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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; and 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!
“Think ye he loved not ? Who stood by,
And in his toils took part 2
Woman was there to bless his eye l
Think ye he prayed not ? When on high
What bade him look beyond the sky?—
“I venerate the Pilgrim's cause,
We bow to Heaven's recorded laws, He turned to Nature for a creed; Beneath the pillared dome We seek our God in prayer; Through boundless woods he loved to roam, 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 second-hand. 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 selfish 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 whip 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, infects too much of the popular verse. Vanity and avarice are accordingly the moving principles of much which should spring directly from sentiment and 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. The mental powers displayed in his writings are of a nigh order. He possesses all the qualities which distin
guish 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 large 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, without misrepresenting nature. He gives the sensible image with so much clearness and compression, that it becomes immediately apparent to the eye; and the language in which he pictures it forth is instinct with imagination, even when he superadds no direct sentiment or analogy. The fault in much fine descriptive poetry is in the accommodation of the appearance which an object presents to the eye, to the ideas which it suggests to the mind. The fancy seizes upon the material form and moulds it into new shapes, until the original and distinctive features are lost. There are some poets, who, although their perceptive faculties are not deficient in acuteness, are unable to see things as they really exist. Every object that passes into their consciousness from without undergoes a change. The powers of vision are unable to hold the sensible image in its exact shape and hue, and it is soon delivered over to passion, wit, or fancy, often to be moulded into grotesque and whimsical forms. The immaterialists and pantheists of poetry, looking at nature only for analogies, and denying her absolute existence, are apt to be too free with her forms and colors. But Dana, though intensely subjective and individual in the character of his genius, and strongly influenced by his mental habits and peculiarities in his appreciation of natural scenery, rarely fails to convey correct representations of outward realities, even when he links a sentiment to them which minds differently constituted would deem unnatural. In him we rarely find “subjectivity leading objectivity in chains,” as Hallam quaintly says of Malebranche. A few stanzas taken at random from “The Buccaneer” will prove that exact description and high imagination are capable of being united.
“But when the light winds lie at rest,