Text: James E. Heath to Edgar Allan Poe — September 12, 1839


Richmond, 12. Sept. 1839.

Dear Sir, — Since the receipt of yours of the 5 inst. I have been so exceedingly occupied and withal so very much indisposed, that I could not until within the last day or two, take a peep into the interesting magazine which you were good enough to send me. I have read your article “The Fall of the House of Usher” with attention, and I think it among the best of your compositions of that class which I have seen. A man need not have a critical judgement nor a very refined taste to decide, that no’ one could have written the tale, without possessing great scope of imagination, vigorous thought, and a happy command of language; but I am sure you will appreciate my candor when I say that I never could feel much interest in that class of compositions. I mean that I never could experience pleasure in reading tales of horror and mystery however much the narrative should be dignified by genius. They leave a painful and melancholy impression on my mind, and I do not perceive their tendency to improve the heart.

I have had a conversation with White since the receipt of your letter and took the liberty to hint to him your convictions of an unfriendly spirit manifested on his part towards you. I am happy to inform you that he disclaims the existence of any unkind feeling, on the contrary professes that your prosperity and happiness would yield him pleasure. He is not aware of having spoken or written any thing with a design to injure you or any thing more in censure or disparagement than what he has said to you in person when you resided here. I am inclined to think that you entirely mistake the man if you suppose that a particle of malignity lurks in his composition. My long acquaintance with him justifies me in saying that I have known few men more disposed to cherish kindly and benevolent feelings towards their fellow men than himself. He informs me that he will with pleasure admit a notice of the “Gentleman’s Magazine “ in the Messenger and if possible in the October number. He is apprehensive however that the “Fall of the House of Usher “ would not only occupy more space than he can conveniently spare (the demands upon his columns being very great) but that the subject matter is not such as would be acceptable to a large majority of his readers. He doubts whether the readers of the Messenger have much relish for tales of the German School although written with great power and ability, and in this opinion I confess to you frankly, I am strongly inclined to concur. I doubt very much whether tales of the wild, improbable and terrible class, can ever be permanently popular in this country. Charles Dickens it appears to me has given the final death blow to writings of that description. Of course there is nothing I could say on that subject which can or ought to influence your own mind. There is no disputing in matters of taste, and there is no infallible standard to which men consider themselves obliged to defer and surrender their own judgments.

It gives me sincere pleasure to understand that your own good sense and the influence of high and noble motives have enabled you to overcome a seductive and dangerous treatment which too often prostrates the wisest and best by its fatal grasp. The cultivation of such high intellectual powers as you possess cannot fail to earn for you a solid reputation in the literary world. In the department of criticism especially, I know few who can claim to be your superiors in this country. Your dissecting knife, if vigorously employed, would serve to rid us of much of that silly trash and silly sentimentality with which puerile and conceited authors, and gain-seeking book sellers are continually poisoning our intellectual food. I hope in relation to all such you will continue to wield mace without “fear, favor or affection.”

I subscribe myself sincerely your well-wisher,



Heath’s signature has been cut from the original letter.


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Misc - Letters - J. E. Heath to Poe (RCL199)