The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: 19th Century Writers

“LIFE AND THE GRAVE” from the New-York Mirror

I found this curious article within the pages of the December 29, 1827 issue of The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette. Certain sections in this are humbling, while others are, understandably, morose. As we enter this New Year, may we all reevaluate our goals, whether short term or long term, and continue striving to do good works, not only for our own benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of others, our planet, and the future generations to come. Time and life are precious, and we needn’t spend our lives perpetually indulging in frivolous pleasure, when we should be lending our talents and resources to better ourselves and those around us while we are still able to. Pseudo-contemplative remarks aside, I hope you enjoy this article. It comes from a series of articles by the same author under “The Essayist” section of The New-York Mirror, and only ran between 1827-1828. To my knowledge and research, the articles cannot be traced to any other source other than the Mirror. Finally, on a side note, I was unable to track down the author of this article, only relying on the author’s initials, “C. M. A.” I am only lead back to one writer and scholar, Charles Anthon (where does the mysterious “M” fit in that name? I’m not positive—), although I doubt he wrote these articles. If you agree, disagree, or have a better lead, please feel free to comment and let me know. Also, if you’d be interested in reading the other articles in his series, I’d be happy to post them.

FOR THE NEW-YORK MIRROR.
LIFE AND THE GRAVE.
“How sad a sight is human happiness,
“To those whose thought can pierce beyond an hour?”

I LOVE to indulge in that kind of pleasure termed melancholy—to look on the dark side of the picture of human life—to meditate on the many ills to which we are subject here—and to become inured, through reflection on the difficulties we meet with, to the various hardships, and troubles, and trails of life. There is a pleasing sadness in this strain of feeling, a melancholy pleasure, which often invites my attention, and which claims the merit of not being elsewhere found. It renders the feelings that were once soft, tender, and fearful of the rude blasts of adversity, cold and callous to their howlings; and imparts to the mind a thoughtful, determined preparation to endure whatever troubles may be imposed upon it.
How gloomy and forbidding is that view which reality and experience unfold to us of the state of human life! How dark the picture presented for our inspection! How few streaks of light and cheerfulness are interspersed throughout that vast extent of gloomy canvass! How few scenes of bliss and happiness are mixed with those numerous objects of misery and wretchedness that appear on its surface! How many and various are the blemishes of crime, rapine, and fraud, that stain and pollute to its appearance! There is, indeed, but little happiness here–but little to hope for—but little that is worth having, which we can desire with a probability of our request being granted.
If we take a retrospective glance, and look back on times and scenes gone by, we find but little in the recollection that can add to our present comfort. A few pleasures we may have experienced, but they were few indeed, and, like angels’ visits, “far between.” The man of fourscore can claim but a small portion of even his past life as being one of pure and unalloyed happiness. If he but estimates his age according to the pleasure he may have enjoyed, deducting from his years every portion of time spent in sorrow or anxiety, he will find himself but an infant in age, a mere babe in life. If we cast a glance beyond time past and present, and look inquiringly into the unborn future, what is there that will calm and cheer our spirits, now so drooping?—what that will make us more peaceful, more happy, more contented?—what that will act as a charm on our senses, rendering them insensible to pain, and lively to emotions of pleasure?—what that will be different from present experience of the vanity, coldness, and dreariness of life? It will be but a repetition of former scenes and former sorrows—a change of time, indeed, not of circumstances;—
——————”Endless is the list of human ills,”
“And sighs might sooner fail than cause to sigh.”
There is another theme of contemplation which I love—that inspired by a walk among the monuments of the dead—among those stones which bear the names and descriptions of those beneath them buried. Can it be that these inmates of the grave, whose forgotten names, and still more forgotten bodies, were once as I am now—as full of life and vigour—more full of its hopes and expectations—as fond of life’s enjoyments—and as pleased with the routine of fashionable pleasures—as those now in being? When they left the world, how did they leave it?—Did they die willing victims to the grave? Did they leave earth’s toys behind them as do those who know their emptiness, and give a welcome to death as a to messenger of peace that would convey them to an abode beyond the reach of life’s adversities?—or did they, in their last agonies, still cling to life—still hang to that brittle thread which bound them to earth’s domain, and wish that it might strengthen and wax stronger, that it could draw them back again to the scenes of gayety, and folly, and fashions, which once occupied their attention, and usurped the greater part of their life?
A walk in the grave-yard, when we are deeply impressed with the sensations of awe and dread inspired by the place and occasion, will be of benefit to the mind, as it is there that we can discuss dispassionately, if any where, the merits and demerits of life’s enjoyments. We feel a kind of sacred seclusion from the world, and that which usually troubles us—we imagine ourselves cut off from all sensual connexion with it, and evince but few, if any, desires to become again possessed of the charms it once maintained;—we wonder in what consisted the attractions which before bound us to life—what there was so great and glorious in the world, of a nature sufficient to cause our labours and cares to be so much and so often called into exercise—why we were once so unwilling to yield and give up those pleasures which now possess no value in our estimation—and why we declined regarding the duties enjoined on us by the will of heaven, when the faithful performance of them we now esteem to be of the greatest consequence. We contemplate also the labours of man, and endeavor to recollect for what ends his exertions are called into motion. We find the gratification of ambition to be the aim of one—the acquisition of wealth to be the desire of another—the indulgence of sensual pleasure to be the wish of a third. Various as are all of these, they alike have their end in the grave. It is, indeed, the end of man. Why then be so anxious to acquire the possession of those things whose stay must be so short, when acquired?
“Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
“What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
“Earth’s highest station ends in ‘here he lies’—
“And ‘dust to dust’ concludes her noblest song.”
What a picture of contemplation and reflection does the grave-yard present! The old and the young are there, and the poor and the rich are there. The child of five years lies beside of the man of eighty. They alike rest in peace—unnoticed by friends, undisturbed by foes. Nought remains of what was once flesh, and life, and vigour, but a few crumbling bones, and they turning to their original dust, as fast as the revolutions of times and seasons can make them.
It is but a few years at most that can divide the grave from the now living. A short space of time will intervene, and then shall all be brought victims to its ravages, and be swallowed up in the multitude of its openings. However much we may wish this time protracted, “to this condition we must come at last”—and it is doubtful whether it will then be welcomed more cheerfully than it would be at the present moment.
Taking this view of life and the grave, would it not be wisdom to follow the advice of the poet, so beautifully given in the following lines?
“Lean not on earth—’twill pierce thee to the heart;
“A broken reed, at best; but oft, a spear;
“On its sharp point peace bleeds, and hope expires.”
C. M. A.

“December” by Edmund Ollier

December
Edmund Ollier
From The Living Age, Vol. 40.

THE unseen Presence with the noiseless wing—
Time—has swept bare the bounteous earth at last,
And Summer’s green and crimson shows have past
From out men’s sight, like cloud-shapes when winds sing.

The seeds, which from the year’s great ripening
Were shaken, and within the warm earth cast,
Live but in future life, and slumbering fast,
Lie waiting for the vital breath of Spring.

And all is thoughtful, vacant, dusk and still;
A Sabbath pause, a resting everywhere,
A sleep and a thanksgiving, which now fill
The world, and make its bareness seem less bare.
The winds are laid, no sound is in the rill,
And not a murmur ripples the smooth air.

On Mrs. Mary Noel M’Donald, or Mary Noel Meigs, along with her poem “Winter”

While looking through the 1853 volume of Graham’s Magazine, I was immediately presented with this Wintery poem, which served as the featured cover piece for January’s issue. Because the author’s name seemed unfamiliar, I took to researching. For those interested, here is what I found.

According to Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises, Volume 1, by William Cushing (what a curious book!), the name “Mrs. Mary Noel (Bleecker M’Donald) Meigs” appears, with an allusion to a poetry book entitled “Poems by…N.Y. 1845” (179). A quick search for Mary Noel Meigs reveals several titles by this authoress, including Lays of a Lifetime, Cousin Bertha’s Stories, Fanny Herbert, and Other Stories: A Holiday Gift, as well as the aforementioned Poems. Her works may also be found in Rufus Griswold’s The Female Poets of America. However, as one may question, what other information is there to support the notion that M’Donald and Meigs are the same person, other than Cushing’s source? According to this page, it is indicated that M’Donald, or Meigs, was married to both Pierre Edward Flemming McDonald [erroneous spelling in Graham’s?] as well as Henry Meigs, Jr., with Bleecker being her maiden name. Therefore, it’s safe to say this Mary Noel M’Donald, the author of the poem featured in my post, is Mary Noel Meigs—a no longer mysterious and obscure poet, but one who was well-published and favored during her time.

What more is to be known of her, though? According to The Cyber Hymnal online, she was born February 15, 1812 in New York, and died May 13, 1890 in New Jersey. Along with her published volumes of poetry and prose, she provided four notable hymns, which are posted on this website, including “Christmas Morning” and “Hark! A Burst of Heavenly Music.” Finally, in Griswold’s Female Poets, he states the following,

The father of Miss Bleecker (now Mrs. Meigs) was of the Bleecker family so long distinguished in the annals of New York, and among her paternal connexions were Mrs. Anne Eliza Blecker and Mrs. Faugeres, whose poems have been commented upon in an earlier part of this volume. Her maternal grandfather was the late Major William Popham, the last survivor of the staff of Washington. In 1834 Miss Bleecker was married to Mr. Pierre E. F. McDonald, who died at the end of ten years. In 1845 she published an octavo volume entitled Poems by M.N.M., and she has since written many poems and prose essays for the magazines, besides several volumes of stories for children, &c. In the autumn of 1848 she was married to Mr. Henry Meigs, of New York.

You may, therefore, find in the poem below a small example of the credence given to her work. However, if I may be critical, I find the following poem to be unorganized and messy. Sloppily displaced words and lack of punctuation in certain areas makes this a confusing and unnatural poem when read aloud. Perhaps her other works are nicer when read or spoken. Regardless, I hope others find enjoyment from this poem.

Winter

Mary Noel M’Donald

HID in the bosom of life-giving earth,
In darkness and in silence deep and still,
The buried seed to springing roots given birth,
That fix them in the mold with firmest will;
Strong hold have they below there in the soil
Before the leaves upshoot them to the light,
And beauty crowns the deep and hidden toil
With blossomed boughs that charm the gazer’s sight
So thou, oh soul, obscure and hidden long,
Uncared for and unknown must bide thy time,
And like the aspiring seed strike, deep and strong,
Roots that shall bear thee upward in thy prime,
So firm sustained, thou shalt the worthier be
For life’s fair flower that all men honor thee.

In Memoriam of Fitz-Greene Halleck, Along With “Fitz-Greene Halleck” by John Greenleaf Whittier

This day marks a significant milestone for writer Fitz-Greene Halleck, being the 150th anniversary of his death. He may go relatively unrecognized by today’s readership, which is truly a pity; however, this man was so celebrated and beloved by several 19th century social and literary circles of his day, that it makes one question why his name hasn’t stood the tests of time. A statue serves as reminder of this immortal writer—you can read more information about that statue here, as well as at the end of this post. But who or what does this statue represent–what purpose does it serve? Surely, it implies prominence, being the last statue to be dedicated and installed in the Literary Walk in Central Park (source). But what more to it is there, besides being a handsome, decorative lawn piece?

Halleck sits erect, his legs elegantly crossed, his foot alight in communication with his thoughtful, musing gaze. His right hand delicately pinches his quill, while his left is preoccupied with a manuscript or “tablet” of sorts; perhaps this is to signify that his thoughts are unceasingly flitting about the streets of New York. He is not merely a fleeting writer of yore—to say such would only besmirch the other writers on the lawn, including Scott and Burns—nor should it be given credence that he was only known for his sociable behaviour. Who he was, and where his legacy remains, is in that he helped mould American poetry into what it was. His poetic voice laid the groundwork for the American voice. His style inspired future writers, while he, himself, drew upon foregone poets. In fact, a descendant of his labeled him the “American Byron.”  William Cullen Bryant, quoted in The Poets and Poetry of Americahad this to say about Halleck’s writing,

His poetry, whether serious or sprightly, is remarkable for the melody of the numbers. It is not the melody of monotonous and strictly regular measurement. His verse is constructed to please an ear naturally fine and accustomed to a range of metrical modulation…He is familiar with those general rules and principles which are the basis of metrical harmony; and his own unerring taste has taught him the exceptions which proper attention to variety demands. He understands that the rivulet is made musical by obstructions in its channel. In no poet can be found passages which flow with more sweet and liquid smoothness; but he knows very well that to make this smoothness perceived, and to prevent it from degenerating into monotony, occasional roughness must be interposed (172).

But to what standard of proclamation are these words given? Observe a stanza from Halleck’s poem, “Twilight,” being that a passage of “sweet and liquid smoothness,”

In youth the cheek was crimson’d with her glow;
Her smile was loveliest then; her matin song
Was heaven’s own music, and the note of wo
Was all unheard her sunny bowers among.
Life’s little world of bliss was newly born;
We knew not, cared not, it was born to die.
Flush’d with the cool breeze and the dews of morn,
With dancing heart we gazed on the pure sky,
And mock’d the passing clouds that dimm’d its blue,
Like our own sorrows then—as fleeting and as few. (source)

The impetus of this lyric is Hope, which is, at first, seemingly swayed through life’s progress. However, Halleck argues, through painted imagery, that Hope remains formidable and shines from Heaven with an “angel-smile of tranquil loveliness,” being “A moon-beam in the midnight cloud of death” (lines 33, 40). In the stanza especially extracted, we see Halleck describe Hope, in youth, as being the “crimson’d” glow that concealed life’s “passing clouds [which] dimm’d [the pure sky’s] blue.” The musicality of the piece brings it a dreamy, ethereal quality, which is sure to enchant the reader of any age.

The stanza above serves as only one example of Halleck’s masterful hand, though. Reading through the few, yet golden pieces which stemmed from his pen, a few other poems stick out for these same notable qualities. For example, “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake”* is a touching eulogy, which, albeit short and succinct, being comprised of six quatrains, evocatively imbues sentiment through such lines as, “Green be the turf above thee, / Friend of my better days! / None knew thee but to love thee, / Nor named thee but to praise” and “Tears fell, when thou wert dying, / From eyes unused to weep, / And long where thou art lying, / Will tears the cold turf steep” (lines 1-8). Another poem of high regard is Fanny, which is notably Halleck’s greatest piece. Fanny satirizes American culture and politics of the 19th century, and is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek whilst doing so. Consider stanzas 28 and 29, which are, humorously, as follows,

“He struggled hard, but not in vain, and breathes
The mountain air at last; but there are others
Who strove, like him, to win the glittering wreaths
Of powers, his early partisans and brothers,
That linger yet in dust from whence they sprung,
Unhonour’d and unpaid, though, luckily, unhung.

‘Twas theirs to fill with gas the huge balloon
Of party ; and they hoped, when it arose,
To soar like eagles in the blaze of noon,
Above the gaping crowd of friends and foes.
Alas! like Guillé’s car, it soar’d without them,
And left them with a mob to jeer and flout them.”

This successful poem, first published in 1819, found its place in several subsequent volumes of Halleck’s poetry, and was eventually given fifty extra appended verses by the author. According to James Grant Wilson in The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck, “The Popularity of ‘Fanny’ was so great, that the publisher offered Halleck five hundred dollars for another canto, an offer which he accepted,” and thus came the extra canto (234). Halleck, in a letter to his sister Maria, however, remarked, “The popularity of ‘Fanny’ is far above my expectations, and certainly far above its merits; but the great secret is, that it is fashionable to admire it, and, fortunately for its author, the general class of readers does not know good from bad” (236). Regardless of its “merits,” whether they be perceived by readers who “know good from bad” or not, the poem represents to modern readership an insightful, humorous perception of American culture during the early 1800s.

Therefore, whether it be for his witty tongue and praised pen, or his friendly demeanour and sociable conversation, Halleck more than deserves that high throne on which he rests. “Personally,” exclaims Edgar Allan Poe in his article entitled “Fitz-Greene Halleck,” “he is a man to be admired, respected…With his friends he is all ardor, enthusiasm and cordiality…He is a good modern linguist, and an excellent belles lettres scholar…”

But what was Halleck to his other peers? The viewpoints of Bryant, Poe, and Drake have been presented (see footnote for Drake); however, famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier excellently bids warm wishes and praise to his friend in the poem, “Fitz-Greene Halleck: At the Unveiling of His Statue.” This poem, as may be inferred, was a companion piece to the unveiling of the Halleck statue—thus, I present this poem. Perhaps, if you have not been convinced of Halleck’s notability as a poet, or the significance of this statue, Whittier’s words may convince you.

Fitz-Greene Halleck
John Greenleaf Whittier

AT THE UNVEILING OF HIS STATUE.

AMONG their graven shapes to whom
Thy civic wreaths belong,
O city of his love, make room
For one whose gift was song.

Not his the soldier’s sword to wield,
Nor his the helm of state,
Nor glory of the stricken field,
Nor triumph of debate.

In common ways, with common men,
He served his race and time
As well as if his clerkly pen
Had never danced to rhyme.

If, in the thronged and noisy mart,
The Muses found their son,
Could any say his tuneful art
A duty left undone?

He toiled and sang; and year by year
Men found their homes more sweet,
And through a tenderer atmosphere
Looked down the brick-walled street.

The Greek’s wild onset Wall Street knew;
The Red King walked Broadway;
And Alnwick Castle’s roses blew
From Palisades to Bay.

Fair City by the Sea! upraise
His veil with reverent hands;
And mingle with thy own the praise
And pride of other lands.

Let Greece his fiery lyric breathe
Above her hero-urns;
And Scotland, with her holly, wreathe
The flower he culled for Burns.

Oh, stately stand thy palace walls,
Thy tall ships ride the seas;
To-day thy poet’s name recalls
A prouder thought than these.

Not less thy pulse of trade shall beat,
Nor less thy tall fleets swim,
That shaded square and dusty street
Are classic ground through him.

Alive, he loved, like all who sing,
The echoes of his song;
Too late the tardy meed we bring,
The praise delayed so long.

Too late, alas! Of all who knew
The living man, to-day
Before his unveiled face, how few
Make bare their locks of gray!

Our lips of praise must soon be dumb,
Our grateful eyes be dim;
O brothers of the days to come,
Take tender charge of him!

New hands the wires of song may sweep,
New voices challenge fame;
But let no moss of years o’ercreep
The lines of Halleck’s name.

Edit: I found this newspaper clipping in my personal collection and thought it may be of interest for those further interested in the unveiling of the Halleck statue. It is from Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Vol. II, pg 226.

scan0006

*For more about Halleck and Drake’s relationship

“Indian Summer” by Thomas Buchanan Read

(To learn more about Read, check out my post about his life here.)

Indian Summer
Thomas Buchanan Read

IT is the season when the light of dreams
Around the year in golden glory lies;—
The heavens are full of floating mysteries,
And down the lake the veilèd splendour beams!
Like hidden poets lie the hazy streams,
Mantled with mysteries of their own romance,
While scarce a breath disturbs their drowsy trance.
The yellow leaf which down the soft air gleams,
Glides, wavers, falls, and skims the unruffled lake.
Here the frail maples and the faithful firs
By twisted vines are wed. The russet brake
Skirts the low pool; and starred with open burrs
The chestnut stands—But when the north-wind stirs,
How, like an arméd host, the summoned scene shall wake!