1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fitz-Greene Halleck

Samuel Kettell, in Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 3:167-68.



Fitz-Greene Halleck is a native of Guilford, Connecticut, where he was born in 1795. Here he lived till his eighteenth year, when he went to New York, where he has since resided, having been occupied generally in pursuits of a mercantile character.

Mr. Halleck has been a writer of poetry from an early period of his life; but he first attracted attention in 1819, by a series of Pindaric Odes, published in the New York Evening Post, under the signature of "Croaker & Co." These were generally of a light and playful character, seasoned with occasional touches of keen satire, and racy humor. They produced a considerable sensation at the time, and curiosity was busy to detect the authors. It was at length discovered that Mr. Halleck was the principal writer, and that his friend Dr. Drake, now deceased, was his associate.

The first work which Mr. Halleck published in a volume, was Fanny; it appeared in 1819, and although its principal topics are of a local nature, and its allusions, many of them, refer to passing incidents of the day, yet it has been read with interest in every part of the country, and has been twice reprinted in Great Britain. It was written in hast, (it having been only three weeks from the commencement of the work to the day of its publication) and was doubtless looked up by the author as an ephemeral affair. Yet it not unfrequently happens, that the least elaborated performances of a man of real talent, outlive those which are constructed with more serious effort, and finished with more anxious care. We are by no means certain, that this may not be the fact in respect to the poem under consideration.

In 1827, a small volume, entitled Alnwick Castle and other poems, appeared in New York, and is Mr. Halleck's last publication. It seems to comprise such of the author's works as he is willing to have preserved, and we suspect was intended rather to make his other productions forgotten, than to perpetuate those it embraced. We do not believe, however little the author may wish to hear about them, that he has succeeded in casting either the Croakers or Fanny, into oblivion; and Alnwick Castle, and other poems, would have lived, if the author had not collected and published them in a volume. If a man wishes to be quiet and unnoticed, he should not write like this author.

We cannot better close our observations than by an extract from an article which appeared some time since in New York, from the pen, we believe, of Mr. Leggett.

"As a poet, Mr. Halleck ranks very high. He has not written much, but what he has written is almost faultless. If tenderness and warmth of feeling, playfulness of fancy, imagery not abundant, but appropriate, and great copiousness, and invariable euphony of language, constitute a claim to excellence, his effusions are excellent. There is one censure — we have already named it ['he writes too little'] — in which all concur; and we most cordially hope that Mr. Halleck will speedily amend the fault that occasions it. But whether he write more or not, as the poet is to be esteemed by the quality, not the quantity of his works, he is esteemed to a place but few can hope to attain."