"But my good mother Baystate wants no praise of mine, She learned from her mother a precept divine About something that butters no parsnips, her forte In another direction lies, work is her sport, [Pg 349] (Though she'll curtsey and set her cap straight, that she will, If you talk about Plymouth and one Bunker's hill.) Dear, notable goodwife! by this time of night, Her hearth is swept clean, and her fire burning bright, And she sits in a chair (of home plan and make) rocking, Musing much, all the while, as she darns on a stocking, Whether turkeys will come pretty high next Thanksgiving, Whether flour'll be so dear, for, as sure as she's living, She will use rye-and-injun then, whether the pig By this time ain't got pretty tolerable big, And whether to sell it outright will be best, Or to smoke hams and shoulders and salt down the rest,— At this minute, she'd swop all my verses, ah, cruel! For the last patent stove that is saving of fuel; So I'll just let Apollo go on, for his phiz Shows I've kept him awaiting too long as it is." "If our friend, there, who seems a reporter, is done With his burst of emotion, why, I will go on," Said Apollo; some smiled, and, indeed, I must own There was something sarcastic, perhaps, in his tone:— "There's Holmes, who is matchless among you for wit; A Leyden-jar always full-charged, from which flit The electrical tingles of hit after hit; In long poems 'tis painful sometimes and invites A thought of the way the new Telegraph writes, Which pricks down its little sharp sentences spitefully As if you got more than you'd title to rightfully, And you find yourself hoping its wild father Lightning Would flame in for a second and give you a fright'ning. He has perfect sway of what I call a sham metre, But many admire it, the English pentameter, And Campbell, I think, wrote most commonly worse, With less nerve, swing, and fire in the same kind of verse, Nor e'er achieved aught in 't so worthy of praise As the tribute of Holmes to the grand Marseillaise. You went crazy last year over Bulwer's New Timon;— Why, if B., to the day of his dying, should rhyme on, Heaping verses on verses and tomes upon tomes, [Pg 350] He could ne'er reach the best point and vigor of Holmes. His are just the fine hands, too, to weave you a lyric Full of fancy, fun, feeling, or spiced with satyric In a measure so kindly, you doubt if the toes That are trodden upon are your own or your foes'. "There is Lowell, who's striving Parnassus to climb With a whole bale of isms tied together with rhyme, He might get on alone, spite of brambles and boulders, But he can't with that bundle he has on his shoulders, The top of the hill he will ne'er come nigh reaching Till he learns the distinction 'twixt singing and preaching; His lyre has some chords that would ring pretty well, But he'd rather by half make a drum of the shell, And rattle away till he's old as Methusalem, At the head of a march to the last new Jerusalem. "There goes Halleck, whose Fanny's a pseudo Don Juan, With the wickedness out that gave salt to the true one, He's a wit, though, I hear, of the very first order, And once made a pun on the words soft Recorder; More than this, he's a very great poet, I'm told, And has had his works published in crimson and gold, With something they call 'Illustrations,' to wit, Like those with which Chapman obscured Holy Writ,[E] Which are said to illustrate, because, as I view it, Like lucus a non, they precisely don't do it; Let a man who can write what himself understands Keep clear, if he can, of designing men's hands, Who bury the sense, if there's any worth having, And then very honestly call it engraving. But, to quit badinage, which there isn't much wit in, Halleck's better, I doubt not, than all he has written; In his verse a clear glimpse you will frequently find, If not of a great, of a fortunate mind, Which contrives to be true to its natural loves In a world of back-offices, ledgers, and stoves. When his heart breaks away from the brokers and banks, And kneels in its own private shrine to give thanks, There's a genial manliness in him that earns [Pg 351] Our sincerest respect, (read, for instance, his 'Burns,') And we can't but regret (seek excuse where we may) That so much of a man has been peddled away. "But what's that? a mass-meeting? No, there come in lots The American Disraelis, Bulwers, and Scotts, And in short the American everything-elses, Each charging the others with envies and jealousies;— By the way, 'tis a fact that displays what profusions Of all kinds of greatness bless free institutions, That while the Old World has produced barely eight Of such poets as all men agree to call great, And of other great characters hardly a score, (One might safely say less than that rather than more,) With you every year a whole crop is begotten, They're as much of a staple as corn is, or cotton; Why, there's scarcely a huddle of log-huts and shanties That has not brought forth its own Miltons and Dantes; I myself know ten Byrons, one Coleridge, three Shelleys, Two Raphaels, six Titians, (I think) one Apelles, Leonardos and Rubenses plenty as lichens, One (but that one is plenty) American Dickens, A whole flock of Lambs, any number of Tennysons,— In short, if a man has the luck to have any sons, He may feel pretty certain that one out of twain Will be some very great person over again. There is one inconvenience in all this which lies In the fact that by contrast we estimate size,[F] And, where there are none except Titans, great stature Is only a simple proceeding of nature. What puff the strained sails of your praise shall you furl at, if The calmest degree that you know is superlative? At Rome, all whom Charon took into his wherry must, As a matter of course, be well issimused and errimused, A Greek, too, could feel, while in that famous boat he tost, That his friends would take care he was ιστοςed and ωτατοςed, [Pg 352] And formerly we, as through graveyards we past, Thought the world went from bad to worse fearfully fast; Let us glance for a moment, 'tis well worth the pains, And note what an average graveyard contains. There lie levellers levelled, duns done up themselves, There are booksellers finally laid on their shelves, Horizontally there lie upright politicians, Dose-a-dose with their patients sleep faultless physicians, There are slave-drivers quietly whipt underground, There bookbinders, done up in boards, are fast bound, There card-players wait till the last trump be played, There all the choice spirits get finally laid, There the babe that's unborn is supplied with a berth, There men without legs get their six feet of earth, There lawyers repose, each wrapt up in his case, There seekers of office are sure of a place, There defendant and plaintiff get equally cast, There shoemakers quietly stick to the last, There brokers at length become silent as stocks, There stage-drivers sleep without quitting their box, And so forth and so forth and so forth and so on, With this kind of stuff one might endlessly go on; To come to the point, I may safely assert you Will find in each yard every cardinal virtue;[G] Each has six truest patriots: four discoverers of ether, Who never had thought on't nor mentioned it either: Ten poets, the greatest who ever wrote rhyme: Two hundred and forty first men of their time: One person whose portrait just gave the least hint Its original had a most horrible squint: One critic, most (what do they call it?) reflective, Who never had used the phrase ob- or subjective; Forty fathers of Freedom, of whom twenty bred Their sons for the rice-swamps, at so much a head, And their daughters for—faugh! thirty mothers of Gracchi: Non-resistants who gave many a spiritual black eye: Eight true friends of their kind, one of whom was a jailer: Four captains almost as astounding as Taylor: [Pg 353] Two dozen of Italy's exiles who shoot us his Kaisership daily, stern pen-and-ink Brutuses, Who, in Yankee back-parlors, with crucified smile,[H] Mount serenely their country's funereal pile: Ninety-nine Irish heroes, ferocious rebellers 'Gainst the Saxon in cis-marine garrets and cellars, Who shake their dread fists o'er the sea and all that,— As long as a copper drops into the hat: Nine hundred Teutonic republicans stark From Vaterland's battles just won—in the Park, Who the happy profession of martyrdom take Whenever it gives them a chance at a steak: Sixty-two second Washingtons: two or three Jacksons: And so many everythings else that it racks one's Poor memory too much to continue the list, Especially now they no longer exist;— I would merely observe that you've taken to giving The puffs that belong to the dead to the living, And that somehow your trump-of-contemporary-doom's tones Is tuned after old dedications and tombstones."— Here the critic came in and a thistle presented[I]— From a frown to a smile the god's features relented, As he stared at his envoy, who, swelling with pride, To the god's asking look, nothing daunted, replied, "You're surprised, I suppose, I was absent so long But your godship respecting the lilies was wrong; I hunted the garden from one end to t' other, And got no reward but vexation and bother, Till, tossed out with weeds in a corner to wither, This one lily I found and made haste to bring hither." "Did he think I had given him a book to review? I ought to have known what the fellow would do," Muttered Phœbus aside, "for a thistle will pass Beyond doubt for the queen of all flowers with an ass; He has chosen in just the same way as he'd choose His specimens out of the books he reviews; And now, as this offers an excellent text, [Pg 354] I'll give 'em some brief hints on criticism next." So, musing a moment, he turned to the crowd, And, clearing his voice, spoke as follows aloud:— "My friends, in the happier days of the muse, We were luckily free from such things as reviews, Then naught came between with its fog to make clearer The heart of the poet to that of his hearer; Then the poet brought heaven to the people, and they Felt that they, too, were poets in hearing his lay; Then the poet was prophet, the past in his soul Pre-created the future, both parts of one whole; Then for him there was nothing too great or too small, For one natural deity sanctified all; Then the bard owned no clipper and meter of moods Save the spirit of silence that hovers and broods O'er the seas and the mountains, the rivers and woods He asked not earth's verdict, forgetting the clods, His soul soared and sang to an audience of gods. 'Twas for them that he measured the thought and the line, And shaped for their vision the perfect design, With as glorious a foresight, a balance as true, As swung out the worlds in the infinite blue; Then a glory and greatness invested man's heart, The universal, which now stands estranged and apart, In the free individual moulded, was Art; Then the forms of the Artist seemed thrilled with desire For something as yet unattained, fuller, higher, As once with her lips, lifted hands, and eyes listening, And her whole upward soul in her countenance glistening, Eurydice stood—like a beacon unfired, Which, once touch'd with flame, will leap heav'nward inspired—; And waited with answering kindle to mark The first gleam of Orpheus that pained the red Dark. Then painting, song, sculpture, did more than relieve The need that men feel to create and believe, And as, in all beauty, who listens with love, Hears these words oft repeated—'beyond and above,' So these seemed to be but the visible sign Of the grasp of the soul after things more divine; They were ladders the Artist erected to climb O'er the narrow horizon of space and of time, [Pg 355] And we see there the footsteps by which men had gained To the one rapturous glimpse of the never-attained, As shepherds could erst sometimes trace in the sod The last spurning print of a sky-cleaving god. "But now, on the poet's dis-privacied moods With do this and do that the pert critic intrudes; While he thinks he's been barely fulfilling his duty To interpret 'twixt men and their own sense of beauty, And has striven, while others sought honor or pelf, To make his kind happy as he was himself, He finds he's been guilty of horrid offences In all kinds of moods, numbers, genders, and tenses; He's been ob and subjective, what Kettle calls Pot, Precisely, at all events, what he ought not, You have done this, says one judge; done that, says another; You should have done this, grumbles one; that, says t' other; Never mind what he touches, one shrieks out Taboo! And while he is wondering what he shall do, Since each suggests opposite topics for song, They all shout together you're right! and you're wrong! "Nature fits all her children with something to do, He who would write and can't write, can surely review, Can set up a small booth as critic and sell us his Petty conceit and his pettier jealousies; Thus a lawyer's apprentice, just out of his teens, Will do for the Jeffrey of six magazines; Having read Johnson's lives of the poets half through, There's nothing on earth he's not competent to; He reviews with as much nonchalance as he whistles,— He goes through a book and just picks out the thistles, It matters not whether he blame or commend, If he's bad as a foe, he's far worse as a friend; Let an author but write what's above his poor scope, And he'll go to work gravely and twist up a rope, And, inviting the world to see punishment done, Hang himself up to bleach in the wind and the sun; 'Tis delightful to see, when a man comes along Who has anything in him peculiar and strong, [Pg 356] Every cockboat that swims clear its fierce (pop) gundeck at him And make as he passes its ludicrous Peck at him,"— Here Miranda came up and began, "As to that,"— Apollo at once seized his gloves, cane, and hat, And, seeing the place getting rapidly cleared, I, too, snatched my notes and forthwith disappeared.