Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), Critical Notices, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, December 1839, vol V, no. 6


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

[page 327:]


[[The first four reviews are not attributed to Poe.]]

[page 329, continued:]


Memoirs of His Own Time; Including the Revolution, The Empire, and The Restoration. By Lieut. Gen. Count Mathieu Dumas. Two Volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

Count Mathieu Dumas will be remembered by all Americans as one of the aid-de camps of General Rochambeau, during his command of the corps of twelve thousand men sent by the French Government to our assistance, in the year 1780. The Count shared this appointment with the Chevalier de Lameth, Count Charles de Damas, the Count de Vauban, the Count de Fersen, the Count de Lauberbière, and M. Collot.

The life of Dumas has been long, and exceedingly fruitful of events. He was bom in 1753, and these Memoirs extend from the year 1773, when he first entered the service of France, to the end of the year 1826, an extensive period rife with momentous occurrences, in many of which he bore an important, if not at all times a- conspicuous part. In 1826, he had considered his political career terminated, and thought only of enjoying, in retirement, the society of his family and friends; but he was unexpectedly thrust back upon public life, wherein he played a busy role for the ten subsequent years — until 1836. Upon these latter years the posthumous journal now published does not touch; although his various positions, during the period, must have imbued his entire spirit with intrigue. We now find him first, a member of the Chamber of Deputies; then principal co-operator with the illustrious La Fayette in the re-organization of the National Guards; then Counsellor of State, and lastly a Member of the Chamber of Peers. It is remarkable that from the year 1827, he had been totally blind; and was prevented, in consequence, from prosecuting the historical undertakings which have been announced, as in progress, and for which he had collected a world of valuable material. These Memoirs are the result of dictation to an amanuensis. They are, of course, very interesting, and should have a place in every historical library.


The Most Important Parts of Blackstone's Commentaries, Reduced to Questions and Answers, By Asa Kinne. Second Edition. W. S. Bean, New York.

This work was originally prepared by Mr. Kinne (who is a citizen of Natchez) without any view to publication. His primary design was to impress more vividly upon his own mind the spirit and leading facts of Blackstone, than can be done by the ordinary system of perusal, even when careful attention is given to the text, and the whole matter thoroughly noted, or common-placed. There are few men of logical thought who have not, at some period of life, experienced the benefit of reducing a course of study to a system of question and answer; and, certainly, no one who ever tried it, will hesitate to acknowledge its importance and advantage in the methodizing of knowledge — in the stamping it upon memory, in the rendering it distinct, and, in short, in giving it all those qualities which make it enduring, and at any moment available. The system is applicable to all sciences, and in none is more essential than in law, whose complexity exceeds that of all others. Perceiving the great profit of his course, as he continued to pursue it, Mr. Kinne, at length, having completed Blackstone, digested what he had done, and arranged it, as we now see it, for publication. In testimony of the value of what he has accomplished the high authorities of Walworth, Kent, Story, Cranch, Bouvier, Du Ponceau, Ingeisoll, Paul Brown, and other eminent jurists, must be considered as decisive. But by the public at large the volume in question has scarcely yet been known; a fact which is accounted for only by some very unusual scruples of the author, in regard to the mode of publication. We are now happy to find that these scruples are removed, and that the book will be circulated, as it deserves to be.

The copy now before us is one of the second edition; the first having been privately distributed, Mr. Kinne has materially enlarged and greatly improved his work, simplifying it by every means in Ms power. Among other important points we observe that the oidinary Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Saxon law phrases are very properly Anglicised. Many of the original answers are extended beyond their former limits, in order to afford a more complete exhibition of the fundamental canons of the British law, the great original of our own judicial system, and with a view of making the abstracts plain, and easily comprehensible by the general inquirer. He has also interwoven more than five hundred additional questions and answers, and appended a very serviceable Index. In its [page 330:] present form the work must be regarded by all who survey it carefully, as a valuable addition to our legal and ordinary libraries. To the jurist it will be exceedingly useful in its indicial and digestive character; to the scholar as an aid in the task of revision and condensation; and to every general jcffliler as a convenient manual, not only of law, but of its origin and ^micipia. In the latter respect we look upon it as a better book than the “Analysis” of Judge Field. We should have mentioned Siiat Mr. K. has judiciously forborne to touch upon those Chapters in the First Book of Blackstone i«rMch discuss subjects of a purely local application; such as the king, parliament, etc. He, of course, does not consider an acquaintance with the peculiar political structure of the government of Great Bjiiain either useless or unimportant, but the subject did not fall within the scope of his plan, which was simply to present to the reader an abstract of those laws which regulate the British administration of justice, and from which so large a portion of our own legal code has been derived. We should like to say more of this volume, which is indeed of unusual value, and with which we are especially taken, as with an important step in the simplification and unquacking of an unnecessarily complex and much bemystified science; but the truth is that the merits of the work speak loudly for themselves, and thus leave us very little to say.


The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. By Charles Dickens, (Boz.) Author of “Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Sketches of Every-Day Life,” etc., etc. With numerous Illustrations by Phiz. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

What shall we say of Boz, now that he has completed Nicholas Nickleby? Assuredly we could say nothing in the way of commendation, which has not been said already by every person who reads. This last effort is perhaps the best of its author; and this we regard as superlative praise. Again; even of this last effort, the last passages are the most vivid. There could scarcely be a more forcible token of the extraordinary powers of the writer. His flight is still upwards. The pathos of “Nicholas Nickleby” is, in some respects, chargeable with exaggeration, but in general may be considered as unequalled. Its humor is surpassingly fine. The incidents of the story are well conceived and admirably managed; the interest never flags; and the total effect is highly graphic and artistical. Charles Dickens is no ordinary man, and his writings must unquestionably Jive. We think it somewhat surprising that his serious pieces have elicited so little attention; but, possibly, they have been lost in the blaze of his comic reputation. One of the most forcible things ever written is a brief story of his called “The Black Veil,” a strangely pathetic and richly imaginative production, replete with the loftiest tragic ability.


An Address, Delivered before the Gœthean and Diagnothian Societies of Marshall College, at their Annual Celebration, September 24, 1839. By Joseph K. Chandler.

We have read this Address thoughtfully, and with great pleasure. It assuredly does its accomplished author much credit, and we cannot be surprised at the intense interest with which, as we learn, it was listened to by the institutions before whom it was delivered. Addresses, in general, are very ordinary matters, and we dislike to say any thing about them, because we seldom have any any thing [[anything]] more to say than a few brief words of utter condemnation. The leading features of this branch of letters, at the present day, may be summed up in petto — stale wisdom, overdone sentiment, school-boy classicalities, bad English, worse Latin, and wholesale rhodomontade. Mr. Chandler Ibas given us a good Address, and done an original thing.

Originality is indeed, we think, one of the distinguishing traits of Mr C.'s mind, and the Essay now before us evinces the faculty in a high degree. He has deviated widely from the usual track upon occasions like the present; and, at the same time, he has deviated with judgment, and given token of the true spirit of independence. He addresses two associations supposed to be deeply imbued with classical partialities. He does not blindly humor these partialities — but boldly confronts, and, just so far as the truth warrants, condemns them. His design is to show the vast superiority which modern intellect, and its results, maintain over the boasted civilization and proudest mental efforts of even the golden Heathen ages — maintain by the means, and through the inspiration of the light of revelation — through the elevated knowledge of a futurity of existence — and through the glowing and burning hopes to which that knowledge of futurity gives rise. This is just such a turn as the man of genius might be led to give to a discourse upon an occasion of the kind, and such as only the man of genius would have given.

Mr. Chandler has not merely well conceived the tenor of his Address, but very ably sustained its execution throughout. If there is, indeed, any one point of his argument with which we could find fault, it is where he yields, in too great measure, we think, the palm of eloquence to the ancients — [page 331:] thus weakening his own position. He has not, perhaps, sufficiently borne in mind the distinction between eloquence abstractedly considered, and its positive effects. We might safely grant that the effects of the oratory of Demosthenes were vaster than those produced by the eloquence of any modern, and yet not controvert the idea that the eloquence itself, of the modern, was equal or superior to that of the Greek. And this we firmly believe is the case. The circumstances of the audience make the important difference in the reception of the oration. The Greeks were a highly excitable and an unread race. They had no printed books. Viva voce exhortations carried with them, to their quick apprehensions and passions, all that gigantic force which the new possesses. These exhortations had, analogically speaking, much of that vivid interest which the first fable has upon the dawning intellect of the child — an interest which is worn away by the frequent perusal of similar things — the frequent inception of similar fancies. The suggestions, the arguments, if any, the incitements of the ancient rhetorician, were, when compared with those of the modern, absolutely novel, and therefore possessed an immense adventitious force — a force which should be taken into consideration in a comparative estimate of the eloquence of the two eras. But the truth is, that even in regard to any given Philippic, and any given modern effort of note, we have few means of rigid comparison. Demosthenes appealed to the passions of a populace; the modern orator struggles to sway the intellect of a deliberative assembly. The finest Philippic of the Greek would have been hooted at in the British House of Commons, but it may well be doubted whether one of Brougham's admirable efforts would not have had its weight, even in Athens.


[[The review of the Poets and Poetry of America is not attributed to Poe.]]

[page 331, continued:]


Nix's Mate; an Historical Romance of America. By the Author of “Athenia of Damascus” etc. Two volumes. Colman, New York.

Mr. Rufus Dawes has given us an original tale, full of exciting incident and wild and wonderful achievements. His plot is good, and his characters are well conceived and spiritedly displayed. The scenic descriptions are also particularly effective.

It is a difficult and a dangerous matter to blend the ideal with the real in a narration of historical events so well known as the matters connected with Sir Edmond Andros’ government of Massachusetts. The introduction of the agency of witches in a New England tale is a good idea, but the author has sadly missed his aim in rendering their magical powers most positive and real. The indisputable matter-of-fact details of colonial government assort but strangely with the freaks of an Indian sorceress, exercising unlimited control over the fiends of hell; and, according to our notions, New England witches are somewhat different from Mr. Dawes’ hags of the Brocken and the Hartz, who leave their German mountains to boil their unholy cauldrons on the beach at Nahant. This strange mistake militates against the general effect of the tale; nevertheless, we believe that the publisher will find it the best selling book of the season.


National Melodies of America. By George P. Morris, Esq.

There are few cases in which mere popularity should be considered a proper test of merit; but the case of song-writing is, we think, one of the few. When we speak of song-writing we mean, of course, the composition of brief poems with an eye to their embodiment in melody. In this ultimate destination of the song proper, lies its essence, its genius, its spirit. It is the strict reference to music — the dependence upon modulated expression — which gives to this branch of letters a character altogether distinct and unique; which separates it in a very great measure, and in a manner not sufficiently considered, from the ordinary proprieties of literature; which allows it, and even demands for it, a vast latitude in its laws; and which absolutely insists upon that certain wild license and indefinitiveness which is recognized by every musician who is not a mere fiddler, as an important point in the philosophy of his science — as the soul of the sensations derivable from its practice — sensations which bewilder while they enthral, and which, perhaps, would not so enthral, if they did not so bewilder.

The sentiments deducible from the conception of sweet sound, are, in themselves, exceedingly indefinite; those derivable from harmony and melody the most indefinite, and the least susceptible of analysis, of any with which the metaphysician has to deal. Give to music any undue decision, imbue it with any very determinate tone, and you deprive it, at once, of its ethereal, its ideal, and, as we sincerely believe, of its intrinsic and essential character. You dispel its dream-like luxury; you dissolve the atmosphere of the mystic in which its whole nature is bound up; you exhaust it of its breath of fäery. It then becomes a tangible and easily appreciable idea — a conception of the earth, earthly. It will not, indeed, lose all its power to please, but all which we consider the distinctiveness of that power. And to the uncultivated talent, or to the unimaginative apprehension, this deprivation of its most delicate nare will be, not unfrequently , a recommendation. A determinateness of expression is sought, — and sometimes by composers who should know better, — is sought as a beauty, rather than rejected as a blemish. Thus we have, even from high authorities, attempts at absolute imitation in musical sounds. Who can forget, or cease to regret, the many errors of this kind into which some great minds have fallen in a moment of precipitate enthusiasm? Who can forget the failings of the Battles of Pragues? What man of true taste is not ready to weep over their interminable guns, drums, trumpets, blunderbusses, and thunder”? “Vocal music,” says L’Abbate Gravina, “ought to imitate the natural language of the human feelings and passions, rather than the warblings of Canary birds, which our singers, now-a-days, affect so vastly to mimic with their quaverings and boasted cadences.” This is true only so far as the “rather” is concerned. If any music must imitate any thing, it were, perhaps, better that the imitation should be limited as Gravina has [page 333:] required. But imitation, in its most respectable aspect, is a foe to the best interests of the lyre. Indeed it is an enemy to the best interests of every thing of which we have any acquaintance.

That character of indefinitiveness which is a part of the essence of true music, must be held in view by the song-writer; and, by the critic, should be considered in his estimate of the song. It is, in the author, a consciousness, and sometimes an instinctive appreciation, of this character, and of the necessity of its maintenance, which imparts to all songs, rightly conceived, that free, affluent, and hearty manner, little scrupulous about niceties of phrase, which cannot be better expressed than by the French word abandonnement, and which is so strikingly exemplified in both the serious and joyous ballads and carols of our honest old English progenitors. Wherever verse has been found most strictly married to music, this feature prevails. It is, thus, the essence of all antique song. It is the soul of Homer, whose Iliad, according to Hedelin at least, is made up “ex tragediis, et variis canticis de trivio mendicatorum et circulatorum — à la manicre des chansons du Pontneuf.” It is the spirit of Anacreon. It is even the genius of Æschylus. Coming down to our own times, it is the staple of all Moore's happiest efforts — it is the very life of De Beranger. Above all things it is that idea which we so vaguely terra nationality in the writing of songs. Wanting this quality no song writer was ever truly popular, and, for the reasons we have given, no song writer need ever expect to be so.

But the popularity which General Morris has attained is undoubtedly well deserved, for it is based upon the spirit and character which we have discussed. Either a noble instinct, or a high degree of acumen, has thrown him, in his songs, upon the very manner and upon the very execution which he should have deliberately adopted. We do not intend to insult him, here, by any attempt at regular defence from the elaborate nonsense which some of his good friends (those devilish fine fellows) have perpetrated in regard to his Melodies. He is quite adequate to that task himself, whenever circumstances shall render it necessary. We do not mean to defend him — but our spleen is terribly excited, and we wish to quarrel with his brethren of the press. These gentlemen — some of them — are very large as fault-finders, but very little as critics. And even in what they appear to consider the strongest points of this fault-finding, they are radically wrong. They have made, among other things, a prodigious noise about the lines in which Meeta's heart and the morning are said to “break together.”

Her heart and morning broke together

In the storm.

Now we know of no reasons whatever, given by the accusers of General Morris fur their dislike of the figures here introduced. They have all contented themselves, we believe, with a pure dissent, a mere veto, a simple unsupported turning up of the nose. We will therefore aid them by stating explicitly the only ground upon which the lines can be condemned. The figures are supposed to form what is technically termed a conceit, and to partake of the nature of a pun. The verb “broke,” in its application to the noun “heart,” has, they say, (or rather, would say if they dared) a literal signification, while, in its application to “morning” this signification is merely metaphorical. Such discrepancies are, we grant, justly denounced by Johnson, by Blair, and by all other critics. This we say, is the only possible ground of accusation. But have we to inform any person of sound mind that, in poetical usage, the breaking of the heart is as strictly metaphorical an expression, as the breaking of the morning 1 That the heart does sometimes actually break (as we read in old medical books) is a point of knowledge which appertains only to the physician, and with which the poet has nothing to do. But we are ashamed of insisting upon a matter with which every school-boy ought to be well acquainted. The breaking of the heart, and the breaking of the morning, are, in the lines of General Morris, not only both strictly metaphorical phrases, but precisely analogous ones, even if not considered metaphorically. This is seen by the substitution of a synonym, in either case, for the original word “broke” — a test which could not be borne by words whose similarity lay only in sound. It will be perceived, at once, that we can say the heart broke — or burst, and that the morning broke — or burst. “The morning burst” is, in fact, a phrase to be found, passim, in the British antique poetry. But the truth is that the passage stands in need of no defence of this nature. We might admit the conceit very safely. Let us admit it. It is defensible on the score of being in vivid keeping with that glorious spirit of abandonnement upon which we have commented. To all reasonable persons it will be sufficient to say that the hearty, and fervid, and free-spoken songs of Cowley and of Donne, and more especially of Cunningham, of Harrington and Carew, abound in precisely similar things, and that they are to be met with plentifully in the polished pages of De Beranger, who introduces them with thought, and retains them after mature deliberation.


United States’ Military Magazine, and Record of all the Volunteers, together with the Army and Navy. Huddy and Duval, Philadelphia.

We observe a great improvement in this Magazine. The last number is very creditable to all concerned in its publication. The literary matter is appropriate to the work. The embelUshments, too, [page 334:] are well done. The first is a fine lithograph of an oflicer and private of the Troy Citizens’ Corps, accompanied by an account of that body. The second is also a good plate, representing an officer of the Montgomery Light Guard of New York. We have moreover a Grand March entitled the National Greys, and composed expressly for the Magazine. Among the literary sketches we observe one of the “Battle of Brandywine,” and the editor says — “It is not known to whom belongs its authorship.”’ It belongs, however, to John Neal, of Portland, than whom a more graphic or vigorous writer is not now living.

We believe that the Military Magazine is well supported, and it certainly deserves support.


Walks and Wanderings in the World of Literature. By the author of “Random Recollections” “The Great Metropolis,” “Sketches of London,” etc., etc. Two Volumes. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia.

This, as Mr. Grant observes in his preface, is the first attempt of the author at literature, properly so called. His previous works were mere compilations — or perhaps worse. We think him wrong, however, in leaving the beaten track which he has travelled so successfully — that is to say, if success is to be estimated by the sale of a book. His mind, if indeed he has any, is essentially at home in statistics, and twaddling gossip, with maudlin commentaries fashioned in imitation of profundity. But the idea of his launching his very little vessel into the ocean of original composition, has in it, to our apprehensions at least, something supremely fantastic. Mr. Grant has only a faint notion of the English language, and, altogether, is one of the flattest writers of his time. The highest praise we can award to his “Walks and Wanderings” is that they are not quite as bad as we expected them to be. One or two of the pieces may be read, certainly; and there are even one or two of them which have an equivocal kind of interest. That “conscience which makes cowards of us all” will not permit us to say another word in their favor, or indeed about them in any respect.


The Good Housekeeper. By Mrs. Sarah J. Hale. Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston.

This is a very neat, and certainly a very useful little woik, and will command a ready sale. It is unusually full, not only in respect to mere culinary matters, but in regard to a world of household affairs. We have recipes, and useful hints, and economical precepts et id genus omne, of wisdom — a genus in which young housekeepers, especially, are apt to be sadly deficient.

In stooping, a moment, from severer pursuits to one of this humble yet highly important character, Mrs. Hale is only following good example — the example of Dr. Kitchener, of our own Miss Leslie, and of one or two dozen others whom we could name. We shall like her all the better when she returns to her customary themes.





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