1856 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gordon Brooks

George and Evert Duyckinck, in Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856; 1875) 2:130-31.



JAMES GORDON BROOKS, the son of David Brooks, an officer of the Revolutionary army, was born at Claverack on the Hudson, September 3, 1801. He was graduated at Union College in 1819, and studied law at Poughkeepsie, but never engaged actively in the practice of the profession. It was in this place that he commenced his poetical career by the publication in the newspapers of the place of a few fugitive poems, with the signature of Florio, which attracted much attention. Various conjectures were made respecting their authorship, but the author succeeded in maintaining his incognito not only among his neighbors, but also in his own household.

In 1823 Mr. Brooks removed to New York, where he became the literary editor of the Minerva, a belles-lettres journal which he conducted about two years. He then started the Literary Gazette, a weekly journal on the model of the English publication of the same name, which, after being continued for a few months, was united with the Athenaeum, and conducted under the care of Mr. Brooks and Mr. James Lawson for two years. He then became an editor of the Morning Courier, with which he remained connected for about the same period. In these journals, and in the Commercial Advertiser, most of his poems were published, with the signature of Florio. They were great favorites, and placed the author in the popular estimate of his day in the same rank with Drake and Halleck as one of the poetical trio of the town.

In 1828 he married Miss Mary Elizabeth Akin, a young lady, a native of Poughkeepsie, who had been from an early age a writer of verse for periodicals under the signature of Norna. The year after a volume entitled The Rivals of Este and other Poems, by James G. and Mary E. Brooks, appeared.

In 1830 the pair removed to Winchester, Virginia, where Mr. Brooks edited a newspaper for a few years. In 1838 they again changed their residence to Rochester, and afterwards to Albany, in both of which places Mr. Brooks was connected with the press.

Mr. Brooks died at Albany in 1841. His widow has since that event resided, with their only child, a daughter, in the city of New York.

The productions of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks are separately arranged in the joint volume of their poems. The story from which the volume takes its name is by the lady, and is drawn from the ample storehouse of Italian family history. The Hebrew Melodies, versified renderings of passages from the Psalms and the Prophets, are also by her. The remainder of Mrs. Brooks's portion of the volume is occupied by other poems on topics of Italian romance, descriptions of natural scenery, and a few lyrical pieces. We select one of the Hebrew Melodies:

JEREMIAH X. 17.
From the halls of our fathers in anguish we fled,
Nor again will its marble re-echo our tread;
For a breath like the Siroc has blasted our name,
And the frown of Jehovah has crushed us in shame.

His robe was the whirlwind, his voice was the thunder,
And earth at his footstep was riven asunder;
The mantle of midnight had shrouded the sky,
But we knew where He stood by the flash of his eye.

Oh, Judah! how long must thy weary ones weep,
Far, far from the land where their forefathers sleep;
How long ere the glory that brightened the mountain
Will welcome the exile to Siloa's fountain?

Passing to the latter half of the volume, we find at its commencement a poem on Genius, delivered originally before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Yale. The briefer pieces which follow are, like the one which we have named, quiet in expression and of a pensive cast. A number devoted to the topic of death have a pathos and solemnity befitting the dirge. Others on the stirring theme of liberty, and the struggles in its behalf in Greece and elsewhere, are full of animation and spirit. All are smooth and harmonious in versification.

Mr. Brooks enjoyed a high social position in New York, where he was greatly esteemed for his ready wit and conversational powers, as well as generosity and amiability of character. He was a fluent and successful prose writer.

Mrs. Brooks, in addition to her literary abilities, possesses much skill as a designer. The plates in the Natural History of the State of New York, by her brother-in-law, Mr. James Hall, are from drawings made by her from nature.

Mrs. Hall, the sister of Mrs. Brooks, is the author of several pleasing poems which have appeared under the signature of Hinda.