1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lydia Huntley Sigourney

Charles D. Cleveland, in Compendium of American Literature (1858) 426-28.



LYDIA HUNTLEY, now Mrs. SIGOURNEY, is the only child of the late Ezekiel Huntley, of Norwich, where she was born on the 1st of September, 1791. In her earliest years she gave evidence of uncommon abilities, and her parents determined that every pains should be taken to have them rightly cultivated. At eight years of age she began to develop those poetical talents which have since made her name so widely and favorably known. After enjoying the advantages of the schools of her native town, and attending for some time a boarding-school in Hartford, Miss Huntley, in connection with a friend and kindred spirit, Mary Maria Hyde, opened a school for young ladies in Norwich, which she continued for two years. She then removed to Hartford, where she remained for several years, in the same pursuit.

In 1815, Miss Huntley was induced by Daniel Wadsworth, Esq., an intelligent and wealthy merchant of Hartford, to give a volume of her poems to the public. It was published under the modest title of Moral Pieces in Prose and Verse, which showed very clearly that an author who had done so well, could do still better. In 1819, she was married to Charles Sigourney, Esq., a leading merchant of Hartford, and a gentleman of education and literary taste. She did not appear again as an author till 1822, when she published Traits of the Aborigines of America, a descriptive, historical, and didactic poem, in five cantos. In 1824, she published, in prose, A Sketch of Connecticut Forty Years Since; in 1828, a volume of Poems, by the author of Moral Pieces; in 1833, Poetry for Children; in 1835, Zinzendorf, and other Poems; in 1836, Letters to Young Ladies; and in 1838, Letters to Mothers. In the summer of 1840, she went to Europe, and, after visiting many of the most interesting places in England, Scotland, and France, and publishing a collection of her works in London, she returned, in the following April, to Hartford.

In 1841, she published a selection of her poems, such as her matured judgment esteemed the best; and in the same year appeared Pocahontas, the best of her long poems. Early in 1843, appeared in Boston her Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands, the records, in prose and verse, of the interesting objects and persons she saw in her European tour. Two years afterwards, this was followed by a similar work, entitled Scenes in my Native Land. In 1856, she published that charming book Past Meridian, and the next year Examples from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, a volume of brief biographical sketches, or rather pictures of character, selected with much judgment, and wrought out with taste and feeling.

Any writer, whether of prose or poetry, might well be proud of the fame Mrs. Sigourney has acquired, and which she will retain to the latest posterity; for everything she has written has been pure, lofty, and holy, in its whole tone and influence. Other writers have had more learning, and more genius, but none have employed their talents for a higher end-to make the world wiser, happier, holier. An accomplished scholar [Alexander H. Everett] has remarked of her poems that "they express, with great purity and evident sincerity, the tender affections which are so natural to the female heart, and the lofty aspirations after a higher and better state of being, which constitute the truly ennobling and elevating principle in art, as well as nature. Love and Religion are the unvarying elements of her song. If her power of expression was equal to the purity and elevation of her habits of thought and feeling, she would be a female Milton, or a Christian Pindar. But

—though she inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
That the Theban eagle bear;
Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air;

she nevertheless manages language with ease and elegance, and often with much of the curiosa felicitas, that 'refined felicity' of expression, which is, after all, the principal charm in poetry. In blank verse she is very successful. The poems that she has written in this measure have not unfrequently much of the manner of Wordsworth, and may be nearly or quite as highly relished by his admirers."