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Art. XIX.

An Elegiac Poem on the Death of
General Washington. By
Caldwell, A. M. M. D. Philadel-
Bradford. pp. 12. 1800.

RHETORICK has been lavish
of its homage to the memory
of Washington; but we recollect
only this and one other considera-
ble specimen of poetry which this
occasion has produced. On this
account, therefore, as well as on
others, these specimens deserve par-
ticular attention.

The performance before us is of
a very singular kind. We have
seldom met with a production in
which all the apparatus of poetry
is displayed in a more correct,
polished, and splendid condition.
We have seldom met with numbers
more flowing and melodious. Syl-
lables and pauses are adjusted ac-
cording to the most perfect standard.
The rhymes, with a few excep-
tions, are accurate and proper. No
thoughtless omissions, no distress-
ful hiatus, no jarring combinations,
no misplaced emphases, any where
occur. “The march is” every
where “majestic, and the energy”
of numbers “divine;” and, were
we called upon to produce a speci-
men of musical, correct and po-

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lished versification, we should not
hesitate to offer this performance
as such an one.

The value of numbers and phrase-
ology will be differently estimated
by different observers. The value
is surely not small: but there are
none who will maintain, either that
the metre and the phrase are all that
are of any value in a poem, or that
they are not subordinate to image-
ry and sentiment. Just and power-
ful conceptions will delight, even
when divorced from elegance and
harmony; but harmonious elegance
may justly pleas, even when asso-
ciated with trite or injudicious sen-
timents. This is a legitimate source
of pleasure, and to be insensible of
it is no argument of true taste.

It is with sincere regret that we
find ourselves obliged to limit our
praise of this elegy to the style and
the measure. We wished to find,
under a mantle of such glossy tex-
ture and luxuriant folds, a body,
graceful, vigorous, and well pro-
portioned. A meagre, distorted,
tottering and limping frame, cover-
ed with tissue and embroidery, is
always a mournful, and sometimes
a disgustful spectacle. The mind
is shocked by the incongruity be-
tween the vestment and the wearer,
and our displeasure is increased by
our disappointment. A crazy body
is expected to accompany rags and
rents, and its garment may be thread-
bare and dingy with impunity; and
yet may it not be said, that a shewy
garb is of more value to the skeleton
than to the perfect man? The latter
may shew himself, unbedecked, with
more advantage than the former; and
where the form beneath is disgust-
ful or ridiculous, may we not thank
the taylor who has thus dexterously
covered up deformity, and afforded
us, at least, the spectacle of a mag-
nificent outside?

We are far from suggesting a si-
militude between such a case and
the case before us. The sentiments

and images of this poem are by no
means such as to inspire disgust.
Decency is not infringed, nor is
there any thing fulsome or loath-
some in it. But we must confess,
that our taste finds very little to ap-
prove, and much to condemn.—
The fancy that dictated this poem
is not barren. The writer's under-
standing is, probably, not destitute
of vigour; but the fertility of the
one is not regulated by judgment,
and the latter has been voluntarily
inactive. His store of images is
large, but he culls from it without
taste; and his reason stands aloof,
from an erroneous belief that rea-
soning is incompatible with poetry.
Hence we rise from the perusal of
this poem without any new or
clearer conception of the character
of him whom it is designed to ho-
nour. No graceful images hover
before us; no felicities of contrast
are remembered; no subtleties of
inference, no visions whose con-
gruity and symmetry awaken higher
admiration, in proportion as they
are more distinctly embodied and
frequently recalled. On the con-
trary, we are sensible of having
strayed through gaudy fields and
sparkling grottos, where all has
been gay, flitting, half-seen, and
grotesque confusion: a masquerade,
whose phantoms either do not lin-
ger long enough within our view to
be examined, or, when scrutinized,
are found to be made up of parts,
dissonant, ill-assorted, and destruc-
tive of each other.

The following passage will serve
as an example. It is certainly the
most faulty in the poem. The
candid reader, therefore, will not
regard it as an adequate specimen
of the whole performance.

“When Heaven's last trump creation's
    bonds shall break,
“And nature tumble one stupendous
“In lawless tumult worlds together rush,
“Suns fall on suns, and systems systems

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“From bursting craters flames resistless
“And fiery ruin waste through worlds
    and skies,
“An angel, darting from the realms of
“To Vernon's Mount shall wing his
    trackless way,
“Snatch the bright plate* that holds our
    hero's name,
“Preserve from wreck, and rescue from
    the flame.
“To Heaven's vast hall the prize im-
    mortal bear,
“To burn on high the brightest trophy

To exhibit a coffin-plate, even of
Washington, as the only thing res-
cued from the wreck of the uni-
verse, was a bold and a new expe-

The following passages, taken
from out of their connection with
the preceding and following, and
viewed without relation to the great
theme of the poem, are beautiful.

“While, on an aged rock, by tem-
    pests worn,
“Pale Melancholy droops, in state for-
“Columbia's Genius sat, with head re-
“And breath'd his fruitless sorrows to
    the wind!
“With trembling hand, and visage bath'd
    in tears,
“Turn'd Fate's stupendous roll of future

“In charge resistless, dangerous in de-
“In victory clement, dreadful in retreat!
“Cradled 'mid arms, a soldier from his
“He stood the awe and glory of the

In fine, if to take from the great
store-house of language none but
words authorized by poetical usage,
and to arrange these in well ba-
lanced and musical numbers, make
a poet, this writer's claim to be en-
rolled in the laureate fraternity must

be admitted; but if just thoughts
and congruous images be deemed
requisites, we are afraid that he
would run an imminent risque of
being black-balled.

  * On the coffin in which General Washington was buried, was an escutcheon of
silver, marked with the name and age of the deceased.

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