Date 1871-06-15
Publication Academy
Topic WMR review of Joaquin Miller's "Songs of the Sierras"
AP display
RA display
Subject literature
Keywords aesthetic principles
  ↳ illustrative imagery
Standards aesthetic poetic principles
Notes American poet
  ↳ refs Letters and Reminiscences 2.

Annotation details

71 June 15 Academy


Review Joaquin Miller's "Songs of the Sierras."


Rossetti, William M. "Songs of the Sierras." Academy 2 (June 15, 1871): 301. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


This article is situated as a book review, but compared to most of Rossetti's reviews of literature for Academy, there is more laudatory appraisal than actual poetic criticism. The opening remarks, terming the collection "picturesque things picturesquely put," is the pervading theme throughout the review: technical matters aside, Rossetti finds the poems to be aesthetically honest, vital, and sufficient to pronounce Joaquin Miller "an excellent and fascinating poet, qualified, by these his first works, to take rank among the distinguished poets of the time, and to greet them as peers." Yet there is no direct comparison to any specific poets, nor allusion to other great works which is Rossetti's typical method of ranking and positioning aesthetic works. In fact, the closest direct reference is to "the manner of Alexander Smith," a new poet whose collected works Rossetti had reviewed the previous year ("Purpose and Passion: Being Pygmalion and other Poems," Academy, August 1870), as well as Swinburne whom Rossetti typically refers to in matters of versification and meter. Also, there is an indirect reference to Browning, stating Joaquin Miller bears a slight resemblance to Browning. It is significant that Rossetti compares Miller's work to Smith's, but there is a distinctly different and clearly more rigorous standard of judgment applied to Smith's volume.

Rossetti performs a close reading of the major poems, interjecting praise for the vivid storytelling and poignant themes. There is little or no forensic poetic analysis offered; rather, Rossetti largely ignores technical matters and simply relates details and simple praise. Absent too are comparisons of national literatures of either Britain or America, or the great writers of each, although Rossetti does note "the recognizable ring of Swinburne." There is no connection to or investment in British literature, which may explain the absence of the predictable exhortation to the British public and British poets alike to aspire to a higher literary and aesthetic standard. Rather, Rossetti simply validates the poetic collection as aesthetically worthy, suggesting that "America may be proud" of Joaquin Miller.

Rossetti mentions meeting Miller in social circumstances as early as 1867 (Letters 184n). After a visit by Miller to the Rossetti home, Rossetti writes to Swinburne of the poet's "rich capacities and no small measure of achievement," proposing to write this review for Academy (Letters 272). Rossetti states that Miller was a frequent visitor to the Cheyne Walk house in the days when this Dante Rossetti residence was frequented by artists, poets and writers (Reminiscences 2:337). Writing in 1905, Rossetti reflects on his association with Miller, describing him as "of fine height, with long and abundant hair, booted and spurred-being a famous horseman in his horse-riding country. He was a self-taught poetic genius; nurtured upon Byron and in a minor degree, Burns and Edgar Poe . . .' (Reminiscences 2:337).


critical, polemical


Picturesque, Sierras, Mexico City, Phoenix, New York City, Ku-Klux Klan, life experience, contagious ardor, rough good fellowship, picture-writing, elastic assonance, originality

Standards of Judgment:

a largely stand-alone appraisal, identification of effective visual imagery through poetic text; exotic narrative


Joaquin Miller, Walker "the filibuster", Burns, Byron, Victor Hugo, Charles Edward, Alexander Smith, Browning, Swinburne


definitive, evaluative

Writing technique/tone:

laudatory, introductory, explanatory; close read


". . . rough good fellowship mellowed by misogyny;" ". . . love assassinated before our eyes;" ". . . intent to murder which would have done credit to the Southern chivalry enrolled in the Ku-Klux Klan;" "Excitement and ambition may be called the twin geniuses of Mr. Miller's poetical character;" "America may be proud of him."

Works Cited

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti.. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner, 1906. Print.

---. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Ed. Roger Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1990. Print.