Text: Nathaniel P. Willis (?), “Mr. Poe’s Eureka,” Home Journal (New York), August 12, 1848, p. 3, cols. 6-7


[page 3, column 6, continued:]


THE application of rhetoric and imagination to science is a novel feature in modern culture. The domains of natural philosophy and poetry were once considered, if not antagonistic, at least totally dissimilar. Men of genius, however, in this age, have demonstrated that the perceptive organs are not the only means of reading the secrets of nature, nor mechanical details the exclusive process for communicating them to the world. The Astronomical Discourses of Dr. Chalmers indicated to the popular mind the relation of sidereal wonders to Christian truth; and, to borrow an illustration nearer home, what fiction or poem can be more attractive, in its way, than one of Dr. Draper’s Introductory Lectures on Chemistry? This tendency to elucidate scientific truth by addressing the sense of beauty, and calling in imagination and pure reflection, instead of mere observation and memory, is full of promise, both in regard to its own advancement and the highest enlightenment of mankind.

In the spirit of bold speculation and ideal thought, Mr. Poe has undertaken, in the little treatise before us, to expound a theory of the universe. He begins by repudiating the idea that the arcana of nature are to be completely explored by induction. He recognizes the intuitive and unconscious process as the source of discovery, and eloquently protests against that slavery to the Baconian system which has so long prevailed. Kepler, he says, guessed, that is imagined, the vital laws he promulgated. Accordingly, Mr. Poe deems, and with justice, that besides patient induction, a certain power of seizing upon great truths is required in the philosopher. In a word, he believes in a kind of scientific inspiration; and history — as well as individual consciousness — confirms this faith. So much for his general views. As to the particular theory developed in Eureka, the whole book (and it is not voluminous, though written with extreme conciseness,) should be read, in order to be appreciated. Mr. Poe recognizes but two absolute principles in the universe — attraction and repulsion. He assumes a unit [column 7:] or particle as the germ of all subsequent creation, and imagines an innate power — which he identifies with divine volition — to have projected from this atom an infinity of other atoms into space, and that gravitation is only an attempt on the part of those to return to their central unity.

There is doubtless as much phantasy as fact developed in the course of this prose-poem, as the author properly calls “Eureka.” It is not a demonstrative so much as a suggestive work. It contains many striking figures and brilliant rhetorical passages. Some parts are very ingenious — others very fanciful. There is no great novelty in the scientific ideas advanced. We have been constantly reminded, while reading the work, not by any precise similitude, but a certain correspondence of tone, of the “Vestiges of Creation;” and in Swedenborg’s writings, the idea of the Infinite is revealed upon with a more rich and clear significance. Without adopting the author’s theory, or sympathizing in the sublimated materialism of his cogitations, we can sincerely advise such of our readers as have a poetic, metaphysical or philosophic tendency, to ponder, “Eureka.”





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