Text: George Washington Peck, “[Review of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe],” American Whig Review (New York, NY), vol. 5, no. 3, March 1850, pp. 301-315



MACAULAY, in the opening paragraphs of his essay on Lord Bacon, observes that the moral character of men eminent in letters or the fine arts is treated with tenderness by the world, because the world is disposed to be charitable to the faults of those who minister to its pleasure; and he proceeds to instance in his brilliant manner, “Falstaff and Tom Jones have survived the game-keepers whom Shakspeare cudgelled, and the land-ladies whom Fielding bilked,” &c. But if it be true that the world is most charitable to the characters of those who contribute most to its enjoyment, then the world is certainly not very delicate in its charity; for could it be ascertained, for example, that some other damsel than Anne Hathaway occupied the place that should have been hers during this very Shakspeare's long absence from her, even the telegraph lines, that give us the twilights of the foreign news before the sunrise of the newspapers, would be put in requisition to a the scandal; and could a secret correspondence, arising out of some such relation, be dug out of the British Museum, how quickly should we have it in cloth, in boards, in pamphlets for two shillings, and in the columns of extras for six-pence! So if we consider who those are who do really contribute most to the world's enjoyment, we shall easily conclude that they are the very ones to whom it is least kind, either while they are alive or after they are dead. It was not kind to Burns; it is not kind to any of those who are the life of the world, ‘the salt of the earth,’ who season and intensify [column 2:] it, each by some individual vitality; an eye, an ear, or an inward questioning, that must drink in beauty and must wrestle with itself, or not live; or else a strong fortitude that stands like a wall against woe and wrong, all-comprehending, all-feeling, and all-suffering, but unmoved in the faith of better things hereafter. The inferior organizations which make up the sum of being, do not so much honor these nobler spirits as they beat against them, like the rain, and the floods, and the wind, against the house that was founded upon a rock.

So far, therefore, from admitting the universality of Macaulay's law, we look upon it as only one of the natural superficialities of an acute Scotchman. We are too deeply steeped, to relish speculation which goes no deeper than this, in the metaphysics of VON DENCKEN, that most indefatigable of Dutch philosophers, from whom we will translate a paragraph for the benefit of readers who may not have had access to him.

“As in the material world, so the chemist tells us, nothing is ever lost, though the forms of things change; the tree grows and decays; the fire separates the coal into its various products; metals oxydize, and the water that ascends in vapor descends in rain; so it seems to be in the immaterial world: of that breath of life which was breathed into Man at the creation, and whereby he became a ‘living soul,’ not an atom has left him, though it is ever manifesting its presence in such an infinity of shapes. For since there is the same amount of matter now in the world as there was at the end of the creation, why should not analogy [page 302:] teach us that there is likewise the same amount of life? The world may be more populous now than it was in the centuries immediately succeeding Adam, though the names of the patriarchs are supposed to stand for tribes, but even if they are for individuals, what a developement [[development]] of strength must there have been in the antediluvian ages, when the vigor of a single human being outlasted a period as long as might be occupied by one who should have been born before the first crusade and have a century yet to live! And in proof that their lives were as comprehensive as ours, we have the mountain-like ruins of their cities; and their maxims, their poetry, and their religion, have come down to us. They were as wise in their generation as we are in ours.

“But in those old, pastoral days, the changes in the combinations of spirit and matter, in humanity, did not take place so rapidly as they do now when the earth is so much more subdued to man's uses. There is now a more violent ebullition, and the streams of bubbles chase each other upward, and change and shift more rapidly. Our bodies are frailer, and we pass through our little cycles subject to infinitely more numerous pertrubing influences. At least, this is true just in these few civilized families, and especially in the new continent of America, to which the nations are crowding.

“Yet, even there, the process goes on, similar to growth and decay in vegetable life, by which nothing of the divine breath is lost, but it only enters into new combinations, to re-appear in other forms. No man can live and die in any contact with his species, without all that was peculiar in him having its effect upon, or, so to speak, combining with, his contemporaries and successors; and especially in those callings which bring individuals to be known of great numbers of their fellows, may this be observed.

“Let us,” proceeds Von Dencken, “consider the case of authors. Whoever writes a book and publishes it, if he has ability enough to attract readers, will be sure, in the end, to have all that which was real truth in it, with regard to himself, found out and duly weighed. However different his organization may have been from the common one; if even all that was easy to others was to him difficult; however much his temper may have been exacerbated by cares that others could not feel, and views they could neither see nor understand — in the end, all that was singular in the composition of his spirit will be again received into the ocean of existence through the raindrop tears of joy or grief, or the silent absorption of the soil of kindred minds. The balance of vitality will be maintained.

“And this not through any particular lenience of the world to ‘the faults of genius,’ [column 2:] for no such lenience exists. But the inquiring soul of man will not rest, where it sees aught peculiar, until it has ascertained the whole. And when it sees, for instance, in a single case, that ‘here was a delicate and beautiful crystal of a being, which could not have grown into any other shape but this, could not have transmitted to us any but this sombre light,’ it will look into itself and observe its own tendencies towards a similar destiny, and will spontaneously endeavor to master them. Thus, what wrought unto death in the original, is in the next taken as a healthful assimilant. All that the original suffered in overcoming, is saved to the next combination, so far as that particular element is concerned. What a centralization of soul-vigor took place in Homer, who could master so well the beauties of speech, and music, as to inform the mind of so many nations, through so many centuries! The fire is immortal, and will never be extinguished by diffusion. So, too, those great English poets, whom I delight to study, Shakspeare and Milton; they were so individual, and so capable to endure so much, both of the good and evil of life, that they have imparted strength to their whole nation, who are never weary of inquiring and thinking of them, and of how the world must have appeared to them. The real part of them, the true vitality of their souls, not the mere bodily power, but that by which they could endure and overcome, knowing, and looking down upon it from an assumed region of thought — this was so much more comprehensive and powerful than the same quality in any other writers, that they have exalted the level of life in their whole nation. All intelligent English spirits have some affinity with them.

“Yet, a daily life,” continues the philosopher, “even with gentle Will, as they termed him, might not have been so pleasant as would at first be thought; and, surely, one might have selected a more agreeable domestic companion than the author of Paradise Lost. But, whatever mere infirmities of temper these men may have had, they had them in common with thousands who could not have suffered half so keenly as they, nor have lifted a finger to conquer. Hence it is that the world is sometimes thought to pardon too easily the faults of such men; when in reality it does not so much esteem them faults as the necessary consequences of certain organizations. Milton could not but have been passionate; but he teaches us to control passion. Shakspeare may have been too worldly and unsympathetic; the danger is that he makes us too thoughtful and generous to rise in the world. The vigor they had, lives and is immortal; their weakness has passed away along with the weakness of ten thousand other men. They have carried many souls upward [page 303:] to elevations which those souls, by their own powers, could never have reached, nor maintained — carried them there, it may be, in thousands of cases, while they, by reason of innate weakness, were ever falling into vices and crimes which would have otherwise absorbed their whole being. Thus the growth of spirit goes on in the universe, somewhat like the Aurora Borealis, when its spires shoot up fitfully in a long line across the arctic sky; now and then comes one more brilliant than its fellows, but the general sum of light is always the same; if we imagine an interdependence among the rays, so that each shall operate upon all near it in the ratio of the strength of each, we shall have a perfect exemplification of the manner in which the spirits of men Operate upon one another, and by which a constantly disturbed, yet never changing equilibrium of ‘the breath of life’ is maintained throughout the race of mankind.”

Thus for Von Dencken. We have not quoted this illustrious philosopher here to introduce our notice of Poe with an apology for his faults, but to indicate the point of view from which we design to contemplate him. We intend to consider him, not as & phenomenon, as an organic human being; to judge from what we read of his writings, and are informed of his life, what was his peculiar cast of soul; and thence to inquire how far he, a very feeble individual in body, certainly, and subjected to singular accidents, played a man's part on the stage of existence. This we shall endeavor to do through an estimate of his characteristics as a writer — since it is only as a writer, born with a peculiar spirit, and bred and living under peculiar circumstances, that the world has any concern with him. The mortal of him has returned to the dust; his imperfections, which remain in the memories of those who knew him, were better forgotten; since it aids none of us to remedy our own short-comings, to remember those of others after they are gone. According to the Von Denckenian theory, it is only with his peculium — the vital part of that combination of spirit and matter which erewhile walked these streets under the style of POE — that we have aught to do; for the reason that it is this part only, this individual vitality, to use the philosopher's nomenclature, which can combine with new affinities and re-enter the general soul of the universe — the man himself having departed, (upward, we trust, since [column 2:] he held his face upward while here, through much oppression and depression) but his spiritual vigor being left to diffuse itself among his countrymen.

In the first place, then, Pos, in all his writings included here, appears as a pure-minded gentleman — of a strange fancy, it is true, but never low or mean. He always addresses his readers in a scholarly attitude. He interests them through the better nature; he holds the mind's eye with singular pictures, or draws the understanding into curious speculations, but in the wildest of his extravagancies he does not forget his native dignity. Considering how difficult, not to say how impossible, it would have been for him to have done this amidst all the excitements of his feverish life, had it not been real and natural to him, we cannot but believe him to have been actually and in his very heart, what he appears in his pages.

Secondly, he seems to us to have been originally one of the most sensitive of men, and subject to peculiar nervous depressions; at the same time so constituted that his normal and healthful condition was one which required a great elevation of the spirits. If we imagine an extremely sensitive boy, full of fun and harmless mischief, suddenly chilled into a metaphysician, but with his early state still clinging to him, we think we have Poe precisely. No human being can be more ill-fitted for the struggle of life than such an one. The realities of existence overwhelm him; what excites others to press onward crushes him; their joy is his grief; their hope his despair; all his emotions become so intense and intolerable that he cannot endure them, and wildly endeavors to stifle feeling. Charles Lamb was constituted very much after this manner: he cried at weddings and laughed at funerals; but he had habits of study, the influence of strong intellects, duty to his sister, and, perhaps, the fear of insanity, to restrain him.

Besides, Lamb's mind, though clear, was anything but mathematical in its tendencies; while with Poe's, this was a marked trait. Originally gifted with peculiar perceptions of the beauty of form, and of a disposition apt to perceive symmetrical relations both in things and ideas, Poe, when the blight came, found refuge in following out chains of thought in harmony with the [page 304:] gloom that enshrouded him. Instead of avoiding the shadow he would boldly walk into it and analyze it. Hence comes his peculiar power. No writer ever understood better how to work upon the nervous system. He must have been able, one would think, to master the horror of the most awful night-mare that ever visited a dyspeptic couch, to have faced his own conceptions, and yet we can see often in his tales, glimpses of the native boyish glee that must have once been his life, and which still lurks behind his haunted imagination. And not only in his fancy, but apparently in his whole nature did the actual press upon him so heavily that his original youth was borne down, and he appeared to the world as through an inverting lens. The necessities from without, arising in part from his inward constitution,

“Shook so his single state of man, that function

Was smothered in surmise; and nothing was,

But what was not.”

He himself, in reasoning upon it, seems to have reproached himself for it as a crime, when it was no more a crime than the despondency of Cowper. Several passages in his tales, though they touch the individual experience of every reader, seem to come from him like confessions. For example:

“And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of Perverseness. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such?”

And again, in the tale, “The Imp of the Perverse,” we have the following characteristic passage:

“We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it [column 2:] shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow;and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with ita more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!

“We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness, and dizziness, and horror, become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, the cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice's edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius, or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore, do we the more impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves back ward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.”

There can be no doubt that this infirmity was experienced by Poe, almost as intensely as he has here represented it. [page 305:]

With the superficial there is only one name for any mental affliction which prevents a man from laboring when he has apparently every motive to labor, and every necessary ability. They call it “idleness,” and they fancy that he who is thus afflicted is enjoying the luxury of repose, at the very moment when he is powerless under the torture of anxiety.

There was a true philosophy in the reply of the lusty beggar to the farmer, who asked him why he did not go to work — “Oh,” said he, ‘’if you only knew how lazy I am!” He was above conventional notions, in the region of ultimate truth. The curse that was laid on the ground for Adam's sake bore so heavily on him that he could not find sufficient resolution to strive against it. Nevertheless, he was certainly a free and original thinker, and the story goes, that the farmer appreciated the sublimity of his answer.

But Poe, with all this depression or over-excitement, call it what we please, bearing upon him, inverting his original nature and rendering him incapable of self-control, was anything but an idle man. These tales and poems are not the offspring of an indolent brain. They are wrung from a soul that suffered and strove; from a fancy that was driven out from the sunny palaces of youth and hope, to wander in

“A wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,

Out of space — out of Time.”

Even the bulk of what he has written is considerable, as here collected, and these are only the cream of a great mass of writing.

Estimated by its quality, however, and compared with the productions of any of our writers of the same age, we think that Poe did his work as well as the best of them. The material he wrote in was finer. The class of readers whom he will find most favor with, are those of delicate fancies and who are subject to gloomy forebodings — a more numerous class than is often supposed, and of far more consequence — for though the politicians, the hard, noisy, impudent, and ambitious, do the work of governing the earth, it is the meek and patient who inherit it.

With Poe, as with all men of genius, there was an ever-abiding consciousness of the presence of Death. He delighted to [column 2:] look the destroyer in the face and to trick him out in theatrical horrors. With some there is a constant gnawing fear of the monster, and they avert their eyes from him, or now and then steal shuddering glances askance; with others there seems to be an utter inability to realize that they are immortal — that after a few years at most, of inevitably decreasing capacity for enjoyment, their souls will be in heaven or hell, and their bodies in the grave — the sun shining above and the throng of the living pressing on as before. For either of these kinds of readers, Poe's stories must be healthy diet; for the first, because he goes beyond their utmost agonies of apprehension, and stales and tames them; for the second, because he frightens their consciences — makes them wake and shudder, and form good resolutions, in the still watches of the night.

In several passages in his tales Poe has, unintentionally personated himself:

‘My fancy grew charnal. I talked ‘of worms, of tombs and epitaphs.”

And again, in the same sketch, he takes us into the very gates of death:

“It might be asserted without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs — the stifling fumes of the damp earth — the clinging to the death garments — the rigid embrace of the narrow house — the blackness of the absolute Night — the silence like a sea that overwhelms — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm — these things, with thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed — that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead — these considerations, I say, carry into the heart which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil.”

Even where he does not deal directly with Death, he delights to take up and draw elaborately some one of those gloomy clouds that roll upward from the dark abyss. This is so well known to be his forte that we need give only one or two examples, and those such as will also illustrate presently a remark on his manner and style. The opening of “The Fall of the House of [page 306:] Usher,” is wilder and profounder than the introduction to Der Freyschutz:

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, [had been passing along on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found alt as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say, insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me — upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain; upon the bleak walls; upon the vacant eye-like windows; upon a few rank sedges; and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees; with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium; the bitter lapse into everyday life; the hideous dropping off the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart; an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it; I paused to think; what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as! pondered. I was forced to fall a upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possble [[possible]], I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or spam to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and acting upon this idea I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down — but with a shudder even more thrilling than before — upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and play windows.”

What a Salvator Rosa-like landscape is that which occurs in the course of “The Gold Bug:”

“We crossed the creek at the head of the island by means of a skiff, and, ascending the

high grounds on the shore of the main land, proceeded in a northwesterly direction, through [column 2:] a tract of country excessively wild and desolate, where no trace of a human footstep was to be seen. Legrand led the way with decision; pausing only for an instant, here and there to consult what appeared to be certain landmarks of his own contrivance upon a former occasion.

In this manner we journeyed for about two hours, and the sun was just setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary than any yet seen. It was a species of table land, near the summit of an almost inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the soil, and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves into the valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against which they reclined. Deep ravines in various directions, gave an air of still sterner solemnity to the scene.”

And in the “M.S. found in a bottle,” we have a sea view from an ocean that had not been visited before, since the voyage of the Ancient Mariner:

“Our course for the first four days was, with trifling variations, S. E. and by S.; and we must have run down the coast of New Holland. On the fifth day the cold became extreme, although the wind had hauled round a point more to the northward. The sun arose with a sickly yellow lustre, and clambered a very few degrees above the horizon, emitting no decisive light. There were no clouds apparent, yet the wind was upon the increase, and blew with a fitful and unsteady fury. About noon, as nearly as we could guess, our attention was again arrested by the appearance of the sun. It gave out no light, properly so called, but a dull and sullen glow without reflection, as if all its rays were polarized. Just before sinking within the turgid sea, its central fires suddenly went out, as if hurriedly extinguished by some unaccountable power. It was a dim, silver like rim alone, as it rushed down the unfathomable ocean.”

It is good to remain as child-like in our perceptions and affections as we can. Childdren [[Children]] are the most catholic of readers: only interest them and nothing comes amiss. One who can, like them, pass from the lively dialogue of Dumas, to these pictures of concentrated mysterious apprehension, and find amusement in both, will be likely never to die of ennui.

Many of these tales, if not all, were hastily written, and, they are therefore often fragmentary and imperfect. Sometimes the plot is too obvious and the secret is out too soon; in others, the particular horror is [page 307:] too horrible to be contemplated, however artistically it might be veiled. But in all, wherever Poe gives his dreaming fancy any play, it never fails to paint vividly. Take its pictures altogether, and they belong to a new school of grotesque diablerie. They are original in their gloom, their occasional humor, their peculiar picturesqueness, their style, and their construction and machinery. Of their gloom we have just spoken.

The balloon of Hans Pfaall, seen by the citizens of Rotterdam, and made of dirty newspapers, is a touch of Poe's original playfulness. So also the negro in the “Gold Bug;” the “Balloon Hoax,” is the work of a born quiz; “Some words with a Mummy,” “Hop Frog,” “Bon Bon,” “The Devil in the Belfrey,” “Lionizing,” and many more, show how full he naturally was of boyish feeling. They are mere trifles to please children; but then he was a child who wrote them — he never got over being a child.

The fate of Mr. Toby Dammit, in the sketch “Never bet the Devil your Head,” is an awful warning — one which even now it is impossible to contemplate without emotion. He bet the Devil his head that he could leap over a certain stile; it happened that above the stile was a thin flat bar of iron, which he did not perceive, and which shaved his head clean off. Our author gives the conclusion:

“He did not long survive his terrible loss. The homeopathists did not give him little enough physic, and what little they did give him he hesitated to take. So in the end he grew worse, and at length died, a lesson to all riotous livers. I bedewed his grave with my tears, worked a bar sinister on his family escutcheon, and for the general expenses of his funeral, sent in my very moderate bill to the transcendentalists. The scoundrels refused to pay it, so I had Mr. Dammit dug up at once, and sold him for dog's meat.”

What a bold comparison we have in “The Duc de L’Omelette,” where the hero is taken by Baal-Zebub into the enchanted chamber.

“It was not its length nor its breadth, but its height; oh, that was appalling! There was no ceiling, certainly none; but a dense whirling mass of fiery colored clouds. His Grace's brain reeled as he glanced upwards. From above hung a chain of an unknown [column 2:] blood-red metal, its upper end lost, like the city of Boston, parmi les nues.”

In the “Rationale of Verse,” a not very clear essay, but one abounding in acute suggestion, we have plenty of examples of a like pleasant sarcasm. Indeed, throughout these writings there is enough to show that their author, as is generally true of such spirits, was no less sensitive to the laughable than to the horrible. Indeed, had life gone happily with him, it is possible he might have been only known as one of the gay spirits of fashionable society.

With respect to Poe's style, the extracts above given from “The Gold Bug,” “the M.S. found in a bottle,” &c., exhibit his affluence of musical variety in expression, and command of words.

One more extract we must give, not only for its eloquence, but in illustration of our theory, that Poe was one originally so sensitive, the first breath of the world withered him; so that he was benumbed, and fancied he had outlived his heart:

“She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came upon that vale: for it lay faraway up among a range of giant hills that hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and to reach our happy home, there was need of putting back with force, the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers. Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley, — I, and my cousin, and her mother.

“From the dim regions beyond the mountains at the upper end of our encircled domain, there crept out a narrow and deep river, brighter than all save the eyes of Eleonora; and winding stealthily about in mazy courses, it passed away at length, through a shadowy gorge, among hills still dimmer than those whence it had issued. We called it the “River of Silence; for there seemed to be a hushing influence in its flow. No murmur arose from its bed, and so gently it wandered along, that the pearly pebbles upon which we loved to gaze, far down within its bosom, stirred not at all, but lay in a motionless content, each in its own old station, shining on gloriously forever. [page 308:]

“The margin of the river, and of the many dazzling rivulets that glided through devious ways into its channel, as well as the spaces that extended from the margins away down into the depths of the streams, until they reached the bed of pebbles at the bottom, — these spots, not less than the whole surface of the valley, from the river to the mountains that girdled it in, were carpeted all by a soft green grass, thick, short, perfectly even, and vanilla-perfumed, but so besprinkled throughout with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel, that its exceeding beauty spoke to our hearts in loud tones, of the love and of the glory of God.”

Poor Poe! It was a sad day for him when he was forced from dreams like these into the real world, where there are so many “far wiser” than he. No wonder he sometimes lost heart and temper, and soon died!

We have observed that Poe is original, not only in his gloom, his humor, and so forth, but also in the construction of his tales. Indeed, it is for this he has been most found fault with. It is said he wrote his things “on a plan.” It is not denied that he contrives to get up an interest; but it is objected that he does it systematically, foreseeing the end from the beginning, laying out his work, and deliberately going through it.

But is not this really an argument in his favor? The painter composes “on a plan;” he touches not his canvas till his whole design is sketched, or laid out perfectly, in his mind; he must do so. Still more is this true (though we are aware it is not generally thought so) with the musical composer; everything is so calculated beforehand, the composition may be said to exist in his mind, exactly in reverse order; in the freest style, the climax is the first thing conceived, and to which the rest is adjusted. And in writing plays, must not the plot be first established, and then elaborated? Does any one suppose that Shakspeare did not foreknow the action of Hamlet, when he sat himself to write it? or that he improvised Macbeth? or that he could elaborate that singular texture of plots, the Midsummer Night's Dream, by the Dumas process of accretion? Surely those who think so cannot understand any, the simplest work of art, in its entirety. For a work of art is not a heap of things built [column 2:] up, and to which more may be joined; it is, like the French Republic, “tone and indivisible.” If you take away aught from it, it is incomplete; if you add, you put on whet does not belong to it. Even so simple a work of art as a house, must be built “on a plan,” or it will be only a conglomeration of rooms; and whenever it is completed, whatever is added is very properly styled an “addition.” The pen in our hand, we could not have made it without definite design. Why should we not have tales constructed on such plots as it will best excite a continued interest to unravel?

Why — because the present day seems to abound in little writers, who make much noise, but whose minds have no strength, no connection of ideas; no dependence of thought upon thought; nothing that enchains the reader, and goes on developing, from sentence to sentence. paragraph to paragraph, and page to page. We have many among us of this stamp, whom it is impossible to read without confusion. Of course all such are the natural foes of order, prolonged interest, and grand emotion. They wish to go from thing to thing; to feel only themselves; to smatter, and dogmatize, and talk — talk — talk. O, how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable is all they have to utter!

Again; it has been objected to Poe's stories and poems, that they are abstract, unlike anything in real life, out of all experience, and touching no human sympathy. As to the abstractness and remoteness from experience, if these be faults, God help the wicked! for the author of Paradise Lost is surely damned; but as to their coldness and incapacity to touch human sympathy, that we utterly deny. We are unable to perceive, from these harmless little sketches and verses, a reason for all that has been said of Poe's coldheartedness, “cynicism,” want of moral sense, and so on. It must be admitted, however, that if the friendship manifested in these biographical prefixes was the warmest he could inspire, he was certainly one of the most unfortunate men that ever lived. But to judge him purely as he appears in his own writing, we do not see but that he had as much “heart”’ as other men — as much, at least, as other literary men who have resided as long as he did in this [page 309:] “commercial metropolis.” To be sure, his disposing of the remains of his friend Mr. Toby Dammit in the manner he did, after the transcendentalists refused to bear the expenses of that gentleman's funeral, was out of the common way; but who ever heard Dr. Southwood Smith accused of inhumanity for dissecting his friend Jeremy Bentham?

All these objections and accusations appear to us to have arisen from two sources; first, his success in gaining, at once, what so many would give their eyes for, viz.: a reputation; and, secondly, his frankness, or want of self-respect. This leads us to speak of his poetry, and of what he has related respecting his mode of writing it.

Coleridge, speaking of some of his own poems, observes: “In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical ballads;’ in which it was agreed that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or, at least, romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest, and a semblance of truth, sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” ———— “With this view I wrote the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ and was preparing, among other poems, the ‘Dark Ladie,’ and the ‘Christobel,’ in which I should have more nearly realized my ideal, than I had done in my first attempt.”

From this extract we learn that even that most fanciful of modern poems, the “Ancient Mariner,” was written in conformity with a specific purpose, if not “on a plan.” Doubtless, also, had it served its author's purpose to enlighten us concerning the manner of his composition, he could have done so; for, the existence of a design argues forethought in execution. How certain words, rhymes, and similes came into his mind, he could not have told; but why he chose that peculiar metre, or, at least, that he chose a metre, he could have told, and also many other incidents of the poem's composition.

Poe has done this with regard to “The Raven;” a much shorter piece, and one admitting a more regular ingenuity of construction — but still a poem full of singular beauty. His opening remarks in this analysis show the perfect frankness, or indifference with which he sets to work to dispel his own conjurations:

“I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would — that is to say, who could — detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say — but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers — poets in especial — prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy — an ecstatic intuition — and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought — at the true purposes seized only at the last moment — at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view — at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable — at the cautious selections and rejections — at the painful erasures and interpolations — in a word, at the wheels and pinions — the tackle for scene-shifting — the step-ladders and demon-traps — the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”

In what follows, wherein he goes minutely into his process of composition, though, in general, true, he was probably misled by the character of his mind, his love of speculation, his impatience of littleness, the “perverseness” we have claimed for him, and a secret delight in mystifying the foolish — to make it appear that he wrote the whole poem, as he would have demonstrated a problem, and without experiencing any state or phase of elevated feeling. The poem itself is so sufficient an evidence to the contrary, and Poe, in his explanation, in its mode of construction, “The Philosophy of Composition,” has carried his analysis to such an absurd minuteness, that it is a little suprising [[surprising]] there should be any verdant enough not to perceive he was “chaffing.” He was enough a boy in his feelings to take delight in quizzing. What are most of his stories, but harmless hoaxes? Horrible faces grin at us in them out of the darkness; but at the end comes the author, shews them to be nothing but pumpkin lanterns, and cries “sold!” in our faces.

Probably there is not, in all poetry or prose, an instance where language is made [page 310:] to present a more vivid picture to the fancy than in this poem. The mysterious introduction, the “tapping,” the appearance of the Raven, and all his doings and sayings, are so perfectly in character, (we were once, many years ago, the “unhappy master” of one of these birds, who, it was evident, were in league with the devil,) that we seem actually to see him:

“Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore,

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

“Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou, I said, ‘art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!’

Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’ ”

Perhaps Poe would tell us that, in writing these stanzas, having determined, upon good reasons, to introduce the Raven in some fantastic manner, he then considered what motions a bird of that species would be likely to make, and finally concluded to choose the most natural, as being the most fantastic; and thus, at length, after looking his dictionary, pitched upon the word “flirt,” which Johnson defines to mean “a quick, elastic motion,” as most suited to his purpose; then, finally, connected with it “flutter,” not so much to add to the meaning, as for the convenience of the rhyme with “shutter.” And for such harmless “philosophy of composition” as this, he must be set down for a man of no heart!

To our apprehension, it is quite impossible that most of the words and phrases in these two stanzas could have been chosen in any other than an elevated state of feeling — a condition when

“The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, [column 2:]

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

The “stately Raven,” coming in with “many a flirt and flutter;” the “saintly days of yore” — what days? where? when?; the “obeisance,” “mein of lord or lady,” how picturesque! And in the second stanza every line is the offspring of the highest power of poetic vision; “grave and stern decorum,” and

“Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore,

Tell me what thy lordly name is ON THE NIGHT'S PLUTONIAN SHORE!”

— where is this “Nightly shore,” which we recognize as familiar, like the scenery of a dream that we never saw before? We seem to have heard of it and to know of it, and yet it is a perfectly new region. There is an indescribable power in the sound of these words, as also in the march of the lines which precede it. As the product of a pure vividness of fancy, and a sustained intense feeling, they are as remarkable as any similar passages in our poetic literature.

The natural expression of intense or elevated feeling is music. Hence in all poetry which has this characteristic, (and all poetry has it in greater or less degree,) language is used with a power independent of its meaning to the understanding. The musical expression strives to predominate; and it is so ardent that it can even color with its fiery glow the cold and unmelodious sounds of articulate speech; under its influence the syllables of words fall into rythmic forms, and the mere confined range of the vowel sounds and the ordinary inflections of sentences, become a chant.

In Shakspeare, the understanding was so alert that it rarely yields to the feeling, without evidence of a mighty conflict; generally the result is rather a thought-exciting struggle than a triumphant victory. Perhaps there is no instance in his blank verse, where the musical expression so entirely overpowers the other, that words have a sense entirely independent of their meaning. Butthen how beautifully both effects are sometimes blended: —

“The murmuring surge,

That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes,

Cannot be heard so high.” [page 311:]


“let the brow overwhelm it,

As fearfully as doth a galled rock,

O’erhand and jutty his confounded base,

Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.”

Or, perhaps the finest instance is from the chorus before King Henry's speech:

“Suppose that you have seen

The well-appointed King at Hampton Pier

Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet

With silken streamers the young Phœbus fanning.

Play with your fancies; and in them behold,

Upon the hempen tackle, ship-boys climbing:

Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give

To sounds confused: behold the threaden sails,

Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,

Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,

Breasting the lofty surge. O do but think,

You stand upon the rivage, and behold


It is only in his ballads, however, where he abandons himself more entirely to the emotion, that the musical element so predominates as to render its effect the primary one. Perhaps the dirge in Cymbeline,

“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, &c.”

the serenade in the same play;

“Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,”

and the ballad in “Love's Labor Lost,”

“When daisies pied and violets blue,”

are the readiest examples.

But even here, though the primary effect of the words is a musical one, that is, one arising from their sound, in that we read them and feel their expression, while our idea of their meaning is indistinct; yet when we come to examine them, we find that they have more than an indistinct

meaning — a perfectly plain one — so plain that we wonder it does not strike us at first, (though, familiar as they are, it never does).

But in Milton, and sometimes in others, we have examples where not only the primary, but the sole effect of the words is musical, the meaning being indistinct. He had a meaning, but we enjoy the effect, so far as it is purely poetic, without understanding what is said, and entirely through the sound of of [[sic]] the words. Thus his mere catalogues of names, of which we understand nothing definite, affect us poetically. For example, the passage in Lycidas: —

“Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,

Sleeps’t by the fable of Bellerus old, [column 2:]

Where the great vision of the guarded mount,

Looks towards Namancos and Bayona's hold;”

How few who have felt the sense of grandeur, vastness, and antiquity here expressed, understand “the fable of Bellerus,” or have a place for Namancos and “Bayona's hold,” in their geography? And again: —

“As when far off at sea a fleet descry’d,

Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds,

Close sailing from Bengala, or the isles

Of Ternate and Tidore, whence merchants bring

Their spicy drugs.”

We have a distinct recollection what a thrill of pleasure it gave to learn long ago at school, where those islands really were; before that it had been sufficient for their poetic effect to know that they were islands; now, of course, we enjoy in addition to the poetry, the pride of knowledge. But passages in illustration of the musical effect are in Milton without number. Indeed, the whole poem, it is possible to conceive, might be enjoyed by that order of minds, which have only elevated feelings, without clear ideas.

When the gryphon pursues the Arimaspian, few stop to inquire what a gryphon is, who is an Arimaspian, and what pursuit is alluded to; so far as the idea is concerned, it might as well read for “gryphon,” tomson, and for “ Arimaspian,” Poliopkian.

“And all who since, baptized or infidel,

Jousted in Aspramont or Montalban,

Damasco, or Morocco, or Trebisond,

Or whom Biserta sent from Afric's shore,

When Charlemain, with all his peerage, fell

By Fontarabia.”

So not only in these sublime cadences, but in the common expression of the whole poem, the musical so overpowers the logical, that it is possible to feel and relish the. qualities of the poetry, with only an indistinct notion of the meaning. Thus, in the comparison of the swarm of locusts “ warping on the wind,” the word has so lost its old significance that the meaning is not plain, yet the sound and rythm [[rhythm]] of the lines do all but create. So in descriptions of architecture, ‘’ golden architrave,” and

“Cornice or frieze, with bossy sculptures graven,”

few boys, of the many who (it is to be hoped,) early learn to love Milton, are so well up in their architecture as to know [page 312:] the meaning of these technical words — the sole effect to them is through an indistinct idea of the meaning, just enough to hold the mind interested, joined with a rich flow of language whose words and cadences had their birth in the musical element — that very heaven of the fancy, the region of pure RAPTURE, which lies above the plain of things, and which MUSIC alone can reach.

We might multiply instances out of the poets, from Chaucer and Spenser, who abound in them, down to the best of our own time and country. Marvell, perchance, caught the lyric power from him whom he called friend; Collins was a sweet singer; Gray called the Eolian lyre to awake, and under his hand it did awake. Nearer us we have Campbell, Wordsworth, and one of the greatest natural masters of musical effect, if Scotchmen tell us truly, Burns; the power of his broad Scotch cannot be properly estimated by any but his countrymen; but there is one little change of a word in Tam O'Shanter which shows the genius: —

“Or, like the rainbow's lovely form,

EVANISHING amid the storm.”

Who could have taught him to use that almost obsolete word with such power? For it really sets the whole line quivering like a flash of lightning.

Coleridge's Kubla Khan is the first instance, that we are aware of, in which an attempt is made by an assumed, yet not unnatural, indistinctness of meaning, to portray a phase of feeling too subtle and evanescent to be touched with definites. About his time, the same thing was done by Beethoven in music; among his trifles, “bagatelles,” as they are rightly named, for the piano, are some which begin sanely and run off into actual wildness; in his last symphony, and in some of his posthumous works, he is thought to have ventured too far unintentionally. In painting, too, the notion of aiming at only a single effect has arisen, and is a favorite one with a numerous class of artists. And in literature, we have, at last, Poe, who writes poems that move us deeply, but in which the meaning is only hinted at, and even that sometimes so obscurely that it is impossible to find out an unbroken connection; but there is always an evident design and an [column 2:] extremely artistic construction. And to counterbalance him, we have, as before observed, writers, and their name is legion, whose minds appear to have lost the power of sequent thought, whose writing is bald, unjointed, without form, and void.

Between all such as these (a portion of whom even declined, as we have seen, to reimburse him for the funeral expenses of his friend Mr. D.,) and Poe, there was, necessarily, a wide gulf. Poe's mind, though it would have to do with only the fragilest ideas, and though ever grasping, and never comprehensive, yet worked beautifully within its range, while it remained unbroken. When he chose, there is no writer who ever had a more perfect command of his native style, or could pursue a flight of subtle thoughts more closely and rapidly. The minuteness of his description never wearies. His taste, also, was like the tunica conjunctiva of the eye, sensitive to the least motes; we never know, in the “Gold Bug,” whether the scarabeus is a supernatural insect or only a mechanical contrivance; we never know who sent the Raven from “the Night's Plutonian Shore!” it would have been less mysterious in either case if we had been told. In some of his later things we see where his physical strength was failing him, and his mental power getting enfeebled through “too much conceiving;” we see it, as we can see it, in a greater or less degree, in the working of all minds which are or have been overwrought. But even in these things — even in Eureka — to read is like wandering through the ruins of a fair city that has been pillaged by barbarians; there are sacred things wantonly mutilated, beautiful images broken and scattered, and yet still enough left to show the original structure.

What rank Poe is to take in the catalogue of our poets, Time will assign him, in the face of all that might be urged by the most sagacious reviewer. But as Time never tells his secrets till they are found out, we may be excused for offering an opinion.

That Poe will long be considered, as he is now, a poet of singular genius, there can be no question. What he attempted, had never been attempted before; and he succeeded in it. He wrote poems addressed to the feelings, wherein the meaning is designedly vague and subordinate. As [page 313:] long as our language retains its present shape and inflection, we think the musical effects of these poems will be felt and acknowledged. But when the next change comes over it — and that might be very soon, by the sudden uprising of a great poet, with a new song in his mouth, — they will be forgotten. For they have no power to stay change. Their indistinctness does not arise, like the indistinctness of Milton and Shakspeare, from the reader's ignorance, and hence there is nothing in them to keep them forever in the world's eye; no learning, nor any powerful burden of true philosophy to overawe the majority who have no perception of poetic beauty. Hence, also, though Poe succeeded, marvellously succeeded, yet we cannot find it in our heart to wish what he accomplished ever to be undertaken again. We would prefer to keep the old lines distinct; to have neither poetry or music, the brother or the sister, infringe upon each other's domain. The mind is never permanently satisfied with single effects; when the first glow has passed, we look deeper, and if there is no fuel the fire goes down. Hence, also, again, though we now feel the excellence of Poe so strongly, it is with a sort of nisgiving that we may outgrow or become indifferent to him hereafter.

We will quote one or two of his pieces, which may be new to our readers, to illustrate an observation upon some of his peculiarities of construction. The following has much of the form and effect of a wild rondo in music: —


By a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have reached these lands but newly

From an ultimate dim Thule —

From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,

Out of SPACE — out of TIME.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,

With forms that no man can discover

For the dews that drip all over;

Mountains toppling evermore

Into seas without a shore;

Seas that restlessly aspire,

Surging, unto skies of fire;

Lakes that endlessly outspread

Their lone waters — lone and dead, —

Their still waters — still and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily. [column 2:]

By the lakes that thus outspread

Their lone waters, lone and dead, —

Their sad waters, sad and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily, —

By the mountains — near the river

Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever, —

By the grey woods, — by the swamp

Where the toad and the newt encamp, —

By the dismal tarns and pools

Where dwell the Ghouls, —

By each spot the most unholy —

In each nook most melancholy, —

There the traveller meets aghast

Sheeted Memoirs of the Past —

Shrouded forms that start and sigh

As they pass the wanderer by —

White-robed forms of friends long given,

In agony, to the Earth — and Heaven.

For the heart whose woes are legion

‘Tis a peaceful, soothing region —

For the spirit that walks in shadow

‘Tis — oh ‘tis an Eldorado !

But the traveller, travelling through it,

May not — dare not openly view it;

Never its mysteries are exposed

To the weak human eye unclosed;

So wills its King, who hath forbid

The uplifting of the fringed lid;

And thus the sad Soul that here passes

Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

By a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have wandered home but newly

From this ultimate dim Thule.”

The repetition with which the third stanza, or strophe, commences, “By the lakes that thus outspread,” &c., is one of Poe's obvious peculiarities. It occurs in every stanza of the Raven, &c.

“Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

The same repetition makes “Ululume” [[Ulalume]] nearly twice as long as it would be without it: —

“The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crisped and sere :

The leaves they were withering and sere.”

We observe it also in “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” “Eulalie,” and other pieces — indeed, indications of a tendency to a similar form may be traced in his prose. This form was natural to Mr. Poe because it is the natural expression of intense [page 314:] feeling. A fine example of it is suggested by Wordsworth from the song of Deborah, “At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell down dead.”

There is some reason for supposing that this form is peculiarly suited to the melody of our language. For it is so uniform a peculiarity of all ancient English tunes to commence the second strain with a repetition of the last phrase of the first, that they may be as readily distinguished by it as Scottish or Irish tunes by their characteristics. The tune of Chevy Chase (always sung, or rather murdered, by the grave-digger in Hamlet) has this form; another, the words of which begin, “When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire,” &c., is perhaps a more familiar instance.* The third stanza of Dream-Land is but an imitation in language of a new strain in melody.

Where this repetition is at shorter intervals, and with variations, as in Ululume [[Ulalume]] passim, it bears a curious analogy to the structure of the phrases in very many of Beethoven's melodies. One little point is taken up, repeated, augmented, varied, and so beaten upon the brain with the force of the most intense passion. We think of no instance likely to be known to the general reader; the opening to the andante of the first symphony may be remembered by some.

But, indeed, this repetition, growing out of “imitation,” runs through all music, and is at once the symmetry of its movement and the life of its expression. Poe has a singular paragraph upon music which is worth quoting in this connection: —

“The perception of pleasure in the equality of sounds is the principle of Music. Unpractised ears can appreciate only simple equalities, such as are found in ballad airs. While comparing one simple sound with another they are too much occupied to be capable of comparing the equality subsisting between these two simple sounds, taken conjointly, and two other similar simple sounds taken conjointly. Practised ears, on the other hand, appreciate both equalities at the same instant — although it is absurd to suppose that both are heard at the same instant. One is heard and appreciated from itself: the other is heard by the memory; and the instant glides into and is confounded with the secondary [column 2:] appreciation. Highly cultivated musical taste in this manner enjoys not only these double equalities, all appreciated at once, but takes pleasurable cognizance, through memory, of equalities the members of which occur at intervals so great that the uncultivated taste loses them altogether.”

It would appear from this, that Poe had very acute perceptions of the relations in sound arising from consecution, but not of those growing out of consentaneousness; he could analyze the drawing, but not the color.

This is the secret of his peculiarities of style and construction. But beyond and above all this there was a soul of poetry in him. As we glance over these volumes to satisfy ourself that we have said all we intended, (for even this article, gentle reader, is constructed ‘’on a plan,’’) there are two short things which it would be unjust not to quote. The first is less peculiar in structure than most of his pieces, but it is full of exquisite fancy: —


In the greenest of our valleys

By good angels tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace —

Radiant palace — reared its head.

In the monarch Thought's dominion —

It stood here!

Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,

On its roof did float and flow,

(This — all this — was in the olden

Time long ago),

And every gentle air that dailied,

In that sweet day,

Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,

Through two luminous windows, saw

Spirits moving musically,

To a lute's well-tuned law,

Round about a throne where, sitting

(Porphyrogene !)

In state his glory well befitting,

The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing

Was the fair palace door,

Thro’ which came flowing, flowing, flowing,

And sparkling evermore,

A troop of echoes, whose sweet duty

Was but to sing,

In voices of surpassing beauty,

The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things in robes of sorrow,

Assailed the monarch's high estate,

(Ah, let us mourn! — for never morrow

Shall dawn upon him desolate!) [page 315:]

And round about his home the glory

That blushed and bloomed,

Is but a dim remembered story

Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows see

Vast forms, that move fantastically

To a discordant melody,

While, like a ghastly rapid river,

Through a pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever

And laugh — but smile no more.”

As we write these lines a review of Poe lies before us, which we were pained to see, and in which the writer says he has been led to believe Poe “mainly destitute of moral and religious principle,” and “certain it is that the most careful student of his works will search in them vainly for elevated and generous sentiment.” We cannot see any reason in these volumes for so harsh an opinion; and we feel very sure the world will not, either. As to sentiment, it was not Poe's province to deal in sentiment; but surely he could give expression to elevated emotion. As to his [column 2:] morality, we see not but that he writes like a gentleman; (always excepting what he relates of his conduct to the remains of his friend Mr. D.;) he did not undertake to write sermons. His poetry and prose are full of pure beauties; he could paint “rare and radiant maidens,” and express those affections for such which only gentle hearts can feel. Nay, one need not be of the Roman faith to feel a loftier aspiration in the following:


At morn — at noon — at twilight dim —

Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!

In joy and woe — in good and ill —

Mother of God, be with me still!

When the hours flew lightly by,

And not a cloud obscured the sky,

My soul, lest it should truant be,

Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;

Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast

Darkly my Present and my Past,

Let my Future radiant shine

With sweet hopes of thee and thine!”

G. W. P.

Feb. 11, 1850.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 301:]

* THE WORKS OR EDGAR A. POE: With Notices of his Life and Genius. BY N. P. WILLIS, J. R. LOWELL, AND R. W. GRISWOLD. In two volumes. New York: J. S. Redfield, 1850.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 314, column 1:]

* In this the second strain only reverses the phrases of the first; thus: 1, 2, — 2, 1.



George Washington Peck (1817-1905) was born in Rehoboth, MA and graduated from Brown University in 1837. He was chiefly a music critic.


[S:0 - AMR, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of The Works of Edgar A. Poe (G. W. Peck, 1850)