Abbildungen der Seite

Mr. BRADFORD spoke at length on the recent political contest in Great Britain, drawing from it some illustrations of changes in the organization of governments.

Mr. SANBORN read the following paper:

WILLIAN ELLERY CHANNING AND JOHN Brown. I present to the Historical Society today a little volume which, though printed four and twenty years ago, was never published nor sold, and is as much unknown today as if it had never been issued from the Boston press. It is the short poem of William Ellery Channing, my neighbor and for ten years my house-mate, on my old friend John Brown, of Kansas and Virginia. Ellery Channing was the only professional poet I have ever known; answering in these modern days to the Homeric rhapsodist, the Irish or Welsh bard, or the minstrel of the middle ages. Like most of those traditional persons, his work is little known, and probably always will be. He made his appeal in youth to the mass of readers, and there was no response; his verses were quoted in the books of others, but seldom read in his own volumes, which lay unbought on the bookseller's shelf, and hardly found their way even into libraries,

When I was first in London, in the summer of 1890, and was received at the British Museum with generous hospitality by the late Dr. Richard Garnett, then the Keeper of Printed Books, I was pleased to find that he had gathered into that great collection more volumes of Channing's verse than could then be found in any New England library, except that in Concord, and perhaps the Boston Athenæum. Dr. Garnett made a specialty of collecting the books of the Concord authors, and had a taste for first editions. At that time he lacked two rare books, the first edition of Hawthorne's “ Fanshawe" and that of Emerson's "Nature," and he communicated to me his wish to acquire them for the Museum Library. He said he felt authorized to offer for "Nature" in the edition of 1836, seven pounds sterling. I told him I had a friend in New England (the late Marston Watson of Plymouth) who had two copies, and would part with one, I thought. I put Dr. Garnett in communication with him, and I think he paid Mr. Watson five pounds for the thin volume. At the very time our con

[ocr errors]

versation occurred, the London bookseller, Quaritch, was advertising a copy of Emerson's "Nature" for seven shillings, which Dr. Garnett would have paid twenty times as much for. Quaritch's copy was bought by an American, Dr. S. A. Jones, of Ann Arbor, and got as far on its way to him as to New York City, where somebody stole it from the post office, and it never reached Michigan. “Fanshawe” at that time was held at a price beyond the Museum's rate, - I think for some five hundred dollars a copy ; and whether Dr. Garnett ever bought the book I cannot say,

Ellery Channing began to write good verse at fourteen or earlier, and he continued to write it after he was eighty. He also wrote much bad verse, and seldom seemed capable of distinguishing between a good verse and a bad one. His first poem was sent by his father, Dr. Walter Channing of Boston, or by some admiring friend, to be printed in the old New England Magazine,” in 1835, and came out before the poet was seventeen years old, in October, 1835, - a fanciful octosyllabic piece called “The Spider.” Emerson printed several pages of Channing's poems in “ The Dial” from 1840 to 1814, some of which appeared in his first volume of “ Poems," in 1843, printed at the cost of Channing's intimate friend, the late Samuel Gray Ward, then of Boston. He published himself several poems in the “New York Tribune,” which he helped Horace Greeley edit in 1844-45; and he issued a second series of them in a volume in 1847, another volume in 1849, and two long blank-verse poems, -- "Near Home” in 1858, and " The Wanderer” in 1871. The public manifested more interest in these, but bought few of the copies; so that by 1855, when I made this poet's acquaintance, he had come to regard himself as unable to win public attention in verse. Yet he kept on writing it, and made himself, as indeed he had done from 1841, the laureate of his intimate friends. Poems of his, celebrating Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Elizabeth Hoar, Caroline Sturgis, Marston Watson, Bronson Alcott, Daniel Ricketson, Fanny McGregor, and other friends, were printed by him from time to time; sometimes without notifying the subjects of his verse that he had done them that honor. Thus at my marriage in 1862 he sent to the “ Commonwealth” newspaper, which my friend Moncure Conway was then editing, an “ Epithalamium” of which I long afterwards found

[ocr errors]

that I was the subject. He addressed me another poem in 1866, upon a birthday, and did not then conceal the fact that he was the writer. I found on his table after his death in December, 1901, a copy of verses addressed to the infant daughter of one of his young friends; which must have been written after he was eighty, since the child was not born at his eighty-first birthday.

The volume which I present today contains two poems in blank verse, both in honor of John Brown. The shorter one was written to make a part of Rev. Samuel Orcutt's “ History of Torrington,” where Brown was born, -- the same volume for which I wrote a brief life of Brown. It was published in 1878, and I found among the correspondence of Channing, left to me at his death, some letters of Mr. Orcutt, while the verses were printing, which show that editor's high appreciation of the verses. Mr. Orcutt had before published a “ History of Wolcott” in Connecticut, where Mr. Alcott was born, six months before Brown was born at Torrington; and for this volume Channing had written verses in honor of Louisa Alcott and her father; and I had written sketches of their lives up to 1873. Both the verses and the biography for the Torrington volume were written in 1877, and the book seems to have gained some favor in consequence of their presence among its pages. Writing to Channing in February, 1877, Mr. Orcutt said, “I am now at work completing the • History of Torrington,' the birthplace of John Brown, and am nearly ready for your poem.” A year later, having received and printed the verses, he wrote:

Please don't think I have forgotten you, or that I am ungrateful for your very appropriate and interesting lines on the burial of John Brown in my history of the town of Torrington. The John Brown Memorial, and the poem on his burial, add very greatly to the work. I was at first frightened at the great cost of the printing, but a better sale than I expected, during the few days they have been out, has quieted my nerves a little. [March 16, 1878.]

Your very kind letter afforded me peculiar comfort of mind, for at that time I was in doubt as to the success of my book. Therefore such cheering words were well appreciated. It is quite certain now that the work is a success in all respects; and will give me pleasure as well as many others. The space occupied in it by John Brown is a joy to me

always, and a great honor to the book. For your continued consideration, and generous expressions of interest, I shall ever be grateful. [April 11, 1878.]

Soon after the printing of the shorter of these two poems in Mr. Orcutt's history, as mentioned, I received the following note from its author, in lieu of a visit he was in the habit of making me every week:

Concord, Thursday, Feb'y 7, 1878. DEAR SIR, Do you think the poem I sent you yesterday would be taken by either of the magazines, under the circumstance of its publishing elsewhere, in a local book without circulation ? As I have not parted with my property in this piece, I do not think Mr. Orcutt would object to its being printed elsewhere, as it would do for an advertisement. It is, to be sure, not favorable to the South, but it would make a good poem to illustrate. Of course it would be stated whence it came, i. e. the “ History of Torrington.” As Mr. Orcutt's book will have no general circulation, and as I get nothing for my work, I should be glad to have my contribution to the memory

of our greatest hero" get at least some kind of publishment.

If you think anything of the kind can be done, please send forward the poem without delay. Truly yours,

W. E. C.

It was not feasible, as magazines are in the present age of the world, to get the verses into a monthly, although in 1873-78 Mr. Channing had some slight access to the magazines for his verse and prose.

The dramatic poem had a different history. It was not written for any special use, nor submitted to any bookseller before publication. It may have been written years before, but seems not to have been communicated to any friend, either before or after printing. He had produced an earlier poem, “ Near Home,” in this same quiet way, before printing; but when it was once in type he brought copies of that to his Concord friends, – to Emerson, Thoreau and myself, — he at the time being a resident of New Bedford, where he was editing the daily “ Mercury.” But in 1886 Emerson and Thoreau were dead, Alcott was stricken with paralysis, and his later friends, Dr. W. T. Harris and Mr. Emery, and the unknown Connecticut poet Tread well -all now dead

- do not seem to have been consulted. Mrs. Waldo Emerson, to whom the

dramatic poem is dedicated, no doubt received a copy; and as the second poem is inscribed to me, it is probable that I had one; but that I cannot recall. When, in the autumn of 1891, Mr. Channing came in a very feeble state of health, to reside with me and be cared for, I soon persuaded him to sell his own house, which had been built by Samuel Hoar (father of the Judge and Senator), by Colonel Whiting, and a few other citizens of Concord for the newly chartered Concord Academy, and have his library removed to the upper story of my house, where was room for the four thousand volumes. I made the removal myself, handling every volume with my own hands, and in so doing found the hundred volumes, more or less, of this work, which I have since been giving away to those persons, in this country and in Europe, who valued the irregular verse and the peculiar genius of Ellery Channing, Very few are now left, and when I perused it a few days ago, it seemed to me to be a proper gift, ödeyov te bidóv te, as Homer says, – for this library, the catacombs of so much departed literature. It has a certain historical value, and a certain poetic merit, in neither case very considerable, but worth preserving.

As actual history, the longer poem bears much the same relation to a marked chapter in American history, that any given play of Shakespeare, such as - Richard III,” has to that chapter of English history which has been so much fabulated and distorted. The actual personages here dramatized, a dozen of whom I knew, are true to their character, as shown in their speeches, and much that is related is historically true. But over all is thrown a mist of imagination, and a veil of strange English, which makes the book hard reading. Passages of fanciful beauty occur here and there, as, for instance, Stevens, the handsome and daring lieutenant of Brown in Kansas and Virginia, speaking of the prairie life, says,

And the old Kansas life ran in our veins,-
The wild romance, the charms of the free air;
To sleep within the moon, and feel the night wind
Curl around your form, the bending grass
Whisper its loving secrets to your ear,
And sing you into utter dreams of peace;
Your friends the wailing winds; the halls of light,-
Your dazzling halls, – the stars !

« ZurückWeiter »