Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Vicar of Wakefield,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XI: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 8-10


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[page 8, continued:]

THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD, A TALE. BY OLIVER GOLDSMITH, M. B. ILLUSTRATED WITH NUMEROUS ENGRAVINGS. WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE AUTHORS LIFE AND WRITINGS. BY J. AIKIN, M.D., AUTHOR OF SELECT WORKS OF THE BRITISH POETS. D. APPLETON & CO.: NEW YORK.

[Graham’s Magazine, January, 1842.]

THIS publication is one of a class which it behoves every editor in the country to encourage, at all times, by every good word in his power — the class, we mean of well-printed, and, especially, of well-illustrated works from among the standard fictions of England. We place particular emphasis upon the mechanical style of these reprints. The criticism which affects to despise these adventitious aids to the enjoyment of a work of art is at best but étourderie. The illustration, to be sure, is not always in accordance with our own understanding of the text; and this fact, although we never hear it urged, is, perhaps, the most reasonable objection which can be urged against pictorial embellishment — for the unity of conception is disturbed; but this disturbance takes place only in very slight measure (provided the work be worth illustration at all) and [page 9:] its disadvantages are far more than counterbalanced by the pleasure (to most minds a very acute one) of comparing our comprehension of the author’s ideas with that of the artist. If our imagination is feeble, the design will probably be in advance of our conception, and thus each picture will stimulate, support, and guide the fancy. If, on the contrary, the thought of the artist is inferior, there is the stimulus of contrast with the excitement of triumph. Thus, in the contemplation of a statue, or of an individual painting of merit, the pleasure derivable from the comments of a bystander is easily and keenly appreciable, while these comments interfere, in no perceptible degree, with the force or the unity of our own comprehension. We never knew a man of genius who did not confess an interest in even the worst illustrations of a good book — although we have known many men of genius (who should have known better) make the confession with reluctance, as if one which implied something of imbecility or disgrace.

The present edition of one of the most admirable fictions in the language, is, in every respect, very beautiful. The type and paper are magnificent. The designs are very nearly what they should be. They are sketchy, spirited cuts, depending for effect upon the higher merits rather than upon the minor morals of art — upon skilful grouping of figures, vivacity, naiveté, and originality of fancy, and good drawing in the mass — rather than upon finish in details, or too cautious adherence to the text. Some of the scraps at the commencement are too diminutive to be distinct in the style of workmanship employed, and thus have a blurred appearance; but this is nearly all the fault we can find. In general, these apparent trifles are superb, [page 10:] and a great number of them are of the nature to elicit enthusiastic praise from every true artist.

The Memoir by Dr. Aikin is highly interesting, and embodies in a pleasing narrative, (with little intermixture of criticism upon what no longer requires it,) all that is, or need be known of Oliver Goldsmith. In the opening page of this Memoir is an error (perhaps typographical) which, as it is upon the opening page, has an awkward appearance, and should be corrected. We allude to the word “protégée,” which, in the sense, or rather with the reference intended, should be printed “protégé.” This is a very usual mistake.

 


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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) (Review of The Vicar of Wakefield)