Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [items 201-226]” (Text-D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 3:578-596


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­ [page 578:]

­ CC. [[CCI.]]

A book* which puzzles me beyond measure, since, while agreeing with its general conclusions, (except where it discusses prévision,) I invariably find fault with the reasoning through which the conclusions are attained. I think the treatise grossly illogical throughout. For example: — the origin of the work is thus stated in an introductory chapter:

About twelve months since, I was asked by some friends to write a paper against Mesmerism — and I was furnished with materials by a highly esteemed quondam pupil, which proved incontestably that under some circumstances the operator might be duped — that hundreds of enlightened persons might equally be deceived — and certainly went far to show that the pretended science was wholly a delusion — a system of fraud and jugglery by which the imaginations of the credulous were held in thraldom through the arts of the designing. Perhaps in an evil hour I assented to the proposition thus made — but on reflection, I found that the facts before me only led to the direct proof that certain phenomena might be counterfeited; and the existence of counterfeit coin is rather a proof that there is somewhere the genuine standard gold to be imitated.

The fallacy here lies in a mere variation of what is called “begging the question.” Counterfeit coin is said to prove the existence of genuine: — this, of course, is no more than the truism that there can be no counterfeit where there is no genuine — just as there can be no badness where there is no goodness — the terms being purely relative. But because there can be no counterfeit where there is no original, does it in any manner follow that any undemonstrated original exists? In seeing a spurious coin we know it to be such by comparison with coins admitted to be genuine; but were no coin admitted to be genuine, how should we establish the counterfeit, and what right should we have to talk of counterfeits at all? Now, in the case of Mesmerism, our author is merely begging the admission. In saying that the existence of counterfeit proves the existence of real Mesmerism, he demands that the real be admitted. Either he demands this or there is no shadow of force in his proposition — for it is clear that we can pretend to be that which is not. A man, for instance, may feign himself a sphynx or a griffin, but it would never do to regard ­[page 579:] as thus demonstrated the actual existence of either griffins or sphynxes. A word alone — the word “counterfeit” — has been sufficient to lead Mr. Newnham astray. People cannot be properly said to “counterfeit” prévision, etc., but to feign these phenomena. Dr. Newnham’s argument, of course, is by no means original with him, although he seems to pride himself on it as if it were. Dr. More says: “That there should be so universal a fame and fear of that which never was, nor is, nor can be ever in the world, is to me the greatest miracle of all. If there had not been, at some time or other, true miracles, it had not been so easy to impose on the people by false. The alchemist would never go about to sophisticate metals, to pass them off for true gold and silver, unless that such a thing was acknowledged as true gold and silver in the world.” This is precisely the same idea as that of Dr. Newnham, and belongs to that extensive class of argumentation which is all point — deriving its whole effect from epigrammatism. That the belief in ghosts, or in a Deity, or in a future state, or in anything else credible or incredible — that any such belief is universal, demonstrates nothing more than that which needs no demonstration — the human unanimity — the identity of construction in the human brain — an identity of which the inevitable result must be, upon the whole, similar deductions from similar data. Most especially do I disagree with the author of this book in his (implied) disparagement of the work of Chauncey Hare Townshend — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come.

­ CCI. [[CCII.]

The day is done, and the darkness

Falls from the wings of night,

As a feather is wafted downward

From an eagle in its flight.*

The single feather here is imperfectly illustrative of the omni-prevalent darkness; but a more especial objection is the likening of one feather to the falling of another. Night is personified as a bird, and darkness — the feather of this bird —   falls from it, how? — as another feather falls from another bird. Why, it does this of course. The illustration is identical —   that is to say, null. It has no more force than an identical proposition in logic. ­[page 580:]

­ CCII. [[CCIII.]]

The question of international copyright has been overloaded with words. The right of property in a literary work is disputed merely for the sake of disputation, and no man should be at the trouble of arguing the point. Those who deny it, have made up their minds to deny everything tending to further the law in contemplation. Nor is the question of expediency in any respect relevant. Expediency is only to be discussed where no rights interfere. It would no doubt be very expedient in any poor man to pick the pocket of his wealthy neighbor, (as the poor are the majority, the case is precisely parallel to the copyright case;) but what would the rich think if expediency were permitted to overrule their right? But even the expediency is untenable, grossly so. The immediate advantage arising to the pockets of our people, in the existing condition of things, is no doubt sufficiently plain. We get more reading for less money than if the international law existed; but the remoter disadvantages are of infinitely greater weight. In brief, they are these: First, we have injury to our national literature by repressing the efforts of our men of genius; for genius, as a general rule, is poor in worldly goods and cannot write for nothing. Our genius being thus repressed, we are written at only by our “gentlemen of elegant leisure,” and mere gentlemen of elegant leisure have been noted, time out of mind, for the insipidity of their productions. In general, too, they are obstinately conservative, and this feeling leads them into imitation of foreign, more especially of British models. This is one main source of the imitativeness with which, as a people, we have been justly charged, although the first cause is to be found in our position as a colony. Colonies have always naturally aped the mother land. In the second place, irreparable ill is wrought by the almost exclusive dissemination among us of foreign — that is to say, of monarchical or aristocratical sentiment in foreign books; nor is this sentiment less fatal to democracy because it reaches the people themselves directly in the gilded pill of the poem or the novel. We have next to consider the impolicy of our committing, in the national character, an open and continuous wrong on the frivolous pretext of its benefiting ourselves. The last and by far the most important consideration ­[page 581:] of all, however, is that sense of insult and injury aroused in the whole active intellect of the world, the bitter and fatal resentment excited in the universal heart of literature — a resentment which will not and which cannot make nice distinctions between the temporary perpetrators of the wrong and that democracy in general which permits its perpetration. The autorial body is the most autocratic on the face of the earth. How, then, can those institutions even hope to be safe which systematically persist in trampling it under foot?

­ CCIII. [[CCIV.]]

The drama, as the chief of the imitative arts, has a tendency to beget and keep alive in its votaries the imitative propensity. This might be supposed à priori, and experience confirms the supposition. Of all imitators, dramatists are the most perverse, the most unconscionable, or the most unconscious, and have been so time out of mind. Euripides and Sophocles were merely echoes of Æschylus, and not only was Terence Menander and nothing beyond, but of the sole Roman tragedies extant, (the ten attributed to Seneca,) nine are on Greek subjects. Here, then, is cause enough for the “decline of the drama,” if we are to believe that the drama has declined. But it has not: on the contrary, during the last fifty years it has materially advanced. All other arts, however, have in the same interval, advanced at a far greater rate — each very nearly in the direct ratio of its non-imitativeness — painting, for example, least of all — and the effect on the drama is, of course, that of apparent retrogradation.

­ CCIV. [[CCV.]]

The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article, entitled “Mesmeric Revelation,” to be absolutely true, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity — a thing which, in that particular instance, I never dreamed of not doubting myself. The story is a pure fiction from beginning to end.

­ CCV. [[CCVI.]]

Here is a book of “amusing travels,” which is full enough of statistics to have been the joint composition of Messieurs Busching, Hassel, Cannabitch, Gaspari, Gutsmuth and company. ­[page 582:]

­ CCVI. [[CCVII.]]

I have never yet seen an English heroic verse on the proper model of the Greek — although there have been innumerable attempts, among which those of Coleridge are, perhaps, the most absurd, next to those of Sir Philip Sidney and Longfellow. The author of “The Vision of Rubeta” has done better, and Percival better yet; but no one has seemed to suspect that the natural preponderance of spondaic words in the Latin and Greek must, in the English, be supplied by art — that is to say, by a careful culling of the few spondaic words which the language affords — as, for example, here:

Man is a | complex, | compound, | compost, | yet is he | God-born.

This, to all intents, is a Greek hexameter, but then its spondees, are spondees, and not mere trochees. The verses of Coleridge and others are dissonant, for the simple reason that there is no equality in time between a trochee and a dactyl. When Sir Philip Sidney writes,

So to the | woods Love | runnes as | well as | rides to the | palace,

he makes an heroic verse only to the eye; for “woods Love” is the only true spondee, “runs as,” “well as,” and “palace,” have each the first syllable long and the second short — that is to say, they are all trochees, and occupy less time than the dactyls or spondee — hence the halting. Now, all this seems to be the simplest thing in the world, and the only wonder is how men professing to be scholars should attempt to engraft a verse, of which the spondee is an element, upon a stock which repels the spondee as antagonistical.

­ CCVII. [[CCVIII.]]

In the sweet “Lily of Nithsdale,” we read —

She’s gane to dwell in heaven, my lassie —

She’s gane to dwell in heaven; —

Ye’re ow’re pure, quo’ the voice of God,

For dwelling out o’ heaven.

The owre and the o’ of the two last verses should be Anglicized. The Deity, at least, should be supposed to speak so as to be understood — although I am aware that a folio has been written to demonstrate broad Scotch as the language of Adam and Eve in Paradise. ­[page 583:]

­ CCVIII. [[CCIX.]]

The conclusion of the Pröem in Mr. Longfellow’s late “Waif” is exceedingly beautiful. The whole poem is remarkable in this, that one of its principal excellences arises from what is[[,]] generically, a demerit. No error, for example, is more certainly fatal in poetry than defective rhythm; but here the slipshodiness is so thoroughly in unison with the nonchalant air of the thoughts — which again, are so capitally applicable to the thing done (a mere introduction of other people’s fancies) — that the effect of the looseness of rhythm becomes palpable, and we see at once that here is a case in which to be correct would be inartistic. Here are three of the quatrains —

I see the lights of the village

Gleam through the rain and the mist,

And a feeling of sadness comes over me

That my soul cannot resist —

 

A feeling of sadness and longing

That is not akin to pain,

And resembles sorrow only

As the mists resemble the rain . . . . .

 

And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares that infest the day

Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,

And as silently steal away.

Now these lines are not to be scanned. They are referable to no true principles of rhythm. The general idea is that of a succession of anapæsts; yet not only is this idea confounded with that of dactyls, but this succession is improperly interrupted at all points — improperly, because by unequivalent feet. The partial prosaicism thus brought about, however, (without any interference with the mere melody,) becomes a beauty solely through the nicety of its adaptation to the tone of the poem, and of this tone, again, to the matter in hand. In his keen sense of this adaptation, (which conveys the notion of what is vaguely termed “ease,”) the reader so far loses sight of the rhythmical imperfection that he can be convinced of its existence only by treating in the same rhythm (or, rather, lack of rhythm) a subject of different tone — a subject in which decision shall take the place of nonchalance. Now, undoubtedly, I intend all this as complimentary to Mr. Longfellow; but it was for the utterance ­[page 584:] of these very opinions in the “New York Mirror” that I was accused, by some of the poet’s friends, of inditing what they think proper to call “strictures” on the author of “Outre-Mer.”

­ CCIX. [[CCX.]]

We might contrive a very poetical and very suggestive, although, perhaps, no very tenable philosophy, by supposing that the virtuous live while the wicked suffer annihilation, hereafter; and that the danger of the annihilation (which danger would be in the ratio of the sin) might be indicated nightly by slumber, and occasionally, with more distinctness, by a swoon. In proportion to the dreamlessness of the sleep, for example, would be the degree of the soul’s liability to annihilation. In the same way, to swoon and awake in utter unconsciousness of any lapse of time during the syncope, would demonstrate the soul to have been then in such condition that, had death occurred, annihilation would have followed. On the other hand, when the revival is attended with remembrance of visions, (as is now and then the case, in fact,) then the soul to be considered in such condition as would insure its existence after the bodily death — the bliss or wretchedness of the existence to be indicated by the character of the visions.

­ CCX. [[CCXI.]]

When we attend less to “authority” and more to principles, when we look less at merit and more at demerit, (instead of the converse, as some persons suggest,) we shall then be better critics than we are. We must neglect our models and study our capabilities. The mad eulogies on what occasionally has, in letters, been well done, spring from our imperfect comprehension of what it is possible for us to do better. “A man who has never seen the sun,” says Calderon,’’cannot be blamed for thinking that no glory can exceed that of the moon; a man who has seen neither moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for expatiating on the incomparable effulgence of the morning star.” Now, it is the business of the critic so to soar that he shall see the sun, even although its orb be far below the ordinary horizon.

­ CCXI. [[CCXII.]]

The United States’ motto, E pluribus unum, may possibly have a sly allusion to Pythagoras’ definition of beauty — the reduction of many into one. ­[page 585:]

­ CCXII. [[CCXIII.]]

The great feature of the “Curiosity Shop” is its chaste, vigorous, and glorious imagination. This is the one charm, all potent, which alone would suffice to compensate for a world more of error than Mr. Dickens ever committed. It is not only seen in the conception, and general handling of the story, or in the invention of character; but it pervades every sentence of the book. We recognise its prodigious influence in every inspired word. It is this which induces the reader who is at all ideal, to pause frequently, to re-read the occasionally quaint phrases, to muse in uncontrollable delight over thoughts which, while he wonders he has never hit upon them before, he yet admits that he never has encountered. In fact it is the wand of the enchanter.

Had we room to particularize, we would mention as points evincing most distinctly the ideality of the “Curiosity Shop” — the picture of the shop itself — the newly-born desire of the worldly old man for the peace of green fields — his whole character and conduct, in short — the schoolmaster, with his desolate fortunes, seeking affection in little children —   the haunts of Quilp among the wharf-rats — the tinkering of the Punch-men among the tombs — the glorious scene where the man of the forge sits poring, at deep midnight, into that dread fire — again the whole conception of this character; and, last and greatest, the stealthy approach of Nell to her death — her gradual sinking away on the journey to the village, so skilfully indicated rather than described — her pensive and prescient meditation — the fit of strange musing which came over her when the house in which she was to die first broke upon her sight — the description of this house, of the old church, and of the church-yard —   everything in rigid consonance with the one impression to be conveyed —   that deep meaningless well — the comments of the Sexton upon death, and upon his own secure life — this whole world of mournful yet peaceful idea merging, at length, into the decease of the child Nelly, and the uncomprehending despair of the grandfather. These concluding scenes are so drawn that human language, urged by human thought, could go no farther in the excitement of human feelings. And the pathos is of that best order which is relieved, in great measure, by ideality. Here the book has never been equalled, — never approached ­[page 586:] except in one instance, and that is in the case of the “Undine” of De La Motte Fouqué. The imagination is perhaps as great in this latter work, but the pathos, although truly beautiful and deep, fails of much of its effect through the material from which it is wrought. The chief character, being endowed with purely fanciful attributes, cannot command our full sympathies, as can a simple denizen of earth. In saying, a page or so above, that the death of the child left too painful an impression, and should therefore have been avoided, we must, of course, be understood as referring to the work as a whole, and in respect to its general appreciation and popularity. The death, as recorded, is, we repeat, of the highest order of literary excellence — yet while none can deny this fact, there are few who will be willing to read the concluding passages a second time.

Upon the whole we think the “Curiosity Shop” very much the best of the works of Mr. Dickens. It is scarcely possible to speak of it too well. It is in all respects a tale which will secure for its author the enthusiastic admiration of every man of genius.

­ CCXIII. [[CCXIV.]]

It is not every one who can put “a good thing” properly together, although, perhaps, when thus properly put together, every tenth person you meet with may be capable of both conceiving and appreciating it. We cannot bring ourselves to believe that less actual ability is required in the composition of a really good “brief article,” than in a fashionable novel of the usual dimensions. The novel certainly requires what is denominated a sustained effort — but this is a matter of mere perseverance, and has but a collateral relation to talent. On the other hand — unity of effect, a quality not easily appreciated or indeed comprehended by an ordinary mind, and a desideratum difficult of attainment, even by those who can conceive it — is indispensable in the “brief article,” and not so in the common novel. The latter, if admired at all, is admired for its detached passages, without reference to the work as a whole — or without reference to any general design — which, if it even exist in some measure, will be found to have occupied but little of the writer’s attention, and cannot, from the length of the narrative, be taken in at one view, by the reader. ­[page 587:]

­ CCXIV. [[CCXV.]]

I am not sure that Tennyson is not the greatest of poets. The uncertainty attending the public conception of the term “poet” alone prevents me from demonstrating that he is. Other bards produce effects which are, now and then, otherwise produced than by what we call poems; but Tennyson an effect which only a poem does. His alone are idiosyncratic poems. By the enjoyment or non-enjoyment of the “Morte D’Arthur,” or of the “Ænone,” I would test any one’s ideal sense. There are passages in his works which rivet a conviction I had long entertained, that the indefinite is an element in the true [[Greek text:]] xxxxx [[:Greek text]]. Why do some persons fatigue themselves in attempts to unravel such phantasy-pieces as the “Lady of Shalott?” As well unweave the “ventum textilem “ If the author did not deliberately propose to himself a suggestive indefinitiveness of meaning, with the view of bringing about a definitiveness of vague and therefore of spiritual effects — this, at least, arose from the silent analytical promptings of that poetic genius which, in its supreme development, embodies all orders of intellectual capacity. I know that indefinitiveness is an element of the true music — I mean of the true musical expression. Give to it any undue decision — imbue it with any very determinate tone — and you deprive it, at once, of its ethereal, its ideal, its intrinsic and essential character. You dispel its luxury of dream. You dissolve the atmosphere of the mystic upon which it floats. You exhaust it of its breath of fäery. It now becomes a tangible and easy appreciable idea — a thing of the earth, earthy. It has not, indeed, lost its power to please, but all which I consider the distinctiveness of that power. And to the uncultivated talent, or to the unimaginative apprehension, this deprivation of its most delicate nare will be, not unfrequently, a recommendation. A determinateness of expression is sought — and often by composers who should know better — is sought as a beauty rather than rejected as a blemish. Thus we have, even from high authorities, attempts at absolute imitation in music. Who can forget the sillinesses of the “Battle of Prague?” What man of taste but must laugh at the interminable drums, trumpets, blunderbusses and thunder? “Vocal music,” says L’Abbate Gravina, who would have said the same thing of instrumental, “ought to imitate the ­[page 588:] natural language of the human feelings and passions, rather than the warblings of Canary birds, which our singers, now-a-days, affect so vastly to mimic with their quaverings and boasted cadences.” This is true only so far as the “rather” is concerned. If any music must imitate anything, it were assuredly better to limit the imitation as Gravina suggests. Tennyson’s shorter pieces abound in minute rhythmical lapses sufficient to assure me that — in common with all poets living or dead — he has neglected to make precise investigation of the principles of metre; but, on the other hand, so perfect is his rhythmical instinct in general, that, like the present Viscount Canterbury, he seems to see with his ear.

­ CCXV. [[CCXVI.]]

There are some facts in the physical world which have a really wonderful analogy with others in the world of thought, and seem thus to give some color of truth to the (false) rhetorical dogma, that metaphor or simile may be made to strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The principle of the vis inertiæ, for example, with the amount of momentum proportionate with it and consequent upon it, seems to be identical in physics and metaphysics. It is not more true, in the former, that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that its subsequent impetus is commensurate with this difficulty, than it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more forcible, more constant, and more extensive in their movements than those of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and are more embarrassed and more full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress.

­ CCXVI. [[CCXVII.]]

Thomas Moore — the most skilful literary artist of his day — perhaps of any day — a man who stands in the singular and really wonderful predicament of being undervalued on account of the profusion with which he has scattered about him his good things. The brilliancy on any one page of Lalla Rookh would have sufficed to establish that very reputation which has been in a great measure self-dimned by the galaxied lustre of the entire book. It seems that the horrid laws of political economy cannot be evaded even by the inspired, and that a perfect versification, a vigorous ­[page 589:] style, and a never-tiring fancy, may, like the water we drink and die without, yet despise, be so plentifully set forth as to be absolutely of no value at all.

­ CCXVII. [[CCXVIII.]]

This is a queer little book,* which its author regards as “not only necessary, but urgently called for,” because not only “the mass of the people are ignorant of English Grammar, but because those who profess great knowledge of it, and even those who make the teaching of it their business, will be found, upon examination, to be very far from understanding its principles.”

Whether Mr. P. proceeds upon the safe old plan of Probo meliora, deteriora sequor — whether he is one of “the mass,” and means to include himself among the ignoramuses — or whether he is only a desperate quiz — we shall not take it upon ourselves to say; but the fact is clear that, in a Preface of less than two small duodecimo pages (the leading object of which seems to be an eulogy upon one William Cobbett,) he has given us some half dozen distinct instances of bad grammar.

“For these purposes,” says he — that is to say — the purposes of instructing mankind and enlightening “every American youth” without exception — “for these purposes, I have written my lessons in a series of letters. A mode that affords more opportunity for plainness, familiarity, instruction, and entertainment, than any other. A mode that was adopted by Chesterfield, in his celebrated instructions on politeness. A mode that was adopted by Smollett, in many of his novels, which, even at this day, hold a distinguished place in the world of fiction. A mode that was adopted by William Cobbett, not only in his admirable treatise on English Grammar, but in nearly every work that he wrote.” “To Mr. Cobbett,” adds the instructer of every American youth — “to Mr. Cobbett I acknowledge myself indebted for the greater part of the grammatical knowledge which I possess.” Of the fact stated there can be no question. Nobody but Cobbett could have been the grammatical Mentor of Mr. Pue, whose book (which is all Cobbett) speaks plainly upon the point —   nothing but the ghost of William Cobbett, ­[page 590:] looking over the shoulder of Hugh A. Pue, could have inspired the latter gentleman with the bright idea of stringing together four consecutive sentences, in each of which the leading nominative noun is destitute of a verb.

Mr. Pue may attempt to justify his phraseology here, by saying that the several sentences, quoted above, commencing with the words, “A mode,” are merely continuations of the one beginning “For these purposes;” but this is no justification at all. By the use of the period, he has rendered each sentence distinct, and each must be examined as such, in respect to its grammar. We are only taking the liberty of condemning Mr. P. by the words of his own mouth. Turning to page 72, where he treats of punctuation, we read as follows: — “The full point is used at the end of every complete sentence; and a complete sentence is a collection of words making a complete sense, without being dependent upon another collection of words to convey the full meaning intended.” Now, what kind of a meaning can we give to such a sentence as “A mode that was adopted by Chesterfield in his celebrated instructions on politeness,” if we are to have “no dependence upon” the sentences that precede it? But, even in the supposition that these five sentences had been run into one, as they should have been, they would still be ungrammatical. For example — “For these purposes I have written my lessons in a series of letters — a mode that affords more opportunity for plainness, familiarity, instruction, and entertainment than any other — a mode, etc.” This would have been the proper method of punctuation. “A mode” is placed in apposition with “a series of letters.” But it is evident that it is not the “series of letters” which is the “mode.” It is the writing the lessons in a series which is so. Yet, in order that the noun “mode” can be properly placed in apposition with what precedes it, this latter must be either a noun, or a sentence, which, taken collectively, can serve as one. Thus, in any shape, all that we have quoted is bad grammar.

We say “bad grammar,” and say it through sheer obstinacy, because Mr. Pue says we should not. “Why, what is grammar?” asks he indignantly. “Nearly all grammarians tell us that grammar is the writing and speaking of the English language correctly. What then is bad grammar? Why bad grammar must be the bad ­[page 591:] writing and speaking of the English language correctly!!” We give the two admiration notes and all.

In the first place, if grammar be only the writing and speaking the English language correctly, then the French, or the Dutch, or the Kickapoos are miserable, ungrammatical races of people, and have no hopes of being anything else, unless Mr. Pue proceeds to their assistance: —   but let us say nothing of this for the present. What we wish to assert is, that the usual definition of grammar as “the writing and speaking correctly,” is an error which should have been long ago exploded. Grammar is the analysis of language, and this analysis will be good or bad, just as the capacity employed upon it be weak or strong — just as the grammarian be a Horne Tooke or a Hugh A. Pue. But perhaps, after all, we are treating this gentleman discourteously. His book may be merely intended as a good joke. By the by, he says in his preface, that “while he informs the student, he shall take particular care to entertain him.” Now, the truth is, we have been exceedingly entertained. In such passages as the following, however, which we find upon the second page of the Introduction, we are really at a loss to determine whether it is the utile or the dulce which prevails. We give the italics of Mr. Pue; without which, indeed, the singular force and beauty of the paragraph cannot be duly appreciated.

“The proper study of English grammar, so far from being dry, is one of the most rational enjoyments known to us; one that is highly calculated to rouse the dormant energies of the student; it requiring continual mental effort; unceasing exercise of mind. It is, in fact, the spreading of a thought-producing plaster of paris upon the extensive grounds of intellect! It is the parent of idea, and great causation of reflection; the mighty instigator of insurrection in the interior; and, above all, the unflinching champion of internal improvement! “ We know nothing about plaster of Paris; but the analogy which subsists between ipecac and grammar —   at least between ipecac and the grammar of Mr. Pue —   never, certainly, struck us in so clear a point of view, as it does now.

But, after all, whether Mr. P.’s queer little book shall or shall not meet the views of “Every American Youth,” will depend pretty much upon another question of high moment — whether “Every American Youth” be or be not as great a nincompoop as Mr. Pue. ­[page 592:]

­ CCXVIII. [[CCXIX.]]

That Lord Brougham was an extraordinary man no one in his senses will deny. An intellect of unusual capacity, goaded into diseased action by passions nearly ferocious, enabled him to astonish the world, and especially the “hero-worshippers,” as the author of Sartor-Resartus has it, by the combined extent and variety of his mental triumphs. Attempting many things, it may at least be said that he egregiously failed in none. But that he pre-eminently excelled in any cannot be affirmed with truth, and might well be denied à priori. We have no faith in admirable Crichtons, and this merely because we have implicit faith in Nature and her laws. “He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland, in his Peregrinus Proteus, “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, nor better than a man.” The Broughams of the human intellect are never its Newtons or its Bayles. Yet the contemporaneous reputation to be acquired by the former is naturally greater than any which the latter may attain. The versatility of one whom we see and hear is a more dazzling and more readily appreciable merit than his profundity; which latter is best estimated in the silence of the closet, and after the quiet lapse of years. What impression Lord Brougham has stamped upon his age, cannot be accurately determined until Time has fixed and rendered definite the lines of the medal; and fifty years hence it will be difficult, perhaps to make out the deepest indentation of the exergue. Like Coleridge he should be regarded as one who might have done much, had he been satisfied with attempting but little.

­ CCXIX. [[CCXX.]]

The Art of Mr. Dickens, although elaborate and great, seems only a happy modification of Nature. In this respect he differs remarkably from the author of “Night and Morning.” The latter, by excessive care and by patient reflection, aided by much rhetorical knowledge, and general information, has arrived at the capability of producing books which might be mistaken by ninety-nine readers out of a hundred, for the genuine inspirations of genius. The former, by the promptings of the truest genius itself, has been brought to compose, and evidently without effort, works which have effected a long-sought consummation — which have ­[page 593:] rendered him the idol of the people, while defying and enchanting the critics. Mr. Bulwer, through art, has almost created a genius. Mr. Dickens, through genius, has pefected [[perfected]] a standard from which art itself will derive its essence in rules.

­ CCXX. [[CCXXI.]]

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom. Yet never was admiration of any work —   universal admiration — more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten — nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts — Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest — we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves. All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification — that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to ­[page 594:] the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

­ CCXXI. [[CCXXII.]]

The increase, within a few years, of the magazine literature, is by no means to be regarded as indicating what some critics would suppose it to indicate — a downward tendency in American taste or in American letters. It is but a sign of the times — an indication of an era in which men are forced upon the curt, the condensed, the well-digested — in place of the voluminous — in a word, upon journalism in lieu of dissertation. We need now the light artillery rather than the Peace-makers of the intellect. I will not be sure that men at present think more profoundly than half a century ago, but beyond question they think with more rapidity, with more skill, with more tact, with more of method and less of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they have a vast increase in the thinking material; they have more facts, more to think about. For this reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it with the utmost attainable rapidity. Hence the journalism of the age; hence, in especial, magazines. Too many we cannot have, as a general proposition; but we demand that they have sufficient merit to render them noticeable in the beginning, and that they continue in existence sufficiently long to permit us a fair estimation of their value.

­ CCXXII. [[CCXXIII.]]

One half the pleasure experienced at a theatre arises from the spectator’s sympathy with the rest of the audience, and, especially, from his belief in their sympathy with him. The eccentric gentleman who not long ago, at the Park, found himself the solitary occupant of box, pit, and gallery, would have derived but little enjoyment from his visit, had he been suffered to remain. It was an act of mercy to turn him out. The present absurd rage for lecturing is founded in the feeling in question. Essays which we would not be hired to read — so trite is their subject —   so feeble is their execution — so much easier is it to get better information on ­[page 595:] similar themes out of any encyclopædia in Christendom — we are brought to tolerate, and alas, even to applaud in their tenth and twentieth repetition, through the sole force of our sympathy with the throng. In the same way we listen to a story with greater zest when there are others present at its narration beside ourselves. Aware of this, authors without due reflection have repeatedly attempted, by supposing a circle of listeners, to imbue their narratives with the interest of sympathy. At a cursory glance the idea seems plausible enough. But, in the one case, there is an actual, personal, and palpable sympathy, conveyed in looks, gestures and brief comments — a sympathy of real individuals, all with the matters discussed to be sure, but then especially, each with each. In the other instance, we, alone in our closet, are required to sympathise with the sympathy of fictitious listeners, who, so far from being present in body, are often studiously kept out of sight and out of mind for two or three hundred pages at a time. This is sympathy double-diluted —   the shadow of a shade. It is unnecessary to say that the design invariably fails of its effect.

­ CCXXIII. [[CCXXIV.]]

The qualities of Heber are well understood. His poetry is of a high order. He is imaginative, glowing, and vigorous, with a skill in the management of his means unsurpassed by that of any writer of his time, but without any high degree of originality. Can there be anything in the nature of a “classical” life at war with novelty per se? At all events, few fine scholars, such as Heber truly was, are original.

­ CCXXIV. [[CCXXV.]]

Original characters, so called, can only be critically praised as such, either when presenting qualities known in real life, but never before depicted, (a combination nearly impossible) or when presenting qualities (moral, or physical, or both) which, although unknown, or even known to be hypothetical, are so skilfully adapted to the circumstances which surround them, that our sense of fitness is not offended, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why those things might not have been, which we are still satisfied are not. The latter species of originality appertains to the loftier regions of the Ideal. ­[page 596:]

­ CCXXV. [[CCXXVI.]]

George Balcombe, we are induced to regard, upon the whole, as the best American novel. There have been few books of its peculiar kind, we think, written in any country, much its superior. Its interest is intense from beginning to end. Talent of a lofty order is evinced in every page of it. Its most distinguishing features are invention, vigor, almost audacity, of thought — great variety of what the German critics term intrigue, and exceeding ingenuity and finish in the adaptation of its component parts. Nothing is wanting to a complete whole, and nothing is out of place, or out of time. Without being chargeable in the least degree with imitation, the novel bears a strong family resemblance to the Caleb Williams of Godwin. Thinking thus highly of George Balcombe, we still do not wish to be understood as ranking it with the more brilliant fictions of some of the living novelists of Great Britain. In regard to the authorship of the book, some little conversation has occurred, and the matter is still considered a secret. But why so? — or rather, how so? The mind of the chief personage of the story, is the transcript of a mind familiar to us — an unintentional transcript, let us grant — but still one not to be mistaken. George Balcombe thinks, speaks, and acts, as no person, we are convinced, but Judge Beverly Tucker, ever precisely thought, spoke, or acted before.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 578:]

­ *  Human Magnetism: Its Claim to Dispassionate Inquiry. Being an Attempt to show the Utility of its Application for the Relief of Human Suffering. By W. Newnham, M. R. S. L.[[,]] Author of the Reciprocal Influence of Body and Mind. Wiley & Putnam.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 579:]

­ *  Pröem to Longfellow’s “Waif.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 589:]

­ *  A Grammar of the English Language, in a series of Letters, addressed to every American Youth. By HUGH A. PUE. Philadelphia: Published by the Author.


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Notes:

The original printings of these items are as follows:

  • Item CCI (201) — from “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, November 1846
  • Item CCII (202) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCIII (203) from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1845
  • Item CCIV (204) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCV (205) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCVI (206) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCVII (207) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCVIII (208) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCIX (209) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1845
  • Item CCX (210) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCXI (211) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1845
  • Item CCXII (212) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845
  • Item CCXIII (213) — adapted from Poe’s review of C. Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and Master Humphrey’s Clock, Graham’s Magazine, May 1841.
  • Item CCXIV (214) — adapted from Poe’s review of Dickens’ Watkins Tottle, in the Southern Literary Messenger, June 1836
  • Item CCXV (215) — from “Marginalia,” Democratic Review, December 1844
  • Item CCXVI (216) — adapted from a paragraph in Poe’s review of Dickens’ Master Humphrey’s Clock, in Graham’s Magazine, May, 1841
  • Item CCXVII (217) — adapted from a paragraph in Poe’s review of Dickens’ Master Humphrey’s Clock, in Graham’s Magazine, May, 1841
  • Item CCVIII (218) — adapted from Poe’s review of Pue’s Grammar, in Graham’s Magazine, July 1841
  • Item CCXIX (219) — adapted from Poe’s review of Lord Brougham’s Critical and Miscellaneous Works, in Graham’s Magazine, March, 1842
  • Item CCXX (220) — adapted from Poe’s review of Dickens’ Master Humphrey’s Clock, etc., in Graham’s Magazine, May, 1841
  • Item CCXXI (221) — adapted from Poe’s review of a reprinted edition of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, in the Southern Literary Messenger, January 1836
  • Item CCXXII (222) — from “Marginalia,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1845
  • Item CCXXIII (223) — adapted from Poe’s review of Dickens’ Master Humphrey’s Clock, in Graham’s Magazine, May, 1841
  • Item CCXXIV (224) — adapted from Poe’s review of Herber’s Poetical Works, in Graham’s Magazine, January 1842
  • Item CCXXV (225) — adapted from Poe’s review of Tucker’s George Balcombe, in the Southern Literary Messenger, January 1837
  • Item CCXXVI (226) — adapted from Poe’s review of Tucker’s George Balcombe, in the Southern Literary Messenger, January 1837

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[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [items 201-226] (Text-D)