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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

A Forgotten American Poet

Friday, April 29, 2005

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman was born in Boston on February 4, 1821. He was educated at Bishop Hopkin's school in Burlington, and then at Harvard, although trouble with his sight forced him to drop out. Although he later entered and graduated from law school, his career - supported by the inheritance of his businessman father - focused on his favourite studies: literature, botany and astronomy. In all three fields he achieved some minor success, publishing his observations of astronomical and meteorological phenomena, recognised as an authority on the Flora of Franklin county and publishing poems in the Living Age, Putam's and Atlantic magazines. These were collected and printed privately, and published in Boston and London.

Although publicly anonymous, Tuckerman was not unknown to his literary peers. In 1851 and 1854, Tuckerman met Alfred Tennyson, staying as his guest and cultivating a long-standing and sincere friendship. Unfortunately, Tennyson's views of Tuckerman's poetry are not known. However, those of Emerson, Hawthorn, Longfellow, Bryant - to whom he sent complementary copies of his verse - are available. All expressed their strong liking for the verse: Hawthorne thought it a "remarkable" volume whose "merit does not lie upon the surface, but must be looked for with faith and sympathy"; Emerson thought "Rhotundra" a "perfect success in its kind," and urged him to publish it in the Atlantic, which Tukerman subsequently did; Longfellow gave his opinion as "very favourable," although like Hawthorne he noted that the intrinsic merit of his work did not automatically mean that the challenging work would be publicly successful in the immediate term.

Oddly, having gained the respect of the foremost writers of his day, Tuckerman's publication of his Poems in 1860 was the point in his career at which he retired from public literary circles. Returning to seclusion, he continued to write (very well), but by the time he wrote his last sonnet in 1872, he was obsolete. He died the following year.

He was reclaimed from obscurity by the efforts of Walter Prichard Eaton, in an essay in the January issue of Forum, 1909. From this article, Witter Bynner corresponded with the poet's granddaughter, discovering the unpublished poems which were in her keeping. In 1931, he published his edition of Tuckerman's sonnets. The Complete Poems was edited by N. Scott Momaday in 1965.

With the growing interest in the relationship between science and literature, the peculiar interests and mathematical methods of this poet who kept a log of the rhyme schemes of his sonnets, ensuring no one followed the same pattern as another, may cause Tuckerman to come increasingly onto the critical radar.

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Posted by Alistair at 3:08 pm


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