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[Text: Edgar Allan Poe (??), Review of The Italian Sketch Book, from the American & Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore), June 16, 1835, page 2, bottom of column 1 - top of column 2.]


[page 2:]

The Italian Sketch Book. By an American. Philadelphia: Key & Biddle.

The author of this book is a man of talent and sensibility; but Italy is a theme which requires, in him who would now write about it attractively, a high degree of genius with attendant faculties to give it play. In the last quarter of a century, a host of the most poetical minds have poured out rich tribute from their wealth to the glories and beauties of Italy, and the untravelled reader may kindle his enthusiasm at various volumes of verse and prose, from the inspired pages of De Stael down to the soft teeming pictures of Willis.

From an advertisement at the beginning of the volume we learn that it is the first attempt of the writer in literature. We encourage him to go on: these pages evince a capacity, as well of feeling as of intellect, which with due culture will ensure success. He must cultivate the art of writing, in which he is far from being an adept, as a few quotations will show. The following errors ought not to be committed in a printed volume, particularly not in one so well printed as this is, and on such a classical subject. The author will be able easily to correct them in future, after they shall have been once pointed out: -- the pointing of them out may, too, be of general service, this carelessness being in these rapid times very common. We begin at the beginning of the volume. The first sentence of the first chapter after the introduction, page 12, commences thus: --

"It was in the light of a clear atmosphere that we stood upon the summit of the Capital, and thoughtfully gazed," &c. The three words we have marked by italics, being superfluous, burden the sentence. The first rule in writing is, to use as few words as possible consistently with perspicuity: the above three not only contribute nothing to clearness, -- they take from it. The next sentence is as follows: --

"From so commanding a position, we were enabled to expand the faint idea into a sensible conception of the site of ancient Rome, and the relative localities and original aspect of her scattered and dimly defined remains." By transposing the words of the first members thus "From a position so commanding," the awkwardness of having the article fall between the adjective [column 2:] and substantive is avoided, and the sound improved. An idea is apt to become fainter by expansion, so that a better word than "expand" might have been used. Then "The faint idea:" what faint idea ? -- This is hypercriticism, some reader may exclaim. -- But it is not: the defects we have designated in the above two sentences, are downright blemishes, and the work in which they shall be found will not deserve, and will certainly not obtain, an place beside the classics of the English language. You will search a whole volume of Sterne, or Irving, or Byron's or Coleridge's prose, and not find one such defect.

The next paragraph consists of three sentences -- the first of which is defective, its construction not indicating to what the word "defined" refers, and in the second of which there is an error of syntax: -- "its broad foundations, resting heavily in their sunk beds, have trembled beneath the pround tread of the triumphing, and its concave rung with the inspiring shouts of a Roman greeting:" -- it should be has rung.

The third paragraph commences with this sentence "Immediately beside it, in mournful companionship rise three mutilated columns, and all that exists of the noble tribute of gratitude raised by Augustus of the God of thunder, when he returned unscathed from the rush of his awful shaft." There is a confusion of he and his, for which it is no adequate excuse that the sense indicates to what each refers.

On the next page the author writes: -- "The arches of Titus, Constantine and James respectively occupied and interested us, particularly the former," and afterwards refers to "The latter" -- instances of bad grammar, for there being three arches, he should have said, "the first" and "the last."

We point out these errors in this meritorious volume in no unfriendly spirit, but because they are offensive; and they are to us offensive because we deem them of importance. Incorrect expressions, loose constructions, and bad grammar, are not trifles in composition, and the attention of our young writers should be directed to them as to points in which they must give themselves instruction, if it has not been given them by their teachers.



 
[This review was first attributed to Poe by Thomas Ollive Mabbott in "A Few Notes on Poe," Modern Language Notes, XXXV, June 1920, pp. 373-374.]

[The American & Commercial Daily Advertiser was "published every morning" by "Dobbin, Murphy & Bose" at "No. 2 South Gay Street" in Baltimore.]

[Hypenation: page 2: "ad- [column 2:] jective".]

 
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[S:0 - ACA, 1835]