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ART. V.-THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY AND THE POETS
1. The Atlantic Monthly, February, 1865. Boston.
Brown & Gross.
THE Atlantic Monthly, in an article entitled “The Pleiades of Connecticut,” asserts that Connecticut has never produced a poet ! and the attempt is made to ridicule the early poets of that State as mere pretenders. Wolcott, Trumbull, Dwight, Humphreys, Barlow, Hopkins and Alsop, according to the critic, imposed themselves on their ignorant cotemporaries as a constellation of stars in the galaxy of genius.
“While the constellation was shining over Connecticut,” says the author of the “ Pleiades," " each bright star had its own particular twinkle. Trumbull's Progress of Dullness,' in three Cantos, is an imitation of Goldsmith, two lines only of which, have survived. (?) The Reverend Mr. Brainless when called and settled,
"On Sunday in his best array,
Why these two lines should be thus honored, is doubtless because they chance to hit the orthodox clergy of that day. Of Trumbull's chef-d'oeuvre, McFingal, the critic acknowledges that it pleased the taste of the times, and that thirty editions were soon 'sold;' but “there was no copy-right law in the land,” and, in the classic and elegant language of the critic, “ Trumbull took more praise than solid pudding by his poetry."
As to Timothy Dwight, “like Timotheus of Greece, he wrote a war chant; he wrote psalms,” (orthodox !) “True to the literary instincts of the Pleiades, he shines with reflected light, and works after Thomson and Goldsmith so closely that in many passages imitation passes into parody." The descendants of the Pilgrim fathers had the old Saxon blood in their
veins, bounding and coursing not the less strongly and freely for the change from the tame English scenery to the grandeur of the majestic features of New England, and the free air of its mountains and forests. Shall we spurn our own birth-right of free thoughts and untrammeled genius, quailing before the prestige of the old world writers ! Or shall a sister State tolerate an attempt to ridicule those whose venerated names the youth of Connecticut were taught to respect as significant of the pioneers of literature, by calling them superficial, thieving Yankees, impostors and quack poets !
“ Connecticut,” says the critic, “is pleasant, with wooded hills and a beauteous river; plenteous with tobacco and cheese ; fruitful of merchants, missionaries,” (but these missionaries do not preach the modern doctrines of progress and no-faith), sailors, peddlers and single women ;—but there are no poets known to exist there, unless it be that well-paid band who write the rhymed puffs of cheap garments and cosmetics.
The enterprising natives can turn out any article on which a profit may be made,-except poetry.”
Setting aside the earlier poets of Connecticut, had the critic never heard of Percival ? the very soul and fire of poetic genius, of the loftiest type! Has he never heard of Brainerd, and of Halleck ? Of the latter poet, Griswold says:
“There is in his composition an essential pervading grace, a natural brilliancy of wit, a freedom yet refinement of sentiment, a sparkling flow of fancy, and a power of personification combined with such bigh and careful finish, and such exquisite nicety of taste, that the larger part of them must be regarded as models almost faultless in the classes to which they belong."
Bryant says of him, “in no poet can be found passages which flow with more sweet and liquid smoothness.” And Tuckerman says, “ his Marco Bozzaris is, perhaps, the best martial lyric in the language." But it seems the critic in the Atlantic Monthly has never heard of him. Has he ever heard of Prentice ? or of Hillhouse ? or of Burgess ? or of Williams ? or of Croswell, that true Christian Poet of the Cross and the Church ? Perhaps such things are out of date at Boston. Either one of these names is enough to rescue the State from the reproach which The Atlantic seeks to cast upon it; and either one has enough of the buoyant power of life to keep afloat a much larger craft than the Atlantic Monthly.
And can America afford to blot out the name of Sigourney from the list of the world's poets of the nineteenth century ? Her reputation, though it may not have reached Boston ! is yet world-wide ; standing beside that of Felicia Hemans in Europe ; not a whit below, with a genius of wider scope and loftier range, and numbers no less smooth and graceful.
The writer of the “Pleiades” has attempted to deprive the classic shades of Yale College, of Hartford, Litchfield and every other nook and corner of Connecticut, of all credit for aught that is noble in intellect, or admirable in genius. According to him, there never has been, nor ever can be native Poetry in that State ; because “ machinery, money-making and peddling, turn and fill the brains of the people." Let Arthur Cleveland Coxe no longer refer with pride to his Connecticut ancestor, Aaron Cleveland, the mantle of whose poetic genius has been supposed to have fallen upon his gifted descendant, inspiring the thrilling numbers of those exquisite Ballads and Sacred Songs, which have given the young prelate in Europe the appellation of the American Keble. And yet no poet, according to “Pleiades,” ever lived in Connecticut.
And what is Poetry! Who shall define it? We can better say what it is not. It is not detraction; the faculty of seeing things under their worst and most belittling aspect. Such a faculty is not only unpoetical, but must prevent its possessor from discerning poetry in others. There is poetry in all that is grand and beautiful in Nature and Art, in Science and Literature. There was poetry in the minds of John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Edward Everett, though their attempts at versification add nothing to their fame. They were too philosophical, too real for the true poetical abandon. The cui bono in its highest sense, as affecting the welfare of nations, the rights of Sovereign States and of the individual man, with the practical work of philanthropy, is not favorable to the flights of fancy in the regions of poetry; and yet in itself it is in the highest degree poetical.
We sometimes find a remarkable combination in the same mind, of a poetic temperament with the capacity of minute observation. Mrs. Sigourney is an exemplification of this, as we turn from the perusal of her many books to observe the beautiful order of her own classic cottage home, where every vine-tendril is gracefully trained by her own hand, and every work of art, or cluster of flowers, is carefully placed or arranged. A mind which can stoop to the minute, and yet soar to the sublimest heights, is the most perfect representation of Him Who though
" He rules and watches all, Scorns not the least of all His works."
To the true poet of Nature, the most common objects appear under peculiar aspects. The ordinary scenes and associations of life become poetical to a higher gifted mind; the gushing forth of song is a melody which those can feel who could not have produced it. The Christian poet carries the soul above these earthly scenes, even into the presence-chamber of the great Author of all things. The inspiration of the heathen muse is not needed by him who can say, in the words of a poet of Connecticut:
“No, no, a lonelier, lovelier path be mine;
Greece and her charms I leave for Palestine,
Leaving the critic of The Atlantic Monthly, to whose petty attempt at piquant wit we have given more attention than it deserves, in conclusion we notice briefly the work placed at the head of these pages, the production of the gifted pen of one who is a prose-writer as well as a poet. It is the fifth edition of “Past Meridian,” revised and enlarged by the author, a work which will gladden the hearts of many weary travellers in life's journey. The large open type and superior paper are well adapted to the imperfection of vision, which is one of the first indications of advancing years. The subjects of the several chapters are, The A. M.'s and P. M.'s; Old ; Reporters ; The Custody of Knowledge; The Beauty of Age ; Air ; Domestic Anniversaries; Patriotic Recollections ; Accomplishments; Privileges of Age; Longevity and Intellectual Labor; Aged Divines; Cheerful Old Women; Westering SunVOX. XVII.
beams ; About Money ; The Amenities ; The Pleasures of Winter; A New Existence. This book should be read by the young and middle-aged, as affording delicate suggestions in regard to their duties to their seniors, in softening their descent to the dark river which divides from the land of rest and peace. What more acceptable present than this book to those who are
growing old ;" cheering them with the companionship of those who in advanced age have been lovely, happy and useful ? and how much more delicately we may remind others of their duties to us by presenting them with this volume, than by formal homilies ? In the current phraseology of the day, we think “it would pay ;” and when an outlay of money, be the sum large or small, brings a return of tenderness or sympathy, it may be considered “a good investment.”
As a prose writer, Mrs. Sigourney may be commended for grace and perspicuity of style ; often rising to high poetic beauty. We give a single example from the many which the book before us affords :
“ All along the way, there is happiness for those whose hearts are in unison with the Divine Will. With a prayer of penitence for the erring past, and a hymn of faith for the joyous future, they pass onward, their Christian graces maturing day by day, under the clear shining of the Sun of Righteousness. Thus may it be with us, until the last, bright drop of this brief existence shall be exhaled.”