Text: Nathaniel Parker Willis (and E. A. Poe), “[Notice of ‘Fairyland’],” American Monthly Magazine (Boston, MA), vol. I, no. 8, November 1829, pp. 586-587


[page 586, continued:]

How gloriously the flames circle around that heap of bad poetry burning within the fender ! — the white smoke mingling so fitfully with the graceful and lambent blaze, and the red light cast so richly on the old landscapes, and the queer, antique furniture, and the heavy curtains of our room! Rejected articles burn better and brighter than any thing else — or, if they do not — the pleasure with which we sit and watch them, as they give out the only brightness that is in them, has less in it of the compunctious alloy which attends the waste of paper, however useless, that has been once consecrated by thought. We confess to a passion for this amusement. To sit in the dead midnight, after hours of still and solitary study, and burn waste manuscripts upon the hearth, is a pleasure which has more philosophy in it than half for which the world perils its salvation. It needs the preparation I speak of — a mind wearied to a nervous sensitiveness, and a temper in which one listens tremblingly to the whirling of a leaf along the streets, or the grating of a distant shutter in the night wind. The fitful glare, the sudden illumination, the abrupt sinking into darkness — the strange changefulness of the golden sparks in the decayed tinder, affect the mind at such an hour and in such a mood, with a capricious variety of emotions, as powerful, if not as distinct, as the most vivid incidents of reality. We defy any one, who has sat out the long, still hours of night without a sound of human industry in his ear which may connect, ever so slightly, his wearisome, self-concentrated thought with the waking sympathy of a fellow being, to gaze on that supernatural glare without a startled pulse, or to be enveloped, as it sinks, in the dim light of his lamp, without feeling a shadow on his heart which reason can neither lift nor lessen. The excitement is, of course, ordinarily, the only pleasure. But to us there is a titillating sensation arising from the character of the holocaust, which adds another fibre to its nerve of enjoyment. We are never quite sure that we have judged well. The first verse or two upon which we condemned this piece may have been careless — or the simplicity of that one may have concealed an unseen moral, or an undiscovered acrostic may flash upon us as the burnt edge curls outwards; and it is quite exciting to lean over eagerly as the flame eats in upon the letters, and make out the imperfect sentences, and trace the faint strokes in [page 587:] the tinder as it trembles in the ascending air of the chimney. There, for instance, goes a gilt-edged sheet which we remember was covered with some sickly rhymes on Fairy-land. The flame creeps steadily along the edge of the first leaf, taking in its way a compliment to some by-gone nonsense-verses of our own, inserted in brackets by the author to conciliate our good will. Now it flashes up in a broad blaze, and now — it reaches a marked verse — let us see — the fire devours as we read: —

“They use that moon no more

For the same end as before —

Videlicit, a tent,

Which I think extravagant.”

Burn on, good fire! And there kindles another! We have read good poetry in that firm, upright hand — but the author has attempted the difficult ballad-style, and failed. We will catch a verse from that blackedged fragment: —

“I ask then for my father’s grave,

But none the spot can tell me;

Alas! what grief is there on earth

That has not all befel me?

My hair is ——”

“gray)” probably — the fire outstripped us at the word, and the crisped corpse of the description quivered for a moment, and, with a salient sweep, darted up the chimney. Another, and another — they burn too fast to be noted — and now a bright fork of flame touches a half-read anonymous letter, and it is enveloped at once in its own proper and with us, invariable destiny. We wonder, by the way, what amusement there can be in this species of bagatelle. We receive an epistle of this nature at least once a day on purely personal topics. It is wonderful what an interest these invisible friends take in the most trivial points touching our costume, and manner, and conversation. It is very flattering to us to know that we are objects of so much attention, even though it come in the questionable shape of abuse. “It is the very devil” we know, “to be growing old as a person of no peculiarity,” but really, gentlemen, if you will let us wear what we please, and leave us a choice in the color of a handkerchief, or the fashion of a toilet, we will excuse you hereafter from these elaborate tributes to our notoriety. Seriously, there is a cowardly ungentlemanliness in this covert gratification of bad feelings of which none but scoundrels could be guilty. We could respect a man who dared boldly to avow his dislike — but this doing safely in the dark, what the just, but poor fear of personal [page 588:] chastisement forbids in the open day, is what we can with difficulty reconcile to the natural use of limbs, and the commonest impulse of manhood. We should not have alluded to so personal a topic, did we not know it to be a general and unreproved evil. It is one of those unredeemed vices which grow with silence, but shrink from the general voice of reprobation. If we can but succeed in attracting notice to it, we trust to the natural and common spirit of humanity, that we shall not have alluded to it in vain.

We have no pretence to detain you longer, dear reader, and so, for another month, Adieu! We know not of what discourtesies we may have been guilty at our present Table, but if, in our ardor to play the entertainer with a more genial vein, we have violated any of the graver proprieties, we trust you will at least credit us for our endeavor. This will console us, even should our attempt, as has sometimes happened, fall under the colder shadows of criticism. Our pleasant friend who blackguards our cravat, “lest we should be spoiled by the injudicious praises of our poetry,” (a consequent which deserves a diploma for its ingenuity,) objects to our modest plural, and “L. E. L.” (we thank heaven she has a philosophy for such evils) has been whipped through half the journals of the Union. It breaks no sleep for her. She lies there quietly, with her long ears drooping over her feet, as insensible to the satire of her critics, as she is to the roughness of some of their own rhymes which lie crumpled beneath her. We half envy the deafness of those silken ears. The scholar in the play thought his spaniel’s idleness the happier life of the two, and we are by no means sure when we lift a pained eye, sometimes, from our laborious task, and whistle up the happy creature for a moment’s relief, that his logic is not fairly and truly put. It is, at all events, one of old John Marston’s most amusing passages: —

“The more I learned, the more 1 learned to doubt;

And there my spaniel slept, while I baus’d leaves,

Toss’d o’er the dunces, pored on the old print

Of titled words: — and still my spaniel slept.

Whilst I wasted lamp oil, baited my flesh,

Shrunk up my veins: — and still my spaniel slept.

And still I held converse with Zabarell,

Aquinas, Scotus, and the musty saw

Of antic Donate : — still my spaniel slept.

Still on went I, first, an sit anima;

Next, an it were mortal. Oh, hold, hold, at that

They’re at brain buffets, fell by the ears amain,

Pell-mell together,: — still my spaniel slept.

I thought and quoted, read, observed, and prayed,

Stufft noting books : — and still my spaniel slept.

At length he waked and yawned, and, by yon sky,

For aught I know he knew as much as I!”





[S:1 - YBLG (microfilm), 1829] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Notice of Fairyland (J. Neal, 1829)