its information, erudition, etc., etc., while
everything is so completely rewritten as to leave no
room for a direct charge of plagiarism; and this is
considered and lauded as originality. Now, he who,
in availing himself of the labors of his predecessors
(and it is clear that all scholars must avail themselves
of such labors) he who shall copy verbatim the pas
sages to be desired, without attempt at palming off
their spirit as original with himself, is certainly no
plagiarist, even if he fail to make direct acknowledg
ment of indebtedness is unquestionably less of the
plagiarist than the disingenuous and contemptible
quack who wriggles himself, as above explained, into
a reputation for originality, a reputation quite out of
place in a case of this kind, the public, of course,
never caring a straw whether he be original or not.
These attacks upon the New York professor are to be
attributed to a clique of pedants in and about Boston,
gentlemen envious of his success, and whose own
compilations are noticeable only for the singular
patience and ingenuity with which their dovetailing


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Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 20 of 23)