Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Lives of the Necromancers,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 92-94


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[page 92, continued:]

LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS: OR AN ACCOUNT OF THE MOST EMINENT PERSONS IN SUCCESSIVE AGES, WHO HAVE CLAIMED FOR THEMSELVES, OR TO WHOM HAS BEEN IMPUTED BY OTHERS, THE EXERCISE OF MAGICAL POWER. BY WILLIAM GODWIN, AUTHOR OF “CALEB WILLIAMS,” &C. NEW YORK: PUBLISHED BY HARPER BROTHERS.

[Southern Literary Messenger, December, 1835.]

THE name of the author of Caleb Williams, and of St. Leon, is, with us, a word of weight, and one which we consider a guarantee for the excellence of any composition to which it may be affixed.

There is about all the writings of Godwin, one peculiarity which we are not sure that we have ever seen pointed out for observation, but which, nevertheless, is his chief idiosyncrasy — setting him peculiarly apart from all other literati of the day. We allude to an air of mature thought — of deliberate premeditation pervading, in a remarkable degree, even his most common-place observations. [page 93:]

He never uses a hurried expression, or hazards either an ambiguous phrase, or a premature opinion. His style therefore is highly artificial; but the extreme finish and proportion always observable about it, render this artificiality, which in less able hands would be wearisome, in him a grace inestimable. We are never tired of his terse, nervous, and sonorous periods — for their terseness, their energy, and even their melody, are made, in all cases, subservient to the sense with which they are invariably fraught. No English writer, with whom we have any acquaintance, with the single exception of Coleridge, has a fuller appreciation of the value of words; and none is more nicely discriminative between closely-approximating meanings.

The avowed purpose of the volume now before us is to exhibit a wide view of human credulity. “To know” — says Mr. Godwin — “the things that are not, and cannot be, but have been imagined and believed, is the most curious chapter in the annals of man.” In extenso we differ with him.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in thy philosophy.

There are many things, too, in the great circle of human experience, more curious than even the records of human credulity — but that they form one of the most curious chapters, we were at all times ready to believe, and had we been in any degree skeptical, the Lives of the Necromancers would have convinced us.

Unlike the work of Brewster, the Necromancy of Mr. Godwin is not a Treatise on Natural Magic. It does not pretend to show the manner in which delusion acts upon mankind — at all events, this is not the object [page 94:] of the book. The design, if we understand it, is to display in their widest extent, the great range and wild extravagancy of the imagination of man. It is almost superfluous to say that in this he has fully succeeded. His compilation is an invaluable work, evincing much labor and research, and full of absorbing interest. The only drawback to the great pleasure which its perusal has afforded us, is found in the author’s unwelcome announcement in the Preface, that for the present he winds up his literary labors with the production of this book. The pen which wrote Caleb Williams, should never for a moment be idle.

Were we to specify any article, in the Necromancy, as more particularly interesting than another, it would be the one entitled ‘Faustus.’ The prevalent idea that Fust the printer, and Faustus the magician, were identical, is here very properly contradicted.

 


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Notes:

None.


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