Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Doctor,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), pp. 66-69


[page 66, continued:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1836.]

THE Doctor has excited great attention in America as well as in England, and has given rise to every variety of conjecture and opinion, not only concerning the author’s individuality, but in relation to the meaning, purpose, and character of the book itself. It is now said to be the work of one author — now of two, three, four, five — as far even as nine or ten. These writers are sometimes thought to have composed the Doctor conjointly — sometimes to have written each a portion. These individual portions have even been pointed out by the supremely acute, and the names of their respective fathers assigned. Supposed discrepancies of taste and manner, together with the prodigal introduction of mottoes, and other scraps of erudition (apparently beyond the compass of a single individual’s reading) have given rise to this idea of a multiplicity [page 67:] of writers — among whom are mentioned in turn all the most witty, all the most eccentric, and especially all the most learned of Great Britain. Again — in regard to the nature of the book. It has been called an imitation of Sterne — an august and most profound exemplification, under the garb of eccentricity, of some all-important moral law — a true, under guise of a fictitious, biography — a simple jeu d’esprit — a mad farrago by a Bedlamite — and a great multiplicity of other equally fine names and hard. Undoubtedly, the best method of arriving at a decision in relation to a work of this nature, is to read it through with attention, and thus see what can be made of it. We have done so, and can make nothing of it, and are therefore clearly of opinion that the Doctor is precisely — nothing. We mean to say that it is nothing better than a hoax.

That any serious truth is meant to be inculcated by a tissue of bizarre and disjointed rhapsodies, whose general meaning no person can fathom, is a notion altogether untenable, unless we suppose the author a madman. But there are none of the proper evidences of madness in the book — while of mere banter there are instances innumerable. One half, at least, of the entire publication is taken up with palpable quizzes, reasonings in a circle, sentences, like the nonsense verses of Du Barus, evidently framed to mean nothing, while wearing an air of profound thought, and grotesque speculations in regard to the probable excitement to be created by the book.

It appears to have been written with the sole view (or nearly with the sole view) of exciting inquiry and comment. That this object should be fully accomplished cannot be thought very wonderful, when we consider [page 68:] the excessive trouble taken to accomplish it, by vivid and powerful intellect. That the Doctor is the offspring of such intellect, is proved sufficiently by many passages of the book, where the writer appears to have been led off from his main design. That it is written by more than one man should not be deduced either from the apparent immensity of its erudition, or from discrepancies of style. That man is a desperate mannerist who cannot vary his style ad infinitum; and although the book may have been written by a number of learned bibliophagi, still there is, we think, nothing to be found in the book itself at variance with the possibility of its being written by any one individual of even mediocre reading. Erudition is only certainly known in its total results. The mere grouping together of mottoes from the greatest multiplicity of the rarest works, or even the apparently natural in weaving into any composition, of the sentiments and manner of these works, are attainments within the reach of any well- informed, ingenious and industrious man having access to the great libraries of London. Moreover, while a single individual possessing these requisites and opportunities, might through a rabid desire of creating a sensation, have written, with some trouble, the Doctor, it is by no means easy to imagine that a plurality of sensible persons could be found willing to embark in such absurdity from a similar, or indeed from any imaginable inducement.

The present edition of the Harpers consists of two volumes in one. Volume one commences with a Prelude of Mottoes occupying two pages. Then follows a Postscript — then a Table of Contents to the first volume, occupying eighteen pages. Volume two has a similar Prelude of Mottoes and Table of Contents. [page 69:] The whole is subdivided into Chapters Ante-Initial, Initial and Post-Initial, with Inter-Chapters. The pages have now and then a typographical queerity — a monogram, a scrap of grotesque music, old English, &c Some characters of this latter kind are printed with colored ink in the British edition, which is gotten up with great care. All these oddities are in the manner of Sterne, and some of them are exceedingly well conceived. The work professes to be a Life of one Doctor Daniel Dove and his horse Nobs — but we should put no very great faith in this biography. On the back of the book is a monogram — which appears again once or twice in the text, and whose solution is a fertile source of trouble with all readers. This monogram is a triangular pyramid; and as, in geometry, the solidity of every polyedral body may be computed by dividing the body into pyramids, the pyramid is thus considered as the base or essence of every polyedron. The author then, after his own fashion, may mean to imply that his book is the basis of all solidity or wisdom — or perhaps, since the polyedron is not only a solid, but a solid terminated by plane faces, that the Doctor is the very essence of all that spurious wisdom which will terminate in just nothing at all — in a hoax, and a consequent multiplicity of blank visages. The wit and humor of the Doctor have seldom been equalled. We cannot think Southey wrote it, but have no idea who did.






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