Text: Anonymous, [Review of The Narrative of A. G. Pym], The Era (London, UK), vol. 1, no. 4, October 21, 1838, p. 8 [volume no. 41], col. 2


[page 41, column 2, continued:]

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A. G. PYM. Wiley and Putnam, 67, Paternoster-row

This, we presume, belongs to that species of romance, which, not satisfied with relating probabilities, assumes the outward guise of authentic narrative. Its fault is, that it is too uniformly extravagant; but, notwithstanding, this the story is highly exciting, and leads one to regret that an author who has so evident a penchant for fiction should not lie boldly. We quote an adventure of the supposed autobiographer in a ship which has been piratically seized by the crew. He is to personate one of the men who were murdered by the insurgents, with the view of assisting, by means of superstitious terror, an attempt which is to be made to reconquer the command of the vessel.

As soon as I got below, I commenced disguising myself so as to represent the corpse of Rogers. The shirt which we had taken from the body aided us very much, for it was of a singular form and character, and easily recognisable — a kind of smock, which the deceased wore over his other clothing. It was a blue stockinet, with large white stripes running across. Having put this on, I proceeded to equip myself with a false stomach, in imitation of the horrible deformity of the swollen corpse; This was soon effected by means of stuffing with some bedclothes. I then gave the same appearance to my hands by drawing on a pair of white woollen mittens, and tilling them in with any kind of rags that offered themselves. Peters then arranged my face, first rubbing it well over with white chalk, and afterwards splotching it with blood, which he took from a cut in his finger. The streak across the eye was not forgotten, and presented a most shocking appearance.

My two companions now proceeded boldly aft and down into the cabin, Peters closing the door after him in the same manner as he had found it. The mate received them with feigned cordiality, and told Augustus that, since he had behaved himself so well of late, he might take up his quarters in the cabin, and be one of them for the future. He then poured him out a tumbler half full of rum, and made him drink it. All this I saw and heard, for I followed my friends to the cabin as soon as the door was shut, and took up my old point of observation. I had brought with me the two pump-handles, one of which I secured near the companion-way, to be ready for use when required.

I now steadied myself as well as possible, so as to have a good view of all that was passing within, and endeavoured to nerve myself to the task of descending among the mutineers when Peters should make a signal to me as agreed upon. Presently he contrived to turn the conversation upon the bloody deeds of the mutiny, and, by degrees, led the men to talk of the thousand superstitions which are so universally current among seamen. I could not make out all that was said, but I could plainly see the effects of the conversation in the countenances of those present. The mate was evidently much agitated, and presently, when one mentioned the terrific appearance of Rogers's corpse, I thought he was upon the point of swooning. Peters now asked him if he did not think it would be bettor to have the body thrown overboard at once, as it was too horrible a sight to see it floundering about in the scuppers. At this the villain absolutely gasped for breath, and turned his head slowly round, as if imploring some one to go and perform the task. No one, however, stirred, and it was quite evident that the whole party were wound up to the highest pitch of nervous excitement. Peters now made the signal. I immediately threw open the door of the companionway, and descending without uttering a syllable, stood erect in the midst of the party.

The intense effect produced by this sudden apparition is not all to be wondered at when the various circumstances are taken into consideration. Usually, in cases of a similar nature, there is left in the mind of the spectator some glimmering of doubt as to the reality of the vision before his eyes; a degree of hope, however feeble, that he is the victim of chicanery, and that the apparition is not actually a visitant from the world of shadows. It is not too much to say that such remnants of doubt have been at the bottom of almost every such visitation, and that the appalling horror, which has sometimes been brought about, is to be attributed, — even in the cases most in point, and where most suffering has been experienced, — more to a kind of anticipative horror, lest the apparition might possibly be real, than to an unwavering belief in its reality. But, in the present instance, it will be seen immediately, that in the minds of the mutineers, there was not even the shadow of a basis upon which to rest a doubt that the apparition of Rogers was indeed a revivification of his disgusting corpse, or at least its spiritual image. The isolated situation of the brig, with its entire inaccessibility on account of the gale, confined the apparently possible means of deception within such narrow and definite limits, that they must have thought themselves enabled to survey them all at a glance. They had now been at sea twenty-four days, without holding more than a speaking communication with any vessel whatever. The whole of the crew, too, at least all whom they had the most remote reason for suspecting to be on board, were assembled in the cabin, with the exception of Allen, the watch; and his gigantic stature (he was six feet six inches in height) was too familiar in their eyes to permit the notion, that he was the apparition before them, to enter their minds even for an instant. Add to these considerations the awe-inspiring nature of the tempest, and that of the conversation brought about by Peters; the deep impression which the loathsomeness of the actual corpse had made in the morning upon the imaginations of the men: the excellence of the imitation in my person: and the uncertain and wavering light in which they beheld me, as the glare of the cabin lantern, swinging violently to and fro, fell dubiously and flitfully upon my figure, and there will be no reason to wonder that the deception had even more than the entire effect which we had anticipated. The mate sprang up from the mattress on which he was lying, and without uttering a syllable, fell back, stone dead, upon the cabin floor, and was hurled to the leeward like a log by a heavy roll of the brig. Of the remaining seven, there were hut three who had at first any degree of presence of mind. The four others sat for some time rooted apparently to the floor, the most pitiable objects of horror and utter despair my eyes ever encountered. The only opposition we experienced at all, was from the cook, John Hunt, and Richard Parker; but they made but a feeble and irresolute defence. The two former were snot instantly by Peters, and I felled Parker with a blow on the head from the pump-handle which I had brought with me.




Burton R. Pollin suggests in his checklist of Poe reviews (Poe Studies, 1980), that the author of this review was William Carpenter, the editor. In so doing, he has adopted the suggestion of J. Don Vann, “Three More Contemporary Reviews of Pym,” Poe Studies, December 1976, Vol. IX, No. 2, 9:43-44.



[S:0 - EUK, 1838] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Poe Bookshelf - Review of Narrative of A. G. Pym (Anonymous)