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the risk of galling a little the kibes of our American brethren, however inclined we may be to tread with all caution; and, as old Isaac Walton advises in describing the process of putting a worm on the hook, to 'handle them tenderly as if we loved them. If, however, we deal less in superlatives than may be agreeable to American nationality, and still regard these compositions as works of promise more than performance, we can only say, that we never were more anxious to form an unbiassed judgment, or to award praise where we believed it to be deserved.
In the preface to this little volume, which is written with much moderation and considerable ability, the editor, adverting to his selections, tells us, that “Such poems have been generally chosen * (with due regard to their real merit) as were thought most likely, .by their descriptive power, to convey, through the medium of com* mon associations, forcible and faithful impressions of the charac
teristics of the New World—the leading external features, and the internal operations of habits and institutions on the moral • character. In these Selections will be felt and seen the living spirit, the moving realities, and the striking natural features of
America, more vitally preserved, and perceptibly true and cha*racteristic, than in all the Tours and Sketches that have teemed
from the press on this topic.' Never was any statement less borne out by the fact. On the contrary, we will venture to say, that the impression on the minds of most persons, on closing the volume, will be one of surprise, that its contents differ so little from the character of our own poetry—that its beauties and defects are so much of the same kind-that the moral operation of different governments, scenery, and habits of life, have so little modified and altered the current of sentiment and thoughtand that, in short, there is so little in the volume which can be called exclusively national, or American-with the exception of some forcible and graphic descriptions of external nature. We do not very well see how it should have been otherwise; but, assiredly, the editor labours under a grievous mistake, if he thinks that this volume is likely to exhibit, in any very intelligible form,
the living spirit, the moving realities, and the striking natural • features of America. Great beauties it certainly displays ; but, for any thing exclusively national or Transatlantic it contains, it might as well have been written on the banks of the Humber as on those of the Hudson. Many persons in this country seem to have expected— rather unreasonably, like our editor—that American poetry, springing to life under popular influences, in a new country, where the
city and the desert, the crowded highway, and the lonely prairie, — with its wild 'flock that never needs a fold,'—where civilisation and savage
life border on each other so closely, was to be something quite peculiar, and altogether unlike the poetry of old feudal Europe, with its • thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers.' And so it probably would, had the short, but glorions annals of America been in a condition to afford native materials, and the moral world had assumed that picturesque character which nature has impressed upon the landscape. Giant mountains, rivers rolling like seas into the ocean, "endless lakes," on which the navies of the earth might struggle for dominion, are noble elements of picturesque effect; but alone, they are but inefficient. The sublimity of external nature can never compete with the sublimity of moral associations ; and the finest descriptive poetry which deals only with the external, soon becomes monotonous. To interest, to rouse the mind, these scenes must have been peopled with actors and sufferers, with recollections of men and of their virtues, their glories, or their crimes ; and over these, distance must have shed its softening hues,– hiding the homelier features, and giving additional dignity and importance to the nobler. A past of half a century is too brief for poetical purposes, though it may be beginning to afford materials for the novel. In our own country, though the dust of more than a century has descended on the laces and fardingales, the amber snuff-boxes, and clouded canes of Queen Anne's time, they are still felt to be altogether impracticable for serious poetical purposes ; and he would be a bold man who would venture on an Epic, of which Marlborough's campaigns were to be the subject." Still less is it possible, as yet, to invest with Epic or tragic dignity the brigadiers of Bunker's-hill, or Saratoga, or to shed a poetical halo round a successful cruise of Commodore Rogers or Decatur. Animating and elevating recollections certainly, but as yet far too close at hand to be poetical ; and, therefore, to find a past,--that region where poetry has its birth and its peculiar home,- the American poet, who wishes to build the lofty rhyme in the shape of an Epic, or to let the muse of 'gorgeous Tragedy, in sceptred pall, come sweeping by,' must leave his country behind him, cross the ocean, and find in the bright or bloodstained history of that proud old world beyond ' the deep,'* the materials which that of America denies him.
There is less of this necessity, of course, experienced in lyric poetry, which, as the expression of individual feeling, may be supposed to embody a little more vividly the living spirit and * moving realities of the present—of American life and character
as they exist. And yet even here it is wonderful how much the result has been influenced by the study of English models; and how little there is to remind us that the Atlantic rolls between us; or that this is the poetry of a nation placed under influences of climate, manners, and government so different from our own. Were it not for an occasional sketch of scenery, or touch of Indian superstition, perhaps a little more forcible or correct than could be manufactured at home, (though the consummate truth and finish of Campbell's beautiful cabinet picture leaves even that matter doubtful,) we might believe we were reading a collection of our own modern English poetry. The difference between the spirit and tone of our literature and that of our nearest continental neighbours, is a thousand times greater than between the literature of Old England and that of New. We do not state this as detracting from the originality of the American poets; we merely express our opinion, that we shall be surprised if the public concur with the editor of these ‘Selections,' in thinking that they illustrate his position as to the radical and palpable differences which are likely to distinguish the poetry of the two countries.
But though those who expect to find in these Selections' a literature of a peculiar and strikingly national character will probably be disappointed, those who more reasonably expected to meet with compositions breathing the spirit of their English models-and not unworthy of being placed side by side with them—will assuredly rise from the perusal with a high idea of the talent, taste, and sensibility which has already in America devoted itself, and with success, to poetry. Making allowance for the obstacles which poetry has had to encounter in that quarter, as the editor confesses, • amid the cares of gain, the * noise, the bustle, the distractions of agricultural, commercial, .and political pursuits which so universally, and in some mea* sure necessarily engaged the undivided attention of the population of this new country,' and excluded any devotion literature except as a matter of taste and amusement rather than a pursuit—we think its progress has been very remarkable. Though we should be puzzled, no doubt, to lay our hand on any one of the forty individuals, from whose works the present · Sélections are taken, and say, this is a great poet,' there are many to whom the praise of tenderness and imagination, and some to whom that of occasional sublimity would be most cordially awarded. The real truth is, and we are convinced the Americans feel it as well as ourselves, a great poet has not yet arisen in America. A great poet is felt to be such in the shortest productions as certainly as in the longest. Milton cannot be
mistaken even in his . Comus' or his • Allegro;' the slightest song of Shakspeare,— Blow, blow, thou winter wind,' for instance,-reveals the poet, and touches the heart like a spell.
Short, therefore, as the most of the pieces in this volume are, they are long enough to satisfy us, that no mind of great poetical compass has yet, in America, devoted himself to literature. How soon such a luminary may arise, it is not for us to conjecture; but, in the meantime, we may be contented with the placid beams of minor stars, which satisfy our eyes, more indeed by their number than their light, yet spread, upon the whole, no inconsiderable lustre over the poetical horizon.
When the mental characteristics of poets are not very strikingly distinct, and the difference between them lies more in their manner of execution than in their mode of conceiving the subject, any attempt to describe their peculiarities, otherwise than by presenting their compositions side by side, is out of the question. The pensive, tender melancholy of 'Bryant may indeed, even in description, be distinguished from the wild force and energy of Dana; but how, by mere epithets, is he to be discriminated from Percival or Brainard? We shall not attempt so hopeless a task ; but shall leave our readers to paint their gallery of American portraits for themselves, with such materials as this volume enables us to supply:
The editor gives the place of honour to William Cullen Bryant, who, according to his view, holds divided empire with Dana over the American Parnassus. Much as we admire his poems, which are ever full of delightful feeling, we confess that the few specimens which are given
from the works of Brainard, seem to us to have in them more of the warm spirit of poetry. Brainard died young, like our Kirke White, but his intellect was of a more masculine character. He was careless, and in finish of versification far inferior to Bryant, who is not himself remarkable for extreme solicitude in that matter; but even in this carelessness, which presents the thought in its full and undiluted force, there is often a charm. The melancholy wayward character of his poetry is well indicated in the following lines, which not unpleasingly remind us of Shelley's most touching stanzas, written in dejection on the shore of the Bay of Naples :
• The dead leaves strew the forest-walk,
And withered are the pale wild flowers ;
The dewdrops fall in frozen showers.
Gone are the spring's green, sprouting bowers,
And autumn, with her yellow hours,
We have already hinted that the most Transatlantic characteristic of these specimens consists in their occasional allusion to Indian traditions and superstitions. Not but that a tolerable portrait of a Red Indian may be drawn nearer home; nor does it seem a very difficult task to give picturesque effect to the desert worship of Areouski or Manitou. But there is a novelty in some of these sketches,—an allusion to superstitions less known,—which gives an air of truth and individuality, which the more vague European pictures want. How well, for instance, are some of these brought before us in Brainard's fine and natural lines to • Salmon River,' some stanzas of which (would we could extract the whole) we must quote.
• Havoc has been upon its peaceful plain,
And many a quiver,
From Salmon river.