Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of New Books” [Text-02], Graham’s Magazine, November 1841, pp. 248-252


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[page 248:]

REVIEW OF NEW BOOKS.

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[[Review of Ainsworth’s Guy Fawkes]]

[page 249, column 2, continued:]

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The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1842. Carey and Hart: Philadelphia.

This volume of “The Gift” is superior to any yet published. Mrs. Embury has an entertaining story, and Miss Leslie’s account of a “Family that Didn’t take Boarders” is also quite amusing. Mr. Simms has a well narrated tale — Mr. Seba Smith has another — Professor Frost another — Mrs. Ellet, also, and the author of “A New Home.” We ourselves have one which is not ended so well as it might be — a good subject spoiled by hurry in the handling. The poetry, in general, is insipid. Mrs. Sigourney has not done herself justice. Lieut. G. W. Patten, U. S. A. has three effusions, neither of which do credit to the Annual. This gentleman, who writes frequently, and should therefore write well, is singularly remiss in his metaphors, and often grieviously deficient in his grammar. What does he mean, at page 309, by

As sleep the brave so thou should sleep (?)

or, at page 165, by

The storm is on the sea — I hear its wings

In thunder fretting o’er the lifted wave (?)

This is surely a most singular instance of metaphor run mad! Here are three conflicting images at one time in the brain of the poet. By the word “wings” the reader is made to understand the prosopopeia of the storm as a bird; by “thunder” (a natural accompaniment of tempests) he is brought back to the impersonified storm; by “fretting” he is left in no doubt that the writer’s ideas are running upon a horse — and all this in the compass of one line and a half!

The “Stanzas” by Park Benjamin have a rich simplicity which of all literary qualities is the most difficult of attainment, and of all merits the most uncertain of appreciation; but we are sorry to say that they are the only good verses in the volume.

The engravings are very fine. We will speak of them briefly one by one.

The “Country Girl,” by Cheney from Sully, is a truthful picture. The design is perfect. The only fault of the execution lies in the undue breadth of the face; this defect would be remedied by deepening the shade beneath the left ear. The work of the engraver is well done.

“Vignette Head,” by Chenny from Sully — one of the latter’s favorite heads — the fact that of a pouting hoyden. The hair is beautifully massed. The vignetting is carried too low as regards the bosom, or otherwise some lines of shading introduced to relieve it of its blank appearance. The arm is execrable — the hand worse — both are too massive and sinewy.

“Dulcinea,” by Cheney from Leslie. No fault can be [page 250:] found with this picture, which is admirable in every respect. The right arm, in especial, is exquisitely rounded and foreshortened.

“The Tough Story” by J. J. Pease, from W. S. Mount. Mr. Mount’s merits, although not of the highest order, have the advantage of being universally appreciable. This is an advantage which he secures — clinches — by dealing only in homely subjects. If he has ideality (a question which as yet we have had no means of deciding) and would employ his peculiar talents upon loftier themes, he might attain a very desirable eminence indeed.

Nothing could be more true to nature than the picture before us; but the painter has sacrificed to this truth (at some points) artistical effects of superior value. What can be more displeasing, for example, than the unrelieved nakedness of the wall in the back ground, or the situation of the group precisely in the centre of the design, or, especially, than the tall regular stove pipe, running up parrelled with the back of the standing figure, and dividing the apartment exactly in two?

“The Gipsy,” by Cheney from Sully, is altogether out of drawing as regards the face, which is, again, too broad to the left. This is a very usual error in side faces. The fingers are badly engraved, particularly those of the right hand, which look as if covered with a net or pic-nic glove. The foliage in this picture is not very well executed.

“The Sled” by W. E. Tucker, from Chapman, is a most effective design, evincing the well-educated artist. The idea of a rapid motion is skilfully embodied in the countenance of the boy, in the peculiar falling curve of the hill, and exquisitely corroborated in the whirl of the clouds. This is the true artistical keeping. The limbs of the boy are too small for his head and body, and the left hand appears to have been cut from a turnip. This latter defect is chargeable to the engraver.

“The Raffle” by A. Lawson from Mount. This is another of Mr. Mount’s idiosyncracies, and is absolute perfection in its way. The defects of the work (considered as a mere picture) which we pointed out in the “Tough Story,” are not observable here. The grouping of the figures and the arrangement of the design generally, are as admirable as the varied expression of the Yankee faces. The light, however, is too equally disposed about the room, and, in especial, upon the three middle personages. It is difficult, moreover, to imagine these three persons so illumined, and the back of the foreground figure at the same time so fully in shade. These are petty objections — but it is right they should be made.

“Portia,” by Forrest from Sully, is an engraving in which the mere mechanism is excellent; and, in fact, the work is, upon the whole, highly creditable to Mr. Forrest. The hands, however, are badly done; the left especially. Some knowledge of drawing is absolutely essential in one who copies. This knowledge cannot be supplied by even Chinese fidelity in depicting dot or dot and line for line. The picture, altogether, we prefer to any in the book. Were we in the habit of purchasing paintings this “Portia” by Sully is the only one here which we would purchase.

The paper of “The Gift” for 1842 does not seem to us sufficiently good. The binding is certainly magnificent, but would have been vastly improved by the use of a thicker board.

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Amenities of Literature, consisting of Sketches and Characters of English Literature. By J. [[I.]] D’ISRAELI, D. C. L. F. S. A. 2 vols. I. [[J.]] & H. G. Langley: New York

The reputation of the elder D’Israeli as scholar and philosopher is at least as well founded as that of any man of his age. He has given to the world a series of peculiar [column 2:] books — books in which the richest variety of recherche detail and anecdote about literary affairs, is made subservient to the most comprehensive survey and analysis of letters themselves, considered in respect to their important spiritual uses. He is the only savant upon record who has busied himself, without pedantry, among the minutiae of classical lore. His works will last as long as the language in which they are written. The “Curiosities of Literature,” the “Literary Character,” the “Miscellanies of Literature,” the “Calamities of Authors,” and all but the present “Amenities of Literature” are, however, but incidental labors arising from a more extensive design — a “History of English Literature” — of which he thus speaks. “It was my intention not to furnish an arid narrative of books and of authors, but, following the steps of the human mind through the wide track of time, to trace from their beginnings the progress and the decline of public opinions, and to illustrate, as the objects presented themselves, the great incidents in our national annals.” in this magnificent project the philosopher was arrested by blindness. The “Amenities of Literature” is a portion and in fact the beginning of the great scheme which can now never be completed. We need say no more to recommend it to the reader. The two volumes before us are issued in the customary careful and tasteful style of the Langleys.

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[[Review of Bulwer’s Critical and Miscellaneous Writings]]

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The Pic Nic Papers. By various Hands. Edited by CHARLES DICKENS, Esq. Author of “The Pickwick Papers,” &c. 2vols. Lea and Blanchard: Philadelphia.

The “Introduction” to this work gives us its history. “The premature death of a young publisher (Mr. Macrone) inspired some of those who had known him personally, or had been connected with him in business, with an earnest desire to render some assistance to his widow and orphans. They produced among themselves this work.” In the English [column 2:] edition there were three volumes; the third consisting of the “Charcoal Sketches” of Mr. Joseph C. Neal, of Philadelphia. This edition we have not seen; but have been astonished to hear that the London publisher has been so discourteous as to print Mr. Neal’s compositions, and the engravings which accompanied them, without the name of the writer, or any farther acknowledgment than a few words speaking of the whole as “from an American source.” Comment upon such meanness seems altogether a work of supererogation; but, in truth, we are in the habit of setting our brethren across the water very bad examples in matters of a somewhat similar kind. That Mr. Dickens had anything to do with the wrong now perpetrated, we will not, however, believe for a moment.

The contributors to the two volumes reprinted in Philadelphia are among the most celebrated literati of England. We have, for example, articles from Dickens, from Leigh Ritchie, Allan Cunningham, Thomas Moore, W. H. Ainsworth, G. P. R. James, Agnes Strickland, and several others, It might be supposed, of course, that the collection would be one of high interest; but we are forced to say that it is not. In a case like this, authors (who for the most part are unburthened with pecuniary means) are called upon to furnish gratuitous papers. It is not surprising that, under such circumstances, they content themselves with bestowing whatever Ms. they may have at hand, of least value. Scraps of memorandum — books; effusions of early years kept only as mementos and never destined for publication; fragments of tales or essays definitely abandoned by the author, who has become dissatisfied with his subject or the mode in which it was progressing — matters such as these form invariably the staple of compilations such as this. There is, moreover, another important consideration — one involving a very remarkable truth. The refuse labor of a man of genius is usually inferior, and greatly so, to that of a man of common-place talent — very much as the dregs of the Cites du Rhone are more viscid than those of Sherry or De Grave. It is only necessary to suggest this idea to have it at once fully appreciated and understood. The man of talent pursues “the even tenor of his way.” He is at all times himself. With the all-prevalent law of action and reaction he has nothing to do. Never excited into wild enthusiasm, he never experiences its consequent and inevitable depression. Never boldly soaring, he never sadly sinks. To write well, the man of genius must write in obedience to his impulses. When forced to disobey them; when constrained, by fetters of a methodical duty, to compose at al/ hours, it is but a portion of his nature — it is but a condition of his intellect — that he should occasionally grovel in platitudes of the most pitiable description. And this fact will go farther than any one hitherto adduced, to explain the character of a fatality which has so constantly attended genius as to become a sure index of its existence — we mean the fatality of alternate high eulogium and virulent invective. Few men are conversant with the whole works of an author. Now, in the case of two critics of equal ability, it may happen (and we know that it does frequently so happen) that the opinion of one may be based solely upon the author’s best efforts, while that of the other is deduced from some mere task-work labored out in hours of the most utter inappetency and exhaustion. The dissent of the latter (a dissent just if we regard the means of judgment) will, of course, be extravagant in denunciation, precisely in the ratio of his astonishment and indignation at what he supposes the corrupt panegyric of the former.

Therefore, it should not be a matter for surprise that these “Pic Nic Papers “ are very great trash, although written by very clever men. Their general merit, in our opinion, is below that of the mere make-weight of our commonest newspapers and magazines. One or two of the articles are not very bad: Leigh Ritchie’s “Marcus Bell,” for example; [page 252:] a tale entitled “Aunt Honor,” and “The Lamplighter’s Story,” by Mr. Dickens. This last, however, is only tolerable through the manner in which it is told. There is not a single paper of real value; and more consummate nonsense than the greater portion of the collection we never encountered in any respectable-looking book.

We cannot conclude our notice without a protest against the title-page. To call this paltry publication the “Pic Nic Papers,” and affirm it to be edited by Mr. Dickens — thus inducing ideas of the popular Pickwick, is a piece of chicanery which not even the end in view can sanction. No body of men are justified in making capital of the public’s gullibility for purposes of charity, public or private — for any purposes under the sun. We do not hesitate to state the present case plainly. The title affixed to this work has been designedly so affixed, that purchasers, hastily glancing at it, may suppose it a book upon the same plan as the “Pickwick Papers,” and written, as they were, by Mr. Dickens. No one who reflects for an instant can suppose the intention to have been anything else. Now what is this but the worst species of forgery?

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History of the War in the Peninsula, and in the South of France, from the year 1807 to the year 1814. By W. F. NAPIER, C. B., COLONEL, &c. From the Fourth Edition. Complete in Four Volumes. With Numerous Engravings. Carey and Hart: Philadelphia.

Colonel Napier’s “History of the Peninsula War” is a work whose general features are sufficiently well understood. In the thoroughness of it survey and in the minute and exact particularity of its details, if not in more important and comprehensive regards, it is equalled certainly by no other book on the subject discussed, and perhaps by a few histories of any kind. The author’s extensive political acquaintance with the events agitating all Europe at the period investigated, and especially the part he bore in some of these events, with his obvious enthusiasm for military affairs, rendered him as fitting for the task which he has undertaken as any individual of his age. It may be said, indeed, and not altogether paradoxically, that he was somewhat too well qualified for this task. The agitating incidents quorum pars magna fuit have so forcibly impressed his imagination as to mislead his understanding in respect to the relative importance of these incidents. He discourses of the “Peninsular Campaign” (pretty much, by the way, as all Englishmen discourse of it) as if it alone were the proper subject of all human deliberation. No one will be willing to deny the interest which appertains to it, nor the magnitude of the results to which it led. We mean to say, however, that, except to Colonel Napier, and the Duke of Wellington, it is not the only important topic in the universe.

Hitherto the American reader of history has been able to procure this work only from our public libraries, and the enterprize of Messieurs Carey and Hart in placing it within reach, is worthy of all commendation. They must have been at unusual expense in this undertaking. The volumes are thick octavos, and are illustrated by no less than fifty-five lithographed plans, (which, by the way, are not very well executed.) At the same time these publishers can scarcely expect remuneration from a very extensive sale. By public institutions and military men the work will be valued and purchased. But beyond these, with few exceptions, the public will content itself with the means already in its power of referring to the history in our libraries. The gentlemen in question are, of course, the best judges of their own affairs; but it does seem to us that they have erred in permitting the foreign value and reputation of the work to influence them in making an American reprint.

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[[Review of Warren’s Ten Thousand a Year.]]

 


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Notes:

The attribution of the four reviews given here is reasonably certain, especially for the review of “The Gift for 1842.” 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 The Gift and of Dickens as “sure” and the reviews of D’Israeli and Napier as “accept.” In his edition of Poe’s Tales and Sketches, Mabbott comments that a probable source for “The Pit and the Pendulum,” at least for the historical setting, is the very book by Napier noticed here. In a footnote, Mabbott seems considerably more certain than “accept,” stating, “Poe reviewed W. F. Napier’s book on that war in Graham’s for November 1841 . . .” (Mabbott, T&S, p. 700n28). Hull gives the review of “The Gift” to Poe as certain, noting the comment, “We ourselves have one which is not ended so well as it might be — a good subject spoiled by hurry in the handling,” a reference to Poe’s tale “Eleonora.” (Mabbott quotes the same comment in T&S, p. 635.) For the review of D’Israeli, Hull also attributes it to Poe, although he notes a “discrepancy” between this review and the notice from Graham’s of July 1841 of Disraeli’s “Miscellanies of Literature,” which he also credits to Poe. The earlier of these two reviews says that “Industry . . . is the only merit of these volumes” and this one “His works will last as long as the language in which they are written.” Hull thinks the apparent inconsistency is explained by the statement that the current review is of a book which is “but incidental labors arising from a more extensive design . . .” Hull also notes the similarity of the last two sentences of both reviews. For the review of Pic Nic Paper, Hull says, “This is one of those rare instances when it is safe to give Poe’s review definitely on the basis of internal evidence alone.” For the review of Napier, Hull says, “This review is rather typical of Poe” and “I am convinced of Poe’s authorship.”

 

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