Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), Critical Notices, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, October 1839, vol V, no. 4


Text: Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, October 1839,

[page 227:]


Hyperion, a Romance. By the author of Outre-Mer. Two volumes. Samuel Colman, New York.

Were it possible to throw into a bag the lofty thought and manner of the “Pilgrims of the Rhine,” together with the quirks and quibbles and true humor of “Tristram Shandy,” not forgetting a few of the heartier drolleries of Rabelais, and one or two of the Phantasy Pieces of the Lorrainean Callot, the whole, when well shaken up, and thrown out, would be a very tolerable imitation of “Hyperion.” This may appear to be commendation, but we do not intend it as such. Works like this of Professor Longfellow, are the triumphs of Tom O’Bedlam, and the grief of all true criticism. They are potent in unsettling the popular faith in Art — a faith which, at no day more than the present, needed the support of men of letters. That such things succeed at all, is attributable to the sad fact that there exist men of genius who, now and then, unmindful of duty, indite them — that men of genius ever indite them is attributable to the fact that these are often the most indolent of human beings. A man of true talent who would demur at the great labor requisite for the stern demands of high art — at the unremitting toil and patient elaboration which, when soul-guided, result in the beauty of Unity, Totality, and Truth — men, we say, who would demur at such labor, make no scruple of scattering at random a profusion of rich thought in the pages of such farragos as “Hyperion.” Here, indeed, there is little trouble — but even that little is most unprofitably lost. To the writers of these things we say — all Ethics lie, and all History lies, or the world shall forget ye and your works. We have no design of commenting, at any length, upon what Professor Longfellow has written. We are indignant that he too has been recreant to the good cause. We, therefore, dismiss his “Hyperion” in brief. We grant him high qualities, but deny him the Future. In the present instance, without design, without shape, without beginning, middle, or end, what earthly object has his book accomplished? — what definite impression has it left?


Travels in North America during the years 1834, 1835, and 1836. Including a summer residence with the Pawnee Tribe of Indians, in the remote prairies of the Missouri, and a visit to Cuba and the Azore Islands. By the Hon. Charles Augustus Murray. Two Volumes. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Reasons of a nature altogether domestic induced Mr. Murray to delay, until the present moment, the publication of his travelling journal, and, in some respects, this delay has been of advantage to himself and to the public. A thorough disgust with the twaddle of the Trollopes, and the flat falsehoods and miserable inanities of the Marryatts, has thrown him, by means of a proper caution, upon the better, although less beaten track, of candor, plain statements, and common sense. He has also now in his favor that public revulsion of feeling which these little scribbling wretches have brought about. We turn from folly with more sincere pleasure than we should have turned from good sense, to the candid, frank, and simply philosophical narrative of the gentleman in mind and manner — the gentleman whose station in society, as well as whose endowments through education, entitle him to our respect, and ensure for him our most earnest attention.

We do not mean to say, however, that our author has been brow-beaten into truth by the popular judgment upon falsehood. On the contrary, no one can look over the volumes before us without feeling at once aware that a direct and open simplicity is the leading feature of the mind of the writer. His speculations, never showily profound, are only so at all, by their thorough and unpretending naturalness, by the obviousness and simplicity with which they seem to be educed from the objects which have presented themselves to his understanding. For this reason, the plain narrative of his sea-disasters, in the beginning of his voyage, will rank with any composition within our knowledge, upon a similar subject. His observations strike the reader with all the vividness of originality, because, being absolutely such as natural thoughts suggest, they differ altogether from the elaborated reflections to which the romanticists have accustomed the popular mind.

His work is already in the hands of all classes of readers, and no comments now to be made upon it will have much influence upon the general decision. In common with all the world, we regard it [page 228:] as positively the most entertaining book of travels in America put forth by a British writer. It abounds in naive remarks, and shows a happy tact in the choice of subjects for disquisition. The chapters respecting his visit to the Pawnee Nation have about them a spice of open-hearted drollery and thorough good-humor, which will render them exceedingly popular. The “Pawnee dandy,” we perceive, has been frequently copied into the daily prints, and it is indeed a laughable portraiture worthy of all praise.

In his delineations of Virginian habitudes and manners — a theme often attempted, but seldom with success — he has been particularly truthful. Virginians will recognize his sketchy picture as far more life-like than many an elaborate painting. We may here observe, by the way, that in his desire to do justice to the noble and lofty simplicity of Judge Marshall, he has been led into one little inaccuracy. “His house is small,” he writes, “and more humble in appearance than those of the average of successful lawyers, or merchants.” This is true, if at all, only as regards the average throughout the Union. In Richmond, Judge Marshall's is regarded as a very large and desirable house — indeed, it would be called a large house any where. In regard to Mr. Murray's “receiving attentions in Richmond more marked than he either expected or felt himself entitled to,” We can assure him that he is precisely the kind of person whom Virginians make a point of treating with respect, and that throughout the whole State he could have entered at will into a society as absolutely aristocratical as any in Europe — a society, by the way, which would have either received the redoubtable Captain Marryatt as a monster to be tolerated, or kicked him out of doors as a matter of course.


The Poems of Ossian. Translated by James McPherson, Esq. To which are prefixed a Life of the Translator; A Preliminary Discourse or Review of the Controversy relative to the Authenticity of the Poems, and Dissertations on the Era and Poems of Ossian, Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia.

This edition of the “much debated” Ossian is a very beautiful one indeed. Of the Poems themselves it is scarcely necessary to speak. To-day, thanks to a thousand critical investigations, their great merits, as well as minor deficiencies, are matters sufficiently well understood. We think it desirable that the name of the writer should have been prefixed, in each case, to the Dissertations on the Era and Poems, as well as to the Life of McPherson. It must, indeed, have been omitted by an oversight. The Dissertations, we presume, are those of Dr. Blair — but there is nothing in the book to lead the reader to this opinion. Moreover, these treatises are all in favor of the authenticity of the Poems; it might have been as well, perhaps, to offer something on the other side of the question — especially as that other side is altogether the most tenable. Dr. Johnson's protest might have been well given; it is much to the purpose, and his hearty exacerbation is amusing, to say no more. The Objections of Malcolm Laing would have qlso proved interesting; or those of Wordsworth in the preface to an edition of his own poems; and the important observations of Gibbon should have been, at least, alluded to, in an edition like the present — observations which, with ourselves individually, had more force in engendering a conviction of the forgery than the more elaborate arguments x)f more verbose men.


The Gift. A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1840. Edited by Miss Leslie. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia.

This, the fourth volume of the “Gift,” is, in all respects, superior to its predecessors, and is a remarkably beautiful and excellent book. The plates, with a single exception, are engraved by American engravers, from original pictures by American painters. Indeed, most of these pictures may be said to have been painted expressly for the work, as they form a portion of the private collection of Mr. Carey. In thus looking at home for talent, the publishers have shown a patriotic and praiseworthy spirit which is not often evinced in cases such as this, where the patriotism is at the expense of the pocket.

In our present number, we have no room to speak at length of the book, as it deserves; we may take an opportunity of doing so hereafter. At present we may remark, in brief, that the “Don Quixotte,” painted by Leslie, and engraved by Danforth, is noble and bold; that the “Ghost-Book,” by Pease, from a picture by Conregys, is, in the same manner, capital; as also, again in the same manner, the “Isabella’‘ of Sully, engraved by Cheney. The plate entitled “Childhood,” by the same artists, (Sully and Cheney,) is a gem; and we particularly admire “A Portrait,” beautifully done by Forrest, from a design, also, of Sully's. The embellishments, however, which will attract the most attention, are two vivid home pictures by W. E. Mount, engraved with great spirit by A. Lawson.

Of the literary contents, we can now scarcely say a word. Mr. Simms has a good story about a [page 229:] “Lazy Crow;” Miss Leslie has an admirable sketch in her own always admirable manner; and a brief poem, by N. C. Brooks, of Baltimore, entitled “The Nyctanthes,” is worthy of the highest commendation.


A System of Modern Geography, comprising a Description of the Present State of the World, and its Five Great Divisions, America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceanica, with their Several Empires, Kingdoms, States, Territories, etc. The whole Embellished by Numerous Engravings of Various Interesting Objects of Nature and Art; together with Representations of Remarkable and Noted Events. Simplified and Adapted to the Capacity of Youth. Illustrated by an Atlas of Sixteen Maps, Drawn and Engraved to Accompany the Work. By S. Augustus Mitchell. Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia.

Mr. Mitchell is very favorably known to the public by previous geographical labors. His present work does him infinite credit, and, owing to the obvious character of its superiority over all schoolbooks upon the same subject, will not fail to make his fortune, by making its way, at once, into every respectable school in the Union. In such matters, teachers, who deserve the name, have no alternative — it is positively incumbent upon them to supply their pupils with the best (accessible) textbooks in every department of knowledge. Apart from the positive merit of a work they are allowed, in honor, no consideration. In this view of the case we predict a rapid and extensive circulation of the Geography now before. us. It is, beyond all question, the best school-book upon the subject now in existence.

We note a few of its leading features. The whole work is divided into short sections, such as are considered sufficient for one lesson, and these sections are marked, for the purpose of saving trouble to the teacher, and gradually enlarged, so as to keep pace with the increasing capacity of the pupil.

As far as prescribed limits would permit, we have a description of the various political divisions of the earth, according to the views exhibited in the latest and most authentic works on the subject. In the accomplishment of this portion of his design, Mr. Mitchell has evidently labored with diligence, and assuredly has displayed a more than ordinary tact.

The text of the book is remarkably accurate, not only in itself, but in its accordance with the Atlas — a point not always attended to. The Maps themselves are all from original drawings, especially adapted to the work, and are engraved with exceeding neatness and distinctness, as well as carefully colored. They also embody the location of remarkable historical events, of rail-roads and canals, and the distances from continent to continent — a decided and valuable improvement. We have maps, too, of Palestine and Liberia. The map of Oceanica is compiled with reference to the religious and moral changes which have occurred in its principal islands within the last twenty years. This has never been done before.

We should not neglect to speak of the pictorial designs which enliven and illustrate the book, and are all well engraved, chiefly from spirited original drawings. Some of these designs are of a national character, illustrating important incidents in the history of the country; the greater number, however, represent striking objects in nature or art, and are of a character well adapted to arrest the attention and excite the curiosity of the pupil.

The scrupulous accuracy of the text, (as far as positive accuracy is attainable in a science so constantly progressive,) and the perfect distinctness of the maps, are points which, alone, would insure for Mr. Mitchell's Geography a preference over all the similar books with which the country is flooded, and in most of which the grossest and silliest errors abound, while their Atlases are scarcely to be understood at all — but there are a great variety of other particulars (a far greater variety than we can attempt to discuss here) which render the work, as we have already said, the most desirable textbook extant upon the subject of which it treats. We heartily wish it all the success which its very high merits deserve.


Flora's Lexicon. An Interpretation of the Language and Sentiment of Flowers; with an Outline of Botany, and a Poetical Introduction. By Catharine H. Waterman. Herman Hooker, Philadelphia.

This little work will hold a high place, and deservedly so, among the numerous gift-books for 1840. It is an attempt to comprise within reasonable compass a full lexicon of the rich language of flowers, and the work is adorned with such quotations from the best poets of our language, both native and foreign, as have a direct and graceful reference either to the peculiarities of the flowers, or to the sentiments which they are imagined to express. An outline of Botany is appended — concise yet sufficient for its purpose. The botanical name of each flower commences with a fanciful ornamental [page 230:] wood-cut by way of capital letter, and we have also illustrations of the Rose, Ivy, Myrtle, Scarlet Ipomoea, Laurustinus, Convolvulus, Jasmine, Strawberry, Tulip, Crown Imperial, Turk's Cap, Lily, and Lily of the Valley, all beautifully drawn on stone, and colored by James Ackerman. These, we say, are worthy of all praise; but the gem of the work — and what would be a gem in any work — is the Poetical Introduction, from the pen of the editress, Miss Waterman.


Opinions of Lord Brougham on Politics, Theology, Law, Science, Education, Literature, etc. etc. As Exhibited in his Parliamentary and Legal Speeches, and Miscellaneous Writings. Two volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

The object of this publication was not only to embody the most brilliant passages from the most celebrated speeches and writings of Lord Brougham, but also to develop, iir a gradual manner, the particular mind and genius of the man. This design is well carried out, and we arise from the earnest perusal of the book with our opinion strengthened, if possible, in regard to the extraordinary character and exceeding vigor of the intellect discussed. Perhaps, however, the best portion of the work is embodied in the Prefatory Memoir, which contains more complete, accurate, and satisfactory information about his Lordship, both in Iris public and private life, than any thing of the kind hitherto published.


Fair Rosamond; or, The Days of King Harry II. An Historical Romance. By Thomas Miller, Author of “Royston Gower,” “Beauties of the Country,” “A Day in the Woods,” etc. Two volumes. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia.

“Royston Gower” will even yet be fresh in the memory of many of our readers. Its writer appears to us to be a man of true genius, but of a somewhat uncultivated intellect — of deficient education.

The subject he has chosen for the present novel is one of excellent materiel, and he has handled it well. The liberties taken with the historical character of Rosamond, in making her privately married to the King, and in many other respects, are fully justifiable upon the ground that we really know little about her, and that that little has no great weight of authenticity.


The Man About Town. By Cornelius Webbe, Author of “Glances at Life,” etc. Two volumes. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia.

Cornelius Webbe is one of the best of that numerous school of writers who sprang up upon the ruins of Lamb's intellect. He carries his harum-scarum, hyper-excursive mannerism to an extent which is sometimes fatigumg, but, upon the whole, is an author of merit, and possesses a dash of the “true and blissful Hippocrene.” If a man is in a perfectly good humor with himself and all the world, he will find nothing to ruffle his temper in the “Man About Town.” Some of these vagaries are capital, outrageously so, and all are very readable. “Punning made Easy,” we reckon in the class outrageous. “Charley Stump, the Crossing Sweeper,” is a humorous sketch, and the “Young Man at Ninety,” will be sure to please every one who is at the trouble of reading it.


Hamilton King, or The Smuggler and the Dwarf. By the Old Sailor, author of “Tough Yarns,” “Stories of Greemuich Hospital,” etc. Two volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

The Old Sailor, whoever he is, is also the author of “The Naval Foundling,” a sea-novel, in three volumes, republished, a short while ago, by Messieurs Lea and Blanchard. He is a writer of spirit in many respects. His sea-scenes are exceedingly vivid and life-like, and altogether his works are of that particular character which is sure to render a book popular, in the most usual, and in the most rigorous sense of the term.





[S:0 - BGM, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Critical Notices [Text-02]