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Edward Coote Pinkney

ISSUE:  Summer 1926

The Life and Works of Edward Coote Pinkney: A Memoir and Complete Text of His Poems and Literary Prose, Including Much Never before Published. Prepared by Thomas O. Mabbott and Frank L. Pleadwell. New York: The Macmillan Company. $2.00.

Looked at from any one of several different angles Edward Coote Pinkney is an interesting and unusual figure in the early national literature of America. As the first of Southern poets, he has an historical appeal. As an artist of very considerable talent and charm, he presents many perplexing problems and some positive grounds for disagreement. And even as a vivid, mercurial personality—judged apart from his work entirely—he presents much food for reflection and conjecture,

Hitherto there has existed no adequate and complete edition of Pinkney’s poetical works, and no biographical or critical study of his life and works more lengthy, or more maturely considered, than a magazine article or some handful of notes to an anthology selection. This was deplorable and inexcusable neglect of a figure of genuine charm and piquancy, representative of much of the best in the life of nineteenth century Maryland and the South; and it was unfortunate in that it led to the quick ticketing of the author of “A Health” and other delightful lyrics as an anthology poet. A poet of a single poem, of course, any student knows Pinkney was not. Not less than a half dozen other —though perhaps not so well-known—lyrics of his are quite as fine in their different ways as that chosen for special commendation by Edgar Poe. There is, for instance, “The Voyager’s Song,” thought by many competent critics to be his best work; “Song” (We break the glass); and “Serenade.” The first and last of these certainly need no defence or apology. They are minor verse, no doubt, but assuredly of their kind and class quite perfect and wholly charming.

Many such thoughts and reflections come crowding into one’s mind as one turns the leaves of this excellent and competent edition of “the first of Southern poets” prepared by Professor Mabbott and Captain Pleadwell. There is slight objection that can be made to the way in which they have handled the biographical portions of their book. Admittedly, it is not entirely adequate as a complete presentation of the poet. There are in places sad gaps and silences that one would wish filled and explained, and upon the intellectual and artistic equipment much is left to be filled in or lost entirely. This defect, however, it is only fair to the authors to say, is in no way attributable to a lack of zeal or willingness on their part. The misfortune is that time and death have left here and there chinks which not even the most willing ingenuity can fill in. Indeed, considering the past long neglect of the subject, it is surprising how much of the spirit and substance of the poet they have recaptured and set down in their book.

Upon at least two periods of Pinkney’s life they have been able to add much that is new. The years of his service afloat in the fledgling American navy they have for the first time made clear. Also, the period of his short and violent excursion into political journalism, in Baltimore, they have summed up adequately for the first time.

For the rest, the authors have brought together in the body of their book the only scholarly and complete text of the whole body of Pinkney’s works in prose and verse. They have brought together the contents of the volumes of 1823 and 1825, which appeared during the poet’s lifetime, and to these they have added some eighteen additional, previously unpublished or uncollected, items, recovered in most cases from manuscript or contemporary periodicals. A number of fragmentary prose writings, interesting to the student but not of much importance to the future of the poet, they have presented for the first time also.

In addition to their services in providing a clean text for the poems of Pinkney, the editors, of whom it may be supposed that Captain Pleadwell supplied the naval materials and Dr. Mabbott the critical and biographical portions of the work, have annotated freely and added suggestion and explanation which clear the meaning and intent of the poems at many points. This feature, indeed, is one of the most carefully considered and successfully executed throughout.

It is perhaps too much to hope, at this late date, for any genuine or wide-spread appreciation for Edward Coote Pinkney. But nevertheless, this work cannot but add to the little store of love and appreciation that exists among the few who know of the young Maryland Cavalier who died at twenty-six; who had lived with song and danger, and gone forward bravely, the sword in one hand, in the other the lyre. If only for the poetry and passion and the pathos of the story told, every Southern man who pretends to care for his literature or his section should read the story. Then, if he will, the verse.

There is a Virginian novelist who might make a magnificent and glowing thing of Pinkney’s life, in romance. I present him herewith with the suggestion.


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