Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 81-85


[page 81:]


[Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1840.]

IN our last number we had barely room to acknowledge the reception of this valuable work, and to speak of it in general terms of commendation. A careful perusal has since assured us that we did not err in our opinion. The book will recommend itself wherever seen, as a well-arranged and well-digested compendium, embracing a vast amount of information upon the various topics of physical science, and especially well adapted to those educational purposes for which the volumes are designed.

We are not aware of the precise period at which the American edition was actually passed through the press; and one or two apparent inaccuracies which have arrested our attention may have been understood as truths at the time of Mr. Greenwood’s supervision.

It is questionable whether there be not something of a philosophy un peu passé in a passage where a certain argument is spoken of as not proving the absolute permanency of our solar system, “because we know from the more sure word of prophecy that it is not destined to last forever.” We believe there are few intelligent men of the present day — few, either laymen or divines [page 82:] — who are still willing to think that the prophecies here referred to have any further allusion than to the orb of the earth, or, more strictly, to the crust of this orb alone. The entire system never was meant to be included. Upon this topic we refer the reader, in perfect confidence, to the excellent observations of Dr. Dick, in his “Christian Philosopher.” At page 297, of the fourth volume, and subsequently, there are some passages which strongly insist upon the literal fulfilment of the biblical prophecies in regard to the city of Petra, in Idumæa, the ancient Edom; and, in connection with this subject, the work of Dr. Keith on the Prophecies is greatly extolled. “This singular place” (Petra), says Dr. Duncan, “has only lately been minutely surveyed, and indeed little was known of it till after the commencement of the present century, when it was visited first by Dr. Burckhardt, and afterward by captains Irby and Mangles.” To this the American editor adds in a foot-note, “Yet more recently these wonderful ruins have been visited by our countryman, Mr. Stevens.” (Stephens.)

There is, we confess, something here of which we do not altogether approve. Dr. Duncan is perfectly justifiable in avowing that implicit confidence which he no doubt feels, in the accuracy of the statements of Dr. Keith, and in the force of the arguments supporting his favourite doctrine — the literal fulfilment of prophecy; but we think Mr. Greenwood should have observed, by way of offset, that the work in question has been more than once thoroughly refuted; and once, especially, in an unanswerable argument in the pages of the London Quarterly Review. Moreover, as the book of Mr. Stephens was alluded to, it would have been as well to say that this book itself affords a very [page 83:] singular, and certainly a very positive refutation, not only of the general argument of Dr. Keith, but of the very portion of it now in question.

It is said in Isaiah, respecting Idumæa, that “none shall pass through thee for ever and ever.” Dr. K. insists upon understanding this in its most strictly literal sense. He attempts to prove that neither Burckhardt nor Irby passed through the country — merely penetrating to Petra, and returning. But then, Mr. Stephens entered Idumæa with a full and deliberate design of putting the question of this prophecy to test; he determined to see whether it was meant that Idumæa should not be passed through, and he accordingly passed through it from one end to the other. The truth is that a palpable mistranslation exists in the passage of Isaiah referred to: a passage which Dr. Keith should have examined critically in the original before basing so long an argument upon it. This mistranslation, and several others upon the same topic, we pointed out ourselves, not very long ago, in an article in the New York Review. The words in question are found in Isaiah xxxiv., 10, and run thus: Lenetsach netsachim ein over bah. (We have not the Hebrew type.) The sentence, word for word, is as follows: Lenetsach, for an eternity; netsachim, of eternities; ein, not; over, moving about; bah, in it; that is to say, “for an eternity of eternities (there shall) not (be any one) moving about in it,” not through it. The participle over refers to one moving to and fro, or up and down; and is the same term which is rendered “current” as an epithet of money, in Genesis xxiii., 16. The prophet simply means that there shall be no mark of life in the land; no living being there; no one moving up and down in it. He [page 84:] merely refers to its general abandonment and desolation.

In the same way we have received an erroneous idea of the meaning of Ezekiel xxxv., 7, where the same region is mentioned. The common version runs, — “Thus will I make Mount Seir most desolate, and cut off from it him that passeth out and him that returneth” — a sentence which Dr. Keith views as he does the one mentioned above, that is to say, he supposes it to forbid any travelling in Idumæa under penalty of death, instancing Burckhardt’s death shortly after his return, as confirming his opinion, on the ground that he died in consequence of his rash attempt. Now the words which have been construed by “him that passeth out and him that returneth” are “over vasal,” and mean strictly “him that passeth and repasseth.” Here, as before, the inhabitants are referred to. Our version is sanctioned by Gesenius, and there is something very analogous in the Hebrew-Greek phrase in Acts ix., 28 — και ην μετ’ αυτων εισπορευοενος και εκπορευοενος εν ‘Ιερουσαλημ, “and he was with them in Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” The Latin versatus est hits it off exactly. The meaning is, that Saul, the newcomer, was on intimate terms with the true believers in Jerusalem, moving about among them, to and fro, or in and out.

But we have been led off from our immediate purpose which was chiefly to dissent, in general terms, from the views of Dr. Keith, and to express a regret that a gentleman so well qualified to speak upon this subject as Mr. Greenwood should not have appended some observations to the remarks of Dr. Duncan. The “Philosophy of the Seasons” is a book of which every one must think well. Its great comprehensiveness, [page 85:] its general accuracy, its ingenious and luminous arrangement, render it, in every respect, a valuable work. Its mechanical execution is exceedingly good, and does high credit to the taste of the publishers, Messrs. Marsh, Capen, Lyon, and Webb.




The Greek above has been reproduced without most of the accents present in the original.


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