The Literati of New York/No. II/Laughton Osborn
Personally, Mr. Osborn is little known as an author, either to the public or in literary society, but he has made a great many "sensations" anonymously or with a nom de plume. I am not sure that he has published anything with his own name.
One of his earliest works — if not his earliest — was "The Adventures of Jeremy Levis, by Himself," in one volume, a kind of medley of fact, fiction, satire, criticism and novel philosophy. lt is a dashing, reckless brochure, brimful of talent and audacity. Of course it was covertly admired by the few and loudly condemned by all of the many who can fairly be said to have seen it at all. It had no great circulation. There was something wrong, I fancy, in the mode of its issue.
"Jeremy Levis" was followed by "The Dream of Alla-Ad-Deen, from the romance of 'Anastasia,' by Charles Erskine White, D.D." This is a thin pamphlet of thirty-two pages, each page containing about a hundred and forty words — the whole equal to four pages of this magazine. Alla-Ad-Deen is the son of Alladdin, of "wonderful lamp" memory, and the story is in the "Vision of Mirza" or "Rasselas" way. The design is to reconcile us to death and evil, on the somewhat unphilosophical ground that comparatively we are of little importance in the scale of creation. The author himself supposes this scale to be infinite, and thus his argument proves too much; for if evil should be regarded by man as of no consequence because, "comparatively," he is of none, it must be regarded as of no consequence by the angels for a similar [column 2:] reason — and so on in a never-ending ascent. In other words, the only thing proved is the rather bullish proposition that evil is no evil at all. I do not find that the "Dream" elicited any attention. It would have been more appropriately published in one of our magazines.
Next in order came, I believe, "The Confessions of a Poet, by Himself." This was in two volumes, of the ordinary novel form, but printed very openly. It made much noise in the literary world, and no little curiosity was excited in regard to its author, who was generally supposed to be John Neal. There were some grounds for this supposition, the tone and matter of the narrative bearing much resemblance to those of "Errata" and "Seventy-Six," especially in the points of boldness and vigour. The "Confessions," however, far surpassed any production of Mr. Neal's in a certain air of cultivation (if not exactly of scholarship) which pervaded it, as well as in the management of its construction — a particular in which the author of "The Battle of Niagara" invariably fails; there is no precision, no finish about anything he does — always an excessive force but little of refined art. Mr. N. seems to be deficient in a sense of completeness. He begins well, vigorously, startlingly, and proceeds by fits, quite at random, now prosing, now exciting vivid interest, but his conclusions are sure to be hurried and indistinct, so that the reader perceives a falling off, and closes the book with dissatisfaction. He has done nothing which, as a whole, is even respectable, and "The Confessions" are quite remarkable for their artistic unity and perfection. But in higher regards they are to be commended. I do not think, indeed, that a better book of its kind has been written in America. To be sure, it is not precisely the work to place in the hands of a lady, but its scenes of passion are intensely wrought, its incidents are striking and original, its sentiments audacious and suggestive at least, if not at all times tenable. In a word, it is that rare thing, a fiction of power without rudeness. Its spirit, in general, resembles that of "Miserrimus" and "Martin Faber."
Partly on account of what most persons would term their licentiousness, partly, also, on account of the prevalent idea that Mr. Neal (who was never very popular with the press) had written them, "The Confessions," by the newspapers, were most unscrupulously misrepresented and abused. The "Commercial Advertiser" of New York was, it appears, foremost in condemnation, and Mr. Osborn thought proper to avenge his wrongs by the publication of a bulky satirical poem, leveled at the critics in general, but more especially at Colonel Stone, the editor of the "Commercial." This satire (which was published in exquisite style as regards print and paper,) was entitled "The Vision of Rubeta." Owing to the high price necessarily set upon the book, no great many copies were sold, but the few that got into circulation made quite a hubbub, and with reason, for the satire was not only bitter but personal in page 272 the last degree. It was, moreover, very censurably indecent — filthy is, perhaps, the more appropriate word. The press, without exception, or nearly so, condemned it in loud terms, without taking the trouble to investigate its pretensions as a literary work. But as "The Confessions of a Poet " was one of the best novels of its kind ever written in this country, so "The Vision of Rubeta " was decidedly the best satire. For its vulgarity and gross personality there is no defence, but its mordacity cannot be gainsaid. In calling it, however, the best American satire, I do not intend any excessive commendation — for it is, in fact, the only satire composed by an American. Trumbull's clumsy work is nothing at all, and then we have Halleck's "Croakers," which is very feeble — but what is there besides? "The Vision" is our best satire, and still a sadly deficient one. It was bold enough and bitter enough, and well constructed and decently versified, but it failed in sarcasm because its malignity was permitted to render itself evident. The author is never very severe because he is never sufficiently cool. We laugh not so much at the objects of his satire as we do at himself for getting into so great a passion. But, perhaps, under no circumstances is wit the forte of Mr. Osborn. He has few equals at downright invective.
The "Vision " was succeeded by "Arthur Carryl and other Poems," including an additional canto of the satire, and several happy although not in all cases accurate or comprehensive imitations in English of the Greek and Roman metres. "Arthur Carryl" is a fragment, in the manner of "Don Juan." I do not think it especially meritorious. It has, however, a truth-telling and discriminative preface, and its notes are well worthy perusal. Some opinions embraced in these latter on the topic of versification I have examined in an article called "Marginalia" published lately in "The Democratic Review." [column 2:]
I am not aware that since "Arthur Carryl" Mr. Osborn has written anything more than a "Treatise on Oil Painting," issued not long ago by Messrs. Wiley and Putnam. This work is highly spoken of by those well qualified to judge, but is, I believe, principally a compilation or compendium.
In personal character, Mr. O. is one of the most remarkable men I ever yet had the pleasure of meeting. He is undoubtedly one of "Nature's own noblemen," full of generosity, courage, honour — chivalrous in every respect, but, unhappily, carrying his ideas of chivalry, or rather of independence, to the point of Quixotism, if not of absolute insanity. He has no doubt been misapprehended, and therefore wronged by the world; but he should not fail to remember that the source of the wrong lay in his own idiosyncrasy — one altogether unintelligible and unappreciable by the mass of mankind.
He is a member of one of the oldest and most influential, formerly one of the wealthiest families in New York. His acquirements and accomplishments are many and unusual. As poet, painter and musician, he has succeeded nearly equally well, and absolutely succeeded as each. His scholarship is extensive. In the French and Italian languages he is quite at home, and in everything he is thorough and accurate. His critical abilities are to be highly respected, although he is apt to swear somewhat too roundly by Johnson and Pope. Imagination is not Mr. Osborn's forte.
He is about thirty-two or three — certainly not more than thirty-five years of age. In person he is well made, probably five feet ten or eleven, muscular and active. Hair, eyes and complexion, rather light; fine teeth; the whole expression of the countenance manly, frank, and prepossessing in the highest degree.
[Appearing in the same issue, under the heading "Editors' Table" is the following item:
"THE AUTHORS AND MR. POE. — We have received several letters from New York, anonymous and from personal friends, requesting us to be careful what we allow Mr. Poe to say of the New York authors, many of whom are our personal friends. We reply to one and all, that we have nothing to do but publish Mr. Poe's opinions, not our own. Whether we agree with Mr. Poe's or not is another matter. We are not to be intimidated by a threat of the loss of a friends, or turned from our purpose by honeyed words. Our course is onward. The May edition was exhausted before the first of May, and we have had orders for hundreds from Boston and New York which we could not supply. The first number of the series, (with autographs,) is republished in this number, which also contains No. 2. The usual quantity of reading matter is given in addition to the notices.
Many attempts have been made and are making by various persons to forestall public opinion. We have the name of one person, — others are busy with reports of Mr. Poe's illness. Mr. Poe has been ill, but we have letters from him of very recent dates, also a new batch of the Literati, which show anything but feebleness either of body or mind. Almost every paper that we exchange [column 2:] with has praised our new enterprise — the union — and spoken in high terms of No. 1 of Mr. Poe's opinions."
(Godey's Lady's Book, June 1846, p. 288). The comment about "our new enterprise — the union . . ." refers to the fact that Godey's merged with Arthur's Magazine.]
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[S:1 - Godey's, 1846]