Text: Academicus, Delaware State Journal (Wilmington, DE), vol. XII, no. 10, January 2, 1844, p. 2, cols. 2-3


[page 2, column 2:]

For the Delaware Journal.


NEWARK, December 23d, 1843.

Mr. Editor: This evening I have had the pleasure of listening to the fourth of a series of Lectures got up in the Academy for the benefit of the students during the present term, but open to all who may choose to attend. The unprecedented state of our streets on which the skies had poured their burdens for ten days together; and the short and circumscribed notice, which a late change in the evening appointed for the Lecture, permitted to be given, occasioned a much thinner house, than more favourable circumstances would have brought out. As it was, however, we observed the Faculty of the College — the Teachers of the Academy — a large proportion of the students of both departments, as well as a considerable number of the more intelligent of the citizens of the place: — “fit audience tho’ few.”

The lecture was an eloquent production eloquently delivered by Edgar A. Poe, Esq. of Philadelphia and at present editorially connected with that best and most popular of our lighter monthlies — Graham’s Magazine. His theme was the “Poetry of America” — itself a topic particularly appropriate to one who has himself acquitted so honorable a place among the Poets of the land, and who has proven himself to possess in no small degree the high qualifications he demands in his brethren of the inspired pen. Mr. Poe is also well known as a fearless and perhaps somewhat severe critic of American Poesy and has not unfrequently brought down upon himself the wrath of many of the “genus irritable.” His right however to speak freely is one which by his own writings he has earned, and holds by the acknowledged law of Parnassus:

“Let such teach others who themselves excel

And censure freely who have written well.”

It is perfectly impossible to convey to a reader from the fragments preserved by not very faithful memory, any worthy impression of the rich tide of thought and imagery with which our Lecturer charmed his audience for almost two hours. . . . My design is more humble and will aim only to give to your readers a general sketch of the outlines of the discourse, with, however, the privilege reserved of enlarging a little upon some of its more interesting and prominent points.

After a graceful exordium and prospective apology for the foreseen necessary length of remarks designed to cover so wide a field, our Lecturer approached the body of his theme. The proper criterion by which we may safely judge of the present state of the poetic art in America and of the comparative excellence of the productions of our different bards first occupied his attention. In this part of the subject the system of puffery at present common with our newspapers, magazines, and even dignified reviews was most clearly and indignantly exposed and condemned. Editors of newspapers building up large Libraries for which they pay by wholesale and indiscriminate puffs of works whose title pages they have hardly had time to copy. — Authors reviewing and praising their own writings, or securing the bespoken praises of a friend — booksellers and publishers promoting the sale of their goods by measures equally corrupt, all received their full share of severe rebuke. The severities as well as the flatteries of the critical press were shown in many instances to spring from personal feelings and interests and the general proposition was well maintained, that the criticism of the American press, corrupt and venal as it has become, was not a fair mirror of the defects or of the excellences of American Poetry. While on the subject of criticism our Lecturer was especially witty and sarcastic in reference to a peculiar style of reviewing not unknown in New England, ‘yclept the “Transcendental.” The wonderful involutions and dislocations by which good English words were made to wrap up the fancies of their mis-users until the little sense that was intended was forever buried like the roman nymph, under the mass of its ornaments, were capitally parodied and exposed. In this connection also, the doctrine was advanced and by a very finely conducted argument enforced: — that the prime office of criticism was to detect and correct what was faulty, and not to point out or praise what was good.

After showing the incompetency of our criticism, as at present managed, to present a true picture of American Poetry, our Lecturer turned to an inspection of the works themselves of our poets — and especially to the several “collections” of American poetry which have successively appeared as representing the state of the art in our country. After a cursory examination and criticism of some five or six such “collections” in the order of their publication, the late compilation of Rev. Rufus W. Griswold, styled the “Poets and Poetry of America,” was introduced — as the last and best — tho’ by no means unobjectionable. This book and its author were handled by the critical Lecturer in not the most gentle manner. Many names had been inserted which Apollo would have refused and some (such as Morris and Conrad) left out, which the muses have acknowledged. The selections from those admitted have been made with a miserable want of judgment — the worst specimens being often chosen instead of the best, — and an extravagant proportion of space allotted to personal friends — altho’ inferior poets — (as in the case of Mr. Hoffman) — while superior merit has been put off with a single page. After thus preparing the way, some eight or ten of our lady poets were introduced one by one and dismissed to their appropriate seats in the temple of Fame, after whom, came the five steel plate faces of Mr. Griswold’s frontispiece, in their order — Dana, Bryant, Halleck, Sprague and Longfellow.

The whole was closed with a highly philosophical and eloquent discourse on the true end and province of poetry and condemnation of what the Lecturer was pleased to term “didacticism” of modern Poetry.

Such, Mr. Editor, is a brief sketch of one of the most interesting and instructive lectures I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. I have attempted but the merest skeleton, — for the life and beauty you must supply if you can, of Mr. Poe’s ever ready and ever beautiful imagery, and glowing diction. It would afford me pleasure to devote an hour or two to a review of some of the topics presented in the Lecture. The doctrines of the office of criticism — and of the End and Province of Poetry are those upon which I would most like to dilate: but the time is not now. Perhaps I may sometime again, if an opportunity should offer, attempt to sustain an appeal from the decisions pronounced by our Lecturer on these two topics.

We have some hopes of having another Lecture from Mr. Poe on the first Friday of January — and in the course of the winter we understand Lectures are expected from David Paul Brown, Esq., Revd. Dr. Parker, Revd. Mr. Brainerd, Hon. Charles Marim, [column 3:] Edward G. Bradford, Esq., and other prominent men from abroad, besides several of the members of our Faculty.





The Poe Society is indebted to Leigh D. Rifenburg of the Delaware Historical Society for providing a copy of the article for verifying the text. Most other reprintings omit portions of the article.

Ernest John Moyne suggests that Academicus may have been William S. Graham, the principal of the Newark Academy (see “Did Edgar Allan Poe Lecture at Newark Academy,” Delaware Notes, 26th Series, 1953, pp. 1-19).



[S:0 - DSJ, 1844] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - [Review of Poe's Lecture] (Academicus, 1844)