Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of New Books” [Text-02], Graham’s Magazine, January 1842, pp. 68-72


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[page 197, full page:]

REVIEW OF NEW BOOKS.

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[page 68, unnumbered, full page:]

REVIEW OF NEW BOOKS.

[“Exordium”]

 

[Review of Stanley Thorn]

 

[page 70, column 2, continued:]

The Vicar of Wakefield, A Tale. By Oliver Goldsmith, M. B. Illustrated with Numerous Engravings. With an Account of the Author’s Life and Writings. By J. Aikin, M.D., Author of Select Works of the British Poets. D. Appleton & Co.: New York.

This publication is one of a class which it behoves every editor in the country to encourage, at all times, by every good word in his power — the class, we mean of well-printed, and, especially, of well-illustrated works from among the standard fictions of England. We place particular emphasis upon the mechanical style of these reprints. The criticism which affects to despise these adventitious aids to the enjoyment of a work of art is at best but etourderie. The illustration, to be sure, is not always in accordance with our own understanding of the text; and this [page 71:] fact, although we never hear it urged, is, perhaps, the most reasonable objection which can be urged against pictorial embellishment — for the unity of conception is disturbed; but this disturbance takes place only in very slight measure (provided the work be worth illustration at all) and its disadvantages are far more than counterbalanced by the pleasure (to most minds a very acute one) of comparing our comprehension of the author’s ideas with that of the artist. If our imagination is feeble, the design will probably be in advance of our conception, and thus each picture will stimulate, support, and guide the fancy. If, on the contrary, the thought of the artist is inferior, there is the stimulus of contrast with the excitement of triumph. Thus, in the contemplation of a statue, or of an individual painting of merit, the pleasure derivable from the comments of a bystander is easily and keenly appreciable, while these comments interfere, in no perceptible degree, with the force or the unity of our own comprehension. We never knew a man of genius who did not confess an interest in even the worst illustrations of a good book — although we have known many men of genius (who should have known better) make the confession with reluctance, as if one which implied something of imbecility or disgrace.

The present edition of one of the most admirable fictions in the language, is, in every respect, very beautiful, The type and paper are magnificent. The designs are very nearly what they should be. They are sketchy, spirited cuts, depending for effect upon the higher merits rather than upon the minor morals of art — upon skilful grouping of figures, vivacity, näiveté, and originality of fancy, and good drawing in the mass — rather than upon finish in details, or too cautious adherence to the text. Some of the scraps at the commencement are too diminutive to be distinct in the style of workmanship employed, and thus have a blurred appearance; but this is nearly all the fault we can find. In general, these apparent trifles are superb, and a great number of them are of the nature to elicit enthusiastic praise from every true artist.

The Memoir by Dr. Aikin is highly interesting, and embodies in a pleasing narrative, (with little intermixture of criticism upon what no longer requires it,) all that is, or need be known of Oliver Goldsmith. In the opening page of this Memoir is an error (perhaps typographical) which, as it is upon the opening page, has an awkward appearance, and should be corrected. We allude to the word “protégée,” which, in the sense, or rather with the reference intended, should be printed “protégé,” This is a very usual mistake.

 

Tales and Souvenirs of a Residence in Europe. By a Lady of Virginia. Lea and Blanchard: Philadelphia.

Barring some trifling affectation, (apparent, for example, in heading a plain English chapter with the French Pensees,) this volume is very creditable to Mrs. Rives — for it seems to be well understood that the fair author, in this case, is the wife of the well-known Senator from Virginia.

The work is modestly prefaced, and disclaims all pretension. It is a mere re-gathering of sketches, written originally for the amusement of friends. A Lady-like taste and delicacy (without high merit of any kind) pervade the whole. The style is somewhat disfigured by pleonasms — or rather, overburdened with epithets: a common fault with enthusiastic writers who want experience in the world of letters. For example:

“There is an inexpressible pleasure in gliding rapidly in a little care, over the near but narrow turnpike roads, bordered [column 2:] by hawthorn. Hedges, looking out upon bright fields, clothed with the richest and most exquisite verdure, occasionally catching a glimpse of some sequestered cottage, with its miniature gravel walks, and innumerable flowers, which at this season, in the distant land of the traveller, may have bloomed and passed away, but which here offer their brilliant tints, and rich perfume; while on the other hand some proud castle rises in bold relief against the dappled sky.”

Of mere errors of grammar there are more than sufficient; and we are constrained to say that the very first sentence of the book conveys a gross instance of faulty construction.

“The gratification of friends must once more serve as an apology for permitting the following souvenirs to see the light.”

Has the gratification of friends ever before served as an apology for permitting the following souvenirs to see the light?

 

The Poetical Works of Reginald Heber, Late Bishop of Calcutta. Lea and Blanchard: Philadelphia.

It was only a year ago that the poems of Heber were first given to the public in a collection, from which the present edition is a re-print; but, individually, the pieces here presented have been long and favorably known — with the exception of two or three lighter effusions, now first published.

The qualities of Heber are well understood. His poetry is of a high order. He is imaginative, glowing, and vigorous, with a skill in the management of his means unsurpassed by that of any writer of his time, but without any high degree of originality. Can there be anything in the nature of a “classical” life at war with novelty per se? At all events, few fine scholars, such as Heber truly was, are original.

The volume before us is a study for the poet in the depth and breadth of its execution. Few nobler poems were, upon the whole, ever penned than are “Europe,” “The Passage of the Dead Sea,” and the “Morte D’Arthur.” The minor pieces generally are very näive and beautiful. The Latin “Carmen Seculare” would not have disgraced Horace himself. Its versification is perfect. A sketch of the author’s life would have well prefaced the edition, and we are sorry to miss it.

 

The Poetical Works of Lord Byron. Complete in one volume. J. B. Lippincott and Co: Philadelphia.

This is a duodecimo of six hundred and eight pages, including all the poetic works of Lord Byron. The type is, of course, small — a fine nonpareil — but very clear and beautiful; while the paper is of excellent quality, and the press-work carefully done. There is a good plate engraved by Pease from Saunders’ painting of the poet at nineteen, and another (by the same engraver) of a design of Hucknall Curch by Westall. The binding is neat and substantial; and the edition, on the whole, is one we can recommend. The type is somewhat too diminutive for weak eyes — but for readers who have no deficiency in this regard — or as a work of reference — nothing could be better.

As a literary performance it is scarcely necessary to speak of this compilation. We make objection, however, and pointedly, to the omission of the biographer’s name. A sketch of the nature here inserted is worth nothing when anonymous. Nine-tenths of the value attached to a certain very rambling collection of Lives, depends upon our congizance of their having been indited by Plutarch. [page 72:]

 

Critical and Miscellaneous Essays. By Christopher North, (Professor Wilson.) In Three Volumes. Carey and Hart: Philadelphia.

This publication is well-timed — if, at least, there be any truth in the report, that Professor Wilson is about to visit this country. The reception of the man will thus be made a part of the perusal of his works. And very glorious works they are. No man of his age has shown greater versatility of talent, and few, of any age, richer powers of imagination. His literary influence has far exceeded that of any Englishman who ever existed. His scholarship, if not profound, is excursive; his criticism, if not always honest, is analytical, enthusiastic, and original in manner. His wit is vigorous, his humor great, his sarcasm bitter. His high animal spirits give a dashing, free, hearty and devil-may-care tone to all his compositions — a tone which has done more towards establishing his literary popularity and dominion than any single quality for which he is remarkable. The faults of Professor Wilson, as might be supposed from the traits of his merits, are many and great. He is frequently led into gross injustice through personal feeling — this is his chief sin. His tone is often flippant. His style is apt to degenerate, or rather rush, into a species of bombastic periphrasis and apostrophe, of which our own Mr. John Neal has given the best American specimens. His analysis, although true in principle (as is always the case with the idealist) and often profound, is nevertheless deficient in that calm breadth and massive deliberateness which are the features of such intellects as that of Verulam. In short, the opinions of Professor Wilson can never be safely adopted without examination.

The three beautiful volumes now published, will be followed by another, embracing the more elaborate criticisms of the author, — the celebrated critiques upon Homer, &c. which it has not been thought expedient to include in this collection.

 

Pocahontas, and Other Poems. By Mrs. L. H. SIGOURNEY. Harper and Brothers: New York.

Some years ago we had occasion to speak of “Zinzendorf, and Other Poem,” by Mrs. Sigourney, and at that period we found, or fancied that we found many points, in her general manner, which called for critical animadversion. At no period, however, have we been so rash as to dispute her claim to high rank among the poets of the land. In the volume now published by the Messieurs Harper, we are proud to discover not one of those more important blemishes which were a stain upon her earlier style. We had accused her of imitation of Mrs. Hemans — but this imitation is no longer apparent.

The author of “Pocahontas” (an unusually fine poem of which we may take occasion to speak fully hereafter) has also abandoned a very foolish mannerism with which she was erewhile infected — the mannerism of heading her pieces with paragraphs, or quotations, by way of text, from which the poem itself ensued as a sermon. This was an exceedingly inartistical practice, and one now well discarded.

The lesser pieces in the volume before us have, for the most part, already met our eye as fugitive effusions. In general, they deserve all commendation.

“Pocahontas” is a far finer poem than a late one on the same subject by Mr. Seba Smith. Mrs. Sigourney, however, has the wrong accentuation of Powhatan. In the second stanza of the poem, too, “harrassed” is in false quantity. We speak of these trifles mere en passant.

Hereafter we may speak in full. [column 2:]

 

The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Oxford: Including Numerous Letters now first published from the Original Manuscripts. In Four Volumes. Lea and Blanchard: Philadelphia.

HORACE WALPOLE has been well termed “the prince of epistolary writers,” and his Letters, which in this edition are given chronologically, form a very complete and certainly a very piquant commentary on the events of his age, as well as a record, in great part, of the most important historical transactions from 1735 to 1797.

Prefixed to the collection are the author’s “Reminiscences of the Courts of George the First and Second” — Reminiscences which have been styled “the very perfection of anecdote writing.” There is, also, the “Life,” by Lord Dover. The volumes are magnificent octavos of nearly 600 pages each, beautifully printed on excellent paper, and handsomely bound. It is really superfluous to recommend these books. Every man who pretends to a library will purchase them of course.

 

The Early English Church. By EDWARD CHURTON, M. D., Rector of Crayke, Durham. With a Preface by the Rt. Rev. L. SILLIMAN IVES. M. D., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of N. Carolina. From the second London edition. D. Appleton and Co.: New York.

The title of this volume does not fully explain its character. The aim of the writer, to use his own words, has been “by searching the earliest records of English history, to lay before the English reader a faithful picture of the life and manners of his Christian forefathers.” This design, as far as we have been able to judge in a very cursory examination, is well executed.

 

The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. By DANIEL DE FOE, with a Memoir of the Author, and an Essay on his Writings. With Illustrations by GRANDVILLE. D. Appleton and Co.: New York.

A magnificent edition — to our taste the most magnificent edition — of Robinson Crusoe. The designs by Grandville are in a very superb style of art — bold, striking, and original — the drawing capital.

 

Somerville Hall, or Hints to those who would make Home Happy. By Mrs. ELLIS, author of “Women of England,” “Poetry of Life,” etc. etc. D. Appleton and Co.: New York.

This interesting volume is one of a series to be entitled “Tales for the People and their Children.” to this series Miss Martineau and Mary Howitt will contribute.

 

Wild Western Scenes. Nos. 1, 2, 3,and 4. By J. BEAUCHAMP JONES. Philadelphia: Drew and Scammell.

Mr. Jones is a man of talent, and these descriptions of Wild Western Life evince it. We read each successive number with additional zest.

 


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Notes:

The attribution of the eleven 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 Rives, Heber, Byron, North, Sigourney as “sure,” and the others as “accept.” (For the very short notices of De Foe and Ellis, Mabbott adds a question mark.) Hull attributes the review of Goldsmith to Poe tentatively, noting the reviewer’s attention to the design and mechanical production of the book, as Poe often did. Hull attributes to Poe the reviews of Rives and Heber , but without comment. (Hull, apparently, was not aware that Griswold printed a portion of this review as part of the 1850 edition of “Marginalia,” item CCXXIII.) For the review of Byron, Hull notes that, once again, the reviewer pays considerable attention to the physical construction of the book. For the review of North, Hull notes similarities to Poe’s notice of North in the Broadway Journal for September 6, 1845. For the review of Sigourney, Hull notes the internal reference to a prior review of “Zinzendorf and other Poems,” which is clearly Poe’s review from Southern Literary Messenger for January 1836. For the remaining five reviews, Hull attributes to Poe, but with a question mark, saying that they are “probably Poe’s.”

 

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[S:0 - GM, 1842] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of New Books [Text-02]