The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: oaksmith

“Sonnet—the Unattained” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith

Sonnet—the Unattained
Elizabeth Oaksmith
From Graham’s Magazine, Vol. XXI, November, 1842

Is this, then, Life? Oh! are we born for this?
To follow phantoms that elude the grasp!
Or whatsoe’er secured, within our clasp
To withering lie! as if an earthly kiss
Were doomed Death’s shuddering touch alone to greet.
Oh Life! hast thou reserved no cup of bliss?
Must still the Unattained allure our feet?
The Unattained with yearnings fill the breast,
That rob, for aye, the spirit of its rest?
Yes, this is Life, and everywhere we meet,
Not victor crowns, but wailings of defeat—
Yet falter not, thou dost apply a test
That shall incite thee onward, upward still—
The present cannot sate, thy soul it cannot fill.

“To E. O. S.” by Sarah Helen Whitman

In this endearing tribute written by Whitman to her close friend, Elizabeth Oaksmith, Whitman attests to Oaksmith’s mysticism. Both Whitman and Oaksmith bonded over a mutual interest in supernatural studies, and this tribute gives unique, brief glimpses into the divinatory eye of Oaksmith, as perceived by an adoring Whitman. It is worth noting this poem is especially befitting to be posted on this date, for today we celebrate Oaksmith’s 212th Birthday. Perhaps I can find my own divinatory means to contact Oaksmith on her birthday—think she’d be willing to communicate with us?

[By the way, the featured photo, if you’re able to see it, is of Elizabeth Oaksmith, not Sarah Helen Whitman. I deliberately chose the former’s photo, considering the day.]

To E[lizabeth] O[akes] S[mith]
By Sarah Helen Whitman
From Hours of life, and other poems by Sarah Helen Whitman, pg. 189.

“Eos, fair Goddess of the Morn! whose eyes
Drive back night’s wandering ghosts.”

When issuing from the realms of ‘Shadow Land’*
I see thee mid the orient’s kindling bloom,
With mystic lilies† gleaming in thy hand,
Gathered by dream-light in the dusky gloom
Of bowers enchanted—I behold again
The fabled Goddess of the Morning, veiled
In fleecy clouds. Thy cheek, so softly paled
With memories of the Night’s mysterious reign,
And something of the star-light, burning still
In thy deep, dreamy eyes, do but fulfil
The vision more divinely to my thought:
While all the cheerful hopes enkindling round thee—
Warm hopes, wherewith thy prescient soul hath crowned thee—
Are with the breath of morning fragrance fraught.

*Note: possibly a reference to Oaksmith’s book, Shadow Land, or The Seer, published in 1852.
†Note: Lilies are often associated with possessing divinatory powers.

Plagiarized Poetry: A Literary Dispute Between Elizabeth Oakes Smith and Estelle Anna Lewis

Note: this will most likely be updated, as I am still ardently searching and checking sources to find more information regarding this event.

Nineteenth century poet and women’s rights activist Elizabeth Oakes Smith once found herself in a nasty back-and-forth dispute with poet Sarah Anna Lewis (also known commonly as Estelle, or Stella), for the alleged theft of her poem by Lewis. The newspaper articles that follow explain the situation in greater detail, but I will provide brief background information to supplement the articles. In the first article, Charles Fenno Hoffman is mentioned. Hoffman, whose poetry has appeared numerous times on this blog, was a nineteenth century poet and editor, who was very close friends with Mrs. Smith; therefore, the comment made on Lewis’s part is extremely underhanded. Just a few years before the release of the article, Hoffman was institutionalized for what is known today as bipolar disorder. He and Smith (also known as “Oaksmith,” which is how I will refer to her hereafter) had a falling out due to Hoffman’s disorder; Oaksmith felt very badly about losing her friendship with Hoffman (this is evinced in letters from Oaksmith to editor and anthologizer Rufus Griswold). At the time of the release of this attack made by Lewis on Oaksmith in 1855, Hoffman would have, therefore, still been a tender subject for Oaksmith, thus making Lewis’s accusation that more objectionable.

Secondly, the Hiram Powers mentioned in the last few newspaper articles is this gentleman (if you’re interested in reading more about him). The statue of which the poem is based is also mentioned, and shown, in the linked article.

From the Cleveland Leader

Saturday, November 24, 1855, Pg. 2
Mrs. E. Oakes Smith and Mrs. Estella A. Lewis, both strong-minded woman [sic] as well as literary notabilities, are pulling hair metaphorically with an earnestness that is peculiarly masculine. Mrs. S. accuses Mrs. L. of having stolen a sonnet of her’s; Mrs. L. retorts that the sonnet was not worth stealing at all, and if it was, that Mrs. S. first stole it from Charles Fenno Hoffman, spicing her allusions to the crazy poet with such embellishing insinuations as would be likely to arouse the gentlest of the sex. Mrs. Smith rejoins with indignant warmth and so on.

The New York Times, pg. 218
Rights of Literary Ladies.
Whatever question there may be as to the abstract rights of woman, there can be none whatever, we presume, that they have no right to commit literary larcenies upon each other. In the notice which we published yesterday, of Graham’s Magazine, our extract was given of a sonnet to the Greek Slave, from an article contributed by Mrs. Lewis, of Brooklyn. But we are informed by competent authority that the sonnet was written by Mrs. E. Oakes Smith, and was published by her some years ago, when Powers’ famous statue was first exhibited in this City. It requires no Solomon to pronounce a judgement in the case of this literary [?], and, we presume, that Mrs. Lewis will admit the mistake.

The New York Times, pg. 239
Reply of Mrs. E. Oakes Smith to Mrs. Estelle A. Lewis.
To the Editor of the New-York Daily Times:
I was very greatly surprised this morning to read a letter in your paper, in which allusion is made to myself, so gross and indecent in character, that, like touching pitch, I shrink from coming in contact with it. The article, however, I regret to say, is signed by a woman.
When Mrs. Estelle A. Lewis took possession of my Sonnet to the Greek Slave, thereby indorsing her sense of its merits, I had hoped it was done by accident or mistake. Her very lady-like article is an admission of petit larceny. I am sorry for it. A man who should be guilty of an act of the kind, would be excluded from our houses,—we should be likely to feel that the “spoons” would be hardly safe.
I am at a total loss to comprehend the force of application of her allusion to Charles F. Hoffman, of whom any one with a spark of human sensibility would not fail to speak with respect and tenderness, in his present unfortunate and melancholy state of mind. Were he able to speak in the premises, he would not only disclaim all knowledge whatever of the article in question, but, as a high-toned gentleman and an honorable man, would blush that a woman could be willing to use his name in so gross and unjustifiable a manner. Men are too wise to insult each other. Women are not yet, it seems, in some cases, entirely beyond the vocabulary elegantly denominated Billingsgate.
I inclose[sic] a letter from Mr. Powers, which you will see by the date was sent me many years ago. I am aware it is neither proper or delicate to publish a private letter, but I am sure Mr. Powers will pardon the informality because of the necessities of the case.
E. Oakes Smith.
No. 46 Stuyvesant-street, New-York, Nov. 2.

To Mrs. E. Oakes Smith:
Dear Madam—I had the satisfaction, some weeks ago, to receive, by the hand of a friend, the very touching sonnet you composed upon my statue of the “Slave,” also the little volume of your charming poems, and perhaps I ought to apologize for delaying to acknowledge these testimonials of regard from so gifted a source.
The only drawback to the pleasure I felt in reading the sonnet and the accompanying few lines, so complimentary to me, and so honorable to the kind hear that composed and sent them here, was the consciousness that your warm imagination had clothed any work with grace and sentiment not justly its own, and its author with unmerited honors.
Permit me, nevertheless, to thank you with all my heart for the delicate and beautiful compliment I have received; and allow me, my dear Madam, the honor to add my humble name to the list of your admirers and friends. (Signed.)
Hiram Powers
Florence, May 21, 1848

“Repose” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith

Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From Graham’s Magazine, June, 1843, pg. 362.

As some lone pilgrim, weary and o’erspent,
Turns from the dusty way aside, to drink
At some cool fountain on the river’s brink,
And looking back the toilsome path he went
Revives once more the peril and the pain;
And nerveless, shrinking, lives it o’er again,
Till all along the marge he’ll downward sink,
Forgetful of his shrine: the winds may plain,
The wild bud blossom, and the bird go by,
And yet he resteth with his dream-like eye,
Seeing as one who seeth not, so deep
Is his full sense of rest, a needful rest:
So I would linger thus—beguiled to sleep
That is but waking sleep, most grateful to the breast.

“Written in a Blank Leaf of Thomas A Kempis” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith


Thomas à Kempis was a German monk, priest, and writer, who is best known for his work Imitatio Christi, or Imitation of Christ. According to Christian Classics Ethereal Library online, the book is “a charming instruction on how to love God…free from intellectual pretensions, [and] has had great appeal to anyone interested in probing beneath the surface of life.” Kempis, born in 1380, entered Mount St. Agnes’s monastery at age nineteen and lived the remainder of his life there until his death in 1471.

Oaksmith’s poem is a warm tribute to Kempis’s patient temperament and bids the preservation of his legacy in Heaven. One wonders whether or not she felt compelled to pen the following poem after reading Kempis’s book?

Written in a Blank Leaf of Thomas A Kempis
By Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, May, 1849, pg. 336.

What though a gloomy faith were thine,
With vigil pale and penance stern,
That deemed it sinful when the heart
For kindly sympathy did yearn;
And thou, within thy monkish cell,
For weary years thy beads didst tell—

Yet, Kempis, it is sweet to feel
That God’s own spirit from above,
Will rightly guide the blinded child
By its own law of truth and love;
That, let the creed be what it may,
The heart will find the better way.

We praise thee not, that to thy limbs
The hairy vesture torture gave;
That all thy cloister vows were kept,
And fastings wore thee to the grave—
But humble Peace to thee was given,
And Love, which leads to God and Heaven.