Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Nature and Art,” from the Evening Mirror (New York), January 17, 1845, vol. 1, no. 87, p. 2, col. 1


[page 2, column 1:]

Nature and Art.

A day or two ago, in noticing a book by Mr. Lowell, we ventured upon certain propositions which are thus disputed by our friends of the “Tribune:”

THE MIRROR ON ART. — The Mirror quotes the following passage from Lowell’s Conversation on some of the Old English Poets:

“Here is a man who is a scholar and an artist — who knows precisely how every effect has been produced by every great writer, and who is resolved to re-produce them. But the heart passes by the pit-falls, and traps, and carefully-planned springs, to be taken captive by some simple fellow who expected the event as little as did his prisoners.”

This does not suit the Mirror. Mr. Lowell’s idea plainly is, that simplicity and nature are more successful than pit-falls and traps. The Mirror says as to this —

“If Mr. Lowell’s heart is not caught in the pit-fall or trap, then the pit-fall is ill-concealed, and the trap is not properly baited and set.”

We do not believe that traps of any kind, bait them as you may, can ever succeed in the long run, or impose on the heart. Tricks in literature are not better than tricks in morals, and if art means any thing more than the skilful use of good materials, if it means a method of concealing want of ability by ingenious devices, we go for Mr. Lowell’s view. Art in this view may impose for a time on the public mind, but real talent will finally prevail.

As to the Mirror’s assertion —

“To say that a critic could not have written the work which he criticises, is to put forth a flat contradiction in terms.”

If this is true, then “flat contradictions” abound. To say that a critic could have written the work which he criticises, depends altogether on the ability of the critic. To say that the Mirror could have written the “Conversations” it criticises, is possible, but we venture to assert, that several ingenious persons will criticise that work who could never have written the first page of it.

We grant that “Mr. Lowell’s idea plainly” is, that simplicity and Nature are more successful than Art; but we do not grant that this idea is set forth more plainly in the Tribune’s repetition than in the English of Mr. Lowell himself. His words, too, were hurried out of the mouth; he would be the last man in the world to persist in them; but those of the Tribune have the sad advantage of being deliberate.

Mr. L., it is observable, does not deny the ceteris paribus. Implied, therefore, he admits his artist and his naturalist to be equal in talent, and bases his objection to the latter solely on the ground of his Art.

There being then no dispute about Mr. L’s meaning, we object that, in Letters, he improperly distinguishes Nature from Art. — The latter is — (or, lest the Tribune may have a difficulty in comprehending that we speak absolutely, and of the perfected Art) — the latter should be nothing more than the arranging, the methodizing, the rendering easily available so as to carry into successful application, [column 3:] the suggestions, the laws, and the general intentions of the former.

Now, if the critic of the Tribune be inclined to assert that he — or that the “simple fellow” of Mr. Lowell, who blunders into the catching of Mr. Lowell’s heart, and is as much surprised at the capture as Mr. Lowell himself — that he is to be lauded and held up to imitation, while the artist who, with equal direct inspiriting from Nature herself, proceeds habitually, steadily, and presciently, by a system of Nature’s own infallible laws, is to be contemned as an inferior: — if the Tribune, we say, feel disposed to maintain a proposition such as this — all that we can think of the matter is, that such are the propositions which the Tribune is very naturally disposed to maintain.

“To say that a critic could have written the work which he criticises, depends, altogether, upon the ability of the critic.”

No doubt of it. Without the ability to say it, (whatever it was,) no critic on earth could have said it — although some critics say pretty much what they please.

“To say that the Mirror could have written the ‘Conversations’ it criticises, is possible.”

Thank you! — to be sure it is! — but to say what all this has to do with the matter in hand — that is the thing which is not possible. To come back to the point, we submit, in brief, that the Tribune and we differ solely in our conception of Art. What Art is, in our opinion, we have already said in a positive proposition.

What is implied in the sentence about “tricks in morals,” and “succeeding in long runs,” and “going for Mr. Lowell’s view” we will not even pretend to determine. The “tricks,” however, we take to be some of the Tribune’s own.





[S:0 - NYEM, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Nature and Art (E. A. Poe ?, 1845)