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The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices/Metta Victoria Victor

METTA VICTORIA VICTOR.




Metta Victoria Fuller was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, March second, 1831,—the third child of a family of five, of whom Frances A. Fuller (Mrs. Barritt) was the eldest. From mere childhood she manifested a love for books of fancy and poetry, and undertook rhythmic composition before the age of ten years, with a success which rendered her a prodigy in the eyes of teachers and scholars. Her parents having removed to Wooster, Ohio, in 1839, she then enjoyed for several years the advantages of good schools. Her mental development was rapid. At the age of thirteen years she really commenced the career of authorship which, with slight interruptions, she has successfully pursued up to the present time. "The Silver Lute," an exquisite tale which was widely admired, was written and published in 1844.

Between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, Miss Fuller produced many poems and tales—all of which met with great favor at the hands of local publishers. At fifteen she wrote the romance "The Last Days of Tul"—founded upon the supposed history of the dead cities of Yucatan. It was published in Boston in 1846. At the age of sixteen, she produced stories of much brilliancy of fancy—and then made a brilliant debut in the New York Home Journal, edited by Nathaniel P. Willis and George P. Morris, and for some time was the "bright, particular star "of that sheet. Mr. Willis wrote of her, and her sister, Frances A. (likewise a special contributor to the Journal):

We suppose ourselves to be throwing no shade of disparagement upon any one in declaring that, in "Singing Sybil" (Miss Fuller's nom de plume), and her not less gifted sister Frances, we discern more unquestionable marks of true genius, and a greater portion of the unmistakable inspiration of true poetic art than in any of the lady minstrels—delightful and splendid as some of them have been—that we have heretofore ushered to the applause of the public. One in spirit, and equal in genius, these most interesting and brilliant ladies—both still in the earliest youth—are undoubtedly destined to occupy a very distinguished and permanent place among the native authors of this land.

High praise when we consider that it was "Fanny Forester," brilliant "Edith May," and "Grace Greenwood," whom he had "ushered to the applause of the public." Among the tales furnished the Journal were, "The Tempter: a sequel to the Wandering Jew;" "The Lost Glove;" "Mother and Daughter"—all of which were republished far and wide. Her poetic contributions, during the same time, were numerous, and served to excite considerable remark in critical circles.

The first volume of poems of the sisters was collected under the editorship of the late Rufus W. Griswold, and published by A. S. Barnes & Co., in 1850. In the fall of the same year Derby &, Co., of Buffalo, gathered together and published a volume of stories from the pen of Metta, under the title "Fresh Leaves from Western Woods." It included "The Tempter," the "Silver Lute," the "Lost Glove," "Mother and Daughter," etc.; and, as a publishers' venture, proved a success. "The Senator's Son; a plea for the Maine Law," was brought out in the fall of 1851. Six large editions of this work have been sold in this country, and a sale of thirty thousand copies in England was acknowledged by the foreign publishers.

The years between 1852 and 1855 were devoted by Miss Fuller almost entirely to study—only venturing upon authorship to write an occasional "prize story," or to fulfill a magazine engagement. During these years she carefully canvassed the field of English Literature in its higher walks of Philosophy, Criticism, Biography and Poetry. In 1856 Derby & Jackson, of New York, published "The Two Wives," a sad story (founded in fact) of the ruin wrought by the Mormon faith. The work still has a good sale.

In July, 1856, Miss Fuller was united in marriage to O. J. Victor, and removed, the year following, to New York City, where she still resides, pursuing the career of authorship successfully.

Mrs. Victor is understood to be the author of those humorous papers published in Godey's Ladys Book, entitled "The Tallow Family in America," and "Miss Slimmen's Window;" collected and published in an illustrated volume by Derby & Jackson, of New York, in 1859. She is also said to be the author of several humorous and satirical poems which have excited no little curiosity in literary circles, viz.:— "What's in a Name? a High Life Tragedy;" '-Starting the Paper;" "The Stilts of Gold;" "The Ballad of Caleb Cornstalk." The "Arctic Queen"—a poem of marked originality and of striking character—published in a private edition at Sandusky, Ohio, in 1856, is from her pen. Those somewhat remarkable stories published in the Art Journal, of New York City, "Painted in Character," "The Phantom Wife," " From Ai'cadia to Avernus," are attributed upon good authority to her hand. It will be perceived by this record of her labors that Mrs. Victor is unusually endowed; her success has been remarkable in poetry of imagination and fancy: in humor and satire, prose and verse; in fiction and romance; in tales of purely imaginative creation; as well as in the departments of literary criticism, and essays upon popular themes.

The selections for these pages are made from late poems Mrs. Victor has acknowledged. It is to be hoped that she will confess to the ownership of the humorous poems above named, by gathering them for publication in a volume. It will prove an acceptable contribution to our humorous literature.

"Body and Soul" is a poem of true inspiration. It shows a power in its development which renders its impression a lasting one. It has come back from England with high approval. "The Red Hunters," as a description of the fearful phenomenon of a prairie on fire, is a vivid, stirring characterization. "The Honeysuckle "stands in strong contrast to these two just named, being a pure piece of fancy, woven with exquisite grace, and showing the author's extreme sensibility to the spiritual expressions of nature. "The Two Pictures "has the fire of imagination in its finely rhythmed diction. "The Wine of Parnassus" is conceived in the spirit of a poet who has quaffed deeply at the Parnassean spring.

THE RED HUNTERS.


Out of the wood at midnight,
The swift red hunters came;
The prairie was their hunting-ground,
The bison were their game.
Their spears were of glist'ning silver,
Their crests were of blue and gold;
Driven by the panting winds of heaven,
Their shining chariots rolled.


Over that level hunting-ground—
Oh, what a strife was there!
What a shouting—what a threat'ning cry——
What a murmur on the air!
Their garments over the glowing wheels
Streamed backward red and far;
They flouted their purple banners
In the face of each pale star.


Under their tread the autumn flowers
By myriads withering lay;
Poor things! that from those golden wheels
Could nowhere shrink away!
Close, and crashing together,
The envious chariots rolled,
While, anon before his fellows
Leaped out some hunter bold.


Their hot breath, thick and lowering,
About their wild eyes hung,
And, around their frowning foreheads,
Like wreaths of nightshade clung.
The bison! ho, the bison!
They cried, and answered back;
Poor herds of frightened creatures,
With such hunters on their track!


With a weary, lumbering swiftness,
They sought the river’s side,
Driven by those hunters from their sleep
Into its chilling tide.
Some face their foe, with anguish
Dilating their brute eyes——
The spears of silver strike them low,
And dead each suppliant lies.


Now, by the brightening river
The red hunters stand at bay ;
Vain the appalling splendor—
The river shields their prey!
Into its waves, with baffled rage,
They leap in death's despite—
Their golden wheels roll roaring in,
And leave the withered night.


BODY AND SOUL.


A living soul came into the world—
Whence came it? Who can tell?
Or where that soul went forth again,
When it bade the world farewell?


A body it had, this spirit new,
And the body was given a name,
And chance and change and circumstance
About its being came.
Whether the name would suit the soul
The givers never knew—
Names are alike, but never souls:
So body and spirit grew,
Till time enlarged their narrow sphere
Into the realms of life,
Into this strange and double world,
Whose elements are at strife.


'Twere easy to tell the daily paths
Walked by the body’s feet,
To mark where the sharpest stones were laid,
Or where the grass grew sweet;
To tell if it hungered, or what its dress,
Ragged, or plain, or rare ;
What was its forehead—what its voice,
Or the hue of its eyes and hair.


But these are all in the common dust;
And the spirit—where is it?
Will any say if the hue of the eyes,
Or the dress, for that was fit?
Will any one say what daily paths
That spirit went or came—
Whether it rested in beds of flowers,
Or shrunk upon beds of flame?
Can any one tell, upon stormy nights,
When the body was safely at home,
Where, amid darkness, terror, and gloom.
Its friend was wont to roam?
Where, upon hills beneath the blue skies.
It rested soft and still,
Flying straight out of its half-closed eyes.
That friend went wandering at will?


High as the bliss of the highest heaven.
Low as the lowest hell.
With hope and fear it winged its way
On journeys none may tell.


It lay on the rose's fragrant breast,
It bathed in the ocean deep,
It sailed in a ship of sunset cloud.
And it heard the rain-cloud weep.
It laughed with naiads in murmurous caves.
It was struck by the lightning's flash.
It drank from the moonlit lily-cup.
It heard the iceberg's crash.


It haunted places of old renown.
It basked in thickets of flowers;
It fled on the wings of the stoi-my wind.
It dreamed through the star-lit hours,
Alas! a soul's strange history
Never was written or known,
Though the name and age of its earthly part
Be graven upon the stone!


It hated, and overcame its hate—
It loved to youth's excess—
It Avas mad with anguish, wild with joy.
It had visions to grieve and to bless;
It drank of the honey-dew of dreams,
For it was a poet true;
Secrets of nature and secrets of mind,
Mysteriously it knew.


Should mortals question its history.
They would ask if it had gold—
If it bathed and floated in deeps of wealth—
If it traded, and bought, and sold.
They would prize its worth by the outward dress
By which its body was known:
As if a soul must eat and sleep.
And live on money alone!


It had no need to purchase lands.
For it owned the whole broad earth;
'Twas of royal rank, for all the past
Was its by right of birth.
All beauty in the world below
Was its by right of love.
And it had a great inheritance
In the nameless realms above.


It has gone! the soul so little known—
Its body has lived and died—
Gone from the world so vexing, small:
But the Universe is wide!


THE WINE OF PARNASSUS.

The wine of Parnassus is mingled with fire;
It is drunken with pleasure and pain:
Who quaffs of it once must forever desire
Its ethereal fumes in his brain.


It is drugged with a sadness immortally deep,
That low down in the beaker doth swim;
While the silvery bubbles of joy overleap,
Or in splendor subside on the brim.


And the grapes, ah! the grapes that were torn from the breast
Of the clinging and passionate vine—
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