Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Tennyson vs Longfellow,” Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, vol. 4, no. 7, February 12, 1840, p. 2, cols. 3-4


[page 2, column 3:]

Tennyson vs Longfellow.

We copy the annexed paragraph from a late number of the Philadelphia Gazette.

A neighboring periodical, we hear, has been attempting to prove that Professor Longfellow’s sublime and beautiful “Midnight Mass for the Dying Year,” has been imitated from a poem by Tennyson. Preposterous! There is nothing more alike in the two pieces than black and white, with the exception of the personification, — and that was Longfellow’s, long before the Scotch writer thought of “doing” his poem. Who does not remember that striking simile in one of the Professor’s earlier lyrics,

——— “where Autumn, like a faint old man, sits down,

By the way side, aweary?”

This same beautiful piece was copied in Edinburgh, from an English periodical where it was altered, to suit the scenery of England; and it is fifty times more probable that Tennyson thus got his idea, than that Mr. Longfellow should have done more in the “Mass,” than repeat a favorite one of his thoughts. On himself, one of the most strikingly original poets of this country, and the best translator of any nation known to our language, such a charge falls hurtless — and for the reputation of the maker, (acknowledged, we hear, among his friends) should be withdrawn. We ask the Weekly Messenger, who has repeated the charge of abstraction, to clip this caveat, and give it utterance.

And we reply — certainly; it will give us great pleasure to oblige our friend of the Gazette; although, in the present instance, we do not exactly comprehend the object of this request, or perceive what good purpose is to be effected by our compliance.

The “neighborhood periodical,” alluded to in so parliamentary a style, is the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and the accuser, whose “reputation” is so entirely a matter of hearsay with Mr. Clark, is a Mr. Poe, one of the editors of that very excellent and very popular journal. We assure the Gazette that this gentleman has really written one or two decent things, and it would not be amiss if the author of “Ollapod” would hereafter take him under his wing.

In referring to the criticism mentioned, we find that Mr. Clark has made a little mistake — at which we are not a little astonished. Mr. Poe does not say that Professor Longfellow’s poem is “imitated” from Tennyson. He calls it a bare-faced and barbarous plagiarism “belonging to that worst species of literary robbery, in which, while the words of the wronged author are avoided, his most intangible, and therefore his least defensible and least reclaimable property, is purloined.” In support of this accusation he has printed the poems in question side by side — a proceeding, which, we must acknowledge, has an air of perfect fairness about it. That the reviewer, indeed, has nothing beyond truth as his object, is rendered quite apparent by the fact that nowhere has the fine genius of Professor Longfellow been so fully and so enthusiastically set forth, as in the earlier portion of the very critique now made the subject of comment. As regards the plagiarism, the critic calls attention to the circumstances that, in both cases, there is the same leading idea, or thesis, — (that of the personification of the Old Year as a dying old man,) that, in both, the same unusual march rhythm is observable — that, in both, at the ends of the stanzas there is the very remarkable peculiarity of the absence of legitimate rhyme — that, in both, the words “Old Year” are capitalized — and that both are characterized by the same wild, quaint, fantastic, and interjectional manner. We mention that the critic has done all this, because we understand, from the opening words of the paragraph quoted above, that Mr. Clarke [[Clark]], is only aware, as usual, through hearsay, of what is really written in the “Gentleman’s Magazine.”

Matters standing thus, the question is altogether one of opinion. Mr. Poe says the Professor stole the poem; so do we; and so does every body but Mr. Clarke [[Clark]]. He says the Professor did not steal the poem. He says, moreover, that Mr. Poe ought to “withdraw” the charge, lest, being persisted in, it may do injury to his own reputation; (Mr. P’s) about which he (Mr. C.) Is solicitous. Whether Mr. Poe will oblige the editor of the Gazette, remains yet to be seen. In the meantime Mr. Clarke [[Clark]] can still believe, if he pleases, that there is no more “similarity between the two poems than there is between black and white.” Anaxagoras maintained that snow is black — and perhaps now it is, after all.




This notice was first attributed to Poe by Clarence S. Brigham in Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, 1943, pp. 33-34.

The “Mr. Clark” mentioned was Willis Gaylord Clark, at that time the editor of the Philadelphia Gazette. Poe’s review of Longfellow’s “Voices of the Night” was printed in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine for February of 1840. Poe renewed his charges of plagiarism against Longfellow in 1845 in a series of reviews he referred to as “The Little Longfellow War.”


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