Text: Edwin Percy Whipple, “Mr. Edgar A. Poe and the Defenders of His Chapter on Autography,” Boston Quarto Notion (Boston, MA), vol. I, no. 14, January 3, 1842, p. 219, cols. 1-2


[page 291, column 1, continued:]

MR. EDGAR A. POE AND THE DEFENDERS OF HIS CHAPTER ON AUTOGRAPHY. — A short time since we published some comments on the Chapter on Autography which appeared in Graham's Magazine for December, and took occasion to censure what we considered offensive peculiarities of the article. The Philadelphia Ledger and Spirit of the Times have animadverted upon our strictures in a spirt which betrays a greater desire to praise than to defend Mr. Poe. Both elude the real question. The article in the Spirit of the Times is the richest, and we will consider it first. After referring to our article as a piece of elaborate bitterness, our hostility to Mr. Poe's “chapter” is accounted for in a very remarkable way. We are called the “afflicted genius of the Times,” and accused of mortification is not having our own autograph “published among the rest,” and the piece closes with the following flourish:

“Mr. Poe, we believe, is generally allowed to be a gentleman of sound judgement and correct taste in literary matters, and as a critic, he is supposed to have few equals in this country. He has many other qualifications of which at present we deem it unnecessary to speak; but no one except the writer of the Times has ever thought of charging him with a want of critical impartiality. The stern justice of his critique is proverbial.”

Now we deny that to “the writer of the Times” belongs the merit of discovering the want of critical impartiality of Mr. Poe. We cannot claim the opinion as exclusively our own by right of discovery. It was found out long before our notice appears. But does the reader desire to know the cause of the puff in the Spirit of the Times? If he turn to the Chapter on Autography he will find the following:

“Mr. Du Solle is well known through his connection with the “Spirit of the Times.” His prose is forcible, and often excellent in other respects. As a poet, he is entitled to higher consideration. Some of his Pindaric pieces are unusually good, and it may be doubted if we have a better versifer [[versifier]] in America.”

Very good this. Well may the Spirit of the Times contend for Mr[[.]] Poe's “correct taste in literary matters,” “sound judgement,” and “critical impartiality.” And when it closes with the remark, “the stern justice of his criticisms is proverbial,” who does not see that it is equivalent to saying that the editor of that print has passed through the fiery furnace of criticism, and has not been found wanting? Well may he put on a big look, and from his elevated position look down upon us as an “afflicted genius?” We would, however, that he bore his new and unexpected elevation with more magnanimity of spirit. There is nothing so much becomes a man as meekness in prosperity. It is very natural that the Spirit of the Times should [column 2:] for the critical infallibility of Mr. Poe, as its own reputation rests upon the acknowledgment, but let it answer those who have the misfortune to doubt it with a little more respect for the courtesies of controversy.

In the Philadelphia Ledger there is a long piece against our article. From its appearance we should judge that it was inserted as an advertisement, and we trust that our friend Swain received a good round sum for publishing it. The writer evidently does not understand the distinction between severity and blackguardism, and his attempts at wit in connection with the latter quality, are of such melancholly important as to make one mourn over the occasional misdirection of the human faculties. It is evidently the production of one of Mr. Poe's will [[well]] meaning friends, who has been taken, like our friend of the Spirit of the Times, from the ranks of “afflicted genius,” and placed among the glorious company of authors who glitter in the “Chapter on Autography.” The writer in the Ledger accuses us of having been always hostile to Mr. Poe, and confounds the writer of a notice, which appears in the Times some two year ago, of Mr. Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, with the one who wrote the remarked on the Chapter on Autography. This is incorrect. The gentleman who described those tales as trash, was, it is true, long connected with the Times, and to his talents as a vigorous prose writer and good poet, we are ever willing to bear testimony, but he has been for more than a year beyond the reach of the clumsy ridicule of the Ledger, and it may afford an additional source of gratification to Mr[[.]] Poe's partizan, to know that he has been libelling the dead. With the correctness of that criticism we have nothing to do. In our observations on Mr. Poe's “Chapter” we did not attack him as a writer but as a critic. We though him then, as we think him now, prejudiced, presumptuous, and dogmatical in his criticisms.

Byron called Wordsworth a “pond poet,” — and said of Southey,

“He'd written much blank verse and blanker prose,

And more of both than any body knows.” —

and described Cowper as a “maniacal calvinist and coddled poet,” yet who that doubts the correctness of Byron's opinion in these particulars, thinks of calling him therefore an indifferent poet? Mr. Poe is no Byron, although Mr[[.]] Paulding may deem him the “best of our young writers and possibly of our old ones,” but any one may be allowed to consider him a very bad critic and at the same time allow him much praise as a poet of a novelist. About two or three months ago we extracted from the Gift, a tale written by Mr[[.]] Poe, because we thought it excellent of its kind. This would have been a better instance of seeming inconsistency to quote than the one referred to be the Ledger.

The Philadelphia print closes its budget with the following remarks:

“But the best of the joke remains. The paper in question is vehemently indignant with Mr. Poe for some apparently hostile remarks against the “Southern Messenger.” Of this journal Mr. P. is a warm advocate and fast friend. It has, moreover, always maintained the most friendly relations with Mr. P. The gentleman referred to as having vituperated Dickens has long ceased to write for its pages; and, lastly, the autograph article which originally appeared in the “Messenger” and Mr. Poe's severe criticisms against which have aroused the zealous ire of Mr. Cabbage, was written by no other individual than Mr. Edgar A. Poe himself.”

No, the “best of the joke” is that in our article on Mr[[.]] Poe we did not make even the most remote allusion to the Southern Literary Messenger, and therefore the above paragraph to us is perfectly meaningless. We believe that in another paper in this city, something was said about Mr. Poe's connection with that periodical, but we do not remember enough about it to solve the meaning continued in teh [[the]] “best joke” which the Ledger can boast. We do not expect that the “Mr. Cabbage” of the Ledger will do us justice, but we trust its “able and gentlemanly editor” will.





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