Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 2, January 1836, 2:126-127


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The Rambler in North America, 1832-33. By Charles Joseph Latrobe, author of “The Alpenstock,” &c. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Mr. Latrobe is connected with a lineage of missionaries. He belongs to an English family long and honorably distinguished by their exertions in the cause of Christianity. His former work, “The Alpenstock,” we have not seen — but the London Quarterly Review calls it “a pleasing and useful manual for travellers in Switzerland.” The present volumes (dedicated to Washington Irving, whom Mr. L. accompanied in a late tour through the Prairies,) consist of thirty-seven letters addressed to F. B. Latrobe, a younger brother of the author. They form, upon the whole, one of the most instructive and amusing books we have perused for years.

By no means blind to our faults, to our foibles, or to our political difficulties, Mr. Latrobe has travelled from Dan to Beersheba without finding all barren. His ob. servations are not confined to some one or two subjects, engrossing his attention to the exclusion, or to the imperfect examination, of all others. His wanderings among us have been apparently guided by a spirit of frank and liberal curiosity; and he deserves the good will of all Americans, (as he has most assuredly secured their esteem) by viewing us, not with a merely English eye, but with the comprehensive glance of a citizen of the world.

To speak in detail of a work so subdivided as “The Rambler in North America,” would cccupy too much of our time. We can, of course, only touch, in general terms, upon its merits and demerits. The latter, we can assure our readers, are few indeed. One instance, nevertheless, of what must be considered false inference from data undeniably correct, is brought to bear so pointedly against our social and political principles, and is, at the same time, so plausible in itself, and so convincingly worded, as to demand a sentence or two of comment. We quote the passage in full, the more willingly, as we perceive it dwelt upon with much emphasis, by the London Quarterly Review.

“There are certain signs, perhaps it might be said of the times, rather than of their peculiar political arrangements, which should make men pause in their judgment of the social state in America. The people are emancipated from the thraldom of mind and body which they consider consequent upon upholding the divine right of kings. They are all politically equal. All claim to place, patronage, or respect, for the bearer of a great name is disowned. Every man must stand or fall by himself alone, and must make or mar his for tune. Each is gratified in believing that he has his share in the government of the Union. You speak against the insane anxiety of the people to govern — of authority being detrimental to the minds of men raised from insignificance — of the essential vulgarity of minds which can attend to nothing but matter of fact and pecuniary interest — of the possibility of the existence of civilization without cultivation, — and you are not understood! I have said it may be the spirit of the times, for we see signs of it, alas, in Old England; but there must be something in the political atmosphere of America, which is more than ordinarily congenial to that decline ofjust and necessary subordination, which God has both permitted by the natural impulses ofthe human mintd, and ordered in His word; and to me the looseness of the tie generally observable in many parts of the United States between the master and servant — the child and the parent — the scholar and the master — the governor and the governed — in brief, the decay of loyal feeling in all the relations of life, was the worst sign of the timnes. Who shall say but that if these bonds are distorted and set aside, the first and the greatest — which binds us in subjection to the law of God — will not also be weakened, if not broken? This, and this alone, short-sighted as I am, would cause me to pause in predicting the future grandeur of America under its present system of government and structure of society.”

In the sentence beginning, “I have said it may be the spirit of the times, for we see signs of it, alas, in Old England, but there must be something,” &c. Mr. Latrobe has involved himself in a contradiction. By the words, “but there must be something in the political atmosphere of America which is more than ordinarily congenial to” insubordination, he implies (although unintentionally) that our natural impulses lead us in this direction — and that these natural impulses are permitted by God, we, at all events, are not permitted to doubt. In the words immediately succeeding those just quoted, he maintains (what is very true) that “subordination was both permitted by,God in the natural impulses of the human mind, and ordered in His word.” The question thus resolves itself into a matter of then and now — of times past and times present-of the days of the patriarchs and of the days of widely disseminated knowledge. The infallibility of the instinct of those 1 natural impulses which led men to obey in the infancy [page 122:] of all things, we have no intention of denying — we must demand the same grace for those natural impulses which prompt men to govern themselves in the senectitude o the world. In the sentence, “Who shall say but that if these bonds are distorted and set aside, the first and the greatest — which binds us in subjection to the law of God — will not also be weakened, if not broken?’ the sophistry is evident; and we have only a few words to say in reply. In the first place, the writer has assumed that those bonds are “distorted” and “set aside” which are merely slackened to an endurable degree. In the second place, the “setting aside” these bonds, (granting them to be set aside) so far from tending to weaken our subjection to the law of God, will the more readily confirm that subjection, inasmuch as our responsibilities to man have been denied, through the conviction of our responsibilities to God, and — to God alone.

We recommend “The Rambler” to the earnest attention of our readers. It is the best work on America yet published. Mr. Latrobe is a scholar, a man of intellect and a gentleman.


The South-West. By a Yankee. New York: Published by Harper and Brothers.

This work, from the pen of Professor Ingraham, rivals the book of which we have just been speaking, in degree — although not in quality — of interest. Mr. Latrobe has proved himself a man of the world, an able teacher, and a philosopher. Professor Ingraham is an amusing traveller, full of fun, gossip, and shrewd remark. In all that relates to the “Mechanics of book-writing,” the Englishman is immeasurably the superior.

Mr. I. in his “Introduction,” informs us that his work “grew out of a private correspondence, which the author, at the solicitation of his friends, has been led to throw ifito the present form, modifying in a great measure the epistolary vein, and excluding, so far as possible, such portions of the original papers as were of too personal a nature to be intruded upon the majesty of the public — while he has embodied, so far as was compatible with the new arrangement, every thing likely to interest the general reader.” The aim of the writer, we are also told, has been to.present the result of his experience and observations during a residence of several years in that district of our country which gives the title to the work. It is, indeed, a matter for wonder that a similar object has never been carried into execution before. The South-West, embracing an extensive and highly interesting portion of the United States, is completely caviare to the multitude. Very little information, upon whose accuracy reliance may be placed, has been hitherto made public concerning these regions of Eldorado — and were the volumes of Professor Ingraham absolutely worthless in every other respect, we should still be inclined to do them all possible honor for their originality in subject matter. But the “South-West” is very far from worthless. In spite of a multitude of faults which the eye of rigid criticism might easily detect — in spite of some inaccuracies in point of fact, many premature opinions, and an inveterate habit of writing what neither is, nor should be English, the Professor has succeeded in making a book, whose abiding interest, coming home to the bosoms and occupations of men, will cause any [column 2:] future productions of the same author to be looked for with anxiety.

The “Yankee,” in travelling Southward, has evit dently laid aside the general prejudices of a Yankee — and, viewing the book of Professor Ingraham, as repre senting, in its very liberal opinions, those of a great majority of well educated Northern gentlemen, we are inclined to believe it will render essential services in the way of smoothing down a vast deal of jealousy and misconception. The traveller from the North has evinced no disposition to look with a jaundiced eye upon the South — to pervert its misfortunes into crimes — or distort its necessities into sins of volition. He has spoken of slavery as he found it — and it is almost needless to say that he found it a very different thing from the paintings he had seen of it in red ochre. He has discovered, in aword, that while the physical condition of the slave is not what it has been represented, the slave himself is utterly in competent to feel the moral galling of his chain. Indeed, we cordially agree with a distinguished Northern con temporary and friend, that the Professor's strict honesty, impartiality, and unprejudiced common sense, on the trying subject which has so long agitated our community, is the distinguishing and the most praiseworthy feature of his book. Yet it has other excellences, and excellences of a high character. As a specimen of the picturesque, we extract a passage beginning at page 27, vol. i.

“ ‘Keep away a little, or you’ll run that fellow down,’ suddenly shouted the captain to the helmsman; and the next moment the little fishing vessel shot swiftly under our stern, just barely clearing the spanker boom, whirl ing and bouncing about in the wild swirl of the ship's wake like a “Masallah boat” in the surf of Madras.

There were on board of her four persons, including the steersman — a tall, gaunt old man, whose uncovered gray locks streamed in the wind as he stooped to his little rudder to luff up across our wake. The lower extremities of a loose pair of tar-coated duck trowsers, which he wore, were incased, including the best part of his legs, in a pair of fisherman's boots, made of leather which would flatten a rifle ball. His red flannel shirt left his hairy breast exposed to the icy winds, and a huge pea-jacket, thrown, Spanish fashion, over his shoulders, was fastened at the throat by a single but ton. His tarpaulin — a little narrow-brimmed hat of the pot-lid tribe, secured by a ropeyarn — had probably been thrown off in the moment of danger, and now hung swinging by a lanyard from the lower button-hole of his jacket.

As his little vessel struggled like a drowning man in the yawning concave made by the ship, he stood with one hand firmly grasping his low, crooked rudder, and with the other held the main sheet, which alone he tended. A short pipe protruded from his mouth, at which he puffed away incessantly; one eye was tightly closed, and the other was so contracted in a network of wrinkles, that I could just discern the twinkle of a gray pupil, as he cocked it up at our quarter-deck, and took in with it the noble size, bearing, and apparel of our fine ship.

A duplicate of the old helmsman, though less battered by storms and time, wearing upon his chalky locks a red) woollen, conical cap, was “easing off” the fore sheet as the little boat passed; and a third was stretch ing his neck up the companion ladder, to stare at the “big ship,” while the little carroty-headed imp, who was just the old skipper razeed, was performing the culinary operations of his little kitchen under cover of the heavens.”

The portions of the book immediately relating to New Orleans — its odd buildings — its motley assemblage [page 123:] of inhabitants — their manners and free habitudes, have especially delighted us; and cannot fail, of delighting, in general, all lovers of the stirring and life-like. A novelist of talent would find New Orleans the place of all places for the localities of a romance — and in such case he might derive important aid from the “South-West” of Professor Ingraham. At page 140, vol. i, we were much interested in the following account of a fire.

“As I gained the front of this mass of. human beings, that activity which most men possess, who are not modelled after “fat Jack,” enabled me to gain an elevation whence I had an unobstructed view of the whole scene of conflagration. The steamers were lying side by side at the Levee, and one of them was enveloped in wreaths of flame, bursting from a thousand cotton bales, which were piled, tier above tier, upon her decks. The inside boat, though having no cotton on board, was rapidly consuming, as the huge streams of fire lapped and twined around her. The night was perfectly calm, but a strong whirlwind had been created by the action of the heat upon the atmosphere, and now and then it swept down in its invisible power, with the “noise of a rushing mighty wind,” and as the huge serpentine flames darted upward, the solid cotton bales would be borne round the tremendous vortex like feathers, and then — hurled away into the air, blazing like giant meteors — would descend heavily and rapidly into the dark bosom of the river. The next moment they would rise and float upon the surface, black unshapely masses of tinder. As tier after tier, bursting with fire fell in upon the burning decks, the sweltering flames, for a moment smothered, preceded by a volcanic discharge of ashes, which fell in showers upon the gaping spectators, would break from their confinement, and darting upward with multitudinous large wads of cotton, shoot them away through the air, filling the sky for a moment with a host of flaming balls. Some of them were borne a great distance through the air, and falling lightly upon the surface of the water, floated, from their buoyancy, a long time unextinguished. The river became studded with fire, and as far as the eye could reach below the city, it presented one of the most magnificent, yet awful spectacles, I had ever beheld or imagined. Literally spangled with flame, those burning fragments in the distance being diminished to specks of light, it had the appearance, though far more dazzling and brilliant, of the starry firmament. There were but two miserable engines to play with this gambolling monster, which, one moment lifting itself to a great height in the air, in huge spiral wreaths, like some immense snake, at the next would contract itself within its glowing furnace, or coil and dart along the decks like troops of fiery serpents, and with the roaring noise of a volcano.”

Having spoken thus far of the “South-West,” in terms of commendation, we must now be allowed to assert, in plain words, what we have before only partially hinted, that the Professor is indebted, generally, for his success, more to the innate interest of his subject matter, than to his manner of handling it. Numerous instances of bad taste occur throughout the volumes. The constant straining after wit and vivacity is a great blemish. Faulty constructions of style force themselves upon one's attention at every page. Gross blunders in syntax abound. The Professor does not appear to understand French. This is no sin in itself — but to quote what one does not understand is a folly. Turks’ Heads à la Grec, for example, is ridiculous — see page 34, vol. i. Bulls too ore occasionally met with — which are none the better for being classical bulls. We cannot bear to hear of Boreas blowing Zephyrs.

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Tales and Sketches. By Miss Sedgwick, Author of “The Linwoods,” “Hope Leslie,” &c. &c. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard.

This volume includes — A Reminiscence of Federalism — The Catholic Iroquois — The Country Cousin — Old Maids — The Chivalric Sailor — Mary Dyre — Cacoethës Scribendi — The Eldest Sister — St. Catharine's Eve — Romance in Real Life — and the Canary Family.

All of these pieces, we believe, have been published before. Of most of them we can speak with certainty — for having, in earlier days, been enamored of their pervading spirit of mingled chivalry and pathos, we cannot now forget them even in their new habiliments. Old Maids — The Country Cousin — and one or two others, we have read before — and should be willing to read again. These, our ancient friends, are worthy of the pen which wrote “Hope Leslie” and “The Linwoods.” “Old Maids,” in spite of the equivocal nature of its title, is full of noble and tender feeling — a specimen of fine writing, involving in its melancholy details what we must consider the beau-ideal of feminine disinterestedness — the ne plus ultra of sisterly devotion. The “Country Cousin” possesses all the peculiar features of the tale just spoken of, with something more of serious and even solemn thought. The “Chivalric Sailor” is full of a very different, and of a more exciting, although less painful interest. We remember its original appearance under the title of “Modern Chivalry.” The “Romance of Real Life” we now read for the first time — it is a tale of striking vicissitudes, but not the best thing we have seen from the pen of Miss Sedgwick — that a story is “founded on fact,” is very seldom a recommendation. “The Catholic Iroquois” is also new to us — a stirring history of Christian faith and martyrdom. The “Reminiscence of Federalism” relates to a period of thirty years ago in New England — is a mingled web of merriment and gloom — and replete with engrossing interest. “Mary Dyre” is a veracious sketch of certain horrible and bloody facts which are a portion of the History of Fanaticism. Mary is slightly mentioned by Sewal, the annalist of “the people called Quakers,” to which sect the maiden belonged. She died in vindicating the rights of conscience. This piece originally appeared in one of our Souvenirs. “St. Catherine's Eve” is “une histoire touchante qui montre à quel point l’enseignement religieux pouvoit étre perverti, et combien le Clergé étoit loin d’etre le gardien des mæurs publiques” — the tale appertains to the thirteenth century. “Cacoethes Scribendi” is told with equal grace and vivacity. “The Canary Family” is a tale for the young — brief, pointed and quaint. But the best of the series, in every respect, is the sweet and simple history of “ The Eldest Sister.”

While we rejoice that Miss Sedgwick has thought proper to condense into their present form these evidences of her genius which have been so long floating at random before the eye of the world — still we think her rash in having risked the publication so immediately after “The Linwoods.” None of these “Sketches” have the merit of an equal number of pages in that very fine novel — and the descent from good to inferior (although the inferior be very far from bad) is most generally detrimental to literary fame. Facilis descensus Averni.

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The Young Wife's Book; Manual of Moral, Religious, and Domestic Duties. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard.

We can conscientiously recommend this little book, not only to that particular class of our fair friends for whom it is most obviously intended, but, in general, to all lovers of good reading. We had expected to find in it a series of mere homilies on the Duties of a Wife, but were agreeably disappointed. Such things are, no doubt, excellent in their way, but unhappily are rarely of much service, for the simple reason that they are rarely read. Unless strikingly novel, and well written, they are too apt to be disregarded. The present volume is made up of mingled amusement and instruction. Short and pithy Lessons on Moral Duties, on the Minor Obligations of Married Life, on Manners, on Fashion, on Dress — Dialogues, and Anecdotes connected with subjects of a similar nature — form the basis of the book.

In one respect we must quarrel with the publication. Neither the title page, nor the Preface, gives us any information in regard to the biblical history of the work. It may be taken for granted that every reader, in perusing a book, feels some solicitude to know, for example, who wrote it; or (if this information be not attainable,) at least where it was written — whether in his native country, or in a foreign land — whether it be original or a compilation — whether it be a new publication or a [column 2:] re-publication of old matter — whether we are indebted for it to one author, or to more than one — in short, all those indispensable details which appertain to a book considered merely as a book. The habit of neglecting these things, is becoming very prevalent in America. Works are daily re-published, from foreign copies, without any primâ facie evidence by which we may distinguish them from original publications; and many a reader, of light literature especially, finds himself in the dilemma of praising or condemning unjustly as American, what, most assuredly, he has no good reason for supposing to be English.

In the Young Wife's Book now before us, are seventy-three articles. Of these, one is credited to the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs — nine to Standford's Lady's Gift — and two to an Old English Divine. Some four or five belong to the Spectator. Seven or eight we recognize as old acquaintances without being able to call to mind where we have seen them; and about fifteen or twenty bear internal evidence of a foreign origin. Of the balance we know nothing whatever beyond their intrinsic merit, which is, in all instances, very great. Judgment and fine taste have been employed, undoubtedly, in the book. As a whole it is excellent — but, for all we know to the contrary, it may have been originally written, translated, or compiled, in Philadelphia, in London, or in Timbuctoo.

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The Christian Florist; containing the English and Botaniical Names of different Plants, with their Properties briefly delineated and explained. Illustrated by Texts of Scripture, and accompanied with Poetical Extracts from various Authors. First American, from the Second London Edition. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea. Blanchard.

The title, which our readers will perceive is a long one, sufficiently explains the nature and design of this little book. It is very well adapted for a Christmas present, to those especially whose minds are imbued at the same time with a love of flowers — and of him who is a God of flowers, as well as of mightier things. The mechanical execution of the volume is unexceptionable, and the rich colors of the Dahlia show to no little advantage in the frontispiece. The poetical selections are, for the most part, excellently chosen, and the prose commentaries on each article in good taste, and often of great interest.

Speaking of alterations made in the Second London Edition, the Authors of the work say in their Preface “We believe it will be found that most of those suggested have been adopted, with the exception of one, which proposed the rejection of the first piece of Poetry attached to the Sun Flower.” These words excited our curiosity, and turning to page 42, we found six lines from Moore. It seems these had been objected to, not on account of any thing intrinsically belonging to the verses themselves, (what fault indeed could be found there?) but (will it be believed?) on account of the author who wrote them. The Christian Florist deserves the good will of all sensible persons, if for nothing else — for the spirit with which its authors have disregarded a bigotry so despicable.





[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (January 1836)