University of Virginia Library

THERE ARE TIMES WHEN A WRITER FINDS HIM-SELF with the leisure time and the inclination to burrow among the artifacts of his literary past. During his sixty-fifth year. James Kirke Paulding began "rummaging" among his old manuscripts. What he found were yellowed and mutilated copies of poems written during his youth and middle age—"careless" verses, he rightly called some of them. Largely to amuse himself, Paulding transcribed into a copybook a large number of these poems and, as the alterations reveal, he later busied himself with polishing and revising some of them. To the collection he added some poems newly written.

With the instincts of a writer, Paulding carefully provided his copybook with a preface. Because it is brief and because it gives some indication of his attitude toward his poetry, it deserves quotation in its entirety.

In rummaging among my old Manuscripts, I came across the following careless, and occasionally, mutilated, copies of verses, written at various and distant periods, and most of them long since forgotten. I have amused my leisure hours in copying them here, rather as indications of the progress of my feelings and of past events of my youth than as compositions worthy of being preserved. They may serve as memorials to my children, of me, the progress of whose life without being checquered by any remarkable events, has been regularly onwards from Poverty and obscurity to competent independence and honourable distinction. I am now drawing near its close anticipating little and fearing less here, for the result of my various experience has satisfied me how small a portion of


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our real, substantial happiness, is derived from the gratification of vanity, ambition, or avarice.

New York 1843
P. S. A few of these pieces have been published in Periodicals.

Paulding was a little pessimistic in thinking that he was drawing near the close of his life. He was to live seventeen years more, until his eighty-second year, and was to publish three more volumes.

Perhaps because of his modest view of the literary value of his poems, Paulding did not seek to collect them in printed form. Certainly his literary reputation is built upon prose in many forms—humorous essays, satirical sketches, short stories, biography, drama, patriotic and sectional writings. He published only two volumes of poetry, the satirical Lay of the Scottish Fiddle in 1813 and the long narrative Backwoodsman in 1818. Nonetheless, throughout his life he continued to experiment with verse.

No adequate survey has been made of Paulding as poet. The first book-length study of Paulding was his son William's slipshod memoir-anthology, Literary Life of James K. Paulding (1867). William Paulding quotes several short poems and excerpts longer ones, actually giving a whole chapter to The Backwoodsman, but he provides no critical estimate of his father as a poet.[1] In James Kirke Paulding, Versatile American (1926), Dr. Amos L. Herold gives little attention to the poetry and he lists only a handful of single poems. A study of Paulding's verse—its subject matter and technique—yet remains to be done. A prior task is to locate and call attention to his fugitive poems, scattered though they are. Inasmuch as Paulding's copybook of 1843 is still preserved and available, this forms a logical starting point for such a study.[2]


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Of the seventy-three[2a] poems in the copybook, forty-five bear dates of composition, and these range from 1798 (Paulding's twentieth year) to 1843 (his sixty-fifth year).[3] The largest number of these dated poems falls within Paulding's twenties. There are twenty-two written during these years, ten during his thirties, seven during his forties. As one might expect from a young romantic, the earlier poems are on the subjects of love and death; but gradually he began to write about the literary scene, about America, and about persons whom he knew.

Many types of poetry and subject matter are represented. A large number are lyrics. Many are love poems and the names of women are frequent. Some are elegiac and of the graveyard school. Many are conventionally moral in tone. A few, such as "Lament of the Faithless Shepherdess," show the pastoral influence. Several are appreciations of natural beauty, including Niagara and the Hudson river. Two of the poems are highly critical of N. P. Willis and John Jacob Astor; some are on human foibles in general. One criticizes the ubiquitous English traveller as a "creature of arrogance, folly, conceit." There are several on patriotic themes: "The Stripes and Stars," a criticism of the "national apathy" during the War of 1812, a poem welcoming Texas into the Union. A few are concerned with national letters, literary critics, and "these dull prosy times." In length the poems range from mere moralizing couplets to the long, 810-line narrative poem, "The Pilgrim and His Guide," apparently written to illustrate how the easterner's materialistic greed can lead to personal tragedy on the hostile western plains.

It is the writer's immediate purpose only to describe this manuscript volume, to place on record a briefly annotated list of its contents, and to record such periodical printings of these poems as he has been able to identify for the first time. Of the seventy-three


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poems, one of them (number 22 in the check-list) may not be Paulding's, for he writes that he has "some doubts as to its being mine." Three of the seventy-three are listed in Herold's biography as having been published periodically. The periodical publication of eighteen of the poems is here newly identified.[4]