Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview
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[Review of Philip James Bailey, Festus]

We are right glad to see this beloved stranger domesticated among us. Yet there are queer little circumstances that herald the introduction. The Poet is a Barrister at Law!—well! it is always worthy ofn note when a man is not hindered by study of human law from knowledge of divine; which last is all that concerns the Poet. Then the Preface to the American edition closes with this discreet remark: “It is perfectly safe to pronounce it (the poem) one of the most powerful and splendid productions of the age.” Dear New-England! how purely that was worthy thee, region where the tyranny of public opinion is carried to a perfection of minute scrutiny beyond what it ever was before in any age or place, though the ostracism be administered with the mildness and refinement fit for this age. Dear New-England! yes! it is safe to say that the poem is good; whatever Mrs. Grundy may think, she will not have it burned by the hangman if it is not.1 But it may not be discreet, because she can, if she sees fit, exile its presence from book-stores, libraries, centre-tables, and all mention of its existence from lips polite, and of thine also, who hast dared to praise it, on peril of turning all surrounding eyes to lead by its utterance. This kind of gentle excommunication thou mayst not be prepared to endure, O Preface-writer! And we should greatly fear that thou wert deceived in thy fond security, for “Festus” is a bold book—in respect of freedom of words, a boldest book—also it reveals the solitudes of hearts with unexampled sincerity and remorselessly lays bare human nature in its naked truth—but for the theology of the book. That may save it, and none the less for all it shows of the depravity of human nature. It is through many pages and leaves what is technically praised as “a serious book.” A friend went into a book-store to select presents for persons with whom she was about to part, and among other things

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1
“What will Mrs. Grundy say? What will our rivals or neighbours say?” is from Speed the Plough (produced in 1800) by Thomas Morton (1764–1838), English dramatist.
n
worthy [worthy of

-211-

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