The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Velasco: A Tragedy, in Five Acts by Epes Sargent

November, 1837, Epes Sargent’s revenge tragedy, Velasco: A Tragedy, in Five Acts, premiered in Boston. The play was received with approval and published in book form in 1838. Unlike Sargent’s other major play, The Bride of Genoa, this work can be found online. Withholding spoilers, I’ll cover the major plot points in the play and briefly discuss it. You’ll find a small excerpt from the play at the end of this post.

The play, comprising of a cookie-cutter plot, besprinkled with two-dimensional politics and sometimes sub-par humor, threatens its own demise in sinking into the depths of forgotten drama. However, Sargent’s exceptional literary voice, outside of his vague humor, redeems these mundane qualities. The main plot revolves around the love story of Velasco and Izidora. Sargent purports the play to be historical, although “many of its scenes and situations are purely imaginary” (9). According to The Dramatic Mirror, and Literary Companion, Vol. 1, the play was based on “an incident in the life of the celebrated Spanish champion, Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar” (64). The Dramatic Mirror further illustrates the tale, explaining, “This renowned hero, to avenge an insult offered to his father, slew, in single combat, the aggressor, Don Gomez of Gormaz, being, at the same time, betrothed to his daughter, Donna Ximenar. The Lady appealed to the Spanish monarch for redress; but was, subsequently, if we may credit popular tradition, united to the Campeador” (64). They criticize that Sargent absolutely took “poetical liberties” in the execution of this historical tale, just as Sargent acknowledges in his “Advertisement.” It may be agreed, therefore, that although Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar’s tale faintly echoes the plot of Sargent’s work, Sargent personifies these historical figures and manipulates them into characters of his own design, paired with a lackluster plot.

This plot is as follows. Velasco and Izidora reunite after Velasco’s absence and vow to marry. Izadora, already engaged to a gentleman by the name of Hernando, breaks off her engagement in order to be with Velasco. Hernando proceeds to conspire and break Velasco and Izidora’s engagement through whatever means possible. Julio, Izidora’s brother, sees through Hernando’s plot and warns both his sister and their father, Gonzalez, of the foreshadowed doom. To further disrupt the unification of Velasco and Izidora, and through Hernando’s dastardly doing, Velasco’s father, De Lerma, shows dishonor towards Izidora’s father, Gonzalez. In order to clear De Lerma’s name, Velasco offers to settle the score between his father and Gonzalez. This is where Velasco and Izidora’s relationship begins to take a major tumble. Two houses are now divided, and Velasco has vowed to reclaim honor to his father’s name by placing honor and chivalric duty before love. As the genre suggests, this tragedy does not end well.

As previously mentioned, the plot is pretty basic. However, based on Sargent’s intelligent dialogue and expert stage directions, it is easy to see why this play was received well during its time. (Although, it feels like many plays were received well during the Victorian era.) It succeeds in carrying a classic air, whether it be due to the language or some vague charm about it that I still can’t pinpoint. Therefore, while in the mood of giving it more credit than I fear is due, Sargent’s play should be ranked outside of “Victorian” literature and placed amongst its successful forebears in drama. The stock plot, superb dialogue, sometimes humorous speech, inclusion of politics, and love story mixed with tragedy equal the proper ingredients to make a successful play, after all. The only thing it’s missing is a paranormal scene—or is it? Read to find out! It’s worth a couple hours of your time.

Here’s a very short excerpt taken from the beginning of the play, to allow you to test the waters.

ACT I.
SCENE I.
Before the Castle of De Lerma—Time, sunset.
(Enter Velasco in the full costume of a knight of the eleventh century, followed by Alfonzo, his squire.)

VELASCO.
Home! home, at last, Alfonzo! There they shine,
The old ancestral bulwarks, in the rays
Of the declining sun! A year has passed
Since last I gazed upon them—there they rise,
The same, as when a careless child I play’d
Beneath their mighty shadows. How each nook
Prates of the olden time! The very air
Is fragrant as the breath of infancy!
Old towers! I bring you no unworthy inmate,
No spotted scutcheon, no inglorious name!
Alfonzo! By the calendar, what day?
Is it not Santiago’s?

ALFONZO.
Ay, my lord.

VELASCO.
This day completes my term of banishment.

(If you’re interested in reading more of what the Dramatic Mirror had to critically say, click here.)

“The Fountain in the Park” by Epes Sargent

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From The Romance of American Landscape by Thomas Addison Richards, pg. 21

The Fountain in the Park.
By Epes Sargent
From Sargent’s New Monthly Magazine of Literature…Vol. 1, January 1843, pg. 38

Amid the city’s din and dust, thy foaming column springs,
And on the trodden soil around, refreshing moisture flings.
Thou’rt like that grateful human heart, O fountain pure and bright,
Which, in the midst of sin and care, is ever fresh and white;
Which scatters love and joy around, and, as it gushes, shows
Each ray from Heaven, its fountain-head, and Faith’s prismatic bows.

“The Christmas Gathering” by Mrs. Joseph Clay Neal (Alice B. Neal)

The Christmas Gathering
By Mrs. J. C. Neal (Alice B. Neal, née Bradley)
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1849, pp. 440-441

     The people of New England rejoice in their “Thanksgiving;” but we of the Middle States make Christmas the holiday of the year, the anniversary on which long-separated friends meet once again, and families gather together to renew the bond of sympathy by social intercourse.
     They have gone out from the household one by one. The boy, who once hailed this merry morning by shouts and glad wishes, that roused the sleepers from their pleasant dreams, wakes not to hear his own little ones clamoring for a kiss, in return for a like salutation.
     His favorite sister has arranged her own Christmas Tree beneath another roof, and for children that smile with soft, blue eyes, so like her own; and the youngest, the pet, the darling of all, has waited until now to
         “Lay aside her maiden gladness,
         For a name and for a ring.”
     And on Christmas morn, memories will intrude of those who return no more. We should not say intrude, for a tender and softened recollection is ever present, of the dear ones who shared with us the blessings of childhood, who slept with arms entwined by ours, though now, alas, covered by the cold clod of the valley! No, it is not an intrusion, when these gentle spirits return, voiceless and viewless, with a presence felt in our inmost souls. Their seat by the fireside may be filled by another; but in our hearts we can still “keep a niche to hold our idols.”
     Why should such thoughts—for they are mournful, though sweet—rise up when we speak of this merry holiday? There is nothing of sadness, save this, in the gathering of children and children’s children in the old home. No seariness is the mellow light that glows through the cheerful room, that flashes outward from the ample hickory fire, or streams in subdued lustre upon broad mirrors and the gorgeous carpet, from the lofty chandelier. Christmas evergreens, with their shining berries, are wreathed about the picture-frames, and branches of fir loop back the heavy curtains. There sits the grandsire, with the child of his favorite daughter clasped to his heart, even as she had nestled in her babyhood; and the last namesake of his wife has crept to the good lad’s knee, with the confidence of an assured favorite.
     “Bless the child!” says the good dame to the mother, who is complacently listening to the praises of another juvenile member of the group. She can scarce believe that her own Mary is now the sedate, matronly woman, who counsels her young married sister with sage experiences in “teething” and the “whooping cough.” But so it is; and Annie has also little ones growing up beside her, who cling about her neck, or stand quietly at her side, with the shy, half timid air, that grandmamma can so well remember in their mother.
     And no one heeds the lovers. They are as much alone as though only their low whisper broke the silence of the room. And Lillian blushes and looks down, while those fond words are poured into her ear. She is thinking that, when another Christmas arrives, she will be among those who “come home” for its festivities. It is not a sorrowful thought—oh no!—but her heart flutters when she thinks of the bridal veil and the marriage service, and she heartily wishes it were all over.
     Her cousin Marie has also her own reveries, there close to grandpapa’s easy-chair, her favorite station. She knows she is not beautiful, and is less attractive than any of those by whom she is surrounded. But she is young and hopeful, and she is wondering if any one will—can love her well enough to overlook her lack of beauty, and cherish her for the earnest nature hidden under this plain exterior. Ay, dream on, maiden, for the meek and quiet spirit which cheers the lonely hours of old age so unselfishly, is an ornament outshining many graces, and sooner or later it shall have its reward. The orphan shall find a new home, and be loved for herself alone.
     Some one has said: “Christmas may well be the holiday of children, for it is the anniversary of that blessed day when our Lord became as one of them.” Little Alice has heard this, and as she basks in the firelight, with the kitten in her arms, her thoughts are far away from the pet she is caressing, or the gambols of old pussy at her feet. She has been trying to recall all that Aunt Lillian has said about Christmas this morning, and the beautiful tales she read from the large, old-fashioned Bible, with those curious pictures. It is a great thing for the little ones when they are permitted to look into that family relic, where their own birthday is recorded below that of their parents. “How beautiful it must have been,” thinks Alice, softly, “to look up into the sky and see all those angels, who came to tell that our Saviour was born! Oh, how sweetly they must have sun; like Aunt Lillian! I think she must be an angel, sometimes. And then our Saviour was laid in a manger, when my little brother has such a beautiful cradle, with white pillows instead of the hay. I wonder why he was not rich, when he might have been with wishing it!”
     Dear child, she will learn as she grows older, the lesson of our Master’s humility, and that he was the friend and the companion of the lowliest. And perhaps this is the reason why Christian people, on whom heaven has showered the gifts of fortune, feel a deeper sympathy, when this happy morning arrives, for the sufferings of those who “do lack, and suffer hunger,” for the wanderer and the homeless, who, like Him, “have not where to lay their heads.” It may be the remembrance of His poverty that opens their hearts to devise liberal things, to clothe the shivering little ones that have almost lost the image of His blessed childhood in the want and squalidness by which they are surrounded; to comfort the desolate mother who, like Mary of Bethlehem, watches over a new-born babe—though still unlike, inasmuch as she has no joyful hope, no blessed anticipations.
     Ah, yes, it must be this; and those who chide the celebration of this high Christian festival, or pass its social hours without a thought abstracted from the dull routine of business toil, have never felt their hearts beat high with the glow of gratitude and benevolence which such contemplations bring. They gather up the wealth of this world, but lose its keenest enjoyments; and while they forbear to recognize the coming of our Master as a little child, they are likewise in danger of forgetting, while the season brings it home forcibly to other hearts, that He has said, “The poor ye have always with you.”

“Morning” by Thomas Dunn English

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A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove) by Sanford Robinson Gifford

Morning.
By Thomas Dunn English
From The Casket Vol. 16, 1840, pg. 151

Morn on the placid landscape. Nature woke,
And from her long night’s slumber proudly broke.
Gazed, smiling gazed on mountain, and on dale,
And tossed unto the skies her misty veil.
The sun was there to glad the morning’s birth,
And empty living fire upon the earth.
The deer stole slily from his hiding-place.
Basked in the beams, nor panted for the chase.
The squirrel leaped from rock to rock in pride;
The rabbit pattered up the mountain side;
While mingled with the wild-bee’s hum was heard
The whirring of the gaudy humming-bird;—
That painted insect of the feathered tribe,
Whom all can wonder at, but none describe,—
The red-head woodpecker with steady stroke,
Commenced his labor on the hollow oak;
The feathered choir with rapture-swelling throats,
Began in concert their melodious notes;
While from the low-growth, where it deep lay hid,
Came the shrill clarion of the katy did.
In deep delight creation seemed to swim,
And pour thanksgiving in their matin hymn.

“What I Would Be” by William Howe Cuyler Hosmer

What I Would Be.
By William Howe Cuyler Hosmer
From Later Lays and Lyrics by Hosmer, pg. 143

I.
What would I be? Not rich in gold
And with a narrow heart,
Or, misanthropic, stern and cold,
Dwell from my kind apart?
I would not be a man of war,
Who looks on death unmoved,
Give me a title dearer far:
“The well-beloved!”

II.
I would not wear a laurel crown,
Its leaves conceal the thorn;
Too oft the children of renown
Are friendless and forlorn.
Oh! let me lead a blameless life,
By young and old approved;
Called, in a world of sin and strife,
“The well beloved!”

III.
God grant me power to guard the weak,
And sorrow’s moaning hush,
And never feel upon my cheek
Dark Shame’s betraying blush;
And when at my creator’s call
From earth I am removed,
Let Friendship ‘broider on my pall:
“The well beloved!”