Last Update: Nov. 12, 2008  Navigation:  Main Menu    Poe's Works    Poe's Misc.    Poe's Criticism
Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "Christopher Pease Cranch," from Literary America, 1848, manuscript

[page 84, continued:]

Christopher Pease Cranch.

The Reverend C. P. Cranch is one of the least intolerable of the Boston transcendentalists: — in fact, I believe that he has at last come out from among them, abandoned their doctrines (whatever they are) and given up their society in disgust. He was at one time a contributor to "The Dial" — but has repented of his sins, and reformed his habits of thought and speech, domiciliated himself in New-York, and set up the easel of an artist in one of the Gothic chambers of the University.

Four or five years ago Carey and Hart, of Philadelphia, published a collection of his poems. By the critics it was unmercifully and, I think, somewhat unjustly treated. Mr Cranch seems to me vivacious, fanciful, and dexterous in expression — while his versification is noticeable for its accuracy, vigor, and even for its (comparative) originality of effect. I might say, perhaps, rather more than all this, and maintain that he has imagination if he would only condescend to employ it: — but he will not — or would not until lately; — the word-compounders and quibble-concoctors of Frogpondium [[Boston]] having inoculated him with a preference for Imagination's half-sister, the Cinderella, Fancy. He rarely contents himself with harmonious combinations of thought. To afford him perfect satisfaction, there must always be a certain amount of the odd — of the whimsical — of the affected — of the bizarre. He is as full of conceits as Cowley or Donne — with this difference, that the conceits of these latter are Euphuisms beyond redemption — radical, irremediable, self-contented nonsensicalities — and in so much are good of their kind; while the conceits of Mr Cranch are, for the most part, intentionally manufactured, for conceit's sake, out of the material for properly imaginative or proportionate ideas.  He forces us to see that he has taken pains to make a fool of himself.

His best poem, upon the whole, is the one of which I have already quoted the opening stanza in "The Rationale of Verse"; and I cannot place his merits in a fairer light than by now copying the lines in full:

My Thoughts.

Many are the thoughts that come to me
        In my lonely musing;
And they drift to strange and swift
        There's no time for choosing
Which to follow — for to leave
        Any seems a losing.

When they come, they come in flocks,
        As, on glancing feather,
Startled birds rise, one by one,
        In autumnal weather,
Waking one another up
        From the sheltering heather.

Some so merry that I laugh;
        Some are grave and serious;
Some so trite their last approach
        Is enough to weary us;
Others flit like midnight ghosts,
        Shrouded and mysterious. [page 85:]

There are thoughts that o'er me steal
        Like the day when dawning —

Great thoughts winged with melody,
        Common utterance scorning,
Moving in an inward tune
        And an inward morning.

Some have dark and drooping wings —
        Children all of sorrow;
Some are as gay as if to-day
        Could see no cloudy morrow;
And yet, like light and shade, they each
        Must from the other borrow.

One by one they come to me
        On their destined mission;
One by one I see them fade
        With no hopeless vision —
For they've led me on a step
        To their home Elysian.

The passages italicized belong to the highest order of natural or obvious fancy. The last is singularly truthful; the first vividly picturesque; and its effect is aided by the happy directness, or colloquiality, of the "waking one another up." The rest of the poem may be designated as "fine writing" merely. There is a great deal of "ease", however, in the final stanza. "Dawning" with "scoring" is a bad rhyme; and "moving in an inward tune and an inward morning" is a good Lily-ism. The chief merit of the whole lies in its versification, which is excellent. "Some are as gay as if to-day" is a beautiful variation. Here the scansion is

Some ar4e as4 | gay a2s | if t1o | day cou2ld.|
see n2o | cloud2y | morro2w|

"Some are as" is a bastard trochee; and the rhythm of one line is continued into that of the succeeding; as in the opening lines of "The Bride of Abydos." [page 86:]

But perhaps I err in supposing myself at all in condition to decide on Mr Cranch's poetry, which, professedly, is addressed to the few. "Him we will seek," says the poet —
Him we will seek, and none but him, 
Whose inward sense hath not grown dim; 
Whose soul is steeped in Nature's tinct
And to the Universal linked; 
Who loves the beauteous Infinite 
With deep and ever new delight, 
And carrieth, where'er he goes,
The inborn sweetness of the rose —
The perfume as of Paradise — 
The talisman above all price — 
The optic glass that wins from far 
The meaning of the utmost star — 
The key that opes the golden doors
Where Earth and Heaven have piled their stores — 
The magic ring — the enchanter's wand — 
The title-deed to Wonder-Land — 
The wisdom that oerlooketh sense —
The clairvoyance of Innocence.

The last rhyme is identical. Altogether, the lines are somewhat too much selon les règles of "The Dial" — also somewhat too elocutionary — still they are fanciful and neatly turned — with the exception of the last two; these should have been left out. It is laughable to see that the transcendental poets, if beguiled for a minute or two into respectable English and common sense, are always sure to remember their cue just as they get to the end of their song, which, by way of saving its reputation, they then round off, in accordance with that "wisdom that o'erlooketh sense," with a scrap of doggrel about "the clairvoyance of Innocence." It is especially observable that, in adopting the cant of thought, they feel bound to adopt, at the same moment, the cant of phraseology. Can Mr. C., or can any body else, say why it is that, in the really not nonsensical opening passages of what I have here quoted, he employs the modern, and only in the final couplet of goosetherumfoodle makes use of the obsolete, [page 87:] terminations of verbs in the third person singular, present tense?

One of the most meritorious of Mr Cranch's compositions is his poem on Niagara. It has many natural thoughts, suiting the subject — some grand ones that do not suit it; but all are more than half divseted of their force by the attempt at adorning them with oddity of expression. Quaintness, under certain circumstances, is an effective adjunct to imagination; and its value has long been misapprehended; but in picturing the sublime it is altogether out of place. What idea of power, for example, — of grandeur — can any human being attach even to Niagara, when Niagara is described in language so tripping — so fantastical — so palpably adapted to a purpose — as that which follows?
I stood upon a speck of ground; 
      Before me fell a stormy ocean. 
I was like a captive bound; 
          And around 
          A universe of sound 
Troubled the heavens with ever-quivering motion. 

Down, down forever — down, down forever — 
      Something falling, falling, falling; 
Up, up forever — up, up, forever —
          Resting never —
          Boiling up forever, 
Steam-clouds shot up with thunder-bursts appalling.

It is difficult to conceive any thing more out of keeping than the really natural thoughts of these stanzas, and the petit-maître, fidgety, hop-skip-and-jump air of the words, and the Liliputian parts of the metre, in which the thoughts are attempted to be conveyed.

A somewhat similar metre is adopted by Mr. C. in his "Lines on Hearing Triumphant Music" — but as the subject is essentially different, so the effect is by no means so displeasing. I copy one of the stanzas as the finest individual passage which I can find among the poems of its author. [page 88:]
That glorious strain!
Oh, from my brain 
 I see the shadows flitting like scared ghosts.
A 1ight — a light
Shines in to-night
Round the good angels trooping to their posts,
And the black cloud is rent in twain
Before the ascending strain.

Mr Cranch is well educated and quite accomplished. Like Mr Osborn, he is musician and painter, as well as poet — being in each about equally very respectably successful.

He is thirty-four or five years of age; in height perhaps five feet eleven; athletic; front face rather handsome — the smile pleasant and the forehead evincing intellect; but the profile is marred by the turning up of the nose. Eyes and hair are dark brown — the latter worn short, although slightly inclined to curl: — thick whiskers meeting under the chin and much out of keeping with the shirt-collar à la Byron.


This text begins on the last page of the manuscript about Thomas Dunn Brown [English].

S:1 - LTAM, 1848 - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Christopher Pease Cranch