editor1 and a song-writer, who, says a recent critic,2 “possessed a lyric note almost completely unknown in the America of his time,” --by which is meant a certain catchy musical lilt,--is, however, chiefly memorable for the fine ballad Monterey:
We were not many, we who stoodThis is, or should be, a classic in a genre rare in our literature, whose poets have seldom communicated with martial fire the rapture of the strife or celebrated worthily the achievements of our arms. Bryant wrote a critical sketch for the last edition of Hoffman's poems. Nathaniel Parker Willis, the most honoured among these literary editors of old New York,3 began as a sentimental poetizer of Scripture for meek ladies, and then helped to establish a still existing journalistic tradition in our literature — that of the light, the pretty, the clever, the urbane negligee in prose and rhyme; while his Lady Jane, a story after Don Juan and Fanny, and his Melanie, after Byron's Tales, only too well illustrate the now dead but once potent influence of Byron on our minor poets, even on poets utterly unlike Byron in temperament and in mode of life.4 Yet Willis was a true poet in a half dozen lyrics where a human form, a bit of nature, or a moral insight is registered in sincere, graceful, dignified, and, at least once (Unseen Spirits), noble speech. These, with his brief prose obituary notice of Poe and its tribute to Mrs. Clemm, are higher things than conventional criticism now associates with the brilliant and versatile gentleman of provincial but polished Broadway. Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820) and Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) are remembered first for a romantic youthful friendship, not common in our literary history. For a time they
Before the iron sleet that day:
Yet many a gallant spirit would
Give half his years if but he could
Have been with us at Monterey.