Text: Unknown (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Works of Lord Bolingbroke,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 171-174


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[page 171, continued:]

THE WORKS OF LORD BOLINGBROKE, WITH A LIFE PREPARED EXPRESSLY FOR THIS EDITION, CONTAINING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION RELATIVE TO HIS PERSONAL AND PRIVATE CHARACTER. FOUR VOLUMES. CAREY AND HART, PHILADELPHIA, 1841.

[Graham’s Magazine, July, 1841.]

AN American edition of the works of Lord Bolingbroke has long been a desideratum to the scholar, and it is with no little pride we record that to Philadelphia we are indebted for so elegant an edition of them as [page 172:] now lies before us. The typography of these volumes would do credit to the famous London press. With the exception of a few costly works published from time to time in our country, this edition of Lord Bolingbroke is unrivalled as a work of art.

The volumes before us contain the various political and philosophical writings of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke. Of these, the political tracts are the most valuable: in a measure, for their matter, but chiefly for their style. Among these, the “Dissertation on Parties,” the “Letter to Sir Wm. Wyndham,” the “Idea of a Patriot King,” and the letters “On the Study of History” are the most celebrated. The philosophical essays, occupying two of the volumes on our table, are comparatively valueless, and inferior, both in style and matter, to the political tracts. They are deeply imbued with the sceptical opinions of the author, and we should have willingly seen them omitted in this edition, if it were possible to get up a complete one, with nearly one half of the author’s works left out. Little, therefore, as we value the philosophical works of Bolingbroke, we commend the publishers for not expunging them as too many others have done.

The style of Bolingbroke is unrivalled. No library is perfect without his works, and they should be studied by the public speaker, or the author, night and day. We boldly aver that there does not exist a writer in the language, the reading of whose works, so far as diction is concerned, would be more beneficial to young men. Bolingbroke’s choice of words is singularly fine. Nothing can be clearer, stronger, or more copious than his language. Terse, nervous, epigrammatic; diffuse in general, but condensed when necessary; at times racy, at times vehement, at times compact as [page 173:] iron; rhetorical, yet easy; elegant, yet convincing; bold, rapid, and declamatory, his writings carry one away like a spoken harangue, without betraying the carelessness of the extemporaneous style. The very absence of method, which, in others, would be faulty, is, in Bolingbroke, from the air of frankness it gives to his cause, and its consistency with his essentially oratorical style, a merit: at least not a defect. In grace he has no equal. The euphony of his sentences is like the liquid flow of a river. No writer in the English tongue so much resembles Cicero — to our mind — as Bolingbroke. Burke has been called his rival here; but Burke wanted the ease, the elegance, the chastened imagery of Tully, and in all of these St. John rivalled the friend of Atticus. Deeply imbued with the Latin literature, Bolingbroke has caught, as it were, the spirit of the Augustan age; and we feel, in perusing his pages, the same chastened delight which we enjoy over no modern, and only over Tully among the ancients.

We repeat it: no library is complete without these volumes. Hitherto the difficulty of obtaining a set of Bolingbroke’s works, and the high price at which the English editions were sold, have confined the study of his writings comparatively to a few.

The life of Bolingbroke, affixed to these volumes, is altogether a mongrel affair, being made up of shreds and patches, like an old grandam’s best bed-quilt. The text is Goldsmith, interpolated with Brougham, Cooke, and the Encyclopedia. It is true, the preface states this at large, but it also conveys the impression that the memoir has been rewritten, and that only the materials have been used. Now, if so, a more unequal, ragged, piebald piece of composition was [page 174:] never perpetrated than this same memoir, and the author — if any one but a pair of scissors there be — ought to be condemned to the now obsolete, but not less effective punishment, of the cutty-stool. If ever a man deserved a horsepond, it is the inditer of this biography.

 


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Notes:

Although Harrision collected the present review as being by Poe, that attribution is generally dismissed today, including by T. O. Mabbott.

 

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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 Works of Lord Bolingbroke)