Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Writers Of Verse

( Originally Published 1913 )

POETRY," says the Century dictionary, " is that one of the fine arts which addresses itself to the feelings and the imagination by the instrumentality of musical and moving words "; and that is probably as concise a definition of poetry as can be evolved. For poetry is difficult to define. Verse we can describe, because it is mechanical; but poetry is verse with a soul added.

It is for this very reason that there is so wide a variance in the critical estimates of the work of individual poets. The feelings and imagination of no two persons are exactly the same, and what will appeal to one will fail to appeal to the other; so that it follows that what is poetry for one is merely verse for the other. Tastes vary in poetry, just as they do in food. Indeed, poetry is a good deal like food. We all of us like bread and butter, and we eat it every day and get good, solid nourishment from it; but only the educated palate can appreciate the refinements of caviar, or Gorgonzola cheese, or some rare and special vintage. So most of us derive a mild enjoyment from the works of such poets as Long-fellow and Tennyson and Whittier; but it requires a trained taste to appreciate the subtle delights of Browning or Edgar Allan Poe.

Now the taste for the simple and obvious is a natural taste—the child's taste, healthy, and, some will add, unspoiled; but poetry must be judged by the nicer and more exacting standard, just as all other of the fine arts must. I wonder if you have ever read what is probably the most perfect lyric ever written by an American? I am going to set it down here as an example of what poetry can be, and I want you to compare your favorite poems, whatever they may be, with it. It is by Edgar Allan Poe and is called

TO HELEN

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicaean barks of yore;
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam;
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs, have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand;
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which Are Holy Land!

In 1821—the same year which saw the publication of The Spy, the first significant American novel—there appeared at Boston a little pamphlet of forty four pages, bound modestly in brown paper boards, and containing eight poems. Two of them were ' To a Waterfowl " and " Thanatopsis," and that little volume marked the advent of the first American poet--William Cullen Bryant. Out of the great mass of verse produced on our continent for two centuries after the Pilgrim Fathers landed on Ply-mouth Rock, his was the first which displayed those qualities which make for immortality.

Before him our greatest poets had been Philip Freneau, the " Poet of the Revolution"; Francis Scott Key, whose supreme achievement was " The Star-Spangled Banner "; Fitz-Greene Halleck, known to every school-boy by his "Marco Bozzaris," but chiefly memorable for a beautiful little lyric, " On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake "; and Drake himself, perhaps the greatest of the four, but dying at the age of twenty-five with nothing better to his credit than the well-known " The American Flag," and the fanciful and ambitious " The Culprit Fay." But these men were, at best, only graceful versifiers, and Bryant loomed so far above them and the other verse-makers of his time that he was hailed as a miracle of genius, a sort of Parnassan giant whose like had never before existed. We estimate him more correctly to-day as a poet of the second rank, whose powers were limited but genuine, Indeed, even in his own day, Bryant's reputation waned somewhat, for he never fulfilled the promise of that first volume, and "To a Waterfowl" and "Thana-topais " remain the best poems he ever wrote.

William Cullen Bryant was born at Cumming-ton, Massachusetts, in 1794, the son of a physician, from whom he received practically all his early training, and who was himself a writer of verse. The boy's talent for versification was encouraged, and some of his productions were recited at school and published in the poet's corner of the local newspaper. In 1808, when Bryant was fourteen years old, the first volume of his poems was printed at Boston, with an advertisement certifying the extreme youth of the author. It contained nothing of any importance, and why anyone should care to read dull verse because it was written by a child is incomprehensible, but the book had some success, and Bryant's father was a very proud man.

Three years later, Bryant entered Williams College, but soon left, and, not having the means to pay his way through Yale, gave up the thought of college altogether, and began the study of law. Ile also read widely in English literature, and while in his seventeenth year produced what may fairly be called the first real poem written in America,: " Thanatopsis," a wonderful achievement for a youth of that age. Six months later came the beautiful lines, " To a Waterfowl," and Bryant's career as a poet was fairly begun. In 1821 came the thin volume in which these and other poems were collected, and its success finally decided its, author to relinquish a career at the bar and to turn to literature.

In the years that followed, Bryant produced a few other noteworthy poems, yet it is significant of the thinness of his inspiration that, though he began writing in early youth and lived to the age of eighty-four, his total product was scant in the extreme when compared with that of any of the acknowledged masters. His earnings from this source were never great, and, removing to New York, he secured, in 1828, the editorship of the Evening Post, with which he remained associated until his death.

In his later years, he became an imposing national figure. But his poetry never regained the wide acceptation which it once enjoyed, largely be-cause taste in verse has changed, and we have come to lay more stress upon beauty than upon ethical teaching.

America has never lacked for versifiers, and Bryant's success encouraged a greater throng than ever to " lisp in numbers "; but few of them grew beyond the lisping stage, and it was not until the middle of the century that any emerged from this throng to take their stand definitely beside the author of " Thanatopsis." Then, almost simultaneously, six others disengaged themselves—Longfellow, Whittier, Poe, Lowell, Holmes and Emerson—and remain to this day the truest poets in our history.

Of Emerson we have already spoken. His poetry has been, and still is, the subject of controversy. To some, it is the best in our literature; to others, it is not poetry at all, but merely rhythmic prose. It is lacking in passion, in poetic glow—for how can fire come out of an iceberg ?-but about some of it here is the clean-cut beauty of the cameo. You know, of course, his immortal quatrain,

Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky;
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing;
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being.

More than once he hit the bull's-eye, so to speak, in just that splendid way.

Of the others, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is easily first in popular reputation, if not in actual achievement. Born at Portland, Maine, in 1807, of a good family, he developed into an attractive and promising boy; was a classmate at Bowdoin College of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and after three years' study abroad, was given the chair of modern languages there. For five years he held this position, filling it so well that in 1834 he was called to Harvard. He entered upon his duties there after another year abroad, and continued with them for eighteen years. The remainder of his life was spent quietly amid a congenial circle of friends at Cambridge. He was essentially home-loving, and took no strenuous interest in public affairs; for this reason, perhaps, he won a warmer place in public affection than has been accorded to any other American man-of-letters, for the American people is a home-loving people, and especially admires that quality in its great men.

From his earliest youth, Longfellow had written verses of somewhat unusual merit for a boy, though remarkable rather for smoothness of rhythm than for depth or originality of thought. His modern language studies involved much translation, but his first book, " Hyperion," was not published until 1839. It attained a considerable vogue, but as nothing to the wide popularity of "Voices of the Night," which appeared the same year. Two years later appeared "Ballads and Other Poems," and the two collections established their author in the popular heart beyond possibility of assault. They contained "A Psalm of Life," " The Reaper and the Flowers," " The Village Blacksmith," and " Excelsior," which, however we may dispute their claims as poetry, have taken their place among the treasured household verse of the nation.

Four years later, in " The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems," he added two more to this collection, " The Day is Done " and" The Bridge." The publication, in 1847, of " Evangeline " raised him to the zenith of his reputation. His subsequent work con-firmed him in popular estimation as the greatest of American poets—" Hiawatha," " The Courtship of Miles Standish," and such shorter poems as " Resignation," " The Children's Hour," "Paul Revere's Ride," and " The Old Clock on the Stairs."

But, after all, Longfellow was not a really great poet. He lacked the strength of imagination, the sureness of insight and the delicacy of fancy necessary to great poetry. He was rather a sentimentalist to whom study and practice had given an exceptional command of rhythm. The prevailing note of his best-known lyrics is one of sentimental sorrow the note which is of the very widest appeal. His public is largely the same public which weeps over the death of little Nell and loves to look at Landseer's " The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner." Longfellow and Dickens and Landseer were all great artists and did admirable work, but scarcely the very highest work. But Longfellow's ballads "found an echo in the universal human heart," and won him an affection such as has been accorded no other modern poet. His place is by the hearth-side rather than on the mountain-top — by far the more comfortable and The year of Longfellow's birth witnessed that of another American poet, more virile, but of a narrower appeal—John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier's birthplace was the old house at East Haverhill, Massachusetts, where many generations of his Quaker ancestors had dwelt. The family was poor, and the boy's life was a hard and cramped one, with few opportunities for schooling or culture; yet its very rigor made for character, and developed that courage and simplicity which were Whittier's noblest attributes.

What there was in the boy that moved him to write verse it would be difficult to say—some bent, some crotchet, which defies explanation. Certain it is that he did write; his sister sent some of his verses to a neighboring paper, and the result was a visit from its editor, William Lloyd Garrison, who encouraged the boy to get some further schooling, and afterwards helped him to secure a newspaper position in Boston. But his health failed him, and he returned to Haverhill, removing, in 1836, to Amesbury, where the remainder of his life was spent.

He had already become interested in politics, had joined the abolitionists, and was soon the most influential of the protestants against slavery. Into this battle he threw himself heart and soul. It is amusing to reflect that, though a Quaker and advocate of non-resistance, he probably did more to render the Civil War inevitable than any other one man. During the war, his lyrics aided the Northern cause; and as soon as it was over, he labored unceasingly to allay the evil passions which the contest had aroused. He lived to the ripe age of eighty-five, simply and bravely, and his career was from first to last consistent and inspiring, one of the sweetest and gentlest in history.

Although Whittier was endowed with a brighter spark of the divine fire than Longfellow, he himself was conscious that he did not possess

The seerlike power to show
The secrets of the heart and mind.

He was lacking, too, in intellectual equipment-in culture, in mastery of rhythm and diction, in felicitous phrasing. And yet, on at least two occasions, he rang sublimely true—in his denunciation of Webster, " Ichabod," and in his idyll of New England rural life, " Snow-Bound."

The third of these New England poets, and also the least important, is Oliver Wendell Holmes. Born at Cambridge, in the inner circle of New England aristocracy, educated at Harvard, and studying medicine in Boston and Paris, he practiced his profession for twelve years, until, in 1847, he was called to the chair of anatomy and physiology at Harvard, continuing in that position until 1882. He lived until 1894, the last survivor of the seven poets whom we have mentioned.

During his student days, Holmes had gained considerable reputation as a writer of humorous and sentimental society verse, and during his whole life he wrote practically no other kind. Long practice gave him an easy command of rhythm, and a careful training added delicacy to his diction. He be-came remarkably dexterous in rhyme, and grew to be the recognized celebrant of class reunions and public dinners. Urbane, felicitous and possessing an unflagging humor, he was the prince of after-dinner poets—not a lofty position, be it observed, nor one making for immortal fame. His highwater mark was reached in three poems, " The Chambered Nautilus," " The Deacon's Masterpiece," and that faultless piece of familiar verse, "The Last Leaf," all of which are widely and affectionately known. He lacked power and depth of imagination, the field in which he was really at home was a narrow one, and the verdict of time will probably be that he was a pleasant versifier rather than a true poet.

His claim to the attention of posterity is likely to rest, not on his verses, but upon a sprightly hodgepodge of imaginary table-tall, called " The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table"--a warm-hearted, kindly book, which still retains its savor.

And this brings us to our most versatile man-of-letters-James Russell Lowell. Born at Cambridge, in the old house called " Elmwood," so dear to his readers, spending an ideal boyhood in the midst of a cultured circle, treading the predestined path through Harvard, studying law and gaining admission to the bar—such was the story of his life for the first twenty-five years. As a student at Harvard, he had written a great deal of prose and verse of considerable merit, and he continued this work after graduation, gaining a livelihood somewhat precarious, indeed, yet sufficient to render it unnecessary for him to attempt to practice law. But it was not until 1848 that he really " struck his gait"

Certainly, then, he struck it to good purpose by the publication of the "Biglow Papers " and. " A Fable for Critics," and stood revealed as one of the wisest, wittiest, most fearless and most patriotic of moralists and satirists. For the " Biglow Papers " mark a culmination of American humorous and satiric poetry which has never since been rivalled; and the " Fable for Critics " displays a satiric power unequalled since the days when Byron laid his lash along the backs of " Scotch Reviewers."

Both were real contributions to American letters, but as pure poetry both were surpassed later in the same year by his "Vision of Sir Launfal." These three productions, indeed, promised more for the future than Lowell was able to perform. He had gone up like a balloon; but, instead of mounting higher, he drifted along at the same level, and at last came back to earth.

The succeeding seven years saw no production of the first importance from his pen, although a series of lectures on poetry, which he delivered before the Lowell Institute, brought him the offer of the chair at Harvard which Longfellow had just relinquished. Two years later, he became editor of the Atlantic Monthly, holding the position until 1861. During this time, he wrote little, but the opening of the Civil War gave a fresh impetus to his muse, his most noteworthy contribution to letters being the " Commemoration Ode " with which he marked its close—a poem which has risen steadily in public estimation, and which is, without doubt, the most notable of its kind ever delivered in America. The poems which he published during the next twenty years did little to enhance his reputation, which, as a poet, must rest upon his " Biglow Papers," his odes, and his " Vision of Sir Launfal."

Yet poetry was but one of his modes of expression, and, some think, the less important one. Immediately following the Civil War, he turned his attention to criticism, and when these essays were collected under the titles " Among My Books " and " My Study Windows," they proved their author to be the ablest critic, the most accomplished scholar, the most cultured writer—in a word, the greatest all-around man-of-letters, in America.

This prominence brought him the offer of the Spanish mission, which he accepted, going from Madrid to London, in 1880, as Ambassador to Great Britain, and remaining there for five years. The service he did there is incalculable; as the spokesman for America and the representative of American culture, he took his place with dignity and honor among England's greatest; his addresses charmed and impressed them, and he may be fairly said to have laid the foundations of that cordial friendship between America and Great Britain which exists to-day. " I am a bookman," was Lowell's proudest boast—not only a writer of books, but a mighty reader of books; and he is one of the most significant figures in American letters.

So we come to the man who measures up more nearly to the stature of a great poet than any other American—Edgar Allan Poe. Outside of America, there has never been any hesitancy in pronouncing Poe the first poet of his country; but, at home, it is only recently his real merit has come to be at all generally acknowledged.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809-a stroke of purest irony on the part of fate, for he was in no respect a Bostonian, and it was to Bostonians especially that he was anathema. His parents were actors, travelling from piace to place, and his birth at Boston was purely accidental. They had no home and no fortune, but lived from hand to mouth, in the most precarious way, and both of them were dead before their son was two years old. He had an elder brother and a younger sister, and these three babies were left stranded at Richmond, Virginia, entirely without money. Luckily they were too young to realize how very dark their future was, and the Providence which looks after the sparrows also looked after them. The wife of a well-to-do tobacco merchant, named John Allan, took a fancy to the dark-eyed, dark-haired boy of two, and, having no children of her own, adopted him.

It was better fortune than he could have hoped for, for he was brought up in comfort in a good home, and his foster-parents seem to have loved him and to have been ambitious for his future. He was an erratic boy, and was soon to get into the first of those difficulties which ended by wrecking his life. For, entering the University of Virginia, he made the mistake of associating with a fast set, with whom he had no business, and ended by losing heavy sums of money, which he was, of course, unable to pay, and which his foster-father very properly refused to pay for him. Instead, he removed the boy from college and put him to work in his office at Richmond.

Edgar felt that, in refusing to pay his debts, his foster-father had besmirched his honor. The thought rankled in his soul, and he ended by running away from home. He got to Boston, somehow, and en-listed in the army, serving for three years as a private. At the end of that time, there was a reconciliation between him and his foster-father, and the latter provided a substitute for him in the army, and secured him an appointment to the military academy at West Point.

Why Poe should have felt that he was fitted for army life is difficult to understand, since he had always been impatient of discipline; but to West Point he went and very promptly got into trouble there, which culminated, at the end of the year, in court-martial and dismissal. He knew that his foster-father's patience was exhausted, and that he could expect nothing more from him, and he soon proved himself incapable of self-support.

He drifted from New York to Baltimore, often without knowing where his next meal was coming from, and finally, at Baltimore, his father's widowed sister gave him a home, and he soon married her fragile daughter, Virginia Clemm. But he had long been a prey to intemperance, and his habits in con-sequence were so irregular that he was unable to retain any permanent position. The truth seems to be that Poe was of a temperament so intensely nervous and sensitive that the smallest amount of alcoholic stimulant excited him beyond control, and he lacked the will-power to leave it alone altogether, which was his only chance of safety.

Yet he had gained a certain reputation with discerning people by the publication of a few poems of surprising merit, as well as a number of tales as remarkable and compelling as have ever been writ-ten in any language. That is a broad statement, and yet it is literally true. Not only is Poe America's greatest poet, but he is still more decidedly her greatest short-story writer—so much the greatest, that with the exception of Nathaniel Hawthorne, she has never produced another to rival him.

If further testimony to his genius were needed, it might be found in the fact that he was still unable to make a living with his pen, and was forced to see his wife growing daily weaker without the means to provide her proper nourishment. His sufferings were frightful; he was compelled to bend his pride to an appeal for public charity, and the death of his wife wrecked such moral self-control as he had remaining.

The rest is soon told. There was a rapid deterioration, and on October 3, 1849, he was found unconscious in a saloon at Baltimore, where an election had been in progress and where Poe had been made drunk and then used as an illegal voter. He was taken to a hospital, treated for delirium tremens, and died three days later, a miserable outcast, at an age where he should have been at the very zenith of his powers. The pages of the world's history show no death more pathetically tragic.

Such a death naturally offended right-thinking people. Especially did it offend the New England conscience, which has never been able to divorce art from morals; and as the literary dominance of New England was at that time absolute, Poe was buried under a mass of uncharitable criticism. It should not be forgotten that he had struck the poisoned barb of his satire deep into many a New England sage, and it was, perhaps, only human nature to strike back. So it came to pass that Poe was pointed out, not as a man of genius, but as a horrible ex-ample and degrading influence to be sedulously avoided.

With foreign readers, all this counted for nothing. They were concerned not with the life of the man, but with the work of the artist, and they found that work consummately good. They were charmed and thrilled by the haunting melody of his verse and the weird horror of his tales. In his own country, recognition of his genius has grown rapidly of recent years. Within his own sphere, he is unquestionably the greatest artist America can boast—he climbed Parnassus higher than any of his country-men, and if he did not quite attain a seat among the immortals, he at least caught some portion of their radiance.

After Poe, the man whom foreign critics consider America's most representative poet is another who has been without honor in his own country, and about whom, even yet, there is the widest difference of opinion—Walt Whitman. Whitman was ostracized for many years not because of his life, which was regular and admirable enough, but because of his verse, which is exceedingly irregular in more than one respect.

Whitman was by birth and training a man of the people. His father was a carpenter, and, after receiving a common-school education, the boy entered a printer's office at the age of thirteen. A printer's office is, in itself, a source of education, and Whit man soon began to write for the papers, finally going to New York City, where, for twelve years, he worked on Newspaper Row, as reporter or compositor, making friends with all sorts and conditions of men and entering heart and soul into the busy life of the great city. The people, the seething masses on the streets, had a compelling fascination for him.

Tiring of New York, at last, he started on a tramp trip to the southwest, worked in New Orleans and other towns, swung around through the northwest, and so back to Brooklyn, where he became, strangely enough, a contractor—a builder and seller of houses. He had been reading a great deal, all these years, but as yet had given no indication of what was to be his literary life-work.

And yet, fermenting inside the man and at last demanding expression, was a strange new philosophy of democracy, all-tolerant, holding the individual to be of the first importance, male and female equal, the body to be revered no less than the soul. For the promulgation of this philosophy, some worthy literary form was needed—poetry, since that was the noblest form, but poetry stripped of conventions and stock phrases, as " fluent and free as the people and the land and the great system of democracy which it was to celebrate." With some such idea as this, not outlined in words, nor, perhaps, very clearly understood even by himself, Whitman set to work, and the result was the now famous " Leaves of Grass," a collection of twelve poems, printed by the author in Brooklyn in 1855.

Like most other philosophies and prophecies, it fell on heedless ears. Few people read it, and those who did were exasperated by its far-fetched diction or scandalized by its free treatment of delicate topics. In the next year, a second edition appeared, containing thirty-two poems; but the book had practically no sale.

Then came the Civil War, and Whitman, volunteering not for the field, but for work in the hospitals, proved that the doctrine of brotherly love, so basic to his poems, was basic also to his character. " Not till the sun excludes you, neither will I ex-elude you," he had declared; and now he devoted himself to nursing, on battlefield, in camp and hospital, doing what he could to cheer and lighten the worst side of war, an attractive and inspiring figure.

Lincoln, looking out of a window of the White House, saw him go past one day; a majestic person with snow-white beard and hair, his cotton shirt open at the throat, six feet tall and perfectly proportioned; and the President, without knowing who he was, but mistaking him probably for a common laborer, turned to a friend who stood beside him and re-marked, " There goes a man! " And Whitman was a man. Up to that time, he had never been ill a day; but two years later, at the age of fifty-three, his health gave way, under the strain of nursing, and from that time until his death he was, physically, a man in ruins." Mentally, he was as alert and virile as ever.

He was given a clerical position in one of the departments at Washington after that, remaining there until, in 1873, an attack of paralysis incapacitated him even for clerical labor. Meanwhile he bad issued his poems of the war, under the title " Drum-Taps," and had softened some hostile hearts by the two noble tributes to Lincoln there included, " O Captain, my Captain ! " and " When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." But his poetry brought him no income and, for a time, after his removal to Camden, New Jersey, where the remainder of his life was to be passed, he was in absolute want. Friends increased, however; his poems were re-issued, and his last years were spent in the midst of a circle of disciples, who hailed Whitman as a seer and prophet and were guilty of other fatuities which made the judicious grieve and did much to keep them alienated from the poet's work.

Since his death, his fame has become established on a firmer basis than hysterical adulation; but it is yet too soon to attempt to judge him, to say what his ultimate rank will be. It seems probable that it will be a high one, and it is possible that, centuries hence, the historian of American letters will start with Whitman as the first exponent of an original and democratic literature, disregarding all that has gone before as merely imitative of Europe.

Of our lesser poets, only a few need be mentioned here. Bayard Taylor, born in Pennsylvania in 1825, of Quaker stock and reared in the tenets of that sect, at one time loomed large in American letters, but it is doubtful whether anything of his has the quality- of permanency. His personality was a picturesque and fascinating one and his life interesting and romantic.

A poor boy, burning with the itch to write and especially to travel; at the age of nineteen making his way to England, and from there to Germany; spending two years in Europe, enduring hardships, living with the common people; and finally returning home to find that his letters to the newspapers had been read with interest and had won a considerable audience—these were the first steps in his struggle for recognition. He collected his letters into a book called " Views Afoot," which at once became widely popular, and his reputation was made.

But it was a reputation as a reporter and traveller,. and Taylor, much as he despised it, was never able to get away from it. He became, perforce, a sort of official traveller for the American people, journeyed in. California, in the Orient, in Russia, Lap-land-in most of the out-of-the-way corners of the world—and his books of travel were uniformly interesting and successful. They do not attract today, not, as Park Benjamin put it, because Taylor travelled more and saw less than any other man who ever lived, but because they lack the charm of style,, depth of thought, and keenness of observation which the present generation has come to expect.

During all this time, Taylor was struggling with pathetic earnestness for recognition as a novelist and poet, but with poor measure of success. His novels were crude and amateurish, and have long since become negligible; but his verse is somewhat more important. His travels in the East furnished him material for his " Poems of the Orient," which rep-resent him at his best.

His ambition, however, was to write a great epic; but for this he lacked both intellectual and emotional equipment, and his attempts in this field were virtual failures. These failures were to him most tragic; not only that, but he found himself financially embarrassed, and was forced to turn to such hack work as the writing of school histories in order to gain a livelihood. But his friends, of whom he had always a wide circle, secured him the mission to Germany, and he entered on his duties in high spirits—only to die suddenly one morning while sitting in his library at Berlin. A generous, impulsive and warm-hearted man, Bayard Taylor will be remembered for what he was, rather than for what he did.

Two other poets, whose deaths occurred not many months ago, have made noteworthy contributions to American letters—Edmund Clarence Stedman and Thomas Bailey Aldrich. Of the two, Aldrich was by far the better craftsman, his verse possessing a wit, a daintiness and perfection of finish which sets it apart in a class almost by itself. In prose, too, Aldrich wrote attractively, but always rather with the air of a dilettante, and without the depth and passion of genius. Stedman also possessed wit and polish, though in less degree, and the verse of both these men is delightful reading.

More recent still has been the death of a man whose verse ranks with that of either Stedman or Aldrich — Richard Watson Gilder. Some of his lyrics are very beautiful, but they appeal to the intellect rather than to the heart. Perhaps for this reason, as well as for a certain lack of substance and virility, his verse has never had a wide appeal.

Two men whose names have become household words because of their delightful verses for and about children are Eugene Field and James Whit-comb Riley. Field is the greater of the two, for he possessed a depth of feeling and insight which is lacking in Riley. Few lyrics have been more widely popular than his " Little Boy Blue " and " Dutch Lullaby "; while Riley's " Little Orphant Annie " and " The Raggedy Man " are equally well known.

Alice and Phoebe Cary are remembered for a few simply-written lyrics; Julia Ward Howe's " Battle-Hymn of the Republic " lives as the worthiest piece of verse evoked by the Civil War; and Joaquin Miller is known for a certain rude power in song; but none of them is of sufficient importance to demand extended study.

It will be noted that, among all the poets who have been mentioned here, not one was distinctively of the South. Poe's youth was spent in Richmond, but he was in no sense Southern. Indeed, the South has only three names to offer of even minor importance—Sidney Lanier, Henry Timrod, and Paul Hamilton Hayne. None of these men produced any-thing of the first order, and much of their verse is marred by amateurishness and want of finish—the result, in the first place, of defective training, and, in the second place, of an incapacity for taking pains, of a habit which relied too much on "inspiration " and too little on intellectual effort.

For verse, to be perfect, must be polished like a diamond, slowly and carefully, until every facet sparkles. This means that the right word or phrase must be searched for until it is found. Perhaps you have read Mr. Barrie's inimitable story " Senti-mental Tommy," and you will remember how Tom-my failed to write the prize essay because he couldn't think of the right word, and would be satisfied with no other. Well, that is the spirit. Somebody has said that " easy writing makes hard reading," and this is especially true of poetry. Inspiration doesn't extend to technic—that must be acquired, like any art, with infinite pains.

Of the three poets, Lanier, Timrod, and Hayne, Lanier was by far the greatest, and has even become, in a small way, the centre of a cult; but his voice, while often pure and sweet, lacks the strength needed to carry it down the ages. He is like a little brook making beautiful some meadow or strip of woodland; but only mighty rivers reach the ocean. Lanier is memorable not so much for his work as for the gallant fight he made against the consumption which he had contracted as the result of exposure in the Confederate army during the Civil War. The war also played a disastrous part in the lives of both Hayne and Timrod, for it impoverished both of them, and did much to hasten the latter's death.

Timrod, too, rose occasionally to noble utterance, but his voice is fainter and his talent more slender than Lanier's. His life was a painful one, marred by poverty and disease, and he died at the age of thirty-eight. Hayne's work is even less important, for he did not, like Timrod and Larder, touch an occasional height of inspired utterance. His name is cherished in his native state of South Carolina, and in Georgia, where his last years were spent; but his poems are little read elsewhere.

Timrod and Hayne were both born at Charleston, South Carolina, as was a third poet and novelist, who, in his day, loomed far larger than either of them, but who is now almost forgotten, except by students of American literature—William Gilmore Simms. Few American writers have produced so much—eighteen volumes of verse, three dramas, thirty-five novels and volumes of short stories, and about as many more books of history, biography and miscellany—and none, of like prominence in his day, has dropped more completely out of sight. In common with the other Southern writers we have mentioned, Simms lacked self-restraint and the power of self-criticism.

Genius has been defined as the capacity for taking pains; and perhaps it is because Southern writers have lacked this capacity that none of them has proved to be a genius. Elbert Hubbard says that Simms " courted oblivion—and won her" by returning to the South after having achieved some success in the North; but it is doubtful if this had anything to do with it. The truth is that Simms's work has lost its appeal because of its inherent defects, and there is no chance that its popularity will ever be re-gained. And yet, while his verse is negligible—although he always thought himself a greater poet than novelist—some of his tales of the Carolinas and the Southwest possess a rude power and interest deserving of a better fate. Certainly Simms seems to have been the best imaginative writer the antebellum South produced.

American imaginative literature to-day resembles a lofty plateau rather than a mountain range. It shows a high level of achievement, but no mighty peaks. Novelists and poets alike have learned how to use their tools ; they work with conviction—but in clay rather than in marble. In other words, they work without what we call inspiration; they have talent, but not genius. This is, perhaps, partly the fault of the age, which has come to place so high a value upon literary form that the quality of the material is often lost sight of. Let us hope that some day a genius will arise who will be great enough to disregard form and to strike out his own path across the domain of letters.

Meanwhile, it is safe to advise boys and girls to spend their time over the old things rather than over the new ones. There is so much good literature in the world that there is really no excuse for reading bad, and the latest novel will not give half the solid entertainment to be got from scores of the older ones. One of the most valuable and delightful things in the world is the power to appreciate good literature. To have worthy " friends on the shelf," in the shape of great books, is to insure oneself against loneliness and ennui.

SUMMARY

BRYANT, WILLIAM CULLEN. Born at Cummington, Massachusetts, November 3, 1794; studied at Williams College, 1810-11; admitted to the bar, 1815; published " Thanatopsis," 1816; editor-in-chief New York Evening Post, 1829; published first collection of poems, 1821, and others from time to time until his death, at New York City, June 12, 1878.

LONGFELLOW, HENRY WADSWORTH. Born at Portland, Maine, February 27, 1807; graduated at Bowdoin College, 1825; travelled in Europe, 1826—29; professor of modern languages at Bowdoin, 1829—35; professor of modern languages and belles lettres at Harvard, 1836—54; published " Voices of the Night," 1839; "Ballads and Other Poems," 1841; "Poems on Slavery," 1842; and many other collections of his poems, until his death at Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 24, 1882.

WHITTIER, JOHN GREENLEAF. Born at Haverhill, Massachusetts, December 17, 1807; attended Haverhill Academy; edited "American Manufacturer," at Boston, 1829; edited the Haverhill Gazette, 1830; became secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836; member of Massachusetts legislature, 1835–36; settled at Amesbury, Massachusetts, 1840; published " Legends of New England," 1831; "Moll Pitcher," 1832; and many other collections of his poems until his death at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, September 7, 1892.

HOLMES, OLIVER WENDELL. Born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 29, 1809; professor of anatomy and physiology, Harvard Medical School, 1847–82; published "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," 1858; "Elsie Venner," 1861; " Songs in Many Keys," 1861; and other collections of poems and essays; died at Cam-bridge, October 7, 1894.

LOWELL, JAMES RUSSELL. Born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 22, 1819; graduated at Harvard, 1838; professor of belles lettres at Harvard, 1855; editor Atlantic Monthly, 1857–62; editor North Amen-can Review, 1863–72; minister to Spain, 1877–80; minister to Great Britain, 1880–85; published "A Year's Life," 1841; "Vision of Sir Launfal," 1845; "A Fable for Critics," 1848; " The Biglow Papers," 1848; and many other collections of essays, criticisms, and poems; died at Cambridge, August 12, 1891.

POE, EDGAR ALLAN. Born at Boston, January 19, 1809; entered University of Virginia, 1826; ran away from home, 1827; published "Tamerlane and Other Poems, by a Bostonian," 1827; enlisted in the army as Edgar A. Perry, rising to rank of sergeant-major, 1829; entered West Point, July 1, 1830; dismissed, March 6, 1831; married Virginia Clemm, 1835, who died in 1847; published " Poems," 1831; " Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque," 1840; died at Baltimore, October 7, 1849.

WHITMAN, WALT OR WALTER.. Born at West Hills, Long Island, May 31, 1819; a printer, carpenter, and journalist in early life; volunteered as army nurse, 1861; seized with hospital malaria, 1864; held government position at Washington, 1864—73; disabled by paralysis and removed to Camden, New Jersey, where he died, March 26, 1892. "Leaves of Grass," published originally in 1855, was many times revised, a final edition appearing in 1892.

TAYLOR, BAYARD. Born at Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania, January 11, 1825; apprenticed to a printer, 1842; travelled on foot through Europe, 1844—46; in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria, 1851—52; in India, China, and Japan, 1852—53; secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, 1862—63; minister to Berlin, 1878; died at Berlin, December 19, 1878. He published collections of poems and travel letters,

STEDMAN, EDMUND CLARENCE. Born at Hartford, Connecticut, October 8, 1833; entered Yale, 1839, leaving in junior year; was correspondent New York World, 1861—63; later became stockbroker in New York City, retiring only a short time before his death in New York, January 18, 1908. Published several collections of poems.

ALDRICH, THOMAS BAILEY. Born at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, November 11, 1836; editor of Every Saturday, 1870–74; editor of The Atlantic Monthly, 1881–90; published "Bells," " 1855; "Ballad of Baby Bell," 1856; and many other collections of poetry, together with several novels and collections of shore stories; died March 19, 1907.

FIELD, EUGENE. Born at St. Louis, Missouri, September 2, 1850; began newspaper work at age of twenty-three, and ten years later became associated with the Chicago Daily News, where most of his work appeared; his first book of verse, "A Little Book of Western Verse," was published in 1889, and a number of others followed; died at Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 1895.

RILEY, JAMES WHITCOMB. Born at Greenfield, Indiana, 1853; entered journalism at Indianapolis, 1873; wrote first verses, 1875; first book of verse, " The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems," published in 1883; numerous volumes since then.

LANIER, SIDNEY. Born at Macon, Georgia, February 3, 1842; served in Confederate Army, and suffered exposure which resulted in consumption; studied and practised law till 1873; then decided to devote life to music and poetry; played first flute in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra at Baltimore; lecturer on English literature at Johns Hopkins University, 1879–81; complete poems published 1881; died at Lynn, North Carolina, September 7, 1881.

TIMROD, HENRY. Born at Charleston, South Carolina, December 8, 1829; educated at the University of Georgia, studied law and supported himself as a private tutor until the Civil War; war correspondent and then assistant editor of The South Carolinian, at Columbia, until Sherman burned the town; died at Columbia, South Carolina, October 6, 1867; his poems, edited by Paul Hamilton Hayne, published 1873.

HAYNE, PAUL HAMILTON. Born at Charleston, South Carolina, January 1, 1830 ; graduated at the University of South Carolina, edited Russell's Magazine and the Literary Gazette, and served for a time in the Confederate Army; first poems published 1855; complete edition, 1882; died near Augusta, Georgia, July 6, 1886.

SIMMS, WILLIAM GILMORE. Born at Charleston, South Carolina, April 17, 1806 ; admitted to bar, 1827, but abandoned law for literature and journalism; first poems published 1827; resided at Hingham, Massachusetts, 1832-33, where longest poem, " Atalantis," was written; first novel, " Martin Faber," published 1833, and followed by many others; returned to South Carolina, 1833, and died at Charleston, June 11, 1870.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com