Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [items 101-150]” (Text-D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 3:529-549


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­ [page 529, continued:]

­ CI.

Macaulay, in his just admiration of Addison, over-rates Tickell, and does not seem to be aware how much the author of the “Elegy” is indebted to French models. Boileau, especially, he robbed without mercy, and without measure. A flagrant example is here. Boileau has the lines:

En vain contre “Le Cid” un ministre se ligue;

Tout Paris pour Chiméne a les yeux de Rodrigue.

Tickell thus appropriates them:

While the charm ‘d reader with thy thought complies,

And views thy Rosamond with Henry’s eyes. ­[page 530:]

­ CII.

Stolen, body and soul, (and spoilt in the stealing) from a paper of the same title in the “European Magazine” for December, 1817. Blunderingly done throughout, and must have cost more trouble than an original thing. This makes paragraph 33 of my “Chapter on American Cribbage.” The beauty of these exposés must lie in the precision and unanswerability with which they are given — in day and date — in chapter and verse and, above all, in an unveiling of the minute trickeries by which the thieves hope to disguise their stolen wares. I must soon a tale unfold, and an astonishing tale it will be. The C —— bears away the bell. The ladies, however, should positively not be guilty of these tricks; — for one has never the heart to unmask or deplume them. After all, there is this advantage in purloining one’s magazine papers; — we are never forced to dispose of them under prime cost.

­ CIII.

Amare et sapere vix Deo conceditur, as the acute Seneca well observes.

However acute might be Seneca, still he was not sufficiently acute to say this. The sentence is often attributed to him, but is not to be found in his works. “Semel insanavimu somnes,”) a phrase often quoted, is invariably placed to the account of Horace, and with equal error. It is from the “De Honesto Amore” of the Italian Mantuanus, who has

Id commune malum; semel insanavimus omnes.

In the title, “De Honesto Amore,” by the way, Mantuanus misconceives the force of honestus — just as Dryden does in his translation of Virgil’s

Et quocunque Deus circum caput egit honestum;

which he renders

On whate’er side he turns his honest face.

­ CIV.

No; — he fell by his own fame. Like Richmann, he was blasted by the fires himself had sought, and obtained, from the Heavens.

­ CV.

How overpowering a style is that of Curran! I use “overpowering” in the sense of the English exquisite. I can imagine nothing more distressing than the extent of his eloquence. ­[page 531:]

­ CVI.

How radically has “Undine” been misunderstood! Beneath its obvious meaning there runs an under-current, simple, quite intelligible, artistically managed, and richly philosophical.

From internal evidence afforded by the book itself, I gather that the author suffered from the ills of a mal-arranged marriage — the bitter reflections thus engendered, inducing the fable.

In the contrast between the artless, thoughtless, and careless character of Undine before possessing a soul, and her serious, enwrapt, and anxious yet happy condition after possessing it, — a condition which, with all its multiform disquietudes, she still feels to be preferable to her original state, — Fouqué has beautifully painted the difference between the heart unused to love, and the heart which has received its inspiration.

The jealousies which follow the marriage, arising from the conduct of Bertalda, are but the natural troubles of love; but the persecutions of Kuhleborn and the other water-spirits who take umbrage at Huldbrand’s treatment of his wife, are meant to picture certain difficulties from the interference of relations in conjugal matters — difficulties which the author has himself experienced. The warning of Undine to Huldbrand — “Reproach me not upon the waters, or we part forever” — is intended to embody the truth that quarrels between man and wife are seldom or never irremediable unless when taking place in the presence of third parties. The second wedding of the knight with his gradual forgetfulness of Undine, and Undine’s intense grief beneath the waters — are dwelt upon so pathetically — so passionately — that there can be no doubt of the author’s personal opinions on the subject of second marriages — no doubt of his deep personal interest in the question. How thrillingly are these few and simple words made to convey his belief that the mere death of a beloved wife does not imply a separation so final or so complete as to justify an union with another!

The fisherman had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was a doubtful conclusion to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly viewed as her death.

This is where the old man is endeavoring to dissuade the knight from wedding Bertalda. ­[page 532:]

I cannot say whether the novelty of the conception of “Undine,” or the loftiness and purity of its ideality, or the intensity of its pathos, or the rigor of its simplicity, or the high artistical ability with which all are combined into a well-kept, well-motivirt whole of absolute unity of effect — is the particular chiefly to be admired.

How delicate and graceful are the transitions from subject to subject! — a point severely testing the autorial power — as, when, for the purposes of the story, it becomes necessary that the knight, with Undine and Bertalda, shall proceed down the Danube. An ordinary novelist would have here tormented both himself and his readers, in his search for a sufficient motive for the voyage. But, in a fable such as “Undine,” how all-sufficient — how well in keeping — appears the simple motive assigned! —

In this grateful union of friendship and affection, winter came and passed away; and spring, with its foliage of tender green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded to gladden the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. What wonder, then, that its storks and swallows inspired them also with a disposition to travel?

­ CVII.

I have at length attained the last page, which is a thing to thank God for; and all this may be logic, but I am sure it is nothing more. Until I get the means of refutation, however, I must be content to say, with the Jesuits, Le Sueur and Jacquier, that “I acknowledge myself obedient to the decrees of the Pope against the motion of the Earth.”

­ CVIII.

Not so: — The first number of the “Gentleman’s Magazine” was published on the first of January, 1731; but long before this — in 1681 — there appeared the “Monthly Recorder” with all the magazine features. I have a number of the “London Magazine,” dated 1760; — commenced 1732, at least, but I have reason to think much earlier.

­ CIX.

‘‘Rhododaphne’’ (who wrote it?) is brim-full of music: — e. g.

By living streams, in sylvan shades,

Where wind and wave symphonious make

Rich melody, the youths and maids

No more with choral music wake

Lone Echo from her tangled brake. ­[page 533:]

­ CX.

I have just finished the “Mysteries of Paris” — a work of unquestionable power — a museum of novel and ingenious incident — a paradox of childish folly and consummate skill. It has this point in common with all the “convulsive” fictions — that the incidents are consequential from the premises, while the premises themselves are laughably incredible. Admitting, for instance, the possibility of such a man as Rodolphe, and of such a state of society as would tolerate his perpetual interference, we have no difficulty in agreeing to admit the possibility of his accomplishing all that is accomplished. Another point which distinguishes the Sue school, is the total want of the ars celare artem. In effect the writer is always saying to the reader, “Now — in one moment — you shall see what you shall see. I am about to produce on you a remarkable impression. Prepare to have your imagination, or your pity, greatly excited.” The wires are not only not concealed, but displayed as things to be admired, equally with the puppets they set in motion. The result is, that in perusing, for example, a pathetic chapter in the “Mysteries of Paris” we say to ourselves, without shedding a tear — “Now, here is something which will be sure to move every reader to tears.” The philosophical motives attributed to Sue are absurd in the extreme. His first, and in fact his sole object, is to make an exciting, and therefore saleable book. The cant (implied or direct) about the amelioration of society, etc., is but a very usual trick among authors, whereby they hope to add such a tone of dignity or utilitarianism to their pages as shall gild the pill of their licentiousness. The ruse is even more generally employed by way of engrafting a meaning upon the otherwise unintelligible. In the latter case, however, this ruse is an after-thought, manifested in the shape of a moral, either appended (as in Æsop) or dovetailed into the body of the work, piece by piece, with great care, but never without leaving evidence of its after-insertion.

The translation (by C. H. Town) is very imperfect, and, by a too literal rendering of idioms, contrives to destroy the whole tone of the original. Or, perhaps, I should say a too literal rendering of local peculiarities of phrase. There is one point (never yet, I believe, noticed) which, obviously, should be considered in translation. ­[page 533:] We should so render the original that the version should impress the people for whom it is intended, just as the original impresses the people for whom it (the original) is intended. Now, if we rigorously translate mere local idiosyncrasies of phrase (to say nothing of idioms) we inevitably distort the author’s designed impression. We are sure to produce a whimsical, at least, if not always a ludicrous, effect — for novelties, in a case of this kind, are incongruities — oddities. A distinction, of course, should be observed between those peculiarities of phrase which appertain to the nation and those which belong to the author himself — for these latter will have a similar effect upon all nations, and should be literally translated. It is merely the general inattention to the principle here proposed, which has given rise to so much international depreciation, if not positive contempt, as regards literature. The English reviews, for example, have abundant allusions to what they call the “frivolousness” of French letters — an idea chiefly derived from the impression made by the French manner merely — this manner, again, having in it nothing essentially frivolous, but affecting all foreigners as such (the English especially) through that oddity of which I have already assigned the origin. The French return the compliment, complaining of the British gaucherie in style. The phraseology of every nation has a taint of drollery about it in the ears of every other nation speaking a different tongue. Now, to convey the true spirit of an author, this taint should be corrected in translation. We should pride ourselves less upon literality and more upon dexterity at paraphrase. Is it not clear that, by such dexterity, a translation may be made to convey to a foreigner a juster conception of an original than could the original itself?

The distinction I have made between mere idioms (which, of course, should never be literally rendered) and “local idiosyncrasies of phrase,” may be exemplified by a passage at page 291 of Mr. Town’s translation:

Never mind! Go in there! You will take the cloak of Calebasse. You will wrap yourself in it, etc., etc.

These are the words of a lover to his mistress, and are meant kindly, although imperatively. They embody a local peculiarity — a French peculiarity of phrase, and (to French ears) convey nothing ­[page 535:] dictatorial. To our own, nevertheless, they sound like the command of a military officer to his subordinate, and thus produce an effect quite different from that intended. The translation, in such case, should be a bold paraphrase. For example: — “I must insist upon your wrapping yourself in the cloak of Calebasse.”

Mr. Town’s version of “The Mysteries of Paris,” however, is not objectionable on the score of excessive literality alone, but abounds in misapprehensions of the author’s meaning. One of the strangest errors occurs at page 368, where we read:

“From a wicked, brutal savage and riotous rascal, he has made me a kind of honest man by saying only two words to me; but these words, ‘voyez vous,’ were like magic.”

Here “voyez vous” are made to be the two magical words spoken; but the translation should run — “these words, do you see? were like magic.” The actual words described as producing the magical effect are “heart” and “honor.”

Of similar character is a curious mistake at page 245.

“He is a gueux fini and an attack will not save him,” added Nicholas. “A — yes,” said the widow.

Many readers of Mr. Town’s translation have no doubt been puzzled to perceive the force or relevancy of the widow’s “A — yes” in this case. I have not the original before me, but take it for granted that it runs thus, or nearly so: — “ll est un gueux fini et un assaut ne l’intimidera pas.” “Un — oui! “ dit la veuve.

It must be observed that, in vivacious French colloquy, the oui seldom implies assent to the letter, but generally to the spirit, of a proposition. Thus a Frenchman usually says “yes” where an Englishman would say “no.” The latter’s reply, for example, to the sentence “An attack will not intimidate him,” would be “No” — that is to say, “I grant you that it would not.” The Frenchman, however, answers “Yes” — meaning, “I agree with what you say — it would not.” Both replies, of  course, reaching the same point, although by opposite routes. With this understanding, it will be seen that the true version of the widow’s “Un — oui ” should be, “One attack, I grant you, might not,” and that this is the version becomes apparent when we read the words immediately following — “but every day — every day it is hell!” ­[page 536:]

An instance of another class of even more reprehensible blunders, is to be found on page 297, where Bras-Rouge is made to say to a police officer — “No matter; it is not of that I complain; every trade has its disagreements.” Here, no doubt, the French is désagrémens — inconveniences — disadvantages — unpleasantnesses. Désagrémens conveys disagreements not even so nearly as, in Latin, religio implies religion.

I was not a little surprised, in turning over these pages, to come upon the admirable, thrice admirable story called “Gringalet et Coupe en Deux,” which is related by Pique Vinaigre to his companions in La Force. Rarely have I read anything of which the exquisite skill so delighted me. For my soul I could not suggest a fault in it — except, perhaps, that the intention of telling a very pathetic story is a little too transparent.

But I say that I was surprised in coming upon this story — and I was so, because one of its points has been suggested to M. Sue by a tale of my own. Coupe en Deux has an ape remarkable for its size, strength, ferocity, and propensity to imitation. Wishing to commit a murder so cunningly that discovery would be impossible, the master of this animal teaches it to imitate the functions of a barber, and incites it to cut the throat of a child, under the idea that, when the murder is discovered, it will be considered the uninstigated deed of the ape.

On first seeing this, I felt apprehensive that some of my friends would accuse me of plagiarising from it my “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But I soon called to mind that this latter was first published in “Graham’s Magazine” for April, 1841. Some years ago, “The Paris Charivari” copied my story with complimentary comments; objecting, however, to the Rue Morgue on the ground that no such street (to the Charivari’s knowledge) existed in Paris. I do not wish, of course, to look upon M. Sue’s adaptation of my property in any other light than that of a compliment. The similarity may have been entirely accidental.

­ CXI.

Has any one observed the excessively close resemblance in subject, thought, general manner and particular point, which this clever composition* bears to the “Audibras [[Hudibras]]” of Butler? ­[page 537:]

­ CXII.

The à priori reasoners upon government are, of all plausible people, the most preposterous. They only argue too cleverly to permit my thinking them silly enough to be themselves deceived by their own arguments. Yet even this is possible; for there is something in the vanity of logic which addles a man’s brains. Your true logician gets, in times, to be logicalized, and then, so far as regards himself, the universe is one word. A thing, for him, no longer exists. He deposits upon a sheet of paper a certain assemblage of syllables, and fancies that their meaning is riveted by the act of deposition. I am serious in the opinion that some such process of thought passes through the mind of the “practised” logician, as he makes note of the thesis proposed. He is not aware that he thinks in this way — but, unwittingly, he so thinks. The syllables deposited acquire, in his view, a new character. While afloat in his brain, he might have been brought to admit the possibility that these syllables were variable exponents of various phases of thought; but he will not admit this if he once gets them upon the paper.

In a single page of “Mill,” I find the word “force” employed four times; and each employment varies the idea. The fact is that à priori argument is much worse than useless except in the mathematical sciences, where it is possible to obtain precise meanings. If there is any one subject in the world to which it is utterly and radically inapplicable, that subject is Government. The identical arguments used to sustain Mr. Bentham’s positions might, with little exercise of ingenuity, be made to overthrow them; and, by ringing small changes on the words “leg-of-mutton,” and “turnip” (changes so gradual as to escape detection,) I could “demonstrate “ that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be, a leg-of-mutton.

­ CXIII.

The concord of sound-and-sense principle was never better exemplified than in these lines*: —

Ast amæns charæ thalamum puellæ

Deserit flens, et tibi verba dicit

Aspera amplexu teneræ cupito a —

— vulsus amicæ. ­[page 538:]

­ CXIV.

Miss Gould has much in common with Mary Howitt; — the characteristic trait of each being a sportive, quaint, epigrammatic grace, that keeps clear of the absurd by never employing itself upon very exalted topics. The verbal style of the two ladies is identical. Miss Gould has the more talent of the two, but is somewhat the less original. She has occasional flashes of a far higher order of merit than appertains to her ordinary manner. Her “Dying Storm” might have been written by Campbell.

­ CXV.

Cornelius Webbe is one of the best of that numerous school of extravaganzists who sprang from the ruins of Lamb. We must be in perfectly good humor, however, with ourselves and all the world, to be much pleased with such works as “The Man about Town,” in which the harum-scarum, hyperexcursive mannerism is carried to an excess which is frequently fatiguing.

­ CXVI.

Nearly, if not quite the best “Essay on a Future State.”* The arguments called “Deductions from our Reason,” are, rightly enough, addressed more to the feelings (a vulgar term not to be done without,) than to our reason. The arguments deduced from Revelation are (also rightly enough) brief. The pamphlet proves nothing, of course; its theorem is not to be proved.

­ CXVII.

The style is so involute, that one cannot help fancying it must be falsely constructed. If the use of language is to convey ideas, then it is nearly as much a demerit that our words seem to be, as that they are, indefensible. A man’s grammar, like Cæsar’s wife, must not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity.

­ CXVIII.

It is the curse of a certain order of mind, that it can never rest satisfied with the consciousness of its ability to do a thing. Not even is it content with doing it. It must both know and show how it was done. ­[page 539:]

­ CXIX.

Not so: — a gentleman, with a pug nose is a contradiction in terms. — “Who can live idly and without manual labor, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he alone should be called master and be taken for a gentleman.” — Sir Thomas Smith’s “Commonwealth of England.”

­ CXX.

Here is something at which I find it impossible not to laugh;* and yet, I laugh without knowing why. That incongruity is the principle of all nonconvulsive laughter, is to my mind as clearly demonstrated as any problem in the “Principia Mathematica;” but here I cannot trace the incongruous. It is there, I know. Still I do not see it. In the meantime let me laugh.

­ CXXI.

So violent was the state of parties in England, that I was assured by several that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward and Pope a fool. — Voltaire.

Both propositions have since been very seriously entertained, quite independently of all party-feeling. That Pope was a fool, indeed seems to be an established point at present with the Crazy-ites — what else shall I call them?

­ CXXII.

Imitators are not, necessarily, unoriginal — except at the exact points of the imitation. Mr. Longfellow, decidedly the most audacious imitator in America, is markedly original, or, in other words, imaginative, upon the whole; and many persons have, from the latter branch of the fact, been at a loss to comprehend, and therefore, to believe, the former. Keen sensibility of appreciation — that is to say, the poetic sentiment (in distinction from the poetic power) leads almost inevitably to imitation. Thus all great poets have been gross imitators. It is, however, a mere non distributio medii hence to infer, that all great imitators are poets.

­ CXXIII.

With all his faults, however, this author is a man of respectable powers.

Thus discourses, of William Godwin, the “London Monthly Magazine,” May, 1818. ­[page 540:]

­ CXXIV.

As a descriptive poet, Mr. Street is to be highly commended. He not only describes with force and fidelity — giving us a clear conception of the thing described — but never describes what to the poet, should be nondescript. He appears, however, not at any time to have been aware that mere description is not poetry at all. We demand creation — [[Greek text:]] xxxx [[:Greek text]]. About Mr. Street there seems to be no spirit. He is all matter — substance — what the chemists would call “simple substance” — and exceedingly simple it is.

­ CXXV.

I never read a personally abusive paragraph in the newspapers, without calling to mind the pertinent query propounded by Johnson to Goldsmith: — “My dear Doctor, what harm does it do a man to call him Holofernes?”

­ CXXVI.

Were I to consign these volumes,* altogether, to the hands of any very young friend of mine, I could not, in conscience, describe them otherwise than as “tammulti, tam grandes, tam pretiosi codices;” and it would grieve me much to add the “incendite omnes illas membranas.

­ CXXVII.

In reading some books we occupy ourselves chiefly with the thoughts of the author; in perusing others, exclusively with our own. And this is one of the “others” — a suggestive book. But there are two classes of suggestive books — the positively and the negatively suggestive. The former suggest by what they say; the latter by what they might and should have said. It makes little difference, after all. In either case the true book-purpose is answered.

­ CXXVIII.

It is observable that, in his brief account of the Creation, Moses employs the words, Bara Elohim (the Gods created,) no less than thirty times; using the noun in the plural with the verb in the singular. Elsewhere, however — in Deuteronomy, for example — he employs the singular, Eloah. ­[page 541:]

­ CXXIX.

It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about “Appalachia.” In the first place, it is distinctive. “America”* is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to us it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is “America,” and will insist upon remaining so. In the second place “Appalachia” is indigenous, springing from one of the most magnificent and distinctive features of the country itself. Thirdly, in employing this word we do honor to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonored. Fourthly, the name is the suggestion of, perhaps, the most deservedly eminent among all the pioneers of American literature. It is but just that Mr. Irving should name the land for which, in letters, he first established a name. The last, and by far the most truly important consideration of all, however, is the music of “Appalachia” itself; nothing could be more sonorous, more liquid, or of fuller volume, while its length is just sufficient for dignity. How the guttural “Alleghania” could ever have been preferred for a moment is difficult to conceive. I yet hope to find “Appalachia” assumed.

­ CXXX.

The “British Spy” of Wirt seems an imitation of the “Turkish Spy,” upon Which Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters” are also based. Marana’s work was in Italian — Doctor Johnson errs.

­ CXXXI.

M —— , as a matter of course, would rather be abused by the critics, than not be noticed by them at all; but he is hardly to be blamed for growling a little, now and then, over their criticisms — just as a dog might do if pelted with bones. ­[page 542:]

­ CXXXII.

About the “Antigone,” as about all the ancient plays, there seems to me a certain baldness, the result of inexperience in art, but which pedantry would force us to believe the result of a studied and supremely artistic simplicity. Simplicity, indeed, is a very important feature in all true art — but not the simplicity which we see in the Greek drama. That of the Greek sculpture is every thing that can be desired, because here the art in itself is simplicity in itself and in its elements. The Greek sculptor chiselled his forms from what he saw before him every day, in a beauty nearer to perfection than any work of any Cleomenes in the world. But in the drama, the direct, straightforward, un-German Greek had no Nature so immediately presented from which to make copy. He did what he could — but I do not hesitate to say that that was exceedingly little worth. The profound sense of one or two tragic, or rather, melo-dramatic elements (such as the idea of inexorable Destiny) — this sense gleaming at intervals from out the darkness of the ancient stage, serves, in the very imperfection of its development, to show, not the dramatic ability, but the dramatic in ability of the ancients. In a word, the simple arts spring into perfection at their origin; the complex as inevitably demand the long and painfully progressive experience of ages. To the Greeks, beyond doubt, their drama seemed perfection — it fully answered, to them, the dramatic end, excitement — and this fact is urged as proof of their drama’s perfection in itself. It need only be said, in reply, that their art and their sense of art were, necessarily, on a level.

­ CXXXIII.

That man is not truly brave who is afraid either to seem or to be, when it suits him, a coward.

­ CXXXIV.

A corrupt and impious heart — a merely prurient fancy — a Saturnian brain in which invention has only the phosphorescent glimmer of rottenness.* Worthless, body and soul.  A foul reproach to the nation that engendered and endures him — a fetid battener upon the garbage of thought — no man — a beast — a pig: Less scrupulous than a carrion-crow, and not very much less filthy than a Wilmer. ­[page 543:]

­ CXXXV.

If ever mortal “wreaked his thoughts upon expression,” it was Shelley. If ever poet sang — as a bird sings — earnestly — impulsively — with utter abandonment — to himself solely — and for the mere joy of his own song — that poet was the author of “The Sensitive Plant.” Of art — beyond that which is instinctive with genius — he either had little or disdained all. He really disdained that Rule which is an emanation from Law, because his own soul was Law in itself. His rhapsodies are but the rough notes — the stenographic memoranda of poems — memoranda which, because they were all-sufficient for his own intelligence, he cared not to be at the trouble of writing out in full for mankind. In all his works we find no conception thoroughly wrought. For this reason he is the most fatiguing of poets. Yet he wearies in saying too little rather than too much. What in him, seems the diffuseness of one idea, is the conglomerate concision of many: and this species of concision it is, which renders him obscure. With such a man, to imitate was out of the question. It would have served no purpose; for he spoke to his own spirit alone, which would have comprehended no alien tongue. Thus he was profoundly original. His quaintness arose from intuitive perception of that truth to which Bacon alone has given distinct utterance: — “There is no exquisite Beauty which has not some strangeness in its proportions.” But whether obscure, original, or quaint, Shelley had no affectations. He was at all times sincere.

From his ruins, there sprang into existence, affronting the heavens, a tottering and fantastic pagoda, in which the salient angels, tipped with mad jangling bells, were the idiosyncratic faults of the original — faults which cannot be considered such in view of his purposes, but which are monstrous when we regard his works as addressed to mankind. A “school” arose — if that absurd term must still be employed — a school — a system of rules — upon the basis of the Shelley who had none. Young men innumerable, dazzled with the glare and bewildered by the bizarrerie of the lightning that flickered through the clouds of “Alastor” had no trouble whatever in heaping up imitative vapors, but, for the lightning, were forced to be content with its spectrum, in which the bizarrerie appeared without the fire. Nor were mature ­[page 544:] minds unimpressed by the contemplation of a greater and more mature; and thus, gradually, into this school of all Lawlessness — of obscurity, quaintness and exaggeration — were interwoven the out-of-place didacticism of Wordsworth, and the more anomalous metaphysicianism of Coleridge. Matters were now fast verging to their worst; and at length, in Tennyson poetic inconsistency attained its extreme. But it was precisely this extreme (for the greatest truth and the greatest error are scarcely two points in a circle) which, following the law of all extremes, wrought in him (Tennyson) a natural and inevitable revulsion; leading him first to contemn, and secondly to investigate, his early manner, and finally to winnow, from its magnificent elements, the truest and purest of all poetical styles. But not even yet is the process complete; and for this reason in part, but chiefly on account of the mere fortuitousness of that mental and moral combination which shall unite in one person (if ever it shall) the Shelleyan abandon and the Tennysonian poetic sense, with the most profound Art (based both in Instinct and Analysis) and the sternest Will properly to blend and rigorously to control all — chiefly, I say, because such combination of seeming antagonisms will be only a “happy chance” — the world has never yet seen the noblest poem which, possibly, can be composed.

­ CXXXVI.

It is not proper, (to use a gentle word,) nor does it seem courageous, to attack our foe by name in spirit and in effect, so that all the world shall know whom we mean, while we say to ourselves, “I have not attacked this man by name in the eye, and according to the letter, of the law” — yet how often are men who call themselves gentlemen, guilty of this meanness! We need reform at this point of our Literary Morality: — very sorely too, at another — the system of anonymous reviewing. Not one respectable word can be said in defence of this most unfair — this most despicable and cowardly practice.

­ CXXXVII.

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

­ CXXXVIII. ­[page 545:]

I hardly know how to account for the repeated failures of John Neal as regards the construction of his works. His art is great and of a high character — but it is massive and undetailed. He seems to be either deficient in a sense of completeness, or unstable in temperament; so that he becomes wearied with his work before getting it done. He always begins well — vigorously — startlingly — proceeds by fits — much at random — now prosing, now gossiping, now running away with his subject, now exciting vivid interest; but his conclusions are sure to be hurried and indistinct; so that the reader, perceiving a falling-off where he expects a climax, is pained, and, closing the book with dissatisfaction, is in no mood to give the author credit for the vivid sensations which have been aroused during the progress of perusal. Of all literary foibles the most fatal, perhaps, is that of defective climax. Nevertheless, I should be inclined to rank John Neal first, or at all events second, among our men of indisputable genius. Is it, or is it not a fact, that the air of a Democracy agrees better with mere Talent than with Genius?

­ CXXXIX.

Among the moralists who keep themselves erect by the perpetual swallowing of pokers, it is the fashion to decry the “fashionable” novels. These works have their demerits; but a vast influence which they exert for an undeniable good, has never yet been duly considered. “Ingenuos didicisse fideliter libros, emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.” Now, the fashionable novels are just the books which most do circulate among the class un fashionable; and their effect in softening the worst callosities — in smoothing the most disgusting asperities of vulgarism, is prodigious. With the herd, to admire and to attempt imitation are the same thing. What if, in this case, the manners imitated are frippery; better frippery than brutality — and, after all, there is little danger that the intrinsic value of the sturdiest iron will be impaired by a coating of even the most diaphanous gilt.

­ CXL.

The ancients had at least half an idea that we travelled on horseback to heaven. See a passage of Passeri, “de animæ transvectione’’ — quoted by Caylus. See, also, many old tombs. ­[page 546:]

­ CXLI.

It is said in Isaiah, respecting Idumea, that “none shall pass through thee for ever and ever.” Dr. Keith here* insists, as usual, upon understanding the passage in its most strictly literal sense. He attempts to prove that neither Burckhardt nor Irby passed through the country — merely penetrating to Petra, and returning. And our Mr. John Stephens entered Idumea with the deliberate design of putting the question to test. He wished to see whether it was meant that Idumea should not be passed through, and “accordingly,” says he, “I passed through it from one end to the other.” Here is error on all sides. In the first place, he was not sufficiently informed in the Ancient Geography to know that the Idumea which he certainly did pass through, is not the Idumea or Edom, intended in the prophecy — the latter lying much farther eastward. In the next place, whether he did or did not pass through the true Idumea — or whether anybody, of late days, did or did not pass through it — is a point of no consequence either to the proof or to the disproof of the literal fulfilment of the Prophecies. For it is quite a mistake on the part of Dr. Keith — his supposition that travelling through Idumea is prohibited at all.

The words conceived to embrace the prohibition, are found in Isaiah 34:10, and are Lenetsach netsachim ein over bah: — literally — Lenetsach, for an eternity; netsachim, of eternities; ein, not; over, moving about; bah, in it. That is to say; for an eternity of eternities, (there shall) not (be any one) moving about in it — not through it. The participle over refers to one moving to and fro, or up and down, and is the same term which is translated “current” as an epithet of money, in Genesis 23:16. The prophet means only that there shall be no mark of life in the land — no living being there — no one moving up and down in it. He refers merely to its general abandonment and desolation.

In the same way we have received an erroneous idea of the meaning of Ezekiel 35:7, where the same region is mentioned. The common version runs: — “Thus will I make Mount Seir most desolate, and cut off from it him that passeth out and him that returneth,” — a sentence which Dr. Keith views as he does the one ­[page 547:] from Isaiah; that is, he supposes it to forbid any travelling in Idumea under penalty of death; instancing Burckhardt’s death shortly after his return, as confirming this supposition, on the ground that he died in consequence of the rash attempt.

Now the words of Ezekiel are: — Venathati eth-har Seir leshimmamah ushemamah, vehichrati mimmennu over vasal: — literally — Venathati, and I will give; eth-har, the mountain; Seir, Seir; leshimmamah, for a desolation; ushemamah, and a desolation, vehichrati, and I will cut off; mimmennu, from it; over, him that goeth; vasal, and him that returneth: — and I will give Mount Seir for an utter desolation, and I will cut off from it him that passeth and repasseth therein. The reference here is as in the preceding passage: allusion is made to the inhabitants of the land, as moving about in it, and actively employed in the business of life. I am sustained in the translation of over vasal by Gesenius S 5 — vol 2 — p. 570, Leo’s Trans.: Compare, also Zachariah 7:14 and 9:8. There is something analogous in the Hebrew-Greek phrase, at Acts, 9:28 — [[Greek text:]] xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [[:Greek text]] — And he was with them in Jerusalem, coming in and going out. The Latin versatus est is precisely paraphrastic. The meaning is that Saul, the new convert, was on intimate terms with the true believers in Jerusalem; moving about among them to and fro, or in and out.

­ CXLII.

The author of “Cromwell” does better as a writer of ballads than of prose. He has fancy, and a fine conception of rhythm. But his romantico-histories have all the effervescence of his verse, without its flavor. Nothing worse than his tone can be invented: — turgid sententiousness, involute, spasmodically straining after effect. And to render matters worse, he is as thorough an unistylist as Cardinal Chigi, who boasted that he wrote with the same pen for half a century.

­ CXLIII.

Our “blues” are increasing in number at a great rate; and should be decimated, at the very least. Have we no critic with nerve enough to hang a dozen or two of them, in terrorem? He must use a silk-cord, of course — as they do, in Spain, with all grandees of the blue blood — of the “sangre azula.” ­[page 548:]

­ CXLIV.

For all the rhetorician’s rules

Teach nothing but to name the tools. — HUDIBRAS.

What these oft-quoted lines go to show is, that a falsity in verse will travel faster and endure longer than a falsity in prose. The man who would sneer or stare at a silly proposition nakedly put, will admit that “there is a good deal in that” when “that’’ is the point of an epigram shot into the ear. The rhetorician’s rules — if they are rules — teach him not only to name his tools, but to use his tools, the capacity of his tools — their extent — their limit; and from an examination of the nature of the tools — (an examination forced on him by their constant presence) — force him, also, into scrutiny and comprehension of the material on which the tools are employed, and thus, finally, suggest and give birth to new material for new tools.

­ CXLV.

Among his eidola of the den, the tribe, the forum, the theatre, etc., Bacon might well have placed the great eidolon of the parlor (or of the wit, as I have termed it in one of the previous Marginalia) the idol whose worship blinds man to truth by dazzling him with the apposite. But what title could have been invented for that idol which has propagated, perhaps, more of gross error than all combined? — the one, I mean, which demands from its votaries that they reciprocate cause and effect — reason in a circle — lift themselves from the ground by pulling up their pantaloons — and carry themselves on their own heads, in hand-baskets, from Beersheba to Dan.

All — absolutely all the argumentation which I have seen on the nature of the soul, or of the Diety, seems to me nothing but worship of this unnameable idol. Pour savoir ce qu’est Dieu, says Bielfeld, although nobody listens to the solemn truth, il faut être Dieu même — and to reason about the reason is of all things the most unreasonable. At least, he alone is fit to discuss the topic who perceives at a glance the insanity of its discussion.

­ CXLVI.

I believe it is Montaigne who says — “People talk about thinking, but, for my part I never begin to think until I sit down to write.” A better plan for him would have been, never to sit down to write until he had made an end of thinking. ­[page 549:]

­ CXLVII.

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

­ CXLVIII.

Alas! how many American critics neglect the happy suggestion of M. Timon — “que le ministre de L’Instruction Publique doit lui-même savoir parler Français.”

­ CXLIX.

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

­ CL.

It is certainly very remarkable that although destiny is the ruling idea of the Greek drama, the word [[Greek text:]] xxxxx [[Greek text]] (Fortune) does not appear once in the whole Iliad.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 536:]

­ *  The “Satyre Menipée.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 537:]

­ *  By M. Anton. Flaminius.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 538:]

­ *  A Sermon on a Future State, combating the opinion that “Death is an Eternal Sleep!” By Gilbert Austin. London. 1794.

­†  “Night and Morning.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 539:]

­ *  Translation of the Book of Jonah into German Hexameters. By J. G. A. Müller. Contained in the “Memorabilien” von Paulus.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 540:]

­ *  Of Voltaire.

­ †  St. Austin de libris Manichæis.

­ ‡  Mercier’s “L’an deux mille quatre cents quarante.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 541:]

­ *  Mr. Field, in a meeting of “The New York Historical Society,” proposed that we take the name of “America,” and bestow “Columbia” upon the continent.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 542:]

­ *  Michel Masson, author of “Le Cœur d’une Jeune Fille.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 546:]

­ *  “Literal Fulfilment of the Prophecies.”


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Notes:

The original printings of these items are as follows:

  • Item CI (101) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CII (102) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CIII (103) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CIV (104) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CV (105) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CVI (106) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CVII (107) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CVIII (108) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CIX (109) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CX (110) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, November 1846
  • Item CXI (111) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXII (112) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXIII (113) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXIV (114) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXV (115) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXVI (116) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXVII (117) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXVIII (118) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXIX (119) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXX (120) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXXI (121) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1846.
  • Item CXXII (122) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1846.
  • Item CXXIII (123) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844.
  • Item CXXIC (124) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1846
  • Item CXXV (125) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, April 1846
  • Item CXXVI (126) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXXVII (127) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXXVIII (128) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXXIX (129) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item CXXX (130) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXXXI (131) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXXXII (132) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item CXXXIII (133) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, December 1846
  • Item CXXXIV (134) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXXXV (135) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item CXXXVI (136) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item CXXXVII (137) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXXXVIII (138) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1849
  • Item CXXXIX (139) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXL (140) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXLI (151) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXLII (152) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CXLIII (153) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXLIV (154) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item CXLV (155) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848
  • Item CXLVI (156) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXLVII (157) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXLVIII (158) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CXLIX (159) — from “Marginalia,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849
  • Item CL (160) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845

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[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [items 101-150] (Text-D)