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their appearance is measured not so much by the extent of their reputations, as by the length of their purses. This change of practice was very necessary ; otherwise, the glut in the book-market would have bankrupted “the trade " long ago. Authors have fairly turned the tables on their old tyrants ; Grub Street now rules Paternoster Row, instead of being its ill-paid menial and slave. ·
In this crowd of seekers after literary immortality, the poets, of course, are not found wanting. They make their appearance in flocks at this propitious season, just as the wild geese, with dissonant clang, wing their way southward at the beginning of winter.
Here are nine young disciples of Apollo, – just the number of the Muses, — whom we have the pleasure of introducing to the public, with their maiden publications in their hands, and glowing with the blush of ingenuous shame and ambition. One or two of them, perhaps, are old sinners ; but the greater number are evidently just caught. They are in the agonies of a first appearance, and undergoing as much perturbation as a young legislator when he makes his maiden speech. Our good city of Boston may well be called “ the literary metropolis” of America ; we doubt whether any other city in the world ever turned so large a brood of poets out of the nest in one season. Some crusty old fellows may perhaps exclaim with Pope,
“ All Bedlam or Parnassus is let out!" But they will do wrong to be surly about the matter. They are not obliged to read all these volumes, which contain, according to a rough computation, about eighteen hundred pages of rhyme and blank verse; that task falls only on the hapless reviewer, and he will doubtless be alone in the performance of it. He has enjoyed some reputation for the power of rapid perusal and omnivorous digestion, and this is certainly an occasion to put his abilities to the test.
With a view not more to our own ease and comfort, than to the welfare and future renown of these callow poets, we would earnestly entreat them to pay a little more heed to the difference between quality and quantity. One cannot make bimself more sure to sink in the sea of oblivion than by tying a heavy load of his own works about his neck; all the corks and bladders he can muster, - newspaper puffs, the flattery of admiring relatives and friends, and the applause of a little
coterie, — will never save him. His epitaph in our literary annals will be, that he put to sea with a weighty cargo of poetry, and was never heard of more. All the poems of Collins, Gray, and Goldsmith united would hardly fill a volume as large as the least of those now before us ; but each of these great names has already survived one century, and not a leaf of their laurels has faded. If either of them had begun his career with the publication of a book like one of these, containing an indefinite number of songs, miscellanies, lyrics, and sonnets, his fame would not have survived his funeral. The satirist laughs at the poet
“ Who strains from hard-bound brains six lines a year”; but his own glory would now shine all the brighter, if he had not heaped so many verses upon
it. We maintain, that the class of poets whom he sneers at ought to receive all encouragement. There are not many such in our day ; the disorder under which our contemporaries suffer is of a different character.
A knack at versification, a tolerable command of poetical diction, and a store of well-used images are now very common endowments; hardly any one can pride himself over his neighbours in the possession of them. Rhyming is as easy as punning, to one who will allow his thoughts to run more by the associations of sound than of sense. The universality of these gifts, if all persons were equally ambitious, might produce very serious consequences ; our literature would be drowned by an inundation of poetry. We should all be so busy in writing verses, that nobody would have leisure to read them ; or if they did, they would be very caustic critics, for it was long ago 'remarked, that “poetry is like brown bread, since those who make it at home never like what they meet with elsewhere.” Sometime in the course of his life, under the influence of love, madness, or some other calamity, almost every one is silly enough to sin in rhyme.
" Scribimus indocti, doctique, poemata passim." But not every one is so foolish as to publish his sins to the world. With more prudence than ambition, he first consigns them to the depths of his writing-desk, and afterwards to the flames. The world would not have suffered an irreparable VOL. LXIV. - No. 135.
loss, if a large portion of the poetical vagaries now before it in print had undergone the same fate.
Old John Locke -rather a prosaic and plain-spoken character, it is true — declared many years ago, that there are no mines of gold or silver in Parnassus. "It is a pleasant air, but a barren soil ; and there are very few instances of those who have added to their patrimony by any thing they have reaped from thence.” Fame is the only commodity that can now be gathered on the sacred mount; and we have great fears, too, that nearly the whole of this crop has been reaped and appropriated. There are so many seekers after it, that they jostle one another, and, in almost every case, come back empty-handed. Amateur poets, especially, who dabble in rhyme only for their own amusement and the profit of the booksellers, cannot hope to glean much in a field, the resources of which are so carefully husbanded. “The mob of gentlemen who write with ease” has continued to increase in number ever since the days of Pope ; too indolent and independent to seek the favor of the public on which they are not obliged to depend, all their talent passes off in a languid and washy facility of versification, which can gain no applause beyond the circle of their spinster cousins and maiden aunts. The privations, the throes, and the rewards of genius are equally unknown to them.
But it is time to look more particularly at the merits of this batch of poets. At the head of the list stands Mr. Emerson, whose mystical effusions have been for some years the delight of a large and increasing circle of young people, and the despair of the critics. He is a chartered libertine, who has long exercised his prerogative of writing enigmas both in prose and verse, sometimes with meaning in them, and sometimes without, — more frequently without. Many of his fragments in verse if verse it can be called, which puts at defiance all the laws of rhythm, metre, grammar, and common sense — were originally published in The Dial, lucus a non lucendo, a strange periodical work, which is now withdrawn from sunlight into the utter darkness that it always coveted. These fragments, with some new matter, are now first collected in a separate volume, and published, as we believe, with a sly purpose on the part of the author to quiz his own admirers. His prose essays, on their first appearance, were received with about equal admiration and amazement ;
always enigmatical and frequently absurd in doctrine and sentiment, they also contained flashes of better things. Quaint and pithy apothegms, dry and humorous satire, studied oddities of expression, which made an old thought appear almost as good as a new one, and frequent felicities of poetical and picturesque diction, were the redeeming qualities that compensated the reader for toiling through many pages filled with a mere hubbub and jumble of words. Startling and offensive opinions, drawn mostly from systems of metaphysics that were long ago exploded and forgotten, were either darkly hinted at, or baldly stated without a word of explanation or defence. Poet and mystic, humorist and heretic, the writer seemed, on the one side, to aim at a revival of Heraclitus and Plotinus, and on the other, to be an imitator of Rabelais and Sterne. A few touches of recondite learning, obviously more fantastic than profound, added to the singularity of the compound which he presented to the public. He probably accomplished bis first purpose, when his essays simply made people stare, —
“While some pronounced him wondrous wise,
And some declared him mad." But it is only in his prose that Mr. Emerson is a poet ; this volume of professed poetry contains the most prosaic and unintelligible stuff that it has ever been our fortune to encounter. The book opens, very appropriately, with a piece called The Sphinx. We are no Edipus, and cannot expound one of the riddles contained in it; but some of our readers may be more successful, and a specimen of it shall therefore be placed before them. It matters not what portion is extracted, for the poem may be read backwards quite as intelligibly as forwards, and no mortal can trace the slightest connection between the verses. " The fiend that man harries “ Profounder, profounder, Is love of the Best;
Man's spirit must dive ; Yawns the pit of the Dragon, To his aye-rolling orbit
Lit by rays from the Blest. No goal will arrive ; The Lethe of nature
The heavens that now draw him Can't trance him again, With sweetness untold, Whose soul sees the perfect, Once found,- for new heavens
Which his eyes seek in vain. He spurneth theold."
We pause here to ask if, in the Italicized lines, the epithet 66 aye-rolling” is not a misprint for eye-rolling. We never heard of an ever-rolling orbit, inasmuch as the orbit usually remains still, and the object, or body, rolls in it. “The eye rolling in its orbit” is a phrase intelligible enough by itself, though it has no imaginable relation here with the context. Then, again, it is not strange that “ No goal will arrive "; goals do not usually arrive, but remain fixed; they are the points arrived at. “Pride ruined the angels, “ Eterne alternation, Their shame them restores ;
Now follows, now fies; And the joy that is sweetest
And under pain, pleasure, Lurks in stings of remorse. Under pleasure, pain lies. Have I a lover
Love works at the centre, Who is noble and free ? - Heart-heaving alway; I would he were nobler Forth speed the strong pulses Than to love me.
To the borders of day. “Dull Sphinx, Jove keep thy five wits!” Amen! We will quote no farther here, lest we should entirely lose ours. An“ alternation,” that “now follows, now flies,” is an idea profound enough to puzzle the wits of most philosophers.
We cite one other stanza from a different page, as it shows what improvements the poem has undergone in the process of incubation.
“Uprose the merry Sphinx,
And crouched no more in stone ;
She silvered in the moon ;
She flowered in blossoms red;
She stood Monadnoc's head." We have not The Dial at hand for reference; but if memory serves us aright, in the poem as first published, instead of the lines here printed in Italics, we had the following:
“ She jumped into a barberry bush,
She jumped into the moon." This original reading seems to be preferable, as it is more simple and graphic; but the poet probably struck it out,