The Literati of New York/No. III/Thomas Dunn English
I have seen one or two brief poems of considerable merit with the signature of Thomas Dunn English appended. For example —
"A sound melodious shook the breeze
When thy beloved name was heard: [column 2:]
Such was the music in the word
Its dainty rhythm the pulses stirred.
But passed forever joys like these.
There is no joy, no light, no day;
But black despair and night alway,
And thickening gloom:
And this, Azthene, is my doom.
"Was it for this, for weary years,
I strove among the sons of men,
And by the magic of my pen —
Just sorcery — walked the lion's den
Of slander void of tears and fears —
And all for thee? For thee! — alas,
As is the image on a glass
So baseless seems,
Azthene, all my earthly dreams."
I must confess, however, that I do not appreciate the "dainty rhythm" of such a word as "Azthene," and, perhaps, there is a little taint of egotism in the passage about "the magic" of Mr. English's pen. Let us be charitable, however, and set all this down under the head of "pure imagination" or invention — one of the first of poetical requisites. The inexcusable sin of Mr. E. is imitation — if this be not too mild a term. Barry Cornwall and others of the bizarre school are his especial favorites. He has taken, too, most unwarrantable liberties, in the way of downright plagiarism, from a Philadelphian poet whose high merits have not been properly appreciated — Mr. Henry B. Hirst.
I place Mr. English, however, on my list of New York literati, not on account of his poetry, (which I presume he is not weak enough to estimate very highly,) but on the score of his having edited for several months, "with the aid of numerous collaborators," a monthly magazine called "The Aristidean." This work, although professedly a "monthly," was issued at irregular intervals, and was unfortunate, I fear, in not attaining at any period a very extensive circulation.
I learn that Mr. E. is not without talent; but the fate of "The Aristidean" should indicate to him the necessity of applying himself to study. No spectacle can be more pitiable than that of a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind on topics of polite literature. The absurdity in such cases does not lie merely in the ignorance displayed by the would-be instructor, but in the transparency of the shifts by which he endeavours to keep this ignorance concealed. The editor of "The Aristidean," for example, was not laughed at so much on account of writing "lay" for "lie," etc. etc., and coupling nouns in the plural with verbs in the singular — as where he writes, above,
"—— so baseless seems,
Azthene, all my earthly dreams —"
he was not, I say, laughed at so much for his excusable deficiencies in English grammar (although an editor should certainly be able to write his own name) as that, in the hope of disguising such deficiency, he was perpetually lamenting the "typographical page 18 blunders" that "in the most unaccountable manner" would creep into his work. Nobody was so stupid as to suppose for a moment that there existed in New York a single proof-reader — or even a single printer's devil — who would have permitted such errors to escape. By the excuses offered, therefore, the errors were only the more obviously nailed to the counter as Mr. English's own.
I make these remarks in no spirit of unkindness. Mr. E. is yet young — certainly not more than thirty-five — and might, with his talents, readily improve himself at points where he is most defective. No one of any generosity would think the worse of him for getting private instruction.
I do not personally know Mr. English. He is, I believe, from Philadelphia, where he was formerly a doctor of medicine, and subsequently took up the profession of law; more latterly he joined the Tyler party and devoted his attention to politics. About his personal appearance there is nothing very observable. I cannot say whether he is married or not.