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could enable a man, without a full heart, to write any thing equal to it.
“We are but two, - the others sleep
Through death's untroubled night :
The link that binds us bright.
That warms us is the same ;
Alike we fondly claim.
Long be her love repaid;
Round the same hearth we played.
Each little joy and woe;
Lit up so long ago.
To hold us till we die ;
Till side by side we lie.” In the lines on the death of M. S.C., there is much mournful beauty and tenderness.
“I knew that we must part, — day after day
I saw the dread destroyer win his way;
Then like tired breezes did'st thou sink to rest,
I ask no more but this, to die like thee ! We cannot resist the desire to make two more extracts from this little collection of pieces.
" I see thee still !
I see thee still !
6. We're not all here!
We're not all here!" Mr. Griswold tells the story of a compliment paid to Sprague, which is worthy of note. A British officer discovered the poem of “Curiosity” straying about, orphanlike, in Calcutta, and in the absence of its father adopted it as his own child, and gave it the first place among the progeny of his
brain. After circulating widely in the East Indies as an English production, it was reprinted in London, and received the critical honors of the British press. The poem itself is deservedly popular, and Mr. Griswold has displayed good taste in printing the whole of it among his selections. The general harmony of its numbers, its agreeable alternations of sentiment and satire, its numerous pictures of life, character, and manners, its vigorous thought and brilliant wit, and the excellent spirit which animates it throughout, are qualities which please universally. There is much honest and hearty indignation in the production, directed against the follies and crimes of society. But Sprague is hardly a satirist in any proper sense of the word. He lashes artifice and quackery with great force, it is true ; but in doing it, he rather expresses the natural contempt and dislike of a clear-headed, right-hearted man for silliness and
sin, than the labored invective of a didactic denouncer of mankind, edging rebuke with a venomous sneer, and more solicitous of antithesis than truth. He never dips his pen in scorn's “ fiery poison.” The spirit of beauty and genial humor seems to accompany and direct the sarcasm, whenever it is launched at the lighter branches of the fooleries and errors of the day, and it rarely becomes deep and uncompromising, except when it is shot at brazen infamy or brainless pretension. No one can read “ Curiosity ” without perceiving that its author has a most exact sense of moral distinctions, as well as a fine perception of the ridiculous. The moral character unconsciously impressed on the poem would do honor to Channing.
Reference has already been made to Sprague's odes as productions displaying much forcible thought, metrical skill, and splendor of expression. But they have a mightier effect upon the ear than the heart. The life of the man does not circle through them with such intensity as in his less ornate and less mechanical poems.
At times there is manifested, in the choice of the language and the movement of the verse, a disposition on the part of the author to lash his muse into exertion. Here and there, a tasteless or turgid epithet indicates, that not always was he successful in “ wreaking " his thoughts upon expression. No criticism, however, could justly represent them as any other than remarkable productions. A short extract from “ The Centennial Ode" will serve as a specimen of his power in condensing thought and emotion into the smallest possible compass, without allowing them to run into obscurity. “We call them savage,
oh! be just!
The savage was a man !
And in his toils took part ?
The savage had a heart !
He heard the thunders roll,
The savage had a soul!
“I venerate the Pilgrim's cause,
Yet for the red man dare to plead,
He turned to Nature for a creed ;
We seek our God in prayer;
And the Great Spirit worshipped there." From the writings of Richard Henry Dana, Mr. Griswold has made copious extracts.
Mr. Dana is, perhaps, our most original poet. No American productions, with which we are acquainted, are characterized by such intense subjectiveness, or bear so deep an impress of individuality, as those of the author of “ The Buccaneer.” We feel, in reading them, that the inward life of the man has found utterance in the rugged music of the poet. He seems never to have written from hearsay, or taken any of his opinions at secondhand. Perhaps this is to be attributed, in a great degree, to his habits of retirement. In this bustling and utilitarian age, when even poets become involved in politics and commercial speculations, and literally make a noise in the world, we do not often hear of a writer who keeps the even tenor of his way amid the surrounding fret and tumult, undisturbed by the petty vanities and humble aims of active existence. Very few now follow the example of Isaac of old, and go out into the fields to meditate. The old law of composition is reversed. Men do not appear to write because they cannot help it, but to lash and goad their unwilling minds into expression by extraneous means. The morals and aspirations of Grub Street have worked their way into Paternoster Row. A low standard of excellence is established. Immortality is confidently predicted of very humble labors. Choice bits and morsels of thought and imagery, floating on the smooth stream of octosyllabic or seven-syllabled verse, are considered infallible signs of creative genius. Many “ immortal” reputations die every year. A spirit of dapper intellectual dandyism, of which elegant verbiage and a dainty and debilitating spiritualism are the outward shows and covering, insects too much of the popular verse. Vanity and avarice are the moving principles of much which should spring directly from sentiment or imagination. Authors of the second rank may now be divided into two distinct classes. The one strives to win the ear of the polite and refined at any sacrifice of heartiness and
truth, and is prodigal of elegant imbecilities and insipid refinements; whilst the other pampers the taste of the vulgar with recitals of misery and crime, exhibits all the forms of melodramatic agony, and fills the page with the records of the hospital and the jail. Both classes are equally distant from nature and truth. No author ever acquired durable fame by his loyalty to merely conventional decencies and refinements, or by outrages upon taste and morals. Milton said, that no man could write epics who did not live epics. Since his time, Glover and Cottle have illustrated his remark in “ Leonidas” and “ Alfred.” But this principle does not hold good in regard to the other forms of poetry ; for men contrive to write lyrics, while they live economics.
Mr. Dana belongs to a very different class of authors from those whom we have just described. “ Neediness, greediness, and vain-glory” have never been the sources of his inspiration. He has engaged in none of those enterprises, which give a day's fame to ambitious mediocrity and aspiring weakness. His reputation among men of taste is the result of no puffing, and is not confined to sects or cliques. The excellence of his writings is the measure of their fame. The shams and mockeries of eulogistic criticism bave not placed his reputation on the ricketty basis of notoriety. It may be doubted, if any American poet has led a more ideal existence, or succeeded better in making his life a poem. His compositions are thoughtful, vigorous, fresh, and original. They are held in just estimation by his countrynien, although not of that kind which attracts a large audience, and is likely to be immediately appreciated. Mr. Dana's reputation has been of slow growth, but it has constantly increased with age. In making his poems of durable value, he neglected the usual tricks of expression, by which transient popularity is often won.
The mental powers displayed in his writings are of a high order. He possesses all the qualities which distinguish the poet, - acute observation of nature, a deep feeling of beauty, a suggestive and shaping imagination, a strong and keen, though not dominant, sensibility, and a perfect command of expression. In description, he excels, perhaps, all his American contemporaries. Many of his stanzas are pictures, painted with few words. He is successful, also, in mingling thought and sentiment with description, and in evolving the spiritual meaning which underlies natural objects, with