Text: Glen Allan Omans, “Passion in Poe: The Development of a Critical Term,” Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1986


­ [title page:]

The Development of a Critical Term


Professor of English and American Studies
Temple University

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Between 1836 and 1848, a period which stretched from the beginning of Poe’s career as an editor and critic to a few months before his death, Poe made seven major critical statements against the expression of passion, or strong emotion, in poetry. Already in the first year of his first real job as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, in an April, 1836, review of his fellow poets, Drake and Halleck, Poe asserted that “with the passions of mankind . . . it would require little ingenuity to prove that [poesy] has no inevitable, and indeed no necessary coexistence” (H, 8:283).(1) Poe waited eight years to make his next, more aggressive pronouncement against passion in a March, 1844, review of Horne’s long poem, Orion. “Poetry and passion are discordant,” he proclaimed. He criticized Tennyson’s poem, “Locksley Hall,” for evoking “a purely passionate” rather than “a properly poetic effect,” but praised Tennyson’s “Oenone” because it “exalts the soul not into passion, but into a conception of pure beauty.” Poe then distinguished between the “greater number of readers” who are excited “more intensely” by “the passionate poems of Byron,” who are “more susceptible of the impulses of passion than of the impressions of beauty,” and the true readers of poetry who know “that the origin of Poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder Beauty than Earth supplies.” Poe concluded by citing Coleridge in support of his position, clearly in distortion of Coleridge’s own: “If, with Coleridge . . . we reject passion from the true — from the pure poetry — . . . if we dismiss even the nearly divine emotion of human love — . . . with how much greater reason shall we dismiss all else?” (H, 11:255-256).

During the last five years of his life, Poe made his ban on passion one of the standing points of his aesthetic theory. In a “Marginalia” piece on Mrs. Amelia Welby (December, 1844), Poe repeated his tag phrase, “poetry and passion are discordant,” and added two others: “True passion is prosaic” and “a passionate poem is a contradiction in terms” (H, 16:56). In “The Philosophy of Composition” (April, 1846), he again justified his stricture against passion by saying that it is detrimental to the true poetic effect: “Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart,(2) are, although attainable, to a certain ­[page 2:] extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a homeliness . . . which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.” Though Poe allowed that passion may be “profitably introduced” in a poem to “aid the general effect . . . by contrast,” he emphasized that the true artist will always “enveil” passion “in that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the essence of the Poem” (H, 14:198). In a review of William Cullen Bryant, published in the same month as “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe replied to Rufus Griswold’s objection that Bryant had “not sung of the passion of love,” by saying: “Now . . . in not singing the passion of love, the poet has merely shown himself the profound artist, has merely evinced a proper consciousness that such are not the legitimate themes of poetry.” Poe then praised “the gentle, unpassionate emotion,” a curious phrase, of Bryant’s poetry, stressing that “it is precisely this ‘unpassionate emotion’ which is the limit of the true poetical art.” He again repeated his tag phrase — “Passion proper and poesy are discordant” — and concluded: “Poetry, in elevating, tranquilizes the soul. With the heart it has nothing to do” (H, 13:130-131). Poe wrote on the subject of passion in poetry for the third time in 1846 in a “Literati” piece on Anne C. Lynch. He found it “an unusual indication” of her “taste” and of her “intuitive sense of poetry’s true nature” that the passion of her poetry “is just sufficiently subdued to lie within the compass of the poetic art, within the limits of the beautiful . . .  . Mere passion [note that “mere”!], however exciting, prosaically excites; it is in its very essence homely, and delights in homeliness; but the triumph over passion . . . is one of the purest and most idealizing manifestations of moral beauty” (H, 15:117). Poe made his final statement about the conflict between passion and true beauty in “The Poetic Principle” (1848). Once again he emphasized that “the Human Aspiration of Supernal Beauty,” accompanied by “an elevating excitement of the Soul” is “quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the heart . . .  . For, in regard to Passion, alas! its tendency is to degrade, rather than to elevate the Soul.” Poe’s use here of such morally-pejorative words as “intoxication,” “alas,” and ­[page 3:] “degrade” makes this final statement the most emphatic of them all (H, 14:275-276, 290).

To Poe’s generation, the word “passion” was a portmanteau term that could signify any variety of human emotion. Already, in the 18th century, it had lost its original, rather precise meaning of “suffering” and become a generic term synonymous with “emotion,” “affection,” “feeling,” and sometimes “sentiment.”(3) In their aesthetic writings, Shaftesbury contrasted the “vicious” passions and the “tender” passions,(4) and Gerard distinguished between the “sublime” and the “humble passions,” the “uneasy and gloomy passions” and “the cheerful and pleasurable affections,” the “rougher passions,” and the “wrong passions.”(5) In the Romantic period, the word was no more precise. Wordsworth, in the “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads (1800) referred to “the general passions and . . . feelings of men.”(6) But elsewhere he distinguished between “elevated or profound passion” and “passions . . . of a milder character,” and used the word to designate such varied feelings as pain, disgust or anger, or to mean obsession, prejudice, or “sexual appetite.”(7) Then there is the provocative ambiguity of the first line of Wordsworth’s poem, “Strange fits of passion have I known.” Coleridge consistently used the term “in its general sense, as [indicating] an excited state of the feelings and faculties.”(8) But in an amazing letter to Thomas Wedgwood, he used the term to describe how his wife received his friends “with freezing looks” and “screams of passion,”(9) a very different sense of the word from that in lines 45-46 of “Dejection: An Ode”: “I may not hope from outward forms to win / The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.”

Poe’s use of the word is no more precise. When used in the plural, “passions” in his criticism usually indicates general human emotion (H, 9:154; 10:58, 59, 132; 11:99; 16:29, 158). In Poe’s letters, however, the plural more often refers to the more violent passions (O, 1:101, 130; 2:328, 383).(10) “Passion” in the singular, in Poe’s general criticism, means “strong interest” or “obsession” in at least five instances (H, 7:xlvii; 11:87; 13:27; 15:23, 55). In one usage, “passion” means “intense vitality” or “energy” (H, 14:178). Frequently, the singular indicates general emotion (H, 8:73, 74-75, 223, 225, ­[page 4:] 123; 11:165; 15:119, 184; O, 1:257), but just as often it means “anger” in particular (H, 9:111, 128, 190; 12:136, 137; 13:167, 169, 171; 15:164; O, 1:7, 130; 2:427). Poe also used “passion” to refer to love (H, 8:57, 97, 124, 188; 10:149; 13:40; 15:85), but the meaning of “love-passion” can vary from sexual desire (H, 10:34; 12:211) to tenderness (H, 16:144). Occasionally, Poe used the word in more than one sense within the same context. For example, in a “Literati” piece on Laughton Osborn, Poe used “passion” in the sense of sexual desire, but two pages later used it to mean “anger” (H, 15:46, 48).

Thus, we should notice that in his seven major statements about the inappropriateness of passion in poetry, Poe is not always speaking of the same kind of passion. In his Drake-Halleck review, he used only the generic plural, “passions.” In his Orion review, he switched to the singular but did not seem to mean by it any one passion. For the “passion” of Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” to which he referred would be predominantly the narrator’s anger, but at the end of his statement, Poe cited “human love” as another of the passions to be rejected “from the pure poetry.” Poe referred three times to “grief” as the passion most characteristic of Mrs. Welby’s poetry, but went on to say that her treatment of this emotion subdues this grief so that it “is not so much the tone of passion, as of gentle and melancholy regret.” That this regret is an acceptable, unpassionate tone for poetry, Poe verified by noting that it is the effect he tried to achieve in his own “Lenore” (H, 11:277-278). In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe emphasized that the “tone” which is the “highest manifestation” of pure beauty is “one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones” (H, 14:197-198). In his review of Frances Osgood, Poe again found “passionate sadness” and “passionate tenderness” acceptable for poetry (H, 13:121, 125). In his remarks on Bryant, he again ruled that “subdued sorrow” is an acceptable poetic tone and again judged the “intense passion of grief” unpoetic (H, 13:130, 134). Poe seems to draw over-fine distinctions here between the “grief” which is passionate and therefore not ­[page 5:] acceptable in poetry, and the “gentle and melancholy regret,” the “passionate sadness” and “tenderness,” and the “subdued sorrow” which are “most legitimate” poetic tones. Also in his review of Bryant, Poe again ruled out “the passion of love,” as he did in his Orion review. Love is again the central concern of Poe’s final statement in “The Poetic Principle,” but here he distinguished between “Uranian” love — “the true, the divine Eros” — which is unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes,” and “Dionaean” love which, according to Poe’s unmistakeable allusion to Plato’s Symposium, is sexual desire, a “passion,” and so anti-poetic (H, 14:290).

The best explanation of Poe’s not singling out any specific passion is that he believed any strong emotion inhibits what he considered the pure poetic effect or experience. That Poe banned passion only from poetry is clear from his many statements about the suitability of passion to fiction and drama. “The object Passion, or the excitement of the heart,” he said, is “far more readily attainable in prose” than in poetry (H, 11:109; 13:146; 14:198; see also 10:132; 15:46; 16:34; and 12:188, 189-192, 211; 15:31). On the other hand, according to Poe, beauty “can be better treated in the poem” than in prose — “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem” (H, 11:109; 14:197). Poe, then, banned passion from poetry because it interfered with the combined sense of elevation and excitement which he felt characterized the experience of ideal beauty.

Poe defined this experience as a pleasurable, “elevating excitement of the Soul” (H, 14:290). Poe was using the traditional faculty psychology of his day that divided the mind into various functions or faculties, each one capable of a different kind of response. The most commonly cited faculties were the intellect, imagination, taste, and heart. By choosing “soul” as the faculty involved in the aesthetic experience of beauty (some psychologists considered the “soul” as the composite of all faculties working together), Poe clearly intended to attach the associations of spirituality, universality, and ideality to the experience. He claimed that the perception of ideal beauty brings a “foreshadowing of the future and spiritual life”; it “proves God’s existence”; “has its origin in a sense of the Godhead.” ­[page 6:] “The contemplation of the Beautiful” launches “the soul in its flight to an ideal Helusion” (H, 11:255-256; 15:117). That the soul is elevated by the aesthetic experience re-inforces the associations of ethereality and ideality. But the experience must also be pleasurable and exciting. It must heighten the senses. Elevation alone is too abstract, too dull, not pleasurable. Excitation alone is too grossly sensual. Excitement and elevation must occur in union. Poe, in describing the experience, often used oxymorons to suggest the simultaneous but somewhat contradictory experience of the “properly poetic effect.” It is a “calm and intense rapture” (H, 11:255), an “intense and pure elevation” (H, 14:197, 275). “Poetry, in elevating, tranquilizes the soul”; but poetry is also “thrilling . . . to the soul, while there is yet a spiritual elevation in the thrill” (H, 13:131, 134). Poetry “exalts the soul” (H, 11:255). The pleasure of the aesthetic experience is “most intense,” but also “majestic,” “sublime,” “at once the most pure, the most elevating,” “the most ethereal” (H, 14:197, 275, 289), an “emotion to which all other human emotions are vapid and insignificant” (H, 11:256). Sarah Helen Whitman wrote that Poe once pencilled on a manuscript of one of his poems his “conviction” that the “ecstacy” of the poetic experience “is of a character supernal to the human nature — is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world.”(11)

Poe felt that passion upset the delicate balance between elevation and excitation: “Pure beauty . . . as far transcends earthly passion as the holy radiance of the sun does the glimmering and feeble phosphoresence of the glow-worm.” Passion is “unworthy the high spirituality” of truly poetic themes (H, 11:255-256). It excites, but “prosaically” H, 15:117). It incites and intoxicates the heart, but “its tendency is to degrade rather than to elevate the Soul” (H, 14:275, 276, 290). Poe’s favorite adjective for passion is “homely”; “True passion is prosaic — homely,” is “in its very essence homely, and delights in homeliness” (H, 16:56, 15:117). In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe adds — “the truly passionate will comprehend me” (H, 14:198), a curious aside in which Poe seems to hint that he himself is passionate and comprehends passion. Yet Poe’s use of the word “homely” is more suggestive than definitive here. “Homely” suggests “domestic,” a meaning ­[page 7:] which would accord with Coleridge’s account of his wife’s reception of his friends with “screams of passion.” “Homely” may also suggest that passion is unattractive, familiar, unsophisticated, or earthy, all meanings of the word that were current in Poe’s day. Gerard, in his Essay on Genius, uses “homely” to describe poetic images which he calls “low or coarse,” “so indelicate that a nice taste would be disgusted with the very repetition of them . . . ”(12)

All of these meanings seem to re-inforce Poe’s objection to passion. He is addressing a major issue here — the nature of aesthetic pleasure — and his basic position is clear. He wants poetry to move the reader, to create a personal, affective response. This response is what Poe calls the poetic “effect.” He does not want to bar emotion from the aesthetic experience, and so includes “excitement” in his definition. But he does not want that excitement to be gross, rough, or too intense, so as to disturb the elevation which is the other half of the aesthetic effect. Thus, Poe does not equate “passion” to “emotion” as British aestheticians had for a century before him. Rather, he used the expression “unpassionate emotion” to describe the kind of poetic excitement he sought — emotion, yes, but emotion chastened, elevated, idealized, removed from the turbulence and sudden vehemence of actual human passion.(13) “It is precisely this ‘unpassionate emotion’ which is the limit of the true poetical art” (H, 13:131).

Poe was no doubt ruling out, among other responses, the blatant and rather violent emotional reaction sought by the “poetry of sensibility” in vogue at the end of the eighteenth century, a vogue intensified by the popularity of gothic and sentimental novels during the same period. This may be why Poe carefully distinguished between the “excitement of the heart,” the faculty which was obviously the target of literature of sensibility, and the excitement of the “soul,” a faculty to be elevated rather than milked for tears. Poe cited Tennyson’s “Oenone” and Shelley’s “Sensitive Plant” (H, 11:255-256) as specific examples of poems which avoid passion because he felt both poems treat emotionally-charged subject matter but avoid cheap sentimental effects. That Poe had a tendency to write sentimental poetry himself would only have intensified his ­[page 8:] critical strictures against it. Perhaps one reason Poe wrote “The Philosophy of Composition” and in it distinguished between appeals to the heart and to the soul, was to emphasize that his poem, “The Raven,” the creation of which is described in the essay, is not a poem about lost love, a sentimental theme, but rather a poem about cosmic loss and solipsistic disorientation, themes elevated by the poet’s art.

At the same time, Poe ruled out from the desired poetic experience other more legitimate effects savored by the eighteenth century — the sublime, the pathetic, and the horrible.(14) In his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Poe implied that “terror, or passion, or horror, or a multitude of such other points” are emotional effects more appropriate to the prose tale (H, 11:109).(15) Both Longinus and Burke, the major definers of “the sublime,” stressed that in experiencing the sublime, one is carried away by “vehement and inspired passion” which “bursts out in a wild gust of mad enthusiasm,” one feels “the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.”(16) Poe, in emphasizing the calmer, more-ethereal experience of “pure beauty,” distinguished between a higher, refined, and sophisticated experience free of sensuality, and the more common, sensational search for the gross, emotional stimulus of the sublime. In making this distinction, Poe ruled out much of the traditional range of poetic experience. He also trod a dangerously fine line between etherealized emotion and no emotion at all, between elevated and rarefied excitement, and boredom. But in making the distinction, he broke with tradition to indicate a new, original concept of the poetic experience, the concept of pure beauty, of “the poetic sentiment.”

It is an indication of the uniqueness of Poe’s aesthetic position that he found himself almost alone among his predecessors and contemporaries on this issue. Poe seemed to take the meaning of “passion” back to that of seventeenth century rationalists — a “perturbation of the soul.”(17) But the eighteenth century’s renewed interest in the sublime brought Longinus and passion back into favor. Thus, most eighteenth-century British aestheticians believed passion to be at the center of the poetic experience: John Dennis, Shaftesbury, Hume, Burke, William Collins, Bishop Lowth, Richard Hurd, Gerard, Lord Kames, ­[page 9:] Joshua Reynolds, Hugh Blair, Adam Ferguson, and the Reverend William Enfield.(18) Though all of these writers took a totally opposite stand from Poe, this list of their names, a sort of roll call of major and minor eighteenth-century British aestheticians, serves to emphasize that the relationship between passion and poetry was an important issue in aesthetic discussions for 140 years before Poe took up the topic.

M. H. Abrams, in The Mirror and the Lamp, emphasizes that the basic premise of English Romantic theory was that “poetry is the expression or overflow of feelings, or emerges from a process of imagination in which feelings play the crucial part. Statements to his effect . . . are to be found in almost all the important critics of the period.”(19) Certainly the critical writings of Wordsworth and Coleridge are crowded with discussions of the importance of passion in poetry. Wordsworth wrote in his “Note to ‘the Thorn’ ” (1800): “the Reader cannot be too often reminded that Poetry is passion; it is the history or science of feelings . . . ,” and he developed this idea in his “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads (1800) and revised “Preface” of 1802.(20) Coleridge, even more emphatically, proclaimed: “Passion must be [the] Soul of Poetry . . . ,” and he too repeated the idea in his Biographia Literaria and other criticism.(21) Both men emphasized the importance of passion not only as the subject matter of poetry but also in the poet during the act of poetic creation. They felt that the poet can only create while in a state of mental excitement. The poet is, in fact, distinguished from others by his or her exceptional sensitivity to passion,(22) and his or her use of figurative language is justified only when it is the spontaneous product of the poet’s emotionally intense state.(23) However, Wordsworth, in particular, insisted that this creative frenzy is regulated by an equally strong activity of contemplation and meditation, an idea most carefully expressed in his definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility disappears, and an emotion, similar to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced . . . . In this mood successful composition generally begins . . . .”(24) In his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge described ­[page 10:] poetry as the result of a “salutary antagonism” between spontaneous feeling and “the will and judgment” of the poet working toward order and control. Poetry “must be not only a partnership, but a union; an interpenetration of passion and of will, of spontaneous impulse and voluntary purpose.”(25) The result of this exercise of restraint through will, judgment, or recollection, Wordsworth argued, is the refinement of the originally-experienced passion so that the reader’s understanding . . . must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, his taste exalted, and his affections ameliorated.” Wordsworth comes close to Poe in claiming that one reader will be “elevated above another in proportion as he possesses” the “capacity” to “be excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants.” Wordsworth concludes “that to endeavor to produce or enlarge this capacity is one of the best services in which . . . a writer can be engaged.”(26)

Poe’s references to Wordworth and echoes of Coleridge in Poe’s earliest piece of formal criticism, the “Letter to B——;” indicate that he had read Wordsworth’s prefaces to Lyrical Ballads and Poems, and the “Essay Supplementary to the Preface,”(27) and at least chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria by 1831. Thus, Poe probably had in mind Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s statements about the power of meter “to hold in check the workings of passion”(28) when he said in his review of Horne’s Orion that he was “willing to permit Tennyson to bring, to the intense passion which prompted his ‘Locksley Hall,’ the aid of that terseness and pungency which are derivable from rhythm and from rhyme” (H, 11:255). However, he also said, twice, in the same review, that Coleridge agreed with him “that poetry and passion are discordant.” We can now see, in light of Coleridge’s statement — “Now poetry, Mr. Wordsworth truly affirms, does always imply PASSION” — and similar statements cited above, that Poe’s claim is incorrect.(29) The only justification of this claim is that he was referring to the idea proposed by both Wordsworth and Coleridge that the poet adds to the process of poetic creation a control through thought or meditation which calms the potentially “gross and violent” passion of poetic subject matter. Poe seems to have tried out this concept in three of his statements about passion in poetry. In his ­[page 11:] review of Mrs. Welby, he argued that though the themes of her poems are “passionate,” “her tone is properly subdued” because, in the process of composition, “the excited fancy triumphs — the [passion] is subdued — chastened — is no longer” passion. Poe even seems to echo here Wordsworth’s statement, quoted above, that “in this mood successful composition generally begins,” when Poe goes on to say: “In this mood we are poetic, and it is clear that a poem now written will be poetic in the exact ratio of its dispassion” (H, 11:277-278; 16:54-56).(30) In his review of Bryant, Poe refers his readers to his remarks on Mrs. Welby “for a fuller explanation of” his views on poetry and passion and notes that in Bryant’s poem, “June,” Bryant has “subdued” the “intense passion of grief” which was the genesis of the poem (H, 13:130-131, 134). In his “Literati” piece on Anne Lynch, Poe commented that while her poems are notable for “their passion, . . . this passion is just sufficiently subdued to lie within the compass of the poetic art, within the limits of the beautiful.” Thus, her poems depict the “triumph over passion” (H, 15:117).

But it is not accurate to conclude that Poe’s final view on the place of passion in lyric poetry is represented in these three reviews. For in his Orion review, published before his remarks on Welby, Bryant, and Lynch, and in “The Poetic Principle,” published after these remarks, Poe took the position that the artist not deal with passionate subject matter at all, thus avoiding any necessity for the artist to curb passion in any way. He concluded his Orion review by totally rejecting “passion from the true — from the pure poetry even the nearly divine emotion of human love” (H, 11:256). Nor did Poe ever again cite Coleridge as being in agreement with him on this issue, perhaps because he had read more of Coleridge and realized that his position in the Orion review never did agree with Coleridge’s. If we take “The Philosophy of Composition” and “The Poetic Principle” as statements of Poe’s mature view, then his decision was to ban passion from poetry, recommending “unpassionate emotion” instead (H, 13:131). Yet, Poe published his remarks on Bryant in the same month as “The Philosophy of Composition.” We begin to sense that Poe was at times indecisive in his views on poetry and passion, no doubt because of ­[page 12:] the pressure of opposition exerted by so many of his famous predecessors.

Poe made his position that poetry and passion are “discordant” almost untenable because he combined pleasure, excitement, and elevation in his definition of the desired poetic effect — “Beauty . . . is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation of the soul” (H, 14:198) — but banned passion as inimical to this effect, while Wordsworth and Coleridge stressed repeatedly, that passion is an essential cause of the pleasurable elevation and excitement which a reader experiences from a successful poem. All of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s capsule definitions of poetry contain, in various combination, the words “pleasure,” “excitement,” and “elevation,” while they maintain that “passion” is essential both to poetic subject matter and to the poet’s inspiration.(31) This chorus of aesthetic pronouncements by the two most influential theorists of the English Romantic movement made it difficult for Poe to make clear how the “unpassionate emotion” he desired in a poem could sufficiently “excite” a reader without attaining the emotional intensity of fully-passionate feelings. This difficulty was increased by the fact that later Romantic and early Victorian critics continued to make passion an essential part of the aesthetic experience. Increasing attacks on poetry by such groups as the new scientists, the Utilitarians, and well-meaning littérateurs like Macaulay,(32) brought a spate of defensive apologies which attempted to answer the question, “what is poetry?” (the implied question was, “what good is poetry?”) in such a way as to enable it to continue to have value in an increasingly fact-oriented culture. These apologies all tended to share a common definition toward which Wordsworth and Coleridge had pointed the way — poetry is pleasurable passion. This essential formula was offered by Hazlitt, Francis Jeffrey, Carlyle, Leigh Hunt, A. Smith, and John Stuart Mill in England, and Bryant and Emerson in America.(33) Poe’s reviews of Hazlitt (H, 9:140-145; 12:226-228) and Bryant (H, 8:1-2; 9:268-305; 10:85-91; 13:125-141), his caustic remarks about Hunt (H, 14:220; 16:111) and Emerson (H, 4:218; 11:7, 15, 189; 13:195; 14:179; 15:260; 16:100, 122), and his familiarity with the pages of Blackwood’s Magazine and the Edinburgh Review in which ­[page 13:] Smith and Jeffrey published their essays indicate that Poe was aware of at least some of their views on poetry and passion.(34) Bryant’s position is so opposite to Poe’s that one tends to conclude that Poe was arguing directly against Bryant.(35) Yet Bryant was but one figure among many in the long and dominant British and American aesthetic tradition linking poetry and passion, against which Poe squared off. To the extent that readers of Poe’s criticism were aware of this tradition and the parade of formidable aestheticians who comprised it, these readers must have been surprised at Poe’s radical opposition to such an influential army. By the sheer weight of their collective arguments, they threatened to annihilate Poe’s position. Some of them — Hume, Burke, and Smith, for example — maintained that human beings enjoy the vicarious experience of even the most violent passions, such as rage, terror, and grief. They pressed Poe hard to explain how dispassionate poetry could pleasurably excite. Poe would answer that passion stimulates the emotion but depresses the “soul.” But Wordsworth and Coleridge included elevation with the pleasurable excitement resultant from passion judiciously tempered by the poet’s transmuting power. Poe’s distinctions between “passion” and “unpassionate emotion,” between “passion” and aesthetically-acceptable excitement, seemed distinctions “without a difference.”

Poe’s position was made still more difficult by the fact that those who agreed with him that poetry ought not to be passionate were those who attacked the value of poetry in human society. These included the strangest of bedfellows, Plato and the Utilitarians, both of whom considered poetry an irritant that stirred up the human passions that were better left quiescent for the good of the individual and the state.(36) Bentham argued that “in regard to passion, . . . repression, not excitation” is the desired end, “passion being . . . the everlasting enemy of reason, in other words, of sound judgment,” and he grumbled that the poet’s “business consists in stimulating our passions, and exciting our prejudices.”(37) Mill, in his Autobiography, records that his father considered “passionate emotions of all sorts . . . as a form of madness” and “regarded as an aberration of the moral standard of modern times . . . the great stress laid ­[page 14:] upon feeling.” Mill also details how his friend Roebuck was “like most Englishmen” in that “he found his feelings stand very much in his way” and “wished that his feelings should be deadened rather than quickened.”(38) Thus, the Utilitarians attempted to minimize poetry’s capacity to arouse the emotions by demoting it from the ranks of art to a mere sensual pleasure no more significant than any other. Some Victorian men of letters, like Thomas Love Peacock, surrendered to the Utilitarians’ view and argued that poetry had lost its usefulness in a scientific age. Peacock declared in “The Four Ages of Poetry” that “the highest inspirations of poetry are resolvable into three ingredients: the rant of unregulated passion, the whine of exaggerated feeling, and the cant of factitious sentiment.”(39) Sir Henry Taylor, a popular Victorian dramatist who tried to combat Peacock’s argument by urging poets to write a more rational poetry that dealt with everyday concerns of common people, found the poetry of Byron and Shelley inimical to that end because of its undue emphasis on “passion.”(40)

These arguments were moral, of course, rather than aesthetic, interested in diminishing the pure aesthetic experience rather than defining its nature and enhancing its value. However, there was an aesthetic tradition which did argue that passion tarnished pure beauty, the tradition of German Idealist philosophy, the “new” school of aesthetics which reinforced English and American Romanticism in important ways while opposing British philosophy in general. Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790), the source of so many of the main ideas of German Romanticism, was the first work to define the aesthetic experience as “disinterested” and so to distinguish the pure experience of beauty from that of “the agreeable” and the good. Kant defines “the beautiful” as that which gives a universal sense of pleasure or delight independent of any particular interest. The beautiful pleases universally by means of pure form, rather than because of any specific end to which it might be judged suitable. Kant defines one type of “interest” as that “delight which we connect with the representation of the real existence of an object,” when, for example, we like a painting because we are attracted by a glass of wine represented in it. Kant emphasizes that “one must not be in the ­[page 15:] least prepossessed in favour of the real existence of the thing, but must preserve complete indifference in this respect, in order to play the part of judge in matters of taste.” When our delight in art is the result of this kind of interest, Kant calls the experience one of “the agreeable” rather than of the beautiful because it is not a pure delight. An experience of “the agreeable” gratifies the senses rather than appeals to the aesthetic faculty, or “taste.” Another kind of interest is always present in our delight in the good because we always consider the good as good for something, as useful to a specific end. Thus, Kant concludes: “the agreeable is what GRATIFIES a man; the beautiful what simply PLEASES him; the good what is ESTEEMED (approved), i.e. that on which he sets an objective worth . . .  . Of all these three kinds of delight, that of taste in the beautiful may be said to be the one and only disinterested and free delight; for with it, no interest, whether of sense or reason, extorts approval.”(41)

Making these distinctions, Kant can claim that “every interest vitiates the judgment of taste and robs it of its impartiality.” Thus, Kant argues that any experience which produces an emotion, that is, arouses a passion, is neither universal nor disinterested. Such an experience is sensual and the pleasure derived from it is based on an empirical judgment rather than a judgment of taste. Kant is emphatic enough to say: “Taste that requires an added element of charm and emotion for its delight . . . has not yet emerged from barbarism.” Passion, in Kant’s view, inhibits the pure experience of the beautiful: “Emotion . . . is quite foreign to beauty.” “A judgment of taste . . . is only pure so far as its determining ground is tainted with no merely empirical delight. But such a taint is always present where charm or emotion have a share in the judgment by which something is to be described as beautiful.”(42)

Two French popularizers of Kant’s philosophy, Charles Villers and Victor Cousin, imported Kant’s attitudes toward strong emotion into the French aesthetic tradition. In his Philosophie de Kant (1801), Villers described the highest kind of poetry as non-sensual. It is comprised of images taken from visible nature, but idealized, “purified and elevated above ­[page 16:] actual nature.” Villers anticipated Poe in saying that such poetry is found most often in the short lyric, and in the epic and drama only in “éclairs passagers.” This high poetry, though found in the Greeks, Milton, Shakespeare, Corneille, Goethe, and Schiller, is little appreciated by sensualist readers. Villers derided this “sensual tendency” of his age and hoped that a strong dose of imported German Idealism would cure the taste and morality of his countrymen.(43) Cousin, in his Cours de philosophie . . . sur le fondement des idées absolues du vrai, du beau, et du bien, a series of lectures given at the University of Paris in 1818 and published in 1836, echoed Kant in insisting that “the property of Beauty is not to excite desire but to repress it . . .  . Nothing that is an object of desire is Beautiful; and nothing that is Beautiful excites desire.” He argued that if the artist experiences “the physical emotions” in the act of creation, these emotions will be expressed in the work, so that, “upon seeing it, we must feel the same sensations.” But it is not the purpose of art to “move us with desire for the physical objects that are portrayed in the composition.” Rather, the imagination of the artist seeks “within nature, the absolute idea of Beauty which is hidden there.”(44)

I have argued elsewhere the possible influence of Kant on Poe’s theory of the mental faculties and on his position against passion, and the probable influence of Cousin on several of Poe’s ideas, including his fear that the arousal of physical passion inhibits the pure effect of ideal beauty.(45) Poe cited Cousin as an ally in his remarks against the passionate effect of Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” in Poe’s review of Horne’s Orion. Poe said the aim of poetry is to exalt the reader’s “soul” into a “conception of pure beauty” by appealing to his “sentiment of the beautiful — that divine sixth sense . . . which is the basis of all Cousin’s dreams . . . ” (H, 256-257). But it was Schiller who, in developing and extending Kant’s basic views in the Critique of Judgment, came closest to Poe’s position against passion in poetry and thereby offers the best explanation of just what that position is.

In letter twenty-two of his Letters Upon the Aesthetic Culture of Man (1795), Schiller presents his account of the “pure” aesthetic experience of art. The “aesthetic inclination ­[page 17:] of the mind” is the highest and most complete mental state possible. It is without limits; in it all mental powers are mutually active. Thus, it is the most free and most universal mental state. In it, we feel “snatched from time”; we feel a “purity and integrity.” To ensure this purity and freedom, no single mental function should take precedence or be more active than the others. But the mind tends to focus on one function at the expense of others because this is easier, requires less mental equilibrium. The mind is especially attracted to the opposites of sense perception or abstract reflection. But, Schiller cautions, in “the enjoyment of genuine Beauty . . . we are equally master of our” intellect and our senses.

“This lofty equanimity and freedom of spirit . . . is the state in which a genuine work of art should leave us . . . If, after aesthetic enjoyment, we find ourselves pre-eminently disposed to some one particular mode of feeling or action, unfit for and averse to another, it constitutes an unerring proof that we have not” had “a purely aesthetic” experience. To help assure this full aesthetic response, a work of art should aspire to the “ideal of aesthetic purity” by de-emphasizing subject matter in favor of perfection of form. “Since the entirety of man is acted upon by form alone, but only single powers by the subject,” in “a genuine work of art” form “is everything.” “However noble and comprehensive the subject may be, it is always confined in its influence upon the spirit, and true aesthetic freedom is to be expected only from form.” The more “attractive the subject is, the “more inclined the observer is to merge himself immediately” in it. Thus, the secret of the true artist is “that by form he abolishes the subject.” Then, the mind of the spectator will remain “entirely free and inviolable” in the aesthetic experience. On this basis, Schiller argues that passion in a work of art puts undue emphasis both on subject matter and on the sensual aspect of mental response, more so “than true aesthetic freedom allows.” Therefore, the “arts of Emotion,” which he calls “the pathetic” arts, are “not entirely free.” He concludes: “There is a fine art of the passions, but a fine pathetic art is a contradiction, since the infallible effect of Beauty is freedom from passion . . .  . Nothing conflicts more with the conception of Beauty, than to give the mind a definite tendency.”(46) ­[page 18:]

Schiller’s discussion here clarifies Poe’s objection to passion in lyric poetry. Passion distracts the reader’s response from the purely aesthetic “effect” of elevation and pure excitement, and narrows it to a specific emotional response, such as grief, or love, or any one of the other specific emotions Poe may indicate when he uses the word “passion.” In the context of Schiller’s argument, the specific meaning of the word “passion” in the varying applications Poe makes of it does not matter — all passion, any passion, inhibits the pure aesthetic response. A passionate response is to the subject matter rather than the form of the poem. Thus Poe emphasizes form in “The Philosophy of Composition.” A passionate response is of the senses; in Poe’s terms, it is a response of the “heart” rather than of the “soul,” Poe’s equivalent to Schiller’s “aesthetic inclination of the mind.” Thus, Poe’s distinction between “passion” and elevating excitement has its roots in Kant’s insistence in the Critique of Judgment that the aesthetic response must be disinterested. Poe’s distinction is indicated in his praise of Tennyson as “the noblest poet that ever lived . . . not because the poetical excitement which he induces is, at all times, the most intense — but because it is, at all times, the most ethereal — . . . the most elevating and the most pure” (H, 14:289).

Schiller was very popular in the United States during the 1830’s and 1840’s. Articles on him by A. H. Everett, Frederic Henry Hedge, and others appeared in the North American Review and the Christian Examiner.(47) Coleridge’s translation of Wallenstein (1800) was frequently reviewed in both English and American literary journals. Carlyle’s Life of Friedrich Schiller, published in London in 1831 and Boston in 1833, was immediately popular, and was reviewed by Hedge, in the Christian Examiner, and others.(48) J. Weiss published the Letters of Schiller, Selected from his Private Correspondence in 1841. Selections from Schiller’s critical writings, plays, and poetry appeared in George Ripley’s Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature (1839-1845), C. C. Felton’s translation of Wolfgang Menzel’s German Literature (1840), Sarah Austin’s Fragments from German Prose Writers (1841), and Hedge’s The Prose Writers of Germany (1848).(49) Numerous translations of individual poems by Schiller appeared in such American journals ­[page 19:] as the Athenaeum, the Christian Examiner, the Democratic Review, Godey s Lady’s Book, and the North American Review between 1817 and 1845. The translators included Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet, Mrs. Felicia Hemans (both of whose translations were noted by Poe), Rufus Dawes, James G. Percival, W. H. Furness, and Bulwer-Lytton, who also published a complete volume of Poems and Ballads of Schiller (New York edition, 1844). Bryant wrote an original poem, “The Death of Schiller.” Two of Schiller’s poems, “Die Ideale” and “Das Lied von der Glocke,” were frequently translated and became favorites of American readers.(50) The latter is frequently discussed as a possible source of Poe’s “The Bells.”(51) Pochmann notes that “if Goethe ranked first in number of magazine articles and of books in English translations, his friend Schiller still led all German authors in the number of biographical studies devoted to him, and his poems were printed more frequently in American magazines than those of any other German author . . .  . By 1850 Schiller had won the hearts of Americans in every section and of every philosophical persuasion.”(52) A. W. Schlegel’s influence on Poe’s thought is often cited; yet compared to the magnitude of the explosion of Schiller’s popularity in the United States, Schlegel’s barely registers on the Richter scale. It was impossible for Poe not to have known about Schiller’s work. Yet very little of this popularization had to do with the Aesthetic Letters which were not translated into English until 1845.(53)

Poe made six references or attributions to Schiller between 1836 and 1845, two in his critical reviews and four in his fiction. In a review of the poems of Sigourney, Gould, and Ellet (January, 1836), he noted that some of Mrs. Ellet’s poems are translations of Schiller (H, 8:138). In a review of Henry Chorley’s Memorials of Mrs. Hemmes (October, 1836), Poe commented on her love of the poems of Goethe and Schiller, quoted several lines of her criticism of Schiller’s Don Carlos, and noted that the line, “There shall be no more snow,” in her “Tyrolese Evening Hymn” is taken from Schiller’s “Nadowessiche Todtenklage,” the relevant two lines from which he then quoted in German (H, 9:200, 202, 204). But Poe took all this information from Chorley’s Memorials, so it does not demonstrate Poe’s own familiarity with Schiller’s work.(54) In ­[page 20:] “How to Write a Blackwood Article” (December, 1838), Poe has Blackwood advise Zenobia to include quotations in foreign languages in her stories to show off as regular Blackwood’s writers do. He then quotes her two lines in German, “from Schiller” (H, 2:279). In the conclusion to “A Predicament,” true to Blackwood’s instructions, Zenobia quotes the Schiller. But it is the ghost of her dead dog that recites some truly bizarre German: “Unt stubby duk, so stubby dun / Duk she! duk She!” (H, 2:295). As Mabbott points out, the original lines are not from Schiller but from Goethe’s poem, “Dâs Veilchen,” and Poe has made Blackwood both quote the original German and translate it inaccurately (M, 1:486; 2:166-167).(55) That Poe was hoaxing his readers is suggested by the fact that four years earlier, in “The Assignation,” he quoted the same two lines in German correctly, translated them more accurately, and properly attributed them to Goethe (M, 1:486; 2:150). However, also in “The Assignation,” Poe attributed another line, quoted in German and translated into English, to Schiller’s Wallenstein which is actually from Adelbert von Chamisso’s Frauen Liebe and Leben (M, 2:166-167). So neither of Poe’s “Schiller” citations is from Schiller. That Poe was satirizing, as is Mr. Blackwood, the Schiller mania in America at the time is confirmed by Poe’s last reference to Schiller in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” when he praises Valdemar as the “author (under the nom de plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of ‘Wallenstein’ and ‘Gargantua’ ” (H, 6:155). But none of Poe’s references to Schiller concerns the Aesthetic Letters.

Coleridge, Carlyle, and Madame de Stael are often cited as the sources of American awareness of the Aesthetic Letters during Poe’s career.(56) But Coleridge did no more than grudgingly translate Schiller’s Wallenstein and comment on The Robbers,(57) and Madame de Stael’s extensive discussion of Schiller in Germany concentrates entirely on his dramas.(58) Carlyle did include a brief comment on the Aesthetic Letters in his Life of Schiller but said nothing of substance about them.(59) Mrs. Ellet’s The Characters of Schiller (1839) is one work Poe must have known that contains information about the Aesthetic Letters. But though her introductory essay on the “Theory and Genius of ­[page 21:] Schiller” contains some interesting phrases about Schiller’s “new search after the beautiful,” and rather briefly summarizes the first few Aesthetic Letters, she does not present any of Schiller’s specific ideas and says nothing at all about poetry and passion.(60) Thus, if Poe did know the Aesthetic Letters, and the similarity between Poe’s phrase — “a passionate poem is a contradiction in terms (H, 16:56) — and Schiller’s phrase — “a fine pathetic art is a contradiction”(61) — suggests he did, he must have read them in Weiss’ translation or in the original German. The former possibility seems unlikely, for Poe first published his phrase about a passionate poem being “a contradiction in terms” in December, 1844, shortly before Weiss’ translation appeared. That he knew the Aesthetic Letters from the original German is not unlikely. Scholars are not sure Poe could read German, but it is apparent that at least while he was editor of the Broadway Journal (October, 1845 — January, 1846), Poe had an associate who could translate German for him on short notice.(62) Among American intellectuals who could read German and knew German Idealist philosophy, and there were a great many, the Aesthetic Letters seem to have been immediately popular because they were readily understandable. They offered an attractive and accessible version of the more abstruse ideas of Kant, so that the interest in Schiller’s aesthetic ideas, apart from his poems and plays, coincided with the vogue of Kantian philosophy in the United States between 1830 and 1850.(63) Surely among Poe’s wide literary acquaintance there were several people who might have suggested Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters and helped him read them. George H. Calvert, whom Poe recommended as “a valuable correspondent” to T. H. White, owner and editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, before Poe came to assist White (O, 1:61-62), later published “A Lecture on German Literature,” containing a three-paragraph summary of Schiller’s life and writings, in the Messenger (May, 1836)(64) during Poe’s editorship. Significantly, it was in the Messenger, one month before Calvert’s lecture appeared, that Poe made his first critical statement against passion in his review of Drake and Halleck. Calvert later was to publish a volume of translations of the Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe from 1794 to 1805 (1845), so there is little ­[page 22:] doubt about his ability to read German. Or, perhaps Mrs. Ellet helped Poe to read Schiller. Poe and she corresponded, were frequently in company together, and were still on good terms from 1844 until January, 1846, when Poe published most of his critical statements against passion in poetry.(65) Poe was well aware of her ability to read and translate German. In a review in the Broadway Journal (November 29, 1845) of William W. Turner’s translation of America and the American People by Frederick von Raumer, Poe criticized Turner for not acknowledging in his translator’s “Preface” the help of a Mr. Kirkland and “the accomplished Mrs. Ellet — who, between them, prepared nearly, if not quite, one half of the book” (H, 13:16). It is not particularly significant that Poe did not refer to the Aesthetic Letters in any of his writings. Scholars have noted Poe’s ability to camouflage, either through silence or ridicule, the sources of some of his most significant borrowings.(66)

German Idealist aesthetic thought from Kant through Schiller not only eloquently clarifies Poe’s position on the conflict between passion and the pure aesthetic effect, but also it offers a tradition, a lineage, a support group within which Poe could more firmly stand against the otherwise alien and overwhelming tradition of British Empirical aesthetics. German Idealism is also much more philosophically in line with Poe’s view on other aesthetic issues, such as ideal beauty, descendental-transcendental linkages, symbolism, and visionary mysticism, views to which Empiricism was equally opposed. Thus, one can argue that a reading of Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters encouraged Poe to move away from his position in his reviews of Welby (December, 1844), Bryant (April, 1846), and Lynch (September, 1846), in which he agreed with Coleridge and Wordsworth that the poet subdues or transmutes passion in the creative act, to the position of Schiller that poetry and passion are discordant, stated first in Poe’s Orion review (March, 1844) but developed with new energy and concision in “The Philosophy of Composition” (April, 1846) and “The Poetic Principle” (1848). It is a shift from the British tradition going back through Burke, Gerard, and Hume, that poetry is passion, to the German Idealist tradition of the pure, “free,” “disinterested” aesthetic response that is above the passionate. ­[page 23:] Such a shift meant that Poe need no longer be concerned about the state of the poet in the act of composition, for, working in an unimpassioned medium, the poet, at least it seemed for a time to Poe, was no longer threatened by his material.

­ [page 20, continued:]


1.  Citations from “H” in parentheses in the text refer to The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison, 17 vols. (New York: George D. Sproul, 1902).

2.  Poe cited the “heart” as the “faculty” receptive of “passion” again in his April, 1846, review of Bryant’s poems (H, 13:130-131), in his review of Estelle Anna Lewis’ The Child of the Sea and Other Poems in the September, 1848, Southern Literary Magazine (H, 13:158, 160), in his August, 1849, review of Frances Sargent Osgood (H, 13:188), and in “The Poetic Principle” (H, 14:275). In naming the “heart” as the seat of passion, Poe is in no way original. The designation of the heart as the faculty or organ which both generates and responds to passion or any strong emotion was standard in the eighteenth century. Shaftesbury so used the term in his “Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit” (1699) and “The Moralists, A Philosophical Rhapsody” [Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. John M. Robertson, 2 vols. in one (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), 1:252, 283; 2:134], as did Alexander Gerard in An Essay on Taste (1759) [ed. Walter J. Hipple, Jr. (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1963), pp. 79-82, 202] and An Essay on Genius (1774) [ed. Bernhard Fabian (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1966), pp. 172-174, 357], Hugh Blair in A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian (London: T. Becket and P.A. DeHondt, 1763), pp. 11, 15, 21, 23, 49-50, 62, 70, 72-74, William Duff in An Essay on Original Genius (1767) [rpt. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1964), pp. 270, 282-284], Adam Ferguson in An Essay on the History of Civil Society (Edinburgh: Kincaid and Bell, 1767), Part II, sect. 8, pp. 262-263, 266, and Robert Burns in his Commonplace Book, 1783-1785 [eds. James C. Ewing and Davidson Cook (Glasgow: Gowans and Gray, 1938), April, 1783, p. 3]. Wordsworth, in the “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads (1802), defined the object of poetry as “truth . . . not standing upon external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion” [Literary Criticism of William Wordsworth, ed. Paul M. Zall (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1966), p. 50]. In America in 1777, Asa Burton discussed a triad of mental faculties in his Essays on Some of the First Principles of Metaphysicks, Ethicks, and Theology which bears interesting similarities with Poe’s own triad of Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense. In Burton’s schema of Understanding, Taste, and Will, Taste ­[page 24:] is both “a feeling faculty” and “a mental faculty” which Burton also calls the “Heart.” The “operations” of Taste-Heart are the affections and the passions [(rpt. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1973), pp. 46-49, 54-58]. I have discussed the implications of Poe’s substitution of “Heart” in place of “Taste” in “The Philosophy of Composition” in my essay. “ ‘Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense’: Poe’s Debt to Immanuel Kant,” Studies in the American Renaissance, 1980, ed. Joel Myerson (Boston: Twayne, 1979), pp. 132-136.

3.  See Shaftesbury, 1:285, 290-291; David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste, and Other Essays, ed. John W. Lentz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 27; Gerard, Essay on Taste, p. 138, and Essay on Genius, pp. 147-148.

4.  Shaftesbury, 1:256-257, 259, 285, 289-291.

5.  Gerard, Essay on Taste, pp. 136, 138, 190-191.

6  Wordsworth, p. 54.

7.  Wordsworth, pp. 54; 48; 28, 49, 184; 159; 74; 27.

8.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1907), 2:56.

9.  Unpublished Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 2 vols. (London: Constable, 1932), 1:215.

10.  Citations from “O” in parentheses in the text refer to The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1948).

11.  Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1941), p. 691.

12.  Gerard, Essay on Genius, pp. 400-401.

13.  Derek J. Mossop, The Origins of the Idea of “Pure Poetry” (Durham: Univ. of Durham Press, 1964), pp. 5, 18-19.

14.  Jane P. Tompkins, “The Reader in History: The Changing Shape of Literary Response,” Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), p. 227, n5.

15.  See Kent Ljungquist, “Poe and the Sublime: His Two Short Sea Tales in the Context of an Aesthetic Tradition,” Criticism, a Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 17 (Spring, 1975), 131-151.

16.  Longinus, On the Sublime, trans. W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1935; rpt. New York: AMS, 1979), 1:3, 8:1, 4; 33:1; 36:4; Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 39. See also Hugh Blair: “The sublime is an ­[page 25:] awful and serious emotion; and is heightened by all the images of Trouble, and Terror, and Darkness . . . It is the thunder and the lightning of genius,” (Dissertation on Ossian, p. 68).

17.  Stanley Grean, “Introduction to Shaftesbury’s Characteristics, p xxix.

18.  John Dennis, The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry, in The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. Edward Niles Hooker, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1939-1943), 1:215-216; Shaftesbury Characteristics, 1:90; Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” p. 16, “The Sceptic,” pp 124-127, and “Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion,” pp. 25-27; Burke, Philosophical Enquiry, pp. 17, 22, 46, 57, 91, 113; William Collins, “The Passions: An Ode for Music,” Thomas Gray and William Collins: Poetical Words, ed. Roger Lonsdale (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), pp 161-164; Bishop Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, trans. G. Gregory (London: Tegg, 1839), pp. 184-185, 188; Richard Hurd, “Notes on Horace’s The Art of Poetry,” Works, 8 vols (London: Cadell, 1811), 1:104; Gerard, Essay on Taste, pp. 80, 184-186 and Essay on Genius, pp. 149, 356; Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, ed. Abraham Mills (New York: Huntington and Mason, 1855) pp. 102, 108, 235-325; Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, With Selections from The Idler, ed. Stephen O. Mitchell (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1965), pp. 58, 106; Hugh Blair, Dissertation on Ossian, pp. 1-4, 22, 64, 74-75, and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 2 vols. (London Strahan and Cadell, 1783), 2:312; Adam Ferguson, History of Civil Society, pp. 263-266, 269-270; Reverend William Enfield, “Is Verse Essential to Poetry?,” Monthly Magazine 2 (July, 1796), 453-456. For the identification of Enfield as the author of this article, see M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (New York: Norton 1958), p. 353, n90.

19.  Abrams, p. 101.

20.  Wordsworth, pp. 13, 18, 25, 47-48.

21.  Coleridge, unpublished fragment in Inquiring Spirit, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 207; Biographia, 2:55-56, 230, 253, 317; Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. Thomas Middleton Raynor (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1936), p. 277; Shakespearian Criticism, ed. Thomas Middleton Raysor, 2 vols. (London: Dent, 1964-1965), 1:165-166.

22.  Wordsworth, pp. 27, 49, 54, 140, 160; Coleridge, Biographia, 2:16, 42, 55.

23.  Wordsworth, p. 63; Coleridge, Collected Letters, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956-1971), 2:444; Biographia, 2:65-66; Abrams, pp. 292-293, 297. ­[page 26:]

24.  Wordsworth, p. 27; see also pp. 19, 54.

25.  Coleridge, Biographia, 2:49-50; see also 2:15-16, 123, 253-254.

26.  Wordsworth, pp. 19, 21; see also pp. 49, 52, and Coleridge, Biographia, 2:239, 254.

27.  F. C. Prescott, ed., Selections from the Critical Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1909; rpt. New York: Gordian Press, 1981), p. xxxiii.

28.  Coleridge, Biographia, 2:49-50; Wordsworth, pp. 26-28, 56.

29.  Coleridge, Biographia, 2:55. Prescott (pp. 344-345, n238:20), Margaret Alterton [Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1925), p. 127, n113], and Mossop [“Poe’s Theory of Pure Beauty,” Durham University Journal 17 n. s. (1955-1956), 60-61] all agree that the idea does not appear to come from Coleridge.

30.  Compare also to Coleridge, Biographia, 2:254.

31.  Wordsworth, pp. 19, 21, 26, 28, 49, 55, 183-184; Coleridge, Biographia, 2:15, 49-50, 56, 221, 254.

32.  Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Milton,” Edinburgh Review 42 (August, 1825), 304-346. See especially pp. 306-310.

33.  William Hazlitt, “Lecture I. Introductory — On Poetry in General,” Lectures on the English Poets in The Collected Works of William Hazlitt, eds. A. R. Waller and Arnold Glover, 12 vols. (London: J. M. Dent, 1903), 5:1-2, 4; Francis Jeffrey, “Review of Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste by Archibald Alison,” Contributions to the Edinburgh Review (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846), pp. 22, 32, 38; Thomas Carlyle, “Burns,” The Works of Thomas Carlyle, 30 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1896-1901), 26:266-268, 274-275, 286-287; Leigh Hunt, “An Answer to the Question, ‘What Is Poetry?,’ ” The Works of Leigh Hunt, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1854), 4:2; A. Smith, “The Philosophy of Poetry,” Blackwood’s Magazine 38 (December, 1835), 828-829 (The article is signed “S.” Abrams identifies the author on p. 149); John Stuart Mill, “What Is Poetry?” and “The Two Kinds of Poetry,” first published in The Montly [[Monthly]] Repository (January, 1833), republished in Early Essays, ed. J. W. M. Gibbs (London: George Bell, 1897), pp. 202, 206-208, 217, 223, 225-226; William Cullen Bryant, “Lectures on Poetry,” Prose Writings of William Cullen Bryant, ed. Parke Godwin, 2 vols. (New York: Russell and Russell, 1964), 1:8, 10, 15-17; Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet,” The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, eds. Robert E. Spiller and Alfred E. Ferguson, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1971-1983), 3:6-7.

34.  Jeffrey’s long review of Alison’s Essays on Taste was originally published in the Edinburgh Review, May, 1811, then expanded and ­[page 27:] republished as the article on “Beauty” in the 1824 Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The article was then carried over from the Supplement to the new edition of the Britannica in 1841, which meant that Jeffrey’s was the view of “Beauty” expressed in the Britannica during Poe’s lifetime.

35.  However, Bryant delivered his “Lectures on Poetry” before the New York Athenaeum in April, 1825, too early in Poe’s life and too remote geographically for Poe to have heard them. They were first published only in 1884, long after Poe’s death. All four of Poe’s reviews of Bryant consider him only as a poet; no reference is made to Bryant’s “Lectures.” The two most important sources of Bryant’s views expressed in his “Lectures” were Alison’s Essays on Taste (the basis of Jeffrey’s article on “Beauty”) and Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry [Charles H. Brown, William Cullen Bryant (New York: Scribner’s, 1971), p. 144].

36.  The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, 2 vols. (New York: Random House, 1937), 1:863-864.

37.  Jeremy Bentham, The Rationale of Reward and “Language” in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring, l l vols. (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1893), 2:254; 8:301. Poe called Bentham “a great man in a small way” (H, 5:210).

38.  John Stuart Mill, Autobiography and Literary Essays, eds. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, vol. 1 of Collected Works, 19 vols. (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1977-1981), 1:51, 157.

39.  Thomas Love Peacock, “The Four Ages of Poetry,” The Works of Thomas Love Peacock, ed. Richard Garnett, 10 vols. (London: J. M. Dent, 1891), 1:66-67.

40.  Sir Henry Taylor, “Preface” to Philip van Artevelde, 2 vols. (Cambridge: James Munro, 1835), 1:x-xix.

41.  Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1952), “Introduction” and #2, 3, 5, 9; pp. 15-17, 31, 42-46, 48-50, 60). In his essay “On the Principles of Genial Criticism,” Coleridge echoes Kant’s ideas, terms, and even specific examples. See Biographia 2:224-227, 231-234, 239, 241-242.

42.  Kant, #13-14, pp. 64-68.

43.  Charles F. D. Villers, Philosophie de Kant ou Principes Fondamentaux de la Philosophie Transcendentale (Metz: Collignon, 1801), pp. 308-309 (my translation).

44.  Victor Cousin, Cours de philosophie professé à la Faculté des Lettres pendant l’année 1818, sur le fondement des idées absolues du vrai, du beau, et du bien (Paris: L. Hachette, 1836), pp. 218-219, 239-240 (my translation). ­[page 28:]

45.  Omans, “Poe’s Debt,” pp. 131-132, 159, n14; “Victor Cousin: Still Another Source of Poe’s Aesthetic Theory?,” Studies in the American Renaissance, 1982, ed. Joel Myerson (Boston: Twayne, 1982), pp. 7-8.

46.  The Philosophical and Aesthetic Letters and Essays of Schiller, trans. J. Weiss (London: John Chapman, 1845), pp. 113-137.

47.  Alexander H. Everett, review of Friedrich von Schiller’s Leben by Heinrich Doering, North American Review 16 (April, 1823), 397-425; “Schiller’s Minor Poems,” North American Review 17 (October, 1823), 268-287; Frederic Henry Hedge, review of vol. 3 of Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature containing poems of Goethe and Schiller, trans. John S. Dwight, Christian Examiner 26 (July, 1839), 360-378.

48.  Hedge, review of The Life of Friedrich Schiller, Christian Examiner 16 (July, 1834), 365-392.

49.  Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature, ed. George Ripley, 14 vols. (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1838-1842), 3:201-357, 427-439;14:131-147; vol. 15 (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845) is vol. 1 of The Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller, trans. George Henry Calvert; Wolfgang Menzel, German Literature, trans. Cornelius Conway Felton, published as vols. 7-9 of Ripley’s Specimens (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1840), 9:141-160; Fragments from German Prose Writers, trans. Sarah Austin (New York: D. Appleton, 1841), pp. 21-28, 57-58, 185-187, 223-245, 326-327; The Prose Writers of Germany, ed. Frederic Henry Hedge (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1848), pp. 365-382.

50.  Scott H. Goodnight, German Literature in American Magazines Prior to 1846 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1907), pp. 176-242, 249; Ellwood Comly Parry, Friedrich Schiller in America (Philadelphia: Americana Germanica Press, 1905), pp. 90-100; Pochmann, pp. 679, n41, 680, n42.

51.  John H. Ingram, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters, and Opinions, 2 vols. (London: Ward, Lock, Bowden, 1891), 1:4; Kenneth W. Cameron, “Poe’s ‘The Bells’ and Schiller’s ‘Das Lied von der Glocke,’ ” Emerson Society Quarterly 19 (2nd qtr., 1960), 37, and “Poe’s ‘The Bells’ — A Reply to Schiller and Romberg?,” Emerson Society Quarterly 38 (1st qtr., 1965), 2-73; J. Lasley Dameron, “Schiller’s ‘Das Lied von der Glocke’ as a Source of Poe’s ‘The Bells,’ ” Notes and Queries 14 n. s. (1967), 368-369.

52.  Pochmann, p. 332.

53.  Parry, p. 58. The translation was by J. Weiss, from which I have taken the passages from Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters quoted above.

54.  Henry F. Chorley, Memorials of Mrs. Hemans, 2 vols. (New York: Saunders and Otley, 1836), 1:94-95, 226-227. Pochmann (p. 711, n146) points out the Poe misspelled the German Title, “Nadoweissiche ­[page 29:] Totenlied,” but Poe transcribed the title just as it is given in Chorley’s Memorials. (Pochmann suggests that Poe was “probably following the book before him.”) Actually, Schiller’s German editors give the title variously as “Nadowessiers Totenlied” and “Nadowessische Totenlied” “Nadowessier” is presumably a North American Indian language. A popular American translation of the poem by N. L. Frothingham entitled “Indian Death Song” was published in volume 3 of Ripley’s Specimens, pp. 234-235.

55.  Citations from “M” in parentheses in the text refer to Thoma Ollive Mabbott, ed., Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 3 vols (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard Univ. Press, 1969-1978). Mabbott points out that the poem was quoted in full, in German, with a complete English translation by George Bancroft in his article, the “Life and Genius of Goethe,” in the North American Review 19 (October, 1824), pp. 317-318. Both Mabbott and Pochmann (p. 711, n146) point out that Blackwood quotes the German and translates inaccurately. Pochmann makes the excuse that Poe was working from memory and forgot both the author and the exact wording. The North American Review article prints the complete poem in German in the left column and the English translation of “The Violet,” line-by-line, in the right column, making it difficult for Poe to make a mistake if he had the text in front of him.

56.  Pochman, p. 332, for example.

57.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poetical Works, ed. James Dykes Campbell (London: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 646-647. Coleridge blamed his inability to finish “Christabel” on the drudgery of the Wallenstein translation and insisted he was not a “partisan of the German theater.” The entire Biographia Literaria contains only one paragraph on Schiller and this is a brief discussion of Schiller’s mature opinion of The Robbers (1:xxvii 2:183, 300). Shawcross notes that he “cannot discover evidence,” of Coleridge’s part, of “a real familiarity with the leading ideas of Schiller’ aesthetic” (1:xxxix, nl; 261).

58.  Part II, chaps. 8. 17-20.

59.  Carlyle, Works, 25:111-114. Instead of summarizing Schiller’s aesthetic ideas, Carlyle used the occasion to attack the philosophy of Schiller’s master, Kant, even though Carlyle admitted he knew little about it.

60.  Elizabeth Ellet, The Characters of Schiller (Boston: Otis, Broaders and Co., 1839), pp. 2-5.

61.  As translated by Weiss, p. 136. Schiller’s original German reads: “Eine schöne Kunst der Leidenschaft gibtes, aber eine schöne leidenschaftliche Kunst ist ein Widerspruch, denn der unausbleibliche ­[page 30:] Effekt des Schist Frieheit von Leidenschaften.” The second English translation of Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters, published anonymously in 1884, renders the passage, “an impassioned fine art is a contradiction in terms,” just possibly in imitation of Poe’s phrase [Essays Aesthetical and Philosophical by Friedrich Schiller, newly translated from the German (London: George Bell, 1884), p. 92].

62.  Omans, “Poe’s Debt,” pp. 142-143, 155-156.

63.  Omans, “Poe’s Debt,” pp. 143-150.

64.  George Henry Calvert, “A Lecture on German Literature,” Southern Literary Magazine [[Messenger]] 2 (May, 1836), 378-379.

65.  Quinn, pp. 476-477, 497-498. See also the colorful account of Poe’s quarrel with Mrs. Ellet in John E. Walsh, Plumes in the Dust; the Love Affair of Edgar Allan Poe and Fanny Osgood (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980), pp. 50-89.

66.  Pochmann, pp. 716, n186, 392-405; Omans, “Poe’s Debt,” p.131; George B. von des Lippe, “Beyond the House of Usher: The Figure of E. T. A. Hoffman in the Works of Poe,” Modern Language Studies 9 (1978), 33-41.



This lecture was delivered at the Sixty-second Annual Commemoration Program of the Poe Society, October 7, 1984. The lecture was presented in the Wheeler Auditorium of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

© 1986 and 2010, by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.

Some minor corrections have been incorporated in the present text. For example, in the original, footnote 25 was improperly given in the text as a second instance of 23.


[S:1 - PIPDCT, 1984] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Passion in Poe (G. A. Omans, 1984)