Friday, August 31, 2012

Edward William Johnston (aka Il Secretario): "American Letters," Part III

Edward William Johnston under the pen name IL SECRETARIO, "American Letters -- Their Character and Advancement." The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art and Science. Volume I, Issue 6 (June 1845): pages 575-581. [Continued].

Picking up from the last section (page 578): Johnston continues to assert the relative feebleness of American poetry up until the 1845 present. 

Have we, then, among the living poets of this country, any one who has founded a school, a poetic sect of his own? Nobody can for an instant suppose it. . . . Poets, you call ours: but where is the poem they have produced?

(Page 579): Fugitive pieces no more make the poet than portraits the painter . . . Surely if you would pair with a Columbian [i.e. American] rival either Southey or Coleridge or Keats or Moore, or even Proctor, you would be puzzled; and how far is it from such to Byron, Burns, Wordsworth, and Shelley? This is, of course, the only way to settle pretentions and pretenders -- to come to particulars and parallel. Piece for piece, where are the poems to be matched with others even of this exhausted day of English poetry? Halleck, Longfellow, and Bryant* are certainly the pride of all American verse; they rise far above all the rest [but do not match the power of the best British poets]. . . [As for] Bryant's "Effusions." They are rather poetic gleams than poetry: they show one who has poetic thoughts, but not the poet . . . Nothing can be more ridiculous than a short poem in blank verse. Its stateliness, its solemn cadences, its majestic flow and force imply grandeur and continuity of subject, and make it fit for heroic use alone.

Johnston then skewers Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820). It's worth noting here that Edgar Allan Poe earlier critiqued Drake in a review of "Culprit Fay" published in The Southern Literary Review (April 1836): pages 330-331. Poe and Johnston both thought "Culprit Fay" was terrible.

(Johnston, page 579): Perhaps we should speak of Drake, whose "Culprit Fay" has won, in our domestic criticism, rapturous enconium. It was thought highly imaginative and elegant. Now, there are folks for whom sylphs, and nymphs, and gnomes, and fairies, mixed with a due quantity of flowers, and odors, and moonshine, and a star or meteor, or so, make, with no further help than that of a witch, a tempest, a sprinkle of monsters, a few hideous reptiles, and a little ornithology, conchology and entomology, a divine body of fancies. Such, it strikes us, is this new Nymphidia, destitute of everything like airy and elegant invention, a lifeless piece of ingenuity, in a vehicle of verse the tamest . . . 

[To be continued. Next: Johnston gives his thoughts about gender roles]. 

*Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) and William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878).

1 comment:

  1. Gotta return to this blog for the pictures. There are many beautiful drawings (ink?) and paintings (watercolour?) , and they remind me of something - a picture I loved as a kid, maybe it was the default pic in a photo frame, on heavy paper/cardboard, and I must have really loved it, might have even kept it framed for a while.
    There are many such pics in this blog.
    Have fun.