The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

V. Bryant and the Minor Poets

§ 25. Fitz-Green Halleck

Halleck was the one worthy American representative of the contemporary popular English Romanticists, Scott, Campbell, and Byron—worthy, because something of their matter and manner, despite occasional crude imitation, was thoroughly natural to his vigorous feelings, to his alert though not subtle masculine intellect, and to his sounding voice. His Spenserians on Wyoming remind one of Campbell and Byron in stanza and phraseology. The still popular Marco Bozzaris reminds one of Byron in the enthusiasm for Greek freedom (also the inspiration of some of Bryant’s early verse), and of Campbell in martial vigour, while its octosyllabics have the verve of Scott’s. In Alnwick Castle and several other poems grave and gay are whimsically mixed after Byron’s later manner. Indeed Byron, whose works Halleck subsequently edited, was his most kindred spirit. As early as 1819 appeared his Fanny, suggested by Beppo and in its present form sometimes reminiscent of Don Juan—

  • With the wickedness out that gave salt to the true one,
  • as Lowell’s Fable for Critics observed as late as 1848—a social satire on a flashy New Yorker and his fashionable daughter, with Byronic anti-climax and Byronic digressions on Greece, European and American politics, bad literature and bad statues. But a financial failure was substituted for Byronic crim.-cons., and the bluff and hearty Halleck “was never cynical in his satire, and Byron was”—to quote Bryant, who speaks, however, a truer word for Halleck than for Halleck’s master. Fanny became at once popular, and remained so for a generation, stimulating to several long since forgotten imitations and doubtless serving to foster American Byronism in its pseudocomic phases. A detailed study of Halleck would reveal, as the chief source of his genuinely individual note, his power to phrase energetically a single moment of action or of feeling with a certain fusion of imaginative vision and of intellectual criticism. Moreover, Halleck’s Poems, including such unforgotten titles as The Field of the Grounded Arms, Burns, and Red Jacket, still have some literary value as a volume: the anthologies do not exhaust him.

    Thus these early minor men left us some things worth keeping; but, nevertheless, taken all in all, they emphasize for us today, as they never could for their contemporaries, the relative greatness of Bryant.