Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “American Poetry” [Text-02], Aristidean, November 1845, 1:373-382


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[page 373:]

ART. XII. — AMERICAN POETRY.

THAT we are not a poetical people, has been asserted so often and so roundly, both at home and abroad, that the slander, through mere dint of repetition, has come to be received as truth. Yet nothing can be farther removed from it. The mistake is but a corollary from the old dogma, that the calculating faculties are at war with the ideal; while, in fact, it may be demonstrated, that the two divisions of mental power are never to be found, in perfection, apart. The highest order of the imaginative intellect is always pre-eminently mathematical, or analytical; and the converse of this proposition is equally true.

The idiosyncrasy of our political position has stimulated into early action whatever practical talent we possessed. Even in our national infancy we evinced a degree of utilitarian ability, which put to shame the mature skill of our forefathers. While yet in leading-strings, we proved ourselves adepts in all the arts and sciences which promote he [[the]] comfort of the animal man. But the arena of exertion, and of consequent distinction, into which our first and most obvious wants impelled us, has been regarded as the field of our deliberate choice. Our necessities have been mistaken for our propensities. Having been forced to make railroads, it has been deemed impossible that we should make verse. Because it suited us to construct an engine in the first instance, it has been denied that we could compose an epic in the second. Because we were not all Homers in the beginning, it has been somewhat too cavalierly taken for granted that we shall be all Jeremy Benthams to the end.

But this is the purees insanity. The principles of the poetic sentiment lie deep within the immortal nature of man, and have little necessary reference to the worldly circumstances which surround him. The poet in ARCADY, is, in KAMSCHADTKA, the poet still. The self-same Saxon current animates the British and the American heart; nor can any social, or political, or moral, or physical conditions, do more than momentarily repress the impulses, which glow in our own bosoms as fervently as in those of our progenitors.

Those who have taken most careful note of our literature for the last ten or twelve years, will be most willing to admit that we are a poetical people; and in no respect is this fact more strikingly evinced than in the eagerness with which we ourselves seek information in regard to our poetry and our poets. But, alas! we seek what is not easily to be found. A distinct, connected, and, especially, a comparative view of our poetical literature, has been long a desideratum. But how, or where, shall we supply it? Shall we pick it out for ourselves, piecemeal, from the columns of the ephemeral press? Shall we look here for even a few well-considered and honest opinions at random? The idea is preposterous. The corrupt character of our ordinary criticism has become notorious. Its powers have, been prostrated by its own arm. The intercourse between critic and publisher, as it now almost universally stands, is comprised either in the paying and pocketing of black-mail, as the price of a simple forbearance, or [page 374:] in a direct system of petty and contemptible bribery, properly so called — a system even more injurious than the former to the true interest of the public, and more degrading to the buyers and sellers of good opinion, on account of the more positive character of the service here rendered, for the consideration received.

We smile at the idea of any denial of our assertions upon this topic; — they are infamously true. In the charge of general corruption, there are, undoubtedly, some noble exceptions to be made. There are, indeed, some editors, who, maintaining, an entire independence, will receive no books from publishers at all, or who will receive them with a perfect understanding, on the part of these latter, that unbiassed critiques will be given. But these cases have always been insufficient to have much effect upon the popular mistrust; — a mistrust heightened by the exposure, no great while ago, of the machinations of coteries in BOSTON — coteries which, at the bidding of leading booksellers, manufactured, as required from time to time, a pseudo-public opinion by wholesale, for the benefit of any little hanger-on of the party, or pettifogging protector of the firm. We scarcely expect to be believed — but to so high a pitch of methodical assurance had the system of puffery at one time arrived, that certain publishers, in the city to which we allude made no scruple of keeping on hand an assortment of commendatory notices, prepared by their men of all-work, and of sending their notices around to the multitudinous papers within their influence, done up within the fly-leaves of the book. The grossness of these base attempts, however, has not escaped indignant rebuke from the more honorable portion of the press. Tricks such as these will scarcely be attempted again; and we hail these symptoms of restiveness under the yoke of unprincipled ignorance and quackery — strong only in combination — as the harbinger of a better era for the interests of real merit, and of the national literature as a whole.

It has become, indeed, the plain duty of each individual connected with the press, heartily to give whatever influence he possesses, to the good cause of integrity, and the Truth. The results thus attainable will be found worthy [[of]] his closest attention and best efforts. We shall thus frown down all conspiracies to foist inanity upon the public consideration, at the obvious expense of every man of talent who is not a member of a clique in power. We may even arrive, in time, at that desirable point from which a distinct view of our men of letters may be obtained, and their respective pretensions adjusted, by the standard of a rigorous and self-sustaining criticism alone. That their several positions are as yet properly settled — that the posts which a vast number of them now hold, are maintained by any better tenure than that of the chicanery upon which we have commented — will be asserted by none but the ignorant, or the parties who have best right to feel an interest in the “good old condition of things.” No two matters can be more radically different than the reputation of some of our prominent littérateurs, as gathered from the mouths of the people — who glean it from the paragraphs of the papers — and the same reputation as deduced from the private estimate of intelligent and educated men. We do not advance this fact as a new discovery. Its truth, on the [page 375:] contrary, is the subject, and has long been so, of every-day witticism and mirth.

Why not? Surely there can be few things more ridiculous than the general character and assumptions of the ordinary critical notices of new books. A back-woods editor, sometimes without the shadow of the commonest attainment — always without time — often without brains — does not hesitate to give the world to understand that he is in the daily habit of critically reading and deciding upon a flood of publications, one-tenth of whose title-pages he may possibly have turned over — three-fourths of whose contents would be Hebrew to his most desperate efforts at comprehension — an whose entire mass and amount, as might be mathematically demonstrated, would be sufficient to occupy, in the most cursory perusal, the attention of some ten or twenty readers for a month. What he wants in plausibility, however, he makes up in obsequiousness — what he lacks in time, he supplies in temper. He is the most easily pleased man in the world. He admires everything, from the big dictionary of NOAH WEBSTER, to the last diamond edition of TOM THUMB. Indeed his sole difficulty is in finding tongue to express his delight. Every pamphlet is a miracle — every book in boards is an epoch in letters. His phrases, therefore, grow larger and larger every day; and if it were not for talking “HARRISON AINSWORTH,” we might call him a “regular swell.”

Yet, in the attempt at getting definite information in regard tn any one portion of our literature, the merely general reader, or the foreigner, will turn in vain from the lighter to the heavier journals. But it is not our intention here to dwell upon our Magazines. Undoubtedly, one of the very best of them was “Arcturus.” It was edited by gentlemen of taste, of high talent, and of much general literary knowledge. Of the honesty of Arcturus we have a high opinion — but what even it did, or was likely to do, in tho cause of judicious criticism, may be gleaned from a passage in one of its most elaborate contributed papers. It says: —

“But now, criticism has a wider scope and a universal interest. It dismisses errors of grammar, and hands over an imperfect rhyme, or a false quantity, to the proofreader. It looks now to the heart of the subject, and the author’s design. It is a test of opinion. Good criticism may be well asked for, since it is the type of the literature of the day. A criticism, now, includes every form of literature, except, perhaps, the imaginative and the strictly dramatic. It is an essay, a sermon, an oration, a chapter in history, a philosophical speculation, a prose poem, an art-novel, a dialogue. It admits of humor, pathos, the personal feelings of auto-biography, the broadest views of statesmanship. As the ballad and the epic were the productions of the days of Homer, the review is the native characteristic growth of the nineteenth century.”

We must dissent from nearly all that is here said. The species of review which is designated as the “characteristic growth of the nineteenth century,” is only the growth of the last twenty or thirty years in GREAT BRITAIN. The French reviews, for example, which are not anonymous; preserve the unique spirit of true criticism. And what need we say of the Germans? — what of WINKLEMANN? — of SCHELLING? — of GÖTHE — of AUGUSTUS WILLIAM? — and of FREDERICK, [[extraneous comma]] SCHLEGEL? — that their magnificent critiques raisonnées, differ from those of JOHNSON, of ADDISON, and of BLAIR, in principle not at all, — for the principles of these artists will not fail until Nature herself expires [page 376:] — but solely in their more careful elaboration, their greater thoroughness, their more profound analysis and application of the principles themselves. To say that a criticism now should be different in spirit, from a criticism at any previous period, is to insinuate a charge of variability in laws that cannot vary — the laws of man’s heart and intellect — for here are the sole basis upon which the true critical art is established. And this art now, no more than in the days of the “Dunciad,” can, without neglect of its duty, “dismiss errors of grammar,” or “hand over imperfect rhymes to the proof-reader.” And all that which “Arcturus,” maintains a criticism to be, is all that which we sturdily maintain it is not. Criticism is not, we think, an essay, nor a sermon, nor an oration, nor a chapter in history, nor a philosophical speculation, nor a prose-poem, nor an art-novel, nor a dialogue. In fact, It can be nothing in the world but a — criticism. But if it were all that “Arcturus” imagines, it is not so very clear why it might not equally be “imaginative,” or dramatic — a romance or a melo-drama —or both. That it would be a farce cannot be doubted.

It is against this frantic spirit of generalization that we protest. We have a word, “criticism,” whose import is sufficiently distinct, through long usage, at least; and we have an art of high importance and clearly ascertained limit, which this word is quite well-enough understood to represent. Of that conglomerate science to which Arcturus’ correspondent so eloquently alludes, and of which we are instructed that it is anything and everything at once — of this peculiar science we are not particularly well qualified to speak; but we must object to the appropriation, in its behalf, of a term to which we, in common with a large majority of mankind, have been accustomed to attach a certain and very definitive idea. Is there no word but “criticism” which may be made to save [[serve]] the purposes intended. Is there any objection to Orphicism, or Dialism, or Alcottism — or any other frequent compound indicative of confusion worse confounded?

But critical heresies such as these are but a softened expression, or reflection, of the ruling “cant of the day.” By the ruling cant of the day we mean the disgusting practice of putting on the airs of an owl, and endeavoring to look miraculously wise; — the affectation of second-sight — of a species of extatic prescience — of an intensely bathetic penetration into all sorts of mysteries, psychological ones in especial; — an orphic, an ostrich affectation, which buries its head in balderdash, and, seeing nothing itself, fancies, therefore, that its preposterous carcass is not a visible object of derision for the world at large; an affectation particularly in vogue, just now, among a knot of miserable bedlamites in BOSTON — a clique of pitiable dunderheads who go about babbling in parables, and swearing by CARLYLE, with a leer in one eye and a mass of lachrymose hair plastered carefully over the other — a set of thumb-sucking babies and idiots, who could not do a better thing for their own comfort and that of the community than blow out the exceedingly small modicum of hasty-pudding which they imagine to be their brains.

Let us, by way of exemplification, imagine one of these gentlemen reviewing — as he calls it — the Paradise Lost. He would discourse of it thus: [page 377:]

“The Paradise Lost is the earnest outpouring of the oneness of the psychological MAN. It has the individuality of the true singleness. It is not to be regarded as a poem — but as a work — as a multiple Theogony — as a manifestation of the Works and the Days. It is a pinion for the Progress — a wheel in the Movement that moveth ever and goeth alway — a mirror of Self-Inspection, held up by the Seer of the Age essential — of the Age in esse — for the Seers of the Ages possible — in posse. We hail a brother in the Work.”

Of the mere opinions of the donkeys who brag thus — of their mere dogmas and doctrines, literary, aesthetical, or what not — we know little, and, upon our honor, we wish to know less. Occupied, laputically, in their great work of a Progress that never progresses, we take it for granted, also, that they care as little about ours. But whatever the opinions of these people may be — however portentous the “IDEA” which they have been so long threatening to “evolve” — we still think it clear that they take a very roundabout way of evolving it. The use of language is in the promulgation of thought. If a man, or a SEER, or whatever else he may choose to call himself, while the rest of the world calls him an ass — if he have an idea which he does not understand himself, the least thing he can do is to say nothing about it; for, of course, he can entertain no hope that what he, the SEER cannot comprehend, should be comprehended by the mass of common humanity; but if he have an idea which is actually intelligible to himself, and if he really wish to render it intelligible to others, we then hold it as indisputable that he should employ those forms of speech which are the best adapted to further his object. He should speak to the people in that people’s ordinary tongue. He should arrange words, such as are habitually employed, in collocations, such as those in which we are accustomed to see those words arranged. But to all this the orphicist thus replies: “ I am a SEER. My IDEA — the idea which by Providence I am especially commissioned to evolve — is one so vast — so novel — that ordinary words, in ordinary collocations, will be insufficient for its comfortable evolution.” Very true. We grant the vastness of the IDEA. But, then, if ordinary language be insufficient — the ordinary language which men understand — à fortiori will be insufficient that inordinate language which no man has ever understood, and which any well-educated baboon would blush in being accused of understanding. The SEER, therefore, has no resource but to oblige mankind by holding his tongue, and suffering his IDEA to remain quietly “unevolved,” until some mesmeric mode of intercommunication shall be invented, whereby the antipodil brains of the SEER and of the man of common sense, shall be brought into the necessary rapport. Meantime, we “ earnestly”. ask if bread and butter be the vast IDEA in question — if bread and butter be any portion of this vast IDEA — for we have often observed that when a SEER has to speak of even so usual a thing as bread and butter, he can never be induced to mention it outright. He will, if you choose, say anything and everything, but bread or butter. He will consent to hint at buckwheat cake. He may even accommodate you so far as to insinuate oatmeal porridge — but if bread and butter be really the matter intended, we never yet met the gentleman of this peculiar school who could get out the three individual words — bread and butter.

And of our Quarterlies what shall we say? — of the aid which they [page 378:] are likely to afford us in investigating the condition of our poetical literature? The articles here are anonymous. Who writes? Who causes to be written? Who but a fool would put faith in tirades which may be the result of personal hostility — or in panegyrics which, nine times out of ten, may be laid, directly or indirectly, to the charge of the author himself? It is in the favor of these saturnine pamphlets that they contain, now and then, a good essay de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis, which may be looked into, without decided somnolent consequences, at any period not immediately subsequent to dinner. But it is useless to expect criticism from periodicals called Reviews, from never reviewing, as lucus is lucus ànon lucendo. Besides all men know, or should know — that these books are sadly given to verbiage It is a part of their nature — a condition of their being — a point of their faith. A veteran reviewer loves the safety of generalities. He is, therefore, rarely particular. “Words, words, words,” are the secret of his strength. He has one or two ideas of his own, and is both wary and fussy in giving them out. His wit lies, with his truth, in a well, and there is always a world of trouble in getting it up. He is a sworn enemy to all things simple and direct. He gives no ear to the advice of the giant MOULINEAU — “Belier, mon ami, commencez au commencement — Ram, my friend, begin at the beginning.” He either jumps, at once, into the middle of his subject, or breaks in at a back door, or sidles up to it with the gait of a crab; — no other mode of approach has an air of sufficient profundity. When fairly into it, however, he becomes, dazzled by the scintillations of his own wisdom, and is seldom able to see his way out. Tired of laughing at his antics, or frightened at seeing him flounder, the reader at length shuts him up with the book. “What song the Syrens sang,” says Sir THOMAS BROWNE, “or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, although puzzling questions are not beyond all conjecture” — but it would puzzle Sir THOMAS, backed by ACHILLES and all the Syrens in Heathendom, to say, in nine cases out of ten, what is the object of a Quarterly Reviewer.

But should the opinions promulgated by our Quarterlies, and by our press at large, be taken, in their wonderful aggregate, as an evidence of what American literature absolutely is and it may be said that, in general, they are really so taken — we shall find ourselves the most enviable set of people upon the face of the earth. Our fine writers are legion. Our very atmosphere is redolent of genius, and we, the nation, are a huge well-contented chameleon, grown pursy by inhaling it. We are teretes et rotundi, enwrapped in excellence. All our poets are Miltons, neither “mute nor inglorious;” all our poetesses are “American Hemanses;” nor will it do to deny that all our novelists are either great Unknowns or great Knowns, and that everybody who writes, in every possible or impossible department, is the admirable CHRICHTON, or at least the admirable CHRICHTON’S ghost. We are thus in a glorious condition, and will remain so until forced to disgorge our ethereal honors. In truth, there is some danger that the jealousy of the Old World will interfere. It cannot long submit to that outrageous monopoly of “all the decency and of all [page 379:] the talent in which the Gentlemen of the press give such undoubted assurance, of our being busily engaged.

But we feel angry with ourself for the jesting tone of our observations upon this topic. The prevalence of the spirit of puffery is a subject far less for merriment than for disgust. Its buckling yet dogmatical character — its bold, unsustained, yet self-sufficient and wholesale laudation, — is becoming, more and more, an insult to the common-sense of the community. Trivial as it essentially is, it has yet been made the instrument of the grossest abuse, in the elevation of imbecility — to the manifest injury — to the utter ruin of true merit. Is there any man of good feeling and of ordinary understanding — is there a single individual who reads these remarks — who does not feel a thrill of bitter indignation, apart from any sentiment of mirth, as he calls to mind instance after instance of the purest — of the most unadulterated quackery in letters, which has risen to a high post in the apparent popular estimation — and which still maintains it — by the sole means of a blustering arrogance — or of a busy, wriggling conceit — or of the most barefaced plagiarism — or even through the mere immensity of its assumptions — assumptions not only unopposed by the press at large, but absolutely supported — supported in proportion to the vociferous clamor with which they are made — in exact accordance with their utter baselessness and untenability?

So firm, through a long endurance, has been the hold taken upon the popular mind — at least so far as we may consider the popular mind reflected in ephemeral letters — by the laudatory system which we have deprecated, that what is, in its own essence, a vice, has become endowed with the appearance, and met with the reception of a virtue. Antiquity, as usual, has lent a certain degree of speciousness, even to the absurd. So continuously have we puffed, that we have, at length, come to think puffing the duty, and plain-speaking the dereliction. What we began in gross error, we persist in through habit. Having adopted, in the earliest days of our literature, the untenable idea that this literature, as a whole, could be advanced by indiscriminate approbation bestowed on its every effort — having adopted this idea, without attention to the obvious fact, that praise of all is bitter, although negative censure to the few alone deserving, and that the only possible result of the system, in the fostering way, would be the fostering of folly — we now continue our vile practices. through the supiness of custom, even while, in our national self-conceit, we repudiate that necessity for patronage and protection, in which originated our conduct. In a word, the press throughout the country has not been ashamed to make head against the very few bold attempts at independence which have been made, from time to time, in the face of the reigning order of things. And if, in one or two insulated cases, the spirit of a severe Truth, sustained by an unconquerable Will, was not to be so put down — then, forthwith, were private chicaneries set in motion: — then was had recourse, on the part of those who considered themselves injured by the severity of criticism — and who were so, if the just contempt of every ingenious man is injury — recourse to arts, and to acts of the most virulent indignity — to untraceable slanders — to ruthless assassination in the dark. We say these things were [page 380:] done, while the press in general looked on, and, with a full understanding of the wrong perpetrated, spoke not against the wrong. The idea had absolutely gone abroad — had grown up, little by little, into toleration — that attacks, however just, upon a literary reputation however attained, however untenable, were well retaliated by the basest and most unfounded traduction of personal fame. But is this an age — is this a day — in which it can be necessary even to advert to such considerations as that the book of the author is the property of the public, and that the issue of the book is the throwing down of the gauntlet to the reviewer — to the reviewer whose duty is the plainest — the duty, not of approbation, nor of censure, nor even of silence at his own will, but at the sway of those sentiments — whether of admiration, whether of scorn or of contempt — which are derived from the author himself, through the medium of his written and published words? True criticism is the reflection of the thing criticised upon the spirit of the critic.

Turning, in our search for just information, upon our poetical literature, from the Newspapers, from the Monthly Magazines, and from the Quarterly Reviews — turning from these in despair, we encounter certain books, professing to select, or compile, from the works of our native bards; and no better evidence can be adduced, of the general interest felt in my present subject, then is found in the fact that even these volumes are eagerly received by the public. They meet with success — at least with sale — at periods when the general market for literary wares is in a state of stagnation. The “Specimens of American Poetry,” by KETTELL — the “Common-Place-Book of American Poetry,” by CHEEVER — Selection by General MORRIS — another by WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT — the “Poets of America,” by Mr. KEESE — and the “Poets and Poetry of America,” by RUFUS W. GRISWOLD — all these have been widely disseminated — and sold. In some measure, to be sure, we must regard their success as an affair of personalities. Each individual honored with a niche in the compiler’s memory, is naturally anxious to possess a copy of the book so honoring him — and this anxiety will extend, in some cases, to ten or twenty of the immediate friends of the complimented; while, on the other hand, purchasers will arise, in no small number, from among a very different class — a class animated by very different feelings. We mean the omitted — the large body of those, who, supposing themselves entitled to mention, have yet, very unaccountably, been left unmentioned. These buy the unfortunate book, as a matter of course, for the purpose of abusing it with a clear conscience, and at leisure. But, holding these deductions in view, we are still warranted in believing that the demand for works of the kind in question, is to be attributed, mainly, to the general interest of the matter discussed.

As for the two books first mentioned, we place no very great emphasis upon them. The “Specimens” Mr. KETTELL were, in our opinion specimens of little beyond his own ill taste. A large proportion of what he gave to the world as American Poetry — to the exclusion of much that is really so — was the doggrel composition of individuals unheard-of and undreamed-of, except by Mr. KETTELL himself. Mr. CHEEVER’S “Common-Place-Book” had, at least, the [page 381:] merit of not belying its title, and was excessively common-place. The “Selection” by General MORRIS was in so far good, that it did not fall short of its object. This object looked to nothing more than single brief extracts, from the writings of every man in the country, who had established even the slightest reputation as a poet. The extracts, upon the whole, were tastefully made; but the proverbial kind feeling of the General seduced him, we fear, into the admission of much which his judgement disapproved. It was gravely declared that we had more than two hundred poets in the land. The compilation of Mr. BRYANT — from whom much was expected — proved a source of mortification to his friends, and of disappointment to all — merely showing that a poet is, necessarily, neither a critical nor an impartial judge of poetry. Mr. KEESE brought to his task, it not the most vigorous impartiality, at least a decent taste, a tolerable judgment, and a better knowledge of his subject than had distinguished some of his predecessors.

Much, however, remained to be done — and, in a very large book, Mr. GRISWOLD has endeavoured to do it. The basis of his compilation is formed of short biographical and critical notice, with selections from the works of eighty-seven poets. In an Appendix, are included specimens from the writings of some sixty or seventy more, whose compositions have either been too few, or in the editor’s opinion, too bad, to entitle them to more particular notice. To each of these latter specimens, are appended foot-notes, conveying a brief biographical summary, without anything of critical disquisition.

In saying that, individually, we disagree with the compiler of the “Poets and Poetry of America” in many — in very many of his comparative estimates and general opinions, we are merely suggesting what, in itself, would have been obvious without the suggestion. It rarely happens that any two persons thoroughly agree upon any one point. It would be mere madness to imagine that any two could coincide in every point of a case, wherein exist a multiplicity of opinions, upon a multiplicity of points. There is no one who, reading the “Poets and Poetry of America,” will not, in a hundred instances, be tempted to throw it aside, because its prejudices and partialities are, in these hundred instances, altogether at war with his own. Had the work, nevertheless, been that of the finest critic in existence — and this, we are sorry to say, Mr. GRISWOLD is not — there would still have been these inevitable discrepancies of opinion, to startle and to vex us, as now.

When we avow, therefore, that we differ with the compiler in much — in very much that he has advanced — this difference will not fail to be taken at the proper value of any unsupported and merely individual opinion. As such, it is [[of]] little worth. Very sincerely, however, we do believe, that, as a general rule, he has not given us, in his selections, the best compositions of the poets respectively mentioned. As a matter of less importance — he has placed in his Appendix some two or three whom he should have placed in the body of the book. He has placed in the body of the book some three or four whom he should have placed in the Appendix. He has omitted altogether some four or five whom we should have been tempted to introduce. On the [page 382:] other hand, he has scarcely made amends by introducing some four or five dozen whom we should not have scrupled to treat with contempt. In several instances, he has rendered himself liable, we fear, to the charge of personal partiality — it is often so very difficult a thing to keep separate, in the mind’s eye, our conceptions of the poetry of a friend, from our impressions of his good-fellowship. Indeed the task undertaken by Mr. GRISWOLD was one of exceeding difficulty, and he has performed it with much credit to himself. lt demanded qualities, however, some of which he is too good-natured to possess. It demanded analytical ability — a distinct impression of the nature, the principles, and the aims of poetry — a thorough contempt for all prejudice at war with principle — a poetic sense of the poetic — sagacity in the detection and audacity in the exposure of demerit — in a word, talent and faith — the lofty honor which places more courtesy beneath its feet — the boldness to praise an enemy and the more unusual courage to damn a friend. It will not do to say that his book is a judicious book; but, whatever be its faults, it is the best book of its class, and the only source whence any distinct or satisfactory knowledge of our poetical literature is to be obtained.

We might write much more on this subject, and might notice the American poets in detail, but postpone our remarks until another opportunity. This will be afforded very shortly, not only by the forthcoming publication, amended, of a seventh edition of Mr. GRISWOLD’S book; but of another volume, from which we expect much. Perhaps; in the latter expectation, we may be disappointed.

 


Notes:

Much of this is repeated from Poe’s essay “American Poetry” from the Literary Examiner and Western Review, 1839, for example: Page 375: “Surely there can be few things more ridiculous than the general character and assumptions of the ordinary “critical notices” of new books!” which matches page 316 of the Literary Examiner article. Page 378: “All our poets are Miltons . . .” which matches page 317 of the Literary Examiner article. In this version, where Poe says

“. . . if it were not for talking ‘HARRISON AINSWORTH’ we might call him a ‘regular swell,’ the Literary Examiner version says “. . . talking Cockney. . . .” Other material is from “Exordium” and his review of Wilmer’s “Quacks of Helicon.”


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[S:0 - Aristidean, 1845 (microfilm)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Essays - American Poetry [Text-02]