Last Update: Feb. 15, 2001 .Navigation:. Main Menu .. Poe's Criticisms
[Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), Review of New Books, from Graham's Magazine, January 1844, pp. 46-48.]

[page 46, full page:]


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Ned Myers; or a Life Before the Mast. Edited by J. Fenimore Cooper: Lea & Blanchard, Philadelphia.

    The words "edited by J. Fenimore Cooper," in the title-page of this volume, have, no doubt, a suspicious appearance. It has been the fashion, of late days, for authors to speak of themselves, modestly, as editors of even original works. We all remember the magnificent "Recollections of a Chaperon," edited by Lady Dacre -- and then (a case more in point just now) there was the "Narrative of Sir Edward Seward," edited by Miss Porter -- a work of far deeper interest, and of far more vraisemblant character than even "Robinson Crusoe," upon which it is modeled. The merit of originality is, of course, De Foe's, and Miss Porter is but an imitator at best; but, setting aside all reference to the credit due the respective authors, and regarding only the two books, we should have no hesitation in saying that "Sir Edward Seward's Narrative" is, in every respect, superior to "Robinson Crusoe." in the same manner "Arthur Gordon Pym" -- another series of sea-adventures, purporting to be edited only by Mr. Poe, was in reality his own composition -- the suppositious hero having existed in imagination alone. Bearing these, and other similar works, in mind, the reader will naturally be induced to suspect Mr. Cooper, who professes to edit "Ned Myers," of having, in fact, composed it himself. The editor's account of the book says that Ned Myers was an apprentice in a merchant vessel, on board which he, the editor, during the years 1806 and 1807, made his first sea voyage, with the view of acquiring some practical knowledge of seamanship before entering the United States' Navy. Mr. Cooper was then a mere lad; and between himself and Myers a boy's intimacy grew up. At the close of the voyage the friends parted, and did not see each other again until 1809; then only for a brief period. It was not until 1833 that they met again; or, rather, at this time, they were, for half an hour, on board the same ship without actually meeting. A few months since, however, Ned, rightly imagining that the author of "The Pilot" must be his old shipmate, wrote him a letter to ascertain the truth. The correspondence produced a meeting, and the meeting a visit from Ned to the novelist. During this visit the old seaman related, in full, his many adventures on the ocean and elsewhere; and these adventures are now given to the world in book-form, without much embellishment, with no material alteration, and with all the minuteness of detail with which they were orally related.

    This is the statement made by Mr. Cooper himself, in a preface written with very unusual perspicuity: and there can be no doubt that the whole statement is a serious thing. The narrative is strictly true; and we look upon it as exceedingly interesting and valuable in many respects. By the general reader it will be more relished than even the late work of Mr. R. H. Dana, entitled, we believe, "A Year Before the Mast." In Mr. Dana's case we had the commentaries (often profound and philosophical) of an educated man, upon the vicissitudes of the ordinary seaman. With a view to the improvement of his health he [column 2:] shipped as a common sailor, and took upon himself, voluntarily, all the privations and troubles inseparable from such a life. Still, it was voluntary, and, at any moment, might have been relinquished, if found insupportable. Ned Myers, on the other hand, gives us, through Mr. Cooper, the involuntary and inevitable trials of the uncultivated Jack Tar, with his reflections and comments -- perhaps neither profound nor philosophical -- but striking and deeply entertaining from their freshness, naturalness and naivete. We have not read a book more to our taste for some years. It abounds in all those thrilling positions for which the life of those who "go down to the sea in ships" is noted; but, after all, its chief charm lies in the detail of the every-day matters -- of the homelinesses -- of the seafaring existence. If we mistake not, it will be the most popular book of the season. We can only recommend it, cordially, to our readers -- as it is not of a character to call for any thing in the way of critical comment.

Orion: An Epic Poem, in Three Books. By R. H. Horne: Fourth Edition. London: J. Miller.

    We have received, from London, a copy of a very remarkable poem, entitled as above, but, as yet, have had opportunity only to glace at individual passages. We call the poem remarkable, on account of its boldness and originality, as well of conception as of execution. Some portions are particularly beautiful. Some are affected, even to the extreme of the burlesque. The work, however, is, beyond doubt, that of a man of genius; and we propose, in a future number, to give it a careful examination. At present, we quote a few lines, from the First Canto, which will serve to convey an idea of the combined sweetness and quaintness of the general manner.

There is a voice that floats upon the breeze
From a heathed mountain; voice of sad lament
For love left desolate ere its fruits were known,
Yet by the memory of its own truth sweetened,
If not consoled. To this Orion listens
Now, while he stands within the mountain's shade.
    The preface commences thus: "I have adopted the Greek mythological names throughout this poem, with a view of getting rid of commonizing associations."

    The book is also "remarkable" in a more earthly -- in a pecuniary or business point of view. It was advertised to be sold for a farthing; and for a farthing it was sold. Three large editions were disposed of at this price. "A rush of buyers," says a letter now lying before us, "almost carried the publisher off his feet. The public fell into an especial ecstasy, and bought poetry in its sleep -- a thing it very seldom does awake -- and now the poet brings out his fourth edition for a shilling (which the public buys too, because it is not yet wide awake) and promises a fifth for half a crown in a few days."

    We must read and review "Orion" -- that is certain -- but who says that there is nothing new under the sun? When epics in three cantos are sold for a farthing, we scarcely know how to deny, in fact, that this is the era of cheap literature. [page 47:]

Songs and Ballads. Grave and Gay. By Thomas Haynes Bayly. With a Memoir of the Author. One Volume. Philadelphia, Carey & Hart, 1844.

    It is a mistake to suppose that a good song-writer is necessarily a good poet. It is, perhaps, equally a mistake to suppose that a good poet will write a good sone. And this follows from the differences between the true poem and the true song. In the one, imagination and sustained power are indispensable: in the other, little more is demanded than fancy, earnestness, unity and appropriateness of diction. The most voluminous song-writers in the English language have been incapable of composing long poems; and, though all the great master poets of the tongue have been the authors of songs, and of exquisite ones too, they seem to have written them, not because they were poets, but because, for the time, they ceased to be poets.

    This may, at first, appear paradoxical. But, when the sense in which we use the term poet is considered, the truth of our remark will be apparent. So far forth as a poet has the power of concentrating himself on the one single idea to be evolved in the song -- of going at once to the theme -- of maintaining its unity throughout, and of fusing the words, as it were, with the sentiment or passion, so far forth he is capable of writing the song. But, as his peculiar mental discipline best fits him for another field, it is only occasionally that he essays the song, and not always that he succeeds. On the other hand, the mere song-writer can never be a poet, or he is destitute of the loftier requisite in that walk.

    It was necessary to make these remarks in order to answer the constantly recurring question, "Why Thomas Baynes Bayly, though so popular a song-writer, could never compose a true poem?" We think we have given the answer. He had fancy, sweetness, a glowing soul, a fine choice of words, an ear for melody, and an intuitive perception of the themes best fitted to touch the popular heart. But he was destitute of imagination, of sustained power, of all the high attributes required in a Milton, a Shakspeare, or a Coleridge. He could sing sweetly in hedgerows and among blooming roses, but he had not the wing of the eagle to soar in heaven.

    The volume before us is the first collection of the songs of Mr. Bayly, made either in this country or in England. It contains all of his serious songs, and most of his comic divertisments. Many of the former are familiar "as household words" among all classes. "I never was a Favorite," "The Forsaken to the False One," "I cannot Dance Tonight," Isle of Beauty, Fare Thee Well," "On No! We Never Mention Her," "I'm Saddest When I sing," "The Rose that All are Praising," :"She Never Blamed Him," We Met," "Upon Thy Truth Relying," and ballads, so well known that we need only refer to them. Most of them live in the memory, associated with the delightful voices of Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Bailey, Mrs. Watson, and of others, almost as entrancing, who are known only in their holy and secluded private circles. There are other ballads in the volume, less universally known, which we would willingly quote, but our limited space forbids this gratification to our readers and ourselves. One or two songs, however, we will transfer to our pages. Here is a delightful one --

           YOU REMEMBER IT -- DO N'T YOU?

You remember the time when I first sought your home,
When a smile, not a word, was the summons to come;
When you called me a friend, till you found, with surprise,
That our friendship turned out to be love in disguise.
You remember it -- do n't you?
You will think of it -- wont you? [column 2:]
Yes, yes, of all this the remembrance will last
Long after the present fades into the past.

You remember the grief that grew lighter when shared;
With the bliss, you remember, could aught be compared?
You remember how found was my earliest vow?
Not fonder than that which I breather to thee now.
You remember it -- do n't you?
You will think of it -- wont you?
Yes, yes, of all this the remembrance will last
Long after the present fades into the past.

We make room for one more -- and as the other was gay:

Oh! hadst thou never shared my fate,
More dark that fate would prove;
My heart were truly desolate,
Without thy soothing love:
But thou hast suffered for my sake,
while this relief I found:
Like fearless lips that strive to take
The poison from the wound.

My fond affections thou hast seen,
Then judge of my regret,
To think more happy thou hadst been
If we had never met:
And has that thought been shared by thee?
Ah! No: that smiling cheek
proves more unchanging love for me,
Than labored words can speak.

    The merit of these ballads consists in their unity, simplicity, fancy, and earnestness, as also in the delicacy of the sentiment, and the skill with which it is evolved. Many of the comic pieces, which we can call by no better name than that of divertisements, are excellent in their way; but such trifles have not the slightest claims to more than a passing word, since almost every educated man, with the least sense of the ridiculous, can throw them off with ease.

    It may not be amiss to state that Mr. Bayly was originally a gentleman of fortune, writing for his own amusement, but that subsequently, on his beggary in 1831, he became the most indefatigable of authors; and it was after his insolvency, and under the pressure of want, that he produced some of his best ballads. He died in 1839, worn out by toil and misfortune, being then only in his forty-third year.

    The compilation is, altogether, highly creditable to the editor, the Rev. R. W. Griswold. The volume is handsomely printed, and bound with taste. A portrait of an exquisite female face embellishes the book.

The Dream of a Day and Other Poems. By James G. Percival: One volume: S. Babcock, New Haven: M. H. Newman, 199 Broadway, New York.

    After a silence of sixteen years, Mr. Percival has again appeared before the public in a volume of poems. The present collection is named after one of his latest pieces (a composition of no great length or unusual merit) and embraces more than a hundred short poems and songs, part of which have appeared in a fugitive form, while others are now first printed from the author's manuscript.

    Our narrow limits this month preclude any notice of these poems in detail. We must content ourselves with a few general remarks. The songs and classic melodies, with a few fugitive pieces we could select, are the best portions of the book. In the classic melodies Mr. Percival has imitated the principal measures of the Greeks, and enterprise for which he is peculiarly fitted by his thorough knowledge of their poets, as well as by his command of the English tongue. He has obviously taken more pains with these imitations than usually characterizes him; or Mr. Percival is, perhaps, the most careless versifier and inartistical poet in America. As imitations, therefore, these classic melodies deserve high praise, and some of them are [page 48:] good even as poems; but generally the measures are unfitted to our language, and, though they may please a scholar, can never be popular. The songs are from Spanish and Italian measures, most of which have been long introduced into our poetry: they do not, therefore, strike the ear as strange or foreign, qualities which, we are prepared to prove, are fatal to a song. Many of the fugitive pieces are very fine. Here the poet displays the character and force of his own genius, untrammeled by the shackles of the imitator or translator. Here we see his prodigal fancy, his command of language, his versatility, his enthusiasm, and his love of nature. Here, too, we see his faults -- crowded imagery, immature conceptions, haste and slovenliness, for we can tell it nothing less. What poet, for instance, ought to forgive himself for verses like these?

"Evening came on apace -- in full orbed glory;
The sun drew to his couch -- thro' vista'd trees
He glided -- flashing broad and full, he wore a
Look of unwonted joy.[["]] -- Page 14.
    We might quote many examples of equal carelessness. But let us do justice to Mr[[.]] Percival. His faults arise from want of labor, while he has, by nature, the attributes of a great poet.

[The attribution of the four reviews given here is reasonably certain, especially for the review of Cooper's Ned Myers. The reviews of Cooper and Horne are attributed to Poe by T. O. Mabbott and William D. Hull. Mabbott's notes at the University of Iowa list both reviews as "sure," adding for the review of Cooper "internal evidence." Hull says of the Cooper review, "I am again convinced that this review is Poe's," noting the reference to Pym and pointing out similarities of ideas between this review and the earlier notice of Dana's The Seaman's Friend (reviewed in Graham's Magazine for December 1841), and the more contemporary review of Lowell's Poems (Graham's Magazine for March 1844). Hull also finds the last sentence of the review reminiscent of comments by Poe in his reviews of Lever's Charles O'Malley (Graham's Magazine for March 1842) and Cockton's Stanley Thorn (Graham's Magazine for January 1842). For the notice of Horne's Orion, both Mabbott and Hull connect it with the signed review of the same book in Graham's for March 1844. Hull goes on to compare several passages of the two reviews, particularly the comment on "a man of genius" and "a man of high, of the highest genius"; and on "its boldness and originality, as well of conception as of execution" and "the boldness of its conception, and in the fresh originality of its management"; and the comments on how the book was "advertised." Hull sums up by saying, "The evidence is, I think, conclusive. Poe is the author of both [[reviews of Orion]]." Mabbott makes no mention of the remaining reviews for this issue. Hull attributes the reviews of Bayly and Percival, but equivocally. Hull believes that both of these reviews are by the same critic, and that there is some suggestion of Poe, but that both have a sense of not being quite like Poe. Hull ends by saying that "there is nothing to indicate that the last three brief notices of this issue, or any of the February reviews are Poe's." These "last three brief notices" have not been included here.]

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[S:0 - GM, 1844]