The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

“Autumnal Elegiac” by Josiah D. Canning

Autumnal Elegiac.
By the “Peasant-Bard”
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 49, January, 1857, pg. 30.

THE vane points south. Damp blows the gale,
From off towards ocean’s misty waste;
Aloft the rainy signals sail,
And on their stormy mission haste
I stand and hear the roaring blast,
And see the wild rack drifting fast;
And watch on Unadilla’s* braes,
Where late the summer sun did smile,
The marching mist, and scudding haze,
Like spectral rank and file!
There go the hopeful hours of Spring,
There Summer’s more exalted pride,
In autumn glooms evanishing
By mournful Unadilla’s side.
And other phantoms, too, I see,
Of perished objects, dear to me;
Once seen, like flowers of smiling spring.
Now all on memory devolves;
While in the blast all hollow sing
The ghosts of good resolves.

O buried time! O vain regrets!
Yon visioned, gloomed, autumnal strife,
Minds me how fast towards autumn sets
My own bright summer bark of life!
Yes, voyager to the unknown shore,
No anchor holds that you throw o’er.
Affection’s bower, e’en Love’s strong sheet,
Cannot the forward tide withstand.
Blest Hope! keep watch; thy cry is sweet:
Land ho! the ‘Better Land!’

Gill, (Mass.,) Oct. 4th.

*The name of the stream flowing through the farm of the writer, sacred to mournful memories.

“A Vagary of One Sick” by Charles Henry Foster

A Vagary of One Sick.
By Charles Henry Foster
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 49, February, 1857, pg. 154.


SHROUDED phantoms flit before me, ghastly faces meet my gaze!
Spectral arms with bony fingers clutch the air!
Hist! that sad sepulchral moaning—worlds of anguish it betrays:
Anguish as of damnéd spirits, panting in the nether blaze,
Uttering forth a late repentance, in wild regretful prayer,
While their tones sink ever lower, as they lapse to mute despair.


Now the pallid ghosts are gathered from each dark and weltering tomb,
Where they brood o’er livid corpses cold and stark;
And the goblins hold their revel, even here within my room,
Moving fleetly to-and-fro amid this dull and mid-night gloom,
Goblins wan and melancholy, dwellers of the sunless dark,
From the dusky shores of OREUS echoing with trifaucal bark.*


And the agile gnomes come hither, elf and elemental sprite;
Restless riders of the tempest and the wind:
How the myriad mingled demons my whole shrinking soul affright!
Mingled of divine and human, finding fierce malign delight;
Finding sharp, exulting rapture in this torment of my mind:
How they follow, with grim purpose, each some other close behind!


Thronging denser still and faster, yet the apparitions come;
Skeletons and gliding shades in sombre train;
Gaunt and haggard shapes of slain ones, as if called by beat of drum;
Famished lips and eyeless sockets: I would shriek, but I am dumb!
All my swollen heart is bursting with an infinite of pain:
Oh! the cruel, boundless horror of this fever of my brain!

Orono, on the Penobscot, (Maine.)

*’CERBERUS hæc ingens latratu regna trifauci
Personat.’ VIRG. Æn. Lib. VI.
‘Ore trilingui.’ HOR. Lib. II., Car. XIX., et Lib. III., Car. XI.

“Life: An Allegory” by James Gates Percival

Here we have a sampling of Percival’s prose work! Feel free to comment below if you have thoughts on what his allegory might be. Mum’s the word on my own analysis. I’ll just leave it here for your pleasure and contemplation.

Life: An Allegory
James Gates Percival
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 7, January, 1836, pg. 48.

IT is now morning. Still and glassy lies the lake, within its green and dew-sprent shores. Light mist hangs around, like a skiëy veil, and only reveals the uncertain outlines of woods and hills. The warm vernal air is just stirring in the valleys, but has not yet ruffled the water’s mirror. Turns the eye upward, the misty vault opens into the calm, clear heavens, over which there seems suffused a genial spirit’s breath. Far distant on the horizon flash out the gilded and reddening peaks, and from yonder crown of snow, a sudden radiance announces the risen sun. Now in the east stream the golden rays through the soft blue vapor. The breeze freshens, and comes loaded with fragrance from the woods. A faint, dark curl sweeps over the water; the mist rolls up, lifts itself above meadow and hill, and in gathered folds hangs light around the mountains. Away on the level lake, till it meets the sky, silvery gleams the sheeted wave, sprinkled with changeful stars, as the ever-rising breeze breaks it in ripples. Now the pennon, that hung loose around the mast, rises and fitfully floats. We spread the sail, and casting off from the shore, glide out with cheerful hearts on our voyage. Before us widens the lake; rock after rock receding back on either hand, and opening between, still bays, hung round with sparkling woods, or leading through green meadow vistas to blue sunny hills.


IT is now noon. In the middle lake speeds the bark over light glancing waves. Dark opens down the clear depth. White toss the crests of foam, and as the sail stoops to the steady wind, swift flies the parted water round the prow, and rushing pours behind the stern. The distant shores glow bright in the sun, that alone in the heaven looks unveiled with vivifying goodness over the earth. How high and broad swells the sky! The agitated lake tosses like a wide field of snowy blossoms. Sweep after sweep of the long-retiring shores; hill gleaming over hill, up to the shadowy mountains; and over these, Alpine needles, shooting pearly white into the boundless azure—all lie still and happy under the ever-smiling sun.


AND now it is evening. The sun is sinking behind the dark mountains, and clouds scattered far in the east, float soft in rosy light. The sun is now hidden, and strong and wide sweeps up its golden flame, like the holy blaze of a funeral pile. The breeze slackens, the waves subside in slumber, and slowly the bark steers into its sheltering bay. Long shadows stretch from hill to valley, fall like dark curtains on the lake, and a solemn, subdued serenity broods, like a protecting spirit, over the hushed and quiet earth. Only the far summits yet retain their brightness. Faint blushes stain the eternal snows, recalling the first dawning roses, like the memory of early joys in the tranquil moments of departing age. These, too, fade; but the evening star looks bright from the blue infinite, and like the herald of a better world, leads us softly to our haven.

Selections from Evenings in Autumn by Nathan Drake

Born in 1766, Nathan Drake was a British essayist, Shakespeare scholar, and medical practitioner.  According to Charles Dexter Cleveland in English Literature of the Nineteenth Century, “Dr. Drake was kindness, courtesy, and candor personified; and no one can read his eminently instructive writings without feeling that they are the productions of a mind pure, benevolent, and well stored, and distinguished for its refined and delicate taste” (258). Drake’s Evenings in Autumn reflects the moral, pure, and elegant style typical of the author. I have chosen short passages from this 27 paged article in order to reintroduce his writings before the public. These writings also muse and reflect on one of nature’s better seasons. I hope they inspire you as the year begins to close.

Selections from “Introductory. On the influence of Autumnal Scenery over the Mind and Heart”
Nathan Drake
From Evenings in Autumn; a Series of Essays, Narrative and Miscellaneous, Vol. 1

Evening, when the busy scenes of our existence are withdrawn, when the sun descending leaves the world to silence, and to the soothing influence of twilight, has ever been a favorite portion of the day with the wise and good of all nations. There appears to be shed over the universal face of nature, at this period, a calmness and tranquility, a peace and sanctity, as it were, which almost insensibly steals into the breast of man, and disposes him to solitude and meditation. He naturally compares the decline of light and animation with that which attaches to the lot of humanity; and the evening of the day, and the evening of life, become closely assimilated in his mind (2).

—— —— ——

Autumn has, indeed, and particularly the Evening of Autumn, been a chosen season for study and reflection with some of the most exalted spirits of which our country can boast. Milton we know to have been so partial to this period of the year, and so impressed with conviction of its friendliness to poetic inspiration, as to leave it on record that he felt the prompting of his genius most effectual and satisfactory to himself about the Autumnal Equinox; and his attachment to the Twilight of Evening is so conspicuous throughout the whole of his poetry, as to induce one of his commentators, unconscious one would imagine of the delightful influence of such an hour, to conjecture, “that the weakness of our poet’s eyes, to which this kind of light must be vastly pleasant, might be the reason that he so often introduces the mention of it”* (4-5).

*Todd’s Milton, vol. iii, p. 121, note.

—— —— ——

We cannot be surprised, therefore, that this, the evening of the dying year, should be the chosen season with the poet, the philosopher, and the man of sorrows, with him who turns from the too frequent selfishness of human life to the silent sympathy of suffering nature; with him who loves to search into the great and beneficent designs of Providence, and with him who in “thoughts that breathe, and words that burn,” is wont to pour forth the unpremeditated inspiration of devotional fervor. It is scarcely possible, indeed, to listen to the winds of Autumn as they strew the withered foliage around us, without, mentally at least, adopting the very beautiful invocation of a living bard…(15).

—— —— ——

No period of the year, indeed, is better entitled to the appellation of The Season of Philosophic Enthusiasm, than the close of Autumn. There is in the aspect of every thing which surrounds us, as the sun is sinking below the horizon, on a fine evening of October, all that can hush the troubled passions to repose, yet all which, at the same time, is calculated to elevate the mind, and awaken the imagination (17-18).

“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.