Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Review of George Jones, Ancient America (Text-02), Aristidean, March 1845, pp. 9-12


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[page 9:]

ART. III. — GEORGE JONES’ ANCIENT AMERICA.

MR. GEORGE JONES, the “American Histrion,” (as he has a perfect right to style himself if he thinks proper) getting tired of sleeping at STRATFORD-ON-AVON, and other small matters of that character, and having exhausted the whole subject of Tragedy in the “Israel-Indian” drama of TECUMSEH, (whom men hitherto have accused Col. JOHNSON of murdering) — Mr. GEORGE JONES, we say, having done all this to his perfect satisfaction, has at last turned his attention to the instruction of his fellow beings on points of rather more serious importance. He has written a book, (of which only the first volume is now before us) the design of which is to demonstrate the identity of our Aborigines with the Tyrians and Israelites, and the introduction of Christianity into the Western Hemisphere by one of the twelve Apostles in person. This, to be sure, is a good deal to demonstrate, but then we have GEORGE JONES for the demonstrator. His qualifications are too well known to need comment. He has a pretty wife, a capital head of hair, and fine teeth.

When we assert, though, that, in spite of his teeth, he has contrived to compile, from a great variety of high sources, a work full of deeply interesting information — not particularly deficient in method, or even in argument — and that, by hook or by crook, he has made out his case, as well as any previous speculators on American Antiquities have made out theirs — and quite as well as any Mr. GEORGE JONES might be expected to make it — when we say all this we shall scarcely be believed by the numerous ardent admirers of this gentleman who have held their breath (and their sides) night after night, while he did OTHELLO (and them) and endangered the lives of the orchestra. How much of the book is pure George Jones, we cannot and will not pretend to say. The greater portion of it we fancy that we have seen somewhere in different arrangements; — a good deal of it in BRYANT — some in HUMBOLDT — some in STEPHENS — but we will not undertake to be sure that Mr. GEORGE JONES has appropriated to his own use much more than is customary with illustrious historians in all similar cases.

The style and occasional interest of the compilation may be conveyed in some measure by a quotation:

“He says (Bryant) that where the Tyrians may have settled we may expect to hear some story or tradition about a swan or swans. Admitting this to be truth (and he is quoted as authority upon antiquities) then there is proof that the Mexican Aborigines were Tyrians, as the following incident from acknowledged history will show. About two centuries before the Spanish Conquest, the Aztecas (Mexican proper) were oppressed by a neighbouring kingdom; the latter demanded as a tribute that the former should bring one of their celebrated floating gardens [page 10:] from the Lake of Mexico — this tributary present was accomplished with great labor and difficulty. The next year this demand was repeated, and with this addition — viz: that their emblematical bird the swan, should also be brought with it, and in the garden, sitting on her eggs — and that the present should be so timed as to its arrival, that the eggs should be hatched when the garden was presented to the King demanding tribute; this was actually accomplished, and the cygnets came forth as the imperious Monarch received the present. Now the substance of the above was recorded by the Spanish historian over three centuries since, and with no idea to establish that those aborigines were Tyrians; it may therefore be received as a record of fact, — at all events it came to the historian from the Mexicans as a “story” of their race, — handed down from sire to son as a “tradition” of their ancestors. In those respects alone — “story or tradition” — the proof of identity required by Bryant is completely established. ‘Where the Tyrians are, you may expect to hear some story or tradition about swans.” Well, then, here is the “story” and “tradition” together with the historical fact — and swans form the material: but they have been dying in music for centuries yet unregarded: — they have been as a symbolical record buried in a people’s sepulchre — and which the opening of a nation’s tomb has alone brought to light. The classic reader will remember that Jupiter assumed the form of the bird of Canaan, when he sought and won the love of Leda!”

Mr. GEORGE JONES concludes this burst of eloquence with a note of admiration, by which he means — “See that! listen to GEORGE JONES!” The only wonder is that he did not instruct his printer to put two admiration notes in place of one, or have a Brobdignagian one founded on purpose. The only other noticeable point of the extract (beyond its prevalent air of innocence and slip-slop) is the writing monarch and king with a capital M and K — a fashion which Mr. JONES has very properly considered it his duty to adopt since his introduction at court. To render the compliment more pointed, we presume that, in future, he will employ only a small g when he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his GOD.

The true fun of this book, however, lies in its externals. Honestly speaking, it is one of the most magnificent things ever put forth from a press. The money to print it, perhaps was, and perhaps was not made by butchering MACBETH. However these matters may be, this great work is dedicated to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the suggestion of an “Illustrious Prince who has honored me as his visitor and guest,” and the fervor of that brotherly affection with which GEORGE JONES beseeches “the Almighty Father long to preserve the life and faculties of his Grace, that they may continue to cast their benevolent and protecting influence around the Divine Institution of Christianity” — and around GEORGE JONES and his wife and seven small children — is really a heart-rending spectacle to behold.

The title-pages of the book are to be cut out, we hope, and deposited in the British Museum.

First we have it thus:

An Original History of America. Founded upon the Ruins of [page 11:] Antiquity: The Identity of the Aborigines with the People of Tyrus and Israel: and the Introduction of Christianity by the Apostle St. Thomas. By George Jones, R.S.I., M.S.V., &c. Dedicated to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. Published by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London. Harper and Brothers, New York. Alexander Duncker, Berlin, and Frederick Kliencksieck, Paris. 1843. Copyright secured in England and America.”

And again — secondly: — “The History of Ancient America, anterior to the time of Columbus: proving the Identity of the Aborigines with the Tyrians and Israelites: and the Introduction of Christianity into the Western Hemisphere by the Apostle St. Thomas. By George Jones, M.R.S.I., F.S.V. The Tyrian Æra. Published by” — as before.

And yet once more, thirdly: — “Volume the First, or the Tyrian Æra, in Two Books. Book I. The Ruins of Antiquity in Ancient America, Described and Analyzed; and the Original Architects Identified. Book II. The Scriptural, Political, and Commercial History of Tyrus, to the Destruction of that kingdom by Alexander of Macedon; and the Tyrian Migration to the Western Hemisphere, in the year 332 before Christ, &c.”

And still, again, fourthly, it our readers will permit us the liberty —

“The Original History of Ancient America.”

And fifthly and finally, once yet again, if we can hope to be pardoned the trespass:

“The Tyrian Æra.”

By the blessing of God this is all. We give them verbatim, first because we like a neat thing, and enough of it, and secondly because here we have discovered MILTON’S allusion in his “many a winding bout of linked sweetness long drawn out.” Here it is. This is it. He had reference to the title-pages of GEORGE JONES.

There is a limit, however, to the capacities of the pen. We can convey with that instrument a good deal, to be sure, (and Mr. GEORGE JONES can convey even more than ourselves,) but “Stamboul itself,” the Mahometans say, “shall have an end,” and there is an end even to the expression of a goosequill. Were it not for this, we should be happy to fill up, in an adequate manner, the hiatus of our □ □ just above, and of our a few sentences farther up. We will endeavour to aid the reader’s fancy, however, in filling them up for himself.

In the let him conceive the inconceivable — let him picture to himself a — a — what is it? — a person with a chin — a gentleman with a simper — a something with a scarf over its right shoulder — the throat bare — the hair well off the temples — the eyebrows well up — the whole thing looking satisfied with the existing condition of matters, so far as regards merely itself, but consumed with pity for the universe upon the whole, and exceedingly hurt and vexed, not to say mortified, that its advice was not taken in the first instance, when that sad botch of an affair was originally manufactured. This curious thing is the “Great American Histrion” — that is to say it is GEORGE JONES, and the author of the book.

In the first of our □ □, the reader is entreated to imagine a building not altogether unlike the infernal palace seen by Vathek and Nouronihar, since that was “d’une architecture inconnue dans les annales de [page 12:] la terre.” We take this building to be intended either for the New York City Hall, or the Magdalen Asylum, or the Fountain in the Bowling Green — we cannot be positive that it is meant for more than one of these, but it is ugly enough to be all three. It is in the back-ground, floating upon the sea, (if we rightly comprehend the idea) and in the foreground is MOSES the prophet, standing guard over an assortment of kettles and pans, and holding in each hand one of the ten-commandment-tables of stone, the hardness of which he seems anxious to test upon the skull of a high priest in full pontificals, who is clearly bent upon stealing a kettle at least, and with this view brandishes an oyster-knife with which he is watching his opportunity to cut MOSES’ throat — and the sooner the better, beyond doubt.

In the nethermost will the reader just oblige us by picturing to himself a NEPTUNE sitting comfortably, although a little stiffly, on a large oyster shell, with something that looks like a roll of MS. for a foot-board, and drawn by four horses with the tails of catfish, or possibly gudgeons; — one of the horses turning his head aside to take a bite, or a kiss, at a young lady who should be ashamed of herself for swimming so high out of water; above all this let there be fancied a little Cupid with knock-knees, fluttering himself into a fit, and the picture is complete; that is to say it would be complete, if there were only a few words printed beneath it, in the way of a hint as to what it is all about.

As matters stand, it is difficult to say whether NEPTUNE is intended for NEPTUNE in person, or for Mr. GEORGE JONES in the character of NEPTUNE; or whether the lady in her buff is a sea-nymph in actual fact, or only one of GEORGE JONES’ supernumerary nymphs in the “Naiad Queen”; or whether the horse-headed gudgeons (or the gudgeon-tailed horses) are, or are not, merely emblematical of odd fishes in general, and by inference of GEORGE JONES in particular; or whether in fine the CUPID in a fit is a real CUPID in a bonâ fide fit, or only one of Mrs. GEORGE JONES’ own little CUPIDS doing the heavy business in a benefit.


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Notes:

The embellishment woodcut is from a design by F. O. C. Darley. The same embellishment was used for various other articles in the Aristidean.

The somewhat peculiar use of and have been imitated as closely as possible from the original printing.


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[S:0 - Aristidean, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of Ancient America (Text-02)