American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Pinky Ring

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HWL-GrahamsFound this steel engraving of Longfellow today in Graham’s Magazine (vol. 22, no. 5 [May 1843]); it accompanied an unsigned essay on the poet. Longfellow didn’t think much of it  to say the least. In a letter to Samuel Ward, he complained:

Why did you let Griswold have that head of me by Franquinet, to engrave for Graham’s Magazine? Do you know what the engraver has made of it? Why, the most atrocious libel imaginable; a very vulgar individual, looking very drunk and very cunning! An unredeemed blackguard air hovers over the whole. Now, when I think that forty thousand copies of this thing this tasteless caricature are to be printed and distributed through the country as my “counterfeit (very counterfeit) presentment,” I am in an indescribable agony. I solemnly protest against this whole proceeding, and shall write Graham this very day to prevent the publication.”

Obviously, his protest didn’t go very far, though it may explain the note of apology with which the essay ended:

The likeness which accompanies this, we are sorry to say, is not a very good one. Though correct, perhaps, in the general outline, Mr. Franquinet has failed to give that refined and poetical expression of his original which attracts the regard of every one who sees him in person.

HWL-Grahams2Be all that as it may, there is one delightful aspect to the image: the realization it brings that Longfellow wore a pinky ring! Who knew? I’m not sure why, but it delights me.

These lines from “Morituri Salutamus” (1875) seem appropriate:

In mediaeval Rome, I know not where,
There stood an image with its arm in air,
And on its lifted finger, shining clear,
A golden ring with the device, “Strike here!”
Greatly the people wondered, though none guessed
The meaning that these words but half expressed,
Until a learned clerk, who at noonday
With downcast eyes was passing on his way,
Paused, and observed the spot, and marked it well,
Whereon the shadow of the finger fell;
And, coming back at midnight, delved, and found
A secret stairway leading underground.

The pinky ring intrigues me, but I won’t delve any further. In Longfellow’s poem, the curious clerk is soon struck dead!

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Written by Ben Friedlander

April 21, 2014 at 7:33 pm

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