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We now approach the most serious portion of our task. Mr. Rufus Dawes is a genuine poet. He has an eye, quick to distinguish the beautiful, and an ear sensitively alive to the delicate music that pervades the air, and yet comes from no visible instrument. He is much inclined to philanthropical musing, and addicted to refined abstractions. His mood is wild and speculative, yet study has imparted to him good taste. Sometimes, however, he goes sadly astray; he has done so in the book before us, and were it not for an occasional
dash of purity and brightness,
Which shows the man of sense and of politeness,
we should have guessed every new poet to be the writer of "Geraldine," before Rufus Dawes. We protest against the nondescript style therein displayed-against the unnatural blending of the bold and strong with the frail and feeble. That splendidly vicious poem, Don Juan, was, if not the first, the principal source of the popular taste for this incongruous intermixture of high and low ideas in poetry. Hostile as it is to every precept of a correct, critical taste, this style continues to find its imitators. We regret to censure Mr. Dawes as one of them. His "Athenia of Damascus," and many of the miscellaneous effusions collected into this volume, evince his capacity for purer and better things, and make us certain that he can touch the finer chords of sentiment, and wake the deeper melodies of nature. "Geraldine," the leading production of this volume, is an exaggerated specimen of the villianous style of Don Juan. Its rhythm is the same, and the resemblance is pretty exact in all respects, save the number of lines in each stanza. Its versification is like that of Mr. Halleck's "Fanny "-than which no equal number of verses were ever more egregiously overrated— and its efforts at wit are something similar, though more vulgar and less comprehensible. "Fanny" was famously liked in its day, and the Gothamites chuckled over it, because they entered fully into the spirit of its local jokes and personal allusions. If we remember aright, there are no stanzas in it worthy of preservation, except those often quoted ones commencing
"Weehawken, in thy mountain scenery yet."
We challenge any stranger to account for the great popularity with which it was originally attended, and which its remembrance now maintains. The author, of course, is not at fault; his object was to amuse the town, and he succeeded. He probably never dreamed that "Fanny" would be more than the belle of a single season; if her many admirers are now clamorous for her re-appearance, in a new attire, he is not to be reprehended for acceding to their wishes, provided they are willing to pay him roundly for the trouble of a second bringing out. No similar apology can be made for the chaperon of "Geraldine." She makes her debut in all the
pride and splendor of an elegant dress-by no means an unpretending aspirant for admiration. We are ungallant enough to pronounce the lady a fright, and to recommend her speedy consignment to the shades of quietest obscurity.
The critic can have a no more unpleasant duty to perform than one of condemnation, even where he feels perfectly indifferent to the subject of his strictures. This duty becomes peculiarly irksome when he takes up the work of an author, in whose favor he had been agreeably prepossessed, and finds nothing but stubble, where he looked for little else but flowers. Were we equally disposed, with his warmest friends, to extol Mr. Dawes' poetry, (and that we are, he has but to know us to feel assured,) we could not, if we simply regarded the author and not the public, avoid an exemplary, though brief, exposure of the gross demerits of the production which gives a name to this volume, which is made first and most distinctly to demand the reader's attention. To do this in as few words as possible, and with the fewest possible citations, shall be our earnest endeavour. The choice of metre was the author's first misfortune. It is both feeble and common, and should have been rejected on both accounts. Yet, in the opening stanzas, the author puts it to its very best use, giving it all the tone and swell of which it is susceptible. The strain first assumes tenderness, in description, and then draws near to sublimity, in invocation. Afterwards it glides off into a philosophical flourish, at the beginning and end of which a father and daughter are introduced-the first being surnamed "Wilton," and the latter christened "Geraldine."
Now the story runs that this young lady, as heroines always do in poems, falls in love with a good-for-nothing, "ne'er-do-well" sort of a scape-grace. His name is Waldron, and he loves Geraldine to distraction, as he takes pains to evince by killing a rival, and running away with an improper female, who is called Alice Acus, so as to rhyme with "make us." Previous to this delicate piece of attention on his part, he turns pirate, a regular out-and-out Corsair, and rushes, in the maddest spirit of desperation, to sea, in a "long, low, black-looking schooner." Geraldine, as is becoming under the circumstances, goes into a galloping consumption, looks pale and hectic, and cries pretty much all the time because the cruel fates have separated her from her amiable admirer. Old Wilton, her papa, judiciously determines to carry his sick daughter to a warmer climate. They depart in a ship, which is of course attacked by the pirate Waldron-and the upshot of the whole matter is the indiscriminate demise, in the most horrible way, of the entire party. This rigmarole is more ridiculous in the author's verse than in our prose; it occupies, however, but a small portion of the poem, the chief part being the most irrelevant digression. Herein it resembles Don Juan most manifestly. There is a like
mingling of coarse humor and affected pathos, a similar use of slang terms and vulgar expressions, the same striving after oddity of rhyme, with equally shocking success. There are, moreover, repeated attempts at the tender, the devotional, and the sublime, which, unlike those of Don Juan, are bombastic failures.
If the following commissions are not enough to send to the tomb of the Capulets any poem by any poet, then are slang, silliness, and smut, "tolerable, and to be endured."
"And so the city Fair of matrimony
Blazes forever, and the bids run high,
A hundred thousand in the stocks! who'll buy?—
"Poor devil that was married for his Bentons,
As there are wares, from porcelain to 'Brummagem';
And others, the museums, should you rummage 'em."
These four last are the most shocking violations of Nick Bottom's rule we ever heard of; though the sense can hardly be said to be sacrificed to sound. They are infinitely worse than the Yankee distich"There goes our old mill down the water A darn sight faster than it ought to."
We shall cheerfully bid adieu to this ridiculous performance with the quoting of certain passages which read, not as if they were imitations, but as if they were "scissorized" out of the whole cloth of Don Juan.
Her dimpling hand of snow, where one warm kiss
"The morn is up again-the dewy morn!
Fresh from the bed of night in matron bloom,
And walk out rosy from the soda-room;"
"Not that there's any pleasure in the danger,
More than in being shot at with ounce bullets;
The while we wish that we were feeding pullets.
"Long did the combat last, till only five
Were left within the Vulture; they at length
Faint with the loss of blood and without strength.
"The hot sun blazed upon their naked heads,
And boiled the blood within them-till some grew
"Arm locked in arm, they turned them from the crowd,
Like the Irishman's portrait, each one of them may be said to be more like than the original.
Turn we now, with a feeling as grateful as "the cool plashing of a plangent wave" to one who is travel-sore, and nearly stifled with the dust of the desert, unto "Athenia of Damascus." Here is a delightful dramatic poem, the flow of whose lines, like that of a mountain rivulet, is pure, limpid, and sparkling.
The subject is too lofty for the modern stage, although with judicious curtailment, it can doubtless be represented with effect. The
beautiful thoughts and language, with which it is rife, would be lost in recitation; yet it has a sufficiency of incident to keep alive a pleasant interest.
It is deep tragedy. We are trespassing beyond our limits, and can gratify the reader with but one charming extract.
"Act II-Scene 1. A pleasure-ground in Damascus. (ATHENIA alone.)
And when the daylight dies, the queen of heaven
I fear I love the very thought of love!
Cal. What grief can throw a shadow o'er our way,
When love is cloudless ?-let thy heart be still,
There is no fear, Athenia, that the foe
Can harm Damascus ;-though his arm is strong,
The arm above is stronger-even now,
The victory is ours.
Cal. Chase these vain fears!-and dost thou maiden, think,
The land Jehovah guarded, when the fiend