Read this review of Longfellow's poems alongside the other works in this subunit.
THE poetical reputation of Mr. LONGFELLOW is, no doubt, in some measure well-deserved; but it may be questioned whether, without the adventitious influence of his social position as Professor of Modern Languages and Belles Lettres at HARVARD, and an access of this influence by marriage with an heiress, he would even have acquired his present celebrity — such as it is.
We really feel no little shame in being forced, not into the expression, but into the entertainment of opinions such as these — the only shame we feel in respect to the matter of their expression, is shame for others and not for ourselves — shame that we in the infancy of our journalism, should have been permitted to take the lead in the utterance of a thought so long common with the literati of the land. In no literary circle out of BOSTON — or, indeed, out of the small coterie of abolitionists, transcendentalists and fanatics in general, which is the Longfellow junto — have we heard a seriously dissenting voice on this point. It is universally, in private conversation — out of the knot of rogues and madmen aforesaid — admitted that the poetical claims of Mr. LONGFELLOW have been vastly overrated, and that the individual himself would be esteemed little without the accessaries of wealth and position. It is usually said, that he has a sufficient scholarship, a fine taste, a keen appreciation of the beautiful, a happy memory, a happier tact at imitation or transmutation, felicity of phrase and some fancy. A few insist on his imagination — thus proving the extent of their own — and showing themselves to be utterly unread in the old English and modern German literature, to one or other of which, the author of "Outre Mer" is unquestionably indebted for whatever imagination or traces of invention his works may display. No phrenologist, indeed, would require to be told that Mr. LONGFELLOW was not the man of genius his friends would have us believe him — his head giving no indication of ideality. Nor, when we speak of phrenologists, do we mean to insist on implicit faith in the marvels and inconsistencies of the FOWLERS et id genus omne. Common observation, independently of either GALL or SPURZHEIM, would suffice to teach all mankind that very many of the salient points of phrenological science are undisputable truths — whatever falsity may be detected in the principles kindly furnished to the science by hot-headed and asinine votaries. Now, one of these salient points, is the fact that what men term "poetical genius," and what the phrenologists generally term the organ of ideality, are always found co-existent in the same individual. We should as soon expect to see our old friend, SATAN, presiding at a temperance meeting, as to see a veritable poem — of his own — composed by a man whose head was flattened at the temples, like that of Professor LONGFELLOW. Holding these views, we confess that we were not a little surprised to hear Mr. POE, in a late lecture, on the Poetry of AMERICA, claim for the Professor a preeminence over all poets of this country on the score of the "loftiest poetical quality — imagination." There is no doubt in our minds, that an opinion so crude as this, must arise from a want of leisure or inclination to compare the works of the writer in question with the sources from which they were stolen. A defensive letter written by an unfortunate wight who called himself "OUTIS," seems to have stirred up the critic to make the proper examination, and we will make an even wager of a pound avoirdupois of nothing against LONGFELLOW'S originality, that the rash opinion would not be given again. The simple truth is, that, whatever may be the talents of Professor LONGFELLOW, he is the GREAT MOGUL of the Imitators. There is, perhaps, no other country than our own, under the sun, in which it would have been possible for him to have attained his present eminence; and no other, certainly, in which, after having attained it by accident or chicanery, he would not have been hurled from it in a very brief period after its attainment.
We have now before us all the collected poems of Mr. LONGFELLOW; and the first question which forces itself upon us as we look at them, is, how much of their success may be attributed to the luxurious manner in which, as merely physical books, they have been presented to the public. Of course we cannot pretend to answer our own question with precision; but that the physique has had vast influence upon the morale, no reflecting person of common honesty will be willing to deny.
We intend nothing in the shape of digested review; but as the subject has derived great interest of late through a discussion carried on in the pages of "The Broadway Journal," we propose to turn over these volumes, in a cursory manner, and make a few observations, in the style of the marginal note, upon each one of the poems in each.
The first volume is entitled "Poems on Slavery," and is intended for the especial use of those negrophilic old ladies of the north, who form so large a part of Mr. LONGFELLOW'S friends. The first of this collection is addressed to WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING, the great essayist, and not the very little poet of the same name. There is much force in the concluding line of the succeeding extract: —
"Well done! thy words are great and bold;
At times they seem to me
Like Luther's, in the days of old,
Half-battles for the free."
In the second poem — "The Slave's Dream" — there is also a particularly beautiful close to one of the stanzas:
"At night he heard the lion roar,
And the hyæna scream,
And the river-horse as he crushed the reeds
Beside some hidden stream;
And it passed like a glorious roll of drums,
Through the triumph of his dream."
This is certainly very fine; although we do not exactly understand what is like the glorious roll of drums, whether it be the stream, or the various sounds aforesaid. This embarrassment in future will be prevented, if the poet will only affix a note to the next edition, declaring what he does mean, if he know himself.
The third poem — "The Good Part that shall not be taken away" — has two very effective lines:
"And musical as silver bells
Their falling chains shall be."
The whole poem is in praise of a certain lady, who
"———— was rich and gave up all
To break the iron bands
Of those who waited in her hall
And labored in her lands."
No doubt, it is a very commendable and very comfortable thing, in the Professor, to sit at ease in his library chair, and write verses instructing the southerners how to give up their all with a good grace, and abusing them if they will not; but we have a singular curiosity to know how much of his own, under a change of circumstances, the Professor himself would be willing to surrender. Advice of this character looks well only in the mouth of those who have entitled themselves to give it, by setting an example of the self-sacrifice.
The fourth is "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp." This is a shameless medley of the grossest misrepresentation. When did Professor LONGFELLOW ever know a slave to be hunted with bloodhounds in the DISMAL SWAMP? Because he has heard that runaway slaves are so treated in CUBA, he has certainly no right to change the locality, and by insinuating a falsehood in lieu of a fact, charge his countrymen with barbarity. What makes the matter worse, he is one of those who insist upon truth as one of the elements of poetry.
The fifth—"The Slave singing at midnight," embodies some good and novel rhymes — for example —
"In that hour when night is calmest,
Sang he from the Hebrew psalmist."
"Angel" and "evangel," however, are inadmissible because identical — just as "excision" and "circumcision" would be — that is to say: the ear, instead of being gratified with a variation of a sound — the principle of rhyme — is positively displeased by its bare repetition. The commencement of the rhyming words, or — equally — of the rhyming portions of words, must always be different.
The sixth is "The witnesses," and is exceedingly feeble throughout. We cannot conceive how any artist could in two distinct stanzas of so brief a poem, admit such a termination as " witnesses" — rhyming it too with "abyss."
The seventh, "The Quadroon Girl," is the old abolitionist story — worn threadbare — of a slaveholder selling his own child — a thing which may be as common in the South as in the East, is the infinitely worse crime of making matrimonial merchandise — or even less legitimate merchandise — of one's daughter.
The eighth — "The Warning," contains at least one stanza of absolute truth — as follows.
"There is a poor, blind Sampson in this land,
Shorn of his strength and bound in bonds of steel,
Who may, in some grim revel, raise his hand,
And shake the pillars of the common weal,
Till the vast temple of our Liberties,
A shapeless mass of wreck and rubbish lies."
One thing is certain: — if this prophecy be not fulfilled, it will be through no lack of incendiary doggrel on the part of Professor LONGFELLOW and his friends. We dismiss this volume with no more profound feeling than that of contempt.
The next volume we have is — "The Voices of the Night." "The Prelude," in this, is indistinct, but contains some noble passages. For example: —
A slumberous sound — a sound that brings
The feelings of a dream —
As of innumerable wings,
As when a bell no longer swings,
Faint the hollow murmur rings
O'er meadow lake and stream.
The lids of Fancy's sleepless eyes
Are gates unto that Paradise.
The last stanza commences with a plagiarism from Sir PHILIP SIDNEY:
Look then into shine heart and write!
In the "Astrophel and Stella" we find it thus: — "Foole, said then my muse unto me, looke into thy heart and write!" The versification of the Prelude is weak, if not exactly erroneous: — we allude especially to the penultimate verse of each stanza.
The "Hymn to the Night" is one of the best of Mr. Longfellow's poems. There is a very inartistical fluctuation of thought, however, in the opening quotation:
I heard the trailing garments of the Night Sweep through her marble Halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light From the celestial walls!
In the first two lines, the Night is personified as a woman in trailing garments passing through a marble palace: in the third and fourth by the use of the epithet "celestial" we are brought back to the real or unpersonified Night — and this too only in an imperfect manner, for the "sable skirts" of the personified Night are still retained. This vacillation pervades the whole poem and seriously injures its effect. Speaking of the first quatrain — what are we to understand by the notes of admiration at the closes of the second and fourth lines? They are called for by no rhetorical rules, and seem to be meant as expressive merely of the Professor's own admiration of his own magnificence. The concluding stanza is majestic, but liable to misapprehension upon a first reading. The "Peace! Peace!" of the first line will be mistaken by nine readers out of ten for an injunction of silence, rather than an invocation of the divinity, Peace. An instance occurs in this poem of Mr. LONGFELLOW'S strong tendency to imitation: — so strong, indeed, that he not unfrequently imitates himself. He here speaks of "the sounds of sorrow and delight" that "fill the chambers of the Night," and just before, in the Prelude, he has
"All forms of sorrow and delight
All solemn voices of the Night."
"A Psalm of Life," is German throughout, in manner and spirit, and otherwise is chiefly remarkable for its containing one of the most palpable plagiarisms ever perpetrated by an author of equal character. We allude to the well-known lines:
"Art is long and time is fleeting
And our hearts, tho' stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave."
Mr. LONGFELLOW has, unfortunately, derived from these very lines, a full half of his poetical reputation. But they are by no means his own — the first line being an evident translation of the well-known Latin sentence —
"Ars longa, vita brêvis" —
and the remaining part pillaged from an old English writer. Mr. POE first detected this. It appears that in "HEADLEY'S collection of old British Ballads," there is to be found, "An Exequy on the death of his wife, by HENRY KING, Bishop of Chichester," and in this Exequy the following verses:
"But hark! my pulse, like a soft drum,
Beats my approach — tells thee I come —
And slow howe'er my marches be
I shall at last sit down by thee."
Dr. KING is here speaking of soon following his wife to the grave. We have thus, in each poem, the identical ideas of a pulse (or heart) — of its beating like a drum — like a soft (or muffled) drum — of its beating a march; and of its beating a march to the grave: — all this identity of idea expressed in identical phraseology, and all in the compass of four lines. Now it was the seeming originality of this fine image which procured for it so wide a popularity in the lines of LONGFELLOW; [page 135:] we presume, then, that not even the most desperate friends of his fine fortune, will attempt to defend him on the ground of this image's being one which would naturally arise in the mind of every poet — the common cant of those interested in the justification of a plagiarism. In larcenies of this kind it will always be found that an improvement is effected in externals — that is to say in point, flow of diction, etc., while there is a deterioration of the original in the higher merits of freshness, appositeness, and application of the thought to the general subject. How markedly is all this observable in the present instance!
"The Reaper and the Flowers" has nothing in it beyond common thoughts very gracefully expressed.
"The Light of Stars," opens with a very singularly silly stanza:
"The night is come, but not too soon,
And, sinking silently,
All silently, the little moon
Drops down behind the sky."
Why will Mr. Longfellow persist in supposing that ly is a rhyme for sky? — why will he adhere to a conventionality, which has no meaning whatever? And what does he propose to himself in calling the moon little? The far-fetchedness of the phrase becomes at once obvious when we consider that all men agree in being struck with the apparent increase in the size of the setting moon. The first man who ever talked of its littleness under such circumstances is Professor LONGFELLOW himself: — here at least and at last is he original.
"Footsteps of Angels." Mr. POE, in his late exposé, has given some very decisive instances of what he too modestly calls imitations on the part of Mr. LONGFELLOW from himself (Mr. Poe.) Here is one, however, which he has overlooked:
"And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful fire-light
Dance upon the parlor wall."
In a poem called "The Sleeper," by E. A. POE, and which we first saw a great many years ago in the "Southern Literary Messenger," we have a distinct recollection of these lines:
"The wanton airs from the tree-top
Laughingly through the lattice drop,
And wave this crimson canopy
So fitfully — so fearfully —
Above the closed and fringed lid
'Neath which thy slumbering soul lies hid,
That o'er the floor and down the wall
Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall."
"Flowers" — is merely a weak amplification of the idea of a German poet, that flowers are the stars of earth. The versification is of a bad class, and of its class, bad.
"The Beleaguered City" was published in the "Southern Literary Messenger" just about six weeks after the appearance in BROOKS' "Museum" (a five-dollar Baltimore Monthly) of Mr. POE'S "Haunted Palace," and is a palpable imitation of the latter in matter and manner. Mr. LONGFELLOW'S title is, indeed, merely a paraphrase of Mr. POE'S. [page 136:] "The Beleaguered City" is designed to imply a mind beset with lunatic fancies; and this is, identically, the intention of "The Haunted Palace." Mr. LONGFELLOW says, speaking of a "broad valley" than in it,
"——— an army of phantoms vast and wan
Beleaguer the human soul,
Encamped beside Life's rushing stream
In Fancy's mystic light
Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam
Portentous through the night."
Mr. POE says:
"And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh—but smile no more."
The "Midnight Mass for the Dying Year" is a singular admixture of CORDELIA'S death scene in LEAR" and TENNYSON'S "Death of the Old Year." A more palpable plagiarism was never committed. At the time of the original publication of Professor LONGFELLOW'S poem, TENNYSON, was comparatively unknown, and we believe that no collection of his works had ever been reprinted in this country. The "Midnight Mass" concludes the later poems of the "Voices of the Night," which are noticeable, in general, as imitative of the German poetry, or of poetry imbued with the German spirit. The rest of the volume is occupied with "Earlier Poems" and "Translations." Of these the former are BRYANT, and nothing beyond. They were written in the author's youth, before his acquaintance with German Letters — and yet it was necessary that he should imitate something. In minds such as his, this imitation is, indeed, as imperious a necessity as any animal function.
"An April Day" has nothing observable beyond the obvious imitation of the American model.
"Autumn" might absolutely be read through, in mistake for BRYANT'S "Thanatopsis." The similarity of conclusion in the two poems is so close as to carry with it an air of parody. Mr. BRYANT says:
"So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of Death
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
Mr. LONGFELLOW says:
"To him the wind, aye and the yellow leaves
Shall have a voice and give him eloquent teachings.
He shall so hear the solemn hymn that Death
Has lifted up for all, that he shall go
To his long resting-place without a tear."
We do not like to be ill-natured; but when one gentleman's purse is found in another gentleman's pocket, how did it come there?
"Woods in Winter" is insipid, and totally thoughtless.
"The Hymn of the Moravian Nuns" is school-boyish in the extreme.
"Sunrise on the Hills" is only remarkable for another instance of palpable imitation:
"I heard the distant waters dash I saw the current whirl and flash, And richly by the blue lake's silver beach, etc."
Every body must remember the lines of the "Prisoner of Chillon:"
"———— the wide long lake below
And the blue Rhone in fullest flow,
I heard the torrent leap and gush
O'er channell'd rock and broken bush
I saw the white-wall 'd distant town,'' etc.
"The Spirit of Poetry" contains some fine thoughts — for example:
"where the silver brook
From its full laver pours the white cascade, And, babbling low amid the tangled woods Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter."
"Groves through whose broken roof the sky looks in —
Mountain, and shattered cliff, and sunny vale,
The distant lake, fountains — and mighty trees
In many a lazy syllable repeating
Their old poetic legends to the wind."
Both of these examples, however, are disfigured with that vulgar poetic solecism — the endeavour to elevate objects of natural grandeur by likening them to the mere works of man. The grove has a "broken roof"; and the brook pours the cascade from a "laver."
"Burial of the Minnisink." There is nothing about it to distinguish it from a thousand other similar things.
The Translations commence with "Coplas de Manrique" from the Spanish — and this again with the line
"O let the soul her slumbers break!
Let thought be quickened and awake,
Awake to see,
How soon," &c.
And this, we presume, is what Mr. LONGFELLOW calls original translation. We have at this moment, some verses ringing in our ears whose whereabouts we cannot call to memory — but no doubt there are many of our readers who can. They are nearly identical, however, with Mr. Longfellow's lines both in words, rhyme, metre and arrangement of stanza. They begin thus:
"O let the soul its slumber break
* * * * * * and awake
To see how soon,"
If we are not mistaken they are quoted in some of the Notes to POPE'S:
"Arise my St. JOHN, leave all meaner things."
"The Good Shepherd," from LOPE DE VEGA, has "nothing in it." In the same category is "To-morrow," from the same — "The Native Land,' from FRANCISCO DE ALDANA — "The Image of GOD," from the same — and "The Brook," from the Spanish: — these pieces seem to have been translated with no other object than to show that Mr. LONGFELLOW could translate. "The Celestial Pilot" — "The Terrestrial Paradise," and "Beatrice," from DANTE, strike us as by no means equal to CARY. These pieces abound also, in sheer affectations. Were Mr. LONGFELLOW asked why he employed "withouten" and other words of that kind, what reasonable answer could he make?
Spring, from the French of CHARLES D ORLEANS, is utterly worthless as a poem: — of its merits as a translation we are not prepared to speak, never having seen the original. One thing, however, is quite certain, the versification is not translated. The French have no such metre or rhythm.
"The Child Asleep," from the French, is particularly French.
"The Grave," from the Anglo Saxon, is forcible — but the metre is mere prose, and, of course, should not have been retained.
"King Christian," from the Danish, has force.
"The Happiest Land," from the German, is mere common place.
"The Wave," from TIEDGE, contains one thought, but that is scarcely worth the page it occupies.
"The Dead," from KLOPSTOCK, is nothing.
"The Bird and the Ship," from MÜLLER, is pure inanity.
"Whither," from the same, is worse, if possible.
"Beware" is still worse — possible or not. We never saw a more sickening thing in a book.
"The Song of the Bell," has no business with a title which calls up the recollection of what is really meritorious.
"The Castle by the Sea," from UHLAND, should have been rendered "The Castle Over the Sea." The whole dark suggestion of the poem is lost by the mix-translation. The force of the original throughout is greatly impaired by the milk and water of the version.
"The Black Knight," from the same is merely a German bugaboo story of the common kind, with no particular merit.
"The Song of the Silent Land," from SALIS, has merely the merit of a suggestive title, the repetition of which at the close of each stanza is the one good point.
The volume ends with "L'Envoi," a most affected, farfetched, and altogether contemptible imitation, or parody, of the worst mannerisms of the Germans.
The next volume we have is — "Ballads and other Poems," which we note in the order of their succession.
"The Skeleton in Armor" is one of the best poems of LONGFELLOW; if not indeed his very best. It has the merits of directness and simplicity, and is besprinkled with vigorous thought tersely expressed. Its versification would be monotonous, did it not at points become so radically defective as to change into prose, as for example:
"Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story —"
"Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted —"
"Many the hearts that bled
By our stern orders —"
"Came a dull voice of woe
For this I sought thee."
"Saw we old Hildebrand
With twenty horsemen —"
"Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?" etc. etc. etc.
These were meant to be Dactyls — but have degenerated into such a mixture of these, with Anapests, Trochees and Iambics, as to make quite decent prose, and nothing more.
"The Wreck of the Hesperus" has some remarkably spirited passages, but what can justify any man, to-day, in the use of daughter, and sailor?
"The Luck of Edenthall" is a capital translation of one of UHLAND'S best romances.
"The Elected Knight," from the Danish, is meant to prove, we presume, the Professor's acquaintance with the literature of HARDIKNUTE.
"The Children of the Lord's Supper," from TEGNER, is remarkable for nothing but its demonstration of the Professor's ignorance of the Greek and Roman Hexameters, which he here professes to imitate — the "inexorable hexameter," as he calls it. It is only inexorable to those who do not comprehend its elements. Here mere pedantry will carry a man very little way — and Professor LONGFELLOW has no head for analysis. Most of his hexameters are pure prose, and, if written to the eye as such, would not be distinguished from prose by any human being. Some of them have a remarkable resemblance to the hexameters of COLERIDGE. For example: COLERIDGE says:
"Young life lowed through the meadows, the woods, and the echoing mountains,
Wandered bleating in valleys and warbled on blossoming branches."
"Clear was the Heaven and blue, and May with her cap crowned with roses,
Stood in her holiday dress in the fields, and the wind and the brooklet
Murmured gladness and peace, God's peace, with lips rosy-tinted
Whispered the race of the flowers, and merry on balancing branches,"
etc. etc. etc.
"The Village Blacksmith" is a mere Hood-ism — nothing more.
"Endymion" has some well expressed common-places. For example:
"No one is so accursed by Fate,
No one so utterly desolate
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own."
When we speak of expression, here, we must not be understood as commending [page 140:] the versification, which is wretched. We should like to hear Professor LONGFELLOW — or any one else — scan
"But some heart, though unknown, etc."
"The Two Locks of Hair," from the German of Pfizer, should have remained in the original.
"It is not always May." The whole point of this effusion lies in the title.
"The Rainy Day." The whole point of this, lies in the repetition of "the day is dark and dreary."
"God's-Acre." Here we find one of those utterly insoluble knots of imagery which are Mr. LONGFELLOW'S forte. What is any man to make of
"Comfort to those who in the grave have sown
The seed that they had garnered in their hearts,
Their bread of life, alas! no more their own?"
Seeds (which are not seeds, but bread,) are garnered in a heart, and sown in a grave, by the persons who garnered it, and who having sown it (although it was as much bread as seed) lost possession of it thenceforward; — this is a literal rendition of the whole matter into prose — and a beautifully lucid thing it is.
"To the River Charles" is what its author calls it — "an idle song."
"Blind Bartimous" is only Zoe mou sas agapo over again.
"The Goblet of Life" is terse and well versified.
"Maidenhood" is a graceful little poem, spoilt by its didacticism, and by the awkward, monotonous and grossly artificial character of its versification.
"Excelsior" has one fine thought in its conclusion:
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star.
The third volume, is called "The Spanish Student." As a poem, it is meritorious at points — as a drama it is one of the most lamentable failures. It has several sparkling passages — but little vigor — and, as a matter almost of course, not a particle of originality. Indeed it professes to be taken, in part, from the "Gitanilla" of CERVANTES. In part, also, it is taken from "Politian, a fragmentary Drama, by EDGAR A. POE," published in the second volume of the SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER: — no acknowledgment, however, is made in the latter instance. The imitation is one of the most impudent ever known. In both cases a young and beautiful woman is sitting at table with books and flowers. In both cases there is a pert serving maid: — in both the lady reads aloud: — in both what she reads is poetry: — in both it is of a plaintive character in consonance with the sorrow of the reader: — in both the reader makes application of what is read to her own case: — in both she frequently calls on the maid: — who, in both, refuses to answer: — in both there is a quarrel about jewels: — in both a third person enters unseen behind: and lastly in both the lady reiterates the word "begone!" and draws a dagger. But the palpability of the plagiarism [page 141:] can be fully understood only by those who read and compare the two poems. The "Southern Literary Messenger," indeed, seems to have been the great store-house whence the Professor has derived most of his contraband goods.
The last volume to be noticed, is "The Waif." This is noticeable solely on the ground of the "Proem," which is the only one of his acknowledged compositions it contains — but one which is, perhaps, upon the whole, the best which he has written. It is remarkably easy, graceful, and plaintive, while its versification seems to be accidentally meritorious. Nothing is more clear indeed than that all the merit of the Professor on this score is accidental. He knows less than nothing of the principles of verse.
Since the issue of "Ballads and other Poems" he has written several things for "Graham's Magazine," and among others "The Belfry of Bruges" — but let any person inquisitive as to Mr. LONGFELLOW'S pretensions to originality, merely take the trouble to compare the lines in question with certain stanzas entitled "The Chimes of Antwerp," published in "Graham's Magazine" for April, 1841. "The Belfry of Bruges" is the number for January, 1843.
In the "New York Mirror," Mr. POE concluded a notice of "The Waif" in the following words:
"There does appear in this little volume a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continually imitate (is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend."
To which one of the Professor's Boston friends makes answer thus:
"It has been asked, perhaps, why Lowell was neglected in this collection. Might it not as well be asked why Bryant, Dana, and Halleck were neglected! The answer is obvious to any one who candidly considers the object of the collection. It professed to be, according to the Proem, from the humbler poets; and it was intended to embrace pieces that were anonymous or which were not easily accessible to the general reader—the waifs and estrays of literature."
The rejoinder to all this is obvious. If LOWELL was omitted on these grounds why was not HORACE SMITH, omitted on the same? — and BROWNING — and SHELLY — and A. C. COXE — and HOOD — and MONTGOMERY — and EMERSON — and MARVEL — and W. G. CLARK — and PIERPONT and five or six others? The fact is, none of these gentlemen "interfered with Mr. LONGFELLOW'S claims — but LOWELL did. He was a rising poet in Mr. LONGFELLOW'S own school — own manner — a Bostonian — a neighbor.
It is possible, however, that Mr. POE'S allusions were not to Mr. LOWELL, but to himself; and, if so, who shall venture to blame him? He might have thought it no more than justice on the part of LONGFELLOW, to give a place in "The Waif" to that "Haunted Palace," for example, of which he had shown so flattering an admiration as to purloin everything that was worth purloining about it.
It is, indeed, for that whereas, Mr. LONGFELLOW has stolen so much from Mr. POE, that we have alluded so much to the exposé of the latter; for it appeared to us, our course was but just. The latter, driven to it by a silly letter of Mr. LONGFELLOW'S friends, has exposed the knavery [page 142:] of the Professor, and any one who reads the "Broadway Journal," will acknowledge he has done it well.
There are other plagiarisms of Mr. LONGFELLOW which we might easily expose; but we have said enough. There can be no reasonable doubt in the mind of any, out of the little clique, to which we at first alluded, that the author of "Outre Mer," is not only
a servile imitator, but a most insolent literary thief. Commencing his literary life he began, struck with his quiet style, to imitate BRYANT. As he pored over the pages of the Spanish, and then of the great Northern writers, his imitation took a
new direction. Soon, to save labor, he began to filch a little here and a little there — some straw to make his bricks, something to temper his own heavy clay. Finding he was not detected, he stole with more confidence, until stealing became habit,
and so second nature. At this time we doubt whether he could write without helping himself to the ideas and style of other people. Indeed, if he were by chance to perpetrate an original idea, he would be as much astonished as the world around; and
would go about cackling and "making a fuss in general," like a little bantam hen, who by a strange freak of nature, had laid a second egg on the same day.
[This article is attributed to Poe by the table of contents for volume I of the Aristidean . In The Poe Log , Thomas and Jackson attribute this article as, "unsigned but written by the editor Thomas Dunn English, apparently after some consultation with Poe" ( The Poe Log , 1987, p. 529). In reviewing the Aristidean in the Broadway Journal , Poe makes the curious comment, "There is a long review or rather running commentary upon Longfellow's poems. It is, perhaps, a little coarse, but we are not disposed to call it unjust; although there are in it some opinions which, by implication, are attributed to ourselves individiually, and with which we cannot altogether coincide" ( Broadway Journal , May 3, 1845, p. 285, col. 1).]
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