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The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
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              O�Brien according to Guernsey.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
the way sciences.  He was destined for the law;
but choosing literature for a profession, he went to
London, while quite young, where he speedily found
access to the public, and became a contributor to
Dicken�s Household Words, then in the flush of its
early success.
  The sudden development of periodical literature
in America seemed to open a wider career, and
O�Brien came to this country in 1852.  Every ed-
itor of that period will remember the swarms of 
English and Irish writers who filled his sanctum.
If a man with a notable Cockney or Hibernian ac-
cent brought in a specially worthless manuscript,
he was sure, by his own account, to be a leading
writer for the Edinburgh or Blackwood, Fraser or the
Dublin University, Punch, the Times, or Household
Words�or, quite likely, for all of them; and his
articles were eagerly awaited by these publica-
tions; but he preferred to publish first in America.
�You will be kind enough to decide at once,�
was the common request; �for if you do not ac-
cept, I shall send it by next steamer to Dickens,
who will be glad to have it.�
  Of quite a different order was O�Brien.  His
brilliant talents were speedily recognized, and he
became a valued contributor to the leading period-
icals of the time.  Of his earlier writings, not a
few lovers of poetry still remember �Pallida,� and
a score of other charming waifs which were sent
adrift on the pages of the Whig Review; and his
subtle appreciative critique of Tennyson�s �Maud�
in the New York Times.
  The well-born, well-bred, and accomplished young
Irishman was welcomed to the best literary and so-
cial circles.  Permanent and recognized positions
in the press were always at his command, and were
at different times held on the Times, Putnam�s Mag-
azine, Harper�s Weekly, and subsequently, and for 
a still longer period, upon that brilliant but erratic
paper, the Saturday Press.  But for a while it seems
pleasanter to write only what and when one pleases,
than to be bound by fixed obligations to furnish so
much matter, of a certain kind, at a specified time.
O�Brien knew that he could always transmute his
fancies into current coin; and freedom was so de-
lightful, and he doubtless flattered himself that his
leisure would be spent accumulating stores of
observation and experience for the �Great Work,�
which, like all young writers, he proposed to ac-
complish at some future day.  So he retained these
definite positions but for a short time; and the
greater portion of his literary labors are in the
shape of isolated contributions to various period-
  My own acquaintance with O�Brien dates from
the time of his first contributions to Harper�s Maga-
zine.  The earliest of these which I can now iden-
tify appeared in November, 1853.  From that time
until the month before his death, with a few short
intermissions, almost every number contained 
something from his pen.  A poem of his, entitled
�The Fallen Star,� published just seven years aft-
er that first contribution, contains, I think, the
best description of him as he appeared to me in

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
those bright, early years.  I remember well when
he read the poem to me.  He was a magnificent
reader�the only person, in fact, to whose reading
of his own poems I was always glad to listen.  I
copy a few verses which seemed then and now to
me to describe O�Brien as I had known him five
years before:

	�A figure sinewy, lithe, and strong�
	     A laugh infections in its glee�
	  A voice as beautiful as song,
		When heard along the sea.

	�On me, the man of sombre thought,
	     The radiance of his friendship won,
	  As round an autumn tree is wrought
		The enchantment of the sun.
	         *          *         *        *         *
	�Thus rearing diamond arches up,
	     Whereon his future life to build,
	  He quaffed all day the golden cup
		That youthful fancy filled.

	�Like fruit upon a southern slope,
	     He ripened on all natural food,
	  The winds that thrill the skyey cope,
		The sunlight�s golden blood.

	�And in his talk I oft discerned
	     A timid music vaguely heard;
	  The fragments of a song scarce learned,
		The essays of a bird.�

  The whole poem is of wonderful power; and I
call to mind how burdened with emotion grew the
voice of O�Brien as he read the verses which de-
scribe the ownward career of this friend so high-
ly gifted�from the leading spirit in wild, baccha-
nalian orgies down to the poor, shivering mendi-
cant asking alms in the public street.  The first
part of the poem describes the poet as he was in the 
glory and freshness of his youth; the latter parts
are an imagination of the possible depths to which
he might descend.  �There,� said the Immortal
Dreamer, as he saw some poor wretch whipped at
the cart-tail��There goes John Bunyan were it
not for preventing grace.�
  O�Brien�s contributions were of various kinds�
tales, sketches of life and character, bits of charm-
ing descriptions of natural objects, and in later
years chiefly poetry.  As a mere story-teller I do
not rank him very high.  Though he wrote not
unsuccessfully for the stage, his genius was not
dramatic.  He had not in a high degree the faculty
of creating or portraying character.  The persons
in his tales are rather embodiments of some delicate
thought or quaint fancy than real individuals.
His best productions, which take the form of stories,
are the development, in strictly analytic form, of
some weird speculation in science or philosophy.
Of this class there are three which deserve especial
mention.  They are �The Pot of Tulips,� �The
Diamond Lens,� and �What was It?�  The first
and the last of these appeared in Harper�s Magazine;
and it was owing to a misapprehension that the
other, after having been accepted, was withdrawn 
and published elsewhere.
  The �Pot of Tulips� is based upon Reichen-
bach�s theory of the �Odic Force,� in virtue of
which the faint simulacra of the dead may hover
around the objects in which while living they had               
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