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[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, review of Dickens' Barnaby Rudge (A), from the Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1841.]



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Original Review.
 
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BY EDGAR A. POE.
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" Barnaby Rudge." By "Boz." Author of "Nicholas Nickleby," "Oliver Twist," &c. With Illustrations by G. Cattermole and H. K. Browne. Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard.
 
   We presume our readers all know that "Barnaby Rudge," now "in course of publication" periodically, is a story supposed to be narrated by one of the members of Master Humphrey's society; and is in fact a continuation of the "Clock," although complete within itself. From the concluding words of "The Curiosity Shop" or rather of the volume which contained that tale we gather that the present narrative will be occupied with matters tending to develope [[sic]] the spirit, or, in the language of Mr. Dickens himself, the "heart" of the mighty London, toward the conclusion of the eighteenth century. This thesis affords the most ample scope for the great powers of the writer. His opening chapters assure us that he has at length discovered the secret of his true strength, and that "Barnaby Rudge" will appeal principally to the imagination. Of this faculty we have many striking instances in the few numbers already issued. We see it where the belfry man in the lonely church at midnight, about to toll the "passing-bell," is struck with horror at hearing the solitary note of another, and awaits, aghast, a repetition of the sound. We recognise it more fully where this single note is discovered, in the morning, to have been that of an alarm pulled by the hand of one in the death-struggle with a murderer: also in the expression of countenance which is so strikingly attributed to Mrs. Rudge "the capacity for expressing terror" something only dimly seen, but never absent for a moment "the shadow of some look to which an instant of intense and most unutterable horror only could have given rise." This is a conception admirably adapted to whet curiosity in respect to the character of that event which is hinted at as forming the ground-work of the novel; and so far is well suited to the purposes of a periodical story. But this observation should not fail to be made that the anticipation must surpass the reality; that no matter how terrific be the circumstances which, in the denouement, shall appear to have occasioned the expression of countenance worn habitually by Mrs. Rudge, still they will not be able to satisfy the mind of the reader. He will surely be disappointed. The skilful intimation of horror held out by the artist produces an effect which will deprive his conclusion, of all. These intimations these dark hints of some uncertain evil are often rhetorically praised as effective but are only justly so praised where there is no denouement whatever where the reader's imagination is left to clear up the mystery for itself and this, we suppose, is not the design of Mr. Dickens.

    But the chief points in which the ideality of this story is apparent are the creation of the hero Barnaby Rudge, and the commingling with his character, as accessory, that of the human-looking raven. Barnaby we regard as an original idea altogether, so far as novel-writing is concerned. He is peculiar, inasmuch as he is an idiot endowed with the fantastic qualities of the madman, and has been born possessed with a maniacal horror of blood the result of some terrible spectacle seen by his mother during pregnancy. The design of Mr. Dickens is here two-fold first that of increasing our anticipation in regard to the deed committed exaggerating our impression of its atrocity and, secondly, that of causing this horror of blood on the part of the idiot, to bring about, in consistence with poetical justice, the condemnation of the murderer: for it is a murder that has been committed. We say in accordance with poetical justice and, in fact, it will be seen hereafter that Barnaby, the idiot, is the murderer's own son. The horror of blood which he feels is the mediate result of the atrocity, since this atrocity it was which impressed the imagination of the pregnant mother; and poetical justice will therefore be well fulfilled when this horror shall urge on the son to the conviction of the father in the perpetrator of the deed. That Barnaby is the son of the murderer may not appear evident to our readers but we will explain. The person murdered is Mr. Reuben Haredale. He was found assassinated in his bed-chamber. His steward, (Mr. Rudge, senior,) and his gardener (name not mentioned) are missing. At first both are suspected. "Some months afterward," here, we use the words of the story "the steward's body, scarcely to be recognised but by his clothes, and the watch and ring he wore was found at the bottom of a piece of water in the grounds, with a deep gash in the breast where he had been stabbed by a knife. He was only partly dressed; and all people agreed that he had been sitting up reading in his own room, where there were many traces of blood, and was suddenly fallen upon and killed, before his master."

    Now, be it observed, it is not the author himself who asserts that the steward's body was found; he has put the words in the mouth of one of his characters. His design is to make it appear, in the dénouement, that the steward, Rudge, first murdered the gardener, then went to his master's chamber, murdered him, was interrupted by his (Rudge's) wife, whom he seized and held by the wrist, to prevent her giving the alarm that he then, after possessing himself of the booty desired, returned to the gardener's room, exchanged clothes with him, put upon the corpse his own watch and rings, and secreted it where it was afterwards discovered at so late a period that the features could not be identified. It will appear that Rudge himself, through his wife, gave indication to the police, after due time had elapsed, of the proper spot to be searched [column ?:] so that when the decomposed body was found, it might be regarded as his own. We say that Rudge, in perpetrating the murder, seized his wife by the wrist; and we draw this inference from the fact that Barnaby is said to have upon his wrist the appearance of a smear of blood.

    The ruffian who, at the Maypole, listens so attentively to the story told by Solomon Daisy, and who subsequently forces himself into Mrs. Rudge's house, holding with her so mysterious a connexion, this ruffian is Rudge himself, the murderer. Twenty-two years having elapsed, he has ventured to return. To bring about the conviction of the assassin, after the lapse of so very long a time, through his son's mysterious awe of blood an awe created in the unborn by the assassination itself is most probably, we repeat, the design of Mr. Dickens, and is, no doubt, one of the finest possible embodiments of the idea we are accustomed to attach to "poetical justice." Joe, John Willet's son, who has received a blow from Rudge, will be made to supply in the idiot, the want of precision of thought a precision without which there would be some difficulty in working out the catastrophe: but the main agency in the conviction will be that of the hero, Barnaby Rudge.

    The elder Rudge himself has probably been only a tool in the hands of Geoffrey Haredale, the brother of the murdered man, and the present incumbent of the Warren estate, which he has inherited upon Reuben's decease. This idea is corroborated by the fact that, the families of Chester and Haredale being at variance, an attempt is made by Rudge upon the life of young Chester, who is in love with Miss Haredale, the daughter of Reuben. She resides at the Warren; is no doubt the ward of her uncle; her fortune is in his possession, and that he may not have to part with it, especially to the son of his enemy, he is anxious to get the young man out of the way.

    We may as well here observe that the reader should note carefully the ravings of Barnaby, which are not put into his mouth at random, as might be supposed, but are intended to convey indistinct glimmerings of the events to be evolved, and in this evident design of Mr. Dickens' his ideality is strongly evinced. It would be difficult to impress upon the mind of a merely general reader how vast a degree of interest may be given to the story by such means; for in truth that interest, great as it may be made, will not be, strictly speaking, of a popular cast.

    But an example will be necessary to convey our meaning fully upon this head, and one may be found at page 54, where the idiot draws Mr. Chester to the window, and directs his attention to the clothes hanging upon the lines in the yard.

    "Look down," he said softly; "do you mark how they whisper in each other's ears, then dance and leap to make believe they are in sport? Do you see how they stop for a moment, when they think there is no one looking, and mutter among themselves again; and then how they roll and gambol, delighted with the mischief they've been plotting? Look at 'em now! See how they whirl and plunge. And now they stop again, and whisper cautiously together little thinking, mind, how often I have laid upon the ground and watched them. I say what is it that they plot and hatch? Do you know?"

    Now these incoherences are regarded by Mr. Chester simply as such, and no attention is paid them; but they have reference, indistinctly, to the counsellings together of Rudge and Geoffrey Haredale, upon the topic of the bloody deeds committed; which counsellings have been watched by the idiot. In the same manner almost every word spoken by him will be found to have an under current of meaning, by paying strict attention to which the enjoyment of the imaginative reader will be infinitely heightened.

    A confirmation of our idea in regard to the perpetrators of the murder, will be seen in the words of Mrs. Rudge addressed to the locksmith, when the latter attempted to prevent the egress of the ruffian from her house. "Come back, come back!" she exclaimed "do not touch him on your life. I charge you come back. He carries other lives besides his own!" meaning that, if arrested and recognised, Rudge would involve in his fate not only Geoffrey Haredale, but herself, as an accessary [[accessory]] after the fact.

    The young Chester, it will be remembered, when found lying wounded in the road by the locksmith and Barnaby, was taken, as if by accident, to the house of Mrs. Rudge. Upon this circumstance will be made to turn some of the most exciting incidents of the story. Many difficulties, we apprehend, will occur before the sick man makes his escape from this house in which, for several reasons, we are inclined to think that much of the main action of the drama is to come to pass. These reasons are, that it is the home of the murderer Rudge, of Mrs. Rudge so emphatically described, and especially of Barnaby, the hero, and of his raven, whose croakings are to be frequently, appropriately, and prophetically heard in the coarse of the narrative, and whose whole character will perform, in regard to that of the idiot, much the same part as does, in music, the accompaniment in respect to the air. Each is distinct. Each differs remarkably from the other. Yet between them there is a strong analogical resemblance; and, although each may exist apart, they form together a whole which would be imperfect, wanting either. This is clearly the design of Mr. Dickens although he himself may not at present perceive it. In fact, beautiful as it is, and strikingly original with him, it cannot be questioned that he has been led to it less by artistical knowledge and reflection, than by that intuitive feeling for the forcible and the true, which is the sixth sense of the man of genius.

    Of the other characters introduced we must be content to speak in petto. The locksmith, and his wife, are drawn with that boldness and vigor in which our author is never deficient; but, as far as we yet comprehend them, have nothing distinctive. Miss Miggs, Simon Tappertit, and his society of 'Prentice Knights, cannot be properly called caricatures for there is a well-sustained exaggeration of all their traits, which has the effect of keeping but they are obviously burlesques. For this reason, we feel sure that they will have no very active agency in the plot. They will form an amusing by-play much as Swiveller and the Marchioness do in "The Curiosity Shop." Hugh, on the contrary, who is carefully, and truthfully drawn, with no very decided peculiarities as yet appearing Hugh will be a main instrument in the action. Of Joe Willet we have already spoken. John is an attempt at character for its own sake solely. He is an original, in the sense that, while really existing in nature, he has never as yet been depicted and such originals are very rare indeed. The features of the ruffian, Rudge, are not yet developed; neither are those of the young Chester, nor of the locksmith's daughter. The manner in which the portraiture of the very gentlemanly and self-composed elder Chester is elaborated, assures us that here we are to look for one of the best efforts of the author.

    The designs are, for the most part, utterly unworthy the narra-tive, and, very often, are not even in accordance with it. The thoughts of the writer are sometimes not conveyed at all. The hostelry upon the first page, for instance, is far from Mr. Dickens' conception, and gives the idea of a portion of a street, rather than of an insulated and sequestered inn. In the interior of the tap-room, the figures are all crowded into close juxta-position, while the text places Rudge and the young Chester in situations secluded from the rest of the company. The third design, where Rudge strikes Joe Willet, is well enough executed, but has no force of subject in itself and we can only regard it as good, when we take a prospective view, and consider that the blow given will have important results. In the fourth plate, where the young Chester is found wounded, there is great vigor of conception. The abandon of the prostrate figure is richly ideal; and the author's intention in Barnaby Rudge fully made out. Plate fourth is good Tappertit, the locksmith and his daughter, are all finely portrayed. Plate the fifth, introducing Tappertit solus, and plate the sixth, where Barnaby plays at thread-puzzles in the sick room, are also sufficiently well done; although, in the latter, the form and character of the locksmith undergo an inexcusable alteration. The tail-piece at the end of the second number, (with the exception of the countenance of the dreaming Barnaby,) is extravagant and ineffective fully embodying our notion of the false ideal. The meeting of the 'Prentice Knights is unworthy of notice. Miss Miggs sola is fine, and the expression of her countenance, as described in the text, (a mixture of mischief, cunning, malice, triumph, and patient expectation,) is singularly well embodied. Mr. Chester, Senior, seated by the fire in the large room of the inn, forms the subject of a forcibly conceived picture. The figure of Hugh, in the concluding design of the third number, is true to the description of the author, except in the matter of position. In the plate he sits nearly erect; in the text he reclines. Upon the whole, it is much to be lamented that competent artists cannot be found for the embellishment of a work so rich in material as is "Barnaby Rudge." At all events it is much to be regretted that books such as those of Mr. Dickens books which have formed an era in the reading of every man of genius should be thought less worthy of adequate illustration than the wofully inferior compositions which are so popular under the titles of "Confessions of Harry Lorrequer," and "Adventures of Charles O'Malley."


[The article appears in the Saturday Evening Post under the heading "Original Review," given in an Old English style font. It occupies two, narrow, newspaper-style columns.]

 
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[S:0 - SEP, 1841 (photocopy MUI)]