Last Update: June 27, 1999         Navigation:   Main Menu     Poe's Criticisms
[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Review of R. W. Griswold's The Female Poets of America, from Southern Literary Messenger, February 1849, pp. 126-127.]

[page 126:]

THE FEMALE POETS OF AMERICA. By Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart.

    This is a large volume, to match "The Poets and Poetry of America," "The Prose Authors of America," and "The Poets and Poetry of England" -- previous compilations of Mr. Griswold -- all of which have been eminently and justly successful. "Compilations," however, is not precisely the word; for these works have indisputable claims upon public attention as critical summaries, at least, of literary merit and demerit. Their great and most obvious value, as affording data or material for criticism -- as mere collections of the best specimens in each department and as records of fact, in relation not more to books than to their authors -- has in some measure overshadowed the more important merit of the series: for these works have often, and in fact very generally, the positive merits of discriminative criticism, and of honesty always the more negative merit of strong common-sense. The best of the series is, beyond all question, "The Prose [column 2:] Authors of America." This is a book of which any critic in the country might well have been proud, without reference to the mere industry and research manifested in its compilation. These are truly remarkable; -- but the vigor of comment and force of style are not less so; while more independence and self-reliance are manifested than in any other of the series. There is not a weak paper in the book; and some of the articles are able in all respects. The truth is that Mr. Griswold's intellect is more at home in Prose than Poetry. He is a better judge of fact than of fancy, not that he has not shown himself quite competent to the task undertaken in "The Poets and Poetry of America," or of England, or in the work now especially before us. In this latter, he has done no less credit to himself than to the numerous lady-poets whom he discusses -- and many of whom he now first introduces to the public. We are glad, for Mr. Griswold's sake, as well as for the interests of our literature generally, to perceive that he has been at the pains of doing what Northern critics seem to be at great pains; never to do -- that is to say, he has been at the trouble of doing justice, in great measure, to several poetesses who have not had the good fortune to be born in the North. The notices of the Misses Carey, of the Misses Fuller, of the sisters Mrs. Warfield and Mrs. Lee, of Mrs. Nichols, of Miss Welby, and of Miss Susan Archer Talley, reflect credit upon Mr. Griswold and show him to be a man not more of taste than -- shall we say it? -- of courage. Let our readers be assured that, (as matters are managed among the four or five different cliques who control our whole literature in controlling the larger portion of our critical journals,) it requires no small amount of courage, in an author whose subsistence lies in his pen, to hint, even, that any thing good, in a literary way, can, by any possibility, exist out of the limits of a certain narrow territory. We repeat that Mr. Griswold deserves our thanks, under such circumstances, for the cordiality with which he has recognized the poetical claims of the ladies mentioned above. He has not, however, done one or two of them that full justice which, ere long, the public will take upon itself the task of rendering them. We allude especially to the case of Miss Talley, (the "Susan" of our own Messenger.) Mr. Griswold praises her highly; and we would admit that it would be expecting of him too much, just at present, to hope for his avowing, of Miss Talley, what we think of her, and what one of our best known critics has distinctly avowed-that she ranks already with the best of American poetesses, and in time will surpass them all -- that her demerits are those of inexperience and excessive sensibility, (betraying her, unconsciously, into imitation,) while her merits are those of unmistakeable genius. We are proud to be able to say, moreover, in respect to another of the ladies referred to above, that one of her poems is decidedly the noblest poem in the collection-although the most distinguished poetesses in the land have here included their most praiseworthy compositions. Our allusion is to Miss Alice Carey's "Pictures of Memory." Let our readers see it and judge for themselves. We speak deliberately: -- in all the higher elements of poetry -- in true imagination -- in the power of exciting the only real poetical effect -- elevation of the soul, in contradistinction from mere excitement of the intellect or heart -- the poem in question is the noblest in the book.

    "The Female Poets of America" includes ninety-five names -- commencing with Ann Bradstreet, the contemporary of the once world-renowned Du Bartas -- him of the "nonsense-verses" -- the poet who was in the habit of styling the sun the "Grand Duke of Candles" -- and ending with "Helen Irving" -- a norm de plume of Miss Anna H. Phillips. Mr. Griswold gives most space to Mrs. Maria Brooks, (Maria del Occidente,) not, we hope and believe, merely because Southey has happened to commend her. The claims of this lady we have not yet examined so thoroughly [page 127:] as we could wish, and we will speak more fully of her hereafter, perhaps. In point of actual merit -- that is to say of actual accomplishment, without reference to mere indications of the ability to accomplish -- we would rank the first dozen or so in this order -- (leaving out Mrs. Brooks for the present.) Mrs. Osgood -- very decidedly first -- then Mrs Welby, Miss Carey, (or the Misses Carey,) Miss Talley, Mrs. Whitman, Miss Lynch, Miss Frances Fuller, Miss Lucy Hooper, Mrs. Oakes Smith, Mrs. Ellet, Mrs. Hewitt, Miss Clarke, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Nichols, Mrs. Warfield, (with her sister, Mrs. Lee,) Mrs. Eames and Mrs. Sigourney. If Miss Lynch had as much imagination as energy of expression and artistic power, we would place her next to Mrs. Osgood. The next skilful merely, of those just mentioned, are Mrs. Osgood, Miss Lynch and Mrs. Sigourney. The most imaginative are Miss Carey, Mrs. Osgood, Miss Talley and Miss Fuller. The most accomplished are Mrs. Ellet, Mrs. Eames, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Whitman and Mrs Oakes Smith. The most popular are Mrs. Osgood, Mrs. Oakes Smith and Miss Hooper. The most glaring omissions are those of Mrs. C. F. Orne and Miss Mary Wells.

~~~ End of Text ~~~

[S:0 - SLM 1849]