Fitz-Greene Halleck Essay - Critical Essays

Halleck, Fitz-Greene


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

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


Edgar Allan Poe (essay date 1836)

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, in Northumberlandshire, England. The effect of the first stanza is materially impaired by a defect in its grammatical arrangement. The fine lines,

Home of the Percy's high-born race,
Home of their beautiful and brave,
Alike their birth and burial place,
Their cradle and their grave!

are of the nature of an invocation, and thus require a continuation of the address to the "Home, &c." We are consequently disappointed when the stanza proceeds with—

Still sternly o'er the castle gate
Their house's Lion stands in state
As in his proud departed hours;
And warriors frown in stone on high,
And feudal banners "flout the sky"
Above his princely towers.

The objects of allusion here vary, in an awkward manner, from the castle to the Lion, and from the Lion to the towers. By writing the verses thus the difficulty would be remedied.

Still sternly o'er the castle gate
Thy house's Lion stands in state,
As in his proud departed hours;
And warriors frown in stone on high,
And feudal banners "flout the sky"
Above thy princely towers.

The second stanza, without evincing in any measure the loftier powers of a poet, has that quiet air of grace, both in thought and expression, which seems to be the prevailing feature of the Muse of Halleck.

A gentle hill its side inclines,
Lovely in England's fadeless green,
To meet the quiet stream which winds
Through this romantic scene
As silently and sweetly still,
As when, at evening, on that hill,
While summer's wind blew soft and low,
Seated by gallant Hotspur's side
His Katherine was a happy bride
A thousand years ago.

There are one or two brief passages in the poem evincing a degree of rich imagination not elsewhere perceptible throughout the book. For example—

Gaze on the Abbey's ruined pile:
Does not the succoring Ivy keeping,
Her watch around it seem to smile
As o'er a lov'd one sleeping?


One solitary turret gray
Still tells in melancholy glory
The legend of the Cheviot day.

The commencement of the fourth stanza is of the highest order of Poetry, and partakes, in a happy manner, of that quaintness of expression so effective an adjunct to Ideality, when employed by the Shelleys, the Coleridges and the Tennysons, but so frequently debased, and rendered ridiculous, by the herd of brainless imitators.

Wild roses by the abbey towers
Are gay in their young bud and bloom:
They were born of a race of funeral flowers,
That garlanded in long-gone hours,
A Templar's knightly tomb.

The tone employed in the concluding portions of "Alnwick Castle," is, we sincerely think, reprehensible, and unworthy of Halleck. No true poet can unite in any manner the low burlesque with the ideal, and not be conscious of incongruity and of a profanation. Such verses as

Men in the coal and cattle line
From Teviot's bard and hero land,
From royal Berwick's beach of sand,
From Wooller, Morpeth, Hexham, and
Newcastle upon Tyne.

may lay claim to oddity—but no more. These things are the defects and not the beauties of Don Juan. They are totally out of keeping with the graceful and delicate manner of the initial portions of "Alnwick Castle," and serve no better purpose than to deprive the entire poem of all unity of effect. If a poet must be farcical, let him be just that, and nothing else. To be drolly sentimental is bad enough,… but to be sentimentally droll is a thing intolerable to men, and Gods, and columns.

"Marco Bozzaris" appears to have much lyrical without any high order of ideal beauty. Force is its prevailing character—a force, however, consisting more in a well ordered and sonorous arrangement of the metre, and a judicious disposal of what may be called the circumstances of the poem, than in the true material of lyric vigor. We are introduced, first, to the Turk who dreams, at midnight, in his guarded tent,


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American Quarterly Review (essay date 1837)

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...

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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...

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Edgar Allan Poe (essay date 1843)

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...

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Edgar Allan Poe (essay date 1846)

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...

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National Magazine (essay date 1852)

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.


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William Cullen Bryant (essay date 1869)

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...

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John Greenleaf Whittier (poem date 1877)

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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Fitz-Greene Halleck.


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,

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George Parsons Lathrop (essay date 1877)

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...

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Ode To Fortune

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;

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R. H. Stoddard (essay date 1889)

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...

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Joseph Slater (essay date 1974)

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...

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Further Reading


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.


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