Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Review of Edward Lytton Bulwer Poems (Text-02), Broadway Journal, Vol. I, no. 6, February 8, 1845, 1:81-82


[page 81:]



POEMS BY SIR EDWARD LYTTON BULWER. Edited by C. Donald Macleod. New York: Farmer & Daggers, 1845.

MR. C. DONALD MACLEOD, whose name is no doubt familiar to the readers of the “Lady’s Book” and “Graham’s Magazine,” has favored the public with a collection of poems by Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer.

“ ‘The work here offered,” says the compiler, “contains, I believe, the first general collection. . . . He has published two or three volumes of verse, none of which were well received. ‘The Rebel’ and the ’Siamese Twins’ met quick oblivion, and indeed deserved no better fate. In his last publication, ’ Eva and Other Poems,’ there were many pieces of exquisite beauty ; but there was heaviness enough in the book to sink all. . . . This collection, made from Novel, Drama, and Poems, embraces nearly all that is worthy of his reputation.”

These words, from Mr. Macleod’s Preface, affect us as an ill omen of the book. We fancy that we see in them a singular deficiency of straight thinking. We profess little faith in the discrimination of a compiler who begins with calling his compilation a “general” one, and proceeds in the same breath to state that he has omitted every thing from this general compilation that has been considered worth publishing at all by the author whose writings he has compiled.

Frankly, Mr. Macleod is young in letters, has given no special evidence of even what is called general ability — none at all of critical ability. We shall be pardoned, therefore, for accepting only cum grano salis, his mere dicta that the “Rebel” and the “Siamese Twins” “deserved no better fate than quick oblivion” — that there ” was heaviness enough to sink all” in Eva and other Poems — or that “this collection, made from Novel, Drama, and Poems, embraces nearly all that is worthy of the reputation” of Bulwer. What is here so roundly asserted, may or may not be true. We have no reference either to its truth or its fallacy. What we wish to insinuate is, that Mr. Macleod, being Mr. Macleod and no more, should, in common justice, have either given as all the poems of the author, or something that should have worn at least the semblance of an argument in objection to the poems omitted. Mr. Macleod we say, should have done one of these two things, for the sake of the commonest common sense — for the sake of Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer — for the sake of the public — for the sake of himself (Mr. Macleod) — and for the sake of that hope with which he so happily makes an end of his Preface — the hope “that a ray from the Glory which surrounds the Master may wander toward the Alcolyte.”

As a common rule, to be sure, rays are about the only things in the world which never wander at all. By way of showing, however, that it is not to any particular dogma of Mr. M. that we object, nor to any particular set of his dogmas, but to the principle of dogmatizing in general, we are willing to admit that we coincide with him in one half of his [column 2:] opinion about the poems of Bulwer. We think as he does (Mr. Macleod,) that the omitted compositions were scarcely worth including in a book; but we go even a few steps farther, and maintain that the effusions so cavalierly treated deserved the treatment much less than those which have been honored with a niche in the temple of the American compiler. The matter, indeed, seems to stand thus. What Bulwer thought worth collecting, he collected. What he collected Mr. Macleod has pronounced unworthy collection. The author, in our opinion, knew better the state of the case than the editor; but neither appears aware of the fact, that Sir Edward is more estimable as a judge of poetry than as a poet, and that, to come at once to the point, he has never written a poem at all.

It is but fair to mention, nevertheless, that this opinion of ours, honestly entertained and deliberately expressed, is in direct opposition to that of a somewhat celebrated man who is quoted in the Introduction of Mr. Macleod. “The author of Tremaine says of him,” writes Mr. M: — “ ‘He is the most accomplished writer of the most accomplished era of English letters: — practising all styles and classes of composition, and eminent is all — Novelist, Dramatist, Poet, Historian, Moral Philosopher, Essayist, Critic, Political Pamphleteer; in each superior to all others, and only rivalled in each by himself” — that is to say, we presume, that

“None but himself can be his parallel.”

But if Mr. Macleod is serious in thinking that the author of Tremaine (which may be co sidered [[considered]] as the quintessence of prose) did not intend to be bitterly satirical when he penned all this about the author of the “Siamese Twins,” we have only to regret that a gentleman who edits a respectable looking book should labor under so painful an hallucination. We mean to say that Mr. Ward, (who although he did write De Vere is by no means a fool,) could never have put to paper, in his sober senses, anything half so absurd as the paragraph above quoted, without stopping at every third word to hold his sides or thrust his pocket-handkerchief in his mouth.

If Mr. Macleod, however, will insist upon the serious intention, we have to remark that the opinion is the mere opinion of a writer remarkable for no other good trait than that of putting his readers decorously to sleep according to rules Addisonian, and with the least possible loss of labor and time. But as the mere opinion of even a Jeffrey, a Gifford, or a Macaulay, we have an inalienable right to meet it with another. As a novelist, then, Bulwer is far more than respectable — although he has produced few novels equal and none superior to “Robinson Crusoe” — to one or two of Smollet’s — to one or two of Fielding’s — to Miss Burney’s “Evelina” — to two or three of the Misses Porter’s — to five or six of Miss Edgeworth’s — to three or four of Godwin’s — to the majority of Scott’s — to one or two of D‘Israeli’s — to three or four of Dickens’ — to the “Ellen Wareham” of Mrs. Sullivan, or to the “Ellen Middleton” of Lady Georgiana Fullerton. From the list of foreign novels we could readily select a hundred which he could neither have written nor conceived for his life. As a dramatist he deserves more credit, although he receives less. His “Richelieu,” “Money,” and “Duchesse [page 82:] de la Valière,” have done much in the way of opening the public eyes to the true value of what is superciliously termed “stage-effect” in the hands of one able to manage it. But if commendable at this point, his dramas fail egregiously at others: so that, upon the whole, he can be said to have written a good play only when we think of him in connexion with the still more contemptible “old-dramatist” imitators who are his contemporaries and friends. As historian he is sufficiently dignified, sufficiently ornate, and more than sufficiently self-sufficient and ill-informed. His “Athens” would have received an Etonian prize, and it has all the happy air of an Etonian prize essay revamped. His political pamphlets are very good as political pamphlets, and very disreputable as any thing else. His essays leave no doubt upon any body’s mind that with the writer they have been essays indeed. His criticism is really beneath contempt. His moral philosophy is the most ridiculous of all the moral philosophies that ever have been imagined upon earth.

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

When the Swiss philosopher here speaks of inferiority, he has reference to inferiority in worldly success. By his “men of sense,” he intends indolent men of genius. And Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer is emphatically one of the “men of passions” contemplated in the apopthegm. His passions, with opportunities, have alone made him what he is. Urged by a rabid ambition to do much, in doing nothing he would assuredly have proved himself an idiot. Something he has done. While aiming at Crichton, he has hit the target an inch or two above Harrison Ainsworth. Not to such intellects belong, the honors of universality. His works bear about them the unmistakeable indications of mere talent — talent, we grant, of an unusual order, and nurtured to its extreme of development with a very tender and elaborate care. Nevertheless it is talent still. Genius it is not. And the proof is, that while we often fancy ourselves about to be enkindled beneath its influence, fairly enkindled we never are. That Bulwer is no poet, follows as a corollary from what has already been said. To speak of a poet without genius is merely to put forth a contradiction in terms.

In taking up Mr. Macleod’s volume, of course we had no intention to be elaborate. We have nothing to prove or to disprove. The matter has been long since thoroughly settled to our hands by that strong popular instinct which, when absolutely untrammeled in its development, is as unerring as the sun. What few words we have farther to say it will be unnecessary to say otherwise than at random.

Beyond the obvious external form, there is really nothing distinctive between what Mr. Macleod calls the poetry of Bulwer, and what the world has agreed to understand as his prose. “The Ill-omened Marriage,” which is the longest composition of the book before us, is only not exactly similar to any one of the author’s novels, because no one of the latter has been done into very indifferent verse. In each we find the same intermingled merit and demerit — a language glowing and sonorous, but inflated and involute — a plot skilfully conceived, but wrought into development with artificiality rather than with art — a mannered epigrammatism of tone that has been termed “brilliant” for want of a more definite epithet — a general interjectional rhetoricianism such as we might imagine would have delighted Curran when drunk — an absolutely ludicrous array of metaphor run mad — and a continuous strain of didacticism, always obtrusive, [column 2:] sometimes entertaining, often equivocal, now and then sophistical, frequently preposterous, but at no time failing to wear those habiliments of apparent profundity which were wont so cleverly to disguise the no-meaning of the nonsense-verses of Du Bartas.

In his rhythm — in his sole distinctive feature between his poetry and his prose — Bulwer’s generally elaborate art seems to have abandoned or to have misguided him altogether. He has contented himself with the dryest and most insensate technicalities of the schools. Clearly, he has no capacity for the construction of true rhythm, and no ear for its appreciation when constructed. All is hard, stiff, pedantic, common-place, and artificial, without the ars celare arlem which I only the divine instinct of the true Genius can bestow.

It is by no means our intention to accuse Mr. Macleod of having undertaken a task above his powers, but on this topic (of rhythm) there are certain passages of his Introduction which have amazed us in no little degree. What, for example, are we to think of a paragraph such as this?

“In versification he is always happy — in some kinds peculiar, as in ‘Mazarin,’ ‘Andre Chenier,’ the ’ Last Crusader,’ and others. In these the music is stately and solemn; the music of a march.”

On reading this we turned with some curiosity to “Mazarin” and ‘‘Andre Chenier.” The versification in these poems is identical. We give a specimen from the latter:

And must I die so soon? sighed forth the young man unresigned,

And leave this pleasant world before a name is left behind ?

I feel the glorious SOMETHING stir within my burn in, brain,

That tells me what my life would be — a prophet and in vain!

The metre here would be called, in the ridiculous Greek prosodies, iambic heptameter acatalectic. In plain English it consists of seven feet, each foot being a short syllable succeeded by a long, and this is one of the very commonest metres in the world; — the iambic rhythm — that is to say, the mere succession of iambuses, is unquestionably the most usual of all. But the line employed by Bulwer in the present instance, if we add a single short syllable at the end, is identically that of the “Oh, Miss Bailey” ballad — of which we transcribe the first line:

A captain bold of Halifax who dwelt in country quarters.

Now Mr. Macleod maintains that “Miss Bailey” is peculiar; but if so the only peculiarity about her lies in her tripping and frisky character — the character universally and justly attributed to this metre in the prosodies. Mr. Macleod, however, not satisfied with having it “peculiar,” insists up on making it “stately and solemn the music of a march.”

We might comment, perhaps, on some other niaiseries, or at least on some other inadvertences of our compiler, and we might find much fault with many of the individual poems compiled, as well as designate among them a vast number of individual beauties that are truly poetical in themselves, although involved in a medley of mere prose. But in doing all this we should demonstrate only what has long ceased to need any demonstration.

We dismiss the volume, therefore, with a request which will not be complied with — that in any future edition Mr. Macleod will cut out his Introduction, and give us in place of it, the poems of Bulwer which have been, whether rightfully or wrongfully, have been omitted.





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