George Hooker Colton.

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Johannes. — Well, I have not been dis-
appointed by glancing over that book. I
expected to find nothing in it, and I have
found very little, and that little was not
new to me. Imitation seems to be the great
burial-ground of our female poets, and I
might add, of our male poets too, with few
exceptions. Our ladies, more than those of
any country on the blooming countenance
of the jocund earth, have the faculty of
making verses, and respectable verses too,
at times ; but the high art of poetry, in the
general hurry of stitching lace and/<xce, love^
dove and glove together, is entirely forgotten,
or if not forgotten, only recollected to be
discountenanced and sneered at. A perfect
defiance seems to be cast at Thought. Ideal-
ity, the faculty of imagining, creating or
making, is only used in making clean paper
ridiculous, and fancy is only paramount in
the evidence that those ladies write fancying
they are poets. It would be a great bless-
ine: for readers if the five sixths of our ladies
who now deluge the magazines and journals
with verses, to the infinite destruction of
nice white paper, would adopt Moore's lines
as their creed, and ponder well on the third
line:

" Take back the virgin page,

White and unwritten still :
Soyne hand more calm and sage

The leaf must fill"

You may say that the very fact of their
continually writing shows what a great im-
agination they must have ; and I will agree
with you that it takes a long stretch of that
faculty in themselves to believe what they
write is poetry. Yes, I will say, in that
respect they do not lack imagination. I
should decidedly say that the faculty in
them was of the order called India-rubber.
Apropos of this, I have made a discovery :
there are three or four orders of this faculty,
concerning which I am going to correspond



with my physiognomical and philosophical
friend Redfield, to direct his attention to
them, that he may arrange them with the
scientific references which their great charac-
teristics demand. First, I have the Papier
Mache order of Ideality, which has the
effect of keeping the brain in that sort of
softness indicated by the title mache^ which
fits it essentially for receiving impressions -
and for rolling itself into the moulds of
other minds, and coming out with an ap-
pearance, not altogether original as may be
expected, not altogether displeasing, which
is not to be wondered at, for the shape is
not its own ; not altogether imperfect, which
may be anticipated, for it wears otherbodies'
spectacles ; not altogether perfect, for it can-
not see through those spectacles as the
otherbodies from whom they are stolen can ;
nor altogether contemptible, for all those
several reasons. This Papier Mache order
of the faculty is that which actuates and
facilitates a benevolence on the part of the
possessor, which, though it may seem to said
possessor very philanthropic, appears to me
rather cheap and selfish, inasmuch as it costs
nothing and tends to self-glorification : this
benevolence is that which the rearers of
others' offspring term adoption. And it is
not at all to be wondered at if the adopted
some day seek their rightful parent. An-
other order of the faculty is the Gutta
Percha one ; which also, in a state of soft-
ness, is in effect much the same as the for •
mer, save that its pliancy is greater, and its
piquancy not so great. When this faculty
by circumstances becomes heated, its adhe-
siveness to every thing irrespective of owner-
ship is very remarkable, and its stubborn-
ness on cooling down so determined, that it
is almost impossible to prove that it clings
to what did not naturally belong to it. Its
adop)tion is of a very redoubtable character,
and seems to carry with it an illustration to



1851.



Evenings with some Female Poets.



419



a certain theological aogma, that out of its
grip "there is no redemption." A third
order is one which I would classify as the
Monkey, and which fully explains its pecu-
liar reference, that of imitation, at the same
time that it admirably characterizes the an-
tics by which this imitation is made visible,
and which is the sole consolation to the
reader of such ; the ludicrous cunning that
o'erreaches itself, amusing from its sheer
shallowness, where a serious attempt at
mimicry of another's thoughts would only
command our contempt, A fourth I would
name as the India-rubber order, and which,
as I hinted, explains its characteristic. The
exercise of this order of the faculty has di-
rect reference more to the state of the pos-
sessor's mind than to the matter which the
said possessor pens, though the latter is the
beacon by which a reader detects the exist-
ence of such in the mind of the writer. In
the case of our female poets it is drawn on
to an amazing length, and stretched to an
almost inconceivable tension. It is the most
self-pacifying of the orders of the faculty of
Ideality, and when in full action tends to
much danger in making its possessor be-
heve he or she is gifted with the divine
afflatus. In some writers it is painfully evi-
dent to an immense degree, and is only
tolerable on account of the amount of au-
dacity it brings to its aid ; and we all know
as well as Danton that " audacity " is a most
commendable appendage in this age of for-
wardness and'go-aheaditiveness. Vanity is
nearly allied to this order, and would be
more so, if the shallowness by which it is
made evident was not so rudely visible.
The abuse of the order is seen when the
possessor, not satisfied with stretching it to
even a more than usual length, tugs at it
unnaturally till it snaps and ruins the hopes
and aims of the too insatiate adventurer.

Bellows. — But, Doctor, don't you think
that few would be so incautious as to trifle
with such a faculty when they know they
have naught to retreat on ?

Johannes. — Vanity is unconscious of a
climax, Morton ; and the very use of the
faculty in the manner I mention, and to
such purposes, deludes itself. Their stretch
of imagination is wonderful, and from con-
stantly fancying they are poets, they become
utterly regardless of their true position, and
like the gnat around the lamp, they never
desist until they immolate themselves to



theirt com-
modity ever so great or little a component)
is a necessity to existence as Bunkum seems
to politics, so is art a necessity to poetry.

Bellows [yawning). — Y-e-s, I always
thought so ; in fact, I know by myself. I
love to converse with nature ; it is so delicious
to lounge at Hoboken and fancy one's self
in the groves of Area — of Arcadia ; to feel
one's self a poet. I feel like writing a pas-
toral then — I really do ; I feel as though I
was some heathen god ; and, curse them
lutes ! if I could only play one I should feel
capable of something great. I really think
I should abandon myself to the woods alto-
gether if I could manage to pipe some me-
lodious reed. Did I ever read you my



422



Evenings with some Female Poets.



November,



poem on an evening at Staten Island, com-
mencing —

" Staten, loveliest of isles
On which the sunlight ever smiles !
Staten, Nature's sweetest prize
That ever met my longing eyes !
O brightest pearl in Hudson's mouth,

Which opens to the ocean's foam,
A welcome for the sons of South,
And all who ever lost a home !
son of Europe, hither flee !
O God "

Hang it ! my memory's getting weak from
study. That' s a pretty piece of imagina-
tion, Doctor? — that alhision to the isle in
the mouth of the Hudson — daring, you
know. I love the Byronic — Moore-ish too.

Johannes. — Ha ! ha ! ha ! You'll —
you'll be the death of me. Ha! ha! ha!
he ! he ! he ! Yes, a pretty piece of imagina-
tion, surely. I wish the island was in your
mouth, you confounded fool !

Bellows. — Doctor, I contend that

Johannes. — An empty head ought to be
silent. Morton, be quiet ! You can no
more write a poem, or even a tolerable
verse, than I could stand on my head on a
liberty pole.

Bellows. — You take a great liberty with
my pole, Doctor : really, now, you won't
listen

Johannes. — Now don't be a fool, boy.
Fill your pitcher, like a sensible man, and
listen to me ; fill your pitcher.

Bellows {filling and singing^. —

" Give me but this ; I ask no more :

My charming girl, my friend and pitcher."

Johannes. — Stay ; that pitcher puts me
in mind of a capital little Servian poem
which " Talvi" gives in her " History of
Slavic Literature." It is very good, and
runs thus. A woman speaks, or rather
sings : —

" Come, companion, let us hurry,
That we may be early home.
For my mother in-law is cross.
Only yestreen she accused me.
Said that I had beat my husband.
When, poor soul, I had not touched him :
Only bid him wash the dishes,
And he would not wash the dishes ;
Threw then at his bead the pitcher,
Knocked a hole in head and pitcher.
For the head I do not care much,
But I care much for the pitcher,
As I paid for it right dearly ;
Paid for it with one wild apple,
Yes, and half a one besides."

Now the whole question of the right of the



" gude wife's" proceeding rests on the ques-
tion. Had the husband a right to wash the
dishes? Now your silence admitting of no
question, I fear me, unless you listen, I
shall have to heave the pitcher (when it is
empty) at your head, (and one shall be as
hollow as the other.) Keep cool, boy, and
let us return to "Edith May." Of the
poetic fancies I spoke of, we find some ele-
gant evidences in "October Twilight:" —

" Oh, mute among the months, October, thou.
Like a hot reaper when the sun goes down,
Reposing in the twilight of the year !
Is yon the silver glitter of thy scythe,
Drawn thread-like on the west ? September

comes
Humming those waifs of song June's choral days
Left in the forest ; but thy tuneless lips
Breathe only a pei-vading haze that seems
Visible silence, and thy Sabbath face
Scares swart November — from yon northern hills
Foreboding like a raven ; yellow ferns
Make thee a couch ; thou sittest listless there,
Plucking red leaves for idleness ; full streams
Coil at thy feet, where fawns that come at noon
Drink with up-glancing eyes."



And ao;ain : —



-" Evening comes



Up from the valleys ; over-lapping hills
Tipped by the sunset, burn like funeral lamps
For the dead day."

This last passage would be much improved
if for the word over-lapping some other was
substituted. Here is a passage and a pic-
ture which has all the healthiness of tone
and finish of Thomson : —



-" Mark how the wind, like one



That gathers simples, flits from herb to herb
Through the damp valley, muttering the while
Low incantations ! From the wooded lanes
Loiters a bell's dull tinkle, keeping time
To the slow tread of kine ; and I can see,
By the rude trough the waters overbrim.
The unyoked oxen gathered ; some, athirst.
Stoop drinking steadily, and some have linked
Theii- horns in playful war."

The authoress is evidently a student of Ten-
nyson. These passages full of beauty re-
mind me of his neatness of expression, while
the conception of the pictures, especially the
last one, has the grouping of Jamie Thom-
son. You must read the entire poem for
yourself, boy ; I am not going to cull you
the choicest bits ; but here, i' faith, I can't
pass without reading these aloud : they are
remarkably happy in expression, and rich in
imaginative conceit : —

" The dusk sits like a bird

Up in the tree-tops, and swart, elvish shadows
Dart from the wooded pathways."



1851.



Evenings with some Female Poets.



423



And—

" Amid the faded brakes

Tbe wind, retreating, hides, and cowering iliere,
Whines at thy coming hke a hound afraid 1"

Her descriptions bear the sfime relation to
Thomson's that the raind of woman does to
that of man, partaking more of the fanciful
and le?;s of the strength of ideality. Her
diction bears the same ratio, with an evident
study of Tennyson, in her best passages, at
times equalling either of those poets. Her
" Chajilet of Bronze" is a beautiful jioem.
Alice Carey has more genius, " Edith May"
more force ; Alice Carey more thought,
" Edith IMay" more facility ; " Edith May"
more briliancy, Alice Carey more terseness ;
"Edith May" more heartiness, Alice Carey
more heartfulness, than each other respect-
ively ; and from which I should imagine that
"Edith May's" writings will have more im-
mediate popularity, Alice Carey's more
longevity.

Bellows {looking thoughtful). — Ah, yes,
I suppose so.

Johannes. — Very different from " Edith"
is Caroline May. A great lover of nature
also, she is entirely devoted to the senti-
mental and pensive. Without a sufficiency
of imagination to make it a characteristic of
her mind, she is thoughtful, quiet and sen-
sible. Her fancy is subdued and temper-
ate, and she never fails, because she has the
good sense to know her own mind. With
an ardent love for poetry in its truest sense,
she never dares when she is doubtful ; and
she has too high a sense of her duty as a
woman to fall in the track of most female
writers, and scream herself to death like the
Grecian Cicala. Here are a couple of son-
nets which embody much of Miss May's
character and felicity of expression : they
are the more pleasing for that they are so
unambitious ; and the thought running
through them the more welcome because it
conveys a true sense of the poet's necessity
happily and sometimes very happily ex-
pressed : —

QUIET.

BY CAROLINB MAT.



As well might that pale ai-tist, whose keen eye
At home, abroad, in sunshine, or in storm,
Seeks in light, shade, position, color, form,

Something his picturedove to gratify ;

As well might he in utter darkness try
TOL. YIII. HO. Y. Nfi-W SERIES.



To paint on canvas tlie sweet images

Tliat, mocking nature, yet can fancy please, '
As the poor poet strive, aniiil the cry

Of careless tongues, to think, much less to write,
His thoughts of music in sucli words as may

Be music too ; for even as good light
Is to the painter's work, so quiet day.

Or if that cannot be, then quiet night,
Is to the poet's well-beloved lay.



Yes ! quiet to the poet is what liglit

Is to the painter. It disposes well.

In pleasant order, thoughts that else would dwell
In chaos, painful to liis inner sight ;
It brings out Feeling's softest tints aright ;

Gav Fancy's gorgeous gloss it can con-ect.

And give the shades of reason due effect
To mellow wliat would else appear too bright.

Without it he becomes morose and sad,
Tlirough the deep longings that are pent within.

To try those God-sent powers, which never had
Kindred communion with the world's vain din ;

Though oft the master-poet is made glad
From lessons taught by slaves of strife and sin.

The last sonnet shows the writer an artist
in the painter's sense. The comparison of
quiet and hght to the poet and painter is
done very picturesquely, and betrays a true
appreciation of the wants of each. Miss
]\Iay is an amateur in the pictorial art, and
these sonnets may be taken as some of her
experience in the double capacity of author
and artist. In both she is a student of the
fields and the hills ; and better than all,
Morton, boy, she comes up to my idea,
which I told you of before, and oftener has
the bodkin and the needle in her hand than
the pen. She makes suitable time however
for both, and in the use of them is alike
graceful and sensible. Her lines " To a
Student " give her own character and lik-



" Lift up thy face in gladness
To the sky so soft and warm,
And watch the frolic madness

Of the changeful clouds, thatfoim
A mimic shape, in every change.
Of something beautiful and strange.

" The love of nature heightens
Our love to God and man ;
And a spirit, love enlightens
Farther than others can.
Pierces with clear and steady eyes
Into the land where true thought lies."

All her own writings carry out, at least in
intent, what she preaches.

Bellows. — Do you admire the verses of
Mrs. Welby 2 I think they aro extremely
pretty.

29



424



Evenings with some Female Poets.



November,



Johannes. — Extremely pretty ? Bah !
If prettiness is a poet's chief characteristic,
the writings of such are extremely useless.
Prettiness in poetry is like prettiness in
woman, for that it is generally unaccom-
panied by any thing more substantial. I
say generally, for we have sovie exceptions.
Some of the handsomest, prettiest people
I ever met, were complete fools and idiots ;
as Carlyle says, mere " clothes screens."
It is a matter of fact that numbers of light-
headed people were and are very pretty.
No doubt, this prettiness, bringing on
vanity, especially in women, facilitates a
monomania on the subject of self^ until the
unhappy "prettiness " becomes insanity, and
" wastes its sweetness " in a very pretty
edifice, 'ycleped a lunatic asyhim. The
most diabolical piece of furniture ever invent-
ed was a looking-glass. It has ruined more
women and sent more mustachioed young
gentlemen to destruction than can possibly be
comfortably situated in the next world. If
any piece of domestic intelligence ever was
concocted by Lucifer, it must have been the
looking-glass. It is a sort of decoy for
human geese, seducing them within the
long range of flattery ; then consequently
follow confusion, weakness, and annihilation.
Nature carries out her laws through every
thing. Some of the most delicate and
pretty flowers have not the slightest perfume
to delight the sense of smell. They are
great on appearances, like very many hu-
man and quadruped animals. Some of
the most seemingly delightful and plausible
mortals are the most infernal scoundrels be-
hind their appearances ; and some of the
most beautiful animals are the most treach-
erous and vicious you can hunt up in nat-
ural history. As to your " prettiness " as
characteristic of Mrs. Welby's poetry, you
are as shallow as you usually are. Whom
did you hear say it was pretty ? You
don't know of yourself what it is ! I advise
you to read her verses ; but as you asked
my opinion, I will give it to you before-
hand. Don't shake your head, Morton ;
I won't make the old joke about there being
nothing in it, for that is a fact too well es-
tablished. You remind me of some persons
I know who have attained a reputation
(but, by-the-bye, which you have not) for a
vast amount of sense because they never say
any thing ; and I cannot refrain from
smiling when I hear them characterized for



wisdom. They don't say any thing, be-
cause they haven't any thing to say, and hke
all empty spaces, their brains but give a
good echo to whatever is said last. Of all
people, such are the most contemptible. A
man without an opinion, be it right ot
wrong, is like a withered tree which cannot
shelter one from either the sunshine or the
storm, and is indicative of naught but a
present barrenness. And

Bellows. — Yes, Doctor, exactly ; but as
to the poems of " Amelia ?"

Johannes. — Well, as to the poems of
Mrs. Welby, I think them musical : that
puts me in mind that my voice is quite the
opposite. Just fill my glass, boy ; my
throat is as dry as

Bellows, — A fish's.

Johannes. — Or a work on political econ-
omy. (Drinkinff.) Ha ! the machine
can't work without oiling. Well, Mrs.
Welby's verses I consider not only pretty,
but musical ; sometimes hearty, sometimes
faulty, when she rhymes hers and tears and
hers with years, which occur in her " Me-
lodia." Riven and heaven and imjoearled
and world are allowable, where the thought
more than balances the execution ; but oc-
curring in poems, the chief beauty of which
is in the music, are scarcely to be tolera-
ted. Such rhymes as torches and arches I
think not " according to law," nor entrances,
glances, and enhances with fancies. Mrs.
Welby rhymes too often on the same word.
Her rhythm has a pleasant bound, and her
conceits are generally happy, but lack
strength. I agree with Dr. Griswold, that
" she walks the Temple of the Muses with
no children of the imagination ; but her
fancy is lively and discriminating." In a
notice of her life he says, perhaps in extenu-
ation of her lack of remarkable force, that
"No painful experience has tried her heart's
full energies." It is not strange that the
tide of misfortune, like the Nile to its banks,
should fructify the poet's brain. I believe
it. True stamen only shows itself when
there are obstacles to overcome ; and man-
kind is never so happy, hopeful and trust-
ful, take my word for it, as when it has
tugged with, and overcome, evil fortune.
Man, so made strong, fears not the future,
save that his strength be taken from him
by disease. He always has a force in him-
self, an army in his brain, that will cross
Alps and ford oceans. / know it, Morton,



1851.



Evenings with some Female Poets.



425



and I would rather see a young man with
a crust and an empty pocket, beginning the
world, than with his pouch full of golden
eagles. Yes, sir, "a beggarly account of
empty " pockets before the wealth of Astor
for a young man. lie may become a man
in its truest sense, but with a bank behind
him the chances are against him. Misfor-
tune, like a dark eye, has fire in it ; and if I
had a daughter, Morton, I should give her
to one whom misfortune had assailed, and
not beaten, though claimed the victory over,
or to a brainful, penniless youth. I would,
believe me. I am experienced, and know
the strength to be found in such. Misfor-
tune may come in various shapes, but if he
whom it fronts is a man, he will be a " man
for a' that," and have a chance to show his
nobihty, by claiming that honest, fearless
title. If he never writes, he enacts, an epic,
and proves himself the truest poet. Think
you that Maternus, the noble slave bandit,
who to avenge his wrongs on the Roman
Emperor Commodus trod in danger, and
through his great enemy's camp, from the
recesses of Transylvanian woods, passing
months of hope and patience, wandering
through Illyrian forests and Alpine passes,
from the " Danube to the Tiber," to gain
the gates of Rome, — think you that he was
not a poet? Think you that the pagan
maid who sought the father of Thomas a
Becket in the streets of London from the
Saracen-land, with but two words of the
land's language to which she was flying in her
mouth, — 'those words her lover's name and
the town he Uved in, — think you she was not
a poet ? Think you that in our day Hum-
boldt, traversing the earth from the Hima-
layan peaks to the summits of the Andes,
having Cotopaxi and Chimborazo for his
watch-fires, and the heretofore untouched
token-marks of God for his study and inspira-
tion, making to our senses all nature rhyme
with primal nature's laws, — think you he
is not a poet 1 Or think you that Peter
the Great, working in the dock-yards of
Britain, toiling for knowledge to make his
navy perfect ; that Napoleon wanting his din-
ner in Paris, and afterward planning to make
Paris the Rome of his day, and rule the
world ; that Wolfe Tone struggling against
fate almost, in Dublin, London, Paris, gain-
ing new vigor for his restless soul, returns
from America to die on the altar he had
hoped to redeem ; that Washington and



Jackson — were not all poets ? They were,
every one of them. They hvedjoof^ which
is but another name for the truest men, and
acted more poetry than could be written by
the world's bards in a century. Here's to
all their healths : stay — no — their rr^emory;
Humboldt is the only one living.

" Well, here's their memory : may it be
To us a guiding hgbt."

We've wandered somewhat from the ladies — ■
not qidte gallant, as you say, Morton. Well,
we'll return to them, and that's more than
the future, I fear, will do.

Bellows [yawning). — And what poetry
will live. Doctor ? It appears to me you
would hke to commit murder on all the
poets and poetesses ; you will not allow any
of them even a short existence.

Johannes. — Poetry to live, then, sir,
must be either very good or very bad. A
poet will only live in being the best or the
worst of his time. If their writings are
good, they will command existence ; if
bad, — so ludicrously bad as not to be verse
at all, — they will live to be laughed at, sim-
ply for the amusement they will afford ; but
all between falls like the sitter between two
stools. Byron will live, and Fitzgerald, the
miserable " small beer poet," as Cobbett
called him, will live ; while all between — ■
your Barry Cornwall, Alaric Watts, et hoc
genus omne — will have evaporated into the



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) → online text (page 65 of 89)