Text: Nathaniel Beverley Tucker to Edgar Allan Poe — December 5, 1835


Williamsburg, December 5, 1835.

To Mr. Poe.

Dr Sir, — Your letter has been just received, and deserves my thanks. So far from needing apology, it has been taken as a favour, and I have been congratulating myself on the success of my attempt to draw you into correspondence.

It is more creditable to your candour than to my criticism, that you have taken it so kindly. You are doubtless right in thinking that a mere flow of mellifluous lines is not the thing called for by the laws of metrical harmony. I was perfectly aware that the lines I lately sent you were faulty in this respect. Faulty, because, as you say, they are faultless. But I could not help it. Not that I could not have made them rugged, but because I did not think myself master of that sort of “grace beyond the reach of art,” which so few can snatch. I have seen something analogous to it in the features and in the carriage of persons who were the handsomer for not being perfectly handsome, and the more graceful for a little awkwardness. But these are the things in which poetry, eloquence and grace may be said, like beauty, to be born with us. When we attempt to assume them, we do but attempt to imitate what is inimitable, because unimitated. I do not know to what to liken those occasional departures from regular metre which are so fascinating. They are more to my ear like that marvellous performance — “clapping Juba,” than any thing else. The beat is capriciously irregular; there is no attempt to keep time to all the notes, but then it comes so pat & so distinct that the cadence is never lost. The art of Moore, which enables him to throw out a syllable, or to throw in a couple of them, without interrupting his rhythm is the great charm of his versification. But such irregularities are like rests and grace notes. They must be so managed as neither to hasten or retard the beat. The time of the bar must be the same, no matter how many notes are in it. Do not think therefore I counted your feet. I did not. I was aware what you would be at, and was pleased with your frequent success. I require no more than to be able to utter the line in its due time, neither more nor less, and when this can be done with only nine, or with eleven syllables, or even twelve, the variety is an agreeable relief from the mawkish sweetness which by continuance becomes nauseous. This I take to be the limit which neither Pope nor Moore, nor even Byron ever transcended. It is the spell which sound imposes on all our members, disposing them to keep time to its cadence. Now in the “fragment” there are lines that cannot by any reading be forced into time. Take Baldazzar’s speech at the bottom of the first column of p. 15.

In saying all this, I may be proving to you, that I have not capacity to understand what I am talking about. It may be so. I only vouch for the accuracy of my ear. The correctness of my taste is another affair. But as I rather deprecate such a conclusion let me add that the rules I am speaking of are, like other laws, but cobwebs for flies. Great though sometimes display themselves best in breaking through them. You will never find me cavilling at their dress.

I did not mean to deny the efficacy of a certain style of criticism in demolishing scribblers. I merely said it was not Judicial. It may make the critic as formidable to the rabble of literary offenders, as Jack Dalgliesh (sic) or Jack Portious himself, but it makes him odious too, and adds nothing to his authority in the estimation of those whose approbation for his sentence cuts off the sufferer from the poor privilege of complaining, and the poor consolation of sympathy. Jeffrey’s nearest approach to it was in his review of Byron’s first publication. I am old enough to remember that it provoked a reaction highly favourable to Byron. Nothing else could have given such triumphant success to the English Bards &c. As to Blackwood; I admire Wilson, but he is an offence unto me by the brutal arrogance of his style of criticism. I have no doubt he demolished the poor Tailor. But “who breaks a butterfly upon the wheel?” Supported by the powerful party whose organ he is, he may never feel that he injures himself by such things; but he does. His criticisms will have the less weight with the impartial.

I do not think we differ about the [[Greek text:] xxxxx [[:Greek text]]. I have seen much sweet poetry in which there was nothing new but the application or combination of old thoughts. But this is one mode of creation. I do not think you will go beyond this. I am glad you do not know who your dreamer is. He will keep his secret, and take care not to complain.

Mr. White writes me that he is labouring under a woful lack of matter. Like poor Tom “I have no food for him.” I will try to write out from memory a few rude lines, composed long syne, which I have neither art nor leisure nor in truth will to polish. I send them on one condition. You are to judge them candidly, and reject them if they do not come up to either my standard or yours. Let me know which.

I will thank you to ask Mr. White to procure me a copy of Burke’s works as published in 1834, by Dearborn of New York, in three volumes. I wish him to have them lettered on the back near the bottom with the word Ardmore. I will send him the money for them and the new copy of the Messenger at once.

Respectfully, & with the best wishes

Your obedt servt.
[[Beverley Tucker.]]

Here are the lines. I think you will find them rugged enough.



The signature has been clipped from this letter.


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Misc - Letters - N. B. Tucker to Poe (RCL111)