The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXIII. Writers of Familiar Verse

§ 15. Saxe

Three of our lighter lyrists demand a little more detailed consideration,—John Godfrey Saxe (1816–87), Eugene Field (1850–95), and Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855–96), though the last two belong to a period somewhat later than that chiefly considered in this chapter. Of these Saxe is the earliest and the least important. He is not only the earliest, he is also the most old-fashioned in his method and the least individual in his outlook. His verse is modelled upon Praed’s, to whose dazzling brilliance he could not attain; and he borrowed also the pattern of Hood in his more broadly comic lyrics. He was clever and facile; but he was a little too easy-going to achieve the delicate fineness which we have a right to demand in familiar verse. He does not understand that the thinner the theme the more care must be exercised to redeem its exeguity by certainty of touch and by infinite solicitude in execution. The immanent difficulty of familiar verse is due to the fact that poetry of this type at its best ought to be humorous without broadening into mere fun, while it ought also to be pathetic without slopping over into sentimentality. Saxe is quite free from sentimentality, in fact he does not often succeed in suggesting sentiment. His defect is that his verse tends to be frankly laughter-provoking. It is in Little Jerry that he has hinted the sentiment which sustains humour, as it is in The Mourner à la Mode that he has echoed the more worldly manner of mere society verse.