by the Curious Scribbler
I ended my last blog wondering whether the poet Longfellow had acceded to George Powell’s somewhat histrionic request that he burn his poems the works of ‘Miölnir’ and trample the ashes into the ground.
The answer proved, in the digital age surprisingly easy to find.
From my computer I could access the Harvard library catalogue, Hollis, and typed in the author’s name Miölnir. And there it was, Poems Miölnir [pseudo.] 2nd series published by J. Cox Aberystwyth 1861. A second click opened the very book, online, in Google Books. And on the title page I found the cramped dedication in George Powell’s handwriting:
H.W. Longfellow Esq., and Prof. With the sincere respects of the author G Powell.
And on the second page of the volume is the bookplate marking the donation of the Longfellow Collection to Harvard College Library.
Gift of Miss Alice M Longfellow, 20 Dec.1894
So Powell’s gift was not destroyed, joined the library of Longfellow, and was donated by his daughter to Harvard, where he taught.
Reeling from the public criticism in the Spectator, George, in a letter to Longfellow in 1862, whittled down his poems in this volume to just eight which he felt possibly worthy of approval, and listed these in the letter which bewailed his treatment by the critics. By his own reckoning his best poems were those on pages 41, 68, 95, 102, 107, 138, 140, 141
Another revelation from this piece of armchair research is that I was wrong to presume that the double volume of both Miölnir books was sent to Longfellow, or indeed to The Spectator. Even the cover of Longfellow’s copy is reproduced online, and it is in the original cream binding lined and decorated in black and red.
The text is amended here and there for typographic errors which escaped the author’s attention in proof. The amendments are in George’s hand.
So I must contradict my earlier post. I now believe that Mr Chater’s copy is a unique one, bound for George some considerable time after his humiliation. He, like, everyone else, had had the two separate books, one green, one cream, and thus he had dedicated each of his own copies, lovingly, to himself. It is these which were later unbound and rebound together in green leather.
In the first series of poems were two pieces of comic verse which, by the time of the second series, Powell had already repudiated in favour of his more aesthetic and gloomy style. In the Epilogue to the second series, before he had suffered the ignominy of the Spectator review, he wrote ‘I have refrained in this volume from attempting any “comic strains”. They were in the last one, such a lamentable failure, were so forced and inexpressibly weak, that I shall take very good care in future – at any rate till my mind be more matured – not to let my pen compromise me so much’. Significantly these two poems have been unceremoniously ripped from this edition.
Personally I find comic verse easier to digest than works of tortured beauty and elevated sensitivity which are Powell’s predominant style. I therefore reproduce, for the first time since 1860 one of George Powell’s youthful ‘betises’ as it appears in an undamaged copy of his first volume .
The pun never fails to entertain.