Text: Charles F. Briggs, “Mr Poe and the New York Literati,” Evening Mirror (New York), vol. IV, no. 41, May 26, 1846, p. 2, cols. 1-2


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MR POE AND THE NEW YORK LITERATI. — By force of advertisements and placards, Mr. Godey succeeded a month ago in apprising that portion of the public — a rather small one, by the by — who take an interest in literary matters, that Mr. Poe was coming down, upon the New York literati, in a series of papers in a Philadelphia magazine, with the force of a ‘thousand of brick’ and two or three thousand trip hammers, which would infallibly grind them — the literati of New York — into dust and powder, and create a sensation in the world, which it would be impossible to allay, by any possible amount of extra editions of the Lady’s Book. Those who knew Mr. Poe only smiled at such an announcement, and those who knew Mr. Godey, if there be any such in New York, put as much faith in the advertisement as they do in the announcement on the cover of his Lady’s Book, that it is the best magazine in the world, and that it has the greatest number of subscribers. Mr. Poe’s articles were to have still greater currency given them by uniting the Lady’s Book with Arthur’s Magazine, and publishing them with the latest Paris fashions, Americanized and expressed from Paris. A still greater impetus was to be given to Mr. Poe’s opinions; they were even to be accompanied with autographs of the New York Literati. It is said that all Division street was put in an uproar by this tremendous announcement, and two milliner’s apprentices never slept a wink one whole night, for thinking about it. Some of the students in Dr. Anthon’s grammar school made a pilgrimage to Bloomingdale to gaze upon the asylum where Mr. Poe was reported to be confined, in consequence of his immense mental efforts having turned his brain; and a certain great writer on small subjects, in Ann street, had serious thoughts of calling him the American Tasso; as to the New York literati, they all sat in their garrets shaking in their shoes, with their wives and children clinging to their knees, in fear. In short there was an earthquake among the literati and milliners. Mr. Godey was in Philadelphia all the while, as calm as a demon, smoking his cigar and writing advertisements of 2d Editions, and Mr. Poe was almost anywhere and in any situation which the mind could conceive.

At last the ‘honest opinions’ of Mr. Poe, and the Americanized fashions expressed from Paris, appeared together, and Mr. Godey himself says they are creating a great sensation throughout the country, which we believe: But the sensation, so far as we have had an opportunity of observing, has been one of disgust. We never before saw so much froth on so small a quantity of small beer. Mr. Godey, in a card published in the Mirror, a few day’s since, said that he had been advised to publish no more of Mr. Poe’s opinions, and we are surprised that he, Mr. Godey, did not take the advice; because we are sure that none but a very sincere friend could have advised him to do so very sensible a thing. His enemies, if he have any, and we do not see how so amiable a gentleman can have any, would have advised him to act directly contrary. It was a capital thought in Mr. Poe to call his opinions of the New York literati honest, to distinguish them from his other judgments, and because nobody but himself would ever be likely to apply such an epithet to them. People were looking for a furious unbottling of carboy’s of vitriol, torrents of aqua fortis, and demi-john’s of prussic acid. But instead of these biting, withering and scorching elements, what was our astonishment to find only a few slender streams of sugar house molasses and Godfrey’s cordial, trickling through the soft pages of Mr. Godey’s Lady’s Book. We were as much disappointed as though we had mixed a salad with eau sucre, instead of white vinegar. We had heard that Mr. Poe wrote with an antique stylus dipped in gall and mustard, and we find him using a crow quill and ink, ‘warranted free from corrosive qualities. Mr. Poe said a true thing of himself, in the preface to his opinions, in these words:

‘We place on paper, without hesitation, a tissue of flatteries, to which in society we could not give utterance, for our lives, without either blushing or laughing outright.’

In the two numbers already published of Mr. Poe’s ‘honest opinions,’ there are notices of fourteen gentlemen and one lady; of the fifteen persons, not more than half were ever heard of before as literati. The sketches are extremely slight, and of not the least consequence to anybody; three or four of them had already appeared in the Democratic Review, where they died a natural death. The opinion on Mr. Willis, who has no particular claim that we know of to be considered one of the literati of New York city, is the only one which makes any show of ability of analysis, or of knowledge. Of its fairness, the following extract will attest:

‘His success (for in point of fame, if of nothing else, he has certainly been successful) is to be attributed, one-third to his mental ability, and two-thirds to his physical temperament — the latter goading him into the accomplishment of what the former merely gave him the means of accomplishing.’

‘Mr. Willis speaks French with some fluency, and Italian not quite so well,’ says Mr. Poe, with a grand comme il faut air, as though he could speak French and Italian himself, which everybody knows he cannot do. But Mr. Poe thinks that Mr. Willis showed the greatest degree of ability, and gave the best evidence of possessing genius, by publishing a string of affidavits and certificates from my Lord knows who, in London, and the proprietors of certain tailors shops and boarding-houses in New York, in favor of his moral character, which had been attacked by the Courier & Enquirer. Well, if such ‘management’ as this be an evidence of genius, we know many a genius acting in the capacity of scullion, who always carry with them a certificate of character wherever they go. But Mr. Poe has a variety of ways of testing genius. He thinks the author of Tecumseh a genius, because he succeeded in obtaining 2500 subscribers for his Magazine in the first year of its establishment. One of his opinions is of a pot companion, contained in half a dozen lines, whose name appears for the first and probably for the last time, associated with the literati. Another is of somebody who, Mr. Poe says, never wrote three consecutive lines of grammatical English in his life. If this be true, his name has no right to be placed in a catalogue of the New York literati, nor of any other literati; but true or false, the opinion furnishes a key to Mr. Poe’s ‘honesty,’ and affords sufficient evidence that he can be guilty of the meanness of making attacks on individuals to gratify personal malice, as some of his ‘tissues of flatteries’ prove that he can be a toady when he has any thing to gain.

As to the independence for which we have heard Mr. Poe commended, we certainly have never seen so small an amount of that commodity in a literary review as is contained in his ‘honest opinions.’ There is but one mark of it in the whole series of his ‘literati,’ and that is so purely personal as to appear the very reverse. His patronising notices of Dr. Bush, Mr. Verplanck, and Dr. Anthon, are really the most laughable things in their way that we ever saw in print. He is about as capable of measuring either of these gentlemen as the frog in the fable of showing the dimensions of an ox. If he didn’t burst in the attempt, we came near doing so when looking at him.

We hope that Mr. Poe gets well paid for his ‘honest opinions,’ for we are sure that a man must be sadly in want of money who resorts to such methods of raising it, and we hope also that they may be the means of giving increased circulation to Mr. Godey’s book, for the same reason. Mr. Poe is the last man in the country who should undertake the task of writing ‘honest opinions’ of the literati. His infirmities of mind and body, his petty jealousies, his necessities even, which allow him neither time nor serenity for such work, his limited information on local subjects, his unfortunate habits, his quarrels and jealousies, all unfit him for the performance of such a duty, as the specimens already published abundantly prove. The folly and nonsense of Mr. Poe’s attempt are sufficiently apparent, but to any one who has read the sketches by Hazlitt of some of his contemporaries, they must appear monstrous. It is a matter of no consequence what the ‘literati’ themselves think of their delineator, no man is a proper judge of his [column 2:] own picture, but to gain the admiration or respect of the world, some degree of integrity, benevolence and power of characterization must be evinced. And these are just the qualities in which Mr. Poe’s opinions are lamentably deficient. We have no thought of reviewing Mr. Poe’s opinions, or we could enumerate numerous misstatements which are altogether inexcusable in such sketches. Opinions, whether they are called honest by their author or not, are always received under protest. We do not adopt another man’s opinion as an article of faith; but there should be no guesses at facts, which, to be of any value, must be truths.

Although we have laughed at Mr. Godey’s expressed — Americanized — Paris fashions, we have no wish to underrate his Lady’s Book, nor to dispute his announcement that it is “decidedly the most valuable monthly magazine now published,” for we know but little about it.

To conclude, after the fashion of our Thersitical Magazinist, Mr. Poe is about 39. He may be more or less. If neither more nor less, we should say he was decidedly 39. But of this we are not certain. In height he is about 5 feet 1 or two inches, perhaps 2 inches and a half. His face is pale and rather thin; eyes gray, watery, and always dull; nose rather prominent, pointed and sharp; nostrils wide; hair thin and cropped short; mouth not very well chiselled, nor very sweet; his tongue shows itself unpleasantly when he speaks earnestly, and seems too large for his mouth; teeth indifferent; forehead rather broad, and in the region of ideality decidedly large, but low, and in that part where phrenology places conscientiousness and the group of moral sentiments it is quite flat; chin narrow and pointed, which gives his head, upon the whole, a balloonish appearance, which may account for his supposed light-headedness; he generally carries his head upright like a fugleman on drill, but sometimes it droops considerably. His address is gentlemanly and agreeable at first, but it soon wears off and leaves a different impression after becoming acquainted with him; his walk is quick and jerking, sometimes waving, describing that peculiar figure in geometry denominated by Euclid, we think, but it may be Professor Farrar of Cambridge, Virginia fence. In dress he affects the tailor at times, and at times the cobbler, being in fact excessively nice or excessively something else. His hands are singularly small, resembling birds claws; his person slender; weight about uo or its pounds, perhaps the latter; his study has not many of the Magliabechian characteristics, the shelves being filled mainly with ladies magazines; he is supposed to be a contributor to the Knickerbocker, but of this nothing certain is known; he is the author of Politian, a drama, to which Professor Longfellow is largely indebted, it is said by Mr Poe, for many of his ideas. Mr. Poe goes much into society, but what society we cannot positively say; he formerly lived at West Point; his present place of residence is unknown. He is married.




A clipping of the original article may be found in the Mabbott Collection, University of Iowa. The authorship of the article is attributed Briggs in The Poe Log, p. 642.

This article was reprinted in the Weekly Mirror on May 30, 1846.

Poe printed a Reply in the Spirit of the Times, July 10, 1846



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