Text: John H. Hopkins, [Review of Eureka], Literary World (New York, NY), vol. 3, no. 26, July 29, 1848, p. 502, cols. 1-3


[page 502, col. 1, continued:]



Eureka: A Prose Poem. By Edgar A. Poe. George P. Putnam, New York. 1848. pp. 143.

THIS is a strange work — a very strange work, and will excite quite a sensation in certain circles, both at home and abroad. It presents a two-fold appearance — as a poem, and as a work of science. It is only as the former, the author tells us, he would wish his work to be judged after he is dead ; — leaving us at liberty, as it may be inferred, to judge of it as the latter so long as he shall still be on earth to see that it has fair play. In both respects much might be said both for and against various portions of Eureka, but except an occasional allusion, we shall let the Poetry take care of itself, and confine our remarks to the work in so far as it purports to be Truth — Scientific, Metaphysical, or Theological.

The book opens, after the introduction, with an extract from a letter purporting to have been found in a bottle floating on the Mare tenebrarum, an ocean “but little frequented in modern days unless by the Transcendentalists and some other divers for crotchets.” Now it is singular that with the sensible and supreme contempt expressed by Mr. Poe for the Transcendentalists, he should have gone to the Shadowy Sea, frequented but by them, for a defence of the principle on which his whole discovery rests. This letter is a keen burlesque on the Aristotelian and Baconian methods of ascertaining truth, both of which the writer ridicules and despises, and pours forth his rhapsodical ecstasies in glorification of the third mode — the noble art of guessing. Now we have nothing to say against guessing in scientific matters. It certainly has antiquity and universality in its favor, especially as regards the formation of Cosmogonies, and our witty correspondent from the “Sea of Shadows,” so far from making any new discovery, has only been advocating what has ever been more or less the practice all the world over, being always in highest vogue where ignorance and barbarism most prevailed. All the nonsense put forth by Hindoos, Scandinavians, Greeks, Romans, North American Indians, and Negroes, to say nothing of the philosophers [column 2:] and poets, has been the result of this ancient and noble art of guessing, and surely they all had as much right to guess as Mr. Poe. It must be granted, however, that guessing is as good a plan as any other, — provided it hits; but in order to tell whether it hits or not, we are compelled to resort to that slow and troublesome process called “demonstration,” a plan much decried by those who excel rather in wit than wisdom. We hope that on some of his subsequent excursions to the Ocean of Shadows, Mr. Poe may find another bottle which may enable him to guess his demonstrations also. That would be something new.

As we have already said, we think a guess as good as anything else, provided it hits. The question is: does Mr. Poe's guess hit? We think that partly it does, and partly it does not. And here we can do nothing but indicate the results of our reflection on the theories propounded by Mr. Poe. To argue the point would require a volume far larger than Eureka. The great point of the Discovery claimed by Mr. Poe, is his mode of accounting for the principle of the Newtonian Law of Gravity. This may be stated in general terms as follows: The Attraction of Gravitation, which acts with a force inversely proportional to the squares of the distances, is but the reaction of the original act of creation, which was effected by irradiating the atoms of which the universe is composed from one centre of unity, with a force directly proportional to the squares of the distances (reaction being action conversed), and that this was the mode of distributing the original matter is shown on geometrical principles. The development of electricity, and the formation of stars and suns, luminous and non-luminous, moons and planets with their rings, &c., is deduced, very much according to the nebular theory of La Place, from the principle propounded above.* In this, and |perhaps in some other parts, such as the scheme for the final destruction of the Universe, the guess seems to hit, or at least comes apparently near the mark. Kepler's laws, it is well known, were guessed, and have been received as true, not because the principle of those laws was demonstrated by him or by anybody else, but merely because observed and known facts all agreed with them. And Mr. Poe's guess is in some parts substantiated by the same kind and the same degree of proof as the other, — that is, perfect harmony with all ascertained facts. So far as this can be shown, his theory must and will stand. Where it fails, his guess will return to the Sea of Shadows from whence it came.

In many respects it would be very easy to show a close correspondence between this theory and the Mosaic account. It would require no more ingenuity than has been already displayed by the geologists in accommodating Scripture to their Science. But there are several points which Mr. Poe discusses in which he reminds us of his own forcible account of a certain class of philosophers who, like himself, draw largely on the Ocean of Shadows. “There are people, I am aware, [column 3:] who, busying themselves in attempts at the unattainable, acquire very easily, by dint of the jargon they emit, among those thinkers — that — they — think with whom darkness and depth are synonymous, a kind of cuttle-fish reputation for profundity; but the finest quality of thought is its self-cognisance;” — and to judge by the accuracy of the description, Mr. Poe possesses this “finest quality of thought” in a high degree of perfection. If further proof of this be needed, look at the system of Pantheism which is more or less inwoven into the texture of the whole book, but displays itself most broadly at the end. Yet the whole is most absurdly inconsistent. On pp. 28, 29, Mr. Poe speaks of “God” and “the Godhead” as a Christian or a deist might speak — as being One. On p. 103 he has the “hardihood” to assert that we have aright to infer that there are an infinity of universes (?) such as ours, of which “Each exists, apart and independently, in the bosom of its particular god.” This makes Mr. Poe a polytheist — a believer in an infinite number of proper and particular gods, existing apart and independently. On page 141 it appears that this infinity of gods is forgotten, and Mr. Poe cannot conceive “that anything exists greater than his own soul;” he feels “intense overwhelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought; he asserts that this feeling is superior to any demonstration;” and that each soul is therefore “its own god, its own creator.” All this is extraordinary nonsense, if not blasphemy; and it may very possibly be both. Nay we have Mr. Poe's own authority for saying so — authority which seems to be “divine” with him. After all these contradictory propoundings concerning “God” we would remind him of what he lays down on page 28. “Of this Godhead, in itself, he alone is not imbecile — he alone is not impious, who propounds — nothing.” A man who thus conclusively convicts himself of imbecility and impiety needs no further refutation.

To conclude our brief and imperfect notice of this strange and in many respects original production, we should say that much of its physical portion may be true, — and we commend this particularly to the attention of scientific men. Its Metaphysical part, including ideas about the Spiritual portion of the universe, its being “Repulsion” while matter is “Attraction,” whereas nevertheless Electricity is the Spiritual principle, and “Attraction and repulsion” (taken together), and “Matter” are convertible terms: — all this, we say, with much more of the same sort, is simply unintelligible, and smacks of the cuttle-fish. The Theological portion is intolerable. Mr. Poe has guessed. In some respect we may grant that we also “guess so.” In others we most decidedly “guess not.” We agree with him, that when his “theory has been corrected, reduced, sifted, cleared little by little, of its chaff of inconsistency — until at length there stands apparent an unincumbered [[unencumbered]] Consistency,” it will be acknowledged “to be acknowledged an absolute and unquestionable Truth;” but in this ease, we opine, the sifters will discover an original, ingenious, profound, and abundant quantity of chaff.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 502, col. 3:]

*Further than this, Mr. Poe's claim that he can account for the existence of all organized beings — man included — merely from those principles on which the origin and present appearance of suns and worlds, are explained, must be set down as mere bald assertion, without a particle of evidence. In other words, we should term it arrant fudge, were it not for a shrewd suspicion which haunts us, that the whole essay is nothing more nor less than an elaborate quiz upon some of the wild speculations of the day — a scientific hoax of the higher order which few men are capable of executing more cleverly than the ingenious author of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue, “The Descent into the Maelstroom [[Maelstrom]],” &c , &c.



This is the second review of Eureka that John H. Hopkins wrote.


[S:0 - LW, 1848] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of Eureka (J. H. Hopkins, 1848)