Text: Henry Sylvester Cornwell, “A Croak from the ‘Raven’,” Waverley Magazine (Boston, MA), vol. VII, no. 7, August 13, 1853, p. 105, col. 3


[page 105, column 3:]

A Croak from the “Raven.”

WHAT we have to say has been suggested by an article which lately appeared in this paper. When a writer attempts to establish any new claim, or demolish any old one, it is generally supposed prerequisite that his arguments should, at least, be tolerably respectable. The article in question is an attempt to prove that Mr. Poe stole the chief merits of his poem, “The Raven,” from Dr. Chivers.

After a great flourish of his penny trumpet, the writer proceeds to the charge by collating a verse of the “Raven,” with one of the Dr.’s verses; remarking, very kindly, (what we should else fail to perceive), that the “artistic finish” is the same in both poems. But an examination of the single item of punctuation we think sufficient to show the lameness of his argument here, without going a step farther. The writer gives a verse of a “Lament to my mother,” to show, he says, that “Dr. Chivers was the first writer in the world who ever made use of the word nevermore as a refrain; though we should like some one to tell us how the postulate is proven, even then. We may be thick-headed, but really, we cannot perceive by what kind of reasoning the writer comes to such a quick conclusion. We have, in an old Scrap-Book of ours, a little poem taken from the Cleshire (England) Herald, a verse of which is as follows:

“Now the holy pansies bloom

Round about thy lonely tomb;

All thy little woes are o’er;

We shall meet thee here no more


But the robin loves to sing

Near thee in the early spring;

Thee his song will cheer no more

By our trellised cottage door


Now we do not claim any great merit for these verses; still they have whatever of merit may be found in the refrain, “nevermore.” If the existence of these verses is doubted, we will wager to produce them.

After one or two equally lucid and convincing arguments to prove that the “Raven” was stolen from the Dr., the writer gravely informs us that “after all this,(!) he knows most positively that it was!” Ah! then we suppose there is no disputing the point. This is a clincher! But we are glad if there is even one thing he knows.

The only objection we have to this is, that we happen to know, with equal certainty, that it was not. “Knowledge is power,” and this is probably the reason why his logic is so omnipotent.

“Poe,” says our fierce Zoilus, “never had any experiences, except such as his bad conduct created.” Does the writer imagine that, being left alone at an early age, being an orphan, was no experience? Again: the Dr. is said to be the first man in the world who ever used Trochaic rythm to express an Elegaic Theme. But here our anonymous Quixotte is more unfortunate than ever! He forgets Shelby’s “Dirge of the Year,” and “Lament,” not to mention that fine old hymn that everybody knows, “Sister thou wast mild and lovely,” which we think was written in 1835.

Our pleasant friend goes on to compare the first (and poorest) verse of the “Raven,” with this from the Dr.’s honeyed pen.

“As an egg, when broken, never can be mended, but must ever

Be the same crushed egg forever, so shall this dark heart of mine,

Which, though broken, is still breaking, and shall nevermore cease aching,

For the sleep which has no waking — for the sleep which now is thine!”

This is said to be “amply sufficient to show the nice affinity between the two poems.” Not to notice the very “nice affinity,” there are few that will not agree that is “amply sufficient!” Taken altogether, it is an eggs-traordinary verse. When a versifier talks of eggs, when lie compares his heart, (dark heart) to a crushed egg, his stock of similes must be nearly eggs-austed. Risum teneatts, arnica? It surely were enough to bring such verses in the vicinity of Poe’s poem, without accusing the dead poet of lying and theft. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a maxim worth a world of such poems as this. But we care not how bold a man may be, afar from the battle, safe housed and hidden from dead enemies; but we differ when he rakes open a grave, and drags to light all that is contemptible and vile. This work should be left for hyenas. But the writer, very prudently for him, preferred to make these charges when the grave-dust was heavy on the hand that wrote the “Raven.”

We should confess but little surprise to hear that Mr. Chivers claimed as the author of the melody “Ding dong Bell,” and that from this Poe stole his idea of “The Bells.” The ingenuity of Poe makes it more improbable that he imitated, when that alone could have reached any desire.

But we will waste no more paper. Who believes the claim to be true? Who calls Poe a petty imitator? Such absurdity will neither eclipse the lustre of Poe’s fame, or stiriate Dr. Chivers.

With him we are unacquainted. What we have written has been from no personal dislike. Any one having even a slight appreciation of poetry, cannot fail to perceive that he sometimes has the true fire. But let both sides of the question in which I have been so bold as to enter the lists, be examined, and we are not afraid to leave the verdict with the world.

H. S. C.




Although the article is signed only with the initials “H. S. C.,” the name of “H. S. Cornwell” is listed as a “Regular Contributor” to the Waverley Magazine. Dr. Henry Sylvester Cornwell (1831-1886) was a physician and poet, living in New England. He was also an ardent Poe enthusiast, and owned a copy daggereotype of Poe.



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