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Francis Sargent Osgood               TEI-encoded version

"The Literati of New York - No. V. Some Honest Opinions at Random Respecting Their Authorial Merits, with Occasional Words of Personality" Frances Osgood

Edgar Allan Poe

[In Godey's Magazine vol. 33 (September 1846), pp. 126-133: ]

Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood, for the last two or three years, has been rapidly attaining distinction -- and this, evidently, with no effort at attaining it. She seems, in fact, to have no object in view beyond that of giving voice to the feelings or to the fancies of the moment. "Necessity," says the proverb, "is the mother of Invention;" and the invention of Mrs. O., at least, springs plainly from necessity -- from the necessity of invention. Not to write poetry -- not to think it, dream it, act it, and be it, is entirely out of her power.

It may be questioned whether, with more method, more industry, more definite purpose, more ambition, Mrs. Osgood would have made a more decided impression on the public mind. She might, upon the whole, have written better poems, but the chances are that she would have failed in conveying so vivid and so just an idea of her powers as poet. The warm abandonnement of her style -- that charm which now so captivates -- is but a portion and a consequence of her unworldly nature, of her disregard of mere fame; but it affords us glimpses (which we could not otherwise have obtained) of a capacity for accomplishing what she has not accomplished and in all probability never will. But in the world of poetry there is already more than enough of this uncongenial ambition and pretense.

Mrs. Osgood has taken no care whatever of her literary fame. A great number of her finest compositions, both in verse and prose, have been written anonymously, and are now lying perdus about the country in out-of-the-way nooks and corners. Many a goodly reputation has been reared upon a far more unstable basis than her unclaimed and uncollected "fugitive pieces." […]

The English collection of which I speak was entitled "A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England." It met with a really cordial reception in Great Britain -- was favorably noticed by the "Literary Gazette," "Times," "Monthly Chronicle," "Atlas," and especially by the "Court Journal," the "Court and Ladies' Magazine," "La Belle Assemblee," and other similar works circulating very extensively among the aristocracy. Mr. Osgood's merits as an artist had already introduced his wife into distinguished society, (she was petted in especial by Mrs. Norton and Rogers,) but her beautiful volume had at once an evidently favorable effect upon his fortunes. His pictures were all placed in a more advantageous light by her poetical and conversational grace. […]

I cannot speak of the poems of Mrs. Osgood without a strong propensity to ring the changes upon the indefinite word ";grace" and its derivatives. It seems, indeed, the one key-phrase unlocking the cryptograph of her power -- of the effect she produces. And yet the effect is scarcely more a secret than the key. Grace, perhaps, may be most satisfactorily defined as a term applied, in despair, to that class of the impressions of beauty which admit neither of analysis nor of comprehension. It is in this irresoluble charm -- in grace -- that Mrs. Osgood excels any poetess of her country -- or, indeed, of any country under the sun. Nor is she more graceful herself than appreciative of the graceful, under whatever guise it is presented to her consideration. The sentiment, the perception, and the keenest enjoyment of grace, render themselves manifest in innumerable instances, as well throughout her prose as her poetry. A fine example is to be found in "A Letter to an Absent Friend, on seeing Celeste for the first time in the Wept-of-Wish-ton-Wish," included in the "Wild Flowers from New England." Celeste has been often described -- the effect of her dancing, I mean -- but assuredly never has she been brought so fully to the eye of the mind as in the verses which follow: --

     "She comes -- the spirit of the dance!
               And but for those large, eloquent eyes,
     Where passion speaks in every glance,
               She'd seem a wanderer from the skies.
5     "So light that, gazing breathless there,
               Lest the celestial dream should go,
      You'd think the music in the air
                Waved the fair vision to and fro!
     "Or that the melody's sweet flow
10                Within the radiant creature played,
      And those soft wreathing arms of snow
                And white sylph feet the music made.
     "Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
               Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,
15     Now motionless, with lifted face,
               And small hands on her bosom crossed.
     "And now with flashing eyes she springs --
                Her whole bright figure raised in air,
      As if her soul had spread its wings
20                And poised her one wild instant there!
     "She spoke not -- but, so richly fraught
               With language are her glance and smile,
     That when the curtain fell, I thought
                She had been talking all the while."

Messrs. Clark & Austin, of New York, have lately issued another, but still a very imperfect collection of "Poems, by Frances S. Osgood." In general, it embraces by no means the best of her works, although some of her best ("The Spirit of Poetry," for example), are included. "The Daughter of Herodias," one of her longest compositions, a very noble poem -- quite as good as anything written by Mrs. Hemans -- is omitted. The volume contains a number of the least meritorious pieces in the "Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England," and also more than enough of a class of allegorical or emblematical verses -- a kind of writing which, through an odd perversity, the fair authoress at one time much affected, but which no poet can admit to be poetry at all. These jeux d'esprit (for what else shall we call them?) afforded her, however, a fine opportunity for the display of ingenuity and an epigrammatism in which she especially excels. […]

What is really new in this volume shows a marked change in the themes, in the manner, in the whole character of the poetess. We see less of vivacity, less of fancy; more of tenderness, earnestness, even passion, and of the true imagination as distinguished from its subordinate fancy: the one prevalent and predominating trait, grace, alone distinctly remains. In illustration of these points I feel tempted to copy some seven or eight of the later poems, but the deep interest of my subject has already led me too far, and I am by no means writing a review. I must refer, however, to two brief songs as best exemplifying what I have said. […] These pieces serve also to show the marked improvement of the writer in versification. The first-named in not only rhythmically perfect, but evinces much originality in its structure; the last, although in rhythm not so novel, is more forcible, better balanced, and more thoroughly sustained -- in these respects I have seldom seen anything so good. In terse energy of expression this poem is unsurpassed.

My extracts are already extended to a greater length than I had designed or than comports with the plan of these papers, yet I cannot forbear making another. Its music, simplicity and genuine earnestness, will find their way to the hearts of all who read it.


25     "Yes, take them first, my Father; let my doves
     Ere I am called away! I dare not leave
     Their young hearts here -- their innocent, thoughtless
     Ah, how the shadowy train of future ills
30     Comes sweeping down life's vista as I gaze!
     My May, my careless, ardent-tempered May,
     My frank and frolic child, in whose blue eyes
     Wild joy and passionate woe alternate rise;
Whose cheek the morning in her soul illumes;
35     Whose little loving heart a word, a glance,
     Can sway to grief or glee; who leaves her play,
     And puts up her sweet mouth and dimpled arms
     Each moment for a kiss, and softly asks,
     With her clear, flute-like voice, 'Do you love me?'
40     Ah, let me stay -- ah, let me still be by,
     To answer her and meet her warm caress!
     For, I away, how oft in this rough world
     That earnest question will be asked in vain!
How oft that eager, passionate, petted heart,
45     Will shrink abashed and chilled, to learn at length
     The hateful withering lesson of distrust!
     Ah, let her nestle still upon this breast,
     In which each shade that dims her darling face
     Is felt and answered, as the lake reflects
50     The clouds that cross yon smiling heaven. And thou,
     My modest Ellen -- tender, thoughtful, true,
     Thy soul attuned to all sweet harmonies --
     My pure, proud, noble Ellen, with thy gifts
     Of genius, grace and loveliness, half hidden
55     'Neath the soft veil of innate modesty,
How will the world's wild discord reach thy heart
     To startle and appal! Thy generous scorn
     Of all things base and mean; thy quick, keen taste,
     Dainty and delicate; thy instinctive fear
60     Of those unworthy of a soul so pure;
     Thy rare, unchildlike dignity of mien --
     All, they will all bring pain to thee, my child.
     And, oh! if even their grace and goodness meet
     Cold looks and careless greetings, how will all
65     The latent evil yet undisciplined
     In their young, timid souls, forgiveness find --
     Forgiveness and forbearance, and soft chidings,
     Which I, their mother, learned of Love to give?
     Ah, let me stay -- albeit my heart is weary,
70Weary and worn, tired of its own sad beat
     That finds no echo in this busy world
     Which cannot pause to answer -- tired alike
     Of joy and sorrow, of the day and night.
     Ah, take them first, my Father, and then me!
75     And for their sakes -- for their sweet sakes, my Father,
     Let me find rest beside them, at thy feet!"

Mrs. Osgood has done far more in prose than in poetry, but then her prose is merely poetry in disguise. Of pure prose, of proper prose, she has, perhaps, never written a line in her life. Her usual magazine articles are a class by themselves. She begins with a desperate effort at being sedate -- that is to say, sufficiently prosaic and matter-of-fact for the purpose of a legend or an essay, but in a few sentences we behold uprising the leaven of the unrighteousness of the muse; then, after some flourishes and futile attempts at repression, a scrap of verse renders itself manifest; then another and another; -- then comes a poem outright, and then another and another and another, with little odd batches of prose in between, until at length the mask is thrown fairly off and far away, and the whole article -- sings.

I shall say nothing farther, then, of Mrs. Osgood's prose.

Her character is daguerreotyped in her works -- reading the one we know the other. She is ardent, sensitive, impulsive; the very soul of truth and honor; a worshipper of the beautiful, with a heart so radically artless as to seem abundant in art -- universally respected, admired and beloved. […]

Date: 1846 (Coding Revisions: 04/20/2005). Author: Edgar Allan Poe; editor Brandon Clay (Coding Revisions: Zach Weir).
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