Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Genius and Character of Burns,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 239-241


[page 239:]


[Text: Broadway Journal, Sept. 6, 1845.]

THAT Professor Wilson is one of the most gifted and altogether one of the most remarkable men of his day, few persons will be weak enough to deny. His ideality — his enthusiastic appreciation of the beautiful, conjoined with a temperament compelling him into action and expression, has been the root of his preeminent success. Much of it, undoubtedly, must be referred to that so-called moral courage which is but the consequence of the temperament in its physical elements. In a word, Professor Wilson is what he is, because he possesses ideality, energy and audacity, each in a very unusual degree. The first, almost unaided by the two latter, has enabled him to produce much impression, as a poet, upon the secondary or tertiary grades of the poetic comprehension. His “Isle of Palms” appeals effectively, to all those poetic intellects in which the poetic predominates greatly over the intellectual element. It is a composition which delights through the glow of its imagination, but which repels (comparatively of course) through the niaiseries of its general conduct and construction. As a critic, Professor Wilson has derived, as might easily he supposed, the greatest aid from the qualities for which we have given him credit — and it is in criticism especially, that it becomes very difficult to say which of these qualities has assisted him the most. It is sheer audacity, however, to which, perhaps, after [page 240:] all, he is the most particularly indebted. How little he owes to intellectual pre-eminence and how much to the mere overbearing impetuosity of his opinions, would be a singular subject for speculation. Nevertheless it is true, that this rash spirit of domination would have served, without his rich ideality, but to hurry him into contempt. Be this as it may, in the first requisite of a critic the Scotch Aristarchus is grossly deficient. Of one who instructs we demand, in the first instance, a certain knowledge of the principles which regulate the instruction. Professor Wilson’s capability is limited to a keen appreciation of the beautiful and fastidious sense of the deformed. Why or how either is either, he never dreams of pretending to inquire, because he sees clearly his own inability to comprehend. He is no analyst. He is ignorant of the machinery of his own thoughts and the thoughts of other men. His criticism is emphatically on the surface — superficial. His opinions are mere dicta — unsupported verba magistri — and are just or unjust at the variable taste of the individual who reads them. He persuades — he bewilders — he overwhelms — at times he even argues — but there has been no period at which he ever demonstrated anything beyond his own utter incapacity for demonstration.

His “Genius and Character of Burns” will place Professor Wilson in a clear, but not (for him) in the most advantageous light. We may glean from this book, however, a very accurate conception, if not of Burns, at least of Christopher North. His most usual tone of thought and turn of expression, are here happily conveyed. To the lovers of mere rhapsody we can recommend the volume as one likely to interest them; to those who seek, in good faith, a guide to [page 241:] the real Burns — to the merits and demerits, literary and personal — of a man whose merits at least have been more grossly — more preposterously exaggerated (through a series of purely adventitious circumstances) than those of any man that ever lived upon the earth — to these seekers of the simple truth, we say, you will look for it in vain in this volume by Christopher North.






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