Yet that we are beginning to emancipate ourselves from this thraldom, is seen in the book before us, and in the general appreciation of its merits, on both sides of the Atlantic. It has sold well: and the press has praised it, discriminately and yet with no stint. "The British Critic," and other English literary journals laud it most handsomely. Though, as a general rule, we do not care a fig for British criticism — conducted as it mostly is, we do prize a favorable review, when it is evidently wrung from the reviewer by a high admiration and a strong sense of justice — as in the case before us. And all this, as we have said, proves that we are escaping the shackles of imitation. There is just as much chance of originality at this day, as at any other— all the nonsense of the sophists to the contrary, notwithstanding. "There is nothing new under the sun," said SOLOMON. In the days of his many-wived majesty — proverb might apply — it is a dead saying now. The creative power of the mind is boundless. There is no end to the original combinations of words — nor need there be to the original combination of ideas.
(a) "Tales by Edgar A. Poe. New York : Wiley and Putnam, 161 Broadway. 1845" 18mo., pp. 228. [This footnote appears at the bottom of page 316.]
The first tale in Mr. POE'S
book is called "The Gold Bug." If we mistake not, it was written in
for a large premium, some years since — a premium which it obtained. It
made a great noise when first issued, and was circulated to a greater
than any American tale, before or since. The intent of the author was
to write a popular tale: money, and the finding of money being chosen
the most popular thesis. In this he endeavoured to carry out his idea
the perfection of the plot, which he defines as — that, in which
can be disarranged, or from which nothing can be removed, without ruin
to the mass—as that, in which we are never able to determine whether
one point depends upon or sustains any one other. We pronounce that he
has perfectly succeeded in his
The materials of which the "Gold Bug" is constructed are, apparently, of the simplest kind. It is the mode of grouping them around the main idea, and their absolute necessity of each to the whole — note Mr. POE'S definition of plot before given — in which the perfection of their use consists. The solution of the mystery is the most curious part of the whole and for this, which is a splendid specimen of analysis, we refer the reader to the book.
"The Black Cat" is the next tale. In our last number we found fault with this, as a reproduction of the "Tell-tale Heart." On further examination, we think ourselves in error, somewhat. It is rather an amplification of one of its phases. The dénôuement is a perfect printed tableau.
"Mesmeric Revelations," which comes next, has excited much discussion. A large number of the mesmerists, queerly enough, take it all for gospel. Some of the Swedenborgians, at PHILADELPHIA, wrote word to POE, that at first they doubted, but in the end became convinced, of its truth. This was excruciatingly and unsurpassably funny — in spite of the air of vraisemblance that pervades the article itself. It is evidently meant to be nothing more than the vehicle of the author's views concerning the DEITY, immateriality, spirit, &c., which he apparently believes to be true, in which belief he is joined by Professor BUSH. The matter is most rigorously condensed and simplified. It might easily have been spread over the pages of a large octavo.
"Lionizing," which PAULDING, and some others regard with great favor, has been overlooked, in general. It is an extravaganza, composed by rules — and the laws of extravaganza is as much and clearly defined as those of any other species of composition.
(a) We see, by-the-by, that Willis, in one of his letters, talks about the tales having to encounter an obstacle in England, because of the word "bug." This is a mere affectation — but were it not, the junction with "gold" saves it. Look at the other compounds in common English use — "bugbear," for instance. "Gold-bug" is peculiarly an English — not an American word [[.]]
"The Fall of the House of Usher," was stolen by BENTLEY,
who copied it in his "Miscellany," without crediting the source from
he derived it. The thesis of this tale, is the revulsion of feeling
"A descent into the Maelström," is chiefly noted for the boldness of its subject — a subject never dreamed of before — and for the clearness of its descriptions.
"Monos and Una," is one of a series of post-mortem reveries. The style, we think, is good. Its philosophy is damnable; but this does not appear to have been a point with the author, whose purpose, doubtless, was novelty of effect — a novelty brought about by the tone of the colloquy. The reader feels as though he were listening to the talk of spirits. In the usual imaginary conversations — LANDOR'S, for instance — he is permitted not in earnest. He understands that spirits have been invented for the purpose of introducing their supposed opinions.
"The Man of the Crowd," is the last sketch in the work. It is peculiar and fantastic, but contains little worthy note, after what has been said of others.
The three tales before the last, are "Murders in
the Rue Morgue" — "Mystery of Marie Roget" — and "The Purloined
They are all of the same class — a class peculiar to POE.
They are inductive — tales of ratiocination — of profound and searching
analysis. "The Mystery of Marie Roget " — although in this, the author
appears to have been hampered by facts — reveals the whole secret of
mode of construction. It is true that there the facts were before him
There is much made of nothing in "The Purloined Letter," — the story of which is simple; but the reasoning is remarkably clear, and directed solely to the required end. It first appeared in the "Gift," and was thence copied into CHAMBERS' "Edinburgh Journal," as a most notable production. We like it less than the others, of the same class. It has not their continuous and absorbing interest.
"The Mystery of Marie Roget" has a local, independent of any other, interest. Every one, at all familiar with the internal history of NEW YORK, for the last few years, will remember the murder of MARY ROGERS, the segar-girl [[cigar-girl]]. The deed baffled all attempts of the police to discover the time and mode of its commission, and the identity of the offenders. To this day, with the exception of the light afforded by the tale of Mr. POE, in which the faculty of analysis is applied to the facts, the whole matter is shrouded in complete mystery. We think, he has proven, very conclusively, that which he attempts. At all events, he has dissipated in our mind, all belief that the murder was perpetrated by more than one.
The incidents in the "Murder in the Rue Morgue" are purely imaginary. Like all the rest, it is written backwards.
We have thus noticed the entire collection — and have only to say, by way of close, that the collection embraces by no means the best of Mr. POE'S productions that we have seen; or rather is not totally so good, as might have been made, though containing some of the best.
The style of Mr. POE is clear and forcible. There is often a minuteness of detail; but on examination it will always bound that this minuteness was necessary to the developement of the plot, the effect, or the incidents. His style may be called, strictly, an earnest one. And this earnestness is one of its greatest charms. A writer must have the fullest belief in his statements, or must simulate that belief perfectly, to produce an absorbing interest in the mind of his reader. That power of simulation can only be possessed by a man of high genius. It is the result of a peculiar combination of the mental faculties. It produces earnestness, minute, not profuse detail, and fidelity of description. It is possessed by Mr. POE, in its full perfection.
The evident and most prominent aim of Mr. POE
is originality, either of idea, or the combination of ideas. He appears
to think it a crime to write unless he has something novel to write
or some novel way of writing about an old thing. He rejects every word
not having a tendency to develope the effect. Most writers get their
first, and write to develope it. The first inquiry of Mr. POE
is for a novel effect — then for a subject; that is, a new arrangement
of circumstance, or a new application of tone, by which the effect
be developed. And he evidently holds whatever tends to the furtherance
of the effect, to be legitimate material. Thus it is that he has
works of the most notable character, and elevated the mere "tale," in
country, over the larger "novel" — conventionally so termed.
[This review has often been attributed to Poe himself. W. Hull considered it by Poe with confidence. His attribution rests primarily on the incidental details concerning the "Fall of the House of Usher" appearing in Bentley's and Tuckerman's rejection of "The Tell-Tale Heart," details best known by Poe. T. O. Mabbott (Tales & Sketches, 1978, p. 395) attributed the review to Thomas Dunn English, who was the editor of Artistdean and, at this time, still friends with Poe. The table of contents for the full one-year run of the Aristidean lists the initials "T. D. E" next to this article, indicating English as the author. It is certain, however, that Poe contributed in some way since it does, as previously noted, contain details known only to Poe. It is possible that Poe merely provided some basic information for the piece. On the other hand, it is also possible that Poe wrote the article but assigned it to English so that it did not appear that he was puffing his own work. It might even be a joint effort. That the article includes direct references to "Mr. Poe" does not rule Poe out as the author. In his review, for example, of Longfellow's Poems, certainly by Poe and also from the Aristidean, Poe refers to himself many times as "Mr. Poe."]
[All of the main articles in the Aristidean are numbered for each issue, so that "ART. XXII." denotes this as article 22.]