Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Edinburgh Review,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 82-89


[page 82:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, December, 1835.]

ARTICLE I in this number is a critique upon “The History of the Revolution in England in 1688. Comprising a View of the Reign of James the Second, from his Accession to the Enterprise of the Prince of Orange. By the late Right Honorable Sir James Mackintosh; and completed to the Settlement of the Crown, by the Editor. To which is prefixed, a Notice of the Life, Writings, and Speeches of Sir James Mackintosh. 4to. London, 1834.” The Reviewer commences by instituting a comparison between the work of Sir James, and Fox’s History of James the Second. Both books are on the same subject — both were posthumously published, and neither had received the last corrections. The authors, likewise, belonged to the same political party, and had the same opinions concerning the merits and defects of the English Constitution, and concerning most of the prominent characters and events in English history. The palm is awarded to the work of Mackintosh. “Indeed” — says the critic — “the superiority of Mr. Fox to Sir James as an orator, is hardly more clear than the superiority of Sir James to Mr. Fox as an historian. Mr. Fox with a pen in his hand, and Sir James on his legs in the House of Commons were, we think, each out of his proper element. We could never read [page 83:] a page of Mr. Fox’s writings — we could never listen for a quarter of an hour to the speaking of Sir James — without feeling that there was a constant effort, a tug up-hill. Mr. Fox wrote debates. Sir James Mackintosh spoke essays.” The style of the fragment is highly complimented, and justly. Every body must agree with the Reviewer, that a History of England written throughout, in the manner of the History of the Revolution, would be the most fascinating book in the language. The printer and editor of the work are severely censured, but the censure is, in some respects, misapplied. Such errors as making the pension of 60,000 livres, which Lord Sunderland received from France, equivalent to 2,500 pounds sterling only, when, at the time Sunderland was in power, the livre was worth more than eighteen pence, are surely attributable to no one but the author — although the editor may come in for a small portion of the blame for not correcting an oversight so palpable. On the other hand the misprinting the name of Thomas Burnet repeatedly throughout the book, both in the text and Index, is a blunder for which the editor is alone responsible. The name is invariably spelt Bennet. Thomas Burnet, Master of the Charter House, and author of the Theoria Sacra, is a personage of whom, or of whose works, the gentleman who undertook to edit the Fragment of Sir James Mackintosh has evidently never heard. The Memoir prefixed to the History, and its Continuation to the settlement of the Crown, both by the Editor of the Fragment, are unsparingly, but indeed most righteously, condemned. The Memoir is childish and imbecile, and the Continuation full of gross inaccuracies, and altogether unworthy of being appended to any thing from the pen of Mackintosh. [page 84:]

Article II is a very clever Review of the “Archanenses of Aristophanes, with Notes Critical and Explanatory, adapted to the Use of Schools and Universities By T. Mitchell, A.M. 8vo. London, 1835.” Mr. Mitchell made his first appearance as a translator and commentator in 1820, and his second in 1822, upon both which occasions he was favorably noticed in the Edinburgh. High praise is bestowed in the present instance upon the Acharnenses. The Wasps will follow, and thus it appears the chronological order of the Comedies will not be preserved. The old fault is to be found with this Review, viz: It is more of a dissertation on the subject matter of the book in question than an analysis of its merits or defects. By far the greater part of the Article is occupied in a discussion of the character of the Athenians.

Article III is headed “a Voyage of Discovery to Africa and Arabia, performed in his Majesty’s Ships Leven and Barracouta, from 1822 to 1826, under the command of Capt. F. W. W. Owen, R. N. By Capt. Thomas Boteler, R. N. 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1835.” Captain Owen sailed in January 1822 in the Leven Frigate, accompanied by the Barracouta, a ten-gun brig, with instructions to survey the entire Eastern coast of Africa, the Western coast of Madagascar — the islets and shoals interjacent — together with the Western coast of the Continent from the Zaire to Benin, and from the Rio Grande to the Gambia. All this was accomplished in five years. The narrative of Boteler, who was lieutenant of the Leven, is nothing more than a revised edition of that originally prepared by Capt. Owen, and which was a failure in a literary sense. The Review, as usual, says very little concerning the manner in which Captain Boteler has performed his task. [page 85:]

Article IV. “Deontology; or the Science of Morality: in which the Harmony and Coincidence of Duty and Self-Interest, Virtue and Felicity, Prudence and Benevolence, are explained and exemplified. From the MSS. of Jeremy Bentham. Arranged and edited by John Bowring, 2 vols. octavo, London, 1834.” “This book,” says the Reviewer, “simply contains Mr. Bentham’s thrice told tale upon Utility. It furnishes us with no fresh illustrations, no better system than we had already found in his ‘Principles of Morals and Legislation.”’ We heartily agree with the critic that there was no necessity for the publication of these posthumous volumes. They add nothing to the work just mentioned, and are, in many points, inferior. But the Notice concludes in the following words. “Is it to be wondered at, that the most learned, accurate, and philosophical nation in Europe — the Germans — treat with contempt ignorance and insolence like this? They admit the merits of Mr. Bentham as a juris-consult, in his analysis and classification of the material interests of life; but their metaphysicians and moralists agree, we believe without any [[an]] exception, in considering his speculative philosophy as undeserving even the pomp and ceremony of an argument.” We have only to add, that, in our opinion of the metaphysics of Mr. Bentham, we are, by no means, Germans to the very letter.

Article V. is an excellently well toned, and perfectly satisfactory Review of the “Journal by Frances Anne Butler, 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1835.” It defends this lady from the charge of intentionally depreciating America; cites a long list of instances in which she has spoken in terms of the greatest cordiality of our people, individually, and as a nation; shows in [page 86:] what manner she has repeatedly let slip opportunities of saying, and saying too with perfect justice, things little likely to flatter our vanity; defends her from the ridiculous actuation of vulgarity (there is positively not an iota of vulgarity in the composition of Fanny Kemble) and very justly gives us a rap over the knuckles for our overweening vanity, self-sufficiency, and testiness of temper. The whole article is excellent, and the conclusion is particularly to our mind. “There is no chance of her return to a profession that she so cordially detested. Under these circumstances the only compensation Mr. Butler can make to us he must make. He is bound to see that she goes on with her faithful and amusing journal, and that she finishes, at her leisure, some of the sundry stories, plays, and novels, on which, it seems, she had already set to work amid the interruptions of the stage.”

The sixth article is a review of “The Works of George Dalgarno, of Aberdeen. 4to. Reprinted at Edingburgh: 1834.” This work is merely a reprint of the old Treatises of Dalgarno, the publication not extending beyond the sphere of the Maitland Club — a society instituted at Glasgow in imitation of the Edinburgh Ballantyne Club. The first treatise of Dalgarno is entitled “Ars Signorum, Vulgo Character Universalis, et Lingua Philosophica. Londini 1661.” The second is “Didascalocophus, or the Deaf and Dumb Man’s Tutor: to which is added a Discourse of the Nature and Numberof Double Consonants: both which Tracts being the first (for what the author knows) that have been published upon either of the subjects. Printed at the Theater in Oxford, 1680.” The memory of Dalgarno had nearly perished when Dugald Stewart called public attention to his writings, [page 87:] on account of his having anticipated, on grounds purely speculative, and a priori, what has now been proved a posteriori by Horne Tooke and others, viz: that all grammatical inflections are reducible to the noun alone.

Article VII is headed “Narrative of a Second Voyage in search of a North-West Passage, and of a Residence in the Arctic Regions during the years 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833. By Sir John Ross, C. B., K. S. A., K. C. S., &c. &c., Captain in the Royal Navy. Including the Reports of Commander, now Captain, James Clark Ross, R. N., F. R. S., F. L. S., &c. and the Discovery of the Northern Magnetic Pole. 4to. London: 1835.” The Reviewer professes himself unable to regard the observations made by Commander Ross in relation to the Magnetic Pole in the light of a discovery. “It was certainly a great satisfaction to stand upon a rock where the dip was 89° 59′, and where the polarity of nicely suspended needles was insensible; but it may be questioned whether or not the place of the Magnetic Pole can be best determined by observations made at a distance or near the spot; and we are not satisfied that the position assigned by Commander Ross is more accurate than that given by the curves of Professor Barlow, the calculations of Hansteen, and the observations of Captain Parry.” The fact is that the Magnetic Pole is moveable, and, place it where we will, we shall not find it in the same place to-morrow. Notice is taken also by the critic that neither Captain nor Commander Ross has made the slightest reference to the fact that the Magnetic Pole is not coincident with the Pole of maximum cold. From observations made by Scoresby in East Greenland, and by Sir Charles Giesecké and the Danish Governors in West Greenland, and confirmed [page 88:] by all the metereological observations made by Captains Parry and Franklin, Sir David Brewster has deduced the fact that the Pole of the Equator is not the Pole of maximum cold: and as the matter is well established, it is singular, to say no more, that it has been alluded to by neither the Commander nor the Captain.

Article VIII is 1. A “History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain, with a Notice of its Early History in the East, and in all quarters of the Globe; a Description of the Great Mechanical Inventions which have caused its unexampled extension in Great Britain: and a View of the Present State of the Manufacture, and the condition of the Classes engaged in its several departments. By Edward Baines, [[Jr.]] Esq. 8vo. London: 1835.”

2. “The Philosophy of Manufactures: or an Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain. By Andrew Ure, M.D. 8vo. London: 1835.” Mr. Baines’ work is spoken of in high terms, as discovering much laborious research, and being both interesting and valuable. With the exception of Smith’s Memoirs of Wool, published in 1747, it is said to be the only work giving a clear and copious account of the rise, progress, and actual condition of any of the great branches of industry carried on in the kingdom. Dr. Ure’s work is censured for inaccuracy of detail. Its title is evidently a misnomer.

Article IX is “A Poet’s Portfolio; or Minor Poems. In Three Books. By James Montgomery, 12mo. London, 1835.”

The first production of Mr. Montgomery, “The Wanderer of Switzerland,” was noticed about twenty-eight years ago in the Edinburgh, and much fault [page 89:] found with it for inflation of style, and affectation. The present volume has induced the Journal to alter its tone entirely, and the Minor Poems are (perhaps a little too highly) lauded. “There is,” says the critic, “something in all his poetry which makes fiction the most impressive teacher of truth and wisdom; and by which, while the intellect is gratified, and the imagination roused, the heart, if it retains any sensibility to tender or elevating emotions, cannot fail to be made better.” The Reviewer, as usual, does not stick to his text, but comments, in detail, upon all the published poems of Montgomery.

The tenth and concluding paper is a Review of “The Second Report of his Majesty’s Commissioners on Ecclesiastical Revenue and Patronage: Ireland. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed: 1834” — and “First Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction: Ireland. Presented to both Houses of Parliament, by command of his Majesty: 1835.”

This article is written with great ability; but why call that a Review which is purely a dissertation on the state of the Irish Church? It concludes with a correspondence between the Editor of the Edinburgh, and Mr. Alan Stevenson, respecting evidence given, by the latter, before the Parliamentary Committee on Light Houses. The Journal, in No. CXXII, accused Mr. S. of deceiving the Committee by erroneous testimony; and, upon Mr. S. demanding an explanation, the Review not only refuses to retract its assertions, but declares that, had it known certain facts at the time of inditing the offensive article, it would have expressed itself with double severity.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 82:]

1.  Reprinted here as a specimen of Poe’s manner in reviewing magazines. — ED.





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Edinburgh Review)