Lehigh University
The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
Previous Issue Next Issue
Previous Page Next Page
0 matches
						133
	O Brien according to Guernsey.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
of the brave young heart seeking to recover in a
sunny clime the vital heat of which it had been 
robbed by the Arctic winds; and of the solemn
end, when,

      Ere the thunders of applause were done,
       His bright eyes closed forever on the sun!
       Too late, too late the splendid prize he won
            In the Olympic race of Science and of Art. 

Then came the two magnificent strophes in which
are condensed into two-score lines that long tale
of peril and self-sacrifice, with the noble choral
close:

      No grander episode doth chivalry hold,
           In all its annals back to Charlemagne,
          Than that long vigil of unceasing pain,
       Faithfully kept through hunger and through cold,
          By the good Christian knight Elisha Kane. 

  The poem sprung up as a series of pictures, which
were to be disposed in proper order.  We went over
the proofs as he had arranged them, and agreed
that the order was faulty, and should be changed
in the types; and so it was done.  Early next
morning he came to me.   We were wrong,  he
said;  the poem was right as I had it.   I had
meanwhile come to the same conclusion, and it
was altered back precisely as it stood at first.  I
have more than once heard the same order sug-
gested in which the poem was placed at the first
change.  But I am sure that any one who enters
fully into its spirit will agree with me that, as it
originally stood and now stands, it is perfect in
thought, structure, and arrangement.
  For two or three years O Brien wrote compara-
tively little almost nothing, indeed, except an oc-
casional poem, and short paragraphs for Vanity
Fair.  The charm of a desultory life had gone, and
he was looking forward to continuous effort.  He 
proposed to write a novel of American Life and
Society.  The plot and characters were arranged,
but I do not know whether any progress had been
made in the actual composition.  Meanwhile he
contemplated publishing, in collected form, those
of his writings which he thought worthy of preser-
vation.  The title which he selected was  Flot-
sam and Jetsam  Things lost by Shipwreck, or
thrown overboard to save the Vessel.
  But the impending war of the rebellion changed
the current of his purpose.  He was by nature a
soldier, and he saw before him a new career.  He 
joined the Seventh Regiment, and marched with
his company to the capital.  To the Times he wrote
back a spirited account of the march from Annap-
oils, which is placed in permanent form in Frank
Moore s admirable  Rebellion Record;  and wrote
besides several of the best poems which the war
has called forth.  When the Seventh returned he
endeavored to raise a company for a volunteer regi-
ment; but a thousand obstacles, under which he 
chafed and fretted, intervened.  He then tried, un-
successfully at first, to obtain a position on some
general s staff.  At last in January he received a
letter from Lander, with the long-desired appoint-

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
ment on his staff; and on the next day he started
for Washington.
  The last time I saw him was on the evening be-
fore his departure.   I have another poem for
you,  he said.  It was the  Soldier s Letter,  pub-
lished in Harper s Magazine for March.  Reading
it now, it seems as though it were written with a
dim presentiment of his own fate.  It opens in a
hopeful strain, and closes abruptly, for the long
roll is beating to arms, and he must not be missed
from the fight.  Then comes a postscript, written
by the hand of a comrade:

 That was a sharp skirmish that came as I wrote to you
	out on the hill;
  We had sharp fighting for a while, and I lost my arm 
There, don t cry, my darling! it will not kill,
  And other poor fellows there met greater harm. 

  I have not space to detail the events in O Bri-
en s brief but glorious career as a soldier: How, in
the brilliant skirmish at Bloomery Gap, Lander,
O Brien, and two soldiers dashed upon an ambus-
cade, and captured three officers and eight men: 
how O Brien retained the sword and accoutrements
of the rebel captian as trophies the same trophies
which were so soon to be borne upon his own coffin:
 how, two days later, February 16, O Brien head-
ed a body of cavalry which encountered a superior
force of the enemy; how he met the rebel leader,
when two simultaneous shots were heard; the one
fired by O Brien carried instant death; that which
he received pierced his shoulder; but he still ral-
lied his men, and brought off all save himself un-
harmed.  All these belong to history.
  O Brien s wound was not at first thought dan-
gerous.  He wrote to his friends that he should be
at home in twenty days.  But the time passed and
he did not come.  Then came another letter to his
old literary associate of the Saturday Press, full of
genial humor, but telling a sad story of suffering
past, and worse in anticipation:

   I hope to God,  he says,  you will never have to go
through what I have experienced, and what I am liable to.
For the first week of my wound nothing but enormous
doses of morphine kept me from going crazy with pain.  I 
had to be kept all day in a lazy, half-slumberous condi-
tion, in which I felt like a hot-house plant, dozing and liv-
ing, and that s all. . . . . .I left off morphine completely four
weeks ago.  It was a hard struggle to part with the great
consoler. . . . . .Imagine the 163 pound man you knew cut
down to about 120, and so weak that the falling of a book
startles him as if it were the bursting of a shell. . . . . . .The
day after to-morrow I am to have a probe put into the
wound, and shoved down as far as my elbow, after which
they will cut the flesh of the fore-arm open to the bone for
six inches in length.  So you see I have quite a pleasing
prospect before me. . . . . .The day is lovely.  The sun shines
on the distant hills.  The singing of the birds comes through
my window with a grateful sound, as I lie sad, silent, and
suffering.  Oh, liberty of motion, health and strength, I
never knew what treasures you were till now! 

  The truth was, the surgeon who had taken charge
of the case wholly misunderstood it.  He had treat-
ed as a simple puncture of the flesh a wound in
which the joint at the shoulder had been shattered
into a hundred pieces, and the life of the sufferer
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page one hundred and forty-eight
Description:Newspaper clipping regarding Fitz James O'Brien, written by Guernsey for ''Harper's Weekly.''
Subject:Civil War; Guernsey; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Harper and Brothers (New York, N.Y.); Kane, Elisha Kent; Lander, F.W.; Medical care (U.S. army); Military; New York Infantry Regiment, 7th; New York times.; Obituaries; O'Brien, Fitz James; Physicians and surgeons; Poetry; Publishers and publishing; Saturday press.; Vanity fair.; 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.