Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 2, February 1836, 2:173-180


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[page 173:]

CRITICAL NOTICES.

PAUL ULRIC.

Paul Ulric: Or the Adventures of an Enthusiast. New York: Published by Harper &Brothers.

These two volumes are by Morris Mattson, Esq. of Philadelphia, and we presume that Mr. Mattson is a very young man. Be this as it may, when we called Norman Leslie the silliest book in the world we had certainly never seen Paul Ulric. One sentence in the latter, however, is worthy of our serious attention. “We want a few faithful laborers in the vineyard of literature, to root out the noxious weeds which infest it.” See page 116, vol. ii.

In itself, the book before us is too purely imbecile to merit an extended critique — but as a portion of our daily literary food — as an American work published by the Harpers — as one of a class of absurdities with an inundation of which our country is grievously threatened — we shall have no hesitation, and shall spare no pains, in exposing fully before the public eye its four hundred and forty-three pages of utter folly, bombast, and inanity.

“My name,” commences Mr. Mattson, “is Paul Ulric. Thus much, gentle reader, you already know of one whose history is about to be recorded for the benefit of the world. I was always an enthusiast, but of this I deem it inexpedient to say much at present. I will merely remark that I possessed by nature a wild and adventurous spirit which has led me on blindly and hurriedly, from object to object, without any definite or specific aim. My life has been one of continual excitement, and in my wild career I have tasted of joy as well as of sorrow. [Oh remarkable Mr. Ulric!] At on, moment I have been elevated to the very pinnacle of human happiness, at the next I have sunk to the lowest depths of despair. Still I fancied there was always an equilibrium. This may seem a strange philosophy to some, but is it the less true? The human mind is so constituted as always to seek a level-if it is depressed it will be proportionately elevated, if elevated it will be proportionately depressed. But “says Mr. U., interrupting himself, “I am growing metaphysical!” We had thought he was only growing absurd.

He proceeds to tell us of his father who was born in Lower Saxony — who went, when only a year old, to England — who, being thrown upon the parish, was initiated into the mysteries of boot cleaning — who, at the age of ten, became a vender of newspapers in the city of London — at twelve sold potatoes in Covent Garden — at fifteen absconded from a soap-boiler in the Strand to whom he had been apprenticed — at eighteen sold old clothes at twenty became the proprietor of a mock auction in Cheapside — at twenty five was owner of a house in Regent Street, and had several thousand pounds in the Funds — and before thirty was created a Baronet, with the title of Sir John Augustus Frederick Geoffry Ulric, Bart., for merely picking up and carrying home his Majesty King George the Fourth, whom Mr. U. assures us upon his word and honor, his father found lying beastly drunk, one fine day, in some gutter, in some particular thoroughfare of London.

Our hero himself was born, we are told, on the borders of the Thames, not far from Greenwich. When a well grown lad he accompanies his father to the continent. In Florence he falls in love with a Countess in her thirty-fifth year, who curls his hair and gives him sugar-plums. The issue of the adventure with the Countess is thus told.

“You have chosen them with much taste,” said the Countess; “a beautiful flower is this!” she continued, selecting one from among the number, “its vermillion is in your cheeks, its blue in your eyes, and for this pretty compliment I deserve a — you resist eh! My pretty, pretty lad, I will! There! Another, and you may go free. Still perverse? Oh, you stubborn boy! How can you refuse? One — two — three! I shall devour you with kisses!”

* * * * *

* * * * *

We have printed the passage precisely as we find it in the book-notes of admiration-dashes-Italics and all. Two rows of stars wind up the matter, and stand for the catastrophe — for we hear no more of the Countess. Now if any person over curious should demand why Morris Mattson, Esq. has mistaken notes of admiration for sense-dashes, kisses, stars and Italics for sentiment — the answer is very simple indeed. The author of Vivian Grey made the same mistake before him.

Indeed we have made up our minds to forward Ben D’Israeli a copy of Paul Ulric. He will read it, and if he do not expire upon the spot, it will do him more real service than the crutch. Never was there a more laugh able burlesque of any man’s manner. Had Mr. Mattson only intended it as a burlesque we would have called him a clever fellow. But unfortunately this is not the case. No jackdaw was ever more soberly serious in fancying herself a peacock, than our author in thinking himself D’Israeli the second.

“Every day,” says Paul after the kissing scene, “filled me with a new spirit of romance. I had sailed upon the winding streams of Germany; I had walked beneath the bright skies of Italy; I had clambered the majestic mountains of Switzerland.” His father, however, determines upon visiting the United States, and taking his family with him. His reasons for so doing should be recorded. “His republicanism” says Paul, “had long rendered him an object of aversion to the aristocracy. He had had the hardihood to compare the salary of the President with the civil list of the king — consequently he was threatened with an indictment for treason! My mother suggested the propriety of immediately quitting the country.”

Mr. Mattson does not give us an account of the voyage. “I have no disposition,” says his hero, “to describe a trip across the Atlantic-particularly as I am not in a sentimental mood-otherwise I might turn over the poets, and make up a long chapter of extracts from Moore, Byron, and Rogers of the Old World, or Percival, Bryant, and Halleck of the New.” A range of stars, accordingly, is introduced at this crisis of affairs, and we must understand them to express all the little matters which our author is too fastidious to detail. Having sufficiently admired the stars, we turn over the next leaf and “Land ho!” shouts one of the seamen on the fore-topsail yard.

Arrived in Philadelphia, Mr. Ulric (our hero’s father) [page 174:] “is divided,” so says Mr. Mattson, “between the charms of a city and country life.” His family at this time, we are told, consisted of five persons; and Mr. U. Jr. takes this opportunity of formally introducing to us, his two sisters Eleanor and Rosaline. This introduction, however, is evidently to little purpose, for we hear no more, throughout the two volumes, of either the one young lady or the other. After much deliberation the family fix their residence in “Essex, a delightful country village in the interior of Pennsylvania;” and we beg our readers to bear in mind that the surprising adventures of Paul Ulric are, for the most part, perpetrated in the immediate vicinity of this village.

The young gentleman (notwithstanding his late love affair with the Countess) is now, very properly, sent to school-or rather a private tutor is engaged for him one Lionel Wafer. A rapid proficiency in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, music, dancing, and fencing, is the result; “and with these accomplishments,” says the young calf, “I believed myself fitted for the noise and bustle of the world.” Accordingly, his father having given him a flogging one afternoon, he determines upon running away. In two days he “arrives in one of the Atlantic cities.” Rambling about the streets he enters into conversation with a sharper, who succeeds in selling him, for forty dollars, a watch made of tinsel and put together with paste. This and subsequent adventures in the city form the best portion of the book-if best should be applied, in any way, to what is altogether abominable. Mr. Ulric goes to the theatre, and the play is Romeo and Juliet. The orchestra “breaks forth in full chorus” and our hero soliloquizes. We copy his soliloquy with the end of placing before our readers what we consider the finest passage in Mr. Mattson’s novel. We wish to do that gentleman every possible act of justice; and when we write down the few words to which we allude, and when we say that they are not absolutely intolerable, we have done all, in the way of commendation, which lies in our power. We have not one other word of praise to throw away upon Paul Ulric.

“Oh Music! — the theme of bards from time immemorial — who can sing of thee as thou deservest? What wondrous miracles hast thou not accomplished? The war-drum beats — the clarion gives forth its piercing notes-and legions of armed men rush headlong to the fierce and devastating battle. Again, the drum is muffled, and its deep notes break heavily upon the air, while the dead warrior is borne along upon his bier, and thou sands mingle their tears to his memory. The tender lute sounds upon the silvery waters, and the lover throws aside his oar, and imprints a kiss upon the lips of his beloved. The bugle rings in the mountain’s recesses, and a thousand spears are uplifted for a fearful and desperate conflict. And now the organ peals, and, with its swelling notes, the soul leaps into the very presence of the Deity.”

Our hero decides upon adopting the stage as a profession, and with this view takes lessons in elocution. Having perfected himself in this art, he applies to a manager, by note, for permission to display his abilities, but is informed that the nights are engaged for two months ahead, and it would be impossible for him to appear during the season. By the influence, however, of some hanger-on of the theatre, his wishes are at length gratified, and he is announced in the bills as “the celebrated Master Le Brun, the son of a distinguished English nobleman, whose success was so unprecedented in [column 2:] London as to have performed fifty nights in succession at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane” — a sentence in which we are at a loss to discover whether the English nobleman, or the English nobleman’s son, or the success of the English nobleman’s son is the distinguished performer in question.

Our adventurer succeeds in his debût, and is in a fair way of becoming a popular performer, when his prospects are suddenly nipped in the bud. His valet one morning announces a Sir Thomas Le Brun, and Sir Thomas Le Brun proves to be that worthy gentleman Sir John Augustus Frederick Geoffry Ulric, Baronet. A scene ensues. Paul screams, and Sir John clenches his fist. The father makes a speech, and the son makes a speech and a bow. At length they fly into each other’s arms, and the drama closes by the old personage taking the young personage home in his carriage. In all this balderdash about the stage, there is not one original incident or idea. The same anecdotes are told, but in infinitely better language, in every book of dramatic reminiscences since the flood.

Our author now indulges in what we suppose to be satire. The arrows of his wit are directed, with much pertinacity at least, against one Borel Bunting, by which name it strikes us that Mr. M. wishes to indicate some poor devil of an editor in bona fide existence perhaps some infatuated young person who could not be prevailed upon, by love or money, to look over the MS. of Paul Ulric. If our supposition be true, we could wish Mr. Borel Bunting no better revenge than what the novelist has himself afforded by this public exposure of his imbecility. We must do our readers the favor of copying for their especial perusal, a portion of this vehement attack.

“There has been much speculation as to the birth place of Borel; (in this respect he somewhat resembled Homer) but if I have been correctly informed it was in one of the New England States. Further than this I cannot particularize. When he came to Essex he managed to procure a situation in a counting-house, which afforded him the means of support as well as leisure for study. He did not overlook these advantages, and gradually rose in public estimation until he became the editor of the Literary Herald. This gentleman was deeply read in the classics, and had also perused every novel and volume of poetry from the earliest period of English literature down to the present. Such had been his indefatigable research, that there was not a remarkable passage in the whole range of the Waverley fictions, or indeed any other fictions, to which he could not instantly turn. As to poetry, he was an oracle. He could repeat the whole of Shelley, Moore, and Wordsworth, verbatim. He was a very Sidrophel in his acquirements. He could tell

“How many scores a flea would jump;”

he could prove, also, “that the man in the moon’s a sea Mediterranean,” and

“In lyric numbers write an ode on

His mistress eating a black pudding.”

He composed acrostics extempore by the dozen; we any extempore, though it was once remarked that he was months in bringing them to maturity. He was inimitable, moreover, in his pictures of natural scenery. When a river, or a mountain, or a waterfall was to be sketched, Borel Bunting, of all others, was the man to guide the pencil. He had the rare faculty of bringing every thing distinctly before the mind of the reader-a compliment to which a majority of his brother scribes’ are not entitled.

Borel Bunting possessed also a considerable degree [page 175:] of critical acumen. Southey was a mere doggerelist; Cooper and Irving were not men of genius; so said Borel. Pope, he declared, was the first of poets, because Lord Byron said so before him. Tom Jones, he contended, was the most perfect specimen of a novel extant. He was also willing to admit that Goldsmith had shown some talent in his Vicar of Wakefield.

In a word, Borel’s wonderful acquirements secured him the favorable attention of many distinguished men; and at length (as a reward of his industry and merit) he was regularly installed in the chair editorial of the “Literary Herald,” an important weekly periodical, fifteen inches in diameter. His salary, it is supposed, was something less than that received by the President of the United States.

The Literary Herald, Borel (or rather, Mr. Bunting we beg his pardon) considered the paragon of perfection. No one could ever hope to be distinguished in literature who was not a contributor to its columns. It was the only sure medium through which young Ambition could make its way to immortality. In short, (to use one of Bunting’s favorite words,) it was the “nonpareil “ of learning, literature, wit, philosophy, and science.

Mr. Bunting corresponded regularly with many distinguished individuals in Europe. I called upon him one morning, just after the arrival of a foreign mail, when he read me portions of seven letters which he had just received. One was from Lafayette, another from Charles X., a third from the author of a fashionable novel, a fourth from Miss L, a beautiful poetess in London, a fifth from a German count, a sixth from an Italian prince, and a seventh from Stpqrstuwsptrsnm, (I vouch not for the orthography, not being so well acquainted with the art of spelling as the learned Borel,) a distinguished Russian general in the service of the great “ Northern Bear.”

The most unfortunate charge that was ever preferred against Borel, in his editorial capacity, was that of plagiarism. He had inserted an article in his paper over his acknowledged signature, entitled “Desultory Musings,” which some one boldly asserted was an extract from Zimmerman on Solitude; and, upon its being denied by the editor, reference was given to the identical page whence it was taken. These things boded no good to the reputation of the scribe; nevertheless, he continued his career without interruption, and, had he lived in the days of Pope, the latter might well have asked,

“Who shames a scribbler? break one cobweb through,

He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew:

Destroy his fib or sophistry, in vain,

The creature’s at his dirty work again —

* * * *

Proud of a vast extent of flimsy lines.”

Mr. Ulric now indulges us with another love affair, beginning as follows: “ Oh thou strange and incomprehensible passion! to what canst thou be compared? At times thou art gentle as the zephyr; at others thou art mighty as the tempest. Thou canst calm the throbbing bosom, or thou canst fill it with wilder commotion. A single smile of thy benign countenance calleth new rapture to the anguished heart, and scattereth every doubt, every fear, every perplexity. But enough of this.” True.

A young lady falls into a river or a ditch, (our author says she was fishing for a water- lily) and Mr. Ulric is at the trouble of pulling her out. “What a charming incident!” says Mr. Mattson. Her name is Violet, and our susceptible youth falls in love with her. “Shall I ever,” quoth Paul, “shall I ever forget my sensations at that period? — never!!” Among other methods of evincing his passion he writes a copy of verses “To Violet,” and sends them to the Literary Herald. All, however, is to little purpose. The lady is no fool, and very properly does not wish a fool for a husband.

Our hero now places his affections upon the wife of a silk-dyer. He has a rival, however, in the person of the redoubted editor, Borel Bunting, and a duel ensues, in which, although the matter is a hoax, and the pistols have no load in them, Mr. Mattson assures us that the editor “in firing, lodged the contents of his weapon in the ground a few inches from his feet.” The chapter immediately following this adventure is headed with poetical quotations occupying two-thirds of a page. One is from Byron — another from. All’s Well that Ends Well — and the third from Brown’s Lecture on Perpetual Motion. The chapter itself would form not quite half a column such as we are now writing, and in it we are informed that Bunting, having discovered the perpetual motion, determines upon a tour in Europe.

The editor being thus disposed of, Mr. Mattson now enters seriously upon the business of his novel. We beg the attention of our readers while we detail a tissue of such absurdity, as we did not believe it possible, at this day, for any respectable bookseller to publish, or the very youngest of young gentlemen to indite.

Let us bear in mind that the scene of the following events is in the vicinity of Philadelphia, and the epoch, the present day. Mr. Ulric takes a stroll one May morning with his gun. “ Nature seems to be at rest,” &c. — ” the warbling of birds,” &c. — ” perched among trees,” &c. was all very fine, &c. “ While gazing,” says Paul, “upon these objects,” (that is to say, the warbling, of the birds) “I beheld a young and beautiful female trip lightly over the grass, and seat herself beneath a willow which stood in the middle of a park.” Whereupon our adventurer throws himself into an attitude, and soliloquizes as follows.

“It seems that there is an indescribable something in the features of many women — a look, a smile, or a glance of the eye — that sends the blood thrilling to the heart, and involuntarily kindles the flame of love upon its altar. It is no wonder that sages and philosophers have worshipped with such mad devotion at the shrine of beauty! It is no wonder that the mighty Pericles knelt at the feet of his beloved Aspasia! It is no wonder that the once powerful Antony sacrificed his country to the fatal embraces of the bewitching Cleopatra! It is no wonder that the thirst for glory cooled in the heart of the philosophic Abelard, when he beheld the beauty of the exquisite Heloise! It is no wonder, indeed, that he quitted the dry maxims of Aristotle to practise the more pleasing precepts of Ovid! But this is rhapsody!” It is.

The lady is dressed in white, (probably cambric muslin,) and Mr. Mattson assures us that her features he shall not attempt to describe. He proceeds, however, to say that her “eyes are hazel, but very dark,” “her complexion pure as alabaster,” her lips like the lips of Canova’s Venus, and her forehead like-something very fine. Mr. Ulric attempts to speak, but his embarrassment prevents him. The young lady “turns to depart,” and our adventurer goes home as he came.

The next chapter commences with “How mysterious is human existence!” — which means, when translated, “How original is Mr. Mattson!” This initial paragraph concludes with a solemn assurance that we are perishable creatures, and that it is very possible we may all die — every mother’s son of us. But as Mr. M. hath it — “ to our story.” Paul has discovered the mansion of the young lady-but can see no more of the young lady herself. He therefore stands sentinel before [column 2:] the door, with the purpose “of making observations.” While thus engaged, he perceives a tall fellow, “with huge black whiskers and a most forbidding aspect,” enter the house, in a familiar manner. Our hero is, of course, in despair. The tall gentleman could be no other than the accepted lover of the young lady. Having arrived at this conclusion, Paul espies a column of smoke in the woods, and after some trouble discovers it to proceed from “a log dwelling which stood alone, with its roof of moss, amid the silence and solitude of nature.” A dog barks, and an old woman makes her appearance.

This old lady is a most portentous being. She is, however, a little given to drinking; and offers our hero a dram, of which Mr. Mattson positively assures us that gentleman did not accept.

“Can you tell me,” says Paul, “who lives in the stone house?”

“Do you mean the Florence mansion,” she asked.

“Very like — who is its owner?”

“A man of the same name-Richard Florence.”

“Who is Richard Florence?”

“An Englishman; he came to this country a year or two ago.”

“Has he a wife?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Children?”

“An only daughter.”

“What is her name?”

“Emily.”

“Emily! — Is she beautiful?”

“Very beautiful!”

“And amiable?”

“Her like is not to be found.”

“What,” [exclaims our hero, perhaps starting back and running his fingers through his hair] — “what are all the fleeting and fickle pleasures of the world! what the magnificent palaces of kings, with their imperial banquetings and gorgeous processions! what, indeed, are all the treasures of the earth or the sea, in comparison with the pure, the bright, the beautiful object of our young and innocent affections!!!”

The name of the old hag is Meg Lawler, and she favors Mr. Ulric with her private history. The morality of her disclosures is questionable-but “morals, at the present day, quoth Mr. Mattson, are rarely sought in works of fiction, and perhaps less rarely found.” The gentleman means more rarely. But let us proceed. Meg Lawler relates a tale of seduction. It ends in the most approved form. “ I knew,” says she, “that the day of sorrow and tribulation was at hand, but alas, there was no saving power!” Here follows a double range of stars-after which, the narrative is resumed as follows.

“Dame Lawler paused, and turning upon me her glaring and blood-shot eyes exclaimed “Do you think there is a punishment hereafter for the evil deeds done in the body?”

“Such,” I replied, “the divines have long taught us.”

“Then is my destroyer writhing in the agonies of hell!!”

Mr. Ulric is, of course, electrified, and the chapter closes.

Our hero, some time after this, succeeds in making the acquaintance of Miss Emily Florence. The scene of the first interview is the cottage of Meg Lawler. Mr. U. proposes a walk-the lady at first refuses, but finally consents.

“There were two paths,” says our hero, “either of which we might have chosen: one led into the forest, the other towards her father’s house. I struck into the latter — but she abruptly paused.”

“Shall we continue our walk?” I asked, observing that she still hesitated.

“Yes,” she at length answered; “but I would prefer the other path”-that is to say the path through the woods — O fi, Miss Emily Florence! During the walk, our hero arrives at the conclusion that his beloved is “some unfortunate captive whose fears, or whose sense of dependence, might render it imprudent for her to be seen in the society of a stranger. In addition to all this, Dame Lawler has told Mr. U. that “she did not believe Emily was the daughter of Mr. Florence” hereby filling the interesting youth with suspicions, which Mr. Mattson assures us “were materials for the most painful reflection.”

On their way home our lovers meet with an adventure. Mr. Ulric happens to espy a-man. Miss Emily Florence thus explains this momentous occurrence. “There is a band of robbers who have their retreat in the neighboring hills-and this was no doubt one of them. They are headed by a brave and reckless fellow of the name of Elmo-Captain Elmo I think they call him. They have been the terror of the inhabitants for a long time. My father went out sometime ago with an armed force in pursuit of them, but could not discover their hiding place. I have heard it said that they steal away the children of wealthy parents that they may exact a ransom.” Once more we beg our readers to remember that Mr. Mattson’s novel is a Tale of the Present Times, and that its scene is in the near vicinity of the city of Brotherly Love.

Having convinced her lover that the man so portentously seen can be nobody in the world but “that brave and reckless fellow” Captain Elmo, Miss Florence proceeds to assure Mr. U. that she (Miss Florence) is neither afraid of man nor the devil-and forthwith brandishes in the eyes of our adventurer an ivory-hilted dagger, or a carving-knife, or some such murderous affair. “Scarcely knowing what I did,” says our gallant friend, “I imprinted a kiss (the first-burning, passionate, and full of rapture) upon her innocent lips, and — darted into the woods!!! “ It was impossible to stand the carving-knife.

As Mr. U. takes his way home after this memorable adventure, he is waylaid by an old woman, who turns out to be a robber in disguise. A scuffle ensues, and our hero knocks down his antagonist — what less could such a hero do? Instead however of putting an end at once to his robbership, our friend merely stands over him and requests him to recite his adventures. This the old woman does. Her name is Dingee O’Dougherty, or perhaps Dingy O’Dirty — and she proves to be one and the same personage with the little man in gray who sold Mr. U. the tinsel watch spoken of in the be ginning of the history. During the catechism, however, a second robber comes up, and the odds are now against our hero. But on account of his affectionate forbearance to Dingy O’Dirty no farther molestation is offered — and the three part with an amicable understanding.

Mr. Ulric is now taken ill of a fever-and during his illness a servant of Mr. Florence having left that gentleman’s service, calls upon his heroship to communicate some most astounding intelligence. Miss Florence, it appears, has been missing for some days, and her father receives a letter (purporting to be from the captain of [page 176:] the banditti) in which it is stated that they have carried her away, and would only return her in consideration of a ransom. Florence is requested to meet them at a certain spot and hour, when they propose to make known their conditions. Upon hearing this extraordinary news our adventurer jumps out of bed, throws himself into attitude No. 2, and swears a round oath that he will deliver Miss Emily himself. Thus ends the first volume.

Volume the second commences with spirit. Mr. U. hires “three fearless and able-bodied men to accomnpany and render him assistance in the event of danger. Each of them was supplied with a belt containing a brace of pistols, and a large Spanish knife.” With these terrible desperadoes, our friend arrives at the spot designated by the bandit. Leaving his companions near at hand, he advances, and recognizes the redoubted Captain Elmo, who demands a thousand pounds as the ransom of Miss Emily Florence. Our hero considers this too much, and the Captain consents to take five hundred. This too Mr. U. refuses to give, and with his three friends makes an attack upon the bandit. But a posse of robbers coming to the aid of their leader, our hero is about to meet with his deserts when he is rescued by no less a personage than our old acquaintance Dingy O’Dirty, who proves to be one of the banditti. Through the intercession of this friend, Mr. U. and his trio are permitted to go home in safety-but our hero, in a private conversation with Dingy, prevails upon that gentleman to aid him in the rescue of Miss Emily. A plot is arranged between the two worthies, the most important point of which is that Mr. U. is to become one of the robber fraternity.

In a week’s time, accordingly, we behold Paul Ulric, Esq. in a cavern of banditti, somewhere in the neighborhood of Philadelphia!! His doings in this cavern, as related by Mr. Mattson, we must be allowed to consider the most laughable piece of plagiarism on record-with the exception perhaps of something in this same book which we shall speak of hereafter. Our author, it appears, has read Gil Blas, Pelham, and Anne of Gierstein, and has concocted, from diverse passages in the three, a banditti scene for his own especial use, and for the readers of Paul Ulric. The imitations (let us be courteous!) from Pelham are not so palpable as those from the other two novels. It will be remembered that Bulwer’s hero introduces himself into a nest of London rogues with the end of proving his friend’s innocence of murder. Paul joins a band of robbers near Philadelphia, for the purpose of rescuing a mistress-the chief similarity will be found in the circumstances of the blindfold introduction, and in the slang dialect made use of by either novelist. The slang in Pelham is stupid enough-but still very natural in the mouths of the cutthroats of Cockaigne. Mr. Mattson, however, has thought proper to bring it over, will I nill I, into Pennsylvania, and to make the pickpockets of Yankeeland discourse in the most learned manner of nothing less than “flat-catching,” “velvet,” “dubbing up possibles,” “shelling out,” “twisting French lace,” “wakeful winkers,” “white wool,” “pig’s whispers,” and “horses’ nightcaps!

Having introduced his adventurer a la Pelham, Mr. Mattson entertains him a la Gil Blas. The hero of Santillane finds his cavern a pleasant residence, and so [column 2:] does the hero of our novel. Captain Rolando is a fine fellow, and so is Captain Elmo. In Gil Blas, the robbers amuse themselves by reciting their adventures-so they do in Paul Ulric. In both the Captain tells his own history first. In the one there is a rheumatic old cook — in the other there is a rheumatic old cook. In the one there is a porter who is the main obstacle to escape-in the other ditto. In the one there is a lady in durance — in the other ditto. In the one the hero determines to release the lady-in the other ditto. In the one Gil Blas feigns illness to effect his end, in the other Mr. Ulric feigns illness for the same object. In the one, advantage is taken of the robbers’ absence to escape — so in the other. The cook is sick, at the time, in both.

In regard to Anne of Gierstein the plagiarism is still more laughable. We must all remember the proceedings of the Secret Tribunal in Scott’s novel. Mr. Mattson has evidently been ignorant that the Great Unknown’s account of these proceedings was principally based on fact. He has supposed them imaginary in toto, and, seeing no good reason to the contrary, determined to have a Secret Tribunal of his own manufacture, and could think of no better location for it than a cavern somewhere about the suburbs of Philadelphia. We must be pardoned for giving Mr. Mattson’s account of this matter in his own words.

Dingee disappeared, [this is our old friend Dingy O’Dirty] Dingee, [quoth Mr. Mattson,] disappeared leaving me for a time alone. When he returned, he said every thing was in readiness for the ceremony, [the ceremony of Mr. Ulric’s initiation as a robber.] The place appointed for this purpose was called the’ Room of Sculls’-and thither, blindfolded, I was led.

‘A candidate for our order!’ said a voice, which I recognized as O’Dougherty’s.

‘ Let him see the light!’ exclaimed another in an opposite direction. The mandate was obeyed, and I was restored to sight.

I looked wildly and fearfully around — but no living object was perceptible. Before me stood an altar, hung about with red curtains, and ornamented with fringe of the same color. Above it, on a white Banner, was a painting of the human heart, with a dagger struck to the hilt, and the blood streaming from the wound. Directly under this horrible device, was written, in large letters,

THE PUNISHMENT OF THE UNFAITHFUL.

Around, wherever I turned my eyes, there was little else to be seen but skeletons of human bodies-with their arms uplifted, and stretching forward-suspended in every direction from the walls. One of them I involuntarily touched, and down it came with a fearful crash — its dry bones rattling upon the granite floor, until the whole cavern reverberated with the sound. I turned from this spectacle, and opposite beheld a guillotine — the fatal axe smeared with blood; and near it was a head-looking as if it had just been severed from the body-with the countenance ghastly — the lips parted — and the eyes staring wide open. There, also, was the body, covered, however, with a cloth, so that little was seen except the neck, mangled and bloody, and a small portion of the hand, hanging out from its shroud, grasping in its fingers a tablet with the following inscription:

THE END OF THE BETRAYER.

I sickened and fell. When I awoke to consciousness I found myself in the arms of O’Dougherty. He was bathing my temples with a fragrant liquor. When I had sufficiently recovered, he put his mouth close to my ear and whispered-’ Where is your courage man? Do you know there is a score of eyes upon you?’ [page 177:]

‘Alas! I am unused to such scenes-I confess they have unmanned me. But now 1 am firm; you have only to command, and I will obey.’

‘Bravo!’ exclaimed O’Dougherty,’ you must now be introduced to the high priest of our order. He has taken his seat at the altar — prepared for your reception. I will retire that you may do him reverence-trusting soon to hail you as a brother.’

The curtains about the altar had been grouped up, and there, indeed, sat the high dignitary in all his splendor. He was closely masked, and reclined in a high-backed chair, with his head turned carelessly to one side, with an expression of the most singular good humor. At that moment, also, there issued from numerous recesses, which I had not hitherto observed, a number of grotesque-looking shapes, not unlike the weird sisters in Macbeth, who quietly took their stations around the apartment, and fixed upon me their fearful and startling gaze. Their garments were hanging in shreds-an emblem, perhaps, of their own desperate pursuits. Their faces were daubed with paint of various colors, which gave them a wild and fiendish aspect. Each one grasped a long knife, which he brandished furiously above his head, the blades sometimes striking heavily together. They then sprang simultaneously forward, forming themselves into a circle, while one stationed himself as the centre, around whom they slowly moved with dismal and half-suppressed groans. They continued this ceremony until some one exclaimed

‘Bring forth the dead!’

‘Bring forth the dead!’ — they all repeated, until the cavern rang with a thousand echoes.

The banditti now stood in a line, stretching from one end of the room to the other, and remained some time in silence. Directly a dead body — mutilated and bloody — was borne by some invisible agency into our presence. It rested upon a bier — without pall or other covering — a spectacle too horrible for description. I thought, at first, that it was some optical delusion-but, alas! it proved a fearful reality-a dread and reckless assassination, prompted by that hellish and vindictive spirit, which appeared so exclusively to govern the ruffians with whom I was voluntarily associated. The victim before me was a transgressor of their laws; and this punishment had been dealt out to him as the reward of his perfidy. Life, to all appearance, was extinct; but the sluggish and inert clay still remained, as if in mockery of all law — all humanity — all mercy.

‘Behold the traitor!’ — exclaimed one of the number.

‘Behold the traitor!’ — they all repeated in concert.

‘Bear away the dead!’ — commanded the priest at the altar.

‘Bear away the dead! bear away the dead!’ — was reiterated in succession by every tongue, until the lifeless body disappeared — and with it the fiendish revellers who had sported so terrifically in its presence.

We have only to say, that if our readers are not absolutely petrified after all this conglomeration of horrors, it is no fault either of Paul Ulric’s, Morris Mattson’s, or Dingy O’Dirty’s.

Miss Emily Florence is at length rescued, and with her lover, is rowed down some river in a skiff by Dingy, who thus discourses on the way. We quote the passage as a specimen of — exquisite morality.

“Had I the sensibility of many men, a recollection of my crimes would sink me into the dust — but as it is I can almost fancy them to be so many virtues. I see you smile; but is it not a truth, that every thing of good and evil exists altogether in idea? The highwayman is driven by necessity to attack the traveller, and demand his purse. This is a crime-so says the law &m — ; so says society — and must be punished as our wise men have decreed. Nations go to war with each other — they plunder-burn-destroy-and murder — yet there is nothing wrong in this, because nations sanction it. [column 2:] But where is the difference between the highwayman, in the exercise of a profession by which he is to obtain a livelihood, and a nation, with perhaps less adequate cause, which despoils another of its treasures, and deluges it in blood? Is not this a proof that our ideas of immorality and wickedness are derived in a great measure from habit and education?” “The metaphysical outlaw,” [says our hero,] “the metaphysical outlaw here concluded his discourse.” [What an excessively funny idea Mr. Mattson must have of metaphysics!]

Having left the boat, taken leave of Dingy O’Dirty, and put on a pair of breeches, Miss Florence now accompanies our adventurer to a village hard by. Entering a tavern the lovers seat themselves at the breakfast table with two or three other persons. The conversation turns upon one Mr. Crawford, a great favorite in the village. In the midst of his own praises the gentleman himself enters — ” and lo!” says Mr. Ulric, “in the person of Mr. Crawford, I recognized the notorious Captain Elmo!” The hue and cry is immediately raised, but the Captain makes his escape through a window. Our hero pursues him to no purpose, and in returning from the pursuit is near being run over by a carriage and six. The carriage doors happen to be wide open, and in the vehicle Mr. Ulric discovers — oh horrible! — Miss Emily Florence in the embrace of the fellow with the big whiskers!

Having lost his sweetheart a second time, our adventurer is in despair. But despair, or indeed any thing else, is of little consequence to a hero. “It is true,” says Paul, “I was sometimes melancholy; but melancholy with me is as the radiant sunlight, imparting a hue of gladness to every thing around!!” Being, therefore, in excellent spirits with his melancholy, Mr. Ulric determines upon writing a novel. The novel is written, printed, published, and puffed. Why not?-we have even seen “Paul Ulric” puffed. But let us hasten to the denouement of our tale. The hero receives a letter from his guardian angel, Dingy O’Dirty, who, it appears, is in England. He informs Mr. U. that Miss Florence is in London, for he (Dingy O’Dirty) has seen her. Hereupon our friend takes shipping for that city. Of course he is shipwrecked-and, of course, every soul on board perishes but himself. He, indeed, is a most fortunate young man. Some person pulls him on shore, and this person proves to be the very person he was going all the way to London to look for-it was Richard Florence himself. What is more to the purpose, Mr. F. has repented of promising Miss Emily to the fellow with the big whiskers. Every thing now happens precisely as it should. Miss E. is proved to be an heiress, and no daughter of Florence’s after all. Our hero leads her to the altar. Matters come rapidly to a crisis. All the good characters are made excessively happy people, and all the bad characters die sudden deaths, and go, post haste, to the devil.

Mr. Mattson is a very generous young man, and is not above patronizing a fellow-writer occasionally. Some person having sent him a MS. poem for perusal and an opinion, our author consigns the new candidate for fame to immortality at once, by heading a chapter in Paul Ulric with four entire lines from the MS., and appending the following note at the bottom of the page.

“From a MS. poem entitled “Drusilla,” with which we have been politely favored for perusal. It is a delightful work, and shows the writer to be a man of [page 179:] genius and reflection. We hope it will not be long before the lovers of poetry are favored with this production; it will win deserved celebrity for its author.”

And as a farther instance of disinterestedness, see this conversation between Mr. Mattson’s hero, and a young lady in London who wrote for the annuals.

“What do you think of D’Israeli’s novels?” — asked she.

“Excellent! Excellent!” 1 replied, “especially Vivian Grey: take for example the scene in the long gallery between Vivian, and Mrs. Felix Lorraine.”

“Admirable!” — returned the young lady, “but, by the way, how do you like Bulwer?”

“Well enough,” I answered.

“Pray, Mr. Ulric, how many female writers of distinction have you in America?” Honest old Blackwood tells us of but two or three.”

“And who are they?”

“Miss Gould, Miss Sedgwick, and Mrs. Sigourney.”

“He should have added another — Miss Leslie.”

We fancy it is long since Miss Leslie, Miss Gould, Miss Sedgwick, Mrs. Sigourney, Lytton Bulwer, and Ben D’Israeli have been so affectionately patted on the back.

Of Mr. Mattson’s style the less we say the better. It is quite good enough for Mr. Mattson’s matter. Besides-all fine writers have pet words and phrases. Mr. Fay had his “blisters”-Mr. Simms had his “coils,” “ hugs,” and “ old-times”-and Mr. M. must be allowed his “suches” and “so muches.” Such is genius!-and so much for the Adventures of an Enthusiast! But we must positively say a word in regard to Mr. Mattson’s erudition. On page 97, vol. ii, our author is discoursing of the novel which his hero is about to indite. He is speaking more particularly of titles. Let us see what he says.

“An ill-chosen title is sufficient to condemn the best of books. Never does an author exhibit his taste and skill more than in this particular. Just think for a moment of the Frenchman’s version of Doctor Johnson’s ‘Rambler’ into ‘Le Chevalier Errant,’ and what was still more laughable, his innocently addressing the author by the appellation of.ilr. Vagabond! By the way, the modern fanatics were somewhat remarkable in the choice of their titles. Take for example the following — ’ The Shop of the Spiritual.pothecary’ and’ Some fine Baskets baked in the Oven of Charity, carefully conserved for the Chickens of the Church, the Sparrows of the Spirit, and the Sweet Swallows of Salvation.’ “

Having admired this specimen of deep research, let us turn to page 125, vol. ii. Mr. Ulric is here vindicating himself from some charges brought against his book. Have patience, gentle reader, while we copy what he says.

“In the first place we are accused of vulgarity. In this respect we certainly bear a strong resemblance to Plautus, who was censured by the satirical Horace for the same thing. Next come Ignorance, Vanity, and Stupidity. Of the first two, the classic reader will not forget that Aristotle (who wrote not less than four hundred volumes) was calumniated by Cicero and Plutarch, both of whom endeavored to make it appear that he was ignorant as well as vain. But what of our stupidity? Socrates himself was treated by Athenaeus as illiterate: the divine Plato, called by some the philosopher of the Christians, by others the god of philosophers, was accused by Theopompus of lying, by Aristophanes of impiety, and by Aulus Gellius of robbery. The fifth charge is a want of invention. Pliny has alleged the same thing of Virgil — and surely it is some consolation to know that we have such excellent company. And [column 2:] last, though not least, is plagiarism. Here again Naucrates tells us that Homer pillaged some of his best thoughts from the library at Memphis. It is recorded, moreover, that Horace plundered from the minor Greek poets, and Virgil from his great prototype, Homer, as well as Nicander, and Apollonius Rhodius. Why then should we trouble ourselves about these sweeping denunciations?”

What a learned man is Morris Mattson, Esq.! He is intimately versed not only in Horace, Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch, Virgil, Homer, Plato, Pliny, and Aristophanes — but (credat Judcetus!) in Nicander, Aulus Gellius, Naucrates, Atheneus, Theopompus, and Apollonius Rhodius! I. D’Israeli, however, the father of Ben D’Israeli aforesaid, is (we have no hesitation in saying it,) one of the most scoundrelly plagiarists in Christen dom. He has not scrupled to steal entire passages verbatim from Paul Ulric! On page 1, vol. ii, second edition, of’ The Curiosities of Literature,’ in a chapter on Titles, we have all about Dr. Johnson, Le Chevalier Errant, and Mr. Vagabond, precisely in the language of Mr. Mattson. O thou abandoned robber, D’Israeli! Here is the sentence. It will be seen, that it corresponds with the first sentence italicized in the paragraph (above) beginning ‘An ill-chosen title, &c.’ “The Rambler was so little understood, at the time of its appearance, that a French Journalist has translated it ‘Le Chevalier Errant,’ and a foreigner drank Johnson’s health one day, by innocently addressing him by the appellation of Mr. Vagabond!” And on page 111, of the same volume, we perceive the following, which answers to the second sentence italicized in the para graph above mentioned. “A collection of passages from the Fathers is called ‘The Shop of the Spiritual Apothecary’ — one of these works bears the elaborate title ‘Some fine Baskets baked in the Oven of Charity, carefully conserved for the Chickens of the Church, the Sparrows of the Spirit, and the Sweet Swallows of Salvation.’ There can be no doubt whatever of D’Israeli’s having pilfered this thing from Paul Ulric, for Mr. Mattson having, inadvertently we suppose, written Baskets for Biscuits, the error is adopted by the plagiarist. But we have a still more impudent piece of robbery to mention. The whole of the erutdition, and two-thirds of the words in the paragraph above, beginning ‘In the first place we are accused of vulgarity,’ &e. is to be found on page 42, vol. i, second edition, of The’ Curiosities!’ Let us transcribe some of D’Israeli’s words in illustration of our remark. We refer the reader for more particular information to the book itself.

“Horace censures the coarse humor of Plautus — Aristotle (whose industry composed more than four hundred volumes) has not been less spared by the critics. Diogenes Laertius, Cicero and Plutarch have forgotten nothing that can tend to show his ignorance, his ambition, and his vanity — Socrates, considered as the wisest and most moral of men, Cicero treated as an usurer, and the pedant Athenamus as illiterate — Plato, who has been called, by Clement of Alexandria, the Moses of Athens; the philosopher of the Christians by Arnobius, and the god of philosophers by Cicero; Athenaeus accuses of envy; Theopompus of lying; Suidas of avarice; Aulus Gellius of robbery; Porphyry of incontinence, and Aristophanes of impiety-Virgil is destitute of invention, if we are to give credit to Pliny-Naucratcs points out the source (of the Iliad and Odyssey,) in the library at Memphis, which, according to him, the blind bard completely pillaged-Horace has been blamed for the free use he made of the minor Greek [page 179:] poets. Even the author of his (Virgil’s) apology, has confessed that he has stolen, from Homer, his greatest beauties, from Apollonius Rhodius many of his pathetic passages, and from Nicander hints for his Georgics.”

Well, Mr. Mattson, what have you to say for yourself? Is not I. D’lsraeli the most impudent thief since the days of Prometheus?

In summing up an opinion of Paul Ulric, it is by no means our intention to mince the matter at all. The book is despicable in every respect. Such are the works which bring daily discredit upon our national literature. We have no right to complain of being laughed at abroad when so villainous a compound, as the thing we now hold in our hand, of incongruous folly, plagiarism, immorality, inanity, and bombast, can command at any moment both a puff and a publisher. To Mr. Mattson himself we have only one word to say before throwing his book into the fire. Dress it up, good sir, for the nursery, and call it the “Life and Surprising Adventures of Dingy O’Dirty.” Humph! — Only think of Plato, Pliny, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Nicander, Aulus Gellius, Naucrates, Athenaeus, Theopompus and Apollonius Rhodius!!

 


Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (February 1836)