Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Marginalia - Part XIV,” The Complete Works of E. A. Poe, Vol. XVI: Marginalia and Eureka (1902), pp. 168-175


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[page 168, continued:]

[[MARGINALIA.]]

XIV.

[Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1849.]

[[Item 257]]

The fishes described by Athenæus as άθανατοισι θέοισι φνἡν και έίδος όίμοιαι [[sic]] were, beyond doubt, a shoal of Preserved Fish, like the one who spoke up so boldly for President Tyler.

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[[Item 258]]

The eloquence of the Honorable G— strikes me as being of that class which, “si absit,” as Cicero says, speaking generally of eloquence in a philosopher, “non magnopere desideranda.”

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[[Item 259]]

In saying that “grace will save any book and without it none can live long,” Horace Walpole had reference, I fancy, to that especial grace which managed to save so many books of his own — his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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[[Item 260]]

Until we analyze a religion, or a philosophy, in respect of its inducements, independently of its rationality, we shall never be in condition to estimate that religion, [page 169:] or that philosophy, by the mere number of its adherents: — unluckily,

“No Indian Prince has to his palace

More followers than a thief to the gallows.”

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[[Item 261]]

In omitting to envelop our Gothic architecture in foliage, we omit, in fact, an essential point in the Gothic architecture itself. Of a Gothic church, especially, trees are as much a portion as the pointed arch. “Ubi tres, ecclesia,” says Tertullian; — but no doubt he meant that “ubi ecclesia, tres.

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[[Item 262]]

“If, in any point,” says Lord Bacon, “I have receded from what is commonly received, it hath been for the purpose of proceeding melius and not in aliud” — but the character assumed, in general, by modern “Reform” is, simply, that of Opposition.

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[[Item 263]]

A strong argument for the religion of Christ is this — that offenses against Charity are about the only ones which men on their death-beds can be made — not to understand — but to feel — as crime.

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[[Item 264]]

That Demosthenes “turned out very badly,” appears, beyond dispute, from a passage in “Meker de vet. et rect. Pron. Ling. Græcæ,” where we read “Nec illi (Demostheni) turpe videbatur, optimis relictis magistris, ad canes se conferre,” etc., etc.: — that is to say, Demosthenes was not ashamed to quit good society and “go to the dogs.

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[[Item 265]]

When —— and —— pavoneggiarsi about the celebrated personages whom they have “seen” in their [page 170:] travels, we shall not be far wrong in inferring that these celebrated personages were seen έκάσ — as Pindar says he “saw” Archilochus, who died ages before the former was born.

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[[Item 266]]

To see distinctly the machinery — the wheels and pinions — of any work of Art is, unquestionably, of itself, a pleasure, but one which we are able to enjoy only just in proportion as we do not enjoy the legitimate effect designed by the artist: — and, in fact, it too often happens that to reflect analytically upon Art, is to reflect after the fashion of the mirrors in the temple of Smirna, which represent the fairest images as deformed.

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[[Item 267]]

The modern reformist Philosophy which annihilates the individual by way of aiding the mass; and the late reformist Legislation, which prohibits pleasure with the view of advancing happiness, seem to be chips of that old block of a French feudal law which, to prevent young partridges from being disturbed, imposed penalites upon hoeing and weeding.

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[[Item 268]]

I cannot help thinking that romance-writers, in general, might, now and then, find their account in taking a hint from the Chinese, who, in spite of building their houses downwards, have still sense enough to begin their books at the end.

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[[Item 269]]

Surely M—— cannot complain of the manner in which his book has been received; for the Public, in regard to it, has given him just such an assurance as Polyphemus pacified Ulysses with, while his companions [page 171:] were being eaten up before his eyes. “Your book, Mr. M——,” says the Public, “shall be — I pledge you my word — the very last that I devour.”

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[[Item 270]]

In examining trivial details, we are apt to overlook essential generalities. Thus M——, in making a to-do about the “typographical mistakes” in his book, has permitted the printer to escape a scolding which he did richly deserve — a scolding for a “typographical mistake” of really vital importance — the mistake of having printed the book at all.

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[[Item 271]]

Mozart declared, on his death-bed, that he “began to see what may be done in music;” and it is to be hoped that DeMeyer and the rest of the spasmodists will, eventually, begin to understand what may not be done in this particular branch of the Fine Arts.

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[[Item 272]]

Nicholas Ferrar, were he now living, would be not a little astonished to find thoroughly established here, by our Magazine poets, that very “perpetual chant” which he so unsuccessfully struggled to establish in the village of Little Gidding.

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[[Item 273]]

In the tale proper — where there is no space for development of character or for great profusion and variety of incident — mere construction is, of course, far more imperatively demanded than in the novel. Defective plot, in this latter, may escape observation, but in the tale, never. Most of our tale writers, however, neglect the distinction. They seem to begin their stories without knowing how they are to end; and their ends, generally, [page 172:] — like so many governments of Trinculo — appear to have forgotten their beginnings.

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[[Item 274]]

It has been well said of the French orator, Dupin, that “he spoke, as nobody else, the language of every body;” and thus his manner seems to be exactly conversed in that of the Frogpondian Euphuists, who, on account of the familiar tone in which they lisp their outré phrases, may be said to speak, as every body, the language of nobody — that is to say, a language emphatically their own.

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[[Item 275]]

The vox populi, so much talked about to so little purpose, is, possibly, that very pox et preterea nihil which the countryman, in Catullus, mistook for a nightingale.

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[[Item 276]]

It is folly to assert, as some at present are fond of asserting, that the Literature of any nation or age was ever injured by plain speaking on the part of the Critics. As for American Letters, plain-speaking about them is, simply, the one thing needed. They are in a condition of absolute quagmire — a quagmire, to use the words of Victor Hugo, d’ou on ne pent se firer par des periphrases — par des quemadmodums et des verumenlmveros.

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[[Item 277]]

I believe it is Montaigne who says — ”People talk about thinking, but, for my part. I never begin to think until I sit down to write.” A better plan for him would have been, never to sit down to write until he had made an end of thinking. [page 173:]

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[[Item 278]]

There is an old German chronicle about Reynard the Fox, when crossed in love — about how he desired to turn hermit, but could find no spot in which he could be”thoroughly alone,” until he came upon the desolate fortress of Malapart. He should have taken to reading the “American Drama” of . I fancy he would have found himself “thoroughly alone” in that.

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[[Item 279]]

Alas! how many American critics neglect the happy suggestion of M. Timon — ”que le ministre de L’Ir~struction Publique dolt lui-meme savoir parler Francis.

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[[Item 280]]

I cannot tell how it happens, but, unless, now and then, in a case of portrait-painting, very few of our artists can justly be held guilty of the crime imputed by Apelles to Protogenes — that of “being too natural.”

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[[Item 281]]

M———, as a matter of course, would rather be abused by the critics than not be noticed by them at all; but he is hardly to be blamed for growling a little, now and then, over their criticisms — just as a dog might do if pelted with bones.

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[[Item 282]]

To villify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness. The Crab might never have become a Constellation but for the courage it evinced in nibbling Hercules on the heel.

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[[Item 283]]

Our “blues” are increasing in number at a great rate; and should be decimated, at the very least. Have we no critic with nerve enough to hang a dozen [page 174:] or two of them, in terrorem? He must use a silk cord, of course — as they do, in Spain, with all grandees of the blue blood — of the “sangre azula.”

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[[Item 284]]

No doubt, the association of idea is somewhat singular — but I never can hear a crowd of people singing and gesticulating, all together, at an Italian opera, without fancying myself at Athens, listening to that particular tragedy, by Sophocles, in which he introduces a full chorus of turkeys who set about bewailing the death of Meleager. It is noticeable in this connexion, by the wan, that there is not a goose in the world who, in point of sagacity, would not feel itself insulted in being compared with a turkey. The French seem to feel this. In Paris, I am sure, no one would think of saying to Mr. F —— , “What a goose you are!” — ”Qucl dindon to es!” would be the phrase employed as equivalent.

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[[Item 285]]

They have ascertained, in China, that the abdomen is the seat of the soul; and the acute Greeks considered it a waste of words to employ more than a single term, Apexes, for the expression both of the mind and of the diaphragm.

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[[Item 286]]

Let us be charitable and account for M ——’s repeated literary failures by the supposition that, like Lclius in the “Arcadia,” he wishes to evince his skill rather in missing than in hitting his mark.

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[[Item 287]]

L—— is busy in attempting to prove that his Play was not fairly d——d — that it is only “scotched, not killed;” but if the poor Play could speak from the [page 175:] tomb, I fancy it would sing with the Opera heroine:

“The flattering error cease to prove!

Oh, let me be deceased!”

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[[Item 288]]

“What does a man learn by travelling?” demanded Doctor Johnson, one day, in a great rage — ”What did Lord Charlemont learn in his travels, except that there was a snake in one of the pyramids of Egypt?” — but had Doctor Johnson lived in the days of the Silk Buckinghams, he would have seen that, so far from thinking anything of finding a snake in a pyramid, your traveller would take his oath, at a moment’s notice, of having found a pyramid in a snake.

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[[Item 289]]

The next work of Carlyle will be entitled “Bow-Wow,” and the title-page will have a motto from the opening chapter of the Koran: “There is no error in this Book.”

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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