Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [items 1-50]” (Text-D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 3:483-511


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­ [page 483:]

MARGINALIA.

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IN getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.

All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice; — yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure; which is profit, in despite of Mr. Bentham with Mr. Mill on his back.

This making of notes, however, is by no means the making of mere memoranda — a custom which has its disadvantages, beyond doubt. “Ce que je mets sur papier,” says Bernardin de St. Pierre, “je remets de ma mémoire, et par consequence je l’oublie;” — and, in fact, if you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.

But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value. They have a rank somewhat above the chance and desultory comments of literary chit-chat — for these latter are not unfrequently “talk for talk’s sake,” hurried out of the mouth; while the marginalia are deliberately penciled, because the mind of the reader wishes to unburthen itself of a thought — however ­[page 484:] flippant — however silly — however trivial — still a thought indeed, not merely a thing that might have been a thought in time, and under more favorable circumstances. In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonnement — without conceit — much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed — a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.

The circumscription of space, too, in these pencilings, has in it something more of advantage than inconvenience. It compels us (whatever diffuseness of idea we may clandestinely entertain) into Montesquieu-ism, into Tacitus-ism, (here I leave out of view the concluding portion of the “Annals,”) — or even into Carlyle-ism — a thing which, I have been told, is not to be confounded with your ordinary affectation and bad grammar. I say “bad grammar,” through sheer obstinacy, because the grammarians (who should know better) insist upon it that I should not. But then grammar is not what these grammarians will have it; and, being merely the analysis of language, with the result of this analysis, must be good or bad just as the analyst is sage or silly — just as he is a Horne Tooke or a Cobbett.

But to our sheep. During a rainy afternoon, not long ago, being in a mood too listless for continuous study, I sought relief from ennui in dipping here and there, at random, among the volumes of my library — no very large one, certainly, but sufficiently miscellaneous; and, I flatter myself, not a little recherché.

Perhaps it was what the Germans call the “brain-scattering” humor of the moment; but, while the picturesqueness of the numerous pencil-scratches arrested my attention, their helter-skelter-iness of commentary amused me. I found myself, at length, forming a wish that it had been some other hand than my own which had so bedevilled the books, and fancying that, in such case, I might have derived no inconsiderable pleasure from turning them over. From this the transition-thought (as Mr. Lyell, or Mr. Murchison, or Mr. Featherstonhaugh would have it) was ­[page 485:] natural enough: — there might be something even in my scribblings which, for the mere sake of scribbling, would have interest for others.

The main difficulty respected the mode of transferring the notes from the volumes — the context from the text — without detriment to that exceedingly frail fabric of intelligibility in which the context was imbedded. With all appliances to boot, with the printed pages at their back, the commentaries were too often like Dodona’s oracles — or those of Lycophron Tenebrosus — or the essays of the pedant’s pupils, in Quintillian, which were “necessarily excellent, since even he (the pedant) found it impossible to comprehend them:” — what, then, would become of it — this context — if transferred? — if translated? Would it not rather be traduit (traduced) which is the French synonyme, or overzezet (turned topsy-turvy) which is the Dutch one?

I concluded, at length, to put extensive faith in the acumen and imagination of the reader: — this as a general rule. But, in some instances, where even faith would not remove mountains, there seemed no safer plan than so to re-model the note as to convey at least the ghost of a conception as to what it was all about. Where, for such conception, the text itself was absolutely necessary, I could quote it; where the title of the book commented upon was indispensable, I could name it. In short, like a novel-hero dilemma’d, I made up my mind “to be guided by circumstances,” in default of more satisfactory rules of conduct.

As for the multitudinous opinion expressed in the subjoined farrago — as for my present assent to all, or dissent from any portion of it — as to the possibility of my having, in some instances, altered my mind — or as to the impossibility of my not having altered it often — these are points upon which I say nothing, because upon these there can be nothing cleverly said. It may be as well to observe, however, that just as the goodness of your true pun is in the direct ratio of its intolerability, so is nonsense the essential sense of the Marginal Note. ­[page 486:]

­ I.

ONE of the happiest examples, in a small way, of the carrying-one’s-self-in-a-hand-basket logic, is to be found in a London weekly paper, called “The Popular Record of Modern Science; a Journal of Philosophy and General Information.” This work has a vast circulation, and is respected by eminent men. Sometime in November, 1845, it copied from the “Columbian Magazine,” of New York, a rather adventurous article of mine, called “Mesmeric Revelation.” It had the impudence, also, to spoil the title by improving it to “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule” — a phrase that is nothing at all to the purpose, since the person who “converses” is not a somnambule. He is a sleep-walker — not a sleep-walker; but I presume that “The Record” thought it was only the difference of an 1. What I chiefly complain of, however, is that the London editor prefaced my paper with these words: — “The following is an article communicated to the Columbian Magazine, a journal of respectability and influence in the United States, by Mr. Edgar A. Poe. It bears internal evidence of authenticity.”! There is no subject under heaven about which funnier ideas are, in general, entertained than about this subject of internal evidence. It is by “internal evidence,” observe, that we decide upon the mind. But to “The Record:” — On the issue of my “Valdemar Case,” this journal copies it, as a matter of course, and (also as a matter of course) improves the title, as in the previous instance. But the editorial comments may as well be called profound. Here they are:

The following narrative appears in a recent number of The American Magazine, a respectable periodical in the United States. It comes, it will be observed, from the narrator of the “Last Conversation of a Somnambule,” published in The Record of the 29th of November. In extracting this case the Morning Post of Monday last, takes what it considers the safe side, by remarking — “For our own parts we do not believe it; and there are several statements made, more especially with regard to the disease of which the patient died, which at once prove the case to be either a fabrication, or the work of one little acquainted with consumption. The story, however, is wonderful, and we therefore give it.” The editor, however, does not point out the especial statements which are inconsistent with what we know of the progress of consumption, and as few scientific persons would be willing to take their pathology any more than their logic from the Morning Post, his caution, it is to be feared, will not have much weight. The reason assigned by the Post for publishing the account is quaint, and would apply equally to an adventure from Baron Munchausen: — “it is wonderful and we therefore give it.” . . . . The above case is obviously one that cannot be ­[page 487:] received except on the strongest testimony, and it is equally clear that the testimony by which it is at present accompanied, is not of that character. The most favorable circumstances in support of it, consist in the fact that credence is understood to be given to it at New York, within a few miles of which city the affair took place, and where consequently the most ready means must be found for its authentication or disproval. The initials of the medical men and of the young medical student must be sufficient in the immediate locality, to establish their identity, especially as M. Valdemar was well known, and had been so long ill as to render it out of the question that there should be any difficulty in ascertaining the names of the physicians by whom he had been attended. In the same way the nurses and servants under whose cognizance the case must have come during the seven months which it occupied, are of course accessible to all sorts of inquiries. It will, therefore, appear that there must have been too many parties concerned to render prolonged deception practicable. The angry excitement and various rumors which have at length rendered a public statement necessary, are also sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place. On the other hand there is no strong point for disbelief. The circumstances are, as the Post says, “wonderful;” but so are all circumstances that come to our knowledge for the first time — and in Mesmerism every thing is new. An objection may be made that the article has rather a Magazinish air; Mr. Poe having evidently written with a view to effect, and so as to excite rather than to subdue the vague appetite for the mysterious and the horrible which such a case, under any circumstances, is sure to awaken — but apart from this there is nothing to deter a philosophic mind from further inquiries regarding it. It is a matter entirely for testimony. [So it is.] Under this view we shall take steps to procure from some of the most intelligent and influential citizens of New York all the evidence that can be had upon the subject. No steamer will leave England for America till the 3d of February, but within a few weeks of that time we doubt not it will be possible to lay before the readers of the Record information which will enable them to come to a pretty accurate conclusion.”

Yes; and no doubt they came to one accurate enough, in the end. But all this rigmarole is what people call testing a thing by “internal evidence.” The Record insists upon the truth of the story because of certain facts — because “the initials of the young men must be sufficient to establish their identity” — because “the nurses must be accessible to all sorts of inquiries” — and because the “angry excitement and various rumors which at length rendered a public statement necessary, are sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place.” To be sure! The story is proved by these facts — the facts about the students, the nurses, the excitement, the credence given the tale at New York. And now all we have to do is to prove these facts. Ah! — they are proved by the story. As for the Morning Post, it evinces more weakness in its disbelief than the Record in its credulity. What the former says about doubting on account of inaccuracy ­[page 488:] in the detail of the phthisical symptoms, is a mere fetch, as the Cockneys have it, in order to make a very few little children believe that it, the Post, is not quite so stupid as a post proverbially is. It knows nearly as much about pathology as it does about English grammar — and I really hope it will not feel called upon to blush at the compliment. I represented the symptoms of M. Valdemar as “severe,” to be sure. I put an extreme case; for it was necessary that I should leave on the reader’s mind no doubt as to the certainty of death without the aid of the Mesmerist — but such symptoms might have appeared — the identical symptoms have appeared, and will be presented again and again. Had the Post been only half as honest as ignorant, it would have owned that it disbelieved for no reason more profound than that which influences all dunces in disbelieving — it would have owned that it doubted the thing merely because the thing was a “wonderful” thing, and had never yet been printed in a book.

­ II.

We mere men of the world, with no principle — a very old[[-]]fashioned and cumbersome thing — should be on our guard lest, fancying him on his last legs, we insult, or otherwise maltreat some poor devil of a genius at the very instant of his putting his foot on the top round of his ladder of triumph. It is a common trick with these fellows, when on the point of attaining some long-cherished end, to sink themselves into the deepest possible abyss of seeming despair, for no other purpose than that of increasing the space of success through which they have made up their minds immediately to soar.

­ III.

Mr. Hudson, among innumerable blunders, attributes to Sir Thomas Brown, the paradox of Tertullian in his De Carne Christi — “Mortunus est Dei filus, credibile est quia ineptum est; et sepultus resurrexit, certum est quia impossibile est.”

­ IV.

After reading all that has been written, and after thinking all that can be thought, on the topics of God and the soul, the man who has a right to say that he thinks at all, will find himself face to face with the conclusion that, on these topics, the most profound thought is that which can be the least easily distinguished from the most superficial sentiment. ­[page 489:]

­ V.

That punctuation is important all agree; but how few comprehend the extent of its importance! The writer who neglects punctuation, or mis-punctuates, is liable to be misunderstood — this, according to the popular idea, is the sum of the evils arising from heedlessness or ignorance. It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force — its spirit — its point — by improper punctuations. For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid. There is no treatise on the topic — and there is no topic on which a treatise is more needed. There seems to exist a vulgar notion that the subject is one of pure conventionality, and cannot be brought within the limits of intelligible and consistent rule. And yet, if fairly looked in the face, the whole matter is so plain that its rationale may be read as we run. If not anticipated, I shall hereafter, make an attempt at a magazine paper on “The Philosophy of Point.” In the meantime let me say a word or two of the dash. Every writer for the press, who has any sense of the accurate, must have been frequently mortified and vexed at the distortion of his sentences by the printer’s now general substitution of a semicolon, or comma, for the dash of the MS. The total or nearly total disuse of the latter point, has been brought about by the revulsion consequent upon its excessive employment about twenty years ago. The Byronic poets were all dash. John Neal, in his earlier novels, exaggerated its use into the grossest abuse — although his very error arose from the philosophical and self-dependent spirit which has always distinguished him, and which will even yet lead him, if I am not greatly mistaken in the man, to do something for the literature of the country which the country “will not willingly,” and cannot possibly, “let die.” Without entering now into the why, let me observe that the printer may always ascertain when the dash of the MS. is properly and when improperly employed, by bearing in mind that this point represents a second thought — an emendation. In using it just above I have exemplified its use. The words “an emendation” are, speaking with reference to grammatical construction, put in ap position with the words “a second thought.” Having ­[page 490:] written these latter words, I reflected whether it would not be possible to render their meaning more distinct by certain other words. Now, instead of erasing the phrase “a second thought,” which is of some use — which partially conveys the idea intended — which advances me a step toward my full purpose — I suffer it to remain, and merely put a dash between it and the phrase “an emendation.” The dash gives the reader a choice between two, or among three or more expressions, one of which may be more forcible than another, but all of which help out the idea. It stands, in general, for these words — [[“]]or, to make my meaning more distinct.” This force it has — and this force no other point can have; since all other points have well-understood uses quite different from this. Therefore, the dash cannot be dispensed with. It has its phases — its variation of the force described; but the one principle — that of second thought or emendation — will be found at the bottom of all.

­ VI.

Diana’s Temple at Ephesus having been burnt on the night in which Alexander was born, some person observed that “it was no wonder, since, at the period of the conflagration, she was gossiping at Pella.” Cicero commends this as a witty conceit — Plutarch condems it as senseless — and this is the one point in which I agree with the biographer.

­ VII.

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, 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.

­ VIII.

“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.

­ IX.

A strong argument for the religion of Christ is this — that offences against Charity are about the only ones which men on their death-beds can be made — not to understand — but to feel — as crime. ­[page 491:]

­ X.

The effect derivable from well-managed rhyme is very imperfectly understood. Conventionally “rhyme” implies merely close similarity of sound at the ends of verse, and it is really curious to observe how long mankind have been content with their limitation of the idea. What, in rhyme, first and principally pleases, may be referred to the human sense or appreciation of equality — the common element, as might be easily shown, of all the gratification we derive from music in its most extended sense — very especially in its modifications of metre and rhythm. We see, for example, a crystal, and are immediately interested by the equality between the sides and angles of one of its faces — but, on bringing to view a second face, in all respects similar to the first, our pleasure seems to be squared — on bringing to view a third, it appears to be cubed, and so on: I have no doubt, indeed, that the delight experienced, if measurable, would be found to have exact mathematical relations, such, or nearly such, as I suggest — that is to say, as far as a certain point, beyond which there would be a decrease, in similar relations. Now here, as the ultimate result of analysis, we reach the sense of mere equality, or rather the human delight in this sense; and it was an instinct, rather than a clear comprehension of this delight as a principle, which, in the first instance, led the poet to attempt an increase of the effect arising from the mere similarity (that is to say equality) between two sounds — led him, I say, to attempt increasing this effect by making a secondary equalization, in placing the rhymes at equal distances — that is, at the ends of lines of equal length. In this manner, rhyme and the termination of the line grew connected in men’s thoughts — grew into a conventionalism — the principle being lost sight of altogether. And it was simply because Pindaric verses had, before this epoch, existed — i. e. verses of unequal length — that rhymes were subsequently found at unequal distances. It was for this reason solely, I say — for none more profound. Rhyme had come to be regarded as of right appertaining to the end of verse — and here we complain that the matter has finally rested. But it is clear that there was much more to be considered. So far, the sense of equality alone, entered the effect; or, if this equality was slightly varied, it was varied only ­[page 492:] through an accident — the accident of the existence of Pindaric metres. It will be seen that the rhymes were always anticipated. The eye, catching the end of a verse, whether long or short, expected, for the ear, a rhyme. The great element of unexpectedness was not dreamed of — that is to say, of novelty — of originality. “But,” says Lord Bacon, (how justly!) “there is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.” Take away this element of strangeness — of unexpectedness — of novelty — of originality — call it what we will — and all that is ethereal in loveliness is lost at once. We lose — we miss the unknown — the vague — the uncomprehended because offered before we have time to examine and comprehend. We lose, in short, all that assimilates the beauty of earth with what we dream of the beauty of Heaven. Perfection of rhyme is attainable only in the combination of the two elements, Equality and Unexpectedness. But as evil cannot exist without good, so unexpectedness must arise from expectedness. We do not contend for mere arbitrariness of rhyme. In the first place, we must have equi-distant or regularly recurring rhymes, to form the basis, expectedness, out of which arises the element, unexpectedness, by the introduction of rhymes, not arbitrarily, but with an eye to the greatest amount of unexpectedness. We should not introduce them, for example, at such points that the entire line is a multiple of the syllables preceding the points. When, for instance, I write —

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain,

I produce more, to be sure, but not remarkably more than the ordinary effect of rhymes regularly recurring at the ends of lines; for the number of syllables in the whole verse is merely a multiple of the number of syllables preceding the rhyme introduced at the middle, and there is still left, therefore, a certain degree of expectedness. What there is of the element, unexpectedness, is addressed, in fact, to the eye only — for the ear divides the verse into two ordinary lines, thus:

And the silken, sad, uncertain

Rustling of each purple curtain.

I obtain, however, the whole effect of unexpectedness, when I write —

Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before.  ­[page 493:]

N. B. It is very commonly supposed that rhyme, as it now ordinarily exists, is of modern invention — but see the “Clouds of Aristophanes.” Hebrew verse, however, did not include it — the terminations of the lines, where most distinct, never showing any thing of the kind.

­ XI.

Paulus Jovius, living in those benighted times when diamond-pointed styluses were as yet unknown, thought proper, nevertheless, to speak of his goosequill as “aliquando ferreus, aureus aliquando” — intending, of course, a mere figure of speech; and from the class of modern authors who use really nothing to write with but steel and gold, some, no doubt, will let their pens, vice versâ, descend to posterity under the designation of “anserine” — of course, intending always a mere figure of speech.

­ XII.

The Carlyle-ists should adopt, as a motto, the inscription on the old bell from whose metal was cast the Great Tom, of Oxford: — “In Thomæ laude resono ‘Bim! Bom!’ sine fraude:” — and “Bim! Bom,” in such case, would be a marvellous “echo of sound to sense.”

­ XIII.

An infinity of error makes its way into our Philosophy, through Man’s habit of considering himself a citizen of a world solely — of an individual planet — instead of at least occasionally contemplating his position as cosmopolite proper — as a denizen of the universe.

­ XIV.

Talking of puns: — “Why do they not give us quail for dinner, as usual?” demanded Count Fessis, the other day, of H——, the classicist and sportsman.

“Because at this season,” replied H——, who was dozing, “qualis sopor fessis.” (Quail is so poor, Fessis.)

­ XV.

The German “Schwarmerei “ — not exactly “humbug,” but “sky-rocketing” — seems to be the only term by which we can conveniently designate that peculiar style of criticism which has lately come into fashion, through the influence of certain members of the Fabian family — people who live (upon beans) about Boston. ­[page 494:]

­ XVI.

Some Frenchman — possibly Montaigne — says: “People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think, except when I sit down to write.” It is this never thinking, unless when we sit down to write, which is the cause of so much indifferent composition. But perhaps there is something more involved in the Frenchman’s observation than meets the eye. It is certain that the mere act of inditing, tends, in a great degree, to the logicalization of thought. Whenever, on account of its vagueness, I am dissatisfied with a conception of the brain, I resort forthwith to the pen, for the purpose of obtaining, through its aid, the necessary form, consequence and precision.

How very commonly we hear it remarked, that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it: — as I have before observed, the thought is logicalized by the effort at (written) expression. There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity — when the bodily and mental health are in perfection — and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time — yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows;” and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance. These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy, as far beyond the most pleasurable ­[page 495:] of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure, moderates or tranquilizes the ecstasy — I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy itself) that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the human nature — is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion — if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness — for in these fancies — let me now term them psychal impressions — there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.

Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe. In experiments with this end in view, I have proceeded so far as, first, to control (when the bodily and mental health are good) the existence of the condition: — that is to say, I can now (unless when ill) be sure that the condition will supervene, if I so wish it, at the point of time already described: — of its supervention, until lately, I could never be certain, even under the most favorable circumstances. I mean to say, merely, that now I can be sure, when all circumstances are favorable, of the supervention of the condition, and feel even the capacity of inducing or compelling it: — the favorable circumstances, however, are not the less rare — else had I compelled, already, the heaven into the earth.

I have proceeded so far, secondly, as to prevent the lapse from the point of which I speak — the point of blending between wakefulness and sleep — as to prevent at will, I say, the lapse from this border-ground into the dominion of sleep. Not that I can continue the condition — not that I can render the point more than a point — but that I can startle myself from the point into wakefulness; and thus transfer the point itself into the realm of Memory; convey its impressions, or more properly their recollections, to a situation where (although still for a very brief period) I can survey them with the eye of analysis. For these reasons — that is to ­[page 496:] say, because I have been enabled to accomplish thus much — I do not altogether despair of embodying in words at least enough of the fancies in question to convey, to certain classes of intellect, a shadowy conception of their character. In saying this I am not to be understood as supposing that the fancies, or psychal impressions, to which I allude, are confined to my individual self — are not, in a word, common to all mankind — for on this point it is quite impossible that I should form an opinion — but nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions. In a word — should I ever write a paper on this topic, the world will be compelled to acknowledge that, at last, I have done an original thing.

­ XVII.

In the way of original, striking, and well-sustained metaphor, we can call to mind few finer things than this — to be found in James Puckle’s “Gray Cap for a Green head:” “In speaking of the dead, so fold up your discourse that their virtues may be outwardly shown, while their vices are wrapped up in silence.”

­ XVIII.

Talking of inscriptions — how admirable was the one circulated at Paris, for the equestrian statue of Louis XV., done by Pigal and Bouchardon — “Statua Statutæ.”

­ XIX.

“This is right,” says Epicurus, “precisely because the people are displeased with it.”

Il y a á parier,” says Chamfort — one of the Kambars of Mirabeau — “que route idée publique — toute convention reçue — est une sottise car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre.”

Si proficere cupis,” says the great African bishop, “primo id verum puta quod sana mens omnium hominum attestatur.”    Now,

Who shall decide where Doctors disagree?

To me it appears that, in all ages, the most preposterous falsities have been received as truths by at least the mens omnium hominum. As for the sana mens — how are we ever to determine what that is? ­[page 497:]

­ XX.

This book* could never have been popular out of Germany. It is too simple — too direct — too obvious — too bold [[bald ]] not sufficiently complex — to be relished by any people who have thoroughly passed the first (or impulsive) epoch of literary civilization. The Germans have not yet passed this first epoch. It must be remembered that during the whole of the middle ages they lived in utter ignorance of the art of writing. From so total a darkness, of so late a date, they could not, as a nation, have as yet fully emerged into the second or critical epoch. Individual Germans have been critical in the best sense — but the masses are unleavened. Literary Germany thus presents the singular spectacle of the impulsive spirit surrounded by the critical, and, of course, in some measure influenced thereby. England, for example, has advanced far, and France much farther, into the critical epoch; and their effect on the German mind is seen in the wildly anomalous condition of the German literature at large. That this latter will be improved by age, however, should never be maintained. As the impulsive spirit subsides, and the critical uprises, there will appear the polished insipidity of the later England, or that ultimate throe of taste which has found its best exemplification in Sue. At present the German literature resembles no other on the face of the earth — for it is the result of certain conditions which, before this individual instance of their fulfilment, have never been fulfilled. And this anomalous state to which I refer is the source of our anomalous criticism upon what that state produces — is the source of the grossly conflicting opinions about German letters. For my own part, I admit the German vigor, the German directness, boldness, imagination, and some other qualities of impulse, just as I am willing to admit and admire these qualities in the first (or impulsive) epochs of British and French letters. At the German criticism, however, I cannot refrain from laughing all the more heartily, all the more seriously I hear it praised. Not that, in detail, it affects me as an absurdity — but in the adaptation of its details. It abounds in brilliant bubbles of suggestion, but these rise and sink and jostle each other, until the whole vortex ­[page 498:] of thought in which they originate is one indistinguishable chaos of froth. The German criticism is unsettled, and can only be settled by time. At present it suggests without demonstrating, or convincing, or effecting any definite purpose under the sun. We read it, rub our foreheads, and ask “What then?” I am not ashamed to say that I prefer even Voltaire to Goethe, and hold Macaulay to possess more of the true critical spirit than Augustus William and Frederick Schlegel combined. “Thiodolf” is called by Foqué his “most successful work.” He would not have spoken thus had he considered it his best. It is admirable of its kind — but its kind can never be appreciated by Americans. It will affect them much as would a grasp of the hand from a man of ice. Even the exquisite “Undine” is too chilly for our people, and, generally, for our epoch. We have less imagination and warmer sympathies than the age which preceded us. It would have done Foqué more ready and fuller justice than ours. Has any one remarked the striking similarity in tone between “Undine” and the “Libussa” of MusÅ“us?”

­ XXI.

What can be more soothing, at once to a man’s Pride and to his Conscience, than the conviction that, in taking vengeance on his enemies for in justice done him, he has simply to do them justice in return?

­ XXII.

Bielfeld, the author of “Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle,” defines poetry as “l’art d’exprimer les pensées par la fiction.” The Germans have two works in full accordance with this definition, absurd as it is — the terms Dichtkunst, the art of fiction, and Dichten, to feign — which are generally used for poetry and to make verses.

­ XXIII.

Brown, in his “Amusements,” speaks of having transfused the blood of an ass into the veins of an astrological quack — and there can be no doubt that one of Hague’s progenitors was the man.

­ XXIV.

The chief portion of Professor Espy’s theory has been anticipated by Roger Bacon. ­[page 499:]

­ XXV.

Whatever may be the merits or demerits, generally, of the Magazine Literature of America, there can be no question as to its extent or influence. The Topic — Magazine Literature — is therefore an important one. In a few years its importance will be found to have increased in geometrical ratio. The whole tendency of the age is Magazine-ward. The Quarterly Reviews have never been popular. Not only are they too stilted, (by way of keeping up a due dignity,) but they make a point, with the same end in view, of discussing only topics which are caviare to the many, and which, for the most part, have only a conventional interest even with the few. Their issues, also, are at too long intervals; their subjects get cold before being served up. In a word, their ponderosity is quite out of keeping with the rush of the age. We now demand the light artillery of the intellect; we need the curt, the condensed, the pointed, the readily diffused — in place of the verbose, the detailed, the voluminous, the inaccessible. On the other hand, the lightness of the artillery should not degenerate into popgunnery — by which term we may designate the character of the greater portion of the newspaper press — their sole legitimate object being the discussion of ephemeral matters in an ephemeral manner. Whatever talent may be brought to bear upon our daily journals, and in many cases this talent is very great, still the imperative necessity of catching, currente calamo, each topic as it flits before the eye of the public, must of course materially narrow the limits of their power. The bulk and the period of issue of the monthly magazines, seem to be precisely adapted, if not to all the literary wants of the day, at least to the largest and most imperative, as well as the most consequential portion of them.

­ XXVI.

My friend ——, can never commence what he fancies a poem, (he is a fanciful man, after all) without first elaborately “invoking the Muses.” Like so many she-dogs of John of Nivelles, however, the more he invokes them, the more they decline obeying the invocation.

­ XXVII.

The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led. ­[page 500:]

­ XXVIII.

There lies a deep and sealed well

Within yon leafy forest hid,

Whose pent and lonely waters swell

Its confines chill and drear amid.

This putting the adjective after the noun is, merely, an inexcusable Gallicism; but the putting the preposition after the noun is alien to all language, and in opposition to all its principles. Such things, in general, serve only to betray the versifier’s poverty of resource; and, when an inversion of this kind occurs, we say to ourselves, “Here the poet lacked the skill to make out his line without distorting the natural or colloquial order of the words.” Now and then, however, we must refer the error not to deficiency of skill, but to something far less defensible — to an idea that such things belong to the essence of poetry — that it needs them to distinguish it from prose — that we are poetical, in a word, very much in the ratio of our unprosaicalness at these points. Even while employing the phrase “poetic license,” — a phrase which has to answer for an infinity of sins — people who think in this way seem to have an indistinct conviction that the license in question involves a necessity of being adopted. The true artist will avail himself of no “license” whatever. The very word will disgust him; for it says — “Since you seem unable to manage without these peccadillo advantages, you must have them, I suppose; and the world, half-shutting its eyes, will do its best not to see the awkwardness which they stamp upon your poem.”

Few things have greater tendency than inversion, to render verse feeble and ineffective. In most cases where a line is spoken of as “forcible,” the force may be referred to directness of expression. A vast majority of the passages which have become household through frequent quotation, owe their popularity either to this directness, or, in general, to the scorn of “poetic license.” In short, as regards verbal construction, the more prosaic a poetical, style is, the better. Through this species of prosaicism, Cowper, with scarcely one of the higher poetical elements, came very near making his age fancy him the equal of Pope; and to the same cause are attributable three-fourths of that unusual point and force for which Moore is distinguished. It is the prosaicism of these two writers to which is owing their especial quotability. ­[page 501:]

­ XXIX.

The Reverend Arthur Coxe’s “Saul, a Mystery,” having been condemned in no measured terms by Poe, of “The Broadway Journal,” and Green of “The Emporium,” a writer in the “Hartford Columbian” retorts as follows:

An entertaining history,

Entitled “Saul, A Mystery,”

Has recently been published by the Reverend Arthur Coxe.

The poem is dramatic,

And the wit of it is attic,

And its teachings are emphatic of the doctrines orthodox.

 

But Mr. Poe, the poet,

Declares he cannot go it —

That the book is very stupid, or something of that sort.

And Green, of the Empori —

Um, tells a kindred story,

And swears like any tory that it is’nt worth a groat.

 

But maugre all the croaking

Of the Raven and the joking

Of the verdant little fellow of the used to be review,

The People, in derision

Of their impudent decision,

Have declared, without division, that the Mystery will do.

The truth, of course, rather injures an epigram than otherwise; and nobody will think the worse of the one above, when I say that, at the date of its first appearance, I had expressed no opinion whatever of the poem to which it refers. “Give a dog a bad name,” &c. Whenever a book is abused, people take it for granted that it is I who have been abusing it.

Latterly I have read “Saul,” and agree with the epigrammatist, that it “will do” — whoever attempts to wade through it. It will do, also, for trunk-paper. The author is right in calling it “A Mystery:” — for a most unfathomable mystery it is. When I got to the end of it, I found it more mysterious than ever — and it was really a mystery how I ever did get to the end — which I half fancied that somebody had cut off, in a fit of ill-will to the critics. I have heard not a syllable about the “Mystery,” of late days. “The People” seem to have forgotten it; and Mr. Coxe’s friends should advertise it under the head of “Mysterious Disappearance” — that is to say, the disappearance of a Mystery.

­ XXX.

The vox populi, so much talked about to so little purpose, is, possibly, that very vox et preterea nihil which the countryman, in Catullus, mistook for a nightingale. ­[page 502:]

­ XXXI.

The pure Imagination chooses, from either Beauty or Deformity, only the most combinable things hitherto uncombined; the compound, as a general rule, partaking, in character, of beauty, or sublimity, in the ratio of the respective beauty or sublimity of the things combined — which are themselves still to be considered as atomic — that is to say, as previous combinations. But, as often analogously happens in physical chemistry, so not unfrequently does it occur in this chemistry of the intellect, that the admixture of two elements results in a something that has nothing of the qualities of one of them, or even nothing of the qualities of either. . . . Thus, the range of Imagination is unlimited. Its materials extend throughout the universe. Even out of deformities it fabricates that Beauty which is at once its sole object and its inevitable test. But, in general, the richness or force of the matters combined; the facility of discovering combinable novelties worth combining; and, especially the absolute “chemical combination” of the completed mass — are the particulars to be regarded in our estimate of Imagination. It is this thorough harmony of an imaginative work which so often causes it to be undervalued by the thoughtless, through the character of obviousness which is superinduced. We are apt to find ourselves asking why it is that these combinations have never been imagined before.

­ XXXII.

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.

­ XXXIII.

It has been well said of the French orator, Dupin, that “he spoke, as nobody else, the language of everybody;” 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 everybody, the language of nobody — that is to say, a language emphatically their own. ­[page 503:]

­ XXXIV.

He (Bulwer) is the most accomplished writer of the most accomplished era of English Letters; practising all styles and classes of composition, and eminent in all — novelist, dramatist, poet, historian, moral philosopher, essayist, critic, political pamphleteer; — in each superior to all others, and only rivalled in each by himself. — Ward — author of “Tremaine.”

The “only rivalled in each by himself,” here, puts me in mind of

None but himself can be his parallel.

But surely Mr. Ward (who, although he did write “De Vere,” is by no means a fool) could never have put to paper, in his sober senses, anything so absurd as the paragraph quoted above, without stopping at every third word to hold his sides, or thrust his pocket-handkerchief into his mouth. If the serious intention be insisted upon, however, I have to remark that the opinion is the mere opinion of a writer remarkable for no other good trait than his facility at putting his readers to sleep according to rules Addisonian, and with the least possible loss of labor and time. But as the mere opinion of even a Jeffrey or a Macaulay, I have an inalienable right to meet it with another.

As a novelist, then, Bulwer is far more than respectable; although generally inferior to Scott, Godwin, D’Israeli, Miss Burney, Sue, Dumas, Dickens, the author of “Ellen Wareham,” and the author of “Jane Eyre,” and several others. From the list of foreign novels I could select a hundred which he could neither have written nor conceived. As a dramatist, he deserves more credit, although he receives less. His “Richelieu,” “Money,” and “Lady of Lyons,” have done much in the way of opening the public eyes to the true value of what is superciliously termed “stage effect” in the hands of one able to manage it. But if commendable at this point, his dramas fail egregiously in points more important; so that, upon the whole, he can be said to have written a good play, only when we think of him in connexion with the still more contemptible “old-dramatist” imitators who are his contemporaries and friends. As historian, he is sufficiently dignified, sufficiently ornate, and more than sufficiently self-sufficient. His “Athens” would have received an Etonian prize, and has all the happy air of an Etonian prize-essay re-vamped. His political pamphlets are very good as political pamphlets and very disreputable ­[page 504:] as anything else. His essays leave no doubt upon any body’s mind that, with the writer, they have been essays indeed. His criticism is really beneath contempt. His moral philosophy is the most ridiculous of all the moral philosophies that ever have been imagined upon earth.

“The men of sense,” says Helvetius, “those idols of the unthinking, are very far inferior to the men of passions. It is the strong passions which, rescuing us from sloth, can alone impart to us that continuous and earnest attention necessary to great intellectual efforts.”

When the Swiss philosopher here speaks of “inferiority,” he refers to inferiority in worldly success: — by “men of sense” he intends indolent men of genius. And Bulwer is, emphatically, one of the “men of passions” contemplated in the apopthegm. His passions, with opportunities, have made him what he is. Urged by a rabid ambition to do much, in doing nothing he would merely have proved himself an idiot. Something he has done. In aiming at Crichton, he has hit the target an inch or two above Harrison Ainsworth. Not to such intellects belong the honors of universality. His works bear about them the unmistakeable indications of mere talent — talent, I grant, of an unusual order and nurtured to its extreme of development with a very tender and elaborate care. Nevertheless, it is talent still. Genius it is not.

And the proof is, that while we often fancy ourselves about to be enkindled beneath its influence, fairly enkindled we never are. That Bulwer is no poet, follows as a corollary from what has been already said: — for to speak of a poet without genius, is merely to put forth a flat contradiction in terms.

­ XXXV.

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, — like so many governments of Trinculo — appear to have forgotten their beginnings. ­[page 505:]

­ XXXVI.

Quaintness, within reasonable limits, is not only not to be regarded as affectation, but has its proper uses, in aiding a fantastic effect. Miss Barret will afford me two examples. In some lines to a Dog, she says:

Leap! thy broad tail waves a light.

Leap, thy slender feet are bright,

Canopied in fringes.

Leap! those tasselled ears of thine

Flicker strangely fair and fine

Down their, golden inches.

And again — in the “Song of a Tree-Spirit.”

The Divine impulsion cleaves

In dim movements to the leaves

Dropt and lifteddropt and lifted

In the sun-light greenly sifted —

In the sun-light and the moon-light

Greenly sifted through the trees.

Ever wave the Eden trees

In the night-light and the moon-light,

With a ruffling of green branches

Shaded off to resonances

Never stirred by rain or breeze.

The thoughts here belong to a high order of poetry, but could not have been wrought into effective expression, without the aid of those repetitions — those unusual phrases — those quaintnesses, in a word, which it has been too long the fashion to censure, indiscriminately, under the one general head of “affectation.” No poet will fail to be pleased with the two extracts I have here given; but no doubt there are some who will find it hard to reconcile the psychal impossibility of refraining from admiration, with the too-hastily attained mental conviction that, critically, there is nothing to admire.

­ XXXVII.

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.

­ XXXVIII.

For my part I agree with Joshua Barnes: — nobody but Solomon could have written the Iliad. The catalogue of ships was the work of Robins. ­[page 506:]

­ XXXIX.

In Colton’s “American Review” for October, 1845, a gentleman, well known for his scholarship, has a forcible paper on “The Scotch School of Philosophy and Criticism.” But although the paper is “forcible,” it presents the most singular admixture of error and truth — the one dovetailed into the other, after a fashion which is novel, to say the least of it. Were I to designate in a few words what the whole article demonstrated, I should say “the folly of not beginning at the beginning — of neglecting the giant Moulineau’s advice to his friend Ram.” Here is a passage from the essay in question:

The Doctors [Campbell and Johnson] both charge Pope with error and inconsistency: — error in supposing that in English, of metrical lines unequal in the number of syllables and pronounced in equal times, the longer suggests celerity (this being the principle of the Alexandrine:) — inconsistency, in that Pope himself uses the same contrivance to convey the contrary idea of slowness. But why in English? It is not and cannot be disputed that, in the Hexameter of the Greeks and Latins — which is the model in this matter — what is distinguished as the “dactylic line” was uniformly applied to express velocity. How was it to do so? Simply from the fact of being pronounced in an equal time with, while containing a greater number of syllables or “bars” than the ordinary or average measure; as, on the other hand, the spondaic line, composed of the minimum number, was, upon the same principle, used to indicate slowness. So, too, of the Alexandrine in English versification. No, says Campbell, there is a difference: the Alexandrine is not in fact, like the dactylic line, pronounced in the common time. But does this alter the principle? What is the rationale of Metre, whether the classical hexameter or the English heroic?” [[sic]]

I have written an essay on the “Rationale of Verse,” in which the whole topic is surveyed abinitio, and with reference to general and immutable principles. To this essay I refer Mr. Bristed. In the meantime, without troubling myself to ascertain whether Doctors Johnson and Campbell are wrong, or whether Pope is wrong, or whether the reviewer is right or wrong, at this point or at that, let me succinctly state what is the truth on the topics at issue. And first; the same principles, in all cases, govern all verse. What is true in English is true in Greek. Secondly; in a series of lines, if one line contains more syllables than the law of the verse demands, and if, nevertheless, this line is pronounced in the same time, upon the whole, as the rest of the lines, then this line suggests celerity — on account of the increased rapidity of enunciation required. Thus in the Greek hexameter the dactylic ­[page 507:] lines — those most abounding in dactyls — serve best to convey the idea of rapid motion. The spondaic lines convey that of slowness. Thirdly; it is a gross mistake to suppose that the Greek dactylic line is “the model in this matter” — the matter of the English Alexandrine. The Greek dactylic line is of the same number of feet — bars — beats — pulsations — as the ordinary dactylic-spondaic lines among which it occurs. But the Alexandrine is longer by one foot — by one pulsation — than the pentameters among which it arises. For its pronunciation it demands more time, and therefore, ceteris paribus, it would well serve to convey the impression of length, or duration, and thus, indirectly, of slowness. I say ceteris Paribas. But, by varying conditions, we can effect a total change in the impression conveyed. When the idea of slowness is conveyed by the Alexandrine, it is not conveyed by any slower enunciation of syllables — that is to say, it is not directly conveyed — but indirectly, through the idea of length in the whole line. Now, if we wish to convey, by means of an Alexandrine, the impression of velocity, we readily do so by giving rapidity to our enunciation of the syllables composing the several feet. To effect this, however, we must have more syllables, or we shall get through the whole line too quickly for the intended time. To get more syllables, all we have to do, is to use, in place of iambuses, what our prosodies call anapæsts.* Thus in the line,

Flies o’er the unbending corn and skims along the main,

the syllables “the unbend “ form an anapæst and, demanding unusual rapidity of enunciation, in order that we may get them in the ordinary time of an iambus, serve to suggest celerity. By the elision of e in the, as is customary, the whole of the intended effect is lost; for th’unbend is nothing more than the usual iambus. In a word, wherever an Alexandrine expresses celebrity, ­[page 508:] we shall find it to contain one or more anapæsts — the more anapæsts, the more decided the impression. But the tendency of the Alexandrine consisting merely of the usual iambuses, is to convey slowness — although it conveys this idea feebly, on account of conveying it indirectly. It follows, from what I have said, that the common pentameter, interspersed with anapæsts, would better convey celerity than the Alexandrine interspersed with them in a similar degree; — and it unquestionably does.

­ XL.

This “species of nothingness” is quite as reasonable, at all events, as any “kind of something-ness.” See Cowley’s “Creation,” where,

An unshaped kind of something first appeared.

­ XLI.

If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own — the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple — a few plain words — “My Heart Laid Bare.” But — this little book must be true to its title.

Now, is it not very singular that, with the rabid thirst for notoriety which distinguishes so many of mankind — so many, too, who care not a fig what is thought of them after death, there should not be found one man having sufficient hardihood to write this little book? To write, I say. There are ten thousand men who, if the book were once written, would laugh at the notion of being disturbed by its publication during their life, and who could not even conceive why they should object to its being published after their death. But to write it — there is the rub. No man dare write it. No man ever will dare write it. No man could write it, even if he dared. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.

­ XLII.

All that the man of genius demands for his exaltation is moral matter in motion. It makes no difference whither tends the motion — whether for him or against him — and it is absolutely of no consequence “what is the matter.” ­[page 509:]

­ XLIII.

To converse well, we need the cool tact of talent — to talk well, the glowing abandon of genius. Men of very high genius, however, talk at one time very well, at another very ill: — well, when they have full time, full scope, and a sympathetic listener: — ill, when they fear interruption and are annoyed by the impossibility of exhausting the topic during that particular talk. The partial genius is flashy — scrappy. The true genius shudders at incompleteness — imperfection — and usually prefers silence to saying the something which is not everything that should be said. He is so filled with his theme that he is dumb, first from not knowing how to begin, where there seems eternally beginning behind beginning, and secondly from perceiving his true end at so infinite a distance. Sometimes, dashing into a subject, he blunders, hesitates, stops short, sticks fast, and because he has been overwhelmed by the rush and multiplicity of his thoughts, his hearers sneer at his inability to think. Such a man finds his proper element in those “great occasions” which confound and prostrate the general intellect.

Nevertheless, by his conversation, the influence of the conversationist upon mankind in general, is more decided than that of the talker by his talk: — the latter invariably talks to best purpose with his pen. And good conversationists are more rare than respectable talkers. I know many of the latter; and of the former only five or six: — among whom I can call to mind, just now, Mr. Willis, Mr. J. T. S. Sullivan — of Philadelphia, Mr. W. M. R. of Petersburg, Va., and Mrs. S — d, formerly of New York. Most people, in conversing, force us to curse our stars that our lot was not cast among the African nation mentioned by Eudoxus — the savages who having no mouths, never opened them, as a matter of course. And yet, if denied mouth, some persons whom I have in my eye would contrive to chatter on still — as they do now — through the nose.

­ XLIV.

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.” ­[page 510:]

­ XLV.

It was a pile of the oyster, which yielded the precious pearls of the South, and the artist had judiciously painted some with their lips parted, and showing within the large precious fruit in the attainment of which Spanish cupidity had already proved itself capable of every peril, as well as every crime. At once true and poetical, no comment could have been more severe, &c. —   Mr. Simms’ Damsel of Darien.

Body of Bacchus! — only think of poetical beauty in the countenance of a gaping oyster!

And how natural, in an age so fanciful, to believe that the stars and starry groups beheld in the new world for the first time by the native of the old were especially assigned for its government and protection.”

Now, if by the old world be meant the east, and by the new world the west, I am at a loss to know what are the stars seen in the one which cannot be equally seen in the other. Mr. Simms has abundant faults — or had; — among which inaccurate English, a proneness to revolting images, and pet phrases, are the most noticeable. Nevertheless, leaving out of question Brockden Brown and Hawthorne, (who are each a genus) , he is immeasurably the best writer of fiction in America. He has more vigor, more imagination, more movement, and more general capacity than all our novelists (save Cooper), combined.

­ XLVI.

All a in [[in a]] hot and copper sky

The bloody sun at noon

Just up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the moon. — COLERIDGE

Is it possible that the poet did not know the apparent diameter of the moon to be greater than that of the sun?

­ XLVII.

Here is an edition,* which, so far as microscopical excellence and absolute accuracy of typography are concerned, might well be prefaced with the phrase of the Koran — “There is no error in this book.” We cannot call a single inverted o an error — can we? But I am really as glad of having found that inverted o, as ever was a Columbus or an Archimedes. What, after all, are continents discovered, or silversmiths exposed? Give us a good o turned upside-down, and a whole herd of bibliomanic Arguses overlooking it for years. ­[page 511:]

­ XLVIII.

That sweet smile and serene — that smile never seen but upon the face of the dying and the dead. — Earnest Maltravers.

Bulwer is not the man to look a stern fact in the face. He would rather sentamentalize upon a vulgar although picturesque error. Who ever really saw anything but horror in the smile of the dead? We so earnestly desire to fancy it “sweet” — that is the source of the mistake; if, indeed, there ever was a mistake in the question.

­ XLIX.

The misapplication of quotations is clever, and has a capital effect, when well done; but Lord Brougham has not exactly that kind of capacity which the thing requires. One of the best hits in this way is made by Tieck, and I have lately seen it appropriated, with interesting complacency, in an English magazine. The author of the “Journey into the Blue Distance,” is giving an account of some young ladies, not very beautiful, whom he caught in mediis rebus, at their toilet. “They were curling their monstrous heads,” says he, “as Shakspeare says of the waves in a storm.”

­ L.

Here are both Dickens and Bulwer perpetually using the adverb “directly” in the sense of “as soon as.” “Directly he came I did so and so.” — “Directly I knew it I said this and that.” But observe! — “Grammar is hardly taught,” [in the United States,] “being thought an unnecessary basis for other learning.” I quote “America and her Resources,” by the British Counsellor at Law, John Bristed.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 497:]

­ *  “Thiodolf, the Icelander and Aslauga’s Knight.” No. 60 of Wiley & Putnarn’s Foreign Series of “The Library of Choice Reading.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 511:]

­ *  Camöens — Genoa — 1798.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 507:]

­ *  I use tile prosodial word “anapæst,” merely because here I have no space to show what the reviewer will admit I have distinctly shown in the essay referred to — viz: that the additional syllable introduced, does not make the foot an anapæst, or the equivalent of an anapæst, and that, if it did, it would spoil the line. On this topic, and on all topics connected with verse, there is not a prosody in existence which is not a mere jumble of the grossest error.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

The original printings of these items are as follows:

  • Item I (1) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1848
  • Item II (2) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item III (3) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item IV (4) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, February 1848
  • Item V (5) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, February 1848
  • Item VI (6) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item VII (7) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item VIII (8) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item IX (9) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item X (10) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XI (11) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XII (12) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XIII (13) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XIV (14) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XV (15) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XVI (16) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XVII (17) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XVIII (18) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XIX (19) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849 
  • Item XX (20) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item XXI (21) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XXII (22) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XXIII (23) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, March 1846
  • Item XXIV (24) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item XXV (25) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item XXVI (26) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XXVII (27) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XXVIII (28) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item XXIX (29) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item XXX (30) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XXXI (31) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item XXXII (32) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XXXIII (33) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XXXIV (34) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item XXXV (35) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XXXVI (36) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item XXXVII (37) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XXXVIII (38) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item XXXIX (39) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item XL (40) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item XLI (41) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item XLII (42) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item XLIII (43) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item XLIV (44) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item XLV (45) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item XLVI (46) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item XLVII (47) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item XLVIII (48) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item XLIX (49) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item L (50) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844

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[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [items 1-50] (Text-D)