The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: Anonymous

“A New Fable for Critics” from the Knickerbocker Magazine

I’m not sure if this related in any way to James Russell Lowell’s book/poem A Fable for Critics. Regardless, it offers its own kick. 

A New Fable for Critics
By Charles Desmarais(?) G——
From the Knickerbocker, March 1857, pg. 280

A RUGGED crust of sterile soil
Once mocked a rustic’s stubborn toil:
The scarce-hid rocks the plough-share feel,
And angry sparks snap at the steel,
And fright the oxen from the path,
And rouse the bumpkin’s stupid wrath.
He spurns the sod with moody curse,
And, growling, swears there ‘s ne’er a worse—
More useless—good-for-nothing lump
Of stone, on all the world’s broad hump;
Then, on his beasts, with coward goad,
He vents his rage and seeks the road.

Ere long, a scholar, travel sore,
But learned in all the mystic lore
Of Nature’s secret laws, most wise
In all Art’s wondrous mysteries,
Upon this barren glebe at length
Was fain to rest for lack of strength;
And on the furrowed crust he flings
His weary limbs like slackened strings:
His listless hand awhile, uneyed,
Toys with the pebbles at his side,
Till instinct, (like a memory stung
To sudden life by something sung—
Some echo of a sound, once woke
A central nerve’s electric stroke,)
Rings on the tymbral of his ear,
A tinkle he was wont to hear
When on some metal’s hidden track,
Of yore, his hammer’s head would crack:
His eye that smouldered dull but now
Flashes beneath his heated brow;
With miser’s grip his agile hand
Snatches the pebbles from the sand;
With microscopic power he strains
His vision on the flinty grains;
Then, leaping from his couch of mould,
He shouts in triumph: ‘Gold! gold! gold!’

The truth by which we might the happiest live
Is, ‘Human wisdom is comparative:’
The fear by which we should be oftenest nudged
Would seem to be: ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’;
And last, not least, methinks the trustiest ‘saw’
Is this, Opinion’s but a thatch of straw,
Which, to conceal our want, in vain we raise;
A neighbor scrapes a match—lo! it is all a-blaze!

Phil. Dec. 16, 1856.


“A Dream” by A Myth

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From the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. 61, pg. 282.

A Dream.
By A Myth
From the Knickerbocker, Vol. 49, March, 1857, pg. 240.

AMONG the tombs at mid-night
I paced with noiseless tread;
A starless sky above me,
Around, the silent dead.

I sat me down upon a grave,
And heard the wind’s low sigh
As fitfully and mournfully
It still went wailing by.

It seemed to sing a requiem
For the peaceful, quiet dead;
The heavens were clothed in mourning,
The gloomy heavens o’er head.

From the belfry of the minster
I heard a creaking sound:
A moment and it woke to life
The dead that slept around.

I saw them in their grave-clothes,
Their faces wan and pale,
They looked so light and fragile,
The dead they looked so frail.

They flitted by like shadows,
Like shadows on the wall;
O’er the tangled grass they tripped,
As in some marble hall.

But slowly light fell on them,
They vanished as a dream,
For through my chamber window
Came the sun’s bright morning beam.

“Shadows” from the Knickerbocker

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Portion of illustration from Andersen’s Tales for Children, translated by Alfred Wehnert, 1869, pg. 278.

From the Knickerbocker, Volume 51, January, 1858, pg. 10.

THE shadows which at sun-set flit
Across my room with noiseless wings,
I know not why, but yet to me
They seem like living things:

I feel that they are living forms,
From earthly grossness free:
The kindred of my soul they seem,
Come back to visit me:

The sun sinks down, they flee away
Through the unopened door;
They leave behind no change of form,
No foot-prints on the floor.

Oh! ever since my friend has lain
In her dark, silent tomb,
I’ve wished that I might steal from life,
As shadows from my room.

Yellow Springs, (O.,) Dec. 4th, 1857.

“The Ghosts” from the Knickerbocker

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Illustrations by Irving Montagu from the Strand Magazine, Volume 2, pg. 572.

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The Ghosts
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 53, January, 1859, pg. 40.

Pale shapes advancing from the mid-night air,
Beckoning with misty fingers round my bed,
Bending your faded faces o’er my head,
I have no fear of ye! I seem to share
Your dim vitality—mine’s well-nigh fled.
I feel the human outlines melt away;
Those thin, gray hands that lie on the damp sheet
Are almost vapory enough to meet
Yours in the grasp of fellowship. My hair
Seems turning into cloud. The quickened clay
That walls me in is cracking, and I strive
Towards ye through the breach. Am I alive?
Or are ye dead? All’s vague—a wide, gray sea.
Hark! the cock crows! Now, spirits, welcome me!

“The Fairy Mirror” from the Knickerbocker

The Fairy Mirror
By V. N. O.
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 49, 1857, pg 485

THE morning dew was glittering on the flowers,
A mist was floating from the lake;
It was that heavenliest of hours,
When little birds begin to wake,
To move, and murmur a half-finished tune,
Uncertain as to whether waking,
Upon so bright a morn in June,
Was not on their part a mistaking.

There was a noiseless kind of sound,
So quiet that you felt, not heard, it;
As if the spirit of the ground
Had unintentionally stirred it:
The fleecy clouds above were still,
On the blue lake there seemed no motion;
Nor even on the distant hill:
Nature had drunk a sleeping potion.
A leaf alone from an old tree,
As if it brought some angel’s message,
Fell gently, and it seemed to me
A good, a fair, a heavenly presage.
I caught it: in its very heart
Rested a drop of morning-dew:
I looked, I could not check the start:
Whom saw I there?—dear friend, ’t was you!

Detroit, July 3d, 1856.