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EARLY POETRY OF PENNSYLVANIA.
BY J. G. FISHER.
The cultivation of poetry seems, at least in the British race, the strongest evidence of refinement. Among them, it was not the growth of a barbarous age, and it never was the pleasure of the humble. To discover, therefore, amongst our colonists a taste for poetry, will do much to vindicate their claim to literary advancement and intellectual refinement. That this taste existed, is to be proved, not so much by adducing one or two brilliant displays of genius, as by naming numerous and successive efforts, which, although only partially successful in their day, and altogether unworthy at the present of our admiration, establish nevertheless the fact of the constant cultivation of the art; and assure us that the best poetry of England was sought for, read, admired, and imitated, not only frequently, but constantly by men who have been stigmatised as unpolished, illiterate, and rude.
The first twenty years of our colonial history produced, it is probable, but little poetry-nothing which deserves the name has descended to us. The exalted and cultivated minds of some of the first settlers were no doubt often possessed with sublime imaginations, inspired by the native grandeur of the wilderness; or, when recollecting the beautiful homes of their youth, were filled with tender emotions nearly allied to poetry--but their duties were imperious, the hours spared from pri
vate labour were engrossed by public affairs; and, while we thank them for the institutions they have established, we must regret that little remains of theirs but an honourable name.
But the second generation, relieved from the toils of settlement in the forest-reposing under liberal establishments and laws framed by the enlightened wisdom of the founder and his companions—and reaping plenty from rich and beautiful fields cleared by the labour of their fathers—first, turned their eyes to Heaven in thankfulness, and then to Parnassus for inspiration to celebrate the beauty and delights of their happy country. Although it cannot be denied, that the tuneful inhabitants of that sacred hill rarely descended into the green
valleys of our province, or that
erubuit sylvas habitare Thalia ;
still their smiles were not altogether withheld from their rustic votaries, and this was quite encouragement enough. During the early part of the 18th century, several poets flourished in Pennsylvania, whose lines merited the approbation of their cotemporaries. Few of these productions are now to be discovered, and those which are found in print were, it is probable, by no means the best. We must look for them in the Almanacs—a strange place to seek for poetry—but at that early day they were the only publications to which rhymes could obtain admittance ; and certainly never since have Almanacs been embellished with better verses. They are for the most part greatly deficient in poetic graces, but some of them may certainly with justice be commended for sprightliness and ease.
The want of a periodical sheet was felt by those mo
dest geniuses, who, not confident of the intrinsic merit of their pieces, would have been happy to trust to the generosity of the public an unfathered offspring, which might not obtain favour for an acknowledged author. The invitations of the editors of our two earliest newspapers were eagerly accepted by a score of nameless sons of Apollo. Scarcely a week passed that some new attempt at rhyming was not made ; or, to speak more appropriately, that our ancestors did not hear some young Orpheus beginning to take lessons on the lyre. These first strains certainly were not always melodious. The first poetry of Pennsylvania may generally be characterised as inelegant, unharmonious and spiritless; yet, there were several brilliant exceptions, which surprise us by their sweetness and vivacity, and were beyond a doubt the productions of cultivated and refined minds. There are many verses which would not discredit any English author of the last century, and still may be read with pleasure ; and although, perhaps, they have not enough of originality or brilliancy to deserve a reproduction in an age overstocked with all the lighter kinds of literature, may certainly be noticed with satisfaction, and referred to with pride.
BY W. G. CLARK.
It was the morning of a day in spring--
upon the trees and on the wing,
And many a sunny glade and flowery scene
The rose's breath upon the south wind came-
Stole on the charmed ear with such delight
The night-dews lay in the half open'd flower,
Lay the dim woodlands, and the quiet gleam
Glorious and bright, and changing like a dream,
Songs were amid the mountains far and wide-
greenAutumn, in storm and shade shall quench the summer sheen.
I came again. 'Twas Autumn's stormy hour-
Where, straying lonely, as with steps of fear,
The ruffled lake heav'd wildly-near the shore
Weak, changing like the flowers in Autumn's clime, As man sinks down in death, chilled by the touch of time!