Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [items 51-100]” (Text-D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 3:511-529


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­ [page 511, continued:]

­ LI.

At Ermenonville, too, there is a striking instance of the Gallic rhythm with which a Frenchman regards the English verse. There Gerardin has the following inscription to the memory of Shenstone:

This plain stone

To William Shenstone.

In his writings he displayed

A mind natural;

At Leasowes he laid

Arcadian greens rural.

There are few Parisians, speaking English, who would find anything particularly the matter with this epitaph. ­[page 512:]

­ LII.

Upon her was lavished the enthusiastic applause of the most correct taste, and of the deepest sensibility. Human triumph, in all that is most exciting and delicious, never went beyond that which she experienced — or never but in the case of Taglioni. For what are the extorted adulations that fall to the lot of the conqueror? — what even are the extensive honors of the popular author — his far-reaching fame — his high influence — or the most devout public appreciation of his works — to that rapturous approbation of the personal woman — that spontaneous, instant, present, and palpable applause — those irrepressible acclamations — those eloquent sighs and tears which the idolized Malibran at once heard, and saw, and deeply felt that she deserved? Her brief career was one gorgeous dream — for even the many sad intervals of her grief were but dust in the balance of her glory. In this book* I read much about the causes which curtailed her existence; and there seems to hang around them, as here given, an indistinctness which the fair memorialist tries in vain to illumine. She seems never to approach the full truth. She seems never to reflect that the speedy decease was but a condition of the rapturous life. No thinking person, hearing Malibran sing, could have doubted that she would die in the spring of her days. She crowded ages into hours. She left the world at twenty-five, having existed her thousands of years.

­ LIII.

[[“]]Accursed be the heart that does not wildly throb, and palsied be the eye that will not weep over the woes of the wanderer of Switzerland.” — Monthly Register, 1807.

This is “dealing damnation round the land” to some purpose; — upon the reader, and not upon the author, as usual. For my part I shall be one of the damned; for I have in vain endeavored to see even a shadow of merit in anything ever written by either of the Montgomeries.

­ LIV.

Strange — that I should here find the only non-execrable barbarian attempts at imitation of the Greek and Roman measures! ­[page 513:]

­ LV.

In my reply to the letter signed “Outis,” and defending Mr. Longfellow from certain charges supposed to have been made against him by myself, I took occasion to assert that “of the class of willful plagiarists nine out of ten are authors of established reputation who plunder recondite, neglected, or forgotten books.” I came to this conclusion à priori; but experience has confirmed me in it. Here is a plagiarism from Channing; and as it is perpetrated by an anonymous writer in a monthly magazine, the theft seems at war with my assertion — until it is seen that the magazine in question is Campbell’s “New Monthly” for August, 1828. Channing, at that time, was comparatively unknown; and, besides, the plagiarism appeared in a foreign country, where there was little probability of detection. Channing, in his essay on Buonaparte, says:

We would observe that military talent, even of the highest order, is far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is not conversant with the highest and richest objects of thought. . . . . . . . Still the chief work of a general is to apply physical force — to remove physical obstructions — to avail himself of physical aids and advantages — to act on matter — to overcome rivers, ramparts, mountains, and human muscles; and these are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest order: — and accordingly nothing is more common than to find men, eminent in this department, who are almost wholly wanting in the noblest energies of the soul — in imagination and taste — in the capacity of enjoying works of genius — in large views of human nature — in the moral sciences — in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society, and in original conceptions on the great subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings.

The thief in “The New Monthly,” says:

Military talent, even of the highest grade, is very far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is never made conversant with the more delicate and abstruse of mental operations. It is used to apply physical force; to remove physical force; to remove physical obstructions; to avail itself of physical aids and advantages; and all these are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest and rarest order. Nothing is more common than to find men eminent in the science and practice of war, wholly wanting in the nobler energies of the soul; in imagination, in taste, in enlarged views of human nature, in the moral sciences, in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society; or in original conceptions on the great subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings.

The article in “The New Monthly” is on “The State of Parties.” The italics are mine. ­[page 514:]

Apparent plagiarisms frequently arise from an author’s self repetition. He finds that something he has already published has fallen dead — been overlooked — or that it is peculiarly àpropos to another subject now under discussion. He therefore introduces the passage; often without allusion to his having printed it before; and sometimes he introduces it into an anonymous article. An anonymous writer is thus, now and then, unjustly accused of plagiarism — when the sin is merely that of self-repetition. In the present case, however, there has been a deliberate plagiarism of the silliest as well as meanest species. Trusting to the obscurity of his original, the plagiarist has fallen upon the idea of killing two birds with one stone — of dispensing with all disguise but that of decoration. Channing says “order” — the writer in the New Monthly says “grade.” The former says that this order is “far from holding,” etc. — the latter says it is “very far from holding.” The one says that military talent is “not conversant,” and so on — the other says “it is never made conversant.” The one speaks of “the highest and richest objects” — the other of “the more delicate and abstruse.” Channing speaks of “thought” — the thief of “mental operations.” Channing mentions “intelligence of the highest order” — the thief will have it of “the highest and rarest.” Channing observes that military talent is often “almost wholly wanting,” etc. — the thief maintains it to be “wholly wanting.” Channing alludes to “large views of human nature” — the thief can be content with nothing less than “enlarged” ones. Finally, the American having been satisfied with a reference to “subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings,” the Cockney puts him to shame at once by discoursing about “subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings” — as if one could be absorbed, without being occupied, by a subject — as if “of “ were here any thing more than two superfluous letters — and as if there were any chance of the reader’s supposing that the understandings in question were the understandings of frogs, or jackasses, or Johnny Bulls.

By the way, in a case of this kind, whenever there is a question as to who is the original and who the plagiarist, the point may be determined, almost invariably, by observing which passage is ­[page 515:] amplified, or exaggerated, in tone. To disguise his stolen horse, the uneducated thief cuts off the tail; but the educated thief prefers tying on a new tail at the end of the old one, and painting them both sky blue.

­ LVI.

When I consider the true talent — the real force of Mr. Emerson, I am lost in amazement at finding in him little more than a respectful imitation of Carlyle. Is it possible that Mr. E. has ever seen a copy of Seneca? Scarcely — or he would long ago have abandoned his model in utter confusion at the parallel between his own worship of the author of “Sartor Resartus” and the aping of Sallust by Aruntius, as described in the 114th Epistle. In the writer of the “History of the Punic Wars” Emerson is portrayed to the life. The parallel is close; for not only is the imitation of the same character, but the things imitated are identical. Undoubtedly it is to be said of Sallust, far more plausibly than of Carlyle, that his obscurity, his unusuality of expression, and his Laconism (which had the effect of diffuseness, since the time gained in the mere perusal of his pithiness is trebly lost in the necessity of cogitating them out) — it may be said of Sallust, more truly than of Carlyle, that these qualities bore the impress of his genius, and were but a portion of his unaffected thought. If there is any difference between Aruntius and Emerson, this difference is clearly in favor of the former, who was in some measure excusable, on the ground that he was as great a fool as the latter is not.

­ LVII.

I believe that odors have an altogether idiosyncratic force, in affecting us through association; a force differing essentially from that of objects addressing the touch, the taste, the sight, or the hearing.

­ LVIII.

It would have been becoming, I think, in Bulwer, to have made at least a running acknowledgment of that extensive indebtedness to Arnay’s “Private Life of the Romans,”* which he had so little scruple about incurring, during the composition of “The Last Days of Pompeii.” He acknowledges, I believe, what he owes to Sir William Gell’s “Pompeiana.” Why this? — why not that? ­[page 516:]

­ LIX.

One of our truest poets is Thomas Buchanan Read. His most distinctive features are, first, “tenderness,” or subdued passion, and secondly, fancy. His sin is imitativeness. At present, although evincing high capacity, he is but a copyist of Longfellow — that is to say, but the echo of an echo. Here is a beautiful thought which is not the property of Mr. Read:

And, where the spring-time sun had longest shone,

A violet looked up and found itself alone.

Here again: a spirit

Slowly through the lake descended,

Till from her hidden form below

The waters took a golden glow,

As if the star which made her forehead bright

Had burst and filled the lake with light.

Lowell has some lines very similar, ending with

As if a star had burst within his brain.

­ LX.

I cannot say that I ever fairly comprehended the force of the term “insult,” until I was given to understand, one day, by a member of the “North American Review” clique, that this journal was “not only willing but anxious to render me that justice which had been already rendered me by the ‘Revue Française’ and the ‘Revue des Deux Mondes’ “ — but was “restrained from so doing” by my “invincible spirit of antagonism.” I wish the “North American Review” to express no opinion of me whatever — for I have none of it. In the meantime, as I see no motto on its title-page, let me recommend it one from Sterne’s “Letter from France.” Here it is: — “As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of asses on the top of one of the mountains — how they viewed and reviewed us!”

­ LXI.

Von Raumer says that Enslen, a German optician, conceived the idea of throwing a shadowy figure, by optical means, into the chair of Banquo; and that the thing was readily done. Intense effect was produced; and I do not doubt that an American audience might be electrified by the feat. But our managers not only have no invention of their own, but no energy to avail themselves of that of others. ­[page 517:]

­ LXII.

A capital book, generally speaking;* but Mr. Grattan has a bad habit — that of loitering in the road — of dallying and toying with his subjects, as a kitten with a mouse — instead of grasping it firmly at once and eating it up without more ado. He takes up too much time in the ante-room. He has never done with his introductions. Occasionally, one introduction is but the vestibule to another; so that by the time he arrives at his main incidents, there is nothing more to tell. He seems afflicted with that curious yet common perversity observed in garrulous old women — the desire of tantalizing by circumlocution. Mr. G’s circumlocution, however, is by no means like that which Albany Fonblanque describes as “a style of about and about and all the way round to nothing and nonsense.” . . . . If the greasy-looking lithograph here given as a frontispiece, be meant for Mr. Grattan, then is Mr. Grattan like nobody else: — for the fact is, I never yet knew an individual with a wire wig, or the countenance of an under-done apple dumpling . . . . . As a general rule, no man should put his own face in his own book. In looking at the author’s countenance the reader is seldom in condition to keep his own.

­ LXIII.

Here is a good idea for a Magazine paper: — let somebody “work it up:” — A flippant pretender to universal acquirement — a would-be Crichton — engrosses, for an hour or two, perhaps, the attention of a large company — most of whom are profoundly impressed by his knowledge. He is very witty, in especial, at the expense of a modest young gentleman, who ventures to make no reply, and who, finally, leaves the room as if overwhelmed with confusion; — the Crichton greeting his exit with a laugh. Presently he returns, followed by a footman carrying an armful of books. These are deposited on the table. The young gentleman, now, referring to some penciled notes which he had been secretly taking during the Crichton’s display of erudition, pins the latter to his statements, each by each, and refutes them all in turn, by reference to the very authorities cited by the egotist himself — whose ignorance at all points is thus made apparent. ­[page 518:]

­ LXIV.

A long time ago — twenty-three or four years at least — Edward C. Pinckney, of Baltimore, published an exquisite poem entitled “A Health.” It was profoundly admired by the critical few, but had little circulation: — this for no better reason than that the author was born too far South. I quote a few lines:

Affections are as thoughts to her,

The measures of her hours —

Her feelings have the fragrancy,

The freshness of young flowers.

To her the better elements

And kindlier stars have given

A form so fair, that, like the air,

Tis less of Earth than Heaven.

Now, in 1842, Mr. George Hill published “The Ruins of Athens and Other Poems,” — and from one of the “Other Poems” I quote what follows:

And thoughts go sporting through her mind

Like children among flowers;

And deeds of gentle goodness are

The measures of her hours.

In soul or face she bears no trace

Of one from Eden driven,

But like the rainbow seems, though born

Of Earth, a part of Heaven.

Is this plagiarism or is it not? — I merely ask for information.

­ LXV.

Had the “George Balcombe” of Professor Beverley Tucker been the work of any one born North of Mason and Dixon’s line, it would have been long ago recognised as one of the very noblest fictions ever written by an American. It is almost as good as “Caleb Williams.” The manner in which the cabal of the “North American Review” first write all our books and then review them, puts me in mind of the fable about the Lion and the Painter. It is high time that the literary South took its own interests into its own charge.

­ LXVI.

Here is a plot which, with all its complexity, has no adaptation — no dependency; — it is involute and nothing more — having all the air of G ———’s wig, or the cycles and epicycles in Ptolemy’s “Almagest.” ­[page 519:]

­ LXVII.

We might give two plausible derivations of the epithet “weeping” as applied to the willow. We might say that the word has its origin in the pendulous character of the long branches, which suggest the idea of water dripping; or we might assert that the term comes from a fact in the natural history of the tree. It has a vast insensible perspiration, which, upon sudden cold, condenses, and sometimes is precipitated in a shower. Now, one might very accurately determine the bias and value of a man’s powers of causality, by observing which of these two derivations he would adopt. The former is, beyond question, the true; and, for this reason — that common or vulgar epithets are universally suggested by common or immediately obvious things, without strict regard of any exactitude in application: — but the latter would be greedily seized by nine philologists out of ten, for no better cause than its epigrammatism — than the pointedness with which the singular fact seems to touch the occasion. Here, then, is a subtle source of error which Lord Bacon has neglected. It is an Idol of the Wit.

­ LXVIII.

In a “Hymn for Christmas,” by Mrs. Hemans, we find the following stanza:

Oh, lovely voices of the sky

Which hymned the Savior’s birth,

Are ye not singing still on high,

Ye that sang “Peace on Earth?”

To us yet speak the strains

Wherewith, in times gone by,

Ye blessed the Syrian swains,

Oh, voices of the sky!

And at page 305 of “The Christian Keepsake and Missionary Annual for 1840” — a Philadelphia Annual — we find “A Christmas Carol,” by Richard W. Dodson: — the first stanza running thus:

Angel voices of the sky!

Ye that hymned Messiah’s birth,

Sweetly singing from on high

“Peace, Goodwill to all on earth!”

Oh, to us impart those strains!

Bid our doubts and fears to cease!

Ye that cheered the Syrian swains,

Cheer us with that song of peace! ­[page 520:]

­ LXIX.

The more there are great excellences in a work, the less am I surprised at finding great demerits. When a book is said to have many faults, nothing is decided, and I cannot tell, by this, whether it is excellent or execrable. It is said of another that it is without fault; if the account be just, the work cannot be excellent. — Trublet.

The “cannot” here is much too positive. The opinions of Trublet are wonderfully prevalent, but they are none the less demonstrably false. It is merely the indolence of genius which has given them currency. The truth seems to be that genius of the highest order lives in a state of perpetual vacillation between ambition and the scorn of it. The ambition of a great intellect is at best negative. It struggles — it labors — it creates — not because excellence is desirable, but because to be excelled where there exists a sense of the power to excel, is unendurable. Indeed I cannot help thinking that the greatest intellects (since these most clearly perceive the laughable absurdity of human ambition) remain contentedly “mute and inglorious.” At all events, the vacillation of which I speak is the prominent feature of genius. Alternately inspired and depressed, its inequalities of mood are stamped upon its labors. This is the truth, generally — but it is a truth very different from the assertion involved in the “cannot” of Trublet. Give to genius a sufficiently enduring motive, and the result will be harmony, proportion, beauty, perfection — all, in this case, synonymous terms. Its supposed “inevitable” irregularities shall not be found: — for it is clear that the susceptibility to impressions of beauty — that susceptibility which is the most important element of genius — implies an equally exquisite sensitiveness and aversion to deformity. The motive — the enduring motive — has indeed, hitherto, fallen rarely to the lot of genius; but I could point to several compositions which, “without any fault,” are yet “excellent” — supremely so. The world, too, is on the threshold of an epoch, wherein, with the aid of a calm philosophy, such compositions shall be ordinarily the work of that genius which is true. One of the first and most essential steps, in overpassing this threshold, will serve to kick out of the world’s way this very idea of Trublet — this untenable and paradoxical idea of the incompatibility of genius with art. ­[page 521:]

­ LXX.

It may well be doubted whether a single paragraph of merit can be found either in the “Koran” of Lawrence Sterne, or in the “Lacon” of Colton, of which paragraph the origin, or at least the germ, may not be traced to Seneca, to Plutarch, (through Machiavelli) to Machiavelli himself, to Bacon, to Burdon, to Burton, to Bolinbroke, to Rochefoucault, to Balzac, the author of “La Maniére de Bien Penser,” or to Bielfeld, the German, who wrote, in French, “Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle.”

­ LXXI.

A man of genius, if not permitted to choose his own subject, will do worse, in letters, than if he had talents none at all. And here how imperatively is he controlled! To be sure, he can write to suit himself — but in the same manner his publishers print. From the nature of our copyright laws, he has no individual powers. As for his free agency, it is about equal to that of the dean and chapter of the see-cathedral, in a British election of Bishops — an election held by virtue of the king’s writ of congé d’élire — specifying the person to be elected.

­ LXXII.

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 Smyrna, which represent the fairest images as deformed.

­ LXXIII.

With the aid of a lantern, I have been looking again at “Niagara and other Poems” (Lord only knows if that be the true title) — but “there’s nothing in it:” — at least nothing of Mr. Lord’s own — nothing which is not stolen — or, (more delicately,) transfused — transmitted. By the way, Newton says a great deal about “fits of easy transmission and reflection,”* and I have no doubt that “Niagara” was put together in one of these identical fits. ­[page 522:]

­ LXXIV.

A remarkable work,* and one which I find much difficulty in admitting to be the composition of a woman. Not that many good and glorious things have not been the composition of women — but, because, here, the severe precision of style, the thoroughness, and the luminousness, are points never observable, in even the most admirable of their writings. Who is Lady Georgiana Fullerton? Who is that Countess of Dacre, who edited “Ellen Wareham,” — the most passionate of fictions — approached, only in some particulars of passion, by this? The great detect of “Ellen Middleton,” lies in the disgusting sternness, captiousness, and bullet-headedness of her husband. We cannot sympathize with her love for him. And the intense selfishness of the rejected lover precludes that compassion which is designed. Alice is a creation of true genius. The imagination, throughout, is of a lofty order, and the snatches of original verse would do honor to any poet living. But the chief merit, after all, is that of the style — about which it is difficult to say too much in the way of praise, although it has, now and then, an odd Gallicism — such as “she lost her head,” meaning she grew crazy. There is much, in the whole manner of this book, which puts me in mind of “Caleb Williams.”

­ LXXV.

The God-abstractions of the modern polytheism are nearly in as sad a state of perplexity and promiscuity as were the more substantial deities of the Greeks. Not a quality named that does not impinge upon some one other; and Porphyry admits that Vesta, Rhea, Ceres, Themis, Proserpina, Bacchus, Attis, Adonis, Silenus, Priapus, and the Satyrs, were merely different terms for the same thing. Even gender was never precisely settled. Servius on Virgil mentions a Venus with a beard. In Macrobius, too, Calvus talks of her as if she were a man; while Valerius Soranus expressly calls Jupiter “the Mother of the Gods.”

­ LXXVI.

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.” ­[page 528.]

­ LXXVII.

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 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.”

­ LXXVIII.

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.

­ LXXIX.

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.”

­ LXXX.

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

­ LXXXI.

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.

­ LXXXII.

La Harpe (who was no critic) has, nevertheless, done little more than strict justice to the fine taste and precise finish of Racine, in all that regards the minor morals of Literature. In these he as far excels Pope, as Pope the veriest dolt in his own “Dunciad.” ­[page 524:]

­ LXXXIII.

I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of an individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. Thus he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind — that he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong.

In like manner, nothing can be clearer than that a very generous spirit — truly feeling what all merely profess — must inevitably find itself misconceived in every direction — its motives misinterpreted. Just as extremeness of intelligence would be thought fatuity, so excess of chivalry could not fail of being looked upon as meanness in its last degree: — and so on with other virtues. This subject is a painful one indeed. That individuals have so soared above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all biographies of “the good and the great,” while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows.

­ LXXXIV.

Samuel Butler, of Hudibrastic memory, must have had a prophetic eye to the American Congress when he defined a rabble as — “A congregation or assembly of the States-General — every one being of a several judgment concerning whatever business be under consideration” . . . . “They meet only to quarrel,” he adds, “and then return home full of satisfaction and narrative.”

­ LXXXV.

I have now before me a book in which the most noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which “Monarch” and “King” are printed with a capital M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been lately presented at Court. He will employ a small g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God. ­[page 525:]

­ LXXXVI.

Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term “Art,” I should call it “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.” The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of “Artist.” Denner was no artist. The grapes of Zeuxis were in artistic — unless in a bird’s-eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius could conceal his deficiency in point of genius. I have mentioned “the veil of the soul.” Something of the kind appears indispensable in Art. We can, at any time, double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it. The naked Senses sometimes see too little — but then always they see too much.

­ LXXXVII.

With how unaccountable an obstinacy even our best writers persist in talking about “moral courage” — as if there could be any courage that was not moral. The adjective is improperly applied to the subject instead of the object. The energy which overcomes fear — whether fear of evil threatening the person or threatening the impersonal circumstances amid which we exist — is, of course, simply a mental energy — is, of course, simply “moral.” But, in speaking of “moral courage” we imply the existence of physical. Quite as reasonable an expression would be that of “bodily thought,” or of “muscular imagination.”

­ LXXXVIII.

I have great faith in fools: — self-confidence my friends will call it: —

Si demain, oubliant d’ élore,

Le jour manquait, eh bien!

demain Quelque fou trouverait encore

Un flambeau pour le genre humain.

By the way, what with the new electric light and other matters, De Béranger’s idea is not so very extravagant.

­ LXXXIX.

“He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland, in his “Peregrinus Proteus,” “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man.” The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature, we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out. ­[page 526:]

­ XC.

The phrase of which our poets, and more especially our orators, are so fond — the phrase “music of the spheres” — has arisen simply from a misconception of the Platonic word [[Greek text:]] xxxx [[:Greek text]] — which, with the Athenians, included not merely the harmonies of tune and time, but proportion generally. In recommending the study of “music” as “the best education for the soul,” Plato referred to the cultivation of the Taste, in contradistinction from that of the Pure Reason. By the “music of the spheres” is meant the agreements — the adaptations — in a word, the proportions — developed in the astronomical laws. He had no allusion to music in our understanding of the term. The word “mosaic,” which we derive from [[Greek text:]] xxxx [[:Greek text]], refers, in like manner, to the proportion, or harmony of color, observed — or which should be observed — in the department of Art so entitled.

­ XCI.

Not long ago, to call a man “a great wizzard,”was to invoke for him fire and faggot; but now, when we wish to run our protégé for President, we just dub him “a little magician.” The fact is, that, on account of the curious modern bouleversement of old opinion, one cannot be too cautious of the grounds on which he lauds a friend or vituperates a foe.

­ XCII.

“Philosophy,” says Hegel, “is utterly useless and fruitless, and, for this very reason, is the sublimest of all pursuits, the most deserving attention, and the most worthy of our zeal.” This jargon was suggested, no doubt, by Tertullian’s “Mortuus est Dei filius; credibile est quia ineptum — et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile.”

­ XCIII.

A clever French writer of “Memoirs” is quite right in saying that “if the Universities had been willing to permit it, the disgusting old debauché of Teos, with his eternal Batyllis, would long ago have been buried in the darkness of Oblivion.”

­ XCIV.

It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream. ­[page 527:]

­ XCV.

“The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist.” — Novalis.*

In nine cases out of ten it is pure waste of time to attempt extorting sense from a German apothegm; — or, rather, any sense and every sense may be extorted from all of them. If, in the sentence above quoted, the intention is to assert that the artist is the slave of his theme, and must conform it to his thoughts, I have no faith in the idea, which appears to me that of an essentially prosaic intellect. In the hands of the true artist the theme, or “work,” is but a mass of clay, of which anything (within the compass of the mass and quality of the clay) may be fashioned at will, or according to the skill of the workman. The clay is, in fact, the slave of the artist. It belongs to him. His genius, to be sure, is manifested, very distinctively, in the choice of the clay. It should be neither fine nor coarse, abstractly — but just so fine or so coarse — just so plastic or so rigid — as may best serve the purposes of the thing to be wrought — of the idea to be made out, or, more exactly, of the impression to be conveyed. There are artists, however, who fancy only the finest material, and who, consequently, produce only the finest ware. It is generally very transparent and excessively brittle.

­ XCVI.

Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least the perfection of “respectability” in good earnest. On the other hand, accuse an honorable man, too pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him with a perverse ambition to show you that you are not altogether in the wrong.

­ XCVII.

The Romans worshipped their standards; and the Roman standard happened to be an eagle. Our standard is only one-tenth of an Eagle — a Dollar — but we make all even by adoring it with tenfold devotion.

­ XCVIII.

A pumpkin has more angles than C—— [[Lewis Gaylord Clark]], and is altogether a cleverer thing. He is remarkable at one point only — at that of being remarkable for nothing.

­ XCIX.

That evil predominates over good, becomes evident, when we consider that there can be found no aged person who would be willing to relive the life he has already lived. — Volney.

The idea here, is not distinctly made out; for unless through the context, we cannot be sure whether the author means merely this: — that every aged person fancies he might, in a different course of life, have been happier than in the one actually lived, and, for this reason, would not be willing to live his life over again, but some other life; — or, whether the sentiment intended is this: — that if, upon the grave’s brink, the choice between the expected death and the re-living the old life, were offered any aged person, that person would would [[sic]] prefer to die. The first proposition is, perhaps, true; but the last (which is the one designed) is not only doubtful, in point of mere fact, but is of no effect, even if granted to be true, in sustaining the original proposition — that evil predominates over good. It is assumed that the aged person will not re-live his life, because he knows that its evil predominated over its good. The source of error lies in the word “knows” — in the assumption that we can ever be, really, in possession of the whole knowledge to which allusion is cloudily made. But there is a seeming — a fictitious knowledge; and this very seeming knowledge it is, of what the life has been, which incapacitates the aged person from deciding the question upon its merits. He blindly deduces a notion of the happiness of the original real life — a notion of its preponderating evil or good — from a consideration of the secondary or supposititious one. In his estimate he merely strikes a balance between events, and leaves quite out of the account that elastic Hope which is the Eos of all. Man’s real life is happy, chiefly because he is ever expecting that it soon will be so. In regarding the supposititious life, however, we paint to ourselves chill certainties for warm expectations, and grievances quadrupled in being foreseen. But because we cannot avoid doing this — strain our imaginative faculties as we will — because it is so very difficult — so nearly impossible a task, to fancy the known unknown — the done unaccomplished — and because (through our inability to fancy all this) we prefer death to a secondary life — ­[page 529:] does it, in any manner, follow that the evil of the properly-considered real existence does predominate over the good?

In order that a just estimate be made by Mr. Volney’s “aged person,” and from this estimate a judicious choice: — in order, again, that from this estimate and choice, we deduce any clear comparison of good with evil in human existence, it will be necessary that we obtain the opinion, or “choice,” upon this point, from an aged person, who shall be in condition to appreciate, with precision, the hopes he is naturally led to leave out of question, but which reason tells us he would as strongly experience as ever, in the absolute re-living of the life. On the other hand, too, he must be in condition to dismiss from the estimate the fears which he actually feels, and which show him bodily the ills that are to happen, but which fears, again, reason assures us he would not, in the absolute secondary life, encounter. Now what mortal was ever in condition to make these allowances? — to perform impossibilities in giving these considerations their due weight? What mortal, then, was ever in condition to make a well-grounded choice? How, from an ill-grounded one, are we to make deductions which shall guide us aright? How out of error shall we fabricate truth?

­ C.

This reasoning is about as convincing as would be that of a traveller who, going from Maryland to New York without entering Pennsylvania, should advance this feat as an argument against Leibnitz’ Law of Continuity — according to which nothing passes from one state to another without passing through all the intermediate states.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 512:]

­ *  “Memoirs and Letters of Madame Malibran,” by the Countess of Merlin.

­ †  Forelaesninger over det Danske Sprog, eller resonneret Dansk Grammatik, ved Jacob Buden.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 515:]

­ *  1764.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 517:]

­ *  “High-ways and By-ways.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 521:]

­ *  Of the solar rays — in the “Optics.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 522:]

­ *  “Ellen Middleton.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 527:]

­ *   The non [[nom]] de plume of Von Hardenburgh.


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Notes:

The original printings of these items are as follows:

  • Item LI (51) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LII (52) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LIII (53) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LIV (54) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LV (55) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, February 1848.
  • Item LVI (56) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846.
  • Item LVII (57) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LVIII (58) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LIX (59) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LX (60) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXI (61) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXII (62) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXIII (63) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXIV (64) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXV (65) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXVI (66) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXVII (67) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXVIII (68) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXIX (69) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846.
  • Item LXX (70) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXXI (71) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXXII (72) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.
  • Item LXXIII (73) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1844.
  • Item LXXIV (74) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXXV (75) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXXVI (76) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXVII (77) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXVIII (78) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXIX (79) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXX (80) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXXI (81) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849.
  • Item LXXXII (82) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item LXXXIII (83) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXIV (84) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXV (85) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXVI (86) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXVII (87) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXVIII (88) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item LXXXIX (89) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.
  • Item XC (90) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCI (91) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCII (92) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCIII (93) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCIV (94) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCV (95) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1846
  • Item XCVI (96) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCVII (97) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCVIII (98) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849
  • Item XCIX (99) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item C (100) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844

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[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [items 51-100] (Text-D)