Joseph Lyon Miller.

American monthly review online

. (page 43 of 54)
Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 43 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

want of discrimination, which is the great defect in the book
considered as a work of criticism, and which convinces us
that he has little taste and judgment in the affairs of the
Muses. Of about fifty authors mentioned by name, four-
fifths are made the objects of sarcasm. Hardly any distinc-
tion is made between them ; as poets, all are censured ; the
only difference in their treatment consists in the application
of personally offensive language to some, and not to oth-
ers. Thus we can see little difference between the sentence
of condemnation passed upon the poetry of Dana, Willis,
Pierpont, and Ware, and that pronounced upon the verses
of Fairfield, Morris, Finn, and Dawes.

This want of discrimination is so palpable throughout, that
it would be a tedious and useless tadk to point out the par-
ticular cases in which gross injustice has been done. We
will confine ourselves to a single instance. After some verses
in ridicule of AUston's "Sylphs of the Seasons," Mr. Snel-
line says, in a note, " It would be hard to speak as ill of it as
it deserves." Can be have read the poem ? If he have not,
we lament his want of honesty ; if he have, we pity his want
of taste. The "Sylphs" is a poem less known than it de-
serves to be ; it is lull of poetic richness and purity and
beauty. We will venture, in proof of our assertion, to quote
a short passage from it, though but an imperfect specimen of
the poem.

" And now, in accents deep and low,
Like voice of fondly-cherished woe,
The Sylph of Autumn sad :
'Though I may not of raptures sing,
That graced the gentle song of Spring,
Like Saramer, playful pleasares bring.
Thy youthful heart to glad ;

** *Tet Btiir may I in hope aspire

Thy heart to touch with chaster fire

And purifying love :
For I with vnion high and holy.
And spell of qaick'ning mel^ocholy,.
Thy soul from sublunary folly
Fimt raised to worlds, above.

Digitized by


410 SneUing's TVuih. [Hay,

t( s )ip ^^g j^ when thou, subdued by woe,
Didst watch the leaves descendiog slow,

To each a moral gave,
And as they moved in mournful train,
With rustling sound, along the plain,
Taught them to sing a seraph's strain

Of peace within the grave.

" ' And then, upraised thy streaming eye,
I met thee in the western sky *

In pomp of evening cloud ;
That, while with varying form it rolPd,
Some wizard's castle seemed of gold.
And now a crimsoned knight of old

Or king in purple proud.

** ' And last, as sunk the setting sun,
And Evening with her shadows dun

The gorgeous pageant past,
'T was then of life a mimic show.
Of human grandeur here below.
Which thus beneath the fatal blow

Of Death must fall at last.

*' ' Oh, then with what aspiring gaze
Didst thou thy tranced vision raise

To yonder orbs on high,
And think how wondrous, how sublime,
'T were upwards to their spheres to climb.
And live, beyond the reach of time,

Child of Eternity.'"

And these are verses of which " it would be hard to speak
as ill as they deserve."

In the Notes to " Truth," we meet with occasional quo-
tations from Juvenal and Horace. They have somewhat of
the air of being looked out for the occasion ; but they are gen-
erally so ill applied, that we cannot put a more charitable
construction upon their use, than to suppose them introduced
for the purpose of showing that the author has read the Ro-
man satirists. We would recommend to him a little more
intimate acquaintance with the spirit of those masters of in-
vective. He will learn from them that vulgarity is a poor
substitute for wit, and that scurrility is not synonymous with

From one who takes it upon himself to censure others, we

Digitized by


1888.] Autting^s Truth. 411

feel that we hare some right to expect a degree of freedom
from faults ; a certain portion of exceUence. But we cannot
allow Mr. Snelling much poetical merit. We find little har-
mony in his versification y little beauty in his expressions,
much affectation in his style. There is a sort of rawness in
his numbers, and the current of his verse seems to '^ flow
muddily along." If we add to this the coarseness of the
raillery, and the entire want of delicacy in the strains of com-

Eliment, we shall *find but little reason to place this poem
igh among the productions of the satiric muse.
Let us look at a few examples, which will show the gen-
eral tone and character of the whole.

To the author of some poetical pieces of great beauty, a
man of pure and correct taste in poetry, are applied the fol-
lowing elegant couplets.

" Prime Parson, but poor poet ; sells, in short.
Soup for the alms-house, at a cent a quart : '*

'' Yet be no poet ; be advised by me ;
Stick to thy pulpit ; let the Muses be."

Against one who is regarded by some as the first, by all as
among the first, of American poets, is directed this keen and
exqubite raillery :

" And croaking Dana strains his screech-owl throat.'^

We may take the following remarks on Willis, as a favor-
able specimen of the melodious versification, refined wit, and
energetic sarcasm which prevail throughout the poem.

" Oh what a tip-top tailor thus was spoiled !
Had he but sat cross-legged, what Snip had moiled
To so much purpose ? He had cabbaged then
As now, and clipped the cloth of better men :
No goose had hissed like his ; his want of skill
Had made our coats and breeches look as ill
As now it does mere paper ; then his shears
Had spared old authors, and his voice our ears.'' p. 34.

On page 37, we have some verses upon the late T. G. C.
Bniinard. We would call the attention of our readers to the
modesty displayed in these lines ;

'' Be mine the task to make fresh roses bloom.
And shed undying firagrance on thy tomb : "

Digitized by


4IS SneUing^s Truth. [Hay,

and to the harmony and finish of the following ;

" Hard, hard thy lot, and great .the country's shame
That let such offspring die without his fame.
He pin'd to see the buds his brow had deck'd,
Nipt by the bitter blight of cold neglect."

Indeed, the author's grace in panegyric is upon the same
level with his delicacy in satire. How much originality and
beauty in this compliment to Bryant !

*' He writes no line his friends could wish effaced."

How much force is given to the following tribute of praise,
by the artful and poetical repetition of the negative !

'' the Muses' youngest son,

Equalled by few, surpassed by none, not one f "

We do not refuse to Mr. Snelling all credit for ability as
a writer. We denv him not the merit of having said a few
smart things. He has, perhaps justly, a reputation for con-
siderable talent. We are sorry that he should have prosti-
tuted it by so weak an attempt at satire. We think he will yet
rtgret having rudely wounded the feelings of some, and un-
justly denied their due merit to others. '^ Truth " may kw?«
a temporary notoriety, but will soon be forgoCten. It 19 n
ephemeral production, without strength to support a long ex-
istence, it will be a literal refutation of the ancient motto,
*• Magna est Veritas et praBvalebit.''

We are led by reading this book, to make a single remark
upon the state of poetry among us. We do not wish to
deny that it is a fair subject of satire. It is lamentable to
behold the quantities of rubbish which are scattered from the
press under the name of poetry. In all other pursuits it is
thought necessary that a man should have some shadow of a

fretension to a slight knowledge of what he atteaiipts to do.
oetry alone seems to be an exception to this rule. But if
satire is to be employed against the aspirants to the name of
poet, let it be satire of a generous kind ; let it be just and
discriminating ; let not the satirist think himself freed from
the common obligations to civility and decency ; let him not
condescend to petty scurrility and personal abuse ; let his
shafts fall upon the writer, and not upon the man ; lot his
weapons be sharp and bright and pointed, but tempered by
courteousness, and guided by good taste.

Digitized by


18SS:] Fower^ Sterecfi ^la

Bnt if we are everr to have s Rterattire* of wWcfr we may
fce proud, It will not be by encouraging mediocrity, or by
sparing the feelings of seositi^e incapacity. If men will write
poetry, they should know that they must write well, in order
to escape with impunity, and that those only should be suf-
fered to enjoy the sacred name of poets now, whom posterity
win saTe from oblirion.

Akt. XIII. — Secrecy, a Poem, pronounced at the InstaUa'
tion of the Officers of the Boston Encampment of
Knights Templars. February 28, 1832. By Thomas
Power. Boston. Moore & Sevey. 1832. 12mo. pp. 24.

We must thank Mr. Power for informing us, on. the title-
page, and in the following verses^

" Under indulgence let our subject be,
In human life, the worth of secrecy,"

what the subject of his poem is ; otherwise, after havbg read
his twenty-four pages of verse, if we had been asked, " What
is this poem about? " — we should have answered as one of
our acquaintance once answered a similar question^ — " About
three hundred and fifty couplets."

Mr. Power, accordmg to an ancient custom, little heeded
by modern readers,

** Invokes the mercy of each critic eye."

Writers have no such immunities now-a-days, since they
have become too plenty to be treated with marked ceremo-
ny, and are regarded much like people of other callings. Wq
should think it strange if a shoemaker, upon bringing us a
pair of boots, should say, ''Sir, I fear these boots are very
badly made ; the stock is poor, and the sewing weak ; but I
beg that, if you do not like them, you would say nothing
about the matter."

Mr. Power deserves credit, such as it is, for the well-
balanced mechanism of the rhythm, and the general exact-
ness of the rhyme, throughout his poem ; and if we had
remembered nothing of Pope but bis tuneful numbers, we
might have risen from '' Secrecy," thinking ourselves lulled
into vacuity by the unchanging melody of that poet. But

VOL. I. NO. V. 53

Digitized by


j|14 Bernards Reiratpectiant of the Stage. [May,

there is no more merit in such versification, than in an ear
which can distinguish the notes of the gamut. '^ 1 '11 rhyme
Tou so eight years together, dinners, and suppers, and sleep-
mg hours excepted."

We should add, however, that Mr. Power rouses us here
and there by the abrupt introduction of lyric versification ; as
when, for instance, a sudden poetic frenzy hurries him into
the warlike Anapaest. Thus, after reciting the following
grave Iambic couplet,

" Now humbly learns God's purpose to obey.
Ere life, its hopes and passions pass away,"

we can imagine the striking elSect of the transition to the
following strain ;

*' Now trace we the course of proud glory's bright star
In the tumult of battle — the horrors of war —
In the neigh of the war-horse — the clangor of arms —
In the note of the bugle or trumpet's alarms."

Art. XIV. — Retrospections of the Stage. By the late
John Bernard, Manager of the American Theatres, he.
Boston. Carter fit Hendee. 2 vols. 12mo. pp. 235
and 215.

John Bernard was bom at Portsmouth (England) in
1756, " went on the stage in 1774, and quitted it in 1820,"
and was connected during the last half of the forty-six years
of his public career with the American theatres. He early
became delighted with theatrical entertainments ; but the
first inclination which he felt to take a personal share in
them as an actor, was occasioned by the school exhibitions
in which he performed a part on " the eve of the holidays,
when the learned and indulgent dotnine, Mr. Low, used
invariably to fall into that amiable failing so prevalent among
pedagogues, of getting up a play." The theatrical mania
with which he was seized reached an alarming height at the
age of sixteen, and proved too violent to yield to the tender
remonstrances of a serious mother, or to the apprehensions
of a sterner interference on the part of his father, in the
intervals of a sea-faring life. But so it was, that before he
had a full right to be his own master, both parents consented
to his wishes, considering their consent as a choice of evils.

Digitized by


1882,] BemarJPs RetrospecHms of the Stage. 415

During the period of his connexion with the English thea-
tres, being neariy one-fourth of a century, be saw and beard
a great deal which is worth relating, and a great deal which
might as well not be told. There is scarcely any description
of persons which he did not meet with first or last, either in
London, where it was said long ago, that '^ let a man's char-
acter, sentiments,, or complexion be what they will, he can
find company to match them," or at Bath, the resort of fash-
ion and folly and crime, or in other considerable places
where he had a temporary residence, or which he visited in
his proYincial campaigns. Accordingly we are introduced
to a very motley company ; (to say nothing of the vilest gra-
dations) to retainers at inns, strolling-players, and players of
all sorts ; to musicians, scribblers, literati, and philosophers ;
to princes, statesmen, lords, and commoners, besides citizens
of the world. He passed much time year after year with
many of these in the overflowings of wit and conviviality, at
clubs and private entertainments, maintaining withal a good
degree of self-respect, neither ashamed of his craft and hum-
bler companions, nor boasting of his fellowship with men in
higher stations.

In such intercourse, and so long continued, he found op-
portunities to gather stories and anecdotes of various quali-
ties and kinds, benevolent and heroic, or humorous, sillyi
ludicrous, mischievous, vexatious, and profane, — ghost sto-
ries not excepted. His narratives of indelicate and licentious
adventures are told frequently with an appearance of regard
merely to historical fidelity, without censure or expressions
of disgust ; and his descriptions of vicious and dissolute char-
acters have sometimes more of lightness than severity. Here
and there we find snatches of good philosophical speculation
on the mimetic art, of which we could wish there was more ;
and many of his descriptions of persons and personal habits
and qualities are very well drawn and very entertaining. We
select one of these from a number most to our taste, relating
to the celebrated Dr. Herschel. Bernard, being a very
youns man, was at Bath, and awkwardly situated for want
of skill in performing the musical parts assigned to him
in the opera. Herschel, perceiving this, offered to give him
private instruction upon terms to be arranged at a future

Digitized by


416 BermrJPt Reir4>fpeeiumi ^tke &agiu [Khj,

" This offer I gratefully accepted, -and sttended him twice
a week, at his own lodgings, which then resembled an astrono-
roer's much more than a musician's, being heaped up with
globes, maps, telescopes, reflectors, &c., under which his piano
was hid, and the violoncello, like a discarded favorite, skulked
away in one corner.

" This was not the only evidence of Mr. HerschePs astrologi-
cal propensities, nor were they a puhKc secrelt ; lie had taken
t>b8ervation8, and commtmicffted with philMophioai societies ;
the consequence of which was, that he had been quiezed by
the fiddlers, and called by the charitably disposed an eccentric.
To his friends and to myself he alluded to these studies wilib-
out embarrassment, and would modestly remark, that ' aU
men had their failings, and this was his.' When I came lo
him of an evening, and caught him thus employed, he would
tell me with a laugh, to take care how I stepped over his ' new
world,' and didn't run foul of his 'celestial system'; and
when I helped him to put his machinery aside, he had a stand-
ing joke in calling me his ' Atlas,' because I once carried the
globe on my shoulders. When the removal was made, -the iid-
dle was taken down, or the harpsicord opened, without farrier
oommedt •

'* Notwithstanding I was so familiar with hk pursuits, one
evening he gave me a -surprise. The opera'of ' lionel and dla-
riasa ' was announced, in .which I was given the .part !of Lotd
Jessamy. His Lordship having a difficult song, I went as usual
to>my clever friend to rehearse it. It was cold and clear weather^
hut the sky that night was rather cloudyj and the moon .peeped
out only now and then from her veil. Herschel had a fire in
his back-apartment, and placed the music-stand near its win-
dow, which I could not account for. He then procured his
violin, 'and commenced the sopg, playing over the air twice or
thrice to familiarize me with its general idea; and then leading
me note by note to its (thorough acquaintance. We gdt through
about five bars pretty well, till of a sudden tthe sky began to
cleanr lup, and bis eye ^was unavoidably att»uted by the «eJeitiai
bodies coming out, us 'it were, lone by one irom their hiding-

S laces : my eye, however, was fixed on the book : and when
e exclaimed, * Beautiful ! beautiful ! ' squiatin^g .up .at the
stars, I thought he alluded to the music. At .length ihe whole
host threw aside their drapery, and stood forth in native loveli-
ness : — ihe effect was sudden and subduing, — ' Beautiful^
beautiful,' shouted Herschel, *thepe he is at last! ** dropping
the fiddle, snatching a telescope, throwing up the window, and
(though it was a night in January^ beginning to survey an ab-
sentee planet, which he had been long looking for

Digitized by


18K.] Bernards Betra^pBelimi of the Stage. 417

'' Herschel, when in company, owing to the above causeB,
waaeai^eedinglj abstracted, and would frequently listen-to a long
story without comprehending a word of it This was very .mor-
tifying to the person who had been endeavouring to entertain
him ; and 'on subsequent occasions, when this absence was
perceive4, it grew to a common remark with many, — ' He 'b
'm the clouds again, he 's star-gazing ! "^

" Let me conclude these notices, as I woifld always wish to
do when I eimiiot praise the talents, with a record to lihe'vw*
ttues of this individual. The point oif tenma, tboagh I «epe«i-
•edly fffessed him to i^altle it, he in«rariftbiliy defenred, saying, iie
iliad not tii»e ihen to talk about ' terms/ he bad only tk»e Ho
;give me z ' lesson.' At 4be end of the season, Jiaving r^u-
iarly .receiived my two iessoas a-week, I waited on him to know
what remuneration I should make ; when he jrefused to receiva
a shilling, saying, *' He had undertaken to teach me^ because
"he thought I could not afford to pay any one.'

** Ten years after this, I .met the Doctor in London, where
he was established as an ai^ronomer, and we renewed and con*
tinued our acquaintance." pp. 37 - 40.

In the author's own walk;, we might, if we could sparp
room, select "bis account of the- y^te^an Macklin, as paxtkm-
lady interesting.

TThese volumes will be wdlcomed, no dotibt, by all patrons
of theatricals and plajr-going people. 'They 1)ring down the
author's " Retrospections of the Stage" only to the time of
his embarking for this country, the first volume havine.close^
with the closo of his theatrical engagements in Ireland. The
Author ^ays, in his concluding address to the reader, << I con-
sider the two volumes now submitted, as defining periods
which form two acts in the drama of my life ; and that if
grou are at all desirous the curtain should go up a third time^
you need but to ^ make a iioise/ and Jtfae wish will be com-
plied with.^

WiC ate not told T)y the Editor, the autliof's son, who
abridged and prepared ^hese volumes for the press, whether
A third volume is ready for the press when it shall he called
for by the public.

Digitized by


418 Life of Hannah Adams. [May,

Art. XV. — A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adamr. Written
ty Herself. With Additional Notices, by a Friend.
Boston. Gray & Bowen. 1832. 12mo. pp.110.

An objection has been made to the writing of Memoirs of
one's self for different reasons ; but in some respects auto-
biography is both more pleasing and more instructive than
«ny other biography. It has more freshness and bears the
very impress of the mind and character of the individual, in-
stead of a desi:;ription or analysis of them. However deficient
one may be in self-knowledge, yet there are many things
which he knows about himself better than any body else
can know them ; and if it be not so, he will unconsciously
disclose qualities which others will perceive and appreciate.
If he be vain, he will strive to no purpose to make his reader
believe that he was wont to shrink from notoriety ; his ruling
passion will break through all disguise, honestly or artfully
assumed ; and though he may sometimes provoke, he will
foe pretty sure to .amuse his readers. If he be modest, he
will be neither prolix nor discursive, probably less entertain-
ing than the vain, not given to prattle and gossip, but on the
whole more attractive.

If ever man or woman deserved to be classed among mod-
est persons or authors, Hannah Adams must be classed there.
But we do not single out this virtue of modesty, marked as
it is, for particular exemplification. It will appear through-
out, in the brief remarks we shall make upon her life and

Miss Adams was in several respects a very remarkable
woman. In her physical constitution she was feeble and
nervous ; her social tendencies were rebuked by timidity ;
her wishes to conform to the customs of external politeness
(which she prized at their full value) were frustrated by an
awkwardness of which she was painfully conscious ; and to
sum up" all in a word, in regard to social intercourse, she felt
an abiding uneasiness in consequence of a full conviction
that in every thing external she was not like other people.
Her education, except the humblest elementary instruction
at school^ was a matter of mere accident and caprice. When
she had reached the tenth year of her age, she was deprived
of her mother, and very soon after of an aunt, '^ who was

Digitized by


1839.] Life of Hannah Adams. 419

attached to her with almost maternal fondness ; " and thus
her sister, a little older, than herself, became her principal
friend and adviser. Her father had enjoyed the benefit of a
good school education according to the notions then prevail-
ing, and had learned a little Latin and Greek ; but he was a
man of no thrift, and no skill in applying his knowledge to
advantage.* Still her curiosity and almost innate love of
knowledge supplied in a good degree the want of instruction.
Her '^ first idea of Heaven was, of a place where we should
find our thirst for knowledge fully gratified." In early life
her reading consisted of novels of which she was ^' passion-
ately fond," and of poetry, of which she was an '^ enthusias-
tic admirer " ; while she '^ did not neglect the study of his-
tory and biography." The ideal world which was pictured
in her imagination from reading poetry and fictitious writings
without discrimination and without guidance, was to her an
occasion of regret and unhappiness in after life ; and to this
she ascribed some of the " errors of her understanding." Her
curiosity, however, reached to more substantial things, and^
with such aid and instruction as she could procure, she ob-
tained considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek ; and in
her turn she gave instruction in the same to three young gen*
tlemen, one of whom pursued his studies with her till he en-
tered the University at Cambridge.

* His baptismal name we do not remember, if we ever knew it ; but
He was such a greedy devourer of books, that be was more familiarly
known by a charactexistic prsenomen substituted for the rea) one i
and thus he was generally called Book Adams. He was altogether
a curiosity, a locomotive library. He was much better than an index ;
for he could not only tell one where to find any fact in the multitude
of voyages, travels, histories, and books of antiquities which he had
read, but could recite for hours and days their various details. With
the digesting of these materials he had notliing to do ; they were
stored merely as goods valuable for their own sake, or to be dealt out
for the gratuitous use of those who had the wish or the patience to
receive them. His lean image on his lean walking or ambling pony,
with a volume open before his eyes, and with his saddle-b(j|ni stujSed
with his daughter's books to be distributed or vended, is stm fresh in
our recollection. It was some thirty vears affo we remember, in the

Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 43 of 54)