Text: Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro, “[Review of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque],” New-York Mirror (New York, NY), vol. 17, no. 26, December 21, 1839, p. 207, col. 1, and vol. 17, no. 27, December 28, 1839, p. 215, col. 1


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[December 21, 1839]

[page 207, column 1, continued:]

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. By Edgar A. Poe. In two vols. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard.

The title of this volume faithfully characterizes the contents. To the lovers of imaginative writing, it may be commended as one of the most extraordinary and original works of the day. Mr. Poe is a man of true genius. His sketch entitled “Ligeia,” in this work, is quite equal to any of the minor prose pieces of Bulwer. We have not had time to peruse the whole of the work, but that which we have read has been sufficient to convince us that the book is a good book, and one honourable to American talent. We commend it heartily to the public.

 


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[December 28, 1839]

[page 215, column 1:]

LITERARY NOTICES.

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Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. By Edgar A. Poe. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard.

THE creation of modern literature — that species of invention which alone could body forth the infinite variety of modern society — the novel — requires much peculiar to its period, and all that the mind has ever possessed of original power. The legends of a barbaric age are, perhaps, all that age had worth preserving: another, entirely military, is perfectly depicted in an heroic poem; where the character of a nation is exclusively political, its masterpiece is history: chivalry, with its banners and brands, lives in its own spirited ballads; and, as the varieties increased and shades multiplied, the drama became the lively and accurate reflection of the passing panorama. But to an age, reading, thoughtful, languid, with every excitement of former times added to its own — with its strange mixture of all that can form a character, yet repress its display — what could do justice — what give a picture so true, as may be given by the novel? The tale, although not so encumbered with plot and incidents, belongs to the same class of composition, and all that it has to depend upon for usefulness or effect, is its truth of principle, its fidelity to nature, and the tact and talent with which that truth is told and that fidelity is preserved. And herein is the value and beauty of that kind of truth displayed, in that it is visible and obvious to all, for it appeals to experience and awakens observation; it opens the character of humanity, and is at once food for the philosopher, and amusement for the child.

Had Mr. Poe written nothing else but “Morella,” “William Wilson,” “The House of Usher,” and the “MS. found in a Bottle,” he would deserve a high place among imaginative writers, for there is fine poetic feeling, much brightness of fancy, an excellent taste, a ready eye for the picturesque, much quickness of observation, and great truth of sentiment and character in all these works. But there is scarcely one of the tales published in the two volumes before us, in which we do not find the development of great intellectual capacity, with a power for vivid description, an opulence of imagination, a fecundity of invention, and a command over the elegances of diction which have seldom been displayed, even by writers who have acquired the greatest distinction in the republic of letters. It would be, indeed, no easy matter to find another artist with ability equal to this writer for discussing the good and evil — the passions, dilemmas, and affectations — the self-sufficiency and the deplorable weakness, the light and darkness, the virtue and the vice by which mankind are by turns affected. These volumes present a succession of richly-coloured pictures in the magic lantern of invention.

We have heard it objected, that Mr. Poe’s pictures are not always to be taken as a correct representation of human nature. What human nature actually is at this period, would be a matter of some difficulty to ascertain, modified as it is by education, controlled by circumstance, and compounded of customs and costumes. The novelist, the sketcher, and the essayist, must take, not make their materials: and in all states of society, whether one of furs, feathers, and paint; au naturel — or of those furs turned into muffs, those feathers waving over helmets and barrettes, and that paint softened into rouge and pearl-powder — the view taken by an acute observer will be valuable as philosophy. The human heart, like the human countenance, is endless in its variety; the tree, the flower, the bird, the beast, resemble each other, till the likeness is that of ideality. The oaks at Dodona were but like those in any English park; the steed of the Macedonian might be but as the racehorse of our modern turf. Not so with the face of man — the statue, the picture, come down to us, and we trace similarity, but no sameness; for where can be found two human beings whose individuality could be mistaken? And the varieties of mind are still more infinite: the routine of circumstances may and will be the same — the battle may be fought, the orator and statesman contend for the high places, the festival assemble the young, and the thousand great and little events of life be alike — but the spirit which vivifies them will be different; even as our present age bears no resemblance to its predecessors, so those in futurity are equally likely to differ from our own. If, therefore, Mr. Poe appears now and then too sombre and fantastic, or deals in too wild imaginings, the fault, if fault it be, must be attributed to the advanced state of our literature, which — the incidents of invention being somewhat exhausted — makes an author frequently turn to sentiment and metaphysics rather than description or adventure.

In conclusion, we would just observe, that we have done but imperfect justice to this miscellaneous and agreeable work; one of the best lounging books we have perused for a very long while. It is quite impossible to dip into any part of it without having the attention riveted and the fancy pleased; so that, in truth, our only charge against it, is that it has detained us longer than was expedient from other volumes and other affairs.

 


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Notes:

Although unsigned, the author of the longer review was identified by name in the biographical article on Poe in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum, first printed on February 25, 1843 and reprinted on March 4, 1843. By association, he is generally also granted the shorter notice.


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[S:1 - NYM, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (L. F. Tasistro, 1839)