Mr. Melville's work possesses the negative virtues of originality in such degree that it not only reminds you of no poetry you have read, but of no life you have known. Is it possible—you ask yourself, after running over all these celebrative, inscriptive, and memorial verses—that there has really been a great war, with battles fought by men and bewailed by women? Or is it only that Mr. Melville's inner consciousness has been perturbed, and filled with the phantasms of enlistments, marches, fights in the air, parenthetic bulletin-boards, and tortured humanity shedding, not words and blood, but words alone?
Mr. Melville chooses you a simple and touching theme, like that of the young officer going from his bride to hunt Mosby in the forest, and being brought back to her with a guerilla's bullet in his heart,—a theme warm with human interests of love, war, and grief, and picturesque with greenwood lights and shadows,—and straight enchants it into a mystery of thirty - eight stanzas, each of which diligently repeats the name of Mosby, and deepens the spell, until you are lost to every sense of time or place, and become as callous at the end as the poet must have been at the beginning to all feeling involved, doubting that
"The living and the dead are but as pictures."
Here lies the fault. Mr. Melville's skill is so great that we fear he has not often felt the things of which he writes, since with all his skill he fails to move us. In some respects we find his poems admirable. He treats events as realistically as one can to whom they seem to have presented themselves as dreams; but at last they remain vagaries, and are none the more substantial because they have a modern speech and motion. We believe ghosts are not a whit more tangible now that they submit to be photographed in the sack-coats and hoop-skirts of this life, than before they left off winding-sheets, and disappeared if you spoke to them.