The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: John Neal

“Ambition” by John Neal

Here’s a poem, “Ambition,” penned by 19th-century author, poet, and all-around charismatic American ruffian John Neal. You will find two versions of the poem. The first one appears in an 1842 volume of poetry, whereas the second one is an earlier version dating to 1817. In both versions I find the last sentence of the last stanza to be of particular interest, as I think the different lines uniquely shape the conclusion of the poem. To me, the earlier version clarifies what he’s attempting to illustrate in the later version. You will find other noticeable differences throughout, especially in stanza two. 

Ambition
By John Neal
From The Poets and Poetry of America, 1842, ed. Rufus W. Griswold

I loved to hear the war-horn cry,
And panted at the drum’s deep roll;
And held my breath, when—flaming high—
I saw our starry banners fly,
As challenging the haughty sky;
They went like battle o’er my soul:
For I was so ambitious then,
I burn’d to be a slave—of men.

I stood and saw the morning light,
A standard swaying far and free;
And loved it like the conquering flight
Of angels floating wide and bright,
Above the stars, above the fight
Where nations warr’d for liberty:
And though I heard the battle-cry
Of trumpets in the hollow sky.

I sail’d upon the dark-blue deep,
And shouted to the eagle soaring;
And hung me from a rocking steep,
When all but spirits were asleep;
And, O, my very soul would leap
To hear the gallant waters roaring;
For every sound and shape of strife
To me was but the breath of life.

But I am strangely alter’d now,—
I love no more the bugle’s voice—
The rushing wave—the plunging prow—
The mountain, with his clouded brow—
The thunder, when his blue skies bow,
And all the sons of God rejoice,—
I love to dream of tears and sighs,
And shadowy hair, and half-shut eyes.

Song
N.
From The Portico, Volume 3, pp. 252-253

I’ve loved to hear the war-horns cry,
And panted at the drums deep roll,
And held my breath, when flaming high,
I saw our starry banners fly,
As challenging the haughty sky.
They talk’d of battle to my soul;
For I was so advent’rous then
I burn’d to be—the slave of men.

I’ve look’d upon the morning light,
Flushing its standard far and free,
And seen it struggle with the night,
And loved it—for it told of fight,
And every flash that triumph’d bright,
Seem’d glance of glorious Liberty.
For I was fanciful and wild
As youthful Freedoms freest child.

I’ve sail’d upon the dark blue deep,
I’ve shouted to the eaglet soaring,
And hung me from a rocking steep,
When all but my spirits were asleep;
And oh! my very soul would leap
To hear its gallant waters roaring.
For every sound that told of life,
To me, was but the breath of strife.

But I am strangely alter’d now,
I love no more the bugles voice—
The rushing wave—the plunging prow—
The mountains tempest clouded brow—
The daring—the exulting flow
Of all that made me once rejoice.
I’ve learn’d to talk of tears and sights—
And locks of gold—and dying eyes.

“Specimens of American Poets, with Facsimiles of Autographs”—Being a very serious article about very serious poets—Part Two.

As promised, here is the rest of the article in Godey’s Lady’s Book concerning epistles and poems from a few eminent 19th century poets. You can find part one, discussing the letters, here. Below are the “poems.”

Again, please note that this was for an April Fool’s Day joke and should not be taken seriously. No, Poe did not write “The Lady Hubbard,” nor did the other poets (Willis, Whittier, Morris and Neal) write “their” respective poems. If I catch one more person attributing this awful parody of a Poe-style poem to Poe, I may blow a gasket.

~

The Fishwoman’s Son.
By N. P. Willis.

Night on the market. Through the colonnade
Of red brick pillars not a sound was heard.
Save of some whistling urchin, as he strode
With stamping footfalls, listening to the noise
Which wore his shoe-soles and the hearer’s patience;
Or the low mutter of the drunken man.
As his wild song, proclaiming fixed resolve
Not to go home till morning sank to low
And nearly inarticulate murmurs—or
The steady and, to move, unwilling tread
Of some old Dogberry, whose beard had grown
Gray in the service of the corporation;
His purse borne down with weight of many coins,
Received for nights of arduous services,
In sleeping in the open air.

On a stall,
At ease recumbent, lay a lazy boy,
Wrapped in the arms of a most easy sleep.
Occasionally, he would toss and kick,
As some musquito, with his stirring hum,
Would serenade his ear; or, from his nose,
Draw luscious draughts, as ruby as the wine
From Hebrew valleys. In his sleep, there came
Strange visions of the future—happy dreams—
Wherein no pike could pierce him with its fin,
Nor ill-shaped catfish show its gaping mouth;
Bat fairies, in remarkably short skirts,
And friendly genii, bearing magic lamps,
Invite him down to gem-adorned caverns,
Made musical with murmured songs of sixpence
And pockets full of rye. There saw he, too,
That famous youth, who in the corner sat,
And from the pie of plenty picked the plum,
With curious and industrious digits. Then
The visions changed, and he beheld the dame,
So favorably known to growing babes,
Who sought within her cupboard for a bone,
Watch finding not, her dog was supperless.
These changed again: another spirit came,
And from the parted gates of rosy pulp.
Fresh from the clear and crystal vase of dreams,
Broke out these rose-leaf sounds, whose silver stops
Tinkled the tintinabulum of air:—

“I will not go,
Like a whipped dog, unto the public school,
To wear the cap and tokens of a fool,
While Mexico
Invites me on to glory and to fame,
Or a cracked crown, which after all’s the same.

“Fame!—all my eye
And Betty Martin, is it? If they err
Who so pronounce it, each philosopher,
Of motives high,
That ever lived, and now is shapeless mummy
Or powdered dust, was but a silly dummy.

“No! fame is real,
And no mistake; and then, besides, the pay,
Amounting unto twenty cents a day,
Shows no ideal,
But a true thing—besides, the cash in hand
As bounty money, and the western land.

“The western land!
A hundred acres!—why, a growing town—
Nay, more, a city might be scattered round,
And houses stand
As thick as onions on a rope—all there—
And I poor urchin, be a millionaire—

“A second Astor!
With an unbounded power of capital:
Then I might dress, and drink, and marry Sal,
And go it faster
Than omnibuses when there’s twelve inside
And six upon the steps, all bent to ride.

“To Mexico,
Bright land of dollars and of shilling pieces,
Sage contemplation my desire increases
To thee to go;
To rise to corporal, and on my arm to bear
The stripes, or on my back—it does not matter where.”

What more he would have dreamed or said,
If he had talked within his sleep, none knows;
For came the ancient guardian of the night.
And woke him from his slumber with a shake,
Exclaiming: “Get up, young one, get you home;
Your mother bough some shad this afternoon,
And wants your help to scale ’em. Get up, sleepy.'”
Straightway he rose and shook his garments old,
And yawned, and rubbed his eyes, and stretched himself,
And ran, as if impelled by some rude kick
Or angel not celestial, to his home.

The Rights of Boarders.
By J. G. Whittier.

Ho, stalwart men of Boston town!
Ho, villagers of Hingham!
Ye dealers in our wooden wares,
In cotton, clocks, and gingham!
Cambridge and Salem, Cabotville,
Fairhaven, Lowell, Lynn,
Great Barrington and Framingham,
Nantucket, void of sin;
New Bedford, Uxbridge, Beverly,
Lancaster, Leicester, Lee—
Andover, Salem, Marblehead—
Up!—listen unto me!
Arouse you, Haverhill, arouse!
Stand, Quincy, like thy granite;
And, Lexington, begin the fray,
As erewhile you began it!
Northampton, Canton, Mulbury,
Fall River, Plymouth, come!
Let Wrentham, Randolph, Danvers, hear
The beating of the drum!
Up, Newburyport and Roxbury,
To deeds of daring dare ’em;
And he the terrible toesin blown
At Braintree and at Wareham.
Pawtucket hears, and Oxford speaks,
And Falmouth brings her legions,
Old Salisbury and Southbridge talk
From their most hidden regions.
Cries Westfield from her eastern edge,
And Greenfield reads the roster,
While Adams marches into line,
Quite check by jowl with Gloucester.

The towns are up! Ere set of sun,
The bloody work shall well be done;
To prove to every son of a gun,
Our independence really won.

For why and whence this stirring cry?
And whose these martial orders?
To help ourselves to apple-pie,
And save the rights of boarders.
For o’er the town the stern decree,
Hath gone from tyrants’ lips—
The star of goodly liberty
Henceforth shall meet eclipse.
A court, in session solemn sat,
Which questions were decided at;
And in the land where Bunker Hill
Its monument above us towers;
This same tribunal made a mock
Of freedom long accounted ours—
Decided with a solemn face,
As law to rule the fallen place,
That boarders, so they would the wrath
Of landladies and urgent duns shun,
Might crackers in the pantry get,
But not have apple-pies for luncheon.
For this our fathers fell or fought;
For this the Pilgrim comers wrought;
For this they hung the Quakers high;
For this they sat in stocks each Monday.
The man who dared, with love so sly,
To kiss his lawful wife on Sunday;
For this—for these!—arouse, ye slaves!
There’s fetters hanging on your forms!
Arouse, and teach the lying knaves
Free anger is the worst of storms.
Advance, and dress your serried ranks,
And firmly as the old phalanx,
Which Macedonian Philip led,
Advance, and, like your fathers, deal,
Upon the proud oppressor’s head,
Quick blows from loudly ringing steel.
Advance at starry freedom’s beck,
And smite the souls of Amalek;
While, as in days so long gone by,
Shall ring in air your battle-cry!
Beside you stand your brothers strong,
All armed with right and hate of wrong;
All striving with a purpose high:
Fling to the winds your gonfalon,
And shout “For luncheon, apple-pie!
No crackers!” Gallant freemen, on!

The Lady Hubbard. 
By E. A. Poe.

Far down in the pass, where
The army has gone,
A maker of glass ware
Dwelt nearly alone;
And green is the grass there,
For Hubbard is gone,
And his widow, alas! there
Dwells sad and alone.

Not lone al[t]ogether,
That widow to-day;
Though loud how is the weather,
And dark is the way—
Not lone altogether
That widow to day—
Tied tight to his tether,
Behold the dog Tary!

This morning, the gladdest
That ever was known,
Has turned out the saddest,
At which we may moan;
And that dog is the maddest
That ever was known—
Ah, woman which gaddest,
Look sharp for the bone!

This morning, right early,
This morn of the day,
Up rose, big and burly,
Marm Hubbard, they say;
This morning right early,
She rose for the day,
And spoke to her curly
And famous dog Tray.

A faithful companion,
As ever was known;
Her sentinel canine,
And long time her own:
He ne’er let a man in—
She lived there alone—
This faithful companion,
He asked for a bone.

Then old Mistress Hubbard,
Felt pity herself;
She opened the cupboard,
She looked on the shelf,
Adown-board and up-board,
And back of the delf;
She searched the whole cupboard,
Each corner and shelf.

His extremity caudal,
The dog wagged in vain:
He coaxingly pawed all
The end of her train;
He marked her to dawdle
And falter in pain—
His extremity caudal
Dropped slowly again.

Then his mistress she slubbered
A tear from her eyes;
She shut to the cupboard—
She looked down to sigh.
Took a towel to rub board.
Although it was dry—
And she felt, Mrs. Hubbard,
A drop in her eye.

And she said: “Broken-hearted
And bone-wanting one!
The truth is imparted,
The cupboard has none:
The gold chain has parted,
Sink’s gloomy the sun;
The bones have departed!
The deed has been done.”

A City Lyrics. 
By George P. Morris.

Beside the Bowling Green I stand,
The bitter, live long day,
To hear the carriage-wheels go round,
And mark the fountain’s play;
To see the geese within the rails,
And note what others say—
To drink within my heart the flood
Of life in old Broadway.

‘Tis morn upon the Battery,
The fountains near my play,
The haze arises, like a quilt,
And spreads upon the bay;
The mowers cut the Battery’s grass,
And go to making hay—
I drink within my heart the flood
Of life in old Broadway.

‘Tis noon upon the Battery,
And mighty hot the ray;
I see the people rush to get,
Their ices o’er the way.
I wish I was a little fish,
Beneath yon fountain’s play,
To drink within my heart the flood
Of life in old Broadway.

‘Tis night, and from the streets are gone,
The wagon, car, and dray;
The omnibuses yet are left
To drag the folks away.
I’ll to my office, then to home,
And come another day,
To drink within my heart the flood
Of life in old Broadway.

The Firemen’s War.
By John Neal.

Far down the thickly crowded street,
Was heard the sound of hurrying feet,
As every brick-made pavement feels
The jarring rush of engine-wheels.
So hastily and hurriedly,
Like the swoop of an eagle’s pinions free;
Or the rush of an angular piece of stone,
By an urchin vile at a tom cat thrown;
Or the bound of a bounding caoutchouc ball,
Thrown at play on the side of a wall;
Or a mad bull’s head, as he butts in his wrath
At a fellow too lame to get out of his path;
Or a steam-engine running away on the rail,
Or the quivering twist of a salmon’s tail;
Or a mad dog beating both wind and steam,
With a tin kettle tied to his caudal extreme—
So hastily over the stones did pass,
Into Thirteenth Street from Sassafras,
The old Good Will, better known as the Screw,
Rushed ahead with a deal of ado—
The members of which,
With their voices all brought to a concert pitch,
Till the parts of speech of one and each,
Alarmed at the hailoo, and bellow, and screech,
At the whooping and yelling to check and dismay us—
A sort of a lunatic vocal chaos—
Vainly strove, until broken hearted,
From parts of speech they were speeches parted.
On came Good Will, in her hurried march,
Till she reached the corner of Tenth and Arch.

Up Arch Street rolled, at stroke of ten,
The Fairmount, drawn by bully men;
Each stout and stalwart, to be sure,
In sinew, bone, and brawn secure;
And loud upon the startled sky,
Which winked, in sore dismay, its eye,
Rang shrill the Fairmount’s battle cry:
“Walk in, Fairy!” Never sounds
So terrible, on the battle-grounds
Of Leuctra of Thermopylæ,
Had ever scared the startled day.
Those words, so potent and majestic,
Gave newer strength to Willbank’s best stick;
Waved, wildly, Deal’s red-kerchief banner,
And added new vigor to Gardner’s spanner;
While the very recumbent paving-stones
Muttered and sputtered a few odd moans,
As they seemed to each other to say, in dismay—
“They won’t let us sleep in our beds, to-day.”

But stood the men who loved the old Good Will,
At this same juncture, passive, dead, and still?
No!
Ready to deal the fierce and fearful blow,
Or at once to acknowledge, or
Even succumb to a sad sockdolager;
Under the guidance of Simler and Logan,
Et id genus omne, they gave out their slogan:
“Wake up, Screw!” and a hallabaloo,
Went the ranks of the opposite company through,
And the opponents stood, in a martial position,
All ready to tackle, in fighting condition.

Omens dire were around the place;
Confusion was written in every face;
Drawn was each slung-shot, spanner, and mace,
Closing they were at a swifter pace,
Ready to struggle in fight or a race—
It would surely be a desperate case.
The citizens bolted and barred their doors,
Closed their windows and shut up their stores,
And hid in back closets on second floors.
All was ready to go in and win,
And Simler and Deal and gave the word to begin—
When through the crowd hoarse murmurs came,
As through prairies in summer a scorching dame,
Rolling and crackling, or getting higher,
Like Niagara Falls or a house on fire,
Till it shaped itself to this form so rare:
“Cut stick!—here comes the police and mayor.”

As when some feline animals,
Salute, with sleep-subduing calls,
And, chamber windows just below,
Prolong their stay and will not go;
You gently hoist your chamber casement,
And, to the animal’s amazement,
Cast angry blessings down below,
Exclaiming, spitefully: “‘Iss cat!
Consarn yer squallin’ mouths—take that!”
At first amazed they stand, and then
They scurry down the quiet street,
Which echoes with their pattering feet;
While you crawl into bed again—
So here these fighting engine pusses
Went homeward and preserved the peace,
While, in two passing omnibuses,
Off rode the mayor and his police.

“Specimens of American Poets, with Facsimiles of Autographs”—Being a very serious article about very serious poets—Part One.

This is a humorous article written exclusively for the December, 1849 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book (pp. 416-420), which presents letters and accompanying poems from five prominent 19th century authors and poets. Be mindful of the date attached to each letter as you read this. With that being said, I advise the reader take this with a grain of salt. Students, don’t use this article for serious research.

Because of the length of this article, being the letters with the poems, I have this divided into two parts. You will find only the “letters” here, and the “poems” here.

Specimens of American Poets, with Facsimiles of Autographs
Prefatory Correspondences

Philadelphia, April 1st, 1849.
Sir: I am a foreigner, who has been traveling in this country for a year past. Anxious to take away with me some memento of American literature, I addressed notes to various authors, requesting them to furnish me, free of cost, the means of complying with my desire. Most of these were polite enough to accede to my request. Others there were, I am sorry to chronicle the fact, mean and illiberal enough to take no notice of my very reasonable request. One, indeed, whose name I charitably suppress, was wicked enough to write me a reply, couched in very brief but expressive terms.
Having achieved what I wished, my next object is to make something out of it. I showed my collection to several publishers, who all declined to enter into the publication of these specimens. Some one or two—not more than two; and it may be less than one, since my memory is treacherous—expressed doubts as to their authenticity. Under these circumstances, I appeal to you. Let your endorsement of their genuine character be given, and I shall have all the publishers bidding, like so many buyers as a mock-auction, for my wares. You will not, surely, lack charity so far as to refuse this, my first, and by far the most reasonable offer I ever made you. To be sure, it may cause you a pang of conscience; but what of that? Charity, you know, covers a multitude of sins. I gave a bad sixpence to a blind man, yesterday, myself; and you should comfort yourself with this assurance.
I am, imploringly, yours,
kjkjkljkljkljkljkljkljkljkljk

 

 

To L. A. Godey, Esq.

———

We have examined the MSS. sent, and are willing to publish a few of them; but express no opinion in regard to their authenticity. The signature which accompany some of the letters look very like originals—the poems, we should say, were very original.

———

New York, April 1st, 1848.
MY DEAR BOY: I received your note this moment. I am very happy to be of any service to you, and enclose a poem. I hope you will succeed. Pray, let me know if I can be of any use. Would you like a notice in the Home Journal? I can do you any good, only indicate the mode, and at once. Believe me, my dear fellow,
For Willis and self, cordially yours,
ggfjgjgjj

 

 

———

Worcester, 4th Mo. 1st, 1848.
ESTEEMED FRIEND: I am enabled to comply with thy request, and dispatch to thy address, by the mail of to-day, an effusion, which I sincerely trust may answer thy purpose. Thou wilt observe that it touches upon a subject which concerns the most ordinary business of life, and will therefore find its response in the hearts, or in a more tender portion, of every member of the human family. With my most earnest wishes for all proper prosperity to attend thee, I am,
Ever thine,
ddhdhhd

 

 

———

New York, April 1st, 1848.
MY DEAR SIR: To be obliged to penetrate with the pump-buckets of necessity, prompted by the piston of a fifty-dollar compensation, with a publisher as the pump-handle, in search of a poem, is, of itself, annoying enough. To draw one up with the rope and bucket of gratuity, is a labor which qualifies for a long residence in fatiguedom. Your letter found me fagging away over my work-desk—chasing a brilliant idea in and out of the myriads of convolutions of my brain. All the while that I was aping Prometheus (the window being half-opened), I could sniff the delightful odors of a rose, which a fair neighbor will insist on keeping (poor Tantalus I), and could see, occasionally, white, ring-loved fingers parting the curtains on the opposite side of the street. My poor bird—Canary and I are fellow-prisoners here—was wearing his wing-feathers against the bars; and speaking with his wings what Sterne’s starling did with his throat. It was impossible for me to write anything for you with such sights, and smells, and sounds before and near me. But the Brigadier, good-naturedly, insisted that I should do something for you. I send you therefore an old scrap, which lies by me, with a protest against such demands. I cannot see that you have any more right to drag from me, as forced gifts, the products made in my workshop of a brain, than I would have to ask my neighbor’s goose to convert himself into my special quill manufactory.
Faithfully yours,
hukhkj

 

 

———

Fordham, April 1st, 1848.
SIR: The true purpose of poetry appears to have been misunderstood by poets in all ages. It has been reserved for the moderns, or one of them at least, to discover its proper uses—or, more correctly speaking, want of use. Poetry is but the rhythmical creation of beauty. Its true office is the beautiful only. It may verge on the grotesque, but must not enter it. It must never deal with the terrible, the vividly fearful—the horrid, or the profound. Didactic poetry is a misnomer, as reason is not rhyme. A poem should never have its moral, nor should it ever possess a meaning. I trust I make myself sufficiently clear, even to the meanest comprehension. To aid my exposition, I send you an example, in the singularly beautiful and strikingly peculiar poem which I inclose.
Your obedient servant,
Untitled 2

 

 

———

April 1st, 1848.
SIR: Here you have an extract from a new poem—the Battle of the Engines. For my own part, I care nothing for my own poetry—nor do other people, may be; however, they lose by that—besides, poetry is in itself an art—art is unproductive—and while I am on the subject of unproductiveness, I may as well mention that you did not pay the postage on the letter directed to
fshncmhghh

 

 

 

“Trees” by John Neal

Trees
John Neal
From The Poets and Poetry of America, ed. Rufus W. Griswold, pg. 156

The heave, the wave and bend
Of everlasting trees, whose busy leaves
Rustle their songs of praise, while Ruin weaves
A robe of verdure for their yielding bark—
While mossy garlands, full and rich and dark,
Creep slowly round them! Monarchs of the wood,
Whose mighty sceptres away the mountain brood—
Whose aged bosoms, in their last decay,
Shelter the wing’d idolaters of Day—
Who, mid the desert wild, sublimely stand,
And grapple with the storm-god, hand to hand,
Then drop like weary pyraminds away,
Stupendous monuments of calm decay!