1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Emma Catherine Embury

Sarah Josepha Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women (1852; 1855) 653.



EMMA CATHARINE EMBURY was born in the city of New York, where her father, Dr. James R. Manley, was a distinguished physician. Miss Manley began to write when very young, her first effusions appearing in the periodicals of the day, under the name of "Ianthe."

In 1828, she was married to Daniel Embury, of Brooklyn; and soon afterwards a volume of her youthful compositions was published — entitled "Guido, and other Poems." The choice of subjects for the principal poems was unfortunate. The writer had entered the circle in which L. E. L., Barry Cornwall, and other English writers were then strewing their flowers of fancy, sentiment and genius; no wonder the delicate blossoms offered by our young poetess were considered merely exotics which she had trained from a foreign root; imitations in style, if not in thought.

It is the natural impulse of poetic and ardent minds to admire the genius and glory of Italy, and to turn to that land of bright skies and passionate hearts for themes of song. Mrs. Embury did but follow the then expressed opinion of all European critics, and the admitted acknowledgment of most Americans — that our new world afforded no subjects propitious for the muses.

Yet surely, in a land where the wonders of nature are on a scale of vast end glorious magnificence which Europe cannot parallel; and the beautiful and the fertile are opening their treasures on every side; and enterprise and change, excitement and improvement, are the elements of social life, — there must be poetry! happily "Gertrude of Wyoming," to say nothing of what American poets have written, has settled the question. We have named this subject, chiefly for the purpose of entreating our American writers to look into their own hearts, not into the poems of ethers, for inspiration, and to sing, in accordance with nature and human life around them,

The beauteous scenes of our own lovely land.

Mrs. Embury has a fertile fancy, and her versification flows with uncommon ease and grace. In her later poems she has greatly improved her style — that is, she writes naturally, from her own thoughts and feelings, and not from a model; and some of her short pieces are very beautiful. She is, too, a popular prose writer; many sketches and stories from her pen enrich our periodical literature. She is also warmly engaged in the cause of improving her own sex, and has written well on the subject of "Female Education." Since her marriage, Mrs. Embury has published more prose than verse; her contributions to the various periodicals, amount to about one hundred and fifty original tales, besides her poetical articles, all written within the last twenty years. Her published works, during the same time, are "Constance Latimer, or The Blind Girl;" "Pictures of Early Life;" "Nature's Gems, or American Wild Flowers;" "The Waldorf Family;" "Glimpses of Home Life." An eminent American critic remarks of Mrs. Embury's works — "Her stories are founded upon a just observation of life, although not a few are equally remarkable for attractive invention. In point of style, they often possess the merit of graceful and pointed diction, and the lessens they inculcate are invariably of a pure moral tendency." Mrs. Embury has been very fortunate, (we do not say singularly so, because American marriages are usually happy,) in her married life. Mr. Embury is a scholar as well as a banker, and not only has he the taste to appreciate the talents of his gifted wife, but he has had also the good sense to encourage and aid her. The result has been the most perfect concord in their domestic as well as literary life; the only aim of each being to secure and increase the happiness of the ether, the highest improvement and happiness of both have been the result. Nor have the pursuits of literature ever drawn Mrs. Embury aside from her duties as a mother; her three children have been trained under her careful supervision, and her daughter's education she has entirely conducted. These traits of character, corresponding so fitly with the principles she has inculcated, increase greatly the value of her works for the young. Consistency is a rare and excellent quality; Mrs. Hannah More placed it high among female virtues.