Text: Paul Hamilton Hayne, [Review of A. G. Pym], Russell’s Magazine (Charleston), vol. I, no. 1, April 1857, pp. 48-54


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The publication of the fourth volume of Poe’s works, is an event of no slight importance in the literary world. The unique and original genius of this remarkable man is now everywhere acknowledged. His reputation is great, and is likely to be lasting and accumulative. Fragmentary, as most of his compositions are, both in prose and verse, the slightest of them diplays [[displays]] a finished elaboration, a sustained unity, a perfection almost of style and treatment, often united to an ingenious audacity of speculation, and a purity and force of imaginative insight, which cause them to stand alone as works of art. — In the analysis of Poe’s mind, we are first struck by the union of powers, which it has been usual to consider as antagonistic. His imagination was truly noble and comprehensive. Whatever fell within the scope of its moulding influence, became vital and instinct with a present and startling reality. It would seem as if some preternatural gloom of morbid association pervaded his intellect, and irresistibly led him to penetrate [or attempt to penetrate] the regions of the mysterious, the terrible, the unknown — to grasp, and strive to rend the veil that guards the profoundest secrets of human consciousness, or of divine government. It was not simply in his own “misty ‘mid region of Weir,” that he delighted to dream and speculate. In the chaos of worlds forming, or destroyed — amongst the systems of remote [column 2:] stars, on the border of the “heaven of heavens,” his thought, “winged and luminous,” soared with even and calm sweep, or in more earthly and sombre moods, circled itself with the horrors of Polar solitudes, the vastness of untravelled oceans, and the darkness of “deeds without a name.” But in his wildest flights, his most erratic investigations, we discover a coherency of logic, an absolute mathematical propriety, a keen activity of the analytical judgment, which gave to his least probable narratives, his most untenable theories, an air of literal exactitude and truth, for which we search in vain among the productions of any other writer under the sun. When, for example, the philosophy of Mesmerism was less understood than it is now, Poe wrote the article, entitled “Facts in the case of M. Valdemar,” in which a physician is represented as experimenting upon one of his patients in articulo mortis. The experiment is successful. Death seems to be arrested, and for six or seven months, the patient remains in a Mesmeric trance. But when the doctor attempts to reverse his passes, the patient exclaims that he is dead, and, finally, at the last motion of the awakening process, sinks into a mass of “the most loathsome putrefaction.” This is the skeleton of the narrative. It is sufficiently absurd; but filled up with such details as Poe was able to furnish, it deceived hundreds, and was actually quoted by an intelligent [page 49:] English journal, as an example of the wonderful efficacy of Magnetism.

Poe’s genius for analysis, was no less remarkable than his microscopical accuracy of perception. — Before the last numbers of “Barnaby Rudge” were given to the public, he dissected the plot of that elaborate story, unravelled its various intricate clews, and foretold the inevitable denouement.

In the “Mystery of Marie Roget,” and the “Murder in the Rue Morgue,” we have a still more complete exemplification of the results attainable by a concentrated exercise of this amazing faculty. Griswold, in his shallow and vindictive biography of Poe, says, that in the class of stories to which the tale last mentioned belongs, we should not wonder at the author’s ingenuity, because he is merely unriddling his own enigma; but in the construction of the enigma itself lies the power. The mind able to conceive such a continuity of cause and effect as that developed in “The Murder in the Rue Morgue,” could not, it is evident, fail to decypher any soluble mystery presented by the invention of another, or rising out of the accidents of social experience. As a poet, we think that Poe [notwithstanding the fact that his poems worthy of perusal may be collected into some half dozen pages] has achieved a peculiar success. — He wrote in accordance with certain laws of his own. The poetic principle he subjected to the same rigid scrutiny, which it was his custom — his instinct rather — to exercise upon all topics that claimed his attention. His conclusion is, that “this principle is strictly and simply the human aspiration for supernal beauty — that its manifestation is always found in an elevating excitement of the soul — quite independent of that passion, which [column 2:] is the intoxication of the heart, or of that truth, which is the satisfaction of the reason.”

“For,” as the author goes on to observe, “the tendency of passion is rather to degrade, than to elevate, the soul. Love, on the contrary — the divine Eros, the Uranian, as distinguished from the Dionaean Venus — is unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes. — And in regard to truth — if to be sure, through the attainment of a truth, we are led to perceive a harmony where none was apparent before — we experience at once the true poetical effect; but this effect is referable to the harmony alone, and not in the least degree to the truth, which merely served to render the harmony manifest.” Poe illustrates this rule in all the poems that may be considered as fairly representing his genius.

Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Archbishop Whately, and hundreds of other writers, more or less distinguished, have labored to define the “Poetical Principle.” It is generally acknowledged that they have all failed. Either they have said too much, or they have said too little. But of Poe’s definition, it may be fairly said, that if not perfect, it is at least philosophical.

The claims of the didactic versifiers crumble before it. The cry of “where is the moral, we see no moral in these stanzas,” is rendered deservedly ridiculous. So long as a poem opens to us glimpses of that beauty, which we feel to be the shadow of the eternal love, it is worse than folly to prate about “the moral.” The poem thus constituted is a complete moral in itself; it speaks to the immortal part of our nature; it refines, exalts, dignifies; it appeals wholly and immediately to that divine instinct, superior to all reason and craft of schoolmen, which pants for higher enjoyments, wiser companionship, [page 50:] worthier aims, a more expansive intelligence, a wider range of consciousness and affection, subtler capabilities of attainment, a closer approximation to, and a juster knowledge of, the ineffable God himself.

But besides the correction of popular fallacies as to the legitimate aim of poetry, Poe has done much to develope [[develop]] the significant capability and harmony of words.

Some of his pieces, as “Ulalume” and the “Bells,” were written for this express purpose. He has contributed something absolute and essential to the poetical vocabulary. He has again brought into notice the almost forgotten Refrain, with its manifold appeals to the sensibilities, through the reiteration of a single note, and has proved “that music, in its various modes of metre, rythm [[[rhythm]]and rhyme, is of so vast a moment in poetry as never to be wisely rejected — is so vitally important an adjunct, that he is theory-mad beyond redemption who declines its assistance.” — If it be true that he has accomplished this — and his works are here in proof of it — nothing can be more certain than that his reputation is founded upon a rock, that to him properly belong the trophies due to sterling originality of thought — a daily increasing appreciation in his own age, and a permanent place in the regards of the future time.

From this preface, which has insensibly grown to a length we did not contemplate — and which yet does not express a tithe of what might be said upon the subject — we pass to the review of the volume before us. This opens with an account of the adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym, the only exhibition we have of Poe’s abilities in a protracted narrative. Since the days we were accustomed to devour the [column 2:] engrossing history of Robinson Crusoe, religiously believing in the truth of every word we read, it has not been our fortune to meet with so enticing a story as that detailed by Mr. Pym. It is an eminently characteristic production. An aspect of the soberest vraisemblance is thrown over the relation of events the most utterly extravagant and bizarre, that it has entered into the imagination of man to conceive. — The outlines of the tale are as follows: A youth born at Nantucket, where his father traded in ship stores, is possessed, in the natural impetuosity of young blood, with a violent passion for the sea. His fancy dwells with peculiar fervency upon the unexplored regions of the South Pacific. While in this frame of mind, Pym (for of course it is of him we speak) makes the acquaintance of a Mr. Augustus Barnard, son of a sea-captain in the employ of Messrs. Lloyd & Vredenburgh, merchants at Nantucket, — Augustus, who is two years older than Arthur, has already been upon a whaling voyage, and is continually boasting of his adventures. “He had a manner,” the latter informs us, “of relating his stories of the ocean, well adapted to have weight with one of my enthusiastic temperament, and somewhat gloomy, although glowing imagination. It is strange, too, that he most strongly enlisted my feelings in behalf of the life of a seaman, when he depicted his most terrible moments of suffering and despair. For the bright side of the painting, I had a limited sympathy.” It happens in the course of time, that Captain Barnard is appointed by his employers to the command of the brig “Grampus,” destined for a whaling expedition to the usual southern latitudes. His son, who is, of course, to accompany him, spares no opportunity of urging upon Pym the excellency [page 51:] of the opportunity now offered for indulging his desire tor travel. “ He found me,” Mr. Pym goes on to say, “by no means an unwilling listener — yet the matter could not be so easily arranged. My father made no direct opposition, but my mother went into hysterics at the bare mention of my design; and more than all, my grandfather, from whom I expected much, vowed to cut me off with a shilling, if I ever broached the subject to him again. * * * I determined, however, to go at all hazards; and having made known my intention to Augustus? we set about arranging a plan.” This plan was sufficiently simple, being confined to an ordinary ruse. Mr. Pym is suddenly seized with a violent affection for certain of his relations who live at New Bedford, and whom it had been his custom occasionally to visit. A note is received (forged of course) from a member of this family, requesting the pleasure of Mr. Pym’s company for a couple of weeks. The invitation opportunely arrives but a day or two before the sailing of the brig. Consequently, the youth is enabled to leave his home without exciting suspicion, and is secreted by Angustus [[Augustus]] in the vessel’s hold. The place of durance is not particularly comfortable. It is thus described:

“Augustus brought me at length, after creeping and winding through innumerable narrow passages, to an iron bound box, such as is used sometimes for packing fine earthen ware. It was nearly four feet high, and full six long, but very narrow. * * In every direction around it, was wedged as closely as possible, a complete chaos of almost every species of ship furniture. * * * I afterwards found that Augustus had purposely arranged the stowage in this hold, with a view to affording me a thorough concealment. [column 2:] * * My companion now showed me that one of the ends ot the box could be removed at pleasure. He slipped it aside, and displayed the interior, at which I was excessively amused. A mattress from one of the cabin berths covered the whole of the bottom, and it contained almost every article of mere necessity which could be crowded into so small a space, allowing me at the same time sufficient room for my accommodation, either in a sitting position, or lying at full length.

“Among other things, there were some books, pen, ink and paper, three blankets, a large jug full of water, a keg of sea biscuit, three or four immense Bologna sausages, an enormous ham, a cold leg of roast mutton, and half a dozen bottles of cordials and liquors.”

Thus provided for, he is left by Augustus to his reflections. Three days after this, he feels the ship in motion, and begins to look forward to the period when his comrade shall come to release him — a period, (as previously arranged,) to be postponed until there is little chance of meeting a homeward bound vessel, in which Captain Barnard might feel it his duty to send Mr. Pym back to his parents. Meanwhile, overcome by the close atmosphere of the hold, our hero falls into an unnatural sleep. Upon awaking, he finds his limbs greatly cramped, and he is besides unaccountably hungry. He searches for his mutton, but is amazed to discover it in n state of “ absolute putrefaction.” He revenges himself, however, upon the Bologna sausages and the cordial; and prepares patiently, though somewhat startled, to abide the result. His hardihood is taxed to a degree he had not anticipated. Days elapse; the brig proceeds on her course; the provisions are exhausted, and so is the [page 52:] water; and now Arthur, stupefied by the pestilential air of the hold, half famished and oppressed by the awful mystery of his situation, yields to despair; escape seems impossible. He endeavors in vain to find some mode of egress; the floor of the cabin, through which, in the first instance, he had entered, is nailed down, and of Augustus he can hear nothing.

Just now, to his surprise, a favorite Newfoundland dog, whom he supposed to have been left at Nantucket, makes his appearance, with a note from Augustus tied under his left shoulder. By the aid of a little phosphorus, (the hold being as dark as Erebus,) he manages to decypher a portion — only a portion — of the contents, comprised in these seven encouraging words — “blood — your life depends upon lying close.” Another interval of insensibility, and at last his friend comes to the rescue. He relieves his immediate wants, and then communicates the horrible intelligence, that a mutiny has taken place — that Captain Barnard has been set adrift, and that the ship is now in the hands of the mutineers. They make their way together to the forecastle, which the sailors have deserted, for the more luxurious accommodations of the cabin. There Arthur remains concealed, whilst Augustus — whose life the insurgent seamen have consented to spare — shares with him his own meals. Gradually, one of the crew, named Peters — a man of gigantic strength, but supposed to be half-witted — owing to some dissatisfaction with the measures of his comrades, joins the councils of Arthur and Augustus, and encourages a plot for the recovery of the brig, and the consequent destruction of those now in power. Fortune favors their design. One of the mutineers dies of poison, administered [column 2:] by the first mate, and the conspirators are accidentally put in possession of his clothes. Upon a stormy night, and at the moment when Peters has succeeded, by a succession of ghost stories, in arousing the superstitious fears of his associates, Augustus, habited in the dead man’s garments, and otherwise disguised, suddenly appears among them. The effect is terrific. “The mate sprung from the mattress on which he was lying, and without uttering a single word, fell back stone dead upon the cabin floor. — Of the remaining seven, there were but three who had at first any degree of presence of mind. Two of these were shot instantly by Peters, and Arthur felled the third with a blow on the head from a pump handle.” The others were readily disposed of, and this uncommonly bold stratagem was crowned with complete success.

But other troubles are at hand. A tremendous gale overtakes them, and the “Grampus,” not to be managed by only three men, is wrecked, and rolls a useless hulk upon the waters. It is at this point, that the interest of the narrative becomes most absorbing. — The details which follow, are related with a harrowing minuteness. The cabin is flooded, and it is with the greatest difficulty that they can procure provisions or water. Several ships pass in the distance, and drop slowly below the horizon. One day, a large hermaphrodite brig of Dutch build, and painted black, heaves in sight, and sails directly across the counter of the “Grampus.” “The brig” (says the story) “came on slowly, and now more steadily than before, and our hearts leaped wildly within us, aud we poured out our whole souls in shouts and thanksgiving. * * * Of a sudden, and all at once, there came wafted over the ocean from the [page 53:] strange vessel a smell, a stench, such as the world has no name for — no conception of — hellish — utterly suffocating — insufferable — inconceivable. I gasped for breath, and turning to my companions, saw that they were paler than marble. But we had now no time left for question, or surmise, the brig was within fifty feet of us, and it seemed to be her intention to run under our counter, that we might board her without her putting out a boat. — We rushed aft, when suddenly a wide yaw threw her off full five or six points from the course she had been running, and as she passed under our stern, at the distance of about twenty feet, we had a full view of her decks. Shall I ever forget the triple horror of that spectacle? Twenty-five or thirty human bodies, among which were several females, lay scattered about between the counter and the galley in the last, and most loathsome state of decomposition. We plainly saw that not a soul lived in the fated vessel; yet we could not help shouting to the dead for help. Yes! long and loudly did we beg in the agony of the moment, that those silent and disgusting images would stay for us — would not abandon us to become like them — would receive us among their goodly company. We were raving with- horror and despair — thoroughly mad, through the anguish of our grievous disappointment.’”

Finally, through starvation, the animal nature gains the ascendancy, and the four wretched outcasts — we say four, because the original company had been increased, by the addition of one man from among the mutineers, named Parker — agree to draw lots, in order to determine which of them should be sacrificed, to appease their hunger. The lot falls upon Parker. He is killed, and eaten. (We must say here, [column 2:] par parenthèse, that this part of the story is utterly revolting, and that persons of weak nerves had better not attempt to read it) The strength derived from this horrible repast, sustains them a few days longer. — At the end of that time, they begin again to despair. Augustus fairly exhausted, dies, and is thrown to the sharks, “the clashing of whose teeth, as their prey was torn to pieces among them, might have been heard at the distance of a mile.”

At last, a “long, low, rakish looking topsail schooner” comes in view. She bears down upon the wreck, and in a few moments, Pym and Peters find themselves in her cabin. She proves to be the Jane Guy, of Liverpool, Captain Guy, bound on a sealing and trading voyage, to the South Seas and the Pacific. We have not room to follow the adventurers further, at least with any minuteness. They sail to a lower latitude south than any voyagers had ever attained before them. They stop at an unkown [[unknown]] island, whose inhabitants — a deceitful and blood thirsty race — succeed, by an ingenious piece of treachery, in destroying the whole ship’s crew, except the inseparable Pym and Peters. — These heroes — doubly, trebly heroes — escape in a canoe, and put boldly forth (forcing one of the natives to accompany them) upon the wide and desolate Antarctic Ocean, in a latitude exceeding eighty-four degrees, and with no provision but three turtles.” They continue on their course for a week, forever sailing southward, until on the 22d of March, a singular dénoĆ»ment takes place. It is thus described in Mr. Pym’s journal: “The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by the glare of the water, thrown back from the white curtain before us. Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew continuously [page 54:] now from beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal Teckeli-li, as they retreated from our vision. * * * And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men; and the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.”

Here the narrative concludes. — How Mr. Pym succeeded in retracing his way from among the mysteries of the extreme southern hemisphere, we are not informed. Why — some one inquires — should every thing — the waters — the vaporous sky — the birds — be represented emphatically as white, and still more white, as the voyagers approximate the Pole; and what is meant by the gigantic human figure of snow white skin that looms across the pathway? We hold the shrouded figure to be typical of the genius that guards the extreme secrets of the Polar realm; but of the white birds, &c., we can make nothing. As there is no ice, according to Mr. Pym, below the fifth parallel of southern latitude, the whiteness of all the objects he encountered, cannot be considered as metaphorically shadowing forth the sterile, ghastly and boundless fields of ice, [column 2:] ordinarily associated with our imaginations of that mysterious region. * * * The rest of the volume under renew, consists chiefly of a series of brief tales and sketches, remarkable rather for extravagance and grotesquerie, than for any high order of humor. One or two of these, however, as, for example, the “Scene in a Madhouse,” and “The Predicament, or how to write a Blackwood article,” are exceedingly ludicrous. “The Analysis of Maelzel’s Chess Player” displays the unerring logical sagacity of the author in a very striking light; and the review of the “Quacks of Helicon,” contains one of the most indignant, eloquent and scathing protests against the corruption of the Press in this country, that we have ever read.

The present volume finishes the collection of Poe’s works originally contemplated, and in connection with the three volumes preceding it, embraces, the publisher assures us, everything which it is probable that Poe himself would have wished to preserve. We conclude, as we begun, by expressing our conviction of the extraordinary genius manifested in these productions, and the firm belief that their author’s claims to immortality are at least equal to the claims of any other American writer whatsoever.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 48:]

*  The works of the late Edgar A. Poe. [[The Works of the Late Edgar A. Poe]] With a Memoir, by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, and Notices of his Life and Genius, by N. P. Willis and J. Russel [[Russell]] Lowell, in 4 vols. Vol. IV. Redfield: New York.




The author of this anonymous article is identified by Rayburn S. Moore, Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1, Fall 1983



[S:0 - RM, 1857] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe (Anonymous, 1857)