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make all this coil about a mere periodical essayist? Of what possible concern is it to anybody, whether Mr. Thomas Babington Macaulay be, or be not, overrun with faults, since he is nothing more than one of the three-day immortals, who contribute flashy and “taking” articles to a quarterly review 7 What great work has he written? Such questions as these might be put by the same men who place the Spectator, Tatler and Rambler, among the British classics, yet judge of the size of a contemporary's mind by that of his book, and who can hardly recognize amplitude of comprehension, unless it be spread over the six hundred pages of octavos and quartos. Such men would place Bancroft above Webster, and Sparks above Calhoun, Adams and Everett — deny a posterity for Bryant's Thanatopsis, and predict longevity to Pollok's Course of Time. It is singular that the sagacity which can discern thought only in a state of dilution, is not sadly gravelled when it thinks of the sententious aphorisms which have survived whole libraries of folios, and the little songs which have outrun, in the race of fame, so many enormous epics. While it can easily be demonstrated that Macaulay's writings contain a hundred-fold more matter and thought than an equal number of volumes taken from what are called, par eminence, the “British Essayists,” it is not broaching any literary heresy to predict that they will
sail as far down the stream of time as those eminent
members of the illustrious family of British classics.
POETS AND, POETRY OF AMERICA.”
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 metrical mediocrity of the Colonies. He has disturbed the dust which had mercifully gathered around antiquated doggerel and venerable bathos, with no reverential fingers; 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 Poets and Poetry of America; with a Historical Introduction. By Rufus W. Griswold. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart. 8vo. pp. xxvi. and 476. — North American Review, January, 1844.
the value of his antiquarian spoils by the labor and
money expended in their acquisition ; and 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 threadbare tropes. A morbid and uneasy sensibility may give a certain swell and gaudiness 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 accommodated. 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 and critical benignity, 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 rhyming 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 to perseverance. Many of the poets from whom he has made selections have never published editions of their writings, and have 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 ambition, 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 mature 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 number of writers quoted, exclusive of those who flourished previously to the Revolution. There are eighty-eight names on the list, all of whom are sketched, biographically and critically; and about sixty other writers mentioned in the Appendix, who are not thus honored. 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