Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Nathaniel Beverley Tucker — December 1, 1835 (LTR-052)


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Richmond Dec: 1. 35.

Dear Sir,

Mr White was so kind as to read me some portions of your letter to himself, dated Nov 29, and I feel impelled, as much by gratitude for your many friendly expressions of interest in my behalf, as by a desire to make some little explanations, to answer, personally, the passages alluded to.

And firstly — in relation to your own verses. That they are not poetry I will not allow, even when judging them by your own rules. A very cursory perusal enabled me, when I first saw them, to point out many instances of the [[Greek Text:]] xxxxxxx [[:Greek text]] you mention. Had I the lines before me now I would particularize them. But is there not a more lofty species of originality than originality of individual thoughts or individual passages? I doubt very much whether a composition may not even be full of original things, and still be pure imitation as a whole. On the other hand I have seen writings, devoid of any new thought, and frequently destitute of any new expression — writings which I could not help considering as full of creative power. But I have no wish to refine, and I dare say you have little desire that I should do so. What is, or is not, poetry must not be told in a mere epistle. I sincerely think your lines excellent.

The distinction you make between levity, and wit or humour (that which produces a smile) I perfectly understand; but that levity is unbecoming the chair of the critic, must be taken, I think, cum grano salis. Moreover — are you sure Jeffrey was never jocular or frivolous in his critical opinions? I think I can call to mind some instances of the purest grotesque in his Reviews — downright horse-laughter. Did you ever see a critique in Blackwood’s Mag: upon an Epic Poem by a cockney tailor? Its chief witticisms were aimed not at the poem, but at the goose, and bandy legs of the author, and the notice ended, after innumerable oddities in — “ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — hi! hi! hi! — ho! ho! ho! — hu! hu! hu”! Yet it was, without exception, the most annihilating, and altogether the most effective Review I remember to have read. Of course I do not mean to palliate such indecency. The reviewer should have been horsewhipped. Still I cannot help thinking levity here was indispensable. Indeed how otherwise the subject could have been treated I do not perceive. To treat a tailor’s Epic seriously, (and such an Epic too!) would have defeated the ends of the critic, in weakening his own authority by making himself ridiculous.

Your opinion of ‘The MS. found in a Bottle’ is just. The Tale was written some years ago, and was one among the first I ever wrote. I have met with no one, with the exception of yourself & P. P. Cooke of Winchester, whose judgment concerning these Tales I place any value upon. Generally, people praise extravagantly those of which I am ashamed, and pass in silence what I fancy to be praise worthy. The last tale I wrote was Morella and it was my best. When I write again I will write something better than Morella. At present, having no time upon my hands, from my editorial duties, I can write nothing worth reading. What articles I have published since Morella were all written some time ago. I mention this to account for the “mere physique “ of [page 2:] the horrible which prevails in the “M.S. found in a Bottle”. I do not think I would be guilty of a similar absurdity now. One or two words more of Egotism.

I do not entirely acquiesce in your strictures on the versification of my Drama. I find that versification is a point on which, very frequently, persons who agree in all important particulars, differ very essentially. I do not remember to have known any two persons agree, thoroughly, about metre. I have been puzzled to assign a reason for this — but can find none more satisfactory than that music is a most indefinite conception. I have made prosody, in all languages which I have studied, a particular subject of inquiry. I have written many verses, and read more than you would be inclined to imagine. In short — I especially pride myself upon the accuracy of my ear — and have established the fact of its accuracy, to my own satisfaction at least, by some odd chromatic experiments. I was therefore astonished to find you objecting to the melody of my lines. Had I time just now, and were I not afraid of tiring you, I would like to discuss this point more fully. There is much room for speculation here. Your own verses (I remarked this, upon first reading them, to Mr White) are absolutely faultless, if considered as “pure harmony” — I mean to speak technically — “without the intervention of any dischords”. I was formerly accustomed to write thus, and it would be an easy thing to convince you of the accuracy of my ear by writing such at present — but imperceptibly the love of these dischords grew upon me as my love of music grew stronger, and I at length came to feel all the melody of Pope’s later versification, and that of the present T. Moore. I should like to hear from you on this subject. The Dream was admitted solely thro’ necessity. I know not the author.

In speaking of my mother you have touched a string to which my heart fully responds. To have known her is to be an object of great interest in my eyes. I myself never knew her — and never knew the affection of a father. Both died (as you may remember) within a few weeks of each other. I have many occasional dealings with Adversity — but the want of parental affection has been the heaviest of my trials.

I would be proud if you would honor me frequently with your criticism. Believe me when I say that l value it. I would be gratified, also, if you write me in reply to this letter. It will assure me that you have excused my impertinence in addressing you without a previous acquaintance.

Very respy & sincerely
Y. ob. St
Edgar A Poe

Judge Beverly Tucker.


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Notes:

The phrase “cum grano salis” is translated as “with a grain of salt,”, meaning that something should not be accepted as true without at least a little suspicion.


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[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to N. B. Tucker (LTR052/RCL110)