The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: victorian

“Facilis Decensus Avenue” by George Arnold


Facilis Decensus Avenue
George Arnold
From Vanity Fair, May 26, 1860

“We see that one of our fashionable tailors has broken ground in Fifth Avenue, and converted one of the fine mansions there, into a magazine of garments…In a short time we may expect to see most of the magnificent private residences in this avenue converted into retail stores and shops.”—Herald.

According to popular talk
The Palatial street of New-York
Is falling from grace
At a terrible pace!
I hear, when I promenade there,
Strange voices of grief in the air,
And I fancy I see
The sad sisters three,
With their black trailing dresses,
And dishevelled tresses,
Go solemn and slow
To and fro
In their woe,
And crying
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH-AVENUE!”

O, sorry and sad was the day
When this Tailor came up from Broadway,
With his stitches,
And breeches,
His shears and his goose—
His fashions profuse—
To the house that has been
In years I have seen,
Most aristocratic
From basement to attic!
But gone are the flush and the fair,
And those voices still float in the air
And crying
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH-AVENUE!”

Where sweet CRINOLINA once slept,
The sempstresses, maybe, are kept;
And perhaps in her dressing-room, where
Her maid combed that glistening hair
Some cross-legged fellow,
Round-shouldered and yellow,
May sit with his needle and thread;
For the glory that reigned there, has fled!
How oft to that door she ascended—
When the ball or the party was ended—
Flushed, beautiful, bright,
A Queen of delight,
An angel quite worthy of heaven—
To that door, now, a tailor’s-cart’s driven!
No wonder that voice cries “Eheu!”
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH AVENUE!

Then where shall the flush and the fair
Find refuge? Ah, Echo says, “Where?”
There are dentists in Madison Square,
The boarding-house, too, appears there,
And I’ve heard,
In a word,
That some kind of factory, or mill
Was soon to disturb MURRAY HILL!
Now if fashion must be
(And it seems so, to me)
Crowded upward each year,
I very much fear
They’ll be shoved—and the thought makes me shiver—
Off the Island and into the river!
And crying,
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH AVENUE!”

On the Life of Thomas Buchanan Read, alongside his poem, “The Withering Leaves”


Thomas Buchanan Read is one of my favorite 19th century personalities. A poet and artist, he’s best known today for Sheridan’s RideHowever, his poetic repertoire definitely expands beyond that of this often studied poem; and although virtually unknown otherwise, his life is worth exploring, if even briefly.

Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on March 12, 1822, he grew up in a financially modest household. Unable to acquire formal education, according to The Knohl Collection online, he left home at the age of ten to remove himself to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he partook in various jobs that only benefited and catered to his growing artistic skill. He thus began painting and sculpting here, especially under the influence of Shobal Veil Clevenger, and with the aid of Nicholas Longworth (source). According to A Compendium of American Literature by Charles Dexter Cleveland, although starting as a sculptor, Read took to painting, which gained him success as an artist, and he removed to Boston, where he remained for five years in this profession (738).

Between the years 1841 and 1861, he wrote and painted prolifically, submitting to journals such as Graham’s Magazine and the Boston Courier, and moved back and forth between the United States and Europe, namely Italy, where he found beauty and conversation to inspire his profound mind (738). However, according to the History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, he was met with two majorly impactful blows, the first being the death of his first wife, Mary J. Pratt, and child, Lilian, due to a choleric epidemic while living in Florence in 1853; and the second being the outbreak of the Civil War, for which he volunteered under General Lew Wallace (Futhey, 707). Futhey states, “[Read’s] voice and pen, in patriotic addresses and poems, gave hearty encouragement to his countrymen in the great work of saving the national life. In this heroic struggle none surpassed Read in patriotic ardor….” (707). Following the Civil War, Read remarried to Harriet Dennison and moved to Italy in 1867 (The Knohl Collection). Four years later, he was critically injured by the overturning of his carriage, and he died that next year, on May 11, 1872, at the age of 50, just a few days after his arrival to New York. His death was due to complications of the carriage accident, and pneumonia. In the Poetical Works of T. Buchanan Read: New Revised Edition of 1894, it is stated in his memoir that “[he died] calmly on the evening of Saturday, May 11, in the arms of those who loved him best. ‘Your kisses are very sweet to me,’ were among his last words” (XX).*

Futhey imparts an effective passage describing Read’s character, stating the following:

The distinguishing characteristics of Read’s nature were purity of thought, refinement of feeling, gentleness of manner, generosity of disposition, geniality and unselfish devotion to others, and the possession of all those qualities of mind and character which attract and attach friends. Tenderness of feeling and delicacy in treatment were marked traits in all his work, whether with the pen or the pencil. Gifted with an extraordinary genius, Read was unlike many other men thus formed by nature. He relied for success not upon sudden, uncertain, and spasmodic impulses, but was a faithful, diligent, and conscientious worker by turns in the two distinct yet congenial fields of labor to which his talents were devoted, finding his only rest and recreation in the alternate use of his pen or pencil (707).

In the span of his life, Read saw 17, if not more, publications of his literary works, and was met with publicly celebrated reactions to both his literary and artistic pursuits. Some of his artistic works can be found between the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in the Knohl Collection, and the Harvard University Art Museum, to name a few places.

In the spirit of my Autumnal poetry series, and after “painting” (pun intended) a “portrait” (pun intended once more) of this poet, I thus want to present a newfound favorite work by Read that I, regrettably, just stumbled across whilst finding works to share on this blog.

Without further ado—

The Withering Leaves
Thomas Buchanan Read

The summer is gone and the autumn is here,
And the flowers are strewing their earthly bier;
A dreary mist o’er the woodland swims,
While rattle the nuts from the windy limbs:
From bough to bough the squirrels run
At the noise of the hunter’s echoing gun,
And the partridge flies where my footstep heaves
The rustling drifts of the withering leaves.

The flocks pursue their southern flight—
Some all the day and some all night;
And up from the wooded marshes come
The sounds of the pheasant’s feathery drum.
On the highest bough the mourner crow
Sits in his funeral suit of woe:
All nature mourns—and my spirit grieves
At the noise of my feet in the withering leaves.

Oh! I sigh for the days that have passed away,
When my life like the year had its season of May;
When the world was all sunshine and beauty and truth,
And the dew bathed my feet in the valley of youth!
Then my heart felt its wings, and no bird of the sky
Sang over the flowers more joyous than I.
But Youth is a fable, and Beauty deceives;—
For my footsteps are loud in the withering leaves.

And I sigh for the time when the reapers at morn
Came down from the hill at the sound of the horn:
Or when dragging the rake, I followed them out
While they tossed the light sheaves with their laughter about;
Through the field, with boy-daring, barefooted I ran;
But the stubbles foreshadowed the path of the man.
Now the uplands of life lie all barren of sheaves—
While my footsteps are loud in the withering leaves!

*For a more in depth biographical read about T. B. R., consider The Poetical Works of T. Buchanan Read: New Revised Edition

Elizabeth Oaksmith’s “The First Leaf of Autumn”

“…for the breath of autumn had passed over them changing their color, but as yet few were displaced. The distant hills, and slopes of the river, looked as if some gorgeous drapery had been drawn over the rich earth.”—The Western Captive and Other Indian Stories by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, pg. 139

How glorious is this time of transition? I never feel I can exhaust my delight with autumn and its artistic presentation. I am grateful for poets of the past who are able to adequately describe the rich beauty of the season and its fruitful splendor. Thus, Elizabeth Oaksmith is today’s spotlighted poet, due to her skillful representation of Fall. Was there no end to her other-worldly abilities as a writer?

However, before the poem—although I do not usually pair music with my transcriptions, I happened to be listening to this song by South Korean musician Yiruma whilst transcribing Oaksmith’s poem, and I feel it sonorously echoes her words.

“The First Leaf of Autumn”

I SEE thee fall, thou quivering leaf, of faint and yellow hue,
The first to feel the autumn winds, that, blighting, o’er thee blew—
Slow-parted from the rocking branch, I see thee floating by,
To brave, all desolate and lone, the bleak autumnal sky.

Alas! the first, the yellow leaf—how sadly falls it there,
To rustle on the crispéd grass, with every chilly air!
It tells of those that soon must drop all withered from the tree,
And it hath waked a sadder chord in deathless memory.

Thou eddying leaf, away, away, there’s sorrow in thy hue;
Thou soundst the knell of sunny hours, of buds, and liquid dew—
And thou dost tell how from the heart the blooms of hope decay;
How each one lingers, loath to part, till all are swept away.

“A September Stroll” by Alfred Billings Street

Due to the lack of transcriptions of Street’s poetry on the internet, I had bestowed it upon myself to transcribe a few pieces and place them here for safekeeping. I now regret this decision and have decided to resign from this self-appointment, as Street’s poetry is frustratingly lengthy.

Regardless, here is one that managed to escape and find its place on my blog.

“A September Stroll”

The dull mist of September, fitfully
Thickening to chill and gusty streams of rain,
Lifted at sunset, and the western verge
Showed a broad stripe of light; a golden smile
Burst o’er the dripping scene, then died away :
And the North swept, in hollow moan and hiss,
Round dwellings and through branches.

Morning broke
In cloudless beauty, but a chilly breath
Still edged the crystal air. The sun went down
With a rich halo glowing round the spot
Where his orb glided, and  a splendid belt
Of orange burn’d above his slanting track,
Melting to soft bright gray, that deepend’ up
Into the rich mid-blue ; and where the pearl
Darken’d into the sapphire, bounded forth
The courier-star of night’s magnificence.
Morning again rose gloriously clear :
The air was softer, and the gentle West
Was fanning where the North had struck its chill :
And as the sun climb’d up, his light was cast
So warm and genial, and the atmosphere
Was felt so sweetly and deliciously,
It seemed ’twere pleasure merely to lie down,
And bask and breathe.

The noontide now has come :
Green woods and pleasant fields are smiling forth
Inviting welcome. Let us leave the walls
Of the close city, and with wandering feet
Seek the sweet haunts of Nature. O’er the dust
Of the great thoroughfare, with rapid wheels
And trampling hoofs vex’d ever, where the gay
And flaunting motes sport thick in Fashion’s beam,
Idle and worthless, quick we tread, and turn
Gladly  aside, where a green narrow lane
Leads to a wild ravine amid the hills.
Smooth fields,with browsing cattle, are around,
And now and then the tinkling sheep-bell breaks 
Pleasantly on the ear. Our pathway leads
Through a rude gate and o’er a broken bridge,
Where the green rushes and long tangled grass
Proclaim the shrunken streamlet ; a faint track
Leads to a barrell’d spring, whose waters boil
Unceasing from their loose gray sandy depth.
Grass spreads its sides with velvet, and tall trees
Drop their black shapes around. We pass along :
A gorge winds up, wall’d in with rocky banks
Plumaged with leaning branches : wheel-marks deep
Are traced upon the stone floor of the chasm,
And grateful shadow rests like sleep within.
Grim roots start out from crevices : green sprouts
Flaunt from moss’d ledges ; and large trickling drops,
From the steep sides, shed moisture on the air.
We rest awhile, then tread again our path.
A grassy glade, with points and curving banks,
The dry bed of a streamlet, lures our steps. 
The varied aster-tribes are cluster’d round ; 
The gnarl’d thorn shows its yellow-crimson fruit,
Studding its boughs and scatter’d thick beneath ; 
And from the brinks the solidago  bends
It sgolden feather : mingling with the sweet
And peaceful quiet, low monotonous sounds
Stream from the insects, varied with the swell
Of the near locust’s peevish clarion,
And chirrup of the cricket. Now the fence 
We leap, and stray into the broad green field.
The air is an elixir ; as we breathe,
The blood swift tingles in our veins; we long
To bound with transport and shout out our joy.
The thread-like gossamer is waving past,
Borne on the wind’s light wing, and to yon branch
Tangled and trembling, clings like snowy silk.
The thistle-down, high lifted through the rich
Bright blue, quick float, like gliding stars, and then
Touching the sunshine, flash, and seem to melt
Within the dazzling brilliance. Yon tall oak
Standing from out the straggling skirt of wood,
Touched by the frost, that wondrous chemist, shows
Spottings of gorgeous crimson through its green,
Like a proud monarch, towering still erect,
Though sprinkled with his life-blood. Close beside,
That aspen, to the wind’s soft-finger’d touch,
Flutters with all its dangling leaves, as though 
Beating with myriad pulses. Misty shade
Films the deep hollows, misty sunshine glows
On the round hills. Across the far-off wood,
The atmosphere is shaded like thin smoke,
Until we fancy a dim swarm of motes
Is glimmering there and dancing. We approach,
And tread the dark recesses : wither’d leaves
Spread a thick crackling mantle, countless trunks
Lead on the eye in labyrinths, till lost
Within a dizzy maze, and overhead
A vast and interlacing roof of green.
The hickory-shell, cracked open by its fall,
Shows its ripe fruit, an in ivory ball, within; 
And the cleft chesnut-burr displays its sheath
White glistening, with its glossy nuts below.
Scatter’d around, the wild rose-bushes hang
Their ruby buds tipping their thorny sprays.
The everlasting’s blossoms seem as cut
In delicate silver, whitening o’er the slopes ; 
The seedy clematis, branch’d high, is robed
With woolly tufts; the snowy Indian-pipe
Is streak’d with black decay; the wintergreen
Offers its berries; and the prince’s-pine,
Scarce seen above the fallen leaves, peers out,
A firm green glossy wreath.

Within this knot
Of twining roots, a shelving aperture
Proclaims the hedge-hog’s chamber; through the gloom
Within we see the sparkle of his eye,
And his slim snout thrust level with the brink
To scent his danger; but fear not! no staff
Will pierce thy winding cavern, to drive forth
Thy crouching form, and beat, with cruel blows,
Thy gasping being from thee.

By we pass,
And from the darkening woods released, we see
One mass of shadow stretching to the east,
And narrow stripes of gold upon the tops
Of hill and three; and climbing the ascent,
We view the sun sink calmly to his rest.

The Art Collection of Edward L. Carey

In a previous post, I presented my research and discussed the relatively unknown life of Edward L. Carey, 19th-century Philadelphian publisher and co-partner of Carey & Hart. However, after writing up the post, I became enchanted with the artistic facet of Carey’s life—his patronage of the arts. Furthermore, I took to tracking down the artwork of Carey, as I wanted to see and experience the beauty that surrounded Carey daily—the art that brought him peace of mind and comforted his woes when ill and without company.

Although there is evidence of a book that was published in 1983 entitled The Art Collection of Edward L. Carey (1806-1845): Philadelphia Publisher and Patronby Carolyn Sue Himelick Nutty (perhaps this was her thesis?), I am unable to obtain a copy, nor is there a version online to peek at; however, I was able to find a few or so links to the artwork that Carey owned, intended to own, or simply commissioned. I will only provide links for these works of art as I’d rather not run into copyright infringements.

The Gypsy Girl by Thomas Sully (source)

Mrs. Alexander Bleecker by Edward Greene Malbone (source)

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay by Henry Inman (source)

The Student (Rosalie Kemble Sully) by Thomas Sully (source)

The Landing of Thorfinn Karlsefni and His Companions in “Vinland” by Emanuel Leutze (source)

Mumble the Peg by Henry Inman (source)

The Return from the Tournament by Thomas Cole (source)

Alfred Langdon Elwyn, Jr. by Thomas Sully (source)

Isabella in Measure for Measure by Thomas Sully (source)

Landscape with Curving River by Thomas Doughty (source) [This is my personal favorite out of the collection of paintings I was able to track down.]

Mrs. Samuel Blodget (Rebecca Smith) by Gilbert Stuart (source)

Mercy’s Dream by Daniel Huntington (source)

It’s safe to say the man had great artistic taste, at least in my humble opinion!