Text: James Frederick Otis, “[Review of the Southern Literary Messenger for February 1836,]” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), vol. XXIV, whole no. 7181, February 17, 1836, p. 3, col. 5


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The Southern Literary Messenger. — The February No. of this beautiful and interesting periodical has reached us, and it gives us pleasure to learn that it will be distributed to a greater number of subscribers than any previous one has been. This is creditable to the taste of the people, to the industry of the proprietor, the talents of its editor and contributors, and particularly to the South, to whom Mr. WHITE especially looks for the support of his enterprise. The following notice of the contents of the present number is from a friend, of literary taste and discrimination:

The present number is uncommonly rich. It opens with some valuable hints upon the necessity of a selection in reading, a capital discourse of a column and a half upon the startling text, “if you have forty years to employ in reading, and can read fifty pages a day (you will be able in those forty years to accomplish only about SIXTEEN HUNDRED volumes, of 500 pages each.” This consideration, ably put by the editor, is an antidote, one would think, to “smattering.” The next article is No. X. of a very interesting series of historical sketches of the Barbary States. This number brings the history of Algiers down to the close of Charles Xth's reign. Taken together, these papers are very valuable, and will form a useful reference hereafter. It is such papers as these that make a periodical worth keeping. The next prose article is amusing. It is a translation from the French and gives a man's humorous account of “a Cousin of the Married,” a man who acquired that quaint soubriquet by attending all weddings, where there was a large company assembled, and making himself useful by proposing sentiments, reciting epithalamia, and singing songs appropriate to those happy occasions, until he was discovered by an aristocratic groom, and compelled to vacate the premises. The paper contains a similar narrative of “a Cousin of the Dead,” who, having been advised to ride for his health, and being too poor, used to go to all funerals as a mourner, and thus obtained the medicine prescribed by his physician, with no other cost than a few crocodile tears. Then comes one of that eccentric writer, Edgar A. Poe's, characteristic productions, “The Duc de L’Omelette,” which is one of the first things of the kind we have ever read. Mr. Poe has great powers, and every line tells in all he writes. He is no spinner-out of long yarns, but chooses his subject, whimsically, perhaps, yet originally, and traits it a manner peculiarly his own. “Rustic Courtship in New England” has not the verisimilitude which te necessary to entitle it to the only praise that such sketches usually obtain; unless they were well done, it were always better that Yankee stories be not done at all. We hate to be over-critical, but would recommend to the “Octogenarian” to take the veritable Jack Dowing, or John Beedle, as his models, before be writes again. Those inimitable writers have well-nigh, if not quite, exhausted the subject of New England Courtship, and (we speak “as one having authority, and not as the scribes,” by which we mean the critics) the writer before us has done but very indifferently what they have done so well, as to gain universal applause. “Palæstine” is a useful article, containing geographical, topographical, and other statistical facts, in the history of that interesting country, well put together, and valuable as a reference.

We were much entertained with Nugator's humorous sketches of the castle-building farmer. No periodical in the country numbers among its contributors a more racy contributor than “Nugator.” The article on “Liberia Literature” gives the reader a very flattering idea of the condition of that colony. The “Biographical Sketch” of President Cushing, of Hampden Sidney College, we read with much pleasure. We would recommend a series of similar sketches from the same hand; nothing can give a periodical of this kind more solid value than such tributes to departed worth. Sketches of “Lake Superior” — beautiful! beautiful! We feel inclined to follow the track so picturesquely described by Mr. Wooley, and nuke a pilgrimage to the wild and woody scenery of the Great Lake. This is a continuous series of letters, and we shall hail the coming numbers with much pleasure. The last prose contribution in the book is entitled “Readings with my Pencil,” being a series of paraphrases of different passages, taken at random, from various authors. We like this plan, and think well of the performance thus far. It is to be continued.

The poetical department is not so rich as that in former numbers. Miss Draper's “Lay of Ruin” is irregular in the versification, and shows the fair writer's forte to be in a different style altogether. We wish she would give us something more like that gem of the December number of the Messenger, “Halley's Comet in 1760.” Mr. Flint's “Living Alone,” capital; and Mr. Poe's “Valley Nis,” characteristically wild, yet sweetly soft and smooth in measure as in mood. The “Lines” on page 166 do no credit to the Messenger; they should have been dropped into the fire aa soon as the first stanza was read by the editor; and if he had gotten to the eleventh, he should have sent the MS. to the Museum as a curiosity. Look! The Bard addresses the Mississippi!

“'Tis not clearness — 'tis not brightness

“Such as dwell in mountain brooks.

“'Tis thy big, big boiling torrent —

“'Tis thy wild and angry looks.”

This is altogether too bad. Eliza's Stanzas to “Greece” are very beautiful. She writes from Maine, and, with care and cultivation, will, by and by, do something worthy of the name to which she makes aspiration. So much for the poetry of the number; which neither in quantity or quality is equal to the last three or four.

In the “Editorial” department, we recognise the powerful discrimination of Mr. Poe. The dissection of “Paul Uulric [[Ulric]]” though well deserved, is perfectly savage. Morris Mattson, Esq. will hardly write again. This article will as surely kill him as one not half so scalpingly written did poor Keats, in the London Quarterly. The notice of Lieutenant Slidell's “American in England” we were glad to see. It is a fair offset to the coxcombical article (probably written by Norman Leslie Fay which lately appeared in the New York Mirror, in reference to our countryman's really agreeable work. Bulwer's “Rienzi” is ably reviewed, and in a style to beget in him who reads it a strong desire to possess himself immediately of the book itself. There is also an interesting notice of Mathew Carey's autobiography, and two or three other works lately published.

Under this head, there is, in the number before us, the best sketch of the character and life of Chief Justice Marshall we have as yet seen. This alone would make a volume of the Messenger valuable beyond the terms of subscription. It purports to be a Review of Story's, Binney's, and Snowden's Eulogies upon that distinguished jurist, while, in reality, it is a rich and pregnant Biography of “The Expounder of the Constitution.”

The number closes with a most amusing paper, containing twenty-five admirably executed fac simile autographs of some of the most distinguished of our literati. The equivoque of Mr. Joseph A. B. C. D. E. F. G. &c. Miller is admirably kept up, and the whimsical character of the pretended letters to which the signatures are attached is well preserved. Of almost all the autographs we can speak on our own authority, and are able to pronounce them capital.

Upon the whole, the number before us (entirely original) may be set down one of the very best that has yet been issued.







[S:0 - DNI, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Bookshelf - Review of the Southern Literary Messenger for February 1836