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 Lady's 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 Arcadia 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 stormy 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 was 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—
The life from their hearts in its richness was pressed
To secure this ambrosia divine.


'Tis as full of delight as the grapes were of juice,
Like their amethyst bloom is its hue ;
It has drank from the sunlight its glory profuse,
It has drank from the roses their dew.


And yet it has stol'n all the gloom of the night,
And of Dian's sad eyes, o'er the hill
As they beam in their beauty forlornly yet bright,
And the mists in the valley grow chill.


In goblets of Juno's white lilies so sweet
It is served by the Gods to the few
Who can drink the top sparkles most bright and most fleet.
And still drink till the dregs are in view.


The ethereal bliss flowing; fast through each vein
The aromas of earth yielded up,
But the fire rising fast to the agonized brain
By Prometheus was mixed in the cup.


Who can bear the sweet anguish of Heaven's pure fire?
Who will drug his own soul with despair ? —
The roses whose odors wake endless desire,
The poppies of dreams, who can bear ?


If he seeks but the bliss that perfumeth the top,
If he seeks but its sweetness divine.
Let him leave it, for anguish and joy, drop for drop,
Are expressed in this exquisite wine.


The lips that have thrilled at the goblet flow fast
With a madness they cannot forbear :
The gods what they will of the future and past
Through these oracles boldly declare.


The chill of the caves where it cooled, and the glow
Of the hills where it grew, mingle up —
Who can bear, like a god, both its raptures and woe,
He shall quaff from the mystical cup.


THE TWO PICTURES.

A PAINTER painted a picture for me, I know not whether with color or words, Whether on canvas or air it might be — Whether I saw the vision or heard. A picture it was, both wide and high. Nine-tenths of the world had a place therein : The light was all in the rifted sky — Beneath, were the shadows of AYant and Sin.


I saw — ah I what did I not see there That would sadden the soul to feel and know ? All bodily anguisli and heart despair — And, far the worst, was the Spirit's woe : — The baby who pined for milk and bread — The mother who watched it with tear- less eyes — The father who plotted first crimes in bis head — The sister who fell when she thought to I'ise :


The laborer eating his mouldy crust In many a strange and dreary place. Now by the roadside, crouclied in the dust, Now in the mine, witli a hueless face: The widow dead at her daily work. With none to see but her wailing cliild — Beggars that in odd corners lurk — And slender maidens with faces wild :


Young men, whose dreams of greatness burst Their garret walls with their narrow scope, Who drowned their hunger and cold and thirst In the brimming wine of a thrilhng hope — All had a place in this picture strange : — I shuddered, yet could not choose but look, While ever and ever the picture changed Like turning the leaves of a solemn book.


Vast shadows over the landscape crept, Blending the country and town in one ; Shapeless dread in the darkness slept — Even the sky was dull and dun. Save that a pencil of silver light Slid through the heavy and choking air. Suddenly touching with beauty bright Some pale face lifted in patient prayer.


The darkness drifted like wind and rain — I seemed to listen as well as look, While gusts went by that were loud with pain, And the air with sobs of sorrow shook To a strange, continuous undertone Of tears that were falling many and fast :— Ah, the wind that over the sea doth moan Had never so wild a sound as this last !


Ever through space the picture grew. Bearing me on with its thronging train ; — This tempest of human sorrow blew And beat on the world its drenching rain. "What painter hath done this work. '^" I cried — "■' Hath painted this picture wild and dim?" " Selfishness wrought it!" a voice replied, " For a prize of Gold that was offered him."


I said : — " Oh let the vision pass !" The scene, like mist, was drifted av/ay ! A light wind ran through the rippling grass, A golden glow on the world did lay ; The dimpled foot of the happy child On moss and velvet violets trod ; With the joy of flowers the fields were wild. And perfumes rose from the grateful sod.


The motheis breast was full and fair. She laughed as she nursed her rosy boy. And shook the curls of her careless hair To vex him with a gay annoy : The girl her simple labor sped. Mocking with songs the birds and streams, — Then rested 'neath the rose-vine red, Her cheeks flushed crimson with her dreams ;


The laborer feasted at his ease On the rich fruits his toil had won ; — The peach and purple grape were his — The wheat gold-tinted by the sun: The young man with a step elate. Walked proudly on th' admiring Earth, His ideas grown to actions great — Success commensurate with his worth:


The splendor of the boundless sky Was of so soft and fine a hue, No daintiest critic-taste could cry " There was too much of gold or blue ! " " Who painted this," I said, " must be Of Art, the master and the lord : " " Love wrought it ! " some one answered me, " And Beauty was his sole reward."


" But when shall Love, the Artist, stand Most honored in the world's esteem, And these sweet visions from his hand Be more than a delightful dream?" I asked ; and still the voice replies — " When Beauty is of higher worth Than Gold, in men's far-seeing eyes, Then Love shall paint for all the Earth."


THE HONEYSUCKLE.

PART FIRST.

It covers the ancient castle Over all its southern wall; It makes for itself a trestle Of arch and battlement tall ; It waves from the lofty turret — It swings from the stately tower — It curtains the grim old castle As fair as a lady's bower. At the time of the midnight wassail, At the time of mirth and wine, I seek no other pleasure Than to look on the royal vine — It brims my soul with the measure Of a happiness divine.


I sit without, in the meadow ; The trees sing low and sweet, The tremulous light and shadow Play all around my feet ; I am full of summer fancies, I breathe the breath of flowers, I see the river that glances Beneath the castle-towers ; I hear the wild-bee's story, I see the roses twine — But the crown of all, and the glory, Is the Honeysuckle-vine !


'Tis the type and ideal of summer. Tropical, brilliant, serene ! It shehers the light-winged comer In a cool and Avavy screen ; It is full of vague, soft noises, Sweeter than sweetest rhymes, Than insects' murmurous voices, Finer than fairy-bell chimes ; It is the queen and the wonder Of all the vines that grow. And the stately elms stand under. Surprised to see it so. It floats in the yellow sunshine — It swims in the rosy light — It dreams in the mellow moonshine Through all the August night. It is still when the breeze is quiet. It moves not leaf nor limb — And oh, what a wild, sweet riot It holds along with him ! They dance together proudly A gay, ethereal dance. And the happy breeze laughs loudly As its garments rustle and glance !


I cannot tell the fancies Which crowd my brain at times, Nor the soft, delicious trances Beguiling my thought to rhymes : — If I love the Honeysuckle, I have rivals many and true ; The bee his belt doth buckle And sharpen his small-sword, too. — He will sting me if I go nearer — He will swear he has kissed her lips — That nectar never was clearer Than the honey-dew he sips.


The humming-bird, he will tell me He has lain in her breast for hours ; The butterfly seeks to repel me With his wings like living flowers. And the bright sun doth adore her — He is my rival brave ; He bows his torch before her Like some gay-appareled slave. He lights the million tapers Which burn upon her shrine, He dries the morning vapoi-s Which will not let them shine. 1850-60.] METTA V. VICTOR. 525 Her praise to heaven she renders With golden lamps all trimmed ; They blaze with crimson splendors, By even the day undimmed. These are not tapers, clearly That burn upon the vine — I see them now more nearly As beakers full of wine ! They are goblets, rich and golden, Ruby and garnet-rimmed, By all its branches holden And with royal nectar brimmed. Ah ! filled with juices amber. Which ripen in the flower, For which bright insects clamber To the turret and the tower. The wild-bee swims in blisses, The small bird drinks his fill — They vow and sigh — "Oh, this is The draught the gods distill! They distill it out of heaven Into these goblets fine — Let us drink from morn till even — Let us madden us with wine, The ambrosial, the divine!" PAET SECOXD. It covers the ancient castle Over all its southern wall ; It makes for itself a trestle Of arch and battlement tall ; It is rooted deep with the basement, It rises high with the tower. It curtains a certain casement — And there is my lady's bower ! With a graceful, sweeping motion There parteth the leafy screen — In its wavy and murmurous ocean Like a pearl is my lady seen. No wonder the vine drops amber Which the honey-bees love to hive ! It was planted to shade the chamber Of the fairest creature alive Its holy and blissful duty — The sweetest that ever was done — Is to shadow her virgin beauty From the eye of the amorous sun. I know why the birds crowd thither To sing and exult all day. While the roses and violets wither, Unsung, in the gardens, away. I know why the bees are drunken — In pleasure lapped and rolled, — Why the humming-birds' breasts are sunken So deep in those cups of gold ! It's not that they hold their wassail In the crimson, nectarine flower — They see the pearl of the castle. They peer in her maiden bower ! Oh, toss your flowers in the sunlight I Distill your honey-wine ! Wave, wave your limbs in the moon- light. Glorious, aspiring vine ! Yours is the coveted pleasure Of guarding the costly shrine — But the bitter, bitter measure Of idle envy is mine. I lie in the oak-tree shadow The drowsy, summer day. In the rippling grass of the meadow I idle my time away. The wine and feast are untasted. The labor never is done — With heart and body wasted, I lie in the shade and sun. Like a bird in its leafy covering, She flits about her room ; I see her fair form hovering Between the light and gloom : She comes to the window, singing. She plucks a peeping flower — Through all my being is ringing Her song's unconscious power. She shakes the saucy butterfly From off the fragrant bough — 526 METTA V . VICTOR. [1850-GO. And I am conquered utterly, Ben Selim had a golden coin that day, By the mirth which dimples now Which to a stranger, asking alms, he Her rosy mouth and cheek, gave, And brightens over her brow. Who went, rejoicing, on his unknown way. Oh, would I dared to speak ! Ben Selim died, too poor to own a grave ; Oh, would I were the blossom But when his soul reached heaven, angels, That waves so near her hair — with pride, She might pluck me for her bosom Showed him the wealth to which his And let me perish there ! coin had multiplied. I am mad with too much longing — And wild with too much thought ! Bless'd birds, around her thronging, Sing on, 1 heed you not ! Oh, why was I born human. LOVE.* With a man's spirit and mind, Love is not taught. Queen Oene, 'tis a gift And she, a peerless woman, Mysterious as life, and more divine ; The queen of all her kind ? The congregated glories of this cave, Those woody fibers feel not With all its jeweled lamps and spai-kling The thrill of nerves on fire — roof, Those veins of nectar reel not Could never purchase one of its small joys. With love, hope, or desire ! Love, in exchange, takes nothing but itself; Yet I can see them yearning Power cannot claim it — fear cannot com- To hear her careless speech, mand : — And I can see them turning It is a tribute Queens cannot exact. Her loveliest cheeks to reach ! The humblest peasant singing in her hut Oh, twine thou over the castle !- Is often richer than the proudest Prince : In w^reaths and masses twine ! It is the gift God left the human race I am only a stupid vassal To keep them from despair, when sin and To lie in the grass and pine shame. And wish my fate were thine, Pain, poverty and death, and madness came Thou happy, royal Vine ! Among the people. When a youthful pair Look in each other's eyes and say, " We love ! " The common earth grows to a heavenly COMPOUND INTEREST. world. Singing of birds, shining of summer suns, Ben Adam had a golden coin one day. Blooming of llowers and brightness of the Wiiich he put out at interest with a Jew ; moon Have a new charm to their elated sense ; Year after year, awaiting him, it lay, Until the doubled coin two pieces grew, And these two, four — so on, till people said Tliey hear the music of the Universe Walking, with light feet, to the liarmony ; Careless of care and disbelieving pain, Grateful for Hfe — and all, because they " How rich Ben Adam is ! " and bowed the servile head. love !

  • Extract from "Arctic Queen."