1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac McLellan

Nathaniel Parker Willis, in Review of McLellan, The Fall of the Indian; American Monthly Magazine [Boston] 2 (October 1830) 350-51.



A volume of Poems by I. McLellan Esq! It positively startles us. If it seems a calendar year since we fished up stream and down stream with him in jacket and trowsers, may we be forsworn! We know nothing more awakening in this dream of life than to see an old schoolfellow stride by us thus on the stilts of reputation. Grown up, and famous! — the very boy that has tracked the woods with us, and called us by our nickname over a hedge, and cracked nuts with us by the fire in the winter evenings — no longer ago, we could be made to believe, than yesterday! Which of us dreamed, as we read in our blotted classic, "quam sit magnum dare aliquid in manus hominum," that he should ever be guilty of a book! — How it would have swelled our idle veins as we lay, half asleep, bobbing our lines over the bank of the Shawsheen on those long Saturday afternoons, that we should ever play for each other the gentle office of critic! If ever we knew a superlatively lazy fellow, it was a certain school-fellow of ours, very much addicted to fishing. It is the secret of his poetry. The man who can sit on the bank of a stream day after day in the delicious summer, and not, like the fruits and flowers,

turn the light and dew by inward power
To his own substance,

must be worse than a vegetable. Nature never neglects the contented haunter of her paths. She is about him constantly and hangs on the bough, and comes invisibly in the moist winds. He finds his heart gentler, he knows not how, and his thoughts fresher, and his whole frame filling with a new delight — and this is the love of Nature, and that is poetry. An idle boy and a studious man is your true Poet. Nature first and books afterward. Mr. McLellen's poetry shows a surprisingly accurate knowledge of external nature. It is the attractive feature of it all. He is not ambitious of high invention, or strong pathos, or ultra-fine sentiment. But he describes a simple scene and a natural feeling with truth and grace, and his words are graphic and second him well.