Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), “Our Book-Shelves (III),” Aristidean (New York, NY), September 1845, pp. 234-242


[page 234:]


SINCE the issue of our last number there has been much briskness in the publishing world. We proceed to speak, concisely, of the most important works which have come under out notice.

Messrs. Wiley & Putnam have been more busy, perhaps, than any other firm. Their “Library of Choice Reading,” and “Library of American Books,” have been especially successful. Hitherto, we have spoken only of “Eothen,” and “The Amber Witch,” — the two first numbers of the first mentioned series.

No. 3 is “Undine,” and “Sintram.” the former is unquestionably one of the most remarkable works ever penned. It is indeed difficult to say whether we are chiefly to admire in it the novelty of its conception, the chastity and loftiness of its imagination, the depth of its pathos, its perfect simplicity, or the artistic ability with which all these high qualities are combined into a well-balanced whole.

“Undine” has been very singularly misunderstood. The critics have, in general, if not altogether, failed to perceive its under-current of meaning. This under-current, however, is never obtrusive, and the ordinary or obvious interest of the story is never interfered with by it. Still, it is sufficiently, and justly sufficiently, perceptible to an ear properly attuned for its perception, and has all the rich effect of an accompaniment to an air.

FOUQUE (as we may easily deduce from his beautiful fable) suffered from an ill-assorted marriage: “Undine” is the voice of his suffering. By way of showing the difference between the heart unexperienced in love, and that which has received its inspiration, he imagines first a being without a soul, and afterwards endows her with one. In the former condition the being is artless, thoughtless, careless — in the secondary, she is serious, anxious, enwrapt; yet with all its disquietudes, the secondary condition is seen to be preferable.

We presume nearly all our readers are conversant with the narrative — and we speak with that presumption. The jealousies following the marriage are but the inevitable troubles of love; but in the persecutions of the water-spirit, FOUQUE meant to hint at the difficulties springing from the interference of relatives in matters between man and wife — difficulties which he himself had experienced; and when Undine says to her husband, “Reproach me not upon the waters or we part forever,” the intention is to suggest that conjugal quarrels are beyond remedy when occurring in the presence of third parties. We find the author’s opinion in respect to the propriety of second marriages, fully expressed in the pathos and even passion with which he dwells on the knight’s second wedding, his gradual forgetfulness of Undine, and her deep grief, in consequence, beneath the waters. There is no misunderstanding, for example, this passage: — “The fisherman had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was a doubtful conclusion to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly viewed as her death.”

Not the least praiseworthy feature of “Undine” is the skillful manayment [[management]] of its imagination. It is not a rhapsody, as some of its [page 235:] imitations have been. Everything is well-ordered, truthful, compact. As a specimen of mere story-telling, we know nothing in any language which surpasses it — and, in all particulars, it is so pre-eminently a good book, negatively, that we look in vain throughout it for a flaw. Of its positive merits, we have already said that they are great. That they are not of the greatest, is all that we must forbear to say.

“Sintram and his companions,” is comparatively unknown to American readers. The tale was suggested by Albrecht Durer’s engraving, “The Knight, Death, and Satan,” in conjunction with some melodies by Old Bull. Of course, with such an origin, the story must be supposed wild and mysterious: — so it is. It is very impressive; but less so than “Undine.” the genius of FOUQUE found its truest province in the purely beautiful.

No. 4 of the “Library of Choice Reading,” is “Imagination and Fancy,” by LEIGH HUNT. The delicate taste, fine fancy, and warm sensibility of Hunt, are now as readily admitted as a few years ago they were vociferously denied. He has a scholarship sufficient for his purposes, and a general vivacity of intellect renders him, to a certain extent, a good critic. He has, in especial, a happy facility in putting a good book in a clear light. His ordinary manner, or routine of criticism, is to italicise the finest passages, and rhapsodise about their beauty. We always agree with him in his selections, while we permit ourselves to be warmed by his ardor. HUNT, too, theorizes with much plausibility — for he is ingenious. By sheer instinct of the beautiful in all its modifications, he is enabled to construct critical principles, consistent with Nature and serving well as a substructure for Art. But he can never get behind these principles. He is invariably ignorant of their bases. Of their machinery he knows nothing. He is always in condition to inform us how a point, or when a point is beautiful, but should we ask him why, he is unable to answer the question. In a word his forte is fancy — his foible analysis. His “Imagination and Fancy” is an amusing medley of fancies and guesses that are sufficiently well put together to be mistaken for facts by a reader who is in a very great hurry.

No. 5 is “The Diary of Lady Willoughby.” This is a smaller book than the other numbers of the series. By many persons it was believed (upon the issue of the first English edition) to be a genuine diary. It is a fiction, however, written to look like truth, on “The Amber-Witch” plan; and very truthful it is. It appears to be the work of a pious mother in the tumultuous era of the English Revolution.

No. 6 is “Table-Talk” by WILLIAM HAZLITT. This is a re-print of Galignani’s two volumes which were a selection from four volumes published in London under the author’s own supervision. HAZLITT has been extensively read and thoroughly appreciated in America. “For purposes of mere amusement, he is,” says The Broadway Journal, “the best commentator who ever wrote in English.” As a critic he is brilliant, eppigrammatic, startling, paradoxical, and suggestive, rather than accurate, luminous, or profound. He has many points in common with LEIGH HUNT, but is his superior in all except, perhaps, fancy. [page 236:] His egotism is unbounded, but amusing, rather than disgusting as the egotism of ordinary men. His comments on Art are, probably, the most accurate, if not altogether the best portions of his works. His Essay on the “Ignorance of the Learned” is, at all points, excellent. The “Table-Talk,” throughout, is intensely interesting.

No. 7 is “Headlong Hall and Night-Mare Abbey.” A pleasantly satirical book — but one somewhat over-rated. Its humor is occasionally wire-drawn. The author has written better, because broader things.

No. 8 is “The French in Algiers.” The name of Lady GORDON is on the title-page, and answers for the interest of the book, which has in it much of the novel and startling.

No. 9 is the 2d Part of “Table-Talk,” by WILLIAM HAZLITT, and includes the essays which the author intended to publish in Paris, over and above Galiganani’s collection.

No. 10 is the “Geta Romanorum,” or rather a selection from them. Their character is well known — but we are by no means sure of their present interest.

Nos. 11 and 12 form Part First and Second of “The Crescent and The Cross,” by ELIOT WARBURTON, the well-known author of the brilliant “Episodes of Eastern Travel.” The present book is a rich panorama of Eastern scenery and incident, and has merit of a more solid kind in the number and variety of its biblical illustrations.

No. 13 is “The Age of Elizabeth,” by WILLIAM HAZLITT — the very best work of its author.


No. 15 is “Tales from the German of Heinrich Zschokke,” by PARKE GODWIN. This is an amusing collection, of which the prevalent object is the exhibition of the conventualisms of mankind by means of the strong light of Nature. “I wished to see,” says the hero of the principal tale, (“The Fool in the Nineteenth Century,”) “whether one could live in the Nineteenth Century, in a European city, without embracing all its humbugs, and all the prescribed notions of honor, manners, justice, and respectability.” The story next in interest is “Jack Steam,” which is translated by MRS. GODWIN, the editor’s wife — daughter of W. C. Bryant.

No. 16 is “Prose and Verse,” by THOMAS HOOD, and includes several of the best and most earnest of the author’s compositions. Heretofore the American public have been made acquainted only with his jests and quibbles. Among the articles now published are “The Dream of Eugene Aram;” “I remember — I remember;” “Miss Killmannsegg,” (especially characteristic;) “Fair Inez;” and the “Ode to Melancholy.”

No. 17 is “The Characters of Shakspeare,” by WILLIAM HAZLITT. With a hackneyed subject the author has here accomplished wonders. He has written the most brilliant and must suggestive, if not the most profound of all commentaries on Shakspeare. If HAZLITT’s criticisms on the great dramatist have not the most of satisfactory or conclusive thought, they have at least more thought than any criticisms on the same topic. The subject is one, however, which has been thought to death. There is not one idea of Shakspeare’s which now retains its original shape: the more the pity, of course. [page 237:]

No. 18 is “The Crock of Gold,” by MARTIN FARQUHAR TUPPER, Mr. Willis’s account of the author has attracted much attention to his book. It embodies a single story of common life. At some points it rises into power. Its style is in general, sketchy and succint [[succinct]]. The moral shows the danger to which the contented poor are subjected by the sudden accession of wealth.

No. 19 is Part II. Of “Prose and Verse,” by THOMAS HOOD. This volume contains, among other excellent things, “The Haunted House,” (HOOD’s best composition;) “The Elm Tree;” “The Bridge of Sighs;” and “The Song of the Shirt.” All these have been exceedingly popular the last in especial. It owes its great favor with the public to the spirit of grotesquerie which pervades it. “The Haunted House” was never surpassed in its way. It is one of the most thoroughly sustained works of pure imagination ever penned, and is artistically perfect at all points. “The Bridge of Sighs” is wonderfully effective, not only on account of the maniacal tone which is made to pervade the whole lament, but through the singularity — the novelty — and rushing impetuosity of the rhythm in which that tone is embodied, or of which it forms a part. HOODS sense of melody was exquisite — but not more so than his facility of adapting it to his odd purposes.

No. 14 and 20 are “The Indicator and Companion,” by LEIGH HUNT. We begin to think that the estimate originally put upon LEIGH HUNT by the public, is nearer the truth than that which obtains at present. He never did a better thing than his “Feats of the Poets.” he has a vast deal of mere cockneyism at heart. His “Indicator” and “Companion” include many pleasant but no very remarkable papers.

No. 21 is “The Genius and Character of Burns,” by Professor WILSON. This is a subject precisely adapted to CHRISTOPHER NORTHS rhapsodical manner of comment. Here he can expatiate at pleasure, because here all his predecessors have expatiated before. There is more arrant fustian afloat about BURNS, than about any man who ever lived. The reason is to be sought in the personal and other adventitious circumstances which surrounded him — circumstances, we mean, adventitious to poetry. That BURNS had great capacity we admit — that he ever accomplished any thing great any thing that would live a week if published, anonymously, to-day in New-York — we deny flatly — and every man of common sense denies it, if not with his lips at least in his heart.

No. 22 and 23 are “Essays of Elia,” by CHARLES LAMB. These Essays are irresistible. The English language contains nothing so racy — and racy is, perhaps, the only word in the language which is precisely characteristic of the author’s manner. We must never look in LAMB for instruction in detail. In parts, he is never more than droll, saucy, quaint, pathetic; — but, as a whole, his composition generally rises into the instructive. We never read him, at least, without being made better, if not wiser. The best of the papers, in the volume before us, is “Christ’s Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago.”

Of “The Library of American Books,” No. 1 is “The Journal of an African Cruiser,” re-written by NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. It was probably thought that Mr. HAWTHORNES name would give immediate [page 238:] currency to this boo, which is, in itself, of little interest; — but unhappily the author of “Twice-Told Tales,” although a favorite with the more cultivated and imaginative, is by no means a popular writer. How the work has sold, we cannot say — but not very well, we presume.

No. 2 is “Tales,” by EDGAR A. POE. Mr. P. should never have consented to so brief a selection — unless, indeed, he proposes to continue it in a series of similar volumes. To our own knowledge he has published at least seventy-five or eighty tales (of the ordinary Magazine length) and his obvious aim throughout has been variety of tone and subject. He has made a point of versatility of invention. But it is obvious that this point is entirely lost in a selection of merely twelve stories from eighty. Most of the pieces in the present volume, too, are of one kind analytical. Of his (serious) imaginative tales a class may be said to be represented by “The House of Usher,” but his numerous extravaganzas and nondescripts, (his most characteristic compositions,) are left quite unrepresented. We should have liked to see included “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Spectacles,” and “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scherherazade.” The former, indeed, is but the original of “The Black Cat,” wherein Mr. POE has merely re-produced himself. Nevertheless, the volume is one which will afford delight to all classes, but especially to those who possess, in a strong degree, the faculty of causation. In all respects they are unapproachable by any other writer.

No. 3 is “Letters from Italy,” by J. T. HEADLEY. These were originally published in the “Tribune,” and met with decided success. Mr. HEADLEYS style is very inaccurate and even slovenly, as regards mere grammar, but its tone is vivacious and highly amusing. He is direct, ardent, impulsive, and speaks too frequently without thought, but never without interest.

Messrs. Wiley & Putnam have published, since our last issue, a number of important works, independently of these Libraries. Among others

“A History of the Society of Friends,” by WILLIAM R. WAGSTAFF, relates solely to the sect in Europe; a second part (it is intimated) will give an account of their doings in America. The work is written in a popular style and beautifully printed.

“Le Livre des Petits Enfants, ou Recueil de recit mis a la la portee du premier age — avec vocabulaire,” is the title of a very neat and very well arranged little text-book for beginners in French.

“Examination of a Reply to Hints on the Re-organization of the Navy,” is a forcible pamphlet, in answer to a forcible book.

“The Chemistry of Animal and Vegetable Physiology,” by MULDER, translated by FROMBERG, with an Introduction by Prof. J. F. W. JOHNSON, and edited (with Notes and Corrections,) by SILLIMAN, need only be named. Its European estimation is well known.

“Phreno-Mnemotechny, or The Art of Memory,” by FRANCIS FAUVEL-GOURAUD, is a large and handsome octavo of some 700 pages. A remarkable book, by a remarkable man.

“American Facts — Notes and Statistics relative to the Government Resources, Engagements, etc. etc., of the United States, by GEORGE [page 239:] PALMER PUTNAM,” is the title of one of the most really valuable books published by the firm of whose issues we are now speaking. It is a handsome volume of nearly 300 pages — the main design being to enlighten English readers in respect to this country. It is compiled with great judgement; but we object to prefacing a work of this kind with so silly a thing as that Review of British Poets which appeared, some time ago, in the North American Review. The plates are produced anastatically.

“The Fruit and Fruit Trees of America; or the Culture, Propagation, and Management, in the Garden and Orchard, of Fruit Trees Generally,” by A. J. DOWNING, is another very important book lately issued by Messrs. W. & P. It has descriptions of all the finest varieties of fruit, native and foreign, cultivated in this country. It gives an account, for example, of no less than 400 apples. A large book embellished with many engravings.

We must not forget to speak, either, of “Travels in North America,” by CHARLES LYELL, the geologist. Mr. LYELL made a tour, it is well known, through the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia, during 1841-42. This volume is the very interesting and valuable result. The author deals largely, as a matter of course, in geology, but is neglectful of no important topic.

All the works mentioned above, have been published by Messrs. Wiley & Putnam since the issue of our last number.

The firm of Harper & Brothers have also done much of late.

Their magnificent Bible has proceeded as far as No. 39. It is unquestionably the best bible ever issued in AMERICA, or perhaps elsewhere. Its type and paper cannot be surpassed; and its numerous engravings, (especially the smaller wood-cuts,) belong to a high style of art. Some of them cannot be praised too highly.

Their edition of SHAKSPEARE has proceeded as far as No. 65. Nothing superior has been seen in this country.

Their Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy has been carried as far as No. XI. Another number will complete it. It is an invaluable work of reference, and will include nearly 100 engravings. We shall speak of it more in detail when completed.

Their Library of Select Novels has reached its sixty-first number. Among the most interesting of the late issues are The White Slave A Chance Medley of Light Matter, by GRATTAN — The Bennetts Abroad — Life in Italy — Wyoming — Veronica — De Rohan — The Gambler’s Wife - The Smuggler etc. etc.

They have made, lately few additions to their celebrated “Family Library.” A “Pocket Edition of Select Novels” has been commenced, and in this series PAULDING’S “Dutchman’s Fireside” and “Westward Ho!” have been included. This series is neat and convenient.

Among their more important publications we call attention to The Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of New York, by Dr. JOHN H. GRISCOM — a new edition of ANTHON’S Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities — a new edition of the same author’s Grammar of the Greek Language a new edition of GRAY’S Principles of Forensic Medicine — a new edition of ANTHON’S Iliad — Plato contra [page 240:] Atheos, translated by Dr. TAYLOR LEWIS — A Pilgrimage to Treves, by a son of Dr. ANTHON — John Ronge A Dictionary of Practical Medicine, by JAMES Copland [[COPLAND]] — Praise and Principle — The Duty of American Woman to their Country — Essays by JOHN ABERCROMBIE and A Treatise on Domestic Economy, by Miss CATHERINE E. BEECHER.

The same publishers are proceeding with SUE’S “Wandering Jew,” and have commenced the re-publication of HUMBOLDT’S world-renowned “Cosmos.”

The Messrs. Appleton’s seem to have been doing little, and that little with no remarkable success. Their most important books have been the unfortunate “Saul,” by the Rev. ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, and the even more unfortunate “Poems,” (par excellence, we presume,) of WILLIAM W. LORD.

Our limits will permit us to do no more than announce, at random, some of the more noticeable works issued by other houses.

A Plain System of Elocution, or Logical and Musical Reading and Declamation, with Exercises in Prose and Verse, etc. etc. By G. VANDENHOFF, Professor of Elocution, &c. A second edition has been published by C. Shepard. A good book, with abundant defects, and a host (especially) of typographical blunders. Mr. POE’S “Raven” is shamefully mangled.

Night: a Poem in Two Parts. Anonymous, and worth nothing Alexander V. Blake.

Voices of the Night, by LONGFELLOW. Redding & Co. Boston. A neat shilling edition; and a bad move. The dignity of poetica [[poetical]] letters should be maintained.

The Mysteris of London. Translated from the French, by H. C. DEMING. Burgess, Stringer, & Co. Well translated.

Fleetwood, or the Stain of Birth. A novel, said to be by EPES SARGENT. Very absurd. The same.

Eveline Neville. A novel. By a lady of the South possibly Mrs. J. T. WORTHINGTON. Very good — full of a fine romance. The same.

The Knickerbocker Sketch Book. By the same. Selections from old Knickerbockers.

The Warwick Woods. By H. W. HERBERT. Zieber & Co. Philadelphia.

No Cross, No Crown. By WILLIAM PENN. Collins & Co.

The Waverley Novels, in 5 vols. (3,340 pp.) A very cheap edition. Carey & Hart.

A Phrase Book in German and English. By MORITZ ERTHEILE R. Greely & McElrath.

The Choronicles of Pineville, by the author of Major Jones’ Courtship, with 12 illustrations by DARLEY. Carey & Hart. Excellent especially the designs. DARLEY is the American designer.

The Prisoners of Perote. By WILLIAM PRESTON SNAPP. Burgess, Stringer & Co. Plagiarized, in great part, from BRNTZ MAYER’S Mexico.

The Apocryphal New Testament, containing every thing not included in the New Testament by its compilers. Now first collected into one volume. H. G. Daggers. [page 241:]

Specimens of Ancient Oracular and Fighting Eolipiles, by THOMAS EWBANK. Published by the author.

Letters from New York — Second Series. By L. M. CHILD. C. S. Francis & Co. Admirable.

Life of Goderley Willian Von Leibnitz, by JOHN M. MACKIE. Gould, Kendall & Lincoln. Boston.

The Big Bear of Arkansas, and Other Tales. Edited by W. T. PORTER. With Ten Designs by DARLEY. Some of the Tales [[are]] not very good. Designs excellent.

Pictorial History of the World, by JOHN FROST. In numbers. Walker & Gillis. Philadelphia. Trash.

Dashes at Life with a Free Pencil. By N. P. WILLIS. Morris, Willis & Fuller. Three Parts have been issued. Excellent, of course.

An Explanatory and Phonographic Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language. By WILLIAM BOLLES. Bolles & Williams. Very full and good in general, but containing many inaccuracies and absurdities. The definitions are often mere descriptions.

The Complete Evangelist. Same author. By the same.

Manual of Orthopedic Surgery. By H. J. BIGELOW. W. D. Ticknor & Co. Boston.

Richardsiana. By HENDERSON GREENE. A clever jeu d’esprit in the “Rejected Address” style.

The Bustle; a Philosophical and Moral Poem. Anonyumous. Bela Marsh. Gross; but full of truth.

The Progress of Passion. A poem in Four Books. By the Rev. H. M. SWEETSER. C. Shepard. Very prosy.

Lives of Men of Letters and Science who flourished in the time of George III. By Lord BROUGHAM. Carey & Hart. An admirable book, most stupidly abused by the French critics.

Vital Christianity. By ROBERT TURNBULL. Could, Kendall & Lincoln: Boston.

Vathek. Morris, Willis & Fuller. A vastly overrated tale.

Essay on the Philosophy of Medical Science, by ELISHA BARTLETT. Lea & Blanchard.

Principles of the Chromo-Thermal System of Medicine. By SAMUEL DICKINSON. With Notes by WM. TURNER. J. S. Redfield.

Satanstoe, or the Littlepage MSS. By COOPER. Burgess & Stringer. Neither much better nor much worse than The Monikins.

Trials of Margaret Lindsay. By Professor WILSON. Saxton & Kelt.

The Foresters. Same author. By the same.

The Modern British Essayists. Carey & Hart. Three large volumes.

Orthophony, or Vocal Culture, by JAMES E. MURDOCH. Wm. D. Ticknor & Co. One of the best works on Elocution.

A Chant of Life, and other Poems, by Rev. RALPH HOYT. Parts I and II. Le Roy & Hoyt. Containing some admirable poems — that, for instance, entitled “Old.”

The Fortune Hunter. A novel, by Mrs. A. C. Mowatt. Very good, although by no means great. William Taylor.

Poetical Writings of Mrs. ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH. J. S. Redfield [page 242:]

The Lone Star, a Tale of Texas. E. Ferrett & Co.

The Medici Series of Italian Prose. Nos. 1, 2, and 3. The Challenge of Barletta, and The Florentine Histories. Translated by the man who wrote “The Glory and Shame of England.” Paine & Burgess.

A new Latin Grammar, on the basis of Ross, by N. C. BROOKS. Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co. Phil.

First Lessons in Latin. Same author. By the same.

Festus, by BAILEY. Republished by Benj. B. Mussey, Boston. A glorious poem, with some glorious rhodomontade.

The True Child. Mrs. E. O. SMITH. Saxton & Kelt.



This item is the third installment of the series “Our Bookshelves,” printed in the Aristidean. It is the only installment generally considered to be by Poe. T. O. Mabbott expressed this opinion to Heartman and Canny, who included it in their Bibliography of First Printings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1943, p. 149. W. D. Hull, 1941, also attributes this installment (and one other) to Poe, especially noting similarities between this notice of “Undine” and Poe’s review of the same book in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (September, 1839). In the Arisidean, for example, the reviewer comments, “It is indeed difficult to say whether we are chiefly to admire it in the novelty of its conception, the chastity and loftiness of its imagination, the depth of its pathos, its perfect simplicity, or the artistic ability with which all these are combined.” In Burton’s, the reviewer gives a comment of remarkable similarity, “We cannot say whether the novelty of its conception, or the loftiness of its ideality, or its intense pathos, or its vigorous simplicity, or that high artistical talent with which all are combined, si the particular to be chiefly admired.” A copy of the September issue of the Aristidean, in the original paper wrappers, was in the collection of Oliver Barrett, in Chicago. That copy bears the names of the authors beside all but four items, written in ink, possibly by Poe himself. The only item attributed there to Poe is “Our Bookshelves.” The index printed upon the completion of the volume, which covers only part of the year, gives no authors for the “Bookshelves” series. Another article in the same issue (“Our Pigeon-Holes”) notes that T. D. English, the primary editor of the magazine, has been “confined to our bed — lain on our back, under a severe attack of arthritis for five weeks or more, and have just been able to sit up and prepare the editorial remarks” (p. 242). Poe may have stepped in to assist the ailing English.


[S:0 - Aristidean, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Our Bookshelves (III) [Text-02]