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Irving in his sketch book says, it is the divine attribute of the imagination that it is irrepressible, unconfinable, that when the real world is shut out, it can create a world for itself, and with a necromantic power, can conjure up glorious shapes and forms, and brilliant visions to make solitude populous, and to irradiate the gloom of the dungeon.'
Some of our best poets have labored to present the loneliness and gloom of prison solitude. Who has not read the thrilling description of 'The Prisoner of Chillon,' by Byron, and 'The Prisoner for Debt," by Whittier ? But who can describe the wretchedness of the cell, like the prisoner himself? If he is a poet, his soul breaks forth from the restraint and gloom of his confinement. With him there is no imagination. All is stern, living reality; he knows what it is to be a convict. He thinks of his pleasant home. In his solitude he welcomes even the loathsome insect, or the despised mouse. How was that little bird welcomed that once entered the cell of James I., during his tedious confinement of eighteen years!
What a thrilling history might be written of the prisoner! What a work to trace out the gloomy records of the Church Prison, on the one hand, and the State Prison, on the other! This little volume is an attempt to give the Poetry of the Prison. Who will write the Prose? What a history of the death
penalty, to trace out the hours of the condemned while looking forward to his execution! How heavily has that law fallen on the hero, the martyr, and the scholar! With minds far-reaching beyond their age, misunderstood and unappreciated, they have perished. And what a melancholy chapter might be written on the fate of human discoverers! And what a brilliant chapter, too; all sparkling with facts in human progress!
The first part of the volume has been confined to the writings of convicts; one of whom is now within the walls of our own penitentiary. The names we have purposely withheld for their sake. The reason is obvious. Among these productions, the reader will find a deep feeling of sympathy. Who canread without emotion The Prisoner's Address to his Mother'? Who can help admiring the touching, simplicity of The Blind Girl"? How feelingly has the Poet described The Prisoner and his Mouse!'
The second part contains several familiar names associated with liberty and human progress. Here we found enough for volumes, instead of a little collection. Who has not read the quaint work of Pilgrims Progress, by BUNYAN, the lofty poetry of MONTGOMERY, the mystic strains of MADAME GUION, the interesting narrative of DODD, the stirring poems of RALEIGH, the sublime strains of PLACIDO, the biting satires of DE FOE, the affect