Text: William Jerdan (?), Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres (London, UK), series for 1846, whole no. 1521, March 14, 1846, p. 237-238


[page 237, column 2, continued:]

The Raven, and other Poems. By Edgar A. Poe. Pp. 91. Wiley and Putnam.

THE genius of Edgar Poe, such as it is, had its full exposition and place assigned to it in the Literary Gazette of 31st January. Upon that critique we were favoured with the following letter:

To the Editor of the Literary Gazette.

SIR, — Having just read a review of Edgar Poe’s Romances in the Literary Gazette of January, p. 101, allow me to advert to a curious misconception, in scientific point of view, which the author has fallen into. In describing his whirling in the Maelstrom, he says: “On looking out when half-way down, the boat appeared hanging, as if by magic, upon the interior surface of a funnel of vast circumference and prodigious depth,” &c. . . . “My gaze fell instinctively downwards. . . . The smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool, which sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees; so that we seemed to be lying on our beam-ends,” &c.

Now, with all deference, I would submit: 1st. That our only notions of up and down are derived from the direction of gravity. When, therefore, the direction of gravity is changed by centrifugal force, that direction will still appear to be down. 2nd. That our only sense of motion is relative; when, therefore, all that is visible is rotating along with ourselves, we shall have no sense of motion; and in few cases do we ever ourselves appear to be the moving objects (witness the case of railway travelling). The only apparent motion will be the slight difference of motion between the various objects and ourselves.

Whence it appears, that the gentleman in the predicament described would, on looking about him, see a vast funnel of water apparently laid on its side, with its lower side horizontal, at which lower part his boat would always appear to be lying; the heavens appearing at one end horizontally, and apparently rotating; while the chaotic abyss and foam would be at the opposite end; the waters appearing (full of local currents, no doubt) stretching in a miraculous archway or tunnel, almost motionless, about and over the boat, and apparently supported by nothing; and objects nearer the entrance would appear to rotate vertically in a slowly retrograde direction; while objects would appear to have an opposite rotation, more and more rapid, towards the misty tumultuous end; the real velocity of the whole being unperceived, except by the contrary apparent rotation of the heavens. This would indeed be a wondrous spectacle, though scarcely sufficing to induce a personal experiment by your humble servant.


If such objections can justly be raised against his prose, we fear we must allow that some of his poetry is not less wild; or, in other words, that there is not so much method in his furor as could be desired by readers not inflamed and carried away by his vague thoughts and diction. It is true the author himself says of them:

“In defence of my own taste, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to say, that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very creditable to myself. Events not to be controlled [column 3:] have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious efforts in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence: they must not, they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.”

This is the Ercles vein, and we have no disposition to quarrel with it. If Mr Poe published to please only himself, he has a perfect right to be his own critic, and to despise all others. We shall merely offer an example and an opinion or two. From ‘The Sleeper’ we take the annexed, as a specimen of bad taste and exaggeration:

“My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,

As it is lasting, so be deep!

Soft may the worms about her creep!

Far in the forest, dim and old,

For her may some tall vault unfold —

Some vault that oft hath flung its black

And winged pannels fluttering back,

Triumphant, o’er the crested palls,

Of her grand family funerals —

Some sepulchre, remote, alone,

Against whose portal she hath thrown,

In childhood, many an idle stone —

Some tomb from out whose sounding door

She ne’er shall force an echo more,

Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!

It was the dead who groaned within.”

Here is another sample of the morbid:

The Conqueror Worm.

Lo! ’tis a gala night

Within the lonesome latter years!

An angel throng, bewinged, bedight

In veils, and drowned in tears,

Sit in a theatre, to see

A play of hopes and fears,

While the orchestra breathes fitfully

The music of the spheres.


Mimes, in the form of God on high,

Mutter and mumble low,

And hither and thither fly —

Mere puppets they, who come and go

At bidding of vast formless things

That shift the scenery to and fro,

Flapping from out their Condor wings

Invisible Wo!


That motley drama — oh, be sure

It shall not be forgot!

With its Phantom chased for evermore,

By a crowd that seize it not,

Through a circle that ever returneth in

To the self-same spot,

And much of Madness, and more of Sin,

And Horror the soul of the plot.


But see, amid the mimic rout

A crawling shape intrude!

A blood-red thing that writhes from out

The scenic solitude!

It writhes! — it writhes! — with mortal pangs

The mimes become its food,

And the angels sob at vermin fangs

In human gore imbued.


Out — out are the lights — out all!

And, over each quivering form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the angels, all pallid and wan,

Uprising, unveiling, affirm

That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”

And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

Scenes from Politian, an unpublished drama, lead to some compositions of youthful days; but we do not meet with aught to tempt us to farther extract.

The volume is dedicated to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, whose style, as well as Tennyson’s, seems to have considerable influence on Mr Poe. The two volumes of that lady* lie before us, evidences of her powers, who said of poetry that it had been as serious a thing as life itself to her: the consequences of which feeling is the high elevated tone of her compositions, whose devoted earnestness is only slightly affected by somewhat of the masculine and pedantic; her lofty aspirations tend to this result, the use of strange language and the strange application of words, as if they had any meaning she wished, and not their common acceptation. Daring, and almost able enough to bend the bow of Milton; as when she tells us, when Adam and Eve flee into the wilderness, “there is a sound [page 238:] through the silence, as of the falling tears of an angel!” and this, with the deep religious reverence, renders it easy to conceive how her writings should affect the imaginative mind of the American author. In some points it might have been better had he studied her more closely.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 237, column 3:]

*  Published by Mr. Moxen in 1844.





[S:0 - LGJBL, 1846] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review Poe's Tales (W. Jerdan, 1846)