Last Update: Dec. 7, 2000 Navigation: Main Menu Poe's Misc[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "The Literati" (Part IV) (D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, vol. III, 1850, pp. 72-96.]
SARAH MARGARET FULLER.
was at one time editor, or one of the editors of "The Dial," to which she
contributed many of the most forcible and certainly some of the most peculiar
papers. She is known, too, by "Summer on the Lakes," a remarkable
assemblage of sketches, issued in 1844, by Little & Brown, of Boston.
More lately she has published "Woman in the Nineteenth Century," a work
which has occasioned much discussion, having had the good fortune to be
warmly abused and chivalrously defended. At present, she is assistant editor
of "The New York Tribune," or rather a salaried contributor to that journal,
for which she has furnished a great variety of matter, chiefly critical
notices of new books, etc., etc., her articles being designated by an asterisk.
Two of the best of them were a review of Professor Longfellow's late magnificent
edition of his own works, (with a portrait,) and an appeal to the public
in behalf of her friend Harro Harring. The review did her infinite
credit; it was frank, candid, independent — in even ludicrous contrast
to the usual mere glorifications of the
In my opinion it is one of the very few reviews of Longfellow's poems, ever published in America, of which the critics have not had abundant reason to be ashamed. Mr. Longfellow is entitled to a certain and very distinguished rank among the poets of his country, but that country is disgraced by the evident toadyism which would award to his social position and influence, to his fine paper and large type, to his morocco binding and gilt edges, to his flattering portrait of himself, and to the illustrations of his poems by Huntingdon, that amount of indiscriminate approbation which neither could nor would have been given to the poems themselves.
The defence of Harro Harring, or rather the Philippic against those who were doing him wrong, was one of the most eloquent and well-put articles I have ever yet seen in a newspaper.
"Woman in the Nineteenth Century" is a book
which few women in the country could have written, and no woman in the
country would have published, with the exception of Miss Fuller.
In the way of independence, of unmitigated radicalism, it is one of the
"Curiosities of American Literature," and Doctor Griswold should include
it in his book. I need scarcely say that the essay is nervous, forcible,
thoughtful, suggestive, brilliant, and to a certain extent scholar-like
— for all that Miss Fuller produces is entitled to these epithets — but
I must say that the conclusions reached are only in part my own.
Not that they are too bold, by any means — too novel, too startling, or
too dangerous in their consequences, but that in their attainment too many
premises have been distorted, and too many analogical inferences left altogether
out of sight. I mean to say that the intention of the Deity as regards
sexual differences — an intention which can be distinctly comprehended
only by throwing the exterior (more sensitive) portions of the mental retina
the wide field of universal analogy — I mean to say that this intention
has not been sufficiently considered. Miss Fuller has erred,
too, through her own excessive objectiveness. She judges woman
by the heart
The most favorable estimate of Miss Fuller's genius (for high genius she unquestionably possesses) is to be obtained, perhaps, from her contributions to "The Dial," and from her "Summer on the Lakes." Many of the descriptions in this volume are unrivalled for graphicality, (why is there not such a word ?) for the force with which they convey the true by the novel or unexpected, by the introduction of touches which other artists would be sure to omit as irrelevant to the subject. This faculty, too, springs from her subjectiveness, which leads her to paint a scene less by its features than by its effects.
Here, for example, is a portion of her account of Niagara: —
Daily these proportions widened and towered more and more upon my sight, and I got at last a proper foreground for these sublime distances. Before coming away, I think I really saw the full wonder of the scene. After awhile it so drew me into itself as to inspire an undefined dread, such as I never knew before, such as may be felt when death is about to usher us into a new existence. The perpetual trampling of the waters seized my senses. I felt that no other sound, however near, could be heard, and would start and look behind me for a foe. I realized the identity of that mood of nature in which these waters were poured down with such absorbing force, with that in which the Indian was shaped on the same soil. For continually upon my mind came, unsought and unwelcome, images, such as had never haunted it before, of naked savages stealing behind me with uplifted tomahawks. Again and again this illusion recurred, and even after I had thought it over, and tried to shake it off, I could not help starting and looking behind me. What I liked best was to sit on Table Rock close to the great fall; there all power of observing details, all separate consciousness was quite lost.
The truthfulness of the passages italicized
will be felt by all; the feelings described are, perhaps, experienced by
every (imaginative) person who visits the fall; but most persons, through
predominant subjectiveness, would scarcely be conscious of the feelings,
or, at best, would never think of employing them in an attempt to convey
to others an impression of the scene. Hence so many desperate failures
to convey it on the part of ordinary
From the essay entitled "Philip Van Artevelde," I copy a paragraph which will serve at once to exemplify Miss Fuller's more earnest (declamatory) style, and to show the tenor of her prospective speculations: —
At Chicago I read again "Philip Van Artevelde," and certain passages in it will always be in my mind associated with the deep sound of the lake, as heard in the night. I used to read a short time at night, and then open the blind to look out. The moon would be full upon the lake, and the calm breath, pure light, and the deep voice, harmonized well with the thought of the Flemish hero. When will this country have such a man ? It is what she needs — no thin Idealist, no coarse Realist, but a man whose eye reads the heavens while his feet step firmly on the ground, and his hands are strong and dexterous in the use of human instruments. A man, religious, virtuous, and — sàgacious; a man of universal sympathies, but self-possessed; a man who knows the region of emotion, though he is not its slave; a man to whom this world is no mere spectacle or fleeting shadow, but a great, solemn game, to be played with good heed, for its stakes are of eternal value, yet who, if his own play be true, heeds not what he loses by the falsehood of others. A man who lives from the past, yet knows that its honey can but moderately avail him; whose comprehensive eye scans the present, neither infatuated by its golden lures nor chilled by its many ventures; who possesses prescience, as the wise man must, but not so far as to be driven mad to-day by the gift which discerns to-morrow. When there is such a man for America, the thought which urges her on will be expressed.
From what I have quoted a general conception
of the prose style of the authoress may be gathered. Her manner,
however, is infinitely varied. It is always forcible — but I am not
sure that it is always anything else, unless I say picturesque. It
rather indicates than evinces scholarship. Perhaps only the scholastic,
or, more properly, those accustomed to look narrowly at the structure of
phrases, would be willing to acquit her of ignorance of grammar — would
be willing to attribute her slovenliness to disregard of the shell in anxiety
for the kernel; or to waywardness, or to affectation, or to blind reverence
for Carlyle — would be able
"I cannot sympathize with such an apprehension: the spectacle is capable to swallow up all such objects."
"It is fearful, too, to know, as you look, that whatever has been swallowed by the cataract, is like to rise suddenly to light."
"I took our mutual friends to see her."
"It was always obvious that they had nothing in common between them."
"The Indian cannot be looked at truly except by a poetic eye."
"McKenney's Tour to the Lakes gives some facts not to be met with elsewhere."
"There is that mixture of culture and rudeness in the aspect of things as gives a feeling of freedom," etc., etc., etc.
These are merely a few, a very few instances, taken at random from among a multitude of wilful murders committed by Miss Fuller on the American of President Polk. She uses, too, the word "ignore," a vulgarity adopted only of late days (and to no good purpose, since there is no necessity for it) from the barbarisms of the law, and makes no scruple of giving the Yankee interpretation to the verbs "witness" and "realize," to say nothing of "use," as in the sentence, "I used to read a short time at night." It will not do to say, in defence of such words, that in such senses they may be found in certain dictionaries — in that of Bolles', for instance; — some kind of "authority" may be found for any kind of vulgarity under the sun.
In spite of these things, however, and of her frequent unjustifiable Carlyleisms, (such as that of writing sentences which are no sentences, since, to be parsed, reference must be had to sentences preceding,) the style of Miss Fuller is one of the very best with which I am acquainted. In general effect, I know no style which surpasses it. It is singularly piquant, vivid, terse, bold, luminous — leaving details out of sight, it is everything that a style need be.
I believe that Miss Fuller has written much poetry,
although she has published little. That little is tainted with the
affectation of the transcendentalists, (I used this term, of course,
in the sense which the public of late days seem resolved to give it,) but
is brimful of the poetic sentiment. Here, for example, is something
in Coleridge's manner, of which the author of "Genevieve" might have had
no reason to be ashamed: —
To show the evident carelessness with which this
poem was constructed, I have italicized an identical rhyme (of about the
same force in versification as an identical proposition in logic) and two
grammatical improprieties. To lean is a neuter verb, and "seizing
is not properly to be called a pleonasm, merely because it is — nothing
at all. The concluding line is difficult of pronunciation through
excess of consonants. I should have preferred,
The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author's self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cipher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter a cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension — at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions. And thus he who has written very little, may in that little either conceal his spirit or convey quite an erroneous idea of it — of his acquirements, talents, temper, manner, tenor and depth (or shallowness) of thought — in a word, of his character, of himself. But this is impossible with him who has written much. Of such a person we get, from his books, not merely a just, but the most just representation. Bulwer, the individual, personal man, in a green velvet waistcoat and amber gloves, is not by any means the veritable Sir Edward Lytton, who is discoverable only in "Ernest Maltravers," where his soul is deliberately and nakedly set forth. And who would ever know Dickens by looking at him or talking with him, or doing anything with him except reading his "Curiosity Shop ?" What poet, in especial, but must feel at least the better portion of himself more fairly represented in even his commonest sonnet, (earnestly written) than in his most elaborate or most intimate personalities ?
I put all this as a general proposition, to which Miss Fuller affords a marked exception — to this extent, that her personal character and her printed book are merely one and the same thing. We get access to her soul as directly from the one as from the other — no more readily from this than from that — easily from either. Her acts are bookish, and her books are less thoughts than acts. Her literary and her conversational manner are identical. Here is a passage from her "Summer on the Lakes:" —
The rapids enchanted me far beyond
what I expected; they are so swift that they cease to seem so —
you can think only of their beauty. The fountain beyond the Moss
islands I discovered for myself, and thought it for some time an accidental
which it would not do to leave, lest I might never see it again.
After I found it permanent, I returned many times to watch the play
of its crest. In the little waterfall beyond, Nature seems, as she
often does, to have made a study for some larger design. She
delights in this — a sketch within a sketch — a dream within a dream.
Wherever we see it, the lines of the great buttress in the fragment
of stone, the hues of the
Now all this is precisely as Miss Fuller would speak it. She is perpetually saying just such things in just such words. To get the conversational woman in the mind's eye, all that is needed is to imagine her reciting the paragraph just quoted: but first let us have the personal woman. She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility, capacity for affection, for love — when moved by a slight smile, it becomes even beautiful in the intensity of this expression; but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer. Imagine, now, a person of this description looking you at one moment earnestly in the face, at the next seeming to look only within her own spirit or at the wall; moving nervously every now and then in her chair; speaking in a high key, but musically, deliberately, (not hurriedly or loudly,) with a delicious distinctness of enunciation — speaking, I say, the paragraph in question, and emphasizing the words which I have italicized, not by impulsion of the breath, (as is usual,) but by drawing them out as long as possible, nearly closing her eyes the while — imagine all this, and we have both the woman and the authoress before us.
MR. LAWSON has published, I believe, only "Giordano," a tragedy, ad two volumes entitled "Tales and Sketches by a Cosmopolite." The former was condemned (to use a gentle word) some years ago at the Part Theatre; and never was condemnation more religiously deserved. The latter are in so much more tolerable than the former, that they contain one non-execrable thing — "The Dapper Gentleman's Story" — in manner, as in title, an imitation of one of Irving's "Tales of a Traveller."
I mention Mr. L., however, not on account of his literary labors,
CAROLINE M. KIRKLAND.
"Forest Life" succeeded "A New Home," and was read
with equal interest. It gives us, perhaps, more of the philosophy of western
life, but has the same freshness, freedom, piquancy. Of course, a
truthful picture of pioneer habits could never be given in any grave history
or essay so well as in the form of narration,
In the way of absolute books, Mrs. Kirkland,
I believe, has achieved nothing beyond the three volumes specified, (with
another lately issued by Wiley and Putnam,) but she is a very constant
contributor to the magazines. Unquestionably, she is one of our best writers,
has a province of her own, and in that province has few equals. Her
most noticeable trait is a certain freshness of style, seemingly
drawn, as her subjects in general, from the west. In the second place
is to be observed a species of wit, approximating humor, and so
interspersed with pure fun, that "wit," after all, is nothing like
a definition of it. To give an example — "Old Thoughts on the New
Year" commences with a quotation from Tasso's "Aminta:"—
and the following is given as a "free translation:" —
This, if I am not mistaken, is the only specimen of poetry as yet given by Mrs. Kirkland to the world. She has afforded us no means of judging in respect to her inventive powers, although fancy, and even imagination, are apparent in everything she does. Her perceptive faculties enable her to describe with great verisimilitude. Her mere style is admirable, lucid, terse, full of variety, faultlessly pure, and yet bold — so bold as to appear heedless of the ordinary decora of composition. In even her most reckless sentences, however, she betrays the woman of refinement, of accomplishment, of unusually thorough education. There are a great many points in which her general manner resembles that of Willis, whom she evidently admires. Indeed, it would not be difficult to pick out from her works an occasional Willisism, not less palpable than happy. For example —
Peaches were like little green velvet
buttons when George was first mistaken for Doctor Beaseley, and before
they were ripe he, &c.
And again —
Mr. Hammond is fortunately settled in our neighborhood, for the present at least; and he has the neatest little cottage in the world, standing, too, under a very tall oak, which bends kindly over it, looking like the Princess Glumdalclitch inclining her ear to the box which contained her pet Gulliver.
Mrs. Kirkland's personal manner is an echo of her literary one. She is frank, cordial, yet sufficiently dignified — even bold, yet especially ladylike; converses with remarkable accuracy as well as fluency; is brilliantly witty, and now and then not a little sarcastic, but a general amiability prevails.
She is rather above the medium height; eyes and hair dark; features somewhat small, with no marked characteristics, but the whole countenance beams with benevolence and intellect.
PROSPER M. WETMORE.
GENERAL WETMORE occupied some years ago quite a conspicuous position among the littérateurs of New York city. His name was seen very frequently in "The Mirror," and in other similar journals, in connexion with brief poems and occasional prose compositions. His only publication in volume form, I believe, is "The Battle of Lexington and other Poems," a collection of considerable merit, and one which met a very cordial reception from the press.
Much of this cordiality, however, is attributable to the personal popularity of the man, to his facility in making acquaintances, and his tact in converting them into unwavering friends.
General Wetmore has an exhaustless fund of vitality. His energy, activity and indefatigability are proverbial, not less than his peculiar sociability. These qualities give him unusual influence among his fellow-citizens, and have constituted him (as precisely the same traits have constituted his friend General Morris,) one of a standing committee for the regulation of a certain class of city affairs — such, for instance, as the getting up a complimentary benefit, or a public demonstration of respect for some deceased worthy, or a ball and dinner to Mr. Irving or Mr. Dickens.
Mr. Wetmore is not only a general, but Naval Officer
He is, perhaps, fifty years of age, but has a youthful look; is about five feet eight in height, slender, neat, with an air of military compactness; looks especially well on horseback.
EMMA C. EMBURY.
MRS. EMBURY is one of the most noted, and certainly one of the most meritorious of our female littérateurs. She has been many years before the public — her earliest compositions, I believe, having been contributed to the "New York Mirror" under the nom de plume "Ianthe." They attracted very general attention at the time of their appearance and materially aided the paper. They were subsequently, with some other pieces, published in volume form, with the title "Guido and other Poems." The book has been long out of print. Of late days its author has written but little poetry — that little, however, has at least indicated a poetic capacity of no common order.
Yet as a poetess she is comparatively unknown, her
reputation in this regard having been quite overshadowed by that which
she has acquired as a writer of tales. In this latter capacity she
has, upon the whole, no equal among her sex in America — certainly no superior.
She is not so vigorous as Mrs. Stephens, nor so vivacious as Miss Chubbuck,
nor so caustic as Miss Leslie, nor so dignified as Miss Sedgwick, nor so
graceful, fanciful and spirituelle as Mrs. Osgood, but is deficient
none of the qualities for which these ladies are noted, and in certain
particulars surpasses them all. Her subjects are fresh, if
not always vividly original, and she manages them with more skill than
is usually exhibited by our magazinists. She has also much imagination
and sensibility, while her style is pure, earnest, and devoid of verbiage
Mrs. E. is a daughter of Doctor Manly, an eminent physician of New York city. At an early age she married a gentleman of some wealth and of education, as well as of tastes akin to her own. She is noted for her domestic virtues no less than for literary talents and acquirements.
She is about the medium height; complexion, eyes, and hair light; arched eyebrows; Grecian nose; the mouth a fine one, and indicative of firmness; the whole countenance pleasing, intellectual, and expressive. The portrait in "Graham's Magazine" for January, 1843, has no resemblance to her whatever.
MR. SARGENT is well known to the public as the author of "Velasco, a Tragedy," "The Light of the Light-house, with other Poems," one or two short nouvelettes, and numerous contributions to the periodicals. He was also the editor of "Sargent's Magazine," a monthly work, which had the misfortune of falling between two stools, never having been able to make up its mind whether to be popular with the three or dignified with the five dollar journals. It was a "happy medium" between the two classes, and met the fate of all happy media in dying, as well through lack of foes as of friends. In medio tutissimus ibis is the worst advice in the world for the editor of a magazine. Its observance proved the downfall of Mr. Lowell and his really meritorious "Pioneer."
"Velasco" has received some words of commendation
from the author of "Ion," and I am ashamed to say, owes most of its home
appreciation to this circumstance. Mr. Talfourd's play has, itself,
little truly dramatic, with much picturesque and more poetical value; its
author, nevertheless, is better entitled to respect as a dramatist than
as a critic of dramas. "Velasco," compared with American tragedies
generally, is a good tragedy — indeed, an excellent one, but, positively
considered, its merits are very inconsiderable. It has many of the traits
of Mrs. Mowatt's "Fashion,"
"Shells and Sea Weeds," a series of brief poems, recording the incidents of a voyage to Cuba, is, I think, the best work in verse of its author, and evinces a fine fancy, with keen appreciation of the beautiful in natural scenery. Mr. Sargent is fond of sea-pieces, and paints them with skill, flooding them with that warmth and geniality which are their character and their due. "A Life on the Ocean Wave" has attained great popularity, but is by no means so good as the less lyrical compositions, "A Calm," "The Gale," "Tropical Weather," and "A Night Storm at Sea."
"The Light of the Light-house" is a spirited poem,
with many musical and fanciful passages, well expressed. For example
There is something of the Dibdin spirit throughout the poem, and, indeed, throughout all the sea poems of Mr. Sargent — a little too much of it, perhaps.
His prose is not quite so meritorious as his poetry. He writes "easily," and is apt at burlesque and sarcasm — both rather broad than original. Mr. Sargent has an excellent memory for good hits, and no little dexterity in their application. To those who meddle little with books, some of his satirical papers must appear brilliant. In a word, he is one of the most prominent members of a very extensive American family — the men of industry, talent and tact.
In stature he is short — not more than five feet five — but well proportioned. His face is a fine one; the features regular and expressive. His demeanor is very gentlemanly. Unmarried, and about thirty years of age.
[The item on James Lawson is quite different that the earlier text of 1846. It is certainly by Poe since the manuscript, in his hand, survives.]
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[S:1 - Works, 1850]