Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of New Books” [Text-02], Graham’s Magazine, September 1841, pp. 142-143.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 142, full page:]

REVIEW OF NEW BOOKS.

[column 1:]

[[Review of Marryatt’s Joseph Rushbrook, or the Poacher]]

[page 143, column 1, continued:]

Life of Petrarch. By THOMAS CAMPBELL, Esq., Author of “The Pleasures of Hope,” etc. etc. Complete in one volume. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart.

We are not among those who regard the genius of Petrarch as a subject for enthusiastic admiration. The characteristics of his poetry are not traits of the highest, or even of a high order; and in accounting for his fame the discriminating critic will look rather to the circumstances which surrounded the man, than to the merits of the pertinacious sonnetteer. Grace and tenderness we grant him; but these qualities are surely insufficient to establish his poetical apotheosis.

In other respects he is entitled to high consideration. As a patriot, notwithstanding some accusations which have been rather urged than established, we can only regard him with approval. In his republican principles; in his support of Rienzi, at the risk of the displeasure of the Colonna family; in his whole political conduct, in short, he seems to have been nobly and disinterestedly zealous for the welfare of his country. But Petrarch is most important when we look upon him as the bridge by which, over the dark gulf of the Middle Ages, the knowledge of the Old World made its passage into the new. His influence on what is termed the revival of letters was, perhaps, greater than that of any man who ever lived — certainly far greater than that of any of his immediate contemporaries. His ardent zeal in recovering and transcribing the lost treasures of antique lore cannot be too highly appreciated. But for him, many of our most valued classics might have been numbered with Pindar’s hymns and dithyrambics. He devoted days and nights to this labor of love, snatching numerous precious books from the very brink of oblivion. His judgment in these things was strikingly correct; while his erudition, for the age in which he lived and for the opportunities he enjoyed, has always been a subject of surprise,

Upon the whole, therefore, it is not very wonderful that Petrarch has had many biographers. Much, to be sure, of the excessive comment upon his character may be traced to the generating influence of biography in itself. One life as surely begets another as a sum at compound interest doubles itself in a certain space of time. Each personal friend of the hero is anxious to prove a stricter intimacy with him than that enjoyed by the personal friend who wrote before. Contemporary contradictions thus arise, which it is left for posterity to reconcile. In the private library of the French king at the Louvre there exists a Petrarchian Library, consisting of nine hundred volumes illustrative of the life of the poet. It was collected by Professor Marsand of Padua, and a quarto catalogue of it was, not many years ago, published at Milan. The best biography of Petrarch, after the one which now lies before us, is no doubt that of the Abbe de Sade. This prelate, proud of a descent from Laura, consumed the greater part of his life in toilsome journeys, seeking material for a life of her lover. He was unquestionably the most accomplished foreigner who wrote on the affairs of Italy in the fourteenth century. His account of Petrarch has been made the chief basis of Mr. Campbell’s present work. We are sorry to see, moreover, that the author of “The Pleasures of Hope “ has followed his authority even in the matter of wholesale vituperation of all previous writers upon the subject. De Sade abuses the whole Italian nation, accusing it, en masse, of gross ignorance in respect to our poet. Mr. Campbell abuses the whole Italian nation and De Sade. Not only this, but he is at great pains to be bitter upon Archdeacon Coxe, who had bequeathed to the library of the British Museum a Ms. Life of Petrarch. Of this Ms., Mr. Colburn, it seems, caused a copy to be taken, and, intending it for publication, requested Mr. Campbell to act as editor. Mr. C. consented, “surrounded himself with as many books connected with the subject as he could obtain, and applied himself assiduously to the study of Italian literature, which he had neglected for many years.”

Having done all this, our editor sat down to his task of arrangement and revision. But the Coxe-Petrarthan Mss. appear to have defied his powers. “If any one,” says he, cc suspects me of dealing unfairly with the Archdeacon, let him go to the Library of the British Museum and peruse the work in question — his skepticism will find its reward. He will agree with me that the Coxeian Ms. is placed in a wrong part of the Museum. It should not be in the library, but among the bottled abortions of anatomy, or the wooden visages of the South Sea idols.” Mr. Campbell’s kind offer of permitting any skeptic to satisfy himself by going to the Museum and “perusing “ a huge book which he has just declared to be unfit for perusal, puts us in mind of the candor of the Munchausens and Ferdinand Mendez Pintos, who, telling incredible tales of lands at the South Pole or mountains in the moon, confound all doubters with a request to proceed and satisfy themselves by personal inspection.

One thing is certainly very strange: that Mr. Campbell did not think of looking at “the Coxe-Petrarchan Ms.” in the first place — in the beginning of things — before “surrounding himself with as many books as he could obtain,” and especially before “applying himself assiduously to the study of Italian literature, which he had neglected for many years.” He would have saved himself much trouble, and the Archdeacon might have been spared some abuse.

What particularly surprises us in this volume — a large and handsomely printed octave — is its slovenliness of style. Such a charge as this has never before been urged against the author of “Hohenlinden.” In general he is scrupulously correct. The Archdeacon seems to have bewildered his brains in unsettling his temper. What are we to [page 144:] make of such phraseology as this, occurring in the very second sentence of the work? “It was known that the Rev. Archdeacon Coxe had bequeathed to the Library of the British Museum a Ms. ‘Life of the Poet’ which he had written.” Here “he” implies the poet, but is intended to imply the Archdeacon. Such misconstructions are abundant. We observe, also, far more serious defects — defects of tone. These sentences, for instance, are in shockingly bad taste, — “The most skilful physicians stood aghast at this disease (the plague). The charlatan rejoiced at it, unless it attacked himself, because it put quackery on a par with skill; and compassionate women assisted both physicians and quacks in doing no good to their patients. . . This was a dance of the king of terrors over the earth, and a very rapid one.” Attempts at humor on such subjects are always exceedingly low. Nor can the general handling of the theme of the book be said to be well done. The biographer has swallowed the philosopher. While we are sometimes interested in personal details, we more frequently regret the want of comprehensive analysis of the poet’s character, and of the age in which he lived. The book has no doubt filled, in a certain unsatisfactory manner, a blank in our biographical literature, since the authorities referred to can scarcely be termed accessible; but, upon the whole, it is unworthy Thomas Campbell — still less is it worthy Petrarch. We cannot say with Crebillon —

——————————————— un dessein si funeste,

S’il n’est digne d’Atree, est digne de Thyeste.

—————

The Idler in France. By the COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON. Two Volumes. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart.

The Countess of Blessington has never risen in any of her literary attempts above the merit of an amusing gossiper; and “The Idler in France” is an excellent gossiping book, and no more. Still, this is saying a good deal for it as times go.

The work is made up of adventures, reminiscences, trumpery philosophy, criticism in a small way, scandal, and heterogeneous chit-chat — the whole interwoven, in the most random manner conceivable, into an account of a tour in France made many years ago by her ladyship. “Patch Work” is a title which would have exactly suited the volumes, and it is a pity that Captain Hall has anticipated it.

The anecdotes, et cetera, are by no means confined to France, but often relate to things in general, happening in no particular place. Throughout, there is much vivacity and no little amusement. Some of the scandal, if not nice, is exceedingly piquant, and many of the humorous points are really good.

The Countess tells an old story of the Princesse de Talleyrand, which will better bear repetition than some of the novelties of the work. Denon was to dine at Talleyrand’s at a time when the Baron’s work on Egypt was the common topic in Paris. The Price wished the Princess to read a few pages of the book, that she might be able to say some words of compliment to the author. He consequently ordered his librarian to send the work to her apartment on the morning of the day of the dinner; but unfortunately also commanded that a copy of Robinson Crusoe should be sent to a young protegee of hers who resided in the hotel. Denon’s work, by mistake, was given to Mademoiselle, and Crusoe to the Princess, who, at dinner, expressed graciously to the Baron the delight she had received from his publication, and propounded many anxious inquiries after the fate of his poor man, Friday!

Upon such subjects as are embraced in the following passages, the Countess is particularly at home: —

 

“I observe a difference in the usages de moeurs at Paris, and in those of London, of which an ignorance might lead to give offence. In England, a lady is expected to bow to a gentleman before he presumes to do so to her, thus leaving her the choice of acknowledging his acquaintance, or not; but in France it is otherwise, for a man takes off his hat to every woman whom he has ever met in society, although he does not address her, unless she encourages him to do so.

“In Paris, if two men are walking or riding together, and one of them bows to a lady of his acquaintance, the other also takes off his hat, as a mark of respect to the lady known to his friend, although he is not acquainted with her. The mode of salutation is also much more deferential towards women in France than in England. The hat is held a second longer off the head, the bow is lower, and the smile of recognition is more amiable, by which I mean, that it is meant to display the pleasure experienced by the meeting.

“It is true that the really well bred Englishmen are not to be surpassed in good manners by those of any other country; but all are not such; and I have seen instances of men in London acknowledging the presence of ladies, by merely touching, instead of taking off, their hats when bowing to them; and though I accounted for this solecism in good breeding by the belief that it proceeded from the persons practising it wearing wigs, I discovered that there was not even so good an excuse as the fear of deranging them, and that their incivility proceeded from ignorance or nonchalance, while the glum countenance of him who bowed betrayed rather a regret for the necessity of touching his beaver, than a pleasure at meeting her for whom the salute was intended.”

The French phrases with which the book is interspersed have not been read, in proof, with sufficient care, and many awkward blunders occur. At page 100, vol. I, for example, we have “Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle,” and at page 234, of the same volume, “Que voulezvous, sire-chacun a son vingt Mars?

—————

The World in a Pocket-Book, or Universal Popular Statistics, Embracing the Commerce, Agriculture, Revenue, Government, Manufacturers, Population, Army, Navy, Religions, Press, Geography, History, Remarkable Features and Events, Navigation, Inventions, Discoveries and Genius of every Nation on the Globe, etc. etc. By W. H. CRUMP. J. Dobson: Philadelphia.

Mr. Crump, the author of this little work, is sufficiently well know to the reading public; and we need scarcely say that the “World in a Pocket-Book” is all that it professes to be. Several years have been occupied in its compilation. It will be found an exceedingly convenient manual — embracing a wonderful variety of useful and entertaining matter — the utile, nevertheless, prevailing very much, as is right, over the dulce. The title well explains the character of the book. We have never seen so much really useful information compressed into the same limits. The public is indebted to Mr. Crump for this little volume, and we hope he may be repaid for the patient research and labor bestowed upon it.

—————

Lives of Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy. By MRS. SHELLEY, SIR D. BREWSTER, JAMES MONTGOMERY, and others: Two volumes: Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard.

The lives embraced in these volumes are those of Dante, Petrarch, Boccacio, Lorenzo de Medici, Bojardo, Berni, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Galileo, Guicciardini, Vittoria Colonna, Guarini, Tasso, Chiabrera, Tassoni, Marini, Filicaja, Metastasio, Goldoni, Alfieri, Monti, and Ugo Foscolo. We have no clue to the names of the respective writers — but the biographies are, without exception, well written — although at time their brevity is annoying. As a whole, the work is not only interesting, but of value.

 


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

The attribution of the four reviews given here is highly probable, although not absolutely certain. All were considered to be the work of Poe by Heartman and Canny (1943), and attributed to Poe by T. O. Mabbott and William D. Hull. Mabbott’s notes at the University of Iowa list the reviews of Campbell and Blessington as “sure,” and the reviews of Crump and Shelley as “accept.” In his edition of Poe’s Tales and Sketches, Mabbott notes that Poe uses the same quotation from Crebillon as in “The Purloined Letter” (T&S, p. 997n27). Hull makes the same observation in his comment on the review. For the review of Blessington, Hull says, “The notice may be Poe’s.” For the review of Crump, Hull asserts, “The whole of this brief notice is completely characteristic of Poe; it is his, I believe.” For the notice of Shelley, Hull notes that the review seems to be from a different hand than an earlier review of Mrs. Shelley’s French Lives, which he attributes to “the Casket reviewer.” With this in mind, Hull says of the review here, “This is probably Poe’s.” Also of interest is the mention of Hall’s book “Patchwork” in the review of Countess Blessington. Hall’s book was reviewed in Graham’s for April 1841. Mabbott and Hull disagree about the attribution of that review, but the reference would seem to connect the two reviews. The comment about the use of French, towards the end of the review of Countess Blessington’s book, seems characteristic of Poe, although his own command of French is demonstrably not especially good.

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:0 - GM, 1841] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of New Books [Text-02]