Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of New Books,”, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, VI, March 1840, pp. 151-154


[page 151, unnumbered:]


[The first entry, by Poe, is the second of two reviews of Henry Duncan's Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons.]


Memoirs and Reminiscences of the French Revolution. By Madame Tussaud. Edited by Francis Hervé, Esq., author of a “Residence in Greece and Turkey,” etc. etc. Two Volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

These personal memoirs and reminiscences — another drop to the ocean of books on the same topic — have still a vivid interest, and will no doubt be favorably received in America, where incidents of the French Revolution are more eagerly sought, and more tenaciously remembered, than in any other portion of the globe. Madame Tussaud has here introduced nearly every character and circumstance of note connected with the stupendous events in question, and at the same time has forborne to dilate upon those disgusting and revolting scenes of simple horror with which too many similar works abound. With the editor of her book, Francis Hervé, Esq., we have had the honor of a personal acquaintance, and well know that the task of bringing the work before the public could not possibly have been in mole competent hands.


The Letter Bag of the Great Western, or Life in a Strainer. By the Author of Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick, etc. etc. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

This lively and piquant little book, from the pen of Judge Haliburton, embodies a dedication, a preface, and twenty-eight letters. The dedication is “to the Right Honorable Lord John Russell,” and is a piece of biting satire as well as capital burlesque. Sam Slick, or Judge Haliburton, whichever the reader pleases, very candidly informs his lordship that he is selected as Mecœnas, not on account of his quick perception of the ridiculous, or his powers of humor, but solely on account of the very extensive patronage at his disposal. “Your lordship,” says our writer, “is a colonial minister, and I am a colonial author; the connexion between us, therefore, in this relation, is so natural, that this work has not only a claim to your protection, but a light to your support. All the world will say that it is in vain for the whig ministry to make protestations of regard for the colonies, when the author of that lively book, ‘The Letter Bag of the Great Western, remains in obscurity in Nova Scotia, languishing for want of timely patronage; and posterity, that invariably does justice, (although it is unfortunately rather too late, always) will pronounce that you failed in your first duty, as protector of colonial literature, if you do not do the pretty upon this occasion.” After a number of sly thrusts, the dedicator thus concludes — “It does not become me, my lord, to say what I do expect for myself; but if the office of distributor of honors and promotions among colonists, is vacant, as there are no duties to perform, and the place is a sinecure, it would suit me uncommonly well, and afford me leisure to cultivate talents that are extremely rare among the race of officials.”

In the preface, the judge, after acknowledging that his coming into possession of the Letter Bag of the Great Western, and perusing its contents, are circumstances of a somewhat unaccountable nature, declines giving any information upon the subject, but refers the inquisitive reader to Spring Rice. “Ask Spring Rice,” he says, “who is a frank man.” The letters themselves are varied in every respect but one — that of a broad, an excessively broad, burlesque. They are supposed to be written by all kinds of odd characters, and are somewhat entertaining. In our last number we were enabled, through the kindness of Messrs, Lea and Blanchard, to give our readers an excellent specimen, in “The Journal of an Actress” — a quiz upon Fanny Kemble. The rest are equally good, some better. A “Letter from a Traveller before he has travelled,” is a farcical affair, satirizing the Trollope and Marryatt race. [page 153:]

“The Letter Bag of the Great Western” is a book which every body will read, and which will occasion many a hearty laugh. The mere style of Judge Haliburton is not so good as it might be. There is a looseness about it which especially detracts from its piquancy and force. He misses many a fine point through want of epigrainmatisn. His coarseness is disgusting. In the Latin motto on the title page is a blunder which has an awkward appearance.


Trials of the Heart. By Mrs. Bray, author of “Trelawny,” “The Borders of the Tamar and Taty,” “The Talha,” “The White Hoods,” “Warleigh,” etc. etc. Two Volumes. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

The writings of Mrs. Bray are, we believe, not very well known in this country, but have been received with some favor in England. The New Monthly Magazine pronounces her “one of the first female novelists of the day,” and “De Foix” and “The White Hoods,” are mentioned in terms of warm commendation by the Quarterly Review. “Trials of the Heart” embodies four narratives of merit — “Prediction;” “The Orphans of La Vendée;” “The Little Doctor,” and “Vicissitudes.” The general title of the book, and its ground-work, are deduced from the personal experience of the lady-author herself, who has been called upon to endure more than usually falls to the lot of mortality. This circumstance gives, in many cases, a painful vraisemblance, and consequently a deep interest to her stories.


Romance of Travel, comprising Tales of Fire Lands. By the Author of “Pencilings by the Way.” S. Colman, New York.

This volume includes nine narratives — Lady Ravelgold; Paletto's Bride; Violanta Caesarina; Pasquali, The Tailor of Venice; The Bandit of Austria; Oonder Hoofden, or The Undercliff; The Picker and Piler; Stratford on Avon; and Charlecote. There is a dedication, very brief, to Rufus Dawes; and no preface. Altogether, there is Inuch less of petty affectation about the outworks of the book than was at one time usual with Mr. Willis. We are not quite sure, however, whether he himself is entitled to credit for the improvement. There are some circumstances which induce us to think that the author of the “Inklings,” and the “Pencilings,” and the “Jottings Down,” had no direct agency in the getting up of the “Romance of Travel.” The absence of preface is especially suspicious. Be this matter as it may, however, we feel confident that our author could not have seen the proofs of the present publication, which, we are sorry to say, abounds in gross errors of either haste or typography — so greatly indeed, that, had we per used nothing else than this work from the pen of Mr. W., we should have called him one of the loosest writers of a day when loose writing, habitually practised and permitted, is making irreparable inroads upon the purity and stability of the language. But we happen to be quite sure that the many blunders in the volume before us are, at least, not deliberate perpetrations. In the minor morals of literature our author has scarcely a superior in America.

In regard to the more important features of the Tales, we find Mr. Willis still Mr. Willis. We observe his usual range of subject, his customary mode of handling, his ordinary points of ornament. The best story here, upon the whole, is that called “The Picker and Piler.” Its striking, yet imperfect, inconsistent, and inconsequential incidents, are strongly characteristic. As for plot, properly conceived, of that our poet never should be accused — and certainly not in the case of the “Picker and Piler.” The story runs thus. A privateer captain, at the close of the late war between England and America, not choosing to become a pirate by continuing his cruise, is set ashore a beggar by his crew. Unfitted for social life, and doubly disgusted by the conduct of relatives at home, in whose charge he had left a daughter during his own absence at sea, he determines upon the rigid seclusion of the maiden from the world, and for this end, can think of no better plan than that of burying himself and her in the western wilderness, where his mode of life resembles nothing more nearly than that of a salamander. For example; he first cuts a clearing of an acre or so, in the heart of a dense forest, and afterwards a narrow and intricate lane, from this clearing to the prairie. He then sets fire to the whole wood, and lives like a conjurer within a charmed circle. When the trees are fairly burned down, he takes up other quarters in a similar way. It so happens, however, that a stranger finds his way, one day, through the lane, and by this stranger the young lady is not treated precisely as one could wish. The ex-captain resolves upon the death of the lover, and the manner in which this death is brought about, forms the pith of the whole story — the sting in the tail of the bee. A burning pine has fallen across an ash, uprooting the latter in its descent. “The earth and stones had followed the uptorn mass, forming a solid upright wall, from which, like struggling fingers, stretching back in agony to the ground from which they had parted, a few rent and naked roots pointed into the cavity.” “The sequel,” says our author most inartistically, “will show why I am so particular in this description.” The truth is that the lover goes to sleep, like a fool, just in the hollow beneath the roots of the tree. Hereupon the ex-captain jumps up, with his axe, upon the still smouldering pine, whose weight alone holds down the elastic ash. A single stroke suffices to sever the burning [page 154:] trunk — the ends slide offin opposite directions — the ash uprises — and the sleeper is buried. Here, beyond doubt, is a striking and, we believe, an original idea — an idea which, in competent hands, might have been made to produce an electric effect. But Mr. Willis has done nothing with it at all. He “dawdles” too long with his theme, and fritters away his main interest in irrelevancy. We get angry with him as we read, and feel an itching to kick him along. Instead of finding our attention liveted to the coming catastrophe — a catastrophe, by the way, which every reader is weakly permitted to foresee for at least half an hour before it occurs — we are perpetually reminded of the writer of the story — whose image is sure to jump up every now and then before us, in an embroidered morning gown and slippers, with a pen in one hand, and a bottle of eau de Cologne in the other. The concluding words of the narrative are a case in point. “A struggle — a contortion — and the leafless and wavering top of the recovered and upright tree rocked with its effort, and a long sharp cry had gone out echoing through the woods, and was still.” All this is very good — it might have been better, to be sure — but still it is very good. The catastrophe is over — the story is ended. No-the writer has yet tive words, as usual, to say of himself. “I felt my brain reel!” Body of Bacchus! — we were talking about the crushing of a fellow creature to death, and not about those everlasting brains of Mr. Willis. Who cares the matter of two pence halfpenny whetlit, that gentleman has any brains at all?


Rambles in the Footsteps of Don Quicotte. By the late H. D. Inglis, author of “Spain,” “The Tyrol.” etc. London, Whittaker and Co.

This is not, as one might suppose from the title, a road-book, describing with statistical accuracy the hamlets, ventus, and posadas, which the author visited in the romantic footsteps of the Knight of La Mancha. It is the work of a mind capable of relishing the inimitable humor of Cervantes, and of enjoying with perfect gusto the beautiful and grotesque images with which the adventures of Don Quixotte abound. In his rambles the writer is accompanied, like the knight, by a guide, a merry barber, who entertains enthusiastic admiration for Cervantes’ immortal work. This is in fact a national feeling with the Spaniards, as the following striking anecdote, which we extract from the early pages of the volume, will show: —

I had no passport to go beyond Toledo, having intended to return to Madrid; and when I applied to the dispenser of passports for permission to cross the mountain to La Mancha, my request was met by a direct refusal. “But,” said I, “my only object is to visit a country hallowed by the genius of Cervantes; I am going to travel in the footsteps of Don Quixotte.” Instantly the man's face relaxed; he could not resist the compliment paid to his country. “See,” said he, turning to his companion with a triumphant look, “how these English venerate our Cervantes!” and my passport was instantly made out, and delivered to me with the air of a man who receives rather than conscis a favor.

Mr. Inglis has adopted throughout the work a singular species of abandonment to the delightful fiction of Cervantes — which inakes the Spaniards speak of it as if the characters there diawn had really existed. This delusion is described in the following characteristic dialogue which takes place between the author and the barber of the little village of Miguel Estevan — at their first meeting: —

“Good evening, Master Nicholas,” said I, entering and seating mysels; “and how are your neighbors, the curate and the bachelor Sampson Curasco, and have you heard any tidings lately of the hidalgo, who is surnamed Don Quixotte ‘” The cunning eye and expressive smile of the barber showed at once that he understood me. “And so,” said he, “yout, who are a foreigner, have found out the village of Don Quixotte, when travellers from our own towns and provinces go to Quintana, and Quero, and El Probencio, and Pedermoso, and every village of La Mancha, but the right one!” “And this, then,” said I, “is really the village from which the Knight of La Mancha set out in search of adventures?” “Certes it is,” replied the barber, “what other village should it be than Miguel Estevan Quintana it could not be, because there is not, and there never has been any barber's shop in Quintana: as little could it be Quero, where there is not a house good enough for an hidalgo, scarcely even for a curate or a licentiate. El Probencio it could not be, because El Probencio is not in La Mancha; and neither could it be Pedermoso, because if the knight had gone from Pedernoso to the place where he encountered the windmills, he must have passed El Toboso, the village of Dulcinea, which would surely not have been omitted in the history of his sally.” I perceived that the barber was a shrewd fellow, a true enthusiast in the work of Cervantes; and desirous of trying to what length the confusion between truth and fiction would carry him, I said, “But you speak of the house of the hidairo, as if he had really existed, and of the barber's shop, as if the barber had in reality consulted with the curate about burning the knight's books, whereas you know” — “Oh I know very well,” interrupted the barber, evidently disconcerted; “but we always speak so here, and if you will step out with me to the corner of the street I’ll show the identical house.” A curious morsel this for the metaphysician — an admirable illustration of the essect which thought, constantly directed in a wrong channel, iday have in warping the judgment; and while I submitted to the operation of shaving, I reflected upon the extraordinary genius of Cervantes, in having drawn fictitious scenes with so much truth, as not only to beguile the reader into temporary belief of their reality, but even to disturb one's settled convictions of truth and fiction.



[These items were attributed to Poe by Hull.]


[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of New Books [Text-02]