Text: Charles Anderson Dana, “[Review of Tales],” Harbinger (New York, NY), vol. I, no. 5, July 12, 1845, pp. 73-74


[page 73, column 3:]


Tales, by EDGAR A. POE. New York: Wiley and Putnam, 161 Broadway, 1845. pp. 228.

We have here the second Number of Messrs. Wiley and Putnam's Library of American Books, of which the first was noticed in last week's Harbinger.

By what strange means the present volume finds its way into a library of American Books we are not informed, and we suppose have no right to inquire. In this land of unbounded freedom every man can name his child Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, without any possibility of redress on the part of those injured worthies.

Mr. Poe might properly have divided his book into two parts, one of Tales the other, of Philosophical Sketches. In the Tales a peculiar order of genius is apparent. It might be called the intense order. To this there is one exception in which the author lays off the tragic mantle and gives his humor an airing. But that is intense also; — our readers shall have a specimen.

“At Chalk-Farm, the next morning, I shot off his nose, — and then called upon my friends.

‘Bete!’ said the first.

‘Fool!’ said the second.

‘Dolt!’ said the third.

‘Ass!’ said the fourth.

‘Ninny!’ said the fifth.

‘Noodle!’ said the sixth.

‘Be off!’ said the seventh.

At all this I felt mortified and so called upon my father.’

But the full glory of the book is not seen in its wit, which is merely by-play and alternation. When we come to “the general burst of terrific grandeur,” which makes our countenances ‘cadaverously wan’ with ‘an intensity of intolerable awe’, as ‘a flood of intense rays rolls throughout and bathes the whole in ghastly and inappropriate splendor’, we begin to be “oppressed by an excess of nervous agitation;” but when we have fairly heard the “one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman, — a howl, — a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony, and of the demons that exult in the damnation,” we can’t help saying to ourselves, — we now say it to the public, that Mr. Poe's Tales are absolutely overwhelming.

They remind us of the blue lights, the blood and thunder, and corked eyebrows of that boast of modern dramatic achievements, the melo-drama. — One more specimen.

“From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found [page 74:] myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters — and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the House of Usher.[[“]]

If our readers can get through this passage they have a most remarkable degree of insensibility. We had thought of introducing to them Mr Poe's Black Cat, ‘with red, extended mouth, and eye of fire’, but in mercy we forbear. We fear that they would be ‘overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror’ which might interfere with their proper attention to their business. - Among what might be called the Philosophic Sketches is one named ‘Mesmeric Revelation’, which we have seen before in the newspapers. We give the reader a touch of this philosophy, of which the manner is quite equal to the matter.

“The multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulæ, planets, suns, and other bodies which are neither nebulæ, suns, nor planets, is for the sole purpose of supplying pabulum for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a distinct variety of organic, rudimental, thinking creatures. In all, the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate life — immortality — and cognizant of all secrets but the one, act all things and pass everywhere by mere volition: — indwelling, not the stars, which to us seem the sole palpabilities, and for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created — but that SPACE itself — that infinity of which the truly substantive vastness swallows up the star-shadows — blotting them out as non-entities from the perception of the angels.”

But we spend too much time on this book. Its tales are clumsily contrived, unnatural, and every way in bad taste. There is still a kind of power in them; it is the power of disease; there is no health about them, they are alike in the vagaries of an opium eater. “An excited and highly distempered ideality throws a sulphurous lustre over all.” The philosophy of the book is of a similar character.





[S:0 - HBRG, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review Poe's Tales (C. A. Dana, 1845)