Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
Mary A. Brooks
MRS BROOKS is a native of Medford, Massachusetts, and a descendant of an ancient Welch family, of the name of Gowen, not unknown in the history of Wales. She now resides in the Island of Cuba, and is engaged in the continuation of a poetical work, the first canto of which was published in Boston, in 1825.
Her education was zealously prosecuted, without great advantages, at an early period of life. Ambitious of excellence in all the accomplishments desired by females of aspiring minds, she has obtained, by self-instruction, a very good acquaintance with ancient literature, and a perfect knowledge of the refined modern languages, together with exquisite skill in music and painting. Constant and severe discipline has given her a power and versatility of thought, which promises for her future life a harvest of renown. She paid frequent visits to the Castalian fount, in early youth, and the inspiration gained there, if at first uncertain and feeble, has been steadily increasing, till it has risen to a vigor, that surprises us in one of the most delicate of women.
Judith and Esther, with a collection of fugitive pieces, consisting of her childish productions, was her first publication. It contains, of course, much imperfection; many things, that mature minds cannot dwell upon with increasing satisfaction; but it also evinces a delicate and lively fancy, a dawn of that intellectual brightness, which has been realized in the subsequent publication of the first canto of Zophiel, and which she is now engaged in completing. In this poem, a new style and a fresh power, is manifested. The study of many languages, a residence where the Spanish is almost exclusively spoken, a fervent contemplation of the old masters of the English lyre, and a struggle to shake off the feebleness, attached, by common consent, and confirmed by submissive habit, to the minds of women, all conspired to give an unusual energy to the efforts of her muse.
Zophiel is the production of a vigorous imagination, and a warm fancy, in the stately manner of the old English verse. It is often harsh, and frequently obscure, on account of the numerous elisions and inversions but is also replete with rich and just thought, that well repays the study necessary for its comprehension. From the extreme softness which characterized her early fugitive pieces, Mrs Brooks suddenly, and unfortunately for her popularity, seems to have run into a style in the opposite extreme; but when more experience has corrected her judgment, it is not extravagant to expect from her pen, poetry of the highest and purest kind.
The subject of Zophiel was unfortunately chosen, for while it was in progress in the Island of Cuba, Moore and Byron preoccupied the field, by the story of the Loves of the Angels; a more difficult and dangerous task is therefore, imposed upon the fair author, in attempting to complete the work in competition with these master spirits.
After an examination of the first canto, and learning that it did not succeed in this, the native country of the writer, Mr Southey wrote her a letter requesting that the subsequent cantos might be published in England and offering to superintend their introduction to the public. We hope she will not be obliged to accept this foreign hospitality through the indifference or neglect of her countrymen.