Text: John Savage, “Edgar Allan Poe,” United States Democratic Review, December 1850, pp. 542-544


­[page 542:]


Lo! By the grave I stand of one, for whom

A prodigal Nature and a niggard Doom

(That all bestowing, this withholding all)

Made each chance knell from distant spire or dome

Sound like a seeking Mother’s anxious call,

Return, poor Child! Home, weary Truant, home! — COLERIDGE.


Awake him not! Surely he takes his fill

Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill. — SHELLEY.

IN the Fine Arts Department of the Royal Dublin Society, by the left stairs leading to its Exhibition Gallery, there hangs a large picture; a tablet is underneath with this inscription — “Painted by JAMES BARRY, a pupil of this institution.” Well may the society be proud of it. Well may Ireland be proud. It stands there a monument of the institution and of the painter. It is a Shaksperean painting; immortal as the mind that gave the idea for its conception on canvass. It is an historical picture. The subject from Cymbeline. The scene, Jachimo in the chamber of Imogen. We have learned to love that vestibule, and the schools below and the gallery above to which it leads. They were the scenes of our early ambition and our pride; struggling and toiling in the one to make a display, and mayhap gain a reward upon the walls of the latter. For hours we have gazed upon Barry’s fine picture, until we were unconscious of any but its presence. For hours we have been in Imogen’s chamber, and wondered how we came there — were we there before she retired to rest, or when giving up her book and herself to sleep, she commended herself to the protection of the Gods,  

“From Fairies, and the tempters of the night?”

No; she has been asleep while we were there. The book with its unstirred mark (save where Jachimo read the left-off sentence) has been there since we were present. Came we in another trunk, or partook we of the interior of that hairy-leathered covered chest, into which the wily Italian is hasting? No; he envies the scene too much to allow any else to partake of it knowingly. Did the maid Helen steal us in? No; she is too faithful. Yet we have been there — ay, and so indelibly is the perfumed breath of the sleeping ‘lily’ stamped upon our senses, that while we write, a censer seems to be swinging at our window, careering fragrance through our book-musty atmosphere. Ay; we were there, and kissed those coral lips, and heard Jachimo in rhapsodical delight mutter,  

“Rubies unparagon’d,

How dearly they do’t;”

and almost hated him that he took the words from our mouth. Can we ­[page 543:] telegraph our soul o’er the ocean? Can we not feel thousands of miles away, as well as transport our name or our thoughts there instantaneously as they arise? We can. Imagination — mind — the soul — is an older telegraph than it of the wire and electricity. And not only doth it annihilate  present time and space, but it dissolves centuries, and takes to the ark. We pray in it a thanksgiving, that the deluge hath spared us. So the memory of that chamber blanks the mind to all else, and we have floated against the current of existence, back into that moonlit room again. The tapestry around the bed falls in the same rich drapery of “silk and silver.” The highly-wrought carvings on the chimney-piece, which, by the way, lies’south the chamber,’ are ‘another nature.’ So perfect are they — the chaste Diana, bathing; reality! — “ motion and breath left out.” In the back of the chamber the moon throws a deathlike gray tint upon the marble table, and the basin, and vessels of ablution; and there is the “divine Imogin” herself.  

“O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her,

And be her sense but as a monument”

The ‘adornment of the bed’ is gracefully disordered, as though the sweet sleeper had disturbed dreams of her beloved Posthumus. The pillow, rising at either side her head, seems like a dimpled cheek, hilarious in gallantry that it supported such a world of loveliness. She is thinking of her love and joy, and her arms, like messenger angels, seem sent out to return him to the heaven of her heart. Her breasts heave, as though a revolution shook Elysium, and we can see all that’s passing in those palpitating globes through their very translucence, as Jehovah can grasp the earth in a glance. Her tresses wander from their night-band, as though, partaking of her feelings, they were anxious to shelter, beneath their silky trellis, the loved of their, mistress. See on that left breast, which the goddess of sculpture or Jachimo has left bare,  

“A mole, cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops

I’ the bottom of a cowslip.”

The ‘yellow Jachimo’ maketh a note of that. The little table and embroidering basket was by the bed-side. The book — the tale of Tereus —   with the leaf marked  

“Where Philomel gave up.”

And the taper, the flame of which is so conscious of the sleeper’s loveliness, that it ‘bows towards her.’ At the other end, some distance from the bed, is the trunk, for the safety of which, “that her lord had interest in it,” she had pawned her honor. It is a stout trunk, and has traveled, too, for the hair is worn down to the leather in some places. The iron handle at the end betaketh of a little rust, and the nail-heads have lost every trace of the nailer’s hammer. They have lost the irregularities and angularities of youth, and are polished into steady middle age. Many and many a time have we counted every nail in this trunk; and what would Cloten give for the sight — not at the trunk, for an intimate lord of his sayeth, that he could not  

“Take two from twenty for his heart,

And leave eighteen.” ­[page 544:]

So the nail-heads would be a very limbo for him. But into the chamber — Ah! we fear he would be less discreet than we, — than even Jachimo, who, all temptations considered, was an “honorable man!” But stay; the Italian, minute as a modern appraiser’s clerk, has taken an inventory of the chamber, and as the sunset glides of an avalanche the golden bracelet he slides off her white arm, and with his treasures — his pencil and tablet in his left hand — his right supporting and opening the upraised lid, he steals cautiously backward — that he might keep his gaze on her — into the trunk. His body is bent, inclined forward, one foot is in the trunk — and we are breathless with excitement lest she should awaken. Since he has done so well, we wish him safety; besides, we believe her sleep, her blessed sleep, is her protector. We would not answer for the heated blood of Italy, were she awake and looked like woman; then he would be a demon — but she is asleep, and looks an angel. He is a man.

Why we have dwelt thus long on this grand painting, the great effect of which, no doubt, was partly owing to its being one of the earliest great works of art we saw, and partly the feeling of enthusiasm and brotherhood it created in the breast of a student in the same institute that had sent it forth, and felt proud of the artist as its pupil — why we have dwelt on it, that since our fortunes were cast on these shores, the same feeling of identification with a poet, or a painter, or his conjurations, has alone been felt in the perusal of Poe’s works. We have left our earthly sphere, and travelled in balloons, experiencing all the horrid sensations that atmospheric changes produce on the human frame. We have rotted away in a mesmeric stupor as M. Valdemar, and have been drowned in the stygian abyss of the south pole, by the potency of Edgar Poe’s will. We have actually been dead — dead — stupified into all the horrid realities of his powerful recitations and conceptions, and have awoke hours after the book had fallen from our hands, thanking Heaven that the sensations produced did not affect our sanity — felt our arms, legs, head — to be sure we felt, and walked out into the open air, that we might see living people, and green leaves, and children playing, to tone down our excitement; and think calmly on the lulled, yet highly-wrought intellect — a few pages of the scintillations of which had so transformed us for the time. Those feelings made us look back through the book of life for markings of a like sensation, and we found the leaf turned down at Barry’s picture, and one or two other chapters of national pride and national sorrow. Every person has such markings in his life-book — such beacons on his life-journey. Yet in all the vicissitudes of fortune, and the many million-million milestones and beacons in humanity’s various Journeys, every mortal, though he be of five-score, can steer, without jarring with any one else to his earliest joy — mark as a stolen bird will steer through a populous forest to the next, in which it first broke its shell.

(To be continued.)


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 542:]

*  The Works of the late Edgar Allan Poe, with notices of his life and genius. By N. P. Willis, J. R. Lowell, and R. W. Griswold. — 2 vols. New-York: J. S. Redfield, Clinton Hall, 1850.





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