Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Fifty Suggestions (Part I),” Graham’s Magazine, May 1849, pp. 317-319


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[page 317, unnumbered:]

FIFTY SUGGESTIONS.

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BY EDGAR A. POE.

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[column 1:]

1.

IT is observable that, while among all nations the omni-color, white, has been received as an emblem of the Pure, the no-color, black, has by no means been generally admitted as sufficiently typical of Impurity. There are blue devils as well as black; and when we think very ill of a woman, and wish to blacken her character, we merely call her “a blue-stocking,” and advise her to read, in Rabelais’ “Gargantua,” the chapter “de ce qui est signife par les couleurs blanc et bleu.” There is far more difference between these “couleurs,” in fact, than that which exists between simple black and white. Your “blue,” when we come to talk of stockings, is black in issimo — “nigrum nigrius nigro” — like the matter from which Raymond Lully first manufactured his alcohol.

2.

Mr. ——, I perceive, has been appointed Librarian to the new ———— Athenaeum. To him, the appointment is advantageous in many respects. Especially: — “Mon cousin, voici une belle occasion pour apprendre a lire!

3.

As far as I can understand the “loving our enemies,” it implies the hating our friends.

4.

In commencing our dinners with gravy soup, no doubt we have taken a hint from Horace —

———— Da, he says, si grave non est,

Quæ prima iratum ventrem placaverit isca.

5.

Of much of our cottage architecture we may safely say, I think, (admitting the good intention,) that it would have been Gothic if it had not felt it its duty to be Dutch.

6.

James’s multitudinous novels seem to be written upon the plan of “the songs of the Bard of Schiraz,” in which, we are assured by Fadladeen, “the same beautiful thought occurs again and again in every possible variety of phrase.”

7.

Some of our foreign lions resemble the human brain in one very striking particular. They are without any sense themselves, and yet are the centres of sensation.

8.

Mirabeau, I fancy, acquired his wonderful tact at foreseeing and meeting contingencies, during his residence in the stronghold of If.

9.

Cottle’s “Reminiscences of Coleridge” is just such a book as damns its perpetrator forever in the opinion of every gentleman who reads it. More and more every day do we moderns pavoneggiarsi about [column 2:] our Christianity; yet, so far as the spirit of Christianity is concerned, we are immeasurably behind the ancients. Mottoes and proverbs are the indices of national character; and the Anglo-Saxons are disgraced in having no proverbial equivalent to the “De mortuis nil nisi bonum.” Moreover — where, in all statutory Christendom, shall we find a law so Christian as the “Defuncti injuria ne afficiantur” of the Twelve Tables? The simple negative injunction of the Latin law and proverb — the injunction not to do ill to the dead — seems at a first glance, scarcely susceptible of improvement in the delicate respect of its terms. I cannot help thinking, however, that the sentiment, if not the idea intended, is more forcibly conveyed in an apothegm by one of the old English moralists, James Puckle. By an ingenious figure of speech he contrives to imbue the negation of the Roman command with a spirit of active and positive beneficence. “When speaking of the dead,” he says, in his “Grey Cap for a Green Head,” “so fold up your discourse that their virtues may be outwardly shown, while their vices are wrapped up in silence.”

10.

I have no doubt that the Fourierites honestly fancy “a nasty poet fit for nothing” to be the true translation of “poeta nascitur, non fit.

11.

There surely cannot be “more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of” (oh, Andrew Jackson Davis!) “in your philosophy.”

12.

“It is only as the Bird of Paradise quits us in taking wing,” observes, or should observe, some poet, “that we obtain a full view of the beauty of its plumage;” and it is only as the politician is about being “turned out”that — like the snake of the Irish Chronicle when touched by St. Patrick — he “awakens to a sense of his situation.”

13.

Newspaper editors seem to have constitutions closely similar to those of the Deities in “Walhalla,” who cut each other to pieces every day, and yet get up perfectly sound and fresh every morning.

14.

As far as I can comprehend the modern cant in favor of “unadulterated Saxon,” it is fast leading us to the language of that region where, as Addison has it, “ they sell the best fish and speak the plainest English.”

15.

The frightfully long money-pouches — “like the Cucumber called the Gigantic” — which have come in vogue among our belles — are not of Parisian origin, as many suppose, but are strictly indigenous [page 318:] here. The fact is, such a fashion would be quite out of place in Paris, where it is money only that women keep in a purse. The purse of an American lady, however, must be large enough to carry both her money and the soul of its owner.

16.

I can see no objection to gentlemen “standing for Congress” — provided they stand on one side — nor to their “running for Congress” — if they are in a very great hurry to get there — but it would be a blessing if some of them could be persuaded into sitting still, for Congress, after they arrive.

17.

If Envy, as Cyprian has it, be “the moth of the soul,” whether shall we regard Content as its Scotch snuff or its camphor?

18.

M———, having been “used up” in the “Review,” goes about town lauding his critic — as an epicure lauds the best London mustard — with tears in his eyes.

19.

Con tal que las costumbres de un autor sean puras y castas,” says the Catholic Don Tomas de las Torres, in the Preface to his “Amatory Poems,” “importa muy poco que no sean igualmente severas sus obras:” meaning, in plain English, that, provided the personal morals of an author are pure, it matters little what those of his books are.

For so unprincipled an idea, Don Tomas, no doubt, is still having a hard time of it in Purgatory; and, by way of most pointedly manifesting their disgust at his philosophy on the topic in question, many modern theologians and divines are now busily squaring their conduct by his proposition exactly conversed.

20.

Children are never too tender to be whipped: — like tough beefsteaks, the more you beat them the more tender they become.

21.

Lucian, in describing the statue “ with its surface of Parian marble and its interior filled with rags,” must have been looking with a prophetic eye at some of our great “moneyed institutions.”

22.

That poets (using the word comprehensively, as including artists in general) are a genus irritabile, is well understood; but the ruby, seems not to be commonly seen. An artist is an artist only by dint of his exquisite sense of Beauty — a sense affording him rapturous enjoyment, but at the same time implying, or involving, an equally exquisite sense of Deformity or disproportion. Thus a wrong — an injustice — done a poet who is really a poet, excites him to a degree which, to ordinary apprehension, appears disproportionate with the wrong. Poets see injustice — never where it does not exist — but very often where the unpoetical see no injustice whatever. Thus the poetical irritability has no reference to “ temper “ in the vulgar sense, but merely to a more than usual clear-sightedness in respect to Wrong: — this clear-sightedness being nothing more than a corollary from the [column 2:] vivid perception of Right — of justice — of proportion — in a word, of το xαλον [[καλον]]. But one thing is clear — that the man who is not “irritable,” (to the ordinary apprehension,) is no poet.

23.

Let a man succeed ever so evidently — ever so demonstrably — in many different displays of genius, the envy of criticism will agree with the popular voice in denying him more than talent in any. Thus a poet who has achieved a great (by which I mean an effective) poem, should be cautious not to distinguish himself in any other walk of Letters. In especial — let him make no effort in Science — unless anonymously, or with the view of waiting patiently the judgment of posterity. Because universal or even versatile geniuses have rarely or never been known, therefore, thinks the world, none such can ever be. A “ therefore “ of this kind is, with the world, conclusive. But what is the fact, as taught us by analysis of mental power? Simply, that highest genius — that the genius which all men instantaneously acknowledge as such — which acts upon individuals, as well as upon the mass, by a species of magnetism incomprehensible but irresistible and never resisted — that this genius which demonstrates itself in the simplest gesture — or even by the absence of all — this genius which speaks without a voice and flashes from the unopened eye — is but the result of generally large mental power existing in a state of absolute proportion — so that no one faculty has undue predominance. That factitious “genius” — that “genius” in the popular sense — which is but the manifestation of the abnormal predominance of some one faculty over all the others — and, of course, at the expense and to the detriment, of all the others — is a result of mental disease or rather, of organic malformation of mind: — it is this and nothing more. Not only will such “genius” fail, if turned aside from the path indicated by its predominant faculty; but, even when pursuing this path — when producing those works in which, certainly, it is best calculated to succeed — will give unmistakeable indications of unsoundness, in respect to general intellect. Hence, indeed, arises the just idea that

“Great wit to madness nearly is allied.”

I say “just idea;” for by “great wit,” in this case, the poet intends precisely the pseudo-genius to which I refer. The true genius, on the other hand, is necessarily, if not universal in its manifestations, at least capable of universality; and if, attempting all things, it succeeds in one rather better than in another, this is merely on account of a certain bias by which Haste leads it with more earnestness in the one direction than in the other. With equal zeal, it would succeed equally in all.

To sum up our results in respect to this very simple, but much vexata questio:

What the world calls “genius” is the state of mental disease arising from the undue predominance of some one of the faculties. The works of such genius are never sound in themselves and, in especial, always betray the general mental insanity. [page 319:]

The proportion of the mental faculties, in a case where the general mental power is not inordinate, gives that result which we distinguish as talent: — and the talent is greater or less, first, as the general mental, power is greater or less; and, secondly, as the proportion of the faculties is more or less absolute.

The proportion of the faculties, in a case where the mental power is inordinately great, gives that result which is the true genius (but which, on account of the proportion and seeming simplicity of its works, is to be so;) and the genius is as the general mental power is more or less inordinately great; and, secondly, as the proportion of the faculties is more or less absolute.

An objection will be made: — that the greatest excess of mental power, however proportionate, does not seem to satisfy our idea of genius, unless we have, In addition, sensibility, passion, energy. The [column 2:] reply is, that the “absolute proportion spoken of, when applied to inordinate mental power, gives, as a result, the appreciation of Beauty and a horror of Deformity which we call sensibility, together with that intense vitality, which is implied when we speak of “Energy” or “Passion.”

24.

“And Beauty draws us by a single hair.” — Capillary attraction, of course.

25.

It is by no means clear, as regards the present revolutionary spirit of Europe, that it is a spirit which “moveth altogether if it moveth at all.” In Great Britain it may be kept quiet for half a century yet, by placing at the head of affairs an experienced medical man. He should keep his forefinger constantly on the pulse of the patient, and exhibit panem in gentle doses, with as much circenses as the stomach can be made to retain.

[Conclusion in our next.

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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[S:0 - GM, 1849] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Fifty Suggestions (Part I)]