Text: Evert A. Duyckinck, “[Review of The Works of the late Edgar A. Poe],” Literary World (New York, NY), vol. 6, no. 156, January 26, 1850, p. 81


[page 81, column 2, continued:]


The Works of the late Edgar Allan Poe: with Notices of his Life and Genius. By N. P. Willis, J. R. Lowell, and R. W. Griswold. In two vols. J. S. Redfield.

FROM the announcement we expected a somewhat fuller account of the life of Mr. Poe than is furnished in the few pages prefixed to this collection of his writings. If we had considered carefully the character of the man's talent this expectation would have been found to be ill-founded. Poe was strictly impersonal; as greatly so as any man whose acquaintance we have enjoyed. In a knowledge of him extending through several years, and frequent opportunities, we can scarcely remember to have had from him any single disclosure or trait of personal character; anything which marked him as a mover or observer among men. Although he had travelled in distant countries, sojourned in cities of our own country, and had, at different times, under favorable opportunities, been brought into contact with life and character of many phases, he had no anecdote to tell, no description of objects, dress, or appearance. Nothing, in a word, to say of things. Briefly, he was what Napoleon named an ideologist — a man of ideas. He lived entirely apart from the solidities and realities of life: was an abstraction; thought, wrote, and dealt solely in abstractions. It is this which gives their peculiar feature to his writings. They have no color, but are in pure outline, delicately and accurately drawn, but altogether without the glow pow pulse of humanity. His genius was mathematical, rather than pictorial or poetical. He demonstrates instead of painting. Selecting some quaint and abstruse theme, he proceeds to unfold it with the closeness, care, and demonstrative method of Euclid; and you have, to change the illustration, fireworks for fire; the appearance of water for water; and a great shadow in the place of an actual, moist, and thunder-bearing sky. His indifference to living, flesh and blood subjects, explains his fondness for the mechanism and music of verse, without reference to the thought or feeling. He is therefore a greater favorite with scholars than with the people; and would be (as a matter of course) eagerly followed by at rain of poetastering imitators, odes to do them justice in a familiar image, “hear the bell ring and don’t know where the clapper hangs.” Poe is an object of considerable, or more than considerable size; but the imitation of Poe is a shadow indescribably small and attenuated. We can get along, for a while, on a diet of common air — but the exhausted receiver of the air-pump is another thing! The method and management of many of Mr. Poe's tales and poems are admirable, exhibiting a wonderful ingenuity, and completely proving him master of the weapon he had chosen for his use. He lacks reality, imagination, every-day power, but he is remarkably subtle, acute, and earnest in his own way. His instrument is neither an organ nor a harp; he is neither a King David nor a Beethoven, but rather a Campanologian, a Swiss bell-ringer, who from little contrivances of his own, with an ingeniously-devised hammer, strikes a sharp melody, which has all that is delightful and affecting, that is attainable without a soul. We feel greatly obliged [column 3:] to Messrs. Willis, Lowell, and Griswold, for helping to wheel forward into public view this excellent machine; to which Mr. Redfield has furnished an appropriate cloth and cover, with the performer's head, as large and as true as life, stamped on its front, in an excellent daguerreotype portrait.



The description of the cover, with a daguerreotype portrait, is curious. No copies of this set with an image of Poe stamped on the cover are known, certainly not “as large . . . as life.” The description may be a confusion of some sort in regard to the engraved frontispiece of the first volume. In 1850, it was not possible to reproduce photographs, except in the form of engravings or lithographs.


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