ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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BOOK REVIEWS - POETRY (16)

 

White Rose and Red (1873)

 

White Rose and Red (1873)

 

The Dundee Courier & Argus and Northern Warder (6 May, 1873)

THE NEWLY-DISCOVERED POEMS OF HERBERT.—

The Rev. A. Balloch Grosart, of Blackburn, Lancashire, formerly of Kinross, is the discoverer of the six unpublished poems by George Herbert, which appear in the current number of the Leisure Hour. This important “find” was made by Mr Grosart in the Dr Williams Library in Queen Square, an old Nonconformist institution. Dr Ewing, the Bishop of Argyle and the Isles, has a volume of sermons in the press; and the author of “St Abe and his Seven Wives” has a second Yankee poem nearly ready for publication, to be entitled “White Rose and Red.” Mr Leicester Warren, a son of Lord de Tabley’s has a book of verses, “Searching the Net,” in the printer’s hands. I regret to hear that Mr Robert Buchanan is again prostrated by over-work, and is suffering from congestion of the brain.

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The Sun & Central Press (8 August, 1873)

     The author, an American, of the clever poem “Saint Abe and his seven wives,” which originally appeared in St. Paul’s, has just written in the same sprightly spirit a love story in verse, entitled “White Rose and Red.” The subject of the poem is the love—a thwarted love, between an Indian maiden and a white man, and from poetic enthusiasm to humourous satire the compass of the author’s powers seems complete. The poem shews more mature, imaginative, and expressional powers than “St. Abe,” and will be a welcome addition to the volumes that ought to be taken to the sea  side.

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The Nonconformist (13 August, 1873)

WHITE ROSE AND RED.*

     The art of the story-teller, pure and simple, is very rare. In our own day only two English writers have it in pre- eminence; and these are not Mr. Carlyle and Mr. Tennyson, who are alike in this, while differing in almost all else, that they infallibly project themselves over their characters, translating them somehow into mere masks for what are in strictness “private utterances.” The last quality of the story-teller is that he is absolutely dramatic, can withdraw himself from his theme, and so illuminate and warm it, as the sun most warms the most distant points, without any need for marking the effort to the eye by outward devices of any kind. Chaucer is thus the most dramatic of writers—strictly speaking even more so than Shakespeare himself; while Spenser, in spite of his fine flow of fancy and sweet honeyed words, is perhaps, of our great old English writers, the least so.
     In the author of “St. Abe,” we have at least a genuine story-teller—a man whose sympathies are at once so fine and so broad, that nothing well comes amiss to him. He equally includes all types, and pourtrays them, or rather reflects them, like a fair mirror. He has humour—always a component of this character, and pathos, which is not so invariably so. Add to this, real descriptive power and energetic flow of narrative, together with a capacity to catch the most subtle and evanescent moods and types of feeling, and you must admit that we have in him a rare combination. Strength and fineness—strength which without the fineness would sometimes seem even coarse—go together here, assuring us of a true poet; and, though in “White Rose and Red” we hardly have satire of the same depth of quality as in “St. Abe,” yet the new poem is not lacking in that element, though it runs on a more dispersed and general level. This, for example, is a very special, strong and concentrated piece of satire from “St. Abe”; phrases packed full, and yet lightly carrying the characteristics of a supposed speaker—in this case a half-reactionary Mormon leader:—

“No! keep the Soul and Flesh apart in pious resolution,
Don’t let weak flutterings of the heart lead you to my confusion;
But let the Flesh be as the horse, the Spirit as the rider,
And use the snaffle first of course, and ease her up and guide her;
And if she’s going to resist, and won’t let none go past her,
Just take the curb and give a twist, and show her you’re the Master.
The Flesh is but a temporal thing, and Satan’s strength is in it,
Use it, but conquer it, and bring its vice down every minute!
Into a woman’s arms don’t fall, as if you meant to stay there,
Just come as if you’d made a call, and idly found your way there;
Don’t praise her too much to her face, but keep her calm and quiet—
Most female illnesses take place thro’ far too warm a diet;
Unto her give your fleshly kiss, calm, kind, and patronising,
Then—soar to your own sphere of bliss, before her heart gets rising,
Don’t fail to let her see full clear, how in your saintly station,
The Flesh is but your nigger here, obeying your dictation;
And though the Flesh be e’er so warm, your soul the weakness smothers
Of loving any female form much better than the others.”

     “White Rose and Red” turns more to the mystical elements of life as exhibiting themselves in wild, untutored natures, and, if it lacks the concentratedness of fun and satire, it makes up for this by depth of human interest and real passion. Few will read “White Rose and Red” without being moved, although so many will not laugh over it as laughed over the clever grotesquerie of “St. Abe.” The story is simple. Eureka Hart, unlike the rest of his family, who are pre-eminently of the “tribe of human beavers,” loves to wander, and finds himself in the land of the red tribes. Asleep, a woman of the tribe finds him, and when, after he has witnessed a wild dance, and is discovered and captured through his gun going off and injuring him, she pleads for him, and brings him help. The red woman loves the white man, and at length carries him into a safe solitude, where they know all the bliss of love.

“As a peasant maiden homely
     Might regard some lordly wooer,
Find each feature trebly comely
     From the pride it stoops unto her;
Thus, Eureka, she esteemed thee
     Fairer for thy finer blood;
She revered thee, loved thee, deemed thee
     Wholly beautiful and good!
And her day-dream ne’er was broken,
     As some mortal day-dreams are,
By a word or sentence spoken
     In thy coarse vernacular.
For she could not speak a dozen
     Words as used by the white nation!
And thy speech seemed finely chosen,
     Since she made her own translation—
Scarce a syllable quite catching,
     Yet, upon thy bosom leaning,
Out of every sentence snatching
     Music, with its own sweet meaning.”

But after a short period of sweet bliss in the arms of the red woman, Eureka showed that

“After all, he was a beaver
     Born and bred, tho’ the unchanging
Dash of wild blood kept him ranging;
     Beaver-conscience, now awakened,
Since the first true bliss had slackened,
     Whispered with a sad affection,
‘Fie! it is a strange connection!
     Is it worthy? Can it profit?
Sits the world approving of it?’
     While another whisper said,
‘You’re a white man! She is red!’

And by-and-bye Drowsietown pictures itself in his imagination with all the allurement that long absence gives to familiar places:—

“As he spoke he saw the village
Rising up with tilth and tillage;
Saw the smithy, like an eye
Flaming bloodshot at the sky;
Saw the sleepy river flowing;
     Saw the swamps burn in the sun;
Saw the people coming, going,
     All familiar, one by one.
There the plump old Parson goes,
Silver buckles on his toes,
Broad-brimmed beaver on his head,
Clean-shaved chin, and cheek as red
As ripe pippins kept in hay,
Polished on Thanksgiving-day;
Black coat, breeches, all complete;
On the old mare he keeps his seat,
Jogging on with smiles so bright
To creation, left and right.
There’s the widow Abner smiling
     At her door as he goes past—
Guess she thinks she looks beguiling,
     But he cuts along more fast.
There’s Abe Sinker drunk as ever;
     There’s the pigs all in the gutter;
There’s the miller by the river,
     Broad as long, and fat as butter.
See it all, so plain and pleasant—
     Just like life their shadows pass;
Wonder how they are at present?
     Guess they think I’m gone to grass!”

At length she sees his unrest, and agrees to let him leave her for a time. She cuts a lock of his hair, and he gives her a line written with his blood:—

“EUREKA HART, DROWSIETOWN, STATE OF MAINE.”

                       “In the woods at dawn,
He from his pouch had an old letter drawn,
One leaf of which was blank, and this he took,
And smiling at the woman’s wondering look,
While quietly she murmured, ‘’Tis a charm!’
In hunter’s fashion he had pricked his arm,
And, having pen nor ink, had ta’en a spear
Of thorn for stylus, and in crimson clear—
His own heart’s blood—had writ the words she sought.
And in that hour deep pity in him wrought,
And he believed that he his vows would keep,
Nor e’er be treacherous to a love so deep.”

     He goes, and after a while at home, marries comfortably Phœbe, a sensible woman of the village—only sometimes tormented with thoughts of his red wife. Meanwhile, she, moved thereto by yearnings after her absent love, and afraid of the vengeance of her tribe if they find out that she has borne a child to the white man, starts in the direction Eureka had indicated to her as that in which his home lay, and after manifold sufferings—told in a most graphic manner—she reaches Drowsietown, amid a great fall of snow. She finds little Phœbe alone, for Eureka is at the public-house drinking, as he now would do sometimes to drown unpleasant thoughts.

“Back in a swoon, with haggard face
Falleth the woman of wild race,
Dumb, cold as stone, her weary eyes
Fixed as in very death she lies—
While little Phœbe trembling stands,
Wetting her lips, chafing her hands,
Trembling, almost afraid to stir
For wonder, as she looks at her;
So weird, so wild a shape, she seems
Like some sad spirit seen in dreams;
Beauteous of face beyond belief,
And yet so worn with want and grief.”

     At last the charm—“EUREKA HART, DROWSIETOWN, STATE OF MAINE”—is displayed to Phœbe, who gets a glimpse of the whole mystery:—

“‘The baby’s skin is white—no wonder!’
And she perceives, as plain as may be
All the event—down to the baby!
Last flash, the whole dark mystery lighting,
‘Why, its Eureka’s own handwriting.’”

And just at this point the door swings open and Eureka enters; and the strange situation is rendered with much skill. The difficulties are cleared up by the death of both child and mother, and the poem reaches its end—which we cannot help regarding as just a little abrupt:—

“In a dark corner of the burial-place,
Where sleep apart the creatures of red race,
Red Rose was laid, cold, beautiful, and dead,
With all the great white snow above her bed.
And soon the tiny partner of her quest,
The little babe, was laid upon her breast;
For, though the heart of Phœbe had been kind,
And sought to save the infant left behind,
It wither’d when the mother’s kiss withdrew—
The Red Rose faded, and the Blossom too.
There sleeps their dust, but ’neath another sky
More kind than this, their Spirits sleeping lie.”

     It is utterly beyond our power to give a fair specimen of this remarkable poem in our short space, or to convey any idea of its real beauty and subtle power. We have not been able even to glance at some of the lyrical interludes such as that beginning, “O love! O spirit of being!” and the “Song of the Streamlet”; while “Pangrele” is simply exquisite—full of meaning as of music. The only criticism we should be inclined to make is that sometimes intransitive verbs are used for the sake of rhymes where they should not be; and we are not sure but that the description of the forest is a shade over- tropical; but these are faults English readers will perhaps catch more quickly than Americans. On the whole, it is a wonderful poem—full of genius of the highest cast—and will fully sustain, if it does not even enhance, the high reputation of the gifted author.

     * White Rose and Red: A Love Story. By the Author of “St. Abe.” (Strahan and Co.)

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New-York Daily Tribune (21 August, 1873 - p.6)

BOSTON.
_____

LITERARY NOTES.

“RED ROSE AND WHITE ROSE,” A NEW POEM BY THE AUTHOR OF “ST. ABE.”— ...

[FROM A REGULAR CORRESPONDENT OF THE TRIBUNE.]

     BOSTON, Aug. 18.—“White Rose and Red, a Love Story,” is a strange, unequal, faulty, but interesting poem, about to be published by J. R. Osgood & Co. It is by no means, as its name might suggest, a tale of York and Lancaster. On the contrary, it is purely American. The hero and the White Rose—one of the heroines—were born “in the State of Maine;” while the Red Rose was an Indian girl, born under Southern suns—such a dusky maiden as Joaquin Miller’s savage heart delights in. It is, let me say distinctly, a story quite open to the strictures of that class of moralists who hold that the writer of poetry or fiction should confine himself to the setting forth of deeds which he approves—the painting of heroic lives. The hero of this book was not a moral hero—he was a stout sinner, rather; molded like a Hercules, handsome as a god; but his soul, if indeed he had a soul, had never yet been awakened; his morality, so far as he had any morality, was purely conventional; and his selfish nature seemed seldom stirred by any touch of remorseful pity. Yet he was, after all, so human, so like unto his brethren, that the study of his character is not uninstructive, besides being well done as a piece of literary work. The poem has glaring faults and conspicuous merits. It has descriptive passages of exquisite beauty, and it has also stanzas so prosaic and common-place and poor that you could hardly imagine them to have come from the same pen. It is written by the “Author of St. Abe,” whoever that anonymous scribe may have been. Rumor has spoken of Robert Buchanan in connection with it, but I do not agree with rumor. The book seems to me the work of an American. No Englishman would have been so familiar with the spirit of the life in the “State of Maine.” The poem is dedicated to “Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardiner, with all friends in Washington.” Its “Invocation” is modeled on Goethe’s “Know’st thou the Land?” and is a better excuse than could have been expected for retouching a chord that had once given forth so sweet a sound. Here is part of it:

Know’st thou the Land where the golden Day
Flowers into glory and glows away,
While the Night springs up, as an Indian girl
Clad in purple and hung with pearl!
And the white Moon’s heaven rolls apart,
Like a bell-shaped flower with a golden heart—
Know’st thou the Land?
                       O there! O there,
Might I with thee, O Maid of my Soul, repair!

III.

Know’st thou the Land where the woods are free,
And the prairie rolls as a mighty sea,
And over its waves the sunbeams shine,
While on its misty horizon-line
Dark and dim the buffaloes stand,
And the hunter is gliding gun in hand?
Know’st thou it well?
                       O there! O there,
Might I, with those whose Souls are free, repair!

IV.

Know’st thou the Land where the sun-bird’s song
Filleth the forest all day long,
Where all is music and mirth and bloom,
Where the cedar sprinkles a soft perfume,
Where life is gay as a glancing stream,
And all things answer the Poet’s dream?
Know’st thou the Land?
                       O there! O there,
Might I, with him who loves my lays, repair!

     In this Southern land of bloom and beauty the poem opens with a description of an Indian girl asleep. You see her in all her lissome loveliness, a creature “strange as a morning star.” Then the birds “sing loud,” and waken her.

Her eyelids blink against the heavens’ bright beam
     Still dim and dark with dream.
Her breathing quickens, and her cheek gleams red,
     And round her shining head
Glossy her black hair glistens. Now she stands,
     And with her little hands
Shades her soft orbs and upward at the sky
     She gazeth quietly;
Then at one bound springs with a sudden song
     The forest-track along.

     She hurries through the cool deep shades, where the bright birds scream and cry on the high branches, and “everywhere beneath them in the bowers, float living things like flowers,” hovering and settling. On her way she finds another sleeper, grasping a hunter’s gun, and with a dark smile on his bearded lips. The dusky maiden, the Red Rose of the poem, bends over him, and the motes are madder in the sun; but she does not hear the warning which the birds sing, and the winds sigh.

Dark maiden, what is he thou lookest on?
     O ask not, but begone!
Go! for his eyes are blue, his skin is white,
     And giant-like his hight.

To him thou wouldst appear a tiny thing,
     Some small bird on the wing,
Some small deer to be kill’d ere it could fly,
     Or to be tamed, and die!—

O look not, look not, in the hunter’s face,
     Thou maid of the red race,
He is a tame thing, thou art weak and wild,
     Thou lovely forest-child!

How should the deer by the great deer-hound walk,
     The wood-dove seek the hawk,—
Away! away! lest he should awake from rest,
     Fly, sun-bird, to thy nest.

     He stirs in his sleep, and she steals away. Then follows a description of the man and the circumstances of his birth and breeding. Down in Maine, where human creatures are amphibious in their natures, and the babies float in the water like fishes, grew the Harts, a gigantic race, of whom the tallest and the strongest was the youngest son, Eureka Hart. Roughly reared, he had grown to be a thirty-years-old giant, six feet seven inches in hight. His brethren, prosperous farmers, all of them, had wedded their rural sweethearts, and settled down at home. They were

Thrifty men, devout believers,
Of the tribe of human beavers;
Life to them, with years increasing,
Was an instinct never-ceasing
To build dwellings multifarious
In the fashion called gregarious,
To be honest in their station,
And increase the population
Of the beavers! They, moreover,
Tho’ their days were cast in clover,
Had the instinct of secreting;
Toiling hard while time was fleeting,
To lay by in secret places,
[Like the bee and squirrel races,]
Quiet stores of yellow money,
[Which is human nuts and honey.]

     They were good enough, in their simple way—went every week to meeting, and prayed by dozens. But this one strong son, Eureka, slightly wanting in “the tribal instinct,” refused to follow the fashions of his race, and had gone away from home in his youth, whaling, hunting, trapping, trying every kind of life, and

Free as any wave, and only
Lonely as a cloud is lonely.

     Here is his portrait:

Pause a minute and regard him!
Years of hardships have not marr’d him.
Limbs made perfect, iron-solder’d,
Narrow-hipp’d and mighty-shoulder’d,
Whisker’d, bearded, strong and stately,
With a smile that lurks sedately
In still eyes of a cold azure,
Never lighting to sheer pleasure,
Stands he there ’mid the green trees
Like the Greek god, Herakles.

Stay, nor let the bright allusion
Lead your spirit to confusion.
Tho’ a wanderer, and a creature
Almost as a god in feature,
This man’s nature was as surely
Soulless and instinctive purely,
As the natures of those others,
His sedater beaver-brothers;
Nothing brilliant, bright, or frantic,
Nothing maidens style romantic,
Flash’d his slow brain morn or night
Into spiritual light!

As waves run, and as clouds wander,
With small power to feel or ponder,
Roam’d this thing in human clothing,
Intellectually—nothing!

     He loved Nature, but only as a dumb creature might, with a sense of kinship and familiarity, but with no poetic appreciation, no sense of its beauty.
     Of course he, in his turn, found the Red Rose. She was the granddaughter of an aged Indian chief. Her father and mother were both dead, and she bloomed beside the old man  “like a rose that by a dark, sad water grows and  trembles.” She wore a coarse serge robe, curiously embroidered, which set off well her dusky beauty.

She was a shapely creature, tall,
And slightly form’d, but plump withal,—
Shapely as deers are—finely fair
As creatures nourish’d by warm air,
And luscious fruits that interfuse
Something of their own glorious hues,
And the rich odor that perfumes them,
Into the body that consumes them.
She had drank richness thro’ and thro’
As the great flowers drink light and dew;
And she had caught from wandering streams
Their restless motion; and strange gleams
From snakes and flowers that glow’d around
Had stolen into her blood, and found
Warmth, peace, and silence.

     Of course it was the old, old story of

Lips and lips to kiss them;
     Eyes and eyes to behold;
Hands and hands to press them;
     Arms and arms to enfold.

     As the Spring-time thrills the trees, so the smile of the Red Rose thrilled the ragged giant, and almost awoke in him the soul she thought she saw. He looked to her like something divine.

Her tall white chief, whom God had brought her
From the far-off Big-Sea Water!
More than mortal, a great creature,
Soft of tongue, and fine of feature.

     She regarded him as reverently as some peasant maiden might regard a lordly wooer. She was as innocent as a young fawn. He only it was who sinned; going not alone against all the traditions of his childhood, all the teachings of his race, but against a certain dumb, persistent moral instinct that stood him instead of conscience, and pricked him with its thorns when he gathered the Red Rose to his bosom, and made her his own, without prayer or parson. Then all compunction was drowned in pleasure; but woke to life again, presently, hand in hand with the demon called “Ennui,” the Nemesis which waits with its just vengeance on all unconsecrated joys. He began to remember his far-off kindred, and their words and ways.

After all, he was a beaver
Born and bred; tho’ the unchanging
Dash of wild blood kept him ranging;
Beaver-conscience, now awaken’d,
Since the first true bliss had slacken’d.

     His longing to leave her touched his manner with a strange, half-pitying gentleness, that made her adore him more than ever. But she could not turn him from his purpose. He sighed for civilized relations, in the midst of the savage forms around him. He remembered the old scenes and the old ways, and he set his face resolutely toward them. He would only go and see them, he told her—only bid them a last farewell, and then come back to live and die with her. No doubt he believed himself, at the time—it is said that men usually do, when they make promises. He gave her a lock of his hair, and a little paper, whereon he had written in his own blood—ink not being one of the conveniences of savage life—“Eureka Hart, Drowsietown, State of Maine.”

“See!” said he, as the precious words he gave,
“Keep this upon thy bosom, and be brave.
As sure as that red blood belong’d to me,
I shall, if I live on, return to thee.
If death should find me while thou here dost wait,
Thou canst at least make question of my fate
Of any white man whose stray feet may fare
Down hither, showing him the words writ there.”

     So away he went to Drowsietown, where everything seemed to him as of old, and the calm, still life was flowing on, tranquil as a river. The old neighbors welcomed him back. They said “he hadn’t his ekal in the place;” and they all hoped he would take a wife and settle down among them. Soon, amid the village maidens he grew to be particularly interested in one—Phœbe Anna Cattison, the White Rose of the poem. He began by wishing that he were not obliged to go back to his Indian love; and thinking that he should like to die “where his father died before him, with the same sky shinin’ o’er him.” Then he began to wonder if it wouldn’t be wicked to go back. The whole thing had been wrong, no doubt about that; but could he make it right by returning, and doing the same wrong over again? Clearly not; clearly reason and religion were on the side of Phœbe; and he felt that he was doing a good thing when he married her. She was

Dimpled, dainty, one-and-twenty,
     Rosy-faced and round of limb,
Warm’d with mother-wit in plenty,
     Prudent, modest, spry yet prim,
Lily-handed, tiny-footed,
     With an ankle clean and neat,
Neatly gloved and trimly booted,
     Looking nice and smelling sweet!
Self-possess’d, subduing beauty
To a sober sense of duty,
Chaste as Dian, plump as Hebe,
Such I guess was little Phœbe.
O how different a creature
     From that other wondrous woman!
Not a feeling, not a feature,
     Had these two fair flowers in common.
One was tall and molded finely,
     Large of limb, and grand of gaze,
Rich with incense, and divinely
     Throbbing into passionate rays,—
Lustrous-eyed and luscious-bosom’d,
     Beautiful, and richly rare,
As a passion-flower full blossom’d,
     Born to Love and Love’s despair.
Such was Red Rose; and the other?
     Tiny, prudish, if you please,
Meant to be a happy mother,
     With a bunch of housewife’s keys.
Prudent, not to be deluded,
Happy-eyed and sober-mooded,
Dainty, mild, yet self-reliant,
     She, as I’m a worthy singer,
Wound our vacillating giant
     Round her little dimpled finger.

     She liked him, rather than loved him; and pleased him all the better because of her modest circumspection. She was a far-seeing, domestic little woman; a good manager; of quiet mind and quiet ways, and her big giant gave her all the heart he had, and was happy.
     The Winter after their marriage came the Great Snow—a storm so long and so terrible that people remember it like a great fire, or a great pestilence. In the midst of it, Phœbe was making bread one night, bright and blithe in her cozy kitchen, heedless of a foot on the snow, coming nearer and nearer. At last a tap on the door aroused her, but no one entered in response to her invitation, and she went to the door, and let in the poor, storm-beaten Red Rose, who had come all the long miles between, through untold pains and perils, to find the man she loved and believed in. On her bosom was a little, blue-eyed baby, but no wedding ring was on her finger. Her face was wild with famine; but she had strength enough to show to Phœbe the words written by Eureka in his own blood, and by means of which she had sought him out. Phœbe recognized the handwriting, and understood the whole story; but she was a quiet little woman, with no nonsense about her. She was just enough to see that Eureka was the chief sinner, and womanly and kind enough to tend the dying Red Rose and her babe. When Eureka came home and found his unexpected guests no doubt he was very uncomfortable in his mind, sluggish beaver as he was. Fortunately, the Red Rose never quite understood the position. She was made happy, even in her last agony, by seeing his face again; and she died as a child might, wrapt in a simple peace and blessedness. Phœbe would have been kind to the little babe had it lived; but to it, too, came the great blessing of death. The tale ends here, save that we are told poor Phœbe soon forgave her mate, “as small white wives forgive.” She had been just and generous to the dying flower of the forest, but she could not quite resist the temptation to remind her husband now and then of the occasion she had had to forgive him.

Oft at his head her mocking shafts she aimed,
While by the hearth he hung that head ashamed.
Indeed for seasons of domestic strife
She kept this rod in pickle all her life.

     The story, you will perceive, is not quite a pleasant one. One of the heroines had no merits, save her wild beauty and her wild love—the other was a kindly, bustling, domestic woman, with a rather unusual sense of justice—the hero was anything but heroic, simply a stalwart, selfish, handsome man with an instinct for roving; without much heart, and with his soul asleep. It is not a great poem; but it is a poem with here and there great beauties.

bostglobwhiterosead

[Advert for the American edition in The Boston Daily Globe (30 August, 1873 - p.2).]

 

The Athenæum (30 August, 1873)

LITERATURE
_____

White Rose and Red: a Love Story. By the Author of ‘St. Abe.’ (Strahan & Co.)

THIS story is not new. Times innumerable has the tale been told in prose and verse how a man must suffer for the faults of his youth. In the exultation of his early manhood he has loved, not wisely, but too well, and, in after years, his sin against society will surely find him out. The scene of ‘White Rose and Red’ might have been laid in Scotland or England with as much pertinence as in America; but the author, by placing it beyond the Atlantic, makes himself the opportunity to select odd or rare types for his dramatis personæ, and use the bright colours he keeps for painting natural scenery. The hero is in no way heroic. He is described as of the tribe of human beavers, with the unromantic name Eureka Hart:—

He had rudely grown and thriven
Till, a giant, six foot seven,
Bold and ready for all comers,
He had reach’d full thirty summers.
All his brethren, thrifty farmers,
Had espoused their rural charmers,
Settling down once and for ever
By the Muskeosquash River:

     But Eureka was indisposed to settle down in the fashion common to his race. He sallied forth, hunting and trapping in the wilderness, till one day something happened which had the effect of raising him,

’Spite the duller brain’s control,
To the stature of a Soul!

     In his wanderings Eureka lighted upon the “Red Rose” of the tale, an Indian maid, to whom he plighted his troth. Love continued for a while; but the end came:—

After the great wave of madness,
Ennui came; and tho’ in gladness
Still the Indian maiden’s nature
Clung round the inferior creature,
Though with burning, unconsuming,
Deathless love her heart was blooming,
He grew weary, and his passion
In a dull evaporation
Slowly lessen’d, till caressing
Grew distracting and distressing.
Conscience waken’d in a fever,
Just a day too late, as ever;
He remember’d, one fine day,
His relations far away.

     She would not listen to his proposal to leave her. By degrees, however, he prevailed. His absence was to be only for a brief space—

Just to see his kin and others
     In the Town where they did dwell,
Just to say to his white brothers
     One farewell, a last farewell.
         *          *         *          *         *
By night they parted; and she cut by night
One large lock from his forehead, which with bright,
Warm lips she kiss’d; then kiss’d the lock of hair,
With one quick sob of passionate despair;
And he, with hand that shook a little now,
Still with that burning seal upon his brow,
While in that bitter agony they embraced,
He in her little hand a paper placed,
Whereon, at her fond prayer, he had writ plain,
“Eureka Hart, Drowsietown, State of Maine.”

     At Drowsietown, in Maine, the beaver nature of our hero developed itself. He was tired of strange places, of sleeping in woods and brakes, and, in view of the prosperity which surrounded him in civilized life, he began to think he had been wasting precious years of his youth. He had thoughts of fulfilling his obligation and returning to her he had left. With a farm of his own, and the choice of any maiden in the village for his wife, it was hard to leave his old home again. Still, as he confessed, having made his bed, he must lie thereon. He would certainly go back; but there was no need of haste. Meanwhile, his resolution became weakened, and a new form began to take the place in his imagination of his Indian bride. His conscience made excuses to itself. Providence had clearly severed him and the red woman. Besides, Indian blood is Indian blood, and—

“Parson says that sort of thing
Isn’t moral marrying!
Tho’ the simple creature yonder
     Had no better education—
Ignorance jest made her fonder,
     And I yielded to temptation.
Here’s the question: I’ve been sinning—
Wrong, clean wrong, from the beginning;
Can I make my blunder better
     By repeating it again?
When mere Nature, if I let her,
     Soon can cure the creature’s pain;
She’ll forget me fast enough—
     And she’s no religious feeling;
Injin hearts are always tough,
     And their wounds are quick of healing.
Heigho!”—here he sighed; then seeing
     Phœbe Ann trip by in laughter,
Brightening up, the bother’d being
     Shook off care, and trotted after!

     The sequel, of course, is that Eureka and Phœbe Ann appeared before Parson Pendon, and left him—man and wife.
     The married life of the giant and his new bride had hitherto passed in the humdrum style not peculiar to Drowsietown, when an event occurred of momentous importance to their domestic arrangements. It was the year of the great snow. One night, while Phœbe awaited the return of her lord and master from the village ale-house, a low tap is heard at the door, and a swooning, half-conscious woman escapes from the wild tempest—

The woman was ghost-like, yet wondrously fair 
Through the gray cloud of famine, the dews of despair,
Her face hunger’d forth—’twas a red woman’s face,
Without the sunk eyeball, the taint of the race;
With strange gentle lines round the mouth of her, cast
By moments of being too blissful to last.
Her cloak fallen wide, as she sat there distraught,
Revealed a strange garment with figures enwrought
In silk and old beads—it had once been most bright—
But frayed with long wearing by day and by night.
Mocassins she wore, and they, too, had been gay,
But now they were ragged and rent by the way;
And bare to the cold was one foot, soft and red,
And frozen felt both, and one trickled and bled.

The face of the stranger, ’tis worn with its woe,
It comes to thee, Phœbe, but when shall it go?
Far back go the footprints; see! black in the Snow.

But look! what is that? lo! it lies on her breast,
A small living creature, an infant at rest!
So tiny, so shrivell’d, a mite of red clay,
Warm, mummied, and wrapt in the Indian way.

The woman gazed timidly around—

                             The ruddy light,
The cosy kitchen warm and bright,
The clock’s great shining face, the human
Soft kindly eyes of the white woman,
Came like a dream—her eyes she closed
A moment with a moan, and dozed.
Then suddenly her soul was ’ware
Of the wild quest that brought her there!
She open’d eyes—a flush of red
Flash’d to her cheeks so chill and dead—
She murmur’d quick with quivering lips,
And, trembling to the finger tips,
Thrust her chill hand into her breast,
Under the ragged cloak, in quest
Of something precious hidden there!—
’Tis safe,—she draws it forth with care;
A wretched paper, torn and wet,
     Thumb-mark’d with touch of many a hand,
’Tis there—’tis safe—she has it yet,
Her heart’s sole guide, the amulet,
     That led her lone feet thro’ the land!
But first, unto her lips of ice
She holds it eagerly, and thrice
She kisses it; then, with wild eyes
And unintelligible cries,
Holds it to Phœbe. “Read!” cries she,
In her own tongue, distractedly;
And little Phœbe understands,
And takes the paper in her hands,
And on the hearth she stoopeth low,
To read it in the firelight glow.

Now courage, Phœbe! steel thy spirit!
A blow is coming—thou must bear it!

Slowly, so vilely it is writ,
Her unskill’d eyes decipher it;
So worn it is with snow and rain,
That scarce a letter now is plain,
And every red and ragged mark
Is smudged with handling, dim, and dark.
“E-U-R-E”—in letters blurr’d 199
She spells. “Eureka!” that’s the word.
But why does little Phœbe start
As she reads on? “Eureka Hart”—
His name, her husband’s name; and now
The red blood flames on cheek and brow!
She stops—she quivers—glares wild-eyed
At the red woman at her side,
Who watches her with one sick gaze
Of wild entreaty and amaze:
Then she spells on—her features turn
To marble, though her bright eyes burn,
For all the bitter truth grows plain.
“EUREKA HART, DROWSIETOWN, STATE OF MAINE.”

     The arrival of Eureka himself complicates the situation—

Slightly tipsy, not discerning
     The red woman and her child.
By the great eyes dimly blinking,
     Feebly leering at his mate,
Phœbe saw he had been drinking,
     While he hiccup’d, “Guess I’m late!”
So he stood; when, wildly ringing,
     Rose a scream upon the air,
’Twas the Indian woman, springing,
     Gasping, gazing, from her chair.
     *         *          *         *
While he rubb’d his eyes and mutter’d,
     While he roll’d his eyes distress’d,
O’er the floor a thin form flutter’d,
     Cried, and sank upon his breast!

     Thenceforward the story is told with great pathos. The watchful care of little Phœbe did not avail, and the Red Rose and her child both lie—

In a dark corner of the burial-place,
Where sleep apart the creatures of red race.

     Thus at length have we given the story; but it is impossible to convey by quotation a true idea of its merits as told by the author. There are varieties of tone, as well as varieties of metre, in the poem, and, as a rule, the changes in versification suit the changes in thought. Without pretending that the author has reflected Indian sentiment in his delineation of the Red Rose, we gladly admit the power and beauty of his creation. As the Indian is fading from off the face of the earth, deeper interest is manifested in his fate, and this finds expression in poetic exaggeration of his good qualities. Still the character of the Indian girl, as here presented to us, whether a portrait or a fancy sketch, has features of splendid mould, physically and morally, and stands in curious contrast to her rival, by whose race she and hers perish.
     It must not be supposed we have extracted those passages in the volume which most show the writer’s art as a poet. The homely and vigorous quotations will give a. fair notion of the narrative power he possesses. But the reader must be referred to the book
itself to find those higher graces and excellences with which it abounds. We must, at the same time, and in conclusion, add that there are rough and bold expressions employed which would not be willingly suffered had not the story been laid in America. It seems, indeed, that a certain degree of coarseness, not permissible in other cases, is expected when an English poet makes an American subject his theme.

___

 

Northern Echo (4 September, 1873)

     “WHITE ROSE AND RED,” a Love Story, by the author of St. Abe and his Seven Wives, is a poem of considerable force and interest. Eureka Hart, a hunter in the backwoods, 30 years of age, 6 feet 7 inches high, falls in love with the Red Rose, an Indian maiden of wondrous beauty, and lives with her as his wife until “his passion, in a dull evaporation, slowly lessened,” and he resolved to quit his Indian bride and return to Drowsietown, State of Maine. The Red Rose refuses to quit him, but he tells her he will soon return, and gives her his address. Eureka reaches Drowsietown, takes a farm, argues that

“Injin hearts are always tough,
And their wounds are quick at healing.”

And then marries Phœbe Ann, the White Rose of Drowsietown. Time rolls on, Eureka takes to drinking. In the year of the great snow, while Phœbe waits the return of her lord from the alehouse, a low tap is heard at the door, and the Red Rose worn and wan, with an infant on her breast, half swooning enters the room. She gives Phœbe her lovers address, and the truth flashes in upon the White Rose, that the first wife is before her. Eureka tipsily reels in through the snow. The Indian woman screamed and tottering across the floor, flings herself upon his breast. She has met her hero of the wild woods, met him alas but to die! The story is a simple one, an old one, and too often a true one, but the author of ST. ABE, tells it with vigour and freshness. The Red Rose is wonderfully described both in her glory in her savage home, and when weak and dying she struggles through the snow to seek her long lost lover.

___

 

The Boston Daily Globe (6 September, 1873 - p.2)

WHITE ROSE AND RED.
_____

An Old Story Well Told—A Contemptible
Hero—Acute Analysis of Character.

     Whoever may be the author of the poem, White Rose and Red, whether he is Robert Buchanan or another, he must have the credit of having given to the world a picture of an utterly contemptible hero. There have been writers who have professed an affection for the beings created by their fancy, and who have declared that they felt grief when, having told their story, they bade them good-by, but it is more probable that when Eureka Hart utters his last stupid phrase, his creator is possessed with a fine scorn for him, and is by no means sorry to leave him. A few words will tell the story of the poem. Eureka Hart, the captive of an Indian tribe, takes an Indian wife, deserts her, and goes back to his native Drowsietown, State of Maine, and marries again. His wife follows him, arrives at his house in the middle of the “Great Snow,” presents herself and babe to Mr. and Mrs. Hart and soon after dies, not much lamented. The ordinary lives of our hunters and trappers have given such excellent foundation for stories of this kind that this bald narration seems to promise little; but it is not to its plot, but to its painting of a single character, that the book owes the charm which it undoubtedly possesses. This character is Eureka Hart, “the beaver,” as the author calls him. He is described with a pitiless contempt that seems to argue intimate knowledge.

Pause a minute and regard him!
Years of hardships have not marr’d him,
Limbs made perfect, iron-solder’d,
Narrow-hipp’d and mighty-shoulder’d,
Whisker’d, bearded, strong and stately,
With a smile that lurks sedately
In still eyes of a cold azure,
Never lighting to sheer pleasure,
Stands he there, ’mid the green trees
Like the Greek god, Herakles.
Stay, nor let the bright allusion
Lead your spirit to confusion.
Tho’ a wanderer, and a creature
Almost as a god in feature,
This man’s nature was as surely
Soulless and instinctive purely,
As the natures of those others,
His sedater beaver-brothers;
Nothing brilliant, bright or frantic,
Nothing maidens style romantic,
Flash’d his slow brain morn or night
Into spiritual light!
As waves run, and as clouds wander,
With small power to feel or ponder,
Roam’d this thing in human clothing,
Intellectually—nothing!

     These last rhymes may not be orthodox, but they are tolerably explicit in meaning, and do not inspire the reader with affection for Mr. Hart, who is first seen sleeping in a wood, where Red Rose, the Indian girl, finds him asleep, is charmed with his manly beauty, and steals away just as he awakes. He next appears playing the part of Actæon, while Red Rose and her companions are bathing. His gun is accidentally discharged while he is thus laudably engaged, and the Indian women bind him with grape vines and take him to the tribal head-quarters, where he is kindly received by the Chief, Red Rose’s grandfather. The effect of companionship with the Indian girl upon the “civilizee with a beaver brain” is thus told in an allegory, not exactly flattering to the gentleman from Maine:

As a pine-log prostrate lying,
     Slowly through its knotted skin
Feels the warm revivifying
     Spring-time thrill and tremble in;
As a pine-log, strong and massive,
Feels the light and lieth passive,
While a sunbeam, coming daily,
Creeps upon its bosom gayly;
Warms the bark with quick pulsations,
Warms and waits each day in patience,
While the green begins to brighten,
And the sap begins to heighten,—
Till at last from its hard bosom
Suddenly there slips a blossom
Green as emerald!—then another!
     Then a third! then more and more!
Till the soft green bud-knots smother
     What was sapless wood before;
Till the thing is consecrated
     To the spirit of the Spring,
Till the love for all things fated
     Burns and beautifies the thing;—
And the wood-doves sit and con it,
     And the squirrels from on high
Fluttering drop their nuts upon it,
     And the bee and butterfly
Find it pleasant to alight there,
And taps busy morn and night there
     Many a bird with golden beak;
Till, since all has grown so bright there,
     It would cry (if Logs could speak),
“Sunbeam, Sunbeam, I’m your debtor!
     I was fit for firewood nearly.
I’m considerably better,
     And I love you, Sunbeam, dearly!”

     Red Rose, meanwhile, thinks that this handsome stranger is a superior being, because he is incomprehensible by her savage simplicity, and she glorifies him accordingly, and he accepts her homage until he is weary, and

After the great wave of madness,
Ennui came; and tho’ in gladness
Still the Indian maiden’s nature
Clung round the inferior creature,
Though with burning, unconsuming,
Deathless love her heart was blooming,
He grew weary, and his passion
In a dull evaporation
     Slowly lessen’d, till caressing
     Grew distracting and distressing.
     Conscience waken’d in a fever,
     Just a day too late, as ever;
     He remember’d, one fine day,
     His relations far away.

     So he sat and mused upon the view which the Drowsietown public would probably take of his doings, and Red Rose watched him admiringly, thinking him rapt in visions of battle, while he was simply wondering how he could run away. Finally,

Faltering in this tongue, he told her,
     Sitting in a secret place,
While, with bright head on his shoulder,
     Luminous-eyed, she watched his face,
How, though every hour grown fonder,
     Though his soul was still aflame,
Still, he sighed once more to wander
     To the clime from whence he came;
Just once more to look upon it,
Just for one brief hour to con it,
Just to see his kin and others
     In the town where they did dwell,
Just to say to his white brothers
     One farewell, a last farewell,
Then to hasten back unto her, 
     And to live with her and die.
Sharp as steel his speech stabbed through her,
     Cold she sat, without a cry,
On her heart her small hand pressing,
     Breathing like a bird in pain,
Silent, though he smiled caressing,
     Kissed, but kissing not again.

     So, promising to come back again, he leaves her and goes home, to meet his punishment at the hands of Phœbe Anna Cattison, one of those smooth, plausible, cool women, who make a man’s life miserable by keeping him under control which he can feel, without being able to see the subtle touches by which it is gained. Eureka disposes of the question of his first love thus:

“Waal, I guess the thing was fated,
     And it’s hard to set it right.
Seems a dream, too! now, I wonder
     If it seems a dream to her!
After that first parting stunn’d her,
     For a time she’d make a stir;
P’raps, tho’, when the shock was over,
Other sentiments might move her!
First she’d cry, next, she’d grow fretful,
Thirdly, riled, and then forgetful.
After all that’s done and said,
     Injin blood is Injin ever!
I’m a white skin she’s a red;
     Providence just made us sever.
Parson says that sort of thing
Isn’t moral marrying!
Tho’ the simple creature yonder
     Had no better education—
Ignorance jest made her fonder,
     And I yielded to temptation.
Here’s the question: I’ve been sinning—
Wrong, clean wrong from the beginning;
Can I make my blunder better
     By repeating it again?
When mere Nature, if I let her,
     Soon can cure the creature’s pain;
She’ll forget me fast enough—
     And she’s no religious feeling;
Injin hearts are always tough,
     And their wounds are quick of healing.
Heigho!”—here he sighed; then seeing
     Phœbe Ann trip by in laughter,
Brightening up, the bother’d being
     Shook off care, and trotted after!

     Thus taking to himself religious and social encouragement, he marries Phœbe Anna. The following is an extract from their nuptial song:

Who was the bride? Sweet Phœbe, dress’d in clothes
     As white as she who wore ’em,
Sweet-scented, self-possessed,—one bright White Rose
     Of virtue and decorum.

Her consecration? Peaceful self-control,
     And modest circumspection—
The sweet old service softening her soul
     To formulized affection.

Surveying with calm eyes the long, straight road
     Of matrimonial being,
She wore her wedding clothes, trusting in God,
     Domestic and far-seeing.
With steady little hand she sign’d her name,
     Nor trembled at the venture.

     Nothing in particular happens to the married pair until the arrival of Red Rose, which naturally aroused the ire of Mistress Phœbe, who, however, kindly puts the weary wanderer to bed, and tends her carefully. Meanwhile,

Down-stairs by the great fire of wood,
Alone, Eureka Hart doth brood;
And when his little wife descends
He scowls, and eyes his finger-ends.
She scarcely looks into his face,
But orders him about the place;
And at her will he flies full meek,
With red confusion on his cheek.
Her eyes are swoll’n with tears; to him
Her face is pitiless and grim.
But as she re-ascends the stairs
Her pale cheek flushes unawares.
In pity half, and half in scorn,
She sees again that shape forlorn.
She cannot love her; yet her heart
Flutters, and takes the wand’rer’s part.
Her thoughts are angry, weak and wild,
Yet carefully she tends the child.
Often she prays, with heart astir,
The white man’s God to strengthen her.
And thus, despite her heart’s distress,
She doth a deed of blessedness.

     But all Phœbe’s care was in vain, but it is pleasing to know that Red Rose was avenged by her, for in after life,

Oft at his head her mocking shafts she aimed,
While by the hearth he hung the head ashamed,
Pricking his moral hide right thro’ and thro’,
As virtuous little wives so well can do,
Till out he swagger’d, cursing, sorely hit,
And puzzled by the little woman’s wit.
Indeed, for seasons of domestic strife,
She kept this rod in pickle all her life.
As for Eureka, why, he felt, of course,
Some conscience-prick, some tremor of remorse,
Not deep enough to cause him many groans,
Or keep the fat from growing on his bones.
He throve, he prosper’d, was esteem’d by all,—
At fifty, he was broad as he was tall;
Loved much his pipe and glass, and at the inn
Spake oft—an oracle of double chin.
Did he forget her? Never! Often, while
He sat and puff’d his pipe with easy smile,
Surveying fields and orchards from the porch,
And far away the little village church,
While all seem’d peaceful—earth, and air, and sky,—
A twinkle came into his fish-like eye;
“Poor critter!” sigh’d he, as a cloud he blew,
“She was a splendid figure, and that’s true!”

     These extracts give a fair view of the character, but there are many other bits of equally keen analysis, and of carefully arranged contrasting pictures.
     But although Eureka Hart is well worth study, there are other attractive features in the poem. The descriptions of forest scenery are often good, and the picture of Drowsietown, State of Maine, seems drawn from life. Books by unknown authors are common nowadays, but White Rose and Red is one to which the writer need not be ashamed to affix his name.

Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.

___

 

New York Herald (15 September, 1873 - p.5)

     The most remarkable poem of the present season is “White Rose and Red,” by the author of “St. Abe,” supposed to be Robert Buchanan. Red Rose is an Indian maiden,

         —a shapely creature, tall,
And slightly formed, but plump withal,

who madly loved Eureka Hart, of Drowsietown, in the State of Maine, and the White Rose is Phœbe Ann—

Dimpled, dainty, one and twenty,
     Rosy faced and round of limb,
Warmed with mother-wit in plenty,
     Prudent, modest, spry yet prim.
Lily-handed, tiny-footed,
     With an ankle clean and neat,
Neatly gloved and trimly booted,
     Looking nice and smelling sweet,

who married him. Red Rose appeared in Drowsietown with her child, and while the wife tended her to her death, the white woman was

               —spite her pain,
Able, with a woman’s brain,
To discern as clear as day
On whose side the sinning lay;
Able to compassionate
Her deluded rival’s fate,
All the weariness and care
Of the fatal journey there;
Able to acknowledge (this
Far the most amazing is)
On how dull and mean a thing
Wasted was this passioning;
On how commonplace a chance
Hung the wanderer’s romance;
Round how mere a log did twine
The wild tendrils of this vine.

The poem is one of singular originality and beauty.

___

 

The Morning Post (16 September, 1873 - p.3)

WHITE ROSE AND RED.*

     Eureka Hart, the colossal hero in “White Rose and Red,” is a vigorous portrait from the prolific author of “St. Abe.” He is born by the shores of the surging Atlantic down in Maine, the youngest and the strongest scion of a gigantic race—

“He had rudely grown and thriven
Till, a giant, six foot seven,
Bold and ready for all comers,
He had reached full thirty summers.”

His brethren were numerous, and being an industrious, steady set of men, had married early in life and settled down

             “Once and for ever,
By the Muskeosquash River.”

But Eureka is born to vagabondage; his instincts lead him astray from the quiet farmer life at home, and—

“In his youth he went as sailor
With the skipper of a whaler;”

and latterly he takes to the forest, trapping and hunting with the energy of his strong nature—

“Pause a minute and regard him!
Years of hardships have not marred him,
Limbs made perfect, iron-soldered,
Narrow-hipped and mighty-shouldered,
Whiskered, bearded, strong and stately,
With a smile that lurks sedately
In still eyes of a cold azure,
Never lighting to sheer pleasure,
Stands he there, mid the green trees
Like the Greek god, Herakles.”

Despite his heroic presence, his nature is heavy and anti-spiritual. He is a human beaver, with a craze for adventure.
     The author has wisely permitted himself the freedom of an ever-varying metre, which is better adapted for narrative poetry than the polish of the ten-syllable couplet or the stately dignity of the Spenserian stanza. The expression in the latter form is apt to be cramped, unless the writer possesses a more than usually copious and ready command of apt language. Not that we would deny to the author of “St. Abe” and “White Rose and Red” a complete and perfect mastery of eloquent and musical English, but he has done well to free himself in the present poem from the fetters of an ever-recurring rhyme, which must of necessity impede the development of the story and require a greater outlay of thought and time. In the third section of the first part the capture of Eureka is narrated. He lied listlessly on the ground, the smoke of his pipe blending with the perfume of cedar and acacia, palm-trees overhead—

“And on the grass, as thick as bees,
     Run mocking-birds and wood-doves small,
Pecking the blood-red strawberries,
   And fruits that from the branches fall.
All rising up with gleam and cry,
When the bright snake glides hissing by,
Springs from the grass and, swift as light,
Slips after the cameleons bright;
From bough to bough, and here and there,
Pauses and hangs in the warm air,
Festooned in many a glistening fold,
Like some loose chain of gems and gold.”

     What happy descriptive power and charming imagery are in these exquisitely poetic lines, which bring with them airs of balm and forest shade! The dozing giant is surprised and made captive by a band f Indian squaws and maidens, who bind him with tough tendrils, and lead him off to their wigwams. Here Eureka falls in love with “Red Rose,” a shapely and beautiful Indian girl, who falls passionately in love with him. The tribe is a mild race of happy Indians, living at peace with white men and red, hospitable to strangers and weatherwise. Eureka is in Eden, and suns himself in the luminous gaze of a fond woman’s eyes:—

“What doth he kiss? a woman’s mouth
Sweeter than spice-winds of the south!
By golden streams he lies full blest—
And Red Rose blossoms on his breast.

     “Erycina Ridens” moves along with a joyous burst of lyrical music, singing the old song of love and the fascinations of Aphrodite. The human beaver is deified by the dusk-skinned beauty who looks upon him as a being of nobler race than her own. He is

“Her tall white chief, whom God had brought her
From the far-off Big-Sea Water;
Her warrior of the pale races,
With wise tongues and paintless faces;
More than mortal, a great creature,
Soft of tongue and fine of feature.”

In the above quotation the author is guilty of a certain ruggedness of rhyme which demands revision. Passages such as this are but minor blemishes in the poem, and can be removed readily, but the critic is bound here and there to place his finger down on lines which attest the speed or the carelessness of the poet. A dozen perfectly symmetrical lines are better than a score of ill-constructed and slovenly ones, and compression not unfrequently increases the force of the thought and the beauty of the imagery. Poets of the superlative degree, such as Spenser, Shakspere, Byron, and Shelley, can afford to be diffuse; their first-fruits in all their crudeness bear witness to the excellence of the soil that produced them; but the majority of poets leave behind them as their legacy of song to the world a mere handful of poems, in which, however, every flower is a rose, and every gem a diamond. Pope, Gray, Goldsmith, and Campbell are all illustrious examples of writers who knew the value of compression and polish. They enriched literature by a multitude of thoughts, fancies and images, many of their couplets having now the dignity of proverbs, and they supply with marvellous readiness the apt quotations that are applicable to every-day life. Eureka’s love-trance is of short duration; the perfume of the “Red Rose” is transitory:—

“More and more, thro’ ever seeing
     Red skins round him, he lost patience,
More and more the hybrid being
     Sighed for civilised relations;
For Eureka Hart, tho’ wholly
     Of a common social mind,
Narrow-natured, melancholy,
     Hated ties of any kind.”

He ponders about Parson Pendon in Drowsietown, of the Widow Abner, and of Abe Sinker. The forest Eden has its pleasures—nature is prodigal of sweet scents and blossoms, the Indian maiden seraphic—

“Still Eureka’s beaver-brain
Thought ‘This climate’s rather heating—
Weather’s cooler up in Maine!’”

And after endless protestations and delays he takes farewell of the forest life, with the promise of an early return. The sleepiness of Drowsietown is in striking contrast to the restless activity of our scientific American cousins, and it is very difficult to realise it as a true picture of New World life. Rip Van Winkle might have taken his famous nap in the somnolent old place without awakening. The folks are as indolent as lotus-eaters:—

“Loving sunshine; on the soil
Basking in a drowsy toil.
Mild and mellow, calm and clear,
Flows their life from year to year—
Each fulfils his drowsy labour,
Each the picture of his neighbour,
Each exactly rich or poor,
What his father was before—
O so drowsy! In a gleam,
Far too steady to be dream,
Flows their slow humanity,
Winding, stealing, to the sea.”

Into this region of placidity Eureka returns, and hears friendly voices speaking his native language, recognises faces of half-forgotten neighbours, shakes hands with many, and “alas! for human constancy!” very soon forgets the beauty of and his promise to “Red Rose.”

“I’m sick of roaming, I hate strange places;
     I’ve slep’ too long in the woods and brakes;
It’s pleasure seeing white folks’ faces
     After the b’ars, and the birds, and the snakes.
         This yer life is civilisation,
         T’other’s a heathen dissipation!”

     The spirit of Drowsietown steeps his senses with the poppy juices native to the atmosphere—

“One likes to die where his father before him
Died, with the same sky shining o’er him.
I’ve been a wastrel and that’s the truth,
     Earning nought but a sneer and a frown;
I’ve wasted the precious days o’ youth,
     Instead of stopping and settling down.”

     Finally he does marry and settle down, his wife being Phœbe Anna Cattison, the “White Rose” of the poem, and a very neat-dressing, nimble-fingered, bright-eyed little being she is—

“Lily-handed, tiny footed,
     With an ankle clean and neat,
Neatly gloved and trimly booted,
     Looking nice and smelling sweet.”

     Will the author pardon us drawing his attention to the needless repetition in lines two and three in the above  quotation? It affords an instance of that lapsus pennæ which inevitably accompanies hasty work. There are many passages in the poem also which should be omitted, such, for instance, as the jargon of “The Cat-Owl.”

“A misanthrope am I,
     And, tho’ the skies are blue,
I utter my warning cry,
     Boohoo!
Boohoo! boohoo! boohoo!”

Kaffirland scarcely furnishes Saxon ears with such senseless sounds. They are as empty of music as the beating of a tom- tom.
     In the year of the great snow, when mighty piles are being drifted together by a severe storm, Phœbe sits alone, anxious and watching the return of Eureka from the public-house. She is ignorant of his former love, and little dreams that the poor Indian woman with a baby at her breast is staggering onwards close beside her threshold, her object being to find out the direction which she has on a piece of paper, the letters being written in blood—in the book before us red ink is the substitute—“Eureka Hart, Drowsietown, State of Maine.” A tap at the door, the lifting of the latch, and a weird figure stumbles in, a red woman’s face is revealed by the fire-light, and snuggled to her breast—

“A small living creature, an infant at rest,
So tiny, so shrivelled, a mite of red clay,
Warm, mummied, and wrapt in the Indian way.”

Great pathos and admirable descriptive talent mark the powerful passages which unrol this portion of the poem. The whole scene of this singular interview between the Red and the White Rose and the half-drunken hunter is placed before the reader with singular vivacity and vividness. Both mother and child die, although Phœbe does everything that her kind gentle heart can suggest to efface the painful marks of the red woman’s pitiful journey. With tender hands she—

“Took softly off the dripping dress,
With eyes that wept for kindliness,
Wrung the wet hair, and smoothed it right,
And clad the Red Rose all in white.”

But the leaves are doomed to wither and die—

“The Red Rose faded, and the blossom too.”

     The whole poem evinces great vigour of poetic conception, deep feeling, and mastery of verbal music. Here and there are passages too coarse in their expression to meet with general favour, but they can hardly be called offensive. The book is dedicated to Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardiner, which strengthens the idea that the author is an American, although these names may be used but as a ruse de guerre. Whichever side of the Atlantic the writer belongs to, he is incontestably a poet.

     * “White Rose and Red:” A Love Story. By the author of “St. Abe.” Strahan and Co., Ludgate-hill.

_____

 

Book Reviews - Poetry continued

White Rose and Red (1873) - continued

 

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