Fitz-Greene Halleck 1790-1867
(Also published under the pseudonym Thomas Castaly) American poet.
Halleck was one of the most popular and respected American poets of the nineteenth century. Known for both satirical verses and sentimental lyric poetry on serious subjects, he was part of New York's Knickerbocker literary circle, a witty and urbane coterie of writers which included James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, Caroline Kirkland, and James Paulding.
A descendant of early Puritan colonists, Halleck was born and raised in rural Guilford, Connecticut. His first published verses, on a dying Indian warrior, appeared in a New Haven newspaper in the winter of 1809-10. After moving to New York City in 1811 at the age of 21, Halleck worked as a clerk, first for wealthy banker and businessman Jacob Barker, and after 1832 as personal secretary to noted entrepreneur John Jacob Astor. In 1813, Halleck made the acquaintance of Joseph Rodman Drake, a young New York doctor and fellow poet. In 1819, Halleck and Drake published a series of satirical verses on New York society in the New York Evening Post, some written jointly under the pseudonym "Croaker & Co.," others written by Drake as "Croaker" or by Halleck as "Croaker, Jr." These poems enjoyed enormous popularity, provoking much speculation as to their authorship. After Drake died of tuberculosis the following year, Halleck continued to publish his own poems. Many first appeared in publications edited by Bryant, including the New York Review, the United States Review, and the New York Evening Post. In 1849 Halleck retired to his native Guilford. Although he published only two new poems after 1827, his work remained popular with readers well after his death in 1867.
Halleck's humorous "Croaker" verses, with their pointed observations on contemporary life and personalities, first brought him to public attention, and his long poem Fanny, published anonymously the same year, established his place among a wide readership. Modelled on Lord Byron's Beppo, Fanny was a poem of nearly fifteen hundred lines mocking the pretenses of New York's nouveaux riches It went into several editions, including a London edition, and was such a success that at the publisher's request Halleck provided an additional fifty stanzas in 1821. A trip to Europe in 1822 provided the occasion for two of his most highly praised poems, "Burns," a tribute to the eighteenth-century Scottish poet, and "Alnwick Castle," a meditation on the ruins of Percy Castle in Alnwick, England. The following year he published "Marco Bozzaris," a melodramatic account in verse of the death of a Greek patriot in a raid against the Turks. "The Recorder," first published in 1828 under the pseudonym Thomas Castaly, is a biting and occasionally bitter satire directed against Richard Riker, a New York City judge who had had a hand in ruinous litigation involving Halleck's employer Jacob Barker. The first collection of Halleck's work, Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems, appeared in 1827 and quickly sold out; numerous further editions appeared during the next four decades. Halleck virtually stopped writing poetry after 1827, although he remained active in literary circles, translating European verse and editing a collection of Lord Byron's work in 1833. His most enduring work is his elegy on the death of his friend Drake, a version of which is inscribed on the memorial at Drake's grave site in the Bronx.
Much of Halleck's historical importance, like his literary reputation, may be credited to the thinness of American literary production during the first decades of the nineteenth century. Even at the height of his considerable popularity, critics generally portrayed him as a competent poet who displayed occasional flashes of brilliance; subsequent criticism has not revised that assessment. One of his most ardent admirers was his friend and fellow poet Bryant, who praised Halleck's melodic versification, his rich imagery, and his use of irony and self-deprecating wit to alleviate the solemnity of even his most serious poems. Other contemporary critics, however, concurred with poet and critic Edgar Allan Poe that Halleck's mixing of humor and seriousness spoiled the effect of many of his poems. Poe also pilloried Halleck for marring his best works with syntactical errors and careless versification. By the end of the century Halleck was remembered primarily as a relic of the unsophisticated early days of American letters.
Fanny (poetry) 1819; enlarged edition, 1821
Poems [with Joseph Rodman Drake, under the name "Croaker, Jr." or "Croaker & Co.,"] (poetry) 1819
Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems (poetry) 1827
The Recorder, with Other Poems (poetry) 1833
The Works of Lord Byron, in Verse and Prose [editor] (letters, poems, essays) 1833
Fanny, with Other Poems (poetry) 1839
Selections from the British Poets [editor] (poetry) 1840
The Poetical Works of Fitz-Greene Halleck (poetry) 1847
Young America: A Poem (poetry) 1865
The Poetical Writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck, with Extracts from those of Joseph Rodman Drake (poetry) 1869
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SOURCE: A review of The Culprit Fay, and Other Poems, and Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems, in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol VIII, edited by James A. Harrison, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902, pp. 275-318.
[A distinguished poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, short story writer, editor, and critic, Poe stressed an analytical, rather than emotive approach to literature and emphasized the specifics of style and construction in a work, instead of concentrating solely on the importance of ideological statement. Although Poe and his literary criticism were subject to controversy in his own lifetime, he is now valued for his literary theories. In the following excerpt, originally published in 1836, from a review of Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems, Poe analyzes several of Halleck's works, including "Alnwick Castle," "Macro Bozzaris," "Burns," and "Lines on the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake, "praising the poet's power of expression but faulting his versification and inconsistencies in tone.]
By the hackneyed phrase, sportive elegance, we might possibly designate at once the general character of [Halleck's] writings and the very loftiest praise to which he is justly entitled.
"Alnwick Castle" is an irregular poem of one hundred and twenty-eight lines—was written, as we are informed, in October 1822—and is descriptive of a seat of the Duke of Northumberland,...
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SOURCE: American Quarterly Review, Vol. XXI, No. XLII, June, 1837, pp. 399-415.
[In the following excerpt, the reviewer comments on various poems in Halleck's 1836 collection, Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems, and discusses his transition from social satire to descriptive nature and landscape poetry and narrative.]
[Halleck's] city residence, … did not seduce our author away from the remembrance of the country. He reverted to its calmness, its seclusion, and its purity, in many a melodious line. To him there was a charm in recollected rocks, waters, and vernal uplands—"ruris amoeni rivos, et musco circumlita saxa nemusque." He heard, even in the crowded and garish ways of the town, those celestial voices which breathe at night from echoing hills and thickets, over land and sea. The power of these entered into his heart of hearts; but he was environed by the every day realities of a crowded capital; the follies of its dwellers passed in daily review before him; and, quenching within himself what we must call his better inspirations, he launched his bark of authorship upon the sea of satire. In doing this, he acquired a burlesque habitude of style, which we regret to say became afterwards almost a passion with him, and the effects of which are absent from but very few of his compositions. In the verses of Croaker, written in conjunction with others, his spirit roamed and revelled among...
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There is an evening twilight of the heart,
When its wild passion-waves are lulled to rest,
And the eye sees life's fairy scenes depart,
As fades the day-beam in the rosy west.
'Tis with a nameless feeling of regret
We gaze upon them as they melt away,
And fondly would we bid them linger yet,
But hope is round us with her angel lay,
Hailing afar some happier moonlight hour;
Dear are her whispers still, though lost their early power.
In youth the cheek was crimsoned with her glow;
Her smile was loveliest then; her matin song
Was heaven's own music, and the note of wo
Was all unheard her sunny bowers among.
Life's little world of bliss was newly born;
We knew not, cared not, it was born to die;
Flushed with the cool breeze and the dews of mom;
With dancing heart we gazed on the pure sky,
And mocked the passing clouds that dimmed its blue,
Like our own sorrows then—as fleeting and as few.
And manhood felt her sway too—on the eye,
Half realised, her early dreams burst bright,
Her promised bower of happiness seemed nigh,
Its days of joy, its vigils of delight;
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SOURCE: "Our Contributors—Fitz-Greene Halleck," in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, VoL XI, edited by James A. Harrison, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902, pp. 190-204.
[In the following excerpt from an article on Halleck originally published in 1843, Poe takes issue with comments by William Cullen Bryant concerning versification and Halleck's poetry, and analyzes the poems Fanny and "Marco Bozzaris."]
No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck, and yet few of our poets—none, indeed, of eminence—have accomplished less, if we regard the quantity without the quality of his compositions. That he has written so little becomes thus proof positive that he has written that little well.…
We cannot better preface what we have to say, critically, of Mr. Halleck, than by quoting what has been said of him by his friend, William Cullen Bryant. To a poet what is more valuable—by a poet what is more valued—than the opinion of a poet?
"Sometimes," says Mr. Bryant,
in the midst of a strain of harmonious diction, and soft and tender imagery, he surprises by an irresistible stroke of ridicule, as if he took pleasure in showing the reader that the poetical vision he had raised was but a cheat. Sometimes, with that aerial facility which is his peculiar endowment, he...
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SOURCE: "Fitz-Greene Halleck," in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. XV, edited by James A. Harrison, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902, pp. 49-56.
[In the following excerpt from an article on Halleck originally published in 1846, Poe measures public estimation of Halleck against what he considers a truer representation of the poet's literary worth.]
The name of HALLECK is at least as well established in the poetical world as that of any American. Our principal poets are, perhaps, most frequently named in this order—Bryant, Halleck, Dana, Sprague, Longfellow, Willis, and so on—Halleck coming second in the series, but holding, in fact, a rank in the public opinion quite equal to that of Bryant. The accuracy of the arrangement as above made may, indeed, be questioned. For my own part, I should have it thus—Longfellow, Bryant, Halleck, Willis, Sprague, Dana; and, estimating rather the poetic capacity than the poems actually accomplished, there are three or four comparatively unknown writers whom I would place in the series between Bryant and Halleck, while there are about a dozen whom I should assign a position between Willis and Sprague. Two dozen at least might find room between Sprague and Dana—this latter, I fear, owing a very large portion of his reputation to his quondam editorial connection with The North American Review. One or two poets now in my mind's eye I should have no...
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SOURCE: National Magazine, Vol. I, No. 6, December, 1852, pp. 481-87.
[In the following excerpt from a review ofHalleck's life and poetry, the critic discusses the strong points and shortcomings of the poet's works.]
To thoroughly analyze Halleck's poetry, we should require pages; not because he has written so much, or because what he has written is of so much consequence, but because much of it violates many of the fundamental rules of taste and art, which would have to be stated and perhaps defended in full. Having neither space nor time to do this, we must content ourselves with a few examples of his merits and demerits and a few brief remarks thereon.
We open the volume at the beginning, at "Alnwick Castle," one of his best poems. In "Alnwick Castle," we see the effect of Scott's romances, both in their versification, and in their recalling the memory of the feudal, or, as poor Tom Hood used to call them, the foodle ages. There is something prompt, terse, and businesslike, in the management of the poem. Though a true poem, it does not strike us as the work of a poet, so much as the work of a practical man poetically inclined—a man with rhetoric, and the other helps to poetry, at his finger-ends. A poet, we think, would have dwelt upon its beautiful side alone; would have lingered over
The legend of the Cheviot day,
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SOURCE: "Fitz-Greene Halleck. Address Delivered before the New York Historical Society," in Littell's Living Age, Vol. C, No. 1291, February 27, 1869, pp. 515-25.
[The first American poet to achieve an international reputation, Bryant also contributed to the development of American letters in his role as editor of several literary magazines and of the New York Evening Post. Halleck and Bryant met in New York in 1825 and maintained their friendship until Halleck's death; many of Halleck's poems first appeared in journals edited by Bryant. In the following excerpts from a paper on Halleck delivered before the New York Historical Society, Bryant recalls his friend's life, works, and literary career.]
I have yielded with some hesitation to the request that I should read before the Historical Society a paper on the life and writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck. I hesitated because the subject had been most ably treated by others. I consented because it seemed to be expected by his friends and admirers, that one who like myself was so nearly his contemporary, who read his poems as they appeared, and through whom several of the finest of them were given to the world, ought not to let a personal friend, a genial companion and an admirable poet pass from us without some words setting forth his merits and our sorrow. It is, besides, a relief under such a loss to dwell upon the characteristic qualities of the...
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SOURCE: "Fitz-Greene Halleck," in The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Houghton, Mifflin, 1892, pp. 136-38.
[One of the most prominent American poets of the nineteenth century, Whittier wrote this poem to be read at the dedication of Halleck's statue in Central Park in May, 1877.]
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AT THE UNVEILING OF HIS STATUE.
Among their graven shapes to whom
Thy civic wreaths belong,
0 city of his love, make room
For one whose gift was song.
Not his the soldier's sword to wield,
Nor his the helm of state,
Nor glory of the stricken field,
Nor triumph of debate.
In common ways, with common men,
He served his race and time
As well as if his clerkly pen
Had never danced to rhyme.
If, in the thronged and noisy mart,
The Muses found their son,
Could any say his tuneful art
A duty left undone?
He toiled and sang; and year by year
Men found their homes more sweet,
And through a tenderer atmosphere
Looked down the brick-walled street.
The Greek's wild onset Wall Street knew;
The Red King walked Broadway;
And Alnwick Castle's roses blew
From Palisades to Bay.
Fair City by the Sea! upraise
His veil with reverent hands;
And mingle with thy own the praise
And pride of other lands....
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SOURCE: "Fitz-Greene Halleck," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXXIX, June, 1877, pp. 718-29.
[An influential American literary critic during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, George Parsons Lathrop helped establish realism as the dominant mode of literary expression. In the following excerpts from an article on Halleck's life and work, Lathrop examines several of Halleck's most popular works with a view to defining his historical and literary importance.]
[There] was a mutual reaction in Halleck, of literary ability and literary languor, which it will be useful to keep in mind while we are discussing him. These qualities confront us suggestively in the so-called Croaker poems, written in company with his friend, Joseph Rodman Drake.
It was in March, 1819, that Drake's address "To Ennui," the first of the Croaker series, appeared in the New York Evening Post. "The Culprit Fay," commonly reported to have been composed in the same year, had been written three years before this time, but was not then published; and this brief newspaper ode was the first of the young poet's pieces that attained notoriety. It was followed by several others equally successful; and then Halleck became a partner in the clandestine work. The two men had made acquaintance in the right poetic way: they were together in a group of idlers one day, just after a shower, and, remarking the beauty of the...
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Fair lady with the bandag'd eye!
I'll pardon all thy scurvy tricks,
So thou wilt cut me and deny
Alike thy kisses and thy kicks:
My station is the middle rank,
My fortune, just a competence,—
Ten thousand in the Franklin bank
And twenty in the six per cents:
The horse that twice a year I ride
At mother Dawson's eats his fill;
My books at Goodrich's abide;
My country-seat is Weehawk Hill;
My morning lounge is Eastburn's shop;
At Poppleton's I take my lunch;
Niblo prepares my mutton-chop;
And Jennings makes whisky punch.
When merry, I the hours amuse
By squibbing Bucktails,-Guards, and Balls;
And when I'm troubled with the blues,
Damn Clinton and abuse canals:
Then, Fortune, since I ask no prize,
At least preserve me from thy frown;
The man who don't attempt to rise
'Twere cruelty to tumble down.
The brief extracts just given show for what sparing outlay of art or idea the authors received their large return of distinction. They rhymed as easily as Peter Pindar, whom they were thought to rival. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to...
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SOURCE: "Fitz-Greene Halleck," in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, Vol. 43, June, 1889, pp. 886-97.
[R. H. Stoddard was a prolific late nineteenth-century American poet, editor, and literary critic. In the following excerpt, he reflects on Halleck's career and writings, presenting him as an unusually gifted poet for his time and place who never fulfilled his early promise.]
Shortly after his coming to New York [Halleck] made the acquaintance of a young gentleman who was qualifying himself for the medical profession, and for whom he at once entertained a feeling of friendship. This was Joseph Rodman Drake.…
[Their] contributions to the Evening Post, which consisted of a number of squibs in anonymous verse, and which were dignified by the name of "The Croaker Papers," from the signature which the writers adopted, were highly thought of by the editor of that sheet, who, in acknowledging the receipt of the first three, pronounced them to be "the productions of superior taste and genius, and begged the honor of a personal acquaintance with the author."
This singular endorsement of the supposed merits of the jeux-d'esprit excited public attention to such a degree that The Croakers are said to have been a "subject of conversation in drawing-rooms, book-stores, and coffee-houses on Broadway, and throughout the city; they were, in short, a town topic," a...
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SOURCE: "The Case of Drake and Halleck," in Early American Literature, Vol. VIII, No. 3, Winter, 1974, pp. 285-97.
[In the following excerpt from an article on Halleck and Drake, Slater discusses Halleck'spoem Fanny and argues that Halleck's poems and those of other popular but relatively minor figures should not be excluded from literary study.]
Sixty years ago they were still being called the Damon and Pythias of American poetry: a young Park Row physician, dead of tuberculosis at twenty-five, and a young South Street accountant, who wrote the epitaph that was chiseled into his friend's gravestone. Before that, they had been known, in the touching provincialism of the early nineteenth century, as the American Keats and the American Byron. Now their books are shelved, unborrowed, with those of Gulian Verplanck. Even their sonorous names, Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck, are blurred in the memory and their identities confused. Which one is buried in the trash-strewn park on Hunt's Point? And who wrote the only lines by either poet that anybody now remembers: "Green be the turf above thee / Friend of my better days"? Apart from the selections in Kendall Taft's Minor Knickerbockers—available only in an expensive facsimile edition for libraries—and "Marco Bozzaris," which is quoted in an introductory section of the new Brooks-Lewis-Warren anthology, not one of their poems seems...
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Adkins, Nelson Frederick. Fitz-Greene Halleck: An Early Knickerbocker Wit and Poet. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930, 461 p.
The most complete biography of Halleck, including several previously uncollected letters and poems and a bibliography of his published works.
Howe, M. A. DeWolfe. "American Bookmen: Willis, Halleck, and Drake." The Bookman V, No. 4 (June 1897): 304-16.
Contains a biographical sketch and anecdotal material about the poet and his writings.
Wilson, James Grant. The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1869, 607 p.
Detailed account of Halleck's life, written by a friend of the poet. Reproduces large portions of Halleck's correspondence and juvenilia.
Additional coverage of Halleck's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 3.
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