Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Poe's Reply to His Critics,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 333-340


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[page 333:]

POE’S REPLY TO HIS CRITICS.

[Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1836, Supplement.]

IN compliance with the suggestion of many of our friends, and at the request of a majority of our contributors, we again publish a supplement consisting of Notices of theMessenger.” We have duly weighed the propriety and impropriety of this course, and have concluded that when we choose to adopt it, there can be no good reason why we should not. Heretofore we have made selections from the notices received — only taking care to publish what we conceived to be a fair specimen of the general character of all — and, with those who know us, no suspicion of unfairness in this selection would be entertained. Lest, however, among those who do not know us, any such suspicion should arise, we now publish every late criticism received. This supplement is, of course, not considered as a portion of the Messenger itself, being an extra expense to the publisher.

We commence with the Newbern (North Carolina) Spectator — a general dissenter from all favorable opinions of our Magazine.

Southern Literary Messenger. — The May number of this periodical has been on our table for some days, but our avocations have prevented us from looking [page 334:] into it before to-day. It is as usual, a beautiful specimen of typography, and sustains Mr. White’s acknowledged mechanical taste. Its contents are various, as may be seen by referring to another column of today’s paper, and not more various than unequal. Some of the articles are creditable to their authors, while others — indeed a majority of them — would better suit an ephemeral sheet like our own, which makes no great literary pretensions, than the pages of a magazine that assumes the high stand of a critical censor and a standard of correct taste in literature. While its pretensions were less elevated, we hailed the Messenger as an attempt, and a successful one, to call forth southern talent and to diffuse a taste for chaste and instructive reading; and had its conductors been satisfied with the useful and creditable eminence which the work attained almost immediately, the Messenger would not only have had a more extensive circulation, but its labors would have been more beneficial to the community — the great end at which every periodical should aim. With the talent available in any particular spot in the southern country, it is out of the question, truly ridiculous, to assume the tone of a Walsh, a Blackwood or a Jeffries; and to attempt it, without the means to support the pretension, tends to accelerate the downfall of so indiscreet an attempt. We do not wish to be misunderstood in this remark. We believe, indeed we know, that the south possesses talent, and cultivated talent too, in as great abundance perhaps as any population of the same extent so situated; but the meaning which we intend to convey is, that this talent is neither sufficiently concentrated, nor sufficiently devoted to literary pursuits, to be brought forth in support of any single publication in strength adequate to [page 335:] establish an indisputable claim to superiority. Without these advantages, however, the Messenger has boldly put itself forth as an arbiter whose dicta are supreme; and with a severity and an indiscreetness of criticism, — especially on American works, — which few, if any, of the able and well established Reviews have ventured to exercise, has been not only unmerciful, but savage. We admit that the number before, as well as the one preceding, is more moderate; and this change encourages the hope that justness of judgment and a dignified expression of opinion will hereafter characterise the work. The May number, however, is over captious, unnecessarily devoted to faultfinding, in a few cases. In criticising “Spain Revisited,” this spirit shows itself. About ninety lines are occupied in condemnation of the Author’s dedication, a very unpretending one too, and one which will elevate Lieutenant Slidell in the estimation of all who prefer undoubted evidences of personal friendship to the disposition which dictates literary hypercriticism. The errors of composition that are to be found in the work, grammatical and other, are also severely handled, we will not say ably. The following is a specimen.

“ ‘And now, too, we began’ — says Spain Revisited — ‘to see horsemen jauntily dressed in slouched hat, embroidered jacket, and worked spatterdashes, reining fiery Andalusian coursers, each having the Moorish carbine hung at hand beside him.’

“ ‘Were horsemen’ — says the Messenger, ‘a generic term, that is, did the word allude to horsemen generally, the use of the “slouched hat” and “embroidered jacket” in the singular, would be justifiable — but it is not so in speaking of individual horsemen, where [page 336:] the plural is required. The participle “reining” probably refers to “spatterdashes,” although of course intended to agree with “horsemen.” The word “each” also meant to refer to the “horsemen,” belongs, strictly speaking, to the “coursers.” The whole, if construed by the rigid rules of grammar, would imply that the horsemen were dressed in spatterdashes — which spatterdashes reined the coursers — and which coursers had each a carbine.’

“With all deference to the Messenger, we would ask, if it never entered into the critick’s mind that ‘slouched hat’ ‘and embroidered jacket’ are here used as generick terms? Lieutenant Slidell evidently intended that they should be so received: but that he entertained the same intention respecting ‘horsemen,’ the whole context disproves. Had the reviewer placed a comma after the word ‘horsemen,’ in the first line of the paragraph which he dissects, (the relative and verb — who were — being elided, there is authority for so doing,) considered as parenthetical and illustrative all that follows between that comma and the one which comes after ‘spatterdashes’ supplied the personal relative and the proper verb, which are plainly understood before the participle ‘reining,’ we presume that this sentence, ill-constructed as it undoubtedly is, would have escaped the knife, from a conviction that there are many as bad in the Messenger itself. The only critical notice which we have had leisure to read since the reception of the number, is the one which we have named. We may resume the subject in connexion with the June number.”

We are at a loss to know who is the editor of the Spectator, but have a shrewd suspicion that he is the identical gentleman who once sent us from Newbern [page 337:] an unfortunate copy of verses. It seems to us that he wishes to be taken notice of, and we will, for the once, oblige him with a few words — with the positive understanding, however, that it will be inconvenient to trouble ourselves hereafter with his opinions. We would respectfully suggest to him that his words, “while its pretensions were less elevated we hailed the Messenger as a successful attempt, &c. and had its conductors been satisfied with the useful and creditable eminence, &c. we would have had no objection to it,” &c. are a very fair and candid acknowledgment that he can find no fault with the Messenger but its success, and that to be as stupid as itself is the only sure road to the patronage of the Newbern Spectator. The paper is in error — we refer it to any decent schoolboy in Newbern — in relation to the only sentence in our Magazine upon which it has thought proper to comment specifically, viz. the sentence above (by Lieutenant Slidell) beginning “And now too we began to see horsemen jauntily dressed in slouched hat, embroidered jacket, &c.” The Spectator says, “We would ask if it never entered into the critic’s mind that ‘slouched hat’ and ‘embroidered jacket’ are here used as generic terms? Lieutenant Slidell evidently intended that they should be so received; but that he entertained the same intention respecting ‘horsemen,’ the whole context disproves.” We reply, (and the Spectator should imagine us smiling as we reply) that it is precisely because “slouched hat” and “embroidered jacket” are used as generic terms, while the word “horsemen” is not, that we have been induced to wish the sentence amended. The Spectator also says, “With the talent available in any particular spot in the Southern country, it is out of the [page 338:] question, truly ridiculous, to assume the tone of a Walsh, a Blackwood, or a Jeffries.” We believe that either Walsh, or (Blackwood?) or alas Jeffries, would disagree with the Newbern Spectator in its opinion of the talent of the Southern country — that is, if either Walsh or Blackwood or Jeffries could have imagined the existence of such a thing as a Newbern Spectator. Of the opinion of Blackwood and Jeffries, however, we cannot be positive just now. Of that of Walsh we can, having heard from him very lately with a promise of a communication for the Messenger, and compliments respecting our Editorial course, which we should really be ashamed of repeating. From Slidell, for whom the Spectator is for taking up the cudgels, we have yesterday heard in a similar strain and with a similar promise. From Prof. Anthon, ditto, Mrs. Sigourney, also lately reviewed, has just forwarded us her compliments and a communication. Halleck, since our abuse of his book, writes us thus: “There is no place where I shall be more desirous or [[of]] seeing my humble writings than in the publication you so ably support and conduct. It is full of sound, good literature, and its frank, open, independent manliness of spirit, is characteristic of the land it hails from.” Paulding, likewise, has sent us something for our pages, and is so kind as to say of us in a letter just received, “I should not hesitate in placing the “Messenger” decidedly at the head of our periodicals, nor do I hesitate in expressing that opinion freely on all occasions. It is gradually growing in the public estimation, and under your conduct, and with your contributions, must soon, if it is not already, be known all over the land.” Lastly, in regard to the disputed matter of Drake and Halleck, we have just received [page 339:] the following testimony from an individual second to no American author in the wide-spread popularity of his writings, and in their universal appreciation by men of letters, both in the United States and England. “You have given sufficient evidence on various occasions, not only of critical knowledge but of high independence; your praise is therefore of value, and your censure not to be slighted. Allow me to say that I think your article on Drake and Halleck one of the finest pieces of criticism ever published in this country.”

These decisions, on the part of such men, it must be acknowledged, would be highly gratifying to our vanity, were not the decision vetoed by the poet of the Newbern Spectator. We wish only to add that the poet’s assertion in regard to the Messenger “putting itself forth as an arbiter whose dicta are supreme,” is a slight deviation from the truth. The Messenger merely expresses its particular opinions in its own particular manner. These opinions no person is bound to adopt. They are open to the comments and censures of even the most diminutive things in creation — of the very Newbern Spectators of the land. If the Editor of this little paper does not behave himself we will positively publish his verses. — Ed. Messenger.

[Here come the names of the following newspapers, with extracts: Augusta Chronicle, Courier and Enquirer, National Intelligencer, Richmond Compiler, Baltimore Gazette, Norfolk Herald, National Gazette, Baltimore American, Baltimore Athenæum, (2) Baltimore Patriot, (2) New Yorker, (2) Charlottesville Advocate, National Gazette, Boston Galaxy, United States Gazette, Methodist Conference Sentinel, [page 340:] Petersburg Constellation, Winchester Virginian, (2) New Hampshire Patriot, (2) Charleston Courier, Louisville City Gazette, Oxford Examiner, Columbia (S. C.) Times, Richmond Whig, New York Weekly Messenger, Norfolk Herald.]

 


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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) (Poe's Reply to His Critics)