Text: Anonymous, [Review of the Southern Literary Messenger], Morning Courier and Enquirer (New York, NY), about October-November 1835, quoted in the National Banner and Nashville Whig for November 9, 1835, p. 2, col. ?


The Southern Literary Messenger. — We have now before us the September number of this very excellent periodical, and though we have heretofore noticed it in terms of high approbation, cannot withhold our renewed testimony to its increasing merits. The present number, like all the preceding ones, is entirely original, not only in the subjects but in the manner of treating them. We see that the writers have consulted their own tastes, opinions and feelings; that they are not harnessed in the traces of imitation, nor entailed under the despotism of fashionable notions, adopted without examination, and sanctioned only by popular names. Hence there is in almost all the articles an air of indigenous novelty which in itself is a high and distinguished excellence. Periodicals, that affect to be the censors of public manners, the guides of the public taste, should not be the mere echoes of the opinions of others. They should stem the tide of false taste and injurious innovation, instead of going with the current, and accelerating its force by precept and example. In short, they should think for themselves, and strive to inculcate just modes of thinking and acting in others. Instead of imitating Blackwood and Fraser, and the New Monthly and the Metropolitan, we think it would be far better to adapt their columns to the uses of their own country. The style and the productions of old, corrupt and enervated nations, is not fit for the exigencies of a young, vigorous and growing people, still retaining all its primitive energies, and requiring an intellectual nourishment corresponding with its age, its habits and situation. We have much in our manners, habits and modes of living which requires the lash of satire; much of extravagance and false taste which a well applied ridicule alone can correct or repress; and it is one of the first duties of a light miscellaneous periodical to launch its arrows against such transgressions. The fear of giving offence to the few should never make them neglect the interests of the many, for their first object should be to benefit their country. — By such a course alone can they fulfil their high obligations, and we feel satisfied that by persevering in such a course, they would be eventually amply rewarded by public patronage.

The present number in some degree realizes our ideas of an American periodical. It is not the mere reflection of imported opinions, and imported manners. It is the product of the soil, and stamped with the lineaments of its nativity. It is not a mere distillation from memory, not the squeezings of the almost dry sponge of the old world, but the fresh and vigorous offspring of a soil which only requires cultivation to produce the richest products.

Among the articles which afforded us particular pleasure, we would notice “The Introductory Lecture of James M. Garnett of Virginia, on the subject of Education.” All the productions of Mr. Garnett that we have seen, abound in just reasonings, leading to important conclusions applicable to his own country, and of most important practical consequence. The present lecture is devoted to an inquiry into the “Obstacles of education arising from the peculiar faults of parents, teachers, and scholars, and those who direct and control our schools and colleges.” The subject is peculiarly important, and we recommend Mr. Garnett's lecture to the calm considerate attention of all those whose faults he has detailed. It is the work of a man of deep reflection, great experience and of a powerful intellect capable of turning the results of that experience to purposes of practical utility.

“Loss of Breath; A Tale a la Blackwood, by Edgar A. Poe,” is a capital burlesque of the wild, extravagant, disjointed rigmarole with which that much over-rated and over-praised magazine is so redundant. The writer has hit off admirably the false, extravagant and exaggerated humour — the inconclusive nothings and the rude baldness of so many of its articles, of which the beginning, the middle and the end is nothing. The reader finds it impossible to fathom the object, precisely because the writer had no object, or could not develope it to the comprehension of common sense. We have our eye on Mr. Edgar A. Poe, and from what we have already seen of him, venture to predict it will not be long before his name will stand on a level with those of mch higher pretensions.

The notice of “Stories about General Warren,” and the accompanying extracts, are peculiarly interesting, as giving various particulars of a man who has hitherto been only generally known as one of the earliest martyrs to the liberties of his country. This is the literary aliment which should be served up to our children, aye and our men and women too, in order to inspire them with noble feelings through the influence of noble examples.

There are many other articles in this number, which deserve equal notice and commendation, did our limits permit. But we must deny ourselves the pleasure of particularizing them, merely observing that in general the prose is better than the poetry, simply because the latter is somewhat vitiated by an imitation of bad models. Why will not our young poets attempt to describe their own feelings and impressions, instead of merely distilling in trickling namby-pamby, the thoughts of others, and sometimes no thought at all; or if they will condemn themselves to everlasting mediocrity by imitation, why will they not attempt better models? There are other poets in English language than Byron and Moore, who have superceded the old masters of the lyre, and will in less than half a century be superceded by them again. They are not to be dethroned from the empire of Parnassus, by these modern upstarts. The lofty morality, the unaffected simplicity, the philosophic dignity, and the beautiful appeals not only to our reason, but to the finer feelings of the human heart, which abound in the writers of the Golden Age of English poetry, are not we trust destined much longer to be obscured by the dark, vicious, licentious and laboured misanthropy of Byron, or the light, voluptuous sensuality of Moore. We shall one day return to nature and reason, and poetry will again become te handmaid of virtue.

There is an air of independence about the criticisms, which is becoming in all who undertake to preside in the courts of literature. But we differ entirely from some of the principles adopted by the Messenger. Most especially do we denounce the assertion of Victor Hugo, quoted, as we understand it with approbation by the critic, that Racine, Bossuet, Boileau, Pascal, Fenelon, La Fontaine, Corneille & Voltaire, would be but common writers were it not for their “style.” This is one of the new fangled French opinions fashionable in Paris, and in the true French sprit, places the ruffle before the shirt. It is an excrescence of the musical mania prevailing in that quarter, and is founded on the superiority of sound over sense, and of the ears over the understanding. It is analogous to the taste of a fine lady, who thinks much more of the dress of a man than of the man himself. Such opinions distinctly mark the decline of literature in France, and we do not wonder that Monsieur Victor Hugo should be considered a prodigy, among a people who prefer sound to sense.

But this is a trifling drawback on our general approbation. — The sister States, and Virginia most especially, should encourage the Literary Messenger. If she does not from a love of literature, she should do it from a regard to her own honor, which cannot be enhanced by having one of the best, if not the very best literary periodicals in America.



the attribution is to the “York” Courier and Enquirer, but presumably the “New York” Courier and Enquirer.


[S:0 - CMC, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of the Southern Literary Messenger for September (Anonymous, 1835)