Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 03,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 222-234 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 222:]

INSTALLMENT III

Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book

August 1845 XXXI, 49-51

MARGINAL NOTES. — NO. I.

By Edgar A. Poe.

[18 items, nos. 117-134]

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Marginalia 117

The merely mechanical style of “Athens” is far better than that of any of Bulwer’s previous books. In general he is atrociously involute — this is his main defect.(a) He wraps one sentence in another ad infinitum — very much in the fashion of those “nests of boxes” sold in our wooden-ware shops, or like the islands within lakes, within islands within lakes, within islands within lakes, of which we read so much in the “Periplus” of Hanno.(b)

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defect) a. Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-73) published in 1837 his Athens, its Rise and Fall. With views of the literary, philosophical, and social life (New York eds. 1837 and 1838). Poe mentions it also in M 221, para. 3, but there appears to be no immediate reason for this statement now. In M 73 he had attacked Bulwer’s “involute” style.

Hanno) b. Hanno, conjecturally a son of Hamilcar, was a navigator (ca. 500 B. C.) whose report of a coasting voyage along Western Africa survives in a Greek translation of dubious authenticity, called Periplus (defended by T. Falconer in his 1797 translation). Section XIV, on the island lakes, can appropriately be cited from William Gowans’ New York publication The Phenix; a collection of Old and Rare Fragments (1835) since Gowans as friend and boarder in the Poes’ place in 1837 or 1838 (the date cannot be established) could have shown the volume to Poe then: “Having procured interpreters from them, we coasted along [page 223:] a desert country, towards the south, two days. Thence we proceeded towards the east, the course of a day. Here we found, in a recess of a certain bay, a small island, containing a circle of five stadia, where we settled a colony, and called it Cerne. . . . (para.) We then came to a lake, which we reached by sailing up a large river called Chretes. This lake had three islands, larger than Cerne; from which proceeding a day’s sail, we came to the extremity of the lake that was overhung by large mountains, inhabited by savage men . . .” (pp. 208-209).

Marginalia 118

Men of genius are far more abundant than is supposed. In fact, to appreciate thoroughly the work of what we call genius, is to possess all the genius by which the work was produced. But the person appreciating may be utterly incompetent to reproduce the work, or any thing similar, and this solely through lack of what may be termed the constructive ability — a matter quite independent of what we agree to understand in the term “genius” itself. This ability is based, to be sure, in great part, upon the faculty of analysis, enabling the artist to get full view of the machinery of his proposed effect, and thus work it and regulate it at will; but a great deal depends also upon properties strictly moral — for example, upon patience, upon concentrativeness, or the power of holding the attention steadily to the one purpose, upon self-dependence and contempt for all opinion which is opinion and no more — in especial, upon energy or industry. So vitally important is this last, that it may well be doubted if any thing to which we have been accustomed to give the title of a “work of genius” was ever accomplished without it; and it is chiefly because this quality and genius are nearly incompatible, that “works of genius” are few, while mere men of genius are, as I say, abundant. The Romans, who excelled us in acuteness of observation, while falling below us in induction from facts observed, seem to have been so fully aware of the inseparable connection between industry(a) and a “work of genius,” as to have adopted the error that industry, in great measure, was genius itself. The highest compliment is intended by a Roman, when, of an epic, or any thing similar, he says that it is written industriâ mirabili or incredibili industriâ.(b)

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industry) a. Poe frequently treated this broad topic, not always consistently, and dwelt also upon the deep implications of the relationship between creativity and appreciation, often citing Bielfeld on knowledge or understanding of God (MM 26, 196, Eureka, para. 40). A good statement to compare with this is in FS 23, where he adds to the “moral” [page 224:] qualities needed “susceptibility” to beauty, as in M 187; see also MM 122, 166.

industriâ) b. Poe (as in M 79 n. c.) probably derived his Latin tag from one of the editions of Disraeli’s Literary Character (ch. 6) following that of 1835 (in which it does not appear): “Industry is the feature by which the ancients so frequently describe an eminent character; such phrases as ‘incredihilis industria; diligentia singulari,’ are usual” (N. Y.,1849, p. 423). Poe surely knew Buffon’s “Le génie, Cest la patience” from his Discours sur le style (1753) which is traced in TOM 1149n47 after Poe’s use in “Thingum Bob.”

Marginalia 119

All true men must rejoice to perceive the decline of the miserable rant and cant against originality, which was so much in vogue a few years ago among a class of microscopical critics, and which at one period threatened to degrade all American literature to the level of Flemish art.(a)

Of puns it has been said that those most dislike who are least able to utter them; but with far more of truth may it be asserted that invectives against originality proceed only from persons at once hypocritical and common-place. I say hypocritical — for the love of novelty is an indisputable element of the moral nature of man; and since to be original is merely to be novel, the dolt who professes a distaste for originality, in letters or elsewhere, proves in no degree his aversion for the thing in itself, but merely that uncomfortable hatred which ever arises in the heart of an envious man for an excellence he cannot hope to attain.(b)

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Flemish art) a. The realistic detail of “Flemish art” was fine for “caricaturing” (12/35 SLM; H 8.110) or copying the “peculiarities in disarray” of truth (8/39 BGM; H 10.28). But for art of a higher aim, the school of “Jan Steen” offers no model (see two Graham’s revs. of 3/42, H 11.84, 90; also, 11.102, of 4/42). The rhyming phrase “rant and cant,” used by Poe more than once, perhaps can join TOM’s “Appendix 11, Comic Rhymes,” in Poems 485-490.

attain) b. For defense of puns see last sentence of M Intro. and, especially, M 291; for examples, see MM 87, 257, 259.

Marginalia 120

When I call to mind the preposterous “asides” and soliloquies of the drama among civilized nations, the shifts employed by the Chinese [page 225:] play-wrights appear altogether respectable.(a) If a general, on a Pekin or Canton stage, is ordered on an expedition, “he brandishes a whip,” says Davis, “or takes in his hand the reins of a bridle, and striding three or four times around a platform, in the midst of a tremendous crash of gongs, drums and trumpets, finally stops short and tells the audience where he has arrived.”(a)

It would sometimes puzzle an European stage hero in no little degree to “tell an audience where he has arrived.” Most of them seem to have a very imperfect conception of their whereabouts. In the “Mort de Cæsar,” for example, Voltaire makes his populace rush to and fro, exclaiming, “Courons an Capitole!” Poor fellows — they are in the capitol all the time; — in his scruples about unity of place, the author has never once let them out of it.(c)

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respectable) a. Poe had included many soliloquies and asides in his play Politian (1835; TOM, Poems, 247-287). In his “American Drama,” 8/45 American Whig Review (H 13.36-37) he scorns the bad example of the Elizabethan drama.

arrived) b. For this passage (verbatim save for “the stage” instead of “a platform”) see John Francis Davis The Chinese: A General Description of the Empire of China (London, 1836), 2.187. Richard P. Benton, “Poe’s Acquaintance with Chinese Literature,” PN, 4/69, 2.34, claims that this comes from the preface to Davis’ translation of Lao-Sheng-Urh or “An Heir in his Old Age (1817), the same save for “‘round the stage.“’

of it) c. In borrowing this Voltaire “error” from Schlegel’s Lectures, Poe ignored the original’s mistake about the meaning of “Capitole” — q. v. in Pin 124, from which this comes.

Marginalia 121

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

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Note: This comes from Pin 9 (q. v.) save for the clause concerning “destiny . . . drama” here added.

Marginalia 122

“Here is a man who is a scholar and an artist, who knows precisely how every effect has been produced by every great writer, and who is [page 226:] resolved to reproduce them. But the heart passes by his pitfalls and traps, and carefully-planned spring[e]s, to be taken captive by some simple fellow who expected the event as little as did his prisoner.”*

Perhaps I err in quoting these words as the author’s own — they are in the mouth of one of his interlocutors — but whoever claims them, they are poetical and no more. The error is exactly that common one of separating practice from the theory which includes it. In all cases, if the practice fail, it is because the theory is imperfect. If Mr. Lowell’s heart be not caught in the pitfall or trap, then the pitfall is ill-concealed and the trap is not properly baited or set. One who has some artistical ability may know how to do a thing, and even show how to do it, and yet fail in doing it after all; but the artist and the man of some artistic ability must not be confounded. He only is the former who can carry his most shadowy precepts into successful application. To say that a critic could not have written the work which he criticises, is to put forth a contradiction in terms.

* Lowell’s “Conversations.”

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Note: The quotation comes from James Russell Lowell’s Conversations on some of the old Poets, “Chaucer” (Cambridge, Mass., [1844] 1845), p. 52 (“springes” in Lowell). It is included in Poe’s rev. of Lowell’s book (as paras. 5 and 6) in the New York Evening Mirror of 1/11/45, p. 2/3, which differs from the Godey’s text in these substantives: we err / I err; intricate precepts / shadowy precepts; flat contradiction. The pointing is much changed. In changing “intricate” to “shadowy” Poe perhaps tries to reconcile his earlier comment in the Mirror with the beginning of M 118 in this installment of M. It is interesting that in the Supplementary Marginalia no. 1, concerning John Wilson of Blackwood’s, Poe attacks him for his unfair criticism of Lowell’s Conversations, as printed in the 911845 issue of the magazine (q. v. in SM note 1), the article being taken from the 10/4/45 issue of the BJ. (See also SM 15.)

Marginalia 123

The farce of this big book(a) is equaled only by the farce of the ragtag-and-bobtail “embassy from the whole earth” introduced by the crazy Prussian into the hall of the French National Assembly. The author is the Anacharsis Clootz of American letters.(b)

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book) a. In Godey’s M 123 was joined to M 122, a mistake followed by Harrison in his reprint. Poe explained it in his BJ of 8/16/45, 2.95 (“Editorial Miscellany”): “The proof-reader of the August number of Godey has made us say of Mr. Lowell’s ‘Conversations’ what indeed we [page 227:] should be very sorry to say, viz: (M123 given). (para.) By the omission of a dash, this paragraph was made part and parcel of our commentary on Mr. Lowell — to whom it had no reference whatever.”

letters) b. “This big book” probably refers to Rufus W. Griswold’s Poets and Poetry of America (1842) which Poe and Henry Hirst lampooned in a long review of 11/42 (H 11.147-160), first mentioning its “size.” Poe’s frequent references are usually tongue-in-cheek praises of its minor virtues along with attacks on its poor choices and general ineptitude (see the loci in PD 159), all of which must have contributed to Griswold’s animus, demonstrated in the “Ludwig” obituary and the strictures in the Poe memoir of his edition of Poe’s Works (1850).

Jean Baptiste du Val de Grace, Baron von Cloots (1755-1794), Prussian nobleman of Dutch family, preached throughout Europe the revolutionary doctrines that he had absorbed in finishing his education at Paris, promoted his dream of a universal family of nations at the outbreak of the Revolution, titled himself “orator of the human race” (title also of one of his books), assumed the name of “Anarcharsis” from Barthélemy’s romance, became a member of the Convention and an active Jacobin, but was guillotined through Robespierre’s machinations.

Marginalia 124

Mill says that he has “demonstrated” his propositions.(a) Just in the same way Anaxagoras demonstrated snow to be black, (which, perhaps, it is, if we could see the thing in the proper light,)(b) and just in the same way the French advocate, Linguet, with Hippocrates in his hand, demonstrated bread to be a slow poison.(c) The worst of the matter is that propositions such as these seldom stay demonstrated long enough to be thoroughly understood.

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propositions) a. For Poe’s contempt for James Mill, his son, and Jeremy Bentham, see M Preface and M 63, Eureka, para. 19, and for Jeremy Bentham, numerous loci (q. v. in PD 10).

light) b. For three more instances of this canard about Anaxagoras see TOM 60n6, which explicates the error.

poison) c. Simon Nicholas Henri Linguet (1736-1794) satirically scorns bread for its rapid deterioration and for its end effects on the body, on the trading practices of merchants, and on the social and political arrangements of landowners, in a 32-page treatise which is “refuted” on pp. 35-84, by M. Tissot who misses Linguet’s satire. Both are published together in Dissertation sur le Bled et le Pain (Neuchatel, 1779, 84 pages). A hint as to this source came from Kuno Schumann, Poe Werke IV (Freiburg, 1973), p. 969. [page 228:]

Marginalia 125

“Contempt,” says an eastern proverb, “pierces even through the shell of the tortoise;” but there are some human skulls which would feel themselves insulted by a comparison, in point of impermeability, with the shell of a Gallipago turtle.

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Note: “Contempt penetrates even the shell of the tortoise. Persian Proverb” is given in A New Dictionary of Quotations, ed., H. L. Mencken (New York, 1942), p. 216. Poe’s acquaintance was made via the Galapagos tortoise in Pym, with this irregular spelling and incorrect name for the animal (Imaginary Voyages, Pym 12.17A, q. v.). Poe derived the proverb from T. B. Macaulay’s rev. of Thomas Campbell’s Frederic the Great, which had first appeared in the 4/42 Edinburgh Review (see his Essays, London, 1886, p. 685). Macaulay is discussing Maria Theresa’s efforts to rouse Louis XV of France, through Madame Pompadour, against the contemptuous Frederic.

In the 1850 ed. of this entry (Griswold no. CXCV) Poe added an insult to Hiram Fuller (cf. M 101) thus: for “but . . . insulted” read “but the skull of a Fuller would feel itself insulted.”

Marginalia 126

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 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 be 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.

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Note: This article grazes on topics that are staples in Poe’s creative works: premature burial and catalepsy, hallucinations, revenants. Cognate articles in the Brevities are M 150 (fancies that blend into dreams), M 231 (life as a dream) and CS para. 3 (relation of dreams and reverie). There is a surprisingly large amount of conventional eschatology here. [page 229:]

Marginalia 127

The United States’ motto, E pluribus unum,(a) may possibly have a sly allusion to Pythagoras’ definition of beauty-the reduction of many into one.(b)

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unum) a. The phrase, “one out of many” with “composed of” understood, was adapted from “E pluribus unus,” line 104 of “Moretum,” a poem about a humble farmer’s preparation of breakfast, which was once ascribed to Vergil (whose Georgics it resembles in spirit). The phrase was used on the face of the Great Seal of the U. S. A. (6/20/1782), with one phrase from the Eclogues and one from the Georgics on the reverse side. But in 1956 Congress formally adopted the motto “In God we trust.” Poe’s source of the phrase (and general notion) was probably any one of the many coins showing the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” often on a banner across the throat of the “spread-eagle” (see M 228): half eagles ($5.00) or “eagles” ($10.00) which came out from 1795 up to 1834 at least. (See J. H. Rose and H. Hazelson, [Scott] Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopaedia of U. S. Coins, 1975; and R. S. Yeoman, Guide Book of U. S. Coins, 1981.)

one) b. Poe undoubtedly took his “definition” from Wallace’s novel Stanley (1.237): “‘I wonder,’ cried Seward, ‘that the nations should be so enraged at Napoleon’s policy. He was only a practical philosopher, illustrating Pythagoras’s definition of beauty — the reduction of many into one.” (For the more widely accepted notion of transmigration in Pythagoras, see TOM 226, 230.) Wallace may have derived this idea from the para. in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (ch. 12, para. 10) which gave Poe the French quotation from Leibniz that he used in M 161. Coleridge is itemizing the “ground” of truth in the “doctrines” of most “philosophical sects;” the second item is “the harmonies or numbers, the prototypes and ideas, to which the Pythagoreans and Platonists reduced all things: the one and all of Parmenides and Plotinus without Spinozism.” Poe’s use of the word “reduction” for “reduce” and stress on “one” shows his source. For the far from clearly defined views of Pythagoras and his school on the harmony of the cosmos, based on number, see the En. Brit., Macropaedic ed., 1974, 15.322-326 and W. K. C. Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy (1962), 1.146-340.

Marginalia 128

Here is a book of “amusing travels,” which is full enough of statistics to have been the joint composition of Messieurs Bfisching, Hassel, Cannabich, Gaspari, Guts-Muths and company. [page 230:]

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Note: MM 128 and 129 were printed in Godey’s without a rule and space between — followed by Harrison, although clearly the first refers to a book of “travels” and the second to a novel. Poe’s choice of names is clever. Anton Friedrich Busching (1724-93) was the founder of the politico-statistical method in geography and author of over a hundred varied works. His major work was the Erdebeschreibung, in seven parts, pub. from 1754-68, filled with the results of immense research investigations. The others named were also German geographers with an interest in statistics: Johann Georg Heinrich Hassel (1770-1829), Johann Gunther Friedrich Cannabich (1777-1859), Adam Christian Gaspari (1752-1830) and Johann Christofer Friedrich Guts-Muths (1759-1839). In his 4/14/49 tale “Von Kempelen” Poe humorously wrote of “the forgery on the house of Gutsmuth & Co.” with Von Kempelen suspected for “having purchased a considerable property in Gasperitch Lane” (TOM 1361 and DP 174).

Marginalia 129

Spun out like Wollaston’s wires, or the world in the Peutingerian Tables.*

* “The Palais Royal,” by Mancur.

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Note: Poe gave a less devastating evaluation of this now forgotten novel in the 4/5/45 BJ, 1.210:

Some of Mr. Mancur’s novels have been very naturally mistaken for those of James, to whom, both in manner and in his material generally, he bears even too remarkable a resemblance. “The Palais Royal” [An Historical Romance] is founded upon events in the lives of Mazarin and De Retz, and is a novel of far more than ordinary interest and value. Its great defect is the total lack of originality.

John Henry Mancur (1774-1850) author of this 1845 publication, imitating a Scott work on newsprint, was the subject of Poe’s enquiry about his autograph (along with many others) in a letter of 4/28/46 to Evert A. Duyckinck, presumably for an extended Literati series (Ostrom 316).

William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828), English scientist, furthered the industrial use of platinum, as here. In “Scheherazade” of 2/1845 Poe speaks of a “wire so fine as to be invisible” — useful for the “field of views in a telescope” etc. (TOM 1167 and note). D. Lardner’s Course of Lectures (1842), p. 35, gave Poe the data.

Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547) of Augsburg obtained a Roman map of military roads of the Roman Empire, henceforth known as the [page 231:] Tabula Peutingeriana (pub. by F. de Scheyb, 1753). This map is compressed into a long strip, 22 times as long as it is broad (745 by 34 millimeters).

Marginalia 130

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.

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Note: Poe was amused and pleased with the gullibility of many of the readers of his three tales involving mesmerism or hypnotism. Despite his frankness, various types of “spiritualists” and faddists persisted in believing the narrative of “Mesmeric Revelation” and of “Valdemar,” as his editorials in the BJ showed, following up M 130 (BJ, 9/ 20/45, 2.174 for the first; 12/27/45, 2.390 for the second). The full background and reception by these groups is discussed by TOM 10241028; by Sidney Lind, in PMLA, 1947, 62.1077-94; and by Eric W. Carlson, Journal of the History of Medicine, 4/60, 15.121-32. Poe had gradually turned against the quackery of “animal magnetism,” which had gained a new popularity after the early discrediting of Franz Mesmer (1733-1815). In its more deliberate use as therapy, hypnotism was a prelude to anesthesia, as in “Valdemar,” and in “freeing the soul” for communication it appealed even to the rather sober Swedenborgians. Poe always associates the two (see his sketch of George Bush, H 15.7; of Mary Gove, 15.61; and Eureka, para. 76; 16.223). Poe was always refreshingly honest about these tales, despite the would-be believers (see M 200). These included the Lowell Star of Bethlehem of 10/4/45, in which the ed. D. H. Jaques reprinted “Mesmeric Revelation” with a note about the “truth” of the tale; and the Universalist Watchman of Montpelier, Vermont, of 8/30 and 9/6/45 which gives the text with the comment that the story is philosophical.

Marginalia 131

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 [page 232:] imitators, dramatists are the most perverse, the most unconscionable, or the most unconscious, and have been so time out of mind.(a) 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.(b) 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.(c)

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mind) a. This article is developed from a long one by Poe in the New York Evening Mirror, 1/9/45, p. 2/4, part of which is close enough to warrant quotation: “The dramatic art, more than any other, is essentially imitative, and thus engenders and keeps alive in its votaries the imitative propensity, as well as the imitative power. Hence one drama is apt to be fashioned too nearly after another — the dramatist of to-day is prone to step too precisely in the foot-prints of the dramatist of yesterday.” Much of the remainder is an attack upon such conventions as the soliloquy and the aside. Only Aeschylus as a hampering influence is cited (see M 171 for the entire article). See also Am. Whig Rev. of 8/45 (H 13.32-73), paras. 2-6, for the same idea in different words.

subjects) b. The source of this section lies in Pin 101, which is owed to a sentence in the Schlegel Lectures and to a para. in “Bon-Bon” in which the Devil mockingly presents classical writers as mere imitators of their predecessors (TOM 111).

retrogradation) c. In the Mirror article Poe asserts the capacity of the drama to advance without relying on the past, but in this, the fact of its having done so. In MM 43 and 243 he objects to the painter’s mere depiction of reality, suggesting another aim for the artist. In his tale “Mummy” Poe exploits the delusiveness of progress in technology, but ignores the arts.

Marginalia 132

It is James Montgomery who thinks proper to style McPherson’s “Ossian” a “collection of halting, dancing, lumbering, grating, nondescript paragraphs.”

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Note: Save for stylistic and punctuation changes, this is identical with Pin 74 (q. v.), coming from Montgomery’s Lectures on Literature.

Marginalia 133

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.(a) 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(b)

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.

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Longfellow) a. By heroic verse Poe refers to the dactylic hexameter of Greek and Latin epic poetry. He fails to specify Coleridge’s “absurd” attempts, although in “The Rationale of Verse” he clearly designates the “failure” of Christabel in “scanning by accents” (H 14.236-238). In Friendship’s Offering of 1834 (never mentioned by Poe) Coleridge included several experiments in hexameters, such as “The Homeric Hexameter” and “Hymn to the Earth,” in Poems of . . . Coleridge, (OUP, 1912), pp. 307, 327-29. The Sidney instance repeats the material in Pin 75 (q. v.), derived from Montgomery’s Lectures. Poe had attacked Longfellow’s hexameter experiments in “Children of the Lord’s Supper” (1842) in a passage in “Notes upon English Verse” in Lowell’s journal the Pioneer (3/34), paras. 53-60 (see also “The Rationale of Verse” in H 14.261265 which expands this M article). See Longfellow’s rejoinder in his diary entry of 2/24/47, given in the Cambridge ed. of Complete Poetical Works (1882), Appendix, p. 671, in the form of sample hexameters, no. IV: “In Hexameter sings serenely a Harvard Professor; / In Pentameter him damns censorious Poe.” See Poe’s 1849 MS. revising his anti-Longfellow “model” hexameters of the “Rationale” and more pointedly allusive to Longfellow through the title: “Evangeline” (Poems 394). In the long “Literati” [page 234:] sketch (6/46) of Laughton Osborn, author of “The Vision. . .,” America’s “best satire” although ‘filthy,” Poe alludes to Arthur Caryl and other Poems, including “several happy” although not “accurate” imitations of Greek metres (H 14.44-49). Poe alludes here to James Gates Percival (1795-1856), physician, geologist, musician, linguist, and poet (Prometheus, 1820; Poetical Works, collected in 1859), not to Dr. Thomas Percival erroneously footnoted in “Usher” (TOM 408 and 419n13).

born) b. Poe used his own monostich in the 1843 Pioneer essay (see above), 1.111, which may have derived from Falstaff’s “The brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man” (Henry IV, Part 11, 1.1.7). The comma after “compound” used in both loci seems incorrect to separate a precedent adjective from its noun — the latter clearly required by the following “yet.” Poe seems naive concerning “spondaic words” in the language, ignoring the optional pronunciation of accent, shifts in accent according to meaning, and author-created compounds (“God-born”) in which he excelled (see PCW, pp. 41-69). For Poe’s views on prosody see Gay Wilson Allen, A History of American Prosody from Bryant to Whitman (1934), pp. 95-158, and also the eccentric treatment in Edgar A. Poe: The Rationale of Verse, ed. J. Arthur Greenwood (1968). The subject needs comprehensive treatment. For the line from Sidney’s Arcadia see Pin 75.

Marginalia 134

“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.

* Pröem to Longfellow’s “Waif.”

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Note: This is an excerpt from Poe’s column, “Longfellow’s Waif” (a Christmas gift book of 1844), in the Evening Mirror 1/13/45, p. 2/2, reprinted exactly as in Longfellow’s text save for “his flight” and for several accidentals (Night and Logic). For another part of the article reprinted see M 140. The whole of “Pröem” of which this is the first stanza only is given by Poe, without this adverse criticism and with praise, in “The Poetic Principle” (1850), q. v. in H 14.276-77, with “his flight” transcribed correctly.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 03)