The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 24. The Culprit Fay
Yet they are remembered no less for achievements more noteworthy than those of the other minor men in this sketch. Drake’s Culprit Fay is the best and in fact the one fairy story in American verse, if we except Bryant’s Sella and The Little People of the Snow, which are indeed rather stories of mortals in fairyland than of the tiny, tricksy creatures themselves. Though in a sense exotic, for it roots in no folklore despite the setting on the Hudson, The Culprit Fay reports quite as well as Drayton’s Nimphidia, its nearest analogue, the antic characteristics of the elfland of man’s universal fancy. But it is most remarkable for its reading of nature. The Culprit Fay’s adventures take him through woods, waters, and air, on to the stars above, amid the iridescent, elusive, darting, rended, prickly little objects of the real universe that heavy-lidded folk seldom observe. There are also—and this before Bryant’s first volume—the American plant, bird, and insect: the chickweed and sassafras, the whippoorwill, the katydid and woodtick. The music, though perhaps influenced by Coleridge, sang itself under the unconscious guidance of a delicate and independent ear—the most striking creative act in American versification up to that time and for some time to come. Of the obvious faults of The Culprit Fay it were ungracious to speak; it was the two day’s diversion of a very young man, and published posthumously (1835).