Text: Anonymous, “[Review of the Southern Literary Messenger for January],” Newbern Spectator (New Bern, NC), Vol. VIII, No. 385, January 15, 1836, p. 3, cols. 2-3


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Southern Literary Messenger. — The January number of this popular work has been received, and it is replete with amusing, instructive and interesting matter. So much so, that we consider it one of the best numbers of the Messenger. To analyse its contents, or even give an abstract of them, would exceed the limits at our disposal, and we shall say, generally, that the work is unsurpassed by any original work of equal pretensions, with which we are acquainted in this country. — In our last notice of the Messenger, we expressed disapprobation of the unnecessary severity of the criticism which it contained; this number is a little more moderate, but yet not sufficiently so far a dignified and unbiassed [[unbiased]] periodical. Believing Mr. Poe to be the ostensible editor, and having had frequent opportunities of estimating his abilities, both as an author and a critick [[critic]], we cannot consent to make him an umpire in matters of a literary nature. We doubt his capability, and protest against the reception of his fiat. Although the columns of a weekly paper are not the best place for critical remarks, we will use them, as a substitute for a better, to show partially the grounds of our protest.

In the number of the Messenger before us, Mr. Poe continued his “Scenes from Politian, an unpublished drama.” The scenes formerly published caused us to doubt the author's talents, taste and acquirements, and these tend to confirm out first impression.




ROME. — A Hall in a Palace.  Alessandra and Castiglione.


Oh, I'm the happiest, happiest man in Rome,

A few days more, thou knowest, my Alessandra,

Will make thee mine. Oh, I am very happy!

If genius dictated these lines, they are the dregs of genius. The scarcity of ideas, manifested by the repetition of words, evinces this.

Aless. Methinks thou hast a singular way of showing

Thy happiness! — what ails thee, cousin of mine?”

Here we have a couplet that requires no comment to convince even the dull of its being neither poetry nor sensible prose. The two italicsed syllables will show the accuracy of Mr. Poe's ear for the harmony and measure of blank verse. The superfluous syllable in “singular,” is not the only redundant one in the first line, and the Scenes abound throughout with similar irregularities. Nor are violations of rhythm, in these and numerous other instances, the only defects in the construction of the poem. It abounds in violations of the commonest rules of grammar.

Cas. I will drop them.

Aless. Thou must.

Di Brog. Far from it, love.

No branch, they say, of all philosophy

So deep abstruse he has not mastered it.

“If that we meet at all, it were as well, &c.”

We have neither space nor time to follow the learned critick [[critic]] father to-day, and we shall merely transcribe a short extract as a fair specimen of the whole, italicising freely the incongruities in sense and sound, and the unprecedented instances of tautology.


The suburbs. Politian alone.

This weakness grows upon me. I am faint,

And much I fear me ill — it will not do

To die ere I have lived! — Stay — stay thy hand,

O Azrael, yet awhile! — Prince of the Powers

Of Darkness and the Tomb, O pity me!

O pity me! let me not perish now,

In the budding of hopes — give me to live,

Give me to live yet — yet a little while:

'Tis I who pray for life — I who so late

Demanded but to die! — what sayeth the Count?

Enter Baldazzar.

Bal. That knowing no cause of quarrel or of feud

Between the Earl Politian and himself,

He doth decline your cartel.

Pol. What didst thou say?

What answer was it you brought me, good Baldazzar?

With what excessive fragrance the zephyr comes

Laden from yonder bowers! — a fairer day,

Or one more worthy Italy, methinks

No mortal eyes have seen! — what said the Count?

Bal. That he, Castiglione, not being aware

Of any feud existing, or any cause

Of quarrel between your lordship and himself,

Cannot accept the challenge.

Pol. It is most true

All this is very true. When saw you, sir,

When saw you now, Baldazzar, in the frigid

Ungenial Britain which we left so lately,

A heaven so calm as this — so utterly free

From the evil taint of clouds? — and he did say?

Bal. No more, my lord, than I have told you, SIR,

Having no cause for quarrel.

Pol. Now this is true

All very true. Thou art my friend, Baldazzar,

And I have not forgotten it — thou'lt do me

A piece of service? wilt thou go back and say

Unto this man, that I, the Earl of Leicester,

Hold him a villain — thus much, I prithee, say

Unto the Count — it is exceeding just

He should have cause for quarrel.

Bal. My lord! — my friend! —— ———

Pol. (aside.) 'Tis he — he comes himself! (aloud.) thou reasonest well.

I know what thou wouldst say — not send the message —

Well! — I will think of it — I will not send it.

Now prythee, leave me — hither doth come a person

With whom affairs of a most private nature

I would adjust.

Bal. I go — to-morrow we meet,

Do we not? — at the Vatican.

Pol. At the Vatican. (exit Bal.)

If that we meet at all, it were as well

That I should meet him in the Vatican

In the Vatican — within the holy walls

Of the Vatican (Enter Castigilone.)

Cas. The Earl of Leicester here!

Pol. I am the Earl of Leicester, and thou seest,

Dost thou not? that I am here.

Cas. My lord, some strange,

Some singular mistake — misunderstanding —

Hath without doubt arisen: thou hast been urged

Thereby, in heat of anger, to address

Some words most unaccountable, in writing,

To me, Castiglione, the bearer being

Baldazzar, Duke of Surrey. I am aware

Of nothing which might warrant thee in this thing,

Having given thee no offence. Ha! — am I right?

'Twas a mistake? — undoubtedly — we all

Do err at times.

Pol. Draw, villain, and prate no more!

Cas. Ha! — draw? — and villain? have at thee — have at thee then,

Proud Earl! (draws.) [column 3]

Pol. (drawing.) Thus to th' expiatory tomb,

Untimely sepulchre, I do devote thee

In the name of Lalage!

Cas. (dropping his sword and recoiling to the extremity of the stage.)

Of Lalage!

Hold off — hold off thy hand! — Avaunt I say!

Avaunt — I will not fight thee — I dare not — dare not.

Pol. Thou wilt not fight with me didst say, Sir Count?

Shall I be baffled thus? — now this is well,

Exceeding well! — thou darest not fight with me?

Didst say thou darest not? Ha!

Cas. I dare not — dare not

Hold off thy hand — with that beloved name

So fresh upon thy lips I will not fight thee —

I cannot — dare not.

Pol. Now by my hallidom

I do believe thee — Coward! I do believe thee!

Thou darest not!

If this be not prose run mad, we have never seen a performance to be so characterised, and, in our opinion, the author of such a rhapsody should be very, very lenient in the future of others.







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