Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 2, February 1836, 2:191-192


[page 191, column 2:]


The Confessions of Emilia Harrington. By Lambert A. Wilmer. Baltimore.

This is a duodecimo of about two hundred pages. We have read it with that deep interest always excited by works written in a similar manner-be the subject matter what it may-works in which the author utterly loses sight of himself in his theme, and, for the time, identifies his own thoughts and feelings with the thoughts and feelings of fictitious existences. Than the power of accomplishing this perfect identification, there is no surer mark of genius. It is the spell of Defoe. It is the wand of Boccacio. It is the proper enchantment of the Arabian Tales — the gramarye of Scott, and the magic of the Bard of Avon. Had, therefore, the Emilia Harrington of Mr. Wilmer not one other quality to recommend it, we should have been satisfied of the author's genius from the simple verisimilitude of his narrative. Yet, unhappily, books thus written are not the books by which men acquire a contemporaneous reputation. What we said on this subject in the last number of the Messenger, may be repeated here without impropriety. We spoke of the Robinson Crusoe. “ What better possible species of fame could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom. Yet never was admiration of any work-universal admiration — more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten-nay, not one person in five hundred has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation. Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts; Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder, have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought. We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest-we close the book, and are quite satisfied we could have written as well ourselves.”

Emilia Harrington will render essential services to virtue in the unveiling of the deformities of vice. This is a deed of no questionable utility. We fully agree with our author that ignorance of wrong is not security for the right; and Mr. Wilmer has obviated every possible objection to the “Confessions,” by a so cautious wording of his disclosures as not to startle, in warning, the virtuous. That the memoirs are not wholly fictitious is more than probable. There is much internal evidence of authenticity in the book itself, and the preface seems to hint that a portion at least of the narrative is true — yet for the sake of human nature it is to be hoped that some passages are overcolored. The style of Mr. Wilmer is not only good in itself, but exceedingly well adapted to his subjects. The letter to Augustus Harrington is vigorously written, and many long extracts might be taken from the book evincing powers of no ordinary kind.

Within a circle of private friends, whom Mr. Wilmer's talents and many virtues have attached devotedly to himself, and among whom we are very proud in being ranked, his writings have been long properly appreciated, and we sincerely hope the days are not far in futurity when he will occupy that full station in the public eye to which his merits so decidedly entitle him. Our readers must all remember the touching lines To Mira, in the first number of our second volume-lines which called forth the highest encomiums from many whose opinions are of value. Their exquisite tenderness of sentiment — their vein of deep and unaffected melancholy — and their antique strength, and high polish of versification, struck us, upon a first perusal, with force, and subsequent readings have not weakened the impression. Mr. W. has written many other similar things. Among his longer pieces we may particularize Merlin, a drama — some portions of which are full of the truest poetic fire. His prose tales and other short publications are numerous; and as Editor of the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post, he has boldly and skilfully asserted the rights of independent criticism, speaking, in all instances — the truth. His Satiric Odes in the Post, over the signature of Horace in Philadelphia, have attracted great attention, and have been deservedly admired.

We copy with true pleasure from the editorial columns of a Baltimore contemporary, (for whose opinions we have the highest respect, even when they differ from our own,) the following notice of Emilia Harrington. It will supersede the necessity of any farther comment from ourselves.

“This book is one of a class the publication of which is considered by many as objectionable. The lifting up of the veil which covers crime; crime of the most disgusting and debasing character — is thought by moralists of the present day to be an act of questionable utility. This opinion has gained strength from the intemperate zeal of too many who have thought fit to publish flauntingly to the world the result of their startling discoveries while penetrating the haunts of corruption and vice, instead of silently moving on in the cause of Christian benevolence, and, when called upon for disclosures, giving information in such a way as not to startle the virtuous into shrinking, nor cause the vicious to raise the hue and cry against them. From the objection of ultraism the “Confessions” are to a great extent free — although in some few instances the author has allowed himself a latitude which it would have been as well not to have taken.

“Apart from the character of the book, it possesses for us no trifling interest. Our thoughts run back continually from its pages to the gifted young author, prematurely gray; nor can we conquer a gathering sadness of feeling as we contemplate him bending wearily beneath the accumulating weight of adverse circumstances — broken in spirit, and yet uncomplaining. That the writer of this book possesses talents of an order far superior to many of twice his reputation, we have long been convinced, and yet he is scarcely known. Ten years ago his promise of future success in the walks of literary fame was flattering, almost beyond example; but, who can struggle against the ills of life — its cares, its privations and disappointments — with the added evils which petty jealousy and vindictive malice bring in to crush the spirit, — and not, in the very feebleness of humanity, grow weak and weary. And thus it seems in a measure to have been with the author of this book; he has not now the healthy vigor which once marked his production — the playful humor, nor the sparkling wit; and why — as continual dropping will wear away the hardest rock, so will continued neglect, and disappointment, and care, wear away the mind's healthy tone and strength of action. And yet, after all, may we not be mistaken in this. Is not the unobtrusive volume before us a strong evidence of unfailing powers of mind, which, though aiming at no brilliant display, acts with order, conciseness, and a nicely balanced energy? It is even so. One great attribute of genius is its power of identifying itself with its hero, and never losing sight of all the relations which it now holds to the world in its new character; and this identity has been well kept up by Mr. Wilmer — so much so, that in but few instances do we forget that the writer is other than the heroine of the tale.”





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