Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), “Our Magazine Literature” (A), New World (New York), March 11, 1843, pp. 302-304


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[page 302, column 2, continued:]

OUR MAGAZINE LITERATURE.

We commence our article with a list of the most prominent monthly periodicals of the country, which are as follows: The Democratic Review, The Knickerbocker, Graham’s Magazine, The Lady’s Book, Sargent’s Magazine, The Pioneer, The Lady’s Companion and The Southern Literary Messenger. In the above order, we propose to offer a few thoughts concerning the character of each, and shall conclude with a remark or two touching the tendency of this kind of literature.

Were it not for its ultraism in politics, we should consider the Democratic Review the most valuable journal of the day. Its editor, John L. O’Sullivan, is a man of fine matter-of-fact talents, and a good political writer, though not a brilliant one. The principal contributors to the work are Brownson, the new-light philosopher, Bancroft, Whittier, Bryant, Hawthorne, and Miss Sedgwick. Now the productions of such minds are always worth reading, for they are imbued with the true spirit of talent and genius; and that Magazine which employs such writers cannot but become eminently useful, and in the end, a source of reasonable emolument. Another interesting feature of the Democratic Review is the department of Criticism, which we think has generally been conducted in a candid, sensible and upright manner. Beside the notices of new books accompanying each number, it generally contains two or three elaborate reviews, which make it an agreeable work for men of letters. And as to its embellishments, (for everything must be pictured into the world now-a-days,) we consider them of the most truly valuable kind, being accurate and well-executed portraits of eminent men. Now if is were not for the ultraism of its proprietors, we should probably be favored, from time to time, with the counterfeit presentment of a Whig politician or writer, for, after all, there are some few men of talents even among the Whigs. Would not a step like this be making the Magazine more truly democratic than it is? and would it not be likely to add materially to the subscription list of the publication? Most highly indeed, do we esteem the Democratic Review, and, take it all in all, we acknowledge only three as its superiors in any country: namely: Tait’s Magazine, Frazer, and Blackwood. And these it will fully equal, when it has had the advantages of their experience. But to proceed.

The glory of the Knickerbocker is for ever departed. Once, it was a thrice welcome messenger of intellectual entertainment to everybody, ladies, gentlemen and all. Nearly all our distinguished literary men have at times, made it the medium of their communication to the public. But, alas! the good names now connected with it are few and far between, and its subscription list is rapidly dwindling away. A secondary reason for this, we imagine, is in the bad management of its pecuniary affairs; as it has been sold to a Boston publisher, and, being printed there, is a Boston magazine, and no more the Knickerbocker. But the principal cause of its melancholy decline, may be traced to the peculiar and unappreciated talent of its editor, Lewis G. Clark. The only redeeming quality which we (mind, we don’t say the public) can find in this gentleman, is in the fact that he is the brother of the late Willis G. Clark, who was one of the most gifted of our poets, and an exceedingly pleasant prose-writer. Mr. Lewis Clark has made a considerable noise in the literary world, but how he has made it, would be difficult for his best friends to explain. One of our readers might remark, “Why, don’t you know, it was by a long newspaper discussion, several years ago, between himself and his partner, Mr. Edson, wherein each one called the other all the hard names in the world.” Another, and a friend of his, points us to the Editor’s Table of the Knickerbocker, with the significant assertion, “That is the monthly production of Mr. Clark.” Our answer to this remark is, that it is not so. But allowing it to be true: what is the “Table,” but a lot of detached sentences culled from various newspapers, concerning books aud authors, together with extracts from rejected articles which the gentleman passes off as original? The present condition of this periodical is that of a poorly-cooked-up concern, a huge handsome-looking body, but without a [page 303:] soul. The sooner it dies, the better will it be for the proprietors; but if they will secure an able and efficient editor, we doubt not tut that it might be placed in the noble station which it once occupied.

The most popular of all the magazines is that published by Mr. Graham, who is a practical business man and a friend to men of talents of every east. Every article which he prints is liberally paid for, and he has the honor of patronizing a large number of eminent writers in prose and verse, than any other publisher in the country. Can we say more in his favor or in favor of his magazine? But a word or two on the other side. The embellishments of Graham are not quite as good as they might be, because they are too many. It would suit our fancy better, though perhaps not that of the public, to receive one gem of an engraving every month, instead of three or four of an inferior quality. Neither do we like the nominal editor of Graham’s Magazine. And why? Because, though a pretty good compiler, he possesses too many of the peculiar characteristics of Mr. Lewis G. Clark. Mr. Rufus W. Griswold is wholly unfit, either by intellect or character, to occupy the editorial chair of Graham’s Magazine.

The Lady’s Book, edited by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Sigourney, is upon the whole a clever magazine for the entertainment of ladies. We should like it better if the productions of gentlemen were excluded altogether, for it would then be a unique affair. A lady’s book should be supported by ladies alone. Some of the stories published in this periodical are exceedingly good, but the majority of them are “stale, flat and unprofitable.” A certain portion of sentimental nonsense is quite indispensable, but it would be well to make this portion as small as possible, and we hope the Editors of the Lady’s Book will do all in their power to bring about this state of things. Let fewer stories be written and more essays — a less quantity of rhyme and more true poetry.

Sargent’s Magazine. As yet, we have not made use of that modern but most expressive word humbug, but now we are compelled to do so. Sargent’s Magazine is a perfect literary humbug, and for the following reasons. But first as to its origin. A certain aspiring gentleman, having, so we are told, a capital of some $15,000, which he was anxious to invest in a literary enterprize, obtained the name and services of Mr. Epes Sargent, who was then disengaged,! and started a new magazine. Being in receipt from that time of a handsome salary, Mr. Sargent devoted his whole attention to the cause. Having an extensive acquaintance with the literati, he could command any quantity of puffs, and so the work was issued with a grand flourish of trumpets, although wretchedly printed and illustrated. Besides the usual contemptible fashion plates, it was interspersed at the very outset with etchings, copied from English u magazines and books. Now as to the contributors. Among the , distinguished names announced as such were John Q. Adams and Mr. Paulding. How did they become such? why! as follows. Eight lines of poetry, abstracted from a lady’s album, were printed in its pages without the author’s consent, and the name of the Ex-President announced to the world as a regular contributor to the work. Another, but inferior piece of poetry was printed and advertised as having been written by Mr. Paulding, and yet Mr. Paulding politely declines the honor of being the writer. The only two really fine articles that have appeared in it, are a poem by Holmes, and a story by Hawthorne. But whose are those loud-sounding names which are monthly arrayed on the cover of Sargent’s Magazine? it may be asked by the inquisitive reader. We will tell you, for we know them well. Mrs. Helen Berkley (we hope. to be pardoned for these contradictions) is Epes Sargent; Miss Emma F. Allston is probably Epes Sargent; Mrs. Kenneth Rookwood is undoubtedly Epes Sargent; Samuel Samson, clerk, is Epes Sargent; Henry Stanhope Lee is Epes Sargent; John Hanmar is probably Epes Sargent; and we doubt not but that all the other articles published without a name are by Epes Sargent, and of course the remaining articles by “The Editor[[“]] and “Epes Sargent” are also by Epes Sargent. According to this arrangement therefore, the Magazine in question does not belie its name, for nine pages out of every ten are by the editor Epes Sargent. This we suppose is to avoid the inconvenience of paying for good articles by good writers. While at school, Mr. Sargent wrote astonishingly well for a youth, but those productions have not been improved upon in his manhood. His mind and power of writing have not increased with his years; and, if we mistake not, some of the articles published in his present magazine as original have appeared in other periodicals in Boston years ago.

A little more than a year ago, a very good magazine, entitled the Boston Miscellany, was started, edited by Nathan Hale, Jr. It was [column 2:] supported by some of the ablest literary men of Boston, and gave token of a goodly promise. A quarrel having taken place between the editor and publishers, a separation took place between them, and Mr. Tuckerman was engaged to fill the vacant chair of editor. On a hint from Hale, Lowell the poet started a new periodical, called the Pioneer, in opposition to the Miscellany. As the case now stands, the latter is dead, very dead, and the former in the full tide of successful operation. It is printed in beautiful style, edited with great ability, and supported by a number of our most classical writers. Among men of taste it is, and we hope will continue to be, a great favorite. Its themes are of a dignified character, and the tone f its criticisms high-minded, candid, sensible, and just.

The Lady’s Companion is a milk and water concern, edited by penny-a-liner and a foreigner named Hamilton. It is a receptacle of nonsense from first to last, of picture nonsense, fashion nonsense, poetical nonsense, and prose nonsense. Of course we do not allude to the occasional productions of Mr. and Mrs. Seba Smith, Mrs. Embury, and one or two other writers of reputation. It is a work of no beneficial influence whatever, and ought to be annihilated.

Last, but not least, we come now to speak of the Southern Literary Messenger, which has probably diffused more valuable information throughout the Union than any other literary work, for the past five years. But, alas! its honest, worthy, and hard-working originator, editor, and publisher, is no more — he has paid the final debt of nature, and a host of friends will bemoan his loss. Many able productions in the departments of tales, essays, and poetry, have appeared in the pages of the Messenger, and we trust that the same names which have so long been associated with it, will continue to amuse and instruct the public by their efforts, and that an able editor will speedily be employed to secure to it its former high-standing.

In speaking of the mass of matter published in the above-mentioned periodicals, it can only be designated as sentimental, love-sick, or fashionable stories, and unmeaning rhymes. Now, if this be true, who can deny that an exceedingly bad influence is exerted by our magazine literature? Thousands of articles are written, prompted by nothing but a petty ambition, and, when published to the world, do a great deal more injury than good. Instead of instructing the youthful mind, they “please with a rattle, tickle with a straw” — instead of instilling a sound morality, they inculcate a neglect of everything that is valuable — instead of making the poor contented with their condition, they descant upon the luxury of fashion and wealth, causing a thousand hearts bitterly to ache for an imaginary want. Is not, then, this kind of literature a nuisance? Ought not its influence to be checked? True — but how can this be one? Let every candid and upright man, who believes that the tendency of this literature is bad, refrain, carefully and continually, refrain, from purchasing the magazines which publish it. People may talk and talk, but all in vain — nothing will have the desired effect but the keeping back of the necessary funds. As to those who tax their brains to produce this literature, let them enjoy, (if they are satisfied with it,) their only legitimate reward, viz: the flattery of fools — foolish young men and foolish young women. Let every person who acknowledges such men as Ingraham and Willis, (Willis, we mean, as he is now — not as he was formerly,) and such women as Helen Berkley, and all their followers, (for their name is legion,) let such people, we say, be laughed at for their taste, and see what will be the effects of the ridicule. The conclusion of the whole matter is this the light literature of the present day, particularly as disseminated in our fashionable magazines, is almost without a single redeeming quality. L. . .

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COMMENTS BY THE EDITOR. — We have consented to publish the foregoing, not because we agree with it, but because we do not. We like occasionally to differ with our correspondents, by way of allowing their independence — reserving to ourselves, however, the high privilege of expressing our disagreement with their views, opinions, prejudices, predilections and decisions. Now the writer of the above is, of course, altogether in the wrong; the magazines of our country are the most admirable affairs imaginable — polished corners of the temple — caned cariatides on the portico of literature. The generous commendations in the newspapers which always herald their monthly appearance are perfectly disinterested and just, and if we are to believe them, nor heaven nor earth nor the waters under the earth ever contained anything so beautiful, so exquisite, so superb, so splendid, so entrancing and soul-subduing. What makes it very wonderful is, that though every number never can be surpassed, the next is better still, and thus “the agony of praise is piled up,” till Pelion towers over Ossa, and the acme of superlative is overflown by [page 304:] the wings of mounting exaggeration. Nevertheless, our fat friend the public — good, easy, old gentleman — sits in his elbow-chair and laughs at the attempts made to gull him into believing that silly stories are “grand and thrilling,” and that revamped engravings — than which he can buy a hundred better for a few shillings in any print shop — are elaborate and magnificent specimens of art. He sits quietly, letting his boys and girls, if they will, take in the pretty books while he, sensible person! continues to read the New World, an wonder how anybody can possibly be so stupid as to find entertainment in any other periodical whatsoever.

Now there was one peculiarly forcible reason, why we liked no to print the foregoing comments. They are too severe, and, as toute le monde et sa,femme knows, we cannot bear to be severe; it is not our way. We praise everything; it encourages American literature and makes “Young genius. plume his eagle flight,

Rich, dew-drops shaking from his plumes of light” Where a critic is so savage and ferocious and cruel and hard-hearted and brutal, as not to praise to the utmost the pap and porridge of literature, hour the deuce does he expect to have any jellies and that “Perpetual feast of nectared sweets

Where no crude surfeit reigns?” Certainly, he ought to sing “ Io Paean” over all things good, bad an indifferent — then he is called a good-natured fellow, a discerner of excellence in others, a nice, pleasant individual with a heart as warm as a buckwheat cake — ought to be. For a reputation like this being very ambitious, we don’t like to be severe and never are — are we, dear, mild, mellifluous Miss Jenkins, etc?

But what avails running on in this way, like John Neal, hurry-skurry? “Behoveth us,”as Knowles fifty times in every play has written, “behoveth us” to be sedate and serious. Really, our correspondent says harsh and unkind things in a pleasant way. We like the Knickerbocker and the rest, and consider them very well edited. We have a high personal respect for the editors. As for Sargent’s Magazine, though in its infancy, it has, we are told, begun to go alone; and if Mr. Sargent does write all the articles, so much the more to the credit of his industry, and to the Protean character of his style, now assuming the guise of a lady, now that of a gentleman: at this minute Helen Berkley, and at the next Sam Sampson, (what a funny name!) That we wish Mr. Sargent the most measureless success, our readers well know from the notices which have graced our columns.

A word in conclusion. We can’t say that we ever read any of these Magazines. We have frequently tried to, and couldn’t.

 


Notes:

The attribution of this article to Poe is highly problematic. It was first publically attributed to Poe in 1898 by William M. Griswold, the son of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe’s literary executor: “Poe expressed his opinion of Griswold and his brother editors in the New World of 11 March 1843. He had previously sent the same remarks, except that he then professed to hold the Knickerbocker in high esteem, to that periodical, but Clark refused to print them, and in mentioning their rejection added a few contemptuous words relative to their author, though without naming him” (p. 118). William Griswold also quoted part of the article so that there can be no doubt as to what item he referred.

Noting Griswold’s comment, Killis Campbell tentatively repeated the attribution in his article on “The Poe Canon”: “ ‘Our Magazine Literature,” an article published in the New World for March 11, 1843, and there subscribed with the letter ‘L.’ The item is attributed to Poe by W. M Griswold in Passages from the Correspondence of Rufus W. Griswold . . . but on what ground he does not state. In both style and substance the article is not unlike Poe’s work. Besides, L. G. Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker, apparently understood the article to be Poe’s . . . But such evidence as we have is insufficient to warrant the unconditional ascription of the article to Poe” (reprinted in The Mind of Poe and Other Studies, 1933, pp. 227-228). The Knickerbocker actually printed two comments about the article. The first appeared in the issue for April 1843:

OUR friend and old correspondent, SARGENT, (whose new Magazine, by the way, let us hint to the editor, has never yet reached us,) as we see by a daily journal, has thought it advisable to notice an attack in the ‘New World,’ by some ‘rejected contributor,’ upon his publication. This was unwise. Even the editor was ashamed of his importunate correspondent, and disclaimed him. All that such a small-beer ‘complainant’ desires, is the notoriety of any notice whatsoever. If left to his native insignificance, he mourns with MEDDLE in the play, that he can ‘get nobody to kick him.’ Now to our mind, one of the most amusing spectacles in life, is a mortified but impotent litterateur of this sort; an ambitious ‘authorling’ perhaps of a small volume of effete and lamentable trash, full of little idle, ragged ideas, stolen and disguised among original inanities, which has fallen dead-born from the press, before the first fifty copies printed are exhausted in a ‘third edition!’ Disturb not, friend SARGENT, the leaden repose of a ‘critic’ which is even more harmless than it is malignant. Something was said, we believe, in it’s communication about the ‘OLD KNICK’S dwindling away,’ and ‘all that sort of thing and so forth;’ but having received on that day an accession of thirty-eight new names to our list of subscribers, with what complacency did we consign the paragraph to the ‘receptacle of things lost upon earth!’ (p. 380). The second article appeared in the issue for May 1843: ‘SARGENT’S MAGAZINE.’ — We are glad to learn from this handsomely embellished and well-written periodical, that it is floating on the ‘full tide of successful experiment.’ that it is an entertaining and carefully-conducted work, in the hands of its editor, EPES SARGENT, Esq., our readers will not need to be informed. One or two paltry attacks have been made upon it, and the editor accused of being in his own person three or four of his best contributors, male and female. The ‘rejected contributor’ was too short-sighted to perceive that this was the highest compliment he could pay to the talents and industry of the gentleman whom he sought to assail. We wish the work abundant success (p. 499). In the “Annals” of his edition of Poe’s Poems (1969), T. O. Mabbott states, “At some time in 1843, Poe visited New York City, where on March 11 he published pseudonymously in Park Benjamin’s weekly, The New World, a bitter attack on ‘The Magazines’.” (p. 558). Mabbott’s notes at the University of Iowa indicate that he intended to include the article in his collected edition of Poe’s works as “obviously by Poe,” with the additional note “It should be compared with the humorous tale, the ‘Literary Life of Thingum Bob’.”

As Campbell and Mabbott both recognized, the article does sound much like Poe, who was involved with all of the magazines listed in the first paragraph, except the Knickerbocker and Sargent’s , although he did not contribute to the Democratic Review until 1844. He had been an editor at the Southern Literary Messenger and Graham’s , continuing to provide material for both until his death in 1849. Each of the three issues of the short-lived Pioneer included something by Poe, and his story “The Mystery of Marie Roget” had just appeared, in three installments, in Snowden’s for November 1842, December 1842 and February 1843. Poe included Epes Sargent in his controversial series “The Literati of New York City” (1846). In general, he is rather critical of Mr. Sargent, saying, “To those who meddle little with books, some of his satirical papers must appear brilliant. In a word, he is one of the most prominent members of a very extensive American family — the men of industry, talent and tact,” three characteristics Poe saw as the antithesis of genius. Of Rufus W. Griswold, who had replaced Poe at Graham’s, Poe wrote to F. W. Thomas on September 12, 1842, “He [Graham] is not especially pleased with Griswold — nor is any one else, with the exception of the Rev. gentleman himself, who has gotten himself into quite a hornet’s nest, by his ‘Poets & Poetry.’ . . . He is a pretty fellow to set himself up as an honest judge, or even a capable one.” The comment that there are a “few men of talents even among the Whigs” might seem odd given the fact that Poe himself seems to have been a Whig, but it could also be taken as an ironic bit of humor.

As for language, there are specific elements both for and against Poe. The phrase, “upon the whole,” for example, is very typical for Poe. Poe uses the expression “milk and water” in at least three places. In a letter of March 3, 1836 to John C. McCabe, Poe describes the Baltimore Athenaeum as “that great bowl of Editorial skimmed milk and water.” In the article on Longfellow’s Poems, from the Aristidean, April 1845, which has been attributed to Poe, he comments unfavorably on a translation by Longfellow by stating, “The force of the original throughout is greatly impaired by the milk and water of the version.” In a February 14, 1849 letter to F. W. Thomas, Poe refers to Lowell’s “Fable for Critics” as “a dish of skimmed milk-and-water.” The phrase “penny-a-liner” in both “The Angel of the Odd” (1844) and “The Literary Life of Thigum Bob” (1844). Poe uses the word “ultra” in many places, and in many contexts, but seems not to have used the word “ultraism.”

There is, however, considerable reason to doubt that Poe is the author of this article. In the Editor’s Table of Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion for April 1843 appears the following notice, attributing the article to Charles Lanman (1819-1895): THE NEW WORLD — Magazine Literature. — We noticed a flimsy tirade in the “New World” of the 11th of March, upon ourselves and the magazine literature generally. Lest the potent “L.” prefixed to the article, should impress the public that the writer is a person of more literary influence than even Mr. Park Benjamin, we beg to inform them that it emanated from the sapient and erudite mind of Mr. Charles Lanman, formerly, if not at present, an under clerk in a jobbing house of this city. We will merely state that we have been so repeatedly annoyed with the trash emanating from this young man’s pen, that we have, of late, concluded to pass his communications by unnoticed. This will satisfy any interested individual as to the source whence sprang this ebullition of waspish vituperation — it being solely attributable to our neglect of his repeated applications to publish his “prose-run-mad farragos.” Well may the exalted pursuit of letters become a reproach and disgrace to all men of solid attainments, when a senseless churl like this deserts the calling assigned him by nature, to usurp a place in that realm where thought and genius away the mind’s imperishable empire. (Ladies’ Companion, XVIII, no. 6, April 1843, p. 308, middle of column 2.) The Snowden’s notice was accepted at face value by Frank L. Mott (History of American Magazines: 1741-1850, p. 612 n 13 and p. 626) and Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson (The Poe Log, 1987, p. xvii, under the entry for Park Benjamin). The possibility of Lanman being the author is quite plausible. Not only does the signed letter of “L” fit his last name, but Park Benjamin, the editor of the New World, was Lanman’s cousin. As a very minor literary figure, Lanman contributed one signed item, a brief article called “Euroclydon,” to Graham’s Magazine for May 1842 (which notes Lanman as the author of “Essays for Summer Hours,” published in Boston by Hilliard and Gray in 1841 and reprinted in 1842) and several items to the Southern Literary Messenger in 1840-1841, 1848-1850 and 1852 (David K. Jackson, The Contributors and Contributions to The Southern Literary Messenger, 1936, p. 42, 50, 91, 97, 102, 104 and 112). Of some interest, in this regard and only in this regard, may be Lanman’s article “Thoughts on Literature” from the Southern Literary Messenger, April 1840, pp. 296-299, where he decries “those who cater for the public taste — those scribblers who use any quantity of words, but are incapable of thought” and describes E. L. Bulwer and N. P. Willis a “mere pretenders” as literary men. (This essay was reprinted in Essays for Summer Hours .) As for Griswold, there is no certain record of Lanman’s opinion of that gentleman, but there were unpleasant associations within the family. Park Benjamin had co-founded the New World with Griswold in mid-1840, and forced him out within the first few issues. Lanman seems to have been much more active, as a prose writer and journalist, beginning in 1847, when he was connected with the New York Express. He authored at least twenty books between 1845 and 1886, and was praised by Washington Irving as “the picturesque explorer of the United States” for his scenic descriptions of the Saguenay and the mountains of North Carolina. He was also active in politics, where he was the private secretary of Daniel Webster in 1850, and the secretary to the Japanaese legation in 1871-1882.

Replying, in the March 18, 1843 issue of the New World, the editors noticed Sargent’s “card” from a morning paper:

MR. E PES SARGENT has published in a morning paper a card, in which he corrects the “misstatements” of our correspondent “L.,” touching Sargent’s New Monthly Magazine. Mr. Sargent would have displayed better judgement, had he caused his corrections to appear in the same journal wherein the “misstatements” were made. We have always shown great alaerity in obliging Mr. Sargent, whenever he has found it consistent with his interests to call upon us, and we should have been happy to have repaired any damages done in the article which seems to have excited his displeasure. Mr. Sargent refers to our comments as “friendly comments;” he committed a sarcasm in italics, and endeavored to print a sneer. Those comments were not offered in any unfriendly spirit, though in a jocose manner. Our correspondent was doubtless misinformed; and it is plain that Mr. Sargent has a right to the use of the names of John Quincy Adams and Mr. Paulding, though we are by no means certain that he has not taken in vain those of Helen Berkley and Samuel Samson. (New World , p. 335, middle of column 2.) Unfortunately, the New World declined to reveal the name or additional clues that might help to lead us to the identity of its correspondent. The matter of attribution of the article will, perhaps, never be settled with certainty. It should be noted that a number of other short articles in the New World at this period carry the initial “L,” but these appear to be unrelated to this article and are, presumably, by another hand.

There is an article called “Our Magazine Literature” by Charles Lanman, published in the Northern Monthly, vol. II, no. 5, March 1858, 2:461-469, but it bears little obvious resemblance to the present article.


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[S:0 - NW, 1843] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Essays - Our Magazine Literature (A)]