Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of Sacred Philosophy [Parts I and II]” (Text-02), Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1840, p. 106 and March 1840, pp. 151-152


[February 1840]

[page 106, continued:]

Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons; Illustrating the Perfection of God in the Phenomena of the Year. By the Rev. Henry Duncan, D.D., Ruthwell, Scotland. With Important Additions and Some Modifications to adapt it to American Readers, By F. W. P. Greenwood. In Four Volumes. Marsh, Capen. Lyon, and Webb, Boston.

This work of Dr. Duncan’s has been adopted into “The School Library,” by the Massachusetts Board of Education, after a careful examination and correction. The defects which were incidental to the plan of the book itself, have not, of course, been remedied — the defects of cursoriness, incompleteness and inequality to which all compendiums are liable, and especially those which take in so vast a range of subject as the “Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons.” But absolute errors have been in a great measure corrected by the American editor, and some alterations have been made by the addition of notes, and the occasional introduction (we learn) of passages into the text, with a view of adapting the whole to the place which it is now intended to occupy, as a book of instruction and entertainment for American families and schools.

The general plan of the work is methodical. Each volume is devoted to a separate season, and is divided into as many chapters, as that season has days. This arrangement is well suited to the wants of a school-teacher. The ultimate design of the author is to show that the visible objects of Nature are the work of the hand of the Deity, “the intimations of his presence and agency, the proofs of his wisdom, and, especially, the manifestations of his goodness.” To establish his argument Dr. Duncan has compiled, from a great variety of sources, whatever he supposed tended to strengthen it, combining all with much original observation of his own. The variety of the publication is certainly very great, and it might be regarded as an excellent work, upon the whole; even if we looked only to the multitude of its observations, and its consequent capacity of suggestion. The mind which carefully peruses these four volumes will not fail of being stimulated to farther and more extended research. But “The Philosophy of the Seasons” is, in other respects, a capital book. its great comprehensiveness, its general accuracy, its ingenious and luminous arrangement render it especially well adapted for the educational purposes for which it is designed. Its mechanical execution is exceedingly good, and does high credit to the taste of the publishers, Messieurs Marsh, (Japan, Lyon, and Webb, We shall speak farther of these volumes in our March number.


[March 1840]

[page 151:]



Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons; Illustrating the Perfections of God in the Phenomena of the Year. By the Rev. Henry Duncan, D. D., Ruthwell, Scotland. With Important Additions, and some Modifications to adapt it to American readers. By F. W. P. Greenwood. In four volumes. Marsh, Capen, Lyon and Webb, Boston.

In our last number we had barely room to acknowledge the reception of this valuable work, and to speak of it in general terms of commendation. A careful perusal has since assured us that we did not err in our opinion. The book will recommend itself wherever seen, as a well-arranged and well-digested compendium, embracing a vast amount of information upon the various topics of physical science, and especially well adapted to those educational purposes for which the volumes are designed.

We are not aware of the precise period at which the American edition was actually passed through the press: and one or two apparent inaccuracies which have arrested our attention may have been understood as truths at the time of Mr. Greenwood’s supervision.

It is questionable whether there be not something of a philosophy — un peu pass;aae in a passage where a certain argument is spoken of as not proving the absolute permanency of our solar system “because we know from the more sure word of prophecy that it is not destined to last forever.” We believe there are few intelligent men of the present day — few, either laymen or divines — who are still willing to think that the prophecies here referred to have any further allusion than to the orb of the earth — or, more strictly, to the crust of this orb alone. The entire system never was meant to be included. Upon this topic we refer the reader, in perfect confidence, to the excellent observations of Dr. Dick, in his “Christian Philosopher.”

At page 297, of the fourth volume, and subsequently, there are some passages which strongly insist upon the literal fulfilment of the biblical prophecies in regard to the city of Petra, in Idumea, the ancient Edom: and, in connection with this subject, the work of Dr. Keith on the Prophecies is greatly extolled. “This singular place,” (Petra) says Dr. Duncan, “has only lately been minutely surveyed, and indeed little was known of it till after the commencement of the present century, when it was visited first by Dr. Burckhardt, and afterwards by captains Irby and Mangles.” To this the American editor adds in a foot-note, “Yet more recently, these wonderful ruins have been visited by our countryman, Mr. Stevens.” (Stephens.)

There is, we confess, something here of which we do not altogether approve. Dr. Duncan is perfectly justifiable in avowing that implicit confidence which — he no doubt feels, in the accuracy of the statements of Dr. Keith, and in the force of the arguments supporting his favorite doctrine — the literal fulfilment of prophecy; but we think Mr. Greenwood should have observed, by way of offsett, that the work in question has been more than once thoroughly refuted; and once, especially, in an unanswerable argument in the pages of the London Quarterly Review. Moreover, as the book of Mr. Stephens — was alluded to, it would have been as well to say that this book itself affords a very singular, and certainly a very positive refutation, not only of the general argument of Dr. Keith, but of the very portion of it now in question.

It is said in Isaiah, respecting Idumea, that “none shall pass through thee for ever and ever.” Dr. K. insists upon understanding this in its most strictly literal sense. He attempts to prove that neither Burckhardt nor Irby passed — through the country — merely penetrating to Petra, and returning. But then, Mr. Stephens entered Idumea with a full and deliberate design of putting the question of this prophecy to test; he determined to see whether it was meant that Idumea should not be passed through, and he accordingly - passed through it from one end to the other. The truth is that a palpable mis-translation exists in the passage of Isaiah referred to: a passage which Dr. Keith should have examined critically in the original before basing so long an argument upon it. This mis-translation, and several others upon the same topic, we pointed out ourselves, not very long ago, in an article in the New York Review. The words in question are found in Isaiah 34, 10, and run thus: Lenetsach netsachim ein over bah. (We have not the Hebrew Type.) The sentence, word for word, is as follows: — Lenetsach, for an eternity; — netsachim, of eternities; — ein, not; — over, moving about; — bah, in it; that is to say, “for an eternity of eternities, (there shall) not (be any one) moving about — in it,” not through it. The participle — over refers to one moving to and fro, or up and down; and is the same term which is rendered “current” as an epithet of money, in Genesis 23, 16. The prophet simply means that there shall be no mark of life in the land; no living being there; no one moving up and down in it. He merely refers to its general abandonment and desolation.

In the same way we have received an erroneous idea of the meaning of Ezekiel 35, 7, where the same region is mentioned. The common version runs — “Thus will I make Mount Seir most desolate, and cut off from it him that passeth out and him that returneth” — a sentence which Dr. Keith views as he does the one mentioned above — that is to say, he supposes it to forbid any travelling in Idumea under penalty of death, instancing Burckhardt’s death shortly after his return, as [page 152:] confirming his opinion, on the ground that he died in consequence of his rash attempt. Now the words which have been construed by “him that passeth out and him that returneth” are “over vasal,” and mean strictly “him that passeth and repasseth.” Here, as before, the inhabitants are referred to. Our version is sanctioned by Gesenius, and there is something very analogous in the Hebrew-Greek phrase in Acts 9, 28 — xxxxxxxxxxxxx [[Greek Text]], “and he was with them in Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” The latin — versatus est hits it off exactly. The meaning is, that Saul, the new comer, was on intimate terms with the true believers in Jerusalem, moving about among them, to and fro, or in and out. But we have been led off from our immediate purpose; which was chiefly to dissent, in general terms, from the views of Dr. Keith, and to express a regret that a gentleman so well qualified to speak upon this subject as Mr. Greenwood, should not have appended some observations to the remarks of Dr. Duncan. The “Philosophy of the Seasons” is a book of which every one must think well. Its great comprehensiveness, its general accuracy, its ingenious and luminous arrangement, render it, in every respect, a valuable work. Its mechanical execution is exceedingly good, and does high credit to the taste of the publishers, Messrs. Marsh, Capen, Lyon and Webb.



Poe had already referred to Gesenius and the phrase from acts in his review of Stephens’s Arabia Petrea, New York Review, 1837.


[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of Sacred Philosophy [Text-02]