Text: William Doyle Hull II, “Part I, Chapter II,” A Canon of the Critical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1941), pp. 170-186


[page 170:]



JANUARY, 1837.

Two notes in the first number of the third volume of the Messenger make clear the amount of Poe’s critical work. The first of these Poe wrote:

His (Poe’s) Critical Notices for this month end with Professor Anthon’s Cicero — what follows is from another hand (SLM, III, 72).

Further on Mr. White wrote:

It is perhaps due to Mr. Poe to state, that he is not responsible for any of the articles which appear in the present number, except the reviews of Bryant’s Poems, George Balcombe, Irving’s Astoria, Reynold’s Address on the South Sea Expedition, Anthon’s Cicero —— the first number of Arthur Gordon Pym, a sea story —— and two Poetical effusions, to which his name is prefixed (SLM, III, 96).


This, the first of the two remaining January reviews is by Judge Upshaw. White wrote Tucker on January 19: “Your Rev. of Bulwer will follow Judge Upshaw’s of the Partisan”;(1) and on February 7: “. . . about my admitting Judge Upshaw’s Review into the Messenger.”(2)


The White-Tucker letter quoted above reveals the authorship of this review. On December, 27 White send Tucker a copy of the play, requesting a review of it.(3) [page 171:]

From a letter from Poe to Mrs. Hale, dated October 20, 1837, in which he refers to himself as “Editor of the Messenger,”(1) Mr. Killis Campbell drew two conclusions:

one, that Poe was back in Richmond in the autumn of 1837; the other, that he was again posing as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.(2)

On this ground he attributed to Poe, conjecturally, several reviews in the third volume. Some twenty-four years later he was forced, at the hands of Miss Mary E. Philips, to a public rescension. This lady asserted that the letter was misdated; as evidence she! pointed out the fact

That Mrs. Hale’s The Ladies’ Wreath, to which reference is made in Poe’s letter, was copyrighted in 1836.(3)

Mr. Campbell’s revocation appeared in The Mind of Poe in 1933:

This circumstance makes it likely, I think, that the items that I had, provisionally assigned to Poe are the word of some other hand or hands;(4)

but, in true Galilean fashion, he adds a footnote, suggesting that Poe’s reference might be to a second edition, perhaps then in process of compilation and revision, an edition which appeared in 1839.(5) [page 172:]

However, this letter is quite obviously misdated, Mrs, Hale had supposed that Simms was the editor of the Messenger. In the July Supplement of the Messenger, 1836, one finds:

Some of the northern critics have intimated that Simms was the editor of the Messenger. This is an error. It is now edited, as we understand, by Edgar A. Poe. . . .(1)

It seems rather unlikely that this mistake could have persisted, with a woman in editorial circles until October, 1837. In the letter Poe wrote:

. . . . it will be impossible for me to make a definite promise just now, as I am unfortunately overwhelmed with business having been sadly thrown back by late illness;(2)

compare with this an editorial note in the September, 1836, Messenger:

The illnes [[illness]] of both Publisher and Editor will, we hope prove a sufficient apology for the delay in the issue of the present number, and for the omission notices of new books (SLM, II, 668).

Again, in the letter:

I am surprised and grieved to learn that your son . . . should have been vexed about the autographs.(3)

Mrs. Hale was included in the “Autography” which appeared in the Messenger in August, 1836.(4) Thus, in relation to the third volume, this letter can offer no evidence at all. [page 173:]

Nevertheless, with Mr. Campbell I feel that several of the reviews in 1837 after January bear “the peculiar stamp of Poe’s critical work.”(1) Poe left Richmond for New York probably in February, 1837, certainly before the middle of March. Three years later he wrote William Poe that after leaving the Messenger he

entered first into an engagement with the New York Review & afterwards with the Gentleman’s Magazine, writing occasionally for different journals, my object being merely to keep my head about [[above]] water as regards money.(2)

Dr. Hawks, the editor of the Review, denied that Poe had been connected with it.(3)

On December 27, 1836, White wrote Tucker; “If he [Poe] chooses to write as a contributor, I will pay him Well.”(4) In his notice at the end of the January, 1837, Messenger, White promised;

Mr. P., however, will continue to furnish its columns, from time to time, with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen (SLM, III, 96).

but on January 31:

I am as sick of his writings, as I am of him(5) . . . and am rather more than half inclined to send him up another dozen dollars on the morning, and along with it all his unpublished manuscripts.(6) [page 174:]

Among those “unpublished manuscripts” there may have been some reviews. It is difficult, however, in all cases to find when the reviewed works were published. It also seems plausible that Poe, while seeking work elsewhere,(1) or even after he had found employment, eight have submitted reviews to in such a case that worthy gentleman might have swallowed his prejudice; for, except for Tucker, he had very little help it the editorial department. In February there are only two reviews, in March, none; in April, three; May, four; June, two; July, three; August, one; September, two; October, one; November, three; and December, three. White might gave welcomed even a review from Poe; it is even possible that he awed Poe for reviews. Conjecturing circumstances, however, on a basis of the scattered statements of a very effusive hypochondriac is indicative of nothing but a certain amount of ingenuity. The whole situation is too obscure. It is the reviews themselves which must offer the evidence. In the discussion of these, however, it must be remembered that here the danger of imitation is perhaps greater than before.




This is the first of the reviews which Campbell considered “Probably from his pen.”(1) Minor and Jackson likewise consider Marco a tale written by Mrs. Ellet.(2) It is clearly, however, a review by Mrs. Ellet of an Italian novel. The Bibliotheca Americana does not list it among her works. Opening with a discussion or the rise or the historical novel in Italy, it continues, with frequent translated passages, to tell the story of Marco Visconti. At the end she asks:

Will not some admirer of Italian literature present it to the public in an English dress? Superior to most of the novels of the present day, in this country and England, and not as ;;et surpassed by any in Italy, we are confident the success of a translation would well reward such an enterprise, and therefore recommend it to the attention of the scholar (SLM, III, 146).

APRIL, 1837.


This, another of Campbell’s attributions,(4) is most probably Tucker’s. It is not as tightly organized and clearly developed as Poets critiques usually are; this opinion may be confirmed by comparison with other Tucker reviews; “Henrietta Temple,” 1837,(5) “Tulrumble and Oliver Twist,” May, 1837,(6) [page 176:] etc. A triple parallelism might be cited in this April review:

But in this respect: [i.e. the easy grace of his style] even at his [Cooper’s] worst, he is more tolerable than James or Ritchie. or even than Bulwer (SLM, III, 254) ;

in “Bulwer’s the Duchess,” January, 1837;(1)

Though not among his.[Bulwer’s] warmest admirers . . . we still admit his superiority over the stiff, inflated, and unnatural James, or the dull, mosaic Ritchie (SLM, III, 91) ;

and in “Henrietta Temple;”

To be postponed to Bulwer . . . . that is bad enough. But to be neglected by the admirers of James and Ritchie!

There is nothing in this review of Nick of the Woods to link it in any way with the earlier Bird reviews of Poe.



These, the remaining notices for this month, the two “Critical Notices, in April of Gleanings in Europe and of Minor Morals for Young People, Campbell suggests, May be Poe’s.(2) The first has:

These volumes ought never to have been written — or at least ought never to have been published . . . This is certainly a fair warning, and if we will read the volumes after it, it is plainly our own fault, and we have no right to complain that we do not find them what we wished, but what they did not pretend or choose to be . . . Well, if Mr. C. will continue to publish such things, we shall probably continue to read them (that is, if we have nothing else to do at the time) ; but we really think that we might both be better employed (SLM, III, 272). [page 177:]

The second has: “We can hardly call this a good book; though it certainly has some good things in it” (SLM, III, 272). It gives expression to some religious tenets not Poe’s. These two notices are a patent imitation of Poe; both are after the Poe tone; and both have a decidedly false ring. Tucker would again be my candidate: aside from, circumstantial evidence, in several of the reviews of this period he seems to have been striving, with little success, to catch Poe’s tomahawking style.

MAY, 1837.




These two reviews are given to Tucker by several letters.(1)


This review, unnoticed by Campbell, may be given to Poe unconditionally. The method is his: the first paragraph is a comparison of Miss Sedgwick and Miss Edgeworth; the second is on the earlier reviews of her works; the third, a summary of this work; the fourth is on vraisemblance, simplicity, and this novel’s merits; the last, on errors in grammar and usage. [page 178:]

In the “Literati”(1) one finds:

. . . but the has written numerous shorter ones of great merit — such as “The Rich Poor Man and the Poor Rich Man” . . . Miss Sedgwick has now and then been nicknamed ‘the Miss Edgeworth of America;’ but she has done nothing to bring down upon her the vengeance of so equivocal a title (H, XV, 109 ; GLB, XXXIII, 130).

in this review:

Miss Sedgwick beyond all question, is the Edgeworth of America (SLM, III, 331).

Here he meant in the sense of occupying an equivalent position; if she were more widely read in the South, she could do for the North what Miss Edgeworth did for Ireland. In the “Literati” he merely meant that she was no imitator of the Irish novelist. In the Linwoods review, December, Poe wrote: “Of American female writers we must consider-her the first” (H, VIII, 95; SLM, II, 57) ; here: “. . . our countrywoman has, in our Judgment, no equal on this side of the Atlantic” (SLM, III, 331), ‘tn the earlier: “It is full of deep natural interest, rivetting the attention” (H, VIII, 95; SLM, III, 57) ; here: “. . . trains of incident that rivet the attention” (SLM, III, 331). (2) There:

It contains nothing forced or in any degree exaggerated, Its prevailing features are equability, ease, perfect accuracy and purity of style, a manner never at outrance with the subject matter, pathos, and verisimilitude (H, VIII, 95) ;

here: [page 179:]

. . . . never once . . . is vraisemblance violated . . . There is not a fact which may not well have occurred: not a sentence which is not appropriate to the person by wham it is uttered. All is probable — life-like — well-assorted . . . in this respect — simplicity, and likelihood of plot — we must own our prime favorite, Miss Edgeworth, to have been here surpassed . . . (SLM, III, 331).

The second paragraph begins:

Of the Linwoods we have already spoken; and we have briefly expressed the high admiration we felt for Miss Segdwick’s ‘Tales and Sketches’ — especially ‘A Reminiscence of Federalism,’ ‘Old Maids,’ and ‘The Eldest Sister;’ three tales which would have read by every man, woman, and child in these United States (SLM, III, 331).

In the second review here referred to, January, 1836, Poe singles out the three tales here recommended, adding that ‘The Eldest Sister,’ to which he gives the climactic position here, “is the best” (H, VIII, 162; SLM, II, 124).

The Linwoods Poe reviewed in the Messenger for December, 1835; and Tales and Sketches, for January, 1836. Both of these reviews have been shown to be Poe’s beyond doubt. That of the Tales is really “brief,” occupying not quite a column. This is conclusive evidence in itself. There is no reasonable ground for supposing that another reviewer would either remember the earlier review or refer to them editorially, particularly in the intimate tone of the “we have briefly expressed.”

The whole review is full of Poeisms. Several may be selected: [page 180:]

The sagest thoughts appear (and are) mere, plain, common-sense: the most pathetic scenes are evident transcripts of every-day life . . . the most moving and beautiful language comes from people whom it so perfectly suits, that they seem, while uttering it, to stand visible before us, in their work-day clothes. To have been thus, as it were, commonplace, and yet have made a story of so much good sense and such enchaining interest — is among the highest triumphs of talent(1) . . . The vulgar notion of criticism is, that it is synonimus (sic) with ‘fault-finding.’ We did not intend to humor this idea, by exhibiting a list of offences against grammar or rhetoric, which we doubted not we should detect.(2) But on the closest scrutiny, they all (save one) turn out to be provincialisms, or other improprieties, entirely in character with the persons who are guilty of them . . . Somewhere in the book, our eye caught the phrase ”was being executed;” and this, not used, by such an ambitious vulgarian as Mrs. Finley, or furs, Finley’s waiting-maid, whose lips it would have well become; but by the authoress in proper person. Again and again we aver this to be a violation of English idiom, and countenanced by no respectable precedent of twenty years’ standing (SLM, III, 334).

Finally, there is a bit of internal-external evidence:

. . . that high medical authority, Dr. Combe; from those work on ‘Physiology, as applied to the preservation of Bodily and Mental health,’ our authoress extracts some pages in a note. (Footnote) (1) We have already given this admirable work a passing encomium, in a Notice of the ‘Medical Review.‘(3) and design hereafter to present it more fully for the instruction of our readers (SLM, III, 333).

This reference, though not conclusive in itself, perhaps, is significant. The phrase — “and we design hereafter“ — makes one feel that this review was written while Poe was still [page 181:] editor, the novel came out in 1836; there was a second edition in 1837. Since he appears to have been really an admirer off Miss Sedgwick, it seems probable that Poe would have noticed the work as soon after its appearance as it was convenient. Than this I can go no further. I know no way of ascertaining in what month it appeared.

Here there is such a mass of supporting evidence, much of it of near conclusive value in itself, backed by the whole tone of the review, and detracted from by nothing except the obscurity of the situation in the editorial department, that the total result is as definite as it c-n be in the absence of positive external proof.


There is nothing here to suggest Poe, and the ridicule of phrenology denies it to him. The author may be Tucker.

JUNE, 1837.


The leading criticism parallels even in phraseology that of the Bland’s Chancery Report review. “Bland’s;” “We cannot perceive any sufficient reason for the publication of this book” (SLM, II,73l) ; here:

We wish heartily that we could recommend this book (as its author meant it) for schools, or for any other purpose, to which books are usually applied (SLM, III, 399). [page 182:]

“Bland’s”; “Now the enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age . . .” (SLM, II, 731) ; here:

. . . one of those tomes, the multiplication of which foams the chief literary grievance of the age . . . That is an evil which we have too long deplored, to hesitate in doing our duty as literary censors, however much we regret the irksomeress or that duty (SLM, III, 399).

“Bland’s” (continued from above) :

since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber, in which he mus; painfully grope for the scraps of useful natter, peradventure interspersed (SLM, II, 731) ;


We think that the book . . . ranks among that larger number of the publications of the day, which had better never have been written or printed; serving as they do, only to distract or overload the public mind by their variety and multitude (SLM, III, 400).

Except for the unlikely, I think, possibility of imitation, there is no difficulty in assigning Poe this review, for it is clearly by the reviewer of Bland’s Chancery Reports. The concluding evaluation gives the tone of the whole article:

It is (if we may be allowed the bull) mediocre in the extreme, it is ‘correctly cold and regular ly low.’ Without violating, as far as we have observed, a single rule of grammar, or egregiously(1) transgressing a single canon of good taste, aye, or startling any orthodox mind by a single heresy in doctrine, . . . it is so entirely devoid of force, originality, and sprightliness, as to be one of the least captivating certainly, if not least instructive, of the many books, which we see encumber the literature of these times (SLM, II, 399). [page 183:]

This, I think, is probably Poe’s.


This may be Poe’s. Its method is that of the December, 1835, review of the same periodical. it may be examined briefly.

The article which follows, on t:odern French Poetry, is but indifferent, and indeed quite insipid to out! taste.l Some o; the translations, too, inserted in it, we see are, and others we suspect must be, poor copies of the original: (SLM, III, 400).

Poe made this sort of a statement in a later review treating translations.

‘Labordets Journey in Arabia Petraea’ is a long and elaborate piece of geography which has apparently been very carefully compiled from various authorities, but is rather too abundant in typographical details to be very agreeable to the general reader. Unfortunately, too, it omits (again) the most proper and pleasing topics which it could have contained, that. Is, the striking; illustrations of the writings of the Hebrew Prophets, afforded by the present state of the land of Edom (SLM, III, 400).

That Poe was interested in this subject at this time is proved by the Anthon-Poe letter dated July 1, 1837, sending the translations of some Hebrew .prophecies. That Poe, perhaps as early as this, had studied the subject, may be inferred from a sentence in the review of Stephens Arabia Petraea,(2) which lists the Laborde as one of the best known works on [page 184:] this country;

In an article prepared for this journal some months ago, we had traced the route of Mr. Stephens with a degree of minuteness not desirable now . . . (H, X, 3).

If these suppositions be not true, it is possible that the article in the North American interested Poe in the subject and incited the later review. The first and last sentences are perfect examples of Poe’s art of equivocal commendation:

This number, though hardly equal to its immediate predecessors, is yet good, and worthy of its stock. . . The critical notices which follow are various as usual, and generally all that such things are intended or expected to be (SLM, III, 400).

The only difficulty lies in the fact that Poe would probably not submit so brief a review; there is, of course, no possibility of its having been written before he left in February or early March.

AUGUST, 1837.


The seventeen line notice of Motherwell’s Poems in the August number, is indeed, as Mr. Campbell wrote when he suggested that it might be Poe’s, “flimsy.”(1) Although it can definitely, I think, neither be desired or assigned Poe, it is much more probably not his. He had no fondness for White’s pet word — effusions — which occurs here. This notice is like no particular other Poe reviews of poetry. [page 185:]



This reviews, also, Campbell suggests may be Poe’s.(1) The reviewer has

Our praise, now, must be qualified with somewhat more of censure than was due to ‘The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man’ (SLM, III, 691).

Despite the “Now,” this sentence, as far as evidence goes, is, I think, of little value. There is much here pointing to Poe. Again there is a plea for creating an understanding between the

North and South through literature; there is a discussion of vraisemblance and life-likeness, both words found in the May review of Sedgwick. There are censured “inaccuracies of expression,” followed by:

This blunder is the more surprising in Miss Sedgwick (sic), as it is so frequent among members of Congress, and half-fledged newspaper essayists . . . (SLM, III, 691).

But there are some things which seem unlike Poe. In the first place, the author’s name is spelled “Sedgewick” throughout; in the May, 1837, and the earlier reviews, it has only one “e,” This, of course, may be the printer’s fault. One finds: “. . . so forced our lungs to crow with gladness . . . and anon brought our eyes so nearly to tears (SLM, III, 691). The [page 186:] conclusion also seems uncharacteristic:

We have much more to say, in support of our own opinion; but it seems to us, well enough sustained by the considerations we have suggested. Here, therefore, for the present, and perhaps forever, we leave the topic (SLM, III, 696).

Only with much questioning would I give this to Poe.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 170:]

1.  White-Tucker, Richmond, February 7, 1837. Copy in UVL.

2.  White-Tucker, Richmond, February 7, 1837. Copy in UVL.

3.  See White-Tucker, Richmond, December 27, 1836. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 171:]

1.  K. Campbell, “Poe and the Southern Literary Messenger in 1837,” Nation, LXXXIX, 9-10.

2.  K. Campbell, op. cit., 10.

3.  K. Campbell, The Mind of Poe, 219. The reference is to Miss Philips’ Poe — The Man, 514.

4.  K. Campbell, ibid.

5.  K. Campbell, The Mind of Poe, 219.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 172:]

1.  “From the Baltimore Athenaeum,” SLM, II, 520.

2.  Poe-Mrs. Hale, Richmond, October, 1837 (sic). Nation, 10.

3.  Ibid.

4.  H, XV, 171.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 173:]

1.  K. Campbell, op. cit., Nation, LXXXIX, 10.

2.  Poe-William Poe, Philadelphia, August, 1840. (H?, XVII, 55).

3.  [[Hull leaves this footnote blank. His source is probably the letter from Caleb S. Henry to Rev. John H. Hopkins of March 13, 1875, now in the Ingram Collection, item 207.]]

4.  White-Tucker, December 27, 1836. Copy in UVL.

5.  this refers, probably, specifically to Pym.

6.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 31, 183. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 174:]

1.  Ibid.

2.  This heading is printed in large type, with the “By Mrs. Ellet” on a separate line.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 175:]

1.  K. Campbell, op. cit., Nation, LXXXIX, 10.

2.  B. B. Minor, op. cit., 64; D. K. Jackson, CCSLM, 18.

3.  She knew and translated from Italian; see Poe’s review of her poems in January, 1836. H, VIII, 138.

4.  Campbell, op. cit., 10.

5.  SLM, III, 146. See White-Tucker, Richmond, April 26 and June 13, 1831. Copies in UVL.

6.  SLM, III, 323-325. See White-Tucker, Richmond, May 23, June 13 and 20, 1837. Copies in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 176:]

1.  See White-Tucker, Dec. 27, ‘37, and Jan. 19, ‘37. Copies in UVL.

2.  Campbell, loc. cit.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 177:]

1.  See White-Tucker, Richmond, April 26, May 23, June 13, and June 10, 1837 (Copies in UVL) for direct attributions.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 178:]

1.  GLB, September, 1846.

2.  See also “American in England,” SLM, February, 1836. H, VIII, 216.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 180:]

1.  Cf. generally the review of Robinson Crusoe, January, 1836. H, VIII, 216.

2.  Note the implication of this word.

3.  November, 1836. SLM, II, 784-786. Over one half of this Poe notice is devoted to Combe’s work.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 182:]

1.  A word found often in Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 183:]

1.  This kind of a qualifying phrase introduced by “and indeed quite” is frequent in Poe.

2.  New York Review, October, 1837.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 184:]

1.  Campbell, op. cit., 10.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 185:]

1.  Campbell, X., op. cit., 10.


[S:0 - CCWEAP, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - A Canon of the Critical Works of EAP (W. D. Hull) (Part I, Chapter II)