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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
wm No. CXXII.
ART. I. The Poets and Poetry of America; with a
THIS large and well-printed volume has been domesticated on our table for a long time, and although not publicly noticed, has not been forgotten. A review of it has held, for many months, a prominent place among our deferred projects and virtuous intentions. The book, however, has not thought proper to await our judgment before it commenced its tour of the country, but has quietly travelled through many States and four editions, and now returns our glance with all the careless impertinence inspired by success. That fickle-minded monster, called "the reading public," which sometimes buys and praises before it receives its cue from the reviewer, has taken the work under its own patronage, and spread before it the broad shield of its favor, as a protection against the critical knife. We hope, nevertheless, to be able to give it a sly thrust, here and there, in places where it is still vulnerable.
Mr. Griswold has prefixed to his book an eloquent, hopeful, and extenuating preface. This is followed by a lively and learned historical introduction, displaying much research, devoted to a consideration of the defects and meagreness of American poetry during the Colonial period. He has disturbed the dust which had mercifully gathered around antiquated doggerel and venerable bathos, with no reverential fingers; NO. 122.
and his good taste has not been choked or blinded by the cloud he has raised. The common fault of antiquaries, that of deeming puerility and meanness invaluable because they happen to be scarce and old, and of attempting to link some deep meaning to what is simply bombast, affectation, or nonsense, he has avoided with commendable diligence. He makes no demand on our charity, in favor of some poetaster, for whom he may have imbibed a strange affection. He does not estimate the value of his antiquarian spoils by the labor and money expended in their acquisition. He has emerged from his resurrectionist delvings in the grave-yards of rhyme, without confounding moral distinctions, vitiating his taste, or becoming imbued with any malevolent designs against good composition or public patience.
The series of selections and biographies begins with Freneau, and ends with the Davidsons. Between these, Mr. Griswold has contrived to press into the nominal service of the Muses no less than eighty-eight persons, all of whom, it can be proved by indisputable evidence, did, at various periods, and inspired by different motives, exhibit their ideas, or their lack of ideas, in a metrical form. The editor is well aware, that a strict definition of poetry would shut out many whom he has admitted. Much of the verse in his collection is not "the creation of new beauty, the manifestation of the real by the ideal, in words that move in metrical array.'" It is rather commonplace, jingling its bells at certain fixed pauses in its smooth or rugged march. To versify sermons is not to create beauty; nor can good morality be taken in apology for bad poetry. A morbid and uneasy sensibility may give a certain swell and grandness to diction without the aid of imagination. A young gentleman, while groaning beneath some fancied woes, may ask for public commiseration in the husky utterance of grating rhyme, and yet display no depth and intensity of feeling. We think, therefore, that Mr. Griswold has been too liberal of his aqueous mixture" in his selections. Some of the authors whom he has included in the list are unworthy of the honor of having their feebleness thrust into notice. From others of more pretensions he has copied too unsparingly. A few of his critical notices reflect more credit upon his benevolence than his taste. He seems to have fixed the price of admittance low, in order, as the show-bills say, that the public might be more generally ac
commodated. King James the First debased the ancient order of knighthood, by laying his sword on the shoulder of every pander or buffoon who recommended himself by the fulness of his purse, the readiness of his jests, or the pliancy of his conscience. Editors should keep this fact in mind, and extract from it the warning and admonition it is so eminently calculated to suggest.
Although we deem Mr. Griswold deserving of a little gentle correction for his literary beneficence, we are not insensible to his merits. The work before us must have demanded the labor of years. Those portions which are intrinsically the least valuable undoubtedly cost the editor the most toil, and afforded him the least gratification. To hunt out mediocrity and feebleness, and append correct dates to their forgotten effusions, is an exercise of philanthropy which is likely to be little appreciated; and yet, in many instances, it was necessary, in order to give a fair reflection of the poetical spirit of the country and the time. In the editor's wanderings in some of the secluded lanes of letters, he has rescued from oblivion many poems of considerable value. He has been compelled to search for most of his facts in places. only accessible by great exertion and perseverance. Many of the poets from whom he has made selections have never published editions of their writings, and had never before been honored with biographies. He might easily have written better poems than some which he must have expended much time and labor in obtaining. The vanities and jealousies of his band of authors he was compelled to take into consideration, and to forbear giving them unnecessary offence. Among all the fierce enmities which a person may provoke by sincerely expressing his opinions, we know of none more dangerous than that which follows from informing a rhyming scribbler, that his fame will not equal his am bition, or from omitting to notice him at all out of commiseration for his well-meaning stupidities. We think, therefore, that Mr. Griswold has succeeded as well in his book, as the nature of the case admitted; that his patient research and general correctness of taste are worthy of praise; that his difficulties and temptations would have extenuated far graver errors than he has committed; and that his volume well deserves the approbation it has received.
The labor of editing this book may be inferred from the num
ber of writers quoted, exclusive of those who flourished and scribbled previously to the Revolution. There are eightyeight names on the list,* all of them being introduced by biographical and critical notices. There are about sixty other writers mentioned in the Appendix, who are not equally honored, and whose names we have no room, even in a note, to mention. The editor has thus made extracts from the writings of nearly one hundred and fifty persons, very few of whom have been poets or prose-writers by profession. These selections extend over a period of sixty years, but most of them are comprehended within the last twenty.
We have not been able to find a list of English poets and dramatists, from Chaucer to Anstey, which contains more than two hundred and twenty names. This includes many whose very names are unknown to the general reader, and many who have not written so well as the worst of our own rhymers. It extends over four centuries. It contains such names as Gower, Lydgate, Edwards, Gascoigne, Greene, Watson, Lyly, Constable, (1568,) Breton, Nash, Quarles, Nabbes, Catharine Phillips, Jasper Mayne, Hooke, Cotton, (1630,) Flatman, Etherege, Shadwell, Stepney, Lillo, Savage, Watts, Welsted, Carey, Shaw, Ferguson, as well as the eminent poets of each period. Indeed, the editors of selections from the English poets, even those who commence with Chaucer and include the great bards of the present cen
*The list is as follows: Philip Freneau, (born in 1752,) John Trumbull, Timothy Dwight, David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, Richard Alsop, St. John Honeywood, William Cliffton, Robert Treat Paine, Washington Allston, James Kirke Paulding, Levi Frisbie, John Pierpont, Andrews Norton, Richard H. Dana, Richard H. Wilde, James A. Hillhouse, Charles Sprague, Hannah F. Gould, Carlos Wilcox, Henry Ware, Jr., William C. Bryant, John Neal, Joseph Rodman Drake, Maria Brooks, James G. Percival, FitzGreene Halleck, John G. C. Brainard, S. G. Goodrich, Isaac Clason, Lydia H. Sigourney, George W. Doane, William B. O. Peabody, Robert C. Sands, Grenville Mellen, George Hill, James G. Brooks, Albert G. Greene, William Leggett, Edward C. Pinkney, R. W. Emerson, S. L. Fairfield, Rufus Dawes, E. D. Griffin, J. H. Bright, George D. Prentice, William Croswell, Walter Colton, Charles F. Hoffman, Mrs. Seba Smith, N. P. Willis, Edward Sanford, J. O. Rockwell, Thomas Ward, John H. Bryant, H. W. Longfellow, William G. Simms, George Lunt, Jonathan Lawrence, Elizabeth Hall, Emma C. Embury, John G. Whittier, Oliver W. Holmes, Albert Pike, Park Benjamin, Willis G. Clark, William D. Gallagher, James F. Clarke, Elizabeth F. Ellett, James Aldrich, Anna P. Dinnies, Edgar A. Poe, Isaac McLellan, Jr., Jones Very, A. B. Street, W. H. Burleigh, W. J. Pabodie, Louis L. Noble, C. P. Cranch, Henry T. Tuckerman, Epes Sargent, Lucy Hooper, Arthur C. Coxe, James R. Lowell, Amelia B. Welby, Lucretia and Margaret Davidson.