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EMMA MOFFETT WYNNE.
(RAGFONT is the title of a neat, unpretending volume, from the publishing house of Blelock & Co., New York, issued in 1867. The title-page stated that the book was by " a young Southern lady," and it was the first production of Emma M. Wynne, of Columbus, Georgia.
Like the majority of Southern books, "Cragfont" has been indiscriminately praised by well-meaning but injudicious friends, whereas true criticism, while it might pain for a time, would in the end assist the youthful débutante on the field of literature.
"Cragfont" is a book of great promise, and we look for something worthy of herself and of her Southern country from the author. From the remarks of two readers of this book, we cull the criticisms we give.
Says a writer in "Scott's Magazine," of Atlanta:
Not sustaining carping Zoilus in his ill-nature, we think, with another, upon whose brow the greenest of laurel is still triumphantly worn, that ‘to point out too particularly the beauties of a work is to admit tacitly that these beauties are not wholly admirable.' 'Cragfont' is not without errors, such as all young writers are betrayed into; but the flashings of genius so visible throughout the book overshadow and outweigh the faults, which, after all, are only the 'peccadilloes of the muse.' The plot of the book is finely conceived, the invention strong and vigorous, while imagination, that primary and indispensable requisite in a writer, like the touch of Midas, gilded every object that presented itself. The style is classical and elegant. The author seems to excel in the delineation of female character. They are all particularly fine and well sustained.
"The heroine, Isabel Grattan, never grows commonplace, while the gay, sprightly Lizzie Armor wisely refrains from attempting a part too heavy.
"While dealing in classical lore and antiquities, perhaps, a little too freely, there is a depth of tenderness and pathos running through the whole, that would tell at once it came from a woman's heart."
Says a lady reader, in alluding to "Cragfont":
"In the first place, I began at the beginning and read the title-page. The little quotation from Cousin, and the longer one from Mrs. Browning, each
came in for a share of study. I knew that these mottoes contain frequently the key to the whole matter which follows; and so would I do ‘Cragfont' justice, and read these too. The second contained a hint which I resolved to profit by -to
"Gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
Very profound I have proved it- that is, some parts of it. The fair author evidently admires Miss Beulah' Evans, and follows hard after the celestial flights of that learned lady. The title is not appropriate; it might just as well be styled New Orleans, or New York, since the scenes are laid principally in these two cities, and 'Cragfont' only appears briefly in two chapters. This ancestral mansion' is a 'stylish' country residence for an American; but perhaps in Tennessee they do live in 'turreted castles,' and perhaps they have 'rooks' in Tennessee, also. I don't know much about the ornithology of that State, but I had an idea rooks were confined to England. However, this may be merely a 'poetic license' to prove the unmistakable and indisputable aristocracy of our hero, as rooks are supposed to favor with their presence only the ancien régime.
Cragfont' contains a variety of information, and a variety of languages, and a series of essays or dissertations on various subjects are scattered through the book. It exhibits talent and promise of future excellence; but, in itself, is hardly a successful novel or book of essays a 'half-way performance.' The writer, we feel confident, will yet make a worthy offering to Southern literature."
From these two opinions it is apparent that the talent of Mrs. Wynne cannot be doubted. To quote again from the first critic:
"We look for a great book from the author of 'Cragfont.' It smacks somewhat of pedantry, and let us not have another gifted Southern writer immolated upon that altar.
"The mind, though star-reaching in its aspirations, has its temple upon the earth; and the eagle, though the companion of the mountain-storm, must look below for the food on which it lives; and we trust the writer of 'Cragfont,' while steering with dexterity between the Scylla of redundancy on the one hand, will guard against the Charybdis of pedantry on the other, and not exhaust her Titanic strength in endeavoring to pile Pelion on Ossa.”
The author of “Cragfont," Mrs. Emma Moffett Wynne, was born in Alabama, in 1844. Her father, Major Henry Moffett, removed to Columbus, Ga., a beautiful city on the banks of the Chattahoochee, before she had completed her fourth year. She was very fortunate in having her steps first directed in the paths of learning by the accom
plished and talented authoress, Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz, under whose tuition she was placed at the age of five years.
In her fifteenth year, she went to the well-known Patapsco Female Institute, near Baltimore, entered at once the senior class, and graduated the following year with much honor to herself, receiving a gold medal for proficiency in French. The following fall of 1860 she spent in New York, at the Spingler Institute, perfecting herself in music, French, Italian, etc. Owing to the "state of the country," she returned home early in the spring, (1861.)
During the war, she occasionally contributed to the "Field and Fireside," published at Augusta, under the nom de plume of "Lola." She was married in May, 1864.
Mrs. Wynne, being so young, with native talent and habits of study, will, without doubt, enrich the literary world with many productions. of rare merit. We understand that she is preparing an historical romance in some way connected with Maximilian, the late Emperor of Mexico a tragic subject well suited to her pen.
In personal appearance, Mrs. Wynne is exceedingly prepossessing; and this, combined with an elegance and vivacity of manner, renders her both attractive and fascinating. Occupying the highest social position, she is esteemed an ornament to the circle in which she moves.
The mission of life is not always lofty, yet the duty of its accomplishment is none the less imperative. The account is required of the one talent as surely as of the five. The mountain is too steep and rugged save for men of stern mould; yet in the valley the fields " are waiting for the laborers." How mistaken is the reasoner who would reserve to the sterner sex all those feelings of ambition, the reaching upward for higher and holier things! How many of gentler natures have felt the unsatisfied longing for more knowledge, more power over their own minds! When we go, with Mrs. Hemans, Mrs. Browning, and Jean Ingelow, through all the chambers of the soul, and listen to the music of their songs, we feel that within our hearts whole volumes of sweet poetry exist; the power to word it alone is wanting. Just as those we love so dearly are never in this life quite near enough to us; we would have them closer-heart to heart, soul to soul; this mortal body stands between. In our dreaming of the other world, we sometimes think that perhaps by our joy there will be these yearnings satisfied; the spell of silence will be broken, and our own poetry, sweet, beautiful, heavenly, will fill our hearts.
Isabel had worked steadily for a week on a picture of "Diogenes in Search of a Wise Man," and when at last it was completed, she had reason to be proud of its exquisite finish, which was obvious even to a careless observer. She had completed it in time for one of her réunions, for she was anxious it should be criticized by an artist who "bore the palm " in New York. Signor Rochiette was a warm friend of Isabel's. An old man himself, and having now a position where he could almost defy criticism, he felt a strong interest in this young spirit who had just begun the ascent, the height of which he by talent, genius, and energy had reached. He saw unmistakable evidences of great genius in the girl; her enthusiasm was what he admired most.
Few persons who undertake anything in this life with a cold, phlegmatic spirit, ever accomplish much.
The brilliantly lighted chandelier threw a soft glow over the dark, hard face of the old cynic philosopher, as, with lantern in hand, he continues his seemingly vain search. Isabel had playfully remarked to one of her soi-disant admirers, that "to this old sage she had committed her destiny, as, in the numbers which would pass before his gaze, the face which brought a smile over his hard, iron features, showing he had found the object of his search, to him should be given her heart and hand." It was a daring jest, like the one passed in chess between Richard and Berengaria; but this timid gallant, unlike the daring Cœur de Lion, did not essay to try his own fortune, as in his mind he felt his incapacity to meet the requisition.
This evening Isabel had quickly completed her toilet and hurried into the drawing-room, to give her picture the last critical examination before the guests arrived.
She felt as, perhaps, the old artist of Florence, when his "Madonna,” which had been kept from the public gaze, was first uncovered in honor of the royal Charles of Anjou:
"As the painter's mind felt through the dim
Isabel was roused from the dreamy revery into which she had fallen by a voice near her. "Buono sera, Signorina, Abbiamo bel tempo giorno. You have reason to be proud of your painting." It was Bassini, her Italian teacher.
"Ah! signor, you give me false praise; I have so far to climb yet.” "You then hope to reach the top?"