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- POEMS - 2/52 -


The Fallen Brave of Mexico The Champions of Liberty The Rock of the Pilgrims The Soldier's Welcome Home The Origin of Yankee Doodle New-York in 1826 The Maid of Saxony

Memoir of George P. Morris.

By Horace Binney Wallace.

Bless thou thy lot; thy simple strains have led The high-born muse to be the poor man's guest, And wafted on the wings of song, have sped Their way to many a rude, unlettered breast.

-- Beranger.

Morris has hung the most beautiful thoughts in the world upon hinges of [illegible]; and his songs are destined to roll over bright lips enough to form a [sonnet? illegible]. His sentiments are simple, honest, truthful, and familiar; his language is pure and eminently musical, and he is prodigally full of the poetry of every-day living.

-- Willis.

The distinction with which the name of General Morris is now associated in a permanent connection with what is least factitious or fugitive in American Art, is admitted and known; but the class of young men of letters in this country, at present, can hardly appreciate the extent to which they, and the profession to which they belong, are indebted to his animated exertions, his varied talents, his admirable resources of temper, during a period of twenty years, and at a time when the character of American literature, both at home and abroad was yet to be formed. The first great service which the literary taste of this country received, was rendered by Dennie; a remarkable man; qualified by nature and attainments to be a leader in new circumstances; fit to take part in the formation of a national literature; as a vindicator of independence in thought, able to establish freedom without disturbing the obligations of law; as a conservative in taste, skilful to keep the tone of the great models with which his studies were familiar, without copying their style; by both capacities successful in developing the one, unchangeable spirit of Art, under a new form and with new effects. In this office of field-marshal of our native forces, General Morris succeeded him under increased advantages, in some respect with higher powers, in a different, and certainly a vastly more extended sphere of influence. The manifold and lasting benefits which, as editor of "The Mirror," General Morris conferred on art and artists of every kind, by his tact, his liberality, the superiority of his judgement, and the vigor of his abilities; by the perseverance and address with which he disciplined a corps of youthful writers, in the presence of a constant and heavy fire from the batteries of foreign criticism; by the rare combination, so valuable in dealing with the numerous aspirants in authorship with whom his position brought him in contact; of a quick, true eye to discern in the modesty of some nameless manuscript the future promises of a power hardly yet conscious of itself; a discretion to guide by sound advice, and a generosity to aid with the most important kind of assistance; the firm and open temper which his example tended to inspire into the relations of literary men with one another throughout the land; and more than all, perhaps, by the harmony and union, of such inappreciable value, especially in the beginning of national effort, between the several sister arts of writing, music, painting, and dramatic exhibition, which the singular variety and discursiveness of his intellectual sympathies led him constantly to maintain and vindicate; these, in the multiplicity of their operation, and the full power of their joint effect, can be perfectly understood only by those who possessed a contemporaneous knowledge of the circumstances, and who, remembering the state of things at the commencement of the period alluded to, and observing what existed at the end of it, are able to look back over the whole interval, and see to what influences and what persons the extraordinary change which has taken place, is to be referred. If, at this moment, the literary genius of America, renewed in youth, and quivering lie the eagle's wings with excess of vigor, seems about to make a new flight, from a higher vantage-ground, into loftier depths of airy distance, the capacity to take that flight must, to a great degree, be ascribed to those two persons whom we have named; without whose services the brighter era which appears now to be dawning, might yet be distant and doubtful.

Besides these particulars of past effort, which ought to make his countrymen love the reputation of the subject of this notice, we regret that our limits forbid us to speak at large of those more intimate qualities of personal value, which, in our judgment, form the genuine lustre of one who, admirable for other attainments, is to be imitated in these.

To us it is an instinctive feeling that a wrong is done to the proper grandeur of our complex nature--that a violence is offered to the higher consciousness of our immortal being--whenever an intellectual quality is extolled tot he neglect of a moral one. Moral excellence is the most real genius; and a temper to cope and calmly baffle the multitudinous assaults of the spiritual enmity of active life, is a talent which outshines all praise of mental endowments. Unhappily, the biographer of literary creators affords few occasions in which a feeling of this kind can be indulged and gratified: that sensibility of mental apprehensions which is the fame of the author, is usually attended by a susceptibility of passionate impression which is the fate of the man; and earth and sense delight to wreak their destructive vengences upon the spiritual nature of him, of whose intellectual being they are the slaves and the sport. In the present instance, we are concerned with the character--'totus, teres, atque rotundus;' which may be looked upon, from every side, with an equal satisfaction. Search the wide world over, and you shall not find among the literary men of any nation, one on whom the dignity of a free and manly spirit sits with a grace more native and familiar--whose spontaneous sentiments have a truer tone of nobleness--the course of whose usual feelings is more expanded and honorable--whose acts, whether common and daily, or deliberate and much-considered, are wont at all times to be more beautifully impressed with those marks of sincerity, of modesty, and of justice, which form the very seal of worth in conduct. Those jealousies, and littlenesses, and envyings, which prey upon the spirits of many men, as the vulture on the heart that chained Prometheus--and whose fierce besetment they who WILL be magnanimous, have to fight off, as one drives away the eagles from their prey, with voice and gestures--seem never to assail him. It is the happiness of his nature to have THAT only absolute deliverance from evil which is implied in being rendered insensible to temptation. While the duty which is laid upon us, in this paper, mainly is to open and set forth his poetic praises and claim the laurel for his literary merits; when the crown of song is to be conferred upon him, we shall interpose to beg that the chaplet may be accompanied by some mark, or some inscription which shall declare,

"This is the reward of moral excellence."

For the success of our special purpose, in this notice, which is to consider and make apparent the specific character which belongs to General Morris as a literary artist and a poetic creator, to explain his claims to that title which the common voice of the country has given to him--of The Song-Writer of America--it would have probably been more judicious had we kept out of view the matters of which we have just spoken. It is recorded of a Grecian painter, that having completed the picture of a sleeping nymph, he added on the foreground the figure of a satyr gazing in amazement upon her beauty; but finding that the secondary form attracted universal praise, he erased it as diverting applause from that which he desired to have regarded as the principal monument of his skill. There is in this anecdote a double wisdom; the world is as little willing to yield to a twofold superiority as it is able to appreciate two distinct objects at once.

In a review of literary reputations, perhaps nothing is fitted to raise more surprise than the obvious inequality in the extend and greatness of the labors to which an equal reward of fame has been allotted. The abounding energy and picturesque variety of Homer are illustrated in eight-and-forty books: the remains of Sappho might be written on the surface of a leaf of the laurus nobilis. Yet if the one expands before us with the magnificent extent, the diversified surface, the endless decorations of the earth itself, the other hangs on high, like a lone, clear star--small but intense--flashing upon us through the night of ages, invested with circumstances of divinity not less unquestionable than those which attend the venerable majesty of the Ancient of Song. The rich and roseate light that shines around the name of Mimnermus, is shed from some dozen or twenty lines: the immortality of Tyrtaeus rests upon a stanza or two, which have floated to us with their precious freight, over the sea of centuries, and will float on unsubmergible by all the waves of Time. The soul of Simonides lives to us in a single couplet; but that is the very stuff of Eternity, which neither fire will assoil, nor tempest peril, nor the wrath of years impair. The Infinite has no degrees; wherever the world sees in any human being the fire of the Everlasting, it bows with equal awe, whether that fire is displayed by only an occasional flash, or by a prolonged and diffusive blaze. There is a certain tone which, hear it when we may, and where we may, we know to be the accents of the gods; and whether its quality be shown in a single utterance, or its volume displayed in a thousand bursts of music, we surround the band of spirits whom we there detect in their mortal disguise, with equal ceremonies of respect and worship, hailing them alike as seraphs of a brighter sphere--sons of the morning. This is natural, and it is reasonable. Genius is not a degree of other qualities, nor is it a particular way or extent of displaying such qualities; it is a faculty by itself; it is a manner, of which we may judge with the same certainty from one exhibition, as from many. The praise of a poet, therefore, is to be determined not by the nature of the work which he undertakes, but by the kind of mastery which he shows; not by the breadth of surface over which he toils, but by the perfectness of the result which he attains. Mr. Wordsworth has vindicated the capacity of the sonnet to be a casket of the richest gems of fame. We have no doubt that the song may give evidence of a genius which shall deserve to be ranked with the constructor of an epic. "Scorn not the SONG." We would go so far, indeed, as to say that success in the song imports, necessarily, a more inborn and genuine gift of poetic conception, than the same proportion of success in other less simple modes of


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