Manomin: A Rhythmical Romance of Minnesota, the Great Rebellion, and the Minnesota Massacres

By MYRON COLONEY. St. Louis : Published by the Author,
IT is scarcely a good sign, we fear, in a new author, if his purpose and himself interest you more than his work. There is no literary excellence but in effect : being and willing are merely elemental ; they enlist sympathy and expectation, not praise.
Looking over Mr. Coloney’s book we feel how dangerously near he comes to experience of this misfortune. One is moved by the fact that the commercial editor of a daily newspaper in St. Louis has, in spite of every external discouragement, attempted to make a poem representative of modern American life and feeling; and one recognizes the courage and wisdom involved in the attempt. The purpose is not that of a commonplace man ; for such a one, instead of telling us, with the trustful simplicity and courage of an old ballad-maker, about the fortunes of a family that moved from Syracuse, New York State, to Minnesota, would far rather have preferred to acquaint us with his sufferings from the coldness of Mary Jane. Mr. Coloney conceived that, if it was his office to sing at all, he must sing of things he had actually known and felt ; and he has done so, sometimes with a clear and powerful note, and sometimes in a strain cracked and false enough. With a visible wish on his part to portray every person faithfully, there is often a visible failure to do so ; and while we own to the poet that we actually look upon Minnesota woods and settlements in his book, we have also to confess that we find them peopled to a melancholy extent out of the melodrama and the second-rate romance. He deals more successfully with sentiment and manner than with character. His persons become unreal in action ; when they speak or are spoken for, we perceive at once their verity ; they are men and women who have read the “Tribune” and “Independent,” and who, in very great number, believe in spiritual manifestations.
Of poetry there is really a good deal in Mr. Coloney’s volume. The love-scenes are for the most part naturally and winningly done, and we owe our author a debt of gratitude for several fine pictures of pioneer and sylvan life. Yet we think that as a whole the work is wisely named romance rather than poem, though we are not ready to say that it had been better written in prose. Indeed, we are glad to see verse make so bold with the matter-of-fact phases of life ; for, unless it does try to assimilate and naturalize itself to actual conditions in America, it must become as obsolete as sculpture or the drama.