A Fable for Critics satirized many of the most important figures in American literature at the time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Fenimore Cooper. Many of his harshest judgments were aimed at names that have not survived in posterity, including Nathaniel Parker Willis, Cornelius Mathews, and Fitz-Greene Halleck. He gave ample praise to Charles Frederick Briggs and Lydia Maria Child, though he was friends with both and likely allowed his friendship to inflate his assessment of their talents. Of Edgar Allan Poe, he said he was "three-fifths genius... and two-fifths sheer fudge". Lowell included himself as well, referring to himself as having difficulty determining the difference "'twixt singing and preaching". Many of the poetic portraits were balanced with praise, as in Halleck's:
Halleck's better, I doubt not, than all he has written;
In his verse a clear glimpse you will frequently find
If not of a great, of a fortunate mind
Lowell's most vicious treatment was aimed at Margaret Fuller, whom he referred to as Miranda. At first, he intended to exclude her entirely but thought it more insulting not to include her and was convinced to write "a line or two" by his wife Maria White Lowell. Ultimately, his characterization was the only which was wholly negative and not balanced with praise. He suggested that she stole old ideas and presented them as her own and that she was only genuine in her spite.
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