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						131
	O Brien according to Guernsey.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
some overmastering interest.  The plot is wrought
out with great skill, the marvelous d nouement
being narrated in the most matter-of-fact manner.
To the story was appended a postscript, to the effect
that any person  who wished further to investi-
gate the subject might have an opportunity of doing
so by addressing Harry Escott, care of the Pub-
lishers of the Magazine.   Scores of letters, and
not a few personal applications, were received, ask-
ing for the means of communicating with Mr. Es-
cott.  I remember one young man, who called so 
often, and was so firmly convinced that in this nar-
rative lay the germs of some great revelation, that
I was compelled to tell him that the whole was a 
pure effort of the imagination.  Unfortunately he
would not believe me.
  Some circumstances gave special notoriety to
 The Diamond Lens.   The story is founded on
the old idea that time and space are mere acci-
dents; that, for instance, a drop of water is a
world in itself, and may be peopled with beings
who, in the few moments before it evaporates,
shall go through the experiences of a human life-
time.  O Brien, in the story, constructs from the 
diamond a lens of sufficient magnifying power to
bring this world within human perception.  All
the details of the construction of the lens are given 
with perfect scientific accuracy.  The late William
North had written a story called  Microcosmus, 
based upon the same general idea.  He had spoken
of it to many, though I know of no person except-
ing myself who has read it; for it was offered to
the Magazine.  Shortly afterward he committed
suicide, and the story, so far as I know, was not
found among his papers.  Some one charged
O Brien with stealing the  Diamond Lens  from
North, slightly altering it, and passing it off for
his own.  The charge was wholly unfounded.  I 
am confident that he never saw North s story, and
I think he never heard of it until after the  Dia-
mond Lens  was published.  At all events the two 
were wholly unlike in every point except the sug-
gesting idea, which has been in writing for two
thousand years.
  Still more notable is the strange piece,  What
was It? A Mystery.   The conception of this is, I
believe, wholly and absolutely O Brien s.  It is
that of a being with body and limbs, endowed with
immense vitality and strength, as tangible to the
touch as the firmest flesh and bones, yet utterly
imperceptible to the sight.  This Thing drops into
the chamber of Harry Escott, attacks him in his
bed with teeth and claws, and after a fierce contest
is overpowered and bound by him and his friend.
I know nothing in all literature more powerful
than the description of the hand-to-hand struggle
between the two strong men and this invisible an-
tagonist.  The Thing being overpowered is stupe-
fied with chloroform and a plaster cast taken from
it, which reveals to the eye all its hideous deformi-
ty  Dor  or Callor or Johannot never conceived
any thing so horrible!   It was like one of Du
Chaillu s gorillas, with all its revolting brutish-
ness exaggerated to the utmost.  Meanwhile what

[newspaper column continued: second column]
was to be done with the monster?  Should they
kill it, or try to preserve its life?  They knew not
even the food upon which it lived.  There it lay,
day after day, invisible to the eye, but, as the toss-
ing of the bed-clothes showed, writing in the ago-
nies of starvation.  At length it died, and they
carried it to the garden as heavy as the corpse of
a murdered man, yet as impalpable to the eye as
the purest ether and buried it.  The whole con-
ception is gigantic!  And yet, why is it not sci-
entifically possible?  If there exist things which 
we can see and not feel, why may not those exist
which we can feel and not see?
  After all, O Brien s highest excellence was as a 
poet, as will be manifest when a collection is made
of his various writings.  From his contributions
to Harper s Magazine and Weekly alone a volume
might be selected which the world would not will-
ingly let die.  His poems are various in kind.
There are some ballads on Classic and Scandinavian
themes; but the greater number are thoroughly
American in subject and tone; for though of foreign
birth and education, he so moulded his genius to the
land in which the best years of his life were passed, 
that he was more thoroughly American than most
writers of native birth and training.  There are
also a number of keen sketches of society; among
which I call specially to mind  The Finishing
School;   The Tenement House;   The Prize
Fight  an indignant protest against the brutali-
ties of the Ring and its backers and abettors; and
best of all,  The Sewing Bird,  which is worthy
of a place beside Hood s  Song of the Shirt.   This
was one of those which he was particularly anxious
to send to his mother.  Of the numerous poems in
which the gentleness and grace of O Brien s genius
found their best utterance, in verse of exquisite
melody, and replete with charming touches of de-
scription, I have not space to give even the titles.
Of one poem, the noblest of all the Ode on Kane
 I must say a few words:
  When the tidings of the death of the Arctic hero
reached us O Brien was asked to write a poem on
Kane for the next number of this paper.  He set
to work at once, but for a time, it appeared, vain-
ly.  The thought was there, but it would not
shape itself into form.  All at once the whole
flashed before him in a series of pictures.  He saw
where 

   Aloft upon an old basaltic crag,
       Which, scalped by keen winds that defend the Pole,
       Gazes with dead face on the seas that roll
	Around the secret of the mystic zone,
    A mighty nation s star-bespangled flag
	     Flutters alone.
    And underneath, upon the lifeless front
       Of that drear cliff a simple name is traced;
    Fit type of him who, famishing and gaunt,
       But, with a rocky purpose in his soul,
	     Breasted to the gathering snows,
	     Clung to the drifting floes,
       By Want beleaguered and by Winter chased,
       Seeking the brother lost amid that frozen waste. 

Then came visions of the burst of welcome which
greeted Kane from the whole land from the deep
woods of Maine to  Texas wild and grim;  and
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page one hundred and forty-six
Description:Newspaper clipping regarding Fitz James O'Brien, written by Guernsey for ''Harper's Weekly.''
Subject:Guernsey; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Harper and Brothers (New York, N.Y.); Kane, Elisha Kent; North, William; Obituaries; O'Brien, Fitz James; Poetry; Writing
Coverage (City/State):[New York, New York]
Scan Date:2010-06-17

 

Volume
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen
Description:Includes Gunn's descriptions of his experiences as a war correspondent for ""The New York Tribune"" in Virginia while traveling with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsular Campaign; the Siege of Yorktown; the Battle of Williamsburg; his departure from Alexandria on the steamer Kent; the ruins of Hampton, Virginia, after it was burnt by John B. Magruder; touring the gunboat Monitor; the death of Fitz James O'Brien from a gunshot wound; Jim Parton's temporary separation from Fanny Fern; and seeing Robert E. Lee's house in Virginia.
Subject:Civil War; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Journalism; Marches (U.S. Army); Marriage; Medical care (U.S. Army); Military; Military camp life; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Prisoners of war (Confederate); Siege of Yorktown (Va.); Slavery; Slaves; Travel; Women
Coverage (City/State):New York, New York; Washington, District of Columbia; Alexandria, Virginia; Hampton, Virginia; Yorktown, Virginia; Williamsburg, Virginia
Note:Thomas Butler Gunn was born February 15, 1826, in Banbury, England, and came to New York in 1849. During the Civil War he worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and the New York Evening Post. He returned to England in 1863, and died in Birmingham in April 1903. The collection includes twenty-one volumes of his diaries, including newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, sketches, and various other items inserted by Gunn. Diary entries date from July 7, 1849, to April 7, 1863, and include his experiences with the New York publishing and literary world, his descriptions of boarding houses, his travels throughout the United States, and his experiences traveling with the Federal army as a Civil War correspondent.
Publisher:Missouri History Museum
Rights:Copyright 2010 Missouri History Museum.
Source:Page images, transcriptions, and metadata of the Thomas Butler Gunn diaries have been provided by the Missouri History Museum.