Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Watkins Tottle,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), pp. 45-48


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[page 45, continued:]

WATKINS TOTTLE, AND OTHER SKETCHES, ILLUSTRATIVE OF EVERY-DAY LIFE, AND EVERY-DAY PEOPLE. BY BOZ. PHILADELPHIA: CAREY, LEA AND BLANCHARD.

[Southern Literary Messenger, June, 1836.]

THIS book is a re-publication from the English original, and many of its sketches are with us, old and highly esteemed acquaintances. In regard to their author we know nothing more than that he is a far more pungent, more witty, and better disciplined writer of sly articles, than nine-tenths of the Magazine writers in Great Britain — which is saying much, it must be allowed, when we consider the great variety of genuine talent, and earnest application brought to bear upon the periodical literature of the mother country.

The very first passage in the volumes before us, will convince any of our friends who are knowing in the requisites of “a good thing,” that we are doing our friend Boz no more than the simplest species of justice. Hearken to what he says of Matrimony and of Mr. Watkins Tottle.

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It is not every one who can put “a good thing” properly together, although, perhaps, when thus properly put together, every tenth person you meet with may be capable of both conceiving and appreciating it. [page 46:] We cannot bring ourselves to believe that less actual ability is required in the composition of a really good “brief article,” than in a fashionable novel of the usual dimensions. The novel certainly requires what is denominated a sustained effort — but this is a matter of mere perseverance, and has but a collateral relation to talent. On the other hand — unity of effect, a quality not easily appreciated or indeed comprehended by an ordinary mind, and a desideratum difficult of attainment, even by those who can conceive it — is indispensable in the “brief article,” and not so in the common novel. The latter, if admired at all, is admired for its detached passages, without reference to the work as a whole — or without reference to any general design — which, if it even exist in some measure, will be found to have occupied but little of the writer’s attention, and cannot, from the length of the narrative, be taken in at one view, by the reader.

The Sketches by Boz are all exceedingly well managed, and never fail to tell as the author intended. They are entitled, Passage in the Life of Mr. Watkins Tottle — The Black Veil — Shabby Genteel People — Horatio Sparkins — The Pawnbroker’s Shop — The Dancing Academy — Early Coaches — The River — Private Theatres — The Great Winglebury Duel — Omnibuses — Mrs. Joseph Porter — The Steam Excursion — Sentiment — The Parish — Miss Evans and the Eagle — Shops and their Tenants — Thoughts about People — A Visit to Newgate — London Recreations — The Boarding-House — Hackney-Coach Stands — Brokers and Marine Store-Shops — The Bloomsbury Christening — Gin Shops — Public Dinners — Astley’s — Greenwich Fair — The Prisoner’s Van — and A Christmas Dinner. The reader who [page 47:] has been so fortunate as to have perused any one of these pieces, will be fully aware of how great a fund of racy entertainment is included in the Bill of Fare we have given. There are here some as well conceived and well written papers as can be found in any other collection of the kind — many of them we would especially recommend, as a study, to those who turn their attention to Magazine writing — a department in which, generally, the English as far excel us as Hyperion a Satyr.

The Black Veil, in the present series, is distinct in character from all the rest — an act of stirring tragedy, and evincing lofty powers in the writer. Broad humor is, however, the prevailing feature of the volumes. The Dancing Academy is a vivid sketch of Cockney low life, which may probably be considered as somewhat too outré by those who have no experience in the matter. Watkins Tottle is excellent. We should like very much to copy the whole of the article entitled Pawnbrokers’ Shops, with a view of contrasting its matter and manner with the insipidity of the passage we have just quoted on the same subject from the “Ups and Downs” of Colonel Stone, and by way of illustrate; our remarks on the unity of effect — but this would, perhaps, be giving too much of a good thing. It will u seen by those who peruse both these articles, that in list of the American, two or three anecdotes are told which have merely a relation — a very shadowy relation, to pawn-broking — in short, they are barely elicited by this theme, have no necessary dependence upon it, and might be introduced equally well in connection with art one of a million other subjects. In the sketch of the Enrlishman we have no anecdotes at all — the Pawnbroker’s Shop engages and enchains our [page 48:] attention — we are developed in its atmosphere of wretchedness arid eration — we pause at every sentence, not to dwell upon the sentence, but to obtain a fuller view of the gradualiv perfecting picture — which is never at any momentary other matter than the Paicnbroker’s Shop. To the illustration of this one end all the groupings and fillings in of the painting are rendered subservient — and when our eyes are taken from the canvass, we remember the personages of the sketch not at all as independent existences, but as essentials of the one subject we hare witnessed — as a part and portion of the Pawnbroker’s Shop. So perfect, and never-to-be-forgotten a picture cannot be brought about by any such trumpery exertion, or still more trumpery talent, as we find employed in the ineffective daubing of Colonel Stone. The scratching at a schoolboy with a slate-pencil on a slate might as well be compared to the groupings of Buonarotti.

We conclude by strongly recommending the Sketches of Boz to the attention of American readers, and by copying the whole of his article on Gin Shops.

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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Watkins Tottle)