Text: N. P. Willis, “Poe’s Poets and Poetry of America,” Evening Mirror (New York, NY), March 1, 1845, vol. 1, no. 124, p. 2, cols. 2-3


[page 2, column 2, continued:]

Poe’s Poets and Poetry of America.

An hour’s lecture on this subject by Mr. Poe is but a “foot of Hercules,” and though one can see what would be the proportions of the whole, if treated with the same scope and artistic minuteness, it is a pity to see only the fragment. What we heart last night convinced us, however, that one of the most readable and saleable of books would be a dozen such Lectures by Mr. Poe, and we give him a publisher’s counsel to print them.

After some general remarks on poetry and the uses of impartial criticism, Mr. Poe gently waked up the American Poetesses. He began with Mrs. Sigourney, whom he considered the best known, and who, he seemed to think, owed her famousness to the same cause as “old Boss Richards” — the being “kept before the people.” He spoke well of her poetry abstractly, but intimated that it was strongly be-Hemans’d, and that without the Hemanshood and the newspaper iteration, Mrs. Sigourney would not be the first American Poetess. He next came to Mrs. Welby as No. 2, and gave her wholesome muse some very stiff laudation. Mrs. Osgood came next, and for her he prophesied a rosy future of increasing power and renown. He spoke well of Mrs. Seba Smith, and he spend some time in showing that the two Miss Davidsons, with all their merit, were afloat “on bladders in a sea of glory.” The pricking of these bladders, by the way, and the lettering out of Miss Sedgwick’s breath, and Professor Morse’s, and Mr. Southey’s, was most artistically well done.

Of the inspired males Mr. Poe only took up the copperplate five — BRYANT, HALLECK, LONGFELLOW, SPRAGUE and DANA. These, as having their portraits engraved in the frontispiece of Griswold’s “Poets and Poetry of America,” were taken to represent the country’s poetry, and dropped into the melting-pot accordingly. Mr. BRYANT came first as the allowed best poet; but Mr. Poe, after giving, him high praise, expressed a contempt for “public opinion,” and for the opinion of all majorities, in matters of taste, and intimated that Mr. Bryant’s universality of approval lay in his keeping within very narrow limits, where it was easy to have no faults. HALLECK, Mr. Poe praised exceedingly, repeating with great beauty of elocution his Marco Bozzaris. LONGFELLOW, Mr. Poe said, had more genius than any other of the five, but his fatal alacrity at imitation made him borrow, when he had better at home. SPRAGUE, but for one drop of genuine poetry in a fugitive piece was described by Poe as Pope and water. DANA found very little favour. Mr. Poe thought his metre harsh and awkward, his narrative ill-managed, and his conceptions eggs from other people’s nests. With the Copperplate Five, the criticisms abruptly broke off, Mr. Poe concluding his lecture with the recitation of three pieces of poetry which he thought had been mistakenly put away, by the housekeeper of the Temple of Fame, among the empty bottles. Two of them were by authors we did not know, and the third was by an author whom we have been exhorted to know under the Greek name of Seauton — (“gnothiseauton”) — ourself! (Perhaps we may be excused for mentioning that the overlooked bottle of us contained “Unseen Spirits” — and that the Brigadier, who gave us twenty dollars for it, thought it by no means “small beer!”)

Mr. Poe had an audience of critics and poets — between two and three hundred of [column 3:] victims and victimizers — and he was heard with breathless attention. He becomes a desk, — his beautiful head showing like a statuary embodiment of Discrimination; his accept drops like a knife through water, and his style is so much purer and clearer than the pulpit commonly gets or requires, that the effect of what he says, besides other things, pampers the ear. Poe’s late poem of “The Raven” embroidered him at once on the quilt of the poets; but, as the first bold traverse-thread run across the parallelisms of American criticism, he wants but a business bodkin to work this subordinate talent to great show and profit. We admire him none the less for dissenting from some of his opinions.




This article was reprinted in the Weekly Mirror, and later collected in The Prose Works of N. P. Willis, Philadelphia: Henry C. Baird, 1852, pp. 775-776.



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