Last Update: Aug. 22, 2003 .Navigation:. Main Menu .. Poe's Criticism
[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "A Reviewer Reviewed," "Graham" manuscript, unfinished, summer 1849, 8 pages.]


[page 1:]

For Graham's Magazine

A Reviewer Reviewed

By Walter G. Bowen.

    As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of asses on the
top of one of the mountains — how they viewed and reviewed us!
Sterne — "Letter from France."

    Mr Editor — In a late number of your widely circulated Magazine I had the satisfaction of reading an epigram which appeared to me, and to your subscribers generally, if I am not very much mistaken, to be not less well aimed and fairly driven home to the mark, than righteously deserved. It was in these words,
 

On P— , the Versifier, reviewing his own Verses.
When critics scourged him there was scope
    For self-amendment and for hope;
Reviewing his own verses, he
    Has done the deed — felo de se

I am glad to perceive that there is at least one editor of a Magazine who is not so tied up in Mr Poe's interest as to be afraid of expressing an honest opinion of him as a literary man, but I do assure you that not only myself but a great many others were astonished beyond measure at finding that you had the courage to insert the epigram, good as it was. Your putting it in however, has elevated you not a little in the public opinion, and has encouraged me to hope that you will do me the favor of publishing this Review of the Reviewer, especially as what I ask is merely in the way of perfectly fair and above board retaliation for what Mr P. upon one or two occasions has seen fit to say of some unpretending poems of mine, as well as of a novel by my brother-in-law. And as for the truth and justice of what I shall write, I trust that on that score there [page 2:] will be no one to offer objection, as I do not intend to say a single word that shall not be accompanied by the proof Mr Poe, to say nothing of my own case, has done little else than "ride rough shod" over what he is in the facetious habit of denominating the "poor devil authors" of the land, and I presume that neither you nor any body else will think it unreasonable that, sooner or later, he should have the bitter chalice of criticism returned to his own lip — provided always and of course that the thing is done fairly, honorably, and with no trick or subterfuge — in a word, provided that the criticism be just.

    To follow Mr Poe's own apparently frank mode of reviewing, I will begin by putting the merits of my author "in the fairest light." I shall not pretend to deny then that he has written several pieces of very considerable merit, and that some of these pieces have attracted, partly of their own accord and partly through the puffing of his friends, an unusual degree of notoriety. Among these I feel called upon to mention his Tales published by Wiley & Putnam, and especially the one called "The Murder in the Rue Morgue," which I learn has been reprinted and highly complimented in Paris, and "The Gold Bug" which Martin Farquhar Tupper justly praises, as well as the "Descent into the Maelstroom," and several other stories, all of which I am willing to admit display great power of analysis and imagination. "The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar" have perhaps made a greater "sensation" than anything else he has written, and has, I understand, not only gone the complete rounds of the London press, from the Morning Post down, but has been printed in pamphlet form in London, Paris and Vienna. The ingenuity and general merit of his "Raven" I do not wish to detract from, although I certainly do not think quite so highly of it as Miss Barrett <or as Mr Willis> professes to do; nor as Mr P himself does, if we are to judge by the laudatory criticism on it which he lately published in "Graham," a criticism which displayed, perhaps, more analysis than modesty. Some of his shorter poems are also praiseworthy, and his "Sleeper" and "Dreamland" are in my opinion better than the Raven, although in a different way. Of his criticisms I have not so much to observe in the way of commendation. They show scholarship, and the peculiar analytic talent which is the ruling feature in everything he writes. They are also remarkable for that Quixotic kind of courage which [page 3:] induces people of Mr P's temperament to be perpetually tilting at something — although it too often happens that the something is a windmill; and there is one good point about them which it would be unjust to omit; and that is, they show no respect for persons. They are seldom aimed at small game. On the other hand they seem to me bitter in the extreme, captious, fault-finding, and unnecessarily severe. Mr. P. has been so often complimented for his powers of sarcasm that he thinks it incumbent upon him to keep up his reputation in that line by sneers upon all occasions and downright abuse. As for the beauties of a work, he appears to have made up his mind to neglect them altogether, or when he condescends to point one out, or to quote it, his compliments, however well they begin, are always sure to end with a point, or barb, which it is easy to mistake for satire in disguise. Real, honest, heartfelt praise is a thing not to be looked for in a criticism by Mr Poe. Even when it is his evident intention to be partial, to compliment in an extravagant manner some of his lady friends (for he never compliments a gentleman) there always seems to be something constrained, and shall I say malicious, at the bottom of the honey cup. These blemishes render his critical judgments of little value. They may be read for their pungency, but all the honesty they ever contain may be placed upon the point of a cambric needle.

    Before proceeding with some very serious literary accusations which I have to make on my own part against Mr Poe, it may be as well, perhaps, to call his attention to something which has been said about him in the "London Literary Gazette." I wish to see if he will vouchsafe a reply to it. Mr P. has pointed out, in his late "Literati", a number of scientific blunders on the part of Mr. Richard Adams Locke, and perhaps the public may have some curiosity to know how he will account for his own. The "Gazette" referred to is of the date of March 14th 1846.

    "To the Editor of the Literary Gazette — Sir, Having just read a review of Edgar Poe's Romances in the Literary Gazette of January p 101, allow me to advert to a curious misconception >>page 101<< in a scientific point of view which the author has fallen into. In describing his whirling in the Maelstroom he says — 'On looking out when half way down, the boat appeared hanging, as if by magic upon the interior surface of a funnel [page 4:] of vast circumference and prodigious depth' &c.... 'My gaze fell instinctively downwards The smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool which sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees; so that we seemed to be lying on our beam ends.' &c.....

    Now, with all deference I would submit, first, That our only notions of up or down are derived from the direction of gravity; when therefore the direction of gravity is changed by centrifugal force, that direction will still appear to be down. 2d. That our only sense of motion is relative; when therefore all that is visible is rotating along with ourselves, we shall have no sense of motion; and in few cases do we ever ourselves appear to be the moving objects (witness the case of railway travelling). The only apparent motion will be the slight difference of motion between the various objects and ourselves. Whence it appears that the gentleman in the predicament described would, on looking about him, see a vast funnel of water apparently laid on its side, with its lower side horizontal, at which lower part his boat would always appear to be lying; the heavens appearing at one end horizontally and apparently rotating; while the chaotic abyss and foam would be at the opposite end; the waters appearing (full of local currents no doubt) stretching in a miraculous archway or tunnel, almost motionless, about and over the boat, and apparently supported by nothing; and objects nearer the entrance would appear to rotate vertically in a slowly retrograde direction; while objects would appear to have an opposite rotation, more and more rapid, towards the >>mis<< misty tumultuous end; the real velocity of the whole being unperceived, except by the contrary apparent rotation of the heavens. This would, indeed, be a wondrous spectacle, though scarcely sufficing to induce a personal experiment by your humble servant,

                                         William Petrie."

    So much for Mr Petrie, and leaving Mr Poe to reply to him, I will just here put in a point for myself, although I confess it has been suggested to me by a friend at my elbow. It is this — In accounting for his hero's escape from the Maelstrom, <Mr P.> quotes Archimedes "De Incidentibus in Fluido" lib 2. for the following fact, viz: that "a cylinder swimming in a vortex, offers more resistance to its suction and is drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body of any form whatsoever." >>Not<< <Now> the friend at my elbow asserts roundly, first, that the fact stated is no fact at all and is contrary to known laws, and secondly that [page 5:] there is no such passage in the second book of Archimedes as the one referred to. Thirdly he says that no such passage, nor any resembling it, is in Archimedes at all, and that he defies Mr Poe to point it out.

    With Mr Poe's general style no great fault can be justly found. He has the rare merit of distinctness and simplicity, and can be forcible enough upon occasion; but as he has a most unmannerly habit of picking flaws in the grammar of other people, I feel justified in showing him that he is far from being immaculate himself. Not long ago I remember his sneering at some one for using the verb "drop" in an active sense, but at page 14 of his Tales (Wiley & Putnam edition) he commits the very same blunder — e.g — "As sure as you drop that beetle I'll break your neck." Again at page 18 — ''Was it this eye or that through which you dropped the beetle?" >>At page 34 he<< "As sure as you let fall that beetle" would be proper. An apple drops, but we let an apple fall. At page 34 he uses "except," with gross impropriety, for "unless" — a common error. E.g — "I found that it was impossible to retain a seat upon it except in one particular position." "Upon" in this sentence is also improperly employed for "on." This error is very usual with Mr Poe. At page ~s there are no less than five instances of it — e.g — "I doubted not that heat had been the agent in bringing to light upon the parchment the skull which I saw designed upon it." The up is properly used only where action appears. An apple, for instance, lies on a table; but we place an apple upon a table. Even in the Preface to his Poems, where we are forced to suppose him careful if ever, he is guilty of inaccurate construction. For example — "If what I have written is to circulate at all, I am naturally anxious that it should circulate as I wrote it." Now here the sentence should obviously be — "I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it, if it circulate at all." Or — "I am naturally anxious that what I have written, if it is to circulate at all, should circulate as I wrote it." But a truce with these trifles — and yet they are the very kind of trifles which Mr P. is so fond of exposing in other people.

    The truth is, I have something more serious to speak of. The great point which Mr Poe has become notorious for making is that of plagiarism, and in his elaborate reply to "Outis" in the earlier numbers of the "Broadway Journal," he was at great pains to demonstrate what a plagiarism is, and by what chain of reasoning it could be established. My own purpose at present is simply to copy a few parallel passages, [page 6:] leaving it for the public to decide whether they do or do not come properly under the head of wilful and deliberate literary theft. At page 24 of Mr P's last volume of Poems (Wiley & Putnam's edition) in a song called Eulalie, is the passage,
 

Now Doubt — now Pain
Come never again
For her soul gives me sigh for sigh.

    In Tom Moore's "Last Rose of Summer" we find it thus,
 

No flower of her kindred,
   No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes
    Or give sigh for sigh.

    The author of the lines which follow I cannot name just now, but I give them because there are doubtless many of my readers who can. Some poet, however, is speaking of a traitor to his country and wishes him doomed
 

            ———— to dwell
Full in the sight of Paradise
Beholding Heaven yet feeling Hell.

    In "A1 Aaraaf," at page 69 of the Poems, we read
 

And there oh may my weary spirit dwell
Apart from Heaven's eternity, and yet how far from Hell!

    One of Mr Poe's most admired passages is this, forming the conclusion of the poem called "The City in the Sea," and to be found at page 22 —
 

And when, amid no earthly moans
    Down, down, that town shall settle hence
Hell rising from a thousand thrones
    Shall do it reverence.

    But unfortunately Mrs Sigourney, in a little poem called "Musing Thoughts," first published in "The Token," for 1829, has the lines,
 

Earth slowly rising from her thousand thrones
Did homage to the Corsican.

    Mr Poe has also been much praised for these lines, found at page 63 of [page 7:] the Poems,
 

A >>dome<< >>chain<< <dome> by linked light from Heaven let down
Sat gently on these columns as a crown.

    Every classical scholar <however> must remember the Gods' Council of Homer, beginning 'xxxxxx [Greek Text], and the lines which Pope translates (I have not the original by me)
 

Let down our golden everlasting chain
Whose strong embrace holds Heaven and Earth and Main.

That Mr Poe has in many cases obtained help from the more obscure classics is, I fancy, no more than a legitimate inference from so glaringly obvious an imitation as this, which we find at page 20.
 

Sonnet to Zante

Fair isle that, from the fairest of all flowers,
    Thy gentlest of all gentle names cost take!
How many memories of what radiant hours
    At sight of thee and shine at once awake!
How many scenes of what departed bliss!
    How many thoughts of what entombed hopes
How many visions of a maiden that is
    No more — no more upon thy verdant slopes!
No more! alas that magical sad sound
    Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more —
Thy memory no more! Accursed ground
    Henceforth I hold thy flower-enamelled shore,
O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!
    Isola d'oro! Fior di Levante!

[page 8:]
 
 
 
 
 
 

    Here I might safely pause; but it would not be quite proper to omit all mention of this critic's facility at imitation! in prose as well as verse. In his story of "Hans Phaall" published in his "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque," but originally appearing in the first volume of the "Southern Literary Messenger"


[The manuscript of this item was in the collection of H. Bradley Martin, which was sold at auction in 1990. The manuscript was given to the New York Public Library (Berg Collection) by Burton and Alice Pollin, where it currently resides.]

[The size of the manuscript pages, based on a note by T. O. Mabbott, is 10 inches by 8 inches. In the original, italics are indicated by a single underline. The Two title lines "A Reviewer Reviewed" and "By Walter G. Bowen" each carry a double underline, indicating a larger size of font than the rest of the text. There is a 2-inch space, sufficient to write about 8 additional lines, above the paragraph on page 8. The paper is slightly blue in tint, typical for Poe at this time.]
 
 

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[S:0 - manuscript, 1849, photocopy]