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Then who knows but hereafter, when fashions have changed and the manners,
We here close our comment. There are many other beautiful passages, and a few with which we miglit find fault; but we have pursued the subject far enough. The blemishes which we have mentioned seem to us to have arisen from the attempt of the poet to construct too elaborate a poem out of the event which it celebrates.
The subject is one better suited to the ballad than any more stately poem; indeed, it has already been employed for this purpose.
The following ballad has been banded to us by a lady who traces her descent upon both her father's and mother's side to the marriage of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. The verses have been long in the possession of the family, who do not know the author. We are not aware that they have ever before been printed.*
Miles Standish in the Mayflower came
Across the stormy wave;
More generous or brave.
'Midst cold December's sleet and snow,
On Plymouth Rock they land;
That pious Pilgrim band.
Oh, sad it was in their poor huts,
To hear the storm wind blow,
When yelled the savage foe.
And when the savage, grim and dire,
His bloody work began;-
Miles Standish was the man.
* This ballad which we have introduced into our pages had been in type for nearly a week, when it appeared in Littell's Living Age for Jan. 29th, 1859. We etain it for convenience of reference.
But, oh! his heart was made to bow
With grief and pain full low, For sickness on the Pilgrim band
Now dealt a dreadful blow.
In arms of death so fast they fell,
They scarce were buried, And his dear wife, whose name was Rose,
Was laid among the dead.
His sorrow was not loud, but deep,
For her he did bemoan; And such keen anguish wrung his heart,
He could not live alone.
Then to John Alden he did speak
John Alden was his friendAnd said, “Friend John, unto my wish,
I pray thee now attend.
“My heart is sad ; 'tis very sad,
My poor wife Rose is goneAnd in this cold and savage land,
I cannot live alone.
" To Mr. William Mullins, then,
I wish you would repair,
To wed his daughter fair."
Priscilla was this daughter's name,
Comely and fair was she-
As any maid could be.
John Alden, to oblige his friend,
Straightway to Mullins went, and told his errand like a man,
And asked for his consent.
Now Mullins was a sire
Quite rational and kind,
Against his daughter's mind.
He told John Alden if his child
Should be inclined that way,
He had no more to say.
He then called in his daughter dear,
And straightway did retire,
In absence of her sire.
John Alden had a bright blue eye,
And was a handsome man;
O'er all his features ran.
He rose, and in a courteous way
His errand did declare;
To Captain Standish bear?”
Warm blushes glowed upon the cheeks
Of that fair maiden then;
Then looked at John again.
And then with downcast, modest mien
She said, with trembling tone,
Speak for thyself alone ?"
He bade the maid good bye;
The language of his eye.
Which in that eye was rife,
John Alden's loving wife.
“Bitter Sweet,** is another New England poem ; alike in its scenery, its incidents, and its allusions. The cellar-scene could have been drawn from no real life in any other quarter of this globe of ours. The theme also, the problem of evil, its design and uses, is one on which the New England mind is exceedingly prone to meditate, and to which it returns afresh in every generation. There is no little skill in the development of the plot, and the interest is raised to the culminating point with genuine dramatic power.
* Bitter Sweet. A Poem. By J. G. HOLLAND, author of the "Titcomb's Letters," &c. New York: Charles Scribner, 124 Grand street. 1859.
But is the author a poet? Being a friend of ours, we of course are, inclined to think he is; and yet, because a friend, we suspect our judgment may be biased in his favor. We turn again to his pages, that if possible we may answer aright. We think he is a poet, because there are not a few passages that bespeak a poet's fire, imagination, and mastery of verse. Were he somewhat more natural and easy in the development of his thoughts, less grotesque in his combinations, and abrupt in his transitions ; did he sustain himself more steadily in his higher flights
, and were he more uniformly correct in his management of verse, he would have written a better poem than this, with all its manifest and peculiar excellencies. We hope he will do the amplest justice to his powers, and if he will, we believe he may take high rank among the poets that are to be. If we do not greatly mistake, he has the stuff which will repay a thorough and superior cultivation. We entreat him to give us no such unpleasant themes as the nucleus of a second story. There is a refined sense which instinctively excludes such subjects as are treated in Bitter Sweet, from the poetry of truth, and love, and hope, or which requires that they be lightly touched, not dissected and described as here. Even Mrs. Browning, with all her freedom, never takes such liberties with one's better feelings.
Our readers no doubt are well aware that Messrs. Phillips, Sampson & Co. have issued in the volume form, the papers which gained so much notoriety last year, in the “ Atlantic Monthly," under the title of “The
, Autocrat of the Breakfast Table." In sending out a notice of this remarkable volume, we are doing what perhaps would be more appropriate for a Popish saint, than for a Protestant New Englander. It is clearly a work of supererogation to commend to public attention a book which all the world has been reading and praising for several months. We might, indeed, endeavor to sustain our Protestant character by impeaching the credit of the “ Autocrat,” by proving that there is a latent unsoundness in some lively arguments, and that certain ingenious paradoxes do not rest upon infallible authority. And we must confess in all seriousness, that occasional remarks on topics connected with religion have affected us somewhat painfully; for they seemed likely to produce in some readers a spirit of indifference or levity, which, we willingly believe, has no place in the mind of the writer. But a critic, who could go through the volume, without being overpowered by its singular fasci
* The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Company. 1858.
nation and disarmed of his critical severity, must be made of sterner stuff than we can boast of. Nor could we make it quite consistent with the claims of gratitude, to speak ill of a book which has yielded us so much entertainment. There is nothing left for us, then, but to go with the multitude, and, giving up all hope of asserting in the present instance our independence of thought and superiority of insight, to acknowledge that for once the universal judgment is a right one, that at all events it does not err on the side of undue admiration. The epithets, “brilliant,” and “amusing,” which we have seen most commonly applied, appear to us inadequate. The work is amusing, certainly, as all the world would have expected it to be; and it is brilliant, even more, perhaps, than its author's previous writings would bave authorized us to expect. But it has deeper and more solid merits. It is rich in interesting suggestions, in striking conceptions no less strikingly enunciated, in mature experience of life flowing forth with Horatian ease and humor, in glimpses of strange and rarely-trodden fields of thought and sentiment. It evinces a measure of poetic faculty, a richness of poetic fancy and feeling, for which, to own the truth, we had never given Dr. Holmes sufficient credit. His poetry, unless we bave failed to appreciate it, is less poetical than some of his prose. We refer, of course, to his serious poems: his comic verses are among the best of their kind. The study and elaboration which they show, only make the humor more effective and irresistible. But in his serious poems there is, to our feeling, a something artificial, a slight stiffness and coldness, which prevent them, for the most part, from being thoroughly satisfactory and enjoyable. There are poets who can never fully conquer the difficulties imposed by rhyme and rhythm. The restraints of verse will not allow them to be entirely easy and natural. With much painstakirg they give their thought the artificial form required; but the beauty and the delicacy, the freshness and the spirit, are nearly lost in the process. We do not say that Dr. Holmes is such a poet. But there are passages of prose-poetry in this volume, which we would not exchange for all his metrical compositions, so far as they have not derived their inspiration from the comic muse.
Probably the best course for a critic, who should attempt to make an article on the “Autocrat," would be to imitate very closely the procedure of a certain nursery hero, to "put in his thumb, and pull out a plum, and cry, what a brave-reviewer am I !" But if we should once commence quoting, it would be hard to stop, before we had far transcended the most liberal boundary which we could concede to this de