Diversions of the Echo Club: Night the Seventh

THIS night the Gannet led the way to the more earnest conversation, by returning to a point touched by the Ancient at their fifth meeting. He said, “ I should like to know wherein the period of fermentation, which precedes the appearance of an important era in literature, and the period of subsidence, or decadence, which follows it, differ from each other.”

ZOÏLUS. H’m! that’s rather a tough problem to be solved at a moment’s warning. I should guess that the difference is something like that between the first and second childhood of an individual. In the first case, the faults are natural, heedless, graceful, and always suggestive of something to be developed ; in the latter, they are helpless repetitions, which point only towards the past.

GALAHAD. Are you not taking the correspondence for granted? Is it exactly justified by the history of any great era in literature ?

THE ANCIENT. Not entirely. But there is surely an irregular groping for new modes of thought and new forms of expression, in advance ; and a struggle, after the masters of the age have gone, to keep up their pitch of achievement.

THE GANNET. Very well; you are near enough in accord to consider my next question. In which period are we living at present ? The Ancient says that we have had the heroes and the epigonoi, and that there will be many fallow years : I, on the contrary, feel very sure that we are approaching another great era ; and the confusion of which he spoke the other night is an additional proof of it.

THE ANCIENT, If you remember, I disclaimed any power of prediction.

THE GANNET. So you did ; but I insist that the reasons you gave are just as powerful against your conclusions, unless you can show us that the phenomena of our day are those which invariably characterize a period of decadence. I have been reflecting upon the subject with more earnestness than is usual to me. In our modern literature I do not find echoes of any other than the masters who are still living and producing, especially Browning, Longfellow, and Tennyson ; the faint reflections of Poe seem to have ceased ; and the chief characteristic of this day, so far as the younger authors are concerned, is a straining after novel effects, new costumes for old thoughts, if you please, but certainly something very different from a mere repetition of forms of style which already exist. That there is confusion, an absence of pure, clearly outlined ideals of art, I am willing to admit. I accept the premises, but challenge the inferences.

GALAHAD. I am only too ready to agree with you.

THE ANCIENT. What I wish is, that we should try to comprehend the literary aspects of our time. If we can turn our modern habit of introversion away from our individual selves, and give it more of an objective character (though this sounds rather paradoxical), it will be a gain in every way. A period of decadence is not necessarily characterized by repetition ; it may manifest itself in exactly such straining for effect as the Gannet admits. Poe, for instance, or Heine, or Browning, makes a new manner successful ; what more natural, then, than that an inferior poet should say to himself, “The manner is everything ; I will invent one for myself! ” I find something too much of this prevalent, and it does not inspire me with hope.

ZOÏLUS. But the costume of the thought, as of the man, is really more important than the body it hides. And I insist that manner is more than symmetry, or even strength, as the French have been shrewd enough to discover. We are moving towards an equal brilliancy of style, only most of us are zigzagging on all sides of the true path. But we shall find it, and then, look out for a shining age of literature !

THE GANNET (to the ANCIENT). YOU were speaking of the introversion which is such a characteristic of modern thought. Can a writer avoid it, without showing, in the very effort, that he possesses it ?

THE ANCIENT. I doubt it. Goethe tried the experiment, and did not fairly succeed. It seems to me that the character of an author is relative to the highest culture of his generation. I have never found that there was much development without self-study; for the true artist must know the exact measure of his qualities, in order to use them in his one true way. This is a law as applicable to Shakespeare as to you ; but he may choose to conceal the process, and you may choose to betray it. For a poet to speculate upon his own nature, in his poems, is a modern fashion, which originated with Wordsworth. To us it seems an over-consciousness ; yet it may seem the height of naÏve candor, and therefore a delightful characteristic, to the critics of two centuries hence.

ZOÏLUS. Well, upon my word, Ancient, you are the most bewildering of guides ! You talk of eternal laws, you refer to positive systems, but when we come to apply them, there is nothing permanent, nothing settled, only a labyrinth of perhapses and may-seems. What are we to do ?

THE GANNET (offering the hat). To draw your name, and write.

ZOïLUS (drawing). Julia Ward Howe : and I feel no mission within me ! I shall miserably fail.

THE GANNET. Jean Ingelow: I need no mission.

GALAHAD. The saints help me ! Walt Whitman.

THE ANCIENT. Buchanan Read : I must call on the Pope, to judge from the last poem of his which I have read.

There are but one or two more slips in the hat: whom have we ? Piatt, Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller ! Galahad, I suggest that you return our yawping cosmos, and take Piatt in his stead ; then let us add John Hay, and we shall have all the latest names together for our next and final night of diversions.

THE GANNET. I second your proposal. It will separate the last and most curious phenomena in poetry from those which preceded them. Perhaps we may be able to guess what they portend.

GALAHAD (changing the name). I am so grateful for the permission, that I will write two; adding to the imitation of Piatt that of the author of “ A Woman’s Poems,” in whose poetical fortunes, I imagine, he feels more interest than even in his own. I am attracted by her poems as the Gannet is attracted by Mrs. Stoddard’s, though the two are wholly unlike. In “The Woman ” I also see indications of a struggle between thought and language, a reluctance to catch the flying Psyche by the wings, and hold her until every wavering outline is clear. Womenpoets generally stand in too much awe of their own conceptions.

ZOïLUS (solemnly). I am possessed ! Procul, O procul, — or at least be silent. (Writes.)

(All write steadily, and finish their tasks nearly at the same time.)

THE CHORUS. You came up so nearly neck and neck, that only we who timed you can decide. The Gannet first.

THE GANNET. Then hearken to Jean Ingelow. (Reads.)


Scarlet spaces of sand and ocean.
Gulls that circle and winds that blow;
Baskets and boats and men in motion,
Sailing and scattering to and fro.
Girls are waiting, their wimples adorning
With crimson sprinkles the broad gray flood ;
And down the beach the blush of the morning
Shines reflected from moisture and mud.
Broad from the yard the sail hangs limpy ;
Lightly the steersman whistles a lay ;
Pull with a will, for the nets are shrimpy,
Pull with a whistle, our hearts are gay !
Tuppence a quart; there are more than fifty !
Coffee is certain, and beer galore ;
Coats are corduroy, minds are thrifty,
Won’t we go it on sea and shore !
See, behind, how the hills are freckled
With low white huts, where the lasses bide !
See, before, how the sea is speckled
With sloops and schooners that wait the tide !

Yarmouth fishers may rail and roister,
Tyne-side boys may shout, “Give way ! ”
Let them dredge for the lobster and oyster,
Pink and sweet are our shrimps to-day !

Shrimps and the delicate periwinkle,
Such are the sea-fruits lasses love :
Ho ! to your nets till the blue stars twinkle,
And the shutterless cottages gleam above !

THE CHORUS. A very courteous echo. The Ancient was next.

THE ANCIENT. I think if Buchanan Read had confined himself to those short, sweet, graceful lyrics by which he first became known, he would have attained a better success. It is singular, by the by, that his art does not color his poetry, as in Rossetti’s case; no one could guess that he is also a painter. But I remember that Washington Allston is a similar instance. Read’s best poems are those which have a pastoral character, and I have turned to them for his characteristic manner. (Reads)


The moon, a reaper of the ripened stars,
Held out her silver sickle in the west;
I leaned against the shadowy pasture-bars,
A hermit, with a burden in my breast.
The lilies leaned beside me as I stood :
The lilted heifers gleamed beneath the shed:
And spirits from the high ancestral wood
Cast their articulate benisons on my head.
The twilight oriole sang her valentine
From pendulous nests above the stable-sill,
And like a beggar, asking alms and wine,
Came the importunate murmur of the mill.
Love threw his flying shuttle through my Woof,
And made the web a pattern I abhorred ;
Wherefore alone I sang, and far aloof,
My melting melodies, mightier than the sword.
The white-sleeved mowers, coming slowly home.
With scythes like rainbows on their shoulders hung,
Sniffed not, in passing me, the scent of Rome,
Nor heard the music trickling from my tongue.
The milkmaid, following, delayed her step,
Still singing as she left the stable-yard :
“T was “ Sheridan’s Ride " she sang : I turned and
wap', For woman’s homage soothes the suffering bard !

GALAHAD. Why did n’t you take Read’s “ Drifting ” ?

THE ANCIENT. It is a beautiful poem, but would betray itself in any imitation. My object was to catch his especial poetic dialect.

THE CHORUS. Now, Zoïlus.

ZOÏLUS. I have followed exactly the Ancient’s plan, but with the disadvantage of not having read Mrs. Howe’s “ Passion Flowers ” lately ; so I was forced to take whatever features were accessible, from her prose as well as verse. (Reads)


When with crisped fingers I have tried to part
The petals which compose
The azure flower of high æsthetic art,
More firmly did they close.
Yet woman is not undeveloped man, —
So singeth Tennyson :
Desire, that ever Duty’s feet outran,
Begins, but sees not done.
Our life is full of passionate dismay
At larger schemes grown small;
That which thou doest, do this very day,
Then art thou known of all.
The thing that was ungerms the thing to be ;
Before reflects Behind :
So blends our moral trigonometry
With spheroids of the mind.
Time shall transfigure many a paradox,
Now crushed with hoofs of scorn,
When in the beauty of the hollyhocks
The Coming Man is born.
His hand the new Evangels then shall hold,
That make earth epicene,
And on his shoulder, coiffed with chrismal gold,
The Coming Woman lean !

THE GANNET. O, she should not lean on his shoulder ! That is a dependent attitude.

ZOÏLUS. I know; but there is the exigency of an immediate rhyme, and “epicene ” is a word which I could not sacrifice.

THE ANCIENT. YOU have hit upon one of the vices of our literary class, — the superficial refinement which vents itself on words and phrases. I have seen expressions of both love and grief which were too elegant for passion. The strong thought always finds the best speech, but as its total form: it does not pause to prink itself by the way, or to study its face in a glass. I beg pardon, Zoïlus ; I am not speaking of, but from, you.

ZOÏLUS. AS the sinner furnishes more texts than the saint.

THE CHORUS. Let us not keep Galahad waiting.

GALAHAD. I promised two, but have only finished the first. The Gannet must keep me company ; for we were nigh forgetting William Winter, and he must be entertained before our board is cleared for the last comers. I dare say we shall remember others ; indeed, I can think of several who ought to please the Ancient, for they simply give us their ideas without any manner at all.

THE ANCIENT. Sarcasm from Galahad is sarcasm indeed ! I am assailed on all sides, to-night. But let us have Piatt; we have all looked through his “Western Windows.”

GALAHAD. (Reads.)


It lies and rots by the roadside,
Among the withering weeds ;
The blackberry-vines run o’er it,
And the thistles drop their seeds.
Below, the Miami murmurs ;
He flows as he always flowed ;
And the people, eastward and westward,
Travel the National Road.
At times a maiden’s glances
Gild it with tints of dawn,
But the school-boy snorts with his nostrils,
Kicks it, and hastens on.
Above it the pioneer’s chimney,
Lonely and rickety, leans ;
Beside it the pioneer’s garden
Is a wildering growth of greens.
It was split by the stalwart settler,
One of the ancient race,
And the hands of his tow-haired children
Lifted it into its place.
Years after the gawky lover
Sat on it, dangling his heels,
While his girl forgot her milking,
And the pen, with its hungry squeals.
Ah, the rail has its own romances,
The scenes and changes of years :
I pause whenever I see it,
And drop on it several tears.

ZOÏLUS. Don’t you all feel, with me, that our imitations become more and more difficult as we take the younger authors who give us sentiment, fancy, pure metres, — in short, very agreeable and meritorious work,—but who neither conquer us by their daring nor provoke us by offending our tastes ?

THE ANCIENT. We foresaw this, the first evening, you will remember. There are many excellent poets, who cannot be amusingly travestied, — Collins, or Goldsmith, for example. I was just deliberating whether to suggest the names of two women who have written very good poems, Lucy Larcom and she who calls herself” H. H.” The former has rhetoric and rhythm, and uses both quite independently ; her “ Hannah Binding Shoes ” struck an original vein, which I wish she had gone on quarrying. But her finest poem, “The Rose Enthroned,” could only be appreciated by about one per cent of her readers. “ H. H.” shows delicacy and purity of sentiment, yet her verse is not precisely song. Her ear fails to catch the rarer music which lurks behind metrical correctness. I don’t well see how either could be imitated ; so we will leave the Gannet and Galahad to their second task.

THE GANNET (looking up). What you have been saying also applies to my present model. Just the best poems in his “ Witness ” are so simple, so sweetly and smoothly finished, so marked by pure taste and delicate fancy, that a good travesty would have the air of a serious imitation.

ZOïLUS (to the ANCIENT). However we may disagree, I heartily join you in relishing a marked individuality in poetry.

THE ANCIENT. When it is honest, when it frankly expresses the individual nature, not too much restricted by the conventionalisms of the day, nor yielding too indolently to the influences of other minds. It is a notable characteristic of nearly all our younger poets, that they wander, as if at random, over such a wide field, before selecting their separate paths. One cause of this, I should guess, is the seduction exercised by that refinement in form, that richness and variety of metrical effect, which marks our modern poetry. Twenty years ago, our only criticism almost ignored the idea in a poem ; it concerned itself with words, lines, or stanzas, italicizing every agreeable little touch of fancy, as a guide to the reader. Leigh Hunt made this fashion popular ; Poe imitated him ; and our young authors were taught to believe in detached beauties of expression, instead of pure and symmetrical conceptions. Take the earlier poems of Stoddard, Read, Aldrich, Bayard Taylor, and others, and you cannot fail to see how they were led astray.

ZOÏLUS. Then, I suppose, their genuine poetical quality is tested by the extent to which they have emancipated themselves from those early influences, and discovered their proper individualities ?

THE ANCIENT. Most certainly; and if you had grown up with the generation, as I have (being very little older), you would see, as I do now, how each is struggling out of the general wilderness. Boker had not far to go ; he grew up under the broad wings of the old English dramatists. Stoddard first struck his highest performance in “The Fisher and Charon,” and Stedman in his “ Alectryon,” though both are still best known by their lighter lyrics. Aldrich seems now to be aware of his native grace and delicacy of fancy, and Howells of the sportive, lightsome element, which the Weltschmerz of youth for a time suppressed. In his “ Pastorals,” Bayard Taylor seems inclined to seek for the substance of poetry, rather than the flash and glitter of its rhetorical drapery. Piatt is turning more and more to that which lies nearest him : in short, without pretending to decide how far each is successful, I think that each, now, is attending seriously to his own special work.

ZOÏLUS. How much longer do you give them, to reach their highest planes of performance ?

THE ANCIENT. All their lives ; and I refer you to Bryant, Emerson, Longfellow, and Whittier, as instances of continuous development. If our Ameriean atmosphere, as you said the other night, retards the growth of literary men, you cannot deny that it wonderfully prolongs the period of their growth.

THE GANNET. Here have Galahad and myself been waiting with our manuscripts, knowing that you two can never agree, but hoping that each might exhaust the other.

ZOÏLUS. This from you, for whom there is neither time, space, nor place, when you get fairly started ! But who are you now ?

THE GANNET. William Winter, at your service. (Reads.)


There be who crave the flavors rich
Of boneless turkey and of beef;
There be who seek the relish which
To palsied palates brings relief:
But I, in love’s most patient hush,
Partake with thee of simple mush.
The pheasant seems so bright of wing,
Because’t is wedded with expense ;
The rarer Strasburg pasties bring
But fleet enjoyment to the sense ;
Yet common things, that seem too nigh,
Both purse and heart may satisfy.
’T is sweet to browse on dishes rare,
When those who give them can afford :
Sweeter this unpretending fare,
When thou art seated at the board,
With spoonly fingers to unfold
The yielding mush’s mass of gold.
Thou pour’st the milk that whiter seems
Than is the orbit of thy brow,
And I indulge with lamb-like dreams,
And many a white and harmless vow ;
I only wish that there could be
One bowl, not two, for thee and me.

ZOÏLUS. I was not expecting even that much success.

THE GANNET. Galahad was generous, to give me the lighter task. It would have quite bewildered me to imitate “A Woman’s Poems,” because their chief characteristic is a psychological one. If we had taken that wonderful volume of the songstresses of the “ South-Land,” now —

ZOÏLUS. That reminds me of a graceful Southern singer, who is like a bird alone in the desert, — Paul H. Hayne. Talk of our lack of sympathy and encouragement, here, in New York ! What mate has he, for hundreds of miles around him ? Why, there is not even the challenge of a rival lance ; he must ride around the lonely lists, with neither antagonist to prove his mettle, nor queen to crown him for success.

THE ANCIENT. An author must have an audience, however thin. We are told that Poetry is its own exceeding great reward : very well : but what if you sing your song into the air and never find it again in the heart of a friend ? Genius without sympathetic recognition is like a kindled fire without flue or draught ; it smoulders miserably away instead of leaping, sparkling, and giving cheer. I have seen some parts of the country where a man of sensitive, poetical nature would surely die, if he could not escape. We ought to be very tender towards all honest efforts in literature.

GALAHAD. The “Woman ” whom I have imitated needs only the encounter of kind, yet positive minds, to give her dreams what they still lack, — a distinct reality. I have purposely tried to exaggerate her principal fault, for it was the only thing I could do. (Reads.)


The white thought sleeps in it enshrined,
As sleep conceptions in the mind,
Though mean and cheap the substance seems,
Hardened, and unreleased by dreams.
A parrot only ! yet the child
Stares with untutored, dim surprise,
And fain would know what secret mild
Is ambushed in those moveless eyes.
His cherry from the painted beak
Falls, when his gentle hand would give,
So early some return we seek
From that which only seems to live.
Ah, let us even these symbols guard,
Nor shatter them with curious touch ;
For, should we break ideals hard,
The fragments would not move us much.

ZOÏLUS. YOU have fairly bewildered me, Galahad. I thought there was an actual idea in the verses, but it slips from my hand like an eel.

THE ANCIENT. It would better answer for the travesty of a school which has a limited popularity at present, but to which “ A Woman ” does not belong.

GALAHAD. What school ? I know of none such.

THE ANCIENT. The most active members would no doubt be much astonished if I were to tell them of it; but it is a kind of school, nevertheless. I think it must have originated as long ago as the days of The Dial, and has not yet wholly gone out of fashion with a rather large class of readers. You will find plenty of specimens in newspapers of a mixed religious and literary character, and now and then in the magazines.

THE CHORUS. Give us its peculiarities.

THE ANCIENT. First, great gravity, if not solemnity of tone ; a rhythm, sometimes weak, sometimes hard, but usually halting ; obscurity and incoherence of thought, and a perpetual reference to abstract morality.

ZOÏLUS. Don’t describe, but imitate.

THE ANCIENT. I could give you a stanza, by way of illustration. Furnish me with a subject, — anything you please. (ZOÏLUS writes.) The Fifth Wheel! that will answer; for the poets of this school always begin far away from their themes. The first stanza might run thus : —

From sunshine and from moral truth
Let Life be woven athwart thy breast !
The rapid cycles of thy youth
But fetter Duty’s solemn quest.

OMNES. GO on !

THE ANCIENT. NOW I may get a little nearer to the subject, though I don’t clearly see how. (After a pause.)

Vibration gives but faint assent
To that which in thee seems complete,
But time evolves the Incident
Behind the dust-drivan chariot’s feet.
Be well provided ! Overplus
Is Life’s stern law, none can evade ;
Thou to the goal sbalt hasten thus,
When selfish natures’ wheels are stayed.

ZOÏLUS. Great Jove ! to think that I never discovered the undying Laura Matilda in this prim disguise ! It is the languishing creature grown older, with a high-necked dress, a linen collar, and all her curls brushed smooth ! Ancient, you have purged mine eyes from visual film ; this boon wipes out all remembrance of our strife.

OMNES. Enough for to-night !



(All the members promptly on hand.)

THE CHORUS. HOW much does any author distinctly know of himself, or the quality of his works ?

ZOÏLUS. Not much.

GALAHAD. Everything !

THE GANNET. Only what makes a hit, and what does n’t.

THE ANCIENT. It depends on who and what the author is : you will find both extremes represented.

THE CHORUS. Yourselves, for instance !

ZOÏLUS. To be frank, I think I have more merit than luck. But when I come to contrast the degrees of popularity with the character of the performance, I am puzzled.

GALAHAD. Popularity has nothing to do with it. I know that some of my qualities are genuine, while other necessary ones are weakly represented. Our talk, the last night, satisfied me that I have not yet found the one best direction ; but, on the other hand, one dare not force one’s own development, and I think I see whither I am tending.

THE GANNET. DO you want to see where you stand, now, or very nearly the spot ?

GALAHAD. Show me if you can ?

(The Gannet takes a sheet of paper and writes.)

ZOÏLUS (to the ANCIENT). DO you think that a poet is generally a correct judge of his own works ?

THE ANCIENT. Please, don’t repeat that dismal platitude ! A genuine poet is always the best judge of his own works, simply because he has an ideal standard by which he measures whatever he does. He may not be able to guess what will be most popular ; he may attach an exorbitant value to that which is born of some occult individual mood, in which few others can ever share ; but in regard to the quality of the calm, ripened product of his brain he cannot be mistaken ! To admit that he can be, substitutes chance for law in the poetic art, and brings us down to the vulgar idea of a wayward and accidental inspiration, instead of conscious growth followed by conscious achievement.

ZOÏLUS. YOU astonish me.

THE ANCIENT. Then be glad ; it is a sign that you are not poetically blasé.

GALAHAD. Never ! One can never be that.

THE GANNET. Wait till you hear how your theorbo sounds in ray ears. What I have attempted is a serious, not a comical, echo of your style.

OMNES. Give it to us !

THE GANNET. Keep Galahad’s hands off me till I have finished ! (Reads)


Down in the dell I wandered.
The loneliest of our dells,
Where grow the lowland lilies,
Dropping their foam-white bells,
And the brook among the grasses
Toys with its sand and shells.
Fair were the meads and thickets,
And sumptuous grew the trees,
And the folding hills of harvest
Were lulled with the fanning breeze,
But I heard, beyond the valley,
The roar of the plunging seas.
The birds and the vernal grasses,
They wooed me sweetly and long,
But the magic of ocean called me,
Murmuring vast and strong ;
Here was the flute-like cadence, There was the world-wide song !
“ Lie in the wood’s embraces,
Sleep in the dell’s repose ! ”
Float on the limitless azure, Flecked with its foamy snows !”
Such were the changing voices,
Heard at the twilight’s close.
Free with the winds and waters,
Nestled in shade and dew :
Bliss in the soft green shelter,
Fame on the boundless blue ;
Which shall I yield forever ?
Which forever pursue?

OMNES (clapping their hands). Galahad ! Galahad !

GALAHAD (with a melancholy air). It is worse than the most savage criticism. There is just enough of my own sentiment and poetical manner in it, to show me how monstrously blind I have been in not perceiving that scores of clever fellows may write the same things, if they should choose. I ought to relapse into the corner of a country newspaper.

THE ANCIENT. Take heart, my dear boy! We all begin with sentiment and melodious rhythm,— or what seems to us to be such. We all discover the same old metaphors over again, and they are as new to us as if they had never been used before. Very few young poets have the slightest presentiment of their coming development. They have the keenest delight, the profoundest satisfaction, with their crudest works. With knowledge comes the sense of imperfection, which increases as they rise in performance. Remember that the Gannet is five or six years older than you, and can now write in cold blood what only comes from the summer heat of your mind.

GALAHAD. I understand you, and don’t mean to be discouraged. But Zoïlus is fully avenged, now.

ZOÏLUS. I ’ll prove it by my notice of your next poem in the ——. Let us turn to our remaining models. Whatever may be thought of them at home, they have all made a very positive impression in England ; how do you account for it, Ancient?

THE ANCIENT. I can only guess at an explanation, apart from the merits which three of them certainly possess. While the average literary culture in England was perhaps never so high as now, the prevalent style of writing was never so conventional. The sensational school, which has been so popular here as well as there, is beginning to fatigue the majority of readers, yet it still spoils their enjoyment of simple, honest work ; so, every new appearance in literature, which is racy, which carries the flavor of a fresh soil with it, unconventional yet seemingly natural, neither suggesting the superficial refinement of which they are surfeited nor the nobler refinement which they have forgotten how to relish, — all such appearances, I suspect, furnish just the change they crave.

THE GANNET. But the changes of popular taste in the two countries are very similar. This is evident in the cases of Bret Harte and Hay; but Walt Whitman seems to have a large circle of enthusiastic admirers in England, and only some half-dozen disciples among us. Do you suppose that the passages of his “ Leaves of Grass,” which are prose catalogues to us, or the phrases which are our slang, have a kind of poetical charm there, because they are not understood ?

ZOÏLUS. AS Tartar or Mongolian “ Leaves of Grass ” might have to us ? Very likely. There are splendid lines and brief passages in Walt Whitman : there is a modern, half-Bowery-boy, half-Emersonian apprehension of the old Greek idea of physical life, which many take to be wholly new on account of the singular form in which it is presented. I will even admit that the elements of a fine poet exist in him, in a state of chaos. It is curious that while he proclaims his human sympathies to be without bounds, his intellectual sympathies should be so narrow. There never was a man at once so arrogant, and so tender towards his fellow-men.

THE ANCIENT. YOU have very correctly described him. The same art which he despises would have increased his power and influence. He forgets that the poet must not only have somewhat to say, but must strenuously acquire the power of saying it most purely and completely. A truer sense of art would have prevented that fault which has been called immorality, but is only a coarse, offensive frankness.

THE GANNET. Let us divide our labors. There is only one name apiece : how shall we apportion them ?

ZOÏLUS. Take Joaquin Miller, and give Walt Whitman to the Ancient. Choose of these two, Galahad !

GALAHAD (opening the paper). Bret Harte.

ZOÏLUS. Then Hay remains to me.

(They all write steadily for half an hour.)

THE GANNET. Our last is our most difficult task ; for we have to give the local flavor of the poetry, as well as its peculiar form and tone.

ZOÏLUS. I should like to know how much of that local flavor is genuine. I am suspicious of Bret Harte’s California dialect: some features of it are evidently English, and very suggestive of Dickens. Hay’s is nearer the real thing. Miller’s scenery and accessories also inspire me with doubt. Now, much of the value of this genre poetry (as I should call it) depends upon its fidelity to nature. Sham slang and sham barbarism are worse than sham refinement and luxury.

THE ANCIENT. Harte’s use of “which” as an expletive is certainly an English peculiarity, which he may have heard it in some individual miner, but which it is not a feature of California slang. So, when Miggles says, “ O, if you please, I’m Miggles,” it is an English girl who speaks. Aside from a few little details of this kind, Harte’s sketches and poems are truly and admirably colored. He deserves his success, for he has separated himself by a broad gulf from all the literary buffoonery of this day, which is sometimes grotesque and always inane. But he is picturesque, and the coarsest humor of his characters rests on a pure human pathos.

GALAHAD. Somehow, the use of a vulgar dialect in poetry is always unpleasant to me ; it is like a grinning mask over a beautiful face. And yet, how charming is “’Zekel’s Courtship”!

THE ANCIENT. Lowell has done all that is possible with the New England dialect. He has now and then steeped it in an odor of poetry which it never before exhaled and perhaps never may again. Compare it, for instance, with the Scotch of Burns, where every elision makes the word sweeter on the tongue, and where the words which are its special property are nearly always musical. The New England changes are generally on the side of roughness and clumsiness. With becomes an ugly ’th, instead of the soft Scotch wi; have hardens into hev, instead of flowing into hae; and got coarsens into gut, instead of the quaint sharpness of gat. It is the very opposite of the mellow broadness of the Scotch; it sacrifices the vowels and aggravates the consonants ; its raciest qualities hint of prevarication and noncommital, and its sentiment is grotesque even when it is frank and touching. Yet Lowell’s genius sometimes so completely transfigures this harsh material, that one’s ear forgets it and hears only the finer music of his thought.

ZOÏLUS. Shall we read ? I suggest that we take the authors, to-night, in the order of their appearance. Walt Whitman leads.



Everywhere, everywhere, following me ;
Taking me by the buttonhole, pulling off my boots,
hustling me with the elbows;
Sitting down with me to clams and the chowder-ket-
tle ;
Plunging naked at my side into the sleek, irascible
surges ;
Soothing me with the strain that I neither permit
nor prohibit ;
Flocking this way and that, reverent, eager, orotund,
irrepressible ;
Denser than sycamore leaves when the north-winds
are scouring Paumnnok ;
What can I do to restrain them? Nothing, verily
Everywhere, everywhere, crying aloud for me ;
Crying, I hear ; and I satisfy them out of my nature ;
And he that comes at the end of the feast shall find
something over.
Whatever they want I give ; though it be something
else, they shall have it.
Drunkard, leper, Tammanyite, small-pox, and chol-
era patient, shoddy, and cod-fish millionnaire,
And the beautiful young men, and the beautiful
young women, all the same,
Crowding, hundreds of thousands, cosmical multi-
Buss me and hang on my hips and lean up to my
Everywhere listening to my yawp and glad whenever
they hear it ;
Everywhere saying, say it, Walt, we believe it:
Everywhere, everywhere.

ZOÏLUS. By Jove, Ancient ! you could soon develop into a Kosmos.

THE ANCIENT. It would not be difficult, so far as the form is concerned. The immortal Tupper, in his rivalry with Solomon, substituted semi-rhythmical prose lines for verse ; but Walt, being thoroughly in earnest, often makes his lines wholly rhythmical. I confess I enjoy his decameters and hecatameters.

THE CHORUS. Bret Harte was the next appearance, after a very long interval. You will have to do your best, Galahad.

GALAHAD. A superficial imitation is easy enough, but I shall certainly fail to reproduce his subtile wit and pathos. (Reads.)


Which his name it was Sam;
He had sluiced for a while
Up at Murderer’s Dam,
Till he got a good pile,
And the heft of each dollar,
Two thousand or more,
He 'd put in the Chollar,
For he seed it was ore
That runs thick up and down, without ceilin’ or floor.
And, says he, it’s a game
That’s got but one stake ;
If I put up that same,
It ’ll bust me or make.
At fifty the foot
I've entered my pile,
And the whole derned cahoot
I ’ll let soak for a while,
And jest loaf around here, — say, Jim, will you smile?
Tom Fakes was the chum,
Down in Frisco, of Sam ;
And one mornin’ there come
This here telegram :
“You can sell for five hundred,
Come down by the train ! ”
Sam By-Joed and By-Thundered, —
’T was whistlin’ quite plain,
And down to Dutch Flat rushed with might and with main.
He had no time to sarch,
But he grabbed up a shirt
That showed bilin’ and starch,
And a coat with less dirt.
He jumped on the step
As the train shoved away,
And likewise was swep’,
All galliant and gay,
Round the edge of the mounting and down to’rds the
Seven minutes, to pass
Through the hole by the Flat !
Says he, I ’m an ass
If I can’t shift in that !
But the train behind time,
Only thre was enough, —
It came pat as a rhyme —
He was stripped to the buff
When they jumped from the tunnel to daylight!
'T was rough.
What else ? Here’s to you !
Which he sold of his feet
At five hundred, ’t it true,
And the same I repeat;
But acquaintances, friends,
They likes to divert,
And the tale never ends
Of Sam and his shirt,
And to stop it from goin’ he’d give all his dirt !

ZOÏLUS. You were right to take a merely comical incident. You could n’t possibly have echoed the strong feeling which underlies the surface slang of such a poem as “Jim,” which I consider Harte’s masterpiece in his special vein.

GALAHAD. He never could have written that if he had been only a humorist. His later work shows that he is a genuine poet.

THE ANCIENT. Yes, that special vein is like many in the Nevada mines, rich on the surface, narrowing as it goes down, pinched off by the primitive strata, opening again unexpectedly into a pocket, but never to be fully depended upon. Harte’s instincts are too true not to see this : I believe he will do still better, and therefore probably less popular work.

THE GANNET. Now, Zoïlus, give us Hay, and let me close with a war-whoop!

ZOÏLUS. I’m not quite sure of my Pike dialect, but I fancy the tone is rough enough to satisfy you. (Reads.)


There’s them that eats till they’re bustin',
And them that drinks till they’re blind,
And them that’s snufflin’ and spooney,
But the best of all, to my mind,
(And I've been around in my time, boys,
And cavorted with any you like,)
Was Big Bill, that lived in the slashes,
We called him Big Bill o’ Pike.
If he put his hand to his bowie
Or scratched the scruff of his neck,
You could only tell by waitin’
To see if you bled a peck ;
And the way he fired, ’t was lovely !
Nobody knowed which was dead,
Till Big Bill grinned, and the stiff'un
Tumbled over onto his head !
At school he killed his master ;
Courtin’, he killed seven more ;
And the hearse was always a-waitin’
A little ways from his door.
There wasn’t much growth in the county,
As the census returns will show,
But we had Big Bill we was proud of,
And that was enough to grow.
And now Big Bill is an angel, —
Damn me, it makes me cry !
Jist when he was rampin’ the roughest.
The poor fellow had to die.
A thievin’ and sneakin’ Yankee
Got the start on our blessed Bill,
And there’s no one to do our killin’
And nobody left to kill !

ZOÏLUS. Hay’s realism, in those ballads, is of the grimmest kind. It is like the old Dance of Death, in a new form. I have been greatly amused by the actual fury which his “Little Breeches ” and “ Jim Bludso ” have aroused in some sectarian quarters. To read the attacks, one would suppose that Christianity was threatened by the declaration that angels may interpose to save children, or that a man, ignorant or regardless of ordinary morality, may redeem his soul by the noblest sacrifice. Really, it seems to me, that to diminish the range of individual damnation renders many good people unhappy.

THE ANCIENT. Hay has made his name known in the most legitimate way, — by representing phenomena of common Western life which he has observed. He might have faintly echoed Shelley or Tennyson for a decade, and accomplished nothing. Those ballads are not, strictly speaking, poetry ; but it is impossible that they should not give him a tendency to base his better poems on the realities of our American life.

THE CHORUS. Let us hear the Gannet’s war-whoop !

THE GANNET. There is nothing easier than to exaggerate exaggeration. (Reads.)


That whiskey-jug ! For, dry or wet,
My tale will need its help, you bet !

We made for the desert, she and I,
Though life was loathsome, and love a lie,
And she gazed on me with her glorious eye,
But all the same, — I let her die !
For why ? — there was barely water for one
In the small canteen, and of provender, none !
A splendid snake, with an emerald scale,
Slid before us along the trail,
With a famished parrot pecking its head ;
And, seizing a huge and dark brown rock
In her dark brown hands, as you crush a crock,
With the dark brown rock she crushed it dead.

But ere her teeth in its flesh could meet,
I laid her as dead as the snake at my feet,
And grabbed the snake for myself to eat.
The plain stretched wide, from side to side,
As bare and blistered and cracked and dried
As a moccasin sole of buffalo hide,
And my throat grew hot, as I walked the trail,
My blood in a sizzle, my muscles dry,
A crimson glare in my glorious eye,
And I felt my sinews wither and fail,
Like one who has lavished, for fifty nights,
His pile in a hell of gambling delights,
And is kicked at dawn, from bottle and bed,
And sent to the gulches without a red.
There was no penguin to pick or pluck,
No armadillo’s throat to be stuck,
Not even a bilberry’s ball of blue
To slush my tongue with its indigo dew,
And the dry brown palm-trees rattled and roared
Like the swish and swizzle of Walker’s sword.
I was nigh rubbed out ; when, far away,
A shanty baked in the furnace of day,
And I petered on, for an hour or more,
Till I dropped, like a mangy hound, at the door.
No soul to be seen ; but a basin stood
On the bench, with a mess of dubious food,
Stringy and doughy and lumpy and thick.
As the clay ere flame has turned it to brick.
I gobbled it up with a furious fire,
A prairie squall of hungry desire,
And strength came back ; when, lo ! a scream
Closed my stomach and burst my dream.
She stood before me, as lithe and tall
As a musqueet-bnsh on the Pimos wall,
Fierce as the Zuñi panther’s leap,
Fair as the slim Apache sheep.
A lariat draped her broad brown hips,
As she stood and glared with parted lips,
While piercing stitches and maddening shoots
Ran through my body, from brain to boots.
I would have clasped her, but, ere I could,
She flung back her hair’s tempestuous hood,
And screamed, in a voice like a tiger-cat’s :
“ You’ve gone and ett up my pizen for rats ! ”
My blood grew limp and my hair grew hard
As the steely tail of the desert pard :
I sank at her feet, convulsed and pale,
And kissed in anguish her brown toe-nail.
You may rip the cloud from the frescoed sky,
Or tear the man from his place in the moon,
Fur from the buzzard and plumes from the coon,
But you can’t tear me from the truth I cry,
That life is loathsome and love a lie.
She lifted me up to her bare brown face,
She cracked my ribs in her brown embrace,
And there in the shanty, side by side,
Each on the other’s bosom died.
She’s now the mistress of Buffalo Bill,
And pure as the heart of a lily still ;
While I ’ve killed all who have cared for me,
And I ’m just as lonely as I can be,
So, pass the whiskey, — we ’ll have a spree !

OMNES. The real thing !

ZOÏLUS. You’ve beaten us all, but no wonder ! Much of Joaquin Miller’s verse is itself a travesty of poetry. Ancient, you talk about high ideals of literary art, and all that sort of thing : can you tell me what Rossetti and the rest of the English critics mean, in hailing this man as the great American poet ?

THE ANCIENT. One thing, of course, they cannot see, — the thorough spuriousness of his characters, with their costumes, scenery, and all other accessories. Why, he takes Lara and the Giaour, puts them in a fantastic, impossible country called “ Arizona ” or “ California,” and describes them with a rhythm borrowed from Swinburne and a frenzy all his own, — and we are called upon to accept this as something original and grand ! The amazed admiration of a class in England, and the gushing gratitude of one in America, form, together, a spectacle over which the pure, serene gods must bend in convulsions of inextinguishable laughter.

ZOÏLUS. Give me your hand ! As Thackeray says, let us swear eternal friendship ! You have often provoked me by persistently mollifying my judgments of authors ; but, if you had done so in this case, I could not have forgiven you. Joaquin Miller, and he alone, would prove the decadence of our literature : he is an Indianized copy of Byron, made up of shrieks and war-paint, and the life he describes is too brutal, selfish, and insane ever to have existed anywhere. A few fine lines or couplets, or an occasional glittering bit of description, are not enough to make him a genius, or even an unusual talent.

THE GANNET. But the material — not his, the true Arizonian material — is good, and he has shown shrewdness in selecting it. He is clever, in some ways, or he never could have made so much capital in England. His temporary success here is only an echo of his success there.

ZOÏLUS. If he were a young fellow of twenty, I should say, wait; but his is not the exaggeration of youth, it is the affectation of manhood.

GALAHAD. If anybody ever seriously said, “ Alas ! ” I should say it now. I have picked up many a grain of good counsel in the midst of our fun, and the fun itself has become an agreeable stimulus which I shall miss. We must not give up our habit wholly.

ZOÏLUS. There is no end of intellectual and poetic gymnastics, which we may try. I propose that we close with a grand satirical American “ Walpurgis-Night,” modelled on Goethe’s Intermezzo in Faust.

THE GANNET. That is a good idea., but how shall we carry it out ?

ZOÏLUS. Let each write a stanza or two, satirizing some literary school, author, magazine, or newspaper, throw it into the hat, and then take another, as long as we can keep up the game. When all are exhausted, give the hat to the Ancient and let him read the whole collection of squibs, in the order in which they turn up.

OMNES (eagerly). Accepted !

[Here, I am compelled to state, my liberty as a reporter ceases. The plan was carried out, and I think it was not entirely unsuccessful. But our mirth was partly at the expense of others : many of the stanzas were only lively and good-humored, but many others thrust out a sharp sting in the last line. As I was not an accomplice, I was perfectly willing that they should all be given to the public. Zoïlus did not seriously object; but the other three were peremptory in their prohibition. Even the Gannet confessed that he was not courageous enough to run the risk of making half a dozen permanent enemies by shafts of four lines apiece : he knew how largely the element of personal profit and reputation enters into American literary life, and how touchy a sensitiveness it develops. There was no denying this, for they related many instances to prove it. I yielded, of course, although it was a disappointment to me. After having thus entered authorship by a side-door, as it were, I find the field very pleasant ; and I withdraw now, since there is no alternative, with reluctance.— THE NAMELESS REPORTER.]